Monday, 1 May 2017

Shalford patch diary, 18th-28th April

Late April is surely one of the most exciting times of year to be a watcher of a local patch, when each day seems to bring new surprises and regional scarcities take on the guise of megas - a patch year tick or even better a patch lifer delivering all the excitement and more of connecting with a brand new species.

Despite the persistent lack of rain, late frosts and pesky northerly winds it's been a pretty great ten days at Shalford with seven year ticks, one of them a first for the site as far as I'm aware.

18th April

A good start to the new week after the Easter weekend. In the scrub between Horse Field and the Railway Triangle I discovered first a Chiffchaff with an interesting 'swee-oo' call (thanks to David Darrell Lambert for info and ID help on this. Further reading here: and then a Nightingale singing intermittently in the bushes right by the railway line. No doubt there have been previous records but as far as I can tell it's the first documented site record and a very nice way to notch up my 90th species on the patch year list! On to St Catherine's where I found the regular pair of Stonechats still in attendance in St Catherine's Meadow along with the first Sedge Warbler of the year singing in Broom Meadow. Other bits of note from today included one Red Kite, six Whitethroats, two House Martins, one Swallow and one Willow Warbler.

19th April

Rather quieter today after yesterday's excitement. Indeed, the Nightingale and Sedge Warbler were both missing in action. The highlights from today's two visits were the pair of Red-legged Partridges in Horse Field, three Stonechats and five Whitethroats. A Greenfinch was observed nest-building while three Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew north.
Lesser Black-backeds on the move

20th April

A very quiet skywatch from St Catherine's Hill this morning was saved at the last minute by a Cuckoo singing down in the meadows below. The 93rd species on the Shalford year list and my 92nd. Kit Britten, meanwhile, was down at ground level at the same time I was up the hill and was rewarded with a very smart male Redstart at St Catherine's Pool - the first of the year here. Sand Martins - three in total - were still whizzing about checking out the railway embankment on the side of the hill while the only apparent movers were singles of Grey Heron and Herring Gull north. A male Sparrowhawk posed briefly in a tree by the hill.
An evening visit to the patch sadly produced neither Cuckoo or Redstart, but a Water Rail squealed at St Catherine's Pool and four House Martins were hawking over the rooftops of Shalford village.

21st April

Another pre-work stroll around the meadows produced the first Garden Warbler of the year singing in the brambles by Dagley Lane allotments. Other bits of note were the Stonechat pair again in St Catherine's Meadow, three Mandarins and at least two Kestrels.

22nd April

A quiet couple of hours down the southern end of the patch was enlivened by a message from Kit Britten who'd just found two Common Sandpipers up at St Catherine's Lock. I raced up to find at least one bird still present although flighty. While we were at the lock five Sand Martins flew north along the river. Kit also informed me he'd just seen one of the adult Stonechats carrying a fecal sac in St Catherine's Meadow - great to confirm breeding here after it was suspected in 2016.
An afternoon skywatch from the Horse Field, meanwhile, produced the first Reed Warbler of the year, singing very occasionally from a dense Blackthorn on the eastern edge of the field. There wasn't a great deal of stuff flying over aside from one Peregrine, two Red Kites, two House Martins and three Swallows.
Another two patch year tick day taking the total Shalford year list to 97 and my own total to 95.

23rd April

A rather quiet afternoon visit after an extended Leith Hill tower migration watch in the morning, though it was nice to catch up with Richard Waters. At least four Buzzards were up and displaying in the warm sunshine along with a single Red Kite. There were plenty of Whitethroats around including two males squabbling in Broom Meadow. A Little Owl was calling in one of the usual Oaks in St Catherine's Meadow, although heard from Railway Triangle. The Stonechat pair were again busy in St Catherine's Meadow while hirundines were represented by six Swallows and four House Martins.

24th April

It was pretty clear a few minutes into this morning's visit there'd been a big arrival of Whitethroats overnight, with at least seventeen singing males just in the St Catherine's/Broadford area alone, one already nest building in brambles by the Horse Field. Otherwise it was a fairly quiet visit with just a singles of Swallow and Sand Martin over and a Skylark singing west of Horse Field.

25th April

Despite the much colder conditions and north-westerly wind, evidently some migrants were still filtering through as this morning there were apparent new arrivals of Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler, singing by St Catherine's Pool, in Mill Mead Meadow and by the Guildford Park & Ride, respectively. Also of note were five Swallows, the usual two Red-legged Partridge, a singing male Stonechat on Broadford Marsh along with the usual St Catherine's pair plus a dozen Whitethroats, and a Skylark which flew west.

26th April

Clearly an overnight fall of Garden Warblers had occurred with at least four singing around the mid-patch this morning - one by the Horse Field, one by St Catherine's Pool, one in Broom Meadow and one in Mill Mead Meadow. There were at least eleven singing male Whitethroats, while it was good to confirm the presence of two pairs of Stonechat - one in the Railway Triangle and one at St Catherine's. It will be interesting to see if yesterday's singing male at Broadford turns out to be one of a third pair. Overhead, four Herring Gulls flew north while five House Martins moving strongly south-west were surely evading the incoming weather front, and I can't say I blame them!

27th April

A rare day away from the patch for me as I had a lie-in (shocking, I know) then dashed to Island Barn Reservoir after work to twitch the Red-rumped Swallow Dave Harris had just found. A very nice bird indeed - wouldn't mind one of those at Shalford!
Kit did make it down the patch, however and was rewarded with two Garden Warblers, a Sedge Warbler and a showy female Bullfinch, this species continuing to do well here with at least two pairs around.
Bullfinch - Kit Britten

28th April

Rather more clement this morning after some quite severe frosts for the time of year earlier in the week. At St Catherine's Lock I found another flighty Common Sandpiper plus the usual pair of Stonechats. There were three Garden Warblers singing, one Sedge Warbler in Mill Mead Meadow and a dozen Whitethroats around, including one gathering nesting material again. The visit was rounded off nicely by a Peregrine flying over.

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