Saturday, 31 January 2015

Back Birding on the South Coast of Hampshire

Rainy and breezy conditions put paid to any bird ringing this morning, so instead I took the opportunity for a bit of local birding. The plan was to start at Farlington Marshes to look for the long staying Spoonbill, then to Walpole Park for the Ring-billed Gull, Titchfield Haven, for nothing in particular, but hopefully to see the Marsh Harrier and then finish up back on my patch at Curbridge.

Farlington Marshes
There was a bitterly cold north-westerly breeze, which I had expected but the occasional driving rain I had not, and it made for quite an unpleasant walk around the seawall at times. The tide was high when I arrived, and Dark-bellied Brent, Canada and a couple of Greylag Geese were feeding on the reserve. Duck species were represented in good numbers, with Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck all present. The water on the main lake was quite high and as a result there was no wader roost to speak of, a few Redshank, a couple of Snipe and an Avocet was about it. Five Bearded Tits were giving great views whilst feeding in the reed bed right next to the sea wall, and a Reed Bunting perched up briefly before flying off.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Farlington Marshes

There must have been well over a thousand brent geese on the marsh, with most of them on the middle marsh. I was scanning through them on the off chance of picking up a Black Brant, I did not find one but did pick up the colour ringed individual below. This is now the third colour ringed brent I have found in the last couple of weeks so will send them off soon to see where they are from.

Colour ringed Dark-bellied Brent Goose - Farlington Marshes

As the tide was dropping, hundreds of waders were leaving their high tide roosts and starting to feed on the intertidal. The majority were Dunlin, but also Knot, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plovers. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were roosting on the stream, two of which were colour ringed. Unfortunately, they were both roosting on one leg so I was unable to get a full combination. The stream is where the Spoonbill has been hanging out, but it was not there today. 

Black-tailed Godwit - Farlington

By the time I returned to the seawall the tide had dropped considerably. Waders were feeding all over the intertidal but the highlight was a flock of 47 Avocets, that were feeding in the Broom Channel to the west of the reserve.

Walpole Park, Gosport
My visit to Walpole Park was in the hope of ticking off the Ring-billed Gull for the year. I pulled up and immediately picked it up sat next to the lake. Well, I say lake, but work is currently being carried out on them so both lakes have been drained to leave just mud. Luckily this work hasn't deterred the ring-billed as it was sat in its usual place. I couldn't resist taking a few more pictures.

Ring-billed Gull - Walpole Park, Gosport
Ring-billed Gull - Walpole Park, Gosport
Ring-billed Gull - Walpole Park, Gosport

Titchfield Haven
I didn't stop long at the Haven, just enough time to scan the exposed mud around the seafront and look up the valley for the Marsh Harrier. There was nothing really of note, a few Great-crested Grebes were on the sea, and Teal and Pochard on the river. A Buzzard was perched on a post by the south scrape, looking for an easy meal no doubt. A few hundred gulls were on the foreshore, at least 20 each Common and Herring Gulls, a couple of hundred Black-headed and one Mediterranean Gull.

When I got to Curbridge the tide was low and Little Egrets, Redshank and Greenshank were feeding in the creek by the Horse and Jockey pub. In the main estuary there were another three Greenshank, 11 Redshank and five Curlew. My main reason for going though was to check out the low tide gull roost, as you never know what might drop in. There was a good sized flock present, at least 250 birds, that was made up mainly of Black-headed Gulls, but there was also 67 Common Gulls, four Herring and three Mediterranean Gulls. I have been birding this creek since I was a teenager and had never previously recorded Med Gulls until last year when over 200 were present.. Three times this week I have visited and recorded at least one on each visit. One of the Meds was colour-ringed with a red ring, with white numbers, Unfortunately I could only make out the last two numbers, which were 99, before the whole flock was flushed by a Buzzard.

Common, Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls - Curbridge

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

In search of winter birds, Day 4 - Norfolk 2015

Day four of our winter trip was more about the journey home and getting around the M25 whilst it was flowing freely. That said, there were still a couple of sites that we intended to visit in order to boost the trip list by a few more species.

