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!

Spring: And so it begins…

[This time, I have highlighted arrival dates of migratory species in green]

A text from Dave Wallace on the 3rd March resulted in a welcome break from essay writing, with an appearance of a spoonbill on the Frying Pan. I apologise for the poor quality – handheld digiscoping! Fear not, I’m finally getting round to buying an adaptor, so the quality should improve a little next month… Speaking to Ivor McPherson later on in the month, it sounds like there were at least 8 on 23rd!

I returned at dawn on 4th, and upon getting out of the car realised a coal tit was calling nearby, in tit flock. I’ve struggled to catch up with coal tits at Titchfield Haven. They occasionally visit the bird feeders, one of those right time, right place birds. When telling fellow birders I’m after coal tits, the standard remark is “Oh, I get them in my garden all the time” – so do I, but that’s not my patch! I suppose this is one joy of patch birding. Each patch is different; some species are easily found on one patch but others not so.

Anyhow, this year I’d decided to challenge myself by not counting “heard-onlys”, so hearing this coal tit wasn’t enough, I had to see it. Question was, where was it? The most likely location was the evergreen trees by the visitor centre, but as I approached it seemed like the flock had moved on. Drat. Time to sea watch instead. Heading round towards the chalets, I heard it again by the viewing platform now, and this time – success! Another patch year tick, and only my 3rd coat tit on patch. It showed well for a while, but of course my camera was at home…

I was soon joined by Ken Martin for what was a fairly successful sea watch by Hill Head standards: 5 very distant eider and a not quite so distant great northern diver. To add to that a bar-tailed godwit, 5 sanderling, 15 ringed plover and 9 dunlin and 9 turnstones were running about on the beach in front of us. Lovely. Sadly, it was soon 8am, and campus was calling.

Bewick’s swan was the target for 8th, not on patch alas but by a church in Harbridge. The trip was successful, though did mean missing out on an opportunity to see a Spitfire on patch! This was a county tick for me, and a species that seems is becoming rather difficult to see in Hampshire. Also in the field were a large number of mute swans, Egyptian and greylag geese. Those geese would do nicely on patch!

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Bewick’s Swan, Harbridge, 8th March 2016

Next came 17th when I decided to squeeze in an early session at Hill Head before finalising and handing in coursework. It’s now (or was…) light not long after 6am, one thing I love about this time of year, and the early start was well worth it. Beginning at the sailing club, I was greeted to scope filling views of a great northern diver – not a bad start. There was something about this morning, it felt like something would happen. I was hoping for a sandwich tern or two, or perhaps a wheatear or sand martin, but had no such luck. However, on approaching the chalets I could see a grebe-like bird not too far offshore. Lifting up the binoculars, I soon realised it was indeed a grebe. And not just ‘any old’ grebe, but a black-necked grebe in full summer plumage – stunning and rather uncommon round here! Now that really did make my day, all before 7am!

Black-necked Grebe, Hill Head, 17th March 2016

Black-necked Grebe, 17th March 2016

The first swallow and sand martins were both seen by various locals on 18th – another text from Dave Wallace alerted me to the arrivals, but alas a day on campus was in store. 19th started well for me with a great northern diver offshore from Hill Head, alongside 12 rather distant eider. The morning continued with Dave Stevenson and Ian Calderwood finding a velvet scoter off Stokes Bay – lovely! The successful weekend continued on 20th, with a common scoter offshore,  spoonbill on the Frying Pan and 2 ruff on the meadow at Titchfield Haven, a sign of spring underway and a patch year tick. A trip up to Posbrook Flood with Dave Wallace yielded another year tick – a single stock dove in amongst the woodpigeons, finally!

After a day of rest, I returned on 22nd to be greeted with the regular wintering eider out by Fawley power station – a little closer this time, and not in the haze for once. Scanning round to the east I was pleasantly surprised to find the velvet scoter had, at last, drifted west! A patch first for me (having missed the 2 that overwintered a few years ago) and best views I’d ever had of the species. It proceeded to give locals the run around, first by having drifted this far west in the first place, then by flying over to Chilling cliffs, before flying back towards Lee-on-the-Solent, and finally settling. Great bird to start the day, and saves me returning to Gosport! I then joined Dave Wallace, Dave Ryves and Ken Martin for a quick check of the scrapes, where we had our first little ringed plover of spring, alongside 2 ruff.

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Velvet Scoter, 22nd March 2016

I finally caught up with my first sand martins on 24th after a quick trip to Bridge Street, where a group of 9 were feeding low over the floods. The first house martin was seen on 25th along the canal path earlier in the morning by Dan Houghton, while I had a lovely but all too brief glimpse of a spring osprey heading north, high over the sailing club a few hours later. Not something I was expecting! It’s also nice to see the avocet numbers peaking to around 50 individuals, and Mediterranean gulls even higher with over 70 individuals at the moment.

