Saturday, 29 April 2017

Canons Farm and Beddington Farmlands, 29th April 2017

I was joined by 20 other keen souls this morning for the CFBW Bird Group's Spring Migration Tour, which took us on a relaxed donder around Canons Farm looking for local birds and any spring migrants. It was a real success with crowd-pleasers including three Wheatears and a trickle of Swallows along with local representives in the form of a pair of Red-legged Partridges, two Little Owls and three Yellowhammers. Patch notables included Grey Heron and three Lesser Black-backed Gulls overhead.

I spent a couple of hours around the lakes at Beddington this afternoon where nothing was going on in terms of movement but it was nice to just relax and watch and listen to everything going about its business. A Little Ringed Plover was poking around on one of the islands and Lesser Whitethroat, Cetti's Warbler and Reed Warbler were among the species in song. A Grey Wagtail was my first on site since 7th March.

Thailand birds

In order to discipline myself in sorting out my records and photographs from my trip to Thailand last December, I'm going to aim to post my best photographs of two or three species seen on the trip each day, along with a few lines on their ecology to reaffirm my own understanding of each species as much as anything.

To start off..

Black-thighed Falconets Microhierax fringillarius allopreening. Watching this pair was one of the highlights of the trip. They are amusingly diminutive, measuring just 14-17cm in length. Found in open forest, often near water, the species preys on insects and small birds. Up to four birds may share the same prey item. Prey is caught in flight after the falconet spots it from its perch. They often nest in old barbet or woodpecker holes and leave them bare inside, laying 4-5 eggs inside and using the cavity to roost year-round. They are classed as Least Concern and found in south-eastern Asia and Indonesia.

Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus. Found across much of southern and south-eastern Asia, as well as Indonesia and northern Australia. This was a fairly regular sight on our trip. The species is often, but not always, found near water and feeds on a variety of small animals, as well as carrion. Nests are constructed of sticks, lined with softer material and one or two eggs are laid, hatching after around 30 days and the young fledging 40-45 days later. Communal roosts occur. Least Concern but declines noted in Java and parts of Thailand.
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris. Found in patches from the Red Sea to Polynesia, this 'tree kingfisher' (subfamily Halcyonidae) has some 50 races listed in HBW. The birds we saw will have been armstongi. They are fond of mangroves but will use other habitats, feeding on a variety of small animals. Nesting in a bank, suitable tree or something else they can excavate a cavity (or they may move in to an old woodpecker hole), 2-5 eggs are laid and young will fledge around 30 days later.

Beddington Farmlands, 28th April 2017

I was joined by Koje and Magnus A for a ringing session on Hundred Acre. The pre-dawn clamour of recently arrived Reed Warblers in the reedbed was a promising sign and, with little wind and a fair bit of cloud cover, I remained cautiously optimistic for a productive morning. Indeed, it turned out alright with 21 birds caught, including 16 new, making for our most fruitful session on Hundred Acre to date. I was delighted that among the number were eight Reed Warblers, seven new and one already bearing a ring (probably from Beddington in a previous year but to be checked). A male Reed Bunting was another nice catch.

Reed Warbler
Little Ringed Plover
Red Kite

There was plenty of entertainment overhead and around the sludge lagoons, too. One or two Greenshanks were knocking around, as were singles of Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover. A Lesser Whitethroat sang by the gate. I finally reached 150 for Beddington by at long last connecting with a Red Kite on site, albeit a tail-less one!  In the middle of one of the net rounds, Mag picked up a 2cy Iceland Gull flying over.

2cy Iceland Gull

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Canons Farm/Banstead Woods and Beddington Farmlands, 27th April 2017

Still feeling like winter but everything generally carrying on as though it were a normal spring day, a stroll around Banstead Woods in the morning was rewarded with a couple of brief glimpses of my and the patch's first Hobby of the year, as well as an overflying Red Kite (2cy) and a singing Willow Warbler (scarce this year!). Moving on to the farm, there was little on offer today but a Little Owl called, four Mallards flew over and three Swallows flew through.

2cy Red Kite
After lunch, I headed to Beddington, where it was cool and showery. There was nothing new, but the Sedge Warbler was still singing away on one of the main islands and a Common Sandpiper was seen, along with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. As I left the gate, the number of Swallows hawking over the lakes had built to around 30 and an Egyptian Goose flew over. The highlight of the visit, though, was watching a Jackdaw try really hard to chase down a Swallow for the best part of 10 seconds!

