Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Another Brent

28th November - a lovely day to be out, the chill of Winter, but lovely bright blue skies and sunshine.  I was a little late out this morning and only got to the lake at about 9:45am.  I was soon joined by Mick S and we chatted for a while.  At about 10:15am, I noticed a small, dark goose dropping in.  It had flown over our heads from the west and was coming down on the east side of the spit.  Would you believe it, another adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose - my third Brent for the patch and second at the lake, following the recent September bird.

The goose looked fairly wary and alert most of the time it was on site and never seemed too settled, looking as though it might take off at any minute.  However, it remained on the lake for at least 3 hours, during which time it did take off and fly around once, but decided to return.  It was not seen later in the afternoon by myself and several other people.  It came onto the spit amongst the Greylags for a short while, but spent most of its time alone on the lake.  In fact, just before I left it, it had swum right over to the SE corner, just a few yards off the edge and followed the edge all the way up the east bank and around towards Works Bay, where it swam out of view.

It was generally distant for photos, but did approach closer at times if stood still long enough.

Tiny goose!

Often checking out the skies above

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Some more good ducks

The juvenile male Scaup remained fairly faithful to the north west corner near the cottages and could be found there for almost a week, last reported on the 30th.

Yesterday, the 8th, I racked up two more year ticks with a couple more good duck species for this site.  The first of these was two female Goldeneye.  I had managed to miss a male from the first winter period that was present on a couple of dates, so it was good to get these back.  Goldeneye is a species that probably occurs every year, but birds never seem to linger for some reason, so they tend to be one day birds.

Having spent some time ambling around the lake and trying to get some sort of recognisable record shot of the Goldeneye which had chosen an area about as far from any point on the bank as possible, I finally reached the east bank.  I was then distracted by a vocal Water Rail and stood by one of the fishing swims to see if I could see it on the bank rather than just in flight.  Casually looking out over the lake, I noticed a large black and white looking wildfowl species flying quite high over the lake.  Assuming that it was most likely a Great Crested Grebe, which often fly around the lake here and look pretty odd, I got my bins on it and could clearly see it was a male Goosander.  This is quite a scarce duck here and I average a record about every other year.  In fact, this is my first male, with all my past records being red heads.  I watched the bird half circle around the lake, but it didn't ever look likely to land.  It then flew strongly east over the STW, before veering south, at which point it did appear to be dropping, but I lost it behind trees.  It's possible that it landed on the adjacent Randle's lake, but that is inaccessible.  I think if I had been anywhere other than on the east side, I would have missed it, so the birding gods were smiling on me.

I've tried the gull roost a couple of times over the past week.  Birds are definitely building, but there hasn't been too much of note.  The best was a 2nd winter Caspian Gull on the 6th, which was hard for me to photograph in the falling light.

This 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull on the 2nd was around in better light:
I had my first Golden Plover of the season on the 1st when a flock of about 70 birds circled around for about 5 minutes before eventually heading off west.  This day also saw my first sizeable counts of winter thrushes, with about 60 Redwing and c50 Fieldfare seen.  The only other wader of note, apart from 25 Snipe, was a Green Sandpiper that dropped in briefly on the 2nd, but didn't stay long.  I was hoping that it might stay local over the winter, but I haven't seen it since.
Duck numbers are still fairly low for the site, but are beginning to build slowly.  Typical counts at present are c40 Wigeon, c30 Pochard, c25 Shoveler, c50 Teal, though I did have a high count of 67 Great Crested Grebes yesterday and a couple of Dabchick.  Cormorants are finding plenty to feed on and numbered 64 in the week, but the Geese make up most of the numbers with several hundred Greylags, Canadas and Egyptians.  These give the local foxes something to play around with, though I don't think they ever seriously go for anything that large.
A juvenile Peregrine flew through on the 5th and flushed the whole spit, which was quite impressive.
I keep checking for rarer migrants, with winter geese and Velvet Scoter seen not too far from here recently, but that's for another day........

Monday, 24 October 2016

A good duck

24th October - Dave C sent a Whatsapp message this afternoon saying that he had found a Scaup near the cottages.  Scaup is a very scarce duck here, though we did have an over wintering female at the other end of the complex a few years back, so I didn't need any persuading to go and twitch it.  A few minutes later and I was watching the bird.  It was in the NW arm where the few Pochard on site tend to hang out and was showing pretty well between bouts of diving.  Dave C was still there watching it and we discussed its age - I eventually settled on a juvenile male.  My usual apologies for the ropey record shot - low light etc etc....

