Pied Flycatcher at Earlswood Lakes, Warwickshire Wednesday 3rd April 2019
The Excitement Continues
On Tuesday 2nd April I returned to work eager to regale a couple of likeminded colleagues of the tale of finding a pair of Garganeys' the day before, and they listened with a mix of astonishment and bemusement, when I tried to explain exactly what a Garganey was. The rest of the day passed by in more mundane fashion; that was until around 4 in the afternoon, when a chance glance at my phone revealed that visiting birder Roger Dickens had reported a male Pied Flycatcher whilst walking along the western shore of Engine Pool. I remember silently mouthing an expletive before carrying on with my work, although with half a mind on checking for any updates. At this point, no photos of the bird had been posted, so understandably there was a small degree of scepticism, especially given the rather early occurrence. Pied Flycatchers you see are summer migrants to the UK and usually start to arrive en masse in mid-April, so the Earlswood bird was way ahead of schedule. Interestingly the 2nd April was the earliest date that a Pied Flycatcher has ever been recorded in the West Midlands region; the record having been set in 1994 when a male was sighted at Whatcote, near Shipston on Stour in South Warwickshire. Could it really have been equalled?
As time wore on I silently debated with myself about taking an after work trip to Earlswood, but I had no optics with me, nor a suitable pair of shoes. Finally, after what seemed like forever I took another sneaky glance at my phone. Since the news had first broke, Roger Dickens and Earlswood birder John Oates had corresponded with each other, and John himself had taken a walk around Engine Pool in an attempt to connect with the bird, but had had no joy. The sceptic in me still doubted the sighting, although Roger had promised to publish some photographs he had taken later in the evening. As 6 pm approached, my mind cleared and I made the decision to simply go home and await any further evidence. Roger was true to his word though, and a few hours later, three excellent photographs of a male Pied Flycatcher appeared on my Twitter feed. Now there was no doubt at all, Roger Dickens had found the joint earliest Pied Flycatcher to ever appear in the West Midlands Region, and it was less than 7 miles from home, and less than 4 miles from work. As Paula and I settled down for our evening meal, we made plans for an after work trip to Earlswood in the hope that the bird might just stick around.
The After Work Trip
A glance at the forecast for Wednesday 3rd April looked fairly bleak, and as the hours rolled by, the weather deteriorated. Rain fell steadily throughout the day, and intensified after lunch. By the time 4pm approached, I had rushed off a quick text to Paula saying that we may have to do a rain check at the end of my shift. Fortunately though, lady luck seemed to be on my side as the sky cleared shortly before 5.
I normally drive myself to work, but today Paula had kindly dropped me off, promising to collect me at 6. As my shift ended, I looked out and there she was waiting patiently with the two dogs. I strode out the door fairly casually; not in the manner of somebody chasing a patch tick. In all honesty I didn't expect to see the bird; I'd already made the assumption that the bird had moved on.
We arrived at Earlswood at 6:20pm. It was still dry thankfully but it was bitterly cold. We'd even had hail storms earlier in the day. Thankfully, a brisk walk around Terry's Pool soon warmed us up, and I was pleased to note a pair of Eurasian Teal- the male is undoubtedly among the prettiest of all ducks to occur in the UK. Also present were 4 female or redhead Goosanders and the usual pair of Marsh Tits were close to the tree stump that acts as a makeshift bird table. I was also slightly surprised to encounter a small flock of Fieldfares. Before this year I'd never seen any in the month of April, but in 2019 things are slightly different.
Now on the western side of the Lakes I became conscious of the fact that a Pied Flycatcher could be right above my head, so I started scanning the trees a little more vigorously. Even Paula had gone quiet as she sensed my anxiety. I kept telling myself that the bird had probably gone, but still my mind nagged at me.
"Is this where the bird was sighted?" Paula asked after a pause.
"Probably," I replied simply, as we passed by the bridge and began walking around the western side of Engine Pool. Gazing out onto the water, I noted the female Mute Swan dozing peacefully on her newly constructed nest situated on an island slap bang in the middle. Her mate was foraging leisurely near the bridge. Strangely, a Canada Goose pair had set up their home within just a few feet of the Swans, and even stranger still the Swans seemed to tolerate their presence. But then my attention was suddenly diverted by a flicker of movement in the trees.
There it is
The sight of the Swans had actually calmed me down a little bit and Paula and I had been chatting idly. But the flicker in the trees silenced me, as I stared intensely at a small Sparrow sized black and white passerine flitting around in a small grove of trees between two fishing platforms that stretched out into the water. Pied Flycatchers are almost impossible to mistake and the sight of it there clear as day made me cry out.
"There it is!" I couldn't believe it. Attempting to remain as calm as possible, I fished my camera out and attempted to get at least one half decent record shot of it. However, by now the light was fading fast, and the falling temperature had brought an icy chill to the twilight air, making my fingers feel numb. Moreover my camera struggled to focus on the right subject, electing to give me a clear view of the surrounding branches but rendering the bird as a mere blur. Eventually, after a slight adjustment, a fairly clear image of the bird materialised and I quickly reeled off a few photos.
I examined the shots and despite the fact that they were nowhere near as good as Roger's they served as satisfactory proof that the bird was still present. Now came the time to put the news out and cue pandemonium part two. In order to give as accurate location as possible, I noted the numbers of the two nearest fishing platforms 26 and 27, and included the information in my bulletin. No sooner had I pressed the send button, my phone lit up with likes and retweets. In the meantime, Paula had raced on ahead as the night time chill intensified. I had already decided against walking around Windmill Pool, electing instead to head back home into the warm. I jogged to keep pace with Paula, but as we neared the causeway I made out the familiar profile of John Oates and his Border Terrier Flo. John had received my news and had rushed out from his nearby home. After giving him the precise location, he informed me that he'd been out four times during the day to try and find the bird. Interestingly he had managed to hear Willow Warblers during that time; a bird that I had thus far failed to see or hear. I wished him luck and continued onto the car.
New Ticks and Records
The male Pied Flycatcher was easily the earliest record of one that I'd seen anywhere, as well as being the joint earliest record in the West Midlands Region. Moreover it was the first Earlswood record since a female appeared near the Terry's/Engine bridge on the 26th April 2016. From a personal point of view, it was my third Earlswood tick in the space of 48 hours. As we drove home, I racked my brains trying to think of the last time that I had managed to score three patch ticks in such a short space of time. I honestly couldn't remember. I also contemplated how long it would take for the next patch tick to materialise. Little did I know at the time that I would only have to wait a few more days.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 James Kenny