A second lockdown in November meant I stayed close to home throughout the month. Fortunately, local birding on the Lincolnshire-Cambridgeshire border is generally pretty dynamic at this time of year. And so it proved.
It was almost a week before I got the opportunity to visit the Great Northern Diver found by Mike Weedon at Deeping High Bank. Fortunately it hung around just long enough for me to see it on 16th. My third locally, after one along the High Bank in November 2004 and another at Maxey Pits in January 2014.
Another local rarity was a Hooded Crow found near Castor Hanglands on 20th. I saw it the next morning and then again a couple of days later. It seems quite loyal to a few fields between the reserve and Ailsworth.
On the patch at Baston & Langtoft Pits, up to two Great Egrets have been regular throughout the month. Safe to say that they're becoming part of the furniture here, alongside the resident Little Egrets (which first appeared here in 2004).
Whooper Swans, too, are becoming increasingly frequent. Migrants were passing early in the month, but there are some big wintering flocks just a few miles away on the fens by the River Welland. When I started birding almost 20 years ago, this was a really notable species and we might expect the occasional winter straggler in with the Mutes. Nowadays, it seems it's not unexpected to see them any time between October and March.
Pink-footed Geese also seem to be becoming more frequent. By all accounts they're having a disastrous year in Norfolk, with changes to farming methods seeing the birds' favoured winter food, maize and beet, drilled into the earth no sooner have the crops been harvested. With the added issue of bird scarers being employed, it seems Norfolk's halcyon days as a haven for Pink-feet might be over. That does mean that wandering flocks are getting more regular inland. This group of 58 flew over me while I was checking in on the gulls at Tanholt:
The gulls themselves are still present. Tanholt continues as a working tip, if not a very big one, and is evidently still active enough to draw in at least a few hundred birds. Viewing is never easy at this site, but the pits by the path are being used a bit more routinely now than they were in the summer, which makes life simpler! A couple of 1cy Caspian, a 3cy Yellow-legged and a 1cy Mediterranean have been the best seen in a few visits.
It's proving an excellent winter for Stonechats locally. Nicholas Watts has record numbers on his Deeping Fen farm at present, and there are at least three pairs in the BLGP/Baston Fen area that I have seen. No doubt there are more around as there's plenty of good habitat for them, despite some farmers' intentions to hack, mow or strim just about anything they can.
It seems like most sites I go to at the moment have Chiffchaffs. There are at least four at BLGP, for example, when I often struggle to find one in the winter months. It may be that a properly cold snap will see many of them move off, but for the moment it seems like it's going to be a big winter for the species in south Lincolnshire.
After such a great autumn, there must be so many wintering Sibes to be found in innocuous patches of inland habitat. My colleague Ed has Rustic and Little Buntings together on his Surrey patch, for example. After such a prolific October for them, how many Dusky Warblers must be lurking out there? Dusky remains the dream for now, but a more attainable prize is Siberian Chiffchaff – something I've been looking out for while scouring Chiffchaffs at local pits and sewage works. On a foggy but calm 29th, I scored at Baston Fen. I was lucky that the bird was calling quite a lot, albeit unseen from the other side of the River Glen, as I walked the bank that lunchtime – I would never have clocked it otherwise. A couple of hours later and I had some nice if brief views in appalling light. My first local tristis, and about as good as they come in terms of appearance and voice.
Probably the most eyebrow-raising record of the latter days of the month was a Swallow that I had at Baston Fen for around 10 minutes late afternoon on 27th. It flew off south-west along the Counter Drain and didn't return. Easily my latest ever, but there seem to be a fair few dotted around the country still.
Up to three Short-eared Owls are in the Baston Fen area the moment. It's great to have these brilliant birds back locally this winter. I find them utterly transfixing – no matter how much you watch them, it's never enough.
There are also a couple of Hen Harriers about. A female, which I saw flying over Grummit's Scrape on 22nd, and a brilliant second-winter male, which I had by the Cross Drain the following day. They aren't roosting at Baston Fen, but there are plenty of little reedy ponds on the fen which they can use without being disturbed.
After a bleak year for chancing upon rare or scarce birds, autumn 2020 finally threw me a bone on 9 November – a smart Lesser Yellowlegs on my Sheppey survey site.
The experience wasn't exactly hassle-free, as the first I knew of the bird was its call. I looked up to see a wader flying directly away from me until I lost it as a speck towards The Swale. It was clear what it was (call and then the square white rump seen as the bird flew), but I had no photos or recordings for proof. And, entirely realistically it seemed, that could quite easily have been that, gone for good. It had been hiding in an area of flooded thistles and I'd not seen it when I'd given the pools a customary scan from a distance, hence I'd unwittingly gone and flushed it. All very annoying.
This was about mid-morning. After I'd finished surveying, I spent the next few hours searching the entire Capel Fleet area without any luck, so returned to the site mid-afternoon – and it was back on the same pool! Relief. However, it was very wary and it took a lot of patience to get within distance for reasonable photos.
After an hour or so it became a little more used to my presence, and showed at slightly closer range – although never did it feel like the archetypical fearless 'Yank', and was always edgy. I was a little perplexed by the age of the bird at first, as it looked very monochrome on my initial, distant views, which hinted at an older bird. However, better looks showed it to be a first-calendar-year bird after all, albeit with already very worn remiges. What this means, I don't know – perhaps from a more southerly population and thus an earlier fledging date?
It was calling quite a lot, too, although annoyingly I had broken my mic earlier that morning and had to settle for making recordings with my phone only. The below is probably the best of the lot.
I returned to the site early on Thursday (12th), and sure enough it was still around. Obtaining flight shots was a bit easier in the windy conditions, but the bird was even more wary than it had been on Monday and quickly flew off towards Elmley NNR. It'll be interesting to see if it's still around on my next scheduled visit in December.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.