Monday, 6 August 2018

Pulborough, 1st-6th August

It's all got distinctly autumnal since my last patch round-up post, starting with the evocative sound of a Willow Warbler sub-singing at dawn on the 2nd and culminating in the first returning Wood Sandpiper of the season on Sunday.
Thursday and Friday's visits were fairly uneventful with just the usual scattering of Green and Common Sandpipers on the North Brooks, though two Gadwall among the Mallards on Thursday were of note as they're the first I've seen onsite for a little while. On Friday I walked to the eastern side of the North Brooks from the village, stumbling across a Tawny Owl along the footpath. I met up with the usual Friday birding gang who reported a Whinchat and occasional calls from the lingering Grasshopper Warbler in this area.
Tawny Owl
Saturday morning produced a single Black-tailed Godwit in among the usual suspects on the North Brooks while John Russell reported a Little Ringed Plover and a Whinchat again.

The mornings are getting steadily mistier and dewier at the moment so it was no surprise to find the North Brooks still largely hidden in the murk when I arrived on Sunday morning. A quick scan revealed a fall of Green Sandpipers though, with at least ten scurrying about. As the mist cleared further a Wood Sandpiper revealed itself - feeding separately from its stockier Tringa cousins. Teal numbers had increased to twenty and there were at least five Snipe about. Everything was sent skyward a few times thanks to a couple of half-hearted swoops from a juvenile Peregrine.

Wood Sandpiper - obligatory long distance phonescope shot
It wasn't just the water birds that had increased overnight as there were clearly more warblers in the bushes. I managed to glean at least six juvenile Willow Warblers and two Lesser Whitethroats. Despite scouring every area of suitable habitat several times over the weekend though I sadly wasn't able to join in the Pied Flycatcher fun, but the autumn is still young!
Lesser Whitethroat
Another foggy start today, though it was nice to hear a Little Owl calling on the east side of the North Brooks as well as a Kingfisher which flew across the water unseen. When the mist did eventually start to clear it revealed seven Green Sandpipers, two Common Sandpipers and a single Little Ringed Plover. Things are certainly hotting up, although the approach of some cooler, rainier weather towards the end of the week is particularly overdue and will hopefully deliver some more migration action.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Pulborough, late July

An encouraging last few days of July with some signs of migration stepping up a gear and the unusually prolonged hot and dry spell breaking at last with some much needed rain arriving over the weekend.

The rain didn't do a great deal to raise the water levels on the patch, mind, with the North Brooks still the only area offering anything for waders and waterfowl - so it's here I've been largely focussing my early morning efforts recently.

An hour before work on Friday (27th) produced my only year tick of the month with a Grasshopper Warbler (142 on the patch year list) reeling briefly along the footpath on the east side of the North Brooks. It was still present in the same area on Sunday morning but again keeping well hidden.

Waders have been in surprisingly short supply, relatively speaking, despite my best efforts in the foul weather on Sunday morning which I had high hopes would deliver something tasty, especially given the numbers of Whimbrels and Curlew Sandpipers moving elsewhere the previous day. Indeed it's been business as usual for a while now with a fairly standard selection of varying numbers of Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, half a dozen or so Black-tailed Godwits and ones or twos of Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover. It's good to see Snipe numbers gradually increasing though with at least ten dotted around the North Brooks on Saturday morning.

On the wildfowl front there are a few Shoveler and Teal to be picked out among the Mallards, but an eclipse drake Wigeon on Saturday morning was a little more unexpected. This is presumably either or failed breeder or perhaps one that has summered somewhere fairly locally.

Talking of species I haven't seen a great deal of locally since the spring, on Saturday morning there was a decent trickle of Sand Martins moving through and an immature Marsh Harrier dropped in and quartered for a while, putting the wind up all the other birds on the North Brooks.

