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…..

Milestones

On the evening of 2nd, news broke on Twitter of a least sandpiper at Black Holes Marsh in Devon and to our joy it was still present first thing on 3rd. As always, some frantic texting and phoning led to a car being filled so Dave Stevenson, Dave and Sandie Wallace, Ian Calderwood and I headed down. On arrival we were greeted by Steve Waite, one of the locals who led us to the viewing area and the bird. Wow, it was showing ridiculously well too! A tiny bird, even dwarfed by the dunlin and little ringed plovers. To add to the enjoyment, a wood sandpiper was also showing ridiculously close to the path. What a great reserve!

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Least Sandpiper (right) with Dunlin, 3rd August 2016.

My alarm on 5th went off at 2.45am; time for another twitch. Destination was RSPB Minsmere, and Brett Spenser, Chris Patrick and I arrived at 7am. The target species was the purple swamphen that had turned up the previous weekend, and excellent prolonged views were had upon finding the right scrape! I was impressed by its size, swamping the near by moorhens, as well as the lovely deep bluey-purple plumage. Great bird! So, the swamphen stayed just long enough for us to connect with it as sadly there was no sign the next day. If accepted, this will be a first for Britain!

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Purple (Western) Swamphen, RSPB Minsmere, 5th August 2016

Feeling satisfied, we decided to continue our lap of the reserve and enjoyed the lovely mix of species on offer – 29 little gulls, little stint, green sandpiper, little ringed plover, greenshank, 5 ruff (including a stunning white headed individual), dunlin, 7 spotted redshank and numerous black-tailed godwits and avocet. Another highlight was a flyover bittern, providing us with close up view as it flew over the purple swamphen. Before returning home, we stopped off at Southwold in the hope of connecting with a juvenile Caspian gull – success after a short wait. The bird was ringed, so it’ll be interesting to know where it came from, and also provided us with some fantastic views!

The rest of the time has, of course, been spent on patch hoping to catch up with the passage species and indeed anything that stops by or passes through. Limited success – catching up with the first Autumn roseate tern (found by Graham Barrett) was lovely, though Andy Collin’s long-tailed skua at Weston Shore on 11th, Dan Houghton’s flyover crossbills on 6th, and the ringers catching an aquatic warbler on 13th, were all rather gripping.

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The first autumn Roseate Tern

However, the roseate tern was joined by another, and it has been great to spend time watching the terns. In fact, 6 tern species were recorded on 14th which is fantastic and similar to how it used to be (or so I’m told), with common, sandwich, little, arctic and black along side the roseate tern. 14th was probably the best autumn birding at Titchfield Haven to date with the first returning redstart and whinchat recorded along the canal path by locals (not me), as well as 10 warbler species and a good mix of waders, including grasshopper warbler, garden warbler and lesser whitethroat. I also had my first tree pipit of the year, fly over the seafront on 14th, and increasing numbers of yellow wagtails too.

Hoping the canal path would live up to expectations, Ken Martin and I went for a wander on the morning of 16th. The distinct lack of cloud didn’t help, though 2 lesser whitethroat and a greenshank were nice nonetheless. It ended up being a decent day on patch, with a third lesser whitethroat on the reserve, alongside a garden warbler and my first spotted flycatcher of autumn – briefly perched up in a fir tree by the Suffern hide junction. The day concluded with a juvenile black tern and arctic tern in amongst the common terns on the beach in the evening. 80 species on patch in a day, not bad!

Last year on patch, one local birder managed 163 species – an impressive total for Titchfield Haven – so a challenge I set myself this year was to try to beat that. I thought that would be a near impossible task, and it wasn’t easy by any means, but for whatever reason 2016 has proven so far to be a great year on patch with a large number of species present, including a number of species turning up that you wouldn’t expect. The target (164) was achieved on 17th, when I caught up with my first whinchat of the year; happy days! Onwards and upwards, as I’m sure there’s still plenty more to see!

I’ve said before that Titchfield Haven never ceases to amaze me, and once again it did just that. I joined Ivor McPherson on the morning of 18th, where we had 22 little terns offshore – unusually high record for here. Not long after a raptor flew over, heading west and after we’d watched it pass over, Ivor turned to me and remarked “that was a honey-buzzard!“. Only the second one I’ve ever seen, and this time on patch too; another unexpected sighting!

