Other than work, it felt as if not a lot happened towards the end of the year. Most days were spent monitoring birds on Tipner Lake or the occasional survey over on Hayling Island. It was interesting. Changes in the weather appeared to cause fluctuations in the number and species present. The coldest days resulted in local movements of birds so more shelduck, teal and brent geese appeared. Gull movements seemed to be more random and variable, but at times there were 6 Mediterranean gulls which was lovely, and some days over 100 common gulls were also present. I decided to keep a species tally for Tipner and was surprised to see snipe on two days, whimbrel in late November and a single shoveler made an appearance on 12th December, along with a Siberian chiffchaff calling from the car park. It’s not a place I’d usually consider birding, but it’s been alright.
Sandy Point (Hayling Island) on the other hand is somewhere I’ve visited many a time, mostly thanks to Andy Johnson and his various good finds, but recently because of work too. It’s lovely visiting more regularly and seeing what’s about, with highlights of 3 great northern divers, razorbill and guillemot, plus a good wader roost comprising largely of dunlin (c5000) and smaller numbers of ringed plover, sanderling, knot, grey plover, bar-tailed godwit, oystercatchers, turnstones, curlew and sandwich terns. There’s been small numbers of sandwich terns overwintering in the Solent for a few years now, but this year over 30 are present which is crazy!
I’d decided to reduce my time on patch especially in December, and work helped with that, but it was hard to stay away all together. November began with a patch tick on 5th – an Egyptian goose on the meadow. They’re a rare visitor to the reserve with one every few years. Hopefully it’ll stay that way. Two weeks later (19th November), it had felt like a rather quite morning with not a great deal seen so most of us headed home for lunch. Turned out to be one of those days as not long after retuning home, I received a call from Tony Heath informing me he’d found a barred warbler! Time to go back. Must admit I didn’t have high hopes. Most barred warblers in the county seem to disappear almost as soon as they’re found, but thankfully this one was the exception to the rule. Good views once we relocated it. Amazingly, it survived the cold and stormy weather, reappearing in early December where it continued to show ridiculously well for a barred warbler! Its the 200th species I’ve recorded at the Haven since starting patch birding in 2014. It’s been mostly enjoyable, and thanks must go to the fellow patch birders who’ve put up with me and been lovely and encouraging, and taught me most of what I know!
I also took time one morning before work (30th November) to check out the pumpkin field in Posbrook, on the western edge of patch, after hearing interesting reports from Ken Martin. Chaffinches aren’t that common at Titchfield Haven and most are seen on passage during autumn. However, I was impressed to find a nice flock of chaffinches feeding on the abandoned pumpkins along with good numbers of pied wagtails, goldfinches, greenfinches, linnet and a few reed bunting, plus numerous corvids. Even more impressive were 2 brambling joining in – the first time I’ve had any on the ground here! In the trees surrounding the field were a nice mix of redwing, fieldfare and Mistle thrushes, making it a very pleasant morning indeed. Other mid-winter highlights have been on the sea including my first great northern diver of the year (finally!), red-breasted merganser, 65 eider, 10 common scoter and 4 scaup. A Slavonian grebe was also seen by other locals on 17th December, but alas I couldn’t relocate it.
I had been beginning to wonder whether the usual black redstart would make an appearance around the chalets or harbour at Hill Head. Often this happens at the start of November, but no matter how hard we looked, no black redstart was found. It was seeming like there wouldn’t be a lingering one this year – there’d been the occasional sighting earlier in the year, but each one brief and not seen again. That was until I received a call from Dave Wallace on 22nd December informing me that Graham Barrett had found one that morning. I’d just finished work so it was convenient to head over and investigate, and sure enough a lovely black redstart was hopping about by some boats on the beach! It hung around a few days and was great to watch it fly catching and finding the odd butterfly too. Although I haven’t been year listing as such, I still kept a note of records on patch, and was chuffed to find black redstart is my 170th species this year there.