♀ Little Ringed Plover

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Canons Farm, 26th April 2017

I had some work to finish off this morning so only headed to the patch just before lunchtime, expecting to just do a quick round in the cold winds before heading to the shelter of the hide at Beddington. During migration periods, it is customary to check Slangs, a sunken gravel bridleway bordered by one of the farm's only healthy hedgerows, and as I started through the gate there my ear caught a Lesser Whitethroat singing further down. It turned out to be a bit of a skulker, of course, but did come out in the open for a couple of minutes at one point. This species can be quite scarce in some years so I was pretty chuffed. Just as I was heading back to the car, Paul M appeared on the lane so we headed back down to take another look at the whitethroat and while waiting for it to show, a Yellow Wagtail called overhead but things got even better when a cronking sound and calls from mobbing corvids had us running to the nearest clear spot to see a Raven being escorted off site by local Carrion Crows. Three good patch year ticks in one place! A Red Kite, or perhaps two, flew over, as did two Canada Geese and six Swallows.

♂ Lesser Whitethroat

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Canons Farm and Beddington Farmlands, 25th April 2017

It was a brutally cold morning and I decided against getting up pre-dawn for more territory mapping, instead snatching an extra hour in bed before heading to Canons, figuring most migrants would have been blocked by this unseasonable air system. It wasn't so bad, actually, with five Wheatears in Broadfield and a late Meadow Pipit, which was presumably yesterday's bird. Two Canada Geese flew over again. After popping home, I headed to Beddington, where the main lake ringing team was packing up and two stunning adult Mediterranean Gulls yelped overhead on my arrival. A group of four and a singleton followed, before two vocal birds appeared again low over the lake and I presumed this to be the same pair from earlier on. After local birders lamenting the dearth of Med Gull records/passage in recent years, the last few days have seen an unprecedented passage involving 42 birds since Saturday. 2cys of Caspian and Iceland Gull dropped in, too, but the latter evaded photography as overhead Med Gull calls distracted me and it had vanished when I looked back down the scope. Sedge, Reed and Cetti's Warblers were singing, three or so Black-headed Gulls were still around and a Sand Martin, a couple of House Martins and a few Swallows were seen. A Yellow Wagtail dropped in and wildfowl included a pair of Shelduck. Five Buzzards sailing into the wind and an appearance from a Peregrine ensured that the gulls and corvids were constantly on edge.

Part of an incredible local passage of Mediterranean Gulls at Beddington in recent days
2cy Caspian Gull at Beddington - can't quite decide whether this is the same bird as yesterday or not...
male Wheatear at Canons Farm

Monday, 24 April 2017

Canons Farm/Banstead Woods and Beddington Farmlands, 24th April 2017

A long day in the field started with more mapping of breeding bird territories in Banstead Woods, with the rest of the morning spent at the farm. This was rewarded with two valuable patch year ticks as two Sand Martins pushed through and a couple of Greylags flew over. A Wheatear, a Meadow Pipit and a couple of Canada Geese were also noteworthy.

After lunch, I joined Kevin G and Roger B by the main lake at Beddington. It was rather chilly but the threat of rain and the potential avian delights it might bring kept us optimistic. Among a steady trickle of Swallows were a few Sand Martins and my first three House Martins of the year, though these were trumped by two Swifts. A couple of Peregrines cruised overhead, as did a Buzzard. My first Sedge Warbler of the spring was singng, as were my first local Lesser Whitethroat and Reed Warblers of the year. Three Little Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper busied around the islands and among the surprisingly strong number of gulls present were 2cy individuals of both Glaucous and Caspian Gull.

2cy Glaucous Gull (right), quite a small bird
2cy Caspian Gull

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Canons Farm, 23rd April 2017

Thanks to calls from Paul G and Andy D just after I'd finished work, I was shortly down to the farm this afternoon and onto the Black Redstart at Reads Bottom, which Robert R had also stumbled upon. Despite a number of records during my first couple of years of watching the site, they have been very thin on the ground in latter years so I made the most of my time watching this bird. Paul M and Ian J also turned up for a look. Two Wheatears also flopped across Broadfield and a few Swallows were skimming around.

Black Redstart

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Middleton Lakes RSPB, 20th April 2017

Forced to the Midlands on business for a couple of days, I managed to snatch a quick evening stroll around the RSPB's incredible Middleton Lakes reserve. Like an inland Minsmere, the range of habitats and the scents and sounds of spring were truly uplifting. After emerging from woodland littered with bluebells and awash with the scent of garlic, where Bullfinches and a Treecreeper called, it was out onto the reedbeds and lakes. Here, the soundscape of chuntering Reed Warblers, screeching Common Terns, a rattling Lesser Whitethroat and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler were just the therapy I've been needing lately, while three upending Garganey and an argumentative trio of Little Ringed Plovers just topped it off. I also delighted in my first Mallard and Coot broods of the year. I wished I hadn't arrived with both an empty stomach and water bottle, eventually driving me to reluctantly bail out.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Canons Farm, 18th April 2017

A nice spring day but there was little on offer for Ed Stubbs on his visit to the patch. However, it was very interesting strolling around and chatting Surrey patching with a fellow dry site birder. A male Stonechat knocking around Horse Pasture was rather unexpected and there are no later spring records going back to at least 2010. Otherwise, a couple of Little Owls were on view and a Grey Heron flew over, as did a Mallard when I returned later in the day. Five Swallows and two Whitethroats were also of note.

