29 January 2014

Norfolk: 25th - 28th January

Spent the last few days in Norfolk for some winter birding. Initially booked in October 2012 for January 2013, we had to cancel due to heavy snow and re-book for this January. So 15 months after booking we finally made here, only to have near continuous heavy rain, hail, sleet and strong westerlies.

A break in the weather on the morning of the 27th did allow us to catch up with at least three Parrot Crossbills at Edgefield Woods off the B1149 near Holt - 1 ad. male, 1 1st yr male and a female, feeding on cones on the west side of the clearing, but they kept well inside the canopy in the strong wind and photo opportunities amounted to zip! Up to 23 have been present in the area since 11 November 2013.

Spent the 28th (the only day with periods of half reasonable weather) at NWT Holme Dunes NNR. Unlike flood suffering NWT Cley Marshes, the scrapes at Holme were crammed with birds, including: large numbers of Eurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal, smaller numbers of Gadwall and Northern Shoveler, 7 Pink-footed Goose (with thousands noted flying in the far distance), 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Dunlin, 1 Peregrine (sitting on the scrape), 2+ Marsh Harrier and 1 Sparrowhawk. A Stoat and 1 Hare were also noted here. On the beach plenty of Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone, 3 Bar-tailed Godwit and 2 Grey Plover were logged, and in the evening a Barn Owl along the entrance track.

Other sightings include: 25th: several hundred Whooper Swans and several Pochard being fed by floodlight at Welney WWT in the evening, and a large flock of Eurasian Golden Plover nearby beside the B1411 to Pymore. 26th: 4 Bewick's Swans with Whoopers along the A1101 towards the A10. 27th: At a very empty NWT Cley Marshes: 1 Barn Owl early morning along the path beside the A149 (and 2 seen from our room in the Cley Windmill over the fresh marsh of the Wiverton Valley in the evening), 2+ Marsh Harrier, 23 Eurasian Wigeon, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, several Brent Goose and Pink-footed Goose over, 23 Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Little Egret, 1 Avocet and several Northern Lapwing. At Holkham, only a couple of Pink-footed Geese were present. A hibernating Small Tortoiseshell in our accommodation at the Cley Windmill was a nice bonus.

Ruddy Turnstone, NWT Holme Dunes, 28 January 2014

A hibernating Small Tortoiseshell in the Cley Windmill, Cley next the sea. Found resting in a precarious place and so
moved to a safer position.

Water Pipits at Staines Moor

It is estimated that only 190 Water Pipits spend the winter in the whole of the UK2 (a surprisingly small number I think), mostly in south-east England. The first Water Pipit recorded at Staines Moor was a single bird by the River Colne back on 3 April 19541, but with a mean maximum of nine birds wintering each year since 2000, and high counts including 13 in 2002, 15 in 2005 and a site record of an incredible 16 present in March 20031, Staines Moor has become known locally as a reliable site for these scarce continental visitors. In fact Staines Moor must surely be the premier London site for this species, and rank as one of the very best sites in Britain! I am occasionally asked where best to look on the Moor, so I thought I'd give some pointers on how to find them.

Dogs are an ever present source of disturbance at Staines Moor nowadays, so Water Pipits can often be tricky to find and getting reasonable or prolonged deck views can be frustrating to say the least. They are often seen flying over, when the best way to pick one up is by their flight call (fortunately they are often very vocal). However, they frequently associate with Meadow Pipits, so even if you do hear one you will likely to be confronted with several pipits flying over, not just one. These photos highlight the key flight features in winter plumage to help pick one out.

Winter plumage Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta (left) and Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis (right) - photographed at Staines Moor in 2013

The most striking feature of Water Pipit in flight is the very white underparts with streaking largely restricted to the breast and just faint streaking on the flanks (top left and center left). This creates a vivid contrast between the underparts and the wings, also the white vent contrasts markedly with the black under-tail. By comparison, Meadow Pipit is a pale buff below with bold streaking on the flanks clearly visible (top right and center right), creating far less contrast.

Viewed side on or from above, the wing bars are bolder on Water Pipit than on Meadow Pipit (top left and top right), and given good views the pale bold supercilium is usually visible (top left and bottom left), and much more obvious than on any well marked Meadow Pipit (top right and bottom right), and the tertials on Water Pipit also have bolder pale edges. Also, Water Pipit appears longer (they are longer tailed and longer winged than Meadow Pipit) and less dumpy then Meadow Pipit, with a slightly longer and finer bill and stronger flight.

