Click here for a checklist of the birds spotted on Fleet Pond between 1970 and 2016 as updated by William Legge
EARLY SPRING BIRDING HIGHLIGHTS
William Legge writes of sightings made at Fleet Pond.
It seemed as though Mother Nature postponed spring this year. While January and February were seasonably cold and wet, March brought a real kick in the tail with not just one but two wintery spells of heavy snow and freezing conditions. Even as early April arrived, the weather continued to be cold and wet with hardly a warm and sunny day to speak of. Consequently, this bird report has a distinctly wintery flavour and many of our early spring and summer migrants appear to be running between 1-3 weeks behind schedule, and who can blame them.
Reports were few and far between mid-January and the end of February as the Pond settled into its usual winter lull. A count of 52 (Common) Snipe present on 12th January was significant, and the only wildfowl of note were a male Pochard and 14 Teal on 27th January. Great Crested Grebe peaked at eight on 17th February before all departed with the onset of cold weather. A flock of 125 Siskin reported on 27th January turned out to be the high count for the period and several Brambling continued to bring colour to the Brookly Stream corner throughout.
COLD WEATHER MOVEMENT
Things started to become a little more interesting as the cold weather hit at the end of February. This forced some species to evade the cold and move further southwest in the hope of reaching warmer weather, open water and/or snow free feeding opportunities. Such cold weather movement has become much less common given our increasingly warmer winters. This year, the first cold weather movement took place on 27th February when 105 Lapwing (illustrated above) flew through heading west and these were followed by a further 380 the next day, also heading west along with 12 Golden Plover.
Two Peregrine Falcons (one illustrated above) put in a brief appearance on 27th Feb and there were further sightings of single Peregrines on 14th, 19th and 28th March, suggesting one or two of these magnificent falcons are wintering in the area. Most unexpected was a Cetti’s Warbler seen searching for food on the path adjoining the station car park in the cold conditions on 3rd March. This individual may have been the female ringed in November or perhaps a new bird fleeing the wintery weather. A Woodcock was seen in flight at dusk on the reserve near Kenilworth Road on 8th March, a notable sighting of this secretive species.
The cold conditions briefly relented in the second week of March, and during the respite there were reports of two pairs of Shoveler on 13th March and a pair of Blackcaps in the Brookly Stream corner, the latter probably wintering birds from the adjoining gardens rather than newly arrived migrants. The wintery weather returned in full force, and following overnight snow there was a second cold weather related movement on 18th March when a remarkable 2,060 Redwing were counted over flying the reserve heading southwest in flocks of up to 200 along with 65 Fieldfare and 40 Starlings. These species should have been moving north at this time of the year, not fleeing southwest! There was also some confusion given the unseasonal weather as some other birds were seen to be heading north that day including a further 40 Fieldfare, 180 Starlings and 37 (Common) Snipe. Another 13 Snipe dropped into the Reserve that day and the first true summer migrants of the year were seen in the form of two Little Ringed Plovers which flew through east in the inclement weather.
GREY HERONS SUFFER
The thaw came quickly thereafter, but it appears that the cold spells in March caused a fair amount of damage, particularly to the reserves early breeding Grey Herons. Up to eight Grey Herons nests were deserted in the cold weather in early March, but seven pairs were back at their nests by 8th March. However, all had deserted their nests again by 21st March during the second cold spell. Thankfully, four or five pairs are now back to have another go, but sadly that’s half the number of nests we usually expect to see at this stage.
ABSENCE OF KINGFISHERS
Perhaps more concerning is the complete absence of Kingfishers at Fleet Pond since March, and a second-hand report of a Kingfisher having been picked up dead near Sandy Bay during the month. Hopefully some survived and they will reappear as spring progresses. A turbulent March was rounded out by single male Shoveler on 25th March and 30th March and a Pochard on 25th March, and perhaps the highlight of the month, a single Hawfinch (illustrated above) perched high up in trees over the Brookly Wood on 31st March. This is the first record of Hawfinch at Fleet Pond for well over a decade and long overdue given this winter’s influx into Southern England.
A trickle of spring migrants finally started to appear in the first week of April with a (Barn) Swallow on 3rd, a singing Willow Warbler at the Dry Heath on 4th, Chiffchaff and Blackcap on 6th, and Sand Martin and House Martin on 7th. Winter migrants were still present with a minimum of ten Brambling reported on 3rd April, and the last Redwing (illustrated above) of the winter was recorded moving over northwest on 7th April.
Wildfowl highlights included seven Teal, a female Goosander and a pair of Shelduck all on 7th. Numbers of Black-headed Gulls have been growing since the cold weather eased and peaked at an impressive 1,050 on 6th April, no doubt a mix of spring migrants passing through and returning breeding birds. Their noisy commotion inevitably attracts a few other species of gull and this year was no exception with a Mediterranean Gull reported on 2nd April and pair on 10th April, 12 Common Gulls on the evening of 3rd April, and an adult winter plumaged Little Gull on 12th April (pictured above by John Clark).
Hopefully the weather will now become more settled and warmer so that the spring migrant floodgates can open! Good birding.
Contributing Observers: Evelyn Auld, David King, John Clark, and Graham Stephenson
Illustrations courtesy of the RSPB Bird Guide at www.rspb.org.uk
Little Gull photograph – John Clark