This is a site that we have visited on many occasions in the past, as it is a site where Tree Sparrow is almost guaranteed. It is also usually a good site for Little Owl, but we have only ever seen them there once, so it is by no means guaranteed. It has to be said that this site was the best site for finches and buntings that we had been to all weekend. It was heaving with Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Bramblings and Tree Sparrows. There were also good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings and around the small pond loads of Teal and Greylag Geese. The only disappointment with this site was the lack of any Yellowhammers, a species that has eluded us this year.

The final stop of our trip was to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trusts reserve at Welney. We haven't been here for a couple of years, but were tempted by the possibility of a Green-winged Teal, that had been seen the day before, and Bean Geese. Of course there was also a guarantee of Whooper and Bewick's Swan, and other wildfowl that had eluded us so far.

We quickly ticked off Whooper Swan, Pochard and Tufted Duck but there was no sign of our other quarry. 

Whooper Swan - Welney
Whooper Swans - Welney
Pochard - Welney

After Welney we started our journey home scanning the fields looking for flocks of Swans. It was not long before we picked up a large one, and after a quick scan we picked up a handful of Bewick's Swans.

By this time it was early afternoon and we decided to head home. It had been another successful trip and we had recorded 120 species during our four day trip. There had been many highlights but the best as always was the company. We had been blessed with good weather, albeit a bit cold at times, and had seen some cracking birds. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

In search of winter birds, Day 3 - Norfolk 2015

Day 3 began with yet another hearty breakfast, which was much needed given that we were going to spend most of the day in the field. Whilst loading the car we recorded another new species for the trip, a Goldcrest, and then we were ready to go.

Choseley Barns
Choseley Barns has been a regular stop for us over a number of years as it has been a guaranteed site for Corn Buntings, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrows. One by one the species have declined and this year we recorded none. There were other species present, including four Blackbirds, a Chaffinch, a handful of Common Gulls and six Red-legged Partridges. It is so sad to see that despite various government schemes aimed at protecting farmland bird species, they continue to decline. Of course we do not know the reasons for the loss of farmland birds from Choseley Barns, but can make an educated guess.

A149 at Brancaster
We were feeling a little depressed after our visit to Choseley Barns but our spirits were heightened as we approached Brancaster. There was a large flock of around 6,000 Pink-footed Geese feeding in a field close to the road. We quickly took up some well-placed locations along the road and began to work our way through them. There have been some Bean Geese in with the Pink-foots but we did not find them. In fact we didn't have the time to finish our search as a couple of dog walkers flushed them, so we moved on.

Pink-footed Geese - Brancaster
Pink-footed Geese - Brancaster

Wells Harbour
Our next stop was Wells Harbour in search of the long-staying Shag, and also a Red-necked Grebe that has been present on and off this winter. The tide was high when we arrived and there wasn't really much to see. A shout from Paul quickly alerted us to a Red Kite that was drifting east over the harbour, a scan of the sky line produced two more hunting behind the harbour over East Hills.

Red Kite - Wells Harbour

We continued our search for the Shag and eventually picked it up sat on a spit on the opposite side of the harbour. Apparently when it is not feeding it roosts in this spot or on the jetty, so hopefully it will be a regular feature each winter in the future.

Shag - Wells Harbour

Cley Coastguards, East Bank and Arnold's Marsh
Our next stop was Cley Coastguards and a scan for the wintering Black-throated Diver. We picked up on a good candidate immediately and after a short deliberation we concluded it was the bird. A scan over the sea produced a couple of Common Scoter and a couple of Red-throated Divers.

After quick stop at the centre to check for any news and a scan over the marsh we decided to walk up the East Bank in search of a reported Golden Plover. There were very few birds on the marsh, Teal, AvocetDunlin and Grey Plover to name a few. The Golden Plover was all alone on the beach, not the usual place to see one, but it was the only one we had seen on the trip to date, so a welcome sight.

