Final quarter

I never quite got round to maintaining the monthly updates (sorry!) at the end of the year, and also didn’t think there’d be as much to say as I’d anticipated the birding quieting down. Wrong! Plenty of birding has taken place, and some lovely birds, including many unexpected lifers, have been seen. This year has been crazy! So, here’s a long-ish catch up…

Upon my return from Shetland, I started to think that it was about time a yellow-browed warbler turned up on patch, given the numerous birds reported elsewhere in the south. I suspected that if this were to happen, it would be along the Titchfield canal path, and sure enough a text on the afternoon of 21st October, confirmed my suspicions – Dan Houghton had stumbled across one not far from Hammond’s bridge so I hurried over to investigate. A lovely bird, albeit silent when I arrived and rather brief views, but the 20th full patch tick this year!  

img_5767paint

Several attempts to photograph Yellow-browed Warblers of late haven’t quite worked… One from Hillwell (Shetland) in October 2016

I joined Alan Butler and Dan for some ‘vis-mig’ along the seafront on 22nd and 23rd October. Plenty of finches still moving through, including brambling, couple of lesser redpoll, some siskin and a single swallow – nice! Frustratingly, none of us definitely saw the brambling as it flew over, just heard it calling. I’d been trying not to include “heard only’s” this year, so hoped we’d get another chance. It wasn’t a bad weekend, as other highlights included a rather late whinchat hanging out by the Frying Pan, Mediterranean gull (which usually winter elsewhere) and a wing-tagged marsh harrier, although sadly we didn’t manage to read the tag. It was, however, great to watch the two marsh harriers together as they flew around the meadow!

IMG_6003.JPG

Goosander, Hill Head, 26th October 2016 – the first of 7 this year!

Squeezing in a pre-work visit on 26th, it was a pleasant surprise to find a young goosander offshore from the sailing club! These aren’t annual here so a very nice patch year tick indeed! It stayed for about 15 minutes or so, before deciding to head off north. Another reminder that one aspect of birding is all about the timing (and it is always a shame when birds decide to fly just before others arrive, sorry!).

Away from patch, an isabelline wheatear had turned up on Shetland hours after we’d disembarked and had begun the long journey back down south, which was a shame though bound to happen. One had also appeared in Yorkshire the day after Dave Wallace had left, so were both pleased to hear of one turning up at Wardy Hill (Cambridgeshire) on 29th October. It was a lovely afternoon (certainly far better than my morning on patch, thanks to the fog!) and the bird showed well.

The following morning, we decided it was time to pay a visit to Eastoke, Hayling Island, for a shorelark that Andy Johnson had found on 27th October. It had been found in the evening so no time to dash over, especially with the nights drawing in. However, thankfully the bird remained on the beach over the weekend, and showed extremely well – down to a few feet! A great bird to watch, especially in Hampshire, so a perfect end to the weekend.

img_6066

Sunrise over Hill Head, 1st November 2016

A fine start to November. The sky looked lovely when I arrived at Hill Head pre-dawn. It continued with 2 greenshank and 8 sanderling on the beach, over 500 brent geese, good views of water rail and the bearded tits pinging away. The afternoon was similarly pleasant. I joined Dave Wallace again, and this time we decided to pay the spotted crake at Winchester Sewage Farm a visit. The bird is certainly rather showy, spending much of its time out in the open, but the site is private so only distant views from afar can be had.

img_3596

Spotted Crake, Winchester Sewage Farm, 1st November 2016

Upon returning to the car, we received news of a black redstart by the Meonshore chalets, and with enough daylight remaining, decided to give it a go. I’ve found black redstarts difficult to connect with in the past, but this one showed well, perched up on a roof as we arrived. A lovely male too! The bird was present the next day, joined by a second, and more good views were had.

