Nature Notes

Thornton reservoir January 2021 – photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)

Thornton is in the heart the National Forest and Charnwood Forest and is the central hub between three of Leicestershire’s most popular beauty spots; Thornton reservoir, Bagworth Heath and Ratby Burroughs; all outstanding areas of natural beauty and teeming with wildlife; hundreds of walkers and cyclists visit the area on a daily basis.

Bagworth & Thornton | NatureSpot (Leicester and Rutland Wildlife Trust)


Delayed Migration.

Cool and dry weather dominated April and although migrants trickled through, numbers were low. On April 10th a Marsh Harrier flew low to the north and perhaps the same bird was seen on two other dates in mid-April.

My first Willow Warbler of the year was singing near Retreat farm on April12th. Also on this date two Red Kite and a Great White Egret flew south east. On the 14th a Yellow Wagtail flew north and a White Wagtail was on the dam. Butterflies seen included Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Peacock, Brimstone, Tortoiseshell and Small White.

My first Common Sandpiper of the year was feeding on the dam on the 16th, and on the following day Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Wheatear were all recorded. A count of 66 Scarlet Tiger moth caterpillars on the Comfrey was encouraging.

Sand Martins – copyright Andy Smith
Female Wheatear

The end of April often produces a rarity or two, but this year has been very quiet. Only Common Tern and Swift were added to the list, the latter on the 27th. There were however, notable breeding evidence with Grey Wagtails food carrying and eight Great Crested Grebes sitting. A cold north easterly on the 28th had between 800-1000 hirundines over the reservoir. I estimated 450 Swallows, 200 Sand Martins and 100 House Martins. There were also 17 Yellowhammers on the new cereal plantings.

Lesser Black Backed Gull eating a roach – copyright Andy Smith

May has introduced milder weather, but still migration has been slow. May 1st raised expectations with Lesser Whitethroat, Arctic Tern and Hobby all seen. Five Common Sandpipers on the 2nd was a good count, but the only other new arrival was a singing Sedge Warbler on May 8th.

Swallpws, the darker breasted bird, possibly a more Eastern Mediterranean individual – copyright Andy Smith

Despite the delayed migration resident species are breeding with young Grey Wagtails and Robins already fledged and Nuthatch food carrying. There are also twenty two nest holes being used at a local Sand Martin wall.

Yellowhammer – copyright Andy Smith

As I write more Swifts are appearing over the reservoir and hopefully other migrants will arrive in the coming days. A bird observatory in southern France recorded 30000 Swifts heading north a few days ago, so they are on their way. Both Swifts and House Martins are amber listed and declining. In the not so distant past Thornton village would have been enhanced by the calls of these species that evoke summer days. If you can help them to find a home to raise a brood, we will all benefit.

Andy Smith 10/05/2022

Sluggish Start to Spring.

A single early Sand Martin was over the reservoir on March 11th, enduring the cool brisk easterly. By the 13th three Sand Martins were seen and my first calling Chiffchaff was near the church. Despite light frosts two Comma butterflies were on the wing on the 15th, enjoying the early sunshine.

Chiffchaff – copyright Ann Barwell

Mid-March saw evidence of several species taking steps to ensure a successful breeding season. Wigeon, Goosander, Redwing and Fieldfare were all heading north to their breeding grounds, while Moorhen, Grey Wagtail, Blackcap and Goldfinch were singing and nest building.

The final Webs count took place on March 20th. Totals included 54 Mallard, 73 Tufted Duck, 61 Coot and 22 Moorhen. Numbers were declining as many wildfowl headed north, although Coot, Mute Swan and Great Crested Grebe were all nest building around the margins of the reservoir.

A Great White Egret was seen feeding on March23rd.  A skylark and two Red Kites were also seen on this date.

Great white egret – copyright Andy Smith

Two Oystercatchers were on the dam on March 25th and 32 Wigeon flew north east.

Oystercatchers – copyright Andy Smith

The final two days of March saw House Martin added on the 30th and a bumper final day with Egyptian Goose, Little Ringed Plover (LRP) and a female Brambling all sneaking in before months end. Although Egyptian Goose breeds in the county, this was only my fourth record at Thornton.

Little ringed plover – copyright Andy Smith
Female brambling – copyright Andy Smith
Egyptian goose – copyright Andy Smith

April commenced with frosts and sometimes squally conditions. On the 1st two LRP were on the dam and on the 2nd my first Swallow of the year was in the company of five Sand Martins. On April 3rd three LRP were gracing the Outflow and posing nicely for photos!

On April 7th a male and female Peregrine were interacting high over the reservoir and making some of the local Woodpigeons very jittery. There was also a mob of large gulls, which included 20 Lesser Black Backs and seven Herring Gulls. Hirundine numbers had increased to 20, made up mainly of Sand Martins, but now three Swallows and a single House Martin.

