September-October 2022 – Beardies are back

As summer visitors gave way to winter visitors, headlines were stolen by our biggest flock of Bearded Tits for 43 years, and our 5th Spoonbill - but other records were also set!


A handsome male Bearded Tit which was caught and ringed (Stuart Fox)

September-October 2022 – Beardies are back

No, that’s not a reference to previously absent ringers, some of whom are indeed hirsute, but to the return of wintering Bearded Tits. An initial two arrived in mid-October and then there were several sightings in the last week of October culminating in a flock of ten birds, our biggest count since 1979! (That’s 43 years for the arithmetically challenged.) Obligingly, a couple presented themselves for ringing – last time we ringed Bearded Tits, they then spent the winter in Hyde Park, acquiring celebrity status, with articles in the national press and the BBC News website. Will these latest two be recorded again somewhere?

Nevertheless the star bird of the period would not be Bearded Tit, rather our 5th Spoonbill which became only the second Spoonbill to actually pause on site rather than just fly over.

Our wildfowl numbers on site have been fairly healthy (as indeed have been the birds themselves, thankfully with no signs to date of avian flu). Particularly impressive have been some large early morning movements of geese, leaving their roost and heading off to feeding grounds to the south of Rye Meads. These have included 345 Canada Geese, the best count for ten years, and a new record for Rye Meads of 125 Greylag Geese, reflecting the growing local population. Also regular on site during this period were Egyptian Geese, similarly from a growing local feral population, with a maximum count of seven.

There were several sightings of Garganey in the first half of September, including one of five, a number only beaten by the nine recorded one day in 1993. Other maxima included 84 Shovelers, 35 Wigeon, and 118 Teal Surprisingly, there were only up to three Pochards in early September, and none recorded at all in October.

It was nice to see the return of a wintering Bittern to Rye Meads, although it proved elusive as Bitterns often are, and a count of 11 Little Egrets equalled the record set in 2017.

A Curlew dropped in, our first for three years. The first returning Jack Snipes of the winter were just 1-2 birds, but numbers of Snipe reached 18. Lapwings found the lowered water levels on No 1 Lagoon to their liking and the loafing flock there reached 192. A Common Sandpiper arrived in early Sept and kindly waited until it was recorded by our duck counter before departing, whilst up to 7 Green Sandpipers were regular throughout.

Most worthy of mention amongst the raptors was the new record count of 12 Red Kites. The last Hobby of the year was noted in mid Sept. Less thrillingly we had our third highest count of 12 Ring-necked Parakeet fly over.

This was the fun period of the year for passerines, when summer and winter visitors overlap, and we had plenty of both.

The last Sand Martins were in September, but Swallows and House Martins lingered into October. It’s been a good Autumn for Willow Warbler, with a peak count of 15 representing the best count since 2012. Similarly Chiffchaff was present in good numbers, with a peak of 60 and still five still remaining at the end of October. All our other summer warblers had gone by the end of September, save a lone Reed Warbler, and five Blackcaps, lingering into October. Lastly, we should mention up to seven Yellow Wagtails in September.

Now for the newly arriving winter visitors, apart from the aforementioned Beardies, The first three Meadow Pipits arrived mid September, with a maximum to date of 25. We hope these will benefit from the cutting done in the Meadows this summer (as should waders such as Snipe and Jack Snipe). There has been just a single Water Pipit so far.

Stonechats returned in force, with no less than six birds on two dates in September – a total only beaten by the seven birds found in 1961! Winter thrushes, like London buses, tend to arrive all at once. Thus the first Redwings were 30 at the end of September, with a peak of 136 in October, and 50 Fieldfares came through in late October. Lastly, there were up to three Siskins.

And finally, some of our year-round birds… Just one visit by a pair of Ravens in this period, and up to six Jays regularly seen (or more usually heard!). Best count for Starling was 280, and we also had a record of that Rye Meads rarity, a Mistle Thrush. There were up to six Linnets intermittently, and top count of Goldfinch was 20. Whilst the odd Greenfinch and Chaffinch can still be found, sadly for the first time in our memory (without detailed record checking), not a single Bullfinch was recorded in this period. Let’s hope for better news of this handsome finch next time.

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