The Easter weekend was rather blustery and wet at times, just like winter. 7 sandwich terns, first of the year locally, were seen flying east by Dave Stevenson on 26th, while one was also present at Hill Head at low tide, which I sadly missed. I bumped into Tony Heath on 27th while looking for the firecrest that had been hanging around the east side of the reserve. We’d been searching for many days to catch a glimpse of the usually elusive individual and finally heard it singing, and then, even better noticed it hopping around above our heads – lovely! At that moment, the heaven’s opened so it was time to make a dash for cover. I headed back to the car, and as I did so, a swallow  (my 1st) followed by 2 sand martins zipped north, yay!

A rare venture away from patch was in store for 29th, as Dave Stevenson and I went off in search of a Pallas’ Warbler. Our destination was Portesham in Dorset, where we met Sean Foote. After a short wait, we proceeded to get many fleeting glimpses and a few brief but good views of the bird as it hopped around the bushes and chased off a few chiffchaffs.

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The Portesham Pallas’ Warbler (Sean Foote)

Whist in the area, it made sense to pay a visit to Portland Bill, say hi to Martin Cade and co, and also do a spot of seawatching. We didn’t stay long, but in that time saw a single common scoter fly west and a number of gannets, while the sea below had many shags, guillemots and razorbills – something a Hampshire birder doesn’t see as often. Also of note were 2 swallows coming in off the sea, 11 wheatear and many skylarks, meadow and rock pipits.

Dave and I then decided to head over to Pulborough Brooks (yep, all the way over in Sussex…) to catch up with the American wigeon which had turned up a few days earlier. This was my second lifer of the day and having dipped the one at Bowling Green Marshes (Devon) back in January, was extremely pleased to finally see one. A great day’s birding!

American Wigeon, Pulborough Brooks, 29th March

American Wigeon (right) with 2 ordinary Wigeon.

The velvet scoter was back offshore from Hill Head on 30th, alongside 3 eider. On the reserve, it was clear there had been an arrival of birds, with a number of blackcaps and John Shillitoe had 3 wheatear here along the canal path – both first of the year here.

The month ended with the velvet scoter still lingering off the chalets on the morning of 31st, 56 brent geese, and even better my 1st Hampshire glaucous gull! There had been a glaucous gull around Ryde, seen following the fishing boats, and earlier in the month Dave Ryves spotted it off Lee-on-the-Solent, so to finally catch up with it was great. What made it even better was watching it from patch as it followed a trawler up and down the Solent with many other gulls for comparison!

I did then briefly check the meadow with Alan Butler and Dave Wallace, but alas no wheatears to be seen. We did, however, see the 2 barnacle geese and a single greylag goose on the Frying Pan. So, up the 116 for the year on patch with plenty more still to see.

Finally, I caught my first moth of the year, after putting the trap on 12th. I was worried it might’ve been too cold, but instead found a single common quaker in the morning. A new species for me, having only started mothing in late-July last year.

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Common Quaker, 13th March 2016

Quiet month

For various reasons over the past month, I’ve not done much birding. Being in the third and final year of university means lots of deadlines. That mixed with a number of other things that need sorting out have perhaps meant I’ve not been as organised or as keen to get out birding as before, but with everything slowly getting back under control, things are looking up and with luck, normal service shall resume…

I did still manage some birding on patch. Highlights include 2 or more bar-tailed godwits continuing to overwinter, a merlin (100th species for patch this year) and pale-bellied brent goose at Hill Head on 11th. The 11th was a lovely, frosty morning; very contrasting from the stormy conditions previously. I hadn’t have much time to spare due to lectures starting mid-morning but made the most of the clear skies.

Valentines Day was also good – starting with a text from Dan Houghton about a black-throated diver off the chalets (yay! New species for the patch!), followed by an afternoon’s trip to West Walk (Wickham) for crossbills with Dave Stevenson. West Walk was very busy, full of families enjoying the start of half term. We were worried this would mean the crossbills wouldn’t show, but after an hour searching and hoping, a small group of about 6 appeared. Lovely! I have only seen crossbills once before, while on holiday in the Forest of Dean a few years ago, so was great to catch up with some much closer to home.

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Just use your imagination….

The scrapes at Titchfield Haven are beginning to fill up as the gulls return from wherever it is they winter. It seems to happen earlier every year. The silence of winter is soon broken by the squawking and squabbling of black-headed and Mediterranean gulls. Of course, its not actually silent in the winter months, but it is much quieter!

*full volume for maximum effect*

The avocets are also returning. 6 were present on 22nd, though up to 10 have been seen so far. Mediterranean gull numbers are building, with 6 of those too. The black-headed gulls never truly leave per se, though there are always more in spring, and the peace and quiet is shattered! Not long before the longer distance migrants begin to arrive…

Now up to 101 species on patch this year, with plenty more to see over the coming months!

New year, new list

As the title of the blog suggests, the new year for many birders signals the start of a new list. While birding shouldn’t just be about ticking off species, a list can give you extra an incentive to get outside when, for whatever reason, you’re lacking in motivation. For me, the only yearly list that matters is the patch list. As I spent most of my time there it makes sense to record what I see and attempt to beat previous years, as well as enjoying what turns up.

