Monday, 18 February 2013

more January round-ups

Balephuil, Isle of Tiree patch – January 2013                             John Bowler
A wild month out this way, with frequent gales and rain, meant that good birding days were at a premium. Fortunately, the first couple of days of the month were quieter and allowed a good bash around the patch resulting in a total of 49 species. Mild conditions helped some usually scarce wintering passerines cling on in the patch including Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Fieldfare, Goldfinch, Common Redpoll and Meadow Pipit, whilst a lone Jackdaw calling in flight over Loch a’ Phuill (13th) was completely unexpected, as this species is less than annual these days on the island. Other birds were harder to find and it took a few visits to pin down Water Rail, Woodcock, Redwing, Twite and Skylark, whilst Stonechat and Moorhen remain unseen.

All of the six expected wintering raptors were present and correct including a fine male Hen Harrier (8th) and several Merlins, although there have been no clear still days as yet to tempt wandering Sea Eagles across from Mull.

With Loch a’ Phuill remaining free of ice, it harboured a good range of wildfowl throughout including Shoveler, Shelduck, a high count of Goldeneye (52 on 22nd), a lone Pochard (17th) and a couple of Scaup (27th), but both the Coot and the drake Green-winged Teal from late 2012 failed to show in the New Year. A Pink-footed Goose (11th) in amongst the regular Greylags and Greenland White-fronts at the loch was a bonus, although a Canada x Greylag hybrid was not, whilst a small group of Greenland Barnacle Geese fortuitously used the loch fringe on several dates, which they don’t do every winter. The adjacent wet machair was good for waders including a mixed group of 300 Ringed Plover and Dunlin (8th), with the former all checked for Killdeer to no avail, although it was good to tick off Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper so early in the year from the nearby beach.

A Little Auk observed on a sea-watch on 31st December 2012 was my first ever live record of this species from the patch – just a pity it came a day too early! However, regular checks of the bay at Traigh Bhi produced dividends with the first Long-tailed Duck (11th) and Black Guillemots (11th) that I’ve knowingly seen there, as well as the more expected Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser. The preponderance of mild southerlies meant that white-winged gulls were much scarcer than normal, especially compared to the big influx in January 2011. I was therefore delighted to pick up an adult Iceland Gull heading south through the patch on 6th, although Glaucous Gull remains conspicuous by its absence, as indeed does Black-headed Gull, which is essentially a summer visitor to the island.

All in all, I’m reasonably happy with my total of 75 species (96 points) so far, although there have been no scarce or rare bonus species to date and I’m still missing a few expected winter species such as Jack Snipe and Snow Bunting. Frustratingly, a few good Tiree scarcities appeared elsewhere on the island out-with the patch, most notably a long-staying Velvet Scoter at Balephetrish Bay, which was just the fourth record for Tiree. The scoter looks destined to avoid my patch but hopefully most of the others such as Knot, Grey Plover and Little Grebe will turn up at some point or other in the patch during the year......

James Emerson, Whitlingham

My first visit to Whitlingham on 2nd January gave me a starting tally of 40 species, including winter staples like Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. Looking across the river a flock of around 40 Snipe were flying around Thorpe Broad. This was my highest count here, but a mere fraction of the c200 seen later in the week by another observer when a Peregrine flew in. Another couple of visits later in the week added a further 12 species, of which Goldeneye and Bullfinch were of interest. The cold spell mid-month proved to be very useful, with three Bitterns taking up residence, of which I saw two. On the same day (18th) I managed my best find so far this year in the form of a Slavonian Grebe, and also added Water Rail, Woodcock and Yellow-legged Gull. On my final visit of the month I got good views of a Treecreeper, taking me up to 64 species (67 points). This represents a steady start to the month, but as there have been few 'unexpected' (or 2 point!) birds, I hope to push on in February.

Pete Antrobus, Marbury and Neumanns

January on the patch started like most January's before a mad dash to see as many species as possible in the vain hope of topping our local patch league table. By the 7th I was top and flying with 77 species duly bagged. Most were the usual patch padders but Barn Owl, Bittern and Brambling were most welcome. You can spend a life time waiting for one of the two wintering Bitterns to show, time that's more better spent birding elsewhere. But first bonus bird of the year was a female Goosander that spent all of 10 minutes in front of Bittern Hide before it disappeared much to the annoyance of the other patch regulars. I even had the Goosander and one of the Bitterns in the same bin view.
The going then got tough and birding became much harder as it was a case of target species only...Jack Snipe and Golden Plover took several attempts but try as I might Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer remained unfound (no one else has seen any yet either).
Then on the 22nd the first 'mega' patchwise arrived. One stonking juvenile Great Northern Diver that graced Budworth Mere for 4 days. Only the second one I've ever seen on the patch in 13 years of patching (at Marbury) and only the 3rd diver (a Black Throated a couple of years ago) that's actually come our way. photo attached.
An out of season Dunlin put in an appearance on the mere the same time as the diver and could prove decisive as water levels on the nearby flashes of Neumann's and Ashton's are ridiculously high i:e no mud at all.
I'm currently on 84 and will be on this figure at the start of Feb as work denies me any other chances to patch.
So roll on Feb.