Great white egret and grey heron – copyright Andy Smith

Despite an early frost April 8th was a rare calm and sunny day. Insects were enjoying the warmth and I recorded my first Holly Blue, Orange Tip and Bee Fly.

Many of our summer visitors will arrive during April and hopefully there will be a rarity or two amongst them.

Andy Smith 9/04/2022

Winter Highlights

Mid-January was marked by some hard frosts and typical winter species were recorded. This included Goldeneye, Goosander and Barnacle Goose. My first Shelduck of the year dropped in briefly on the 12th and promptly flew off west.

Twenty Pochard was a good count on the 16th and other species seen at this time included Raven, Nuthatch, Meadow Pipit, Redpoll and Yellowhammer. A Woodcock was flushed at Bagworth Heath on the 19th.  The stubble fields around the reservoir were also attracting birds, with 29 Stock Doves and 25 Linnets counted. A flock of 23 Teal were mid reservoir on the 22nd.

The January Webs count took place on the 23rd. Totals included 165 Coot, 109 Mallard, 56 Tufted Duck, and a pleasing 26 Gadwall. Even more impressive was a count of 39 Little Grebe and two Water Rails.

Milder weather at the end of January encouraged a Brimstone to venture out on the 27th. A first winter Black Headed Gull with a metal ring was at the outflow. Eventually I managed to read the ring which had the following information: – HA56.493  ZOOL.MUS.KAUNAS  LITHUANIA.

Black headed gull – with Lithuanian ring – copyright Andy Smith
Black headed gull – copyright Andy Smith

February commenced with mild weather and a male Blackcap was seen on the 1st. Lapwing numbers had also increased with 135 counted on the 3rd. A single Oystercatcher was on the dam on the 10th and the male Mandarin was in the carpark.

Oystercatcher – copyright Andy Smith

The stubble fields were still attracting hungry birds with counts of 60 Linnets, 160 Redwing and 8 Yellowhammers. A Tortoiseshell butterfly was seen on Feb 17th. The February Webs count was completed on the 20th. Highlights included Mandarin, Water Rail, Grey Wagtail and two Snipe. The latter were resting amongst the reeds at the Top End.

Grey wagtail – copyright Andy Smith
Snipe – copyright Andy Smith

As February ended Red Legged Partridge, Tawny Owl and Red Kite were noted. It was also a first to see Collared Dove, Woodpigeon and Stock Dove feeding together in the garden.

Stock dove, woodpigeon and collared dove – copyright Andy Smith

My first frog spawn of the year was in the pond on March 3rd and on the 4th, three Chiffchaff were busy feeding in the Outflow. March is when Birders start to get excited about the spring migration and what it might deliver. Winter visitors are heading back north, summer breeders are arriving and passage species are passing through. The expectations of a rarity fuel the excitement, but the thrill of seeing that first Swallow is never dulled.

Andy Smith 9/03/2022

Years End.

Mid November was marked by mild and calm conditions. On the 13th a flock of 52 Wigeon drifted east and a flock of 32 Golden Plover circled over Thornton Wood before heading south west. On the 14th Great White Egret, Goosander, Brambling and a male Marsh Harrier were all recorded.

Male goldeneye – copyright Andy Smith

On November 18th Red Admiral, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were seen enjoying the mild weather. An adult male Pintail flew north on the following day.

As November came to a close temperatures dropped. Species seen included 24 Pochard, 21 Lapwing, Red Kite, Peregrine, Water Rail, Little Egret, Shoveler, Meadow Pipit and Siskin.

December commenced with more typical British winter weather, with light snow showers on the 2nd. A single Stock Dove in the garden on December 1st was a rare event and winter thrushes were still on the move with 500 Redwing and 20 Fieldfare counted. On December 6th a flock of approximately 35 Wild Swans landed briefly on the reservoir, and all too rapidly took off and headed west. I was unable to get photographs, but I suspect they may have been Bewick’s.

Barnacle goose – copyright Andy Smith

A fine adult Greater Black Backed Gull was loafing mid reservoir on the 10th and six Song Thrush were feeding on the stubble. A Woodcock was flushed at Brown’s Wood on December 15th and 42 Cormorants were counted on the reservoir.

The December Webs count took place on the 19th before the fog reduced visibility. Totals included 98 Mallard, 214 Coot, 43 Tufted Duck 29 Moorhen and an impressive 32 Little Grebe. Snipe, Kingfisher and Water Rail were also seen.

