Monday, 26 May 2014

Is Spring over?

Despite there still being reports of various waders, notably Sanderling, not too far away, it feels like Spring passage has dried up.  I still live in hope of picking up something, but wader passage has been pretty poor this year, with just the occasional goodie thrown in.

Last Tuesday (20th) I had a nice male Yellow Wagtail on the spit, which is only my third of the year and the first on the deck - not good.  I also picked up a presumed passage wader in the form of a Redshank that flew in calling mid morning.  Early the following morning, a Common Sand was also possibly a new arrival.  I last saw the pair of Oystercatchers on the 20th, while a lone LRP is ever present.

Swift and hirundine numbers have been good recently, usually when the weather is wet or damp.  There were approximately 150 Swifts and 100 House Martins last Friday (23rd), with about 50 Sand Martins and 20 Swallows, whilst on a particularly wet Saturday morning, Swift numbers were up to about 300.

A tramp around yesterday morning found 6 Garden Warblers, 5 Reed Warblers and a single Whitethroat.  A lone Chiffchaff in song and lots of Blackcaps, but no Lesserthroats or Willow Warblers, which are just passage birds here.

Just a single sighting of Hobby as a bird passed through south on Friday, taking advantage of the large hirundine flock and taking what looked like a Sand Martin.

I still need Bullfinch and Coal Tit for the year, so ought to try harder to fill these gaps as the days become quieter.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Passage trickles on

May 19th - the recent run of high pressure and sunny days, although great to be out in, hasn't helped to bring any interesting passage birds in.

This morning, I paid a quick visit before work.  The 2 black and white waders roosting on the sand spit weren't the over optimistically hoped for Black-winged Stilts, but a pair of Oystercatchers.  This pair have been here since the morning of the 17th and don't include the ringed bird that seemed to take up ownership a few weeks ago.  This morning I saw them mating, but I think any nesting attempt on this site would be doomed to failure with the number of predatory animals and birds present.  A single LRP plus the obligatory Lapwing made up the wader tally.  That was until 8:10am, when I was approaching the meadow, as I heard the familiar call of a Whimbrel.  Looking back up to the spit, I saw that 2 Whimbrel had just landed.  I walked back up the west side to get my customary record shot, made even more difficult as I was looking into the morning sun and then enjoyed watching the birds feeding.  They soon wandered into the vegetation, which is now high enough to almost cover these birds and often only there heads were visible when they looked up and they could completely disappear.  After about 30 minutes, they decided they'd had enough and took off calling loudly.  I watched them through my scope as they flew north over Emmett's fields until out of view.

Whilst this was going on, a couple of silent Cuckoos flew across the lake.  One of these was obviously a female, as shortly later I heard the 'bubbling' call.  I have seen 1 - 2 birds here a few times over the last few days, so hopefully the female will find somewhere to deposit her egg - there is 1 or maybe 2 paired Reed Warblers around at the moment, with a couple of other singing males, so you never know.  Much better than last year, when I only saw 1 silent Cuckoo all year.

A few other snippets, a Common Sand has been present over the last 3 days - I didn't see it today, but it is often on the east side of the spit, which I didn't have time to look at this morning.  Shelduck numbers reached a season high of 10 birds on the morning of the 15th.  Pairs are often coming and going, so numbers do fluctuate and I only saw a single pair this morning.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Purple Patching

I've been rather busy lately, so a bit delayed in writing this post, but it's been quite a week on the patch.

I'll go back to last Sunday morning, the 11th, when once again I was down at the pit by 6am full of hope.  It doesn't take long for hope to dwindle though and by 7am I hadn't seen much and nothing seemed to be moving.  Kim D joined me shortly afterwards and at 7:30am one of the birds of the morning flew over our heads calling, a Yellow Wagtail flew west.  This species has been remarkably scarce this Spring and this is only my second of the year.  At 8:50am, a flock of 5 Ringed Plover descended and landed on the spit.  This raised our hopes that waders were on the move, but by 9:30am with no more arrivals, I went home for breakfast.  The usual pair of LRP and 8 Shelduck were the other birds of note.

May 12th - I was working today, but made the effort to make a quick sojourn to the pit.  At this time of year you never know what might turn up.  On arrival, I could see a small white egret standing on the end of the near spit.  This is an unusual place to get egrets, but I expected it to be a Little.  I lifted my bins and was amazed to see a summer plumaged Cattle Egret - what!!! I couldn't believe it and wanted to get a record shot as quickly as possible.  Pretty much all my photos are taken through the scope, so I started to pull the legs out on the tripod.  I hadn't got very far when the egret took flight and I watched it fly south from the pit and over the railway.  Luckily, it looked like it was dropping into the meadow.

