Sunday, 19 March 2017

Shalford patch diary and local round-up, mid-March

7th March

Fairly standard fare from this evening's patch visit, though most notable was the presence of a vocal pair of Stonechats in St Catherine's Meadow, the male even uttering a few phrases of song at dusk; not something I've heard on patch before. My discovery last June of a very young juvenile had led Steve Chastell to suggest they may have bred very locally - perhaps they are looking to do so again.

9th March

Another after work patch visit at the end of one of the first truly warm days of the year so far (top temperature 19c) and arrived to find the meadows still ringing with bird song. A flock of c.200 Common Gulls flew north together in a tight flock; one of my largest counts of this species here. A Carrion Crow was carrying nesting material to one of the 'Little Owl Oaks' in St Catherine's Meadow. On St Catherine's Pool there were the usual pair of Gadwall, 3 Little Grebes and 4 Coots. 50+ Linnets flew into roost in Broom Meadow; a record count for this species here.  

11th March

A late afternoon visit with my girlfriend produced the first singing Chiffchaff of the year in Mill Meadow Meadow, along with a pair of Gadwall in the same area. St Catherine's Pool held a pair of Gadwall, 2 Grey Herons, 4 Teal and 3 Little Grebes.

12th March

WeBS day and first stop was Winkworth Arboretum with Ed Stubbs. Rowe's Flashe Lake held 11 Tufted Ducks (highest count so far here this year), 2 Little Grebes, 3 Mandarin Ducks and a Bar-headed Goose (!) while a Water Rail squealed as we crossed the Phillimore Wetland boardwalk. At least 3 Chiffchaffs were singing while near the boathouse we heard a Firecrest.

Next it was on to Shalford for my most thorough exploration of the patch for a couple of weeks which produced a year tick and a patch lifer for me.

After finding little on the outflow stream from Broadford Marsh I headed past Horse Field along the Railway Line Walk. There were the usual scattering of Pheasants in the field but one instantly jumped out as being different -  a Red-legged Partridge! My first ever on the patch and only the third documented record here (previous records in 2004 and 2007). Hardly a surprise given the amount of shooting estates around here but a nice addition to the year list nonetheless. Typically for this species it sprinted off and disappeared into the bushes before I could even reach for my camera.

Moving down the river to the St Catherine's area I found my second year tick of the morning: a drake Tufted Duck (79) on St Catherine's Pool. Not a particularly regular sight here given the rather unsuitable habitat. Just the previous day the Leith Hill guys and I had been chatting about this species' migratory habits and, as I mentioned earlier, Ed and I had noted a clear increase in numbers at Winkworth earlier in the day. Clearly some movement of this species had occurred overnight.

Away from the water birds the highlights of this morning's visit were two singing Chiffchaffs and at least six singing Reed Buntings.
Tufted Duck


14th March

The first pre-work sky watch of the year from St Catherine's Hill and the first one I've done in co-ordination with Ed who was positioned  a few miles south on his Allden's Hill watchpoint.

As we exchanged texts throughout the session it initially seemed like there was little correlation between what we were both seeing - '22 Black-headed Gulls south'.... '0 BHGs!' - but gradually things started to fall into place as I picked up the trickle of Meadow Pipits Ed had reported heading my way, followed by a heard-only Redpoll (Ed had five north a little while earlier) and most notably a full adult monster of a Great Black-backed Gull which cruised over my watchpoint around 14 minutes after Ed saw it flying north over Thorncombe Park.

Full totals as follows (in order of appearance):

Little Egret - 1 north but likely only local movement
Chiffchaff - 2 singing by watch point
Canada Goose - 9 east
Herring Gull - c60 north/2 south
Pied Wagtail - 1 south
Black-headed Gull - 88 south/4 north
Starling - 20 high north-east/6 east
Grey Heron - 1 north
Cormorant - 1 south
Greylag Goose - 1 south/2 west
Common Gull - 4 south
Egyptian Goose - 1 south-west
Meadow Pipit - 1 south/6 north
Redwing - 3 north-west
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2 north
Gadwall - 1 drake flew past low with Mallards
Great Black-backed Gull - 1 north
Redpoll - heard going north
Mute Swan - 1 immature north

Greylag Goose

Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Herring Gulls

Grey Heron

16th March

Ed and I had planned another co-ordinated sky watch this morning but, after waking up to pretty thick fog, I decided instead to just do a little pre-work circuit of the mid-patch (Broadford-St Catherine's). There were now at least half a dozen Chiffchaffs singing and a similar number of Reed Buntings. The winter species are still hanging on though with at least a dozen each of Teal and Redwing still around this morning. A pair of Cormorants on the navigation at St Catherine's Lock was quite an unusual sight, this species usually seen either perched in trees or flying over in this area, while the regular pair of Gadwall were still on St Catherine's Pool.

In other local birding news, I saw my first Sand Martins of the year today, with four flying west along the Tillingbourne seen from the hill behind my house in Chilworth. The fields in this area were still holding a scattering of Redwings as of this morning also. I'm seeing Red Kites all over the place at the moment, with at least three over the Clandon Downs this afternoon then four together low over the rooftops of Chilworth. Marsh Tits and Skylarks were singing on the Downs despite the brisk westerly wind.

Fingers crossed migrants will really start arriving in numbers in the next couple of weeks, although looking at the forecast for this coming week doesn't exactly fill me with optimism!

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