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!

 

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!