Tuesday, 25 March 2014

It does not a summer make

25th March - seeing the first Swallow of the year is one of those defining moments of the year that I always look forward to.  Well for me, it was today.  I hadn't seen any hirundines this year, even though the first Sand Martins were reported 9 or 10 days ago.  I was hopeful that the damp weather might have forced some down over the lake, but on arrival mid-morning, it was apparent that this had not happened.  Scanning from the west bank, there did not appear to be anything new in.  Yesterday evening's Oystercatcher was not here and there was no sign of the 3 Garganey.  However, after a little while, I noticed a hirundine fairly high up over the eastern side of the lake.  Sand Martin surely, and through bins this is what it proved to be.  However, just behind it was my first Swallow and then 3 more Sand Martins - excellent!  They remained over the lake for about half an hour, always quite high up, so there must have been insect activity up there - there were certainly lots of midges at my level!  But then departed.

I decided to walk the circuit today to see if there had been any other arrivals.  My tally was a male Blackcap in full song in the SE corner and 8 Chiffchaffs, 7 singing males and a silent bird.  The 3 Garganey were roosting on the NE side of the spit, so still present, the pair for their 26th day.  A Little Egret was in its favourite flooded paddock on the eastern side.

There were lots of signs of breeding activity - a pair of Kingfishers prospecting a new nest site; no less than 4 pairs of GC Grebe in display mode, 1 pair copulating; numerous groups of male Shoveler flying around chasing females; plenty of song and nesting material being gathered; young heron chicks squawking in the nest; a female Mallard with a now depleted 7 ducklings (there were 11 I think).  I do like Spring!

A quick check of Pump Lane found a smart male Wheatear in the northern paddocks plus a couple of Meadow Pipits.  The vine fields held flocks of Linnet and Goldfinch plus a few singing Skylarks.  So despite the drizzle and the cool easterly breeze, not a bad couple of hours.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Garganey continue to star

24th March - the 3 Garganey continue to top the bill at the pit, often showing well on the west side of the spit.  I've taken a few more shots, though it is difficult to get all 3 birds together.  The 2 males have been fighting a bit, usually started by the male of the pair getting a bit protective.

All 3 roosting against the morning light

All 3 feeding together
I saw the/a adult summer Med Gull again in the sizeable roost on Saturday 22nd, showing distantly on the far side amongst mainly Commons.

Sand Martins have been seen in small numbers again over the weekend, but every time I go down there are none, so they will have to wait - maybe tomorrow's damp weather will force some down over the lake.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

First Wheatears

21st March - a nice sunny day but with a cold breeze.  I paid a few brief visits to the pit today in the hope of picking up Sand Martin - there had been a noticeable national arrival of this species the previous day - however, no luck with this one yet.  There had also been an additional arrival of Garganey the previous day, as Dave C had seen another male join the pair which have now been on site for 3 weeks.  Again, there was no sign of any of these birds in the morning.

Best bird from a patch perspective was a Treecreeper, picked up singing behind the western bench and seen briefly on a tree trunk before flying off.  An annual bird, but I don't see many of these.

Later in the morning, I checked out the Pump Lane paddocks for Wheatear.  This time I was in luck, as 4 birds were present and my first of the year.  They were a little distant to the north of the path, so no record shots yet!  There were also 21 migrant Meadow Pipits creeping about.

Midday saw me back at the pit, where this time, a single drake Garganey was visible on the west side of the spit feeding in the margins.  I assume that this is the new bird, as the original pair are always together.

A Little Egret was also on the back of the spit.

Finally, a quick mid afternoon look at c4:30pm.  This time, all 3 Garganey were showing well on the west side of the spit.  There was quite a bit of preening going on, so maybe they had just awoken from a snooze.  They were never close enough together to get all 3 I the same shot, but here is another shot of one of the males.

There were obvious groups of Snipe feeding in the open areas of the spit and I counted 31 birds, which is a noticeable increase on recent days, so maybe might still get a migrant Jack.