December and 2021 closed with very mild weather, New Year’s Eve being one of the warmest on record. Species seen at this time included Goldeneye, Barnacle Goose, and male Mandarin. My final Thornton patch species total for 2021 ended on 127. This equals my second highest and is the highest when there have been no periods of low water levels. Two new species included Firecrest and Common Crane. The two Arctic Skuas were another highlight.

The mild weather continued with the New Year, and Water Rail, Peregrine and Linnet were all seen on the 1st. On the 5th two male and one female Mandarin were on the reservoir. On the following day 23 Teal was a good count. Other species recorded so far this year have included Reed Bunting, Green Woodpecker and Treecreeper.

Andy Smith 09/01/2022

“A MOTH WITHOUT EQUAL” – by Dave Wright (Thornton)

I’ve been running a moth trap in my garden in Thornton for a number of years. I’ve caught over 370 species during that time, which surprises most people as to the sheer variety of moths that one can encounter, even in a modest garden.

Moth trap – Copyright Dave Wright

At this point I should explain that my moth trap does not kill the moths. It is essentially a box, with a bright bulb on top, with a narrow entrance which the moths (attracted by the light) are funnelled down into. Egg boxes placed in the box give the moths somewhere dark to hide and rest. The setup is shown in the picture.

On the morning of 10th September this year, I got up and went straight to check on the trap. I instantly knew this was a red-letter day as I could see a very large moth, showing two bands of violet blue, calmly sitting on top of one of the egg boxes. I knew straight away this was a Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini).

Clifden Nonpareil – Copyright Dave Wright
Copyright – Dave Wright

Not only is it a large and beautiful moth, it is also rare, and in my lifetime has only been considered a migrant to Britain from the continent, arriving here from Scandinavia in late summer in very small numbers. So, you can imagine my excitement.

I decided to go and make a strong cup of tea and compose myself before sorting out the trap. I was nervous it might fly off as soon as the lid of the trap was raised. The moth was so large (with a wingspan of nearly 10cm across) that I couldn’t use my usual containers to pot it up as they were all too small! However, we managed to get it into a margarine tub. This then went into the fridge. Again, I should explain…by keeping moths cool, it stops them being active and potentially damaging their wings.

I posted the sighting on social media and a couple of friends called by to ‘twitch’ the moth. It was safely released at dusk that evening, to spend the rest of its days (or rather nights) doing whatever Clifden Nonpareil’s do?

The Clifden Nonpareil gets its romantic name from the location of the first British records in the 18th-century, at the Cleifden (now called Cliveden) estate on the Bucks/Berkshire border; and “nonpareil” meaning “without equal” in French. It is also known, less poetically as the Blue Underwing.

I never really expected to see this holy grail of moths, let alone catch one in my garden trap.

Dave Wright

Migration in full swing.

Mid October was marked by settled weather and visible migration of several species was evident.  On the 15th a Rock Pipit was on the dam. On the following day I recorded three Swallows, no doubt my last of the year.

Rock Pipit – copyright Andy Smith

Woodpigeons were moving south on the 21st with 3856 counted in two hours. Other species on the move included Wigeon, Starling, Chaffinch, Redpoll and Siskin. There was also a report of Red Crested Pochard at this time.

Two Red Kite drifted over the reservoir on October 27th and a male Peregrine was also noted. A very dark Lesser Black Backed Gull was photographed on this date and was of the race Intermedius. As October drew to a close other species relocating included Snipe, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay.

Lesser black backed gull – copyright Andy smith

November 2nd was a Woodpigeon day with 4600 counted heading south in one hour. The total in four hours was 6700. Fifty five Chaffinch and a single male Goosander were also seen. November 4th witnessed a massive movement of Winter Thrushes. 1225 Redwing were counted and my first Fieldfare of the autumn totalled 1750. Other counters reported phenomenal numbers along the east shore of Rutland Water.

On the 5th a Great White Egret flew low over the reservoir and 12 Brambling were in the church yard. It was also a treat to have a skein of 27 Pink footed Geese fly west on this date. These neat geese will have flown south from Iceland to over winter in Britain. Large numbers can be seen in Norfolk but they are less common in Leicestershire.

The November Webs count was completed on the 7th. Totals include 137 Mallard, 160 Coot, 29 Tufted Duck and 30 Moorhen. Other species recorded included Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard, Teal, Heron and Kingfisher.

Sparrowhawk – copyright Andy Smith

As I write mild weather means that insects are still on the wing with Red Admiral being seen in the garden. The Ivy flowers are also attracting Bumble Bees, Wasps and Hover flies. I have also seen Chiffchaff and Blackcap recently. A surprise was a large bat in daylight over Thornton wood on the 9th. I suspect it was a Noctule, perhaps taking a last feed while insects are still active.

