Tuesday, 13 March 2018


Congratulations to Gary Trew who found the first Pulborough Wheatears of the year today - three to be precise!
Photo by Gary Trew

Photo by Gary Trew
Also of note today were two Ruff, one Dunlin and one Chiffchaff (also all reported by Gary) while Liam Curson reported a flyover Mediterranean Gull. The best I could manage from a quick scan from 'the obs' (attic) window at last light was seven Little Egrets on the North Brooks.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Pulborough, 10th-11th March

A weekend of reasonably mild weather which saw an increase in birdsong and apparent seasonal movement, with three new birds for the patch year list taking my total to 99.

The Woodlark continues to announce its presence over the heath and on both days this weekend was heard straight away as I arrived in the car park. It was good to discover two birds now present and the RSPB locking the gates to the central section of the heath to prevent disturbance.
It's clearly not just the Woodlarks thinking about breeding as one of the seven Grey Herons seen on Saturday was flying over the visitor centre with an impressively large piece of nesting material. The large flock of Linnets is still favouring the area around the ploughed field immediately behind the visitor centre; certainly well over a hundred birds in total but hard to get an accurate count as they're always so flighty!
Grey Heron


Meanwhile, it was good to hear my first patch Chiffchaff of the year singing intermittently near the top of the Zig Zag path on Saturday. The North Brooks held c.175 Black-tailed Godwits, an Avocet (only my second ever here after one on 13th January this year), ten Shelduck, three Little Egrets and a single Dunlin which flew off towards the South Brooks. Finished off Saturday's visit with a look at Hails View which produced another dozen Shelduck, two Dunlin, two Egyptian Geese, a Grey Wagtail and a pair of Gadwall.

Avocet on the North Brooks
On Saturday afternoon we took some non-birding friends for a little walk around The Burgh. Evidently we were in the wrong area for the Short-eared Owls but it was nice to run into the ringtail Hen Harrier again, with a supporting cast of at least eight Red Kites, two Ravens, four Lapwing, heard only Red-legged & Grey Partridge and a minimum of three hundred Common Gulls. I've still yet to have a bad session up here, no matter what the weather. Surely one of the best sites of its kind in the south-east?

Sunday at the Brooks began with the Woodlark and at least two Chiffchaffs again in fine voice. It was good to see a pair of Redshanks from Winpenny as well as three distant Dunlin. Something spooked all the waders at one point which revealed the presence of four previously unseen Golden Plover which flew north over the hide. Another single bird flew north-east over Brook Field later in the morning.
Golden Plover over Brook Field
Lapwings seem to be pairing up and getting territorial now, as do Shelducks, with the odd one flying around and checking out the grassy slopes of Hollybush Hill. At least 26 on site on Sunday was a patch record count of this species for me. On the North Brooks on Sunday morning were c.130 Black-tailed Godwits, three Little Egrets, a lone and vocal drake Gadwall and another couple of Dunlin, while a Raven cronked north-west high overhead. Highlights from Hails View, meanwhile, were two each of Peregrine and Red Kite and heard only Water Rail and Red-legged Partridge, the latter a Pulborough lifer! A quick scan from The Hanger in the afternoon produced the third and final year tick of the weekend in the form of a pair of Coots; a surprisingly infrequent sight here but right on cue as we're getting into peak rail migration season now - in fact I've heard one calling through the bedroom window the past couple of nights, presumably flying overhead. I experimented the other night with setting up my nocmig microphone through the attic window so as to get a bit closer to the action (and less background noise from the neighbours!) so will let you know how that worked out in a future blog post.
Raven over Jupp's View
Patch gold!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Pulborough, 5th-9th March

Started the week with a little watch from the 'observatory' (attic) window before work on Monday morning. A Peregrine came hurtling through quite low from the west which unsurprisingly put up all the waders in a cloud above the North Brooks - several hundred Lapwing, 50+ Black-tailed Godwits and 13 Dunlin, the latter a new patch high count for me. Golden Plover was heard but not seen.
The view from the 'observatory'
On Tuesday evening I recorded my first patch Redshank of the year, with one heard calling over towards the North Brooks from my garden at dusk - presumably the same bird reported by Gary Trew earlier in the day. Gary also reported 3 Golden Plover, 4 Ruff, 12 Dunlin and 132 Black-tailed Godwits.

