Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Great List Challenge

A number of Bird Watching readers picked up the year list gauntlet we threw down and challenged members of our team, and we’ll be making regular updates, in the magazine and here, to let you know how things are going.

Mike Passman, whose local patch is Thurlestone Bay, in Devon, challenged Matt Merritt, whose patch covers the area around his home in Leicestershire. And so far, it’s Mike who’s setting the pace!

He writes: “Anticipation was high at the start of the New Year, but with a houseful of guests staying overnight and celebrations continuing until the early hours, it was after 2pm before watching could start in earnest. Being fortunate to overlook Thurlestone Marsh, the count rose rapidly, with the total by 5pm reaching 45, highlights being a juvenile male Black Redstart caught by a local ringer, Lapwing, Snipe and a single Dunlin.

“An early start on January 2nd produced a female Black Redstart and five Black-tailed Godwits, both from my garden. A walk round Thurlestone Bay produced a Common Scoter on the sea and seven Ringed Plovers on the beach. An afternoon visit to Aveton Gifford added Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper (over-wintering), four Little Grebes, Great Spotted Woodpecker, closely followed by Treecreeper, Jay, an overhead Raven, and a group of eight Redwings and two Mistle Thrushes.

“ A late afternoon visit to South Milton Ley added Grey Wagtail, three Chiffchaffs, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, and a Cetti’s Warbler, increasing the total to a respectable 69 species.
“First surprise came on January 3rd, with the onset of a very cold spell of weather. South Huish Marsh produced a male Pochard with an adult Gannet in the bay – the former is only the second record in four years. Over the next three days the total rose to 75, with Water Rail, Linnet and Fieldfare observed from my garden, plus a Guillemot in Thurlestone Bay.

“January 6th was the first outstanding day of the year at Thurlestone Bay, producing a Black-throated Diver, 11 Razorbills, and on the rocks, two Turnstones and two superb Purple Sandpipers – a very difficult wader to find on the coast. The day just got better with a Cattle Egret flying up the marsh at 1.45 pm – a great garden tick. A visit to Aveton Gifford in the afternoon (temperature constantly below zero) produced Yellowhammer, Green Sandpiper, four Common Sandpiper and Kingfisher. On the drive home I had to stop driving to pick up a flock of 16 Golden Plover, a first record for the patch since I started my records in 2004. A low flying Sparrowhawk took the total to 86.

“The following day was almost as good. With the marshes fully frozen over, a walk round the reedbeds of South Milton Ley produced two very elusive records – singles of both Jack Snipe and Woodcock.

“ A Black-throated Diver was present (9th), joined by a Red-throated Diver, while the 10th produced another new site record in Thurlestone Bay – a male Velvet Scoter. In a local garden there was a female Blackcap, while on a late afternoon visit to South Milton Ley, a male Peregrine flew across the marsh.

“Next additions to the year list came on the 17th – a Lesser Black-backed Gull was at Aveton Gifford with four Gadwall on South Huish Marsh, where a Bar-headed Goose was amongst a flock of Canada Geese. Very stormy conditions overnight produced a fly-through Egyptian Goose, with the 100th species of the year a Water Pipit."

Meanwhile, in Leicestershire…

I was out at first light on New Year’s Day,” writes Matt. “There was a hard frost, and no one was around, so I started by looking for loitering Waxwings at Barrow on Soar. No luck, so it was straight on to Cossington Meadows, where I picked up plenty of ducks (Mallard, Tufted, Gadwall, Pochard, Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon), plus Great Crested and Little Grebe, Snipe, and a nice surprise – two Chiffchaffs along the river.

“ I called in at Swithland Reservoir – no woodpeckers at all, let alone a Lesser Spotted, but one of the regular Peregrines was up on its usual perch. I dashed across country, picking up all five thrushes on the way, and after a vital stop for hot soup, carried on to Staunton Harold Reservoir (on my patch, but across the border in Derbyshire). Here I was able to get Lapwing, Buzzard and Goldeneye, and in the car-park, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer (sadly no Siskin or Lesser Redpoll).

“I finished up at Kelham Bridge, a former sewage works now turned into a small Wildlife Trust reserve. Willow Tits (easier to find than Marsh Tits, in these parts) were around the feeder, but the reported ringtail Hen Harrier failed to show. I then spent the best part of three days looking for it, with no success, although Bullfinch was a consolation, as was a Jack Snipe across the road at Sence Valley Forest Park. I also slipped back across to Staunton Harold to see a darke Smew – a good ‘elite’ tick for me (ie. outside the range of birds I actually expect to see on-patch).

“At this time of year, work means I do no birding on-patch in the week, but the following Saturday, the 10th, made up for that. I started at Staunton Harold, and ticked off another elite – Scaup – plus Nuthatch, then added Grey Partridge during the drive to Cossington. Once there, I was able to find Linnet, plus four great wildfowl ticks – Brent Goose (dark-bellied), White-fronted Goose, Pink-footed Goose and Whooper Swan. All elites, and the Brent a patch first for me.

“The next day, I stopped off in Loughborough to see a flock of 50-odd Waxwings stripping berries from a tree, much to the consternation of the local Mistle Thrushes. A great tick, but an even better all-round birding experience.

“Since then, the only addition has been Tawny Owl, from my bathroom window, with the local pair hooting and kee-wicking all night. So, the total is 79.
“But (and it’s a big but), there’s a Great White Egret at Sheepy Magna, just on-patch. I looked for it the other day, but it was out of sight (though still present). Hopefully it will hang around, or, as it did last year, move to another local site such as Watermead Country Park. I live in hope.