Hampshire’s February and March highlights

Returning to Titchfield Haven bright and early to a much calmer, although still somewhat breezy coastline (having survived Storm Doris), I set about the important task to catching up with some patch year ticks. Standing at the western end of the chalets, it was just possible to pick out the distant flock of ducks on the sea: the 2 male scaup  easy to pick out, with the smaller white blob of long-tailed duck, and helpfully a velvet scoter flapped its wings – another year tick! They have since come much closer which is lovely. The reserve was closed when I arrived, but standing up on the balcony above the visitor centre one can peer into South Scrape where the first of the returning avocet were hanging out.

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The 6 Scaup during one of their wanders close to shore

I’d agreed to meet Dave Wallace at Bridge Street later that morning for a wander and hope of overseeing the organised snipe count that takes place each winter. It was a good choice, and also nice to catch up with a number of local birders. As well as the many common snipe that were flushed up as the volunteers walked through each meadow, the first big surprise was a woodcock – the first I’ve had at Titchfield Haven. A couple of water pipits too were seen well and heard, and eventually our target species for the day – jack snipe was also seen and recorded during the count, another patch tick for me. A good morning! February ended with good views of 3 spoonbill on the meadow, while March began with another woodcock – a nice surprise when heading over to the Meadow Hide on 1st – and, at long last, my first green woodpecker of the year.

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Spoonbills on the meadow at Titchfield Haven, 28th February 2017

Patch aside, some time has been allocated for exploring other parts of the county. Blashford Lakes was my first stop on 1st March, where highlights included goldeneye, water pipit, 3 brambling, many siskin and good views of a roosting tawny owl; my 5th owl species this month! Following on from this, I stopped off at Harbridge to admire the 1st winter white-fronted goose that’s associating with greylag and Egyptian geese.

My next port of call was Southsea seafront on 2nd for the overwintering purple sandpipers that are always a joy to watch. It took a while to locate them, but eventually three landed on rocks in front of me and set about feeding while dodging the waves. I’d told myself that the unfavourable winds (strong westerlies) would make patch unpleasant with few birds, so a good day to go elsewhere. Nine texts and a couple of missed calls told me otherwise, so off I went to investigate…

Graham Barrett, Tony Heath and others had picked up a crane fly over the reserve, circle the scrapes and then land by the Frying Pan. Despite being flushed a couple of times by both the marsh harrier and buzzard, the crane hung about on the meadow, much to the bemusement of the local Canada geese, and provided us with good but fairly distant views, including a lovely fly past, calling as it did so (it did then circle back round and land). The bird certainly caused some excitement, and quite right too as there hasn’t been a crane at the Haven since the ’80s, nor are they easy birds to get in Hampshire. Alas, it seems this bird was released as part of the Somerset reintroduction project, so probably isn’t ‘tickable’ but it was impressive to see. While all this was going on, the bittern which has been lurking somewhere in the reedbed on the reserve all winter decided to embrace us with its brief presence, before dropping back down into the reeds. Thanks to Dave Ryves for picking it up – I’d not seem one here since December 2013 so a very nice year tick! And to finish the day off nicely, Dave W and I headed over to Alresford where Pinglestone Watercress Beds yielded a long staying cattle egret and 2 green sandpipers, while 2 ringtail hen harriers came into roost at Alresford Pond – a county tick for me.  

Crane, Titchfield Haven, 2nd March 2017

Crane chillin’ by the Frying Pan, 2nd March 2017

Farlington Marshes is another reserve I like to visit every now and then, with the main downside being the A27 which runs through the middle of it. You can walk a nice circular route around the reserve, starting by the Lake hosting large numbers of roosting wildfowl and waders including a spotted redshank and 2 greenshank. The marsh was teaming with birds, mostly brent geese and wigeon, and offshore were plenty of red-breasted mergansers that seem much scarcer back at Hill Head. The Deeps had more roosting waders, this time mostly dunlin and grey plover with a single knot and bar-tailed godwit hiding amongst them. Good numbers of common gulls also. A short-eared owl surfaced briefly which was lovely, although the wind probably didn’t help. Other highlights for me include a kingfisher sat on the sea wall, peregrine, and a leucistic pintail.  

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Kingfisher sat on the seawall at Farlington Marshes, 4th March 2017

Dave W and I continued to check the canal path, and were rewarded with 2 water pipits on 9th, along with year ticks of skylark and treecreeper for me. A later visit on 12th yielded a group of 20 fieldfare; not quite the migrants we were hoping for, but nice nonetheless. The weather was frustrating, particular 10th-12th, where what had been looking like a promising forecast turned out to be fog for the best part of 2 1/2 days, oh joy. When it did eventually clear, we had good views of the 6 scaup and a 2cy yellow-legged gull at low tide, and the next morning (13th) continued in good fortune with 2 raven – my first of the year, and 2 long-tailed ducks, followed by a flyby peregrine on 15th. Added to that, the little owl along Workman’s Lane in Warsash reappeared and showed well for at least 40 minuets late afternoon on 10th – a county tick, thanks to Dave for alerting me to its renewed presence.

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Treecreeper along the Titchfield canal path

Another week went by, and still no sand martins (or indeed any spring migrants besides chiffchaffs) for us. However, that’s not to say visits to patch were dull. It’s always great to watch the increasing avocet numbers and Med. gulls – the gulls’ numbers peak in spring and even more so autumn before (or after) heading to breeding grounds. Added to that, the occasional yellow-legged gull appeared on the beach, not a year tick for me, but always nice to see – including a 2cy on 12th, and an adult on 24th. On the warmer, sunnier days, Dave W and I were hopeful of a raptor or two. 17th proved to be a good morning with a check of Posbrook Floods yielding a peregrine soaring high above us with a couple of buzzards. Not long after, we picked up another raptor drifting up the valley that looked interesting, and indeed it was. A red kite, possibly in off the sea, soon began circling above Bridge Street Floods before continuing to drift northwards. Although far from rare with several each year, they’re one of these right time, right place species so we were chuffed to catch up with one!

And at last a sign that things were happening… Blackcaps singing upon my return from a few days away, a rock pipit overhead on the seafront, and 2 sandwich terns flying east on 28th. 29th yielded more with first sand martins during a showery wander along the canal path with Dave W and Alan Butler, followed by the reappearance of the barn owl! The month ended with a March willow warbler, a definite sign of spring for me and lovely to hear. As the month draws to a close, my patch year list is up to 109 – quite a bit below last year, probably down to less time spent in the area, and the area being generally less well covered.

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Return of the Barn Owl

From Minsmere to Portland

17th-22nd March

I was invited to attend the British Birds’ strategy weekend, alongside Nina O’Hanlon, Lizzie Bruce, and Drew Lyness, as a panel of young birders to chat to the Directors and Trustees about the journal from our perspective. It was an interesting discussion, a good opportunity to network and meet top birders, and of course do some birding at a lovely reserve on the east coast – Minsmere.

We arrived late afternoon on Friday (17th) where the first stop was the north hide to look out onto the scrapes and scan the gull roost. Like Titchfield Haven, there were plenty of Mediterranean gulls (although not quite on the same scale as the south coast!), good numbers of common and black-headed gulls, and many larger gulls to search through. The larger gulls seemed to mostly consist of great black-backed, lesser black-backed and herring gulls, although it wasn’t long before Adam Rowlands picked out a 2cy Caspian gulls, later followed by a second individual. They’re an interesting species, one I long for on patch so it was great to enjoy it and compare the key features of all the gulls. Feeling satisfied and with light fading, we retired to the local pub for food and a good chat.

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One of two Caspian Gulls at Minsmere, 17th March 2017

The following morning (18th) we awoke to a dawn chorus of a different kind, with the added extra of red-legged partridges outside the lodges we were staying in – the Warren Lodges were lovely and cosy, so I’d definitely recommend it for anyone who fancied staying near Minsmere. This was the day of our discussion, so very little birding was done. Perhaps, given the weather, this was a blessing in disguise as it was certainly rather wet and windy!

