September 2017

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.

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Pectoral Sandpiper, Titchfield Haven, 1st September 2017

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!

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American Redstart, Barra, 16th September 2017

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.

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Red-throated Pipit, Languard, 28th September 2017

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!

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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Black Brant, Kilnsea, 22nd February 2017

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

Early autumn

Last year, September began with an evening trip to see a local wryneck and good company, which got me thinking about many things. Sadly, not to be repeated. This year, the bird at Farlington Marshes disappeared before I was able to connect with it on 2nd, and birds at Calshot and Gilkicker Point both disappeared soon after being found. It wasn’t a bad hour at Farlington though, with plenty of waders including a greenshank, 2 curlew sandpipers, numerous knot, 2 ruff and some stunning summer plumage grey plover. Meanwhile, the little stint have lingered on patch, along with the long staying green and common sandpipers, 2 ruff and a greenshank.

You never really know what will turn up each day, which I guess is one good reason for attempting to maintain the motivation and continually check patch. Ivor McPherson and I were by the harbour on 4th, when he noticed the waders up in the air though they landed soon after. What did it? We soon noticed the culprit, heading vaguely towards us (east) and wow!

A honey-buzzard, gradually gaining height, headed over our heads towards the sailing club before flying out into the Solent and heading south-west.  Given the blustery conditions and its unusual behaviour, it was bizarre to see, but as Andy Collins, Dan Houghton and Alan Butler also saw it (them & Ivor are all far better birders than myself), plus the excellent views, there was no doubt as to it’s identification. Only the 3rd one I’ve ever seen, with 2 now over patch. As is often the case, despite the fact we all had cameras, not one of us managed photo. We chose to watch the bird instead!

Away from patch, news of a grey phalarope at Blashford Lakes caught my attention. It turned up one evening, just as the hides were being closed, but stayed for a few days. The car was free on 7th so a trip down to see it was in order. Unlike my 1st grey phalarope (at Pagham Harbour last year) this bird was extremely distant, and probably what you’d call unsatisfactory views. Nevertheless, I’ve finally seen one in Hampshire, honest!

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Grey Phalarope, Ibsley Water, 7th September 2016

Back on patch, much time has been spent scanning the scrapes in the morning, in the hope something new had arrived. Curlew sandpipers have been a key target of mine but I was starting to wonder whether they’d ever turn up. I remember last year, the only curlew sandpiper was present for a short while in spring (though a lovely summer plumage adult, mind!), and we missed out in the autumn. All was not lost, as upon entering Pumfrett hide on 8th, there was not 1 but 7 feeding close to the hide – yay! Another highlight that day was 2 yellow-legged gulls hunkered down on the beach during a rather blustery survey.

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5 of the 7 Curlew Sandpipers at Titchfield Haven, 8th September 2016

The next highlight almost slipped under the radar. The little stint had disappeared for a few days, but one and then a second reappeared on 9th and 10th respectively. Or so we thought… The weather, and light, was terrible on 9th and 10th which didn’t help, but both birds were thankfully photographed as one turned out on closer inspection to be a semipalmated sandpiper. A first for the reserve, and great views were had in the improved weather conditions on 11th! Thanks to Alan Lewis for double checking the photos and re-ID’ing the bird.

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Semipalmated Sandpiper, Titchfield Haven, 11th September 2016

I’ve said many times that it pays to be in the right place at the right time, and I think part of the skill of birding is developing that fine art (and just being lucky?!). 15th was one of those days where I wasn’t in the right place – only by 300m, but that made all the difference. Ironically, the “right place” was the car park space I’d chosen to centre on every other day for the past few weeks. Thankfully (for him) Dan was in the right place, and picked up a buff-breasted sandpiper circling the scrapes before flying west that evening. Another first for the reserve. Being oblivious at the time, I was rather gripped when I found out! The beach, in comparison, was rather unproductive with very little of note, and hardly any yellow wagtails came to roost.

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Red-throated Diver, Hill Head, 16th September 2016

A call from Brian Goddard on 16th alerted me to the fact that the first diver of the autumn/winter was visible close to Rainbow Bar; a red-throated diver that at times showed ridiculously well. The red-throated diver hung around for a while, ranging between Hill Head and Warsash, and is a little early compared to previous years. Other signs that winter is fast approaching include the 8 dark-bellied brent geese back on 18th, and daily sightings there after, plus wigeon and a flock of pintail providing us with a brief flyby.

