Sunday, 14 October 2018


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Thursday, 11 October 2018

A personal review of 2016, 2017 & the past eleven years

A really long one, sorry - it's been in the pipeline a while and built up!

Birds of Earlswood 2016

2016 was pretty good, the grand total of 128 species recorded being similar to 2015. Two species were patch-firsts, namely 2 Black Redstarts in private horse pastures at Manor Farm from April 8th-9th (MPG et al.) and an Egyptian Goose at Mereside Pools on December 24th (T.R. Philp). A stunning summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Engine Pool from June 6th-7th (MPG et al.) was perhaps the bird of the year though, as it was also the first record at the lakes since 1955, it showed reasonably well and lots of people got to see it. A Firecrest in Little Clowes Wood from December 30th (J. Asbury et al.) was another highlight which I was fortunate to see. On the downside I missed four species which otherwise would've been personal patch ticks: a Pied Flycatcher at Terry's Pool on April 26th (M.J. Inskip et al.) and a Scaup at Windmill Pool on July 5th (J. Oates et al.) were both twitchable if only I hadn't been working during the afternoons they were discovered, whilst an Osprey flying over the Norton Lane area on August 31st (J. Oates) and the Egyptian Goose both didn't stay long.
Black-necked Grebe (John Oates)
Black Redstarts, first-winter male on left (Matt Griffiths)
Firecrest (Jon Asbury)
Egyptian Goose (Tony Philp)

Birds of Earlswood 2017

So on to 2017, it looks like we finished on 126 species, which is very slightly below average for Earlswood. Nevertheless there were several highlights:
  • Great White Egret: our star bird of the year, a first for Earlswood and presumably the same individual was involved on each of the three occasions it was seen, but sadly only two observers got it. It flew over Windmill Pool on October 18th (MPG), then over Engine Pool on October 31st and November 22nd (J. Oates). It was extra special for me as it was an outright lifer and also my 160th bird species for the patch!
    Great White Egret (John Oates)
  • Common Scoter: for a species that was last seen at the lakes in 1996, it was very surprising that there was not one but two records this year! Five males were at Engine Pool on June 29th (J. Oates et al.), and two males with four females were also at Engine Pool on August 21st (M.R. Jeeves et al.). I was immensely relieved to see the August flock after missing the June one - many thanks Mike!
    Common Scoters - June flock (John Oates)
  • Osprey: a satellite-tagged male called "Number 14" flew over the lakes on April 13th (MPG, T.R. Philp, P.C. Stainton). He had been at the island of Bioko, Equatorial Guinea for most of the 2016-17 winter, started migrating north on March 23rd, and visited Welford-on-Avon (Warks) on the evening of April 12th and the River Dove at Marchington (Staffs) on the morning of April 14th. He then spent the summer in the Lake District - details from Ospreywatch. I'd anticipated seeing this species at Earlswood for some years, so it was great to finally find one, and I've enjoyed reading about his past and subsequent movements.
    Osprey (Tony Philp)
  • Firecrest: the bird from 2016 stayed in the woods to at least March 8th (several observers), and was seen with a second bird on February 11th (J. Asbury). A third bird visited Terry's Pool on October 17th (J. Oates).
    Firecrest in October (John Oates)
  • Barn Owl: one hunting at a private marsh near the lakes on November 15th and 17th (MPG, P. Fitzgerald) was my first at Earlswood since 2010, and followed a sighting of probably the same bird near Shutt Lane about three weeks earlier.
  • Hawfinch: nationally 2017 will surely be remembered as the year of the great Hawfinch influx, and thankfully Earlswood didn't go without. A flock of six over Windmill Pool and a single over Spring Brook Scrubland on October 20th (MPG) were the first, followed by three over Terry's Green on 23rd (MPG), a single over Spring Brook Scrubland on 30th (MPG), a single over Springbrook Lane on November 1st (J.H. Sirrett), two perched in trees at Earlswood Moathouse NR on 4th (J. Oates), calls heard over Terry's Pool lagoon on December 11th (MPG), and a bird perched in trees near Windmill Pool from 26th-27th (MPG). Whether some of these records involved the same individual birds loitering around the wider area is open to debate, but they are always special to see, even though most were brief fly-overs.
    Hawfinch (John Oates)
I ended on 114 species at Earlswood for 2017, my lowest patch total since 2010, sadly due to putting even less birding time in compared to previous years. Embarrassingly I failed to get Garden Warbler and Rook, but on the flip side it was great to add Osprey, Common Scoter and Great White Egret to my patch life list. Outside of Earlswood, the year was an important one for me as I finally managed to get into my desired career - in April I got a new job as a seasonal ecologist, which is just brilliant being paid to do work I enjoy!

