It was back to the patch after my recent spell in the eastern Med, and the grim weather over the weekend was a stark reminder of the season here. It was wet on both days, and on Sunday it even snowed for a bit (though it was predominately sleet), making for pretty tough field conditions. Nevertheless, I managed to get a couple of good sessions in, one of which resulted in the confirmed identification of the probable Mealy Redpoll, which has been on the Ridge with a large Lesser Redpoll flock for over a month now.
|Mistle Thrush, Bonhurst Farm, 20/1/2018|
After an unsuccessful search for Water Rail at Winkworth at dawn, I was up on the Ridge, and rain was just beginning to fall. It seemed the finch/bunting flock was largely on the north crop, and along the hedgerow that flanks the east of it. 45+ Linnets were easy to locate, as were at least 10 Reed Buntings, and it didn’t take long before I heard the first buzzy notes of a Brambling – there was at least 5 present, and it’s nice to have this species back here after a blank 2016/17 winter.
I couldn’t initially locate the Redpoll flock (just a couple in the hedgerow), but one of the beaters that was around flushed them from the small paddock between the north crop and Furze Field, and they flew up to the exposed trees on the west side of the latter woodland. As the group flew, again I noticed the obvious, large and pale individual, and it showed a really quite striking white rump in flight.
It, and the flock, sat up in the trees for around 10 minutes, and this individual was much more pallid than the Lessers it was with, and had less streaked underparts - the wingbar was bolder too. I’ve seen a few Mealy’s before, including birds in the hand, and I must say this one really does stand out amongst the Lessers it hangs around with (to the point Arctic ran through my mind, but it’s not that white, and the beak isn’t all squashed in!).
|Little Egret, Eastwaters Pond, 19th January 2018|
If anyone wants to try and see this bird, here is some information. For starters, the flock (at least 25 birds) is flighty and elusive, typically. Unlike the rest of the finches/buntings on the Ridge at present they rarely feed in the crops, and instead prefer a small strip of sunflowers and teasels in the aforementioned paddock (between the north crop and Furze Field at roughly TQ 00460 42264), which can’t be viewed very well from the footpath.
Here they feed on the ground and are basically impossible to see, but on occasion they will flush/fly out, and perch in the trees on the west side of Furze Field. Here they’re easily viewed from the path and approachable to the point you can stand right underneath them. The Mealy is fairly striking, and on Saturday it stood out as soon as the flock flew, due to the obvious rump.
I tried again on Sunday, in far worse conditions, and unsurprisingly few finches or buntings were showing their faces. It was a better situation elsewhere mind, with a Chiffchaff and Little Owl at Winkworth both year ticks, and a very pleasing tally of 152 Fieldfares at Bonhurst Farm. With the Fieldfares were 87 Redwings and 84 Starlings, and a Hawfinch flew over.
Also on Sunday, a new site record 99 Greylag Geese (including a single flock of 81 at Wintershall) were tallied throughout the site. A Little Egret was at Eastwaters Pond early on Friday, continuing the fine start to the year for this species.
Coward’s Marsh - 21st
|Stilt Sandpiper, Coward's Marsh, 20/1/2018.|
With the weather as poor as it was on Saturday, further patching and football was scratched off the agenda, and so I decided to finally pay a visit to the wintering Stilt Sandpiper in Dorset. This individual has been moving about a bit, and even on the day of my trip down it relocated from Stanpit Marsh to Coward’s Marsh, a cute little area of flooded field north of Christchurch.
The 1st-winter bird was quickly picked up, but despite being pretty flighty it never came too close. Also of note here was a Spotted Redshank, a roosting Knot, 2 Oystercatchers and 150+ Lapwings. The sun occasionally shone too, and with snowdrops already out on the patch, and birdsong increasing, the faintest scent of spring can be detected.
*2017 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report* - a reminder to anyone who missed the news that this is now available, though a surprising number have already shifted and only a handful remain. Please check out thislink for details.