Meanwhile, autumn is in full swing. 2 curlew sandpipers returned on 17th and hung around, while a spotted redshank made another brief appearance on the morning of 19th. Passerine movement has been evident, with regular wheatear, redstart, whinchat, stonechat and many a warblers like grasshopper warbler (15th & 21st), garden warbler (17th) and lesser whitethroat (17th). A singing willow warbler in the drizzle on 20th was also pleasant, a reminder of spring, while a firecrest of yet another reminder of impending winter. 

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“Whoa, that’s not a Chiff”: Grasshopper Warbler, Meonshore Chalets area, 21st September 2016 – hopping around with the Chiffchaffs!

Last October a white-rumped sandpiper spent a day at Farlington Marshes, unfortunately at a time I was unable to make, so was rather chuffed when news broke of an individual at Pennington on 19th. Chuffed, followed by miffed as work meant I was unable to go. Fortunately, the bird hung around so Ken Martin and I headed over on 22nd and enjoyed good but brief views as it ran around on the lagoon with a number of dunlin. It made up for dipping an arctic warbler the previous day too!

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White-rumped Sandpiper, Pennington, 2nd September 2016 – honest!

Returning to patch for the last few days, it has mostly been “quiet” with little change each day; something you notice when visiting daily! However, one can’t really complain with 2 curlew sandpipers and a ruff making up the best of the waders, 2 marsh harriers, water rail, and on a number of days a decent mix of warblers too. A water rail was showing very well on 28th, spending a good 5 or more minutes out in the open. This was followed moments later by bearded tits which are always great to see, and superb views of a grasshopper warbler! The bird had been in the reedbed next to the path, I think, as I approached so flew forward and hung around for a few minutes. Great to see so close up! Another highlight, particularly of 28th, was the visible migration overhead. This has mostly consisted of swallows, house martins, meadow pipits, yellow wagtails and the occasional pied/white and grey wagtails and tree pipits.

On a side note, I’ve alluded to work a few times so I suppose I should enlighten you. As many of you probably know, I did some work for the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership last summer and helped to prepare and launch the ‘Solent Bird Study’. After finishing university I returned as a casual, so have been undertaking a number of surveys (amongst other things). The latest work has involved bi-monthly surveys at Southsea seafront, focusing on the seabirds and shorebirds, and monitoring the disturbance at Hill Head as well as carrying out a watch brief while work to replenish the shingle goes ahead.

Away from birds, September also began with a moth. Not a rare moth, but it is rather lovely I think: Chinese character. I realise I forgot to mention insects in August’s summary. The highlights such as a maple prominent at Pagham Harbour, 2 Jersey tigers (one at Pagham and one on patch) and my first black arches. The moth highlights continued thanks to some good weather and regular trapping by Dave Wallace. He was rewarded with a vestal on the morning of 6th, an immigrant from south east Europe and a few L-album wainscots, also immigrants (though possible resident locally?).  Other highlights were an autumnal rustic, small square-spot and sallow from an event at Blashford Lakes, and a frosted orange at Pulborough Brooks.

And finally… in once sense it was nice to bump into a mole on 19th, having only ever seen one before that Dan and I stumped across last July. Alas, like the first it was (presumed) deceased, but this time not decapitated. Perhaps one day I’ll manage to see a live one, although I suppose that’ll be rather challenging! Still, it was an opportunity to see one up close, and reminded me of good memories (not just memoirs relating to admiring dead moles, I hasten to add!).

So, patch year list is up to 172 (I genuinely didn’t think this was possible!) and three more months left. Will anything else turn up? Hopefully not while I’m away…..

Waders return, moths and a seabird adventure!

The majority of the start of the month was spent on holiday, but a few patch visits were squeezed in beforehand. Highlights included 4 common sandpipers and a green sandpiper on 3rd and a brief flyby of a great white egret on 4th. The long journey up north then began, with a good friend of mine, Harriet Adams. We’d planned a short trip in Seahouses (Northumberland) and it was excellent.

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Northumberland coastline

Staying at Springhill Farm, we were a short walk from the harbour, and had daily yellowhammers and skylarks from the bedroom, among others. Good views of the Farne Isles too, with gannets (and I’m sure countless other seabirds had I brought a scope) also visible from the bedroom. Not bad!

The purpose of the stay, and undoubtedly the main highlight, was a day on the Farne Isles, with the morning spent on Staple Island and the afternoon on Inner Farne. It’s safe to say I’d never seen so many seabirds in my life til the moment the boat set off! The whole experience was awesome – the sights, sounds and smells. Pictures and footage just don’t do it justice, so I’d thoroughly recommend a visit if you’ve never been. Seabirds everywhere, and being pecked and sat on by an arctic tern is definitely a memory that’ll stick with me.