After the previous weekend's single juvenile Mediterranean Gull, two more dropped in during the rain on Sunday morning just gone. It seems to have been a good summer for this species generally with some amazing counts along the south coast and juveniles popping up all over the place inland. I've not had much experience with young ones in the past so it's been good to get my eye in on them and I now find they stand out like a sore thumb among the more frequently seen Black-headeds.
Mediterranean Gulls

As I mentioned in my previous patch round-up the single Whinchat on the 21st was unexpectedly early, and Saturday just gone there were at least two kicking around: an adult male still in near breeding finery and one very young-looking juvenile. Gary Trew reported one in the same area on Tuesday this week. This all seems rather early for a string of migrants to be moving through already so I'm actually beginning to wonder if they haven't in fact bred somewhere fairly nearby -  especially as it appears the species has bred up on Cissbury Ring this summer which is not very far away.
Whinchats (honest!)
Mind you, with the days now getting perceptibly shorter as we head into August and an autumnal freshness just starting to creep into the mornings and evenings, it hopefully won't be long before return passage really kicks off!

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Pulborough, 21st-22nd July

A productive weekend on the patch. Saturday's visit was particularly good - probably the best session since the spring - with 68 species recorded in a little over four hours. The first returning Whinchat was the undoubted highlight, kicking around with a couple of Stonechats on the North Brooks. The most diverse selection of waders of 'autumn' so far were also on show on the muddy margins of what's left of the water on the North Brooks: twelve Green Sandpiper, two Common Sandpiper, four Black-tailed Godwit, two Dunlin, one Redshank and at least three Snipe. The Dunlin were particularly nice as I actually picked them up on call flying over before they dropped in. They only stayed for a minute or two though before carrying on.
Black-tailed Godwits

Little Egret
Ninety minutes on Sunday afternoon proved less productive in terms of waders with just four Green Sandpipers, three Snipe and one each of Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper of note. Best though was the juvenile Mediterranean Gull which hung out with thirty adult Black-headed Gulls on the North Brooks for around half an hour before flying off east. The first Med Gull I've actually had on the deck here after a few flyovers earlier this year.
juvenile Med Gull

Southern Hawker

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Summertime Blues

Continuing the 'it's a bit quiet' theme from my previous blog post early July didn't really produce much in the way of avian fireworks at Pulborough. Thankfully though the first waves of returning waders have been keeping the interest up and of course there's also plenty of invertebrate interest at this time of year, but more on that later.
Early morning looking across Winpenny Brook to Hanger Wood
The waders really started getting going as June gave way to July with the usual early movers beginning to arrive in the form of some good accumulations of Little Ringed Plover (peaking at eleven on 28th June), Green Sandpiper (nine on 10th July), Black-tailed Godwit (ten on 10th July), Common Sandpiper (three on 17th July) and odds ones and twos of Dunlin and Greenshank. The breeding Redshanks and their offspring have all but cleared out with just the odd juvenile lingering now, while Lapwing numbers are beginning to increase with presumably many of the local breeders among them. Mind you, like many wetland sites across the UK this summer, the Brooks is in need of a good top up soon to maintain interest for any waders or wildfowl.
Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper
Talking of wildfowl, well it's a bit quiet there too really, with just handfuls of Teal and the odd couple of Shoveler mixed in amongst the hoards of eclipse plumage Mallards lately, all crammed into what's left of the water on the North Brooks.

Gulls are rarely numerous at Pulborough so it's been good to hear a few reports of Mediterranean Gulls dropping in recently, although I've missed most of them myself! I also managed to miss another local Osprey when one flew over Hardham a couple of Sundays ago. The observer (Martin Lanaway) reported the alarm calls of Herring Gulls drawing the bird to his attention which is particularly frustrating as I was at home at the time and remember hearing some Gulls calling but foolishly was in a bit of a rush to leave the house and so didn't investigate further. I bet it must have flown right over the Brooks/garden!