New Years Day was, therefore, spent at Titchfield Haven and Hill Head. Where else? And so the year list was off to a good start with 56 species seen over the course of the day. Highlights included a razorbill, shag and red-breasted merganser offshore, a brief appearance of a greenshank and lovely views of a marsh harrier over the meadow. The merganser was a first on patch for me – a species that I’m told used to be much easier. Having failed to see one the previous 2 years (since having a patch), you can imagine my joy when it flew past!

After the good start, the next day was (mostly) dedicated to revision. Despite this, I still managed good views of one of the penduline tits in the morning followed by fantastic views of 2 little gulls as well as 32 pintail on Posbrook Floods in the afternoon, all thanks to the locals for texting out news – much appreciated.

The 3rd proved to be a rather miserable morning with heavy rain, but we persevered in the hope that the reported greater yellowlegs would still be about. It wasn’t, or if it was we didn’t see it. Anyhow, after 6 hours we did at least manage good views of all 3 penduline tits when they eventually appeared. The pleasant surprises continued with 3 shags offshore on 4th, and a flock of 30 brent geese on the meadow. Both are rather unusual sightings, though there seem to be more shags about this winter.

The penduline tits continued to show well for another week or so, while the sea was also pretty good, especially compared to this time last year. A great northern diver and guillemot on 6th, along a kittiwake and Iceland gull on 9th, and a flock eider of eider on 11th were all firsts for the year. The guillemot was in fact another patch lifer, having not previously caught up with the species. The Iceland gull too was a patch lifer, rather unexpected!

I returned on 16th and 17th with Alan Butler and Dan Houghton in tow, hoping to add more to our patch lists while making the most of the unusually decent weekend weather. Dan soon picked out a very distant red-throated diver, another first for the year, which sadly never did come very close. A scan of the beach then yielded at least one bar-tailed godwit, a species usually only seen on passage on patch, alongside the regular dunlin, sanderling, ringed plovers and turnstones. That afternoon, however, three bar-tailed godwits were roosting with the oystercatchers which was great to see!

Other highlights for the 16th include a fieldfare, Mediterranean gull, good views of a Cetti’s warbler (!) and a probable Siberian chiffchaff. The chiffchaff may well be one of the individuals found last year, but after it disappeared and this one was on the other side of the reserve, I decided it was best to err on the side of caution. It certainly stood out when chased around by the collybita chiffchaffs, but all remained silent alas. The 17th was less successful, though highlights included 3 drake eider that were drifting not too far offshore, 24 golden plover on South scrape, and 5 pochard – probably the highest count this winter.

As well as patch, one thing I aim to do this year is improve my county list, partly as an incentive to visit bits of Hampshire I may not otherwise go to. I decided to pay a visit to Farlington Marshes in search of a velvet scoter on 15th, and after a bit of scanning the harbour was successful. The bird was originally rather distant, but gradually drifted closer. I was particularly pleased to catch up with it having missed the pair that over wintered at Hill Head 2013/2014. As well as the scoter, a brief look yielded 2 goldeneye, a number of red-breasted mergansers and a spotted redshank in the harbour – all species I’d love to see more often on patch.

The weekend of 23rd and 24th included a trip to the New Forest with Dave Stevenson and Ian Calderwood where, although we missed out on our target species, a good day was had. Highlights for me included a woodcock – a species I’d only ever seen once before – and the many passerines such as marsh tits, brambling and lesser redpolls. The next day I headed over to Hayling Island to look for an overwintering red-necked grebe. This is another new species for me, and after a bit of searching noticed it diving regularly not far from the bridge leading to the island.

Back to patch, I had been hoping to catch up with the tawny owl which had taken up residence in a split tree by Bridge Street last year. Alas all attempts had failed this year, and it seemed the bird was becoming less regular. I was interested to see the tawny owl reported on the evening of 24th, and then a barn owl reported the next morning. It was another unsuccessful trip on 25th for me, but to our joy on 27th, Dave Wallace and I caught up with the latest resident showing well as the light faded! Other highlights of late include 2 avocets roosting on the scrapes on 25th – the earliest I’ve ever seen some here – and 29 greylag geese. I’ve only ever seen 1 at any one time here before! Not such good news was an unfortunate guillemot found washed up at Hill Head; another victim of the recent stormy weather.

The final day of the month took me to Blashford Lakes to catch up with the regular Caspian gull that had been coming to roost for the past few weeks. Another lifer for me and great to watch among the more regular gull species. It was a 1st winter bird, and the pure white head stood out – thanks to the local birders who helped point out where it was!Other highlights included a ring-billed, Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls.

I’ll do my best to keep up with monthly updates of the birding etc, but apologies in advanced if I go a bit quiet due to being in my 3rd year at university (lots of coursework!) and also sorting other things out.