Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Early Spring Action on Patch

Following what can only be described as a mild winter, the winds and some very cold days of early spring meant that the seasonal change wasn’t that noticeable.  As we headed into March bird life on the lake remained virtually unchanged, although there was noticeable signs of several species perhaps preparing to move on, and certainly some interesting display from several species.  A pair of Great Crested Grebe was on the lake in February, making a return early in the month, but they did disappear again for a short time before making a second return, displaying and beginning nest building activity.  It is normal for nest building by the grebes to begin early on the lake, although many folk are surprised at just how early.   There was soon to be five Great Crested Grebes on the Lake.  Sam and I believe the pair on the small lake to be relative newcomers and the pair on the larger lake to be the regular pair that has produced so many young over recent years.  Then there is a fifth bird which has so far been watched with interest as it is not accepted by either of the two pairs and it has at times been found skulking in the reed-bed.  We have watched the pairs as they challenge this single bird, necks down on the water as they swim unhesitatingly towards it and on occasions lift from the water making small threatening flights   whilst calling.  We don’t know the relationship of these birds, but I suspect the more junior ones may well be off spring of the original pair.  It will be interesting to watch the progress of any nest that is attached to that ‘thing’ that goes by the name of a floating reed-bed.  I still maintain that it is of no use for nesting birds when it is caged off as it is.  The grebes should be OK as they managed last year with the nest by the side of this ‘thing’, however having watched Brown Rats here, I fear for any eggs that may be laid.  The small amount of reed-bed around the lakes does not appear at the moment to be doing well at all and I believe it is in need of some attention.  With a General Election coming up now may be a good time to make some noise about this and the amount of rubbish left around the area, of what is claimed to be a Green Flag site!

Distant image of courtship

Less attractive aspect of patch birding.  Bet the Green Flag inspectors weren't brought to this not so little area!

 Early spring has also seen plenty of action from photographers.  Until a couple of years ago there was only the odd photographer who bothered to photograph the grebes, but now we have growing numbers visit.  To my mind this is no bad thing as the more eyes on the birds the better they are protected.  There have been the very occasional inappropriate actions, but I’m sure the vast majority of sensible folk will soon put straight, those who act out of line.

2nd March.  It was a windy and cold day.  The pair of Great Crested Grebes on the smaller lake was displaying and nest building.  Previous nest building attempts were destroyed by high winds and rough water.  They have since gone on to start several nests, which is not an unusual event in itself.  Sam and I feel that these birds are novices to the process of courtship and nest building.

A pair of Oystercatcher has returned to the area and Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming.

10th March.  There were five Great Crested Grebes present today.  One pair on each lake and another single bird on the larger lake.  It was cool, but sunny and the lighting conditions perfect, showing the smaller lake at its best.  A count showed that there were seventy Mute Swans present.  Two pairs of Shoveller were involved in lengthy spells of circular feeding and some display on the small lake, and the lone female Wigeon remains there too.  The pair of Oystercatchers was present and Goldeneye displayed in groups.  Goosanders are still present in number and a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew onto the lake in elegant fashion.  I had seen my first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year at Big Waters on 8th March.  A gull species that I find very attractive. 


 The Great Crested Grebes on the small lake took part in head shaking display and spent time nest building.  At times typically large reeds were carried to the nest site by one of the pair.  It was difficult to know just how many nests these birds were working on as they disappeared into the reeds at several different points at different times.

The pair of Great Crested Grebes on the larger lake spent most of their time in the middle of the lake and is showing no attempt as yet to nest build.  The fifth grebe was at the top of the lake and this was clearly known by the pair.  The pair eventually swam at speed towards the fifth bird and there was some threatening behaviour and much diving taking place.  The fifth bird always appears to back off very quickly.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed.  Sam has been watching a flock of Redwings near the lake throughout late winter, but as we walked through the trees it seemed that these birds had now moved on.

17th March.  We couldn’t find the pair of Great Crested Grebe on the larger lake today.  We felt if they had moved off the likelihood is that they will return, as is the usual behaviour.

The pair of Great Crested Grebe on the smaller lake were displaying at length.  This is some of the best display behaviour from Great Crested Grebes that I have witnessed.  It wasn’t long before we realised that the lone fifth Grebe was skulking in the reeds at the corner of the lake.  Is this a male bird waiting its chance to mate with the female of one of the pairs?  If it is, it doesn’t seem to stand much chance of this occurring.  Once it showed on open water it is soon chased off by the pair which displayed in its presence.  Nest building clearly going on, but no sign of a completed nest structure as yet.