The black redstarts continued to show well over the course of the week which was lovely and well worth making the most of. Another highlight was a drake long-tailed duck first seen offshore on 3rd. Sadly not nearly as close as the black redstarts, but still great to watch, especially as they’re not common off Hill Head! That said, this is my 2nd of the year.

img_6433

One of two Snow Bunting, Southsea, 6th November 2016

The original plan for 6th was to pay a visit to a cliff swallow that had showed well at RSPB Minsmere for the previous 36 hours. Alas, the bird flew off south at not long after dawn and didn’t return, so Dave and I abandoned our idea of an afternoon in Suffolk. However, it wasn’t all bad… After enjoying the long-tailed duck on patch that morning, we received news of 2 snow bunting around Southsea seafront. Afternoon sorted! Upon arrival we weren’t sure where to start looking, so took a punt and headed to Southsea Castle and the bandstand. Perhaps the birds saw us coming, as they delightfully appeared and landed not far from where we were stood. Very good views were had it was safe to say! We rounded off our trip to Southsea with a purple sandpiper – the first of the overwintering birds returning.

img_6293

Purple Sandpiper, Southsea, 6th November 2016

Scaup was the next target; a scarce bird in Hampshire that used to be more regular along the coast (including on patch so I’m told). Olly Frampton had found a 1st winter bird at Ripley Farm Reservoir and I was keen go pay a visit having not previously had one in the county. Dave was happy to come along too, so another pleasant afternoon birding off patch was had on 8th. The scaup showed fairly well alongside 11 mandarin ducks. Then came the pallid harrier at Needs Ore – great to see even though the views on 11th were rather fleeting! After dipping far too many in Sussex and Shetland, it was a very welcomed lifer indeed.

Seawatching has started to prove fruitful at times off Hill Head, although most birds are distant. Highlights including 20 eider, around 50 common scoter and long-tailed duck on 11th – nice for the sea not to be ’empty’! And impressive numbers too! A Slavonian grebe and 6 goosander were offshore on 14th, another nice surprise. Typically, no sooner had I put the news out about the goosander, they took off and flew towards Southampton Water. 

Razorbill!” – looking up from the scope to see the razorbill Ken Martin had called on the morning of 16th, I found myself pick up a velvet scoter fly in and land amongst the flock of common scoter instead.  Again distant – the flock has chosen to hang around off Brownwich Cliffs towards Fawley power station. Great to see but closer views would be much nicer! The velvet scoter hung around for some time with the scoter flock, and was soon joined by another….and another.

img_3754

Some of the regular Scoter flock wintering in the Solent this year

We had hoped the stormy weather on 20th November would bring in various seabirds to the Solent, but no such luck sadly. However, it ended up being a very good day indeed, as a Foster’s tern that had been found the day before reappeared so Dave and I headed off on yet another twitch. By the time we arrived that afternoon, it didn’t seem promising. The bird hadn’t been seen for over two hours after flying east. We waiting, and just when everyone was beginning to lose hope and accept we’d all dipped, it reappeared and showed very well, zipping across the river in front of us as the light began to fade – phew!

img_6599

Awful record shot of the Foster’s Tern, Mistley, 20th November 2016

As November drew to a close, much time was spent back on patch hoping for another year tick or too, and as luck would have it, another brambling flew over when chatting to Dave Ryves on 24th and this time we actually saw it – yay! The brambling was a long awaited patch tick for me; a species I’d been really hoping to catch up with so was rather pleased to hear that nasally ‘te-ehp‘ as it flew over us and then to look up and catch a glimpse of that white rump. 

Meanwhile, the seawatching continued to be somewhat productive: red-breasted merganser, another Slavonian grebe and 7 (yes 7!!) velvet scoter on 27th! Mark Palmer picked up 2 that flew past, followed by Dan picking up another 4 that briefly landed close offshore, and the regular bird was still hanging out with the other scoter – the most I’ve ever seen, so far. The art of being in the right place at the right time is one I’m still attempting to master, and this time birds missed include scaup, hen harrier, woodcock and cattle egret – all jammy flyovers! 

