Monday, 9 April 2018

Can it get any better

I was doing family stuff yesterday afternoon when Brian called in with 2 Little Gulls at BSL, but it didn't take me long to get there and enjoy the little beauties flying up and down the East side.

I even managed a class pic of one of them....

But today at 06:51 Marek had just joined me at the sailing club for the first time in about 6 months before work and I looked up and said "is that Egret as big as it looks"? Sure enough it was a Great White Egret, my 5th, Marek's 1st.

I think Marek's shot is better

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Lots to catch up with

Not that it has been non stop or anything, but the Wheatear was nice and getting Sand Martin same day was also good.

A day pause on the 1st April with nothing new, then Tim James got a lovely early Common Tern on BSL, which I also made it to see. My earliest by a mile.

The next day (3rd)  I got in a quick car park field recky and got another Wheatear very distantly on the landfill. I also heard a Hawfinch go over. I was ill with tonsilitis and what with the flooding making things near impossible anyway I gave up, but toward the end of the day I gave the car park field another quick look around in the rare sunshine.

Almost immediately I was rewarded with my first 2 Swallow, looping over the bottom end of the car park field towards Lavell's. I was looking at my phone and when I looked up saw 4 long necked ducks coming in fast from the North over Lavell's. They were up high enough to stay on and it was easy to see they were 4 Pintail, getting the scope on the them it became obvious it was 2 pairs.

The 4th I slept in and stayed home to try and rest and get better, late morning Geoff texted saying a Tern went by LFGP toward DP and looked a bit Arctic like.

I was at the door and the breezy but showery weather might help my health, so headed out. I found the bird immediately with Alan and we watched it sat for 10 minutes, after which it flew about and returned 2-3 times over the next hour. The weather was pretty rubbish really so light pretty poor.

The Tern had a dainty jizz, light and bouyant flight, snatched food from the surface like a marsh tern.

Plumage : Long'ish but not extensively long tail streamers, not long bodied. Wings had typical dark edge on under side for Arctic, but the upper wing was a bit more confusing with 4-5 primaries having small smudgey grey marks running up the shafts, not a long way and subtle, but easily visible.

When perched it's bill was black from tip to about half way then graduated into very dark red, but not especially short. Legs, probably short. The head had the 'cappy' look about rather than the 'napey' look of Common.

Here are my best shots from the 300m range.

After conversations, re-reading etc, I believe this was more likely Arctic than Common.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Heady heights

Despite the totally silly amount of water falling from the sky yesterday, the afternoon unfolded pretty well and since I was at my son's 6th birthday party when it all happened, I was blissfully unaware until nearly 14:00.

So after the Willow Warbler excitement, rain first thing left me unenthusiastic so I left so I had good time to get ready. Then Wheatear was found on the East shore, then Sand Martins went thru and it didn't seem likely I would even get down the Loddon footpath due to flooding, but of course I tried and succeeded.

The male Wheatear was still around the South end of the East shore along with a Green Sandpiper further right.

Then Ann WhatsApp'd the Red-legged Partridge again and I felt compelled to head that way, I'm glad I did but despite my inability to find it, I did pick up 7+ Sand Martin over Lodge Wood heading toward DP.

March was a pretty good month, it thrashed 2016 by 4, making a new 1st place high count of 100 species and whilst doing that it beat the running year totals of 2016 and 2017 by 2, hitting the heady heights of 106.

It will all even out as all the usual migrants arrive, but it's those little bonuses that make all the difference at year end, Tim's Little Gulls may be matched in mid to late April, we can only hope. This next 2 weeks are a key window for Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Ring Ouzel, as are even a mythical species like Water Pipit, Tree Pipit and Black Redstart, but all could drop in.

Okay I have to mention it, it's the 18th year anniversary of my Purple Heron on the 5th & 6th!

We have 3 credible April records of Goshawk, 6th & 15th 2009, immature female seen by me, then Trev. Prior to that 23rd 2002, again Trev and again a female. With big raptors coming thru each April, I'd say April is the month to get lucky.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

1 bloomin hundred

Since the annoying cold weather has not ceased it has been an endless hope we will get a migrant, but I wouldn't wish that on a bird having flown so far, to arrive here to find sod all to eat because it's so damned cold still.

