I headed off extra early to try and find a Woodcock feeding before dawn, it was warm and so the ground wouldn’t be frozen. I’d seen one last winter, using my thermal camera, feeding at the back of Long Pits. I thought I’d try that field again this morning. I parked up at 6:50am and although it was pitch black I immediately picked up a thermal outline of a suitably sized bird about half way across the field. I find it difficult to identify individual species by their thermal signature but in flight identification was pretty straightforward and as soon as I set the video going the bird flew and I could instantly see that it was a Woodcock. It flew into the woods where they spend most of the day hiding in the leaf litter.
Having found a Woodcock so quickly I used the time I’d saved to try an area that has previously held Little Owls. As soon as I got out of the car I was delighted to hear the mournful call, it was 7:10am.
After making a brief recording I headed back to the Reedy Ditch where a Barn Owl was quartering over the reeds towards Park Shore. Apart from a Barn Owl near St Leonard’s Barn on 6th February 2021 this is the first Barn Owl I’ve seen hunting at Needs Ore. The owl was quartering at 7:40am which is 25 minutes before sunrise.
An early morning stop at the Reedy Ditch is often good for passerines and so I walked up and down Warren Lane from Black Water House to the Paddock, I was hoping for Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Firecrest and Treecreeper. It was really quiet and I didn’t see or hear any of these species although I was delighted to see a Glossy Ibis flying over at 8:30am. It was still fairly dark and I needed ISO 5000 to achieve the 1/2000 second shutter speed required for flying birds.
Up to three Glossy Ibises have been seen on three separate occasions over the last 10 days, each time flying over the Reedy Ditch between 8am and 9am. They then appeared to head towards Park Shore, it was the same today and so I planned to scan the fields at Park Shore when I was over there later. Soon afterwards seven Little Egret arrived from their roost site somewhere to the west. A Green Woodpecker called regularly while I was at the Reedy Ditch.
After the Reedy Ditch I parked at Shore Hide and walked back along Warren Lane before turning left at Cattle Grid corner. Along Warren Lane I was hoping to see the Firecrest that Ian had seen from the Pullen Gate layby, but no luck today. I then headed to the beach for sea watching.
When the wind is very light the sea is calm and it’s much easier to see at a glance if there is anything on the sea. Sometimes that just means it takes less time to see that there’s not much! However, today was pretty good with two Slavonian Grebes beyond the cottages and a total of four Razorbill and two Guillemots. Not sure why but still no Great Northern Divers this winter. As I was leaving a Dartford Warbler called from the bushes and I saw another one almost back at the Shore Hide between the toilet building and the water trough.
Over at the hides the scrape at De L’Orne held around 100 Lapwing, 12 Avocet, 13 Spoonbill and 20 Shelduck. Nigel had mentioned there being Otter spraints on the boardwalk, I may set up a trail camera to try and get some footage.
Over on Black Water 19 Tufted Duck of which 11 were males is the biggest count I’ve had at Needs Ore and it’s the biggest count by anyone for almost 4 years. The female Scaup was accompanied by four Pochard and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling over the back of the water.
At the Sailing Club the juvenile/1st winter Peregrine was on Gull Island but again no sign of either adult birds. Perhaps they may have abandoned the site after two consecutive failed breeding attempts. Several waders landed close to the launch and so I crept closer using the wooden raised area as a hide. Ringed Plover show a white supercilium, short rear end, two tone bill and brighter legs, all of which separate it from Little Ringed Plover (and also a wing bar and a different call). Little Ringed Plover also wouldn’t be here in the winter or in this habitat. You can also see that the darker ear coverts meet the bill at the gape line and not above like it does with Semipalmated Plover.
Some waders have the ability to selectively bend their bills, the final section of the upper mandible can flex upwards independently of the rest of the bill. This action opens the tip of their bill wide enough to seize prey, even while buried deep in mud or wet sand.
I headed off to Park Shore and soon after I’d arrived at the top of Park Lane I heard a familiar ‘hu-et’ call and later in the small copse of trees north of Rye Errish House I found two wintering Chiffchaffs, my first on the reserve. The call sounded like a classic western European collybita however I managed photos of one of the birds which didn’t call and it looked strikingly grey beige lacking a green tinge on the crown and mantle and lacking a yellow tinge on the supercilium and breast. It may be one of the eastern races perhaps tristis Siberian Chiffchaff although it would be good to return for better photos and hopefully a recording of it calling.
Also in this small group of trees a lovely Firecrest showed well along with two Goldcrests and a Treecreeper which I heard but didn’t see.
From the panoramic viewpoint next to Errish House I could see that the two Cattle Egrets were still keeping the horses company on Park Farm. I scanned the fields from the viewpoint but I couldn’t see the Glossy Ibis.