Other highlights from our holiday included a hare, metres from our bedroom one morning, and a tree sparrow – only my 2nd – hopping about in front of it. Harriet and I had been enjoying the hare, after I excitedly dragged her out before breakfast (I’d already begun a pre-breakfast exploration and didn’t get far before sprinting back), and were even more excited upon realising the sparrow I was photographing wasn’t “any old” sparrow! Where nature is involved, it doesn’t take much to excite or bring happiness to me, but then nature is wonderful. The scenery too was lovely, and walking along the coastal path with the 3 hirundines species and swifts flying low all around us was a great experience. It’s nice to have carefree moments and to enjoy the commoner species.

A trip to Ham Wall, Somerset, was in store for 11th as a collared pratincole had been found there the night before. Dave Stevenson, Dave Wallace, Ian Calderwood and I headed down late morning and were enjoying the bird by lunch time, especially when it flew around, like a tern or hirundine and didn’t seem wader like at all! It was lovely, and with a supporting cast of bittern, great white egret and 2 glossy ibis too!

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Collared Pratincole, Ham Wall, 11th July 2016

The next target was little bittern. However, after an hour an a half of not seeing a little bittern (though we did hear it “singing” which was cool), Dave suggested we headed home, via a detour to give Montague’s harriers a go. It was a good shout, as within minutes of stepping out of the car Ian picked up a lovely male gliding above the tree line – wow, my first one too! We then moved a short distance along the road, and were lucky enough to see four in the air at once, with great views including one over the road! A superb end to the day!!

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The female Montagu’s Harrier

…and the “singing” little bittern

Patch has seen a trickle of returning and passage waders. The week beginning 12th, included the first returning snipe, as well as 80 black-tailed godwits, a greenshank, 2 dunlin, ruff, 2 little ringed plovers, ringed plover, up to 3 common sandpipers and a green sandpiper. Not bad! Seawatching has been fairly quiet of late, although 3 common scoter and a gannet offshore on 17th and 18th was nice to see.

Common and green sandpipers were present most days for the rest of the month, with greenshank most days too. A nice pre-work surprise on 20th was a flock of 13 greenshank dropping onto the beach in the sea mist – the highest number I’ve ever seen here; impressive sight indeed! Other signs of autumn migration include small numbers of yellow wagtails during the second half of the month, garden and willow warblers on 23r, a few grey wagtails passing over and a knot on the scrapes. As the days went by, there were definite signs of many phyllocs and acros moving through, including a number of singing willow warblers on 31st.

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The flock of 13 Greenshank at Hill Head on 20th July

The main highlight on patch this month has to be nuthatch, a rather rare bird for the reserve! It was gutting to discovered I’d missed 2 on the morning of 18th along the canal path, so decided to check Bridge Street each morning since in case they were present again. It paid off – on 22nd upon getting out of the car, the loud “twett twett” calls could be heard from the car park; bingo! 2 nuthatch were once again hanging around the car park for a short while at dawn. It’s the first time I’d come across nuthatch here having missed all previous sightings, so very happy indeed!

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Nuthatch: now that is true patch gold!

With it being summer, insects have been enjoyed as well as birds. Many moths thanks to Dave W, including a trip to Pagham Harbour to see a rare migrant – the latin. Whilst there, we were also shown splendid brocade and marbled grass veneer; also rather rare migrants to the UK; three for the price of one! Butterflies are about too, so Dave S and I paid a visit to South Browndown on 23rd to see grayling and purple hairstreaks and were successful. Another species that’s been enjoyed is the tawny longhorn beetle – a ‘red data book’ species Dan Houghton and Alan Butler stumbled across along the canal path one morning; great to see and thanks to Alan for pointing me in the right direction!

I have also begun moth trapping again after investing in my own trap. I recorded 30 species on 28th, including a migrant silver Y, 13 blastobasis rebeli (very localised species) and a rather lovely garden tiger.

So, the patch year list is up to 161, with 5 months of the year left. Who knows what may turn up… The best time of the year is just around the corner!

(…and here’s hoping the Minsmere’s purple swamphen hangs about….)

Knot all that quiet…

June can often be a quiet time for birding, or it can seem quiet. That said, Titchfield Haven isn’t really that quiet, and every day myself and other locals can enjoy marsh harriers hunting over the fields, avocets (including 1 chick!) and much more! Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy these quieter times and appreciate the commoner or more regular species we may simply take for granted.