img_6610

Four of the seven Velvet Scoter, Hill Head, 27th November 2016

December began with a trip to Pulborough Brooks, hoping to catch up with a tundra bean goose, but instead had to settle for 10 or so white-fronted geese. The bean goose would’ve been a lifer, but it was great to see the white-fronted nonetheless! Another trip to Sussex with Dave on 4th, in search of a desert wheatear at Norman’s Bay. As is often the case with wheatear, it showed extremely well, even hopping down onto the beach next to us!                                                                                                                                                                                                

img_6631

Desert Wheatear – 4th species this quarter – Norman’s Bay on 4th December 2016

December continued, but more time was spent working and thus less time birding. During my lunch break of one shift on 14th, I received news of a snow bunting at Hill Head – oh no! Not enough time to dash off and return, but thankfully Ken and I had superb views at dawn the following morning, yay! It showed within a few feet of us! Another full patch tick for me. It was a fantastic bird to watch – very confiding indeed. At some points close enough to reach out and touch (not that I did, of course)! That turned out to be the final patch year tick, so the year finished on 176; something I didn’t think would be possible! Bird wise, a truly fantastic year at Titchfield Haven.

Another foggy morning on 18th December, so Dave and I decided to visit the cattle egrets at Warblington. At first there was no sign, and were informed they had flown some time before we arrived, put persevering and waiting for a bit paid off as both soon returned and hung out with the cattle. Great to watch, and the views were much better than when I saw my first cattle egret (on patch in 2015).

It was as if 2016 was the year that kept on giving, bird wise anyway. News of a Blyth’s pipit at Blagdon Lake in Somerset was released on 19th, and with it still present and reportedly showing well the next day, Dave and I headed on yet another twitch. When we arrived, the bird had been lost, but was soon relocated and good scope views were had. Whilst there, it was also great to see a little stint; not something I usually see in winter!

img_3818

Blyth’s Pipit

Checking Twitter while travelling up to visit family near Swindon, pictures emerged of a blue rock thrush not so far away in Stow-on-the-Wold – wow! As the day progressed more details were released, and the temptation to head over increased. Sadly, I’m the only birder in my family, so no quick twitch while in the area. Thankfully Dave was keen and a good map reader (great for diverting around the closed A40), so we had a pleasant trip on 28th and enjoyed the bird as it sat up on various rooftops, despite the fog, and so one final lifer before the year ended!

blue-rock-thrush-stow-on-the-wold-28th-december-2016

Blue Rock Thrush (honest!), Stow-on-the-Wold, 28th December 2016

To finish this post, it seemed apt to thank fellow birders for sharing sighting and company while birding etc, those who gave me numerous lifts (especially Dave W & Dave S), the lovely staff at Titchfield Haven (Pam’s cakes were particularly good!), and Steve Keen and Joe Stockwell for the friendly patch competition – regular texts like “bitternbitternbittern” spurred me on in an attempt to show that the Haven can match up to the larger sites (like the Keyhaven area)! …and thanks to anyone else who I’ve forgotten to mention.

Patch year list – patch ticks have been highlighted.

