7 November 2020

October 2020 - a review through eBird

In October 2020 we started keeping a group eBird account. We focus in on the unusual (in terms of the species, the high counts, and the late and early dates), but also try and keep a brief account of all the bird species we have recorded on the Patch. 

One of the benefits of eBird is the ease with which data can be pulled. I have no intention of doing something like this monthly, but have quickly created a few charts and stats from the data we have collected in this first month just to show what can be done, and, more importantly, what could be done with more relative comparison. The data would be much more interesting if compared on an annual basis, but this feels like the beginning of a journey. 

We recorded 95 species in October and two of those were solely through nocturnal recordings (Golden Plover and Tawny Owl).

The best birds of the month included the ‘Eastern’ (presumed blythi) Lesser Whitethroat which has been the subject of its own post on the 25 October; a briefly seen and photographed Corn Bunting on 24 October; Yellowhammer on 7 October; flyover Great White Egrets on 12th (a pair) and 27 October; a couple of flyover Crossbill (on 18 and 24 October); Lapwing on 14 October; Bullfinch on 8 October; a late Common Redstart on 7 October; Rook on 3 October; and Short-eared Owl on 5th and 14 October. Here are some stats and charts on some of our October migrants: 

As resident breeders (albeit now in very low numbers), it should be no surprise that Skylark were recorded on all but one day of the month. What is slightly more interesting from a migratory/phenological perspective is that 75% of the bird records for this species passed through between 12-18 October. In the chart below, I have removed all days where we recorded fewer than 5 Skylark to try and emphasise the passage period. We had a high of 56 birds on the 14th. 

House Martin 
Following the departure of our small local breeding colony, the beginning of the month saw some peak numbers for the year as passage birds moved through. Some 90% of all October sightings fell between 1-5 October with a peak day of 68 on 2 Oct and the last record on 10 October. 

Swallows were recorded on 17 days through the month with our last record for the year (assuming we don’t get a freak November sighting) on 25 October. As the chart shows, 75% of all the sightings were in the first eight days of the month and a high count of just 30 birds on 5 October. 

As you might expect there has been a gradual decline in Chiffchaff sightings over the month with some noticeable spikes in numbers likely to correspond to passage birds. An average of over five birds seen per day. We normally have one or two birds which will over-winter. 

A smattering seen throughout the month, but the vast majority (over 90%) seen between 11-16 October. 

A very similar picture to Redwing. Fieldfare appeared on 11 October with a bang. Almost 80% of the 565 birds seen in the month were flyovers between 11-16 October. 

We had three bird days through to 7 October. 

It’s been a fantastic Autumn for Stonechat, we have had good numbers present on a daily basis (an average of six seen per day) and an incredible day record of 16 on 7 October which smashed our previous patch record. 

We had a few Wheatear at the beginning of the month (on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 9th) but then got a surprise record with our latest ever, despite being decidedly non-Greenland-like, on 24th. 

Seen throughout much of the month, but with very big spikes of flyovers and 90% of all birds counted between 9-18 October (the highest of which saw over a 1000 birds fly west on 13 October). 

Nine bird days for this species in October from 9-24 October with a high count of 5 and a few sightings of perching birds. 

Lesser Redpoll 
A good Autumn for this species on the Patch with records on 27 out of the 31 days and an average of 10 birds seen per day with a peak of 62 on 17 October. Beyond that, not many patterns as there has been a steady flow throughout the month and it may be skewed by a regular flock frequenting the birches locally. 

278 birds counted over 24 bird days with a few spikes located mainly between 11-16 October. 

Conclusion: 12-14 October is ‘peak bird’ 
For Skylark, Redwing, Fieldfare, and Chaffinch, between 75-90% of all the counts fell between 9-18 October, and all of them had peak counts on either 12th, 13th, or 14 October, highlighting that the conditions and timing beautifully aligned at the middle of one of our best months.

29 October 2020



Lesser Whitethroat - a visitor from the East?

Picture by Tony Brown

The focus for patch birding on Sunday (25th) was to re-find the previous day’s Corn Bunting, but just after 8am plans changed. I started my typical route of Alex Pond at first light followed by a quick walk up the Ditch of Despair and into the area known as Brooms. This is where a Corn Bunting had been photographed the previous day but overlooked until the days images had done the rounds on WhatsApp and Facebook. The weather wasn’t great with plenty of drizzle and occasional heavier showers, but a few of the local patch birders had commenced bunting hunting. I’d checked all the Broom patches and was moving between the various shrubs that might provide a suitable perch for a bunting. There were several movements from the centre of one small hawthorn bush so I spent a bit of time trying to locate the culprits. After a few minutes a Wren flew out to the adjacent Brooms, and then a Blue Tit, but nothing emerged from one particular spot where there had been some movement. I don’t know why, but I waited, and waited and then got a very brief view of what I was pretty sure was a Lesser Whitethroat head – just the grey head, the white throat, fine bill and typical jizz of a small warbler. Given the time of year my immediate thoughts turned to an ‘Eastern.’ It didn’t fly off but retreated back into the centre of the bush. Bob and a few others were nearby and I went to let them know that I was pretty sure there was a Lesser Whitethroat in the bush – In unison Bob and Jono asked “was it an Eastern?” News spread fast and James sent a message via the Whats App group that this is our latest Lesser Whitethroat record by 22 days.

So, back to the bush. The bird was still playing hard to get, presumably in part due to the light drizzle, but as a sunny spell broke, the bird popped out into a partial, and then full view. It was a Lesser Whitethroat - credibility still intact! The back was clearly light/sandy brown in colour on the back and this did appear to stretch right up to the nape. There did appear to be some subtle buff coloration in the flanks. I got a very brief view of the tail feathers and whilst I couldn’t be certain there was definitely a hint of white – the question was how much? Jono and Bob managed to get some photos but none that conclusively showed the extent of white in the tail – extensive white in the outer feathers is a feature of an Eastern bird - blythi (Siberian Lesser Whitethroat) being the most likely of the races to occur, although halimodendri (Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat) can’t be ruled out (there are 8 records for Britain all confirmed by genetic analysis*). Scrutinising the initial photos the extent and tone of the brown coloration on the upperparts were looking good for our bird to be a visitor from the East – this wasn’t a lingering breeder that had gone undetected for a few weeks.

Below: some of the first good images by Jono that we were able to view in the field that suggested an Eastern bird (Jonathan Lethbridge).