Whoever said June was quiet?

Less than a week into June, unseasonably strong winds started up. The hope was that would bring about seabirds from Hill Head, but as ever it turned into disappointment. However, reports from slightly further afield were more enticing, so Dave Wallace and I spent the afternoon of 6th at Hengistbury Head in Dorset. Our target: European storm petrel. Initially, we tried viewing from Mudeford Quay but by the time we arrived the birds were distant and we were never 100% sure whether we’d seem them. Thankfully another birder informed us that the views were reportedly better from Hengistbury, so it was worth a try. The views from Hengistbury were indeed better – superb! 5 or more storm petrels not that far offshore, provided us with excellent scope views as they lingered.    


One of at least five Storm Petrels off Hengistbury Head, 6th June 2017

A text on 7th informed us that Andy Johnson had found an elegant tern at Sandy Point, Hayling Island; a colour ringed individual from France. Dave Ryves and I dashed down, but alas the bird departed before we, or indeed many others, were able to arrive. It teased us again with a brief appearance on the evening of 9th, but flew east and wasn’t relocated. While many birders were out the following morning (10th) searching Hayling Island and Sussex for the tern, I’d decided to start on patch, partly to sort through the moth trap we’d run the night before. While there a lovely summer plumage ruff dropped into the harbour and proceeded to display to the turnstones, and a stunning summer plumage cattle egret was present on the reserve. Satisfactory morning had, I was just heading back for lunch when a text came through “Elegant Tern at Church Norton…now” – ahh!

A few quick phone calls later, Dave and Sandie Wallace and I were on route hoping this time the bird would linger, although aware that by now, the bird hadn’t been seen (again) in some time. Thankfully by the time we arrived, the bird had been refound, occasionally showing on Tern Island – yay! It appeared just as we arrived, before flying west out of the harbour. While many successful Hampshire birders decided it was time to head to Hayling, we stayed put hoping for better views should it return. It paid off when an hour later the words “it’s on the spit!” were shouted, and there it was – the elegant tern showing well! My 300th bird in Britain.

Elegant Tern Sussex

Elegant Tern “bird C”, Church Norton, 10th June 2017

Another day, another twitch, or so it seemed, but in many ways it makes sense to make the most of close by rarities. This time, a red-footed falcon just over the border at Frensham Common, Surrey on 11th. The bird hadn’t been seen in a while when Dave and I arrived, but it soon reappeared and showed well, perching on near by trees. It’s a species I’d always wanted to see so was chuffed when one turned up locally, even if it was a mile or two outside of Hampshire.

Red-footed Falcon 11th Junw 2016 Frensham Common

Red-footed Falcon (1s male), Frensham Common, 11th June 2017

Back on patch for a brief visit on 12th, I began by checking the scrapes where a sand martin had joined with the swifts hunting insects over the water. I suppose it could well be a returning bird, the first of many as ‘autumn’ migration is only just round the corner. two tufted ducks on the river were another slightly unusual sighting for mid June here. After a quick wander up the east side, I began to head back along the boardwalk ready for lunch when a song caught my ear. Wow! I couldn’t quite believe my ears – Marsh warbler and what an impressive songster indeed! It was helpful that Andy Johnson, among others, was able to come over and confirm my suspicions. The bird was very elusive with only fleeting glimpses obtained, but so lovely to listen to, and another lifer for me!

A few other noteworthy sightings from short trips to patch include returning teal and redshank, appearances of common and green sandpipers, a couple of eider and varying size flocks of common scoter offshore. Avocets have been successful again this year, and hopefully the common terns will too. Away from birds, I’ve tried to take more note of other organisms, including the longhorn beetles where Richard Carpenter and I noted 3 species along one small stretch of the canal path: golden-bloomed grey, fairy-ringed and tawny; the latter, a red data book species. I haven’t spent nearly as much time on patch this year, for various reasons, but try to make the most of it when I am there.

Finally, I thought it was worth finishing with some moths again. Putting much more effort into moth trapping this year, and it is yielding results, both at home and on patch. Patch is of course allowing me to get to grips with some of the specialist wetland species, while the garden trap is still proving interesting, and I’ve been amazed to catch 214 species in 4 months in the garden alone! Highlights of late from the garden include Small Marbled, Anasia innoxlla, Evergestis limbata and Lozotaeniodes formosana, while on patch, my overall highlight so far has been Stathmopoda pedella. 


Stathmopoda pedella, Titchfield Haven, 19th June 2017

So maybe June is quiet compared with the likes of spring and autumn, but this June (and indeed previous ones) turned out to be pretty good I’d say. And of course, June in amongst a seabird colony – the scrapes on patch being one – is far from quiet! 😉




May 2017

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.


Red-rumped Swallow, Posbrook Floods, 3rd May 2017

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!!


Poms!! 12th May 2017, Hill Head

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.


One of three 2cy Little Gulls at Titchfield Haven this spring

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.