  1. Mute Swan
  2. Greylag Goose
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Barnacle Goose
  5. Dark-bellied Brent Goose (& Pale-bellied)
  6. Shelduck
  7. Wigeon
  8. Gadwall
  9. Teal
  10. Mallard
  11. Pintail
  12. Garganey
  13. Shoveler
  14. Pochard
  15. Tufted Duck
  16. Eider
  17. Long-tailed Duck
  18. Common Scoter
  19. Velvet Scoter
  20. Red-breasted Merganser
  21. Goosander
  22. Pheasant
  23. Red-throated Diver
  24. Black-throated Diver
  25. Great Northern Diver
  26. Gannet
  27. Cormorant
  28. Shag
  29. Little Egret
  30. Great White Egret
  31. Grey Heron
  32. Spoonbill
  33. Little Grebe
  34. Great Crested Grebe
  35. Slavonian Grebe
  36. Black-necked Grebe
  37. Honey-buzzard
  38. Marsh Harrier
  39. Sparrowhawk
  40. Buzzard
  41. Osprey
  42. Water Rail
  43. Moorhen
  44. Coot
  45. Stone-curlew
  46. Avocet
  47. Oystercatcher
  48. Golden Plover
  49. Grey Plover
  50. Lapwing
  51. Little Ringed Plover
  52. Ringed Plover
  53. Whimbrel
  54. Curlew
  55. Black-tailed Godwit
  56. Bar-tailed Godwit
  57. Turnstone
  58. Knot
  59. Ruff
  60. Curlew Sandpiper
  61. Sanderling
  62. Dunlin
  63. Little Stint
  64. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  65. Common Sandpiper
  66. Green Sandpiper
  67. Spotted Redshank
  68. Greenshank
  69. Wood Sandpiper
  70. Redshank
  71. Snipe
  72. Pomarine Skua
  73. Arctic Skua
  74. Great Skua
  75. Razorbill
  76. Guillemot
  77. Little Tern
  78. Black Tern
  79. Sandwich Tern
  80. Common Tern
  81. Roseate Tern
  82. Arctic Tern
  83. Kittiwake
  84. Black-headed Gull
  85. Little Gull
  86. Mediterranean Gull
  87. Common Gull
  88. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  89. Herring Gull
  90. Yellow-legged Gull
  91. Iceland Gull
  92. Glaucous Gull
  93. Great Black-backed Gull
  94. Feral Pigeon
  95. Stock Dove
  96. Woodpigeon
  97. Collared Dove
  98. Cuckoo
  99. Barn Owl
  100. Tawny Owl
  101. Short-eared Owl
  102. Swift
  103. Kingfisher
  104. Green Woodpecker
  105. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  106. Kestrel
  107. Merlin
  108. Hobby
  109. Peregrine
  110. Magpie
  111. Jay
  112. Jackdaw
  113. Rook
  114. Carrion Crow
  115. Raven
  116. Goldcrest
  117. Firecrest
  118. Penduline Tit
  119. Blue Tit
  120. Great Tit
  121. Coal Tit
  122. Bearded Tit
  123. Skylark
  124. Sand Martin
  125. Swallow
  126. House Martin
  127. Cetti’s Warbler
  128. Long-tailed Tit
  129. Yellow-browed Warbler
  130. Wood Warbler
  131. Chiffchaff
  132. Willow Warbler
  133. Blackcap
  134. Garden Warbler
  135. Lesser Whitethroat
  136. Whitethroat
  137. Dartford Warbler
  138. Grasshopper Warbler
  139. Sedge Warbler
  140. Reed Warbler
  141. Nuthatch
  142. Treecreeper
  143. Wren
  144. Starling
  145. Blackbird
  146. Fieldfare
  147. Song Thrush
  148. Redwing
  149. Mistle Thrush
  150. Spotted Flycatcher
  151. Robin
  152. Black Redstart
  153. Redstart
  154. Whinchat
  155. Stonechat
  156. Siberian (Caspian) Stonechat
  157. Wheatear
  158. Pied Flycatcher
  159. Dunnock
  160. House Sparrow
  161. Yellow Wagtail
  162. Grey Wagtail
  163. Pied Wagtail
  164. Tree Pipit
  165. Meadow Pipit
  166. Rock Pipit
  167. Brambling
  168. Chaffinch
  169. Bullfinch
  170. Greenfinch
  171. Linnet
  172. Lesser Redpoll
  173. Goldfinch
  174. Siskin
  175. Snow Bunting
  176. Reed Bunting

In case anyone’s interested, lifers this year: American Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, Velvet Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Dalmatian Pelican*, Montague’s Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Spotted Crake, Western Swamphen*, Kentish Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole, Great Knot, Caspian Gull, Forster’s Tern, Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Ring-necked Parakeet, Shorelark, Richard’s Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Dipper, Siberian Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush*, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pied Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Pallas’s Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher,  Taiga Flycatcher*, Chough, Rose-coloured Starling, Crossbill, Black-faced Bunting, Little Bunting, Lapland Bunting, Ortolan Bunting. Life list is up to 290*

*Depending on what BBRC decide.

…and county (Hants) ticks highlighted in blue, plus: Bewick’s Swan, Scaup, Grey Partridge, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Grey Phalarope, Stone-curlew, Pomarine Skua, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Ring Ouzel. County list up to 229.

Shetland 2016

9th-16th October

An awesome week with Sean Foote, Matt Phelps and Ed Stubbs. The conditions looked fantastic, and we were hyped having closely followed the previous week’s news. We had hoped the White’s thrush, lanceolated warbler and brown shrike, among other species would stay, but certainly no complains with what we saw instead!

