The first months of 2022 were mild, with a dry January followed by a wet February and a more mixed March. Temperatures continued to be above average and there were few notable frosts outside of January. Storm Eunice got the adrenaline going on 18 February, but the Reserve seemed to come through largely unscathed and from a birding perspective, failed to produce any unexpected storm-driven waif and strays. Consequently, the birding focus remained on monitoring the ever-fluctuating number of wildfowl.
Duck numbers stay high
The good news is that duck numbers maintained recent historical highs for the time of year, suggesting that last year’s recovery in aquatic plant and invertebrates within the main pond continues to improve feeding conditions.
Despite the ongoing disturbance caused by the construction of the northern path and a little cold weather wobble in mid-January, numbers recovered in February and March, with Tufted Duck in particular (pictured above), reaching a notable 57 on February 28th and 58 on March 21st. Other high counts included 45 Shoveler on March 14th and 19 Gadwall on February 28th. Pochard become a regular sight from early February onwards, with peak counts of five on March 8th and again on March 21st. However, Coot numbers failed to recover from January’s freeze and Teal remained scarce throughout with 14 on February 1st being the only double-figure count in 2022 thus far.
Winter survey numbers
Winter surveys logged 43 Snipe on March 20th and an estimated 12 Water Rails wintering in the reserves reedbeds. Evening roosts included 760 Jackdaws (a reserve record), 190 Magpies and 50 Starlings on January 26th. Up to two Little Egrets roosted regularly into early March, encouragingly increasing to six by the end the month. Siskins continued in record numbers through January, culminating in a flock of at least 750 feeding in alders in the Brookly Wood on January 22nd, the highest count ever reported at the reserve. Numbers subsided thereafter as spring beckoned with the last count of note being 65 on March 12th. Other ‘good’ winter passerines from the Brookly Wood included a Firecrest in holly bushes on January 22nd, with a second noted between Kenilworth Road and the Brookly Stream on the later date of March 9th, the latter perhaps a newly arrived migrant.
March brought the first signs of spring migration, with winter migrants dropping-in on their way north and east, and later in the month, the first pioneering summer visitors.
Migrant wildfowl included two sightings of Pintail, (illustrated above) arguably the most handsome of the ducks, with two pairs present on March 4th and three (two males and a female) on March 22nd, representing the first Pintail sightings at the Reserve since May 2017. Supporting acts included a male Wigeon on March 6th, a Little Grebe (illustrated below) from March 6th – 9th and an increase in Great Crested Grebes to nine by March 27th, their highest level this year.
Visible migration was evident on March 12th with 100 Starling and 61 Chaffinch (pictured below) over east in 30-minutes of early morning counting and coincided with the first pioneering Sand Martin of spring feeding over the Pond. It didn’t stick around, with the next sighting of Sand Martin coming twelve days later, on March 24th and again on March 27th. Other notables included a Blackcap in song on March 9th, an early arrival or a winterer exercising his vocal cords?
Numbers of Black-headed Gulls increased as the month progressed with late afternoon gatherings growing from 375 on March 9th to an impressive 750 by March 24th swelled by migrants, of which 250 remained to roost. Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls were also logged but in very small numbers and the first Mediterranean Gull of the spring, an adult passed through west on March 27th.
The month was rounded off by the first migrant wader of spring, a Black-tailed Godwit, heard circling the Pond at 21:00 hours on March 28th, a bonus for those undertaking the reserve’s first moth survey! Now on to spring proper….
Contributing Observers: E. Butler, John Clark and Graham Stephenson
Bird illustrations —RSPB
Bird report photographs—William Legge
For birders, November signals the winding down of the autumn migration and the prospect of less exciting times as the traditional winter lull sets in. It’s even tempting to hang-up the binoculars, given the reduced daylight hours and colder conditions, retire to that favoured fireside armchair with a mug of hot chocolate and hibernate until the first signs of spring.
Fleet Pond’s track record of experiencing an exodus of wildfowl by October doesn’t help the cause, often leaving the reserve’s water surface uncomfortably barren of birdlife over the winter months. However for those who persisted through the dull, but admitted largely mild weather for the time of year, the last two months of 2021 bucked the recent trend, with markedly better numbers of duck and a few other goodies too.
Whilst numbers fluctuated daily, wildfowl counts were encouragingly the highest this century. Double figure counts of Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Duck were commonplace until the end of December. Peak counts during this period included 49 Gadwall (Nov 24), a record count for the species at Fleet Pond, 30 Shoveler (Dec 10), 38 Tufted Duck (Dec 19) and 100 Mallard (Nov 10). Coot numbers also remained elevated with 85 on December 14, matching October’s high count.
The higher numbers are welcome, and is further evidence of better water quality and aquatic plant growth within the main pond. However, Teal numbers remained below par with a high count of just 15 on December 14 and there were only a handful of sightings of Pochard, including two females on December 14. Less expected were three Wigeon on November 14 and a male Goosander on December 04 (illustrated below). A decline in wildfowl numbers was noticed towards the end of December. Increased disturbance associated with the start of work on the northern path is a potential cause, but regardless this decline will be monitored closely.
