23 January 2015

Night-birding at Staines Moor: 23 January

A couple of hours birding in a brisk south-easterly wind around the north end of Staines Moor with Steve Minhinnick produced 5-6 Eurasian Woodcock (a new site record), 2 Jack Snipe (1 NW corner, 1 East Pool), 5 Common Snipe, a Little Owl (NE corner), a Skylark, 2 Tufted Duck, 2 Common Teal and brief Little Grebe on the Colne. Great views this evening but nothing cooperated for photos.

17 January 2015

Staines Moor: 17 January

An afternoon/evening session at the patch produced 2-3 Water Pipit along the Colne, 6 Stonechat (4m, 2f), 1 Little Egret, 1 Kingfisher, 2 Grey Heron, 1 Common Buzzard, 2+ Kestrel, 8 Little Grebe (a new site record), 16 Skylark, 6 Moorhen, 3 Mute Swan, and overhead 2 Gadwall E. 46+ Carrion Crow roosting along the Bonehead woodland is a high count and c20 Meadow Pipit and 9 Linnet came into roost at the Swamp at dusk.

A few hours night-birding after dark revealed 2 Little Owl hunting around the anthills at the north end, 2-4 Eurasian Woodcock also around the anthills, 4 Common Snipe (2H), and a Red Fox.

2 January 2015

Patch highlights of 2014

Staines Moor's third Eurasian Spoonbill passed low overhead on 30 March

Early 2014 will be remembered for the extensive flooding across many parts of Britain, including at Staines and Stanwell Moors. A deep polar vortex over North America throughout the winter of 2013/14 pushed the Gulf Stream much further south than usual, sending one low pressure system after another across the Atlantic to produce the wettest January in southern England since records began in 1910.

Weeks of heavy rainfall saturated the ground and the extremely high water table kept the pools on Staines Moor topped up. The River Wraysbury, which flows along the west boundary of Staines Moor, burst its banks in January causing the most widespread flooding on Staines Moor since January 2003, and remained in flood right through to March.

Access to Staines Moor in particular became very difficult, with the Moor Lane entrances either impassable or requiring waders, and the Colne Valley Way through Stanwell Moor also flooded and was often impassable. But this did not stop a few determined observers from continuing to watch the site.

Several fish were seen swimming around on the flooded footpaths at night in February, including this Northern Pike Esox lucius

The Pantanal-like conditions on Staines Moor attracted unusually high counts of Little Egret, including a new personal highest count of 5 in January and a new site record of 10 on 3 February9, up to 7 Water Pipits around the floods and along the Colne (a personal highest count of 5), and the highest number of wintering Lapwings for several years. Large counts of Black-headed Gulls included 150+ on the floods on 19 February5, and 40 Pied Wagtails on the same date5 (my personal highest count was 20) was impressive. 40 Common Snipe on 24 February3 is a good count for modern times.

Also on Staines Moor, a Short-eared Owl made irregular appearances from late January through to March, a Merlin was seen on 3, 7 and 23 February by various observers, up to seven Goosander were frequently noted - on the Colne and overhead and a Water Rail took up residence under the willows mid way along the Colne. In January at least 2 Eurasian Woodcock regularly showed well at night around the anthills.

Eurasian Woodcock frequently showed well at night on Staines Moor at both ends of the year

On Stanwell Moor, a Bittern was seen sporadically throughout January and February (with another or the same reported at Shortwood Pond on nearby Shortwood Common (part of the wider Staines Moor SSSI) on 31 January), another Merlin was reported and a couple of Cetti's Warblers took up residence.

The receding flood waters brought in a Dark-bellied Brent Goose to Staines Moor that was seen almost daily feeding from 17 March to 1 April, and also visited both King George VI Reservoir and Staines Reservoirs.

Brent Goose, Staines Moor, 17 March - 1 April (Photos by Neil Randon (left) and David Carlsson (right))

Mid March saw the first spring migrants passing through (list of first arrival dates below). Locally scarce migrants include an Oystercatcher at Stanwell Moor on 25 March6, a Curlew over Staines Moor on the same date11, Staines Moor's third Eurasian Spoonbill over on 30 March, a Ring Ouzel from 18-19 April1 and a Marsh Harrier over on 20 April4.