Chris Lansdell, Weybread

January at Weybread has proved to be a bit of a battle against the elements due to the heavy snowfall we had in these parts. For 2 weeks all the pits except the main one were frozen solid. My hopes that the harsh conditions may bring something in proved a little optimistic though! I think I've winkled out pretty much all there has been in January and reached the dizzy heights of just 58 species and 59 points. My only bird that earned me 2 points was a wintering Little Egret. It really has been all go! The site is however one of the best to see Kingfisher and I have never failed here. My best count in January was an impressive 6 but sadly that doesn't earn me 6 points! Other highlights, if you can call them that have been Goosander, nice views of a Water Rail, Common Buzzard (still not common this far east) and Grey Wagtail. So, in a nutshell it's been quite hard going but the Patchwork Challenge has done one thing - got me out to the site far more than I would have normally. I'm going to be in Thailand for the first 3 weeks of February so I'll be cramming in all my visits to Weybread at the end of the coming month. Roll on the spring for the chance of some migrants to liven the place up!

Moss Taylor, Weybourne camp and Kelling

The area encompassing Weybourne Camp & Kelling WM on the north Norfolk coast has been my local patch since 1972 and during the last 41 years I have been keeping detailed bird records from my very frequent visits there. Not only has it proved to be a most rewarding local patch for studying visible migration, but I have also been able to develop an area on the camp that is perfect for netting and ringing migrants as they pass through. Therefore the idea of taking part in the Patchwork Challenge was an opportunity not to be missed. I normally expect to record about 175 species a year in the area and my average ‘point’ score over the last two years would have been 251, which forms a baseline for this year’s totals.

So how has this January compared with previous years? The Challenge has actually meant that I’ve visited my local patch far more often than I normally do at this time of year, despite the heavy snow that covered much of north Norfolk for a couple of weeks. In fact, my last visit today, January 30th, was my twentieth so far this year. Despite the inevitable flurry of new species on the first few visits, I’ve managed to add one or two on most subsequent trips, either through seawatching at dawn or walking around the various habitats that I am lucky enough to have on my patch, such as an open area of freshwater, water meadows, grazing marshes, heathland, woodland & scrub.

The year started really well with three species of diver in the first two days and a good selection of wildfowl offshore, while 2 Peregrines, Marsh & Hen Harriers have been regular visitors over the area. Being only a mile or two from Cley, it was not surprising that the juvenile Black Brant made the occasional visit along with the Brent Geese. Just a shame that it can’t be counted as a separate species! But no real surprises so far. The most exciting bird (that I missed) was a flyby red-headed Smew, and it may well prove impossible to add one to my year list later. With my final species of the month, Lapland Bunting added today, I can feel reasonably satisfied with a monthly total of 92 species, resulting in 104 points. February is traditionally a rather dull month, I wonder if this year will be an exception?

Stephanie Brown, Twyford

anuary has not been a patrticularly good month on my patch. The patch has a variety of habitats: residential gardens, cropped farmland, a small copse, scrub and Twyford gravel pits. The latter at the southern end of my patch has been virtually inaccessible throughout December and January due to flooding.

There were no real surprises unlike previous years with red-crested pochard and smew (although there is still time for them next month). The most intesting days have to be those which were witness to large mixed flocks of redwing and fieldfare. 

I have observed several raptors during this month: buzzard, kestrel and red kite. Of course it always nice to see several red kites each day, something I now tend to take for granted. An interesting observation during the cold snap was the numbers of kites seen feeding on the ground: 3 or 4 mixed in with groups of fieldfares.

Surprisingly, I have seen or heard very few woodpeckers this month, although there were several in December. House sparrows and starlings are doing well on my patch but there seem to be fewer blue tits and great tits than last year. There a re a few coal tits and several long-tailed tits.

Blackbirds have been very much in evidence during this month but no so song or mistle thrushes, although I have heard both on neighbouring patches.

There have been a few chaffiches and greenfinches but several goldfinches.

There were several crows, rooks and jackdaws (particularly the latter). Woodpigeons are abundant with a few collared and stock doves.

As for winter ducks, I'm not sure, although the wigeon had started to arrive before the gravel pit areas became flooded. Let's hope I'll be able to check next month, particularly as this is when I make my first visits to check on the Twyford Heronry.

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