Final quarter

I never quite got round to maintaining the monthly updates (sorry!) at the end of the year, and also didn’t think there’d be as much to say as I’d anticipated the birding quieting down. Wrong! Plenty of birding has taken place, and some lovely birds, including many unexpected lifers, have been seen. This year has been crazy! So, here’s a long-ish catch up…

Upon my return from Shetland, I started to think that it was about time a yellow-browed warbler turned up on patch, given the numerous birds reported elsewhere in the south. I suspected that if this were to happen, it would be along the Titchfield canal path, and sure enough a text on the afternoon of 21st October, confirmed my suspicions – Dan Houghton had stumbled across one not far from Hammond’s bridge so I hurried over to investigate. A lovely bird, albeit silent when I arrived and rather brief views, but the 20th full patch tick this year!  

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Several attempts to photograph Yellow-browed Warblers of late haven’t quite worked… One from Hillwell (Shetland) in October 2016

I joined Alan Butler and Dan for some ‘vis-mig’ along the seafront on 22nd and 23rd October. Plenty of finches still moving through, including brambling, couple of lesser redpoll, some siskin and a single swallow – nice! Frustratingly, none of us definitely saw the brambling as it flew over, just heard it calling. I’d been trying not to include “heard only’s” this year, so hoped we’d get another chance. It wasn’t a bad weekend, as other highlights included a rather late whinchat hanging out by the Frying Pan, Mediterranean gull (which usually winter elsewhere) and a wing-tagged marsh harrier, although sadly we didn’t manage to read the tag. It was, however, great to watch the two marsh harriers together as they flew around the meadow!

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Goosander, Hill Head, 26th October 2016 – the first of 7 this year!

Squeezing in a pre-work visit on 26th, it was a pleasant surprise to find a young goosander offshore from the sailing club! These aren’t annual here so a very nice patch year tick indeed! It stayed for about 15 minutes or so, before deciding to head off north. Another reminder that one aspect of birding is all about the timing (and it is always a shame when birds decide to fly just before others arrive, sorry!).

Away from patch, an isabelline wheatear had turned up on Shetland hours after we’d disembarked and had begun the long journey back down south, which was a shame though bound to happen. One had also appeared in Yorkshire the day after Dave Wallace had left, so were both pleased to hear of one turning up at Wardy Hill (Cambridgeshire) on 29th October. It was a lovely afternoon (certainly far better than my morning on patch, thanks to the fog!) and the bird showed well.

The following morning, we decided it was time to pay a visit to Eastoke, Hayling Island, for a shorelark that Andy Johnson had found on 27th October. It had been found in the evening so no time to dash over, especially with the nights drawing in. However, thankfully the bird remained on the beach over the weekend, and showed extremely well – down to a few feet! A great bird to watch, especially in Hampshire, so a perfect end to the weekend.

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Sunrise over Hill Head, 1st November 2016

A fine start to November. The sky looked lovely when I arrived at Hill Head pre-dawn. It continued with 2 greenshank and 8 sanderling on the beach, over 500 brent geese, good views of water rail and the bearded tits pinging away. The afternoon was similarly pleasant. I joined Dave Wallace again, and this time we decided to pay the spotted crake at Winchester Sewage Farm a visit. The bird is certainly rather showy, spending much of its time out in the open, but the site is private so only distant views from afar can be had.

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Spotted Crake, Winchester Sewage Farm, 1st November 2016

Upon returning to the car, we received news of a black redstart by the Meonshore chalets, and with enough daylight remaining, decided to give it a go. I’ve found black redstarts difficult to connect with in the past, but this one showed well, perched up on a roof as we arrived. A lovely male too! The bird was present the next day, joined by a second, and more good views were had.

The black redstarts continued to show well over the course of the week which was lovely and well worth making the most of. Another highlight was a drake long-tailed duck first seen offshore on 3rd. Sadly not nearly as close as the black redstarts, but still great to watch, especially as they’re not common off Hill Head! That said, this is my 2nd of the year.