As is typical for the time of year, most of the migrant passerines are keeping their heads down now, with odd squeaks, tuts and whistles from Lesser Whitethroats, Nightingales and others staying largely hidden in the undergrowth. There seem to be more Meadow Pipits around the past few days and I've noted the odd Sand Martin flying strongly south, so some small signs of change there. I'm hopeful that the coming weeks will deliver a few of the glaring omissions from my patch year list such as Yellow Wagtail and Redstart but only time will tell.
Grey Heron
Somewhat unexpected towards the end of June and early July was a singing Woodlark, rather bizarrely favouring the area between Uppertons Field and Hanger Wood. Whether it was the male of the pair that had been holding territory on the heath up until the 'Beast from The East' arrived or a new individual is of course impossible to know but it was still lovely to hear that lilting song echoing around the Brooks again for a few days - it seems to have moved on again now. Despite increasing numbers of Starlings (over a hundred on the 13th of this month) I've still been unsuccessful in gleaning out a Pastor roseus to add to the patch list. Indeed, I've not had a patch tick of any kind since the Common Terns on 20th June, so another reason to look forward to the autumn!

As I mentioned in my intro though, Pulborough is a great place to find all manner of non-avian wildlife, especially in the extraordinarily hot and dry summer we're currently experiencing. I told myself I'd try to sharpen my Odonata ID skills this year and Black Pond in particular is the perfect place to do just that. Black Darter is a species I'd never knowingly seen before until this year, so I was particularly pleased to see several here after a tip-off tweet from Alan Kitson. The woodland butterflies have been out in force too, with White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary putting on good shows in Black Wood, and still plenty of Purple Hairstreaks around, while the first Brown Hairstreaks have also begun to emerge now - best seen along the paths near the Hanger or down to Nettley's Hide.
Black Darter
Large Red Damselfly
Emerald Damselfy
Another place that's always worth a visit at this time of year - particularly for butterflies - is Knepp Wildlands. After reading of the incredible numbers of Purple Emperors being recorded at the end of June, I visited on the 30th with Kate and in just a couple of hours we saw at least forty of these majestic butterflies cruising about all over the place, along with a similar number of Purple Hairstreak. I've been aware of the White Stork re-introduction project for a while but even so it was quite surreal to see one casually gliding overhead at one point. I returned again a couple of weeks later with Charlie Peverett and Chris Ball, neither of whom had been before. As our visit was earlier in the day and a little later in the season we 'only' saw a handful of Purple Emperors this time but also had a bonus couple of Turtle Doves in flight. It's amazing to think Knepp only started recording this species again in 2007 and this year they have had eighteen singing males.
Purple Emperor

Silver-washed Fritillary

White Stork

Purple Hairstreak

"There ain't no cure for the summertime blues", sang Eddie Cochran. Well, all I can say is Eddie clearly wasn't much of a naturalist. The summer may be quiet for birding but there's always stacks of other stuff to look at and autumn proper really isn't too far away now, and that's a heartening thought to cheer up any birder suffering with the blues. 

Monday, 25 June 2018

Mind the Gap

So yes, as I was saying, June has been quiet...

That wonderfully simple yet accurate term in the butterflying community - 'the June gap' - used to describe the midsummer lull between the dwindling of the spring species and the full emergence of the high summer ones could, I always think, be just as readily applied to birding at this time of year.

Of course there are plenty of resident and migrant birds busy breeding everywhere but still there is that unavoidable sense of things getting distinctly quiet come mid-June and with the spring being so late in getting going this year the onset of the doldrums felt particularly sudden and pronounced, and even I must admit to having found the urge to get up at 5 to hit the patch most mornings waning somewhat recently.
Adult and juvenile Rooks
There have nonetheless been a few birds of note at Pulborough this month with more records of Osprey and Garganey in the past couple of weeks (I still haven't caught up with the former on patch!) and the odd couple of Mediterranean Gulls here and there. What was presumably the same Avocet pair from earlier in the year made a brief reappearance on the North Brooks on the 8th, while the Winpenny area has been playing host to at least one Snipe throughout the breeding season. The seemingly solitary male Nightjar continues to call near Black Pond every evening I've checked, and it's been good to see at least one Barn Owl around on most visits lately - thankfully some of them made it through that awful end to the winter.