Sunday (19th) dawned, and it was still rather windy, but thankfully dry, so the day began with a short trip to look for Dartford warblers close to the reserve – a brief glimpse of a male and female just as we were giving up, yay. Although we had no luck with any hoped for woodlark, it was  good to hear many singing chiffchaffs, plus a couple of siskin and redpoll too. While the Directors and Trustees had their board meeting, Lizzie, Nina, Drew and I met up with Dawn Balmer for a morning’s birding around the reserve. It was great to properly explore Minsmere, and also to see 2 garganey and a sand martin – spring at last! Alas I missed the house martin. Added to that, we managed to relocate the 2 smew and enjoyed a flyover bittern and marsh harriers.

The following morning (20th) I headed down to Dorset – destination Portland Bird Observatory for a short stay. It’s still rather early in the year so I wasn’t expecting much, but it has been far too long since my last visit. There were a sprinkling of new arrivals here too. My first 8 wheatear of the year at last in the strong, rather unpleasant westerlies; always something exciting about seeing migration in action.

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One of several Wheatear at Portland Bill

One target I had in mind was an overwintering Hume’s warbler at Thumb Lane that was proving to be rather elusive based on reports. It was certainly elusive during my five attempts, with about 5 minutes worth of views out of all the hours looking! An area worth exploring though, with plenty of scrub, two chiffchaffs and a singing blackcap; my first of the year. The first attempt wasn’t helped by the weather, but as the sun made an appearance late afternoon, I decided to give it another go. Three wheatear had arrived since the morning, and after a good look it was seeming as if I would draw another blank… Thankfully not, the sudden ‘dsu-weet‘ gave it away, and looking up, there it was, all for about 30 seconds before it disappeared! I returned a couple of times on 21st, hoping for better views, and it did show slightly better early afternoon. The calls helped once again to track down the bird as it flitted around in the trees and bushes – too quick for a photo.

Back at Portland Bill, sea watching yeilded small numbers of gannets, guillemot, razorbills, fulmar, shag and red-throated divers. Not exciting but more than I’ve had so far off Hill Head this year so good practise for when birds actually pass through the Solent. Wanders around the immediate area yielded more newly arrived wheatear and chiffchaffs, but little else asides from rock pipitsRock pipits only visit Hill Head occasionally, so I did find it interesting observing them, particularly as there seemed to be more than one subspecies present, and varying plumages.

A wet start to 22nd began with seawatching from the shelter of the Obs. Many kittiwakes were passing through, along with smaller numbers of common scoter, fulmar and auks. Once the weather cleared up, it was time for a final wander along the Bill before heading off. More wheatear had arrived, and 2 black redstarts around the rocks and light house. They were one of the species I’d been hoping to see, so was pleased they’d (re)appeared after a no show the other days.

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One of two Black Redstarts at Portland Bill, 22nd March 2017

I’d been meaning to revisit the RSPB’s Lytchett’s Fields for some time, and as it was only a slight detour, popped in with the hope of seeing the green-winged teal. When I arrived on site, I bumped into Ian Ballam who assured me the bird was still present at the back pool so I hurried over for a look. The viewing conditions weren’t brilliant as you’re looking into the sun and there’s various dips and mounds obscuring sections of the pool. The nepe tides at the moment weren’t helping either as it meant more of the field was uncovered, so more dips for the birds to hide in. Eventually the green-winged teal did reappear in the open, feeding among a small group of Eurasian teal for good comparison – yay, another lifer! 

 

February 2017 in the North East

I had promised myself I’d visit Norfolk, namely RSPB Titchwell, at least once while staying nearby on the east coat, so a warm sunny Saturday seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. I had limited time, as a social event in the evening had been planned, but the hours spent at Titchwell were still brilliant. My main target was the sea, having seen various impressive reports over the past few months, and certainly wasn’t disappointed. So many ducks!!

I’m used to sea watching at Hill Head, where the Isle of Wight limits both the quality and quantity most of the time, plus the land doesn’t stick out like Portland, so even just the number of common scoter offshore was great to see. Even better though, there were large numbers of long-tailed ducks and velvet scoter, of varying plumage, which was fantastic, especially as many gave good scope views! Other highlights were red-throated diver, goldeneye and eider on the sea, while sanderling were running along the beach near a nice flock of knot and bar-tailed godwits. I didn’t explore much of the reserve, but it was good to see a small flock of avocets and spotted redshank among the waders and wildfowl on the scrapes. Strange as it sounds, I had been missing the sea and seawatches. I may have been living on the east coast, but the sea is miles away. The vast expanse of saltmarsh in the estuaries is impressive though. 

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Pacific Diver, East Chevington, 5th February 2017

As the pacific diver seemed rather settled at East Chevington, I decided to pay it a visit while staying ‘up north’ in Lincolnshire. The north, I’ve been reminded, is a big place especially as almost everywhere is north compared to home. Still, the pacific diver was closer to me than the Cornwall individual, and worth the visit – a lifer, showing well in the lake while I watched it on 5th; consolidation for missing red-necked grebe on patch (proper county rarity!) that morning. Whilst there, a bittern flew past and landed in the reedbed. Time then for the next target of the day, Skinningrove’s eastern black redstart; a lovely bird that also showed well on the beach alongside 2 stonechats, a couple of dunnocks and a robin. The fulmar on the cliffs above were also a pleasant sight.

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Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, 5th February 2017

The twitch got me thinking. Nice as it was to see these lifers, more time was spent travelling than actual birding, and I’m not sure much actual birding was done. I’ll certainly not give up twitching, but try to make more of the day in future (some previous twitches have done so), and take more note of the other species present too. Added to that, I reminded myself that a top birder was telling me once we should try not to see ‘too much too quickly’, which is a good point.

As such, I actually stayed fairly local the next weekend, but had a rather birding-less week I must admit, although surveying at Freiston on 6th did yield 4 knot. However, 11th involved a trip down to Willow Tree Fen to catch up with a lovely bluethroat which showed brilliantly in the freezing conditions. It reminded me of my first twitch four years ago, when I was just getting into regular birding. That too was a bluethroat, in similarly cold conditions, but on the Isle of Wight (a family holiday, honest!, where I was informed of the bird’s presence) and the bird was much more elusive. It took us two attempts to get it, and I think probably put mum and dad off birding and twitching as it was bitterly cold! I do also remember having excellent views of water rail there – St Helen’s Duver, I think – but sadly no pictures. Back to Willow Tree Fen, we didn’t see any water rail, but certainly some about calling. A small flock of geese too, mostly white-fronted and a pink-footed goose.

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Bluethroat, Willow Tree Fen, 11th February 2017

The following day (12th), I waited until the rain stopped before heading out to Frampton Marsh, with highlights of an avocet, and plenty of pintail, ruff, goldeneye, ringed plovers and more. The whooper swans that roost on the reserve have chosen to feed on the fields by the house of late, so it was nice to watch them during daylight for once! One of the fields also had a red-legged partridge. Another bonus at the moment is the small flock of brambling that’s taken up residence in the farm and garden, often on the feeders at breakfast! It’s certainly nice to enjoy the variety of finches and bunting around the house. Being in the countryside is rather different to the surburbia I’m used to, though at least there are fields and reserves close to my home too. And waxwings near home too, so I see, with a group of five by the Whiteley shopping centre.

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One of the small flock of Brambling at Frampton Marsh

I happened to have a 3 day weekend, so joined Chris Andrews for another day’s birding on 13th. Great grey shrike was our first port of call, but the bird was sadly flushed by someone deciding it was a great idea to walk out onto the scrub instead of viewing from the gate as instructed… Moving swiftly on, good views were had of a great white egret and long-tailed duck along the river at Deeping High Bank, followed by 2 long-eared owls at Deeping Lakes. After a return trip to the shrike for much better views, lunch was spent enjoying cranes in the Nene Washes, followed by a couple of hours at Rutland Water. It’s the first time I’ve properly visited Rutland (after dipping the surf scoter 6 weeks ago), and was very chuffed with highlights of 7 smew – lifer for me, and great birds – and 2 scaup.