Another week of regular patch visits came and went, with it seeming rather quiet at times. The stormy weather on 20th led to disappointment, with nowt but a few kittiwake recorded here, while other sites along the south coast had shearwaters galore (not that this is perhaps any surprise, given how infrequent any shearwater species through the Solent is). As the weather calmed down, there were a scattering of migrants passing through each day – 8 green sandpipers, the most I’ve ever had here on 22th! A ruff made an appearance on 25th, and the long awaited arrival of little stints on 26th. 

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2 of the Little Stints, kindly posing in front of the hide

Passerine migration too, was evident. Wheatear and whinchats popping up in the meadow, with 5 wheatear hopping about together on the beach at dawn on 26th – always nice to see. The occasional tree pipit passing overhead in the mornings was pleasant too, and pleasing that perhaps I am getting to grips with (some) calls! Redstart and spotted flycatchers were reported several days along the canal path, and after several days of trying and failing, I finally caught up with my first redstart of the year.

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Dawn over one section of the canal path – Posbrook, where the Redstarts hang out!

The weather over the August bank holiday looked like the kind of weather that could lead to birds dropping in. 27th was a little disappointing, as what looked like near perfect weather forecasted didn’t live up to our hopes. It was quiet with a single whinchat and redstart along the canal path and 3 flyover tree pipits. The scrapes were better with 2 ruff, 5 little stint and 5 green sandpipers alongside the usual suspects.   

The (first) real highlight came on 28th when I was on duty unlocking the hide and collating together the list of birds with Ivor. Walking into Meonshore hide, something caught my eye – spotted redshank! A difficult species locally these days, and the first I’d caught up with here as I believe they’re less than annual (or fly out of the reserve before opening hours). A good half hour was spent admiring the bird as it fed in front of the hide with 2 little stint close by.

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Spotted Redshank; been dreaming of one turning up!

29th was another great morning. I received a text saying Dan had found a pied flycatcher up around the Posbrook Floods area, so off I went to investigate. Sometimes these birds hang around, while other times they move on not long after being seen. Thankfully, this bird hung around, although it was elusive so only brief views were obtained. A couple of hours later it was back to Posbrook Floods as Dan had got lucky again – this time with a wood sandpiper. Tony Heath, Ken and I went for a look, and after a while of struggling to work out where abouts it was hiding, managed good but brief views of it. Wood sandpiper takes me to 170, something I didn’t think would be possible!

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Spot the Wood Sandpiper… 😉

As the month drew to a close, it was clear migration was in full swing. Swallows streaming past in the mornings, including a lovely white individual on 30th. It’s been great watching the yellow wagtails coming into roost too – a classic late summer/autumn sight!

 

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.

Dream come true (& other highlights)

As a birder, one aim in life is to find something good, and having a patch means the aim is of course to achieve that on patch. One can dream about all the possibilities, many of which are probably unlikely, but sometimes the unexpected happens…

It began on 2nd May when I headed down after hearing about the 6 arctic skuas that had flown past while I was at home finishing off some work. Whilst I didn’t manage to catch up with an arctic skua, I did bag my 1st gannet of the year during a quick check of the sea – excellent. Thinking how nice it is to be in the right place at the right time, I began to wander along the boardwalk by the Suffern hide which can be a good spot for passerines. Indeed it was. A garden warbler was hopping about in the trees; another year tick for me. On a return trip past this section of boardwalk, a familiar trill-like song caught my attention: wood warbler – an extremely rare bird at Titchfield Haven, specially in spring! Always a great, striking bird to catch up with let alone on patch!

Titchfield Haven seems to be one those places where, just when you think it can’t get any better, sometimes it does. Not always, but May was one of those months when it did just that.

An interesting, striking stonechat hopped up onto the fence in the morning of 10th, and I suspected it may have been a Siberian stonechat, however, it soon disappeared. As it flew off, the large white rump was visible for a second. As the day went on, it became apparent that my suspicions were correct and that it was indeed an eastern stonechat, with jet black underwings – it’s true identify finally confirmed that evening by some eagled eyed locals, picking up on the tail; Caspian stonechat; a subspecies of Siberian Stonechat – and the 1st twitchable one on the mainland too!! A crazy day, hopefully one of many…

I’d been watching the stonechats by the seafront for many hours over winter but hadn’t seen one in a while when that male appeared in front of me. Having been hoping to turn one of the wintering stonechats into a Siberian stonechat (with no success…), and having done a little background reading by chance, is probably what led me to think twice about what turned out to be the Caspian stonechat! What a stunning bird! Thanks to Brett Spencer and Mark J Palmer for the photos.