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One of two Snow Bunting, Southsea, 6th November 2016

The original plan for 6th was to pay a visit to a cliff swallow that had showed well at RSPB Minsmere for the previous 36 hours. Alas, the bird flew off south at not long after dawn and didn’t return, so Dave and I abandoned our idea of an afternoon in Suffolk. However, it wasn’t all bad… After enjoying the long-tailed duck on patch that morning, we received news of 2 snow bunting around Southsea seafront. Afternoon sorted! Upon arrival we weren’t sure where to start looking, so took a punt and headed to Southsea Castle and the bandstand. Perhaps the birds saw us coming, as they delightfully appeared and landed not far from where we were stood. Very good views were had it was safe to say! We rounded off our trip to Southsea with a purple sandpiper – the first of the overwintering birds returning.

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Purple Sandpiper, Southsea, 6th November 2016

Scaup was the next target; a scarce bird in Hampshire that used to be more regular along the coast (including on patch so I’m told). Olly Frampton had found a 1st winter bird at Ripley Farm Reservoir and I was keen go pay a visit having not previously had one in the county. Dave was happy to come along too, so another pleasant afternoon birding off patch was had on 8th. The scaup showed fairly well alongside 11 mandarin ducks. Then came the pallid harrier at Needs Ore – great to see even though the views on 11th were rather fleeting! After dipping far too many in Sussex and Shetland, it was a very welcomed lifer indeed.

Seawatching has started to prove fruitful at times off Hill Head, although most birds are distant. Highlights including 20 eider, around 50 common scoter and long-tailed duck on 11th – nice for the sea not to be ’empty’! And impressive numbers too! A Slavonian grebe and 6 goosander were offshore on 14th, another nice surprise. Typically, no sooner had I put the news out about the goosander, they took off and flew towards Southampton Water. 

Razorbill!” – looking up from the scope to see the razorbill Ken Martin had called on the morning of 16th, I found myself pick up a velvet scoter fly in and land amongst the flock of common scoter instead.  Again distant – the flock has chosen to hang around off Brownwich Cliffs towards Fawley power station. Great to see but closer views would be much nicer! The velvet scoter hung around for some time with the scoter flock, and was soon joined by another….and another.

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Some of the regular Scoter flock wintering in the Solent this year

We had hoped the stormy weather on 20th November would bring in various seabirds to the Solent, but no such luck sadly. However, it ended up being a very good day indeed, as a Foster’s tern that had been found the day before reappeared so Dave and I headed off on yet another twitch. By the time we arrived that afternoon, it didn’t seem promising. The bird hadn’t been seen for over two hours after flying east. We waiting, and just when everyone was beginning to lose hope and accept we’d all dipped, it reappeared and showed very well, zipping across the river in front of us as the light began to fade – phew!

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Awful record shot of the Foster’s Tern, Mistley, 20th November 2016

As November drew to a close, much time was spent back on patch hoping for another year tick or too, and as luck would have it, another brambling flew over when chatting to Dave Ryves on 24th and this time we actually saw it – yay! The brambling was a long awaited patch tick for me; a species I’d been really hoping to catch up with so was rather pleased to hear that nasally ‘te-ehp‘ as it flew over us and then to look up and catch a glimpse of that white rump. 

Meanwhile, the seawatching continued to be somewhat productive: red-breasted merganser, another Slavonian grebe and 7 (yes 7!!) velvet scoter on 27th! Mark Palmer picked up 2 that flew past, followed by Dan picking up another 4 that briefly landed close offshore, and the regular bird was still hanging out with the other scoter – the most I’ve ever seen, so far. The art of being in the right place at the right time is one I’m still attempting to master, and this time birds missed include scaup, hen harrier, woodcock and cattle egret – all jammy flyovers! 