Away from patch, I visited Farlington Marshes a couple of times as despite the roar of the A27, it’s a lovely reserve. Highlight from walks along the sea wall included spotted redshank, 2 greenshank, 47 avocet among the nice mix of waders on the Lake, a small flock of golden plovers on the Marsh and long-tailed duck, 2 great northern divers, goldeneye and a black-necked grebe offshore. It was impressive to see 16 species of waders, let alone anything else! The bearded tits were putting on a good display too in the reedbed and two marsh harriers were quartering a nearby island.
What else happened? Ah yes, Dave and I did go on a couple of twitches and were joined by Doug Yelland for the first trip to Staines Reservoir to see an American horned lark which was interesting to watch but didn’t show that well. Our final trip took us to the Berkshire/Surrey border at Wishmoor Bottom for a flock of parrot crossbills. Dave’s excellent navigation took us to their favoured spot where we waited… As there was no sign and other birder hadn’t seen them yet today, I was just suggesting we tried looking in another area when a group of 16 crossbills flew in and landed in front of us – that was them! Their bills were impressively large compared to any common crossbills I’ve seen.
In case anyone’s interested, I’ve included the additions to the various lists again. Species highlighted in blue are also county ticks, while species highlighted in green are lifers:
14 patch ticks bringing me up to 200 for Titchfield Haven: Egyptian goose, snow goose, scaup, fulmar, woodcock, jack snipe, pectoral sandpiper, long-tailed skua, red-rumped swallow, woodlark, barred warbler, marsh warbler, ring ouzel.
County list up to 246 after 17 additions including: Pink-footed goose, lesser scaup, hen harrier, white-winged black tern, little owl, rose-coloured starling, waxwing, nightingale, little bunting.
Life list on 320 after 35 lifers including: Tundra bean goose , green-winged teal, smew, white-billed diver, pacific diver, great shearwater, Balearic shearwater, storm petrel, white-tailed eagle, golden eagle, red-footed falcon, elegant tern, marsh sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, woodchat shrike, Hume’s warbler, greenish warbler, two-barred warbler, dusky warbler, (eastern) subalpine warbler, dusky thrush, rock thrush, red-throated pipit, yellow warbler, American redstart, parrot crossbill, pine bunting.
I remember a wise birder once told me that, if you’re into ‘listing’, you should try not to see too much too quickly, as other wise in years to come you’ll run out of birds (although of course, there is more to birding that just a list). They’re right, and it makes sense to set limits with twitching. The majority of twitches I went on this year were in neighbouring counties or within two hours of home.
I’ve seen a few tweets asking what people’s top three birding highlights are. Plenty to choose from, but I think these win for me:
- The 52-hour round trip to Barra – the American redstart was lovely, but for me the real highlight was seeing my first white-tailed and golden eagles and enjoying the full experience of the trip and the wildlife on offer.
- Skuas and the spring seawatching from Hill Head – while tern passage was poor overall, there were some notable days for skua passage. In 48 hours between 29th April and 1st May, I saw more arctic skuas than all previous sea watches put together! Other sea watching highlights during that time included hobby, 8 black terns and 4 little gulls. Days later on 11th May, a long-tailed skua passed through the Solent – a first for me – and the following morning a lovely group of 8 pomarine skuas also passed by. It was great to monitor their progress along the south coast! Added to this, I caught up with the forth skua species – bonxie – on 11th October during an unforgettable hour!
- Finally, I think the third highlight also has to be from patch. Although I’ve spent less time there, I’ve tried to keep it up and have been rewarded with all sorts of fantastic sightings, including finding a few birds too. Top one for me has to be the marsh warbler, as it was wonderful to hear even if the views were fleeting!
To finish, here’s a weasel from October that was entertaining myself and Ivor McPherson on morning at Titchfield Haven – first time I’ve seen one.
Thank you to everyone who’s read my various blog posts. I hope you enjoyed them! Thanks also to the various birders who invited, or joined, me on twitches, provided helpful information and added to the enjoyment of birding sessions.
Wonder what 2018 will be like…