16 September 2008


Okay, so I should really have posted this on Sunday evening but, to be honest, I was too busy watching NASCAR on TV, drinking cider and eating M&M's! They were chocolate M&M's before you ask, Sarah!

On Sunday morning I visited my favourite local birding site, Willington Gravel Pits, for the first time since the Trent Valley was hit by flooding a week or so ago. The gravel pits were totally inaccessible when the river Trent came up and over it's banks. Now, the water has subsided enough to get around the whole area again although Wellingtons are still recommended - I was walking through water that was three or four inches deep at times.

The first thing that hit me as I walked down the lane was the impact the water had had on the earthworm population; the lane was littered with dead worms! Obviously, now I think about it, the ground had become waterlogged, then disappeared under water and the worms would have simply drowned. I know they are only worms but it certainly made me think about how fragile life can be for the flora and fauna at sites such as Willington. Just how many other species will have been affected / wiped out by just a few days of bad weather?

Anyway, onto the birding. The walk down the lane was very quiet with only one Great Spotted Woodpecker, one Chiffchaff, one Goldcrest and one Blackcap being noted amongst the more common species such as Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird. Even the common birds were thin on the ground - again, I wonder just how the flooding has affected them?

When I reached the end of the lane, and climbed up onto platform three, I couldn't help but think back to the birding of the day before - the water level had turned the gravel pits into something resembling the North Sea. The water was deep, very deep. The spit in the middle of "Gull Pit" had disappeared completely, all the smaller islands too. Any hopes of seeing migrant waders faded fast. Common Snipe, 12 of them, and Lapwing were the only waders seen.

Out on the water, the usual Great Crested Grebes, Canada Geese, Gadwall and Mallard were joined by a flock of 20 Wigeon, around half a dozen Shoveler and a few Teal. A handful of Black-headed Gull were noted but nothing like the numbers that have been present over the past couple of months. All the Common Terns have left too.

The flock of Wigeon had me thinking that autumn may well be upon us soon and this was confirmed a little later in the morning when five Pintail appeared on Gull Pit. Pintail are a bird I associate with cold winter mornings, often by the coast. Their arrival was more than welcome though as they were a new species for my "10-Mile List" and the first ones I'd seen since a trip to Martin Mere, Lancashire, back in January.

After spending a couple of hours on platform three I then walked around to the Canal Scrape and was lucky enough to see a Hobby on the way - another bird that will soon be heading for warmer hunting grounds. Canal Scrape was more like an inland sea, the water being deep and widespread and providing nothing in the way of useful habitat for waders. The walk wasn't a total waste though as there were 8 Little Grebe, 20 or so Wigeon, 10 Shoveler and two male Pochard feeding amongst the partially submerged vegetation. Around a dozen Swallows were also flying around low over the water picking off insects.

By the end of the morning I had recorded a total of 40 species. If the water levels had been much lower then I could well have added quite a few more birds - waders - to the list. If the wind had been much stronger, and the waves on the water a little higher, I could well have been sea-watching and adding skuas, shearwaters and auks to my list!

The addition of Pintail takes my "10-Mile List" to 134 species.

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