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Four of the seven Velvet Scoter, Hill Head, 27th November 2016

December began with a trip to Pulborough Brooks, hoping to catch up with a tundra bean goose, but instead had to settle for 10 or so white-fronted geese. The bean goose would’ve been a lifer, but it was great to see the white-fronted nonetheless! Another trip to Sussex with Dave on 4th, in search of a desert wheatear at Norman’s Bay. As is often the case with wheatear, it showed extremely well, even hopping down onto the beach next to us!                                                                                                                                                                                                

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Desert Wheatear – 4th species this quarter – Norman’s Bay on 4th December 2016

December continued, but more time was spent working and thus less time birding. During my lunch break of one shift on 14th, I received news of a snow bunting at Hill Head – oh no! Not enough time to dash off and return, but thankfully Ken and I had superb views at dawn the following morning, yay! It showed within a few feet of us! Another full patch tick for me. It was a fantastic bird to watch – very confiding indeed. At some points close enough to reach out and touch (not that I did, of course)! That turned out to be the final patch year tick, so the year finished on 176; something I didn’t think would be possible! Bird wise, a truly fantastic year at Titchfield Haven.

Another foggy morning on 18th December, so Dave and I decided to visit the cattle egrets at Warblington. At first there was no sign, and were informed they had flown some time before we arrived, put persevering and waiting for a bit paid off as both soon returned and hung out with the cattle. Great to watch, and the views were much better than when I saw my first cattle egret (on patch in 2015).

It was as if 2016 was the year that kept on giving, bird wise anyway. News of a Blyth’s pipit at Blagdon Lake in Somerset was released on 19th, and with it still present and reportedly showing well the next day, Dave and I headed on yet another twitch. When we arrived, the bird had been lost, but was soon relocated and good scope views were had. Whilst there, it was also great to see a little stint; not something I usually see in winter!

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Blyth’s Pipit

Checking Twitter while travelling up to visit family near Swindon, pictures emerged of a blue rock thrush not so far away in Stow-on-the-Wold – wow! As the day progressed more details were released, and the temptation to head over increased. Sadly, I’m the only birder in my family, so no quick twitch while in the area. Thankfully Dave was keen and a good map reader (great for diverting around the closed A40), so we had a pleasant trip on 28th and enjoyed the bird as it sat up on various rooftops, despite the fog, and so one final lifer before the year ended!

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Blue Rock Thrush (honest!), Stow-on-the-Wold, 28th December 2016

To finish this post, it seemed apt to thank fellow birders for sharing sighting and company while birding etc, those who gave me numerous lifts (especially Dave W & Dave S), the lovely staff at Titchfield Haven (Pam’s cakes were particularly good!), and Steve Keen and Joe Stockwell for the friendly patch competition – regular texts like “bitternbitternbittern” spurred me on in an attempt to show that the Haven can match up to the larger sites (like the Keyhaven area)! …and thanks to anyone else who I’ve forgotten to mention.

Patch year list – patch ticks have been highlighted.