Much as I'd like to have seen Sand Martin, LRP, Swallow, even House Martin and Willow Warbler, none look likely in the next 48 hours, but we shall see.

Nonetheless, a Blackcap's song graced my ears this morning, probably 2, marking my 100th species for the year, and that is just fine indeed.

I look forward to an April Hawfinch as Richard saw one today and Rick saw 6-8 at the nearby StNicholas predicted, but I couldn't find the time to prove myself.

Any day now a biggy will show, the 18 year anniversary since my Purple Heron is here on the 5th and 6th April, my hasn't time flown...such memories....such bliss.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

2018 flying high

I knew things had been tracking well and no individual species makes a year, but the bonus birds keep coming for me.

All was pretty quiet this morning at Lea Farm G.P. today, then up went everything....Peregrine? No some muppet dog walker on the East shore, you've got to be kidding me. Off I went, quickly locked the hide, running back the green bridge and clambered over barbed wire fence.

As I crossed the the ditch at the base of the Southern spit, I whistled to the man now heading East parallel with Lavell's. So it went something like "my dog ran off at the gate, which was open and I couldn't catch him, so I kept chasing and now I got this far I'm trying to get back home not far from the Chocoholics place".

I explained in polite terms he was on private property and should he come back, would be faced with gates and promises of fines. He seemed genuinely apologetic.

Onwards and out of breath I went, off to BSL sailing club, nothing, Lavell's Tern scrape, next to nothing, a last minute check of the car park field to see if a Hawfinch was about, led to my seeing a football sized bird lift of the ground and buzz over the hedgerow. I knew it was a Red-legged Partridge without even getting my bins on it, so ran to the landfill viewpoint, where I picked it up legging it to the track and watched it continue to adjacent to the recently cut willows, where it paused allowing terrible record shots, before speeding on West along the track out of sight.

99 for the year, blimey. In itself it's nothing amazing, but if you don't miss the annual migrants and continue hitting bonus birds, it makes for a darn good score and I know I remain 7-10 days ahead of any other year. This means if we get the expected Sand Martin, Blackcap, Redshank, then possibly add LRP, Wheatear, Garganey, Swallow, Curlew, Red-crested Pochard and early House Martin and Willow Warbler on the 31st, we could smash it out of the park on all fronts.

The month is also ahead, 1 more to equal the heady heights of 2012's 100 and the year on 101, needs 5 more to equal the running total in 2012.

Here is the shot of the Merlin on the post, distance and shakes make it impossible, but it was a fabulous male.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

More typical snowy result

I was due to go to Cardiff for work but snow stopped play and I got out to Lea Farm GP for a quick check and it was an underwhelming experience, much more like many a cold snap gone before.

2-3 inches of snow, strong East good birds....what was the difference from the last event that blew us all away?

No idea, the highlights were 8 Snipe, c60 Wigeon, c40 Teal, 3 Lapwing, 6 Common Gull, 2-3 distant 'probable Raven' 50+ Redwing, 30-40 Siskin in Alder above the path.

I can't recall a mid March date when snow did settle like it did overnight and continues as it does tonight, I'm sure I am just not aware of the facts. A few shots hopefully capture the glory of it.

I'd still love a Water Pipit, a Garganey and a Curlew would be great, perhaps a Little Gull, like other sites have been getting.


Saturday, 17 March 2018

March marching on

As per the trend these days, a few things have happened since my seeing Black-necked Grebe, the first being never seeing it again despite it remaining til at least the 13th.

Hawfinch were last seen 11th from what I can find.

4 Oystercatchers 13th, the 14th brought me my first Chiffchaff along the Loddon near the green bridge, Barn Owl each morning I've been out, 111 Wigeon and 27 Teal still LFGP, not counting Lavell's, but it was today that was the most exciting. When I arrived at LFGP 06:30 it was snowing fine granules of snow and a very cold East wind blowing in, I scanned 2-3 times for yesterday's Redshank without success, checked for Garganey, pipits and then began checking for Wheatear.