In the next article I am confident that signs of summer will be long gone and a winter theme will be in ascendance.

Andy Smith 10/11/2021

All Change!

The first Webs count of the season took place on September 12th. Totals included 279 Mallard, 140 Coot, 67 Tufted Duck, 37 Moorhen, and 17 Cormorants. Other duck species recorded included Gadwall, Pochard, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon. Water Rail, Little Egret and two Kingfishers were also seen.

On the 15th there were three Common Sandpipers on the dam and a juvenile Redstart on the east bank. This is the fourth Redstart seen at Thornton this year.

On the 16th an Osprey flew high to the South East and a Hobby also headed in this direction. A single Barnacle goose was with the Greylags and Canadas and a charm of forty Goldfinches was a good count. Summer visitors were departing with 112 Swallows and 50 Meadow Pipits also heading SE.

The second half of September was marked by generally mild and sunny weather. It is the shortening days that trigger the migration response from many summer visitors. This diurnal change is even more pronounced in more northerly regions resulting in these bird populations heading our way.

My final Spotted Flycatcher of the summer was seen on the 19th and on the 21st a Wheatear perched briefly on the dam. Also on the latter date Peregrine, Red Kite and two Ravens were fly overs. On September 23rd two Black Tailed Godwits flew low over the house. They had been seen a few minutes earlier at Groby Pool.

Wheatear – copyright Andy Smith

My final good count of Swallows was 74 on the 26th. With plenty of stubble locally geese numbers have built up. On September 28th I counted 630 Canadas and 266 Greylag. A single Barnacle goose was also with them.

October has commenced with settled weather. Migration is now in full swing and 28 House Martins were heading south on October 3rd. Also on this date 16 Jays were recorded. Northerly populations of this species migrate to escape the harsh winters.

Having spent a great week birding in North Norfolk I was back Patch birding on the 12th. I was quickly rewarded with a flock of 17 Whooper Swans that flew east over the reservoir.

Whooper swan – copyright Andy Smith

As I write winter thrushes, especially Redwing are flooding in to Britain. Today I counted 1150 Redwing, all heading west. This figure is nothing in comparison to the 35000 that flew over a site in Surrey yesterday. It is a clear demonstration of the changing seasons and the migrations that bird species must make.

Green woodpecker – copyright Andy Smith

Andy Smith 14/10/2021

Late Summer Highlights.

A single Common Sandpiper was on the dam on August 12th and a Hobby was also seen on this date. On the 14th two Black Headed Gulls were seen with colour rings. One with a Yellow ring K06A was rung in Latvia and a White ringed bird, J0940 is from Norway.

Colour ringed Latvian BHG – copyright Andy Smith
Colour ringed Norwegian Black Headed Gull – copyright Andy Smith

A juvenile Male Mandarin was at the Top End on August 18th and 9 Pochard and 100 Tufted Duck were also noted. While scything the meadow on August 19th six Ravens flew south and A Red Kite was also a fly over. A single Swift was also seen.

 Canada and Greylag Geese numbers are increasing and on August 25th a single Barnacle goose was with them. As August drew to a close Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Green Woodpecker, Peregrine and Curlew were reported locally.

Barnacle goose – copyright Andy Smith

September is always an exciting month for bird watching as migration is in full swing.  It has started well, with a Great White Egret and Redstart on the 1st and a Whinchat on the 3rd. A large mixed flock of hirundines were drifting south on the 4th and five Jays headed in the same direction on September 5th.

Whinchat – copyright Andy Smith

The recent hot weather has seen up to seven Buzzards circling over the reservoir and a late Hobby has been hunting hirundines and dragonflies. Two juvenile Black Terns were my first of the year on September 6th and four more were seen on the 9th. Also on this date a single adult Mediterranean Gull was loafing at the Outflow with the Black Headed Gulls.

Adult Mediterranean gull – copyright Andy Smith

Wildfowl numbers are increasing with approximately 250 Mallard and 100 Tufted Duck on the reservoir. All are busy moulting and looking decidedly shabby! Other sightings recently have included Kingfisher, Snipe, 5 Teal, and a single Shoveler.

Andy Smith 10/09/2021

Summer regulars then Arctic migrants.

On June 11th 26 Greylag goslings were in the carpark. These youngsters were flightless so must have bred locally. On the 12th two Hobby and a Little Ringed Plover were noted and the following day a pair of Oystercatchers were on the dam.

More signs of local breeding were recorded on the 15th with four juvenile Grey Wagtails in the Outflow and a young Mandarin at the Top End. 

On the mammal front it was a treat to get great views of a female Roe Deer at Browns Wood on June 17th. This attractive deer is on the increase thanks to the large areas of woodland where disturbance is reduced.

