Good start to the year…

The new year began at Hill Head, bright and early, with Ken Martin as we started our new lists. Snow bunting, long-tailed duck, decent flock of eider and a few common scoter, the highlights, with the rest of the day spent enjoying the commoner species, including a couple of chiffchaffs. The days that followed, too, were mostly spent on patch trying to clock up a few more species. One key species I was hoping for was water pipit; something I’d seen reported regularly, so decided to target what seemed like their favoured areas, and had also been given suggestions for other species to target. Posbrook seemed to be the main area to focus on. For those who don’t know, it’s around the first bridge you reach after heading south from the Bridge Street car park. Posbrook Floods is the (usually) flooded area to the left of the bridge – that’s where the reserve boundary begins – and over the bridge on the right is a pony field.

The pony field seemed rather productive, with many redwing, song thrush and a mistle thrush, alongside 46 black-tailed godwits, 6 curlew and more, but to begin with, no pipits. For most of the week, this seemed to be a recurring theme, other than the occasional flyover meadow pipit, and Posbrook Flood yielded none too. The Floods are, however, the best place for pintail on patch. Thankfully, one final trip on Saturday 7th was pleasantly successful. It was a warmer day (maybe that helped; I suppose lots of ice on the cold days didn’t), and numerous pipits were feeding in the pony field, including one lovely water pipit! There have been as many as 6 seen along the canal path itself this winter but I could only manage one. Still, only my 2nd (my first was at Farlington Marshes in 2014) and great views. Typically, it disappeared before Mark Rolfe and Ken arrived, and a good search to relocate it, or others, seemed to fail. One final trip? Ah well, that’s because it was time to pause birding at Titchfield Haven (unusually for me) and head north… So, patch year list up to 86, with water pipit being the first full patch tick of the year.

water-pipit-record-shot-posbrook-7th-january

Water Pipit, Posbrook, 7th January 2017 – finally!

A new venture began on 8th, which was mostly spend in the car travelling to up Lincolnshire. Arriving at Frampton late afternoon, there was just enough time to visit the reserve and watch the starling and pink-footed geese come into roost. I didn’t really have much time to explore, but was impressed by the shear number of birds. Must’ve been thousands of wigeon by the car park alone, and thousands of waders on the scrapes!

Why am I in Lincolnshire, neglecting my beloved patch? Well, the RSPB offer residential volunteering opportunities, and as Frampton Marsh was one place I’d always wanted to visit, it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I also wanted to escape for a bit. This is where I’m based for the time being, and it’s lovely: tree sparrows in the garden, living on a farm, nature reserve on the doorstep (almost), oh and a lovely waxwing from the office on 9th! A real contrast to the suburbs of Fareham. It’s really interesting to see how areas differ, sad on one sense (as some of the differences are due to local extinction, declines etc) but also exciting to explore the new area. During the week I didn’t get much chance to explore the reserve(s) as we were busy carrying out various tasks (mostly fence repairs and path maintenance at this time of year), although birding was squeezed in throughout the day. The work is split between Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore, a smaller site near by.

I’d chosen to stay local for my first weekend in Lincolnshire, so began 14th bright and early at Marsh Farm Reservoir, the south west corner of the reserve. This was where the waxwing had been on 9th and 10th, with other highlight during early morning sessions including goldeneye and turnstone. I decided to walk the southern edge of the reserve boundary as it was the section I’d not visited yet, and was well worth it for the small number of yellowhammers, a merlin and good views of a marsh harrier over the salt marsh of the Wash. Another highlight was an avocet feeding on the North Scrape. One thing I’d been impressed with since arriving was the sheer number of birds – thousands of wildfowl and waders, far more than I’m using to seeing at Titchfield Haven, and great to see.

While birding, I bumped into Ryan Clark, a fellow AFON member and we decided to take a break from Frampton to head over to Kirkby on Bain where a ring-necked duck had been reported during the week. The bird was still present on one of the gravel pits, though often difficult to see but a helpful local birder pointed it out to us, and after a while it briefly woke up and drifted further out into the pit, providing us with much better views. There was also a lovely male scaup, a species I don’t see often – an added bonus! Returning to Frampton after a late lunch, we made it back in time to see the starling murmuration and the whooper swans coming to roost. It was also nice to see a small flock of pink-footed geese.