A very welcome addition to the year list and the first new addition for just over a month!
The lack of updates reflects the lack of interest, though I continue to pound the patch ever hopeful.  I have also been distracted with a couple of north eastern twitches this month (Eastern Crowned Warbler and Siberian Accentor). The only other recent bird of note was another male Stonechat that was around the northern fields on the 12th:

The pair at Emmetts were seen again on the 10th and 11th.

I also took a snap of a hornet from the north side of the lake, as they have been very numerous in that area this Autumn.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A few interesting birds

I popped down to the gull roost on Oct 2nd.  What looked like a young fox was charging around playing at attacking a few things, but not really doing anything in earnest.  However, this did upset the birds a bit and the noisy geese retreated to the edges of the spit and the gulls never settled, with most taking to the water.  The regular adult Yellow-legged Gull was present, otherwise a single adult GBBG and three Common Gulls were slightly out of the ordinary.  There looked to be quite a few Egyptian Geese, so I counted them and reached 88, so numbers on the rise again.

There are loads of Greylags and fewer Canadas that fly in mid morning from the river valley, pretty much every day at the moment.  They cause quite a commotion and tend to upset the birds already present to a certain degree.  I counted 413 Greylags last week and they tend to carry the Bar-headed Goose with them.

Anyway, back the gull roost on the 2nd.  Whilst doing a quick scan of the edges for Snipe, I picked up a Sedge Warbler picking its way through the stems.  I have never had an October Sedge here, so my latest record to date.

Wintering duck have still not settled here in any numbers yet, with most seemingly dropping in and then moving elsewhere.  On the 2nd there were just 12 Wigeon, but this is higher than most days recently.

Onto the 3rd - on arrival at the lake, I quickly picked out a female type Pintail standing with three Wigeon.  It looked very edgy and sure enough, no sooner had I clicked one ropey record shot than it too off and flew north never to be seen again.  The shot shows how edgy it was with neck extended to full length.

There have been a couple of Common Sands present for ages, usually one either side of the spit and seldom together.  They were both still here on the 3rd.  However, as I walked around the lake, I heard Common Sands calling and saw a tight flock of three birds flying low over the water.  They flew all around the lake looking for somewhere to land and had obviously just arrived.  They eventually settled on the spit and made the Common Sand count five.

Whilst scanning the works bay area to count the Pochard (still just a handful present), I came across a female Mandarin sitting on one of the tiny little islands.  However, it didn't take long to notice me and fly off to the centre of the lake, but eventually appeared to settle around the main island.  Along with Pintail, Mandarin are quite scarce ducks here and only seen occasionally.

There have been a couple of dodgy ducks here recently.  Firstly something that goes under several names, but is basically the white morph of White-cheeked Pintail was seen at the weekend, but not by me.  A link to a picture of this species is here . Secondly, a weird Mallard type hybrid, which I did see on the 3rd and took a couple of snaps.  It is hanging out with Mallard, but has obviously got other influences in it.

Finally on the 3rd, I visited Emmett's fields and found a nice pair of Stonechats, the male of which was more photogenic than the female.

On the migrant front, Meadow Pipits have been a round for a while, but in small numbers, often flying over calling, but a few down in the fields.  Similarly for Skylarks.  I have yet to see an Autumn Redwing, though these are now appearing in good numbers, although John E did have a couple of early birds back on Sept 17th.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Early Jack Snipe

September 23rd - winter species have been dropping in and often moving on over the past couple of weeks: Wigeon have peaked at about 25 birds so far (on the 18th, the same day as the Brent Goose), but there are often only single figures; Teal also peaked at about 40 birds (also 18th), but there are usually fewer; there are occasional Shoveler records and still only a handful of Pochard, whilst Snipe appeared to peak at 17 on the 19th and numbers seem to have fallen away since, with 15 seen on the 21st and this morning only 11 could be seen feeding around the base of the spit.

I had scanned these birds from the bench a couple of times to confirm the number and then moved to the viewpoint.  There have been 1-2 Common Sands present for weeks and again, I saw one this morning.  From the point, I scanned back through the Snipe on the spit and then continued scanning further along the edge where the vegetation becomes more rank and reedy, as this often holds further birds.  I soon came across another snipe feeding along the edge, but it was quickly obvious that this was no ordinary Snipe but a Jack Snipe, its dark crown being the initial diagnostic feature.  I moved back around to get a closer look - I do like these little birds.  It was slowly feeding, out in the open, along the edge of the bank, bobbing away as they do and it was nice to be able to scrutinise its plumage features as it did so.  I took a record shot, but not too easy of a small bird still a fair way off.

