Patch & local birding highlights

I started May with my first proper sea watching attempts in Hampshire. I arrived at 7.30am on 2nd May at Hill Head, joining other regular birders and wasn’t too disappointed. It was mostly quiet out at sea, but all the time we were there terns were close in off shore. Common, sandwich and little terns fishing and resting. A bar-tailed godwit joined them briefly before flying east.

During the 3 hours there were a few other sea birds. My first gannets in Hampshire – 1 east, and 2 west, as well as a kittiwake (surprisingly not a first. My first was last year in Southampton!), a diver species and a great crested grebe. To add to this, a small number of whimbrel were heading east, and 4 swifts came in off the sea at 1015. My first of the year at last.

Later in the day, I was invited to Stokes Bay for another sea watch. We were hoping things would have improved from the quieter morning, but it wasn’t really the case. Still, I did see an arctic skua – another first in Hampshire for me – and 2 wheatear on the beach, a common scoter as well as more terns.

Over the long weekend, a Bonaparte’s gull turned up in Southampton.  I’d tried to see the Dorset one in April but failed so was keen to try again. It seemed as if, after 2 attempts, that I’d have to wait longer to see my first Bonaparte’s gull, until Wayne and Graham shouted at me to come over. It had reappeared just as I’d decided to head off. Although mostly distant, it was great to watch both on the water and in flight.

The long weekend was also a chance to go bird ringing with Duncan, James and Jason at Farlington Marshes. We didn’t catch much it has to be said, but the highlight of the morning was a skylark. There were also quite a few migrants including sedge warblers and whitethroats.

Skylark, Farlington Marshes, 4th May 2015
Skylark, Farlington Marshes, 4th May 2015
IMG_0790
Whitethroat, Farlington Marshes, 4th May 2015

I was due to take part in a nest count with the RSPB on Tuesday (5th May) but the weather put a stop to that. Even worse, the storm surge wiped out around 700 nests, mostly of black-headed gulls.  The good news is that these birds will likely try again, and the terns were all unaffected (phew!). In the end, the count took place on Thursday. It was a new experience for me and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity. We counted a lot of nests while watching very carefully to make sure no nest was damaged. It’s done as quickly as possible and the birds settled back down soon after.

A Black-headed Gull nest.
A Black-headed Gull nest.
The mass of seabirds as we quickly and carefully walk around the colony
The mass of seabirds as we quickly and carefully walk around the colony

The weekend came round again and I was keen to return to Titchfield Haven and Hill Head. As with last weekend, I decided sea watching seemed like a good idea. In hindsight, I’m not sure why and I think the lack of other sea watchers proved that perhaps today was not a day for staring out at sea. As you can probably guess, there wasn’t much about at Hill Head, certainly not in the way of seabirds. Gulls (mostly black-headed) and common terns struggling against the wind. I did, however, have a bar-tailed godwit and a whimbrel, which was slight consolidation for getting up so early.

Whimbrel, Hill Head, 9th May 2015.
Whimbrel, Hill Head, 9th May 2015.

At one point while staring out at an empty sea, I did consider wondering up the Titchfield canal path but dismissed the idea for some reason. That was until 08.10am when I looked at my phone and saw “Greater Yellowlegs on Posbrook floods…”. How lovely it was to see the greater yellowlegs again! I returned in the afternoon after seeing many excellent photos of the bird in the hope it was closer. When I arrived it wasn’t and was sleeping in exactly the same place as when I’d left. Still, house martins and 2 greylag geese are now on the patch list after my latest visit, bringing my total up to 102 for the year.

Greater Yellowlegs, Posbrook Floods, 9th May 2015.
Greater Yellowlegs, Posbrook Floods, 9th May 2015.

Sunday morning was another early start for more bird ringing. Unlike last week’s quiet session, we ringed nearly 50 birds today. Most of these were warblers – reed, sedge, blackcap, whitethroat and lesser whitethroat – but there were a few other species including a juvenile greenfinch and blackbird.

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