Unusual visitors put a gloss on sightings – a review of the birds of September-October 2023

We got our fair share of interesting birds during peak migration season, despite unusually warm and stormy conditions, including a record count for one species.


Glossy Ibis as seen from the Draper Hide (photo: Yoko Chung)

Unusual visitors put a gloss on sightings

A review of the birds of September-October 2023

These were two months when the weather was warmer and wetter than average: in fact September started with record temperatures, and October was extremely wet and occasionally stormy. This no doubt made life difficult for migrants, but we seemed nonetheless to get our fair share.

The gloss was provided by a Glossy Ibis which appeared on five dates in October. A young bird given its duller brown head and breast; you wonder if it was bred in the UK. It’s only our second record, but there must surely be many more to come.

We’ve reached the time of year when quite large movements of geese in particular move on or off site at dawn and dusk. Peak numbers in dawn counts have risen to 290 Canada Geese and 96 Greylag Geese. Mute Swan peaked at 57, but the most unexpected visitor was an early Whooper Swan, which paid a fleeting visit in October. Finally, top count for Egyptian Goose was 11 on 26th September – looks like these are here to stay.

The count of 675 Gadwalls on the September duck count was particularly notable: that’s a record count of Gadwalls to date at Rye Meads.

Other notable wildfowl records included a maximum of six Red-crested Pochards.

Great White Egrets also seem to be at home here, with one or two on most days in September, and one on six dates in October. It’s hard to believe that before this year, there’d only been nine records at Rye Meads. Amazingly we had three species of Heron and the Glossy Ibis all present for the October duck count.

It’s also the time of year when the loafing Lapwing flock builds up on the islands in No. 1 Lagoon: by late October it had reached 146 birds. Up to seven Common Sandpipers were intermittently present, outnumbering the regular Green Sandpipers. Our own wisp of Snipe remained at four birds in September, and slowly built to a disappointing nine in October. Meanwhile the first Jack Snipe reappeared and had increased to five by the end of October. The only less frequent wader to visit in the period – glossy birds excepted – was a small flock of four Dunlin one day in October.

As usual our gull counts are highest in the southbound roost flights at dusk. Peak counts yielded 720 Black-headed Gulls, 360 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 40 Herring Gulls and 158 Common Gulls.

Finally, a mention for once of a bird always present in small numbers but often dismissed as uninteresting: Cormorant. The 63 birds counted in October was a total only exceeded in three previous years: 1989, 2003 and 2010, when the current record count of 85 birds was set.

Single sightings of both Barn Owl and Tawny Owl doubtless understates a regular night-time presence on site. Of the diurnal predators, top bird award goes to the Ospreys which paid a visit on two dates. There were single Hobbies until the last bird in late September.

The last Sand Martins of the year were three birds in September.  Swallows stayed a little longer, and roosts in the Scrape reedbeds reached 60 in September; the last three birds stayed into October. Finally, a movement of 40 House Martins in late September proved to be the last of the year.

Moving on to the warblers, the last Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers, Garden Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Whitethroats were duly logged.

With both Chiffchaff and Blackcap it can be difficult to see when summer visitors end and winter visitors begin. Either way, there were up to 20 Chiffchaffs on three dates in September, and up to ten through October. Up to 18 Blackcaps in early September had reduced to one or two birds on several dates in October.

Less regular autumn migrants were represented by a Spotted Flycatcher and just a single Yellow Wagtail in September.

First of our winter visitors to arrive was a single Siskin in September, the only record. Next was a pair of Stonechats, then up to 40 Meadow Pipits, and up to 17 Skylarks.

October saw the first Lesser Redpolls with six birds, and a fine male Firecrest which obligingly hopped into one of our nets.

On to the winter thrushes, and whilst Storm Babet dumped loads of these in northern Britain, it took a while for them to filter down to Rye Meads. The first Redwings were 15 in October, and the only Fieldfares were 19 birds on one October day.

There were one or two Ravens on eight dates. Flocks of Starlings gathering for roosts peaked at 82. Finally, counts of 11 Chaffinches, 23 Goldfinches and 35 Reed Buntings were the best for a while.

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