Friday, 7 May 2010

A Tyttenhanger Purple Patch - SANDERLING flock and passage MARSH HARRIER


Those cold NE winds just keep on blowing and today was no different. It did remain dry though and fairly bright.

Once again, Steve Blake discovered the first SANDERLINGS in the county this year and after he phoned, I made my way straight there......

(1100-1330 hours)

I arrived at Tyttenhanger just after 1100 hours and joined Steve Blake observing from by the conveyor belt in the NE corner of the main pit. All 3 SANDERLINGS were still present and showing well on the extensive sandy spit on the east shore. All three individuals were in transitional plumage - in fact the very white plumage of early spring - with just the first hints of the summer dress coming through on the breast and a few rufous and chestnut feathers coming through on the scapulars and mantle. They kept close together and ran like 'clockwork' across the sand. Just as JT joined us, I watched a particular aggressive and territorial male Ringed Plover chase them off but fortunately they re-landed and could be viewed from the south side of the islands. They represented my 151st species of the year in the county and remained present all day.

No sooner had I left Joan and Steve to find that another rare wader had arrived - this time the first EURASIAN CURLEW of the year. Another grounded migrant, this tired female pitched down at the end of the spit and went to sleep almost immediately and afforded excellent views through the 'scope. Joan had initially found it in flight and I could easily see why she had assumed it was a migrant Whimbrel - it had a particularly short bill. However, on good views, it could be seen to have an obvious white eye-ring, a blank face, no black eye-stripe and no black stripes on the crown and was heavily streaked on the underparts and admixed grey in the dark brown upper wing coverts. It slept for some time but was forced to fly on a couple of occasions, circling the pit. On both occasions, I followed it in the 'scope, and was very surprised to see that its underwing and axillaries were gleaming white and very unlike the grey washed underwing of arquata Eurasian Curlew. It also had an extensive gleaming white rump and upper tail coverts. The white underwing is often associated with orientalis (Eastern Eurasian Curlew), although studying large flocks of passage Curlews at coastal sites in Britain, I have found that this feature is highly variable. Eastern birds generally have very long bills. At 1327 hours, the Curlew took flight and finally flew off west for the last time.

Joined by Steve, JT, Alan Reynolds, Ricky Flesher and a distant Mick Frosdick, I spent a very pleasant hour reaping the delights of a Tyttenhanger 'purple patch' and as Ricky exclaimed that he had a raptor, was delighted to see an adult female MARSH HARRIER appear from the east flying low over the main pit. It was in forceful flight and disturbed all of the birds on the pit and as it cleared the spit area, was harried away by two corvids. It remained on view for a total of four minutes and drifted up high to the NE, eventually disappearing away at 1256 hours. Although its flight feathers were in perfect order, it was missing a couple of tail feathers.

Thinking of passage Ospreys, I then started staring skywards and soon identified Common Kestrel, male Eurasian Sparrowhawk, numerous Common Buzzards, two Red Kites (one of which was a ragged first-summer) and at least 3 HOBBIES. A passage of at least 100 COMMON SWIFTS migrated over to the NE, whilst 54 SAND MARTINS were hunting over the surface of the water.

One of the local OYSTERCATCHERS dropped in briefly for a drink on the spit, with several Lesser Black-backed Gulls through.

There were at least two singing male COMMON WHITETHROATS in the conveyor area

An excellent spot of birdwatching...

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