  1. Mute Swan
  2. Greylag Goose
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Barnacle Goose
  5. Dark-bellied Brent Goose (& Pale-bellied)
  6. Shelduck
  7. Wigeon
  8. Gadwall
  9. Teal
  10. Mallard
  11. Pintail
  12. Garganey
  13. Shoveler
  14. Pochard
  15. Tufted Duck
  16. Eider
  17. Long-tailed Duck
  18. Common Scoter
  19. Velvet Scoter
  20. Red-breasted Merganser
  21. Goosander
  22. Pheasant
  23. Red-throated Diver
  24. Black-throated Diver
  25. Great Northern Diver
  26. Gannet
  27. Cormorant
  28. Shag
  29. Little Egret
  30. Great White Egret
  31. Grey Heron
  32. Spoonbill
  33. Little Grebe
  34. Great Crested Grebe
  35. Slavonian Grebe
  36. Black-necked Grebe
  37. Honey-buzzard
  38. Marsh Harrier
  39. Sparrowhawk
  40. Buzzard
  41. Osprey
  42. Water Rail
  43. Moorhen
  44. Coot
  45. Stone-curlew
  46. Avocet
  47. Oystercatcher
  48. Golden Plover
  49. Grey Plover
  50. Lapwing
  51. Little Ringed Plover
  52. Ringed Plover
  53. Whimbrel
  54. Curlew
  55. Black-tailed Godwit
  56. Bar-tailed Godwit
  57. Turnstone
  58. Knot
  59. Ruff
  60. Curlew Sandpiper
  61. Sanderling
  62. Dunlin
  63. Little Stint
  64. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  65. Common Sandpiper
  66. Green Sandpiper
  67. Spotted Redshank
  68. Greenshank
  69. Wood Sandpiper
  70. Redshank
  71. Snipe
  72. Pomarine Skua
  73. Arctic Skua
  74. Great Skua
  75. Razorbill
  76. Guillemot
  77. Little Tern
  78. Black Tern
  79. Sandwich Tern
  80. Common Tern
  81. Roseate Tern
  82. Arctic Tern
  83. Kittiwake
  84. Black-headed Gull
  85. Little Gull
  86. Mediterranean Gull
  87. Common Gull
  88. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  89. Herring Gull
  90. Yellow-legged Gull
  91. Iceland Gull
  92. Glaucous Gull
  93. Great Black-backed Gull
  94. Feral Pigeon
  95. Stock Dove
  96. Woodpigeon
  97. Collared Dove
  98. Cuckoo
  99. Barn Owl
  100. Tawny Owl
  101. Short-eared Owl
  102. Swift
  103. Kingfisher
  104. Green Woodpecker
  105. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  106. Kestrel
  107. Merlin
  108. Hobby
  109. Peregrine
  110. Magpie
  111. Jay
  112. Jackdaw
  113. Rook
  114. Carrion Crow
  115. Raven
  116. Goldcrest
  117. Firecrest
  118. Penduline Tit
  119. Blue Tit
  120. Great Tit
  121. Coal Tit
  122. Bearded Tit
  123. Skylark
  124. Sand Martin
  125. Swallow
  126. House Martin
  127. Cetti’s Warbler
  128. Long-tailed Tit
  129. Yellow-browed Warbler
  130. Wood Warbler
  131. Chiffchaff
  132. Willow Warbler
  133. Blackcap
  134. Garden Warbler
  135. Lesser Whitethroat
  136. Whitethroat
  137. Dartford Warbler
  138. Grasshopper Warbler
  139. Sedge Warbler
  140. Reed Warbler
  141. Nuthatch
  142. Treecreeper
  143. Wren
  144. Starling
  145. Blackbird
  146. Fieldfare
  147. Song Thrush
  148. Redwing
  149. Mistle Thrush
  150. Spotted Flycatcher
  151. Robin
  152. Black Redstart
  153. Redstart
  154. Whinchat
  155. Stonechat
  156. Siberian (Caspian) Stonechat
  157. Wheatear
  158. Pied Flycatcher
  159. Dunnock
  160. House Sparrow
  161. Yellow Wagtail
  162. Grey Wagtail
  163. Pied Wagtail
  164. Tree Pipit
  165. Meadow Pipit
  166. Rock Pipit
  167. Brambling
  168. Chaffinch
  169. Bullfinch
  170. Greenfinch
  171. Linnet
  172. Lesser Redpoll
  173. Goldfinch
  174. Siskin
  175. Snow Bunting
  176. Reed Bunting

In case anyone’s interested, lifers this year: American Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, Velvet Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Dalmatian Pelican*, Montague’s Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Spotted Crake, Western Swamphen*, Kentish Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole, Great Knot, Caspian Gull, Forster’s Tern, Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Ring-necked Parakeet, Shorelark, Richard’s Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Dipper, Siberian Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush*, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pied Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Pallas’s Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher,  Taiga Flycatcher*, Chough, Rose-coloured Starling, Crossbill, Black-faced Bunting, Little Bunting, Lapland Bunting, Ortolan Bunting. Life list is up to 290*

*Depending on what BBRC decide.

…and county (Hants) ticks highlighted in blue, plus: Bewick’s Swan, Scaup, Grey Partridge, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Grey Phalarope, Stone-curlew, Pomarine Skua, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Ring Ouzel. County list up to 229.

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