November highlights

I published my October post a few days early thinking I’d not manage any more birding. As it turned out, I did manage a bit more – an hour sea watching with Dan Houghton at Hill Head on 28th. The sea had seemed rather empty last month, but we enjoyed good views of a pair of eider as they drifted slowly east.

Eider, Hill Head, 28th October 2015

Eider, Hill Head, 28th October 2015

Fog. I think that sums Sunday (1st) up. Dan, Alan Butler and I had decided to try the sea front in the morning hoping the fog wouldn’t be too bad. It’s safe to say we abandoned plans rather promptly with visibility extremely poor. The afternoon was better as the fog had cleared, and resulted in good views of two marsh harriers over the meadow and 13 sanderling roosting on the beach.

Fog at Hillhead, 1st November 2015

Sea? What sea?

Little birding has been done during the week as most of my time is taken up with uni, although a session on 2nd in somewhat foggy conditions yielded 4 swallows, a chaffinch and a number of lesser redpolls and siskin. While attempts to catch up with a Dartford warbler on patch ended in misery (yet again), I did have my first pochard on the winter in the harbour on 4th.

Sunday (8th) brought news of black redstart – 4 in fact, one of which was on patch down at Hill Head. After a failed attempt mid-morning, I returned with Dan and Alan for round 2. Despite my growing pessimism (having missed about 5 locally this year) we did eventually see the bird, proving that sometimes persistence and effort really does pay off.

Black Redstart, Hill Head, 9th November 2015

Black Redstart, Hill Head, 8th November 2015

While others around the country have been reporting all sorts of species during their sea watches, it’s safe to say Hill Head has been rather quiet. In between the days of staring at an empty (quite literally) sea, 19 eider and a Slavonian grebe on 15th, a great northern diver on 21st, a common scoter on 24th, a kittiwake on 28th and merlin on 29th were welcomed highlights.

The small moments of weekend fortune continued on 16th with Dan finding a Siberian chiffchaff at the top end of the canal path in the morning. (It, or another, was also present on 28th and was great to compare with the accompanying common chiffchaff).

That afternoon, Alan and I joined him for another walk along the canal path. This time it was a dusk visit, with the slight hope of seeing owls; one of those “it’s got to be worth a try” sessions. It paid off too. While waiting for it to get dark half way along the canal path, a short-eared owl appeared over the meadow! It was brief – watch for all of 5 minute before it headed south, but a great end to the weekend.

The next highlights came on 25th with a trip to see the ring-necked ducks at Rooksbury Mill LNR in Andover. The two birds were showing very well, especially once they woke up and became more lively. Whilst there, Dan and Alan informed me of their earlier sea watch – auks and a number of eider. That’ll teach me not to lie in!

The birding session finished with a trip to the canal path in an attempt to see the reported little owl, back in what I’m told was its favoured spot. Despite looking, there was no sign. All was not lost though, as a final check of the tree before giving up led to us finding a tawny owl – even better!

The month ended with a short trip to Blashford Lakes on 30th to see a black-throated diver on Northfield Lake and the returning ferruginous duck on Kingfisher Lake. Despite difficult viewing conditions, both showed well.

Portland Bird Observatory: Expect the unexpected

I have just returned from a 3 night stay at Portland Bird Observatory. My main purpose of the trip was for bird ringing, and that certainly didn’t disappoint with an average of 60 or so birds ringed each day. I also did a little bit of birding, mostly from the Observatory or Portland Bill, so I’ll briefly summarise that here.

I arrived on Tuesday 7th April with hopes of seeing the Bonaparte’s gull that had been at Radipole Lakes for the past few weeks. It seems as if the gull disappeared some time in the afternoon as the last reported sighting was midday. I arrived mid afternoon and after waiting for half an hour or so, knowing it hadn’t been seen for hours, I headed back to Portland. I did however have a willow warbler, tufted ducks, pochard and a hooded merganser, among other species.

hooded merganser, Radipole Lakes, 7th April 2015

hooded merganser, Radipole Lakes, 7th April 2015

Back on Portland I went to visit the little owl in the quarry next to the Observatory, and then headed to Portland Bill where I enjoyed my first “Mr Whippy” of the year. There were plenty of meadow pipits and linnets coming in off the sea, and a white wagtail on the grass close by. 

Wednesday 8th started well with plenty of chiffchaffs and willow warblers to ring. By the afternoon it has died down with few new birds in the nets. However, one highlight was a young ring ouzel – a bird I’d only ever seen once and never in the hand. Sadly for Josie who was arriving on the Wednesday, we ringed and released the birds an hour before she arrived. It would’ve been a lifer for her…

My lifer for the day was a puffin. I discovered that down at Portland Bill by the other lighthouse and the cliffs was a colony of auks, and at this time of year you can also see puffins in the sea with the guillemots and razorbills. I had brief views of 2 puffins which was pleasing although I still plan to visit the Farne Isles to get better views!

Thursday 9th started well too before the fog arrived and put a halt to the migration. Again, plenty of birds to ring including 2 redstarts and a sedge warbler – the first of the year for both species. We ringed over 70 birds by the end of the day. Most of these were chiffchaffs and willow warblers again, with a bit of variety. The day got more exciting when Martin found a stone curlew. Great views were had until some photographers flushed it. Thankfully it settled in the Crown Estate field and remained there until the fog lifted late at night. The views became more challenging throughout the day as the fog worsened.

Friday 10th was quieter as the mist and cloud seemed to put a halt to movement again, so far fewer birds were ringed. However we did see a male black redstart, although distant. Further up the path was a male redstart, which was helpful for comparisons.

All in all, it was a fantastic week especially on the ringing front as I got plenty of practise, especially of willow warblers and chiffchaffs and a few species I’m less familiar with. I’ll finish with some pictures of the birds Josie and I ringed.