Saturday, 6 October 2018

Pulborough, late September

Well, what a quiet September that was. The continuing low water levels and an almost total absence of easterlies didn’t help and I spectacularly managed to get through the month without a single patch year tick. It's been good to see some signs of the seasons changing though with a few Wigeon around now and the welcome return of at least two Marsh Harriers, again a regular sight quartering over the Brooks. The bulk of the hirundines and summer passerines cleared out pretty sharpish towards the end of the month, meaning we are now in that rather odd limbo period as we await the arrival of most of the wintering ducks and thrushes.

The month ended with a bang for some though as lucky regular Paul messaged me first on Saturday evening while I was in London informing me of two Great Egrets on the North Brooks and then again Sunday afternoon asking what looks like a Little Egret with a yellow bill that hangs around cows... Cattle Egret of course! Evidently two were briefly on the North Brooks that morning before flying east. Particularly galling that one as they would have been a Pulborough tick and also because I was actually on site that morning! Fingers crossed there'll be more to come, given how many are in the country at the moment.
One of the two Cattle Egrets on the 30th (photo: Paul)

The two Great Egrets on the North Brooks on the 29th (photo: Paul)
Now we’re past the equinox and the nights are growing longer than the days, before and after work birding time is limited so it’s full on nocmig season again! I put the microphone out most nights in the last week of September and was rewarded with my third Common Scoter of the year on the 22nd, the first Redwing of the season (25th) and another Oystercatcher (28th). I'm excited to see what else I manage to pick up in the coming weeks, this being my first full autumn of nocmigging.
Common Scoter

Monday, 24 September 2018

The benefit of hindsight

The Temminck's Stint which overwintered at Pulborough Brooks last year was a much talked about and much enjoyed bird, being the first wintering record in Sussex since the mid-1970s. It became a regular feature of my patch visits from December to March but was sadly never seen again after the 'Beast From The East' so presumably it either perished or was wise enough to fly further south to escape the weather.

News of the bird broke on Saturday 9th December 2017 when Pulborough regular Alan Baker clinched the ID with good views from West Mead hide and called it in to a somewhat incredulous operator at one of the bird news services. There has, however, recently been some discussion between Alan, me and the county recorder, Mark Mallalieu, as to exactly when this bird actually arrived on site. The confusion has arisen thanks to there also being a Little Stint recorded on a number of occasions during November and Mark is, understandably, keen to clarify exactly when the Temminck's arrived and the Little did a bunk.

Alan reported seeing a Stint from the Hanger towards the end of November which flew off before he and others present could get a decent look at it, but his general impression was that it wasn't the Little Stint. I actually saw the Temminck's on the morning of the 9th but distantly from Winpenny and foolishly assumed it to be the Little again. I do remember noting that the bird seemed rather skulkier and browner on the back than I would have expected for Little Stint but having not seen either species so late in the year before I'm pretty unfamiliar with their winter plumages. Indeed, prior to the Pulborough Temminck's I had only seen one before, a summer plumage bird at Tice's Meadow in Surrey back in May 2013.

After further queries from Mark I revisted some shaky phonescope footage I took of a Stint, again distantly from Winpenny on the 25th, which at the time I again assumed was Little, but having studied it further and with the benefit of hindsight I am now of the opinion that this was in fact the first confirmed sighting of the Temminck's - and Mark agrees.
This is one of those valuable lessons in birding. I knew when I moved down to Sussex and started patchwatching Pulborough that waders were not my strongest subject and a winter plumage Temminck's Stint in totally the wrong part of the world in December was a pretty good curveball for the birding gods to throw at me in my first year here. Of course, what I ought to have done, in this era of social media and instant messaging, was to share the videos with people and got some second opinions at the time - which is precisely what I'll do if something like this happens again. That's one of the things I love about birding though - we're always learning!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Recent nocmiggings

I've been getting back into the swing of more regular nocturnal recording this month, and have tried to get the mic out at least a couple of times a week - though the blustery conditions the past few days have been less than conclusive but at least gave a welcome break in which to catch up on earlier recordings.

Not a huge amount of note from the four nights recording so far in September aside from a Spotted Flycatcher on the 14th - a nocmig first - and the only wader recorded so far this month in the form of a Dunlin on the 13th.