In an attempt to get myself back into ‘proper’ birding again, I’ve been waking up earlier and strolling around bits of Frampton before work. One particular highlight for me has been a flock of brambling hanging around the farm and house this month, while early morning strolls have also yielded both barn and little owls, many goldeneye, tree and house sparrows, and yellowhammers, among others. It’s begun to feel rather spring-like during these early morning sessions now, what with being woken up by the beginning of a dawn chorus before 7am (yay!), and the strolls being accompanied by the sound of singing song and mistle thrushes, yellowhammer and sklylark.

I suppose one good thing about birding, or nature in general, is that it’s all around you and one can be sort of birding constantly, wherever one is, so yelling “Egyptian geese!” as we passed through Frampton village after a successful food shop one evening seemed perfectly normal. It was interesting, and the first we’d seen this year, sadly outside of the reserve boundaries. On another occasion, I’d barely been driving for a minute when I had to pause (it’s a quiet country road) to admire a lovely male hen harrier quartering across the field not far from the reserve; a great sight, and the best views I’d had of one.

Another weekend dawned, with plans of meeting up with my parents and some friends of theirs, so a daytrip to Norwich was on the cards for 18th. before meeting up with them, a brisk walk around Frampton was squeezed in, with highlights of an avocet on the scrapes, and 6 or so bearded tits flying around the reedbed. Norwich, I thought, was surely close to the regular flocks of bean geese Norfolk get each winter so I convinced my parents it was the perfect opportunity for a while goose chase. Thankfully, the wild goose chase was successful, although we did detour over to Breydon Water where 95 tundra bean geese were present in fields by the rugby club. One more lifer for me, as they’re not regular on the south coast. A more laid back local day was planned for 19th. A brief hour at Frampton Marsh yielded 2 scaup and a barnacle goose on the reedbed.

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The two Scaup (left) with Pochard and Tufted Duck. No arrows required 😉

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, and in this instance I agree. My final day volunteering at Frampton arrived and yielded a red-legged partridge from the office window. The journey home took a slight detour… to Spurn (as you do!), and so most of 22nd was spent exploring the area. A short sea watch may not have been that exciting to most, but it was enjoyable to have several red-throated divers, guillemot and razorbill on the sea, with others heading north too. A single puffin flying north was a nice bonus, and moments later a fulmar flew south – two species I’m still waiting for at Hill Head. Walking back along the canal, I was surprised to flush a short-eared owl that must’ve been sheltering rather close to the path, and paid the overwintering black brant a visit. It was good to watch the geese and remind myself how much black brant stand out from a flock of dark-bellied brent geese (with a pale-bellied mixed in as well).

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Black Brant, Kilnsea, 22nd February 2017

My time up north has come to an end for now. Who knows what’s next…

Good start to the year…

The new year began at Hill Head, bright and early, with Ken Martin as we started our new lists. Snow bunting, long-tailed duck, decent flock of eider and a few common scoter, the highlights, with the rest of the day spent enjoying the commoner species, including a couple of chiffchaffs. The days that followed, too, were mostly spent on patch trying to clock up a few more species. One key species I was hoping for was water pipit; something I’d seen reported regularly, so decided to target what seemed like their favoured areas, and had also been given suggestions for other species to target. Posbrook seemed to be the main area to focus on. For those who don’t know, it’s around the first bridge you reach after heading south from the Bridge Street car park. Posbrook Floods is the (usually) flooded area to the left of the bridge – that’s where the reserve boundary begins – and over the bridge on the right is a pony field.

The pony field seemed rather productive, with many redwing, song thrush and a mistle thrush, alongside 46 black-tailed godwits, 6 curlew and more, but to begin with, no pipits. For most of the week, this seemed to be a recurring theme, other than the occasional flyover meadow pipit, and Posbrook Flood yielded none too. The Floods are, however, the best place for pintail on patch. Thankfully, one final trip on Saturday 7th was pleasantly successful. It was a warmer day (maybe that helped; I suppose lots of ice on the cold days didn’t), and numerous pipits were feeding in the pony field, including one lovely water pipit! There have been as many as 6 seen along the canal path itself this winter but I could only manage one. Still, only my 2nd (my first was at Farlington Marshes in 2014) and great views. Typically, it disappeared before Mark Rolfe and Ken arrived, and a good search to relocate it, or others, seemed to fail. One final trip? Ah well, that’s because it was time to pause birding at Titchfield Haven (unusually for me) and head north… So, patch year list up to 86, with water pipit being the first full patch tick of the year.

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Water Pipit, Posbrook, 7th January 2017 – finally!

A new venture began on 8th, which was mostly spend in the car travelling to up Lincolnshire. Arriving at Frampton late afternoon, there was just enough time to visit the reserve and watch the starling and pink-footed geese come into roost. I didn’t really have much time to explore, but was impressed by the shear number of birds. Must’ve been thousands of wigeon by the car park alone, and thousands of waders on the scrapes!

Why am I in Lincolnshire, neglecting my beloved patch? Well, the RSPB offer residential volunteering opportunities, and as Frampton Marsh was one place I’d always wanted to visit, it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I also wanted to escape for a bit. This is where I’m based for the time being, and it’s lovely: tree sparrows in the garden, living on a farm, nature reserve on the doorstep (almost), oh and a lovely waxwing from the office on 9th! A real contrast to the suburbs of Fareham. It’s really interesting to see how areas differ, sad on one sense (as some of the differences are due to local extinction, declines etc) but also exciting to explore the new area. During the week I didn’t get much chance to explore the reserve(s) as we were busy carrying out various tasks (mostly fence repairs and path maintenance at this time of year), although birding was squeezed in throughout the day. The work is split between Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore, a smaller site near by.

I’d chosen to stay local for my first weekend in Lincolnshire, so began 14th bright and early at Marsh Farm Reservoir, the south west corner of the reserve. This was where the waxwing had been on 9th and 10th, with other highlight during early morning sessions including goldeneye and turnstone. I decided to walk the southern edge of the reserve boundary as it was the section I’d not visited yet, and was well worth it for the small number of yellowhammers, a merlin and good views of a marsh harrier over the salt marsh of the Wash. Another highlight was an avocet feeding on the North Scrape. One thing I’d been impressed with since arriving was the sheer number of birds – thousands of wildfowl and waders, far more than I’m using to seeing at Titchfield Haven, and great to see.

While birding, I bumped into Ryan Clark, a fellow AFON member and we decided to take a break from Frampton to head over to Kirkby on Bain where a ring-necked duck had been reported during the week. The bird was still present on one of the gravel pits, though often difficult to see but a helpful local birder pointed it out to us, and after a while it briefly woke up and drifted further out into the pit, providing us with much better views. There was also a lovely male scaup, a species I don’t see often – an added bonus! Returning to Frampton after a late lunch, we made it back in time to see the starling murmuration and the whooper swans coming to roost. It was also nice to see a small flock of pink-footed geese.

The following morning (15th) began with the Wetland Birds Survey. I joined Toby Collett which gave me a chance to explore another section of Frampton – the 3km stretch of the Haven, leading to Tabbs Head and the Wash. The rain wasn’t particularly pleasant (and I discovered my waterproofs need reproofing!) but it was a good session, with 2 Bewick’s  and 70 Whooper Swans, 4 short-eared owls appearing over the saltmarsh, jack snipe, water rail, 2 spotted redshank and red-breasted merganser on the sea. Pre-work sessions have been pleasant too, with 9 yellowhammers and little owl on 17th and 8 white-fronted geese on 18th.