Roe Deer in Browns wood – copyright Andy smith

On June 25th a local walk produced four Orchid species. These included Common Spotted, Southern Marsh, Pyramidal and Bee Orchids.

Five Shelduck were brief visitors to the reservoir on June 28th.

July commenced with warm and sunny weather. A thunder storm on the 4th caused Swifts to drop low and I counted 268 fly south low over the house.

On 13th a single Common Sandpiper was on the dam. This wader breeds to the north and its appearance on the dam demonstrated the approach of autumn. To make this even more evident on July 15th a flock of 26 Black-Tailed Godwits were circling the reservoir. These elegant waders breed in Iceland and Northern Europe and no doubt had completed their breeding cycle.

Black Tailed Godwit on the dam – copyright Andy Smith
Black Tailed Godwit – copyright Andy Smith

Although there are reports that butterfly numbers are down this year I have recorded some good species on the meadow that I help to manage. These have included Marbled White, Brown Argus and Essex Skipper. My most recent Butterfly Conservation survey was on August 3rd when I recorded 106 butterflies of 16 species. While in the midst of this count an Osprey circled high over the reservoir and drifted off west.

Marbled white – copyright Andy Smith
Essex skipper – copyright Andy Smith
Brown Argus – copyright Andy Smith

My final highlight of this period was on the evening of August 8th. From the house I noticed two dark gull shaped birds approaching from the North East. Their flight had me grabbing my camera as they flew directly over the house. It was all over in 30 seconds, but at least I had some photographs of two Arctic Skuas, before they vanished to the South West. This declining species is a rare vagrant to the county. This sighting was also another hint that birds are responding to the ever changing seasons.

Arctic Skua – copyright Andy Smith

Andy Smith 10/08/2021

May showers followed by Scorching June.

Mid May was marked by showers and sometimes cool conditions more typical of April. This no doubt delayed the breeding progress of some bird species. On May 9th three Shelduck and three Common Sandpipers were present. Yellow Wagtail and Hobby were also recorded.

A brood of three Great Crested Grebes were hitching a lift on mum on the 11th and a pair of Mandarin were at the Top End on May 14th. My first Spotted Flycatchers of the year were in Thornton Wood on May 16th and seemed to be investigating a possible nest site.  Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and Treecreeper were also seen in this area.

A local area of Phragmites had a singing Reed Warbler on May 26th and hopefully they will again breed. The surprise on this date was a female Wheatear that briefly perched up in my garden. This is a species that frequents uplands and was a nice addition to the garden list.

As May closed other sightings included Osprey, Red Kite, Hobby, Common Tern, and Gadwall.

Hot and sunny weather has marked the beginning of June. Red Kite are being seen almost daily and this demonstrates the population increase of this species. Two Hobby have also been hunting dragonflies over the reservoir and hopefully are breeding locally.

On June 3rd a group of three Little Egret and two Herons were feeding in the outflow. Also on this date a juvenile Kingfisher was evidence of local breeding success.

The garden pond has also proved successful with two Southern Marsh Orchids and a visit from a Four Spotted Chaser Dragonfly. Other insects of the order Odonata have included Red Eyed, Large Red, Blue Tailed and Common Blue Damselflies and Broad Bodied Chaser.

Butterflies recorded recently have included Brimstone, Orange Tip, Green Veined White, Speckled Wood, Common Blue and Small Heath.

As I write this edition breeding success on the reservoir includes at least four broods of Great Crested Grebes, with approximately thirteen chicks between them. There are also three broods of Greylag geese, a species that has only recently started to breed on the reservoir.

With the breeding season now in full swing it is vital to avoid disturbing areas where birds may be nesting. Save any large scale tree or hedge cutting for the autumn. Also by saying No to the Mow on some patches of the lawn you will be amazed by what plants appear and the insects they attract.

Andy Smith 09/06/2021

Great crested grebe and chicks (copyright Andy Smith)
Spotted flycatcher (copyright Andy Smith)
Female wheatear (copyright Andy Smith)
Female mandarin (copyright Andy Smith)
Four spotted chaser (copyright Andy Smith)
Great spotted woodpecker juvenile (copyright Andy Smith)
Little egret (copyright Ann Barwell)

Spring frosts welcome Summer visitors (by resident Andy Smith)

Mid-April was marked by a cold northerly air flow bringing sunny days but night time frosts. On April 13th a Redwing was delaying its journey north and my first Orange Tip butterfly was braving the cool air. A pair of Red Legged Partridge were feeding on the plough and four Gadwall were at the Top End.

