Sunday, 3 April 2016

Shalford patch diary, weeks twelve and thirteen

Monday 21st March

An after work visit tonight produced little in the way of migrants, aside from a single singing Chiffchaff, but there was a fair amount of other stuff around, most notably Buzzards which were very active and which I observed mating and carrying nesting material. The usual Kestrel pair were displaying still, while a male Linnet was singing away in Broom Meadow. Wildfowl numbers remain fairly stable with at least nine Shoveler and eighteen Teal scattered around the area. On the gull front, aside from the usual Black-headeds, ten Common and two Lesser Black-backed flew north while two single Herring Gulls flew south and west.
Tuesday 22nd March

A short and rather unremarkable stroll around the Broadford area after work tonight yielded just three Shoveler and two Teal of note on the deck, while two Buzzards and a single Grey Wagtail were the best of the flyovers along with an unsually high count of five Grey Herons south. 

Friday 25th March

The warmest day of the year so far and one in which there had been a fair amount of raptor vismig evident during my working day, so the patch was calling as the clock hit 4pm. Early on in my visit I clocked a Little Egret flying south, while eighteen Fieldfares heading north-east was the highest count I'd seen here for a while and presumably birds on the move. Gull numbers were noticeably lower than of late, with just four each of Common and Lesser Black-backed of any note. Wildfowl numbers again were reasonable with at least twenty-five Teal, five Shoveler and three Mandarin. The Little Owl was in its usual tree and it was entertaining to watch it chasing off a Grey Squirrel at one point. Raptors were represented by two Buzzards and singles of Kestrel and Red Kite.

Monday 28th March

Dodging fallen trees and debris on the roads of Chilworth and Shalford, I headed to the patch mid-morning after the worst of 'Storm Katie' had died down and found the water levels the highest I had seen them to date.
Indeed, access via the Dagley Lane boardwalk end was completely out of the question so I headed north up the eastern side past the waterworks and through Shalford Park. I have been rather neglectful of the northern end of my patch so far this year so this was a good excuse to check it out. It was clear from the off there were a lot of Chiffchaffs around and I'd already heard at least four before I reached the waterworks. The total count was at least ten singing males. It was when I reached the waterworks that the first wave of Gulls moved into view from the north. I started going through them, expecting the usual Common and Black-headed but was surprised to find them almost entirely Herring Gulls. This theme continued throughout my visit and the final tally was 120 south - by far my highest count of this species here to date. These were interspersed with just a single Common Gull, nine Black-headeds and at least five Lesser Black-backed.
Also on the move overheard were two Greylag Geese north - only my second record of this species this year - and a few Meadow Pipits north, plus the always welcome sight of my first Swallow (80) of the year which flew west over St Catherine's Lock just after noon. Wildfowl were represented by at least nine Teal, a single drake Shoveler and at least three pairs of Mandarin, while of note on the raptor front were Peregrine, two each of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk and at least four Buzzards.
Mandarins - Richard Waters
Later in the day I had an Osprey drift high north over my garden in Chilworth, at the onset of a hail shower.

Tuesday 29th March

Just a quick after work visit tonight and the water levels were still too high to allow access to much of my usual route around the patch but a scan of Broadford Marsh produced at least seven Shoveler while the horse field in this area held a little mixed flock of Starlings and winter thrushes - the latter won't be with us much longer. Overhead there were at least four Buzzards around and a single Red Kite south.

Thursday 31st March

My last patch visit of March and, after an early shift vis-migging up Leith Hill, I had nowhere else particularly important to be so decided to make my visit a lengthy one.
Aside from the ever increasing numbers of Chiffchaffs and Monday's Swallow, it was looking like I'd end the month with disappointingly little in the way of migrants on my list. It was a very welcome sight then to watch a single Sand Martin (81) hawking over the meadows this morning before continuing its way north. The patch was ringing to the sound of Chiffchaff song, at least a dozen singing around the place, but sadly no other warblers yet. A scan of St Catherine's Pool produced little on the water, but I did hear the distinctive call of a Brambling (82) from somewhere overhead, although frustratingly wasn't able to clap eyes on it. Still, my second patch tick of the day really buoyed my enthusiasm and I continued my walk, excited for what my third could be - House Martin perhaps? Or Willow Warbler? I waded through the deepest of puddles and climbed the steps up to the Railway Line Walk and headed down the path to view the Broadford Marsh area, where I found the usual scattering of Shoveler, notably higher numbers of Coot, and a single drake Wigeon (83).
Shoveler and Wigeon on Broadford Marsh 
 Tick! This was a species I expected earlier in the year, given the amount of suitable habitat here, but better late than never. After a while it flew off with a group of Shoveler, which it broke off from in due course and came down on the other side of the river. A little later I saw four more fly from this area and back down into the marsh near Broadford Bridge. Three patch ticks in one day! This was just getting silly now...
Later, on another pool in the Broadford area I found a pair of Tufted Duck (84) - patch tick number four - and it was here I decided to sit and have my lunch. It was a glorious afternoon, and as I enjoyed my sandwiches a Chiffchaff sang in the Willows above my head, a Swallow flitted overhead and a Peacock butterfly fluttered past. Spring at last.
Also of note from today's visit were at least ten Linnet, four Reed Buntings. ten Buzzards, three Red Kites, one Sparrowhawk, one Little Owl, two Mandarin, and Jackdaws and Starlings gathering nesting material.
Mandarin - Richard Waters
Friday 1st April

