Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Local Birding on New Year's Day


The original plan was to head over to Norfolk in a repeat of last year's 'Big New Year's Day' but with nothing really tasty to tempt me east I decided to stay local and tidy up on a few nice scarcities. At first light twenty three species were spotted around The Cottage including a single Common Buzzard, a pair of Stock Dove, 38 Fieldfare and 6 Redwing.

The next obvious choice was a sodden Alvecote Pools where the water levels remained fairly high due to a Yuletide deluge of rain. The soggy weather of 2012 has had its advantages though with a few small wheat fields being too waterlogged to be harvested properly. This has led to a bumper crop of Tree Sparrows spending the winter in the area along with unusually high numbers of Reed Bunting and a small flock of Yellowhammer. Just ten Tree Sparrows could be located but there have been as many as twenty over the past few weeks. The search was hampered somewhat by a few hunters in the adjacent field, luring in the local flocks of Woodpigeon and blasting them out of the sky.

Around the pools a trio of Shelduck were a nice surprise on Mill Pool along with small groups of Pochard and Tufted Duck and the odd Wigeon and Gadwall. Other highlights in this area included both Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker and a single Bullfinch. Along Laundry Lane both Nuthatch and Treecreeper were added to the day's tally along with a Sparrowhawk and a single Song Thrush.

News then filtered through of a nice local scarcity. Fellow North Warwickshire birder Dave Hutton had stumbled across a Firecrest near Coleshill.

Firecrest - Hams Hall Industrial Estate, Warwickshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Having not seen this stunning, species in the County for a few years I decided to head over to Hams Hall Industrial Estate and more specifically the Eddison Road outfall. This area is good for emerging insects throughout the winter and is therefore superb at attracting any feathered insectivores in the vicinity. Within a few minutes of arrival I was watching my first Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests of 2013, with at least six of the former and four of the later being present. A few Siskin were also heard and spotted whizzing overhead. After a brief search, the star of the show finally made an appearance and close views of the Firecrest were enjoyed for a while before it was chased of by an angry crown-flaring Goldcrest.  

It was then onto a busy Shustoke Reservoir nearby where just one of the wintering Great Northern Divers could be located. Other new additions to my year list included a pair of Little Grebe and a single Moorhen as well as around 40 Great Crested Grebes.

Great Northern Diver - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Leaving the crowds of dog-walkers and twitchers behind I then made the short trip to Lea Marston to visit the soul destroying Severn Trent Water balancing lake. This location is always as smelly as it is chilly and windy and today was no exception on all those counts. To make the experience even less enjoyable the strong glare of the afternoon sunshine hindered the search process. I eventually located the much sought after first winter male Long-tailed Duck but I gave up on the female Greater Scaup in order to preserve my straining eyesight. Other new species for 2013 at this God forsaken site included 3 Northern Shoveler, 2 Common Teal, a single female Goldeneye and a couple of Common Gull.

A brief stop off at Kingsbury produced a single Little Egret feeding around the flooded fields along the River Tame and 40 Pochard on Bodymoor Heath Water. On the way back to the car I heard the distinctive 'zirrrrrrrrr' call of a Bohemian Waxwing. Looking skyward I could just make out two birds rapidly making their way towards the village. 

With the light fading and the temperature dropping I then made my way out of Warwickshire and into Staffordshire for the final birding assault of the day. At Chasewater my company for the gull roost included Jules Allen, Paul Jeynes and Richard Powell.  The shear number of birds was amazing and it  was easily one of the largest gatherings I had personally witnessed, despite the relatively mild winter. It is difficult to assess the total numbers accurately but there were probably around 8,000 Black-headed Gulls but just 60 Common Gull under the smaller gull bracket. Amongst the larger gulls there around 2,500 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 700 Herring Gulls and 60 Great Black-backed Gulls. Amongst the masses we managed to pick out at least two adult Yellow-legged Gulls and a 2nd winter Caspian Gull. The best though waited until last when the adult Iceland Gull finally dropped in as total darkness approached. Other species of note included 3 Goldeneye and 6 Meadow Pipit feeding around the south shore. 

In total I managed to see 70 species without getting up at the crack of dawn, without travelling far and with a nice home lunch sandwiched in between the visits of Alvecote Pools and Hams Hall. Not bad at all...... who needs Norfolk?

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