Swan and eggs at Thornton reservoir – copyright Gillatphotography
Grey wagtail – copyright Andy Smith

On the 16th a single male Yellow Wagtail was on the dam and both Sparrowhawk and Peregrine were noted. Summer visitors and passage species started to arrive on April 23rd. My first Whitethroat and a single Common Tern were recorded on this date, and the following day a Whimbrel flew east.

On the 25th there were three Common Sandpipers and two Little Ringed Plovers on the dam. On April 27th a Hobby was hunting hirundines over the reservoir and a Tawny Owl was being mobbed at the Markfield Inflow.

On the 28th a single Arctic Tern briefly graced the reservoir, before continuing its journey to the North East. Also on this date my first Swift of the year was dashing over the dam and three Yellow Wagtails were in the sheep fields.

Common sandpiper – copyright Andy Smith

On April 29th a Lesser Whitethroat was heard and seen near Retreat Farm and Yellow Wagtail numbers had increased to six. On the last day of April a Sedge Warbler was a good find by DW.

Tawny owl – copyright Andy Smith

May commenced with cold but sunny conditions. Bird song was filling Thornton Wood and it was nice to find a Garden Warbler blasting out its fluty tune.  A beautiful perfect May morning on the 2nd was enhanced by both Cuckoo and Grasshopper Warbler singing and showing well at Browns Wood.

On the 3rd a party of four Fieldfare were lingering rather than heading North West, perhaps some avian intuition warning them that snow was on its way. A Red Kite and two Little Ringed Plovers were also seen.

Grasshopper warbler – copyright Andy Smith

On May 5th a pair of Mandarin were at the Markfield Inflow and hopefully are nesting locally. On the following day a Jay was watched raiding a Mistle Thrush nest in Thornton Wood. The robbery took place high in the canopy, with the Mistle Thrush eventually chasing off the Jay. Hopefully a second clutch will be laid and both Jay and Mistle Thrush families will thrive.

Cuckoo – copyright Andy Smith
Female mandarin – copyright Andy Smith

Spotted Flycatchers have also been reported locally and I now await only Reed Warbler to complete our summer visitors.

Andy Smith 8/5/21

Spring Migrants brave the chill (by resident Andy Smith)

I noticed my first Frog spawn in the pond on March 11th and three Chiffchaff added to the spring theme. A pair of Mandarin were off Wood bank on the 13th and the male was still paired up with a female Mallard at the carpark.

The final Webs count took place on the 14th. Totals included 83 Mallard, 74 Coot, 64 Tufted Duck, 21 Moorhen and 13 Great Crested Grebes. A Snipe was also flushed from the reservoir bank.

My first Sand Martins were over the reservoir on March 18th and a pair of Shelduck were found by Dave the following day. A sunny day on the 21st had both Brimstone and Peacock butterflies on the wing.

A superb summer plumaged Black necked Grebe made a one day appearance on the 23rd and this marked the start of a purple patch. On the 25th the cries of Lesser black backed Gulls caught my attention as they mobbed a male Osprey that was circling the reservoir. Eventually it gave up the idea of fishing and drifted off to the North.

Black necked grebe – Andy Smith
Osprey over Thornton – Andy Smith

March 28th produced three new species for the year. Two Swallows appeared with the 90 Sand Martins and a Little Ringed Plover landed on the dam. The highlight was the two Sandwich Terns that flew in low and disappeared to the south. On the 30th a female Marsh Harrier flew through and also headed south.

Early April has been unseasonably cold and the northerly winds have held up migrants. On the 1st Oystercatcher and House Martin were noted and a White Wagtail was in the company of the Pied Wagtails along the dam.

One of the year’s highlights was on April 2nd. A beautiful blue sky was being enjoyed despite the cold north easterly. At about 4pm I noticed a large bird very high and heading North West. I managed to take some photos and was amazed to identify it as a Common Crane. This is only the second time that I have seen this species in Leicestershire.

Common crane – Andy Smith

On April 6th a smart male Redstart was feeding on flies along Stony Bank and he was still in residence on the 10th. Other species seen recently have included Willow Warbler, Brambling and Common Sandpiper.

Redstart – Andy Smith

The weather is forecast to warm up over the coming days. Hopefully there are still treats in store as this year’s bird migration continues.

Andy Smith 11/04/2021

Hints of Spring (by resident Andy Smith)

February was marked by cold north easterlies, with occasional milder days. Signs of spring were evident when the weak sun emerged. The first frogs and butterflies briefly appeared, but were soon back sheltering as the cold returned.

Very cold temperatures of -5C were recorded on February 11th. Wildfowl included 41 Pochard, 10 Gadwall, 15 Little Grebe and a single male Shoveler. The garden feeders were also attracting hungry birds with 10 Siskin and a single Lesser Redpoll visiting.

