Late summer & early autumn 2017

I haven’t really done much ‘proper’ birding other than for work purposes lately. Recent work has involved carrying out a regular watching brief – counting bird species and numbers, recording their locations and activities on a map, and monitoring bird disturbance – while some coastal defence work was taking place at Hill Head. I did, however, manage a nice right time, right place moment on the morning of 5th July. Looking up as I approached the hide for a high tide roost count, I noticed a red-rumped swallow fly overhead, heading towards Brownwich. A good start a day at work.

On other days during July and August, signs of Autumn migration were noted. To begin with it was just a trickle, but gradually picked up and crescendo-ed as July turned to August, and August progressed:  returning waders like ringed plover, redshank, dunlin, sanderling and increasing numbers of turnstone, alongside common and green sandpipers, the occasional knot, little ringed plover, and ruff too dropped by. By late August, it was looking lovely – particularly the 11 Acre Mere which seemed to be favoured by many waders: 4 greenshank, 5 green sandpipers, common sandpiper, and a lovely wood sandpiper greeted us on 22nd August! It was also interesting to see two black-tailed godwits of the subspecies limosa; they appeared to be slightly larger than our usual Icelandic godwits, with a much longer bill and legs during mid-August.

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Wood Sandpiper, Titchfield Haven, 22nd August 2017

Passage tern and gull numbers increased throughout the months, with at least 600 common terns by mid-August, alongside many hundreds of Mediterrean and black-headed gulls, plus the first returning common gulls. Another highlight was a couple of yellow-legged gulls. This is also a good time to see them, and this July was no exception with an adult, 3rd calendar-year and juvenile birds all noted. Sandwich terns seemed mostly in short supply, as did any terns but common, however during that time the occasional arctic, black and roseate terns were picked out. Towards the end of August, more migrating passerines were also recorded on patch, including a nice mix of warblers,  yellow wagtails, tree pipits, wheatear and spotted flycatchers.

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Spotted Flycatcher, Posbrook, 22nd August 2017

Time off on 21st July had been arranged after the reappearance of the Amur falcon in Cornwall. Sadly, like it’s first appearance, it was all too brief. It sure is a lovely falcon though, so I’m hoping for another reappearance (or was, it’s looking increasingly unlikely…). Change of plan: Cliffe Pools, Kent for a marsh sandpiper. I’m rather fond of waders so the chance to see another species was exciting. As I arrived, I heard the bird had disappeared and hadn’t been seen for a while, but no point giving up straight away. Before long all was well and good, as the first bird to be seen through the scope when I began scanning was the marsh sandpiper! Bingo! Great to watch it scurrying along the shoreline, and to compare it to the other species present. There was a lovely supporting cast including a black-winged stilt family, hundreds of avocets, many greenshank, and little ringed plovers.

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Marsh Sandpiper with Greenshank, Cliffe Pools, 21st July 2017

Dave Wallace suggested a trip to Portland Bill on 23rd July in case more shearwaters decided to pass through, having seen the impressive totals for the previous few days. Worth a try, I agreed. I was starting to wonder, after a couple of fairly fruitless hours, whether we’d made the right decision, but soon two other birders joined us and things began to pick up a bit too. At around 1345, Liam Hooper spotted a large shearwater land in amongst a feeding frenzy of gulls – great shearwater! Wow, wasn’t expecting that. Not long after 3 manx shearwaters passed by, providing good flight views. A later trip on 3rd August yielded many more birds: mostly manx and Balearic shearwaters. As a Hampshire birder, it was lovely to get the chance to watch the shearwaters in action and get to grips with their jizz. Meanwhile, back at Hill Head, the highlight of seawatching was a single fulmar on 27th July – sat on the sea fairly close to the sailing club; an uncommon species here.

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Great Shearwater with gulls, Portland Bill, 23rd July 2017

A trip to Black Point beckoned, this time because Andy Johnson had found a white-winged black tern on the evening of 14th August; a rare bird in Hampshire. The light was fading when it dropped in, but thankfully the bird stayed the night, giving birders a wild goose (tern) chase the following morning! By the time Dave W and I arrived that afternoon, it had settle down somewhat, doing a circuit of Emsworth Channel. At times the terns flew rather close, providing us with lovely scope views – fantastic end to the day! 

White-winged Black Tern, Black Point, 15th August 2017

White-winged Black Tern, Black Point, 15th August 2017

Another nice local rarity (and also found by Andy) was a pectoral sandpiper that turned up at Farlington Marshes on the evening of 21st. The following morning the bird remained, and was seemingly more active than the night before, providing us with good scope views and a nice comparison with the local dunlin. Also roosting on the Lake at Farlington were 3 spotted redshank, a ruff, 2 common sandpipers and a couple of greenshank, among others.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Farlington Marsh, 22nd August 2017

Pectoral Sandpiper (right) with Dunlin, Farlington Marshes, 22nd August 2017

Finally, the 21st August turned out to be a rather unexpected day, starting with a yellow warbler found over in Ireland, thanks to the latest hurricane. A mega, but too far to travel, so I set about sorting out various tasks that needed doing closer to home. There wasn’t much else happening until the pager went off just before 4pm: “MEGA: Dorset YELLOW WARBLER Portland at Culverwell at 3.35pm…”. Earlier in the year when the Spectabled Warbler had made a similar appearance on Portland, I’d made the mistake of agreeing to wait til the morning, only for it to disappear during the night. So, the evening’s entertainment sorted, a few texts and phone calls were made, food eaten and the journey began. I’m told the yellow warbler was showing even better before I arrived, but decent views were had as the light was fading and it flitted about in the willows, calling regularly too, and made for a lovely end to the day! More info here.

 

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