14th/15th was certainly the liveliest one this month with a Dunnock and several probable Robin/Flycatcher calls indicating a busy night for passerine movement. At least seventeen calls that night remain unidentified though, frustratingly, which seems a common problem in the nocmig community at this time of year in particular.

The recorder was out again last night as the wind finally abated for a few hours so it will be interesting to see what that one delivers.

All data now on Trektellen.

 Bit of a head-scratcher this one but my first thought was Dunlin and others agreed. Not their usual call but certainly within their range. I wonder if the apparent drop in pitch isn't purely caused by the doppler effect of the bird travelling at speed away from the microphone - this would also explain why the second call is lower in both pitch and volume than the first.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


Wryneck is one of those species that I've never gone out of my way to look for or twitch, preferring to wait and find one myself. Somehow though, in almost ten years of serious birding I've spectacularly failed to find my own and so until yesterday it remained one of the most glaring omissions from my UK list.

As such, when Chris and Juliet Moore messaged yesterday morning to say they'd relocated the Wryneck on Chantry Hill - just down the road from Pulborough - found by Martin Peacock on the 5th, I couldn't resist dropping in after work to have a look.

The bird was typically tricky to find but after a couple of passes around the bushes near the dew pond it flew up from near one of the many large ant hills and into a nearby Hawthorn where it skulked largely out of view for a few minutes until a passing dog walker spooked it into an Elder. Here it showed briefly before dropping down into the undergrowth before finally emerging and showing much better for a few minutes before flying off and deep into another clump of bushes further away, at which point I decided to leave it in peace. Now to find one at Pulborough!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Pulborough (mostly), early September

A decent session today, the third consecutive day I've visited the patch after a brief hiatus for our wedding and 'mini-moon' - the latter a very pleasant couple of days in Lyme Regis which produced only my third UK Dipper on the river near the town mill.
Dipper, Lyme Regis
Back to Pulborough and today saw me spend a very rewarding eight hours at the Brooks. Aside from the usual 110+ Lapwings, wader interest was provided by just 3-4 Green Sandpipers and a Common Sandpiper on the North Brooks. The ongoing ditch clearance work here is starting to attract the attention of certain other species, with at least five Whinchats hopping about on the freshly dredged mud and a single Wheatear perched on a nearby fence. Yellow Wagtail and Raven were heard but not seen.

A female Redstart was on the fence near West Mead while three males of various ages were working their way along the fence near Winpenny, along with a Reed Warbler. At Redstart Corner three Lesser Whitethroats were feeding on blackberries in the same scope view; my first record of this species here this month.
Reed Warbler
A good day for raptors with four or five Hobbies about, at least five each of Buzzard and Kestrel and singles of Sparrowhawk, Red Kite and Marsh Harrier. A juvenile Peregrine caused chaos on the North Brooks but spectacularly failed to catch anything.

An almost constant movement of House Martins was going on throughout the day, but as our location changed it was almost impossible to keep track of numbers. Certainly many hundreds of birds involved with probably fewer than one in fifty of them a Swallow.

Away from the patch, a trip down to the coast yesterday produced at least seven Yellow Wagtails and five Wheatears along the beach at Climping, while at least ten Sandwich Terns fed just offshore and six Oystercatchers flew east. At Littlehampton there were a few more Oystercatchers along the beach along with a rather incongruous Little Egret wading about in the surf with the Herring Gulls.
Yellow Wagtail on the beach at Climping
Nocmigging has taken a bit of a back seat in the past couple of weeks but my most recent attempt on the night of 25th/26th August was the best of the autumn so far. From now on I'm going to be recording all my nocmig data on Trektellen; results from the aforementioned night below along with one of the Oystercatcher call sequences.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Pulborough, 25th-26th August

Very much a weekend of two halves, weather-wise, with a glorious four hour visit yesterday in warm late summer sunshine - albeit with a slightly chilly breeze - followed by just a couple of dull and damp hours this morning before the worst of the wind and rain arrived.