First arrival dates of summer migrants at Staines Moor or Stanwell Moor for 2014:

Species Arrival date Location Observer
Northern Wheatear 18 Mar Staines Moor Roger Dewey
Little Ringed Plover 30 Mar Stanwell Moor Chris Lamsdell
Sand Martin 30 Mar Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Sedge Warbler 5 Apr Stanwell Moor Lee Dingain
House Martin 8 Apr Stanwell Moor Thomas Gibson
Barn Swallow 9 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Common Tern 17 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Willow Warbler 17 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Common Whitethroat 17 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Lesser Whitethroat 17 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Cuckoo 24 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Whinchat 24 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Common Redstart 24 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Reed Warbler 24 Apr Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Common Swift 1 May Staines Moor Lee Dingain
Garden Warbler 1 May Staines Moor Lee Dingain

At least one pair of Cuckoo were noted in late and May, and a survey of breeding birds on Staines Moor revealed 4 singing male Lesser Whitethroat, 12 Meadow Pipit territories, and 8-9 Reed Bunting territories (with some seen carrying nest material and food). 4 Northern Lapwings took up territory with at least 2 pairs breeding successfully, with a chick seen from two different broods. A pair of Redshank also managed to breed, with a brood caught and ringed. Taller vegetation resulting from much reduced grazing attracted 2 singing male Grasshopper Warblers, however, breeding was not confirmed.

One of two territorial male Grasshopper Warblers present on Staines Moor during April and May

Bucking the trend - Cuckoo continue to breed annually on Staines and Stanwell Moors, no doubt thanks to the healthy numbers of
Meadow Pipit and Reed Warbler present. At least one, possibly two, singing males were present in the spring, including this male
seen chasing a female in early May.

Autumn passage saw some good visible migration overhead at Staines Moor, including the first Black Tern for Staines Moor, a moulting adult, on 3 October, Staines Moor's third 1 Little Gull over on 15 October, the second Marsh Harrier of the year on 27 September followed by a third on 15 November8, and 6 Brent Geese on 30 October. High counts of common species on the move include 2,449 Woodpigeon on 22 October (a new site record), and 1,578 Starling and 135 Chaffinch on 26 October.

An influx of Ring Ouzel into south-east England in mid October saw several hundred at coastal sites, and at least 2 making it to Staines Moor on 15 October, and another briefly on 24 October. This autumn also saw an excellent chat passage with good numbers of Whinchat peaking at 11 on 6 September4, as well as many Stonechats, with at least 18 on 27 September - yet another new site record.

Autumn sightings on or over Stanwell Moor including a Firecrest on 30 September2, and 218 Eurasian Wigeon over on 12 October.

Migrant Short-eared Owls on Staines Moor include an early bird on 15 September7, 2-3 on 15 October, and a single on 30 October. A Barn Owl was at the north end of Staines Moor early morning on 19 October10, and Staines Moor's third Tawny Owl, a male, was heard calling from Bonehead Ditch on 29 November4.

One of at least four migrant Short-eared Owls on Staines Moor this autumn

Two Short-eared Owls wintered on Staines Moor - seen intermittently from 30 November until the end of the year, and at least 14 Stonechat decided to stay on for the winter, attracting Staines Moor's sixth (and longest-staying) Dartford Warbler that took to following them around from 15 November to 13 December.

The first returning wintering Water Pipits were 2-3 along the Colne on 15 October. Numbers of this scarce continental winter visitor peaked at 6 (though possibly as many as 11) on 28 November. November saw large numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing stripping berries off the hawthorns in the north-west corner - I'm so glad I managed to persuade Spelthorne Borough Council to leave some of these hawthorns and not fell them all.

Staines Moor's sixth, and longest-staying, Dartford Warbler was present from 15 November to 13 December

Non-avian highlights include 4 Chub in flood water under the bridge along the old railway on 16 February, a Northern Pike in flood water on 22 February, 2 Roe Deer reported on a few occasions by other observers in February (a site first to my knowledge), a Reeve's Muntjac on 17 April, and a Clouded Yellow on 27 September.


Many thanks to the following observers for their records: 1Kevin Duncan, 2Graeme Charles, 3Thomas Gibson, 4Rob Innes, 5Keith Kerr, 6Chris Lamsdell, 7Franko J Maroevic, 8Stephen Minhinnick, 9Roger Morton, 10Dominic Pia, and 11Richard Woolley. Also thanks to David Carlsson and Neil Randon for their photos.

31 December 2014

Med Gull over Weybridge: 31 December

A quick notebook entry. Parking the car for work when an adult Mediterranean Gull flew low east over The Willows in Weybridge at 08:52 - probably the same adult seen at Walton Bridge over the last few days and possibly one of the two birds I found at Cowey Sale back in February returning? Nice end to the year!

21 December 2014

Review: Cluson ML8 Pro Spotter torch

With an advertised beam range of 350 m, a white CREE LED light and a good run time on high beam, the Cluson ML8 Pro Spotter torch looks ideal for night-birding. I could find no information on the luminous flux of the ML8, but being around half the price of many other LED torches on the market with a similar specification I decided to try it out and see how it compared to the LED Lenser M7R reviewed back in March?

