Late Autumn & Early Winter Birding Highlights

It has been a rather dull and wet few months. Temperatures were at or above normal particularly in November, before turning colder in the last week of December and on into early January. Rainfall was generally above average, especially in October, with plenty of strong winds crowned by Storm Bella in late December.

Birding-wise it was a rather uneventful few months. October yielded few autumn migrants of note, other than the continued presence of the male Garganey, first seen on August 6th and last seen on October 21st, a late date for this summer migrant.

Good numbers of Shoveler remained into mid-October, with 40 logged on October 9th. Most moved on thereafter, with only a handful reported in November and a December high count of six on 23rd.

Other notable wildfowl included several reports of:

  • Pochard, with two on October 4th and counts of three on December 2nd and 11th.
  • Wigeon with two on November 6th and December 28th.
  • Teal numbers peaked at 17 on November 15th.
  • Gadwall at five on December 9th.
  • Mallard at 82 on December 13th.
  • Roosting geese were ever present with winter high counts of 130 Greylag Geese on December 19th and 205 Canada Geese on December 24th.
  • A lone Shelduck was an unexpected visitor on December 28. (Illustrated below)

Great Crested Grebe numbers disappointed all autumn, with up to three present to mid-January. This suggests that August’s fish die-off has rendered Fleet Pond less attractive for this avid fish eater for now. We should be expecting counts of between 10-20 at this time of year, so we will be monitoring this species carefully this year and hoping for a return to form.

A Little Grebe, a scarce but expected autumn visitor, was present between October 31st-November 2nd.

Good News

Better news included a count of 12 Water Rails in the reedbed circling the Pond at the end of October/early November. Equally pleasing was the good numbers of Common Snipe wintering this year with 55 logged on December 13th and 37 on January 2nd.

Highlight of the period was a female Marsh Harrier (illustrated above) observed hunting at the reserve mid-morning on December 8th, becoming the second record for this rare raptor at Fleet Pond in 2020.

On October 20th, a male Cetti’s Warbler announced its presence from the station car park reedbeds with its distinct and loud song; it was still being heard at the end of November. Spring 2020 saw the first establishment of a breeding territory of Cetti’s Warbler at the reserve, so optimism prevails for a repeat performance in 2021.

Similarly, Firecrest (illustrated above) is now becoming a regular in these reports, with two observed in woodland at the end of Wellington Avenue in early December and another (or the same) coming from the Brookly Wood on January 1st.

Reports of Stonechat included pairs at the MoD fields on November 9th and in Wood Lane Heath on December 8th.

Winter finches were present in average numbers with up to 300 Siskins and smaller flocks of Lesser Redpolls, favouring the Brookly Stream alders, at the end of December and into January, and other reports were received from Sandy Bay.  More notable were a flock of four Crossbills (illustrated below) and a further single overflying the reserve on December 9th and 10th, respectively.

Encouragingly there were several reports of Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker at the reserve too. Green Woodpecker used to be a regular sight here until 2018, when it is suspected the very cold ‘Beast of the East’ spring weather that year extirpated the local population, so it is good to hear they are recovering and returning!

Finally, autumn and winter roosts included peaks of 250 Redwing on November 22nd, 420 Jackdaw on October 26th and 320 on December 30th, 115 Magpie on December 30th and one or two Little Egrets inconsistently through to the end of the year.

Looking forward for us avid birders, the good news is that we only have a few more weeks until the spring migration gets underway in early March. By that time I hope COVID-19 will be well in retreat and a return to more normal times in sight.  Good birding!

William Legge

Contributing Observers: David Buckler, John Clark, Martin Pitt, P. Rowse, Graham Stephenson and Gary Watton