Water Pipit, Staines Moor, 22 January 2013

For a comparison of flight calls see below.

Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus is extremely rare at Staines Moor with just two records - one on 20 October 2000 and an individual of the Scandinavian race A. p. littoralis beside the Colne on 15 Mar 20031. However, Rock Pipit occur frequently at the adjacent reservoirs and so should not be ruled out. For an excellent video on separating Rock from Water Pipit click here.

Water Pipit occur at Staines Moor from October to May (by which time they have often acquired their beautiful summer plumage). They are most frequently found foraging along the banks of the River Colne, especially between the two footbridges (also check the willows by the southern footbridge). The large vernal pool next to the swamp in the south-east corner of the site is another favoured area (where they sometimes perch up in the hawthorns), as are the channels and pools west of the Colne and the two iris channels in the north-west corner.

Map showing the areas on Staines Moor most frequently visited by Water Pipits. Water Pipits can be found anywhere
on Staines Moor (as well as on adjacent Stanwell Moor). The banks of the Colne are the most reliable place to look,
but they also feed in the channels, around the floods and in the grass, and often perch on the hawthorns (alternate
click and open in a new tab or window to enlarge).


1 Dingain, L. (2013) The Avian History of Staines Moor. Lond. Bird Rep. 76: 214-226.
2 Musgrove, A. et al. (2013) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds 106: 64-100.

18 January 2014

Staines Moor: 18 January

A few very quiet hours at the patch this afternoon produced 5 (possibly 6) Water Pipit around the SE flood, 1f Bullfinch (scarce here) along the old railway, 34+ Redwing (SW corner), 100+ Fieldfare in the NE corner, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Egyptian Goose E, 2 Canada Goose over (yep, even these are noteworthy here nowadays), 1 Grey Heron and just 4(2H) Meadow Pipit.

11 January 2014

Moor night-birding

A mid afternoon/early evening visit to the patch proved quite productive. Highlights were 2m Goosander over W, 2+ Water Pipit around the southern floods, 11 Common Snipe, 45+ Meadow Pipit, 50 Fieldfare at the north end, 1f Stonechat and 3-4 Little Egret. Also logged were 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2+ Grey Heron, 1f Kestrel, 1+ Pied Wagtail H, and 47+ Carrion Crow was a noteworthy count.

Two drake Goosander over west just before dusk

A couple of hours night-birding until 20:00 produced good views of 2+ Eurasian Woodcock around the anthills at the north end, 3 Common Snipe H, and a Red Fox.

A rather showy Eurasian Woodcock in the north-east corner tonight

Although not ideal for night-birding in Britain, the moon provided beautiful celestial lighting for this evening's lamping session, with the
Copernicus, Plato and Tycho craters now clearly visible (I used to do a lot of astronomy as a kid, I should do more).

3 January 2014

First comprehensive bird list for Staines Moor

Another shameless plug! Staines Moor in north-west Surrey has been visited by naturalists and birders (of one sort or another) since at least the mid 1800s - long before the west London reservoirs were built and placed the area firmly on the birding map. Along with part of Stanwell Moor, Staines Moor has formed part of my patch since 2003, but up until now there has not been a comprehensive list of the birds recorded here.

The Avian History of Staines Moor, by yours truly, published in the latest London Bird Report (2011: 76) includes the first bird list for the site, covering up to the end of 2011 (note that I have noticed an error in the article - the first Rock Pipit was actually recorded on 20 October 2000, not 1999). An additional three species have been recorded since then, all in 2012: Northern Gannet, Yellow-legged Gull and Tawny Owl.

Furthermore, since writing the article I have found out that a Hoopoe found by Rob Innes on the bank of King George VI Reservoir in 2005 actually flew out onto Staines Moor on its first day - 6 October, and was also photographed on Staines Moor on 8 October. These records bring the total number of bird species recorded here to 191. Not bad for 91 hectares of grass right next door to Heathrow!

To get hold of a copy you need to join the London Natural History Society - see their website for details: http://www.lnhs.org.uk/Join.htm.

1 January 2014

December Moth closes 2013

Arrived home last night to find a male December Moth Poecilocampa populi sitting next to the wall light by the front door. So being a true professional, using a Xmas card and a glass I placed it in the fridge. With all this stormy weather it is very dark at home today, but I managed to get a few reasonable pics. What a beautiful moth!

December Moth Poecilocampa populi, Worcester Park