Hampshire’s February and March highlights

Returning to Titchfield Haven bright and early to a much calmer, although still somewhat breezy coastline (having survived Storm Doris), I set about the important task to catching up with some patch year ticks. Standing at the western end of the chalets, it was just possible to pick out the distant flock of ducks on the sea: the 2 male scaup  easy to pick out, with the smaller white blob of long-tailed duck, and helpfully a velvet scoter flapped its wings – another year tick! They have since come much closer which is lovely. The reserve was closed when I arrived, but standing up on the balcony above the visitor centre one can peer into South Scrape where the first of the returning avocet were hanging out.

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The 6 Scaup during one of their wanders close to shore

I’d agreed to meet Dave Wallace at Bridge Street later that morning for a wander and hope of overseeing the organised snipe count that takes place each winter. It was a good choice, and also nice to catch up with a number of local birders. As well as the many common snipe that were flushed up as the volunteers walked through each meadow, the first big surprise was a woodcock – the first I’ve had at Titchfield Haven. A couple of water pipits too were seen well and heard, and eventually our target species for the day – jack snipe was also seen and recorded during the count, another patch tick for me. A good morning! February ended with good views of 3 spoonbill on the meadow, while March began with another woodcock – a nice surprise when heading over to the Meadow Hide on 1st – and, at long last, my first green woodpecker of the year.

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Spoonbills on the meadow at Titchfield Haven, 28th February 2017

Patch aside, some time has been allocated for exploring other parts of the county. Blashford Lakes was my first stop on 1st March, where highlights included goldeneye, water pipit, 3 brambling, many siskin and good views of a roosting tawny owl; my 5th owl species this month! Following on from this, I stopped off at Harbridge to admire the 1st winter white-fronted goose that’s associating with greylag and Egyptian geese.

My next port of call was Southsea seafront on 2nd for the overwintering purple sandpipers that are always a joy to watch. It took a while to locate them, but eventually three landed on rocks in front of me and set about feeding while dodging the waves. I’d told myself that the unfavourable winds (strong westerlies) would make patch unpleasant with few birds, so a good day to go elsewhere. Nine texts and a couple of missed calls told me otherwise, so off I went to investigate…

Graham Barrett, Tony Heath and others had picked up a crane fly over the reserve, circle the scrapes and then land by the Frying Pan. Despite being flushed a couple of times by both the marsh harrier and buzzard, the crane hung about on the meadow, much to the bemusement of the local Canada geese, and provided us with good but fairly distant views, including a lovely fly past, calling as it did so (it did then circle back round and land). The bird certainly caused some excitement, and quite right too as there hasn’t been a crane at the Haven since the ’80s, nor are they easy birds to get in Hampshire. Alas, it seems this bird was released as part of the Somerset reintroduction project, so probably isn’t ‘tickable’ but it was impressive to see. While all this was going on, the bittern which has been lurking somewhere in the reedbed on the reserve all winter decided to embrace us with its brief presence, before dropping back down into the reeds. Thanks to Dave Ryves for picking it up – I’d not seem one here since December 2013 so a very nice year tick! And to finish the day off nicely, Dave W and I headed over to Alresford where Pinglestone Watercress Beds yielded a long staying cattle egret and 2 green sandpipers, while 2 ringtail hen harriers came into roost at Alresford Pond – a county tick for me.  

Crane, Titchfield Haven, 2nd March 2017

Crane chillin’ by the Frying Pan, 2nd March 2017

Farlington Marshes is another reserve I like to visit every now and then, with the main downside being the A27 which runs through the middle of it. You can walk a nice circular route around the reserve, starting by the Lake hosting large numbers of roosting wildfowl and waders including a spotted redshank and 2 greenshank. The marsh was teaming with birds, mostly brent geese and wigeon, and offshore were plenty of red-breasted mergansers that seem much scarcer back at Hill Head. The Deeps had more roosting waders, this time mostly dunlin and grey plover with a single knot and bar-tailed godwit hiding amongst them. Good numbers of common gulls also. A short-eared owl surfaced briefly which was lovely, although the wind probably didn’t help. Other highlights for me include a kingfisher sat on the sea wall, peregrine, and a leucistic pintail.  

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Kingfisher sat on the seawall at Farlington Marshes, 4th March 2017

Dave W and I continued to check the canal path, and were rewarded with 2 water pipits on 9th, along with year ticks of skylark and treecreeper for me. A later visit on 12th yielded a group of 20 fieldfare; not quite the migrants we were hoping for, but nice nonetheless. The weather was frustrating, particular 10th-12th, where what had been looking like a promising forecast turned out to be fog for the best part of 2 1/2 days, oh joy. When it did eventually clear, we had good views of the 6 scaup and a 2cy yellow-legged gull at low tide, and the next morning (13th) continued in good fortune with 2 raven – my first of the year, and 2 long-tailed ducks, followed by a flyby peregrine on 15th. Added to that, the little owl along Workman’s Lane in Warsash reappeared and showed well for at least 40 minuets late afternoon on 10th – a county tick, thanks to Dave for alerting me to its renewed presence.

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Treecreeper along the Titchfield canal path

Another week went by, and still no sand martins (or indeed any spring migrants besides chiffchaffs) for us. However, that’s not to say visits to patch were dull. It’s always great to watch the increasing avocet numbers and Med. gulls – the gulls’ numbers peak in spring and even more so autumn before (or after) heading to breeding grounds. Added to that, the occasional yellow-legged gull appeared on the beach, not a year tick for me, but always nice to see – including a 2cy on 12th, and an adult on 24th. On the warmer, sunnier days, Dave W and I were hopeful of a raptor or two. 17th proved to be a good morning with a check of Posbrook Floods yielding a peregrine soaring high above us with a couple of buzzards. Not long after, we picked up another raptor drifting up the valley that looked interesting, and indeed it was. A red kite, possibly in off the sea, soon began circling above Bridge Street Floods before continuing to drift northwards. Although far from rare with several each year, they’re one of these right time, right place species so we were chuffed to catch up with one!

And at last a sign that things were happening… Blackcaps singing upon my return from a few days away, a rock pipit overhead on the seafront, and 2 sandwich terns flying east on 28th. 29th yielded more with first sand martins during a showery wander along the canal path with Dave W and Alan Butler, followed by the reappearance of the barn owl! The month ended with a March willow warbler, a definite sign of spring for me and lovely to hear. As the month draws to a close, my patch year list is up to 109 – quite a bit below last year, probably down to less time spent in the area, and the area being generally less well covered.

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Return of the Barn Owl

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