Early autumn

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

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

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

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

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Grey Phalarope, Ibsley Water, 7th September 2016

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

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

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

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Semipalmated Sandpiper, Titchfield Haven, 11th September 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milestones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The first autumn Roseate Tern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotted Redshank; been dreaming of one turning up!

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

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Spot the Wood Sandpiper… 😉

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

 

Goshawks Galore!

Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th June

Another successful trip to the New Forest with fellow Next Generation Birders. The majority of our time was spent at Acres Down, sat on the hill which give you great views of the surrounding area – perfect for raptor watching!

Within minutes of arriving on Saturday, we saw the first of many Goshawks. Some of the Goshawks flew rather close, which was lovely. When I visited Acres Down 6 weeks ago, the views were much more distant so it was great to get close up views.

After only 10 minutes or so, someone shouted “raptor” behind us, so we all turned around expecting to see another, even closer, Goshawk. To our joy we had fantastic views of a Honey Buzzard instead! Very grateful to the birder who remembered to look behind!

Hours later, feeling very satisfied, we set about exploring the woodland around Acres Down. As well as the common garden birds – Robins, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wrens and Tit species – there were a number of Redstarts and also a Wood Warbler.

We then headed off to Denny Wood and Shatterford, the area around Beaulieu Road station for a change of scene. The Short-toed Eagle which has been hanging around the south of England had been reported several times on Friday close to Denny Wood so we were hoping it was still around but after hours of wondering around we had no luck. We did however, see one of the pale Buzzards which has been mistaken for the Eagle a few times!

Despite not seeing this Eagle, we had a lovely (but rather long) walk. One of the birds we’d been hoping to see most was the Dartford Warbler and we weren’t disappointed. As well as great views of the Warblers, we also saw a lot of Redstarts. The males in particular look stunning! – it’s a shame I don’t have a photo to illustrate my point…

That evening, my fellow Uni birders and I headed down to Soberton Heath for a Nightjar Walk organised by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. It was a very successful walk with Nightjars flying, wing clapping and landing in a tree close to the path all in (just about) daylight. As it got darker, we saw and heard more Nightjars as well as Bats and Tawny Owls.

On Sunday, after very few hours sleep, we madly returned to the New Forest at dawn. This time we started at Denny Wood and wandered around the woodland and heathland for a few hours. The Dartford Warblers put on another good display for us which was lovely. A Cuckoo could also be heard calling from a distant tree.

It was then back to Acres Down for more raptor watching. We started by walking through a section of woodland close to the campsite and car park. We could hear Blackbird alarm calls which led us to some Tawny Owls. A nice sight, especially in broad daylight! There was also a Firecrest, who was unhappy with the owls’ presence.

No Honey Buzzards from the hill on Sunday, or at least not while we were there, but there were plenty of Goshawks, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks. As well as the birds of prey, there were some Jays and Hawfinches.

The weekend ended with a leisurely stroll through the woodland at Acres Down. We had lovely views of a Spotted Flycatcher – my first of the year, and the Wood Warbler again. It’s a shame these species aren’t very common anymore.

The NGB weekend was definitely a success, and one that should be repeated. It was great fun and nice to go birding with people my own age!