April 2017

Unusually, I thought, the month began with a singing reed warbler – the first of the year found by Dan Houghton and Alan Butler on 1st along the top half of the canal path. Unusual because it was early, and even earlier than the first sedge warbler that was singing on 5th during a dawn stroll along the lower section of the canal path. The 1st turned out to be a rather good day for birding, as my first swallow of the year flew overhead that morning, a willow warbler was drunkenly singing by the car, the barn owl was sat out in the tree, and the evening was spent enjoying a black-winged stilt on Posbrook Floods, found by Alan Clark (and later refound by Alan Lewis after it went AWOL) a few hours earlier! The 3rd record for the reserve, and a lovely wader indeed. Added to that, a few days later I finally managed to catch up with the little gull that’s been hanging about (mostly just off patch at Brownwich) all winter.  

Black-winged Stilt, 1st April, Posbrook

Black-winged Stilt, Posbrook Floods, 1st April 2017

The rest of 5th was spent in Sussex, at North Stoke, the site of a large tortoiseshell butterfly. It was an impressive beast, and Dave Wallace and I managed to time our visit well as it was resting on a leaf on arrival so good views were had before it flew off. The hoped for cloudy weather never came, so the butterfly didn’t return. Twitching seems to be a slippery slope, first birds… then moths… and now butterflies… but it’s interesting to see and enjoy new species, especially if they’re close by. Another highlight of the trip for me was Houghton Hill where we stopped for lunch – the views were lovely, and there were firecrests everywhere!


Large Tortoiseshell, North Stoke, 5th April 2017

The slow and steady trickle of migrants continued with the weather conditions not being ideal. 3 wheatear dropped into the chalets at dawn on 10th, while my first house martin of the year was over Posbrook Floods on the evening of 11th alongside many swallows and sand martins, and a whitethroat was singing on 13th at Posbrook. It was lovely to see more willow, sedge and reed warblers moving through too, with at least 8 willow warblers on patch during the morning of 14th plus one in my garden which was a nice surprise. Added to that, the occasional whimbrel has flown past during the first half of April, and Dave W and I had excellent views of 3 garganey that dropped into South Scrape on the afternoon of 13th.


A pair of Garganey, Titchfield Haven, 13th April 2017

Seawatching has been slow throughout April, largely due to unfavourable winds, although it has picked up on occasions. An attempt on the afternoon of 19th yielded a single arctic tern that briefly landed on Rainbow Bar. It’s always nice when the terns do decide to land so I can double check all the features, especially when it comes to picking out the arctic from the commons! Many more terns were seen the following evening with a steady passage of 25 common terns, along with 12 whimbrel and 2 bar-tailed godwits. It’s still slow though, with seawatching yet to properly get going. O how I long for prolonged southeasterlies… I continued to check the reserve and the floods along the canal path too, often with Ken Martin and Richard Carpenter, but sadly the hoped for red-rumped swallow never did appear. We did, however, pick up the returning lesser whitethroats which was nice.

There was bit of excitement on 23rd while comparing notes with Richard Levett, Mark Palmer and Ivor McPherson about how quiet it seemed both in terms of passage and grounded migrants – even the fog hadn’t made much impact. Whilst chatting, a bird that didn’t seem quite right for a gull or tern came into view close past the sea wall. Flap, flap, glide… “Fulmar!” – a long overdue county tick for me and a rather unexpected sighting, as the bird was heading west, it was still rather murky, and the passage had been almost non-existent through the Solent. Fulmar are also less than annual through the Solent these days. That’s the thing with seawatching at Hill Head: it can deliver, but you either have to wait for hours on end, or be rather jammy!

Patch aside, some time during the second half of April was spent elsewhere in the county with Ed Bennett. The New Forest is one area I’ve always intended to explore more, but never got round to it and didn’t really know where to go. Luckily Ed does know these things (and indeed much more) which was helpful, and enjoyable. Ivy Wood was particularly lovely with all the bluebells, and other plant species such as dogs mercury, butchers broom and wood spurge, plus the crab apple blossom. Nice to find a part of the Forest that was fenced off from livestock – what a difference it made! Blackwater Arboretum was pleasant too with many a willow warbler singing away, along with my first redstart, garden warbler and cuckoo of the year. A second visit a couple of days later involved a return to Blackwater, followed by a wander around Acres Down. It was much colder which didn’t help, although we did have superb views of a singing wood warbler – one of my favourite birds I think – along with great views of a singing firecrest which was similarly lovely.


The lovely bluebells in Ivy Wood

Finally, seawatching did pick up as the month drew to a close, well… sort of. 3 distant black terns were picked up by Graham Barrett and Dave Ryves working their way towards Southampton Water on 28th. Frustratingly on 29th, the winds were not quite SE and the birds appeared to fly either over the Isle of Wight or rather close to it, and so not visible from Hill Head. While other sites along the south coast (including Stokes Bay) yielded many a skua, we didn’t. It wasn’t until 1635 when finally, I picked up an arctic skua flying east mid-channel, to the delight of Mark, Andy and John Shillitoe.

