Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The icy grip on Continental Europe spreads west to Eastern Britain

This GREAT WHITE EGRET is currently in Warwickshire (Steve Valentine)

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER in Port Carlisle Harbour (Tristan Reid)

Adult drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK at Pugney's Country Park (Ron Marshall)

The second-ever wintering BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in Britain (beautifully photographed by Mike Thrower) and drake AMERICAN WIGEONS at Welney WWT (Norfolk) (Dave Fairhurst) and at Castle Loch NR, Dumfries (Craig Shaw)

Much of Europe is experiencing plunging temperatures, heavy frosts and severe winter weather. Today, that weather extended into Eastern Britain, bringing the first snowfall of the winter. The effect of the weather on birdlife so far has been minimal with little evidence of immigration. It has forced a few more Smew and Goosander south, as well as both Bewick's and Whooper Swans west, but there are still very low numbers of Arctic gulls present, and Bohemian Waxwings are virtually non-existent.

Norfolk is at the forefront of the easterly blast but is largely unaffected thus far: The adult white morph GREATER SNOW GOOSE continues to be the main attraction consorting with up to 15,000 Pink-footed Geese close to Titchwell village, in fields south of the A149 not far from the sewage treatment works entrance. Up to 14 SHORE LARKS and 60 Snow Buntings are wintering in Holkham Bay. A wintering Black Redstart is around the chalets on Heacham North Beach, whilst the most reliable Twite flock is that of 30 birds by the wooden bridge at Brancaster Staithe. Up to 8 Water Pipits are frequenting a ploughed field along Old Woman's Lane just east of Cley village, whilst the largest flock of Brambling in Britain this winter are the 186 frequenting the Beech trees in the Helen's Well car park at Santon Downham..Nearby, up to 8 Hawfinches are in the two Hornbeam trees in the paddock south of Lybford Arboretum.

There are at least THREE wintering SPOTTED SANDPIPERS: an adult still harbouring a few spots at Killearn (Clyde) (frequenting the area of Endrick Water by the bridge north of the Blane Water confluence at NS 503 858), a first-winter on the River Test near Mottisfont (Hants) and on the Exe Estuary north of the recreation ground at Topsham (South Devon) at SX 957 887.
The adult winter LESSER YELLOWLEGS is with Common Redshanks in Peffer Burn, Aberlady Bay (Lothian), the juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER on the uppermost part of the beach at White Sands Bay, Dunbar (Lothian) and the first-winter LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER in Port Carlisle Harbour (Cumbria).

Two EUROPEAN SERINS remain at Rainham Marshes RSPB (Essex/London), feeding with Goldfinches at the west end of the reserve in the vicinity of the 1.6km marker, with first-winter ROSE-COLOURED STARLINGS in New Hutton village, near Kendal (Cumbria) and in Forest Hill village, just east of Oxford (Oxon). One male PENDULINE TIT is very occasionally being seen early mornings in Bulrush clumps left of the Hanson Hide at Dungeness ARC Pit (Kent) whilst the first-winter BROWN SHRIKE is still keeping alive on Staines Moor (Surrey).

This winter has seen a record number of GREAT WHITE EGRETS present, with a mobile individual in the Long Lawford area (Warks) (often feeding in the stream by Clayhall Lane), one recently at Himley Hall Lake (Staffs), one very mobile bird in NE Scotland last seen on Forfar Loch on Monday, two birds at Pitsford Reservoir (Northants) (mobile but often in Walgrave or Scaldwell Bays), 2-3 birds in the Grange-over-Sands and Leighton Moss areas (Lancs), one at Banks Marsh (Lancs), 1-2 birds in the Lakenheath and Hockwell Fen areas (Suffolk), a long-stayer at Denge Marsh, Dungeness (Kent), the Loire de L'Atlantique colour-ringed adult at Blashford Lakes HWT (Hants) and the Somerset resident most recently WSW of Axbridge at Rooks Bridge.

Six first-winter GLOSSY IBISES from the Spanish Coto Donana are wintering: 3 NW of Glastonbury at Catcott Lows NR (Somerset) (at ST 400 414), 2 by the access track at Dungeness RSPB (Kent) and one on the east bank of the River Severn at Holt Fleet (Worcs) at SO 832 632, whilst CATTLE EGRETS include 3 together NW of Street and north of Sharpham Park at ST 469 380 (Somerset), 2 birds west of Saltash (Cornwall) at Lower Trewellard Farm, SW of Trematon, and singles in Christchurch (Dorset) and at Lydd (East Kent). As usual, one Salisbury Plain released Great Bustard is wintering with Mute Swans in Somerset on Sedgemoor Drain.

