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!

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.

SHORT EARED OWL Dave Wallace

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!

Spring: And so it begins…

[This time, I have highlighted arrival dates of migratory species in green]

A text from Dave Wallace on the 3rd March resulted in a welcome break from essay writing, with an appearance of a spoonbill on the Frying Pan. I apologise for the poor quality – handheld digiscoping! Fear not, I’m finally getting round to buying an adaptor, so the quality should improve a little next month… Speaking to Ivor McPherson later on in the month, it sounds like there were at least 8 on 23rd!

I returned at dawn on 4th, and upon getting out of the car realised a coal tit was calling nearby, in tit flock. I’ve struggled to catch up with coal tits at Titchfield Haven. They occasionally visit the bird feeders, one of those right time, right place birds. When telling fellow birders I’m after coal tits, the standard remark is “Oh, I get them in my garden all the time” – so do I, but that’s not my patch! I suppose this is one joy of patch birding. Each patch is different; some species are easily found on one patch but others not so.

Anyhow, this year I’d decided to challenge myself by not counting “heard-onlys”, so hearing this coal tit wasn’t enough, I had to see it. Question was, where was it? The most likely location was the evergreen trees by the visitor centre, but as I approached it seemed like the flock had moved on. Drat. Time to sea watch instead. Heading round towards the chalets, I heard it again by the viewing platform now, and this time – success! Another patch year tick, and only my 3rd coat tit on patch. It showed well for a while, but of course my camera was at home…

I was soon joined by Ken Martin for what was a fairly successful sea watch by Hill Head standards: 5 very distant eider and a not quite so distant great northern diver. To add to that a bar-tailed godwit, 5 sanderling, 15 ringed plover and 9 dunlin and 9 turnstones were running about on the beach in front of us. Lovely. Sadly, it was soon 8am, and campus was calling.

Bewick’s swan was the target for 8th, not on patch alas but by a church in Harbridge. The trip was successful, though did mean missing out on an opportunity to see a Spitfire on patch! This was a county tick for me, and a species that seems is becoming rather difficult to see in Hampshire. Also in the field were a large number of mute swans, Egyptian and greylag geese. Those geese would do nicely on patch!

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Bewick’s Swan, Harbridge, 8th March 2016

Next came 17th when I decided to squeeze in an early session at Hill Head before finalising and handing in coursework. It’s now (or was…) light not long after 6am, one thing I love about this time of year, and the early start was well worth it. Beginning at the sailing club, I was greeted to scope filling views of a great northern diver – not a bad start. There was something about this morning, it felt like something would happen. I was hoping for a sandwich tern or two, or perhaps a wheatear or sand martin, but had no such luck. However, on approaching the chalets I could see a grebe-like bird not too far offshore. Lifting up the binoculars, I soon realised it was indeed a grebe. And not just ‘any old’ grebe, but a black-necked grebe in full summer plumage – stunning and rather uncommon round here! Now that really did make my day, all before 7am!

Black-necked Grebe, Hill Head, 17th March 2016

Black-necked Grebe, 17th March 2016

The first swallow and sand martins were both seen by various locals on 18th – another text from Dave Wallace alerted me to the arrivals, but alas a day on campus was in store. 19th started well for me with a great northern diver offshore from Hill Head, alongside 12 rather distant eider. The morning continued with Dave Stevenson and Ian Calderwood finding a velvet scoter off Stokes Bay – lovely! The successful weekend continued on 20th, with a common scoter offshore,  spoonbill on the Frying Pan and 2 ruff on the meadow at Titchfield Haven, a sign of spring underway and a patch year tick. A trip up to Posbrook Flood with Dave Wallace yielded another year tick – a single stock dove in amongst the woodpigeons, finally!