The highlight of the year so far was the discovery of a Firecrest in a Thornton garden. This tiny, gem of a bird resembles a Goldcrest, but is more richly coloured, with a distinctive white stripe above the eye. (See below for the story behind this wonderful ‘spot’ by resident Dave Wright)

Firecrest at Thornton – Photograph courtesy of Andy Smith

The February Webs count took place on the 14th. Totals included 255 Mallard, 71 Coot, 67 Tufted Duck, 29 Wigeon, 45 Pochard, 22 Moorhen, 16 Gadwall, 17 Teal and 2 Goldeneye.

On the 17th a single female Pintail was a brief visitor and 55 Lapwing were on the dam. Scanning the hedges below the dam on February 20th had its reward in the form of a first winter male Stonechat.

As February drew to a close the male Mandarin was regularly seen and had paired up with a female Mallard. We can only wonder what might result from this partnership! Mild weather encouraged more pond activity with Smooth Newts and frogs being seen.

Mandarin duck at Thornton reservoir – 06-03-21 – Photograph courtesy Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)

A Great White Egret flew east on February 25th and three Linnets were below the dam. Despite frosts, sunny and calm weather had a Tortoiseshell butterfly out on the 26th and the following day a Pipistrelle bat was out feeding in daylight. No doubt hungry after its winter hibernation.

My first Chiffchaff of the year was on March 2nd. It was busy feeding, but by the following day it was singing despite the cold and foggy conditions.

Early March has been calm and cool. Flocks of 160 Starling, 120 Redwing and 22 Meadow Pipit are feeding on the pasture, fuelling up for their migration. Signs of courtship are also in the air. Up to six Buzzards and three Ravens have been displaying.

Great Crested Grebe at Thornton reservoir- 06.03.21 – photograph courtesy Ann Barwell (copyright applies)

As I write the calm weather has been replaced by wet, windy but milder conditions. As spring migration commences no doubt the reservoir and its surroundings will provide a safe refuge for many species as the seasons change.

Reed bunting at Thornton – Photograph courtesy of Andy Smith
Great Crested Grebe – Thornton reservoir – 06.03.21 – Photography courtesy Gillatphotography (copyright applies)

Andy Smith 10/03/2021

Firecrest – Thornton village

We were out walking getting our daily dose of lockdown exercise when Julie said “Whilst I was doing my yoga this morning, I saw a tiny bird in the Christmas Tree on the patio, so I took a picture of it on my mobile”. It being minus temperatures with a wicked wind chill factor we decided to postpone looking at the picture there and then and keep hands in pockets, but as often happens events overtook and it was the next afternoon before we remembered to look at the image. I was expecting it to be a Goldcrest to be honest, so imagine my surprise when I zoomed in on the bird; it was clearly a ‘crest, but sporting a black eye stripe boldly edged above with white! ” Well, blow me, it’s a Firecrest” I said, or words to that effect!! My surprise was obvious; such a scarce species and in the garden too, but that was tinged with a little horror, because I’d probably missed it now, not helped of course by not looking at the photo for 24 hours! ….I vowed to watch the garden closely the next day.

Firecrest – Photograph courtesy of Dave Wright (copyright applies)
Firecrest – Photograph courtesy of Dave Wright (copyright applies)

Sunday morning and I settled in for what might be a long vigil, with camera poised at the ready. I have to say, I had nearly given up any hope of the bird reappearing, when at 12:25 it was suddenly back in the same “tree”, busily feeding. I say “tree” in inverted commas because this was the house Christmas tree that had gone outside, still in its pot, after Christmas was over and was all of 5ft tall. The bird stayed for a few moments, and then was off, allowing a few hurried photographs.

Around 3pm we saw the bird again, this time commuting between a large holly tree in the garden and the Christmas tree, where it seemed to be finding lots of food. We did wonder whether because the tree had been inside in the warm for a few weeks, it had caused a hatching of some microscopic insects which the bird was finding. This time I managed a couple of better images.

After this day, despite my regular watching it wasn’t seen again. I did think this was a ‘first’ for Thornton but in checking the Leicestershire Ornithological Society records, there’s one previous accepted record for Thornton Res in January 2002.

The moral of the story; expect the unexpected (and up-cycle your old Christmas tree!).

Dave Wright

Snow and Ice (By resident Andy Smith)

Early January was marked by very wet and mild conditions. The Reservoir was brim full and the inflow streams were regularly over bank full. My first Woodcock of the year was flushed at Brown’s Wood on the 12th and seven Song Thrush were feeding in flooded fields on the 14th.

A Peregrine flew north on the 16th and a flock of 18 Linnet were feeding on the stubble. The January Webs count took place on the 17th. Totals included 136 Mallard, 117 Coot, 64 Tufted Duck and an impressive 27 Moorhen. Also on this date a pair of Sparrowhawks were displaying and Lesser Redpoll and Tawny Owl were added to the year list.