May is the time for sea watching, though it’s definitely been a case of quality over quantity, with a single arctic skua on 3rd, 2 whimbrel on 4th and 3 grey plover and 26 dunlin on 5th. However, all was not lost, as the afternoon of 5th really got going with I joined Dave Wallace, Ivor McPherson, Richard Levett, and later Dan Houghton for another sea watch. First Richard picked out 7 black terns (at least) heading east, followed by 2 little gulls, an arctic skua, and best of all 3 pomarine skuas, complete with spoons, just after 5pm!!  I’d been longing for these for so long, especially after missing “Pom day” (5th May 2014), so was overjoyed when Richard picked them up close in! That evening, a further 42 black terns passed through, alongside another pomarine skua.

Another highlight came on 7th, after a fruitless few hours. It reached 10am and all the sea watchers asides from myself, Richard and Tracy Viney had gone home. We were just thinking of calling it a day ourselves when Richard exclaimed “Long-tailed duck going through!” – and sure enough a summer plumage male passed us not far offshore. Lovely! It seems it took the bird 3 hours and 20 minutes to travel down Southampton Water and past Hill Head, having been reported passing Weston Shore at 0640 that morning. What a great bird to reach 150 for the year! It was present the next day, allowing us to get photos…

Long-tailed Duck, Hill Head

Long-tailed Duck, Hill Head, 8th May 2016 when we re-found it lurking off Brownwich!

Other highlights of late have included the various passage waders – a lovely knot, up to 11 bar-tailed godwits, over 150 sanderling and a number of whimbrel and dunlin. A little gull showed well on the evenings of 8th, 9th and 13th; nice to compare it to black-headed gulls, and I finally caught up with a hobby and cuckoo – 2 in fact, singing and showing well by the visitor centre on 11th; a lovely sight!

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Another highlight: the Marsh Harriers; one of many lovely residents!

 Moving away from patch for a brief while, reports of a great spotted cuckoo on Portland on 13th led myself and Dave Stevenson to head down for a look. A stunning bird, and a lifer for both of us – worth the soaking for then!

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Great Spotted Cuckoo, Portland, 13th May 2016

Continuing off patch, Ken Martin, Dave and I headed over to Martin Down on 16th, with the hope of catch up with turtle doves (a lifer for me), which we succeeded in doing, with at least 2 if not more purring and showing well. The doves were joined by a supporting cast of skylarks, corn bunting, yellowhammers, lesser and common whitethroats; an enjoyable morning in the countryside! We then moved over to Tidpid Down where, at last, we managed to spot a grey partridge poking its head above the vegetation – my first in Hampshire.

Birds aside, it was also lovely to see a number of hares as well as 9 butterfly species – including dingy and grizzled skippers and pale-boarded fritillaries (at a nearby wood) – 3 moth species, and a green tiger beetle (also at a nearly wood).  

Another trip off patch, this time with Dave and Ian Calderwood was for an unsuccessful serin twitch. The bird was at Selsey Bill and had been seen on and off for five or so weeks, but alas 20th May was not one of those days. It was still a decent few hours, however, with a lovely summer plumage great northern diver flying west, along with 2 fulmar, 2 kittiwake and numerous gannets – quiet to most seawatchers, but we enjoyed it! It’s not often you see fulmars in the Solent (I’m still waiting for my first…) so great to catch up with them when visiting other sites along the coast.

Back on patch, there have been a few quiet days, yielding little but you need those quiet days make the better days feel great! The weather hasn’t helped but it’s always nice to have a break from revision, and you never know what might turn up or when. The 21st turned out to be rather good for a while, with Andy Collins picking out a roseate tern in the tern flock by the sailing club, and Mark Edgeller getting us onto a great skua as it flew high east past us – two great birds within 40 minutes, which puts my patch year list equal with last years total (156 – after only 142 days)! Always interesting to see how years differ from each other; one great thing about keeping a patch year list.

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Roseate Tern (right) with 2 Sandwich Terns on 21st May 2016; the un-ringed individual

The next morning (22nd) was quieter at Hill Head, but perhaps no surprise given the north westerlies. There was, however, a ringed plover on the beach – the first I’d seen for a little while. It wasn’t long before the news broke of a stilt sandpiper over at Pennington; only the second for Hampshire & a lifer for me! Mark E, Paul Pearson and I quickly left Hill Head and headed down to join the growing crowd of birders enjoying the lovely rarity. Great views were had as it wandered around the lagoon, feeding as it did so. Great bird!

