Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 at Collingham and Besthorpe

Although Collingham and Besthorpe has been my (main) local patch for some time now, I have never kept a tally of how many species I record on an annual basis. However, in 2013 I decided to take part in the inaugural Patchwork Challenge – I do like a bit of competitive birding (which doesn't just involve driving miles and ticking off someone else’s bird ).

One of the things about birding a site like Collingham Pits is the way it changes within, and between years, partly due to ongoing extraction and restoration works, and partly due to water levels. The year started with water levels the highest I’ve ever seen them, following flooding at the end of 2012, and Ferry Lane Lake was full to the brim. Water levels gradually receded during the spring and summer with the aid of a pump, and extraction recommenced mid-July. As a result, some passable wader habitat had reappeared within the new workings area by late summer. As usual, water levels on Mons Pool fluctuated unpredictably, to the detriment of both passage waders and breeding species, although this site did host the county’s first breeding Little Egrets during the year.


8 visits
Species added = 76
Running total = 76

My year started with a visit on 5th, which produced 58 species. There were no real surprises during the month, but a Med Gull on Ferry Lane Lake with small number of BHG’s on 27th was my only one of the year. Decent winter birds included Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Brambling, Pink-footed Goose and Goosander. A decent, if unspectacular, start.

Med Gull


3 visits
Species added = 7
Running total = 83

I actually rather neglected the patch in February, with gulls at Cotham Landfill proving too attractive, and a holiday in Majorca also getting in the way. However, the first Whooper Swan of the year was added, along with a party of 6 Bewick’s Swans (on Smithy Marsh, scoped from Meering) and one of only two Merlins recorded during the year. 

Bewick's Swans


7 visits
Species added = 5
Running total = 88

March was rather slow, but targeted searching for Woodcock eventually paid off, with one flushed at Besthorpe Warren, and a Grey Plover on the Silt Lagoon was the first decent wader of the year. Although not a new addition, a herd of 40 Whooper Swans in the field west of Ferry Lane Lake was notable for its size. 

Grey Plover


16 visits
Species added = 20
Running total = 108

An LRP on 1st heralded the arrival of spring, and my visit rate duly increased. Most common summer migrants were recorded during the month, along with two sought-after raptors – a patch-tick in the form of a Red Kite, and a more expected Marsh Harrier (which I chased from Girton as it flew south). April also brought the first Black-tailed Godwit of the year, and a pair of Avocets which briefly took up residence on Mons Pool. 



11 visits
Species added = 9
Running total = 117

Several more summer migrants were added, including Turtle Dove (whose reappearance at both Mons Pool and Meering was a relief). Two new wader species were Turnstone and Sanderling, with three of the latter during the month, and a Yellow-legged Gull was the first of several. Visits at the end of the month were curtailed by a week in Scotland. 



8 visits
Species added = 3
Running total = 120

June was a rather slow month, but Red-legged Partridge, Peregrine and Barn Owl were new additions. Two Avocets made a brief visit at the start of the month (probably the pair present at the end of April and which had relocated to Langford Lowfields), and another 3 Sanderling turned up mid-month.



10 visits
Species added = 2
Running total = 122

Another week away, this time in France, limited visits at the start of the month, but two new species, both waders, were duly added - the first Greenshank of the autumn, and 3 Whimbrel on the Silt Lagoon at the end of the month. 



17 visits
Species added = 4
Running total = 126

At the start of the month, a Wood Sandpiper on Mons Pool became the best wader of the year so far, whilst towards the end of the month, a Ruff finally made appearance and an Egyptian Goose took up residence for a short time on Mons Pool. A Spotted Flycatcher on Carlton Ferry Lane was the first I’ve seen on the patch (they breed in Collingham village itself) – no Pied Flycatchers though, despite one just up the road at Dunham Lagoons and good passage elsewhere. 

Wood Sand


22 visits
Species added = 6
Running total = 132

September was a fairly productive month; a Ring-necked Parakeet (127) which flew through the site on 5th was also a patch tick, and after lots of searching I finally tracked down a Garganey (128) on Mons Pool. Two Little Stints (129) on Ferry Lane Lake were a welcome find (after dipping a bird earlier in the year), and I finally located my one and only Water Rail (130) of the year. Two drake Red-crested Pochards (131) were my only non-self-found birds of the year, and my final visit of the month paid dividends when I found a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (132) on the old Eon Lagoon at Meering Marsh; with several birds elsewhere in the county, it was good to get in on the action. 