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White-fronted Geese, Freiston Shore, 18th January 2017

21st dawned and it was time for a twitch, this time Derbyshire bound. The dusky thrush had been present at Beeley for well over a month, but Simon Wilson, Simon Knight and I hadn’t made it over there yet. On arrival we were told the bird hadn’t been seen, but we had come to it’s usual spot so decided to start there while other birders went to look elsewhere. This turned out to be a good move when Simon K set up his scope and within seconds found he was looking at the dusky thrush, feeding on the ground; the first lifer of the year! Distant views, but good enough with a scope.

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Dusky Thrush, Beeley, 21st January 2017

With a couple hours of daylight remaining I headed back over to Frampton Marsh to enjoy 6 marsh harriers over the saltmarsh, merlin, peregrine, a good starling murmuration, the whooper swans coming to roost, and my highlight – a hen harrier quartering over the reedbed! It was the first hen harrier I’d seen for two years, having not managed to connect with any in Hampshire. It wasn’t long before I saw another, this time at Freiston Shore on 23rd, while carrying out surveys with Simon K. We surveyed the area of managed realignment, and the arable fields, recording anything we saw while walking through them. Highlights included great views of a hen harrier, short-eared owl, jack snipe and plenty of tree sparrows.

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Spot the Hen Harrier, causing mayhem over Freiston!

A white-billed diver had turned up on the river Witham near Woodhall Spa on 20th, coincidently in exactly the same stretch of river as another individual back in the ’90s, but with my weekend filled with out of county twitching – first that dusky thrush, and then dipping the Yorkshire pine bunting the following afternoon – I didn’t have a chance to go. We ran out of time again on Monday, but thankfully Tuesday (24th) all went according to plan, and so I had a chance to enjoy the diver after a long walk along by the river to relocate it that afternoon. It was fantastic, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever get as good or better views of any diver species any time soon!

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White-billed Diver, Stixwould, 24th January 2017

I’d been in contact with Dave Wallace while up at Frampton, particularly as the temptation for a weekend at home grew. Birds to see (oh, and family and friends!). Dave mentioned the possibility of a twitch, allowing me another chance to try for a pine bunting, and with a few other things to do as well, I headed back. My first port of call once home was Hill Head  for 6 scaup that had been offshore for the best part of a week. Arriving before dawn on 27th, I was treated to rather distant views from the Meonshore chalets – still good enough for a much desired patch tick! Other than a brief appearance in November 2016 (which I missed), it’s been many years since scaup had been reported at the Haven. 

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Scaup, Hill Head, 27th January 2017

It was then time to meet up with Alan Butler and Dave, and head off to Kent for round 2 (for me) of the pine bunting. Finding the location proved challenging, but thanks to Google maps we were soon stood on the seawall with a number of other birders. Not long after arriving, the bird briefly perched up on a hawthorn bush, but didn’t stay long enough for everyone to see it or get ‘tickable’ views. Feeling unsatisfied, and hoping for more views, we agreed to make the most of the afternoon and stay put which paid off. About an hour later, another birder noticed the bunting was frequenting a different tree by a hedgerow, showing on and off regularly for a good half hour or so (we did have better views than my poor photo too!).

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Pine Bunting, Milton Creek, 27th January 2017 – we did get better views too!

It felt a bit like Deja vu the next morning (28th), as Ken and I headed off to attempt to twitch another bunting, this time a little bunting on Portsdown Hill. A very rare bird in Hampshire, where I believe the last ‘twitchable’ bird was in 1992. As expected, it wasn’t easy, but we did get brief views (a couple of seconds!) when it occasionally perched in a bush with reed buntings. It was also nice to enjoy the yellowhammers, a bird I don’t see often in the county. The afternoon was spent in Basingstoke as news of waxwings had broken while in Kent yesterday, and thankfully they’d hung around. On arrival, I was told the bird had flown a few minutes earlier, but was promised they’d return, which they did – and very nice too. 4 lovely waxwing as the light started to fade! My first in Hampshire, and having only previously seen 2, it was great to spend time watching the small group.

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One of four Waxwings in Basingstoke, 28th January 2017

Before returning to Frampton, I headed to Hill Head for dawn and enjoyed 6 scaup, long-tailed duck and 30 eider on the sea, and paid a visit to the long staying snow bunting that was still hanging about the harbour spit – impressive species tally! A quick scan of Rainbow Bar yielded a good mix of waders including bar-tailed godwit, greenshank, grey plover, ringed plover, dunlinsanderling and 4 curlew. It’s hard to stay away from a site that’s brought much happiness over the years. 

 

Final quarter

I never quite got round to maintaining the monthly updates (sorry!) at the end of the year, and also didn’t think there’d be as much to say as I’d anticipated the birding quieting down. Wrong! Plenty of birding has taken place, and some lovely birds, including many unexpected lifers, have been seen. This year has been crazy! So, here’s a long-ish catch up…

Upon my return from Shetland, I started to think that it was about time a yellow-browed warbler turned up on patch, given the numerous birds reported elsewhere in the south. I suspected that if this were to happen, it would be along the Titchfield canal path, and sure enough a text on the afternoon of 21st October, confirmed my suspicions – Dan Houghton had stumbled across one not far from Hammond’s bridge so I hurried over to investigate. A lovely bird, albeit silent when I arrived and rather brief views, but the 20th full patch tick this year!  

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Several attempts to photograph Yellow-browed Warblers of late haven’t quite worked… One from Hillwell (Shetland) in October 2016

I joined Alan Butler and Dan for some ‘vis-mig’ along the seafront on 22nd and 23rd October. Plenty of finches still moving through, including brambling, couple of lesser redpoll, some siskin and a single swallow – nice! Frustratingly, none of us definitely saw the brambling as it flew over, just heard it calling. I’d been trying not to include “heard only’s” this year, so hoped we’d get another chance. It wasn’t a bad weekend, as other highlights included a rather late whinchat hanging out by the Frying Pan, Mediterranean gull (which usually winter elsewhere) and a wing-tagged marsh harrier, although sadly we didn’t manage to read the tag. It was, however, great to watch the two marsh harriers together as they flew around the meadow!

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Goosander, Hill Head, 26th October 2016 – the first of 7 this year!

Squeezing in a pre-work visit on 26th, it was a pleasant surprise to find a young goosander offshore from the sailing club! These aren’t annual here so a very nice patch year tick indeed! It stayed for about 15 minutes or so, before deciding to head off north. Another reminder that one aspect of birding is all about the timing (and it is always a shame when birds decide to fly just before others arrive, sorry!).

Away from patch, an isabelline wheatear had turned up on Shetland hours after we’d disembarked and had begun the long journey back down south, which was a shame though bound to happen. One had also appeared in Yorkshire the day after Dave Wallace had left, so were both pleased to hear of one turning up at Wardy Hill (Cambridgeshire) on 29th October. It was a lovely afternoon (certainly far better than my morning on patch, thanks to the fog!) and the bird showed well.

The following morning, we decided it was time to pay a visit to Eastoke, Hayling Island, for a shorelark that Andy Johnson had found on 27th October. It had been found in the evening so no time to dash over, especially with the nights drawing in. However, thankfully the bird remained on the beach over the weekend, and showed extremely well – down to a few feet! A great bird to watch, especially in Hampshire, so a perfect end to the weekend.

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Sunrise over Hill Head, 1st November 2016

A fine start to November. The sky looked lovely when I arrived at Hill Head pre-dawn. It continued with 2 greenshank and 8 sanderling on the beach, over 500 brent geese, good views of water rail and the bearded tits pinging away. The afternoon was similarly pleasant. I joined Dave Wallace again, and this time we decided to pay the spotted crake at Winchester Sewage Farm a visit. The bird is certainly rather showy, spending much of its time out in the open, but the site is private so only distant views from afar can be had.

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Spotted Crake, Winchester Sewage Farm, 1st November 2016

Upon returning to the car, we received news of a black redstart by the Meonshore chalets, and with enough daylight remaining, decided to give it a go. I’ve found black redstarts difficult to connect with in the past, but this one showed well, perched up on a roof as we arrived. A lovely male too! The bird was present the next day, joined by a second, and more good views were had.