After a day of rest, I returned on 22nd to be greeted with the regular wintering eider out by Fawley power station – a little closer this time, and not in the haze for once. Scanning round to the east I was pleasantly surprised to find the velvet scoter had, at last, drifted west! A patch first for me (having missed the 2 that overwintered a few years ago) and best views I’d ever had of the species. It proceeded to give locals the run around, first by having drifted this far west in the first place, then by flying over to Chilling cliffs, before flying back towards Lee-on-the-Solent, and finally settling. Great bird to start the day, and saves me returning to Gosport! I then joined Dave Wallace, Dave Ryves and Ken Martin for a quick check of the scrapes, where we had our first little ringed plover of spring, alongside 2 ruff.

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Velvet Scoter, 22nd March 2016

I finally caught up with my first sand martins on 24th after a quick trip to Bridge Street, where a group of 9 were feeding low over the floods. The first house martin was seen on 25th along the canal path earlier in the morning by Dan Houghton, while I had a lovely but all too brief glimpse of a spring osprey heading north, high over the sailing club a few hours later. Not something I was expecting! It’s also nice to see the avocet numbers peaking to around 50 individuals, and Mediterranean gulls even higher with over 70 individuals at the moment.

The Easter weekend was rather blustery and wet at times, just like winter. 7 sandwich terns, first of the year locally, were seen flying east by Dave Stevenson on 26th, while one was also present at Hill Head at low tide, which I sadly missed. I bumped into Tony Heath on 27th while looking for the firecrest that had been hanging around the east side of the reserve. We’d been searching for many days to catch a glimpse of the usually elusive individual and finally heard it singing, and then, even better noticed it hopping around above our heads – lovely! At that moment, the heaven’s opened so it was time to make a dash for cover. I headed back to the car, and as I did so, a swallow  (my 1st) followed by 2 sand martins zipped north, yay!

A rare venture away from patch was in store for 29th, as Dave Stevenson and I went off in search of a Pallas’ Warbler. Our destination was Portesham in Dorset, where we met Sean Foote. After a short wait, we proceeded to get many fleeting glimpses and a few brief but good views of the bird as it hopped around the bushes and chased off a few chiffchaffs.

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The Portesham Pallas’ Warbler (Sean Foote)

Whist in the area, it made sense to pay a visit to Portland Bill, say hi to Martin Cade and co, and also do a spot of seawatching. We didn’t stay long, but in that time saw a single common scoter fly west and a number of gannets, while the sea below had many shags, guillemots and razorbills – something a Hampshire birder doesn’t see as often. Also of note were 2 swallows coming in off the sea, 11 wheatear and many skylarks, meadow and rock pipits.

Dave and I then decided to head over to Pulborough Brooks (yep, all the way over in Sussex…) to catch up with the American wigeon which had turned up a few days earlier. This was my second lifer of the day and having dipped the one at Bowling Green Marshes (Devon) back in January, was extremely pleased to finally see one. A great day’s birding!

American Wigeon, Pulborough Brooks, 29th March

American Wigeon (right) with 2 ordinary Wigeon.

The velvet scoter was back offshore from Hill Head on 30th, alongside 3 eider. On the reserve, it was clear there had been an arrival of birds, with a number of blackcaps and John Shillitoe had 3 wheatear here along the canal path – both first of the year here.

The month ended with the velvet scoter still lingering off the chalets on the morning of 31st, 56 brent geese, and even better my 1st Hampshire glaucous gull! There had been a glaucous gull around Ryde, seen following the fishing boats, and earlier in the month Dave Ryves spotted it off Lee-on-the-Solent, so to finally catch up with it was great. What made it even better was watching it from patch as it followed a trawler up and down the Solent with many other gulls for comparison!

I did then briefly check the meadow with Alan Butler and Dave Wallace, but alas no wheatears to be seen. We did, however, see the 2 barnacle geese and a single greylag goose on the Frying Pan. So, up the 116 for the year on patch with plenty more still to see.

Finally, I caught my first moth of the year, after putting the trap on 12th. I was worried it might’ve been too cold, but instead found a single common quaker in the morning. A new species for me, having only started mothing in late-July last year.