Arriving in Aberdeen mid-afternoon on 9th,  an excellent half hour was spent wandering around the harbour where the highlight for me was a humpback whale that breeched a few times, fairly close in offshore! The first whale I’d ever seen in British waters. It was much easier to catch up with than we expected, as upon getting out of the car and looking through the binoculars I remarked, “Is that it?” and so it was. Then the pager went off “Siberian Accentor Mainland NE of Sousburgh…” – bloody hell; a first for Britain!! Amazingly, it stayed the night, so our first stop after disembarking was a quarry by Sousburgh. It was awesome to see and hear the Siberian accentor and the views were great; something I’ll never forget. Over an hour was well spent enjoying the bird. What a fantastic start to the week! 

The day continued with good fortune – Matt picked up a Richard’s Pipit flying over the cottage (sadly during the brief moment I was inside so I missed it) and a yellow-browed warbler passed through the garden. A walk around Papil, West Burra, where we were staying, was great too with a bluethroat in a nearby garden alongside many twite. Next stop was a buff-breasted sandpiper (a lifer for me) at Boddam, a trip to Tesco’s, Scalloway for a rose-coloured starling, followed by a mad dash to Bressa when news broke of a black-faced bunting at Gunnista! Relocating the bird wasn’t easy, and in the end the decision was taken for someone to try flushing it, so brief flight views were had as it flew over our heads calling. 2 ‘megas’ in a day can’t happen very often, surely?!

We tried to balance our time between covering the local area around Papil, exploring different sites and twitching other rarer birds. The walks around Papil have proved fruitful, with the Richard’s Pipit hanging about (yay, lifer for me!) and finding an olive-backed pipit on 11th. We also had a probable eastern yellow wagtail fly over calling on 11th, though sadly lost the bird so couldn’t confirm; just one of those that got away. The commoner species have been interesting too, with twite and brambling making a daily appearance. A pool viewable from our cottage contained a small number of wildfowl – mute swans, mallard, teal and wigeon, as well as redshank and plenty of snipe. The field surrounding our cottage were alive with greylag geesecurlew, golden plover, more snipe and many meadow pipits, while the coastal waters provided us with good views of black guillemot, razorbill, red-breasted mergansers and even otters. We were also rather chuffed to have a great skua flyover the cottage one morning – wouldn’t that be nice in standard suburbia!

IMG_3209.JPG

Papil, West Burra – the view from our cottage

Other trips on Shetland during 11th yielded a wheatear, red-breasted flycatcher and 2 little bunting at Dale of Walls, Ortolan bunting and 2 yellow-browed warblers at Hillwell, and fantastic views of short-eared owl as it flew over the car, among other species.   

After our daily wander around Papil, the first stop on 12th was the Loch of Spiggie for wildfowl, and we weren’t disappointed with highlights being whooper swans, scaup, 4 long-tailed duck, goldeneye, 2 Slavonian grebes and a single common scoter. Continuing to explore the area we wandered along Spiggie beach where 4 stunning summer plumage great northern divers were out in the bay. The original plan for the rest of the day was to head south, towards Sumburgh Head. Stopping at Virkie, a scan of the beach yielded large numbers of dunlin and bar-tailed godwits, and a red-throated diver offshore, while another of those probable eastern yellow wagtails flew over and was later relocated nearby. The pager then kindly informed us of an arctic warbler at Baltasound on Unst, a target species for all of us so the plan quickly changed.

arctic-warbler-baltasound-12th-october-2016

Arctic Warbler, Baltasound, 12th October

The journey up to Unst was worth it, for the bird showed very well (but was silent) and the scenery was lovely too. We only had a couple of hours to spend there so tried making the most of it. Merlin, Siberian & common chiffchaffs, yellow-browed warbler, blackcap, lesser whitethroat and our first fieldfare of autumn were the best we could do while searching for (and dipping) a Hornemann’s arctic redpoll not far from the arctic warbler.

Returning south towards Sumburgh Head the following day (13th), gave us a chance to explore it further. It was great to enjoy fulmars up close, something you don’t get much in the Solent, and also a pink-footed goose in a field at Grutness (again, not a species one would expect in the Solent!). Razorbills, black guillemot, eider and a red-throated diver were offshore – a seawatch I could only dream of on patch.

