Saturday, 8 March 2014

Eyebrook Reservoir

My first ever visit to Eyebrook Reservoir was on 27th October 1984, to see a Pomarine Skua (an adult with tail spoons, no less!) that had been there for several days. Nearly 30 years later, my Eyebrook list has grown to 201, the latest addition being the site's first Cetti's Warbler which I found in February this year.

 But despite many visits over the years I'd never thought of it as my 'patch' until recently. For a start it's not that close to home, being about 15 miles away, but perhaps more importantly the attractions of nearby Rutland Water are too great to ignore. If Rutland Water has a fault, though, it's that it's a bit too big to be considered as a patch. It's certainly much too big for the 3km2 limit of Patchwork Challenge! Eyebrook, on the other hand, is exactly the right size to fit into that area, with just enough left over to include some of the surrounding fields.

 Once I realised that, it became obvious that it is in fact a near perfect inland patch. It has a good variety of habitats, including open water, grassland, muddy edges which become a decent expanse of mud at the inflow when the water goes down, and mixed woodland in the form of 'the Plantation', all surrounded by mostly arable farmland, with more hedges and woods. The entire reservoir can be watched for free from the perimeter road, and, largely because of the aforementioned Rutland Water, it's surprisingly underwatched these days. Of course, plenty of birders do go to Eyebrook, but I'm convinced it hasn't had the coverage it deserves in the last few years.

 But it still manages to turn up good birds. In the last few years alone Eyebrook has had Ring-necked Duck, Velvet Scoter, Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Kentish Plover, Whiskered Tern and Yellow-browed Warbler. Past glories include Squacco Heron, Killdeer (both sadly long before my time!), Black-winged Pratincole, American Golden Plover, 2 Baird's Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpiper, 3 Caspian Terns, a spring male Citrine Wagtail, and bizarrely a Puffin for three days in June 1995! So the potential is obvious.

 Even without the occasional rarity there is always plenty to look at. Wildfowl and waders are the main attractions, of course, along with terns on passage and passerines in the Plantation and around the reservoir margins. At one time there was an excellent gull roost as well, with Iceland and Glaucous virtually guaranteed annually, but this has unfortunately declined recently as, for unknown reasons, gulls from the Corby tips now bypass Eyebrook and roost at Rutland Water instead. But Med Gulls are still reasonably regular, and white-wingers, Yellow-legged and Caspians are all still possible as daytime 'loafers'.

As long as the water level drops in spring and autumn to attract some waders, and I can keep up the enthusiasm, I think 150 species might be possible in a year. At the time of writing in late February I'm already up to 89, with several unexpected species including Merlin and Cetti's Warbler, so I've made a good start.

Andy Mackay

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