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Common Quaker, 13th March 2016

November highlights

I published my October post a few days early thinking I’d not manage any more birding. As it turned out, I did manage a bit more – an hour sea watching with Dan Houghton at Hill Head on 28th. The sea had seemed rather empty last month, but we enjoyed good views of a pair of eider as they drifted slowly east.

Eider, Hill Head, 28th October 2015

Eider, Hill Head, 28th October 2015

Fog. I think that sums Sunday (1st) up. Dan, Alan Butler and I had decided to try the sea front in the morning hoping the fog wouldn’t be too bad. It’s safe to say we abandoned plans rather promptly with visibility extremely poor. The afternoon was better as the fog had cleared, and resulted in good views of two marsh harriers over the meadow and 13 sanderling roosting on the beach.

Fog at Hillhead, 1st November 2015

Sea? What sea?

Little birding has been done during the week as most of my time is taken up with uni, although a session on 2nd in somewhat foggy conditions yielded 4 swallows, a chaffinch and a number of lesser redpolls and siskin. While attempts to catch up with a Dartford warbler on patch ended in misery (yet again), I did have my first pochard on the winter in the harbour on 4th.

Sunday (8th) brought news of black redstart – 4 in fact, one of which was on patch down at Hill Head. After a failed attempt mid-morning, I returned with Dan and Alan for round 2. Despite my growing pessimism (having missed about 5 locally this year) we did eventually see the bird, proving that sometimes persistence and effort really does pay off.

Black Redstart, Hill Head, 9th November 2015

Black Redstart, Hill Head, 8th November 2015

While others around the country have been reporting all sorts of species during their sea watches, it’s safe to say Hill Head has been rather quiet. In between the days of staring at an empty (quite literally) sea, 19 eider and a Slavonian grebe on 15th, a great northern diver on 21st, a common scoter on 24th, a kittiwake on 28th and merlin on 29th were welcomed highlights.

The small moments of weekend fortune continued on 16th with Dan finding a Siberian chiffchaff at the top end of the canal path in the morning. (It, or another, was also present on 28th and was great to compare with the accompanying common chiffchaff).

That afternoon, Alan and I joined him for another walk along the canal path. This time it was a dusk visit, with the slight hope of seeing owls; one of those “it’s got to be worth a try” sessions. It paid off too. While waiting for it to get dark half way along the canal path, a short-eared owl appeared over the meadow! It was brief – watch for all of 5 minute before it headed south, but a great end to the weekend.

The next highlights came on 25th with a trip to see the ring-necked ducks at Rooksbury Mill LNR in Andover. The two birds were showing very well, especially once they woke up and became more lively. Whilst there, Dan and Alan informed me of their earlier sea watch – auks and a number of eider. That’ll teach me not to lie in!

The birding session finished with a trip to the canal path in an attempt to see the reported little owl, back in what I’m told was its favoured spot. Despite looking, there was no sign. All was not lost though, as a final check of the tree before giving up led to us finding a tawny owl – even better!

The month ended with a short trip to Blashford Lakes on 30th to see a black-throated diver on Northfield Lake and the returning ferruginous duck on Kingfisher Lake. Despite difficult viewing conditions, both showed well.

Deadlines and exams… with birding in between

Term has restarted which means less time for birding, especially on my patch. However, I am trying to do as much as I can while doing my best to concentrate on work! It seems crazy to think how fast the past year has gone and that I’m nearing the end of my 2nd year of university. By the end of May I’ll be finished for another academic year.

I returned to Titchfield Haven briefly on Monday after more reports of the greater yellowlegs only to discover it has disappeared some time between me leaving the city and arriving. A shame, but an hour on patch isn’t something to complain about! Based on the tweets by the Titchfield Haven staff, Monday had been a rather good day but my brief time there mostly yielded the commoner species. It was nice to see more common terns, greater numbers of swallows and a great crested grebe though. There were still 10 or so sanderling, 30+ turnstones and 3 black swans once again.