An early and chilly start this morning saw the patch still rather frosty and misty but looking beautiful bathed in warming spring sunshine.
I didn't cover quite as much ground as yesterday but still clocked up at least ten singing Chiffchaffs - they really are everywhere now. As I made my way along the Railway Line Walk I also heard my first singing Blackcap of the year. St Catherine's Pool was rather more lively this morning with a patch high count of three Little Grebes jostling at the southern end, while a drake Gadwall (85) hanging out with a pair of Mallards was another very welcome addition to the patch list. 
Gadwall on St Catherine's Pool 
Starlings and Jackdaws were again flying around with nest material as I strolled down to check out Broadford Marsh. The water levels are still really high but I'm hoping they may drop enough to attract the odd passing wader in the next few weeks. Today though it was mainly Teal, with at least dozen scattered about the marsh and another ten on the Railway Pool. The marsh also held at least five each of Coot and Shoveler - numbers of the former have noticeably increased with the water levels this week.
Walking south along the navigation I stopped to check the usual Little Owl tree and, sure enough, found one basking in the sunshine. I set up my scope to get a better look and take a few phonescope pics. No sooner had I done so than a second bird appeared and promptly mounted the other and they mated for several seconds. What a magic moment.  
As usual there were a fair few Canada Geese around this morning, but one bird in particular caught my eye as it had an almost entirely white head. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo as I only saw it a couple of times briefly in flight but hopefully it'll turn up again at some point. 
By mid-morning the air had warmed sufficiently to produce the first raptors, with at least five Buzzards around and a pair of Sparrowhawks displaying over Broadford.
Buzzard - Richard Waters
As I was heading back to my car a Skylark (86) flew east over Broom Meadow; another new species for me here and my sixth patch tick in two days. I do love this time of year!

Later in the day Richard Waters paid the meadows a visit hoping for owls, which sadly didn't appear, but he did add a Little Egret to the day list. 
Little Egret - Richard Waters
Sunday 3rd April
Southerly winds and overnight rain prompted me to get out of bed extra early for my first pre-work patch visit of the year, although I only had time for a quick check of Broom Meadow, St Catherine's Pool and Broadford Marsh. 
Broadford Marsh
Plenty of singing Chiffchaffs around again plus at least two Blackcaps as I made my way past St Catherine's Lock to check the pool. I stopped to skywatch for a short while by the lock and noted a Little Egret flying north. Moving on, and I hadn't got much further before I stopped again to check I'd heard what I thought I'd just heard and, sure enough, from the bushes just across the river, the first drunken warblings of a Willow Warbler (87) - always lovely to hear.
On St Catherine's Pool itself I found the drake Gadwall still present along with four Coots noisily scrapping, plus four Teal and a pair of Little Grebe.
Heading along the navigation towards Broadford I briefly stopped to check the Little Owl tree which, sure enough, contained one very vocal Little Owl.
Little Owl - Richard Waters
There were at least ten Teal on the railway pool and at least another fifteen on Broadford Marsh along with half a dozen Shoveler. I headed further along the Railway Line Walk to check the horse field which produced little, but there were at least five Bullfinches down here.

A brief after work visit added Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull to the day list, with two and seven of each over, respectively. There were also six Swallows hawking over the meadows, and a single House Martin (88) - my first of the year - over Dagley Lane which then flew under the eaves of a house near the station. A nice end to a great week which has added nine species to my patch list, taking my Patchwork Challenge list to 88 species/94 points.

A few more pics from the past couple of weeks,

Horse interrupts Wheatear scanning session
The alien-looking Butterbur emerging near St Catherine's Lock
Hazel leaf buds bursting in the sunshine
Early Dog-violet
Kestrel - Richard Waters
Roe Deer

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