Sunday, 31 May 2015

Birding in black and white at Titchfield Haven

Over the course of the weekend I have made a couple of visits to the Haven, for no other reason than to enjoy the present spectacle of breeding gulls and waders. There is also the long-staying Greater Yellowlegs which is always worth a look if its showing, but I don't tend to seek it out if its not. As well as the breeding birds there are always plenty of other species on hand and this weekend there were Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Redshank and a couple of marauding Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Single Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint have also been seen this week and over the weekend, but I didn't manage to catch up with either.

Whilst walking around it was evident that the majority of the birds I was watching were mainly black and white, well at least it appeared like that, so I thought I would theme this post on them. My first species is Pied Avocet. This year is providing to be a good one for Avocets, with at least 14 nests on the south scrape. This species has to be a favourite of many a birder; they are elegant and very distinctive with their black and white markings. The upturned bill is perhaps the most distinctive feature, perfectly designed for sweeping from left to right as they feed. They are often feeding just in front of the hides giving excellent views and the first chicks of they year on the south scrape were a welcome sight, let's hope the evade the Lesser Black-backs.

Pied Avocet - There are at least 14 pairs on the scrape this year and truly black and white bird
Another Pied Avocet

The Black-headed Gull colony at the Haven is doing very well, I haven't bothered to count them but there are loads. Within the colony there are a couple of pairs of Mediterranean Gulls and it is this species that is my next black and white species. The hood on a Med gull is jet black and contrasts with the white neck and underparts, there is of course the light grey back/mantle, but I won't dwell on that. The image below clearly shows the brown hood of the Black-headed Gull in comparison with the black hood of the Med, somebody clearly got it wrong when they named Black-headed Gull.

Adult Mediterranean Gulls (one sitting on the nest behind the other). Its jet black hood contrasts with the white neck and underparts as opposed to the Black-headed Gulls with their brown hoods - who on earth came up with Black-headed for this species

A Northern Lapwing was feeding, whilst protecting its two chicks just in front of the hide on the north scrape. Another distinctive species with its dark olive green back but black bib, crown and face mask, so this is my next black and white species. Its crest is also black and curls up in the opposite direction to the Avocet and is longer on the male. 

Lapwing - ok not really black and white, but more dark olive green and white, but it does have black on it!

My next species was Greater Yellowlegs, not a black and white species at all really, more grey and white, but has showed so well this weekend that I just had to include some images. Now that it has come into some plumage there are some black centres to some of the feathers on the back, so I think I can just about get away with including it. The bird seems to have got into a bit of a pattern now, when the river is high it moves up to the Posbrook flood, but as more mud becomes exposed on the river it moves back down. Occasionally it visits the scrapes but those visits are more sporadic.

Greater Yellowlegs - Definitely not black and white, more grey and white, but is its summer plumage it does have black centres to feathers on the mantle
Greater Yellowlegs

As I left the reserve and headed back to my car I noticed the almost resident Black Swan in the harbour. An all black bird, except that is for the red bill, but when sat next to a Mute Swan there was a very black and white scene. There were two Black Swans when I was at the Haven the other day, I don't think anyone has any idea where they have come from but they are an interesting addition to the harbours avifauna.

Two Swans, one Black and one White (Black Swan and Mute Swan)

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Red-necked Phalarope and Black-winged Stilt - Sidlesham Ferry Pool

This morning I made a brief excursion out of Hampshire for a spot of birding in West Sussex. Yesterday it was reported that a Black-winged Stilt was present on the Ferry Pool at Sidlesham; this morning it was still there and had been joined by a Red-necked Phalarope. Red-necked Phalarope is not a species I see that frequently and certainly not in summer plumage so given that it was only a 25 minute drive away I decided to go. 

When I arrived the bird was feeding in middle of the pool about 50 metres away, and was typically spinning and twisting as it delicately picked tasty morsels off the surface. It was occasionally chased by Black-headed Gulls that seemed intent on bullying it, but it always returned back to its favoured spot to feed. Looking at the plumage I am inclined to think that it was a male, the bird was generally quite dull and and the colouration less intense than on a female. The patterning was also more diffuse and not as neatly defined as I would have expected for a female.

I have seen Red-necked Phalaropes on the Ferry Pool before but not since the 1980's and when I got back home I checked to see just what the status was. According to the Birds of Sussex, which was published in 2014, there have been about 85 recorded with the majority in August and September. Between 1962 and 2011 only four have been recorded in May and four in June, five of those have been between the last week of May and the first week of June, as with this bird.

Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex
Red-necked Phalarope - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex

I was so intent on watching the phalarope that I almost forgot about the Black-winged Stilt. It was not as obliging as the phalarope and spent all of its time at the back of the pool feeding amongst the Black-tailed Godwits and Pied Avocets. This species bred and the RSPB's Medmerry reserve last year and so is a bit devalued now, but still a nice bird to see in the UK. This individual appeared to be a 2cy bird as its legs were dull pink, its back was also dull and blackish rather than jet black of an adult. The top of the head, back of the neck and nape were also smudged brownish. Up until 2011 there were 25 records but some of those are considered to involve the same individuals. As I mentioned earlier the species bred in the county in 2014, and it is of course entirely possible that this bird was one of last years juveniles.

Black-winged Stilt and two Black-tailed Godwits - Sidlesham Ferry Pool, West Sussex

Monday, 25 May 2015

Moth Trap no longer mothballed

This weekend I have pretty much been tied to the house, except that is for a brief excursion to Manor Farm Country Park to check some nest boxes, oh and a trip to Old Winchester Hill for a walk, so it seemed like an appropriate time to get my moth trap out of storage. The trip to Manor Farm was a success in that four of my six boxes were occupied, one with a pair of Barn Owls, two with breeding Kestrels and one with breeding Stock Doves. The chicks of the Barn Owls and Kestrels were too small to ring, and the Stock Doves were on eggs, so I will have to go back for another visit.

I haven't run my moth trap in the garden since last October and keep meaning to put it out but just haven't felt that inspired to do so. Rob had put the trap out at work on Thursday evening and I had taken a quick look at his haul on Friday morning, which was enough to tempt me to give it a go. The weather conditions looked good on Saturday evening so I checked everything was working a put it out. I use a Robinson designed trap with a 150w mercury vapour lamp, and usually leave the trap on overnight, much to the disgust of the resident Hedgehogs, although they soon get used to it.

It proved to be a worthwhile exercise as my first haul of the year included 80 moths of 26 species, several caddisflies and Ichneumon wasps and a few Cockchafers, or May bugs. Ten years ago I would catch large numbers of Cockchafers, but in recent years the numbers have dropped off, four were in the trap this time. The adult beetle will live for about a month, but the complete life-cycle from egg to adult lasts three-four years.


There was nothing really noteworthy in the trap but a good variety which included Spectacle, Poplar and Eyed Hawkmoth, White Ermine, Flame Shoulder, White-pointBrimstone Moth, Heart and Dart, Shuttle-shaped Dart, Pale Tussock, Small Square-spot, Small Waved Umber, Common Marbled Carpet, Vine's Rustic, Flame Carpet, Treble Lines, Small Phoenix, Eyed Hawkmoth, Hebrew Character, Rustic Shoulder-knot, Oak Hook-tip and Green Carpet.

Pale Tussock
Small Waved Umber
Flame Shoulder
Rustic Shoulder-knot
White Ermine
Eyed Hawkmoth

Today (25th May) I spent much of the day in the garden, there were a couple of highlights; a Red Kite that drifted north at 11:50 and a Hobby that flew west at 13:45. I also caught up with my first Orthoptera of the year, an adult Slender Groundhopper and a 1st instar nymph Dark Bush-cricket

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Aerial Combats

This morning I visited Manor Farm Museum to check on the House Sparrows, and get some colour-ring combinations as part of my BTO RAS project. I had intended to get up early and set a couple of nets, but an alarm clock malfunction, meant that I arrived later than hoped and therefore did not have the time to open nets before the farm museum opened. It was still a worthwhile visit, as I managed to get 11 different colour-ring combinations, and counted at least 20 breeding pairs.

Un-ringed male House Sparrow
Colour-ringed male House Sparrow

After the farm I stopped off in the woods and checked on a few next boxes. There are only seven boxes and within those there were three broods of Great Tit and one Blue Tit. My next stop was Botley Wood; I was hoping to catch up on a few butterfly species and also any new migrants for the patch. 

The Common Buzzards were very active and one bird had a finely barred tail and therefore I presume it to be a 2nd CY bird. It was showing evidence of primary moult and as I understand it, spring moult is typical of a 2nd CY bird.

Common Buzzard

The warm and slightly breezy conditions were good for raptors, and as other species appeared the local buzzards engaged them in aerial combat. Two Hobby's were the first to drift over Botley Wood; they appeared not to be hunting but the buzzards were keeping a close eye on them.

Common Buzzard (top) and Hobby

A Eurasian Sparrowhawk also put in a brief appearance and this was immediately shadowed by a buzzard. With this level of activity I presume the buzzards are nesting nearby and are keen to keep an eye on any potential predators.