Right to left, each vent, nothing, nothing, nothing, err what's this on a post on the far landfill, too big for a Wheatear, but grey, not a Stock Dove...'no it's a raptor, blimey it's a male Merlin'.

fumbling for my phone adapter, no joy it was in the car, calls to John, Brian and grabbing a couple of pathetic hand held shots and a WhatsApp message....take your eye off it for 3 seconds and it's gone.

Panning around a pair of Mandarin went by, so another year tick, but no further sign before Jack arrived 2-3 minutes later.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Off patch Stonechat

Newby Mike posted on Berksbirds a Whinchat near Borough Marsh and I wanted to check it out, being less than 10 minute drive I quickly joined him there.

Not a Whinchat, but a rather interesting looking Stonechat, as the pictures below reveal.

I'd hoped it might have a chance of being a Siberian Stonechat, but from a little research and discussions with others, it isn't pale enough, the tale lacks the rufous tones etc. But they are so variable, one should always check carefully.

The lull before the storm

After all the excitement that cold snap brought, the carry over birds remaining are 2 male Pintail and the Black-necked Grebe, yesterday's fly over Goosander might be the same male seen 2-3 times recently.

Now we wait for signs of passage, perhaps a long awaited Rock Pipit for Lea Farm, early to mid March is the best time if we use the early 80's records as a compass! Then if we use the same compass for Water Pipit, late March into April for Water....I wish for either, as neither has occurred since the early 80's.

I've already covered the possibilities for March in various posts over the years, so will be keeping an eye out for those possible bonus gems, like Common Scoter, Yellow-legged Gull, Curlew, other geese, mystical Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, any divers, Shag, and somewhat more down to earth a Merlin, Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl on it's way out.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Another good one

Out at 07:00, in very grey and much warmer conditions as a very quick thaw set in. At Sandford 2 male and 1 female Pintail, which moved to LFGP. At LFGP another Dunlin sat in front of the hide, but not so much more happening, a Little Egret over, a few Lapwing, 4 Snipe was it for me.

A loop around the Sandford, Heron's Water, WSL section wasn't thrilling, a Kingfisher, 23-25 Pochard and a female Goldeneye on BSL. Nothing much on Lavell's, but Sandford had the Med, but I didn't connect.

Walking with new member Mike we decided to go for the Pintail, now back on Sandford, only to stumble across a Golden Plover right as Jack was texting me a picture they had taken from Sandford hide.

As I left it was clearing and said more could did a male Goosander flew in and mid afternoon a Black-necked Grebe was found on BSL by Marek, I was in Calcot finishing up a shopping and family trip out, but was at the sailing club by 15:00 enjoying the first Black-necked Grebe since 2012.

This is a very good start to 2018, 97 species seen, 95 by me so I'm tracking about 10-13 days ahead of 2012 and other good starts.

We can hope to see the following in March roughly in this date order;

Little-ringed Plover
Little Owl
Sand Martin
House Martin

Uncommon and rare sightings include

Red Crested Pochard
Common Scoter
Ringed Plover
Marsh Harrier
Rock Pipit
Water Pipit

Thursday, 1 March 2018

What a morning

I was out chasing down Tim's Smew from last night, BSl was being blasted with strong East winds and blizzard conditions. No sign from the golf course strip, so decided on the West side, John McGowan joined me as we headed round anti clockwise, our faces being frozen off as we went.

We met Andy T and scanned the south end of the island, nothing, Andy went South John and I headed back and I suggested a quick diversion to Sandford to be sure.

Oh boy was that a good idea, a small wader popped out off the East side of the old Tern island, "Dunlin"....."yep running across the island" John said...."no it isn't it's sat still" I said. We had two, but I scanned and found not just the 2nd Dunlin, but 1, no 2, no 3 Ruff hunkering down in the blizzard with beauty!

No time left before my lift obligations, I had to encounter yet another crunch on Sandford Mill hill, got through and went off for chores.

Not long went by, when Brian was saying no sign of the Ruff, but now at LFGP where they had Golden Plover, 4 Dunlin, 3 male Pintail & Jack Snipe.

I was down pretty quick despite the now closed road.