The following morning (15th) began with the Wetland Birds Survey. I joined Toby Collett which gave me a chance to explore another section of Frampton – the 3km stretch of the Haven, leading to Tabbs Head and the Wash. The rain wasn’t particularly pleasant (and I discovered my waterproofs need reproofing!) but it was a good session, with 2 Bewick’s  and 70 Whooper Swans, 4 short-eared owls appearing over the saltmarsh, jack snipe, water rail, 2 spotted redshank and red-breasted merganser on the sea. Pre-work sessions have been pleasant too, with 9 yellowhammers and little owl on 17th and 8 white-fronted geese on 18th.

white-fronted-geese-freiston-18th-jan-2

White-fronted Geese, Freiston Shore, 18th January 2017

21st dawned and it was time for a twitch, this time Derbyshire bound. The dusky thrush had been present at Beeley for well over a month, but Simon Wilson, Simon Knight and I hadn’t made it over there yet. On arrival we were told the bird hadn’t been seen, but we had come to it’s usual spot so decided to start there while other birders went to look elsewhere. This turned out to be a good move when Simon K set up his scope and within seconds found he was looking at the dusky thrush, feeding on the ground; the first lifer of the year! Distant views, but good enough with a scope.

img_4450

Dusky Thrush, Beeley, 21st January 2017

With a couple hours of daylight remaining I headed back over to Frampton Marsh to enjoy 6 marsh harriers over the saltmarsh, merlin, peregrine, a good starling murmuration, the whooper swans coming to roost, and my highlight – a hen harrier quartering over the reedbed! It was the first hen harrier I’d seen for two years, having not managed to connect with any in Hampshire. It wasn’t long before I saw another, this time at Freiston Shore on 23rd, while carrying out surveys with Simon K. We surveyed the area of managed realignment, and the arable fields, recording anything we saw while walking through them. Highlights included great views of a hen harrier, short-eared owl, jack snipe and plenty of tree sparrows.

img_6984

Spot the Hen Harrier, causing mayhem over Freiston!

A white-billed diver had turned up on the river Witham near Woodhall Spa on 20th, coincidently in exactly the same stretch of river as another individual back in the ’90s, but with my weekend filled with out of county twitching – first that dusky thrush, and then dipping the Yorkshire pine bunting the following afternoon – I didn’t have a chance to go. We ran out of time again on Monday, but thankfully Tuesday (24th) all went according to plan, and so I had a chance to enjoy the diver after a long walk along by the river to relocate it that afternoon. It was fantastic, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever get as good or better views of any diver species any time soon!

img_6997

White-billed Diver, Stixwould, 24th January 2017

I’d been in contact with Dave Wallace while up at Frampton, particularly as the temptation for a weekend at home grew. Birds to see (oh, and family and friends!). Dave mentioned the possibility of a twitch, allowing me another chance to try for a pine bunting, and with a few other things to do as well, I headed back. My first port of call once home was Hill Head  for 6 scaup that had been offshore for the best part of a week. Arriving before dawn on 27th, I was treated to rather distant views from the Meonshore chalets – still good enough for a much desired patch tick! Other than a brief appearance in November 2016 (which I missed), it’s been many years since scaup had been reported at the Haven. 

Scaup, Hill Head, 27th Jaunary.JPG

Scaup, Hill Head, 27th January 2017

It was then time to meet up with Alan Butler and Dave, and head off to Kent for round 2 (for me) of the pine bunting. Finding the location proved challenging, but thanks to Google maps we were soon stood on the seawall with a number of other birders. Not long after arriving, the bird briefly perched up on a hawthorn bush, but didn’t stay long enough for everyone to see it or get ‘tickable’ views. Feeling unsatisfied, and hoping for more views, we agreed to make the most of the afternoon and stay put which paid off. About an hour later, another birder noticed the bunting was frequenting a different tree by a hedgerow, showing on and off regularly for a good half hour or so (we did have better views than my poor photo too!).

pine-bunting-kent-27th-january-2

Pine Bunting, Milton Creek, 27th January 2017 – we did get better views too!