5 visits
Species added = 0
Running total = 132

October was my first, and only, blank month of the year, not helped by time away on Scilly at the start of the month and in Norfolk at the end, although the Pec Sand remained at Meering at the beginning of the month.

Pec Sand and Ruff


4 visits
Species added = 1
Running total = 133

Having not been onto the patch for two weeks, a morning visit on 9th produced the most memorable moment of my birding year (not just on the patch), when I found a Pied Wheatear (133). This bird stayed until the following day and was well twitched. Not only a first for Notts, this was also the first ever inland county record, and a very welcome reward for a lot of time spent on the patch (and not just this year). A moment to savour! And maybe even a challenger for the Patchwork Challenge Best Find prize...

Pied Wheatear


5 visits
Species added = 2

Final total = 135

I have to admit I was slightly losing motivation at this stage, partly due to the lure of gulls again at Cotham Landfill. However, a nice adult Caspian Gull (134) just before Christmas was a welcome addition. My last visit before Christmas was made on the 23rd, and after time back in Suffolk with my family, I squeezed in one more visit before the New Year, when I finally added Tawny Owl (135)!


In summary, I visited my patch on 116 occasions during the year; some were flying visits, others longer, and sometimes I covered all areas (Collingham Pits, Mons Pool, Meering Marsh and Besthorpe Warren), and other times I checked choice locations. Sometime I even managed two visits in one day. Things like holidays and hockey matches meant I couldn't always visit when I wanted to (or should’ve done), but nevertheless I clocked up a total of 135 species during the year, and 166 points. 

So what did I miss? Well, with the last-minute addition of Tawny Owl I had no glaring omissions. However, birds I know of that were seen by others during the year were Black-necked Grebe, Common Scoter, Osprey, Rock Pipit, and Spotted Redshank. No doubt there are a couple of extras too. Other birds I might reasonably have hoped for include things like Whinchat and Stonechat. So 140 would be do-able. And hopefully I'll have some local competition in 2014 - John Hopper would give me a run for my money at Hoveringham!

Postscript: checking my totals, it became clear I'd somehow missed Common Sandpiper off my list, so my final total was in fact 136 species, and 167 points.

A last roll of the dice

A final day's birding in 2013; I began at Cotham Landfill, lasting until I lost the feeling in my toes. The 1w Iceland Gull showed well, and an adult Med Gull also appeared from amongst the Black-heads briefly. I couldn't find anything else of note, besides a pale-tipped Herring Gull.

1w Iceland
A rather pale-tipped Herring

After lunch, a final trip to Collingham beckoned. Teal numbers were up, totalling nearly 200 across Ferry Lane Lake and Mons Pool. Waders included a Green Sand, 2 Redshank and 4 Curlew, whilst 3 Whoopers (2 ads and juv) were in with the Mutes west of the Trent.

However, I had to wait for dark for my main quarry, which had thus far eluded me at Collingham in 2013; I stood at Mons Pool as dusk fell. I thought the Jackdaws and Rooks had abandoned the island as their roost - I could hear them to the north and south, but Mons itself was quiet. However, just after 4.15, the corvids came flooding in in their thousands, wave after wave, in great wheeling masses, blackening the tops of the trees. A fantastic way to end 2013, but I wasn't going to hear the bird I was after above their chattering! 

A decided to head to Besthorpe Warren, but hadn't got 200 yards before I caught what I was after in my headlights - a Tawny Owl! It flew along the verge in front of me, and then over the hedge; rounding the corner it flew across the track. Pleased, I headed home, but not before it reappeared further on, then vanishing into the darkness. 

The sun setting over the Silt Lagoon 

Monday, 30 December 2013

A look back at 2013

It’s a bit self-indulgent, but it seems to be the done thing on one’s blog at this time of year; a look back at the preceding twelve months from a personal perspective. 2013 was undoubtedly one of my best birding years to date, for several reasons:

Patch birding

I took part in Patchwork Challenge in 2013, visiting my patch at Collingham and Besthorpe 116 times, and recording 136 species. I had several patch ticks, including Ring-necked ParakeetRed Kite and Caspian Gull; better still, I found two decent species, first a Pec Sand at the end of September at Meering Marsh (only my second self-found Pec, and another patch tick), which was beaten by a self-found BBRC description species in the form of a Pied Wheatear – a first for Notts, and the first ever inland county-record. My moment of the year was definitely when the bird appeared after a tense wait early in the morning of the 10th November, having put the news out the night before. See this blog post for a full account.