10 years of birding at Earlswood

October 5th 2017 marked my 10th anniversary of serious patch-birding. I'd done a little birding at Earlswood during my teenage years, but it was only after my first ever twitch going to see a Grey Phalarope at Windmill Pool on October 5th 2007 that I truly became hooked and fell in love with Earlswood. The last 10 years have mostly been the best years of my life and it has all been thanks to finding purpose and enjoyment at my beloved patch.
Grey Phalarope (Vince Garvey)
There have been so many personal birding highlights for me over this time, but co-finding the Night Heron and watching it over the two weeks it hung around would have to be my all-time favourite, closely followed by twitching that life-changing phalarope. Finding scarce birds on patch is always a thrill, and for me included six more firsts for Earlswood: a Yellow-browed Warbler (2nd county record!), Cetti's Warbler, the two Black Redstarts, a Short-eared Owl, Avocet, the Great White Egret and a flock of six Whooper Swans!
Night Heron (Dave Hutton)
Yellow-browed Warbler plumage notes (Matt Griffiths)
Other finds that particularly stand out in my memory are the Black-necked Grebe, the Osprey, an eclipse male Garganey, redhead Smew, the last two records to-date of Ruddy Duck, two fly-over flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits, a summer-plumaged Turnstone found very early one morning, a Little Tern during very heavy rain, a flock of three Sandwich Terns, single Kittiwakes on five occasions, a fly-over Waxwing clearly very lost, two single Ring Ouzels, two single Wood Warblers both singing their amazing song, four single Firecrests, four flocks of fly-over Crossbills all in the same year, and a Hawfinch in 2015 which flew over the lakes and out of sight only to be relocated in a yew tree thanks to my local knowledge and a bit of a sprint! On the downside, I've dipped quite a few notables, probably the biggest miss being a Hoopoe at Manor Farm, but no species that would require a great miracle for one to occur at Earlswood again!
Hoopoe (Rich Greer)
Patch-birding has brought me into contact with many wonderful people, birders and non-birders alike, and I've struck up friendships and acquaintanceships as a result. It's been a massive help for me in dealing with social anxiety issues I have. My enquiry about putting a tern raft on Terry's Pool led to the formation of the Earlswood Wildlife Partnership, a group which has done much good work for local wildlife since. I credit one of its committee members, ecologist Paul Wilkinson, in playing a major part of increasing my interest and experience in surveying bats, reptiles and amphibians, through the surveys and walks he organises and by bringing me into contact with other wildlife enthusiasts. He and several birders, but especially Paul Fitzgerald, and in years gone by Jon Yardley and Jon Bowley, have encouraged me to venture outside the patch boundaries to visit new areas, providing me with valuable new wildlife experiences and personal development that I can apply to Earlswood, my current job and life in general. Three more wildlife people have been really good friends and mentors: Charlene Jones, John Oates and Manda Tomkins. At risk of missing someone out, I'd also like to give special mention to Jon Asbury, Kevin Bates, John Bishop, Jon Chidwick, Rich Greer, Yvonne Heward, Ron Hill, John Hunt, Mike Inskip, Janet James, Mike Jeeves, Martin Lindop, Steve Lloyd, Donna Mallon, Tony and Barbara Philp, Craig Reed, Jenny Renowden, Bob and Cheryl Roberts, John Sirrett, Phil Stainton and Jim Winsper for their good company whilst at Earlswood, even if only on brief occasions or no longer visiting 😊 I'm truly grateful to all birders, ecologists and other wildlife people who I've had positive interactions with on patch and in the wider midlands area, even if I don't always seem to appreciate the company, from brief chats and offers of help to some bigger things, and I'm sorry I can't mention everyone else who've been positive!
Just a few of you - lots more I need for the photo collection! ;-)

Most of the above I wrote earlier this year back in January and now, 9 months on, I've just completed 11 years on patch and it will soon be time to review 2018! All very late I know - time just whizzes by! There has been a significant change in my life this month and it was World Mental Health Day yesterday, so it seems appropriate to publish this reflective post now rather than later. Part of the next bit I was of two minds whether to include or not as I'm not sure how people will take it but feel it has been a significant part of my patch-birding experience, even if not all positive.

Recent and future changes in my patch-birding

A few people have commented on the reduced amount of time I've been spending at Earlswood in the last few years. My usual explanation that I've been busy with uni and work is true, but there have been other reasons.

Firstly, Earlswood gets a lot more coverage by birders these days than it used to, and sometimes I feel less compelled to visit the patch when I know it's been checked already, especially if I have other pressing tasks to do. Having said that though, the increased presence of other birders is great for bird-recording and rare birds being found, and I'm very happy to share the patch with others, and thankful to those who share their finds so that other people can twitch them.

Secondly, in 2015 I met someone at the lakes who for the first time in my life I felt a special connection with. The lovesickness that later followed was the worst kind of emotional pain and depression I've ever experienced and sometimes made me feel too demotivated to go out, I suffered mostly in secret and when I visited the lakes sometimes they seemed to only serve to remind me of her. Some days I just had to give Earlswood a miss and it was easier when I knew other birders had been around already. It took me until about the second half of last year to come to terms with the experience as best as possible, but I got there in the end! I should perhaps add that I don't regret meeting her, and her success in being in her chosen career was inspirational and helped motivate me into returning to uni later that year, to help me achieve similar, although doing a masters during a poor phase in my mental health has been very tough.

I haven't fully finished my masters yet but I think it's played a key part in helping me get into my chosen career. This month I made further career progress by becoming a permanent full-time graduate ecologist! If all goes well it will mean I've achieved one of my life ambitions, and I can start working towards two of my others. Once I finish uni, I have a list of other things I'd like to do, amongst them cracking on with writing my book and seeing some new places around the UK. To be honest, Earlswood alone is no longer enough to make me happy. Unfortunately all this means I'll have less time for patch-birding, but I'm certainly not giving it up and there will be even more scope for other birders to make good finds!

I'm not sure if anyone will have managed to read this far! 😆 As always, many thanks to everyone who has tweeted, emailed, texted or phoned their wildlife sightings to me. All the very best x