It felt a bit like Deja vu the next morning (28th), as Ken and I headed off to attempt to twitch another bunting, this time a little bunting on Portsdown Hill. A very rare bird in Hampshire, where I believe the last ‘twitchable’ bird was in 1992. As expected, it wasn’t easy, but we did get brief views (a couple of seconds!) when it occasionally perched in a bush with reed buntings. It was also nice to enjoy the yellowhammers, a bird I don’t see often in the county. The afternoon was spent in Basingstoke as news of waxwings had broken while in Kent yesterday, and thankfully they’d hung around. On arrival, I was told the bird had flown a few minutes earlier, but was promised they’d return, which they did – and very nice too. 4 lovely waxwing as the light started to fade! My first in Hampshire, and having only previously seen 2, it was great to spend time watching the small group.

img_7007

One of four Waxwings in Basingstoke, 28th January 2017

Before returning to Frampton, I headed to Hill Head for dawn and enjoyed 6 scaup, long-tailed duck and 30 eider on the sea, and paid a visit to the long staying snow bunting that was still hanging about the harbour spit – impressive species tally! A quick scan of Rainbow Bar yielded a good mix of waders including bar-tailed godwit, greenshank, grey plover, ringed plover, dunlinsanderling and 4 curlew. It’s hard to stay away from a site that’s brought much happiness over the years. 

 

NGB Winter Wonderland: part 1

I had been looking forward to this weekend for a while because I’d planned to go on a trip to Norfolk with fellow Next Generation Birders. Sean, Liam, Ollie and I headed up on Friday evening to join Chris, James, Jake, Danni, Drew, Sam, Dan, Antony and Angus for two days birding. It ended up being a bit like a bird race, which I rather enjoyed as it meant I saw lots of Norfolk and a large number of species! The use of walkie talkies also added extra enjoyment.

We met up at 7am on Saturday morning just in time for Sainsbury’s to open so we could stock up on snacks for the trip. Then it was time to start the birding though we’d already heard a robin singing by the hotel and herring gulls at Sainsbury’s.

First stop was Wolferton in search of the golden pheasants. We arrived at around dawn and waited. No sign of the pheasants, but there was plenty of bird activity. Robins, goldcrests, wrens, blue tits, coal tits, great tits and chaffinches all singing and calling. Woodpigeons flew over in the distance, and we spotted bramlings, redpolls and siskins flying between trees in the wood. Still no golden pheasant though.

We’d waited for quite a while so decided to head to Roydon Common for a bit. The plan was to see the wintering great grey shrike so we headed along the path towards its favoured spot. That too was missing – maybe they knew we were coming so hid… Still, we did see long-tailed tits, a fieldfare singing skylarks, meadow pipits, a buzzard sat in the tree and some distant pink-footed geese. We also added a rook from the car.

After a good stroll around the Common searching for the shrike, we decided to return to Wolferton for one last try. Success! As we drove up to the triangle, we quickly braked as not too far in front of us was the target bird: a golden pheasant.

Golden Phesant, Wolferton, 7th February 2015

Golden Phesant, Wolferton, 7th February 2015

We watched it until it disappeared back into the undergrowth. Feeling satisfied it was time for the next stop – Hunstanton. The first bird at Hunstanton was a fulmar. They must’ve been around the cliffs below as several flew rather close to us, before dropping down below the sightline. There was a group of fulmar sat in the sea as well. Don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. Also out at sea were common scoter, eider, red-breasted mergansers and some great crested grebes. Sean also picked up a long-tailed duck, but the rest of us struggled to spot it!

Back in the car, we saw many oystercatchers at the side of the road and some starlings while we drove round to another bit of coastline. House sparrows in the car park at Holmes Golf Course were another addition to the list, though Liam had shouted out “tree sparrow!” from the car but I didn’t spot it. Shame, tree sparrows are rather rare in Hampshire! Edit: Liam is convinced this never happened, perhaps I was daydreaming and reminiscing of the one time I ever saw a tree sparrow…!

