I completed the monthly WeBS this morning with volunteer Rob Werran. It was a glorious sunny, calm day, if a little chilly, but the site looks fabulous on a lovely winter's day like this. Here are this morning's results....
145 tufted duck
8 mute swan
2 graylag goose
1 Canada goose
1 water rail
4 grey heron
1 little egret
5 little grebe
1 great crested grebe
151 black-headed gull
2 common gull
3 roe deer and a brown hare were mammal highlights and the feeding station on the eastern Cromwell Trail was bustling with birds including tree sparrow, reed bunting and bullfinch. Rob also has 312 pink-footed geese over this morning.
It seems that at least one of our bitterns has taken up residence in reed just north of the boardwalk recently - with two sightings of a bird up there in the last week. Most recently, Beach Hut volunteer Mel Thorne saw the bird as it flew across the channel from one area of reed to another on Friday (16th) morning. This is great news as it increases visitor's chances if seeing the bird - you still have to be in the right place at the right time, but do keep an eye open on this area in the coming weeks.
Other sightings of note this week include 2 pairs of stonechat around Phase 1 - it's great to see this species back wintering with us after none were reported last winter. 2 pintail at the southern end of the site, viewed from the public footpath, regular barn owl and large flocks of finches, tits and buntings feeding both on Cottage Lane and at the feeding station on the eastern side of the Cromwell Trail. Three flocks of pink-footed geese overhead have comprised 90, 200 and 300 birds respectively on consecutive days mid-week. Has mild weather prompted these birds to move northwards already? Water rail are still vocal and plenty of goldeneye can be seen on phase 1 from the visitor trails.
The smew don't seem to have hung around, however there is still time - with birds hanging around into March last year, so keep an eye open on any of the open water bodies.
And more signs of approaching spring, with hazel catkins out in the Phase 1 scrub around the visitor trails this week.
I remember back in the winter of 2010-11, seeing my first smew at Langford – two redheads on the high level water carrier. On returning to the office, I was met with great excitement as I was informed that they were only the second record for the site since recording began in 1989.
Now however, smew seem to be annual on site, with individuals reliably turning up each winter – much to our delight! So I was very pleased when volunteer Graham Gamage found our first smew of this winter on the area south of the Cromwell Trail last Thursday. Again, two redheads, they were quite elusive, diving regularly, but could be seen well from the new viewing screen. I’ve seen smew across much of the site in previous years, so look out on Phase 1 and the silt lagoons as well as from the viewing screen and please let us know if you see any – we haven’t had a drake for a couple of years, that would be nice!
Also on site in the last week have been peregrine, up to 3 redshank, numerous goldeneye, pintail and we still continue to attract tree sparrows to the feeders on the eastern Cromwell Trail. These feeders are being very well used lately, with a flock of approximately 25 greenfinch, with reed bunting, yellowhammer, chaffinch and mixed tits congregated there today. Barn owl has been regular – lovely to see after they became scarcer on site in the last two winters. Look south from the new viewing screen or from the gate between the screen and the Beach Hut, they seem to like hunting alongside the northernmost silt lagoon and the grassland south of the Cromwell Trail.
A bittern was reported from the area north of the boardwalk last week, so do keep an eye open around here. And finally, a hint of spring….elder coming into leaf and snowdrops coming up in the woodland.
Redhead smew - can anyone find us a drake? Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)