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. 

 

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!

IMG_1599

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!

IMG_1748

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.

IMG_2101

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. 

IMG_2450

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.

image12

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.

IMG_2444

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!

IMG_2459

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!