As the month progressed, waders and wildfowl began to return with up to 11 teal on the scrapes, 4 redshank on 19th, green sandpiper on 16th and a number of common scoter offshore from 17th. Another highlight from 16th was a raven – a patch year tick that was escorted out of the reserve by 2 crows. 

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2 of the Teal back at Titchfield Haven

Time off patch resulted in an unsuccessful great knot twitch on 17th with Brett Spenser and Dave Wallace. As we got held up on the M3 and then M25, we became aware that the desired bird had flown. Persevering, we thought “it’ll come back“, but sadly it never did that day. That said, who could complain with a couple of hours at Titchwell Marshes yielding a barn owl hunting over the meadows, little ringed plover, 7 stonking spotted redshanks and 3 little gulls?

Dave Wallace and I then ventured off patch again on 19th, this time to see the broad-billed sandpiper at Newport Wetlands. On arrival we were greeted with the news no birder wants to hear – the bird had flown. Damn. All was not lost though as to our delight, the bird dropped into the scrape in front of us, not long after entering an empty hide. Perfect timing! Good views were had, and nice to compare it to the dunlin.

I returned to Norfolk on 21st, this time with Ian Calderwood, Dave Stevenson and Alan Butler in the hope of a more successful twitch. Setting off at midnight, we arrived at Brancaster beach not long after dawn though viewing Scolt Head Island (where the bird had last been seen) wasn’t easy, nor were there any knot at the time. We did, however, see a spoonbill and 4 brent geese before the sun blocked our view. We soon gave up and headed over to Titchwell which was lovely – barn owl, 4 little gulls, booming bittern, 9 spotted redshank, 2 ruff, hundreds of knot, 2 greenshank, bar-tailed godwit and much more… 11 species of wader within a short space of time, and also my first lifer of the day: red-crested pochard! Being used to seawatching at Hill Head, I was also taken aback by the huge flock of common scoter offshore! 

Alas the great knot was not present, or at least not to begin with, and we were miffed to discovered we’d missed it by half an hour or so, having picked the wrong starting point. Thankfully, we stuck it out and 7 hours later were enjoying good views of the bird on the beach when it returned! Definitely worth the lack of sleep and long wait!

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Great Knot, Titchwell, 21st June 2015

Feeling satisfied and relieved, we decided to make the most of our time in Norfolk by heading over to Hickling Broads where we managed to catch up with Norfolk hawker and the swallowtail butterfly; lovely!

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Swallowtail – awesome butterfly!

Returning to patch, it has continued to be mostly quiet in terms of species present, although the black-headed gull colony is certainly not by any means the definition of ‘quiet’! Many of the chicks have or are close to fledging now and the gulls will soon disperse. The avocet chick is also doing well, although it’s a shame there’s only one.

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Life and death on South Scrape!

More waders are starting to trickle through as the month came to a close, with a ringed plover on 24th and 27th, 2 redshank on 25th, common sandpiper on 25th (and most days after that too) and green sandpiper on 26th and 30th. I said in a previous month that coal tits are (usually) hard to come by on patch, but June saw more regular sightings with 4 over the second half of the month!

Seawatching has begun to pick up again, with almost daily gannets and a few other bits and pieces. A great skua on 24th brought some joy to an otherwise subdued day. The following evening, an hour at Hill Head yielded an artic skua, 3 black terns and a flock of common scoter – pleasant evening indeed.  

The month ended with another patch year tick, this time in the form of a grey wagtail, probably long overdue! This puts me on 159, with plenty of time for more, and who knows what could turn up… 

As with last month, I spent some time enjoying other taxa, mostly moths, with highlights being three of the longhorn moth species at Titchfield Haven, numerous Diamondbacks, and also my first large skipper

I did also attempt the Wildlife Trust’s “30 Days Wild” challenge, though by no means a challenge for me theoretically, what with daily birding (and wardening) on patch. However, my added challenge was to try to find some new species. I didn’t quite manage one a day, but it evened out in the end – plenty of moths and also a few other insects and flowers (as well the as 3 bird lifers).

The idea of the 30 Days Wild challenge is to encourage people to spend a bit of time each day enjoying the natural world around them. One of the best experiences of the month has to be the evening at Hundred Acre Wood in Wickham with Ken Martin – nightjars are very awesome indeed!

Also pleased to say I’ll be graduating with a 2:1 in environmental sciences from University of Southampton, and from July helping out the Hampshire Ornithological Society with their monthly sightings summaries. Now all that’s needed is a job!

Hoping now for a quiet first week of July, as a (sort of non-birding) trip away from patch is planned which I’m looking forward to very much.