Monday, 21 March 2016

Shalford patch diary, weeks ten and eleven

Monday 7th March
After an enjoyable but rather quiet morning vis migging at Leith Hill I headed down to the patch for an extended afternoon visit. Entering from the Broadford Bridge end I had barely walked more than a few metres before I noticed a few gulls drifting over. Nothing particularly unusual there, except that was for one which even with the naked eye stood out with its pure white primaries gleaming in the sunshine. A quick look through bins confirmed my suspicions that it was an adult Mediterranean Gull. Unfortunately no sooner had I got my camera out and ready the bird had gained height and was disappearing fast to the north-east. Still a great addition to the patch list and a great start to the afternoon! It proved to be quite a gull-filled visit, with over 170 Common Gulls north later in the day, amongst the usual hundreds of Black-headeds, at least twenty Herring and five Lesser Black-backed.
Lots of Gulls!
On the Railway Pool there were four Teal and a Little Egret, while St Catherine's Pool held eight Teal and a pair of Shoveler. Just north of St Catherine's Lock I flushed a Water Rail from the reeds as I passed. The usual pair of Kestrels were still around, while two single Red Kites flew over (or possibly the same bird) - one north-east followed by one west a while later. Other raptors were at least two Buzzards and a male Sparrowhawk which flew over carrying prey. Meanwhile a Raven drifted into the patch airspace from the west for a moment before turning and heading back the same way. There were at least fifteen Rooks around, including a pair mating in St Catherine's Meadow, west of the lock (I'll put an annotated map on here one of these days). All in all not a bad afternoon - patch birding at its best!

Friday 11th March

The best thing about this time of year is surely the ever-lengthening evenings and, thanks to still being on winter working hours, I can now easily get in a couple of hours' birding after work. After one of the mildest days of the year so far, the patch was still thronging with birdsong when I arrived.
Blackbird singing
The rain earlier in the week had had a noticeable impact on the water levels, with the southern end of the meadows mostly flooded again although thankfully not enough to prevent access via the boardwalk. Indeed, amongst the first birds I saw this evening were a few Teal out on the flood here, along with two on the Railway Pool and at least fifteen on Broadford Marsh, viewed from Railway Line Walk. Other wildfowl of note were at least five Shoveler, and two Mandarin which flew over St Catherine's Pool and two more (or possibly the same two) which flew down into Broadford Marsh a while later. Pausing a while at St Catherine's Lock I noted a singing male Grey Wagtail and a Little Egret, the latter perched in a tree a little way along the river towards Guildford. Meanwhile there was a Little Owl in the usual tree just upstream from St Catherine's Lock on the west side of the navigation.
Grey Wagtail - Richard Waters 
Cuckooflower - considerably ahead of its avian namesake

Saturday 12th March

A well-timed late morning visit after the early fog had cleared saw the meadows bathed in warming sunshine, and the birds were clearly responding in kind: Reed Buntings were singing, along with a few of the many Redwings gathering along the Railway Line Walk, and a Carrion Crow was building a nest in an Oak along the eastern boundary. The Chiffchaff I'd earlier seen skulking through the undergrowth by the river when I first arrived was singing away at the top of a Willow as I walked back to my car. Always a sound to lift the spirits at this time of year, even though this species is increasingly overwintering in Britain and isn't quite the harbinger of spring it once was. The other surprise this morning was another patch tick in the form of a male Rose-ringed Parakeet along the river just north-east of St Catherine's Lock. After a few minutes of nibbling at the buds in this Ash it flew off south, screeching as it went.
Rose-ringed Parakeet
I was unfortunately not quick enough with my camera to capture the leucistic Goldfinch I stumbled across feeding on Burdock seedheads along the Railway Line Walk. Had it not been with a small flock of Goldfinches it would have really had me stumped. Indeed, when I first caught sight of it, all black and white with a gleaming white head, thoughts of recent UK occurrences of Northern Long-tailed Tit flashed into my head! Other highlights from today's visit included Little Egret, Firecrest, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, two Buzzard, a flyover Redpoll and at least twenty Teal.
Red Kite

Sunday 13th March

Just a flying post-work visit tonight produced at least three Reed Buntings, two Buzzards, the usual Kestrel pair, five Cormorants north and a single Egyptian Goose south. Richard Waters arrived around about the time I was heading home and manged to photograph a Barn Owl.
Cormorant (and Common Gull)
Barn Owl - Richard Waters

