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!

 

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!