New year, new list

As the title of the blog suggests, the new year for many birders signals the start of a new list. While birding shouldn’t just be about ticking off species, a list can give you extra an incentive to get outside when, for whatever reason, you’re lacking in motivation. For me, the only yearly list that matters is the patch list. As I spent most of my time there it makes sense to record what I see and attempt to beat previous years, as well as enjoying what turns up.

New Years Day was, therefore, spent at Titchfield Haven and Hill Head. Where else? And so the year list was off to a good start with 56 species seen over the course of the day. Highlights included a razorbill, shag and red-breasted merganser offshore, a brief appearance of a greenshank and lovely views of a marsh harrier over the meadow. The merganser was a first on patch for me – a species that I’m told used to be much easier. Having failed to see one the previous 2 years (since having a patch), you can imagine my joy when it flew past!

After the good start, the next day was (mostly) dedicated to revision. Despite this, I still managed good views of one of the penduline tits in the morning followed by fantastic views of 2 little gulls as well as 32 pintail on Posbrook Floods in the afternoon, all thanks to the locals for texting out news – much appreciated.

The 3rd proved to be a rather miserable morning with heavy rain, but we persevered in the hope that the reported greater yellowlegs would still be about. It wasn’t, or if it was we didn’t see it. Anyhow, after 6 hours we did at least manage good views of all 3 penduline tits when they eventually appeared. The pleasant surprises continued with 3 shags offshore on 4th, and a flock of 30 brent geese on the meadow. Both are rather unusual sightings, though there seem to be more shags about this winter.

The penduline tits continued to show well for another week or so, while the sea was also pretty good, especially compared to this time last year. A great northern diver and guillemot on 6th, along a kittiwake and Iceland gull on 9th, and a flock eider of eider on 11th were all firsts for the year. The guillemot was in fact another patch lifer, having not previously caught up with the species. The Iceland gull too was a patch lifer, rather unexpected!

I returned on 16th and 17th with Alan Butler and Dan Houghton in tow, hoping to add more to our patch lists while making the most of the unusually decent weekend weather. Dan soon picked out a very distant red-throated diver, another first for the year, which sadly never did come very close. A scan of the beach then yielded at least one bar-tailed godwit, a species usually only seen on passage on patch, alongside the regular dunlin, sanderling, ringed plovers and turnstones. That afternoon, however, three bar-tailed godwits were roosting with the oystercatchers which was great to see!

Other highlights for the 16th include a fieldfare, Mediterranean gull, good views of a Cetti’s warbler (!) and a probable Siberian chiffchaff. The chiffchaff may well be one of the individuals found last year, but after it disappeared and this one was on the other side of the reserve, I decided it was best to err on the side of caution. It certainly stood out when chased around by the collybita chiffchaffs, but all remained silent alas. The 17th was less successful, though highlights included 3 drake eider that were drifting not too far offshore, 24 golden plover on South scrape, and 5 pochard – probably the highest count this winter.

As well as patch, one thing I aim to do this year is improve my county list, partly as an incentive to visit bits of Hampshire I may not otherwise go to. I decided to pay a visit to Farlington Marshes in search of a velvet scoter on 15th, and after a bit of scanning the harbour was successful. The bird was originally rather distant, but gradually drifted closer. I was particularly pleased to catch up with it having missed the pair that over wintered at Hill Head 2013/2014. As well as the scoter, a brief look yielded 2 goldeneye, a number of red-breasted mergansers and a spotted redshank in the harbour – all species I’d love to see more often on patch.

The weekend of 23rd and 24th included a trip to the New Forest with Dave Stevenson and Ian Calderwood where, although we missed out on our target species, a good day was had. Highlights for me included a woodcock – a species I’d only ever seen once before – and the many passerines such as marsh tits, brambling and lesser redpolls. The next day I headed over to Hayling Island to look for an overwintering red-necked grebe. This is another new species for me, and after a bit of searching noticed it diving regularly not far from the bridge leading to the island.

Back to patch, I had been hoping to catch up with the tawny owl which had taken up residence in a split tree by Bridge Street last year. Alas all attempts had failed this year, and it seemed the bird was becoming less regular. I was interested to see the tawny owl reported on the evening of 24th, and then a barn owl reported the next morning. It was another unsuccessful trip on 25th for me, but to our joy on 27th, Dave Wallace and I caught up with the latest resident showing well as the light faded! Other highlights of late include 2 avocets roosting on the scrapes on 25th – the earliest I’ve ever seen some here – and 29 greylag geese. I’ve only ever seen 1 at any one time here before! Not such good news was an unfortunate guillemot found washed up at Hill Head; another victim of the recent stormy weather.

The final day of the month took me to Blashford Lakes to catch up with the regular Caspian gull that had been coming to roost for the past few weeks. Another lifer for me and great to watch among the more regular gull species. It was a 1st winter bird, and the pure white head stood out – thanks to the local birders who helped point out where it was!Other highlights included a ring-billed, Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls.

I’ll do my best to keep up with monthly updates of the birding etc, but apologies in advanced if I go a bit quiet due to being in my 3rd year at university (lots of coursework!) and also sorting other things out.

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