And then it did happen! The morning of 30th was superb even though the winds still weren’t quite right. Andy Collins and I recorded 15 arctic skuas, 4 little gulls, 8 black terns and plenty of whimbrel and bar-tailed godwits all heading east over the course of 3 hours. The hoped for pomarine skua never did come, but it was still a fantastic seawatch – more skuas in 3 hours than I’d ever seen in my life! My first hobby of the year was another highlight, also heading east close in.


4 of the 15 Artic Skuas that passed Hill Head, 30th April 2017

The hobby was the 130th species for patch this year, and the sea watch was probably the 2nd best I’d had off Hill Head since trying to get my head round it. The best has to be last year when the 3 pomarine skuas flew very close in – still time for that this year…. Wonder what May will bring!

Hampshire’s February and March highlights

Returning to Titchfield Haven bright and early to a much calmer, although still somewhat breezy coastline (having survived Storm Doris), I set about the important task to catching up with some patch year ticks. Standing at the western end of the chalets, it was just possible to pick out the distant flock of ducks on the sea: the 2 male scaup  easy to pick out, with the smaller white blob of long-tailed duck, and helpfully a velvet scoter flapped its wings – another year tick! They have since come much closer which is lovely. The reserve was closed when I arrived, but standing up on the balcony above the visitor centre one can peer into South Scrape where the first of the returning avocet were hanging out.


The 6 Scaup during one of their wanders close to shore

I’d agreed to meet Dave Wallace at Bridge Street later that morning for a wander and hope of overseeing the organised snipe count that takes place each winter. It was a good choice, and also nice to catch up with a number of local birders. As well as the many common snipe that were flushed up as the volunteers walked through each meadow, the first big surprise was a woodcock – the first I’ve had at Titchfield Haven. A couple of water pipits too were seen well and heard, and eventually our target species for the day – jack snipe was also seen and recorded during the count, another patch tick for me. A good morning! February ended with good views of 3 spoonbill on the meadow, while March began with another woodcock – a nice surprise when heading over to the Meadow Hide on 1st – and, at long last, my first green woodpecker of the year.


Spoonbills on the meadow at Titchfield Haven, 28th February 2017

Patch aside, some time has been allocated for exploring other parts of the county. Blashford Lakes was my first stop on 1st March, where highlights included goldeneye, water pipit, 3 brambling, many siskin and good views of a roosting tawny owl; my 5th owl species this month! Following on from this, I stopped off at Harbridge to admire the 1st winter white-fronted goose that’s associating with greylag and Egyptian geese.

My next port of call was Southsea seafront on 2nd for the overwintering purple sandpipers that are always a joy to watch. It took a while to locate them, but eventually three landed on rocks in front of me and set about feeding while dodging the waves. I’d told myself that the unfavourable winds (strong westerlies) would make patch unpleasant with few birds, so a good day to go elsewhere. Nine texts and a couple of missed calls told me otherwise, so off I went to investigate…

Graham Barrett, Tony Heath and others had picked up a crane fly over the reserve, circle the scrapes and then land by the Frying Pan. Despite being flushed a couple of times by both the marsh harrier and buzzard, the crane hung about on the meadow, much to the bemusement of the local Canada geese, and provided us with good but fairly distant views, including a lovely fly past, calling as it did so (it did then circle back round and land). The bird certainly caused some excitement, and quite right too as there hasn’t been a crane at the Haven since the ’80s, nor are they easy birds to get in Hampshire. Alas, it seems this bird was released as part of the Somerset reintroduction project, so probably isn’t ‘tickable’ but it was impressive to see. While all this was going on, the bittern which has been lurking somewhere in the reedbed on the reserve all winter decided to embrace us with its brief presence, before dropping back down into the reeds. Thanks to Dave Ryves for picking it up – I’d not seem one here since December 2013 so a very nice year tick! And to finish the day off nicely, Dave W and I headed over to Alresford where Pinglestone Watercress Beds yielded a long staying cattle egret and 2 green sandpipers, while 2 ringtail hen harriers came into roost at Alresford Pond – a county tick for me.  

Crane, Titchfield Haven, 2nd March 2017

Crane chillin’ by the Frying Pan, 2nd March 2017

Farlington Marshes is another reserve I like to visit every now and then, with the main downside being the A27 which runs through the middle of it. You can walk a nice circular route around the reserve, starting by the Lake hosting large numbers of roosting wildfowl and waders including a spotted redshank and 2 greenshank. The marsh was teaming with birds, mostly brent geese and wigeon, and offshore were plenty of red-breasted mergansers that seem much scarcer back at Hill Head. The Deeps had more roosting waders, this time mostly dunlin and grey plover with a single knot and bar-tailed godwit hiding amongst them. Good numbers of common gulls also. A short-eared owl surfaced briefly which was lovely, although the wind probably didn’t help. Other highlights for me include a kingfisher sat on the sea wall, peregrine, and a leucistic pintail.  


