Sunday, 3 July 2016

Shalford patch diary: Not all doom and gloom in June

It's hard to imagine a June less 'flaming' than the one we've just had, at least in the south of the country anyway. It seems like hardly a day passed without a deluge or two, and some days were total washouts. Nonetheless I've been persevering with the patch, still buoyed with renewed enthusiasm after the Brent Goose at the end of May, at a time when local birding can be an otherwise rather quiet and uneventful pastime. Two new species found their way on to the patch year list in June; one fairly predictable, albeit belated, the other rather less expected. Both occurred on consecutive days, also adding a bit of sparkle to what is usually one of the quietest months of the birding calendar.
Banded Demoiselle
An early morning visit in misty, drizzly conditions on the 17th produced the first of said patch ticks, with a Cuckoo (102) singing in the Broadford area as I walked down the Railway Line Walk to check out the marsh, which by the way really is looking in tip top condition now for the first returning waders (or at least it was before another load of heavy rain at the end of the month raised the water levels again!) Half an hour or so later as I made my way up to St Catherine's Lock I then found the Cuckoo singing in this area, slightly towards the north-east in fact, near Shalford Park. I haven't heard it again since.
Little Owl showing off its 'false face'
June patch tick number two came the very next morning, again after an early start which had produced little of note in the first hour or so, despite a scan of Broadford Marsh and a loop around the whole of the southern end of the patch. Heading north along the towpath towards St Catherine's, stopping frequently to scan the sky hoping to catch sight of the still elusive patch Hobby, at about 8.40 I picked up a bird heading strongly north just to the west over towards Loseley. My initial impression without bins was of a gull or a falcon as it powered fast and straight but as I got bins on it I immediately recognised the long decurved bill and gull-like wings and flight action of a Curlew (103). I tried to take a couple of pictures but typically had no luck - literally a needle in a haystack with a bird moving at pace in an otherwise empty sky!
Little Grebe with young, near St Catherine's Lock, 11th June
As you'd expect for this time of year the patch is now teeming with young birds, from Little Grebes and Mallards to Goldcrests and Starlings. Perhaps most surprising though was the very juvenile Stonechat I stumbled across on the towpath at St Catherine's Lock on the 18th. Given how young it was it would suggest it had fledged locally, which is odd as it's the first Stonechat I've seen around here since the start of March!
Juv Stonechat at St Catherine's Lock, 18th June
 Moving on to July and the weather was much more clement for my first patch visit of the month this morning. The sunshine was a treat in itself but I was also gifted another new patch bird mid-morning when the familiar laser cannon alarm calls of the local House Martins heralded the arrival of a passing Hobby (104). And about time too! Probably my favourite bird, I seem to have caught up with them everywhere this summer except on patch - until today. Sadly this one was only in view for a few seconds as it powered west, ducking and diving after hirundines as it went, before disappearing behind trees.

Fingers crossed this little flurry of midsummer patch ticks continues, otherwise roll on autumn! 

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