13th continued with a trip over to South Collafirth to connect with a rather showy (but hard to photograph) pallas‘s warbler flitting about in the trees with 3 yellow-browed warblers and a chaffinch. Travelling towards the south, we stopped at Kergord to check the plantations we’d spotted on the map. A nice spot which seemed worth exploring further, although our short check yielded only a few yellow-browed warblers, including a rather dull individual that may in fact be a Hume’s warbler but was sadly silent while we watched it.

capture

A dull Yellow-browed/Hume’s Warbler that was sadly silent (from Sean Foote’s video)

Our next target, pallid harrier, wasn’t quite so cooperative. We made to attempts to see the pallid harrier by the Loch of Hillwell, neither of which were successful (except for Ed, who managed to catch a glimpse of it one morning). However, our evening by the loch wasn’t all that fruitless with 4 shoveler, a lesser black-backed gull and a reed bunting by the loch, and a very interesting flycatcher in the fields by one house in Ringasta. As soon as Ed and Matt called us over, it was clear the bird wasn’t a red-breasted flycatcher – very striking, with a clear white throat and darker dusky underparts. Taiga flycatcher came to mind, but we realised just how rare that is. Other birders soon helped us watch and photograph it and noted other key features. It was interesting to hear the views of birders far more experienced than myself discuss it’s identification.

By 14th, the wind had picked up quite considerably, making birding harder but the perseverance was well worth it. Sadly, the flycatcher wasn’t refound so it’ll be up to the rarities committee to decide if the evidence gained is enough for taiga flycatcher. The morning was spit between Papil, where numerous kittiwake were flying around the bay and a hawfinch passed overhead, and the plantations at Kergord.

The plantations were fantastic, an area we wish we’d discovered earlier in the trip. Wandering through each one yielded the expected species such as chiffchaff, blackcap, redwing, many brambling and yellow-browed warblers. The highlight has to be the arctic warbler Sean found, great to see a second, although not as showy as the first!

The afternoon began around West Voe beach for another spot of seawatching while trying to shelter from the wind. It was a great session (to me anyway) with a decent number of long-tailed ducks, great northern diver, many gannets and kittiwake and large numbers of barnacle geese heading inland. News then broke of a pied wheatear nearby at Scatness found by Steve Minton. It showed brilliantly in front of us on the dry stone wall, while flying low over our heads from time to time. We also heard about the northern long-tailed tits Dan Houghton had found also around the same area, which sadly didn’t stay long enough to twitch.

amys-camera-pics-029

Pied Wheatear, Scatness, 14th October 2016

With more hours of daylight remaining, Quendale was our next stop with the hope of Lapland bunting and anything else that would be lurking. Whilst the bunting was a no show, it was nice to visit a new area and see the large number of brambling in the fields close by. Finally, we returned to the loch of Spiggie partly hoping the pallid harrier would roost there (though we failed in that sense). However, the large number of barnacle geese was lovely to see, as was a coot which briefly got us all excited!

amys-camera-pics-036

Small sample of the 100+ Brambling at Quendale

Our final day on Shetland sadly dawned (15th) but it was another excellent day. We were greeted to large numbers of fieldfare and a ring ouzel at Papil, amongst others. The rest of the morning was spent in the plantations at Kergord. Plenty of thrushes there too as well as many finches, a few yellow-browed warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, hawfinch, and brief appearance of a sparrowhawk followed by peregrine! The highlight was an olive-backed pipit that appeared in a tree next to me and provided us with very good views indeed.

amys-camera-pics-077

Olive-backed Pipit, Kergord, 15th October 2016

Returning to the south, we stopped at Toab in the hope of seeing the Siberian stonechat though sadly couldn’t relocate it. On the plus side, we did catch up with a Lapland bunting while searching, and enjoyed watching many more barnacle geese arrive over Scatness. Time was running out, but we managed to squeeze in a return to Kergord to catch up with a red-flanked bluetail Dan Pointon had just found. It was a species we’d all hoped to see during the trip, so a perfect end. Brief views, but a lovely bird nonetheless.

