A fabulous, if cold day to be out and about and my first more or less full day out in the field for an age, I was lucky enough to be at Farlington today, arriving to find a mass of geese grazing the grass beside the Stream just in front of the Building.
They tend to use this area on very frosty mornings as it gets the sun early and the ground slopes slightly to face to the south-east, this makes sense as the sun will melt the frost off this area more quickly. However they also use the Hayfield in the same conditions and this slopes to the north, so perhaps there is another reason. Looking through the geese and avoiding the Canada geese, I looked for colour-rings on the brent and found at least five, including at least three I remember from the “old days”. I also spotted a single adult pale-bellied brent goose.
Pale-bellied brent come from two populations, one breeds in Arctic Canada and winters mainly in Ireland, the other breeds on Svalbard and winters mainly in Denmark and the north-east coast of England. Our usual brents are the dark-bellied ones that breed on the Arctic Sea coast of Siberia. We used to think that most of the few pale-bellied we saw on the south coast were from Svalbard, but in recent years the Canadian population has grown and many now winter in western Brittany and some of these stop off on the south coast en route and these probably account for most sightings nowadays. There are two other races of brent geese, although one is tiny and breeds only in a small area of Arctic Canada and may be a hybrid population, the last is the black brant. This race also rarely turns up, it breeds to the west of the pale-bellied brent in Canada and Alaska and in the extreme east of Siberia, they winter around the North Pacific coast. It has more contrasting pale flanks and darker back and belly, although some try to claim these races are separate species they do freely interbreed where they meet. This may account for a rather “brant-looking” brent in the same flock this morning, it was not a brant but it did have some characters of that race.
The volunteers were working at Farlington today, trimming back the bramble growth beside the path at the north-eastern entrance, just after they arrived at the Building we were lucky enough to have the red-breasted goose fly in to bathe on the Stream, although it was often hard to see it well as it preened.
It did eventually show a bit better before flying off.
The reedbed close to the Building had a good group of bearded tits calling and flitting about, at least 12 birds, but probably more, although typically impossible to photograph. I also saw a fine adult Mediterranean gull fly north over my head against the clear blue sky.
It will be a cause for general celebration that the Environment Agency should be completing their work on the seawall by the end of the week. The repaired areas are very smooth and the top of the wall like a road, unfortunately I suspect one good storm will soon wash a lot of it away. Unfortunately the top of the wall to the Lake viewpoint has suffered from the passage of so many large vehicles and although I am promised some restoration I suspect it will not be as good as it was before the works started.
It will be good to get the reserve back, but I suspect there will some further restoration needed in places. I went down dressed in my hard hat and high visibility jacket, not the best outfit for birdwatching, but obligatory on the work site. Inevitably the Lake was birdless, not just because of the passage of heavy machinery but also because it was frozen over. I did see one male Dartford warbler near the viewpoint though.
I then went up to see the work the volunteers were doing with Rob, on the way I passed the Hayfield, close to the path a family party of brent geese were a rare sight this winter, the last summer seems to have been no better for breeding birds int he high Arctic than it was here. The juvenile birds stay with their parents through out their first winter and can be picked out by their white bars across the closed wings, there are three in this picture with one adult.
Some people use the lack of a neck collar to pick out the juveniles and it is true that many do not have a collar, but as you can see these three do, and some adults don’t, so that is not a good feature for aging them. I then went to check if the ponies had gone from the fields north of the A27, I am pleased to say they have, they had done a good job, but were running out of food so were best off to pastures new. I returned to the building for a late lunch and had one last notable bird sighting, a marsh harrier arrived high from the east flushing all the geese from the fields, I suspect it was an immature female, but it was hard to judge against the sky and looking towards the light.