December began with a greenshank on the beach. For the local area, that seems to be a fairly unusual bird in winter so not a bad start. Sadly the sea watch Dan Houghton and I attempted on 1st wasn’t quite so successful – no birds!
The month’s birding continued with a decent session on 5th with Ivor McPherson, Tony Heath and Mark Rolfe. Highlights included 2 marsh harriers – one of which was the first male I’d seen on the reserve – and a lovely selection of waders and wildfowl. Many teal, wigeon and black-tailed godwits have returned, along with smaller numbers of shoveler, curlew and pochard on the meadow and river. A single brent goose was also present in the mixed flock of Canada and barnacle geese and was present again on 12th.
It gets better… After a pleasant few hours surveying at Hook Links on 7th, I decided to pop into Titchfield Haven for a short while. It was a good decision. Ian Calderwood had found 3 penduline tits, which reappeared after a long wait.
The penduline tits and shag were still about on 12th when I joined Dan Houghton down at the seafront. We were lucky as the penduline tits were in front of the hide until 0940, when they disappeared leaving others to wait for 4 or so hours. That afternoon I bumped into Olly Frampton at Bridge Street looking for the Siberian chiffchaff. After a while we had good views of it, along with a firecrest, common chiffchaffs and a number of tit species.
Alan Butler, Dan and I started at the sea front on 13th where we had a distant great northern diver – the only bird of note. We then headed up to Bridge Street for another look at the Siberian chiffchaff, which eventually showed, as well as the tawny owl that seems to have taken up residence in a split tree along the canal path. What seemed most unseasonal was having common chiffchaffs in song!
This is the first Siberian chiffchaff I’ve seen, so found it useful to compare to common chiffchaffs each time. What struck me was how pale the underparts were, and the few times it called, the call was noticeably different and more bullfinch-like.
Sea watching was more successful on 14th with Ken Martin. A great northern diver, razorbill, common scoter and a flock of very distant eider were all offshore. Successful sea watching didn’t continue, as is the way with Hill Head, so some short sessions were instead spent wandering along the boardwalks on the reserve before returning home to crack on with uni coursework.
It paid off eventually. On 21st I stumbled across another Siberian chiffchaff on patch, along the boardwalk on the east side on 21st, which also hung around for a while. A nice surprise when I assumed the small bird flitting around would be a goldcrest, before checking! The next day, after more brief views of the Siberian chiffchaff, a I had another nice surprise. This time in the form of a coal tit – a species I’d been searching for on patch for quite some time.
We did most of our Christmas celebrating on Christmas Eve this year, so I decided to brave the stormy conditions the next day which resulted in a rather lovely present – a great skua flying west over (quite literally) Hill Head! The first time I’ve managed to connect with a skua on patch, but hopefully not the last.
The great skua was still present, this time sat on the sea, when I joined Sean Foote for a sea watch and wander around the reserve on 29th. Not only that, a shag flew west past the skua, as did a male eider. Pretty good sea watch by Hill Head standards these days! The Siberian chiffchaff was also still present, joined by many goldcrests and a firecrest.
Finally, I took a trip off patch on 23rd to visit Blashford Lakes. My main aim of the day was to see the brambling that had been regular visitors to the feeders this winter. The trip was successful, with other highlights including Slavonian grebe, goldeneye and ferruginous duck. It was also nice to catch up with Ed Bennett, the reserves officer at Blashford, and John Moseley.
I also ventured off patch on 29th with Sean Foote to see the yellow-browed warbler at Eastleigh Sewage Works. It showed well and was the first time I’d seen one away from Shetland.