Daytrip to Southsea followed by more boat work

Back in the May I posted about attempting to see the 215 most common species in the UK (as according to the RSPB’s Pocket guides to British Birds) and spoke about the challenges of it, especially if I stuck to Hampshire.  Going to Shetland definitely helped with my attempt to see these 215 species and I also feel it helped with ID-ing too. Of course, when I posted about aiming to see these 215 species, I had no idea I was about to win a trip up north!

I have now seen 186 out of the 215 species, with the latest being purple sandpipers.

Purple sandpiper, Southsea Castle. 12th December 2014.

Purple sandpiper, Southsea Castle. 12th December 2014.

Each winter a group of these sandpipers come to winter by Southsea Castle in Portsmouth, and if you time your visit well you can get very good views. A couple of hours before or after high tide is usually best. I’d been intending to go to Portsmouth for a while after seeing the lovely photos posted by various people on the likes of Facebook of the birds.

Roosting purple sandpipers, 12th December 2014.

Roosting purple sandpipers, 12th December 2014.

It was worth the trip as the sandpipers were indeed showing very well so I watched them for over an hour until they flew of to roost as the tide rose. About 5 of the sandpipers were roosting higher up the sea defence but a few were still running around feeding. I noticed one of them was being more risky than the others and kept dropping down, below the height of the tide to find food, before jumping back up just before the waves hit it.

Jumping in at the deep end!

Jumping in at the deep end!

After they left, I wandered along to the shingle beach to see what else was around. A number of oystercatchers, one sanderling and a turnstone – lovely. The sanderling was unringed so different to the individuals seen by other birders recently.

Asides from the waders, there were a large number of gulls. These were mostly black-headed and herring gulls, with a large percentage of both species being 1st winters.

1st winter herring gull, 12th December 2014.

1st winter herring gull, 12th December 2014.

And to finish the trip off, a rock pipit was hopping around the wall by the castle. I proceeded to head back to the train station, before stopping to admire the starlings. Several people had been feeding them – not bread I hope! – and they were perfectly happy for people to get close to them as a result. Lots of common species are often overlooked, starlings included, but they sure do have lovely plumage.

Starling - not really done it justice!

Starling – not really done it justice!

I’ll definitely be returning to Southsea, hopefully with fellow uni birder in tow as it would make a good trip especially for the keen photographers!

The next day was an earlier start. It was the date for the second Portsmouth Harbour low tide count and I was back on board the “Good Tern” again with Wez and Tom. We had a couple of hours to follow the channels and count what we could from the boat. Some of the mud flats are only really visible from the water so it was vital to count them but we also tried to count birds on the shoreline too just to be safe. The idea of the counts is to see how birds are using the harbour at low tide.

Dunlin, curlew and oystercatchers were the main birds on the mudflats, with dunlin being the most numerous (around 1000+). Occasionally we had grey and ringed plovers as well and some brent geese.

We also had pintail, shelduck, red-breasted mergansers and great crested grebes all in the water around us and close to the shore. Another more surprising bird to see was a sandwich tern – 2 in fact. They should be in their wintering grounds in Africa, but these had decided to stay put!

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