Pec (left) with 2 Ruff
Pied Wheatear

Birding in Notts

I don’t keep a Notts list (or rather I do, but I don’t actively amass a county list...). However, 2013 was undoubtedly an excellent year for county birding. Whilst I regret not going to see the Hoopoe at Annesley (I knew I would), I did see the White-winged Black Tern at Attenborough, Melodious Warbler at Tiln, Glossy Ibis at Lowdham, Parrot Crossbills at Budby Heath,  and the Pied Wheatear at Collingham (did I mention that already?). 

Glossy Ibis
Parrot Crossbill

Listin’ and twitchin’

I finally racked up 400 species this year (BOU of course), after far too long, and finished on 401 (nice to have a small buffer for the Dusky Thrush). Additions were:

Rock Thrush (Spurn, 26th April)

Dusky Thrush (Margate, 18th May) 

Pacific Swift (Trimley, 15th June)

Melodious Warbler (Tiln, 21st June)

Little Bittern (Ham Wall, 29th June)

Pacific Golden Plover (Rutland Water, 15th July)

Bonaparte’s Gull (Heysham, 21st July)

Caspian Tern (Rudyard Lake, 29th July)

Great Snipe (Spurn, 15th September)

I guess if I was a hardcore twitcher I would've added a few more in what was a pretty exceptional year – Harlequin Duck, Needletail, Hermit Thrush, Thick-billed, Cape May and Western Orphean Warblers, Mourning Dove, Semipalmated Plover, Brunnich’s Guillemot... and maybe even Serin (I'll get one one day). As well as lots more I've probably forgotten about.

Birding Trips

Once again, I failed to go on a foreign birding holiday this year, but did add two new species to my WP list – Balearic Warbler, seen during a week on Majorca in February, and a quality category C species in the form of Reeve’s Pheasant in France in July (where I failed to see Grey-headed Woodpecker, again).

Balearic Warbler

In this country, a week with friends in Aviemore produced all the Scottish specialities I could hope for except Golden Eagle (and my best ever Capper encounter – as well as a Pine Marten); a long weekend in Somerset in June got me a Little Bittern (and a Large Blue); and I managed a bit of birding in Norfolk in October half-term. Also in October, I joined Carl C and Stuart D on Scilly for a week. Although lacking a quality rarity, it was a good week’s birding and a lot of fun, with Sora the best bird. Hopefully it will deliver in October 2014! I finished the year with a week back in Suffolk over Christmas, finding not one but two Black Brants down on my old local patch on the Orwell.

Black Brant

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Two Brants

Somehow I never manage as much birding over Christmas as I hope, so after a nice family day out I decided to nip down to Hare's Creek (or Colton Creek as it's called on the OS map) late afternoon to have a look at a section of the Orwell I have thus far failed to cover. However, a flock of several hundred Brents was feeding in a field behind the creek, below Colton Cottage, next to the path I wanted to go down. Instead of disturbing them, I scanned them from the road, quickly finding the adult Black Brant. Much to my surprise, as I scanned back through the flock for a Pale-belly or maybe something better, I came across a second Brant at the opposite end of the flock! This looked a rather smaller bird, but was also an adult. Unfortunately the light wasn't great and I hadn't got my digiscoping adapter, so the photos aren't great...

Bird 1 - probably the same as the 24th
Bird 2 - appearing relatively small

I had a look on the Suffolk BINS website, and reported Black Brants in Suffolk this year have been: 

  • 1 on the Deben at Kinsgfleet (1st Dec) and then at Falkenham (15th Dec)
  • 1 on the Stour at Holbrook Creek (7th Dec)
  • 1 probable at Shingle Street (10th Dec)

Presumably, one of 'my' birds is the Holbrook Creek bird, but it would be interesting to know if the second is the Deben/Shingle Street bird, or another individual. Unfortunately I don't think my photos will allow a forensic examination of plumage details...

Christmas, before and after

I sometimes think I didn't appreciate how lucky I was cutting my birding teeth somewhere like Suffolk - and that I didn't properly take advantage of it either. Birding trips were often 'up the coast', and whilst I did do a lot of birding on the estuaries and around the fields, woods and reservoirs of the Shotley Peninsular, I perhaps didn't spend as much time locally as I should've. I would kill to have a patch like this again! Therefore, one of my highlights of the birding year, as simple as it may seem, is my Christmas Eve walk. This year, I expanded it, starting at Holbrook Creek on the Stour, walking down river to Shotley Gate, and then part way back up the Orwell, covering eight and a half miles in total and taking all day. 