Monday 14th March

The north-easterly really had some bite to it when I arrived on the patch after work this evening and unsurprisingly there wasn't a huge amount of bird activity going on, most things sensibly hunkered down out of the wind. Of note though were a couple of Mandarin and a high count of fourteen Shoveler at Broadford, plus a couple of Buzzards lingering over the trees near the railway line and getting mobbed by the local corvids.
Treecreeper - Richard Waters

Thursday 17th March

Having enjoyed the sunshine all day at work and seen my first Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell of the year earlier in the day, I was feeling decidedly optimistic and full of the joys of spring when I arrived at Shalford. Entering the gate into Broom Meadow one of the first bird sounds I heard was Linnet, a common enough species but one which has thus far been only an occasional flyover for me here, so it was a surprise to find a little 'fall' of sorts, with at least half a dozen or so flitting about the gorse and broom bushes, and a couple of singing males perched higher in the trees. It struck me then that I hadn't seen any sign of a Stonechat here for a couple of weeks - sometimes migration is as evident by that which is no longer present as that which has newly arrived.
Looking south towards St Catherine's Lock
Other species of note from this evening's visit were four Teal, two Mandarin, two Shoveler, two Little Grebe and the now usual Little Owl in its favourite Oak between the navigation and the railway. Moving overhead were at least sixteen Common Gulls, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and four Cormorants north and two Egyptian Geese south. As I returned to my car via the boardwalk I counted at least twenty-three Magpies gathering to roost at the southern end of the meadows. I'm not sure the nursery rhyme goes up to twenty-three?!

Friday 18th March

A very, very, very, very cold Leith Hill tower migration watch kick-started the day, with only twenty or so Crossbills of any real note amongst the murk and drizzle. Slowly regaining sensation in our toes and fingers, Ed Stubbs and I decided to head for our respective patches, beginning with a couple of hours at Shalford. Amongst the first birds we saw was a showy Firecrest in the line of hollies along the eastern boundary. Out in Broom Meadow there were three Kestrels and at least two singing Reed Buntings, while our first Little Egret of the day flew south-west over St Catherine's Hill. We later noted another in the ditch running under the railway bridge and a probable third towards the back of the Railway Pool. The regular Little Owl was again in its usual tree, while wildfowl of note were at least twenty Teal, a dozen Shoveler and two Mandarin.
Drake Mandarin

Saturday 19th March

The twelfth straight day of north-easterlies and hope for a sudden fall of migrants was at a particularly low ebb as I made my way to the patch this morning. My optimism was buoyed somewhat though as I entered the gate into the meadows only to be greeted by the sight of a Chiffchaff flitting about in an Oak here, singing occasionally. I later noted another doing the same further west near the Riff Raff weir. Spring is proving slow to spring again this year but at least it's getting there!
Other highlights from this morning included at least fifty Redwings out in the horse field along the Railway Line Walk, the usual Little Owl, twenty-five Common Gulls and a Red Kite north and at least eighteen Teal and four Mandarin about the place.
Pheasant walking the line

Sunday 20th March

The first day of spring unfortunately brought no break in the weather as the cold wind continued to keep the temperatures down. It was a decent morning on the patch though, in spite of the unwelcoming conditions. There were again two Chiffchaffs singing occasionally, and there was a great deal of chatter from the assembled four dozen or more Redwings down the Railway Line Walk - they won't be with us much longer now. Common Gulls were drifting north almost continuously during my visit, interspersed only occasionally with a Black-headed. Teal numbers were particularly high, with at least nineteen on St Catherine's Pool alone, bringing the site total to at least thirty-four - by far my highest count of this species here to date.
Drake Teal
The Little Owl was showing well in its usual tree for me, but Richard Waters later managed to get a photo of two together which was great to see, especially as lengthsman Rob tells me they haven't bred here for a number of years. Richard also had a flyover Little Egret during his visit. Raptors were represented by at least one Sparrowhawk, four Buzzards and a female Kestrel. Gulls aside, there was just the slightest hint of some visible migration going on overhead, with a single Meadow Pipit north, two Linnets east and two Lapwing south - the latter a very welcome patch tick.

Little Egret - Richard Waters
Little Owl - Richard Waters
Little Owls - Richard Waters
Little Owl - Richard Waters

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