From Minsmere to Portland

17th-22nd March

I was invited to attend the British Birds’ strategy weekend, alongside Nina O’Hanlon, Lizzie Bruce, and Drew Lyness, as a panel of young birders to chat to the Directors and Trustees about the journal from our perspective. It was an interesting discussion, a good opportunity to network and meet top birders, and of course do some birding at a lovely reserve on the east coast – Minsmere.

We arrived late afternoon on Friday (17th) where the first stop was the north hide to look out onto the scrapes and scan the gull roost. Like Titchfield Haven, there were plenty of Mediterranean gulls (although not quite on the same scale as the south coast!), good numbers of common and black-headed gulls, and many larger gulls to search through. The larger gulls seemed to mostly consist of great black-backed, lesser black-backed and herring gulls, although it wasn’t long before Adam Rowlands picked out a 2cy Caspian gulls, later followed by a second individual. They’re an interesting species, one I long for on patch so it was great to enjoy it and compare the key features of all the gulls. Feeling satisfied and with light fading, we retired to the local pub for food and a good chat.


One of two Caspian Gulls at Minsmere, 17th March 2017

The following morning (18th) we awoke to a dawn chorus of a different kind, with the added extra of red-legged partridges outside the lodges we were staying in – the Warren Lodges were lovely and cosy, so I’d definitely recommend it for anyone who fancied staying near Minsmere. This was the day of our discussion, so very little birding was done. Perhaps, given the weather, this was a blessing in disguise as it was certainly rather wet and windy!

Sunday (19th) dawned, and it was still rather windy, but thankfully dry, so the day began with a short trip to look for Dartford warblers close to the reserve – a brief glimpse of a male and female just as we were giving up, yay. Although we had no luck with any hoped for woodlark, it was  good to hear many singing chiffchaffs, plus a couple of siskin and redpoll too. While the Directors and Trustees had their board meeting, Lizzie, Nina, Drew and I met up with Dawn Balmer for a morning’s birding around the reserve. It was great to properly explore Minsmere, and also to see 2 garganey and a sand martin – spring at last! Alas I missed the house martin. Added to that, we managed to relocate the 2 smew and enjoyed a flyover bittern and marsh harriers.

The following morning (20th) I headed down to Dorset – destination Portland Bird Observatory for a short stay. It’s still rather early in the year so I wasn’t expecting much, but it has been far too long since my last visit. There were a sprinkling of new arrivals here too. My first 8 wheatear of the year at last in the strong, rather unpleasant westerlies; always something exciting about seeing migration in action.


One of several Wheatear at Portland Bill

One target I had in mind was an overwintering Hume’s warbler at Thumb Lane that was proving to be rather elusive based on reports. It was certainly elusive during my five attempts, with about 5 minutes worth of views out of all the hours looking! An area worth exploring though, with plenty of scrub, two chiffchaffs and a singing blackcap; my first of the year. The first attempt wasn’t helped by the weather, but as the sun made an appearance late afternoon, I decided to give it another go. Three wheatear had arrived since the morning, and after a good look it was seeming as if I would draw another blank… Thankfully not, the sudden ‘dsu-weet‘ gave it away, and looking up, there it was, all for about 30 seconds before it disappeared! I returned a couple of times on 21st, hoping for better views, and it did show slightly better early afternoon. The calls helped once again to track down the bird as it flitted around in the trees and bushes – too quick for a photo.

Back at Portland Bill, sea watching yeilded small numbers of gannets, guillemot, razorbills, fulmar, shag and red-throated divers. Not exciting but more than I’ve had so far off Hill Head this year so good practise for when birds actually pass through the Solent. Wanders around the immediate area yielded more newly arrived wheatear and chiffchaffs, but little else asides from rock pipitsRock pipits only visit Hill Head occasionally, so I did find it interesting observing them, particularly as there seemed to be more than one subspecies present, and varying plumages.

A wet start to 22nd began with seawatching from the shelter of the Obs. Many kittiwakes were passing through, along with smaller numbers of common scoter, fulmar and auks. Once the weather cleared up, it was time for a final wander along the Bill before heading off. More wheatear had arrived, and 2 black redstarts around the rocks and light house. They were one of the species I’d been hoping to see, so was pleased they’d (re)appeared after a no show the other days.


One of two Black Redstarts at Portland Bill, 22nd March 2017

I’d been meaning to revisit the RSPB’s Lytchett’s Fields for some time, and as it was only a slight detour, popped in with the hope of seeing the green-winged teal. When I arrived on site, I bumped into Ian Ballam who assured me the bird was still present at the back pool so I hurried over for a look. The viewing conditions weren’t brilliant as you’re looking into the sun and there’s various dips and mounds obscuring sections of the pool. The nepe tides at the moment weren’t helping either as it meant more of the field was uncovered, so more dips for the birds to hide in. Eventually the green-winged teal did reappear in the open, feeding among a small group of Eurasian teal for good comparison – yay, another lifer! 


One thought on “From Minsmere to Portland

  1. Pingback: Hampshire’s February and March highlights – Solent Birding

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