Wader numbers peaked mid-week, it seems, as Carey Lodge recorded 15 Dunlin, 6 Ruff and 168 Black-tailed Godwits on Wednesday.

On Friday morning I made my first pre-work patch of the year (yay for longer days!). A look at the North Brooks revealed c.140 Black-tailed Godwits - many now turning red for the summer - 5 Little Egrets and 8 Shelducks, while on the walk back to the car I noted 3 Hawfinches flying up from near Wiggonholt Farm.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Pulborough, 3rd-4th March

Very much a weekend of two halves on the patch with the lingering snow and ice making for a rather quiet visit on Saturday, largely devoid of wildfowl and waders aside from a few Lapwing and Snipe. Two Hawfinches were still lingering around the Yews in Wiggonholt Churchyard but otherwise the most notable feature of the morning was the steady trickle of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Common Gulls overhead with fifteen of the former and thirteen of the latter in total, all roughly north-east. Not outstanding numbers but the first pronounced gull passage I've seen this year. Otherwise of note were a hunting male Peregrine causing chaos over the North Brooks and an immature male type Marsh Harrier quartering over the west side of the Arun closer to home. The heath and Hails View proved largely quiet aside from two Ravens rubbing the Carrion Crows up the wrong way and a single flyover Redpoll.
Pretty much the only wildfowl present on Saturday morning, huddled at the 
edge of the ice in front of West Mead Hide
Female Teal trudging across the ice at West Mead
Sunday was an altogether livelier affair, getting off to a good start with a Woodlark singing loudly over the heath - loud enough to be heard above the incessant gunfire from the nearby clay pigeon shoot! As I walked down the Zig Zag it was clear there was some steady Lapwing movement going on overhead - presumably 'return passage' of birds displaced by the cold weather - and seven Golden Plover also flew over heading east. As I passed under the trees at Fattengates a Greenshank called overhead but was not seen.

It was pleasing to see lots of wildfowl back on the North Brooks and wader numbers too had improved overnight with eleven Dunlin representing a site high count for me to date. Also present here were eight Black-tailed Godwits and another two Golden Plover among the Lapwings. Raptors were represented by two Red Kites, a Sparrowhawk and at least two each of Buzzard and Kestrel, although volunteers Neil and Graham also saw two Peregrines and a Marsh Harrier on the other side of the reserve. Seventy Redwings and eighteen Fieldfares moved through during the morning, while three Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew east. Finished off with a look at Wiggonholt Churchyard where the two Hawfinches again made an appearance.
Hawfinch in Wiggonholt Churchyard

Kestrel keeping an eye on proceedings at the Hanger

Saturday, 3 March 2018

A trip to Dorset

I'm really not much of a twitcher and if a rarity is much more than an hour away from home I tend to think long and hard before generally losing interest. But when news broke on Twitter just over a week ago via Debby Saunders that her husband Pete had just found an adult Ross's Gull at Ferrybridge I was interested! Thankfully the bird did the decent thing and stuck around until the weekend when Amy Robjohns and I met up with Ollie Simms and Drew Lyness pre-dawn on Sunday and headed down to Weymouth. We were en route to Ferrybridge when Ed Stubbs alerted us to the fact the bird had been seen at Lodmoor (massive thanks to Ed for that, otherwise we would have likely missed it!) so we quickly detoured and within a minute or two of leaving the car we all had eyes on this stunning little gull.
Adult Ross's Gull, Lodmoor, 25th February
It was all too brief an encounter, however, as all the gulls kept getting spooked and after a couple of circuits of the lake the Ross's eventually gained height and headed out to sea. After a couple of hours spent pootling around the local area racking up a few new birds for the year (although I'm not year listing this year) - Shag, Gannet, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, amongst others - news broke again just after we'd left the RSPB Radipole reserve that the bird was back on show at that very site, so we again did an about turn and joined the swelling crowd of birders watching the bird. This time it treated us to close and prolonged views of it swimming, preening and having the odd little fly about and we all left very happy indeed!

