Monday, 31 December 2018

2018 Nocmig Review

2018 was my first full year nocmigging here in Pulborough. For a bit of an intro to it all, check out my blog post from earlier in the year.

It took me a while to get into the swing of it in the spring but once up and running the year produced a nice selection of species from 57 nights' recording. Obvious highlight was the Yellow-browed Warbler on 8th October but other bits of note were Common Scoter, Brent Goose, Bewick's Swan, White-fronted Goose and a reasonable selection of waders including patch scarcities such as Oystercatcher and Whimbrel. Also noteworthy was the sensational movement of Dunlin on 15th/16th November with at least 147 calls from a minimum of 39 birds.

I was a bit late getting started with recording again in the autumn due to the very worthwhile distraction of my wedding, so missed out on the chance of getting an Ortolan Bunting in what seemed like another good passage of them. Hopefully now I've got the hang of it all I'll be able to hit the ground running in 2019 and record more frequently.

Check out the table below for the full list - note that some species such as Barn Owl, Skylark and Moorhen are mostly likely to be local birds but have been included in here for posterity and completeness. I've tried where possible to omit birds that were clearly just piping up in the dawn chorus nearby such as Chiffchaff, House Sparrow or Woodpigeon.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Pulborough and Climping

A fairly quiet morning at Pulborough once the fog eventually began to clear. Highlights were three each of Ruff and Dunlin among the Lapwings on the North Brooks plus the usual throng of Black-tailed Godwits which today numbered somewhere in the region of four hundred. Also of note were three Shelduck, three Stonechat, the now regular Little Grebe at West Mead and heard only Kingfisher and Water Rail from the Hanger/Little Hanger. I left early afternoon and so missed the two Black Swans which turned up at Winpenny later on. Obviously not tickable as my patch year 150 but still would be nice to see, hopefully they'll stick around...
In the afternoon I headed down to Arundel with Kate for a bit of lunch and I couldn't resist a quick look in Kim's Bookshop which has a mouth-watering selection of bird books in the back room upstairs. I treated myself to a copy of Birds of the Atlantic Islands which will come in handy for our belated honeymoon trip to Madeira in May

We then headed on to Climping for a walk along the (surprisingly busy!) beach. Despite the amount of people and dogs there was still a decent selection of birds on offer - probably the 'birdiest' I've seen the place since we moved down this way last year. A flock of c.340 Brent Geese flew east over the sea, at least thirty Turnstones were feeding in the shingle or roosting out on the breakwaters while at least the same number of Mediterranean Gulls were around, either on the sea or feeding with Black-headed Gulls, Carrion Crows and a few Buzzards in the arable field.
Med Gulls

Brent Geese

Sunday, 16 December 2018

149 Not Out

I was secretly hoping to be writing a blog post this evening in celebration of reaching my patch 150 target for the year, after hearing that a pair of 'proper' White-fronted Geese had shown up with the Canadas on the North Brooks on Friday. I'd even started thinking about another Christmas-related pun for the heading, something about Geese getting fat...

In the end it was a pretty quiet weekend after the excitement of recent days, with no sign of the aforementioned geese nor the White-rumped Sandpiper which hasn't been seen since Thursday.

Most of the water bodies onsite were frozen yesterday morning so it was no surprise to see the lion's share of the waders and wildfowl huddled in the unfrozen patches on the North Brooks. The Black-tailed Godwit flock had dwindled to 'just' a hundred or so yesterday but was back up to at least four hundred today. Yesterday an immature Marsh Harrier was patrolling around causing havoc while this morning a Peregrine was doing the same. Other highlights today were six Golden Plover and a single Dunlin among the Lapwings at Winpenny, eleven Shelduck and a few Snipe on the North Brooks plus a couple of Water Rails squealing below the Hanger. Two Redpoll flew over the Zig Zag while a Yellowhammer flew over Adder Alley.

