Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Unsightly Staines

I live a 20 minute drive from Staines Reservoirs, a site that regularly throws up some good birds, yet I rarely go there. I must confess it's not my favorite place to be. One of the appeals of birding for me is spending my time in quiet scenic places. Wetlands, woodlands, heaths, rugged coastlines, sandy beaches. I don't feel entirely at one with nature standing between 2 concrete basins with views of Heathrow Airport in one direction and Thorpe Park in the other. A bit like going for a Sunday afternoon walk around Sainsbury's car park.

A few good inland species have been residing at these reservoirs for a good couple of months now and with limited time this morning and news of a Caspian Gull spending yesterday there I decided I'd grasp the nettle. 

I picked Sharpy up at Maple Cross and we were soon on the causeway scanning the North Basin. This basin is in the process of being drained for repair work to the water tower and the level was very low with a few gravel bars now being islands and the far side a large mud bank.. Apparently the last time this was done 11 years ago they had a wader extravaganza. The spring brought numbers of good birds including Wood Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers and Temink Stints, so it may not be too long before my next visit. A couple of Redshank and a Ringed Plover were perhaps an early sign of better things to come.

Up to 6 Black Necked Grebes and recently a Slav have been getting reported so we set about looking for these first up. We were systematically scoping the basin when another birder arrived and was able to put us straight on the Slav and 2 Black Necks, as they were exactly where he had seen them yesterday. Typically they were as distant on the water as it was possible to be so this guy probably saved us a good amount of time.

 Next mission was Caspian Gull. Yesterday's bird was a 1st winter so a brown bird with a white head shouldn't be too technical even for my gull id skills. We went through all the larger gulls but nothing stood out as our target. Some other birders were further along the causeway and seemed to have their scopes pointing towards the main gull gathering, so we opted to cheat and see if they had it. They hadn't but they were able to get us straight onto an adult Yellow Legged Gull that we'd managed to overlook. 3rd year tick of the day in the bag and at least 2 more targets to find. Sharpy turned round for a quick glance at the South Basin and found himself looking straight at the Great Northern Diver. We were viewing almost directly into the sun so excuse the poor, grainy photos. (Yeh I know that if I knew how to use my camera properly they'd be much better)

 We'd now got 4 year ticks banked and I'd been put on all of them by other people. I felt determined to make some sort of contribution to the day so I headed off towards the far end of the causeway where the drake Scaup was said to hang out. Sharpy wasn't far behind me and we could see good numbers of Tufted Ducks in front of the near bank ahead. Sharpy stopped to scope through them but as the Tufties were fairly close in, my now fragile ego was urging me to keep walking in the hope that I could pick the Scaup out naked eye. Bingo! There it was. The easiest bird of the day but hey, I'd found it.

By now more people had gathered where we had been and were clearly scrutinising the gulls around the pipe. We headed back in the hope that the Caspian had dropped in but alas not.

So despite the lack of beautiful scenery and the backdrop noise of Boeing 747s roaring down the runway, I actually enjoyed my trip to Staines. 5 decent year ticks and the usual friendly banter with other birders.....perhaps it's not so bad. I'm certainly looking forward to the forthcoming spring waderfest.

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