The fifth and lone grebe staying hidden in the reeds.
The two pairs of Shoveller were present and the Goldeneye continue to display.  The female Wigeon and Goosanders remain.  A Reed Bunting was spotted in the reeds.  There is a lone Little Grebe on the larger lake and Brown Rat/s in the floating ‘thing’.

The lone female Wigeon
21st March.  Still no sound of Chiffchaff where they usually first appear on patch.  They would usually be here by 19th/20th March.  Only in that recent very bitterly cold spring did they arrive much later.   The area was very quiet, but I did pick up the mewing calls of Common Buzzard and spotted it as it flew north-east.  There is an area here where this species could nest so I will keep a look out.  I also found a Great Spotted Woodpecker behaving as if it was near a nest site.  Another spot to keep an eye on.

22nd March.  At last the sound of Chiffchaff on patch, but only very briefly.  Sam and I had searched the area I had checked out yesterday.  It remained unusually quiet, but we did have a male Sparrowhawk fly over and disturb the few passerines that were about in the tops of the trees.  The Sparrowhawk appeared to fail in any attempt to catch prey on this occasion.

We found that one of the Great Crested Grebes had returned to the large lake.  The pair remains on the smaller lake along with the interloper, the fifth grebe.  The single Little Grebe remains on the large lake.  The Shovellers were again occupied in circular feeding and the Oystercatchers are present.

24th March.  Sam and I took the chance this evening to try and watch the owl species we know is on patch.  We were once more unsuccessful, but never the less ended up having a great couple of hours on patch.  Probably my best evening of the year so far.  Initially we passed the area where the Collared Doves seem to roost and where there were numbers of Greenfinch and Goldfinch.  As the light began to fade a little the sky reddened to the west of us, whilst behind us and to the east the sky remained blue in patches.  It looked as though heavy rain might be building up in the west.  Sam got his eye on what we thought was a flock of Golden Plover to the north and then I saw even further into the distance a skein of geese flying eastwards, although we were unable to identify them down to species such was the distance.  At least one pair of Kestrel was hunting in the area and Skylarks sang.

We decided to check out a possible flash that Sam had found on a map.  I’m pleased we did as we began to hear the calls of Lapwing and were soon watching numbers of them displaying over the fields.  It wasn’t long before a flock of Golden Plover were flying in the area (probably the ones seen earlier in the distance).  The Golden Plover called as they flew to and fro above us for sometime, before eventually setting on the field.  We estimated a flock of at least two hundred and fifty birds and thought they may well be ready to leave the coastal area.  Many of them were in almost full summer plumage.  The patch is a regular stopping of point for these birds, but this is the first time we had watched them in this particular area.

Eventually we slowly walked back towards home with the song of Yellowhammer becoming clearer as we walked.  Pied Wagtails landed in the fields and a flock of fifty to sixty Linnets lifted, flew around the area and then settled back down on the ground.  I was stood behind a tree admiring the bark at close range when we heard calling from Grey Partridges.  Sam got his eye on one of them first.  They were calling across the fields.  As we watched and listened a Brown Hare ran across in front of us and was soon joined by another.  When close together one stood on its hind limbs and we thought we were going to be treated to a boxing match, but that wasn’t to be as I think the Hares were simply watching over the area.  Perhaps watching us, watching them.  So as the light faded we wandered off thinking how wonderful it is to have such wildlife on our doorsteps.  Great couple of hours.  Temperatures by now had plummeted and it felt as cold as any winter evening.

27th March.  Briefly passing the lake I noticed that the pair of Great Crested Grebes had reunited on the large lake, so we have five Great Crested Grebes again.


  1. It's nice that the Grebes are back!

  2. Wasn't the floating reedbed originally put in to protect young fish from the attention of the cormorants that were on the lake at that time

  3. Hi George. Thanks for your comment. The reed-bed has a number of purposes (or should I say is supposed to) one of them is to serve as a cover for fish stocks I agree. Another is to help generally with the ecological health of the lake as a whole. However, it is as the councils own information boards state meant to offer opportunities for nesting birds. I simply ask how can birds nest on this when it is fenced off and has been for over twelve months now? I've never been aware that the reed-bed was put in to specifically protect young fish from the Cormorants and during discussion with council officers I've never been told that it was put there for that reason.
    I don't subscribe either to the argument that the original reed-bed was killed off by nesting wildfowl as suggested by some. Those of us who watched the lake regularly, watched as the reed-bed withered and died during those two very cold and icy winters. I have had a senior council officer agree with me on that point, but still the mis-information is spread. Cheers.