The Golden Plover went missing, but could still be local, but the Dunlin group grew to a flock of 7, 3 of which were right in front, 3 male Pintail were very nice and brief glimpses of the Jack Snipe.

Other saw Peregrine, Brambling was at Bittern hide feeders, Snipe were flying around everywhere and a group of around 7-8 finches were just Siskin and 3+ Lesser Redpoll opposite the Mill.

I haven't had time to add my finding the Mediterranean Gull yesterday too

These four additions puts me on 93 out of 96, just one to match 2012, so it's going pretty well

Monday, 26 February 2018

Unprecedented turn up

After my 2 Jack Snipe yesterday, some of the other patchers went back last night and despite the work party, not 2, not 3, but 4 Jack Snipe showed.

I have always disregarded the 1992 claim of 6 on the 27th February as there were no details, or mention in the County Bird Report. Does it mean it didn't happen, but as I have said about many 90's reports, when there are no initials, no location, no details, it might just be bad recording, but it cannot go in as authentic report.

So, that means last night's record is a new park record and one might say it has been coming, here is a summary of all records of 2 or more;

1983 : 3/11th March BSL main island edge (MR)
1987 : 2/10th Jan, flew over (PA)
1989 : 2/28th Jan Sandford Tern island (many observers)
1992 : 2/4th Jan Lavell's (Observer Unknown - OU)
1997 : 2/11th Oct Lavell's (OU)
1999 : 2/13th Feb, Lavell's (OU)
2011 : 2/6th Dec (FJC & GSE et al) to 9th Dec, Lavell's (MO)
2012 : 2/3rd Jan ( Les Seward et al) & 28th, Lavell's (MO)
2013 : 2/17th Dec (GSE), to 19th Lavell's
2016 : 2/29th Oct, (ARy, GSE, JMcG et al) LFGP, 2/30th (FJC, JMcG, TAG et al), 2/31st (JMcG)
2017 : 2/1st Jan LFGP,
2018 : 2/24th Feb Lavell's, 4/25th,

Saturday, 24 February 2018

A little effort often goes a long way

I'd been getting fed up with trying for Tawny a but late each time I tried, so 17th I was out by 05:45 walking slowly around Sandford, Heron's Water, Middle Marsh, then looping back around BSL clockwise to Sandford and had nothing, but as I got back to near the lay-by a Tawny Owl finally called from near the hide, probably above the hide.

Oystercatcher was calling in the gloom too, at the car park the Barn Owl was on show 06:37.

Our Brent Goose has stayed all week and I aimed to see it Friday, but chose Lavell's end instead 22nd, Barn Owl on show as usual 06:26, 25+ Snipe on the scrape, 13-14 Reed Bunting would suggest a little roost now building here, another Skylark rising, then BSL for a lone female Goldeneye and pair of Oystercatcher, as I went back to my car a quick scan got me a female Hawfinch in the copse at Lavell's.

This morning it was freezing, only -4, but felt much worse, LFGP first this time and by 07:02 the Brent Goose was visible and happy, a sprinkling of Teal and Wigeon, but not much else, I headed for the car park field for more Hawfinch and was rewarded with 9 birds dropping in a loose flock spread along the tops of tallest trees on the East side, none stayed in view long. I was too cold to stay long and later the year's first Med was only 48 hours off the previous 2 years date.

Late afternoon I was back in the stunning afternoon light for a stab, yes another... at Golden Plover, no luck so headed for Bittern hide with Ida, and after much Snipe enjoyment, stumbled across not 1, but 2 Jack Snipe. I'm happy with that.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

2 more

Same story will no doubt be my mantra for 2018, less patching time, but targeted and more frequent pre work visits becoming the key slots.

Since the Brent Goose, which could still be present, I picked up 2 more year ticks last Sunday, 2 Oystercatcher heading toward LFGP, then 2 Skylark over the landfill. Funny how the latter appears out of nowhere and it can be either January, or February, but always a bright day suddenly up singing.

As I've said many times, there isn't much to distinguish a big year list by at this early stage in the year, but one certainly needs to take every uncommon bonus species you can, so Goosander and the Brent Goose qualify for sure. Jack's Jack Snipe is also a good candidate and I am certain it is still around, just hiding in a new favoured spot.

