Sunday, 5 April 2020

Locked down....but not out

Well, what a strange few weeks it's been since my last post on here. It's hard to keep us birders away from our passion though, wherever we are and whatever challenging situations we're put into, and it's been wonderful to see the 'BWKM0' (birdwatch kilometre zero) challenge take off so strongly on Twitter. Inspired by similarly locked down birders in Italy, Steve Gale has taken on the impressive task of curating the light-hearted competition over here, posting daily updates on his blog.

The rules are simple: to see how many bird species you can record from your house or garden (seen or heard) and ultimately discover what your final tally represents as a percentage of your overall garden list. So far I'm on 78 species out my garden total of 126. I should point out this includes nocmig records as well, of which six are on the 'lockdown list' now, but more on that later.

As anyone who follows my Twitter ramblings will have probably noted, I do a lot of my BWKM0 watching from my attic skylight, which offers fantastic views across the North Brooks, with the South Downs in the background. It's ideal for a scan of the Brooks early morning but I tend to migrate to the garden mid-morning (when I'm not at work) for a better view of the sky, and to concentrate my efforts on looking south down the Arun, which is presumably a flyway of sorts.
Highlights from the attic since the lockdown listing began include a Great Egret on 1st and 5th April, a ringtail Hen Harrier on 30th March and 1st April, and my first Swallow of the year on 28th March; the latter pleasingly followed by others among a steady trickle of Sand Martins this weekend. 

In the warm sunshine this morning it was great to watch a couple of Ravens tumbling over the garden, as my first Sedge Warbler of the year started chattering away down by the Arun. Then this afternoon a drake Goosander flew south along the river, only my second garden record.
Raven over the garden
Raptor-wise, Buzzards are numerous, Red Kite and Peregrine are regular, while Kestrel and Sparrowhawk have put in occasional appearances. Sadly, I'm still yet to join either the Osprey or White-tailed Eagle lockdown club, but here's hoping! 
Peregrine over the garden
Onto nocmig, and it's been an eventful week on that side of things too. The star species at this time of year is of course Common Scoter, with many thousands of them moving overland when conditions suit. A busy night over the north of the country on the night of 1st-2nd April seemed to largely pass the southeast by, but the following night delivered the most spectacular passage of the species I have experienced since I started nocmigging in 2017. I recorded two sizeable flocks over Pulborough at 22:23 and 22:40 on the 2nd (second video below) and almost anyone in their garden or with a recorder out heard calls too - clearly helped by the reduction in traffic and aircraft noise. Other bits of note this past week were a Whimbrel over on the 1st (first video below) and fourteen calls from at least two Oystercatchers on the 2nd. 

The warmer weather has really brought out the butterflies too with plenty of Brimstones and Peacocks visiting the garden this weekend, plus the odd Comma and Small Tortoiseshell and, best of all, the first male Orange-tip of the year this morning. 
Brimstone in the garden


Thursday, 19 March 2020

Every Little helps....

It's been over a decade since I saw my first ever Little Gull at Pulborough Brooks, and since I started regularly patch watching the reserve three years ago it's been a species I've wanted to catch up with again but failed to do so - until today!

The low cloud and hint of drizzle, combined with a shift to northeasterly wind, promised something in the way of a grounded migrant or two as I arrived at the Brooks this morning. The North Brooks was relatively quiet, but as soon as I sat down in Winpenny hide and scanned the South Brooks I picked up an adult Little Gull flying back and forth with its distinctive flight style, bobbing down to the water here and there to pick up a morsel or two.

After a while it landed and, as I struggled to get a photo or some video in the increasingly poor visibility, a second bird dropped out of the sky to join it. Later in the morning Paul Davy had two at nearby Widney Brooks and by lunchtime there were four at Pulborough.

I'm pleased to say this takes me to 105 for my Pulborough year list; my best start to a year here yet.

My shaky camera video attempt below of the first bird early morning, and a lovely slow-mo clip from Paul Davy.


Monday, 2 March 2020

Signs of spring

The water levels remain very high at Pulborough but it's still been an excellent week on the reserve, with several new birds for the year, taking the 2020 site total past the hundred mark, with my own year list now teetering on 99.

Despite the seemingly ceaseless barrage of Atlantic storms in recent weeks, the steady (and early!) emergence of various Prunus blossoms, Grey Willow catkins and early wild flowers in increasingly vibrant spells of sunshine truly herald the transitioning seasons - and the birds are playing ball too.