Here's hoping for a bit more action next weekend!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Dreaming of a White-rumped Christmas

An unusually leisurely start at Pulborough this morning after a rather late night saw me heading first to West Mead hide where the highlight was a Peregrine and a Marsh Harrier dogfighting distantly and at some height over the Arun, causing much alarm among the hordes of Lapwings and wildfowl which were swirling around over the Mid Brooks. After a good scan here the brisk south-westerly was beginning to turn my hands numb and make me wish I'd remembered a scarf, so I headed off to Winpenny which I thought would offer a bit more shelter (it didn't). As I approached I could see the Lapwings were all still airborne with a Redshank calling among them - not a bird I've seen here much since the breeding birds left in late summer.
Marsh Harrier, photo by Ed Stubbs
The main pool in front of the hide was the fullest I'd seen it since the spring, with just a few grassy spits and islands still visible in the water, the main one of which was decorated with a good covering of Lapwings. It didn't take me long to pick out two smaller waders among them, one of which was clearly a winter plumage Dunlin. The other bird held my attention for longer. Another birder came in and delivered the usual 'much about?' to which I directed his attention to the two Calidrids. He wasn't convinced either was anything other than a Dunlin and left soon after. I began to doubt myself. I briefly redirected my attention to a preening Peregrine and a Kingfisher which gave a nice flypast in front of the hide. But still I kept going back to this wader. It was only a fraction smaller than the obvious Dunlin but something about the proportions was all wrong. The bird appeared slighter and rather more 'squashed' in its build, with a shorter bill and a clear supercilium, but most striking of all was its long, pointed rear end caused by the primaries extending beyond the tail, giving an overall more Stint-like shape to the bird.
White-rumped Sandpiper
I was by now in no doubt that this was no Dunlin but couldn't immediately place what I was dealing with. The general shape put me in mind of the Baird's Sandpiper I'd seen at Cuckmere Haven last year but I didn't remember that bird having such a strong supercilium. This bird also had dark streaks extending down its breast as far as the flanks, also unlike Baird's. Then I remembered the White-rumped Sandpiper I'd seen at Lodmoor five years ago and it dawned on me this could be what I was looking at!

I sent out some pics to a few people and put them on Twitter and soon the replies started coming back thick and fast... "A bit W R Sandy shaped", "could be a White-rumped Sand?", "have you seen the rump?". Others such as Martin Gray and Josh and Ed from BirdGuides were more confident based largely on an ID feature I had overlooked but which was clearly visible in even my relatively poor phonescoped shots: the pale base to the lower mandible. Suddenly everything went a bit mad. The news was out. My phone went into hyperdrive. People were on their way down. It's the kind of moment that every patch watcher dreams of! I tried to maintain my cool and was determined to get a clinching look at that rump whilst also juggling various text, Twitter and WhatsApp conversations as well as phoning in the news to the visitor centre.
At some point while all this was going on I briefly lost sight of the bird and was faced with the distressing prospect of being the only observer and having to explain to everyone that arrived that they 'should have been here five minutes ago'. Luckily, a few minutes later it returned (although it seemed like far longer) and as it cruised back down onto one of the grassy spits the sunlight caught the white uppertail coverts beautifully. Yes! It really was a White-rumped Sand!
A coach party from Eastbourne RSPB group arrived at this point, who looked rather incredulous when I excitedly pointed them in the bird's direction. It was a lifer for many of them and I was more than happy to let those without scopes have a look through my own. After a while the group headed off, all very grateful for the unexpected highlight of their day. Then the hide seemed very empty for what seemed like an eternity until Dave Buckingham called and said "Matt, I'm at West Mead. Where are you?". My blood ran cold - I'd been so buzzing at the realisation of what I'd found that I'd got the hide names muddled up! "Winpenny! It's at Winpenny!" I exclaimed, and soon enough there came the sound of approaching footsteps and the hide again filled up very quickly. The bird went AWOL for a time when it flew up with all the Lapwings but thankfully came back a little later, albeit rather more distantly, and all who came in the next few hours connected. With the horizontal drizzle hampering visibility and blowing in through the hide windows I said my goodbyes to the bird and birders around 13:45 but it was apparently still showing well up until nearly 15:00 at least.
Evidently only the thirteenth Sussex record - only two of which were in this century - and my 149th species at Pulborough this year, it's fair to say that if there is to be a 150th bird on my 2018 patch list it will have to go some to top the excitement of today! Either way, hopefully the WR Sand sticks around for many other birders to see and hopefully get some better photos of.
White-rumped Sandpiper and Dunlin together, photo by Ed Stubbs

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Pulborough, mid-late November.