Common Gulls were streaming in for the roost, but I did not have time to stay for this unfortunately.  Another or the same adult Med Gull was seen not long after I left.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

April 23rd 2013 Wood Warbler

I've just found this rather nice photo of one of last year's Wood Warblers taken by Ash Stow - nice one!

Link here

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Med at last

15th March - whilst listening to the climax of the 6 Nations on the radio - it was fate that Ireland won, especially after France's missed penalty and try in the last 5 minutes - I took my daughter down to the Little Owl site.  We sat for ages, as the light faded - a Buzzard moving from telegraph pole to telegraph pole can't have helped.  Eventually, at 6:45pm, I gave up and started the car up just as a Little Owl appeared at the top of the dead tree.  My first sighting this year despite several attempts.

In the morning a whistle stop visit to Pump Lane to check for Wheatear drew a blank.  A Blackcap in full song by the car was nice though.

16th March - Alan S had a huge gull roost the previous day and a flyover Woodcock at dusk, so I decided to give the roost a go tonight.  It's so nice to have a gull roost again after all the flooding had moved them elsewhere.  Lots of gulls arriving all evening, predominantly Common of which there were easily over 2000 birds and BHG almost as many.  Fewer than 100 LWHG and mainly Herring, but nice to get these back on site as well - still time for a scarcer LWHG to come in!  Almost unbelievably a Med Gull has eluded the site so far this year, so it had to happen and I eventually picked out a nice adult bird in full summer plumage, apart from a small fleck of white above the bill.  It flew to the main Common Gull congregation on the spit and luckily stood at the front.  The light was dipping, so as ever, I was unable to focus the camera.  A truly awful record shot just about shows the bird - it's the one with the black head and red bill!

A large flock of 10 Shelduck was also present.  I tried for the flyover Woodcock without success.  I also missed Sand Martin seen earlier in the afternoon and LRP seen briefly yesterday.

18th March - nothing much to report from today.  A Redshank was on the spit and at least 12 Snipe.  A pair of Shelduck and plenty of singing Chiffchaffs too.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Foggy start

14th March - the fog was heavy in the Thames valley this morning, so I delayed my visit.  Even so, whilst it was sunny in my garden, when I arrived at the pit, visibility was still poor.  I gave it some time to clear, especially because I had heard a Redshank call from the spit area, a year tick.  It lifted enough to see that the pair of Garganey were still on the near side of the spit, but then rolled back in again.  It was taking too long and I got bored, so left for the Pump Lane paddocks that I was sure would be fog free.  They were.  No hoped for Wheatear, but a small flock of about 15 Meadow Pipits was evidence of some passage - most of these flew north after a while.

Heron in the gloom

I returned to a nice sunny pit around midday.  The Garganey were once again showing well and the regular pair of Shelduck were nearby.  No Redshank was visible, however, after a few minutes one called and I saw it flying in from the south being chased by a Crow.  It had presumably been on the meadow.  It tried to land on the spit, but eventually flew low out of sight towards the NE side, where it looked to have landed.

I checked out the meadow, with no reward and continued to the SE corner - 2 singing Chiffchaffs on the south bank were presumably migrants.  From the SE corner, I could see the Redshank distantly, it was roosting right up in the NE corner of the spit.  No Pintail were visible and I suspect that they may have departed.

Back at the west bench, another Chiffchaff was singing, possibly the regular Winter bird, as it favoured this area.  It was also nice to see a gathering of LWHG again, possibly 30 birds, mainly Herring.  One was a NTGG bird, orange MZ3T - a new one for me and this site, it will have been ringed at either Rainham or Pitsea landfills.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

White Wagger

12th March - a lunchtime visit to the pit found the pair of Garganey once again on the western side and showing well in the sunshine.

A pair of Pintail were, for a change, feeding on the western side, with another pair viewable on the back of the spit.  Peter S informed me that he and Gerald M had counted 6 pairs, with most on the NE side of the spit.  Having not been to the eastern side to look and count the Pintail myself recently, I thought that this high count was a good opportunity to go, so decided to drive around to the Spade Oak pub (which saves some time).  Although looking into the sun, it was relatively easy to see all 6 pairs, so 12 birds and a high count for the season.

