September ended up being quite an adventure, starting with a lovely morning on patch with Ken Martin on 1st. While waiting for the reserve to open we began chatting about the influx of American waders, particularly pectoral sandpipers, and wondered if or when another would appear on the scrapes. Moments later we entered the meonshore hide, and almost immediately, our question was answered: a wader feeding in front of the hide with two common sandpipers caught our eye. “Pec Sand!”. A ‘patch tick’ for me (and a number of longer standing locals too) – the first here since 2009, which I’m told didn’t stay long, so it was nice to watch the bird linger for a week or so. Throughout the month the scrapes were generally good with a nice variety of waders. Little stints, ruff, bar-tailed godwit, knot and spotted redshank all dropping in from time to time; the latter being rather scarce here but provided us all with good views throughout the day on 9th. Counts of ruff reached 5 – a high total if recent years are to go by. Sad when once ruff regularly overwintered. Nowadays, alas, you’re lucky to get one or two in autumn. Other returning and passage species on patch of late included redstart, stonechat, whinchat, a steady movement of yellow wagtails and meadow pipits, and the first trickle of siskins overhead.
A woodchat shrike in less than ideal conditions kick-started the twitching in September. Dave Wallace and I decided to pay a visit to Chipping Norton on 10th where, after some searching, the shrike perched up from time to time before dropping down and skulking to escape the wind and rain. Shortly after this (and continuing along the theme of American waders…) Ed Bennett and I headed off to Weymouth in an attempt to redeem a day. We’d begun the 13th hoping a seawatch at Milford Shelter would pay off, but as is often the case seawatching in Hampshire turned to disappointment. Seeing reports from further west of leaches’ petrels and Sabine’s gulls while looking out onto an empty sea was rather soul destroying! Thankfully, Weymouth was anything but disappointing: Lodmoor was the place to be with highlights of both least and stilt sandpipers showing well in amongst the mix of commoner species. It was fantastic to watch them and compare to other species as well as each other. Moving on, we headed up to Portland Bill where, despite getting soaked, enjoyed lovely prolonged views of a wryneck feeding by the quarry.
While all this was going on, an American redstart had been found by a church on Barra in the Outer Hebrides on the evening of 7th. I was rather keen to go, but having established other local birders weren’t able to make it, admitted defeat and hope for a trip up north some other time. However, the bird lingered and plans suddenly materialised. Ashley Howe, Geoff Goater and I headed up on the evening of 15th reaching Scotland by midnight. We’d heard that three other locals – Lee Fuller, Dan Houghton and Ian Wells – had been successful that day so hoped the bird would go to roost at least once more. This was the longest twitch I’ve done so far and it was a bit tense waiting for news in Oban having driven all that way, but when the news came out, it was promising. The ferry left Oban at 1pm, and the 5 hour journey to Barra began. Excitement grew with each cry of “Eagle!”.
I’d longed to see an eagle all my life and always planned to visit the Western Isles, so to find myself finally watching them, even if from a distance, brought much happiness! And even from a distance, the huge size was apparent. Both white-tailed and golden were seen, including one golden eagle being mobbed by a raven; that’s when you realise just how big they are! By the time we returned to Oban the following afternoon, 8 golden and 6 white-tailed eagles had been enjoyed. The ferry journeys also yielded good views of hundreds of manx shearwaters, white-sided and common dolphins, harbour porpoise, and basking sharks. Not forgetting the target bird, once we did finally reach the island and drive to the site, there it was – American redstart showing brilliantly to begin with as the sun set over Barra!
Another weekend arrived, so Dave and I planned another trip. This time a return to Dorset for yet another American species; spotted sandpiper on 23rd. We had hoped for the Baird’s sandpiper to also linger, but sadly it wasn’t to be. This was the first time I’d visited Abbotsbury, but it seemed like a nice place, and thanks must to go Steve and other staff for being extremely helpful. We ended the day at Arne, watching both grey and red-necked phalaropes side by side, although its safe to say they weren’t nearly as showy as some phalaropes! Next day, a greenish warbler had us returning to Dorset – Portland Bird Observatory this time – as it flitted about the Obs garden, showing nicely in the afternoon gloom. A pod of bottlenose dolphins just offshore was an added bonus. We then squeezed in a trip on 28th to Languard nature reserve for a red-throated pipit that also showed rather well. It was great to watch it in amongst the meadow pipits, calling at times too; a rather striking bird.
In between this, I have actually fitted in work (honest!), including surveys on Hayling Island and Hill Head, and also some birding locally in Hampshire – a trip to Farlington Marshes with Ed and Zoe Caals, and paid a visit to the Hayling Island grey phalarope with Dave on 19th. Highlight from these local trips include up to 3 little stint, spotted redshank, golden plover, greenshank, knot, sanderling, plus hundreds of grey plover, black-tailed godwits, redshank, ringed plover and dunlin. Sometimes it’s nice to give patch a rest and visit other areas.
Finally, the month ended where it started – on patch. It was a work day, but I arrived early to squeeze in some birding on the reserve with Ivor McPherson. One of those days where it was clear there’d been a fall of birds – blackcaps and chiffchaffs seemingly in every bush or tree, 8 stonechats, plus singles of both common and lesser whitethroat, chaffinch, and an overhead passage included many a skylark, meadow pipits and an assortment of finches; greenfinch, goldfinch and siskin. 3 raven also joined in, cronking as they flew low over the hide. A lovely autumn morning!