♂ Stonechat

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Moseley Heath, 18th April 2017

I didn't really have time to do any birding today but couldn't run the risk of missing the reported Iberian Chiffchaff at Moseley Heath so spent a couple of hours there early this afternoon. The bird sang quite frequently when the sun came out but was surprisingly elusive and difficult to get a good view of. I hold my hands up to only having heard/seen one Iberian Chiffchaff before, in Kent several years ago, and have better things to do than spend my evenings pouring over tapes of variations of song, which probably wouldn't make me any likelier to make a bold statement, but I was taken aback by how far removed the bird's song was from what I understand the species to sound like. Generally a slow wavering trill and a few chiff/chaff elements, at the end of some refrains it sounded rather like a Willow Warbler (although it definitely is not a Willow Warbler). I will very happily bow to the judgement of anyone who has more experience of Ibe Chiff or gone more in depth than I have. It's certainly an interesting-looking bird anyway. Also noted were three Little Egrets, a Cetti's Warbler, a Kingfisher, a Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, etc. A Swallow flew over the A3 at Tolworth.

chiffchaff sp.

Canons Farm, 17th April 2017

An post-work stroll, accompanied by Phil W then Ian M, was a little on the chilly side but did produce three Wheatears, including a good 'Greenland' candidate, the two Red-legged Partridges, the first patch Whitethroat of the year and a Willow Warbler. I also noted a Grey Heron, five Mallards and four Swallows.

♂ 'Greenland'-type Wheatear

Canons Farm and The Oaks, 16th April 2017

A quick walk around the farm in the late afternoon produced little other than a high-flying Cormorant and one of the local Little Owls. Meeting up with Josh B for an evening tour of The Oaks Golf Centre was rewarded nicely by a male Redstart by one of the fairways.

♂ Redstart at The Oaks Golf Centre

Friday, 14 April 2017

Beddington Farmlands, 14th April 2017

Parking up in the suburbs of Mitcham Junction at 4.30am, Kojak and I embarked into the darkness to set up the nets for another ringing session on Hundred Acre. We stuck it out till early afternoon, accompanied by Paul M and Christian C, and did reasonably well in comparison to most mornings' netting there so far. The biggest horror treat came when four Rose-ringed Parakeets, which had been feeding on buds in the bushes in one of the sludge lagoons, ended up in a single net at once. Neither Koje nor I had ever processed a parakeet before but had heard the stories of blood and gore (inflicted upon ringers by the birds!). It was a real challenge keeping all of one's fingers out of reach of the parakeets' nimble and brutal bills but we managed to get them done and off safely, even if we may have some scars to show for the encounter.

I was hoping for better numbers of migrants in the nets but was happy to catch a singles of Whitethroat and Blackcap, the former being the first I've seen anywhere this year (there were two others singing). Overhead passage included two Yellow Wagtails, a year-tick for all of us, and three Sand Martins. A Green Sandpiper called in the pre-dawn gloam, as did a Snipe. A rather jammy line-up of Christian's scope led to us spotting a juvenile Iceland Gull loafing on one of the Viridor buildings. My schedule is pretty packed for the next few weeks but I hope to fit in as many ringing sessions at Beddington as I can over the spring.

Rose-ringed Parakeet - the blood is mine!
♂ Whitethroat
juvenile Iceland Gull

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Canons Farm and Banstead Woods, 12th April 2017

A cracking first day back on the patch, which comes in rather handy as it looks like I won't be able to do a huge amount of local birding this spring. The best was a male Redstart, five Wheatears, four Willow Warblers, eight Swallows, 38 Meadow Pipits, the two resident Red-legged Partridges, a Red Kite, two Little Owls, a Canada Goose and a Grey Heron.

♂ Wheatear
Red Kite

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Lothian, 30th March-11th April

I managed to fit in a little birding while staying at Ingrid's for a while. There was quite a bit around her garden, including regular Bullfinches, redpolls and Siskins, plus a migrant flock of 40 Pink-footed Geese overhead on 31st. I set up a net in the garden, a fairly productive enterprise over the first couple of days but soon burning out, a smart Bullfinch and a couple of Coal Tits being the best catches. After the earlier Tawny Owl surprise, the woods just around the corner came up with two Crossbills on April 9th.