The ferry journey back was very rough, but I suppose that was a small price to pay for the fantastic trip! One thing I love about Shetland is how different it is to the Solent, and the potential for stumbling across rarities especially at this time of year. It was great to explore and attempt to find (and succeed) birds, while also enjoying the species others had found and enjoying the commoner species that aren’t so common down south. Even seeing the numbers of goldcrests was impressive – amazing to think how far they’d travelled, especially given their tiny size! The other birders (and locals in general) we met while on Shetland were friendly and helpful too, which added to the lovely atmosphere. Definitely a place I’d love to return to and explore more.

Trip list

  1.  Mute Swan
  2. Whooper Swan
  3. Greylag Goose
  4. Pink-footed Goose
  5. Barnacle Goose
  6. Shelduck
  7. Wigeon
  8. Shoveler
  9. Teal
  10. Mallard
  11. Tufted Duck
  12. Scaup
  13. Eider
  14. Common Scoter
  15. Long-tailed Duck
  16. Goldeneye
  17. Red-breasted Merganser
  18. Goosander
  19. Red-throated Diver
  20. Great Northern Diver
  21. Slavonian Grebe
  22. Little Grebe
  23. Fulmar
  24. Gannet
  25. Cormorant
  26. Shag
  27. Grey Heron
  28. Coot
  29. Moorhen
  30. Oystercatcher
  31. Golden Plover
  32. Ringed Plover
  33. Lapwing
  34. Purple Sandpiper
  35. Curlew
  36. Turnstone
  37. Dunlin
  38. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  39. Redshank
  40. Bar-tailed Godwit
  41. Snipe
  42. Great Skua
  43. Black Guillemot
  44. Razorbill
  45. Kittiwake
  46. Black-headed Gull
  47. Common Gull
  48. Herring Gull
  49. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  50. Great Black-backed Gull
  51. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
  52. Woodpigeon
  53. Collared Dove
  54. Short-eared Owl
  55. Pallid Harrier (well, only Ed saw that!)
  56. Merlin
  57. Peregrine
  58. Kestrel
  59. Sparrowhawk
  60. Rook
  61. Hooded Crow
  62. Raven
  63. Goldcrest
  64. Skylark
  65. Arctic Warbler
  66. Pallas’s Warbler
  67. Yellow-browed Warbler
  68. Chiffchaff
  69. Blackcap
  70. Lesser Whitethroat
  71. Wren
  72. Starling
  73. Rose-coloured Starling
  74. Blackbird
  75. Fieldfare
  76. Song Thrush
  77. Ring Ouzel
  78. Redwing
  79. Robin
  80. Bluethroat
  81. Red-flanked Bluetail
  82. Red-breasted Flycatcher
  83. Taiga Flycatcher (probable, see what BBRC decide!)
  84. Redstart
  85. Wheatear
  86. Pied Wheatear
  87. Siberian Accentor
  88. Dunnock
  89. House Sparrow
  90. Yellow Wagtail (probable Eastern)
  91. Grey Wagtail
  92. Pied Wagtail
  93. Richard’s Pipit
  94. Olive-backed Pipit
  95. Meadow Pipit
  96. Rock Pipit
  97. Chaffinch
  98. Brambling
  99. Twite
  100. Redpoll sp (always flyovers for us)
  101. Hawfinch
  102. Ortolan Bunting
  103. Little Bunting
  104. Lapland Bunting
  105. Black-faced Bunting
  106. Reed Bunting

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!

img_2615

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.

img_2647

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.

img_4899

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.

img_4978

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. 

img_5033

“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!

white-rumped-sandpiper-pennington-22nd-september-2016

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!

IMG_1599

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!

IMG_1748

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.

IMG_2101

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. 

IMG_2450

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.

image12

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.

IMG_2444

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!

IMG_2459

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.

IMG_3350

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!

Collared Pratincole 11th July

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!!

IMG_3875

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.

IMG_1154

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!

IMG_4015 (2)

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. 

IMG_2809

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!

Great Knot

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!

IMG_3250

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.

IMG_3257

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!

IMG_2593 (2)

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!

IMG_9192

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.

IMG_9812

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!

IMG_9900

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!

IMG_2747

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!

IMG_0099

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.