Expect the unexpected…

I’ll start with a slight twist – the tale of a great skua and fox; two species fairly unlikely to come together. It was around midday on 11th when I received a text from Richard Carpenter stating “Great Skua in front of Suffern hide! Eating Coot“. The tide was almost in, so a suitable time to pause work, and it would’ve been rude not to pay a visit to this skua. When I arrived, it was battling with the (now dead) coot, attempting to both pluck it to reach the flesh, and drag it into the reedbed. While all this was going on, a fox popped its head out of the reeds and promptly disappeared. Moments later, as the skua paused, the fox reappeared, grabbing the skua’s head and dragged it into the reedbed! A final flash of white was the last we saw of the poor skua. What a great skua was doing sitting on a river in England is anyone’s guess – presumably it was passing by offshore, but the strong-ish SW winds and sudden downpour shortly before midday encouraged it towards the reserve, and I suppose it might’ve thought it could get an easy meal…  Who needs soap operas when you have nature!

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Great Skua, Titchfield Haven, 11th October 2017

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Skua 1, Coot 0

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Fox 1, Skua 0

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..and that was the end of that.

Skuas and foxes aside, there were a few days with much more movement than others, and highlights included my first woodlark and ring ouzel on patch alongside the regular species such as lesser redpolls, siskin, chaffinches, skylarks, meadow and rock pipits. I’ve noted more brambling than in previous years too overhead, but as yet none have been obliging enough to land. Yellow-browed warblers made a welcomed appearance on patch with a number of individuals seen and heard, although they were much more elusive than their relatives on Shetland. Multiple firecrests mixed in with flocks of goldcrests, long-tailed, blue, coal and great tits were lovely too, and the first few redwing returned. The sea began to pick up as well, with black-necked grebe offshore on 15th, but this didn’t last long. Storm Brian was a disappointment in terms of seawatching, although perhaps it was to be expected.

Unfortunately I missed the marsh tit seen on 12th and 14th, a couple of hawfinches over patch (both very good records for the reserve), and the little owl found in August along the canal path continues to elude me. However, Dave Wallace and I did jam in on a flighty great white egret; another good bird on patch. Late morning on 22nd, the egret took off from the ditch it had been hidden in and gave us a nice flying display around the meadow, before disappearing from view! It was also interesting that day to see two house martins also over the meadow.

Rock Thrush, Gwent, October 2017

Rock Thrush

Away from patch, some successful twitches took place. The sea defence work at Hill Head was (mostly) completed half way through the month, leaving a only couple of surveys at other sites to do, which meant more time for ‘normal’ birding and twitching. It started with a rock thrush which appeared in the Pwl Du Quarry in the Welsh hillsides. Dave W, Dave Ryves and I decided to head over and, despite the grim conditions, had lovely views of a nice, confiding bird. I’m sure the scenery is stunning on sunny days, but alas low cloud and drizzle meant you could hardly see the valley below! 

Less than a week later, news broke of a two-barred greenish warbler at St Alban’s Head in Dorset, so Dave W and I headed down once I’d completed the morning’s survey. It was another twitch with grim conditions. We were soaked by the time we saw the bird, but did manage good views in the end when it sat out for a few minutes after the rain eased. Shortly after that, it was time to return to Dorset – this time with Al Butler for a Lesser Scaup at Longham Lakes on 24th. Continuing with the running theme… yep, you’ve guessed it, the weather conditions weren’t great (but it was dry!) but the bird once again showed well and drifted closer and closer to us as we watched it.

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Lesser Scaup, Longham Lakes, 24th October 2017

Lesser scaup has been a long awaited Hampshire first and with one only just across the county boundary, we were hopeful especially after it disappeared from Longham. The wait was finally over on 28th when Alan Lewis found it lurking on one of the many lakes at Blashford. It gave us the run around as it tested out various lakes but soon settled late afternoon on Ivy Lake when Ken Martin and I arrived.

The following morning, Dave W and I went off in search of a white stork over on Portsdown Hill where we bumped into a number of birders but despite a good search of the area none of us could work out where it was hiding. The answer, it seems, was solved once again by Alan L during an unsuccessful search for a mysterious crane reported at Titchfield Haven. No one seemed to have much information on the crane, and it whereabouts were unknown when I arrived, but it wasn’t long before we received news that he had found the white stork up on Bridge Street Floods – got it in the end! It appeared to be ringed though, which probably means it’s an escape or some kind of released bird. Still, impressive to see. Update: turns out the stork is from Knepp; one of a small number of free flying birds as part of their reintroduction attempt.

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White Stork, Titchfield Haven, 29th October 2017

The final highlight from patch took Ken and I by surprise on 26th. We were heading back down the west side when I caught a glimpse of what I first assumed to be another yellow-browed warbler… until we took a closer look at it when it paused in front of us. It wasn’t a yellow-browed warbler. It took a while to sink in and realised that we were actually watching a two-barred greenish warbler! Typically, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera, so it moved before we’d got photographic evidence but we did get good views. Frustratingly we never did refind it either, lost in the thick vegetation deep in the reserve. Greenish warbler (or indeed most of the scarce/rare warblers) is another long awaited Hampshire first, and of course two-barred is much rarer, so I admit neither were species I’d really expected to see or find in the county. Just goes to show, nothing’s impossible – sort of, in a birding sense at least. Finding (and trying to find) birds is good fun, but always better when others can see it. Definitely need to get quicker at confirming the ID of these rarities and getting news out; something to work on…

But for now, work has gone back to full time – good for me – but means less time for birding, or the non work sort of birding. Finally, moths: 315 species have now been recorded in the garden which has amazed me! One good night this month yielded a number of migrants including cosmopolitan, vestal and dark sword-grass. Merveille du Jour is another beautiful moth that’s landed in the trap. 

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Merveille du Jour

 

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