At this point, rather than tearing after it, I thought that I should at least scan the rest of the spit and lake to see if there was anything else.  Almost immediately, I saw a 1st summer LWHG that looked very good for Caspian.  It was standing in front of the island, but no sooner had I put my scope on it than it sat down, put its bill in its back and went to sleep.  Still, I thought I had seen enough to call it and then went in hot pursuit of the egret.  En route to the meadow, I called the news in and hoped that the egret would be there.  In fact it wasn't, so now what? where had it gone? I decided to walk along the railway bank and as I did a group of egrets flew over my head from the south and all landed in the heronry.  A quick scan with my bins revealed that one of them was the Cattle Egret - phew!  I was now able to grab some record shots and then returned to the west side as I needed to get to work.  Once there, I found that the Cattle Egret was now on the spit with a couple of Littles, so I took some more records.  The Caspian Gull was still asleep, so no luck with shots here, but I had to go, very happy with another patch tick and about the 5th county record.

Quick grab in the heronry

Back on the spit

Luckily for the listers, the egret stayed for most of the day and I understand even flew across the Thames into Berks at one point.  I returned at lunchtime and saw the bird again, but it was much more distant now, mainly feeding with a group of Little Egrets on the far side of the spit.  I was, however, able to get a better look and some records of the Caspian Gull - its head was not as clean looking as it had appeared in the morning and it made me wonder whether it might have some hybrid genes in it, even though the other plumage traits and bill all looked good to me.  I have asked for another opinion, although CDRH independently told me that he thinks it is a hybrid, particularly because the underwing is not white - a feature that I did not see.
A lot of good looking Caspian plumage features, but is the head too streaked and the wrong shape?

May 13th - I had the morning off so went down to see if the Cattle Egret was still about.  I couldn't find it, but at last a Whimbrel was present roosting on the spit.  Expecting this bird to fly off any minute, as they often do, I got some record shots, but amazingly it remained all day, usually standing on one leg with its bill tucked in - it must have been pretty tired!
It usually looked like this

Although did wake up occasionally
Shortly after finding the Whimbrel, a noisy flock of 8 Ringed Plovers flew in.  Some landed briefly before 6 departed quite quickly, leaving 2 to stay for the next 2 days.  They looked good for tundra RPs.  It's been a good year for Ringed Plovers on site, with 2 flocks of 5 birds and now 1 of 8.
I returned to the pit in the afternoon just before I had to pick up the kids from school.  The Whimbrel was still standing there, but little else seemed to be happening.  I left just before 3pm.  At 3:07pm I received a text from Dave C just as I was driving through the village.  I stopped to look at it and couldn't believe what I was reading, "spoonbill lmgp".  Was this a text from last week just turning up?  I rang Dave and no, he was watching a Spoonbill that had just appeared from nowhere in front of the island.  I contemplated turning around, but I didn't have time, so went to fetch the children from school.  Shortly later, with my daughter at a piano lesson, I quickly took my son down and found the full summer plumaged Spoonbill roosting in the heronry - this was amazing.  From the colour of the bill tip, it looked very similar to the bird that was here exactly one week ago, so who knows where it has been in the meantime.
A very quick grab as it roosted in the heronry
 Jim R got some video footage of the bird here:
So an amazing couple of days, just waiting for Great White Egret and Glossy Ibis now!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

What a grey day!

May 8th - the weather forecast was not good for today with a lot of rain in the forecast.  I had the morning free, so braved the conditions anyway, ever hopeful that it might knock down a wader or two.

I arrived just after 9am when one bout of rain had passed and it was just a fine drizzle.  The previous evening's Dunlin had departed and there was just the usual pair of LRP and a single Oystercatcher - this bird has a ring on its left leg.  The rain started up again, quite light at first but getting steadily heavier and more persistent.  I decided to sit (or stand) it out under my brolly - you never know.  At about 11am, the rain started to ease off and I was able to come out from under my umbrella.  It was now that I saw a mid sized wader flying in low across the end of the spit.  At first with it head on, I wasn't sure what it was, but as it banked round and showed me its black armpits, I realised that it was a Grey Plover - result!  It flew into the bay of the spit and landed and then proceeded to walk up and down a 20 yard stretch finding plenty to feed on.  I took my usual record shots and sent out the usual texts to inform people and then went back to enjoying the bird.  It was not in its glorious summer finery yet, but was showing some black spots on the breast and belly.  It is a scarce bird here and certainly a patch tick for me.

Hopeful that this might the first of some more passage, I continued my vigil, but to no avail.  The Grey Plover flushed, presumably by the local Common Terns taking off around it and flew to the less visible area at the back of the far spit before I left, but was still present.

In the drier early afternoon period, a large number of Swifts had arrived, probably 200+ and were wheeling around giving quite a spectacle.  The male Whitethroat was singing away by the cottages when I left and looks to be on territory there.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


I didn't get any birding in over the bank holiday weekend until Monday morning, when I decided to do an early visit before the kids got going.  Unfortunately, on arrival it was foggy.  I toyed with the idea of going somewhere else instead, but in the end waited the hour or so it took to burn off getting gradually better views of the birds that were present.

A Cuckoo was calling quite a bit from the SE corner whilst I waited and as the fog lifted, I saw it flying from the northern side back to the southern side and it promptly went quiet. A lone gull on the spit turned out to be a 2nd W/ 2nd S GBB Gull - I wonder if I'll see any more of these until next Winter?  Wader-wise, there weren't any of the hoped for scarcities, but a single Ringed Plover had joined the usual pair of LRP and a lone Common Sand was also present.  There were also at least 6 and possibly 8 Little Egrets present, whilst overhead 4 Swifts were seen.  I went home for breakfast! 

