Observations – September-October 2020

A quiet September was followed by a very soggy October with extreme water levels affecting wetland bird numbers.


September-October 2020

No. 1 Lagoon water levels around a metre above normal (Roger Emmens)

Throughout September and October, we managed reasonable coverage of the RSPB and HMWT reserves, but we are still not allowed back onto Thames Water land. This meant that about a third of our study area has been unavailable for observations, and of our six major netting sites, four remain inaccessible. Our activities also remain subject to the six persons limit, even for outdoor activities such as birding.

A period notable for the extreme levels of water across both reserves, with the wettest October on record compounded by problems in the Thames Water works, meaning they had to pump unusual amounts of water into the North Lagoons. This was most obvious in No. 1 Lagoon, where the water was lapping at the foot of the Gadwall Hide, the nearby island was completely submerged, just the tops of its vegetation still visible, and the ‘goalposts’ beloved of gulls and kingfishers for perching were also under water.

The overflow went into the Tollhouse Stream (gushing in torrents across the path to the Warbler Hide in the process) and thence into the Meadows, which consequently had large amounts of deep standing water, making it was too deep for waders, but large numbers of ducks used it for feeding, particularly at night.

The Scrape, at least, has been maintained at lower levels, so it has been carrying unusual numbers of ducks resting on the water margins by day, particularly Teal (counts over a hundred were almost commonplace) and Shoveler, but also a few Wigeon.

Pride of place in this period goes to our third Cattle Egret reported by RSPB on 14th October, and our fifth Great White Egret, which flew over on 3rd October. Add the regular sightings of Little Egret and that means we clocked up three Egrets in the period! Surely Night Heron must be overdue now?

Less common ducks included three records of Garganey, with one in September, and two and a singleton in October; and Pintail, with a male appearing on three dates in September. Up to 18 Wigeon were regularly feeding on the Scrape, and Teal peaked at 161 in October.

As for waders, before the deluge came we recorded Little Ringed Plover three times, and the first Snipe and Jack Snipe back for the winter.

We enjoyed a visit from a Marsh Harrier on two occasions, and the last few sightings of Hobby in the first part of September. A Short-eared Owl was an excellent find one morning in October. First seen approaching in the distance from the north, it gave lucky watchers fine close views low overhead, before being harried by crows into climbing very high like a soaring Buzzard and drifting off towards Roydon. This was our first since 2015.

Our summer visitors drifted away with no notable passage peaks. The only warblers to make it into October were predictably Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Yellow Wagtails peaked at three in September, a respectable count these days, and we had the pleasure of seeing two Whinchats with a Stonechat in October, the latter building to three birds that look like staying for the winter.

Winter Thrush arrivals were relatively low key this year, with maxima of 45 Fieldfares, 50 Redwings and 30 Blackbirds. Meadow Pipits arrived in mid September, with a steady trickle that never became a flood (unlike the rain); the biggest observed movement was 15. Similarly Skylark movements were small, no more than 20 on any one day.

There were a few days of finch movements.  Up to 11 Siskins were recorded on seven dates, generally as fly-overs. Lesser Redpolls were also regular, and some stopped long enough to pick up a ring; the biggest count was 17. Other counts included 42 Greenfinches heading south to roost; 69 Chaffinches moving northwest; up to eight Linnets; and the winter Yellowhammer roost showing promise with up to 20.

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