A bit of a late post from Saturday as events overtook me and I did not get it done yesterday. Something strange seems to be going on as Saturday was the third fine day in a row, I think it was sometime in August, or possibly last March that we last had such a run of good days!
The fine weather brought out the visitors in fair numbers and the fields were well spread with birds, especially brent geese. I took a walk round the reserve in the morning. starting at the Building there were several bearded tit calling, although they were not showing, the same could be said for the Cetti’s warbler singing from the reeds. Cetti’s warbler were very much in evidence generally and I had one that I saw well calling near the East Wall Blockhouse and another singing in the Point Field as well as several in more conventional locations. At the Deeps a carrion crow was calling vigorously from a fence post on the seawall, with each full-throated “caw” the tail fanned and eyes closed as the third eyelid came across the eye.
I think crows are responsible for the outbreak of clam shells across the marsh at present. They collect them from the shore ans fly about dropping them until they open enough to allow the flesh to be removed. Years ago when I first saw this behaviour thought the object was to crack the shell and wondered why they so often dropped them onto soft grass or mud. Then i found out that the idea is to wear the clam out, they can only hold the valves of the shell tight shut for so long before the muscles tire and that lest the crow inside. The shells left are clean and complete, just like the ones littering the Bushes at the moment.
Out in the field by the Blockhouse a buzzard was just finishing off some unfortunate prey item. When I last worked at Farlington some seven years ago they were still notable birds on the Marsh.
Looking out into the Harbour from the East wall I could see the RSPB islands and the contractors machinery, they are doing a shingle recharge to try to get a long shingle bank that will stay well above the high tides. Last summer most of the nests on the islands were washed out by tidal surges.
Looking from the Point the flat calm sea meant I could see all the birds floating on the surface very well and I picked out 3 Slavonian grebe and distantly down near the Harbour entrance 2 great northern diver, the last being new for my yearlist.
The fields were full of brent, well over 2000 spent the day on the Marsh and at pone time I could see something like another thousand on the mud off the eastern side of Portsea Island. I came across a number of colour-ringed birds, including several “old friends”, but also two that were new to me, both were white and blue combinations, I will have to try to find out where they come from.
I also came across several variations on the usual brent goose theme, there was speckle-head.
Just inside the field off the south wall I found the smartest looking brent I have ever seen, if it had a tailor it would be on Saville Row. It wa sa large bird, so I assume a gander, but it had a rather small neck mark and a somewhat paler than average belly, resulting in a fairly strong contrast with the black chest.
Ok, so I probably spend too long looking at brent geese. I also found the usual pale-bellied brent, at times right next to the path just east of the Building.
The picture was “digi-binned” which is to say taken by holding the camera up to my binoculars, instead of “digi-scoped” by holding to the telescope. There are many obvious differences from the usual dark-bellied brent, but one of the less obvious is well shown here, on a dark-bellied the dark belly extends back between the legs, whereas this area is completely white on pale-bellied birds.
During the day I also saw two birds with some characteristic of the Pacific race, known as black brant. The first was a largish one, so a gander and typically much darker, more chocolate-brown than dark-bellied brent and with pale, more defined flank patches, but it did not have the very broad neck collar typical of that race, so I would guess it is the result of across with a dark-bellied brent. The second was a small goose (female) and she did have a very large white collar which met across the front of the neck.
Although she looked quiet good and was certainly not a pure bred dark-bellied brent I don’t think she quite cut it as a black brant either.
Trouble is I know dark-bellied brent vary a lot, but I am not sure how much black brant vary. In general the females of brent are duller and have smaller neck collars than the ganders. So this one, with much more contrasting pattern and very full neck collar when compared to the dark-bellied birds, really stood out, despite being a female.
I did warn you I spent too long looking at brent geese!