Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Middleton Lakes: Little Egret roost count breaks record

Little Egrets bred successfully at Middleton Lakes RSPB nature reserve this year - the first confirmed breeding record, fledging three young.  They nest among Grey Herons in woodland next to the visitor's car park.  In recent winters the local population of Little Egrets has formed a communal roost, with small parties of up to four birds trickling into the trees at dusk (over a period of about 30 mins).  It is fun to watch and count to birds coming into roost.  Yesterday evening, after a walk around the reserve, Colin, Steve and I gave ourselves the challenge of counting the roosting birds to see if we could match or possibly exceed the recent record counts of up to 54 birds. Starting just before 4pm, two birds were already in the trees, and soon a few more started to fly in, coming from all directions.  Soon we were into the twenties, then a bit of a lull, before a final rush, and we quickly got to fifty, then fifty two, and finally a party of four took us over the record and up to 56.  This evening the count was matched and it seems likely to be exceeded again soon.
Little Egret, Rutland Water January 2016

Great to see this lovely bird doing so well, taking advantage of the newly created wetland habitats in the Tame Valley and becoming a regular feature of a day's birding.  Great White Egrets are set to follow this trend, with up to four recently in the area, tending to favour Alvecote Pools.

Little Egrets are much scarcer in Banburyshire, the best site is Bicester Wetland BOS nature reserve where there are often one or two, but on Boxing Day we saw two at the top end of Boddington Reservoir, and they can turn up anywhere there is wetland habitat.

The reason we were birding at Middleton Lakes was partly because it made a convenient stop on our way homewards after visiting Beeley in Derbyshire to see the Dusky Thrush that has been a star bird for the past month.  We got really nice prolonged views of the thrush feeding on earthworms in a pasture field on the edge of this very pretty village.  It was too distant to get worthwhile photos, so I've dug out an image of a very smart looking Dusky Thrush I photographed in Kyoto last year, to mark the occasion.
Dusky Thrush, Kyoto, November 2015

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Chacombe: Tricky gull ID challenge

Boxing Day update!  I've had some very helpful feedback on the identification of the gulls in the youtube clips below, indicating they are Herring Gulls not Caspian Gulls.  So I've edited this entry, reflecting I'm still on a learning curve with this species, and need to see some more!!

Thanks to the excellent work of John and Gareth yesterday - John first tracking down a 1st Year Caspian Gull at Chacombe, then Gareth finding a 2nd Year Caspian Gull at Grimsbury Reservoir in the roost at dusk - I made a further effort to find the species this morning in the Chacombe area.  I have spent quite a bit of time looking for them this autumn, without any luck, so I was not overly optimistic.  So it was a pleasant surprise to find two potential Caspian Gulls in the same cattle field, albeit at opposite ends.

I quickly grabbed some phone-scope footage before the inevitable happened and they flew off! This is quite a tricky site to watch, the birds are a bit flighty and view points very limited.  I am still learning a lot about gull ID especially Caspian, so it was great to be able to compare with the footage with that from yesterday.  The footage seemed to indicate that these were the same birds, but observers with more experience have spotted that they lack key features for Caspian, and are actually different birds to those seen yesterday.  This is a bit disapponting (and embarassing), but also shows the value of grabbing images or video to enable greater scrutiny of birds like these.  Hopefully it won't be too long before I can get some better views and a definitive sighting on the local patch!

There are exceptional numbers of "large" gulls in this area at the moment, I estimated about 2000 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 100 Herring Gulls and three Yellow-legged Gulls.

part of the A361 gull flock near Chacombe, Northants
Finally, for gull fans, some footage of the albino Herring Gull at Grimsbury Reservoir a couple of weeks ago.