Egret Bonanza – a review of the observations of January-February 2024

A quiet time of the year but some interesting birds nonetheless, including a record count of Egrets and a surprising Bunting roost


Pochard numbers are starting to build up

Egret Bonanza

A review of the observations of January-February 2024

The winter has progressed in a rather dull fashion with some of our hoped for overwintering specialities absent – the likes of Water Pipit, Stonechats, Bearded Tits and unusual wildfowl.

There was a short sharp cold spell in early January followed by widespread flooding which shifted a few birds, notably a pulse of Lapwings which chose to peak on duck count day at 653, a locally wandering drake Pintail and a displaced Bittern. The overwintering Shelduck disappeared unusually early at the beginning of February, but a pair of Red-crested Pochards have already made a recon visit, and Pochard numbers are starting to build up.

A record five Great White Egrets (breeding plumed adults!) dropped in one January day, and one bird lingered in the near district for a while.

The first Oystercatchers of the spring (a pair) have already arrived, whilst the late winter exodus of Lapwings meant only 18 remained by the end of February.

Common Snipe and Jack Snipe numbers have been well down on usual – the persistent wet weather and local flooding giving them little suitable habitat on site and providing lots elsewhere. However, flooding forced the Green Sandpipers off the works enabling us to verify a maximum of four overwintering. The only owl in the period was a Barn Owl who came to inspect our Snipe nets one night but remained unimpressed. 

Increasing numbers of Rose-ringed Parakeets with their raucous calls continue to pollute the Rye Meads audio experience, with birds seemingly taking up territories south of the railway. What odds for the next species to be added to the ringing list?

Fourteen Collared Doves roosting at the Kingfisher Loop is a high count for recent times. And talking of Kingfishers, they were notable by their absence with not a single record in the period.

Ravens are now expected visitors through the late winter and early spring with three sightings in the period. The single Rook seen in February is now the rarer corvid!

There are the usual Chiffchaffs overwintering whose true numbers are only revealed by mist-netting, with a peak of 12, and some days enlivened by their early song. There were two female Blackcaps.

Starling numbers have been low so it was a surprise that 70 roosted in late January and into early February. The cold spell and flooding shifted some thrushes around in January, with 20 Blackbirds, 14 Fieldfares (very scarce again this winter) and 20 Redwings. Only the Redwings seemed to hang about (or continue to pass through) with 28 still in February. The Meadow Pipit roost in the first meadow peaked at 20. There was also a small movement of passage Stonechats with a maximum of four (but involving at least five birds).

Up to 15 Greenfinches have been gathering at Lee Marsh before departing to the west to roost. Goldfinch flocks of up to 40 have started to appear irregularly some afternoons around the toll road, but without access to the works we have been unable to discover where they spend the day or where they are roosting. Other finches have been erratic: up to 17 Siskins on three dates, and a short lived influx of seven Lesser Redpolls. No Bullfinches were recorded, only one Linnet, and never more than six Chaffinches, a dire state indeed.

However, an exciting movement from rather closer to home (one would suspect) was the chirping House Sparrow at the old social club on 16th February, a precursor to three around the RSPB visitor centre and the cottages. Last seen on site on 5th March 2022, the House Sparrow last bred in 1998!

Bunting roosts were erratic: the only count for Reed Bunting was 20, but Yellowhammers were in good numbers, the peak being an impressive 67 – highest count since 1988!

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