Dream come true (& other highlights)

As a birder, one aim in life is to find something good, and having a patch means the aim is of course to achieve that on patch. One can dream about all the possibilities, many of which are probably unlikely, but sometimes the unexpected happens…

It began on 2nd May when I headed down after hearing about the 6 arctic skuas that had flown past while I was at home finishing off some work. Whilst I didn’t manage to catch up with an arctic skua, I did bag my 1st gannet of the year during a quick check of the sea – excellent. Thinking how nice it is to be in the right place at the right time, I began to wander along the boardwalk by the Suffern hide which can be a good spot for passerines. Indeed it was. A garden warbler was hopping about in the trees; another year tick for me. On a return trip past this section of boardwalk, a familiar trill-like song caught my attention: wood warbler – an extremely rare bird at Titchfield Haven, specially in spring! Always a great, striking bird to catch up with let alone on patch!

Titchfield Haven seems to be one those places where, just when you think it can’t get any better, sometimes it does. Not always, but May was one of those months when it did just that.

An interesting, striking stonechat hopped up onto the fence in the morning of 10th, and I suspected it may have been a Siberian stonechat, however, it soon disappeared. As it flew off, the large white rump was visible for a second. As the day went on, it became apparent that my suspicions were correct and that it was indeed an eastern stonechat, with jet black underwings – it’s true identify finally confirmed that evening by some eagled eyed locals, picking up on the tail; Caspian stonechat; a subspecies of Siberian Stonechat – and the 1st twitchable one on the mainland too!! A crazy day, hopefully one of many…

I’d been watching the stonechats by the seafront for many hours over winter but hadn’t seen one in a while when that male appeared in front of me. Having been hoping to turn one of the wintering stonechats into a Siberian stonechat (with no success…), and having done a little background reading by chance, is probably what led me to think twice about what turned out to be the Caspian stonechat! What a stunning bird! Thanks to Brett Spencer and Mark J Palmer for the photos.

May is the time for sea watching, though it’s definitely been a case of quality over quantity, with a single arctic skua on 3rd, 2 whimbrel on 4th and 3 grey plover and 26 dunlin on 5th. However, all was not lost, as the afternoon of 5th really got going with I joined Dave Wallace, Ivor McPherson, Richard Levett, and later Dan Houghton for another sea watch. First Richard picked out 7 black terns (at least) heading east, followed by 2 little gulls, an arctic skua, and best of all 3 pomarine skuas, complete with spoons, just after 5pm!!  I’d been longing for these for so long, especially after missing “Pom day” (5th May 2014), so was overjoyed when Richard picked them up close in! That evening, a further 42 black terns passed through, alongside another pomarine skua.

Another highlight came on 7th, after a fruitless few hours. It reached 10am and all the sea watchers asides from myself, Richard and Tracy Viney had gone home. We were just thinking of calling it a day ourselves when Richard exclaimed “Long-tailed duck going through!” – and sure enough a summer plumage male passed us not far offshore. Lovely! It seems it took the bird 3 hours and 20 minutes to travel down Southampton Water and past Hill Head, having been reported passing Weston Shore at 0640 that morning. What a great bird to reach 150 for the year! It was present the next day, allowing us to get photos…

Long-tailed Duck, Hill Head

Long-tailed Duck, Hill Head, 8th May 2016 when we re-found it lurking off Brownwich!

Other highlights of late have included the various passage waders – a lovely knot, up to 11 bar-tailed godwits, over 150 sanderling and a number of whimbrel and dunlin. A little gull showed well on the evenings of 8th, 9th and 13th; nice to compare it to black-headed gulls, and I finally caught up with a hobby and cuckoo – 2 in fact, singing and showing well by the visitor centre on 11th; a lovely sight!

IMG_2593 (2)

Another highlight: the Marsh Harriers; one of many lovely residents!

 Moving away from patch for a brief while, reports of a great spotted cuckoo on Portland on 13th led myself and Dave Stevenson to head down for a look. A stunning bird, and a lifer for both of us – worth the soaking for then!


Great Spotted Cuckoo, Portland, 13th May 2016

Continuing off patch, Ken Martin, Dave and I headed over to Martin Down on 16th, with the hope of catch up with turtle doves (a lifer for me), which we succeeded in doing, with at least 2 if not more purring and showing well. The doves were joined by a supporting cast of skylarks, corn bunting, yellowhammers, lesser and common whitethroats; an enjoyable morning in the countryside! We then moved over to Tidpid Down where, at last, we managed to spot a grey partridge poking its head above the vegetation – my first in Hampshire.