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Stilt Sandpiper (left) with Dunlin on Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington, 22nd May 2016

Another adventure began at midnight on 27th when Dave S, Ian, Kev Ilsley and I headed down to Cornwall for a day of twitching and birding. It began with excellent views of the Dalmatian pelican on Drift Reservoir not long after dawn. We had been hoping to catch up with a black kite too, but alas it didn’t surface. With our target species (the Pelican) seen and enjoyed well before 7am, we decided to go off in search of choughs, which proved far harder than we imagined, but we eventually succeeded after a 5 hour search! The Cornish coastline is lovely though so well worth wandering along, with other highlights of fulmar, 5 manx shearwater, shags, raven and some stonking male stonechats. Finally, after discovering the lammergeier had been around Cox Tor in Dartmoor just after 11am, we decided to detour and have a look for it. No such luck, but we did enjoy fantastic views of a dipper along the river Dart! Another top day!

Returning once again to patch, after much needed sleep, I was greeted to good views of another roseate tern on the beach on 28th. Interesting to note it was a different individual to that seen on 22nd, as this time it was ringed. Only the 3rd I’ve ever seen, with the first last September also on patch!  

29th began with good but brief views of a garganey on patch, before a quick check of my phone gave news of a red-breasted flycatcher in Romsey – exellent! Dave Wallace and I headed down and eventually enjoyed good views of the bird and heard it singing many times which was lovely. A lifer for me, and a rare bird for the county; 1st since 1989!

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Red-breasted Flycatcher, Straight Mile (Romsey), 29th May 2016

…and here it is singing…

The final two days of the month resulted in yet another twitch (yep, really…), this time to Church Norton in the hope of seeing a Kentish plover. Dave S, Ian, Kev and I sadly dipped on 30th, so I was keen to return the next day when it was still present and, to my joy, was successful!

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Kentish Plover, Church Norton, 31st May 2016

I’ve also started trying to get back into mothing, having not done much at all this year. However, some highlights so far include a coxcomb prominent and yellow-barred brindle from Dave W’s trap and also a firethorn leaf miner – lifers for me. Another lifer came in the form of Alabonia geoffrella a rather beautiful moth indeed.

So, the patch year list is up to 156, and I’ve now completed my degree (Environmental Science), so there should be plenty more time for birding and adventures while I build up more experience and try to get a full time job! It’s scary and amazing how quickly time flies.

 

Spring in full swing*!

[Again, I’ve tried highlighting the 1st arrival (to my knowledge) of spring species to the local area]

[Also, thanks to all the locals – especially Ken Martin & Dave Wallace – who’ve passed on news/sightings and texted out even the less rare species about on patch – it makes for good revision breaks :)]

Continuing where I left off, the evening of 12th included a trip back down to Hill Head to check the beach at low tide – well over 100 Mediterranean gulls which was a rather impressive sight, and 2 lovely summer plumage dunlin.

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One of the many lovely evenings at Hill Head

Mist and fog once again made seawatching a little difficult at dawn on 13th, although 2 common scoter and a couple of sandwich terns wasn’t bad. It was then time for me to get back to coursework, but Ken Martin and Dave Wallace both had a lesser whitethroat (possibly 2 individuals; one at each end of the canal path), while Ian Calderwood had a redstart. A spring whinchat was seen also half way down the canal path on 12th by Alan Butler and Dave. All firsts for the year here!

I had a brief wander along the canal path, in the hope of catching up with one of these, but in that sense the trip was unsuccessful. I did, however, finally see a treecreeper – the 130th species for patch this year! News then broke that Russell Toft had found a wryneck not far from the entrance to the reserve – more patch gold! It was later relocated in a field off the canal path, so myself, Dan Houghton and Lee Fuller had a look that evening but there was no sign. The one and only wryneck I’ve seen at Titchfield Haven was ringed in September 2013.

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Wryneck, 7th September 2013; oh, how I long for another on patch!

Better conditions on 14th yielded 8 sandwich terns, 4 common scoter and 8 shelduck in the early morning, while a short wander along the canal path with Ken resulted in no sign of the wryneck (most likely moved on!), but good views of a lesser whitethroat accompanied by 3 singing sedge warblers and a blackcap. The first little tern of the year was also seen offshore, but not by me.

News broke that on the previous day (13th) George Else had found an Alpine Accentor along Brownwich Cliffs while looking for bees. The bird had been on the beach, before ascending the cliff and disappearing over the top, never to be seen again. An extremely rare bird, especially for Hampshire, with this being the first in the county! Brownwich is just off patch for me, but I joined many other birders that day and also on 15th and 16th to attempt to re-find the bird. No such luck, though it was nice to see some summer plumage golden plover.

Back on patch, it was a productive few days with a wheatear and 8 whimbrel at dawn on 15th, and 4 patch year ticks on 16th: whitethroat and sedge warbler finally giving themselves up, and a mistle thrush. The 4th species was more of a surprise, when a text from Dave Wallace informed me that the tawny owl had returned to the split tree at the top end of the canal path. I was very chuffed to see it, especially after missing it back in January. Other highlights for the past few days include 8 common scoter on the sea, and many swallows streaming in. The first yellow wagtails of the year, and another swift were seen by Dan and Ivor McPherson along the canal path on 17th, while I watched a tufted duck come in off the sea at dawn.

Another dawn start on 18th was quiet, though it did yield my first common tern of the year which was nice. With the winds not ideal for seawatching, I spent some time around the chalets and Meon Marsh (marsh/reedbed t’other side of the road to the Haven). A fox was sat out in the open watching me from a distance, and a few spring migrants were about – 2 sedge warblers, a whitethroat and a blackcap, all singing their hearts out. A pleasant start to the day. 19th began similarly quiet, though a lone brent goose was drifting aimlessly along the water by the sailing club, perhaps wondering where all it’s friends were.

I was greeted to a singing willow warbler by the sailing club on 20th, while 8 common gulls and a common tern were sat on the beach. I returned that evening for a brief stint in the brisk easterly wind and was impressed by the growing numbers of common gulls – 30 in total as I left, all of which were second year birds. Sadly, no record shot to be had as both phone and camera foolishly left on a table at home!

Early morning seawatching on 21st down at Hill Head yielded 6 bar-tailed godwits and 15 whimbrel over the half hour I was present with Dan. A little gull flew east after I left, and (even more gripping!) 10 pomarine skuas, the first of spring were picked up off Stokes Bay, again sadly after we had both left. A species I’d love to see on patch having only ever seen one from the Northlink ferry in 2014. More sea watching was done that evening with Dan, Ken and Richard Levett. A total of 56 whimbrel passing through, 32 of them northwards, over 2 hours and 15 minutes. The other ‘highlight’ was Spiderman heading high south-west towards Fawley Power Station – very strange indeed. Here’s Ian Calderwood’s video of the pomarine skuas:

Dan and I returned on 22nd for more early morning sea watching, this time in the drizzle, and were rewarded with 25 whimbrel, 3 bar-tailed godwits and a couple of each of common, sandwich and little terns over the course of an hour.  One of the bar-tailed godwits was almost in full summer plumage which is something I’d never seen before – lovely! Another highlight was a common sandpiper, briefly on the beach before flying off towards the reserve; our first of the year. Later that day, Ken phoned to say 4 black terns were feeding over Posbrook Flood – 4 tern species in a day, passing 140 species for the year! It was a pleasant hour or so, with the terns zipping over the Flood alongside hundreds of sand martins, house martins, swallows and 3 swifts.

With brisk northerly winds on 23rd, the sea was rather empty – just 5 whimbrel passing through in 3 hours – Ken and I headed up to Bridge Street where we had another black tern over the floods, and a number of yellow wagtails which was great to see. Not that long ago, yellow wagtails would breed round here, but alas these days they only pass through. Other birds of note include a reed warbler – possible the first here (usually more by now) – 2 greenshank, a cuckoo (seen by various locals birders, but alas not us!) and the first hobby of the year seen by Dave Ryves and Mark Palmer.

Back down at Hill Head, three rather stunning bar-tailed godwits were roosting on the beach before flying north over the reserve. I returned that afternoon, where I was informed of a garganey on the reserve so went off to have a look. A fleeting one second glimpse was a good as it got, with them spending of their time in the vegetation out of view.