What next then, over the last 6 years we have had the following species by this time in Feb;

Great White Egret, Little Owl, Golden Plover, Merlin, Ruff, Red Crested Pochard, Pintail, Curlew, Dunlin, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Caspian Gull & Kittiwake.

We can add Med Gull to that and Redshank will follow and whilst it's a good indicator, we must all remain vigilant for other species too.

So far we have both months in 3rd place, Jan on 86 = with 2012, 16 & 17, Feb on 89 a new 3rd place, knocking 2008 by 1. And that is without Pintail, Golden Plover, Little Owl and Red Crested Pochard....the most frequent occurring in recent February's.

If we add those 4 this month, a new 3rd place for the year total is on and equal first place for February species count, which seems plausible to me. I've certainly put in 3-4 hours of Golden Plover attempts so far. Yesterday morning a rakish raptor approached from the North, but was just a Kestrel, odd how unusual that is these days.

Sighting of the week for me was the 5 Hawfinch on the 10th, I'm going to miss them so much when they appear no more.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Time pressures

So little time in comparison to many previous years, but somehow I'm still not far off par for the park.

A lucky, if not infeasible Green Sandpiper at the balancing pool back on the 27th Jan was good, I barely saw a blink of a bird, but something told me a bird with a steep dive had dropped there and sure enough it was there, I barely had time to get Brian and John back with me, before it was off high SE.

As for last Sunday night, it was outstanding. The cast were a Peregrine on fire thru towards the scrape as we crossed the foot bridge from the car park, shortly after we were watching it perched in the Poplar.

Water Rail calling, Snipe showing, then out of the blue the first Bittern on Lavell's in about a year came in high from Sandford, circling twice before landing in a 'classic' high up front of reeds position, but the show was not over yet.

As we left the hide, there was the Barn Owl sat in the doorway for several moments, but the finale was a fine Woodcock coming in fast over our left side as we looked South toward Sandford, it was in view for nearly 3 whole

This morning I was out hoping to find the Oystercatcher on the beach at BSL, no luck, same for Little Owl, so no show for this all year so far. I met Richard Sajdak and said I'd catch up at Bittern hide, when I did I dropped the viewing flap, scaring many birds off, but thankfully not the Brent Goose that was on the bund, a fantastic bonus bird.

I do use Twitter a bit now, so feel free to catch up with my Tweets there, often ahead of my blogging which time pressures are reducing.

The Jack Snipe is still out there somewhere.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

83 ain't bad

Few visits over the last 2 weeks, but still more or less keeping pace with past years. My last Hawfinch was a male 14th, but I've been back twice for more Woodcock and even my son saw one with me last night.

I've had 3 sightings of Peregrine already, 3 of Raven, so both must be over more or less daily.

Unlike previous years Little Owl is keeping us waiting, but I think it's worth mentioning that Meadow Pipit has only been seen in our patch in January since 2009 and this year in particular has 5-10 remaining on the landfill.

I guess we have had several years recently when Pintail, Golden Plover, Chiffchaff, Jack Snipe, Ruff and even Red Crested Pochard have appeared in January. We must keep our eyes peeled for all these and bonus wildfowl, other grebes are nearby at Henley Road and Sonning, a Merlin could fire thru at any time. Skylark & Blackcap are not at all common in January, but possible.

Today's surprise was the arrival of an Oystercatcher, about 2 weeks before we normally get one, I'll hope to catch that tomorrow, or the weekend if it sticks.

The park's 86 species so far is equal 3rd with 2012 & 2017. 2nd place with 87 belongs to 2011, 1st place with 90 is 2016. Given what I said above it could be matched or even broken if conditions are right.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A good 3 days

Friday night I was out feeling what a dull quiet evening it was, so left Bittern hide before dark and then lifted my bins at something near John's bench and to my surprise it was a splendid female Brambling, but off she went toward the meadow then turned right, perhaps heading for the car park field.

Then Saturday morning, I'm hoping for good things, but it never really happened, John picked up a Raven doing the usual SE across the landfill, a female Hawfinch obliged in the car park, 250+ Lapwing overhead, a lone Great Black-backed Gull, but nothing much more.