Golden Plover on the beach at Cley

We headed back down the East Bank and picked up a calling Bearded Tit (or Reedling or Parrotbill). At first it was the other side of the ditch, but soon flew across and began grubbing around at the base of a patch of reeds. It was amazing to watch the bird as it fed, it was scraping back the earth with both feet like a miniature chicken. It was occasionally calling but regularly sat up giving excellent views.

Bearded Tit - East Bank, Cley
Bearded Tit - East Bank, Cley
Bearded Tit - East Bank, Cley
Bearded Tit - East Bank, Cley

With time pressing on we headed to Sheringham in search of Purple Sandpipers. This is another site we visit annually, but have only ever seen them here once. We picked up a bird on one of the groynes, but it quickly went out of sight. We began working our way along the promenade to get a better view when we spotted another. This one was on a rock right next to the car park, and stayed there for several minutes giving excellent views.

Purple Sandpiper - Sheringham

Warham Greens
The harrier roost at Warham Greens was our final stop of the day. We arrived at just after 3pm and picked up a flock of 48 Golden Plovers in a nearby field. It was a bright, sunny day and ideal for looking for raptors. A couple of Marsh Harriers were hunting over the marsh and a Peregrine perched up on a distant sandbank. Our first Hen Harrier was brief, but the second, a cracking male performed well. Further sightings brought our total to at least three male and two female Hen Harriers, a Merlin, a Peregrine, a Sparrowhawk and one Barn Owl. It was pretty dark by the time the Barn Owl came past but I managed one record shot.

Barn Owl - Warham Greens

Great Bircham
We arrived back at our accommodation and were greeted by a couple of calling Tawny Owls   from the nearby trees. It was pitch black by now but we were able to make out their distinctive shape.

We finished the day on 88 species with several new species our grand total was now 115, so not bad after three days birding.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

In search of winter birds, Day 2 - Norfolk 2015

After the now traditional hearty breakfast we planned our day and prepared to head off. There were a few bits and pieces on the feeders in the garden but nothing of much note, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tit were probably the most notable. 

We started the day at Wolferton in search of the elusive Golden Pheasant. We have tried for this species in previous years but without success, but this year Paul's local knowledge gave us hope. We headed for the northern road that forms the Wolverton triangle and slowly  searched the area. Our first circuit was without success, but on our second circuit we flushed a stunning male bird, who was feeding right on the edge on a clearing. This was our second new species for our annual Norfolk trip and one we were very pleased to get.

Our next destination was Hunstanton and the coach park opposite Tesco's. Two Waxwing had been visiting trees in the car park all week, but not today. We searched the area for a while but failed miserably. Our next stop was the cliffs at Hunstanton; this would give us a view of the sea in search of ducks and also views of Northern Fulmars. The sea was very quiet and other than a couple of flocks of Sanderling passing by there was nothing of note. We did get some cracking views of Fulmars though as the hung in the stiff breeze.

Fulmar - Hunstanton

Holme Beach
We are fortunate in that when we stay in Norfolk we stay in the home of a birder and are able too enjoy his choice of artwork. One of my favourite artists at the moment is Darren Woodhead ( and it was a very pleasant surprise to see one of his pictures hanging on the wall in the cottage. The painting is of a flock of Fieldfares, and a lone Waxwing, feeding in a clump of Sea Buckthorn

Darren Woodhead Painting of Fieldfares on Sea Buckthorn 

Our next stop of the day was Holme Beach and here the image on the wall came to life as we were greeted with a flock of Fieldfare, minus the Waxwing, feeding in a clump of Sea Buckthorn. As we enjoyed the birds we could just imagine Darren sat with us painting the scene.

Fieldfare - Holme Beach
Fieldfare - Holme Beach

Our main reason for going to Holme was to look for the flock of Snow Buntings that were known to be present. After spending a few minutes with the Fieldfares we headed on in search of our quarry. We first stubbled across a few Knot that were feeding in the nearby pools, they were extremely approachable, the individual below was the tamest.

Knot - Holme Beach

There were good numbers of Skylark feeding in the sand dunes and as we homed in on the Snow Buntings we stubbled across some pretty of approachable individuals.