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Bar-tailed Godwits in their stonking summer plumage

24th involved a bit of an adventure off patch with Sean Foote, starting at Newport Wetlands in hope of a broad-billed sandpiper (which we dipped). It is a lovely reserve though. We didn’t really explore that much, but many whitethroat, blackcapsedge and reed warblers singing, alongside a lesser whitethroat by the visitor centre. The scrape/pool where the broad-billed sandpiper had been the day before, also contained avocets, dunlin, ringed plover and a greenshank to name but a few. Once the dunlin headed out to the estuary, we decided to head up to Garwnant in the Brecon Beacons for lunch. The hope was to see dippers, and sure enough one did fly past – my 250th species in the UK! Finally, and perhaps rather madly, we decided to head over to Lidlington (Bedfordshire) for the Lady Amherst Pheasant. A difficult bird to connect with, so we unsurprisingly dipped. An enjoyable day nonetheless. Meanwhile, of note at Hill Head was the first artic tern of the year seen by Dan, as well as 2 little terns and 2 whimbrel.

Back down on patch, winds have predominantly been north-west, switching at times to strong south-westerly’s, neither of which are ideal for sea watching in the Solent. Still, bits and bobs have continued to trickle through, with a few whimbrel on 26th and 28th, and a couple of ternscommon, sandwich and little. Sea watching was more successful on 29th, with Dan at Hill Head (not me as well this time), and those sea watching further along at Stokes Bay, recording 2 artic skuas and a great skua, alongside a flock of 21 common terns.

Seabirds aside, the migration is still well underway, with swallows streaming in during the strong south-westerly’s on the afternoon of 28th. Added to this, Ken Martin watched a cuckoo coming in off the sea not long after dawn, and a garden warbler was seen on the reserve while I was on campus. A bar-tailed godwit and 6 dunlin were on the beach at low tide, while 2 common sandpipers were flying around the harbour on 29th.

April finished with 5 little terns, 14 common terns and 2 bar-tailed godwits on the beach before the beach goers and dog walkers arrived on the morning of 30th! A single whimbrel flew west, which sums up the morning’s sea watch, while on the reserve the highlight was a showy reed warbler by the meadow hide, 3 swifts and good views of a water vole.

As April draws to a close, the patch year list is up to 144 with an additional 2 species I’ve heard but not yet seen – water rail and raven; something to search for later on.

*asides from the snow/ice/sleet, and frost and need for 3 layers, and unfavourable winds!

Early April joys!

[As with last month, the first sighting of a returning species locally is in green]

April began with a rather quiet seawatch. Not quite what I’d hoped for given the change in the wind direction. A single curlew flew west on 1st, though I did also see a skylark; my first of the year on patch. So after a quiet hour, I decided to head up to Bridge Street and brave the “easy access trail”. An improvement, with more signs of spring. A couple of blackcaps, the males a-singing followed by an all too brief glimpse of my first willow warbler. At last, they had arrived!

The weekend was also perhaps a little quiet, or rather didn’t quite live up to expectations. Nevertheless, a seawatch with Alan Butler on 2nd did produce our first sandwich tern of the year. The following morning (3rd), we were also joined by Dan Houghton, Graham Barrett and Tony Tindale for another hopeful seawatch. Not much, though more sandwich terns, an eider and 7 common scoter weren’t too bad by Hill Head standards. It seems Andy Collins had a bit more luck from the chalets, with an early artic skua on 2nd, and a common tern and little gull on 3rd.

A short while later, Dan texted to say he and Alan had found a sedge warbler singing at the bottom of the canal path, with a Dartford warbler. Dartford warbler is another one of those right time, right place birds at Titchfield Haven, and at last I finally caught up with one. The one second view made up for the many hours of staring at empty gorse bushes, cheers Dan! Sadly, the sedge warbler had disappeared or fallen silent during the short time it took me to walk over; an early record for Hampshire. I then proceeded to join Dave Wallace for a wander along the canal path where we had 3 singing willow warblers and around 80 Mediterranean gulls.

Glaucous Gull

When I say my pictures might improve…. umm…

Well, if you dare to believe the evidence, 4th began with a seawatch at Hill Head. To my delight I had many a sandwich tern passing by, and a little later on the glaucous gull flew in from the west and perched on the fishing boat for a few minutes. How lovely it would’ve been had I also been mid-channel, or had the beast landed on the beach in front of me. Despite what the picture suggests, they’re rather large! The only other time I’ve seen a glaucous gull, it too was fairly distant, though fantastic views in comparison to this…

After spending an hour on 5th staring at an empty sea with Dan, Tony and Ken Martin, I assumed it would be another one of those quiet days. Not so. It wasn’t long before my phone went off while having a late-ish breakfast: ” Stone curlew just been spotted on reserve”. What?! No time to ask questions, just drop everything and dash off to investigate. Food could wait. The work party volunteers had found it while opening the reserve, though when I arrived, no one was quite sure where it was. Thankfully, Ken soon re-found it and the views were fairly decent especially when it eventually went for a wander. Certainly not a species I ever expected to see here, let alone in Hampshire anytime soon! A good few hours well spent indeed. Turns out this is (unsurprisingly) a first for the reserve! The last one locally was seen in the ’90s at Brownwich.