I’m always looking out of the window on train journeys as you never know what might be seen, and my return to Southampton was no different. The train line crosses the river Itchen once and follows it before and after the bridge, making it an enjoyable entrance/exit of the city. I do intend to visit the sites that are passed to view them properly instead of at speed from a train window. Still, I usually see a couple of shelduck by what I believe is Chessel Bay, and 2 black swans by St Denys among other species.  

Now for some campus birding… As usual, being in Southampton means spending the majority of my time on campus so I’m making sure I make the most of it (as well as studying). A pre-lecture walk earlier in the week was rather pleasant with blackcaps, chiffchaffs and firecrests singing, as well as the common species. Thursday was similar, but with the additions of a male grey wagtail making an appearance and an evening sparrowhawk flyby. 

We finally passed 50 species for the year for the University Birdwatch Challenge today with little egret, Canada goose, common sandpiper and cormorant.  As impressive as it would be, I didn’t see them on Highfield Stream (on campus), it was the boat yard to the rescue instead! It’s opposite Riverside Park so rather well placed. The total now stands at 52, I think, with hopefully more to come.

I returned to my patch on Saturday (25th April). I arrived at Hill Head earlier than usual, hoping to do a spot of sea watching. Thankfully there was a group of birders already sea watching so I joined them. In the hour I was there, it was relatively quiet but I still managed a few patch ticks. 4 common scoter and 18 brent geese flew east. 2 great crested grebes were closer in to the shore, and a group of terns were resting on the sand bank before taking off. After a bit of discussion, it was decided that one of those terns was an arctic tern while the rest were common.

I didn’t spend long in the reserve in the end, but did see the 2 garganey that have been on the scrapes for the past few days.  Also my first cuckoo of Spring – 2 in fact, which flew past as I approached the hide. One was singing somewhere too. A whitethroat, another first for the year, was also about singing. Another highlight was the number of sand martins and swallows swooping over the scrapes. Nice to see them properly back at long last.

The garganey pair, Titchfield Haven, 25th April 2015.

The garganey pair, Titchfield Haven, 25th April 2015.

 

Spring has sprung

Spring has definitely sprung in the Solent. I was saying before how quiet it was, but it feels like more is happening now. More swallows arriving, as well as sand martins and house martins. My first sightings of the latter two species were both at Farlington Marshes. I am yet to see them on patch, but I’m sure it won’t take long to rectify. Elsewhere, more warblers have arrived too. I’ve had blackcaps, willow warblers and of course chiffchaffs so far, with other species to come I’m sure. The reed beds are alive with the sound of sedge and reed warblers – two of this week’s patch “ticks” and great to hear once again.

I had my first sandwich tern on patch on 15th April, the highlight of an hour and a half of seawatching at Hill Head. Most of that time had been literally seawatching; watching the empty, misty Solent. I had hoped for more, but 4 mallards were the only addition.

Today (19th), there was still a single sandwich tern but also 3 or 4 common terns. I see there had been a report of 1 arctic tern with the commons, which may well have been the case but I still get confused with them. 3 black swans are still about, and a single brent goose and great crested grebe also present.

The greater yellowlegs made a reappearance (again), and disappeared (again), and then reappeared in the afternoon… Despite looking over the morning, I missed it, though having already seen it once I’m not too upset! Getting better views of said wader would be nice, I must admit. I do wish I’d returned this evening though (not that Mum and Dad would’ve agreed to it!). The photos I’ve seen are great, and show how much closer it was.

A new wader species for the year was a common sandpiper, this one seen not on my patch but Riverside Park in Southampton. There were 4 on Tuesday (14th), very close to one of our Uni sites, so I’ll be trying again next week.

common sandpiper, Riverside Park, 14th April 2015

common sandpiper, Riverside Park, 14th April 2015

I mentioned above that I’d visited Farlington Marshes. There was a WeBS count on 18th April. With spring underway, there was much less to count. Most of the brent geese had left with a few still in the harbour. Plenty of black-tailed godwits were still about too, looking ever more handsome in their summer plumage. With them were 2 greenshanks, my first this year. We had good views of sandwich, common and little terns too, as well as a flock of 11 whimbrel.  There was also a white duck, which looked quite like a leucistic pintail. Any thoughts?

