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)|
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)
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)|
|Night Heron (Dave Hutton)|
|Yellow-browed Warbler plumage notes (Matt Griffiths)|
|Hoopoe (Rich Greer)|
|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.
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