Birds aside, it was also lovely to see a number of hares as well as 9 butterfly species – including dingy and grizzled skippers and pale-boarded fritillaries (at a nearby wood) – 3 moth species, and a green tiger beetle (also at a nearly wood).  

Another trip off patch, this time with Dave and Ian Calderwood was for an unsuccessful serin twitch. The bird was at Selsey Bill and had been seen on and off for five or so weeks, but alas 20th May was not one of those days. It was still a decent few hours, however, with a lovely summer plumage great northern diver flying west, along with 2 fulmar, 2 kittiwake and numerous gannets – quiet to most seawatchers, but we enjoyed it! It’s not often you see fulmars in the Solent (I’m still waiting for my first…) so great to catch up with them when visiting other sites along the coast.

Back on patch, there have been a few quiet days, yielding little but you need those quiet days make the better days feel great! The weather hasn’t helped but it’s always nice to have a break from revision, and you never know what might turn up or when. The 21st turned out to be rather good for a while, with Andy Collins picking out a roseate tern in the tern flock by the sailing club, and Mark Edgeller getting us onto a great skua as it flew high east past us – two great birds within 40 minutes, which puts my patch year list equal with last years total (156 – after only 142 days)! Always interesting to see how years differ from each other; one great thing about keeping a patch year list.


Roseate Tern (right) with 2 Sandwich Terns on 21st May 2016; the un-ringed individual

The next morning (22nd) was quieter at Hill Head, but perhaps no surprise given the north westerlies. There was, however, a ringed plover on the beach – the first I’d seen for a little while. It wasn’t long before the news broke of a stilt sandpiper over at Pennington; only the second for Hampshire & a lifer for me! Mark E, Paul Pearson and I quickly left Hill Head and headed down to join the growing crowd of birders enjoying the lovely rarity. Great views were had as it wandered around the lagoon, feeding as it did so. Great bird!


Stilt Sandpiper (left) with Dunlin on Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington, 22nd May 2016

Another adventure began at midnight on 27th when Dave S, Ian, Kev Ilsley and I headed down to Cornwall for a day of twitching and birding. It began with excellent views of the Dalmatian pelican on Drift Reservoir not long after dawn. We had been hoping to catch up with a black kite too, but alas it didn’t surface. With our target species (the Pelican) seen and enjoyed well before 7am, we decided to go off in search of choughs, which proved far harder than we imagined, but we eventually succeeded after a 5 hour search! The Cornish coastline is lovely though so well worth wandering along, with other highlights of fulmar, 5 manx shearwater, shags, raven and some stonking male stonechats. Finally, after discovering the lammergeier had been around Cox Tor in Dartmoor just after 11am, we decided to detour and have a look for it. No such luck, but we did enjoy fantastic views of a dipper along the river Dart! Another top day!

Returning once again to patch, after much needed sleep, I was greeted to good views of another roseate tern on the beach on 28th. Interesting to note it was a different individual to that seen on 22nd, as this time it was ringed. Only the 3rd I’ve ever seen, with the first last September also on patch!  

29th began with good but brief views of a garganey on patch, before a quick check of my phone gave news of a red-breasted flycatcher in Romsey – exellent! Dave Wallace and I headed down and eventually enjoyed good views of the bird and heard it singing many times which was lovely. A lifer for me, and a rare bird for the county; 1st since 1989!


Red-breasted Flycatcher, Straight Mile (Romsey), 29th May 2016

…and here it is singing…

The final two days of the month resulted in yet another twitch (yep, really…), this time to Church Norton in the hope of seeing a Kentish plover. Dave S, Ian, Kev and I sadly dipped on 30th, so I was keen to return the next day when it was still present and, to my joy, was successful!


Kentish Plover, Church Norton, 31st May 2016

I’ve also started trying to get back into mothing, having not done much at all this year. However, some highlights so far include a coxcomb prominent and yellow-barred brindle from Dave W’s trap and also a firethorn leaf miner – lifers for me. Another lifer came in the form of Alabonia geoffrella a rather beautiful moth indeed.

So, the patch year list is up to 156, and I’ve now completed my degree (Environmental Science), so there should be plenty more time for birding and adventures while I build up more experience and try to get a full time job! It’s scary and amazing how quickly time flies.


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