After the excitement of the Royal Tern at Pagham, the following evening (20th) delivered my first and so far only patch year tick of June in the form of two Common Terns flying south over the North Brooks. This was particularly noteworthy for me as it's the first Tern of any species on my Pulborough list.
Med Gull over Winpenny, 18th June
Thankfully, the four week quiet spell seems to be coming to an end with the first hints of birds beginning to move again in the past few days. On Sunday morning the Brooks held six Little Ringed Plovers and three Green Sandpipers - one of which dropped down in front of Winpenny for barely three minutes before flying off south at height - and a Sand Martin was noted powering south overhead; the first one I've seen here for a while so presumably not a local bird. Then last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a Water Rail calling as it flew over the house. With the evenings gradually beginning to draw in from now on (I get told off if I mention that to my other half...) and July just around the corner, hopefully wader passage will really get going in the coming few weeks.

Signs that the butterfly June Gap is coming to an end were evident on Sunday also, with singles of White-letter Hairstreak and White Admiral seen along with good numbers of Purple Hairstreak. Also of note were my first two Brown Hawkers of the year and two Water Voles plopping into the ditches on the recently opened Wetland Discovery Trail.
White-letter Hairstreak

Two other bits of good news worth a mention: I was delighted to read that the breeding waders at Pulborough have had such a good year with 41 Lapwing chicks and 10 Redshank chicks successfully reared, thanks in no small part to the hard work put in by all the RSPB staff and volunteers. Secondly, I was also pleased to hear that my record of a juvenile Iceland Gull flying over the visitor centre on 2nd April was accepted by the Sussex rarities committee, making it the first record for Pulborough Brooks!
Juvenile Lapwing

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A Royal Flush!

My plans for Tuesday evening were fairly sedate: water the allotment, a bit of reading (trying to finish Michael McCarthy's excellent The Moth Snowstorm) and hopefully finish the blog post I've been working on about how quiet June has been so far in birding terms.

Then the orange-billed Tern which had been reported at Church Norton earlier in the day and was presumed to be last year's Elegant Tern was re-identified as an American Royal Tern - the 2nd summer bird that's been in France and the Channel Islands in recent months - and in a matter of minutes I was heading south on the A29.

I got to Pagham in just over half an hour and was pleased to find just a dozen or so cars in the car park, and even more pleased to discover the bird still on show out on the Tern Island. It made a brief flight around the harbour before settling back on the island where it gave good views for all present, its huge carrot bill impossible to miss as it caught the evening sunlight. It was in all aspects a chunkier-looking bird than last year's Elegant, a clear half size larger than the Sarnies around it and with that stouter, straighter bill, pale back and punky black crew cut, spiked at the back and already beginning to recede into winter plumage at the front.

By the time I left at least sixty people had connected with the bird - it was good to run into Robin Stride among other familiar faces.

I even got home in time to finish my book! Now to finish that blog post about June being quiet...

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Dragons on the doorstep

Despite spending ten hours at the Brooks over the weekend it was proving to be relatively quiet on the bird front - unsurprisingly for the time of year - so on Sunday afternoon I headed to Fittleworth in search of dragonflies. Common Clubtails, to be precise, which I had no idea were so close to home (thanks to Pete Hughes and Amy Robjohns for their Twitter tip-offs!).

A short walk from the B2138 road bridge east along the River Rother and sure enough we enjoyed fantastic views of at least 4-5 Clubtails patrolling about and occasionally perching on the riverside vegetation. There were also amazing numbers of Banded Demoiselles around, including a female we watched catch and then eat a Mayfly right in front of us!
Common Clubtail
Common Clubtail
Banded Demoiselle (male)
Banded Demoiselles
Banded Demoiselle (female) with an unfortunate Mayfly

Closer to home: Hairy Dragonfly (male) at Pulborough Brooks