Pintail Farlington Marshes 18th April 2015

Possible pintail? Farlington Marshes, 18th April 2015

Butterflies are about too. So far I’ve had brimstone, peacock, red admiral, specked wood and brief views of a small white butterfly (not THE small white, though it could’ve been, but a white butterfly!). I must admit I’ve got lots to learn, and tend to focus on birds but my aim is to see more this year.

peacock butterfly, 19th April 2015, Titchfield Haven

peacock butterfly, 19th April 2015, Titchfield Haven

Finally, time to turn to mammals. A trip to Bridge Street floods on Thursday (16th) was poor bird wise because the horses were back grazing next to the river. However, as I went to leave I noticed a male roe deer in the opposite field. As I came up onto the path, it stayed so I watched it and a second roe deer for a good half hour.

male roe deer, Titchfield, 16th April 2015

male roe deer, Titchfield, 16th April 2015

Portland Bird Observatory: Expect the unexpected

I have just returned from a 3 night stay at Portland Bird Observatory. My main purpose of the trip was for bird ringing, and that certainly didn’t disappoint with an average of 60 or so birds ringed each day. I also did a little bit of birding, mostly from the Observatory or Portland Bill, so I’ll briefly summarise that here.

I arrived on Tuesday 7th April with hopes of seeing the Bonaparte’s gull that had been at Radipole Lakes for the past few weeks. It seems as if the gull disappeared some time in the afternoon as the last reported sighting was midday. I arrived mid afternoon and after waiting for half an hour or so, knowing it hadn’t been seen for hours, I headed back to Portland. I did however have a willow warbler, tufted ducks, pochard and a hooded merganser, among other species.

hooded merganser, Radipole Lakes, 7th April 2015

hooded merganser, Radipole Lakes, 7th April 2015

Back on Portland I went to visit the little owl in the quarry next to the Observatory, and then headed to Portland Bill where I enjoyed my first “Mr Whippy” of the year. There were plenty of meadow pipits and linnets coming in off the sea, and a white wagtail on the grass close by. 

Wednesday 8th started well with plenty of chiffchaffs and willow warblers to ring. By the afternoon it has died down with few new birds in the nets. However, one highlight was a young ring ouzel – a bird I’d only ever seen once and never in the hand. Sadly for Josie who was arriving on the Wednesday, we ringed and released the birds an hour before she arrived. It would’ve been a lifer for her…

My lifer for the day was a puffin. I discovered that down at Portland Bill by the other lighthouse and the cliffs was a colony of auks, and at this time of year you can also see puffins in the sea with the guillemots and razorbills. I had brief views of 2 puffins which was pleasing although I still plan to visit the Farne Isles to get better views!

Thursday 9th started well too before the fog arrived and put a halt to the migration. Again, plenty of birds to ring including 2 redstarts and a sedge warbler – the first of the year for both species. We ringed over 70 birds by the end of the day. Most of these were chiffchaffs and willow warblers again, with a bit of variety. The day got more exciting when Martin found a stone curlew. Great views were had until some photographers flushed it. Thankfully it settled in the Crown Estate field and remained there until the fog lifted late at night. The views became more challenging throughout the day as the fog worsened.

Friday 10th was quieter as the mist and cloud seemed to put a halt to movement again, so far fewer birds were ringed. However we did see a male black redstart, although distant. Further up the path was a male redstart, which was helpful for comparisons.

All in all, it was a fantastic week especially on the ringing front as I got plenty of practise, especially of willow warblers and chiffchaffs and a few species I’m less familiar with. I’ll finish with some pictures of the birds Josie and I ringed.