Holmethorpe Sand Pits. Surrey ... 11th -18th February 2011

Things have gone a bit quiet at Holmethorpe Sand Pits over the past few days with the SMEW - 3 females - being last seen on the 12th and the drake RED-CRESTED POCHARD of unknown, but dubious, origin being seen again at The Moors NR on the morning of the 13th, but not since. LITTLE EGRETS have become regular at The Moors NR with two birds present on the 13th and one bird on the 12th, 14th and from the 16th to the 18th.

LITTLE EGRET at The Moors NR on the 18th Feb.

SHELDUCK have become regular too, with five birds seen on the 16th (a male at Mercers West Pit, a pair at Spynes Mere and a pair flying over heading west.

Male SHELDUCK at Spynes Mere

A Common Buzzard was seen at Mercers Farm on the morning of the 17th with possibly a second bird over the Water Colour Lagoons early in the afternoon. These were the only raptors seen during the past few days and, surprisingly, no Kestrels have been noted at all since the start of the month.
Single Green Sandpipers were seen on the 14th, 16th and 17th and a few Common Snipe have shown with four birds seen on the 18th. There are probably a lot more on The Moors NR but there is no access to this area. Lapwings are still in reasonable numbers with around 180 birds on the 13th.

GREAT CRESTED GREBES in courtship display.

Wildfowl are thinning out now with Gadwall showing the most noticeable reduction in numbers – the best count being about 30 on the 13th. A few Pochards are still around with 12 birds on the 13th being the best count but Teal are holding on with a best count of around 45 on the 18th. Shoveler peaked at around 20 on the 13th. Three drake Wigeon put in a brief appearance on the 17th at Mercers West Pit in the morning but had moved on by early afternoon.

Male WIGEON at Mercers West Pit on the 17th Feb.

Despite reasonable numbers of gulls at the pits, we have yet to find any of the scarcer species so far this year, although Gordon Hay and I were intrigued by one gull at Spynes Mere on the 18th. It immediately stood out from the other gulls present, as large as a Herring Gull and having a pure white head, neck and breast, a small beady eye and long primaries. The most obvious feature though was the long narrow bill. Unfortunately, seen in the misty conditions and back-lit by the sun trying to break through the mist, assessing mantle colour was not easy. At times looking as dark as a Common Gull, at other times very pale grey. Was it a Caspian? We concluded that the head looked too large and that the forehead did not slope enough. Also, it did not show the high-chested and slender, attenuated body of a Caspian. Probably just a long, thin-billed Herring Gull but I would invite you to leave a comment as to whether you agree or not.

The mystery gull.

Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are still around in reasonable numbers with 48 of the former at Spynes Mere on the 18th and 47 of the latter at the same site on the 12th.
The only Water Rail seen during the past few days was one at Fordbridge on the 12th but, as the brook is running high at present, the remaining birds may have moved to a shallower area. It is surprising that this species doesn’t stay to breed at Holmethorpe as there is suitable habitat present.
Kingfishers were seen on the 13th and the 16th and there have been a few sightings of single Grey Wagtails, mainly on the sewage works filter beds. The filter beds have also attracted up to 70 Pied Wagtails recently.
The only Siskins reported were about 8 on the 18th but at least 40 Lesser Redpolls appeared in one flock on the 14th, feeding in silver birches near the Mercers Country Park car park. I scanned the flock for about ten minutes but failed to locate any Mealies amongst them.


A few sightings of Bullfinches, Treecreepers, Coal Tits and Goldcrests made up the best of the rest.

Male BULLFINCH at Mercers Country Park.

Amazing to think that we are less than a month away from picking up some early spring migrants (hopefully).



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