Seawatching. One question we are often asked by passers by who can’t help but notice the line of scopes – “Are you watching ships, or birds?” and often the reply is simply something like “well, if there were any birds….”, but it’s been a crazy few weeks here at Hill Head, starting with the bank holiday weekend, especially if you timed it well:
Andy Collins had a red-footed falcon come in off the sea at Brownwich on 6th, while Alan Butler and Dan Houghton had a harrier species (either Pallid or Montague’s) do exactly the same the following morning. A Hen Harrier was observed heading north over the reserve by Russell Toft on 4th and 14th, and 10 pomarine skuas passed through too – 4 on 3rd, and a further 4 on 6th, where both times the birds landed on the sea before continuing their journey, while another 2 passed through on 10th. It is possible on 6th that a large group of Manx shearwaters flew past too that evening, when a flock decided to investigate the Solent.
Unfortunately, I missed all this for various reasons, partly because I decided to try and give patch a rest for a bit… You have to be in it to win it, as they say. However, I did manage to catch up with a red-rumped swallow found by Barry Duffin on 3rd. It was first seen over the Frying Pan, while I was, perhaps foolishly, in Southampton, watching the news unfold via text messages. At one point the hirundines dispersed and it was lost, but thankfully it was refound and despite a slow journey back by bus, I enjoyed watching it feeding over Posbrook Flood. A lovely, long awaited lifer for me, and the bird remained around the Floods for a couple of hours allowing a number of local birders to see it.
A couple of fleeting trips to Portland were enjoyed during the first week of May, starting with an eastern subalpine warbler twitch with Dave Wallace, that was very successful, especially as we had the added bonus of a singing dusky warbler found close by! My second trip included an overnight stay, ironically hoping for Poms and shearwaters…both of which I could’ve seen from patch, but never mind. I did get my targets – a distant pomarine skua early on 7th, followed by 5 Manx shearwaters. Other highlights included an arctic skua, spotted flycatcher, 2 redstarts, 2 puffins, a couple of yellow wagtails, great northern diver, many wheatear and what must’ve been thousands of swallows steaming in. Sadly, the spectacled warbler turned up the next evening (8th), and I made the fatal mistake of agreeing to wait until the morning – it was never seen again.
Another day where plans were to be mostly off patch (compiling a large amount of data) were temporarily paused after catching a tweet from Rob Sawyer stating “skua just going past cut bridge pale with exceptionally long tail“. Having not had much luck with the scarcer skuas this month, I decided to dash down to Hill Head and hope it did the nice thing of passing by, whatever it was. There I bumped into Dave Ryves, Richard Levett, Tony Heath and Ivor McPherson so mentioned the tweet, and then we waited… We’d begun to assume this mysterious skua had gone over the Isle of Wight, and that maybe it was just an arctic skua as you can get birds with long tails, until Dave picked it up. I couldn’t quite believe it – long-tailed skua! Rare bird for Hampshire and another lifer for me, the last one off Hill Head was 10 years ago. It was subsequently tracked along the coast, allowing others to connect with it – happy days. Some pictures are on the Selsey Peninsular blog.
The 12th felt like another potentially promising day when tweets about 9 pomarine skuas heading east appearing from Seaton, Devon, at around 0630 – cheers Steve Waite! By around 0800 they had reached Portland Bill, and having received a text from Dave R about 3 pomarine skuas passing through the Narrows, it was time to head down. In theory, it takes about 20 minutes for a skua travelling at constant speed to get from Hurst (the Narrows) to Hill Head, so in theory one can reach the seafront before the birds if traffic is good! These 3 skuas never did appear, but as we can only really see half the Solent from Hill Head, it is hit and miss. At 0940 we received a second text from Dave R informing us that the 9 pomarine skuas had reached the Narrows, and were joined by another 4. We waited… 4 gannets east… and then, “Poms!” They appeared – well, 8 of them did, and not quite as close as in 2016, but it was lovely to see 8 fully spooned pomarine skuas passing through! Skuas are cool, and it’s been brilliant to see so many!!
A few other noteworthy sightings from patch include a lovely adult little stint that was present on the scrapes on 8th and 9th. It’s not often we get summer plumage birds! The little gull (assuming it’s the same individual) continued to linger in the area after first being seen on 22nd December 2016, and was later joined by 2 others. 2 greenshank had been hanging around with a small flock of black-tailed godwits on Posbrook Flood but disappeared after the much needed rain, and more passage waders occasionally dropped by including sanderling, ringed plover and a common sandpiper.
I enjoyed a couple of trips to Botley Wood, mostly with Richard Carpenter, where the main highlight was my first Hampshire nightingale! It’s a beautiful song, not something I’d heard before, and during the first attempt, we even caught a glimpse of two birds chasing each other. Accompanying the nightingales were many a garden warbler and song thrushes, plus willow warblers, blackcaps and whitethroat, among others. It wasn’t just birds that were enjoyed – Richard pointed out many a plant and insect too, including common spotted orchid, emperor dragonfly and grizzled skipper. It’ll take time to become a more rounded naturalist, but something I’m working on, although birds will always be my favourite taxon.
Finally, I thought it was worth finishing with some moths. I’ve so far made more of a concerted effort to regularly trap at home this year and at the time of writing, have run the trap 21 times and recorded 70 species in total. I also attended an evening at Titchfield Haven with the Fareham Moth Group on 27th, where we ran 6 MV bulbs over sheets for 4 or so hours on the west side of the reserve. Tiring as it was, it was also fascinating and exciting to see the huge variety of species present, including some rarer species adapted to living along riversides or in reed beds or marshy areas. A small selection of the moths pictured below – over 60 species were recorded, including some nationally scarce (Nb) moths.