Monday, 20 March 2017

Shalford patch diary, 20th March: Spring arrives with a bang!

After a couple of days' absence from the patch I headed down at first light this morning in less than inviting conditions: drizzle and a brisk south-westerly wind. 'Surely this should drop some migrants though', I thought as I did my usual pre-work circuit of the Broadford/St Catherine's area. There were clearly more Chiffchaffs around, with at least 7 singing despite the inclement weather. Reed Buntings too were in fine voice, and it was good to see the pair of Stonechats again hopping around on the fence near St Catherine's Lock. A scan of the Horse Field produced two Red-legged Partridges; only my second patch record after the single bird I had on the 12th. Heading on down to St Catherine's the drizzle got rather heavier and I scanned the sky every few seconds, expecting to see a hirundine appear at any moment - no luck.

Last stop on my circuit was the usual scan of St Catherine's Pool which produced at least 7 Teal, 3 Gadwall and a couple of Little Grebes. Just as I was about to head off I noticed something else lurking, huddled up in the vegetation at the back: a small duck, and although the light was poor and the angle odd surely that was a head stripe I could see?
As I crept forward slightly to get a better view, the bird(s) in question swam out into open water where I was left in no doubt: an absolutely stonking pair of Garganey! Suffice to say a patch first for me and the first Wey Valley record for 15 years. Certainly a species I'd dreamt of finding on patch but still a magical find. I fired off a couple of record shots before contacting a few people and putting the news on Twitter. At work during the morning I received various reports from local birders including Steve Chastell, Richard Waters (who got some excellent photos) and fellow Albury SP surveyor John Austin who'd been and connected and, heading back myself this evening, I was pleased to see so many familiar and new faces. Sadly by the time I got back to the pool the birds had gone back into hiding in the vegetation and a few visiting birders left without seeing them. I'll be back to check first thing in the morning but with a clear night ahead I suspect they may move on. Still, a fantastic bird to find locally and what a way to ring up my 80th* patch species of the year!
Photo: Richard Waters

Photo: Richard Waters

* Whoops, actually my 81st - completely forgot to add Redpoll after my skywatch on the 17th!