Kingfisher sat on the seawall at Farlington Marshes, 4th March 2017

Dave W and I continued to check the canal path, and were rewarded with 2 water pipits on 9th, along with year ticks of skylark and treecreeper for me. A later visit on 12th yielded a group of 20 fieldfare; not quite the migrants we were hoping for, but nice nonetheless. The weather was frustrating, particular 10th-12th, where what had been looking like a promising forecast turned out to be fog for the best part of 2 1/2 days, oh joy. When it did eventually clear, we had good views of the 6 scaup and a 2cy yellow-legged gull at low tide, and the next morning (13th) continued in good fortune with 2 raven – my first of the year, and 2 long-tailed ducks, followed by a flyby peregrine on 15th. Added to that, the little owl along Workman’s Lane in Warsash reappeared and showed well for at least 40 minuets late afternoon on 10th – a county tick, thanks to Dave for alerting me to its renewed presence.


Treecreeper along the Titchfield canal path

Another week went by, and still no sand martins (or indeed any spring migrants besides chiffchaffs) for us. However, that’s not to say visits to patch were dull. It’s always great to watch the increasing avocet numbers and Med. gulls – the gulls’ numbers peak in spring and even more so autumn before (or after) heading to breeding grounds. Added to that, the occasional yellow-legged gull appeared on the beach, not a year tick for me, but always nice to see – including a 2cy on 12th, and an adult on 24th. On the warmer, sunnier days, Dave W and I were hopeful of a raptor or two. 17th proved to be a good morning with a check of Posbrook Floods yielding a peregrine soaring high above us with a couple of buzzards. Not long after, we picked up another raptor drifting up the valley that looked interesting, and indeed it was. A red kite, possibly in off the sea, soon began circling above Bridge Street Floods before continuing to drift northwards. Although far from rare with several each year, they’re one of these right time, right place species so we were chuffed to catch up with one!

And at last a sign that things were happening… Blackcaps singing upon my return from a few days away, a rock pipit overhead on the seafront, and 2 sandwich terns flying east on 28th. 29th yielded more with first sand martins during a showery wander along the canal path with Dave W and Alan Butler, followed by the reappearance of the barn owl! The month ended with a March willow warbler, a definite sign of spring for me and lovely to hear. As the month draws to a close, my patch year list is up to 109 – quite a bit below last year, probably down to less time spent in the area, and the area being generally less well covered.


Return of the Barn Owl

From Minsmere to Portland

17th-22nd March

I was invited to attend the British Birds’ strategy weekend, alongside Nina O’Hanlon, Lizzie Bruce, and Drew Lyness, as a panel of young birders to chat to the Directors and Trustees about the journal from our perspective. It was an interesting discussion, a good opportunity to network and meet top birders, and of course do some birding at a lovely reserve on the east coast – Minsmere.

We arrived late afternoon on Friday (17th) where the first stop was the north hide to look out onto the scrapes and scan the gull roost. Like Titchfield Haven, there were plenty of Mediterranean gulls (although not quite on the same scale as the south coast!), good numbers of common and black-headed gulls, and many larger gulls to search through. The larger gulls seemed to mostly consist of great black-backed, lesser black-backed and herring gulls, although it wasn’t long before Adam Rowlands picked out a 2cy Caspian gulls, later followed by a second individual. They’re an interesting species, one I long for on patch so it was great to enjoy it and compare the key features of all the gulls. Feeling satisfied and with light fading, we retired to the local pub for food and a good chat.


One of two Caspian Gulls at Minsmere, 17th March 2017

The following morning (18th) we awoke to a dawn chorus of a different kind, with the added extra of red-legged partridges outside the lodges we were staying in – the Warren Lodges were lovely and cosy, so I’d definitely recommend it for anyone who fancied staying near Minsmere. This was the day of our discussion, so very little birding was done. Perhaps, given the weather, this was a blessing in disguise as it was certainly rather wet and windy!

Sunday (19th) dawned, and it was still rather windy, but thankfully dry, so the day began with a short trip to look for Dartford warblers close to the reserve – a brief glimpse of a male and female just as we were giving up, yay. Although we had no luck with any hoped for woodlark, it was  good to hear many singing chiffchaffs, plus a couple of siskin and redpoll too. While the Directors and Trustees had their board meeting, Lizzie, Nina, Drew and I met up with Dawn Balmer for a morning’s birding around the reserve. It was great to properly explore Minsmere, and also to see 2 garganey and a sand martin – spring at last! Alas I missed the house martin. Added to that, we managed to relocate the 2 smew and enjoyed a flyover bittern and marsh harriers.

