Sunday 13 January 2013

Berkshire's sprite draws in big crowds


Winter is back with temperatures today really struggling to climb much above 3 degrees C and the wind from the Northeast pretty biting, despite being fairly moderate. A bright day though, with some sunshine.

BERKSHIRE was my main destination this morning, trying to unravel the mysteries of the two-bird theory and securing a County Tick........


There was an impressive turnout at Moor Green this morning, with no less than 250 birders making the pilgrimage. I parked along Lower Sandhurst Lane opposite Blackwater View at SU 806 627. It was then a 250 yard walk south to the Blackwater River and then a further 250-300 yard walk west along the riverbank to SU 804 621 or thereabouts - very, very muddy too.

I was lucky. Chris Heard was watching the bird as I got to the crowd and he and others very kindly and quickly got me on to it. It was highly mobile, moving within a very short space of time along a 150-200 yard section of trees on the south (Hampshire) side of the river; it was quite difficult to keep on and difficult to keep up with. The reason for its mobility was its total reliance on Long-tailed Tits for company and safety. Wherever this flock of 9-12 birds went, the Phyllosc and two associating Goldcrests followed, moving back and forth along the riverine scrub. From the outset, I fully understood why a mistake had been made, the pale lemon median crown-stripe being particularly dull and difficult to discern. Furthermore, despite seeing the bird on many occasions, in good light and often close to the 'deck', it was very difficult to make out the pale lemon rump. What you could see though was the diagnostic face pattern (the broad black loral stripe extending back to the crown, along with the peppered olive-grey ear-coverts) and the marginally shorter tail. It also had a very short, black bill and distinctive pale feet. It was definitely PALLAS'S LEAF WARBLER rather than Yellow-browed Warbler but in any event, a fabulous find for local birder Ian Paine on 3 January (and of course confirmed by photographs taken by David Rimes on 12th).

The crowd during the morning were treated to some particularly fine views on occasions, especially when it dropped down to the riverside and fed in scrub well below eye-level. John Dixon obtained some outstanding shots. Although it spent most of its time in Hampshire, there were times when it fed midway in river vegetation and in trees on the north (BERKSHIRE) side. I was very pleased to meet Ian on site, as well as many other faces from the Hampshire and Berkshire birding communities. It was a County Lifer for me on both counts.

In addition to the small birds associating with the feeding flock (including Blue Tits), I also noted Nuthatches visiting the feeding station, with Robin, Wren, Jay, Common Magpie and Red Fox also encountered. To the north of the gravel pit complex, 15 Barnacle Geese and two hybrid Branta were feeding, whilst other waterfowl included Mute Swan, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Coot; 82 Lapwing also.


I then arranged to meet Allan Stewart in Central London. Muswell Hill birdwatcher Alan Gibson had discovered 2 BEARDED TITS on the Serpentine on 14 December 2012 and incredibly they were still present. I was not expecting them to be as easy as they were though, especially knowing how elusive this species generally is, but this was truly incredible - some of the best views I have ever had. Favouring a narrow stretch of reeds just adjacent to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, the two birds (both ringed juveniles) were showing at point-blank range, feeding away unconcerned at the top of the seed heads. They were literally just yards away and drawing substantial numbers of interested observers, a mixture of city dwellers out for a Sunday walk and tourists passing by and enjoying Hyde Park and its winter attractions and restaurants.

I then made a short, sharp visit to QUEEN MOTHER RESERVOIR (BERKSHIRE), where yesterday's BLACK-THROATED DIVER was still patrolling the North bank of the reservoir mid-afternoon, before ending up at STAINES MOOR (MIDDLESEX), where up to 6 Short-eared Owls are wintering. Again, if its slushy, slippery mud that you like, then the footpath from Hithermoor Lane is the one to take, eventually bringing you out at the north end of the moor. At around 1530 hours, 2 SHORT-EARED OWLS were performing, along with an excellent BARN OWL just as the track meets the moor proper. A further bonus was a pair of COMMON STONECHATS.

Lee Evans