The last week of October/first week of November is always the best time to find a Ring Ouzel here. October 31st had produced this species in both 2015 and 2016, and it duly delivered again this year, with a typically elusive male showing a couple of times in a big mixed thrush flock on the edge of Holly Field. It becomes the 120th patch species of 2017 – an ambitious goal I stated at the start of the year – but I was made to sweat a little after this normally reliable autumn visitor seemed to be passing through the county in much lower numbers than usual, no doubt due to the distinct lack of easterlies.
The early part of the week saw significant thrush numbers move through the site (200+ Redwing and 100+ Fieldfare on Monday), after what’s been a very poor autumn for them, and I was subsequently delighted to catch up with a Ring Ouzel. The male was glimpsed best in flight, when its pale crescent, and chrome white underwings were seen well. I then managed just a couple of poor views of it deep in the holly bushes that flank the west side of aptly-named Holly Field. Reaching 120 felt like a real milestone - I'll almost certainly not manage that figure again!
As it happened, I surely had another at Slade’s Farm the following day, but despite hearing and (very) briefly seeing a female candidate, I couldn’t be sure. Furthermore, I may have seen the/another male again at Holly Field on the 1st. Aside from the early week thrush numbers midweek was otherwise quiet, though a Hawfinch flew east over the Ridge on the 30th.
As ever these days the weekend brought prolonged opportunities to get out in the field, and I must confess that reaching my goal of 120 had resulted in a little taking of my feet off the gas. With the local forecast wet and grey too, I decided to go north, and catch up with David and the gulls at Beddington.
The trip was well worth it – a thoroughly enjoyable morning was spent sifting through the huge, mainly Herring, gull flock on the North Lake, and we managed to dig out a mighty fine 1st-winter Caspian Gull, which sadly stayed for a lot less longer than we’d have liked. Also present was a single adult Mediterranean Gull, a 1st-winter Yellow Legged Gull and a handful of Great and Lesser Black-backs. Other birds of note included Cetti’s Warbler, Water Rail, Chiffchaff and Snipe.
I’ve found myself more and more fascinated by gulls during the past few months. I still find some ages/species extremely challenging, and have booked a long weekend on the Irish west coast to practice, which offers the enhanced hope of finding something unusual. In patch terms gulls are scarce, certainly on the deck – only the wintering flock of Common Gulls can be considered regular, and they have begun to return in dribs and drabs as winter approaches.
Saturday night was spent watching the various local fireworks from a high point on the patch. At least 8 Tawny Owls were calling, a few Redwing flew over and, most surprisingly, a Mandarin was heard overhead. Migrating, or spooked from a roost site nearby by the cacophony of noise?
I spent Sunday morning vis-migging at New Barn, but aside from an impressive, early spurt of 2,281 Woodpigeons, there wasn’t much else to shout about. Autumn movement is clearly winding down, though a Brambling and Skylark were good value, and of course the Hawfinch-fest will never cease to please – at least 6 feeding in the area around New Barn and Juniper Hill, and another was seen later over Wintershall.
The week ahead
The weather looks uninspiring, and it seems autumn will go out without a bang. Saying that, October has been very good to me here, and I’ll be lucky to add anything new to the year list. A flyover Parakeet remains a possibility at any time really, but otherwise any addition will likely be random.
After the big passage counts of September/October, wildfowl numbers should steadily climb again on Mill Pond as birds wintering here settle in for the months ahead. However, numbers are currently very low, and the mild temperatures and continued westerlies will likely keep figures down for the moment. There is, however, the very outside chance of a more northern breeding species (Goosander, Goldeneye etc) stopping by on one of the water bodies on its way elsewhere from now until early December.
|Slade's Farm and beyond, 30/11/217|
I’ll have two main objectives in the coming week though. Firstly, to try and confirm Water Rails as back at Winkworth – this species is seemingly declining as a winter visitor here (just 4 records this year), no doubt due to the continued negligence of the only habitat they use (Phillimore). The other task will be to sift through the growing finch/bunting flock on the Ridge, for something special.