The following morning (20th) I headed down to Dorset – destination Portland Bird Observatory for a short stay. It’s still rather early in the year so I wasn’t expecting much, but it has been far too long since my last visit. There were a sprinkling of new arrivals here too. My first 8 wheatear of the year at last in the strong, rather unpleasant westerlies; always something exciting about seeing migration in action.


One of several Wheatear at Portland Bill

One target I had in mind was an overwintering Hume’s warbler at Thumb Lane that was proving to be rather elusive based on reports. It was certainly elusive during my five attempts, with about 5 minutes worth of views out of all the hours looking! An area worth exploring though, with plenty of scrub, two chiffchaffs and a singing blackcap; my first of the year. The first attempt wasn’t helped by the weather, but as the sun made an appearance late afternoon, I decided to give it another go. Three wheatear had arrived since the morning, and after a good look it was seeming as if I would draw another blank… Thankfully not, the sudden ‘dsu-weet‘ gave it away, and looking up, there it was, all for about 30 seconds before it disappeared! I returned a couple of times on 21st, hoping for better views, and it did show slightly better early afternoon. The calls helped once again to track down the bird as it flitted around in the trees and bushes – too quick for a photo.

Back at Portland Bill, sea watching yeilded small numbers of gannets, guillemot, razorbills, fulmar, shag and red-throated divers. Not exciting but more than I’ve had so far off Hill Head this year so good practise for when birds actually pass through the Solent. Wanders around the immediate area yielded more newly arrived wheatear and chiffchaffs, but little else asides from rock pipitsRock pipits only visit Hill Head occasionally, so I did find it interesting observing them, particularly as there seemed to be more than one subspecies present, and varying plumages.

A wet start to 22nd began with seawatching from the shelter of the Obs. Many kittiwakes were passing through, along with smaller numbers of common scoter, fulmar and auks. Once the weather cleared up, it was time for a final wander along the Bill before heading off. More wheatear had arrived, and 2 black redstarts around the rocks and light house. They were one of the species I’d been hoping to see, so was pleased they’d (re)appeared after a no show the other days.


One of two Black Redstarts at Portland Bill, 22nd March 2017

I’d been meaning to revisit the RSPB’s Lytchett’s Fields for some time, and as it was only a slight detour, popped in with the hope of seeing the green-winged teal. When I arrived on site, I bumped into Ian Ballam who assured me the bird was still present at the back pool so I hurried over for a look. The viewing conditions weren’t brilliant as you’re looking into the sun and there’s various dips and mounds obscuring sections of the pool. The nepe tides at the moment weren’t helping either as it meant more of the field was uncovered, so more dips for the birds to hide in. Eventually the green-winged teal did reappear in the open, feeding among a small group of Eurasian teal for good comparison – yay, another lifer! 


February 2017 in the North East

I had promised myself I’d visit Norfolk, namely RSPB Titchwell, at least once while staying nearby on the east coat, so a warm sunny Saturday seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. I had limited time, as a social event in the evening had been planned, but the hours spent at Titchwell were still brilliant. My main target was the sea, having seen various impressive reports over the past few months, and certainly wasn’t disappointed. So many ducks!!

I’m used to sea watching at Hill Head, where the Isle of Wight limits both the quality and quantity most of the time, plus the land doesn’t stick out like Portland, so even just the number of common scoter offshore was great to see. Even better though, there were large numbers of long-tailed ducks and velvet scoter, of varying plumage, which was fantastic, especially as many gave good scope views! Other highlights were red-throated diver, goldeneye and eider on the sea, while sanderling were running along the beach near a nice flock of knot and bar-tailed godwits. I didn’t explore much of the reserve, but it was good to see a small flock of avocets and spotted redshank among the waders and wildfowl on the scrapes. Strange as it sounds, I had been missing the sea and seawatches. I may have been living on the east coast, but the sea is miles away. The vast expanse of saltmarsh in the estuaries is impressive though. 


Pacific Diver, East Chevington, 5th February 2017

As the pacific diver seemed rather settled at East Chevington, I decided to pay it a visit while staying ‘up north’ in Lincolnshire. The north, I’ve been reminded, is a big place especially as almost everywhere is north compared to home. Still, the pacific diver was closer to me than the Cornwall individual, and worth the visit – a lifer, showing well in the lake while I watched it on 5th; consolidation for missing red-necked grebe on patch (proper county rarity!) that morning. Whilst there, a bittern flew past and landed in the reedbed. Time then for the next target of the day, Skinningrove’s eastern black redstart; a lovely bird that also showed well on the beach alongside 2 stonechats, a couple of dunnocks and a robin. The fulmar on the cliffs above were also a pleasant sight.


Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, 5th February 2017

The twitch got me thinking. Nice as it was to see these lifers, more time was spent travelling than actual birding, and I’m not sure much actual birding was done. I’ll certainly not give up twitching, but try to make more of the day in future (some previous twitches have done so), and take more note of the other species present too. Added to that, I reminded myself that a top birder was telling me once we should try not to see ‘too much too quickly’, which is a good point.