On the way back home, I paid a quick visit to Pump Lane, a favoured site for Wheatear, to see whether an early one might have dropped in.  Unfortunately not, but as I had noticed on my previous visit, there were into double figures of Pied Wagtails taking advantage of the horse dung, each seemingly laying claim to its own pile.  Amongst these was a smart male White Wagtail - quite an early one.  I only had 3 images spare on my memory card and it was a very active bird, so my best record of it is below:

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Garganey again

11th March - in a biting NE wind, birding was not pleasant this morning.  Possibly because of the direction of the cold wind, the often elusive pair of Garganey were actually roosting on the near side of the spit and remained in their chosen spot all the time I was there.

Edit: I went back at 2pm just before school pick-up to find the pair more or less in the same spot.  At about 2:30pm, they eventually woke up, swam out, the male indulging in a bit of display, before flying to the southern bank.  They then flew back to the back of the spit and I left them grazing in the middle of the spit with Teal.

A Little Egret flew in from the SE and alighted on the spit before taking a look at the Heronry trees on the island - a belated year tick, having missed the regular bird on the eastern flooded paddocks.

Otherwise, it was the usual crowd - a nice pair of Pintail feeding on the spit - probably others on the eastern side, but I was too cold to walk round to look; 4 Shelduck and 7+ Snipe in the reeds.  My highest recent count of Snipe is 12.  Still no Med! and too cold for Spring migrants - the Chiffchaff on the western side may well have been the over wintering bird.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Godwit and Goldeneye

8th March - I don't usually visit at the weekends, unless a good bird has been reported and I'm not otherwise engaged.  Today, I received a text from regular Alan S that a Black-tailed Godwit was on the spit.  So, I eventually managed a brief whistle stop visit at midday en route to a game of tennis.  Fortunately the Blackwit was still present, happily feeding away on the flooded spit.  It was a brief look and a few record shots and off.  How frustrating to then receive another text from Alan to say that a Goldeneye was there!  These ducks have become very scarce here and I had missed the only previous one day bird earlier in the year.  So, mid afternoon found me on site again.  The Goldeneye was a bit distant in the SE corner - a female type, but with quite a bit of white in the flank and a hint of a white spot on the face, so possibly a 1st winter male, but a retarded one if it was.

The Godwit was still present.  The question with these birds is whether they are the usual islandica race that we get on passage - birds that breed in Iceland, or limosa, the continental race.  There are differences, but also variation, so it is not always a straight forward distinction.  This bird was in transitional plumage from winter to summer and seemed to show some limosa characteristics.  It appeared quite orange and brown as opposed to deep red/orange with more greyish tones; the orange appeared to be restricted to the neck and upper breast; the bill was very long and bright orange at the base, which was quite deep based and gave the bird quite a flat headed appearance.  So possibly a limosa, but I'm not certain with a bird that is in transitional plumage.  Distant record shots here:

Here kitty kitty

I've been down a few times in the past week.  The most notable visit was last Sunday (2nd), when I decided that a late afternoon look at the gull roost was in order.  Again, the lack of spit was having a detrimental effect - there were only about 50 gulls present on arrival and these soon flew off SW.  There were plenty of gulls flying in, mainly Common and BHG, but there were flying straight over.  Any possible Meds, of which there should have been several by this date as passage picks up, would have to picked up in flight, and they weren't!

A female Goosander that had been reported in the early afternoon was still here, hauled out of the water on one of the tiny islands of the emerging spit.  I also had my largest Pintail count to date as 9 birds flew out of the lake fringe into the centre of the lake when something unseen flushed the wildfowl towards dusk.

