Sunday, 5 February 2012

Theo Walk behind the RSSKL and Old Hall Marshes Again (4th February)

For my brothers birthday present he wished to go to Old Hall Marshes eager to catch up on the brilliant birds that I had seen last weekend.  With the help of searching websites thoroughly the night before on the location of the wintering Great Grey Shrike I managed to pinpoint the exact hedgerow in which it had last been sighted.

Wind 0-1/3
Cloud 0/3
Temp. -6°C in the early morning but rising gradually above freezing throughout the day


I decided to walk our dog, Theo, behind the RSSKL before we left to go to Old Hall Marshes as we wouldn't be back till late afternoon.  Very little was in the first field, as only 1 Fieldfare and 5 Redwing flew over.  However, once I reached the hedges bordering the A41, dozens more Fieldfare popped out of the hedges and by the time I had crossed the bridge a large flock of 200+ Fieldfare erupted from the hedgerow west of the A41, followed by a measly 3 Redwing heading south.  In the back garden of Langley Lodge Farm, I heard dozens of Siskin calling loudly behind a high brick wall although only 2 Siskins were visible above the line of the wall.  On the way back through the fields, 1 imm. Lesser Black-backed Gull and 1 imm. Common Gull flew over followed by 4 Skylarks, one flushed by Theo in the field.  The final surprise was the sight of 1 Bullfinch diving into the front garden hedge in front of our house and the surprising sight of a CHIFFCHAFF (a year tick) perched only momentarily in the same hedge.


We stopped at the concrete platform next to Barnhall Road, directly next to the hedgerow in which the Shrike had last been sited and set ourselves up next to a giant heap of horse dung waiting for the bird to appear.  Time past and still no sighting, occasional birds such as a Dunnock raised a few false alarms as it did some looping flights out of the bush before diving into cover.  Fortunately after checking the opposite side of the hedge I was thrilled to see the GREAT GREY SHRIKE (a life tick) perched right in the open, displaying amazingly and remained in view even for my parents to see.  It performed amazingly and remained in the open for much of the time making occasional plunges into the brambles bellow, perhaps to catch some prey, although I never saw it with any.

Great Grey Shrike

The head was the diagnostic feature with a black mask extending from the loral area through the eyestripe and hind ear coverts, this was bordered by a thin white supercilium over the black mask (widest over the eye and loral area).  The cap was pale grey and unmarked.  The upper mandible was dark grey whilst the lower mandible was pale grey/horn-coloured but darker towards the tip.  The throat was cleaner white than the chest and was unmarked unlike the very pale grey streaks on the flanks.  The nape, back, mantle, and uppertail coverts were all uniform pale grey, the same colour as the cap and the scapulars formed a white edge, which widened towards the inside and covered some of the very inner tertials, secondaries great/median and lesser coverts.  The wings were more complex, despite only featuring two colours.  The tertails were black at the base and only the tips were edged white, as with the secondaries and primaries, although these had a much thinner white edge.  The primaries also had the characteristic white base and formed a triangular point below the black primary coverts.  The remaining median coverts and alula were black whilst the lesser coverts were shaded pale grey, like the back.
The tail was rather worn and was in constant use for balancing as it was almost continuously cocked and waving in all directions.  Recording their features was more difficult, however, its black central retrices and white corners were visible at times.  In addition, the undertail was grey, yet the outer retrices were also still white underneath.
I belive by summing up the information  available it is either a 1st or 2nd winter female.  I'm not very good at aging and sexing this bird so any help would be much appreciated)

Behaviour: It spent much of the time in the open, perched in clear view either on a prominent bramble branch or occasionally more hidden on the end of the outermost twigs of a nearby tree.  Its flight pattern was similar to that of a magpie as it swooped downwards either onto our low over the ground before rising steeply onto a prominent perch.

Other birds of note during our search included a very approachable 1st win. Robin, 1 Kestrel and a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker.


We arrived down Salcott Street at the end of the dead end road were we came just in time to witness 500+ Brent Geese take to the skies before landing in the field again, just south of Marsh Farm, my brother and I made our way successfully to the sea wall, without scarring the Geese, form were we scanned the flock for the Red-breasted Goose.  Within seconds we found the 1st winter RED-BREASTED GOOSE amongst their masses and much to the joy of my brother we obtained very close views and I was able to pick out the more detailed features such as the worn edge to the bright orange ear coverts that indicated towards a 1st winter bird.

1st-win. Red-breasted Goose, poking its head out conveniently for all to see

 amongst the masses of Brent Geese

After our second successful twitch of the day we decided to make the long awaited trip around the reserve, in a clockwise direction.  From the Salcott Channel, we saw 11 AVOCETS as well as the usual flocks of dozens of Black-tailed Godwit and TealWigeon and Dunlin were in their hundreds and Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were flushed from the sea wall around the whole of our route.  Several Bar-tailed Godwits were also of note and a total of 11 Goldeneye (8, 3), 3+ Marsh Harriers and dozens of the commoner waders such as Redshank, Grey Plover and Lapwing were also seen along much of the channels length.  From the point we searched for the long-staying Slavonian Grebe but all we could get was a distant view of a probable win. SLAVONIAN GREBE and another distant probable BLACK-THROATED DIVER.  We were more successful down the North Channel were I picked up on 5 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS (2,3) and an adult summer plumaged Eider.  Other birds that made it onto my year list included 3 Rock Pipits and 4 Pintail (1, 3).  The usual flocks of Reed Buntings were also on the north side of the reserve and a total of 93 AVOCETS were counted in the Tollesbury Fleet.  As dusk fell we approached the reedbed at Irongate were we waited in anticipation for the resident Bearded Tits to come out.  Again we were lucky and after a wait of about 30 minutes and short glimpses of 2 in flight we were treated to brilliant views of 5 BEARDED TITS feeding at the northern edge of the reedbed.  We were in a rush to get back to the Salcott Street, the final birds of the day was a single Snipe that we flushed accidentally from the field next to the car park and a Green Woodpecker calling.  The final spectacle of the day was the impressive sight of the large flock of 500+ Brent Geese taking flight from the field next to Marsh Farm and heading south east towards the estuary.

hundreds of Brent Geese, probably including the R-b Goose, going to roost on the Estuary, a spectacular sight

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