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!

 

August birding (& insect) highlights

A black-necked grebe off Hill Head on 7th was a good start to the weekend but it didn’t continue. A walk along the canal path on Saturday (8th) with Dan Houghton and Alan Butler yielded very little, and asides from the regular species and 5 dunlin, the reserve didn’t have much to offer either!

Black-necked Grebe, Hill Head, 7th August 2015.

Black-necked Grebe, Hill Head, 7th August 2015.

Dan and I returned to Titchfield Haven on Wednesday (12th) to be greeted by no less than 6 green sandpipers, somehow our first for the year here. What’s more, the day continued with 3 little terns in amongst the common terns and 2 black terns picked out by Dan in the Solent later that day. Tern action at last. It started to feel as if the migration was really getting going!

Black Tern, Hill Head, 25th August 2015

Black Tern, Hill Head, 25th August 2015

Saturday (15th) was another relatively quiet day bird wise, although during the ringing session down at Titchfield Haven we did have 107 birds. Almost all of these were reed and sedge warblers, not unexpected for the time of year, with a few willow warblers and whitethroats mixed in. We’ve also been ringing waders down at Farlington Marshes, with 11 dunlin and a common sandpiper ringed on 12th.

Willow Warbler, Titchfield Haven, 31st July 2015

Willow Warbler, Titchfield Haven, 31st July 2015

A garden warbler, our first of the year along the canal path, was rather pleasing on Sunday (16th), and quickly followed by a male redstart in a field close by. Added to this, Dan picked up the call of a flyover tree pipit but we never did locate it. My next patch tick of the day occurred when finally catching up with the regular barnacle geese. Sadly, they’re far from truly wild, migrating between here and Portsmouth…

Waders were about too, with turnstones, ringed plover, a dunlin and two sanderling on the beach. The 3rd year yellow-legged gull is still enjoying its time at Hill Head, briefly joined by an adult on 15th, while the common scoter numbers fluctuated – rising to 32 on 13th and back down to 7 on 16th.

Yellow-legged Gull, Hill Head, 19th August 2015

Yellow-legged Gull, Hill Head, 19th August 2015

There were a few more migrants about on Wednesday (19th), a sign that things are moving through, though it seems most are still on the East coast. A walk along the canal path with Al and Dan yielded a single wheatear and whinchat, as well as a second wheatear down on the beach. Warblers were aplenty with numerous whitethroat, blackcaps and reed warblers. Another personal highlight for me (and patch tick) was a rook, in nearby farmland.

Osprey!” – the highlight of Friday (21st), when I finally caught up with one of the lingering birds. They seem to travel between here and the Isle of Wight, before continuing the journey south. During the short time I was there, a greenshank was the only wader of note, but it was nice to watch 2 kingfishers fishing and bearded tits hopping around in the reed bed.

A little stint started the day off nicely at Hill Head on Saturday (22nd) morning. The mini wader fest continued when Dan and I headed over to Hook-with-Warsash to see the wood sandpiper that had been found moments earlier. That was a lifer for me, so I enjoyed comparing it to the green sandpiper it was associating with. We also had a flock of 30 yellow wagtails.

It sounded like Sunday (23rd) would be rather quiet on patch, but I decided to give it a go anyway. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with a ruff and knot alongside the regular waders and other passage species. I wasn’t expecting it to get any better, but it did. 5 wood sandpipers dropped into the scrape just as I was about to leave. I wonder what’ll turn up next?

4 of the 5 Wood Sandpipers, Titchfield Haven, 23rd August 2015

4 of the 5 Wood Sandpipers, Titchfield Haven, 23rd August 2015

It seems the answer to that question was a puna teal – an escaped bird no doubt. Not quite what I had in mind, nor was it what I’d hoped when first setting eyes on it! Hill Head, however, yielded at least 9 black terns on 24th (that were then flushed by an osprey) and 7 or more on the morning of 25th, as well as a decent number of gannets, 3 knot and a kittiwake. Consolidation for getting soaked and rather cold.

And now for the insects… The afternoon of 8th was spent with Dan at Whiteley Pastures – part of Botley Wood, on the edge of the business park. It was a pleasant walk and nice to spend some time admiring the insect species as well as spotted flycatchers and a vocal kingfisher. Many were seen and photographed including Tratiomys potamida (a soldier fly),  Eristalis nemorum (a hoverfly) and Phasis hemiptera (a rather large & colourful fly).  A ni moth (Trichoplusia ni) caught in Dan’s garden was another insect highlight for the week.

More were pointed out to me and admired during the numerous trips to patch, some of which are photographed below – Chrysotoxum festivum, long-winged conehead (Conocephalus discolour), a Coelioxys species and Eristalis intricaria.

My personal highlight has to be the ruby-tailed wasp (Chrysis species), a species I’d always wanted to see, that landed in front of us at Titchfield Haven on Sunday (17th).

Ruby-tailed Wasp, Titchfield Haven, 16th August 2015 (Dan Houghton)

Ruby-tailed Wasp, Titchfield Haven, 16th August 2015 (Dan Houghton)

Continuing along the insect theme, I ran the moth trap on Monday night (17th) which resulted in around 40 moths of 23 species. Many were new to me again with some colourful highlights being rosy footman (Miltochrista miniata) and poplar hawkmoth (Laothoe populi). A migrant migrant moth species – rush veneer (Nomophila noctuella), and many more Blastobasis rebeli – what seems to be a rather rare moth that’s now naturalised in Hampshire!

Thanks to Dan Houghton for providing most of the photos!