This has been the second year of attempting a patch list at Titchfield Haven, and it’s been another interesting year. Thanks to the help of other local birders, I’ve discovered and explored parts of my patch I didn’t realise existed (if that’s possible!), and seen far more species than I could imagine, finishing on 156 species for the year.
A trip on New Year’s Day began the patch list, enjoying the regular wintering birds on the reserve. Highlights included dunlin, ringed plover, turnstone and sanderling on the beach, with golden plover, lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, snipe, curlew, teal, gadwall, shelduck, shoveler, wigeon and mallard on the reserve. A marsh harrier put on a good display too, flushing the many birds on the scrapes as it quartered the reed bed close by.
Looking back, I neglected patch quite a bit for a while, with only 9 visits between January and March. However, 4 pochard on 21st February, bar-tailed godwit, Mediterranean gull and spoonbill on 8th March, chiffchaff on 15th March, avocet on 25th March and ruff on 30th March were all welcomed additions, among others. Of course, the highlight of the first quarter has to be the greater yellowlegs found by Dan Houghton and Mark Rolfe on 11th January – a very nice surprise, especially being only 4 months after the lesser yellowlegs!
The first swallow of spring arrived on the 1st April, as many a meadow pipit came in-off the sea. April continued with 3 stock doves on 2nd and a red kite on 3rd, both by Bridge Street, and returning warblers on 15th – reed, sedge and blackcap. A pair of garganey in north scrape, the first sand martins over the scrapes and a cuckoo were highlights on 25th. The greater yellowlegs briefly reappeared on 11th, but alas I was miles away.
Sea watching in May yielded a kittiwake, gannets, an eider and terns (common, little and sandwich), as well as 4 swifts in-off the sea on 2nd and whimbrel. Skuas were something I was really hoping to see, but no sea watch I attended satisfied this desire. It was, however, good to catch up with the greater yellowlegs on 9th, as well as 2 greylag geese and house martins, a greenshank and hobby on 20th, and a little stint and curlew sandpiper on 24th.
The curlew sandpiper remained for a short while, and the greater yellowlegs for longer still. It gradually became more regular until for much of June and July it was a daily occurrence. It finally departed on 24th July, but has since been re-found on the Isle of Wight.
June, July and early August were generally quiet, although a few patch ticks were had including passage waders: occasional bar-tailed godwits, knot, common and green sandpipers, and little ringed plover. Also of note were numerous yellow-legged gull, raven and 2 song thrush.
Having time all previous patch visits to somehow miss green sandpipers, 5 individuals in 11 Acres scrape on 12th August was a very pleasant surprise! Sea watching throughout the summer mostly consisted of common scoter and an easterly passage of gannets, although a black-necked grebe was found on 20th June and 7th August by Dan Houghton and Graham Barrett respectively, and 2 little gulls and 2 little terns on 25th July
I couldn’t summarise the year without mentioning the avocets. This year was their best breeding season yet on the reserve, with around 40 fledglings. At times the total number of avocets on the scrapes topped 100 which is a huge increase on previous years – long may it continue!
By mid-August, visits along the canal path began to yield passage passerines – the first garden warbler, redstart and tree pipit on 16th, wheatear and whinchat on 19th, lesser whitethroat and yellow wagtails on 29th, and 6 spotted flycatchers on 30th. Waders continued to trickle through, with a little stint with dunlin on 21st and 22nd, 5 wood sandpipers and a ruff on the afternoon of 23rd, 3 knot on 25th, 30 ringed plover on 29th and 3 greenshank on 30th.
The terns too began to flock up and pass through. Highlights included 3 little terns on 12th, at least 9 black terns on 24th (which were subsequently flushed by an autumn osprey!), arctic tern on 30th and roseate tern on 9th September, the latter both picked out by Dan Houghton. In addition, Mediterranean gulls dispersed from their breeding grounds in large numbers – over 400 one evening, with other birders recording over 1000 on other days.
Not wanting them to feel left out, the long staying fulvous whistling duck took up residence in the north scrape throughout the summer, and a puna teal on turned up on 25th August – sadly, it’s not likely to have come straight from the Andes!
The next patch highlight came in the form of a cattle egret, found by Graham Barrett on 2nd September, which hung out with the cattle in the meadow for a few days. Autumn continued with 20 Siskin on 5th – our first of many, as a big passage of finches began. The 2nd spoonbill of the year arrived on 7th and stayed for a few days, and more wildfowl and waders returned, with 6 brent on 11th, 7 pintail and a single sanderling on 12th and wigeon from 13th.
Early mornings proved interesting watching swallows, sand martins and numerous finch species streaming over. It certainly made up for an (almost) empty sea! It has to be said though, the sea did improve somewhat as winter progressed. On some days, at least, we saw more than simply the overwintering great crested grebes. It began with a red-throated diver on 26th September and a razorbill on 27th.
A month later, more birds on the sea – this time 2 eider and a gannet. The sea brought more highlights in November, including a Slavonian grebe and more eider (15th), great northern diver (21st), common scoter (24th), kittiwake on 28th, and a kittiwake, razorbill and merlin on 29th. One day in December even yielded 4 species. Yep that’s right, 4: razorbill, great northern diver, common scoter and eider!
Moving away from the sea, a pheasant on a shingle spit caused some amazement/amusement, while it was good to finally catch up with the 3 grey plover I’m told regularly over winter here, a firecrest, a black redstart (another species I kept missing), and a lesser redpoll. Furthermore, the first pochard and tufted ducks of the winter arrived in early November.
The real highlights for the latter 3 months of the year began on 25th October with a surprise but very welcomed great grey shrike! This is a bit of a mega for the reserve, that Alan Butler re-found after a birder alerted us to the possibility of one being present. Owls seemed to be the theme for November, with a short-eared owl on 22nd and tawny owl 25th. Both were quite a surprise and also true patch gold! Dan Houghton also found a Siberian chiffchaff on 22nd, which remained for a while.
Finally, December brought with it 2 more megas – a shag, and even better 3 penduline tits found by Ian Calderwood on 7th! It’s safe to say that both are extremely rare for Titchfield Haven and Hill Head, with the last twitch-able penduline tits for Hampshire being in 1991, and shags rarely reaching our bit of the Solent.
It seemed as if that would be it for the year, and who could complain? However, a second Siberian chiffchaff (this time found by me) on 21st, a coal tit on 22nd (finally!) and my first patch skua – a great skua on 25th – were welcomed additions!
It’s been another fantastic year on patch, and I look forward to seeing what the new year brings, both here and further afield.