Holmethorpe Sand Pits ... Monday 19th & Tuesday 20th April 2010

On Monday, I didn't set out quite as early as usual, so I was expecting to find quite a few dog-walkers and joggers present at the pits. Surprisingly, not many were about to disturb the birds so I headed for a mound behind the Water Colour lagoons in search of migrants.
A Little Egret flew over the mound as I approached it and I could already see a small bird running around on the sparse vegetation - a female Wheatear.
I know that Wheatears can be quite approachable at times but this bird took this to the extreme, often running towards me and perching on stones less than 20 feet away from me, at times too close to focus the scope on it.
I watched this bird for about 15 minutes before the inevitable happened. A young lady with a child in a buggy and a free-running dog came noisily up the path to the mound, the dog sending the Wheatear into a panic, leaving me watching a white rump disappearing into the distance.

Knowing that there was little point in remaining at this location now that the disturbance had begun, I headed of to Spynes Mere, one of the other Holmethorpe pits to the east.
On the way, at Mercers Lake, I counted 10 Blackcaps and 6 Chiffchaffs and, on arrival at Spynes Mere, I could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling away. Two Willow Warblers were in full song nearby and a superb male Bullfinch perched up in a willow for a full two seconds before yet another white rump disappeared from view. At Mercers Farm, two Little Owls were perched in the same oak tree, which is a promising sign.

Today, Tuesday the 20th, I set the alrm for 5.15 a.m. and was at the Water Colour mound by 5.50 a.m. The wind had veered to a north-westerly and I was hoping that this would hold up a few migrants heading north from the coast. My targets today were Ring Ouzel and Yellow Wagtail. Although we have already had one of the latter species fly over the local patch, I was hoping to find one on the ground.

A Little Egret was again in the area but there were no migrants on the mound today. At one of the lagoons, a Common Sandpiper was feeding along the bank, the first I have seen this year.

On my way to Spynes Mere, I counted 7 Blackcaps, 5 Chiffchaffs, 8 Common Whitethroats and one Willow Warbler and on reaching the small reedbed at Spynes Mere, I was greeted by the scratchy, erratic song of a Sedge Warbler, the first for the year locally.
A scan of Spynes Mere produced a small wader on the sand spit and a look through the scope showed it had the black belly of a summer-plumaged Dunlin, another first for the Holmethorpe year list bringing the total to 111 species seen so far, and bringing my personal local list to 106 for the year, still five species behind Gordon.
I made my way round to a spot where I could try to digiscope the bird, but the light was harsh from this point, so the photos were not very good.

A phone call to local birder Gordon to alert him to this bird and it was time to start heading home. On the way back, I met Matt Farmer who had just found the Sedge Warbler and had heard another just prior to this. He soon added the Dunlin to his local year list too.
Gordon made a flying visit at about 9 a.m. but the Dunlin was no where to be seen and had been replaced by a Common Sandpiper on the sand spit, possibly the same bird that I had seen earlier.

At about 1.40 p.m., Gordon rang me to let me know he had just seen a male Yellow Wagtail at the farm and later in the afternoon he saw two birds together and the first local Hobby of the year (112th species). Sedge Warblers had increased to three birds and he also had 40+ Sand Martins, 2 Swallows, 3 House Martins, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Common Buzzard amongst others.

In the evening, another call from Gordon had me rushing back to the pits, Des Ball had found a female Common Redstart along a hedgerow. It didn't take long to find Gordon, Des and Tom all watching the bird as it flew from the bushes and often perched on the fence posts nearby.

As we were watching the Redstart, a Swift flew over, the first of the year locally and the 114th species, and two Wheatears were behind the Water Colour lagoons.

If only every day was as good as this one.


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