Holmethorpe Sand Pits, Surrey … 14th – 29th December 2011-12-29

The first-winter or female GARGANEY was at Spynes Mere and the adjacent pit again on the 14th and 15th and an adult MEDITERRANEAN GULLwas at Mercers Lake on the 16th, presumably the same small individual seen on the 22nd November.

A female GOLDENEYE appeared at Mercers West Pit on the 17th and has remained there since, sometimes in the company of a second female.

A pair of GOOSANDERS flew west over Mercers Lake on the 18th and a Little Egret was at The Moors NR on the 19th.

The 20th produced the two female GOLDENEYES on Mercers West Pit, a drake Shelduck on Spynes Mere and a Peregrine over The Moors NR.

The male Shelduck was seen again on the 24th and 25th and another Peregrine sighting occurred on the 24th. Gordon also found a BARN OWL roosting at Mercers Farm on the 25th but it hasn’t been seen since.

A Little Egret was at The Moors on the 26th and 27th and two Little Owls were at Mercers Farm on the 26th.

On the 29th, Ian relocated the GARGANEY at the western end of The Moors.
It was distant and elusive amongst Teal on the flooded area near the railway line. During the two weeks since it was last seen, it seems to have advanced in plumage and is now looking far more like a first winter male than a female. Its head, neck and breast all seem darker brown and its flanks appear pale grey. There are also signs of developing greyish scapulars.

Hopefully it will remain into the New Year.


Holmethorpe SPs, Surrey … 17th Nov – 13th Dec 2011

The 17th November produced some decent sightings at Holmethorpe SPs with a BRENT GOOSE briefly in the morning and a female Mandarin hiding up in the bushes by the bank at Spynes Mere, A Shelduck also flew in at Spynes Mere. In the afternoon, local birder Jerry found the FIRECREST in Mercers Country Park car park, with Phil Boswell finding it again in the same area the following day.

Sibelco, the mineral extraction company that own most of the local pits, have been hedge-cutting at Spynes Mere and Mercers West, and have done an excellent job, making viewing these areas much easier now.

We had to wait until the 22nd for the next good bird, an adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL on Water Colour Lagoon 1. Gordon found this bird and I joined him to photograph it. It was a surprisingly small bird compared to other Med Gulls I have seen.

On the morning of the 23rd I found the FIRECREST in Mercers CP car park and it showed reasonably well for some time but, frustratingly, never kept still enough to photograph it.
The following day, Gordon picked out an adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL amongst the gull roost on Chilmead Farm and, on the 25th, I counted 46 Rooks at the same site – not usually a numerous bird in the recording area at Holmethorpe.

Gordon found the FIRECREST again near the car park at Mercers CP on the 26th and Ian managed to locate it there on the 27th. Lapwing numbers had been slowly increasing during this period and by now were up to about 600 birds at Spynes Mere and Mercers West Pit.

The 28th produced two GOLDEN PLOVERS over Mercers West Pit and a Water Rail at The Moors and, on the 29th, Gordon relocated the adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL, first at Chilmead Farm and later at Mercers Lake, and he found it again the following day at Chilmead Farm.

On the 2nd December, I found the YELLOW-LEGGED GULL roosting at Chilmead Farm but it was quiet at our local patch until the 7th when Simon Elson noted a Little Egret at The Moors NR and Gordon found a mystery duck with the Teal at Spynes Mere. Paul managed to get photos of it late in the afternoon and there were various suggestions to its identification mainly centred around aberrant-plumaged or hybrid Teal, juvenile Baikal Teal and first-winter or eclipse male Garganey – it would be some time before we eventually identified it for certain.

Gordon saw this duck again at Spynes Mere on the 10th and also had an immature Peregrine fly over.

On the 11th, Ian found a Little Egret at The Moors and the following day Gordon located the unidentified duck again at Spynes Mere. I joined him and managed to get more photos of it. This time, all the orangey tones on this bird seemed to have disappeared and we now believe that either the low sun, when the bird had previously been seen, had contributed to the apparent colouration, or the bird had advanced in its moult. It now looked likely to be a first-winter or female GARGANEY. This was later confirmed to be the case.

Gordon located the same bird again on the afternoon of the 13th and we are now hoping that it will extend its stay in the area. Winter records of Garganey in the UK are never numerous.

Our resident Little Owls have been showing well on sunny days throughout this period and it seems that there are at least three birds in the area.

So far this year, 141 species have been noted at Holmethorpe, only two behind the total for 2010.