By the 4th, the spit had reappeared a little bit more and the sun was shining, so hopefully before long there will be some wader habitat back again.  I had seen 10 Snipe at the weekend and today 11 birds were sunning themselves in the reed fringe - there could easily be more as they are often hidden.  The Pintail were as elusive as ever, tucked away in the vegetation north of the spit in the NE side.  I counted 3 pairs, but there were undoubtedly more unseen.  A pair of Shelduck were still around, often in flight over the reed bed and possibly looking for suitable nest sites, which this isn't as there are foxes here.  The flood meadows are dropping slowly, in fact after last weekend's rain, they rose by a couple of inches between Monday and Tuesday, so it is a slow process.  Fieldfare are enjoying the exposed grass strip between the river and the flood with around 80 birds feeding away.  A/the wintering Chiffchaff is often in song on the west side.

The 7th was fairly similar, however, when I arrived at 9am, a pair of Garganey were roosting on the spit.  These are surely the birds seen last Friday and Saturday and the question is, have they remained here all week hidden away in vegetation away from seeking eyes, or have they found another locale to their liking and just popped in? I suspect the former, as they have been seen to disappear in to the long grass and tree roots for hours.  Anyway, I managed a slightly better record than last week.

A walk to the meadow found the usual flock of BHG around the flood edge, but still no Med!  I wandered back to the bench on the west side - I'd walked the whole circuit earlier in the week and the 5 or 6 large poplars on the southern bank that blew over in the winds a couple of weeks ago are still lying across the path making it very hard going, so I wasn't keen on this route again.  There was an obvious passage of BHG, not big, but steady.  Small flacks were flying in from the east, settling on the lake for 5 - 10 mins and continuing westwards, so I decided to sit on the bench and watch this movement, ever hopeful of picking up the year's first Med.  No sooner had I started watching, when I noticed a black wing-tipped and clean headed gull sitting face on on the water in the far SW corner.  It certainly wasn't a BHG and probably not a Common, I was hoping Kittiwake.  I got it in the scope and indeed it was an adult Kittiwake - fantastic, a patch tick!  Although white headed from the front, it was actually in full winter plumage still and was very dusky grey on the nape with a black ear covert patch.  I took a very distant record shot, but fortunately it flew more to the SW side and I was able to get slightly better and closer shots

It seemed quite happy here, occasionally plucking insects from the water surface, until for no apparent reason, a Common Gull seemed to take exception to it and flew at it calling. So after about 15 mins on site, the Kittiwake took to the air and drifted off westwards never to be seen again.

Otherwise, 5 Shelduck were the only other birds of note, with no Pintail on view today from the west side.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

February Garganey

28th February - I had the children today, as it was a teacher training day, so did not make my usual Friday morning check of the pit.  I had seen a message that Simon R had had 5 Pintail (3m, 2f) at lunchtime, nice to see that he had caught up with them after missing them yesterday and nice to see that numbers are continuing to climb.   However, later in the afternoon, I received a call from LGRE to tell me he had just found a pair of Garganey - wow! that is early and presumably the very early pair that were seen at College Lake exactly a week before, which is not too far away as the crow flies.  By this time, my wife had returned home, so I was able to go out and see them.  LGRE was still on site, so I got my first views through his scope.  It is always nice to see male Garganey in the Spring in their full finery and this one had a mate, to whom he was displaying on occasion.  The pair weren't too far away, swimming around with Wigeon at the base of where the spit should be.  I tried to take a record shot, but in the gathering gloom and drizzle, this proved to be a photo too far.  I've uploaded a couple below, but used the circles for help!!

Male with head down!

Pair, both with heads down!
There is a much better record here: http://t.co/a0Zr1BzQci

These are by far my earliest Spring Garganey ever, my previous earliest being March 16th.  It is not a regular bird on patch either - this is the first record that I am aware of since 2010.  So all in all a great end to what has been a bit of a hit and miss month.

LGRE and others had also had 7 Shelduck, though I could only see 5 when I was there and 6 Pintail (4m, 2f).  I didn't have time to look for these birds as they prefer the area on the NE side north of the spit which is best viewed from the east bank.  I left the pair of Garganey roosting with the Wigeon just before 5pm.