Skylark - Holme Beach

There were about 20 Snow Buntings present but they were constantly moving back and forth along the beach. We eventually pinned them down and were able to get some cracking views before they took flight. 

Snow Buntings - Holme Beach
Snow Bunting - Holme Beach

Thornham Point has been a regular site for Twite and Rock Pipit over the last few years, except last year that is. After Holme we headed there and were quickly on to a few Rock Pipits. A handful of wader species were present, mostly Redshank but also Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Curlew

Redshank - Thornham
Curlew - Thornham

We eventually picked up the Twite flock, about 30 birds were feeding on vegetation on the salt-marsh. Typically they come to the gutter of the nearby building to drink, but that was not to be the case today.

Our next stop was the RSPB's Titchwell reserve, this is usually a great place for a variety of wader and duck species but also a good place to look out to sea for divers and sea duck. We arrived at Titchwell and headed straight out along the footpath to the beach. The scrape on the north had the best to offer with several Ruff, Snipe, Dunlin, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits present. At the back of the scrape there were several pipits, including two Water Pipits, four Rock Pipits and a couple of Meadow Pipits, a Bearded Tit joined them for a while and gave good but distant views.

We continued along the footpath adding a few more species to our trip total and then picked up an Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit, both of which had colour rings. As regular readers will know I am constantly on the lookout for colour-ringed birds, so will endeavour to find out where these were from.

Colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit - Titchwell

A quick check on the sea was disappointing, with only Common Scoter and Goldeneye recorded. It has been suggested that the storms of last years have changed the dynamics of the seabed and therefore there are no sea duck present, hopefully things will be back to normal next year.

A149 at Burham Overy Staithe
We intended to finish the day Lady Anne's Drive, but on the way we headed past Burham Overy Staithe on the A149. As we headed towards the lay-by there were a group of birders appearing to be watching something, so we pulled in to have a look. As it turns out they weren't watching anything but we stayed for a while. It was a good choice as we soon picked up a Short-eared Owl, several Marsh Harriers, three Common Buzzards, including a very pale individual similar to others I had seen on the continent, a Barn Owl and a Rough-legged Buzzard.

Lady Anne's Drive
We eventually arrived at Lady Anne's Drive and had another couple of Barn Owls and four Woodcocks, which was in fact our target bird.

We ended the day on 85 species bringing our total for the trip to 101.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

In search of winter birds, Day 1 - Norfolk 2015

For only the second time this year I have escaped the confines of Hampshire and travelled to Norfolk for our annual team get together, well almost anyway. I say that because Paul, Tim, Roger and I have all made it, but Andy has deserted us and is currently swanning around in Louisiana, USA. He has emailed to say that he is thinking of us, and that despite the birding being so good over there, he wishes he was birding with us.....but we doubt that!

Our weekend began as usual with us all converging on a site near Thetford to meet Paul and Roger and then work our way gradually to Great Bircham, where we stay. It was an extremely cold start to the day with a heavy frost and the temperature ranging between - 4 and - 6.

Santon Downham
Our first stop was Santon Downham where we hoped to see and Great Grey Shrike and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Paul and Roger arrived first and had already staked out the feeders, waiting for the Lesser Spot to appear. We arrived about 15 minutes later and were quickly on to a variety of species including BramblingChaffinch, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Tit. We waited patiently for the Lesser Spot to show but it was not to be and so headed down the track next to the river in search of the shrike.

There was not much to report from the river, but a Kingfisher was a good record for us, one that we have missed in previous years. The shrike was initially proving elusive but eventually it showed itself, and when it did it performed very well.

Great Grey Shrike - Santon Downham
Great Grey Shrike - Santon Downham

Lynford Arboretum
We visit Lynford Arboretum every year as it is a good spot to see Hawfinches, but we have failed to see any over the last couple of years. Last year we did see Common and Two-barred Crossbill so our visit was worthwhile. We headed straight to the paddocks but did not see any Hawfinches. The nearby lake was frozen, except for one small bit which proved popular with the local Mute Swans, Mallards and Little Grebe and strategically placed piles of bird food proved popular with the local tits.