It has been the largest inland GREAT NORTHERN DIVER influx I can remember, with six apiece on Grafham Water (Cambs) and King George VI Reservoir (Surrey), two at Brogborough Lake (Beds), two on Pit 125 in Cotswold Water Park (Gloucs) and singles at Angler's CP, Wintersett (West Yorks), Hoveringham Railway Pit (Notts), Carsington Water (Derbyshire), Rutland Water (Leics) (in Whitwell Creek), Draycote Water (Warks), Alton Water (Suffolk) and Crowdy Reservoir (Cornwall) (where there is also a BLACK-THROATED DIVER). Grafham Water also has a RED-NECKED GREBE (viewable from the dam), whilst the only inland RED-THROATED DIVER is that in Whitwell Creek, Rutland Water. Carrick Roads, in Cornwall, has a good selection of wintering 'sea' birds, with 4 Velvet Scoters, 18 Black-necked Grebes and a Slavonian Grebe.

We have two 'reliable' RING-BILLED GULLS - 'old-faithful' adults at Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend (Essex) (on the ramp opposite Rossi's Ice Cream Parlour along the esplanade or on surrounding lamp-posts) and at Walpole Park Lake, Gosport (Hants) (often at low tide in the adjacent Haslar Creek)

NORTHERN GREY SHRIKES are in surprisingly short supply: in Scotland, one remains on the SW side of Slockavullin, in Birches and scrub alongside the track to Tayness at cNR 820 975, with another in the Lochgilphead area (Argyll), whilst elsewhere, just one has returned to a regular territory in the New Forest (Hants) with others at Dersingham Bog (Norfolk), Pannel Valley NR, Icklesham (East Sussex). A wintering WATER PIPIT is present with Rock Pipits on Barns Ness beach (Lothian) south of the lighthouse, whilst also rare in Scotland is a FIRECREST still present at Gramsdale on Benbecula (Outer Hebrides).

The female Hooded Merganser of unknown origin was back at Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) on 14 December, with FERRUGINOUS DUCKS in West Yorkshire (commuting between the Nature Reserve lake at Pugney's Country Park and the Calder Wetlands behind The Swan and Cygnet pub), Somerset (on Cheddar Reservoir) and in Dorset (an adult female on The Fleet at Abbotsbury Swannery - view from high ground on New Barn Road - also 9 Greater Scaup in area) The regular female SURF SCOTER is wintering in Dawlish Bay (South Devon) (with another in Hough Bay on Tiree, Argyll and two resident drakes in The Sound of Taransay on Harris) and AMERICAN GREEN-WINGED TEALS at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries & Galloway) and Eyebrook Reservoir (Leics). Drake AMERICAN WIGEONS can be found at Castle Loch NR, Lochmaben (D & G) and at Welney WWT (Norfolk), both erratic in their appearances, whilst the only RING-NECKED DUCKS are a female on Hookers Loch, North Ronaldsay (Orkney), a drake at Foxcote Reservoir (North Bucks) and a female WSW of Devil's Bridge (Ceredigion) at Llyn Rhosnhydd - SN 704 757.. The only KING EIDER - an adult drake - can be found with Common Eiders off Burghead (Moray).

Two Pink-footed Geese visited a stubble field below Belvide Reservoir dam (Staffs) yesterday, whilst an adult white morph GREATER SNOW GOOSE was with Pink-footed Geese and 2 Barnacle Geese in stubble north of Kinross (Perth & Kinross) and another of somewhat suspect origin with Greylag Geese north of the Craob Haven turning on the A816 in Argyll. A Blue Morph LESSER SNOW GOOSE is with Pink-footed Geese in the Loch of Skene area (Aberdeenshire) whilst the only RED-BREASTED GOOSE is the regularly returning adult on the South Coast currently with 500 or more Dark-bellied Brent Geese at the north end of the Exe Estuary north of Fisher's Mill Bridge at Topsham (South Devon). Four further white morph SNOW GEESE (remnants of the 31-strong flock seen in mid October) remain at Aldcliffe Marsh (Lancs).

The adult Little Stint is again wintering with Dunlin on the River Deben at Melton (Suffolk) (view the estuary from beyond the boatyard on Dock Lane) whilst many Eurasian Bitterns have returned to favoured wintering reedbeds throughout the Midland and SE region.

In IRELAND, the drake AMERICAN BLACK DUCK (which has been present this entire millenium) is again with Mallard at Sruhillbeg Lough, Achill Island (Co. Mayo) whilst the adult BLACK BRANT is with 108 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Hopeland, Rosslare (Co. Wexford). Nearby, a RED-NECKED GREBE is at Rosslare Backstrand, and the long-staying and sole-surviving first-winter GLOSSY IBIS at Tacumshin.

A SHORE LARK of unknown racial identity was feeding along the shoreline close to the pier at Aphort on Arranmore Island (Co. Donegal) yesterday afternoon.

An adult drake LESSER SCAUP was on Lough Sheelin (Co. Cavan) on Monday 14 December, with the adult female BLUE-WINGED TEAL still in residence at North Bull Island (Co. Dublin)