As such, I actually stayed fairly local the next weekend, but had a rather birding-less week I must admit, although surveying at Freiston on 6th did yield 4 knot. However, 11th involved a trip down to Willow Tree Fen to catch up with a lovely bluethroat which showed brilliantly in the freezing conditions. It reminded me of my first twitch four years ago, when I was just getting into regular birding. That too was a bluethroat, in similarly cold conditions, but on the Isle of Wight (a family holiday, honest!, where I was informed of the bird’s presence) and the bird was much more elusive. It took us two attempts to get it, and I think probably put mum and dad off birding and twitching as it was bitterly cold! I do also remember having excellent views of water rail there – St Helen’s Duver, I think – but sadly no pictures. Back to Willow Tree Fen, we didn’t see any water rail, but certainly some about calling. A small flock of geese too, mostly white-fronted and a pink-footed goose.


Bluethroat, Willow Tree Fen, 11th February 2017

The following day (12th), I waited until the rain stopped before heading out to Frampton Marsh, with highlights of an avocet, and plenty of pintail, ruff, goldeneye, ringed plovers and more. The whooper swans that roost on the reserve have chosen to feed on the fields by the house of late, so it was nice to watch them during daylight for once! One of the fields also had a red-legged partridge. Another bonus at the moment is the small flock of brambling that’s taken up residence in the farm and garden, often on the feeders at breakfast! It’s certainly nice to enjoy the variety of finches and bunting around the house. Being in the countryside is rather different to the surburbia I’m used to, though at least there are fields and reserves close to my home too. And waxwings near home too, so I see, with a group of five by the Whiteley shopping centre.


One of the small flock of Brambling at Frampton Marsh

I happened to have a 3 day weekend, so joined Chris Andrews for another day’s birding on 13th. Great grey shrike was our first port of call, but the bird was sadly flushed by someone deciding it was a great idea to walk out onto the scrub instead of viewing from the gate as instructed… Moving swiftly on, good views were had of a great white egret and long-tailed duck along the river at Deeping High Bank, followed by 2 long-eared owls at Deeping Lakes. After a return trip to the shrike for much better views, lunch was spent enjoying cranes in the Nene Washes, followed by a couple of hours at Rutland Water. It’s the first time I’ve properly visited Rutland (after dipping the surf scoter 6 weeks ago), and was very chuffed with highlights of 7 smew – lifer for me, and great birds – and 2 scaup.

In an attempt to get myself back into ‘proper’ birding again, I’ve been waking up earlier and strolling around bits of Frampton before work. One particular highlight for me has been a flock of brambling hanging around the farm and house this month, while early morning strolls have also yielded both barn and little owls, many goldeneye, tree and house sparrows, and yellowhammers, among others. It’s begun to feel rather spring-like during these early morning sessions now, what with being woken up by the beginning of a dawn chorus before 7am (yay!), and the strolls being accompanied by the sound of singing song and mistle thrushes, yellowhammer and sklylark.

I suppose one good thing about birding, or nature in general, is that it’s all around you and one can be sort of birding constantly, wherever one is, so yelling “Egyptian geese!” as we passed through Frampton village after a successful food shop one evening seemed perfectly normal. It was interesting, and the first we’d seen this year, sadly outside of the reserve boundaries. On another occasion, I’d barely been driving for a minute when I had to pause (it’s a quiet country road) to admire a lovely male hen harrier quartering across the field not far from the reserve; a great sight, and the best views I’d had of one.

Another weekend dawned, with plans of meeting up with my parents and some friends of theirs, so a daytrip to Norwich was on the cards for 18th. before meeting up with them, a brisk walk around Frampton was squeezed in, with highlights of an avocet on the scrapes, and 6 or so bearded tits flying around the reedbed. Norwich, I thought, was surely close to the regular flocks of bean geese Norfolk get each winter so I convinced my parents it was the perfect opportunity for a while goose chase. Thankfully, the wild goose chase was successful, although we did detour over to Breydon Water where 95 tundra bean geese were present in fields by the rugby club. One more lifer for me, as they’re not regular on the south coast. A more laid back local day was planned for 19th. A brief hour at Frampton Marsh yielded 2 scaup and a barnacle goose on the reedbed.


The two Scaup (left) with Pochard and Tufted Duck. No arrows required 😉

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, and in this instance I agree. My final day volunteering at Frampton arrived and yielded a red-legged partridge from the office window. The journey home took a slight detour… to Spurn (as you do!), and so most of 22nd was spent exploring the area. A short sea watch may not have been that exciting to most, but it was enjoyable to have several red-throated divers, guillemot and razorbill on the sea, with others heading north too. A single puffin flying north was a nice bonus, and moments later a fulmar flew south – two species I’m still waiting for at Hill Head. Walking back along the canal, I was surprised to flush a short-eared owl that must’ve been sheltering rather close to the path, and paid the overwintering black brant a visit. It was good to watch the geese and remind myself how much black brant stand out from a flock of dark-bellied brent geese (with a pale-bellied mixed in as well).