Wildfowl aside, higher numbers of gulls were also observed, particularly Herring Gulls (illustrated below).
Double-figures of the latter have been commonplace since mid-October and the reserve seems to have become their current favoured local daytime loafing site to wash and preen. A count of 115 present on November 07 is the reserve’s highest this century, while 93 on December 17 included an individual of the sub-species ‘Argentatus’, hailing from the Nordic region. Black-headed Gulls were also numerous, with pre-roost late afternoon build-ups taking place with a high count of 150 on December 12. In contrast, the inappropriately named Common Gull was scarce throughout, with never more than two or three observed at any one time.
There were several more appearances of Great White Egret (Oct 26 and 29, Nov 30 and Dec 12) pictured below and Little Egrets were present throughout with peaks of three roosting on November 26 and again on December 9.
Numbers of Great Crested Grebes remained disappointing, only reaching six and there were several sightings of Little Grebe including two on November 14.
Winter surveys produced a high count of exactly 50 Snipe on December 26 and a minimum of six Water Rails were detected from the reserve’s reedbeds.
Notable passerines included the usual Cetti’s Warbler singing from the Northern Reedbed on November 9 (the last record of 2021) and there were several sightings of wintering Firecrest from the hollies in the Brookly Wood (pictured below) including two on December 07.
Winter finch flocks included 80 Goldfinch (pictured below, left) feeding in alders adjoining the Station Car Park on November 27. In contrast, Siskins (illustrated below,right) proved to be unusually scarce until that is, the first week of December when they appeared en masse, with a particularly impressive swarm of 620 seen over the alders at the end of Chestnut Grove on December 12, and 600 still present on Christmas Eve. These are the highest Siskin counts for over a decade, and despite searching only the one Lesser Redpoll was detected within this flock on December 24. Notable roost counts yielded 220 Jackdaw on November 10, 74 Magpie on December 5 and 60 Starling on November 14.
Now back to that armchair. Not too long to go until the spring migration gets underway in early March! Good birding.
Contributing Observers: John Clark, William Legge, N Hayward and Graham Stephenson.
Photographs – William Legge
Illustrations – www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/
We’re looking for a person to take over the support of our existing IT-based Membership System and to handle future development. Generally it would involve no more than a few hours a month. The person who currently does this is looking to ‘retire’ but will help the new volunteer get up to speed.
The current system contains the details of just over 400 members and is developed in Excel VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) using forms and code and runs on a Windows platform on a stand-alone PC. The main help we need at the moment is to support the current system, introducing any small incremental enhancements as required. You would work closely with our membership secretary and keep the Fleet Pond Society committee in touch with how things were going.
In the longer term we are open to considering re-engineering the system to use modern technologies, probably running as an internet-based application so that multiple users with differing privileges can access the data.
We need someone who ideally has some experience of development in a VBA environment, although anyone familiar with any dialect of Basic would be able to familiarise themselves reasonably quickly. The current system uses SQL queries to extract information from the “database” and so any prior SQL knowledge would help.
William Legge writes:
The unsettled weather of spring and early summer continued throughout August. Whilst temperatures were above average, there were few hot spells and plenty of rain. Consequently, weatherwise it turned out to be a rather poor summer by recent standards. September was also warmer than average, but settled and drier until the last week when the temperatures dropped and the first of a series of weather systems started to roll in off the Atlantic, signaling the change in seasons. Whilst it was a busy couple of months birding-wise, it was slow going until mid-August when the autumn migration started to get into full gear.
Late Breeding News
Following on from the Reserve’s record wildfowl breeding successes earlier this summer, it is pleasing to report that two pairs of Great Crested Grebes were discovered nesting in August, and at least one of these pairs successfully raised two young. Since their re-establishment as a breeding species at Fleet Pond in 2016, our Great Crested Grebes are breeding later than normal which remains bit of a mystery but is welcome news none-the-less.
First Signs of Autumn Migration
Migrant waders are one of the first signs that the autumn migration is underway, with adults wasting no time starting their journey southwards. A case in point were a flock of three Common Sandpipers seen at the reserve on July 27th, the only ones to be reported this autumn. Sightings of Green Sandpipers followed with two on August 12 and singles on September 23rd and 28th, with Common Snipe reported regularly from September 22nd onwards.
Other early movers included a count of 125 Common Swift, mainly migrants, feeding over the Pond on July 28th with regular sightings of Sand Martins from mid-July onwards, peaking at 40 on August 19th. Passerine migrants started to pick-up in mid-August and peak counts included 28 Whitethroats on August 11th, (mainly around the MoD Fields adjoining the eastern border of the reserve), 15 Chiffchaff on August 23rd, six Willow Warblers on August 27th and flocks of up to 60 Goldfinch. August’s passerine highlights came in the form of Firecrest in holly at the eastern boundary of the Reserve on August 14th and a Pied Flycatcher (female illustrated below) seen in a mixed warbler/tit flock adjoining the reserve car park on August 23rd.
