It’s been little short of a whirlwind on patch this past week. The end of February is not exactly a time associated with year ticks here but, incredibly, I’ve managed 4 during the past 7 days. The ‘Beast From The East’ (surely a more original name could’ve been contrived?) certainly had a helping hand, delivering the first ever Thorncombe Street area Golden Plovers. On top of that, there was the 3rd site Water Pipit, a remarkable influx of Lapwings and a mighty-fine vis-mig session on Sunday.
|Reed Bunting, The Ridge, 27/2/2018.|
Tuesday 27th-Friday 2nd
On the 27th I headed up to the Ridge in order to lay down plenty of seed ahead of the forecast snow later in the week - a Skylark in the south crop was likely a cold weather mover, and near the end of the session 3 flocks of Lapwings, totalling 14 birds, flew over. These were new for the year, and again probably an example of birds arriving from the east. 137 Starlings south-west, in an hour, was very notable, and again these were no doubt fleeing conditions further north and east.
The gym pipped the patch to the pre-work slot on Wednesday, and typically this was when stuff begin to happen in Surrey, namely an incredible movement of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and thrushes. I’ve gone into this in more detail in this midweek post, which also covers the wonderful find of the sites first Golden Plover, by Abel B. The 160+ Lapwings was the highest count of the influx week, and is thought to be a new record for the area.
|Golden Plover, Nadia's Hill, 28/2/2018.|
One of the Golden Plovers was still present on the morning of the 1st, hunkered down on Nadia’s Hill with 88 Lapwings, in bitterly cold conditions. A Woodcock flushed roadside just east of Selhurst Common was possibly another bird arriving from the east, and is just the 2nd sighting of 2018. Otherwise, unsurprisingly, it was quiet, on possibly the worst day of weather here during the whole ‘Beast’.
Scraping around for any remnants of the ‘Beast’ proved somewhat fruitless. No Golden Plovers around, though 46 Lapwings were sprinkled throughout. On the Ridge, a couple each of Brambling and Yellowhammer were good value, and another year tick was racked up when a group of 4 adult Great Black-backed Gulls drifted east.
A later visit to the central section of the patch made it clear that plenty of larids were on the move overhead. 6 Lesser Black-backed and 16 Herring Gulls were tallied, as well as around 20 Common Gulls. You know the latter species can be classed as moving through when 1st and 2nd-winter birds are involved – the regular wintering flock here is almost exclusively adults, but the individuals drifting largely north and east looked to be on the move, and many were young birds.
|Little Owl, Thorncombe Park, 3/3/2018.|
Other decent bits included a Hawfinch pair near Gatestreet Farm, a Kingfisher at Mill Pond, 3 Egyptian Geese and enjoyable views of one of the Little Owls at Thorncombe Park.
After the notable gull movement yesterday I decided a first, proper vis-mig of the year was in order, and this decision proved extremely fruitful. With a breezy south-easterly, low cloud and early mist, conditions were good on Allden’s Hill, and it took just a few minutes before the first Herring Gull drifted over.
In an hour and a half, gull-wise, I totalled 34 Herring, 8 Black-headed, 7 Common and a site record 9 Lesser Black-backed, all going north/east. It might not sound much, but any gull is of note here! The best of the larid action was 3 Great Black-backed Gulls, including two beastly adults at 07:50 and 08:06 respectively, that passed through. There was something deeply atmospheric, and near-ominous, about seeing these hulking great birds appear out of the early morning gloom, and drift silently onwards.
Redwings (14) and Fieldfares (23) were all heading north and east too, probably returning from their ventures west last week as oppose to heading to breeding grounds. Finches were represented by 5 species, including a minimum of 18 Hawfinches – surely some are going to stay and breed locally? A Skylark north was a good record, and 7 Lapwings south-east may have been part of the 113 counted on the deck throughout the site later in the day.
|2nd-winter Common Gull, Wintershall, 3/3/2018.|
The bird of the weekend, and what could probably prove to be the bird of the month, was a single Water Pipit south-east at 08:16. The watch was notable for the lack of Meadow Pipits (though 2 were clocked up towards the end of the session), and this individual flew through at mid-height, offering it’s wetter, squeakier and heavier flight-call than that of a Mipit.
In OK light the pale underparts were most striking, though the prominent supercilium stood out – I recall Matt P once describing them as “almost like a mini Redwing”, and that comparison rang true on this occasion. There are only 2 previous records of Water Pipit here - a bird that dropped down into Hive Field with Meadow Pipits last October, and an individual over the Ridge during a vis-mig session on 30th March 2015. Perhaps this bird had been frozen off its wintering grounds and was returning? It seems a little early for a trip back to the Alps or Pyrenees.
In a classic vis-mig purple patch, some 6 minutes later 2 Golden Plovers flew west behind me. Of course, this was only the 2nd site record, and it was nice to find my ‘own’ on patch. In all it was a really fantastic, can’t-take-your-eyes-off sort of watch. Full details of the session canbe found here on Trektellen.
|Raven, Allden's Hill, 4/3/2018.|
The week ahead
With the ‘Beast’ now long-gone we enter what’s personally my favourite month on patch, and it’s pretty mad to be on 88 species already. Temperatures rose to as high as 8 celsius on Sunday, and I was half-expecting a hirundine to fly over! It’ll still be a few weeks until I can realistically expect those, with Blackcap likely to be my next year tick, and a real sign of spring (along with singing Chiffchaffs).
Peregrine remains a possibility at any point soon, though Water Rail’s status as a wintering bird here looks more and more precarious after each failed search. However, with year ticks taking a back seat, the next couple of weeks will be dedicated to monitoring the beginning of the breeding process for a number of resident species.