Black Brant, Kilnsea, 22nd February 2017

My time up north has come to an end for now. Who knows what’s next…

Good start to the year…

The new year began at Hill Head, bright and early, with Ken Martin as we started our new lists. Snow bunting, long-tailed duck, decent flock of eider and a few common scoter, the highlights, with the rest of the day spent enjoying the commoner species, including a couple of chiffchaffs. The days that followed, too, were mostly spent on patch trying to clock up a few more species. One key species I was hoping for was water pipit; something I’d seen reported regularly, so decided to target what seemed like their favoured areas, and had also been given suggestions for other species to target. Posbrook seemed to be the main area to focus on. For those who don’t know, it’s around the first bridge you reach after heading south from the Bridge Street car park. Posbrook Floods is the (usually) flooded area to the left of the bridge – that’s where the reserve boundary begins – and over the bridge on the right is a pony field.

The pony field seemed rather productive, with many redwing, song thrush and a mistle thrush, alongside 46 black-tailed godwits, 6 curlew and more, but to begin with, no pipits. For most of the week, this seemed to be a recurring theme, other than the occasional flyover meadow pipit, and Posbrook Flood yielded none too. The Floods are, however, the best place for pintail on patch. Thankfully, one final trip on Saturday 7th was pleasantly successful. It was a warmer day (maybe that helped; I suppose lots of ice on the cold days didn’t), and numerous pipits were feeding in the pony field, including one lovely water pipit! There have been as many as 6 seen along the canal path itself this winter but I could only manage one. Still, only my 2nd (my first was at Farlington Marshes in 2014) and great views. Typically, it disappeared before Mark Rolfe and Ken arrived, and a good search to relocate it, or others, seemed to fail. One final trip? Ah well, that’s because it was time to pause birding at Titchfield Haven (unusually for me) and head north… So, patch year list up to 86, with water pipit being the first full patch tick of the year.


Water Pipit, Posbrook, 7th January 2017 – finally!

A new venture began on 8th, which was mostly spend in the car travelling to up Lincolnshire. Arriving at Frampton late afternoon, there was just enough time to visit the reserve and watch the starling and pink-footed geese come into roost. I didn’t really have much time to explore, but was impressed by the shear number of birds. Must’ve been thousands of wigeon by the car park alone, and thousands of waders on the scrapes!

Why am I in Lincolnshire, neglecting my beloved patch? Well, the RSPB offer residential volunteering opportunities, and as Frampton Marsh was one place I’d always wanted to visit, it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I also wanted to escape for a bit. This is where I’m based for the time being, and it’s lovely: tree sparrows in the garden, living on a farm, nature reserve on the doorstep (almost), oh and a lovely waxwing from the office on 9th! A real contrast to the suburbs of Fareham. It’s really interesting to see how areas differ, sad on one sense (as some of the differences are due to local extinction, declines etc) but also exciting to explore the new area. During the week I didn’t get much chance to explore the reserve(s) as we were busy carrying out various tasks (mostly fence repairs and path maintenance at this time of year), although birding was squeezed in throughout the day. The work is split between Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore, a smaller site near by.

I’d chosen to stay local for my first weekend in Lincolnshire, so began 14th bright and early at Marsh Farm Reservoir, the south west corner of the reserve. This was where the waxwing had been on 9th and 10th, with other highlight during early morning sessions including goldeneye and turnstone. I decided to walk the southern edge of the reserve boundary as it was the section I’d not visited yet, and was well worth it for the small number of yellowhammers, a merlin and good views of a marsh harrier over the salt marsh of the Wash. Another highlight was an avocet feeding on the North Scrape. One thing I’d been impressed with since arriving was the sheer number of birds – thousands of wildfowl and waders, far more than I’m using to seeing at Titchfield Haven, and great to see.

While birding, I bumped into Ryan Clark, a fellow AFON member and we decided to take a break from Frampton to head over to Kirkby on Bain where a ring-necked duck had been reported during the week. The bird was still present on one of the gravel pits, though often difficult to see but a helpful local birder pointed it out to us, and after a while it briefly woke up and drifted further out into the pit, providing us with much better views. There was also a lovely male scaup, a species I don’t see often – an added bonus! Returning to Frampton after a late lunch, we made it back in time to see the starling murmuration and the whooper swans coming to roost. It was also nice to see a small flock of pink-footed geese.

The following morning (15th) began with the Wetland Birds Survey. I joined Toby Collett which gave me a chance to explore another section of Frampton – the 3km stretch of the Haven, leading to Tabbs Head and the Wash. The rain wasn’t particularly pleasant (and I discovered my waterproofs need reproofing!) but it was a good session, with 2 Bewick’s  and 70 Whooper Swans, 4 short-eared owls appearing over the saltmarsh, jack snipe, water rail, 2 spotted redshank and red-breasted merganser on the sea. Pre-work sessions have been pleasant too, with 9 yellowhammers and little owl on 17th and 8 white-fronted geese on 18th.


