31 December 2013

Patch highlights of 2013

Another good year for bird sightings on 'the moors' (Staines Moor and Stanwell Moor) this year, although it did feel very quiet bird-wise compared to other London sites during the spring and autumn. Also, some good inverts and plants found as well. Here's a roundup of the best of 2013.

The later half of winter 2012/13 saw some quality winter birding. Up to six Short-eared Owls continued their stay into February (although I recorded a maximum of three birds), hunting mostly on the east side of Staines Moor but also visiting Stanwell Moor on occasion. They frequently showed very well, attracting a number of birders and photographers, but they could also prove frustratingly elusive at times. Also a Barn Owl was often seen during this period on both moors.

Freezing and snowy conditions during January produced a huge southerly movement of Fieldfare totalling 1,192 - a new record for Staines Moor, and January also produced my first patch tick in the form of two Treecreepers, my first sight record of a Cetti's Warbler on Staines Moor, and a Hen Harrier that I missed by just a few minutes (the less said about this the better) that stayed for two days. In February up to 80 Siskins frequented both moors, including a male ringed a few months earlier in Scotland, and up to four Water Pipits were present on Staines Moor.

One of six Short-eared Owls present into February

Up to four Water Pipits frequented the Colne and temporary pools at Staines Moor in early 2013

Spring arrived very late this year delaying the return of many summer migrants. King George VI's wintering Red-throated Diver departed in early April, circling over Stanwell Moor as it did so and giving me another patch tick in the process. Mid April onwards finally saw migrants arriving in numbers, with good counts of Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear (including several 'Greenland' types) passing through Staines Moor, with a fall of 43 of the later thrashing the previous Staines Moor record. Other notable spring migrants were at least two Grasshopper Warblers (one on Staines Moor and another on Stanwell Moor), several Common Redstarts, two Whimbrel (another long overdue patch tick), Little Ringed Plover, several Greenshank, and a flock of 40 Black-tailed Godwits.

Nesting waders had another terrible year; reflecting the current sad state of Staines Moor after decades of poor 'management'. Redshank appeared to make no attempt to nest, and only a single displaying Northern Lapwing was seen on Staines Moor and sadly didn't stay to breed - a shocking decline of both species here over the last 30 years, largely brought about by a borough council that doesn't seem to care one bit for biodiversity. On a positive note, Cuckoo seem to doing well here - presumably parasitising the broods of both Meadow Pipits and Reed Warblers, and Linnet still breed in small numbers. Also, up to four Hobby showed well throughout the spring and summer.

Summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits overhead in April - a highlight of this year's spring passage

A pair of Hobby gave incredible views to many in the spring (more pics here)

After the very wet summer of 2012, lepidoptera had a much better year. Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns emerged in their hundreds, and Pearl Veneer moths Agriphila straminella must have numbered in the thousands. Small Coppers and Six-spot Burnet moths appeared in good numbers, with smaller numbers of Brown Argus and Cinnabar moths. Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral were both still extremely scarce however. Migrants included a few Clouded Yellows and many Silver Y moths, and Staines Moor's first Marbled White made an appearance.

Other interesting non-avian wildlife seen include: Large Bee-fly Bombylius major, a major emergence of Ephemera danica mayflies, and scarce plants such as Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot Ranunculus trichophyllus and Tasteless water-pepper Persicaria mitis.

Notable bird sightings from other observers in June were a drake Garganey on Stanwell Moor, and 8 Little Egret on Staines Moor - a new site record.

Brown Argus Aricia agestis in August

Large Bee-fly Bombylius major along the old railway in May

Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot Ranunculus trichophyllus on one of the shallow pools on Staines Moor

Autumn was much less eventful for passage migrants but there were still some notable records, including a Marsh Harrier over Staines Moor in September, another Hen Harrier and Staines Moor's second Northern Gannet (another juvenile), both in October (none of these three seen by me), and an excellent day in November that produced Staines Moor's third Great White Egret followed by seven Whooper Swans over east - the first site record of the later since 1956 - that fortunately dropped down onto Staines Reservoirs enabling several birders to connect with them. Also, on Stanwell Moor a female Merlin was caught and ringed (see here).

Great White Egret at Staines Moor in November

Whooper Swans at Staines Reservoirs South Basin in November after flying east over Staines Moor (Photo by Rob Innes)

A wet and stormy December produced great views of Woodcock feeding at night on Staines Moor, several Jack Snipe sightings, and up to four Water Pipits. On Stanwell Moor, the second Merlin of the year made a brief appearance for one lucky observer, and a Bittern reportedly reappeared.

Woodcock at Staines Moor in December

I wonder what 2014 will bring? A wintering Long-eared Owl roosting along Bonehead Ditch perhaps? Or maybe a spring passage Honey Buzzard or a Hoopoe around the anthills? Looking forward to finding out.


Many thanks to Rob Innes for permission to use his photo of the Whooper Swans.


  1. Not a bad year Lee. If I get a chance over the next few weeks I'll try to get a taste of winter birding at the moors