The black redstarts continued to show well over the course of the week which was lovely and well worth making the most of. Another highlight was a drake long-tailed duck first seen offshore on 3rd. Sadly not nearly as close as the black redstarts, but still great to watch, especially as they’re not common off Hill Head! That said, this is my 2nd of the year.

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One of two Snow Bunting, Southsea, 6th November 2016

The original plan for 6th was to pay a visit to a cliff swallow that had showed well at RSPB Minsmere for the previous 36 hours. Alas, the bird flew off south at not long after dawn and didn’t return, so Dave and I abandoned our idea of an afternoon in Suffolk. However, it wasn’t all bad… After enjoying the long-tailed duck on patch that morning, we received news of 2 snow bunting around Southsea seafront. Afternoon sorted! Upon arrival we weren’t sure where to start looking, so took a punt and headed to Southsea Castle and the bandstand. Perhaps the birds saw us coming, as they delightfully appeared and landed not far from where we were stood. Very good views were had it was safe to say! We rounded off our trip to Southsea with a purple sandpiper – the first of the overwintering birds returning.

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Purple Sandpiper, Southsea, 6th November 2016

Scaup was the next target; a scarce bird in Hampshire that used to be more regular along the coast (including on patch so I’m told). Olly Frampton had found a 1st winter bird at Ripley Farm Reservoir and I was keen go pay a visit having not previously had one in the county. Dave was happy to come along too, so another pleasant afternoon birding off patch was had on 8th. The scaup showed fairly well alongside 11 mandarin ducks. Then came the pallid harrier at Needs Ore – great to see even though the views on 11th were rather fleeting! After dipping far too many in Sussex and Shetland, it was a very welcomed lifer indeed.

Seawatching has started to prove fruitful at times off Hill Head, although most birds are distant. Highlights including 20 eider, around 50 common scoter and long-tailed duck on 11th – nice for the sea not to be ’empty’! And impressive numbers too! A Slavonian grebe and 6 goosander were offshore on 14th, another nice surprise. Typically, no sooner had I put the news out about the goosander, they took off and flew towards Southampton Water. 

Razorbill!” – looking up from the scope to see the razorbill Ken Martin had called on the morning of 16th, I found myself pick up a velvet scoter fly in and land amongst the flock of common scoter instead.  Again distant – the flock has chosen to hang around off Brownwich Cliffs towards Fawley power station. Great to see but closer views would be much nicer! The velvet scoter hung around for some time with the scoter flock, and was soon joined by another….and another.

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Some of the regular Scoter flock wintering in the Solent this year

We had hoped the stormy weather on 20th November would bring in various seabirds to the Solent, but no such luck sadly. However, it ended up being a very good day indeed, as a Foster’s tern that had been found the day before reappeared so Dave and I headed off on yet another twitch. By the time we arrived that afternoon, it didn’t seem promising. The bird hadn’t been seen for over two hours after flying east. We waiting, and just when everyone was beginning to lose hope and accept we’d all dipped, it reappeared and showed very well, zipping across the river in front of us as the light began to fade – phew!

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Awful record shot of the Foster’s Tern, Mistley, 20th November 2016

As November drew to a close, much time was spent back on patch hoping for another year tick or too, and as luck would have it, another brambling flew over when chatting to Dave Ryves on 24th and this time we actually saw it – yay! The brambling was a long awaited patch tick for me; a species I’d been really hoping to catch up with so was rather pleased to hear that nasally ‘te-ehp‘ as it flew over us and then to look up and catch a glimpse of that white rump. 

Meanwhile, the seawatching continued to be somewhat productive: red-breasted merganser, another Slavonian grebe and 7 (yes 7!!) velvet scoter on 27th! Mark Palmer picked up 2 that flew past, followed by Dan picking up another 4 that briefly landed close offshore, and the regular bird was still hanging out with the other scoter – the most I’ve ever seen, so far. The art of being in the right place at the right time is one I’m still attempting to master, and this time birds missed include scaup, hen harrier, woodcock and cattle egret – all jammy flyovers! 

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Four of the seven Velvet Scoter, Hill Head, 27th November 2016

December began with a trip to Pulborough Brooks, hoping to catch up with a tundra bean goose, but instead had to settle for 10 or so white-fronted geese. The bean goose would’ve been a lifer, but it was great to see the white-fronted nonetheless! Another trip to Sussex with Dave on 4th, in search of a desert wheatear at Norman’s Bay. As is often the case with wheatear, it showed extremely well, even hopping down onto the beach next to us!                                                                                                                                                                                                

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Desert Wheatear – 4th species this quarter – Norman’s Bay on 4th December 2016

December continued, but more time was spent working and thus less time birding. During my lunch break of one shift on 14th, I received news of a snow bunting at Hill Head – oh no! Not enough time to dash off and return, but thankfully Ken and I had superb views at dawn the following morning, yay! It showed within a few feet of us! Another full patch tick for me. It was a fantastic bird to watch – very confiding indeed. At some points close enough to reach out and touch (not that I did, of course)! That turned out to be the final patch year tick, so the year finished on 176; something I didn’t think would be possible! Bird wise, a truly fantastic year at Titchfield Haven.

Another foggy morning on 18th December, so Dave and I decided to visit the cattle egrets at Warblington. At first there was no sign, and were informed they had flown some time before we arrived, put persevering and waiting for a bit paid off as both soon returned and hung out with the cattle. Great to watch, and the views were much better than when I saw my first cattle egret (on patch in 2015).

It was as if 2016 was the year that kept on giving, bird wise anyway. News of a Blyth’s pipit at Blagdon Lake in Somerset was released on 19th, and with it still present and reportedly showing well the next day, Dave and I headed on yet another twitch. When we arrived, the bird had been lost, but was soon relocated and good scope views were had. Whilst there, it was also great to see a little stint; not something I usually see in winter!

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Blyth’s Pipit

Checking Twitter while travelling up to visit family near Swindon, pictures emerged of a blue rock thrush not so far away in Stow-on-the-Wold – wow! As the day progressed more details were released, and the temptation to head over increased. Sadly, I’m the only birder in my family, so no quick twitch while in the area. Thankfully Dave was keen and a good map reader (great for diverting around the closed A40), so we had a pleasant trip on 28th and enjoyed the bird as it sat up on various rooftops, despite the fog, and so one final lifer before the year ended!

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Blue Rock Thrush (honest!), Stow-on-the-Wold, 28th December 2016

To finish this post, it seemed apt to thank fellow birders for sharing sighting and company while birding etc, those who gave me numerous lifts (especially Dave W & Dave S), the lovely staff at Titchfield Haven (Pam’s cakes were particularly good!), and Steve Keen and Joe Stockwell for the friendly patch competition – regular texts like “bitternbitternbittern” spurred me on in an attempt to show that the Haven can match up to the larger sites (like the Keyhaven area)! …and thanks to anyone else who I’ve forgotten to mention.

Patch year list – patch ticks have been highlighted.