Clockwise from top: the Cluson ML8 Pro Spotter; mains charger; vehicle charger

The build quality of the ML8 is just as good - constructed from aircraft grade aluminium with a black anodised finish, and sealed against the elements with rubber "O" rings. The torch is compact, at 160 mm in length and with a maximum diameter of 55 mm, and easily fits into a pocket, and at just 236 g is also light. Power comes from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and the two modes (high or low beam) are controlled by a single large button on the end of the barrel that also functions as the power switch.

The ML8 comes supplied with a lithium-ion battery, a mains charger, a vehicle charger and wrist strap. A filter set (including red, amber and yellow filters) are also available - useful for some wildlife observation. For recharging, the battery must be removed from the torch by unscrewing the tail cap, and charging takes about four hours from empty. Surprisingly, there is no charge indicator light on the charger (the red light is displayed simply when the battery is inserted), but charging stops automatically when the battery is fully charged.

Cluson ML8 Pro Spotter key technical details

Lumens Unknown
Run time 3.5 hrs high beam/20 hrs low beam
Beam range 250 m
Focus Fixed spot
Weight 236 g
Battery Lithium-ion
Body material Aluminium

For more technical details see the Cluson website.

On delivery I found the packaging stated a beam range of 250 m - 100 m less than advertised on the Cluson website. Cluson claim the maximum beam range is actually 350 m and that the 250 m beam range relates to maximum shooting distance achievable with ML8 when used with a rifle scope (although they are changing the packing to state a 300 m beam range for shooting). In the field, I estimated the maximum usable range to be around 200-250 m - comparable to the LED Lenser MR7 and was a little disappointed.

The single CREE LED produced a bright and fairly neutral white light, with very little of the blue hue traditionally associated with older LED torches. The beam range is similar to the LED Lenser MR7, however, the focus is fixed as a spot light, and although much more homogeneous than the light produced by a Maglite, the beam is not as uniform as the LED Lenser MR7 with some slightly darker circles noticeable. The light weight and compact size made it easy to use for long periods, and even allowed use of binoculars while scanning.

To conclude, the Cluson ML8 Pro Spotter is a good torch for looking for birds, mammals, insects and other animals at night. A beam range between 300-400 m as well as the ability to focus from spot to flood would make this an excellent torch, but at £66 it is very good value for money for the specification and so highly recommended.

12 December 2014

Woodcock back on the patch: 12 December

Met up with fellow patcher Keith Kerr for a few hours this evening to look for wintering Eurasian Woodcock. After searching for about an hour we found a very obliging bird by the Iris Channels in the NW corner of Staines Moor that showed extremely well. A look around the NE corner found at least another 2 birds running around the anthills.

Also noted on Staines Moor were a roosting Redwing in a tiny clump of sedge, a roosting Meadow Pipit in one of the Iris Channels, a Common Snipe (H) and 1 Red Fox. No sign of the Tawny Owl heard by Rob Innes on 29 November along Bonehead Ditch. On Stanwell Moor a couple of male Winter Moth Operophtera brumata were noted along the Colne Valley Way along with 9 other moths possible this species or Northern Winter Moth Operophtera fagata.

One of three Eurasian Woodcock seen this evening at Staines Moor

7 December 2014

Mining for moths: 6th - 7th December

Spent the last week visiting friends Kevin and Donna Cox at their place on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon - part holiday and part helping out planting a yew hedge in their newly built walled garden - part of much larger wildlife garden (or rather, grounds).

Yesterday and this morning, we explored one of the old copper mines on the Brook Estate looking for cave-dwelling animals. Copper was mined here from 1845 to 1885 and the main shaft at this particular mine, Pixton’s Shaft, drops vertically to an incredible 305 m! We looked at a short (c15 m) horizontal adit in the woods here.

Found quite a few Herald moths (counted 23 yesterday) as well as lots (c40 yesterday) of European Cave Spiders Meta menardi, including one guarding an egg cocoon suspended from the mine ceiling.

Two of the 23 Herald Scoliopteryx libatrix moths found hibernating in the mine, 6 December

Herald Scoliopteryx libatrix, 7 December

Spot the Heralds, 6 December

European Cave Spider Meta menardi, 6 December

Egg cocoon of European Cave Spider Meta menardi, 7 December

The only other noteworthy sighting from the week is a superb adult Goshawk low over the garden at Brook Manor being mobbed by 2 Common Raven on 3rd December.