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Stone-curlew, Titchfield Haven, 5th April 2016

Other birds of note from 5th include 2 sedge warblers and the first whitethroat of the year seen by Graham Barrett. 3 marsh harriers were also showing rather well over the meadow which was lovely to see. That evening, while wandering along the seafront, I noticed a group of 50 black-tailed godwits on the river; a sign the water levels had dropped and hopefully this means mud will be exposed there at low tide again before long – perfect for waders. The 6th was somewhat quieter, though a tiny trickle of swallows zoomed past northward while I checked the scrapes and meadow.

To my surprise on 7th, the blustery seawatch yielded 2 swifts – an early arrival, based on previous years! Most seem to start arriving mid to late April. My first of the year last year were on 2nd May. The nice surprises continued on 8th when a text from Dave Wallace informed me of a short-eared owl along the canal path. I’d had great views of one last year with Dan and Alan, so was keen to see it (or another) again.

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Short-eared Owl, 8th April 2016 (Dave Wallace)

When I arrived, there was no sign, and Dave explained how he’d stumbled across it while heading back to the car. It had been perched on a fence post not too far from the path. A few minutes later it reappeared and gave a fantastic flyby – almost close enough to touch!An early start on 9th was rewarded with good but very brief views of a grasshopper warbler after bumping into Mark Edgeller at Hill Head; presumably a migrant that had dropped down due to the rain overnight. It was then time to head up to London for the Mountbatten Festival of Music (the Massed Bands of the HM Royal Marines’ big annual concert at the Royal Albert Hall).  Whilst up there, we took a walk through some of the parks so I was able to catch up with ring-necked parakeet – a species I’d not seen for a very long time (and a lifer, as I wasn’t birding back in those days!).  

Then, to my joy on 10th, I finally caught up with one of my target seabirds on patch – an arctic skua. 2 in fact, one of which gave excellent views as it followed the beach very close in. Other highlights from the seawatch include a red-throated diver and sandwich tern. The 11th continued in good style, starting with a trickle of swallows heading northwards at lunch time while I enjoyed the delicious food served up by the Titchfield Haven café.

I then returned home to do more coursework, before dashing back a few hours later after a message popped up on my phone: “Great white egret has been reported on the reserve” – excellent, another patch lifer for me! It was up in the meadow, along a stretch of the river Meon and gave good views, albeit a little distant. I decided to return in the evening for a spot of seawatching, where I bumped into Dan and Alan. It wasn’t long before Alan picked out a Slavonian grebe – in full summer plumage; something I’d never seen before! To top it off, the glaucous gull reappeared and proceeded to follow a fishing boat up and down the Solent. As always, it remained fairly distant, but well enough for us all to conclude it really was a glaucous gull. Trevor Codlin was down Browndown at the time, and had much better views. Good to know other birders have finally seen it and agree with me. Three “patch golds” in one day isn’t bad at all! There were also reports of the first local cuckoo along the canal path on 11th.

Great White Egret, 11th April 2016

Great White Egret on the meadow, 11th April 2016

A trip to Hill Head at dawn on 12th ended up being rather unproductive due to thick fog (not what the BBC forecasted when I woke up!); somewhat of a surprise to myself, Ken and Alan who’d not had much fog at home. 2 sandwich terns, 3 avocets heading south and a rabbit hopping around the chalets was as good as it got. It seems Dave Ryves faired much better at midday, with a Montague’s harrier coming in off the sea! – a would be lifer for me. There’s always a worry when one’s off patch as to what might be missed. Reading “Montague’s harrier – Came in off the sea at Hill Head…circled over reed bed near west hide before continuing towards Chilling”, certainly filled me with envy!

Up to 129 species for patch now, with the rest of April still to go. It’s been a rather good 3 1/2 months. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings. That said, there is a small matter of a few final pieces of coursework, the last few weeks of lectures and 3 exams before entering the “real world”… Busy times ahead!