  1. Mute Swan
  2. Greylag Goose
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Barnacle Goose
  5. Dark-bellied Brent Goose (& Pale-bellied)
  6. Shelduck
  7. Wigeon
  8. Gadwall
  9. Teal
  10. Mallard
  11. Pintail
  12. Garganey
  13. Shoveler
  14. Pochard
  15. Tufted Duck
  16. Eider
  17. Long-tailed Duck
  18. Common Scoter
  19. Velvet Scoter
  20. Red-breasted Merganser
  21. Goosander
  22. Pheasant
  23. Red-throated Diver
  24. Black-throated Diver
  25. Great Northern Diver
  26. Gannet
  27. Cormorant
  28. Shag
  29. Little Egret
  30. Great White Egret
  31. Grey Heron
  32. Spoonbill
  33. Little Grebe
  34. Great Crested Grebe
  35. Slavonian Grebe
  36. Black-necked Grebe
  37. Honey-buzzard
  38. Marsh Harrier
  39. Sparrowhawk
  40. Buzzard
  41. Osprey
  42. Water Rail
  43. Moorhen
  44. Coot
  45. Stone-curlew
  46. Avocet
  47. Oystercatcher
  48. Golden Plover
  49. Grey Plover
  50. Lapwing
  51. Little Ringed Plover
  52. Ringed Plover
  53. Whimbrel
  54. Curlew
  55. Black-tailed Godwit
  56. Bar-tailed Godwit
  57. Turnstone
  58. Knot
  59. Ruff
  60. Curlew Sandpiper
  61. Sanderling
  62. Dunlin
  63. Little Stint
  64. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  65. Common Sandpiper
  66. Green Sandpiper
  67. Spotted Redshank
  68. Greenshank
  69. Wood Sandpiper
  70. Redshank
  71. Snipe
  72. Pomarine Skua
  73. Arctic Skua
  74. Great Skua
  75. Razorbill
  76. Guillemot
  77. Little Tern
  78. Black Tern
  79. Sandwich Tern
  80. Common Tern
  81. Roseate Tern
  82. Arctic Tern
  83. Kittiwake
  84. Black-headed Gull
  85. Little Gull
  86. Mediterranean Gull
  87. Common Gull
  88. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  89. Herring Gull
  90. Yellow-legged Gull
  91. Iceland Gull
  92. Glaucous Gull
  93. Great Black-backed Gull
  94. Feral Pigeon
  95. Stock Dove
  96. Woodpigeon
  97. Collared Dove
  98. Cuckoo
  99. Barn Owl
  100. Tawny Owl
  101. Short-eared Owl
  102. Swift
  103. Kingfisher
  104. Green Woodpecker
  105. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  106. Kestrel
  107. Merlin
  108. Hobby
  109. Peregrine
  110. Magpie
  111. Jay
  112. Jackdaw
  113. Rook
  114. Carrion Crow
  115. Raven
  116. Goldcrest
  117. Firecrest
  118. Penduline Tit
  119. Blue Tit
  120. Great Tit
  121. Coal Tit
  122. Bearded Tit
  123. Skylark
  124. Sand Martin
  125. Swallow
  126. House Martin
  127. Cetti’s Warbler
  128. Long-tailed Tit
  129. Yellow-browed Warbler
  130. Wood Warbler
  131. Chiffchaff
  132. Willow Warbler
  133. Blackcap
  134. Garden Warbler
  135. Lesser Whitethroat
  136. Whitethroat
  137. Dartford Warbler
  138. Grasshopper Warbler
  139. Sedge Warbler
  140. Reed Warbler
  141. Nuthatch
  142. Treecreeper
  143. Wren
  144. Starling
  145. Blackbird
  146. Fieldfare
  147. Song Thrush
  148. Redwing
  149. Mistle Thrush
  150. Spotted Flycatcher
  151. Robin
  152. Black Redstart
  153. Redstart
  154. Whinchat
  155. Stonechat
  156. Siberian (Caspian) Stonechat
  157. Wheatear
  158. Pied Flycatcher
  159. Dunnock
  160. House Sparrow
  161. Yellow Wagtail
  162. Grey Wagtail
  163. Pied Wagtail
  164. Tree Pipit
  165. Meadow Pipit
  166. Rock Pipit
  167. Brambling
  168. Chaffinch
  169. Bullfinch
  170. Greenfinch
  171. Linnet
  172. Lesser Redpoll
  173. Goldfinch
  174. Siskin
  175. Snow Bunting
  176. Reed Bunting

In case anyone’s interested, lifers this year: American Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, Velvet Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Dalmatian Pelican*, Montague’s Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Spotted Crake, Western Swamphen*, Kentish Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole, Great Knot, Caspian Gull, Forster’s Tern, Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Ring-necked Parakeet, Shorelark, Richard’s Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Dipper, Siberian Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush*, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pied Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Pallas’s Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher,  Taiga Flycatcher*, Chough, Rose-coloured Starling, Crossbill, Black-faced Bunting, Little Bunting, Lapland Bunting, Ortolan Bunting. Life list is up to 290*

*Depending on what BBRC decide.

…and county (Hants) ticks highlighted in blue, plus: Bewick’s Swan, Scaup, Grey Partridge, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Grey Phalarope, Stone-curlew, Pomarine Skua, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Ring Ouzel. County list up to 229.

Shetland 2016

9th-16th October

An awesome week with Sean Foote, Matt Phelps and Ed Stubbs. The conditions looked fantastic, and we were hyped having closely followed the previous week’s news. We had hoped the White’s thrush, lanceolated warbler and brown shrike, among other species would stay, but certainly no complains with what we saw instead!

Arriving in Aberdeen mid-afternoon on 9th,  an excellent half hour was spent wandering around the harbour where the highlight for me was a humpback whale that breeched a few times, fairly close in offshore! The first whale I’d ever seen in British waters. It was much easier to catch up with than we expected, as upon getting out of the car and looking through the binoculars I remarked, “Is that it?” and so it was. Then the pager went off “Siberian Accentor Mainland NE of Sousburgh…” – bloody hell; a first for Britain!! Amazingly, it stayed the night, so our first stop after disembarking was a quarry by Sousburgh. It was awesome to see and hear the Siberian accentor and the views were great; something I’ll never forget. Over an hour was well spent enjoying the bird. What a fantastic start to the week! 

The day continued with good fortune – Matt picked up a Richard’s Pipit flying over the cottage (sadly during the brief moment I was inside so I missed it) and a yellow-browed warbler passed through the garden. A walk around Papil, West Burra, where we were staying, was great too with a bluethroat in a nearby garden alongside many twite. Next stop was a buff-breasted sandpiper (a lifer for me) at Boddam, a trip to Tesco’s, Scalloway for a rose-coloured starling, followed by a mad dash to Bressa when news broke of a black-faced bunting at Gunnista! Relocating the bird wasn’t easy, and in the end the decision was taken for someone to try flushing it, so brief flight views were had as it flew over our heads calling. 2 ‘megas’ in a day can’t happen very often, surely?!

We tried to balance our time between covering the local area around Papil, exploring different sites and twitching other rarer birds. The walks around Papil have proved fruitful, with the Richard’s Pipit hanging about (yay, lifer for me!) and finding an olive-backed pipit on 11th. We also had a probable eastern yellow wagtail fly over calling on 11th, though sadly lost the bird so couldn’t confirm; just one of those that got away. The commoner species have been interesting too, with twite and brambling making a daily appearance. A pool viewable from our cottage contained a small number of wildfowl – mute swans, mallard, teal and wigeon, as well as redshank and plenty of snipe. The field surrounding our cottage were alive with greylag geesecurlew, golden plover, more snipe and many meadow pipits, while the coastal waters provided us with good views of black guillemot, razorbill, red-breasted mergansers and even otters. We were also rather chuffed to have a great skua flyover the cottage one morning – wouldn’t that be nice in standard suburbia!

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Papil, West Burra – the view from our cottage

Other trips on Shetland during 11th yielded a wheatear, red-breasted flycatcher and 2 little bunting at Dale of Walls, Ortolan bunting and 2 yellow-browed warblers at Hillwell, and fantastic views of short-eared owl as it flew over the car, among other species.   

After our daily wander around Papil, the first stop on 12th was the Loch of Spiggie for wildfowl, and we weren’t disappointed with highlights being whooper swans, scaup, 4 long-tailed duck, goldeneye, 2 Slavonian grebes and a single common scoter. Continuing to explore the area we wandered along Spiggie beach where 4 stunning summer plumage great northern divers were out in the bay. The original plan for the rest of the day was to head south, towards Sumburgh Head. Stopping at Virkie, a scan of the beach yielded large numbers of dunlin and bar-tailed godwits, and a red-throated diver offshore, while another of those probable eastern yellow wagtails flew over and was later relocated nearby. The pager then kindly informed us of an arctic warbler at Baltasound on Unst, a target species for all of us so the plan quickly changed.

