Winter 23/24

The best bird of the winter period at Blenheim was undoubtedly the drake Scaup that spent one day on the lakes on 22nd January. I'm always hopeful of something good amongst the tufted ducks. Ring-necked duck seems a reasonable bet and there has been at least one at Blenheim in the past, so I'm always careful to check the gatherings of tufted ducks dotted around the lakes during the winter. So I couldn't quite believe it when I saw a Scaup a few feet from the lake edge with a small number of tufted ducks, gadwall, coots, etc. In a Blenheim context, a true mega. I watched it on and off for most of the morning. It remained on the Queen Pool for an hour or so before moving across to the Great Lake where it was more distant. It wasn't to be found the next morning. I cannot think there will be another one any time soon so I count myself very lucky to have got this on my patch list. 

The dredging work last year on the Queen Pool and the removal of the thick vegetated edges seems to have had the expected result of fewer teal and shoveler over the winter. Pintail were also fairly reliable previously but my only sighting came on 2nd February when 8 were present on the Great Lake, no doubt some of those dispersing from the large flocks elsewhere in the county. Wigeon have been present with about 20 around most of the winter. Gadwall numbers have been in excess of 100 at times. Pochard numbers peaked much earlier than they did last winter. November saw up to 80 but that tailed off as winter progressed with only single figures thereafter. Mandarin numbers dropped away after 20+ quite regularly in November. Goosanders were quite infrequent. Two pairs on 7th February was the high point.

I enjoyed having a Ross's goose present on and off in January and February. Most of the time there isn't too much of interest so if nothing else it was something different and a lovely little goose. A pair of Egyptian geese hatched 7 goslings in early February but I only saw them once and haven't seen them again. I've seen adults since but, no goslings. It may be that they are elsewhere on the estate or perhaps they've been predated. 

Up to five Great White egrets have wintered at Blenheim. Occasionally they all converge in the same general area but most of the time they spread out over the entire site. A single Cattle egret roosted in early January which was a surprise record. I can now start looking forward to the return of the breeding birds.

The early returning Oystercatcher seems likely to be one of the pair that spent a good part of the spring at Blenheim last year. Hopefully this year its mate returns and they breed successfully. A great bird to have close to home.

Gulls have been in short supply generally this winter. Having said that, I've had good views of the Caspian gull and several Yellow-legged gulls, a few Herring, and also a Great black-backed gull. Common gulls were fairly regular earlier in the winter if any sort of pre-roost developed. No Med gulls this winter.

Adult Caspian Gull Jan '24

Adult Yellow-legged gull Feb '24

Adult Common gull with P8 mirror Jan '24

3rd Winter Herring gull Jan '24

Brambling have been at Blenheim in good numbers all winter and outnumbered chaffinches at times. Later in the winter up to 30 gathered near the town gate offering good views. I must have taken hundreds of photos of them over the winter.

All in all a good winter which hopefully continues into a productive spring!