Sunday, 27 January 2013

Garden highlights and Hurst Castle

* Cold snap brings some variety into the garden
* Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Purple Sandpiper at Hurst

Recent snow has brought with it some much needed variety into the garden. Not so many Thrushes this winter, although Redwing, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, and Mistle Thrush all appeared in singles along with several Blackbirds. Finches on the other hand have really brightened up the month: Bullfinch, Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll have all been regular around the garden along with the regular Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches.

Slightly further afield, I headed to Hurst Castle for the second time this year. A very high tide caught me by surprise, and the marsh was totally underwater by the time I began my return trek. the sea was rough, and highlights were a Guillemot and couple of (probable) Red-throated Divers. Along the shingle a Purple Sandpiper was a surprise, although they are recorded sporadically along this stretch of coast. Finally a single Pale-bellied Brent amongst the Dark-bellied birds was another nice bonus.

Jay, Garden, January, 2013 Purple Sandpiper, Hurst, Hampshire, 27/01/13 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Cut Bridge, Hurst, Hampshire, 27/01/13

Monday, 14 January 2013

Test Valley: Winter Farmland

* Birds of Prey in abundance
* Dunbridge lake continues to improve.. slowly!

Sunday brought an end to the low pressure and rain in Southern England, replacing this with sunshine and a cold North wind.
I headed North to the Test Valley farmland, and had a pretty good afternoon:

Hoe Lane: A disturbance put a large number of Crows and Woodpigeons up. I pulled over and scanned, to see the back end of something big in the distance. Looked like a Goshawk, but I wasn't able to nail this one. On the opposite side of the road was a Peregrine and a Buzzard as a small consolation!

Dunbridge Lake: Haven't been here for a while and was surprised to see a Great Crestred Grebe and a Female Goldeneye on the lake.. both firsts for me here. Goldeneye is a bird I don't recall seeing too often along the Test Valley.

Brook Sewage Works: The sewage beds continue to be quiet this winter but a Goldcrest and Chiff-Chaff were present.

Nether Wallop Sewage Works: The most birds I've ever seen here with a flock of 40 Pied Wagtails, and a single Meadow Pipit.

Jack's Bush: Ended the day at this prime farmland habitat. Merlin, Golden Plover, 180 Lapwing, 6 Corn Bunting, 2 Yellowhammer and 11 Grey Partridges here, plus a Barn Owl after dusk.

3 seperate Red Kites throughout the afternoon is also quite notable.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Redpolls and Brambling around the garden

A good start to the year in terms of birds around the garden at the moment.. 30 species so far, the highlights being Lesser Redpoll, Redwing, Brambling, Bullfinch, Coal Tit and Tawny Owl.

I also checked out a group of telecoms masts just West of Winchester which looked to have a superb view, and looked like a good area for Vis-Mig. However, as is often the case, places look totally different in person compared to on the OS map and from aerial photos! There was a pretty good view, but this was obscured by trees, and the drop from the summit was too gradual. Plus it was a pain to get to, and much of the area was marked "private".

A wishlist for 2013

·         A different look at Spring
Spring 2012, and previous Springs thinking about it, have been fairly ordinary for me with very few finds of any real quality. The trouble is, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong compared with Autumn when the goodies are never too far away! Weather must be the major factor, so in 2013, I’m not even going to venture out unless conditions are classic. This should give me plenty of time to complete my BTO surveys etc. as SE winds and rain in the Spring in Hampshire can be as rare as the birds!

·         Vis mig (Coast versus Downs)
Just can’t decide between the Test Valley or Calshot area for my vis-mig and bread and butter birding, or even further North on the higher hilltops. It’s a nice problem to have though, as I can think of many worse places to have to choose from. So 2013 I’m going to try both, in equal doses. Lepe and Calshot, plus Keyhaven will get a number of visits hopefully, plus a welcome return to Jack’s Bush, Palestine, and evening Owl safaris!

·         Scillies
Scillies is definitely my preferred option over Shetland and Orkney nowadays, both in terms of enjoyable/relaxing birding, and cheaper cost. It is also easier to plan a trip.. I can book my visit the day before departure on the Scillonian.

·         Shift to the seas: Roseate Tern, Sabine’s Gull and Caspian Gull!
Two glaring omissions from my self-found UK life list are Roseate Tern and Sabine’s Gull. In fact it is a few years since I have seen either. I need to be in the right place at the right time, which is never easy. Caspian Gull is another bird that I never get any closer to finding in the UK.

·         2012 Bat project carried over
I had hoped to search the North and West of Hampshire for Bats in 1012, but this failed to materialise. I did, however, find a few potential roosts around North Baddesley during early shifts which I should follow up. Another positive from the Olympics!

·         2012 Butterfly project carried over
There are no “gimme’s”on my UK butterfly list now. All require carefully timed visits to far flung parts of the UK (Kent and Devon being the easier trips!). I doubt I will get the chance to add to my Butterlfy list this year, but maybe another look at Lulworth Skipper would be good, and perhaps some macro photography.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

2012 review

2012 was an extremely frustrating Birding year for me, until the end of September. In the final months of the year, a hastily planned trip to Scillies, and a Marinelife survey across the Bay of Biscay ensured that the year would be fondly remembered.

My theory that “Spring is rubbish” held true in 2012 with a very poor return for many hours searching around Hampshire. A Spring trip to Shetland was derailed by a North wind, and the one really good find, a White Stork from the A1 near Newcastle turned out to be an escape.
Add to this a probable Siberian Chiff chaff that showed well, but didn’t call, followed a couple of months later by a probable Siberian Chiff chaff that called twice but didn’t show beyond a glimpse and you begin to get the picture!

It wasn’t all bad though, and finding a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker territory near home was a bonus, along with some super photo opportunities from the Shetland trip.

Then the Olympics came to town.. Annual leave cancelled and not much chance of a boat survey around Weymouth either.

World of Gugh

Once the Olympics was out of the way, The Scillies beckoned. The advantage here was I could book the trip the day before, so no excuses about the weather being all wrong. So I headed out right on the back of a low pressure which rather unexpectedly doubled back and sat in the Irish sea for the duration of my trip! This, together with the doom and gloom from a fellow birder about “nothing arriving here until the low moves on” threatened to put a dampener on the trip. But I never give up, and this time luck was on my side. 3 mornings spent on Gugh got me a tantalizing glimpse of a Melodious Warbler, plus Yellow-Browed Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Pied Flycatcher.

Biscay gamble pays off:

More quality birding was in store when I got chosen for the November Marinelife survey on the Poole - Santander Ferry. Bay of Biscay in November could have been a pretty nasty experience, but fortunately the sailing took place and the sea wasn’t too rough for the most part. Highlights were Minke Whale, Pilot Whale, Common and Striped Dolphin, plus Great and Cory’s Shearwater, Leach’s Petrel, and Little Gull.
An added bonus was sailing out of Poole past Brownsea Island. Such a good area and on this occasion I saw Pale Bellied Brent Goose, 4 Black Necked Grebes, double figure Spoonbills, and a large flock of Avocets.


Other Mammal highlights for the year were Nathusius’s Pipistrelle seen on both of my Nathusius’ Pipistrelle Surveys, plus sadly a dead Polecat close to home.

Closer to home:

A surprisingly good year for the house list with 3 additions (Kingfisher, Meadow Pipit, and Woodcock).
If 2013 can beat this I’ll be more than happy!

Marinelife survey on the Poole - Santander ferry

An exciting weekend to end the year in the Bay of Biscay: