Saturday, 2 January 2021

2020 done, come on 2021

Despite my best efforts, I could not add the 2 that I needed to hit my baseline of 130 in 2020, it all ended 18th October with Ring Ouzel, our first ever autumn bird.

The highlights Goosander, 3 records of Med Gull for me, having missed them in 2019, Golden Plover, Great White Egret Sandwich Tern, Black Tern, a pair of Cattle Egret over twice in April, Hawfinch, Wood Sandpiper, Red-legged Partridge, early morning Greenshanks, multiple Ringed Plover, Redstart, multiple Whinchat, more than doubled our record count of Stonechat - 7, Tree Pipit, Pintail, Merlin, a very late Whimbrel, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll and Brambling passage in Oct, but of course the top birds were the Cattle Egret on Sandford, 1 then 3 Great White Egret over Sandford and top slot and the first in Berkshire since 1987 - Black-crowned Night Heron from the 8th.

I always say "how can we top this year" and 2020 is a classic example, how can it be topped? For me it's not about topping because as we all know we have no control over birds and never have, so we can do is stay the course of a year, keep 'patching' as often as you can, especially during passage.

Jan 1st I was out as usual before 07:00 to try and get the night birds under the belt, which did kind of work, Water Rail, Cetti's calling early, then the first bonus a Peregrine chasing Redwing as they came of their roost, In the space of the next few moments a Mandarin called and I am 90% sure a Golden Plover also called. I bombed out on Woodcock, so attempted Barn Owl, which was also a no show.

The damp cold got the better of me, but I managed another 45 minutes picking up 2 Raven over the landfill, before looping back to my car for a warm up at home. This extended till 12:40, when I took a walk along the Loddon and got lucky with Snipe, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Chiffchaff and best of all 4 Siskin, which I haven't seen on the deck all autumn.

I then looped around Lavell's, the old Gold Course - Collared Dover and DP centre, where I failed to see House Sparrow, on to BSL where a Goldeneye had been seen earlier and arriving at WSL for 15:05 as planned.

It only took barely 10 minutes before our star bird - Bittern showed and rather well too, with a little fly and fumbling around in the reeds. Onto Sandford for a Little Egret, then a lucky pair of Rook over East, onto Lavell's where an even luckier Kestrel was perched up high above Sandford Lane, then the final stop at Bittern for Little Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Barn Owl and Woodcock. No Sparrowhawk, of Barn Owl and I missed the grebes chatting outside, but Marek and I stood in the 'right place' to see the Woodcock fly right over our heads about 12 feet up at 16:44.

I finished on 67, not bad at all on a quiet day, picking up really good tricky to find birds on Jan 1st, making it easy to pick up the missing Little Grebe, Buzzard, Bullfinch, Feral Pigeon, Sparrowhawk, Song Thrush, House Sparrow, Kingfisher Lesser Black-backed Gull, Skylark and Coal Tit. 

Over the coming 6-7 weeks in the key time for Goosander, Med Gull, Golden Plover and has in the past produced many wildcard wildfowl, waders, raptors, crests and finches.


Saturday, 10 October 2020

October right on track

 I've been waiting for a still morning to coincide with my availability and when I got to Ron's around 07:00 this morning, I saw 2 flocks of small finches at the far end of the landfill heading South, I packed up and left after barely any time and I'm glad I did.

Almost upon arrival at the bottom of the car park field a flock of 17 Linnet headed down the middle of the landfill South, easy to pick out their colours in the morning light - a much awaited year tick. I concluded that the flocks I'd seen from Ron's were most likely the same species. 

Every few minutes I could hear Chaffinch and started picking up small groups of 3 to 9 heading WNW, after 2 hours I'd seen at least 60-70 birds, checking for Brambling whenever I got close enough views. 1 then another lone Swallow went South, 5 Reed Bunting, 4 Skylarks, then 2 'smalls job' landed on the wires next to a Meadow Pipit, I scoped and was rather happy to see Redpolls, quite pale ones as it happens, but in my haste to get video footage they dropped below before I could either record, or convince myself of them being Mealy candidates, so I'm hedging on Lesser Redpoll for my year list.

I picked up 4 Redwing coming South above the trees beyond Lodge Wood, a few Meadow Pipit dotted around, then headed for BSL, where I picked up an adult Common Gull, it seems the first of the autumn, all in all, 2 year ticks in one October day is a pretty good show, when on average I get three in the whole of October, putting me on 126 for 2020.

If I can pick up a Brambling any day and against the odds a Jack Snipe graces our shores and we get a late Garganey, I am nearly on that minimum 130 target.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

It's getting tough

 I can't complain, I've not missed anything tragic, but if one was to look at each species as an equal 1 point, then missing the only Black-tailed Godwit of the year (so far) on July 10th wasn't useful.

We've had 3 Black-tailed Godwit reports after September and I can only authenticate two;

3rd Dec 1988 : Tern scrape (S Mills)

16th Sept to 21st Oct 2001 : Lea Farm fields & Tern scrape (Many Observers - MO)

9th to 12th Nov 2002 : Tern scrape, only moving off due to flooding

16th Oct 2011 : "30-40 birds overhead and on shingle island" (PH) but nobody ever came forward to identify who PH was, so the record cannot be validated

So it's not all over there yet.

Spotted Flycatcher : My first miss since 2009, which stings a bit

Wood Warbler : Okay I lied, we all missed one good bird, but as it was only seen by a non local whom I had doubts about when he told me, I didn't know about it until the day after and never even checked.

It's still not too late for Osprey and Marsh Harrier, but the bulk of records are before now, so I'm not confident getting either.

Garganey : We seem to skip a year in 3 to 5 year skips, loads of time for one yet, in the last 20 years we've had 5 October birds and 2 Novembers.

Red Crested Pochard : Doubtful, 2 December records in 10 years, but stay hopeful right!?

Scaup : Wild card, easily possible

Wild Geese : Brent is possible of course

Wild swans : Both occurred 2013 and 2014, why not again?

Ruff : 2 October records, I'm pulling a face, but our chances have to be better with the new marsh

Sandwich Tern : I've had one late record!

Jack Snipe I'll be stunned if we don't get one, but with the East shore massively changed, it might take a bit of luck..we'll see what unfolds

Lesser Redpoll : I'm trying to get a passage bird each day this week

Linnet : October is the best month for passage birds

Firecrest : A keen eye and some luck

Brambling : From mid this month onwards passage again might produce

And let's not dismiss any bonus birds, I remain up for Spoonbill, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Shag, Great Northern Diver and our first ever Ring-necked Duck...that would be quite an end to a good year...birding wise!

Friday, 28 August 2020

Is 130 or above still possible?

I have hit 130 or above for the last 10 years, if I can do it this year somehow 11 consecutive years sounds even better to me. The question is with such a slow start and lockdown, do we normally see enough new species Sept to Dec for me to reach it?

Pintail - Seen every September since 2014, except 2018

Garganey - Seen 5 out of the last 10 years in Sept, or Oct

Red Crested Pochard - Seen 2 out of the last 10 years in Dec

Marsh Harrier - Seen 6 out of the last 10 Septembers

Osprey - 4 Augusts and 1 Oct in the last 10 years

Merlin - 5 out of 10 Octobers, or Novembers

Ruff - 4 Out of 10 Decembers

Jack Snipe - 4 Out of 10 Octobers, Novembers or Decembers

Curlew - 4 Out of 10 Sept, Oct, or Decembers

Spotted Redshank - Wildcard, but late August to early Sept is best window

Little Gull - Rare in the Autumn, but keep checking

Yellow-legged Gull - Wildcard

Arctic Tern - Late Aug, but also Sept records in 90's

Tree Pipit - A few days left to catch on going over

Rock Pipit - With the gravel being consolidated into specific locations, we are long overdue a bird on the deck

Ring Ouzel - Wildcard, must go over most years

Yellow-browed Warbler - We've had 2 in 7 years

Firecrest - Overlooked and likely most years

Pied Flycatcher - Still time if we check hard

Brambling - Oct onwards for fly overs and around the feeders

Linnet - Mid Oct to early Nov is best passage

Lesser Redpoll - Become rarer as a wintering species, but passage in Oct to Nov

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Let's not get over confident

Having enjoyed self finding a great bird, patch and county tick, and then getting double the value from predicting it, would it be too much to share a list of predictable species? I may have already done so before, but an updated perspective won't hurt.

Who cares, I'm fine with making mistakes and learning there is solid rationale to my ponderings;

Great Northern Diver - Berkshire's most frequent visitor never seen on DP, or over for that matter

Storm Petrel - Tricky species, but the randomness of the last 2 make it just as possible we can get one

Little Bittern - This sits in my Top 5 most likely due to the same reasons I already predicted Night Heron

American Bittern - It's not for fun that I include this, as Berkshire's best Bittern site we are tops for one

Spoonbill - This one is just for me having missed the 14th May 2007 pair, I reckon in the next 2 years

American Wigeon - We haven't had a big winter for Eurasian Wigeon since 2010, but I'm not convinced it's about flock size anyway, Top 3

Green-winged Teal - This sits in my top 3 most likely, our Teal count keeps rising and with the new marsh we could easily hit 500+ and score in the next 2-3 years, Top 3

Blue-winged Teal - Not high on the list, but nonetheless as possible as many other things

Ring-necked Duck - I am amazed we haven't had one already, Top 5 for sure

Long-tailed Duck - Perhaps on time span alone we should probably have had another, the only record was 1983

Lesser Scaup - Never say never, enough records for us to stand a good chance

Black Kite - We have a pretty good record for raptors, so why not

Baillon's Crake - A bit on the hopeful side, but no reason why not

Waders, waders, waders, surely nothing is off the table?

Black-winged Stilt - Records nearby over the last 2-3 years, we're next right!?

Stone Curlew - Random, but always possible and almost certainly flew over already at night

Kentish Plover - How they would come running and again why not us

American or Pacific Golden Plover - I only thought of this due to our fly over this Eurasian this week, was it Eurasian though? We can never be sure can we?

Curlew Sandpiper - Assuming the Oct 2nd 1988 record isn't complete shite (oops) then we are overdue one big time

Pectoral Sandpiper - It's amazing what hasn't made an appearance, this is quite a shocking situation, surely it's about to change this year? Top 5

Lesser Yellowlegs - Oxon had one, why not?

Marsh Sandpiper - Oxon had one, why not?

Spotted Sandpiper - It's got to be a good candidate

Red-necked Phalarope - They do like bigger waters on the whole, but Moor Green had one

Arctic Skua - Fly over flock of 2005 will haunt me forever, maybe a sick bird will stay long enough one day?

Sabine's Gull - 1987 will haunt me longer, could it happen again?

White-winged Black Tern - Good old random will produce one not far from now

Caspian Tern - Just because I want it to happen

Whiskered Tern - Moor Green had one...

Long-eared Owl - Perhaps we've had it in modern times, but we should have worked harder 15 years ago when they wintered nearby

Bee-Eater - Come on, it's sunny the wind is from the South, tomorrow please

Hoopoe - What fun to be had with one on the golf course, then behind Lavell's

Red-rumped Swallow - I've had this in my top 5 for about 10 years, soon my friends, soon

Citrine Wagtail - I saw one at Fleet and with that in mind, I'm not convinced having Yellow's makes a difference...hopefully

Bluethroat - We got marshes and reeds

Great Reed Warbler - It was on my list before the Green Park bird and it remains in my good chance list

Savi's Warbler - Oxon had one this spring

River Warbler - I like them, what more do you need

Fan-tailed Warbler - Seems unlikely, but what the heck

Dartford Warbler - Should have had one already, random stuff

Marsh Warbler - Tricky expecting another, but it's never impossible

Aquatic Warbler - When it happens it's most likely going to be pulled out of a net, but maybe someone will get luckier than that?

Barred Warbler - Coastal only, still possible

Arctic Warbler - A good look for one can't hurt

Penduline Tit - Marshes and I'd really like one

Red-backed Shrike - Good chance

Snow Bunting - Somewhere at Lea Farm, or just minutes at the DAC beach

Serin - Fly over always possible

Ortolan Bunting - Fly over always possible

Little Bunting - Feeding station bird of course

Lapland Bunting - feeding station bird?

Monday, 10 August 2020

Night Heron - The photographs emerge

 After a telephone conversation, my friends wife had him send some photographs over a 'strange heron' and you could tell straight away it was the Night Heron..."when was this?" I asked...."Thursday!"..."oh blimey, that's 2 days before I saw it and none of us knew"....."Any sign since?..."afraid not".

Nothing we can do now, so let's hope it has stuck around and is using pools to the East and maybe roosting nearby??



There is no public access to this small and now very dried up pond, regardless of anyone's feelings that them seeing this bird is being more important than residents privacy, it isn't.

That was 4 days ago so if in the unlikely event it does show up again, I've asked them to tell me and we'll go from there.


That morning after feeling

2 days on from seeing the juvenile Night Heron I have reflected on many thoughts, not least how much fun it was telling the story of it happening. 

I have always said, the best birds are those you get to share with good friends and I will say once more, the blissful difference of finding a bird versus 'twitching' someone else's bird are significant;

I have twitched many other people's birds and 'that journey' to park is often fraught with moments where you think "why do I have to behind the slowest driver in the world", or where am I supposed to park when you get there. The Grey Phalarope of 1st Nov 2018, wasn't exactly a classic, because I was already in the car - returning from shopping and luckily I was in Woodley, so it took me barely 3 minutes to get to the car park gate. Had I not sprinted to Bittern hide from the car park gate and had Steve Day not have waited and handed me his bins, I would have missed it....lucky for sure.

On a normal day am I lucky? I'd contest not really, but the thing is I am out there 97% of the time, I've never stopped doing my patch in 20 years. Sure I go on holiday and miss stuff, most notably the Great Reed Warbler at Green Park, which is a shame, but I can't do anything about that, what I can do, is get up at dawn and get myself to my patch and give it my best shot to cover as much of it as possible. 

As my good friend Trevor says, "I won't see anything from my sofa". So I do it, it's pretty quiet much of the time, but many days there is something interesting to see, you just have to stay sharp and humble enough to enjoy what is there to see.

On that subject. here is a picture of this mornings Shoveler in the early sunlight.

Here is the link to the short video I took of 6 Common Sandpiper that were only there 3-4 minutes.

I don't need to tell anyone to enjoy their birds and birding, it's not a challenge, but for anyone thinking I'm a lucky soandso, I just go out nearly every day at dawn and encourage everyone else to do the same.

AND, once in a while you get lucky, well actually 4-5 times on average, this year : 1 Sandwich Tern in and out in 45 seconds, 2 Cattle Egret flew over two mornings on the trot, Hawfinch flew over 17th May!, 3 different Med Gulls and we haven't even reach mid August, when peak passage starts and I ALWAYS remain optimistic something will show up. 

I guess what I'm saying is consistently visiting at dawn 97% of the time brings rewards, but you've still got to remain on it, sharp for that 5-15 second fly over view of an amazing bird like Berkshire's 4th ever Night Heron.