Click here for a checklist of the birds spotted on Fleet Pond between 1970 and 2016 as updated by William Legge
Late Autumn & Winter Birding Highlights
William Legge writes of sightings made at Fleet Pond.
The months since my last report turned out to be quite active at Fleet Pond. This was despite the fact that the autumn migration was largely over by the last week of November.
As winter took hold we were treated to a full range of weather. From westerly gales to crisp, frosty conditions and even short periods of snow, sleet, and surface ice. The birds took it all in their stride.
Highlight of the period
The undoubted highlight of the period was the continued influx of (Northern) Shoveler at Fleet Pond throughout autumn and into December. (a single photographed by Chris Marney on the Pond above) Numbers peaked with a record count of 73 on 7th Dec, smashing the Reserve’s previous record of 53 from December 1992! Clearly the feeding conditions were to their liking and perhaps a good sign of increased invertebrate zooplankton and plankton levels in Fleet Pond. Hopefully this will not turn out to be a one season wonder.
Unfortunately, other species of wildfowl disappointed, with Teal peaking at only 12 in the period versus 37 at this time last year. Less common species included two Wigeon and four ‘redhead’ Goosander on 4th Dec, and two 1st winter males of the latter on 11th Dec.
Wetland species update
Updates on other wetlands species included a season peak count of 24 Great crested Grebes on 6th Nov. However all were forced to move on by early December with the onset of cold weather and surface ice. They started to reappear as milder conditions returned.
Peak Roost Counts
Peak roost counts included 13 Little Egrets (a new Fleet Pond record) present at dawn on 18th Nov and 65 Cormorants on the evening of 27th Nov. However, numbers of both species declined as December progressed. Encouragingly, Fleet Pond now seems to be a regular (but not necessarily guaranteed) roost site for Little Egret throughout the year and the number of egrets involved is gradually increasing, particularly in the autumn. Chris Marney photographed these four Little Egrets at Sandy Bay.
Great White Egrets
Staying with the egret theme, the third and fourth records of Great White Egret were logged at the reserve on 19th Nov and 11th Dec. No sooner was it discovered on 19th Nov, than the egret took flight and left north-westwards. Fortunately, the reappearance of a Great White Egret on the afternoon of 11th Dec fishing from the Pond’s various islands, enabled several local birders to catch-up with it. It is likely that the same individual was involved in both sightings, but given this species’ recent expansion into the UK that may not necessarily be the case.
Sightings of single Great White Egrets were also noted from Yateley Gravel Pits and Tundry Pond at this time and all could relate to the same individual. Given the species ongoing range expansion, observers should start to increasingly scrutinize their sightings of egrets at Fleet Pond and take care not to assume that all egrets present are Little Egrets. Great White Egret is fairly distinguishable from Little Egret by their size (similar to a Grey Heron in terms of height although slimmer), with a large yellow-orange bill (in the non-breeding season), as illustrated below, versus Little Egret’s thin blackish bill as shown in Chris Marney’s photo on the previous page.
There were few reports of waders given the season, but two Green Sandpipers were seen arriving into the Reserve on 14th Nov, quickly disappearing from sight. A Woodcock was reported on 17th Nov and a flock of nine Golden Plovers (illustrated below) passed over heading west on the afternoon of 12th Dec, the latter no doubt a response to the cold weather being experienced at that time.
The only notable gull sighting was ‘Old Faithful’, the adult Yellow-legged Gull, with various sightings up to the late date of 17th Dec, although a second bird may have been involved. Water Rails were much in evidence as autumn progressed to winter, with five (one seen and four others heard) from the reedbeds around the Pond on 17th Dec, and the observer estimates that the true wintering population at Fleet Pond this year may be between 15-20 individuals given their secretive nature.
Passerines of the period
On the passerine front the best birds of the period were caught in the ringing nets of Countryside Ranger, David King and his team. A female Cetti’s Warbler was caught and ringed on 5th Nov. and subsequently re-trapped or heard up to 28th Nov. Now all we need is last year’s male to return! Other ringing highlights included 54 Lesser Redpoll, of which 48 were caught, ringed and released on 5th Nov and two Brambling caught and ringed on 16th Dec (Below a photo of a male Brambling taken by Chantelle Barry during the ringing session).
Bramblings are less than annual at the Reserve and are best looked for in the Brookly Wood in mid-winter and early spring associating with Chaffinches. Roost counts included 200 Magpies and 110 Redwing on 17th Nov, whilst Siskin numbers were marginally lower than usual, with the largest count submitted comprising 120 on 17th Dec. There were several records of Chiffchaff including four on 12th Dec, a high count for a species not known for its presence at Fleet Pond in December.
Ringing out thanks
Finally, a quick acknowledgement to David King, Chantelle Barry and others for their ringing work, furthering our understanding of the birdlife at Fleet Pond and their movements beyond. This team caught, ringed and released over 1,000 birds comprising 37 species in 2017 at Fleet Pond, including an amazing 212 individual Blue Tits, 101 Black-head Gulls, 88 Great Tits and 73 Siskins, including a Siskin originating from Wrexham in Wales!
The winter weather will likely dictate what scarcer birds may appear in February. The first signs of the spring migration will be upon us before we know it in early March. Good birding!
Contributing Observers: Evelyn Auld, Chantelle Barry, John Clark, Peter Hutchins, David King and Graham Stephenson
Illustrations courtesy of the RSPB Bird Guide at www.rspb.org.uk