Spoonbills in Berkshire in 2001

1 Nov 2001 | Marek Walford

A personal account of the finding of the Theale Spoonbills

On the 10th of September 2001 I made my daily visit to Lavell`s Lake and saw nothing more exciting than 23 Teal. I had just pulled into the carpark at work in Bracknell at 8.30am when my mobile rang. It was Mike McCarthy and he was watching a group of five Spoonbills at Burnthouse Lane, Pingewood.

I immediately left and drove up the M4 to Theale. I arrived at Burnthouse Lane shortly before 9am. I was the first person there and Mike and the Spoonbills were still there. The Spoonbills had just been flushed by the Osprey and were circling very low over the pits. However, as other birders began to arrive the birds circled higher and higher before appearing to go down somewhere near Moatlands at 9:15.

Mike and I checked Moatlands but there was no sign of the birds there so we left to go to work. However, Andy Horscroft re-found the birds at Hosehill at 10:15 where they stayed until 11:33 when they flew off south-west heading along the River Kennet.

One of the birds was ringed (dark blue rings inscribed "RR" with a metal ring on the left leg) and was apparently traced to a ringing scheme in Holland. Although, initial reports said they were four adults and a juvenile they were later all identified as juveniles.

Amazingly, on the 16th of September whilst returning from twitching the Baird`s Sandpiper at Blagdon Lake in Somerset I stopped at Theale to see a Black-necked Grebe at Main Pit. While I was in the area I decided to have a quick look at Moatlands and was very surprised to find a juvenile Spoonbill asleep on the island. I phoned it into Birdnet at 17:25. About ten birders saw the bird before dusk including some who had missed the group of five ten days earlier. The bird was still present the following morning until 10:45 when it flew off west over Main pit.

Analysis of records of Spoonbill in the UK in autumn 2001

A group of six birds had been at Breydon Water in Norfolk since at least the 5th of August. These birds flew south from Breydon on the 8th of September at 13:45. A dutch-ringed bird was found dead at Fishers Green in Hertfordshire on the 16th having flown into power cables. It is possible that the bird was killed between the 8th and the 10th as birds flying from Norfolk to Berkshire would have crossed Hertfordshire. This would account for the five birds that arrived in Berkshire on the 10th.

It seems reasonable to assume that the four birds seen at Stanwell Moor in Surrey on the 11th were part of the Theale group. Four birds were then seen at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire from the 12th to the 15th which were also presumably these birds. These then split up on the 16th with two remaining at Wicken Fen until the 21st of September and the other two visiting Elmley in Kent on the 16th and then Titchfield Haven in Hampshire from the 18th to the 27th. The two remaining Wicken birds visited Trimley Marshes in Suffolk on the 22nd.

It has been suggested that when the original five birds split up four went to Stanwell Moor and the other continued west accounting for the sighting at Chew Valley Lake on the 11th. However, I think the Chew bird is more likely to be the bird from Shapwick Heath, also in Somerset (present from the 11th of August to the 20th of September). I suspect that the single bird at Lepe Country Park in Hampshire from the 13th to the 16th is the missing Theale bird. It was last seen on the morning of the 16th which would also make it likely to be the bird I found on the evening of the same day.

The Wicken birds were last seen on the 22nd and the Titchfield birds were last seen on the 27th. Presumably these birds flew out to sea over night. The Theale bird was last seen on the 17th and presumably made its way to the coast and also flew out to sea.

Another possibility is that the five birds left Theale on the 10th, one was killed at Fishers Green and the other four arrived at Stanwell Moor on the 11th. If this is the case the bird seen on the 16th/17th must be a different individual as the remaining four birds were at Wicken Fen and Elmley.


Berksbirds Yahoo Group. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/berksbirds
Birdguides.com. www.birdguides.com/birdnews/daily.asp
Standley et al. (1996) Birds of Berkshire. Berkshire Atlas Group. Reading.