Little Grebe - Lynford Arboretum
Marsh Tit - Lynford Arboretum

Cockley Cley
Our next stop was Cockley Cley, a site that we had not visited before but a known site for Goshawks. February is a good month to see them displaying, and although it was late January, we thought it was worth a look as the weather was so good. We stopped here for about 30 minutes, and other than a large flock of Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves there was nothing else to report.

Our final stop of the day was Snettisham. There has been a long staying Black-necked Grebe here and that was our target bird, as it was a species we had not previously recorded on our winter trips to Norfolk. A large flock of Greylag Geese were in the fields next to the access road, and another new species for the trip.

Greylag Goose - Snettisham

The Black-necked Grebe was on the furthest pool, so we worked our way slowly along the track towards it. The tide was out and there was a fair selection of waders to work through, the most notable being Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Knot and Shelduck. A large movement Fieldfares kept us entertained; we estimated a few hundred passing us but noted that over 4000 had been recorded passing through in the morning.

There were an interesting selection of birds on the pools, a cracking drake Goldeneye, a couple of Egyptian Geese, Red-brested Merganser, a Sanderling and of course the Black-necked Grebe.

Drake Goldeneye - Snettisham

We were just about to head off to our accommodation when we heard the classic 'oink' call of Pink-footed Geese. Thousands of geese were passing overhead heading out to sea to roost, it was a spectacular end to an excellent days birding.

Pink-footed Geese - Snettisham
Pink-footed Geese - Snettisham

We ended the day on 73 species of bird, so not a bad start but nothing spectacular. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

January Ringing

The last week has been a busy one work wise but I have still managed to fit in a few ringing sessions. I have carried on from where last year finished with my quest for crests and have also had a couple of sessions at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust's Swanwick Lakes nature reserve and in the grounds of the head office at Curdridge. 

My quest for crests took me back to Gosport and the Wildgrounds. On the last visit I had seen at least three Firecrests, but only managed to catch one, so it was an obvious site to retry. Chris and I put three nets up and almost immediately caught a new Firecrest, we also saw a ringed bird, which was probably the bird we ringed last time, and subsequent to catching the first bird saw another un-ringed one.

Firecrest - The Wildgrounds, Gosport

Three new Goldcrests were also ringed at the Wildgrounds, two males and a female, so it was a successful visit to start the week.

Female Goldcrest - Wildgrounds, Gosport

Rob has been keeping an eye on the feeders at Swanwick Nature Reserve, and so we nipped over during the week to have a look. As it was a lunchtime visit we didn't have too much time but quickly put up a net to see what we would catch. I say that but there were never going to be any surprises given the number of Blue and Great Tits present. The lunchtime visit produced 15 birds, mainly Blue and Great Tits as suspected but also a Dunnock. The best thing about the session was the capture of a Blue Tit that had been ringed back in May as a nestling.

The next session was another lunchtime session in the grounds of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust's Beechcroft office. It was a quiet session with only four birds ringed, a Great Tit, two Nuthatches and a Firecrest, this one was a retrap from December.

Nuthatch - Curdridge

We were fortunate to catch one male and one female Nuthatch which provided the ideal opportunity to compare the plumage differences (see the image below).

Nuthatches - Female left, Male right

The final session of the week was a Saturday morning visit back to Swanwick Nature Reserve. The feeders were heaving, which was not surprising given the cold overnight temperature. I would not normally do bird feeders due to the large numbers of Blue and Great Tits that are usually caught, but such sessions are great for trainees, and as Rob and Megan wanted to ring it seemed like a good thing to do.

It was a busy session that resulted in the capture of 65 birds, most of which were Blue and Great Tits as suspected. There were a few other bits to make the session more interesting, three new Nuthatches, three Robins and a Coal Tit

Coal Tit - Swanwick Lakes

So not a bad week, 88 birds ringed including two Firecrests, four Nuthatches, a Coal Tit and a Blue Tit that was ringed last summer as a nestling.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Greater Yellowlegs, Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

This morning I set off early to meet Chris at Gosport Wildgrounds to try and catch more crests. Things were going quite well, in that we had caught one new Firecrest and three Goldcrests, when news broke of a possible Greater Yellowlegs, that had been found by Dan Houghton on the flood north of the Haven. We were on the verge of finishing up anyway, so decided the nip along to have a look. The bird was initially located on an area of standing water known as the Posbrook Flood, which is located along the canal path rather than in the Haven itself. There are three main areas of water, the Posbrook Flood is the southernmost flood, the northernmost flood is known as the Bridge Street Flood, I don't think the middle area has a name.