The day was brightened up when a summer plumaged Lesser Yellowlegs was discovered at College Lake, about half an hour north of me, just the second county record since a bird in 1977, so a tick for many.  So, mid afternoon, I took the kids on an excursion and we all now have Lesserlegs on our county lists.  A lovely summer plumaged Turnstone was also there - why these can't drop into Little Marlow I don't know!

This brings me to today, May 6th, the anniversary of the fly over Crane we had at the pit on a lovely sunny morning.  This morning had seen a band of rain move through the region, so I was ever hopeful that something might have dropped in, but once again, little new stuff was on offer.  A singing Sedge Warbler greeted me in the NW corner, whilst on the spit a single Oystercatcher soon became 2 and the usual pair of LRP again, but that was it.  I sat on the bench for a while surveying the scene and decided that I ought to walk around to check other areas.  Just past the viewpoint, I looked back towards spit and had slightly better light and a view of the back of the near spit.  I now saw a Common Sand and shortly afterwards 2 birds, as both flew from the spit towards the viewpoint.  They looked like they had landed here, so I turned back to get a closer look.  As I did, I noticed a white winged bird flying over the spit.  I expected it to be one of the Little Egrets, but when I put my bins on it, I could see that it was in fact a Spoonbill!  I couldn't believe it, a patch tick for me and possibly ever.  The records show a bird from Marlow in 1969, but whether that is this site or not I don't know.  I was thankful when the bird landed in the water on the far side of spit so that I could grab a record shot.  I also phoned Mick M, as I had seen his car in the car park so knew that he was on site - he was on the eastern side, with an obscured view of the spit!  I  duly sent the news to the grapevine and continued to watch the Spoonbill.  It was an adult in full breeding plumage and it took an immediate interest in the heronry on the island.  It flew into the trees and looked to be quite vocal, though I couldn't hear it.  It flew down to the lake and back into the trees many times during its hour long stay, but suddenly flew purposefully south just before 10 am.  I watched it clear the county boundary into Berks and over Cock Marsh it began to circle and gain height.  I did this for quite a while until it was very high and quite hard to keep track of and then I lost it, so wasn't sure in what direction it eventually left.  Whilst it was on the deck, Graham S and Mick M had joined me on the viewpoint.  Kevin D arrived whilst the bird was circling, but managed distant flight views through my scope.

A lovely bird for the anniversary of the Crane - I hope that May 6th next year is as kind.

On arrival

Checking the scene

Visiting the heronry

Back on deck

Back in the trees

Time to go

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Wet weather passage

May 1 - I was at the lake by 9am having dropped the kids at school, but only had an hour.  It was a little misty and overcast with a bit of dampness in the air and felt like it could be a good day for some movement.  On arrival, 2 Shelduck flew over from the west and landed amongst quite a number already present, a quick count up got me to 10 birds, my largest count so far this year.  By the bench, a quick snippet of song from the nearby reeds alerted me to only my second Sedge Warbler of the Spring.  The regular Reed Warbler was still chuntering away in the spit reeds.  The rest of the spit was disappointingly lacking in waders, apart from a lone summer plumaged Dunlin.  My hour was soon up and I had to leave, a single Swift being the only other bird of note.

At around 11:30am I received a text from Mick McQ informing me that 5 Ringed Plover had just flown in.  5 minutes later, another text saying Black Tern.  Things were obviously moving, so 10 minutes later and I was back on site.  The Plovers and Black Tern were still present and I soon got onto an Arctic Tern.  Mick had to leave, so I was left alone to carry on the watch.  I decided to go to the viewpoint to try and grab some shots of the Plovers and whilst I was there, the Black Tern came in and landed as well - nice!  Whilst taking some records of the Black, I realised that the Arctic was standing next to it, so I grabbed some records of that.  I then found that there were 2 standing next to each other and shortly later there were 3 all standing together.  This seemed to be the number of Arctics, until Dave C arrived a while later.  Going through them again, I could see that there were now 4 birds.  They spent a lot of time perched up on the spit, with occasional sorties and it was nice to see them like this rather than in the usual flight mode.  I could even see that the Black Tern had a silver BTO type ring on its right leg, though obviously too far away to read anything on it.

At around 1:30pm a pair of Oystercatchers flew in, which were also new for the year.  They remained for a just over an hour before flying off west and were typically noisy whilst on the spit.  A couple more Swifts and that it was it for my viewing time.  Not a bad bit of passage, though I am still surprised that we haven't had Whimbrel yet and there were Barwits seen at several sites today.  North Bucks even had Sanderling and Turnstone at one site, so it could or should have been even better!

Oh it's worth mentioning that I saw my first brood of Egyptian Geese as well, 10 goslings - I wonder how many will make it to next week.

Arctic and 2 Ringed Plover

Black, 3 Arctics and Ringed Plover

Black, Common, 2 Arctics and Ringed Plover