September-October 2021 – a tale of three pipits
Most of the period remained warm and wet, but with plenty of quiet weather as well. Thus we started to get a little more by way of autumn birds worth seeking out. We remain locked out of Thames Water land – why we can’t now be let back in is a mystery – so these observations refer once again just to the RSPB reserve and the meadows.
The star birds for us were those pipits. Meadow Pipits are regular winter visitors to Rye Meads, and the usual Autumn influx gave us a maximum count to date of 32 in October. Water Pipit on the other hand is a much less regular winter visitor: in the nineteen eighties and nineties, up to eleven birds regularly wintered here, then there was a period when they didn’t come every year, and now for the past nine years there have been from one to three each winter. Rock Pipit is more scarce still, recorded in just seven of our 62 years of operations, the last being seen in 2016. So when Matt put up a couple of nets in the First Meadow with a Water Pipit song on a caller, he didn’t actually know there were any of either species present, so was delighted to catch one Water Pipit, and even more overjoyed when no less than two Rock Pipits were also attracted into the net!
These represented the 41st Water Pipit ringed by the Group, and only the third and fourth Rock Pipits ringed.
Waterfowl counts were reasonable in the recent context. Geese included a peak count of 214 Canada Geese and 33 Greylag Geese; the Mute Swan herd peaked at 38, and occasional small flocks of Egyptian Geese included one of seven.
A male Garganey hung around for much of September. Shovelers topped out at 95 and Teal at 121, whilst Gadwall, something of a Rye Meads specialty these days, reached 396. Wigeon were present more or less throughout but never exceeded eight birds, whilst Tufted Ducks never exceeded 12 – a far cry from the counts in the hundreds we used to get only a few years ago. Perhaps there are large numbers in the South Lagoons but somehow we doubt it.
Both Common and Red-crested Pochards were to be found through much of the period, up to three of the former and two of the latter.
Another good bird this period was the Great White Egret which paid a visit on one September day. This was our sixth record, but surely this species is on the same trajectory as Little Egret, of which up to six were present this period.
Waders worthy of mention included a passing Ruff, a bird that is not quite annual at Rye Meads, two Black-tailed Godwits, and three Golden Plovers going over heading west, another species formerly regular but lately not quite annual in occurrence.
Meanwhile our summer visitors ebbed away quietly, with no noticeable migration influxes. September saw our last Swifts, Hobbies and most of our warblers. Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were recorded in October, and less surprisingly Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were still to be found, with up to 12 of the latter still present in October.
Yellow Wagtails peaked with an impressive 17, only one of which was still present the following day and proved to be the last of the year. A single Whinchat typically passed through on one day, whilst our first winter Stonechats arrived, with a male and a female and then two females.
We had an overdue visit again from two Ravens. Starlings have also been building up as usual, with several mobile flocks observed and the usual high numbers at dawn or dusk of roosting birds in the reedbeds.
Our winter thrushes have only been trickling in, the first three Redwings not until mid-October and the maximum to date just five, and no Fieldfares at all yet. Up to three Goldcrests in October could also be just local birds rather than a winter influx.
Lesser Redpolls returned in October, with up to 25 seen, and up to four Siskins were spotted.
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