We bumped into Josh as we stopped to admire the twite only a few feet in front of us. They looked tiny compared to the skylark that was also hopping around on the ground. Further along the beach we passed a flock of linnet and caught up with the snow bunting. This is  another species I’ve not seen many before. We also briefly sea watched there, seeing more common scoter and a red-throated diver. There were more waders at the end of the beach as well. Grey and golden plover, lapwing and more oystercatchers next to a group of herring gulls. It was time for even more waders as next on the list was Titchwell, an RSPB reserve.

As expected, there was a plentiful supply of waders and wildfowl at Titchwell. As well as the common waders* such as avocets, lapwing and oystercatchers, I was chuffed to see knot, ruff and 2 (or more) bar-tailed godwits. The bar-tailed godwits were even better when stood next to black-tailed godwits. Was a great comparison, and I feel I could (finally) ID one in future now!

*that’s not to say that knot, ruffs and bar-tailed godwits are uncommon, but I don’t tend to see them very often so was pleased!

A bar-tailed godwit, Titchwell, 7th February 2015.

A bar-tailed godwit, Titchwell, 7th February 2015.

Good views of a marsh harrier, sparrowhawk and a peregrine in quick succession were had too, as well as a water pipit which was a nice addition.  I then turned my attention to the ducks – again, most of the common winter species were present. Teal, mallards, gadwall, shelduck, shoveler, wigeon. Surprisingly (to me anyway) there were no tufted ducks or pochards…

I stayed watching the waders and wildfowl a little longer than the others before joining them on the beach. Another brief sea watch was underway with yet more common scoter, red breasted mergansers, and a possible great northern diver – I didn’t see it, but I hear it was a huge diver, just right for a great northern. Meanwhile, I checked the beach for waders. Oystercatchers, sanderling, turnstone and dunlin. Another highlight on the beach was a friendly black-headed gull.

The friendly (or fearless?) black-headed gull, Titchwell, 7th February 2015

The friendly (or fearless?) black-headed gull, Titchwell, 7th February 2015

Close by to Titchwell was Choseley, a bit of farmland, to look for the typical farmland species. We weren’t disappointed as there were indeed yellowhammers, corn bunting and also a stock dove. The nest port of call was Burnham with large numbers of brent and pink-footed geese, golden plover and lapwing. It was an impressive sight when a buzzard flushed them all! A few moments later a barn owl joined in with the confusion, adding to the spectacle. All this was made more impressive by the fact that we were just parked by the side of the road looking into fields below. It almost reminded me of Shetland!

We would’ve stayed a while longer until “American wigeon, Cley” popped up on someone’s phone – twitch on, was the decision. As we made our way towards Cley it became apparent  that the American wigeon wasn’t thus, and was perhaps a hybrid or even simply a Eurasian wigeon but we carried on. Cley had been next on the list anyway!

Cley was worth it. Again, there were numerous waders and wildfowl, with highlights including a garganey, marsh harrier and 5 bearded tits. Some of the group managed to spot the white-fronted geese after multiple attempts, but they all looked like pink-footed and greylags to me! The reported bean geese remained elusive, and still no pochard or tufted duck…

Our final destination four Saturday was Stubb Mill for the crane roost. To begin with all we could see were marsh harriers coming into roost, an impressive sight by all means – we counted 20 at once at one point! A ringtail hen harrier soon joined them and later on a male hen harrier was spotted too. To add to this, a red-legged partridge and Chinese water deer were in the foreground. The flash of blue from a kingfisher was a nice surprise too. No cranes yet, but I was still very happy.

Harriers at dusk, Stubb Mill, 7th February 2015

Harriers at dusk, Stubb Mill, 7th February 2015

And then the cranes were spotted. Just 2 at first, but we had good scope views each time they popped their heads up. We waited for a while longer as the starling murmaration was impressive and we could hear cranes in the distance. It was getting rather dark by this point so we decided to start heading back. At that moment, the cranes got louder and closer. We rushed back to the viewing point just in time to see them fly past. It was practically dark but still amazing to see 34 cranes fly by! And as we drove off, several woodcocks took off near by.

Great end to the first day. 3 lifers (golden pheasant, hen harrier & cranes) and over 90 species  in 10 hours. We finished by congregating for a meal in Norwich before resting, ready for a 2nd days birding.