Back again in the evening, again it felt quiet, but it soon changed at 16:31 when I picked up a Peregrine swooping in over the scrape, scaring the hell out of the Lapwing, before it landed in the remaining Poplar. It sat for 5 minutes checking everything out, before taking another wide circle of the whole lake and returned to the same spot. Off it went 3-4 minutes later out over the landfill.

A Little Egret lingered in the new reed bed diggings and I commented to Pete that it might have been worth a dash to WSL for a Bittern, but I was glad I had not chosen that option and as a result had had my best views of Peregrine in about 5 years. John pinged up Bittern moments later.

I decided I felt lucky and told Pete I was going to have a stab at Woodcock, just 24 minutes later and we were watching 2 doing two complete circles of the our heads as they came around together, barely a metre apart, my best views at Lavell's since 2003.

So on to today and it was bird walk time, just one paying customer. Alan and I escorted our customer and had a splendid walk. Male Hawfinch in the car park field, my first male this year, great views of Goldcrest, Treecreeper and at Bittern hide, the Peregrine came in repeated last night's performance in better light this time.

Lots of Shoveler on Sandford, as we walked under the Alder near to WSL reeds, a mixed flock of Golfinch, Siskin and a lone male Lesser Redpoll, added 2 more year ticks for me, the latter being a park year tick. The 2 Ferruginous were at Middle Marsh, which regardless of origins are still nice birds.

So 81, out of 85 species seen. I'm 3 behind 2017's heady heights on the same date. Missing Kestrel, Green Sandpiper, Shelduck and Tawny Owl. 2017 offered Chiffchaff, Golden Plover, Jack Snipe, plus the 2 big ones Brent Goose and Caspian AND we ticked Ferruginous then too.

January into February is fairly predictable so getting ahead is always a matter of tiny margins, the expected additions, more or less in date order are;

Golden Plover
Little Owl
Jack Snipe
Med Gull

Wild card species always possible are;

Yellow-legged Gull
Brent Goose

I hold on to the hope we might yet get;

Water Pipit
Great Grey Shrike
Hen Harrier
other geese
Great Northern Diver
American Wigeon
Ring-necked Duck
Common Crane

And why not?

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


No not trombones, but my year list of course.

I was heading out suited for work, but not a set appointment when I heard the familiar WhatsApp message tone I'd set for FOLL Bird News. 12:19 Richard's message said 'Goosander from Bittern hide', then I noticed Tim James' text saying male 'Goosander Lavell's', 26 minutes had passed and this underlines why we moved over to WhatsApp, so that anyone can act on the group message and not fall foul of my, or anyone being out of signal, or have simply not seen the message.

I arrived at 12:34 in my suit, but within 90 seconds the Goosander was lifting off the water, circled twice and headed toward BSL. Luckily Steve found it near the picnic area and it was there all afternoon.

If you want news fast then get on to our WhatsApp group, texting works most times but I can't always respond, or even read messages due to being in the car a fair bit.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Happy New Year everyone

I've had time to go birding, time to eat and sleep and do some work, but no time to blog, so for now the park is on 78. More to come later. Happy New Year. The high winds give me hope a seabird might show up!

So, Jan 1st yielded 76 species, pretty good, the best birds being Barn Owl, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Coal Tit, Shelduck, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Egret, Bittern, but the star was of course Hawfinch, which kept us waiting for an hour longer than most other recent mornings.

I ended on 69, missing various things including Jay of all things.

The 2nd January offered some catch ups, new for 2018 Mistle Thrush, adding Jay, then House Sparrow for 2018, then Raven and Little Egret, placing me on 74, but Kestrel, Siskin, Shelduck and Tawny Owl are eluding me for now.

Looking back on 2016 we had Pintail, Red-Crested Pochard, Golden Plover and in 2017 the exciting occurrence of Brent Goose and Caspian Gull. There will be much to do to stay on track, but as it all evens out by about the 21st February, we just need to stay vigilant for the precious bonuses like Goosander, Woodcock, Jack Snipe etc. to put us ahead come year end.

Good luck and above all have fun birding everyone.