Monday, 8 August 2016

Spring migrants on the patch

With April underway, the amount of time I spend on patch dramatically increases. Sometimes entire days are spent walking the tracks, scanning the hedges and fields to uncover all of the incoming avian delight of summer.
As always, a huge dose of optimism is needed to pull you through, after all, my patch does consist of a river, a number of fields, hedgerows and small blocks of woodland in the middle of the country. Not exactly prime migrant habitat. Despite this, combine a bit of favourable weather and a lot of optimism, and all those hours pay off, and this spring can certainly claim to have been one of my best.
It all kicked off on the 2nd April. Sudden southerly winds have forced an obvious passage of migrants into the country, however I was still resting at home until I picked up a tweet from Rob C saying he had just had an Osprey fly north over Grimley. For those not local to Worcestershire, Grimley is about 10 miles due south of my patch along the river, so in theory, anything seen flying north here would probably end up on my patch. Despite this theory however, nothing ever has, but I still went out regardless, walking to the end of the road, setting up my scope and scanning in a S/SW direction.
Light drizzle made standing motionless seem a little futile, however the determination of a number of Sand Martin flocks to move north despite the weather gave me a boost to keep going. After about 30 minutes however, my hope was starting to dwindle. My quick calculations showed the bird really should have flown over by now. At 10:55am though, while scanning over the church near Arley Kings with my bins, I picked up a large, and very interesting bird. I knew instantly that this was the Osprey, however much lower than I was expecting. The bird dropped below the treeline while I drew my scope in that direction, and a few seconds later it re-emerged.
It was distant, probably nearing 2km however with the scope I could quite easily see the distinctive shape and flight pattern of an Osprey. The bird continued to move north, before starting to circle over Stourport town centre, just over 1km from where I stood. A couple of record shots of this momentous occasion were needed, so the camera was grabbed, and a few photos taken as the bird continued to circle.  It circled out of view behind the Moorhall marsh woodland, and that was that, not to be seen again.
However, having just seen my first ever patch Osprey, I was ecstatic! 

It wasn’t too hard to draw my optimism to get me out on patch the next morning. A patch first always has that effect. Half the walk had been completed and other than a few expected birds, I was struggling to find much. I had just covered Lickhill meadows and was just arriving next to the river when I looked up into the bright blue sky to see 2 birds of prey circling above me. One was one of the local Buzzards, however the 2nd, directly above me immidiatly hit the paic button. Flying less than 100f above me, gleaming white was another Osprey! Litterally frame filling views were had until I decided to try to improve on my record shot of the day before, at which point the bird decided it had had enough of lingering around, and started flying off north, gaining height as it did.

Conidering I have birded this site for 15 years without a hint of an Osprey (although a number of locals have seen them flying over while I have been away from patch) to have 2 birds in two days was ludicrous, and gave a great start to what turned out to be a great spring on patch.
I had been searching for Wheatear as the Osprey flew over, so it was a relief when on the return leg of my walk, a pale ‘blob’ out on a a distant field gave itself up as a male Wheatear. A great start to spring!
For a couple of weeks, activity died down again, however it hit back with a vengeance on the 17th. A bright and sunny day, with light winds, and lots of birds moving. Hirundies and Pipits were flying about, Phylloscs flicking about everywhere. I had just made it out onto Lickhill Meadows before another bonus bird appared, with my first Yellow Wagtail of the year bouncing overhead calling. By the end of this walk, this day proved to be my best ever day on patch for this species. A rattling Lesser Whitethroat gave itself away near the quarry before an obvious, and regular ‘huit’ sound emerged from the ‘Redstart hedge’. It didn’t take long to figure the first Redstart of the year had dropped into the patch. Soon great views were had of the bird sitting in the hedgerow, glowing red, blue and black.

I spent a while watching as the bird sang softly from the hedgerow, flicking down to feed from the floor. It was stopping and waiting which gave me another bonus when a distant, but obviously large Accipiter prove itself to be an immature Goshawk, flying south along the ridge. Over the years, this species has become almost expected on patch at this time of year, with juveniles moving around to find a secluded woodland away from their parents. The bird, as usual, flew straight through, without showing any signs of stopping.
From the air, a number of Yellow Wagtail calls alerted me to a small flock flying over, and from this flock, 3 birds peeled off and dropped down to feed from the paddock inhabited by a pair of horses. Over time, these horses have come to know me, and so regularly approach. This time however, and for the first time in my patch history, a pair of Yellow Wagtails were exploiting the numerous flies around the horses, and so as the horses moved towards me, so did the Wagtails, until the views I had were nothing short of crippling!

With time getting on, I continued down the track towards the old quarry field, now reverted back to pasture. The short grass here, combined with extensive muck spreading had obviously given rise to large numbers of insects, and a quick scan across the field broke another patch record, with a single flock of 5 Wheatear being present on the field. 3 males were looking absolutely superb as they mingled among pipits and Larks in the grass.

My list the end of the day included Goshawk, 11 Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, 5 Wheatear and 2 Lesser Whitethroat. Not bad for a little patch of land in the corner of Worcestershire.

The last patch visit to the moth took place on the 24th, and the pace of earlier in the month continued. I had again reached the Quarry, the favoured area for migrants on patch when I heard the distinctive ‘huit’ call of a Redstart from its namesake hedge and as I walked towards it, I was struck by another bird which flicked up on top of a pile of cut branches. The boldness in the way it perched proved it was a Chat species without need for my bins. However upon raising them, a bold white supercillium and orange throat secured the identification in milliseconds, my very first patch Whinchat! Not very often I manage to find 2 new patch birds within a few weeks of each other.

The bird favoured one of the scrubby paddocks for much of the remainder of the day, despite flying off strongly on a couple of occasions. While waiting for the bird to re-appear, a quick look over the Gull flock in the quarry revealed a very out of place 1st winter/summer Great Black-backed Gull, another scarce bird on the patch! This didn’t hang around long, obviously not enjoying the company of many of its smaller LBBG cousins.
Once again, the hedges and fields were alive with birds, with Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, a pair of Redstart and plenty of Lesser Whitethroats. What more could you want from a few hours on patch!

What a way to conclude a month of birding the patch!