Obliging Black-tailed Godwit found and photographed @paulwatts
March more than lived up to its billing as one of the best months on the reservoirs. Many summer migrants were earlier than usual and the mud-flats on the drained No 4 & 5 helped attract no less than 13 species of wader as well as plenty of visits from birders. Among the waders recorded were all-too brief Ruff – the first since 2013 - and Avocets, as well as (slightly) more accommodating Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit.
The month also saw the first Kittiwakes since 2012, drake Garganey, Little Gulls and Rock Pipit. The result of almost daily coverage was 21 species added to the reservoirs’ year list during the month. It took the total up to 107 with Lesser Redpoll the only species seen on the overall patch in 2017 but not on the reservoirs so far.
A drake Mandarin was first spotted on the filter beds on March 22nd before moving onto the reservoirs to kick off what was to be a red-letter day. Two Wigeon were on Lockwood next day while a stunning drake Garganey spent the 29th on the Warwicks before disappearing overnight. Up to four Red-Crested Pochard made irregular appearances from March 13 – guided largely it seems by whether or not the Prof was on site.
Smart as always drake Garganey @lolbodini
The Scaup, having seen all the water drained out of its winter home, moved to Low Maynard before finally departing on the 11th. If past experience is any guide, it should be back on its favourite corner of No 4 in early December for at least its fourth winter. The maximum count of Goldeneye was ten on 12th with four remaining on East Warwick till the month’s end. A pair of Goosander, which visited Lockwood regularly, were last seen on the late date of the 25th. Shelduck numbers, helped by the drained reservoirs, built up throughout the month with a peak count of 50 on the 26th.
A Red-legged Partridge which crept out of the warbler bushes on March 24th was the first for two years. March is a good month for raptors with single Red Kites recorded on March 13th, 15th, 17th and 18th – perhaps the same bird – and two on the 29th while two Buzzards were seen on March 16th with singles on the 18th, 24th and 26th. Peregrines looked as if they might be attempting to breed on one of the pylons within the reservoirs while a pair of Kestrel also seem to be pretty well resident. The only disappointment was that there have been no records of Ospreys so far compared to two this time last year.
Red Kite over Lockwood @lolbodini
With the drained No 4 and 5 looking like the Wash at low tide, we were hoping for waders but 13 species surpassed expectations even if number of birds rather than species was not so high. Not all, however, preferred the extensive mud to the concrete edges. The first passage bird was an Oystercatcher on No 5 on the 3rd with two on East Warwick on the 23rd and another flying over on the 30th.
Oystercatcher proving for the first time that there was food in the mud @birdingprof
Five Avocet were discovered by SF at the top end of Lockwood on the 11th and landed briefly on the water before departing. The first Little Ringed Plover on Lockwood on the 22nd was one of the few migrants to arrive later - two days - than last year. It was followed by four on No 5 on the 27th with at least three remaining and seeming settled until the end of the month. A Ringed Plover flew round calling but did not land on the 12th. A Grey Plover was discovered by chief-wader finder AW on No 4 late on 28th and departed soon after dawn next day. It would have caused more excitement but for the long-staying bird last autumn.
Grey Plover just about to fly off north
Only one Lapwing, surprisingly, was seen – on the 3rd - but Dunlin were more regular with records on the 8th,, 11th and 23rd. A heavy shower brought down a Ruff briefly (as well as two Kittiwakes) onto No 4 on the 22nd for one lucky observer. The Black-tailed Godwit found on No 5 on the 27th by PW was much more obliging and remained largely faithful to a tiny patch of gravel and mud until it departed two days later. They are annual but usually fly straight through. This was thought – because of the long bill and paucity of chestnut – to be one of the continental race which is less common than the Icelandic form in the UK.
The first Redshank of the year were two on 16th with another on the 26th. Wintering waders included up to three Green Sandpipers and at least one Common Sandpiper throughout the month. Snipe seem to like the new reed bed at the top of No 1 with as many as seven seen with three still on the 31st. The record number of wader species in recent years is 22 in 2013. With February’s Curlew and Jack Snipe, we are already at 15 though the last few – like the final pounds of a diet – will the hardest.
Third calendar year Caspian Gull @jarpartridge
Our (near) resident gull expert JP spotted a fly-over 3cy Caspian Gull on the 2nd while Yellow-legged Gulls were seen on the 3rd, 8th with two on the 14th. Rather easier to identify for the rest of us but not hanging around to be seen by anyone but a wet DL were two first winter Kittiwakes on the 22nd on No 4. The same was true of a party of three adult Little Gulls which dropped down briefly - so briefly that I missed them despite being at the top of the reservoir - onto Lockwood on the 11th gave SF his second good find in a hour.
In general, passerine migrants arrived earlier than usual. Blackcaps were in song from the 11th which is a couple of weeks ahead of last year. The first Sand Martins were seen on the 6th – a full fortnight before last year’s earliest record and eight days before 2015’s - with the second on the 12th. Presumed breeding birds were back in the usual haunt at the SW edge of Lockwood by the 17th while the first Swallow – at least since January – was on the 29th. The earliest Wheatear was also on the 12th – again 16 days earlier than last year and 10 days ahead of 2015. It was on Lockwood, as usual, with another on No 4 on the 14th and then a fortnight gap until three were seen on the 29th.
Spring has really arrived when the first Wheatear touches down @jarpartridge
The Cetti’s Warblers which had been silent suddenly exploded into song with at least eight birds on territory. They were joined by an early Sedge Warbler, a species which has become a very scarce breeder on the reservoirs in the last couple of years, on West Warwick on the 30th.. The Siberian Chiffchaff - which was seen intermittently throughout the month at the NE end of Lockwood - was heard in song as were plenty of its ordinary cousins by the end of the month. The first Willow Warblers were heard on the 29th – again earlier than last year if only by a day.
Stonechats continued their poor showing with just one on the 2nd although their favourite haunt of West Warwick is not always visited. There was a Skylark overhead on the 8th and a Rock Pipit found by LB on the 12th on Lockwood again brought down by a heavy afternoon shower.
March is a good month for corvids with small numbers of Jackdaws from the 7th usually going over high east with the same first day also producing the real prize – a Rook – of which there are only a handful of records a year. Winter thrushes continued to be seen with 100 Redwing north on the 13th – a day of significant passage in London - while two lingering Fieldfare were still at the filter beds on the 28th.
As No 5 is still drained even if No 4 is filling up as I write, hopes are very high for April which is both traditionally the best month at the reservoirs and also when the annual Walthamstow Patch Watch Day – this year on Saturday 29th – sees a determined and collective effort. Last year an extraordinary 88 species were recorded which is going to take some beating. All are welcome.