After Friday's single Redstart and Tree Pipit in the vicinity of Redstart Corner, I wasted no time in heading to the same area on Saturday morning where I found at least five or six Redstarts dotted about along the fenceline. The hedges here were teeming with birds, even more than on Friday. The Tree Pipit was still around (presumably the same bird as Friday anyway) betraying its presence with its distinctive 'spizz' call as it flew from one of the trees. The lion's share of the passerines were Sylvia warblers with lots of Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats, two Garden Warblers and as many as ten Lesser Whitethroats. There were more of the latter along Adder Alley along with a Reed Warbler.


It was good to run into Dave Buckingham on the way round, and while we were chatting a Peregrine flew over. The trees and bushes around the picnic area and Hanger Wood were also very busy with small birds including two Spotted Flycatchers, while at least another two were around the horse fields to the east of the reserve boundary. Two Yellow Wagtails flew from the North Brooks as I approached, while on the deck here were the lingering two Dunlin, a single Green Sandpiper, around eighty Teal, five Whinchats and a single Wheatear. Reasonable numbers of hirundines around again with House Martin the most numerous (50+) followed by Swallow (20+) and Sand Martin (10).

A shorter visit this morning saw me head straight to the North Brooks, hopeful that the imminent rain would force down a few bits. Again two Yellow Wagtails flew up as I approached, these followed by three in the horse fields later on. Three or four Spotted Flycatchers were working the hedges and fences along the eastern boundary of the reserve. On the North Brooks itself were the two Dunlin again, joined by two Green Sandpipers and a single juvenile Little Ringed Plover. On one of the old fences out beyond the pools were singles of Wheatear and Whinchat. Rather fewer hirundines today despite the cloud and rain, but still at least twenty Sand Martins feeding over the water.
Yellow Wagtails
Yellow Wagtail

Friday, 24 August 2018

Pulborough, mid-August: getting busy!

Return migration has really stepped up a gear in the past few days it seems - particularly on the passerine front - and this morning at Pulborough was without doubt the best visit of the autumn so far. After the disappointment of missing Clive Hope's Pied Flycatcher a couple of weeks ago and then yet another Osprey last weekend which, from Gary Trew's description probably flew right over my house (!), one of my patch bogey birds fell at last today with a male Redstart working its way along the hedge just north of Redstart Corner.
While I was watching it I heard a Yellow Wagtail fly over, my first of the year and later followed by another heard only at the Hanger and a third being chased around the North Brooks by the Pied Wagtails. This species came tantalisingly close to being added to the patch year list a few days earlier with several calls recorded during my first nocmig session of the season on Monday night, but more on that later. The hedgerows were teeming with warblers today, largely Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and a few Willow Warblers, but also a Garden Warbler near West Mead, a Reed Warbler near Winpenny and at least five Lesser Whitethroats dotted about. Best of all though was the Tree Pipit kicking about in the Blackthorns near West Mead. Only my second record of this species here.
Tree Pipit (and Song Thrush)
There were potentially as many as ten Whinchats about with 4-5 seen on the North Brooks and the same amount on the South Brooks. Reported by others but not seen by me were two Spotted Flycatchers on the far eastern side of the reserve and three near Winpenny later in the day, and a Wheatear on the North Brooks. Good numbers of House Martins and Sand Martins, with the latter mostly streaming straight through while the former were lingering and feeding over the site. These inevitably attracted the attentions of a Hobby which plunged straight through the middle of a flock above the path down to Nettleys. A juvenile Marsh Harrier was again doing the rounds - I saw it from Redstart Corner and later from the visitor centre but others also saw it quartering over the North Brooks. Other than sixty-odd Lapwing there wasn't too much of note on the wader front today, with just two Dunlin and three Green Sandpipers on the North Brooks. Indeed it's been a little quiet on that side of things lately with nothing majorly noteworthy since my Wood Sand a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully September will bring a few more goodies.
View from 'the Obs' (attic) during one of the recent storms
Interestingly my first nocmigging attempts of the autumn this week have provided a bit more wader variety, in particular my first recorded Whimbrel(s) over the house, with six calls from an indeterminable number of birds recorded very early Tuesday morning. Other bits of note include the aforementioned Yellow Wags, a Common Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover and a Snipe. Quite a few strange tics and whistles too, particularly on Monday night - most of them as yet unidentified. Ortolan Bunting next?...