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)


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)