This is only my third patch record of this often elusive species, which used to more commonly observed here.  Maybe the maturing vegetation has had an effect either on numbers or viewing conditions.  It remained all day and apart from when it went to sleep slightly behind leaves, stayed in a little stretch of the bank and showed to all comers.  Again, a slightly early date to pick this up as they are just coming in on the coast, though my first record here was Sept 30th 2010.

To cap off a good morning, as I walked further around the lake and scanned back over the spit, I found a male Stonechat feeding on the small stretch of longer vegetation that hasn't yet been mowed down.  Two year ticks in the morning.  The bird was well over 200 yards away, so my record shots are just that! In fact the second shot was from the eastern side of the lake, which is even further.

Late (ish) Spot Fly

September 19th - with the evenings drawing in, my after work visit today gave me just enough time to peruse the gull roost.  There were good numbers of gulls considering the time of year, with an estimated 800 BHG being the bulk of them and smaller numbers of Herring and LBBG.  There were also three Common Gulls, an adult and two 1st winters and the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull.  I eventually managed to locate two different 1st winter Med Gulls in different parts of the roost, both fairly well advanced into 1st winter, though one had a slightly dirtier looking head than the other.  Given the poor and fading light, I didn't even attempt a photo.

Considering the previous morning had yielded 8 Snipe, it was good to count 17 this evening, with new birds arriving at a good rate.

September 20th - I was conscious that Spot Fly was not yet on the year list and time was gradually ebbing away.  I had tried all the usual areas many times, but was beginning to think that my absence in the back half of August might have cost me this species.  So, I was very happy to find a juvenile bird feeding in willows on the north side of the lake this morning.  It flicked in over my head and I watched it for a few minutes whilst it carried out a couple of sorties for insects, before it disappeared behind me.  Viewing in this spot is quite enclosed, so I walked to the northern field line and looked back towards the trees hoping to pick it up again (and take a record shot), but I couldn't find it and assumed that it had moved on through.  A very welcome addition to the year list and I breathed a sigh of relief.

There were still a few warblers about too. Apart from the ubiquitous Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, a single Willow Warbler and two Reed Warblers were on the north side of the lake and a rather elusive Lesser Whitethroat was feeding in a hedge by the car park.

Unseasonal Brent Goose

18th September - I made a morning visit to the lake, not particularly early, but was there just after 8am.  On arrival, I found Jim R standing near the western bench taking photos of the small group of Snipe that had been building in recent days.  This morning there were eight birds near the base of the spit.  We had a quick chat and then began to scan the birds on the spit.  Almost immediately, I came across a Brent Goose standing on the near spit and called this out to Jim - he had just come across it too.  I wanted to grab some record shots, but annoyingly my scope kept misting up.  I decided that the viewpoint would give me a closer view and so walked over there.  Annoyingly, during the fifty yard walk, the goose had left the spit and was now swimming away towards the island.  With a mist free scope I was now able to take some shots.  It swam to the far side of the bay and then climbed out, so I got some further shots of it on land.  Due to the low light, all are less sharp than I would have liked, but good enough for a record.

The bird was an adult dark-bellied and must have been one of the first back in the country for the Winter, as the date seems very early.  This is only my second patch record of a scarce patch bird, my first was a rather remarkable pale-bellied bird in Emmett's fields on 15th November 2013 - see here

The goose was on its own, but the resident flocks of Greylags and Canadas started to arrive from riverside fields mid morning and soon the spit was covered with hundreds of them.  The Brent Goose carried on making its way around the edge of the spit and Jim and I last saw it preening on the eastern side of the spit at about 9:45am.  Further visits by other birders at 10:30 and later in the day failed to find it again.

More chats and starts

Since my initial sightings of Whinchat and Redstart on the 6th, over the following couple of weeks, I came across another female type Redstart and three more Whinchats.

The Redstart was another frustratingly brief view.  I found the bird on the 14th sitting on top of a pile of turf at the top end of Emmett's fields.  As soon as I saw it, it saw me and darted back into an adjacent stretch of game cover.  I was looking against the light, so decided to carry on along the path past where I had seen the bird and then hope that it reappeared for a record shot.  After about half an hour, with no further sign, I had to leave, so another Redstart with no record photo.