When I arrived the bird was tucked into a grass tussock, behind a couple of Pintail and a Black-tailed Godwit on the far side of the flood. It was spending most of its time asleep, and mostly out of view and as such the ID had not been confirmed. After about 15 minutes, it began moving around and began showing features that suggested that the bird was indeed a Greater Yellowlegs, and the second record for Hampshire. We were all being very cautious with calling the bird as a Greater given its extreme rarity and likely confusion with Lesser Yellowlegs, especially given that Lesser Yellowlegs have become such a regular feature of late with birds wintering in Hampshire last winter and this winter in Sussex and Cornwall.

The bird was gradually becoming more active and after a while it started to call. The call was, what I can only describe as being very reminiscent of Greenshank, a three syllable call, which is described in the Collins Bird Guide as peu-peu-pew, which in my view was pretty accurate. After a while the bird flew north up the valley and began feeding with Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwing. It was now possible to compare the size of this bird with the other species directly, and the long, slightly up-turned bill became very apparent.

Unfortunately the bird was pretty distant most of the time, it was giving great scope views, but it was not really possible to get any decent photos, but I did manage a few record shots. The series of shots below were taken when it was feeding on the Bridge Street Flood and hopefully give a good indication of the bird's size when compared with the other nearby species, Lapwing, Teal and Black-tailed Godwit. The final photo also shows the long, slightly upturned bill as opposed to the shot needle-tipped bill of a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Great Yellowlegs with Lapwing
Greater Yellowlegs with Lapwing
Greater Yellowlegs - with Black-tailed Godwits
Greater Yellowlegs with Black-tailed Godwit - note the long upturned bill

Massive congratulations to Dan for finding this bird and for getting the news out so quickly, a very well deserved find.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The First Ringing Session of the New Year

It was very much a weekend of two halves last weekend, on Saturday the weather was wet and windy, whereas as Sunday was mainly overcast and dry without a breath of wind. I had anticipated that Sunday would be good and arranged to meet Rob and Chris at Manor Farm Country Park. The Little Owls were very vocal when we arrived, and continued to call up to mid morning. I estimated at least three were present based on the calls, one individual was roosting in a small copse near one of our nets, but unfortunately we did not catch it, but it gave great views.

It was a steady session with 38 birds of 14 species caught, although 12 of the birds were retraps. The most numerous species were House Sparrow and Blue Tit with eight birds of each species trapped. Of the House Sparrows six were retraps, one of which was approaching five years since its original capture date, the others were all from within the last year. 

Redwing - Manor Farm Country Park. This bird is actually from last year, when the light was better

As is usual this time of year I had expected to catch loads of Redwings, but there were very few around, we did however manage to catch one. A female Bullfinch was a nice surprise and a species that we have not caught at Manor Farm for a few months. The Bullfinch was a first year female that was aged due to the presence of two retained greater coverts. The other species caught included four Great Tits, five Blackbirds, three Wrens, and single Wood Pigeon, Magpie, Robin and Song Thrush. The Song Thrush was also a first year bird and had six retained juvenile greater coverts.

Song Thrush - Manor Farm Country Park
Song Thrush - Close up of greater coverts showing retained outer coverts
visible due to large thorns and chestnut colouration. The break between adult
feathers and retained juvenile feathers is indicated by red arrow

We did also continue my recent quest for crests, catching four Goldcrests, one of which was a retrap from a couple of months ago. Other bird species seen during the session included Fieldfare (5), Greenfinch (20+), Green Woodpecker (1), Linnet (5), Little Egret (1), Common Gull (7), Goldfinch (5) and Moorhen (3).
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