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Arctic Warbler, Baltasound, 12th October

The journey up to Unst was worth it, for the bird showed very well (but was silent) and the scenery was lovely too. We only had a couple of hours to spend there so tried making the most of it. Merlin, Siberian & common chiffchaffs, yellow-browed warbler, blackcap, lesser whitethroat and our first fieldfare of autumn were the best we could do while searching for (and dipping) a Hornemann’s arctic redpoll not far from the arctic warbler.

Returning south towards Sumburgh Head the following day (13th), gave us a chance to explore it further. It was great to enjoy fulmars up close, something you don’t get much in the Solent, and also a pink-footed goose in a field at Grutness (again, not a species one would expect in the Solent!). Razorbills, black guillemot, eider and a red-throated diver were offshore – a seawatch I could only dream of on patch.

13th continued with a trip over to South Collafirth to connect with a rather showy (but hard to photograph) pallas‘s warbler flitting about in the trees with 3 yellow-browed warblers and a chaffinch. Travelling towards the south, we stopped at Kergord to check the plantations we’d spotted on the map. A nice spot which seemed worth exploring further, although our short check yielded only a few yellow-browed warblers, including a rather dull individual that may in fact be a Hume’s warbler but was sadly silent while we watched it.

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A dull Yellow-browed/Hume’s Warbler that was sadly silent (from Sean Foote’s video)

Our next target, pallid harrier, wasn’t quite so cooperative. We made to attempts to see the pallid harrier by the Loch of Hillwell, neither of which were successful (except for Ed, who managed to catch a glimpse of it one morning). However, our evening by the loch wasn’t all that fruitless with 4 shoveler, a lesser black-backed gull and a reed bunting by the loch, and a very interesting flycatcher in the fields by one house in Ringasta. As soon as Ed and Matt called us over, it was clear the bird wasn’t a red-breasted flycatcher – very striking, with a clear white throat and darker dusky underparts. Taiga flycatcher came to mind, but we realised just how rare that is. Other birders soon helped us watch and photograph it and noted other key features. It was interesting to hear the views of birders far more experienced than myself discuss it’s identification.

By 14th, the wind had picked up quite considerably, making birding harder but the perseverance was well worth it. Sadly, the flycatcher wasn’t refound so it’ll be up to the rarities committee to decide if the evidence gained is enough for taiga flycatcher. The morning was spit between Papil, where numerous kittiwake were flying around the bay and a hawfinch passed overhead, and the plantations at Kergord.

The plantations were fantastic, an area we wish we’d discovered earlier in the trip. Wandering through each one yielded the expected species such as chiffchaff, blackcap, redwing, many brambling and yellow-browed warblers. The highlight has to be the arctic warbler Sean found, great to see a second, although not as showy as the first!

The afternoon began around West Voe beach for another spot of seawatching while trying to shelter from the wind. It was a great session (to me anyway) with a decent number of long-tailed ducks, great northern diver, many gannets and kittiwake and large numbers of barnacle geese heading inland. News then broke of a pied wheatear nearby at Scatness found by Steve Minton. It showed brilliantly in front of us on the dry stone wall, while flying low over our heads from time to time. We also heard about the northern long-tailed tits Dan Houghton had found also around the same area, which sadly didn’t stay long enough to twitch.

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Pied Wheatear, Scatness, 14th October 2016

With more hours of daylight remaining, Quendale was our next stop with the hope of Lapland bunting and anything else that would be lurking. Whilst the bunting was a no show, it was nice to visit a new area and see the large number of brambling in the fields close by. Finally, we returned to the loch of Spiggie partly hoping the pallid harrier would roost there (though we failed in that sense). However, the large number of barnacle geese was lovely to see, as was a coot which briefly got us all excited!

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Small sample of the 100+ Brambling at Quendale

Our final day on Shetland sadly dawned (15th) but it was another excellent day. We were greeted to large numbers of fieldfare and a ring ouzel at Papil, amongst others. The rest of the morning was spent in the plantations at Kergord. Plenty of thrushes there too as well as many finches, a few yellow-browed warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, hawfinch, and brief appearance of a sparrowhawk followed by peregrine! The highlight was an olive-backed pipit that appeared in a tree next to me and provided us with very good views indeed.

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Olive-backed Pipit, Kergord, 15th October 2016

Returning to the south, we stopped at Toab in the hope of seeing the Siberian stonechat though sadly couldn’t relocate it. On the plus side, we did catch up with a Lapland bunting while searching, and enjoyed watching many more barnacle geese arrive over Scatness. Time was running out, but we managed to squeeze in a return to Kergord to catch up with a red-flanked bluetail Dan Pointon had just found. It was a species we’d all hoped to see during the trip, so a perfect end. Brief views, but a lovely bird nonetheless.

The ferry journey back was very rough, but I suppose that was a small price to pay for the fantastic trip! One thing I love about Shetland is how different it is to the Solent, and the potential for stumbling across rarities especially at this time of year. It was great to explore and attempt to find (and succeed) birds, while also enjoying the species others had found and enjoying the commoner species that aren’t so common down south. Even seeing the numbers of goldcrests was impressive – amazing to think how far they’d travelled, especially given their tiny size! The other birders (and locals in general) we met while on Shetland were friendly and helpful too, which added to the lovely atmosphere. Definitely a place I’d love to return to and explore more.

Trip list

  1.  Mute Swan
  2. Whooper Swan
  3. Greylag Goose
  4. Pink-footed Goose
  5. Barnacle Goose
  6. Shelduck
  7. Wigeon
  8. Shoveler
  9. Teal
  10. Mallard
  11. Tufted Duck
  12. Scaup
  13. Eider
  14. Common Scoter
  15. Long-tailed Duck
  16. Goldeneye
  17. Red-breasted Merganser
  18. Goosander
  19. Red-throated Diver
  20. Great Northern Diver
  21. Slavonian Grebe
  22. Little Grebe
  23. Fulmar
  24. Gannet
  25. Cormorant
  26. Shag
  27. Grey Heron
  28. Coot
  29. Moorhen
  30. Oystercatcher
  31. Golden Plover
  32. Ringed Plover
  33. Lapwing
  34. Purple Sandpiper
  35. Curlew
  36. Turnstone
  37. Dunlin
  38. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  39. Redshank
  40. Bar-tailed Godwit
  41. Snipe
  42. Great Skua
  43. Black Guillemot
  44. Razorbill
  45. Kittiwake
  46. Black-headed Gull
  47. Common Gull
  48. Herring Gull
  49. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  50. Great Black-backed Gull
  51. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
  52. Woodpigeon
  53. Collared Dove
  54. Short-eared Owl
  55. Pallid Harrier (well, only Ed saw that!)
  56. Merlin
  57. Peregrine
  58. Kestrel
  59. Sparrowhawk
  60. Rook
  61. Hooded Crow
  62. Raven
  63. Goldcrest
  64. Skylark
  65. Arctic Warbler
  66. Pallas’s Warbler
  67. Yellow-browed Warbler
  68. Chiffchaff
  69. Blackcap
  70. Lesser Whitethroat
  71. Wren
  72. Starling
  73. Rose-coloured Starling
  74. Blackbird
  75. Fieldfare
  76. Song Thrush
  77. Ring Ouzel
  78. Redwing
  79. Robin
  80. Bluethroat
  81. Red-flanked Bluetail
  82. Red-breasted Flycatcher
  83. Taiga Flycatcher (probable, see what BBRC decide!)
  84. Redstart
  85. Wheatear
  86. Pied Wheatear
  87. Siberian Accentor
  88. Dunnock
  89. House Sparrow
  90. Yellow Wagtail (probable Eastern)
  91. Grey Wagtail
  92. Pied Wagtail
  93. Richard’s Pipit
  94. Olive-backed Pipit
  95. Meadow Pipit
  96. Rock Pipit
  97. Chaffinch
  98. Brambling
  99. Twite
  100. Redpoll sp (always flyovers for us)
  101. Hawfinch
  102. Ortolan Bunting
  103. Little Bunting
  104. Lapland Bunting
  105. Black-faced Bunting
  106. Reed Bunting

Early autumn

Last year, September began with an evening trip to see a local wryneck and good company, which got me thinking about many things. Sadly, not to be repeated. This year, the bird at Farlington Marshes disappeared before I was able to connect with it on 2nd, and birds at Calshot and Gilkicker Point both disappeared soon after being found. It wasn’t a bad hour at Farlington though, with plenty of waders including a greenshank, 2 curlew sandpipers, numerous knot, 2 ruff and some stunning summer plumage grey plover. Meanwhile, the little stint have lingered on patch, along with the long staying green and common sandpipers, 2 ruff and a greenshank.