Holbrook Bay, and some 'art'

Things got of to a bad start when I failed to find the Slav Grebes in Holbrook Bay; however, in my defence, the tide was low and it was still very windy, and holding my scope steady was problematic. Things then picked up with an adult Little Gull which flew in front of me at the eastern end of the bay (heading north-east), and then 3 female Common Scoter off Nether Hall. Rounding the point, a juvenile Great Northern Diver was feeding close inshore just west of Johnny All Alone Creek.

2 of the 3 Scoter

At Johnny All Alone there were 415 Brents washing and loafing on the mud, and I scanned them for a Black Brant, without luck.I couldn't find much between JAA and Shotley Gate, although a female Marsh Harrier was hunting over the saltings in Erwarton Bay, and there was another flock of Brents below Kiln Queach - 297 (of which c.40 were juveniles), but again none were sporting snowy flanks. Reaching Shotley Marina, the expected Med Gulls numbered three adult winters.

Med Gull

Leaving the Stour behind me, I turned up the Orwell, coming across another party of Brents, totalling 261, at the southern end of SHotley Marshes. Still no Brant. However, another small flock was further along, this time numbering 140, which finally produced my main target of the day, a fine adult Black Brant, which I watched and photo'd for a while; I think this is now the third one of these I've found on the grazing marshes here - the first in 2004 when it still needed a description being sent to BBRC! 

I rounded things off at Crane's Hill, with a Peregrine scattering the waders that were roosting on the saltings, and examined the damage to the flood banks and the flooded grazing marsh to the north - not quite on the same scale as what happened elsewhere, but impressive nevertheless. All in all, a good day. 

Scoured floodbanks at Crane's Hill, with Felixstowe in the distance
Flooded grazing marsh at Crane's Hill

On Boxing Day, I paid another visit to Holbrook Bay, this time successfully,easily picking out 6 Slavonian Grebes on the river. Nearby, the Black-throated Diver showed well at Alton Water off the sailing club, and on the Strand, from Stoke Sailing Club, a Scaup was feeding amongst the boats and the Peregrine was in residence on the bridge.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas Eve eve

An early afternoon look at Cotham Landfill, before heading down to Suffolk, produced the 1w Iceland Gull again; however, there were very few gulls at all.


Given the lack of gulls, I gave up after about half an hour and had a bomb around Collingham; there was a rather wind-blown Peregrine hunkering down on a gravel ridge on Ferry Lane Lake, and at least 2 Whooper Swans in with the Mute herd on the opposite side of the Trent, viewed from the conveyor outfall; however it was so windy I could barely stand up straight, let alone hold my scope steady, so there may have been a couple more in there. 


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Gull redemption

Today's birding began with a belated visit to Girton Pits to do my WeBS count. Other than 30 Goldeneye on the A1133 Pit, there wasn't much of note at all; the Sailing Lake hardly had a bird on it - I've never seen it so birdless in December. 

Collingham was next, and after an equally quiet start, things picked up when I reached Mons Pool; there was a single large white-headed gull on the water, with a parallel sided bill, beady black eye, mid-grey upperparts and lots of white in the wing - an adult Caspian Gull by the look of it. It slowly drifted right in the strong wind, before flying back to its starting point, showing a nice Caspo wing pattern with greyish tongues extending into limited black on the wing tips, along with a large white tip to P10 and a large white mirror on P9 (I couldn't make out P5 though). It also appeared to be missing at least part of one of it's legs. After a while it flew again, alighting briefly on one of the islands, and it was indeed missing it's right leg from halfway down its tarsus. Before I could grab a photo it then flew north on long, elegant wings, and was lost from view. After friday's debacle it was nice to find this bird!

Aside from the Caspo, there was also a drake Shelduck on Mons Pool, and two Chiffchaffs in the sallows around the southern shore. These were both seen and heard, and were regular Chiffies (not Sibes unfortunately); I thought I'd heard one briefly last visit, so good to confirm their presence; hopefully they'll stick into the new year. Away from Mons, a Green Sand on Ferry Lane Lake and a Redshank on the Silt Lagoon were the pick of the bunch. 

I googled the gull when I got home, and this looks to be the same as a bird nicknamed 'Stumpy' which has been visiting tips in Lincolnshire for several years - see here and here. I guess that on a sunday, with its favourite tip presumably not working, it was on a bit of a wander round.