Stonechats were regular at the MoD Fields throughout, with a high count of seven on September 12th and were joined by a Wheatear on September 6th.(Stonechat pictured below.)
Wildfowl continued in good numbers, in large part due to the proliferation of Horned Pondweed within the main pond this summer, a welcome development. Our summer breeders were boosted by the arrival of migrants from late July onwards with the first Shoveler (five) on July 25th and a Teal on July 29th. Shoveler numbers quickly increased in mid-August with eight on 19th, rising to 24 on 25th, 31 on 28th and peaking at 55 on September 5th, before dropping back to a still respectable 35 by mid-October. (Shoveler pictured below.)
Teal peaked at 20 on September 3rd, whilst migrant Pochard were regular from mid-September onwards, with a high count of six on September 17th. Gadwall and Tufted Duck numbers remained constant throughout with peak counts of 33 (Sept 21st) and 18 (Oct 15th) respectively, whilst Coot continued to impress with a count of 85 on October 12th, just eclipsing July’s high count. Scarcer wildfowl sightings included an unexpected Goosander (1st CY) which flew into the Pond on the evening of August 1st, and a scattering of Wigeon and Mandarin Duck sightings, including six Wigeon on August 28th, and a flock of 15 Mandarin Ducks which arrived from the northwest on October 2nd. The Pink-footed Goose that arrived in mid-June and subsequently moulted at the reserve with Greylag Geese, remained into early October. Once newly winged it became more difficult to connect with from mid-August onwards, leaving southwest with other geese at dawn and only returning at dusk to roost. Post-moult, Canada and Greylag Geese numbers roosting at Fleet Pond reached impressive levels from late July onwards for those willing to wake-up early or visit in the evening twilight to witness the spectacle and sounds of hundreds of geese leaving at dawn and returning at dusk. Peak counts included 286 Greylag Geese on August 6th (a site record), 13 Egyptian Geese on September 24th and 705 Canada Geese on October 3rd.
Long-legged beasties were also well represented with a Great White Egret perched atop the island off the Chestnut Grove jetty early on August 14th heralding the first of many sightings of the species. Subsequent sightings of these ‘white giants’ (one pictured below)
came from September 12th, 23rd-25th and October 12th-13th and 16th, with roosting confirmed on the evening of October 13th. It is suspected that more than one individual was involved in these sightings and given their breeding success at the Avalon Marshes in Somerset this year it is hoped they will become a regular sight at Fleet Pond, in the same vein as Little Egret. Speaking of which, Little Egrets were a common sight throughout, with the reserve’s small roost peaking at eight individuals on September 15th. Rounding-out this section was another highlight of the period, a juvenile Eurasian Spoonbill (pictured below) which was observed over flying the reserve early morning on October 2nd. Arriving from the northeast, it circled the Pond with interest before deciding to continue its journey southwest .
This is only the second record of Spoonbill for Fleet Pond, following an adult on May 6th and again on May 11th, 2014.
Visible Migration (Vis-Mig)
Early morning visible migration was apparent from mid-September and notable counts included 1,832 House Martins over southwest between September 24th-October 6th, with a peak of 448 on October 4th, and 356 Meadow Pipits over southwest between September 22nd-October 6th with a peak of 225 on October 2nd.
Jays are on the move this autumn and sighting included 15 overflying the Pond heading southwest on September 21st (illustrated above). The UK is witnessing a bit of a Jay influx from the continent this year due to a widespread failure of the acorn crop in Europe. Other notables included two Woodlark heading over west on October 5th, the last Sand Martin of the year whizzing south on October 3rd and the first Redwings of the autumn (four) passing over on October 4th. A Hobby was a regular sight over the Pond hunting these passing migrants at the end of September and was last sighted on October 5th.
Besides the afore mentioned geese and egrets, the Reserve remained an important roost site for birds throughout and roost counts included 200 Starlings on September 15th, 350 Jackdaws and 60 Magpies on October 5th, and 400 newly arrived Redwings on October 13th, increasing to 700 on the evening of October 16th. Nine Yellow Wagtails were sighted roosting on September 26th, a comparatively late date for this scarce migrant and Cormorants have once again started to roost at the reserve in small numbers with a peak count of 12 leaving the aptly named Cormorant Island early on October 4th. Many of these roosts should increase as autumn progresses into winter so do time your visit to witness this wonder of nature. Good birding!
Contributing Observers: Evelyn Auld, Arun Bose, John Clark, James Court, K P Duncan, J Kennett, Axel Kirby, William Legge, Steve Mansfield, S Miles, Stephen Perry, Andrew Steele and Graham Stephenson.
Photographs: William Legge
Illustrations: RSPB www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/