Twenty Gadwall on the 19th was a good site total and two pairs of Shoveler were present on the 21st. Despite an early frost sunny and calm conditions had a very early Red Admiral on the wing on the 22nd. This early taste of spring was short lived as a good covering of snow arrived on the 24th. This resulted in a movement of wildfowl on the 25th. Three White-fronted Geese were the highlight, and 27 Pochard, 18 Teal and 22 Wigeon were also noted.

Milder weather at the end of January encouraged a thaw with several signs of lengthening days. On the 29th Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming in the Church yard, Song thrush were singing and the first frogs were braving the pond. Other sightings at this time included Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Little Egret and Kingfisher.

February commenced with mild weather. On the 2nd 35 Pochard were scattered along Wood Bank and a single female Goosander was resting on the dam. The following day and a smart male Mandarin was seen by Gill and Martin. Also on the 3rd a Buzzard was feasting on a dead goose in the fields below the dam.

On February 7th a Red Kite drifted over the house, already my fourth sighting of the year and clear evidence that this species is increasing locally. Also on this date high pressure over Scandinavia had slipped south west bringing an Arctic blast to the UK. 

As I write icy conditions are forecast, with night time temperatures dropping to -5C. With the ground and water bodies frozen bird species are under stress. Many will be forced to move west or stay to tough it out. By providing food and especially water you can help them make it through.

Andy Smith 10/02/2021

White fronted geese – photograph courtesy of Andy Smith – (copyright applies)
Fieldfare – photograph courtesy of Andy Smith (copyright applies)
Goosander – photograph courtesy of Andy smith (copyright applies)
A deceit of lapwings visited the reservoir on 3rd Feb 2021 – Photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)
Mandarin duck spotted at the reservoir on 3rd Feb 2021 – photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)
Tufted duck – Photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)
Cormorant drying their wings on the dam – Photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)

Mid-Winter Sightings (by resident Andy Smith)

Large numbers of Canada and Greylag Geese have been using the reservoir, so it was very pleasing to find a new species for the site in their company. This was on December 12th in the form of a Russian White-fronted Goose. There has been an influx of this species this winter and it is the first record for Thornton.

The December Webs count took place on the 13th. Totals included 165 Mallard, 84 Coot, 66 Tufted Duck, 10 Teal, and 9 Gadwall. On the 15th I recorded some good flocks of various species at the Top End. This included 100+ Chaffinch, 300 Redwing, 30 Linnet, 30 Siskin and 10 Lesser Redpoll. Also on this date two Red Legged Partridge and a Kingfisher were seen.

Kingfisher – photograph courtesy of Ann Barwell (copyright applies).

Mild weather on the 19th had a male and female Blackcap feeding near the Church and a flock of 53 Lapwing on the dam.

As 2020 drew to a close other sightings included Peregrine, Goldeneye and a male Goosander.

My final Thornton species list for 2020 ended on 120.

Highlights were four new site species. This included Ring-necked Duck, Shag, White- fronted Goose and of course the magnificent Bearded Vulture. Other treats included Long- tailed Duck, Rock Pipit, and Whimbrel. Six Marsh Harrier sightings was also a record.

Russian white fronted goose – photograph courtesy of Andy Smith (copyright applies).

The New Year was marked by cold and frosty conditions. A respectable total of 55 species on January 1st included a skein of 200+ Pink-footed geese moving west. A second smaller skein of 32 Pinkfeets was seen on January 2nd. The White – front was also recorded on Jan. 1st but not since.

Pochard numbers have also been increasing with a maximum of 30 on Jan 7th. Other highlights of early January have included Goldeneye, Goosander, Water Rail, Little Egret and Red Kite.

With a national ‘lockdown’ once again in force we are all restricted. Providing food and water for birds will be rewarded with some great sightings from home. Apples cut in half and stuck on shrubs will attract Redwing and Fieldfare. Feeders can also draw in Siskins, Redpoll and Brambling.

If we need to escape further there is also the night sky, of which I know almost nothing. Fortunately my son gave me a guide for Christmas that will help. The Collins 2021 Guide to the Night Sky, Dunlop and Tirion (Royal Observatory Greenwich, £6.99) Why not wrap up warm, and with a pair of binoculars, escape the ‘lockdown’ to a distant Constellation.

Andy Smith 10/01/2021

Damselfly – Thornton Reservoir – July 2020 – photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)
African goose – Thornton reservoir resident – photograph courtesy Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)
Siskin – Thornton Reservoir – Jan 2020 – photograph courtesy of Colin Harris – (copyright applies)

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