On the 11th, I found a confiding Whinchat in a weedy field along Pump Lane.  It remained faithful to a small area of this field near the northern fence line for three days, allowing a better record shot than my last attempt!

On the 12th, another Whinchat was feeding in a low cut stubble field at Emmett's.  It was always against the light, so the record shot is just that!

And the final bird was seen on the 22nd in exactly the same spot in the same weedy field in Pump Lane, obviously attractive to chats - I'll have to keep checking it for Stonechat.

An interesting non-avian record came on the 12th.  A couple of years ago, I had come across a Red Underwing moth resting high up on a telegraph pole - I think my attention had been drawn by a flick of its wings.  Anyway, I was passing the same pole on the 12th and remembering this previous encounter just scanned it with my bins.  To my surprise, in almost exactly the same position, was another Red Underwing - not a scarce moth, but one that I don't see too often.  I'm not sure what makes this pole so attractive to them, but suspect that it is pretty well camouflaged and also quite warm to rest up during the day.  It was not accessible for a close photo, so I had to resort to phonescoping from about 60 yards away - I'm surprised that any shot came out at all!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Two more to the cause

September 6th - this was my first day since mid July when I could devote some proper time to birding the patch as both children had returned to school.  I had a plan - I was still missing Redstart, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher for the year.  Time was passing, but this is still a good date to pick these species up, so I intended to cover those areas of the patch that had been neglected in order to maximise my opportunities.

I started at the lake, not a good place for at least two of the three, but it was overcast and muggy so it's always worth checking for passing waders or terns.  Actually, since my last post, the single juvenile Black Tern has stayed throughout, this being its 10th day on site, emulating a juvenile bird that stayed for a fortnight back in September 2013.  A juvenile Dunlin also turned up on the 1st and was still present for its 6th day this morning.  A probable Pec Sand was reported from this site on the day the Dunlin turned up, by observers unknown - I am hoping that this was a case of mistaken identity rather than a mega gone missing.  It was checked out an hour or two after the report surfaced but only the Dunlin was present.

A couple of Common Sands were still bobbing around, there have been up to three recently, and the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull was also present.  A small influx of Teal, nine birds, a couple of Shoveler and a small group of four Pochard were the only slightly interesting water fowl.

Having checked out the lake, I decided to do a circuit, taking in the riverside meadows, the often productive railway bank and making my way to the northern fields and hedgerows.  The first of these drew a blank, however, the northern area looks quite interesting at the moment since the removal of the poplars last year.  There has been a small amount of regeneration and birds are more obvious here than they used to be.  I spent a while scanning a hedge line that separates the two fields, as there were a few birds moving around amongst the thick vegetation.  There were a lot of Robins, but I picked out a couple of juvenile Whitethroats, possibly a sign of successful breeding.  I eventually made my way along the path and passed through the end of the hedge, as I did so, a bird flew from right next to me and followed the hedge northwards.  I got it in my bins as it flew and was confronted with a brownish bird with a bright rusty red tail with darker central tail feathers - a Redstart! I watched it fly into the hedge, noted its position and carried on along the path to get a better viewing angle.  As I did this, I sent out news, as this is a rare bird around the lake itself and I knew that Alan S needed it for a patch tick.  He was on his way.  I continued to watch the area of thick hedge where it flew in, but after a while had had no further views.  I retraced my steps to watch the other side of the hedge and still got nothing further.  Alan had arrived by this point, so I met up with him and we both continued to watch - still nothing.  I retraced my steps again so that we were watching one side of the hedge each - still nothing.  After more than an hour, I gave up and left Alan to it.  He gave it 2 hours and drew a blank.  Who knows what happened to it, but I was happy with the year tick and one of my quarry down.

Next, I walked along the track to the athletics track, as this is where I have had Whinchat in the last couple of years.  Nothing of note today.  Then I visited Emmett's farm, which I hadn't been to in several months.  The area just by the last farm buildings was most productive.  I could hear lots of twittering Linnets together with Yellow Wagtail calls as I walked up.  The Linnets were feeding on low seed heads and also using a small puddle to drink and bathe.  When they flew up in a flock, they numbered around 200 birds, so have obviously had a great breeding season.  The Yellow Wagtails were sort of with the Linnets, though they kept flying up to the guttering of the last barn as there was a small stretch that had retained rain water, which they were using much as the Linnets were using the puddle.  I counted four birds and also rather a smart moulting White Wagtail with them.  A record of one of the birds is below:

Next stop was Pump Lane paddocks, which has been the best site over the years for both Wheatear and Whinchat, though I actually drew a blank with Whinchat here last year.  After a while scanning all the fence lines over what is quite a large site, I eventually picked up a small blob on a very distant fence to the north of the site which looked quite promising.  I set the scope up and was soon enjoying a Whinchat, so a further success with my plan.  The poor record shot below is a result of the vast distance the photo was taken from, but is just about recognisable.