White-fronted Geese, Freiston Shore, 18th January 2017

21st dawned and it was time for a twitch, this time Derbyshire bound. The dusky thrush had been present at Beeley for well over a month, but Simon Wilson, Simon Knight and I hadn’t made it over there yet. On arrival we were told the bird hadn’t been seen, but we had come to it’s usual spot so decided to start there while other birders went to look elsewhere. This turned out to be a good move when Simon K set up his scope and within seconds found he was looking at the dusky thrush, feeding on the ground; the first lifer of the year! Distant views, but good enough with a scope.


Dusky Thrush, Beeley, 21st January 2017

With a couple hours of daylight remaining I headed back over to Frampton Marsh to enjoy 6 marsh harriers over the saltmarsh, merlin, peregrine, a good starling murmuration, the whooper swans coming to roost, and my highlight – a hen harrier quartering over the reedbed! It was the first hen harrier I’d seen for two years, having not managed to connect with any in Hampshire. It wasn’t long before I saw another, this time at Freiston Shore on 23rd, while carrying out surveys with Simon K. We surveyed the area of managed realignment, and the arable fields, recording anything we saw while walking through them. Highlights included great views of a hen harrier, short-eared owl, jack snipe and plenty of tree sparrows.


Spot the Hen Harrier, causing mayhem over Freiston!

A white-billed diver had turned up on the river Witham near Woodhall Spa on 20th, coincidently in exactly the same stretch of river as another individual back in the ’90s, but with my weekend filled with out of county twitching – first that dusky thrush, and then dipping the Yorkshire pine bunting the following afternoon – I didn’t have a chance to go. We ran out of time again on Monday, but thankfully Tuesday (24th) all went according to plan, and so I had a chance to enjoy the diver after a long walk along by the river to relocate it that afternoon. It was fantastic, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever get as good or better views of any diver species any time soon!


White-billed Diver, Stixwould, 24th January 2017

I’d been in contact with Dave Wallace while up at Frampton, particularly as the temptation for a weekend at home grew. Birds to see (oh, and family and friends!). Dave mentioned the possibility of a twitch, allowing me another chance to try for a pine bunting, and with a few other things to do as well, I headed back. My first port of call once home was Hill Head  for 6 scaup that had been offshore for the best part of a week. Arriving before dawn on 27th, I was treated to rather distant views from the Meonshore chalets – still good enough for a much desired patch tick! Other than a brief appearance in November 2016 (which I missed), it’s been many years since scaup had been reported at the Haven. 

Scaup, Hill Head, 27th Jaunary.JPG

Scaup, Hill Head, 27th January 2017

It was then time to meet up with Alan Butler and Dave, and head off to Kent for round 2 (for me) of the pine bunting. Finding the location proved challenging, but thanks to Google maps we were soon stood on the seawall with a number of other birders. Not long after arriving, the bird briefly perched up on a hawthorn bush, but didn’t stay long enough for everyone to see it or get ‘tickable’ views. Feeling unsatisfied, and hoping for more views, we agreed to make the most of the afternoon and stay put which paid off. About an hour later, another birder noticed the bunting was frequenting a different tree by a hedgerow, showing on and off regularly for a good half hour or so (we did have better views than my poor photo too!).


Pine Bunting, Milton Creek, 27th January 2017 – we did get better views too!

It felt a bit like Deja vu the next morning (28th), as Ken and I headed off to attempt to twitch another bunting, this time a little bunting on Portsdown Hill. A very rare bird in Hampshire, where I believe the last ‘twitchable’ bird was in 1992. As expected, it wasn’t easy, but we did get brief views (a couple of seconds!) when it occasionally perched in a bush with reed buntings. It was also nice to enjoy the yellowhammers, a bird I don’t see often in the county. The afternoon was spent in Basingstoke as news of waxwings had broken while in Kent yesterday, and thankfully they’d hung around. On arrival, I was told the bird had flown a few minutes earlier, but was promised they’d return, which they did – and very nice too. 4 lovely waxwing as the light started to fade! My first in Hampshire, and having only previously seen 2, it was great to spend time watching the small group.


One of four Waxwings in Basingstoke, 28th January 2017

Before returning to Frampton, I headed to Hill Head for dawn and enjoyed 6 scaup, long-tailed duck and 30 eider on the sea, and paid a visit to the long staying snow bunting that was still hanging about the harbour spit – impressive species tally! A quick scan of Rainbow Bar yielded a good mix of waders including bar-tailed godwit, greenshank, grey plover, ringed plover, dunlinsanderling and 4 curlew. It’s hard to stay away from a site that’s brought much happiness over the years.