Dawn to Dusk Patchwatch – 22nd April

The idea of ‘Patchwatch’ is to see how many species of birds can be recorded on the site in a day. Normally a day during migration is picked so that there are likely to be more species about as passage birds go through and there might be some winter birds still about as well as the incoming summer birds. Also different birds use the site at different times of the day hence  the ‘Dawn to Dusk’ in the title.

I arrived at the site at 05.15, just as it was getting light. I was just in time to catch the Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls as they left the roost on the Slurry Lagoon. There were only a handful of birds, a tiny fraction of what would have been seen in December or January. I walked along the path on the south-east side of the Slurry Lagoon towards the river and the air was full of the sounds of Song Thrushes, Great Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, and Wrens. They were so loud that it was difficult to pick out some of the quieter calls and songs. However I did pick out Blue Tit, Dunnock, Blackcap and Willow Warbler and Pheasant and Carrion Crow interjected their coarser notes. In the growing light I could see a Mute Swan on the Slurry Lagoon and then I could hear Reed Bunting, Canada Goose, Mallard, Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaff. It was now 05.30 and I had seen or heard 20 species.

I saw John Feeney walking along the Causeway, but decided I would carry on towards the river, beside the Deep Pit. I could hear a Moorhen and then the staccato notes of a Cetti’s Warbler and on the water’s surface could be seen Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Coots. Twelve Common Terns were back on two of the breeding platforms but the Cormorants still had possession of one of them. Wood Pigeons were in the trees in the Deep Pit and a Chaffinch was singing. I carried on under the Railway Bridge and found some Stock Doves in their customary perches on the power lines. Pied Wagtails and Starlings were flying across the river, Grey-lag Geese were in the field across the river and a Green Woodpecker called. The Swallows were disappointingly thin on the ground (or in the air) and not many seemed to have made it back yet to their nest sites under the bridge. I turned and walked back along the river bank and saw Jack Dennison, who came to join me just as a Whitethroat began singing on the bank. It was now 06.00 and I had reached a total of 36 species.

We walked along the Riverside Path, hoping for a sighting of the Kingfishers and it wasn’t long before we heard one whistle and saw it perched on the river bank. A Linnet was singing in a riverside ash tree and soon two Oystercatchers were spotted on the opposite bank. A Grey Heron stood, hunched, in the field and a pair of Great-crested Grebes swam on the river. We rounded the corner to walk along the Boundary Hedge and Jackdaws were flying over the Severn/Trent field. Some Lapwings took to the air, plaintively calling as they stooped at marauding Carrion Crows and a Magpie flew along the hedge. We passed through the hedge by the large willow and headed towards the bank of the Deep Pit, passing a cacophony of warbler song as Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Blackcaps and Whitethroats were singing lustily, along with Blackbird, Robin and Wren. From the top of the bank we looked across the Wader Scrape but found no new species, only Gadwall, Wood Pigeon and Pheasant, so we carried on towards the Causeway. From here we peered onto the Slurry Lagoon and found Shoveler, Teal, Dabchick and Shelduck. It was now 07.15 and I had spotted my 49th species.

On the Causeway I met John Feeney and Tony Lowry. John said he had heard a Tawny Owl earlier on and so I looked in the Deep Pit trees. Soon I found the tip of its tail amongst the branches and leaves and then the warm brown of its body. It was difficult to get a ‘scope on it but soon the owl could be seen. Neil Matthews joined us and said the had seen a Siskin as he came along the Ouse Dyke. As we watched the owl, Alan Edge and Sue Cowlishaw joined us and a male Bullfinch appeared in the willow trees before us. Neil spotted a Common Sandpiper in the Deep Pit, where there were also some Pochard, and some feral Rock Doves flew over towards the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon. Alan, Sue and I decided to follow the Rock Doves in the hopes of finding some Collared Doves. As we walked back along the path some Long-tailed Tits flew through the bushes and a Greenfinch sang from an ash tree. I went to my car to get some food and a Herring Gull flew over the Slurry Lagoon. Alan and Sue went along the Bottom Path and I caught them up but we added no new species, so we returned to the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon again to search for Wheatear. No luck, but we did get Goldfinch and Collared Dove. As we sat resting on the bench at the top of the steps a Skylark sang over the fields and a Sand Martin dashed through. This brought my total at 09.20 to 60.

Back towards the Causeway and Neil phoned to say he had seen Little Ringed Plover on the Wader Scrape. On the way we picked up Black-headed Gull and Keith Cox. After an age of searching a Little Ringed Plover flew from a patch of gravel across the scrapes but no other waders graced the site. A Buzzard was seen evading crows high above us as we headed back towards the Causeway, where a Ruddy Duck had been spotted, then Keith saw some House Martins flying in. The total was nudging up painfully slowly now and people began to leave so I went with them as far as my car, to get some more food, and we saw Rook, Common Gull and Sparrowhawk. I was on my own now and wondered why I didn’t go as well. A Yellow Wagtail called as it flew overhead, but I made my way towards my car again. I had just opened the gates when Sue called out to ask me if I was trying to sneak off now she had come back. We went for one last forlorn traipse around the site and managed to add Kestrel to the tally. With the Great Spotted Woodpecker that John Feeney had seen and had told me about earlier, that brought the final  score to 72 species since dawn. It was now 17.15, and I wasn’t hanging about for dusk.