There was a further large flock of Linnets at this site too, around 100 birds.  300 Linnets on patch brings a smile to my face.

So that was that for my birding outing, very enjoyable and very successful, with two out of three target birds found, Spot Fly next!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Pluses and Minuses

Going away for 2 weeks in the back half of August is a good way to miss good patch birds, as this is peak migration for many species.  So it was for me, as a flock of no less than 13 Sandwich Terns spent the whole day on site on August 16th - I had to make do with looking at the pictures.  Still, that's patch birding.  I also missed a local adult Gannet on August 15th, which would just about have been gettable before it flew off.

On my return, my first visit to the patch was on the afternoon of August 28th.  There didn't appear to be much about.  All the breeding Common Terns had departed, though a lone moulting adult was probably a passage bird.  There was a reasonable loafing flock of gulls to work through and I pulled out an adult and a moulting juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

Then, just before 4pm, a Black Tern flew through my bins.  I looked up and could see several small terns slowly circling and descending to the lake.  There were four in all and all were juvenile Black Terns - always nice to see.  They never looked to be lingering and I watched them circle up high several times before they descended again.  On one occasion, three of the birds flew out of the SE corner and looked to be heading south over Cock Marsh, but about 10 minutes later they had returned.  The flock often split into a three and a single bird, with the three close to the spit and the single hawking the east side of the lake.  I left then to it and they were still present into the evening.

It was no surprise to me that on an early visit the following morning, a single juvenile Black Tern was still present and I assumed that this was the lone bird from the previous day.  It was still there the next day too.  This bird spent some time much closer to the west bank, often perched on a stick poking out of the water, so I was to grab some record shots.

On August 30th, whilst visiting my parents, I received a text from Fraser, my old birding buddy who still birds my old patch at Dinton Pastures.  There was an outstanding record of a roosting Nightjar visible from the riverside path at Lavell's Lake.  This was too good an opportunity to miss and I was only a few minutes away, so hot footed it down there.  What an amazing record, now that's one I'd like to get on my new patch!

Holiday Treat

I've been away on holiday, but just before I left, on August 12th, Alan S saw a Little Stint fly on to the spit during the late afternoon.  Luckily, I was able to get down and see it.  It was a lovely fresh juvenile, giving good scope views, but a bit too distant for digiscoping.  My best efforts are below - see if you can find the bird! Clue: it's walking along the water's edge...

Little Stint has become quite scarce in recent years, though they seem to be having a good year this year, which might indicate a bumper breeding season. The last patch record was about 10 years ago, so this represented a patch tick for me and was a great send off for my holiday!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Best of the rest

In previous years, there has been a reasonably sized loafing flock of LWHG to scan through for scarcer birds.  This year, birds have been much thinner on the ground.  This probably accounts for the smaller number of Yellow-legged Gulls seen and the lack of any juveniles so far.  My first of the season was a 2nd summer bird on June 7th.

This was followed by three adults together when there were only six LWHG on site! One of these is shown below:

Since then there have only been sightings of single adults, which may well be the same bird:

On the wader front, it has been reasonably quiet.  Apart from the scarcer birds already mentioned, there have been a few Dunlin: a s/p adult on July 7th:

Two s/p adults at the end of July that I saw on the 28th:

The following day, one of these had departed as only one was present in the morning, but it was joined during the day by a juvenile.  These two stayed a few days.

Little Ringed Plovers had there usual July build up that peaked at 12 birds mid month, 6 adults and 6 juveniles. My first juvenile was seen on June 28th and was likely to have been bred on site.

Further news on the breeding front is that 4 pairs of Little Egrets raised 9 young between them in broods of 3, 2, 2 and 2.  The Common Terns on the rafts have had another successful year.  Mick M ringed them on June 24th and ringed 21 chicks with a further 8 either too small to ring or able to fly away.  I also saw a Tufted Duck with 3 small ducklings on the July 11th, though only two survived, the first time I've noted successful breeding of this species for a while.

And finally, an owling visit on the 31st July added Tawny Owl to the year list, with a noisy calling juvenile on the NE side of the pit.  No Barn Owls on this side, but two glow worms added to the interest. One recorded below: