Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Reservoir Logs - Summer round-up

                 Three of the four Cattle Egrets which rested on No 5 pic @sjnewton

   June and July are traditionally quiet months for birds at the reservoirs but not this year. The summer brought the second and third ever records of Cattle Egret for the reservoirs, a flying visit from the first Turnstone for three years and a late Osprey. Both wader and passerine migration seemed early with Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher all added to the year list along with both Yellow-legged Gull and Coal Tit

   The nine additions takes the number of species seen so far in 2020 to 123. This is one above last year's total at the end of July which is remarkable considering the major restrictions of access throughout the Spring. Improved coverage -  partly down to post-lockdown enthusiasm as well as CF's heroics - helps explain the total but the strong showing of waders and early migrants may also reflect what appears to be a good breeding season.  

   Whether it was the lack of disturbance or the good weather, it has been a good year for breeding ducks. Five pair of Shelduck  hatched young with 21 young surviving the dangerous early days after their parents chose the safety of No 1 & 3 rather than East Warwick to bring up their families this year.  Pochard continue to benefit from the new reed beds with 18 broods compared to 10 last year and five in 2018. The same number of broods of Tufted Ducks, which are late breeders, have already been seen. Surveys suggest 20 pair of Coot and ten pair of Moorhen also raised young. Thanks to DW for breeding numbers. 

         Redshank and Common Sandpiper were two of 12 wader species seen pic Chris_Farthing
    It was also a  very good period for waders with 12 species recorded. The highlight was a Turnstone on July 23rd which CF watched fly round the East Warwick island before continuing on its way. After being annual since 2010 with no less than three individuals in 2017, the species was not seen at all at the reservoirs in the next two years. Lapwing were seen on four dates in June with the highest count of four on the 25th. Oystercatcher were also regular with two on June 15th and singles on the 20th as well as July 15th and 17th. A young Little Ringed Plover turned up on July 17th and stayed until the 23rd.

       A tame Little Ringed Plover enjoyed the causeway between No 4/5 pic @Chris_Farthing

    The first Curlews of the year were on June 27th - just two days later than last year's first record - with two individual birds going south. The good year for Whimbrel continued with singles over on July 13rd and 16th and one briefly resting on the East Warwick raft on the 14th. Black-tailed Godwit is usually one of the 'commoner' scarce waders. But this year the first record was not until July 4th with a single going south. It opened the gates with a flock of eight on the 19th and another resting on East Warwick late on the 29th.

         Black-tailed Godwits making up for their late appearance this year pic @Arsenal_Birder

Another tame wader was an adult Dunlin - one of two in July pic @IvorHewstone
   Dunlin were seen on July 19th with a remarkably tame adult on July 23rd.  The first returning Common Sandpiper was seen on June 23rd, seven days earlier than last year but a day later than in 2018. Numbers built to a peak of 12 on June 30th and July 1st with smaller numbers throughout the rest of the month. June 23rd also saw the first Green Sandpiper of the 'autumn' with others on July 12th &  23rd. Normally Greenshank would be first seen in the Spring but in these abnormal times, it was only added to the year list when  NK found a flighty bird on July 1st. Redshank were recorded on five days with sightings on June 20th, 24th & 30th as well as July 15th and 19th.  

         Redshank were a regular sight at the reservoirs over the summer pic @sjnewton  

      The new vegetated raft on East Warwick provided attractive for birds with at least 10 pair of Black-headed Gulls raising 25+ young. It is by far the largest number to have nested in recent years. The safety in numbers that the Black-heads provided also encouraged eight pair of Common Terns to ignore the special rafts put out for them on West Warwick and join them the other side of the railway line. After the disaster of 2019's blank year, it is fantastic to have terns back nesting with the first young fledging in late June. There is also now plenty of room for numbers to expand to former levels. CF dug out a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull on Lockwood on July 13th and RE another on the 30th.   
    May's star Spoonbills graced the reservoirs into June with at least one dropping into the roost on the 1st and two seen circling over East Warwick late on the 20th. But amazingly, the Wetlands was to host more rare herons with four adult Cattle Egrets found by PL on top of the trees on the small No 5 island on the 12th. They stayed a couple of hours before departing but presumably two of the same party were seen by TR flying out of the No 1 island on the morning of the 22nd. They also rested on No 5 before departing south-east. 

              Two smart adult Cattle Egrets made a return visit to No 5  pic @Chris_Farthing
   These are just the second and third records of Cattle Egret for the reservoirs following one seen flying south over High Maynard - again by PL - on April 15th 2008. An earlier sighting in 1995 was judged by the London Rarities Committee to have been an escape. With Spoonbill and Cattle Egret, along with Great Egret, now nesting in ever larger numbers in the UK, this Spring's appearances hopefully will become more regular. It was, after all, only in 1996 that Little Egret, now a familiar sight and breeder at the Wetlands, first nested anywhere in the UK. 

   It looked as if it would be a blank Spring for Osprey until DW found one going low north on June 1st. Buzzards were seen June 3rd & 14th and July 10th & 30th with Red Kites on June 13th and July 11th & 15th.  Two Peregrines could often be seen on the pylons but there are doubts whether the local pair bred successfully this year. Hobby may, however, have nested not too far away with birds being seen on at least eight days in June and four in July with two hunting on the 26th. 

   It is not hard to see why Hobby were making regular hunting forays over the reservoirs with flocks of both Sand and House Martins and, often, huge numbers of Swifts. Well over 1,000 Swifts were counted on June 5th & 29th with an estimated 400 still feeding over the Wetlands on July 29th. The first returning Swallows of the autumn were two hurrying south on July 10. 

   It has been the best year for Cuckoo records for a long time with another - or perhaps the same bird - seen on June 17th. As has been mentioned before, the rarity of Coal Tit at the reservoirs is genuinely perplexing given that they are regular in Springfield Park and in gardens just a few hundred yards away. But the first and only definite record for the site this year was one CF heard from Lockwood on June 8th.   

        The first Spotted Flycatcher was a good fortnight earlier than usual pic @porthkillier

   As with ducks, small birds seem to have had a good breeding season. Both Green and two pairs of Great Spotted Woodpecker bred successfully. Family parties of Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warblers along with plenty of Blackcaps, Reed Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats could be seen. Eight pair of Reed Buntings also nested across the reservoirs.

   A successful nesting season overall may explain why the Wetlands saw very early migrants with a juvenile Wheatear on July 17th, the first Whinchat of the year on the 18th and the first Spotted Flycatcher, which is not usually seen until mid-August, on the 22nd. More expected were Willow Warblers with the first passing through on July 16th and up to five being recorded daily by the end of the July. 

DB @ porthkillier. with thanks to @whiteleggdan for breeding records