There’s a lot to love about this time of year. The arrival en masse of wintering wildfowl, thrushes, finches, owls, crisp frosty mornings, the excitement of cold weather movements bringing with it an increased chance of something scarce or rare. What’s not so great is the heavy reduction of available time in the field due to the dwindling amount of daylight, which inevitably increases the chance of missing stuff, especially when one's patch is such a well-watched reserve as Pulborough.

As such I’ve no new year ticks to report since my last update on here although I’m still smarting from missing the Red-breasted Merganser on the 16th. Unlike Cattle Egret and a few other dips this year which I’m reasonably confident I’ll grip back at some stage, there’s only been one previous documented record of RBM at Pulborough, back in 2009. Hopefully I won't have to wait another decade for the next one!
The Brooks are filling up nicely now thanks to a fairly wet second half of November and the flocks of Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing etc are now getting sizeable - best appreciated when a passing raptor sends the whole lot piling up into the sky with an almighty whoosh! As has become the norm here the wintering Black-tailed Godwit numbers are now well into three figures too, former warden Pete Hughes reckoned there were around 300 first thing this morning.
With actual patch birding now restricted to (often wet) weekend-only sessions my attentions have turned rather more towards nocmigging, the dark and stormy evenings of late providing the ideal opportunity to catch up on a backlog of recordings from earlier in the autumn. With more and more birders venturing into this new extension of ornithological study this autumn in particular has proved revealing in terms of the nationwide scale of some species' movements. A busy night for Redwings on the 14th-15th November was accurately reflected in Pulborough when I recorded 322 calls in ten hours.

Redwing/Wigeon duet

Assuming each call represents at least one or two birds, but likely many more, it's fair to assume at least a thousand birds passed over the house that night. Likewise, when Simon Gillings and Jon Heath - both Cambridge-based 'nocmiggers' - reported an unusually high count of Dunlin the following night (15th-16th), I was keen to discover if my own recording reflected this, which it did indeed as a total of 148 flight calls were logged from a bare minimum of 38 birds. The true count was likely far higher. Take this clip below, for example. It's quite evidently more than one bird (I put it down as two) but as others have pointed out it could be four or five or more.

It's really quite incredible to think about such swathes of birds moving above our heads while we're sleeping. As I've said before, migration is for my money the most fascinating aspect of bird study - and so intrinsic to our understanding of birds in general - and nocmigging is, I'm discovering, an opportunity to glimpse just that little bit further into their world and start to fill in the gaps in terms of what birds are moving, when and why.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Approaching 150

2018 has been my first full year patching at Pulborough. While I'm not interested in competing with anyone else I did think it'd be fun to try and do a bit of a 'big year' and see how many species I could record here in twelve months, which is why I registered Pulborough as my patch on Patchwork Challenge.

Not long into the year, Dave Buckingham suggested I should have a good chance of getting 150, which I promptly scoffed at. Having only patch watched Surrey sites before, anything much over a hundred seemed good going to me. Come late spring though and Whinchat took me to 140 and I began to realise perhaps it wasn't such an impossible total after all. Things got decidedly stagnant in the summer and there have been some gripping dips along the way for sure, most notably Cattle Egret and countless Ospreys, but yesterday I notched up species 148 in the form of a female/immature Merlin causing havoc on the Mid Brooks - always an exciting bird to encounter. This one even had the good grace to perch for a couple of minutes in a tree (obviously didn't get the memo about Merlins not doing that) where it gave great views before being chased off by Crows.
The recent rain has really boosted the water levels and it's good to see the Brooks bursting back to life now, with Pintail and Black-tailed Godwit numbers in particular beginning to get impressive - 110+ and 42+ today, respectively.

Other bits of note this weekend have been the continued presence of Short-eared Owl. One was seen quartering over the North Brooks from home on Saturday afternoon while this morning one drifted in high from the south and over my head near Winpenny - evidently a newly-arrived migrant as by dusk there were three hunting together over the North Brooks along with a couple of Barn Owls. A Woodcock flew up through Hanger Wood as I passed this morning - not a bird I've seen a huge amount of at PB, surprisingly - while a male Marsh Harrier was quartering down at Hail's View.
Short-eared Owl coming in this morning

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Pulborough round-up, late October

Great to finally complete the set of British Owls on my Pulborough list recently with the addition of Short-eared Owl, seen first from behind the visitor centre on the evening of the 23rd then subsequently added to the garden list the following evening, seen over the North Brooks from my attic - then again on Sunday evening quartering up and down the banks of the Stor.