A meandering route home took us first to Morden Bog where we found the regular Great Grey Shrike but sadly no other heathland specialists of note - though a Snipe and a couple of Ravens were nice - before we headed on to Stanpit Marsh where the Stilt Sandpiper had just done a bunk and decided not to reappear for us before dusk. A Spotted Redshank was a nice consolation, however. A thoroughly enjoyable day in good company. I really should do this more often.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Listening in the darkness: New adventures in nocmigging

It's been a while since I did one of these and, since I'm now living in Pulborough, I thought I'd get a new blog up and running for occasional updates on my birding in this area.

I'm loving living here so far: the new garden list is already on 101 (Temminck's Stint the latest addition, ridiculously!) and my overall Pulborough patch list is 135 (though this includes some historical ticks such as American Wigeon, Little Gull and White-fronted Goose - still no sign of the latter this winter, sadly).

The short days of winter are always hard going for any birder in full time employment and, although I'm lucky enough to work outdoors, in terms of patch birding, it's been a weekend only affair for me for the past four months. In an effort to remedy this somewhat and because I like trying new things, I've recently decided to get into 'nocmigging'. As migration is an aspect of bird study I've found particularly fascinating for some time now, I've been following a few nocturnal recorders' efforts with intrigue. Essentially, for those unfamiliar with this unusual new way of birding, it involves setting up a microphone and recording device outside overnight then analysing the spectrogram of the recording to see what bird calls were captured. With the Brooks and the River Arun now literally on my doorstep, what better way, I thought, to unlock the secrets of what flies over in the middle of the night? Judging by the results from other nocturnal recording stations around the country - the likes of Snow Bunting, Common Scoter and, famously, Ortolan Bunting, being identified flying over in the middle of the night - the answer is a hell of a lot!

Not wanting to spend a fortune on something I knew I was just testing the water at to begin with I started with a very basic set up which only cost £40 or so and produced some reasonable results. Once I was convinced this was something I wanted to do more regularly and get better recordings from, I levelled up to a HTDZ HT-81 microphone and Tascam DR-05 recorder - the same set-up recommended by Joe Stockwell in his excellent set of instructional videos - which, in total still only comes to around £120. For analysing the recording I use Audacity which is available as a free download. Again, see Joe's videos for a bit of tuition on how to use this.

So, let's cut to the chase and talk about some of the things I've recorded so far - some more expected than others. I was a little late starting in late autumn to experience the peak of thrush migration but nonetheless recorded decent numbers of Redwing and Song Thrush over in late November and early December. One thing I'm finding already is you quite quickly begin to get your eye in for what's an interesting call, and even start to recognise certain species' calls just from the shape on the spectrogram. Here's a Redwing, for example, with its distinctive downward slanting wedge-shaped 'seeep' call:


And here's a Song Thrush with its staccato spike 'tsip!':

Song Thrush (the lower pitch calls just after each thrush call is a Greylag Goose)

Here's a Common Snipe from 29th November - sounded like it almost took the top off the microphone it was so low!


Just the other week it was good to get my first Coot - a bit of a blue riband species for nocmiggers, and surprisingly scarce locally I've found, despite the Arun and the Brooks being so close to home.


With the Arun Valley being a well-known wintering ground for a small number of Bewick's Swans, this was one I quietly hoped I might pick up on my recordings. Sure enough, on 19th January, it happened! Sadly this was when I was still getting to grips with my new recording set-up so the sound quality is not very good, but you get the idea.
Bewick's Swan

Less expected was this single Brent Goose which called a couple of times at 23:40hrs on 10th January.

Brent Goose

Other than that, so far it's mostly been the general background hubbub from the Brooks such as Lapwing, Wigeon and Canada Goose, with the odd Tawny Owl, Little Owl and local dog thrown in for good measure.

The first real curveball came on 7th February though when I recorded this single, somewhat puzzling call at 06:08hrs.

My first thought was Snow Bunting, even though it didn't sound quite right. Others on Twitter suggested Lapland or Skylark. Simon Gillings from the BTO provided some valuable input, even going to the trouble of producing these comparison images of various species' spectrograms.
My mystery call/Snow Bunting/Lapland Bunting, for comparison. As Simon has suggested,
the shape of my call doesn't seem right for either, although this could be due in part to the distance
of the bird from the microphone 

Ultimately, he said he's not entirely sure it's Lapland or Snow Bunting; he did suggest possibly Bullfinch but neither of us are sure that's quite right either. One that got away I suppose, but an enticing taster for what's to come as spring approaches - I can almost hear the Whimbrel calling in my headphones as I type this!