You never really know what will turn up each day, which I guess is one good reason for attempting to maintain the motivation and continually check patch. Ivor McPherson and I were by the harbour on 4th, when he noticed the waders up in the air though they landed soon after. What did it? We soon noticed the culprit, heading vaguely towards us (east) and wow!

A honey-buzzard, gradually gaining height, headed over our heads towards the sailing club before flying out into the Solent and heading south-west.  Given the blustery conditions and its unusual behaviour, it was bizarre to see, but as Andy Collins, Dan Houghton and Alan Butler also saw it (them & Ivor are all far better birders than myself), plus the excellent views, there was no doubt as to it’s identification. Only the 3rd one I’ve ever seen, with 2 now over patch. As is often the case, despite the fact we all had cameras, not one of us managed photo. We chose to watch the bird instead!

Away from patch, news of a grey phalarope at Blashford Lakes caught my attention. It turned up one evening, just as the hides were being closed, but stayed for a few days. The car was free on 7th so a trip down to see it was in order. Unlike my 1st grey phalarope (at Pagham Harbour last year) this bird was extremely distant, and probably what you’d call unsatisfactory views. Nevertheless, I’ve finally seen one in Hampshire, honest!

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Grey Phalarope, Ibsley Water, 7th September 2016

Back on patch, much time has been spent scanning the scrapes in the morning, in the hope something new had arrived. Curlew sandpipers have been a key target of mine but I was starting to wonder whether they’d ever turn up. I remember last year, the only curlew sandpiper was present for a short while in spring (though a lovely summer plumage adult, mind!), and we missed out in the autumn. All was not lost, as upon entering Pumfrett hide on 8th, there was not 1 but 7 feeding close to the hide – yay! Another highlight that day was 2 yellow-legged gulls hunkered down on the beach during a rather blustery survey.

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5 of the 7 Curlew Sandpipers at Titchfield Haven, 8th September 2016

The next highlight almost slipped under the radar. The little stint had disappeared for a few days, but one and then a second reappeared on 9th and 10th respectively. Or so we thought… The weather, and light, was terrible on 9th and 10th which didn’t help, but both birds were thankfully photographed as one turned out on closer inspection to be a semipalmated sandpiper. A first for the reserve, and great views were had in the improved weather conditions on 11th! Thanks to Alan Lewis for double checking the photos and re-ID’ing the bird.

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Semipalmated Sandpiper, Titchfield Haven, 11th September 2016

I’ve said many times that it pays to be in the right place at the right time, and I think part of the skill of birding is developing that fine art (and just being lucky?!). 15th was one of those days where I wasn’t in the right place – only by 300m, but that made all the difference. Ironically, the “right place” was the car park space I’d chosen to centre on every other day for the past few weeks. Thankfully (for him) Dan was in the right place, and picked up a buff-breasted sandpiper circling the scrapes before flying west that evening. Another first for the reserve. Being oblivious at the time, I was rather gripped when I found out! The beach, in comparison, was rather unproductive with very little of note, and hardly any yellow wagtails came to roost.

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Red-throated Diver, Hill Head, 16th September 2016

A call from Brian Goddard on 16th alerted me to the fact that the first diver of the autumn/winter was visible close to Rainbow Bar; a red-throated diver that at times showed ridiculously well. The red-throated diver hung around for a while, ranging between Hill Head and Warsash, and is a little early compared to previous years. Other signs that winter is fast approaching include the 8 dark-bellied brent geese back on 18th, and daily sightings there after, plus wigeon and a flock of pintail providing us with a brief flyby.

Meanwhile, autumn is in full swing. 2 curlew sandpipers returned on 17th and hung around, while a spotted redshank made another brief appearance on the morning of 19th. Passerine movement has been evident, with regular wheatear, redstart, whinchat, stonechat and many a warblers like grasshopper warbler (15th & 21st), garden warbler (17th) and lesser whitethroat (17th). A singing willow warbler in the drizzle on 20th was also pleasant, a reminder of spring, while a firecrest of yet another reminder of impending winter. 

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“Whoa, that’s not a Chiff”: Grasshopper Warbler, Meonshore Chalets area, 21st September 2016 – hopping around with the Chiffchaffs!

Last October a white-rumped sandpiper spent a day at Farlington Marshes, unfortunately at a time I was unable to make, so was rather chuffed when news broke of an individual at Pennington on 19th. Chuffed, followed by miffed as work meant I was unable to go. Fortunately, the bird hung around so Ken Martin and I headed over on 22nd and enjoyed good but brief views as it ran around on the lagoon with a number of dunlin. It made up for dipping an arctic warbler the previous day too!

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White-rumped Sandpiper, Pennington, 2nd September 2016 – honest!

Returning to patch for the last few days, it has mostly been “quiet” with little change each day; something you notice when visiting daily! However, one can’t really complain with 2 curlew sandpipers and a ruff making up the best of the waders, 2 marsh harriers, water rail, and on a number of days a decent mix of warblers too. A water rail was showing very well on 28th, spending a good 5 or more minutes out in the open. This was followed moments later by bearded tits which are always great to see, and superb views of a grasshopper warbler! The bird had been in the reedbed next to the path, I think, as I approached so flew forward and hung around for a few minutes. Great to see so close up! Another highlight, particularly of 28th, was the visible migration overhead. This has mostly consisted of swallows, house martins, meadow pipits, yellow wagtails and the occasional pied/white and grey wagtails and tree pipits.

On a side note, I’ve alluded to work a few times so I suppose I should enlighten you. As many of you probably know, I did some work for the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership last summer and helped to prepare and launch the ‘Solent Bird Study’. After finishing university I returned as a casual, so have been undertaking a number of surveys (amongst other things). The latest work has involved bi-monthly surveys at Southsea seafront, focusing on the seabirds and shorebirds, and monitoring the disturbance at Hill Head as well as carrying out a watch brief while work to replenish the shingle goes ahead.

Away from birds, September also began with a moth. Not a rare moth, but it is rather lovely I think: Chinese character. I realise I forgot to mention insects in August’s summary. The highlights such as a maple prominent at Pagham Harbour, 2 Jersey tigers (one at Pagham and one on patch) and my first black arches. The moth highlights continued thanks to some good weather and regular trapping by Dave Wallace. He was rewarded with a vestal on the morning of 6th, an immigrant from south east Europe and a few L-album wainscots, also immigrants (though possible resident locally?).  Other highlights were an autumnal rustic, small square-spot and sallow from an event at Blashford Lakes, and a frosted orange at Pulborough Brooks.

And finally… in once sense it was nice to bump into a mole on 19th, having only ever seen one before that Dan and I stumped across last July. Alas, like the first it was (presumed) deceased, but this time not decapitated. Perhaps one day I’ll manage to see a live one, although I suppose that’ll be rather challenging! Still, it was an opportunity to see one up close, and reminded me of good memories (not just memoirs relating to admiring dead moles, I hasten to add!).

So, patch year list is up to 172 (I genuinely didn’t think this was possible!) and three more months left. Will anything else turn up? Hopefully not while I’m away…..