Short-eared Owl over the North Brooks on Sunday. Photo by Istvan Radi
Keeping with the (sort of) nocturnal theme, the nocmig adventures continue as I'm still working through the past week's backlog of recordings. A recent highlight was what sounded like at least two or three Brent Geese flying over not long after midnight on the 19th. There's always a few vismig records of this species in the southeast at this time of year as they 'cut the corner' from the east coast to the south coast, but still a nice one to get on nocmig and only my second record since I started recording at the end of last year.

Other highlights from the past weekend were at least three each of Marsh Harrier (including an adult male) and Red Kite on Saturday plus two Shelduck, a Little Egret and a heard only Water Rail below the Hanger. Duck numbers continue to increase with at least four hundred Wigeon and eight Pintail on Sunday. Eighteen hundred Woodpigeons flew southwest in an hour on Saturday morning, while down on the South Brooks a White-fronted Goose bearing a red leg ring was in with the Greylags - presumably not a wild bird as I believe it's been seen on and off a few times in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, on Sunday morning Paul had a Ruff with the Lapwings at Hail's View; a species that has been notable by its absence at Pulborough this autumn, especially compared to last year when we had a pretty remarkable count of 26 together on one day in late September. Presumably not a good breeding season for them, as has been the case for many shorebirds it seems.

Gary Trew had a ringtail Hen Harrier over the South Brooks yesterday and a Dunlin with the Lapwings on the North Brooks, while the Hen Harrier showed again today for Russ Tofts followed by another Short-eared Owl sighting and Woodock over the car park via Gary T.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Nocmig gold - YBW!

I've been nocmigging pretty much every other night so far this month, weather permitting, which means I've inevitably ended up with a bit of a backlog of recordings to go through. A dark and rainy evening last Sunday provided the perfect opportunity to do a bit a of catching up and I set about working my way through the night of the 8th/9th.

A nice and clear Water Rail was a good start but there wasn't a huge amount else of note until an odd little 'V' shape at 23:25hrs caught my eye. Clearly rather quiet, I initially took it to be a slightly odd Redwing call, but then the penny dropped. I checked on Xeno-canto and, sure enough, the recordings and sonograms on there proved that mine was a perfect match for Yellow-browed Warbler. Given the numbers in the country at this time of year I suppose it's inevitable that many must fly straight over at night, but it's still quite extraordinary to imagine this tiny little bird calling as it cruised over Pulborough. A Sussex, Pulborough and garden tick triple - or at least it would have been had I not been asleep at the time!

Sonogram of the YBW over Pulborough and one from Xeno-canto to compare (below)

And here's the Water Rail from earlier in the night

Pulborough, 20th-21st October

A mixed weekend at Pulborough. Water levels steadily increasing along with Wigeon and Lapwing numbers (conservative counts of 220 and 400 today, respectively). Yesterday there were three Black-tailed Godwits and a single Redshank on the North Brooks, with another two Redshanks seen at Hails View. Noticeably more Goldcrests around but surprisingly few thrushes, with just fifteen Redwing, ten each of Blackbird and Song Thrush and a single Fieldfare. A good selection of flyover bits with singles of Crossbill and Brambling the highlights. A Little Owl was calling loudly but remained unseen on the east side of the reserve. A couple of hours this afternoon produced a Barn Owl at Redstart Corner, a heard only Water Rail from the Hanger and a flyover Green Sandpiper near Winpenny while highlights on the North Brooks (among the Lapwing and Wigeon) were two Pintail, two Common Gulls, six Gadwall, 10+ Snipe, a Little Egret and a striking leucistic Black-headed Gull. Friday's Redstart was reported again at West Mead but I didn't see it. A rather faded Clouded Yellow was on the wing in Brook Field.
Distant and grainy phonescope shots as is the norm at Pulborough but clear enough to see the overall slim build, thin bill, pointed wings and total absence of black in the wing on this presumed leucistic Black-headed Gull on the North Brooks this afternoon
Possibly the most entertaining moment of the weekend was watching a Grey Heron wrestling with an Eel at Winpenny on Saturday morning. The Eel was near enough the same length as the Heron's body and although the Heron managed to swallow it whole on several occasions the Eel managed to wriggle its way back out every time. Eventually the Heron stabbed the unfortunate creature a few times with its bill before carrying it off, bloodied, into the reeds.

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?...

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.