Birding trips out were limited to visits to John Muir Country Park on 1st April, Musselburgh two days later and the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick on 6th. The first two sites provided a nice array of coastal species, including 11 Velvet Scoters, a Greenshank and a showy drake Red-breasted Merganser at Musselburgh. I was mightily impressed with the centre at North Berwick and how well it engages the public with the wonder of our seabirds, with impressive displays and easy viewing of the seabird colonies on Bass Rock and Craighleith. Managing to connect with Puffin and Purple Sandpiper at the Seabird Centre, Bass Rock and its Gannets provided the most spectacular presence.

Bullfinch in Edinburgh
A friendly drake Red-breasted Merganser at Musselburgh on 3rd April
Curlew at John Muir CP on 1st April
The beautiful dunes and flats of Tyninghame Bay on 1st April
Skylark at John Muir CP on 1st April
Peregrine at John Muir CP on 1st April
North Berwick's main attraction
Scottish Seabird Centre display
Purple Sandpiper at North Berwick on 6th April
Bass Rock, smattered in Gannets on 6th April
Eiders at North Berwick on 6th April
juvenile Crossbill at Ravelston Woods on 9th April
Nuthatch at Ravelston Woods on 9th April

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ravelston Woods, 29th March 2017

I arrived in Edinburgh late in the afternoon only to be told to rush to the local primary school sharpish as Ingrid had found a Tawny Owlet while helping out with its weekly wildlife club (a fantastic and popular outing, I wish I had this when I was little!). Sure enough, there was a little ball of fluff perched quite contently by the path! We couldn't spot any siblings or parents but they were probably nearby. Ravelston Woods is a charming little place and we also logged Bullfinches, Treecreepers and a Nuthatch.

Tawny Owlet

27-28 March 2017

A couple of outings locally before heading to Edinburgh for a few days. On Monday, I started at Canons, where the groundhog day cycle still felt as though it were in effect. A Siskin, a Canada Goose, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Chiffchaff, eight Meadow Pipits... A cuppa with Steve G before joining him on a tour of Priest Hill, a lovely little site, was a nice way to spend the afternoon. The birding potential of Priest Hill is stark but only another Siskin and a few Meadow Pipits were on offer for us that afternoon.

The wind having prevented me from getting the nets up at Beddington for what feels like ages, I took the chance to fit in a ringing session there on Tuesday morning before heading to Canons to lead a walk for Legal & General staff. It was an improved haul on recent sessions, with three Reed Buntings and a Chiffchaff being caught. I expect the 'volume' will come for this site when the Reed and Sedge Warblers arrive. On the way back to the car, a cracking male Wheatear flicked across my path. My first of the spring, although I wasn't really fit to fully appreciate it, carrying two boxes of kit and sweating like a pig while racing back to the car, smelling of sewage. The L&G walk paid off with a Red Kite drifting west being my first for a little while plus views of one of Little Owl pairs.

male Wheatear
male Reed Bunting

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Dungeness RSPB, 25th March 2017

The sun came out for once but it was still hella windy. Nonetheless, Josh B and I had a quick trip to Dungeness RSPB, with good views of the flirtatious drake Ring-necked Duck, two distant Black-necked Grebes in their summer finery and, best of all, a drake Garganey, picked out on Cook's Pool by JB. It feels as though I haven't seen a drake for absolutely ages. Burrowes Pit also held singles of Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Pintail, along with three Goldeneyes and the aerial antics of a couple of Marsh Harriers over Dengemarsh also kept us entertained. We stopped by at the obs to say hi to Dave W and Gill H then called it a day, the wind unrelenting.

♂ Ring-necked Duck
♂ Garganey

Friday, 24 March 2017

Canons Farm and Banstead Woods, 23-24th March 2017

Still painfully quiet locally, I teamed up with Paul M yesterday and Duncan J today. Yesterday, a flock of 20 Lesser Redpolls, three Canada Geese and a Grey Heron were the highlights at the farm while today's offerings were two Siskins and two redpolls in Banstead Woods, plus two grounded Canada Geese at the farm. There were still 35 Redwings around yesterday but no winter thrushes were noted this morning.

Hardly the most riveting of things but Canada Geese are uncommon at the patch and seldom touch down

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Canons Farm, 22nd March 2017

Heading out this morning to continue mapping territories was an utterly dismal affair, the forecast of rain and wind holding true for once. Before I had enough and headed home, I did record a Grey Heron, a couple of Pied Wagtails and four Meadow Pipits. Taking the chance to polish off 'The Birds of Canons Farm & Banstead Woods 2012-16' and send it to the printers, I celebrated by heading out again once the outdoors looked an appealing place to be once more. This was rewarded with two distant Red-legged Partridges and wonderful views of a 2cy female Sparrowhawk, as well as hearing a Little Owl singing. The Sparrowhawk is the species that got me hooked on birding and every close up encounter remains such a thrilling experience!
2cy ♀ Sparrowhawk
Red-legged Partridge