First up was a Brent Goose, of the pale-bellied race hrota, found by Gary Trew on the 25th, and still present as of today. Then on the 26th an unusually early drake Garganey turned up - possibly the first true spring migrant of the year. It's also stuck around for a few days, and was certainly still present as of Sunday. 

The weekend saw some signs of early wader movement with the first Redshank of the year at West Mead on Saturday - probably wondering where all its nesting habitat has gone, as site manager Julianne pointed out - followed by the first Curlew of the year on Sunday. Adding to the spring feel was a Chiffchaff flycatching and intermittently singing at Redstart Corner on Sunday morning, my first one on the reserve proper this year after one on the edge of the sewage works on 6th February. 

Winter isn't quite done with us yet, however, with three White-fronted Geese still present this morning plus the usual selection of ducks, though numbers are admittedly starting to dwindle.

Garganey at West Mead, 26th February. Photo: Chris & Juliet Moore

Redshank at West Mead, 29th February

Curlew at West Mead, 1st March

Chiffchaff at Redstart Corner, 1st March


Monday, 10 February 2020

Stormy Spoonbill surprise

After a relatively quiet but clement morning on the patch on Saturday I - no doubt like many other birders around the country - spent Sunday catching up on various household chores and computer stuff, interjected with just the odd glimpse out of the window with the bins as and when the rain eased off.

Around 16:30 the rain stopped again and I decided to brave opening the bedroom window to have a quick scan of the North Brooks with the scope. I almost immediately clapped eyes on a large white bird among some Canada Geese which, despite the wind and poor light, I quickly realised was a Spoonbill!

Only my second patch record, and the first one at Pulborough since 2018, I hurriedly got some record shots and circulated the news. A little while later it flew off, presumably just to roost, as it was back on the North Brooks again this morning. At closer range and in better light, Alan Kitson was able to observe it was an adult and bearing a yellow flag on its left leg, indicating it's of Dutch origin. (thanks to Ed Stubbs for pointing this out)
Photo: Alan Kitson

Friday, 31 January 2020

Woodcock watch

The noticeably brighter evenings this past week have certainly lifted the spirits and allowed just enough light for me to get to the Brooks a couple of times after work, with one particular species in mind.

A couple of failed attempts at getting the usual year tick Woodcock flying from roost over the car park at Pulborough had me heading for Wiggonholt Heath instead. I've seen the species flush up from there and the Black Wood area before so had a hunch there must be a fair few roosting there somewhere.

On Tuesday night I got to Black Pond a little after 17:00 and, after a few false alarm Snipe flew over, sure enough I was rewarded with two Woodcock in close succession a little after 17:20; both heading north over the trees towards the main reserve.

Another try the following night again produced two Woodcock plus at least 20 Snipe, flying up from the heath in small groups - all heading north over the trees. By the time most of the Snipe went up it was almost too dark to make out any definition in their shapes but I'm sure there must be a Jack Snipe hiding in there somewhere...

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Pulborough, 25th-26th January

A productive weekend of pedestrian birding in which I covered ten miles on foot across the two days, and was rewarded with five patch year ticks.

The clear highlight was the redhead Smew which I just missed at West Mead yesterday morning (seen by Gary Trew and the 'dawn of the ducks' crowd) but caught up with on the North Brooks today.

Other bits of note were the lingering ringtail Hen Harrier, a cream cap Marsh Harrier, 3 Ruff, 2 Dunlin, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwit, up to 8 Little Egret, 120+ Common Gull, 3 Barn Owl, 2 Peregrine and singles of Green Sandpiper over towards the sewage works on Saturday and Brambling over the Hanger on Sunday - the latter a very welcome addition to the year list in what seems to be a very poor winter for the species. Indeed, I didn't record a single one at Pulborough in 2019. Hopefully a good omen for 2020!

Showy Water Vole at Redstart Corner pond on Saturday

Friday, 17 January 2020

Scotland, 11th-14th January

Just back from a great long weekend in Scotland with Ed Stubbs, Sam Jones and Abel Barker, which saw all of us come home with at least one lifer - in my case Capercaillie, Snow Goose and Crested Tit, plus my first proper views of Red Grouse can you believe! Despite all the excitement of encountering new species and the stunning scenery, and as twee as it may sound, I'd have to say the best moment for me was hand feeding Coal Tits at Loch Garten.

Ed has written an excellent report of the trip on his blog, but I just thought I'd share a few of my pics and videos on here.
Snow Goose, New Cumnock

Red Grouse, The Cairnwell

Bilberry growing through the snow

Mountain Hare

Atop The Cairnwell


Capercaillie poo!

Abernethy Forest