Common Buzzard (top) and Sparrowhawk

A surprise species for the day was a Turtle Dove; once a regular breeder at Botley Wood, I have not recorded this species for at least two years.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Lapwings and Skylarks

I was recently contacted by Barrie Roberts, a trainee bird ringer working towards his pulli (nestling) licence, about doing some Lapwing pulli ringing. Barrie has been doing plenty of other nestling birds with his trainer but had yet to ring many ground nesting birds. This morning I took him down to the site near Havant where I normally ring Lapwing chicks, to see what was happening there. It is always difficult to predict what stage the chicks will be at and I had seen that Lapwing chicks had hatched nearly a month ago on some sites, but he was keen to go. There are usually only low numbers of Lapwings at the site, despite the extensive amount of habitat and in recent years it has been increasingly difficult to find the birds that are there because the site is not grazed anymore and subsequently it is becoming dominated with rush. 

We arrived on site at 9am and almost immediately picked up two adult Lapwing on the edge of the rush pasture. At this point patience is required, because if the adults are spooked, they will alert the chicks, and they will sit tight. After a few minutes the first chick came into view and began feeding near one of the adults. I jumped the gate and edged my way along hedge keeping an eye on it. I was about 50m away when I picked up a second chick, but at the same time the adults saw me and began alarm calling. I kept a fix on the first bird whilst also occasionally glimpsing at the second bird; before long we had two Lapwing chicks for Barrie to ring.

The usual strategy of the chicks is to run for a bit of dense cover and then tuck themselves under it, although if there is no dense cover they will nestle down into a shallow depression. When settled down it is amazing how similar they look to a bit of horse dung and even though you have seen where they have gone down, it can take a few minutes to find them.

Can you see the Lapwing chick
A closer view of the second chick hiding from us
Juvenile Lapwing - one of two ringed

Once we had finished ringing the chicks we continued on with a circuit of the field, regularly scanning for more birds, but it appears that there was just the one pair this year, and only the two chicks. As well as Lapwings there are also fantastic numbers of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits on the site. I have never ringed these species here, but this morning we decided to spend a bit of time looking for nests. There were so many Skylarks that it was difficult to assess the number of breeding territories, but none of the birds we watched seemed to be carrying prey. We did eventually find a nest, but that was more by luck than judgement; we were stood watching a bird on the ground when one flew off the nest just in front of us. The patience and skill required to find a nest is very evident when you look at the image below. A clutch of four eggs were in the nest, so we recorded it for the BTO nest Recording Scheme and quickly moved on.

Skylark nest is located centrally in the image
Cutch of Skylark eggs

We spent a good hour or so wandering around the site with the notable species recorded being Mistle Thrush (3), Stonechat (3), Yellowhammer (1 pair), Red Kite (1), Buzzard (2), Kestrel (2), Whitethroat (1), Linnet (several pairs) and Tawny Owl (1). A Dingy Skipper was the butterfly highlight.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Green-winged Orchids, Curdridge

The Glebe Meadow is a County wildlife site that is located just around the corner from the offices of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and my place of work. The site is designated for its species-rich meadow that includes Green-winged Orchids. Last year there were around 100 flower spikes and as now is the peak time for flowering I popped around to see how they were doing this year. There were 93 flowering plants in the meadow and a further two more in the adjacent graveyard, so another good year for the species.

Green-winged Orchid is a species of grassy habitats with base-rich soils (or mildly acidic), such as ancient hay meadows, unimproved meadows and sand dunes. Road verges, churchyards and lawns also support them.

Green-winged Orchids - Curdridge
Green-winged Orchids - Curdridge
Green-winged Orchid Flower showing the distinctive veins on the broad lateral sepals

On the way back to the office a dead Grass Snake was on the road. It had only just been killed, presumably run over by a car; not an ideal way to see my first Grass Snake of the year.

Dead Grass Snake

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Bird Ringing again at Botley Wood

After what has seemed like an absolute age I finally got my act together and arranged to do a bit of bird ringing over the last few days. The first session was on Sunday 10th May at Botley Wood; Chris and I started at 6am and set a few nets along the road in our usual net rides. It was a fairly slow session with only 16 birds ringed, but they were all quality birds. The most numerous species was Garden Warbler, one of which was a retrap from last year.

Garden Warbler - Botley Wood

The next most numerous species were Chiffchaff and Bullfinch with three birds trapped, unfortunately one of the Bullfinches could not be ringed due to growths on it's leg. All three birds were first winter birds, the buff coloured tips to the greater coverts are very obvious on the bird below.

Make Bullfinch - Botley Wood

The other species were two Blackcaps, one a retrap from last year, and single Great Tit, Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock and Whitethroat

Later in the afternoon I opened a net in the garden and ringed eight new birds, four Greenfinches, and single House Sparrow, Dunnock, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Ring-necked Parakeet was hanging around the area but fortunately did not come into the garden.

After work on Monday Rob and I decided to head back to Botley Wood for another ringing session. It had been a while since Rob had last done any ringing so he was ken to get out and the weather looked good. We set four nets within what I thought were Nightingale territories and hoped for the best. As it turned out my hunch was right, and we eventually caught two Nightingales, both adults and both males (based on the fact they sang once released). There was one other Nightingale singing on a territory where I had caught one last year so I presume it to be that same bird, hopefully I will find out over the next couple of weeks.

Male Nightingale - Botley Wood
Male Nightingale - Botley Wood

The session included two Blackcaps, one a retrap from last year, a Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff and Coal Tit. Over the three sessions we ringed 33 birds of 15 species, so not a bad few days.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A day full of Birding

I had managed to wangle a day off on Friday 8th May and so decided to start early with another seawatch down at Stokes Bay. It was an overcast morning, and was fairly calm, with a southerly wind gradually veering round to south-east. It was difficult to tell if there was an air of anticipation about the conditions because most of the talk was about the previous days General Election, and the disbelief that the Conservatives had once again got into government, and with a majority. There has to be a genuine fear for Britain's wildlife with them back in.

Sea watching soon took centre stage and a steady trickle of Common, Sandwich and Little Terns drifted by. A winter plumage Red-throated Diver was the first species on note, followed by a couple of Whimbrel. It was pretty slow going with good numbers of Barn Swallows and the occasional Swift coming in, and then Mark Rolfe, who was one of the assembled crowd, picked out a Roseate Tern amongst and small flock of Commons. It took me a while to get on to the bird, but eventually I was on it. I was following the bird east and it had just gone out of sight when Mark called out Hoopoe!!! Amazingly, a Hoopoe was flying along the beach towards us, flew over our shelter heading inland, and then veered west and continued to fly inland. That made up for the bird I missed a few weeks ago in Crawley, when I was in Cornwall. The sea watch continued as it had before the Roseate and the Hoopoe, with a steady trickle of terns and swallows and by 10am, when we finished, the only other species of note were two Mediterranean Gulls, and a Wheatear that landed on the beach in front of us.

I left Stokes Bay and headed to the Haven to pick up some bird food, to keep the parakeet fed. I had a quick scan from the sea front before heading home; there were three Dunlin and a Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the Meon, several Swifts, House Martins and Swallows feeding over the reserve, but that was all of note.

Bar-tailed Godwit - Titchfield Haven

My next stop was Bunny Meadows. Bunny Meadows is known for it's wading birds and so at this time of year, there isn't likely to be much around, unless some migrants drop in. The tide was pushing up towards high and so there was very little mud left exposed, but five Whimbrel were making the most of what was there.

One of five Whimbrel at Bunny Meadows.

The reed bed was showing little evidence of spring, but there were still plenty of Reed Warblers singing, as was a male Reed Bunting. A couple of House Sparrows were tucked into a dense bit of bramble mid-way along the causeway, which seemed to be an odd location for them, and a Wheatear was feeding on the causeway.

Wheatear - Bunny Meadows

Oystercatchers were the most common wader species, seven in all and two Ringed Plovers and a single Dunlin were flushed off a roost next to the causeway by an off-the-lead dog. Three of the Oystercatchers were colour-ringed, I suspect they will be birds that I have seen before, but noted the combinations anyway. The rings on one bird were very discoloured but hopefully it will be possible to figure it out.

Colour-ringed Oystercatcher - Bunny Meadows

I was just about to head home when news came through that the 2nd CY Bonaparte's Gull was once again back at Riverside Park on the River Itchen at Bitterne. Although I had seen this bird on Monday at Weston Shore, my views were quite distant so I was keen to see it again, and also get some pictures. It has been frequenting the area between Cobden Bridge and a small reed bed to the north, opposite a sewage works, occasionally going into the sewage works and being lost from view. When I arrived it was showing very well but was regularly flying up and down the river, and only occasionally settling down to bathe.

The views were so much better, with the bird on occasion down to 10 metres. There were also around 30 Black-headed Gulls present so it was really nice to compare the two species. The Bonaparte's was so much smaller, and had a more dainty flight than the black-heads, as such it was very easy to pick out as it flew around. Being so close it was easy to pick out the key features, such as the small, all black bill, the grey nape, 'bubble-gum' pink legs and the neat trailing edge to the primaries and secondaries and all white underwing.

Bonaparte's Gull - Riverside Park
Bonaparte's Gull - Riverside Park
Bonaparte's Gull - Riverside Park
Bonaparte's Gull - Riverside Park
Bonaparte's Gull, with Black-headed Gull behind - Riverside Park

Whilst at the Bonaparte's I bumped into a couple of birding mates, and after a quick beer to celebrate with a work colleague, I headed home. What a cracking day it turned out be, starting with Roseate Tern and Hoopoe and ending with a Bonaparte's Gull.
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