Sunday, 29 April 2018

Pulborough, 27th-29th April

Despite May being just a couple of days away, and the summer migrants making their presence known, the weather seemingly has other ideas. The northeasterly wind made it almost unbearable to spend more than a few minutes at the Hanger this evening and there's apparently a month's worth of rain to come tomorrow with a chance of sleet or wet snow. It's certainly been one of the worst springs I can remember.

The weather is clearly continuing to slow up some migration but it does seem at least as though the shift in wind direction has forced more stuff down that would have otherwise cruised straight overhead in the finer, southerly-dominated conditions of a week or so ago. The biggest surprise recently was the Turtle Dove that flew low over Adder Alley towards Redstart Corner at 06:30 on Friday morning during an otherwise fairly quiet pre-work walk around. Needless to say a new addition to my Pulborough list. Let's hope the great work the RSPB has been doing to encourage this species persuades it to stick around. Waders of note on Friday were six Black-tailed Godwits and four Common Sandpipers on the North Brooks.

A couple of hours on Saturday morning produced my second new Pulborough bird in the form of a drake Pochard on the North Brooks. Quite a surprise to see given how much the water levels have dropped recently. A Hobby powering across in front of the Hanger was my first of the year while the best of the waders were a single Common Sandpiper and the long staying Avocet pair.
Two rather brief visits on Sunday produced a total of 69 species, the highlight being a smart male Whinchat with two Wheatears on the North Brooks, found by Shane Burtenshaw - my 130th species here this year. Other bits of note were singles of Dunlin and Avocet on the North Brooks, two Great White Egrets in front of Winpenny late afternoon and increasing numbers of hirundines and Swifts - maximum counts of each as follows: Swift 7+, Swallow 15+, House Martin 10+, Sand Martin 50.
Great White Egrets
Undoubtedly the star performers of the weekend though were the Tawny Owls along the seasonal path near West Mead with first a single fluffy juvenile found yesterday morning which was joined by a second later in the day, then an adult alongside them today. It's not often you get such great views of this common but elusive species.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Pulborough, 25th April

Despite only getting home at 04:00 from an incredible few days in Spain (trip report to follow in due course!) the lure of a Pulborough tick was too tempting and after a couple of hours' sleep I was out on the patch soon after 07:00 this morning.
Thankfully, the Black-winged Stilt which arrived on Monday did the decent thing and stuck around and put on a good show on the North Brooks, although it seems to be commuting back and forth to the Mid Brooks fairly frequently.
Black-winged Stilt

Also of note today were two Common Sandpipers at West Mead - my first of the year - with a third reported by Elliot Dowding on the North Brooks. Swift was also a year a tick with at least a dozen hawking and screaming around this morning along with conservative counts of fifteen House Martin, eight Sand Martin and three Swallow. Other bits of note from my visit were two Wheatears (one near Winpenny and one at Hail's View, the latter chased off by a male Stonechat), an obliging male Cuckoo at the Hanger, singles of Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet (other birders reported two today, mating again - could we be looking at a potential breeding attempt?), two Red Kites, two squealing Water Rails (Nettley's and Hail's View), two singing Whitethroats and at least three singing Nightingales. Three adult Great Black-backed Gulls flew south at Hail's View. A total of a dozen Egyptian Geese on site today included a pair with six young at West Mead.
Common Sandpipers
Sadly I missed another Wood Sandpiper this afternoon (or perhaps the same bird from last week lingering), reported on the Mid Brooks by Matt Palmer who also had three Whimbrel drop in briefly on the North Brooks, a Little Ringed Plover at West Mead and two Hobby over the heath.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Pulborough round-up, 11th-20th April

Somehow it's been over a week already since my last post on here. Probably an indication that things are beginning to liven up a bit at last!
Dawn at The Hanger
I've added eight year ticks in ten days since the Bramblings last week, taking my Pulborough year total to a respectable 123. First up on in thick fog on Saturday morning I decided to shun the hides and viewpoints in favour of a quick jaunt up to the heath in the hope the vis would improve (it eventually did at around 11:00 - just as I was about to head home!). After a circuit around The Clump there appeared to be little of note until a familiar song alerted me to a Tree Pipit perched in one of the Oaks up there - a Pulborough tick for me and apparently not as common here as I had perhaps assumed given the available habitat.

When the fog did eventually clear on Saturday it enabled the first proper look across the North Brooks of the weekend which, evidently, was Spoonbill-less for the first time in several days. 
No such problems finding the now regular Great White Egret even in the fog though as it showed down to just a few metres in front of Winpenny Hide, again favouring the local newts its seems. Reports from various other birders and RSPB volunteers suggest there are still two different birds frequenting the site, with one on the Mid Brooks late this afternoon.

The Spoonbill on the North Brooks on its last day
Sunday saw the arrival of a pair of Avocets and the first Whimbrel of the year. The Avocet pair stayed until Thursday, and were often seen copulating, but were gone by today. The Whimbrel stayed until at least Tuesday but on Thursday morning I instead found a Curlew from Winpenny Hide which flew off calling loudly. It was good to hear the first Cuckoo of the year the same morning, which was still around again today, seemingly somewhere between Hail's View and West Mead but proving characteristically ventriloquial!
Whimbrel - photo by Gary Trew

Warbler numbers have gradually been creeping up, with noticeably more Blackcaps around, at least three Lesser Whitethroats, a few Sedge Warblers and my first Common Whitethroats at last today, with three favouring the bushes along the footpath between Wiggonholt and Pulborough village. There are perhaps three singing male Nightingales on site now that I've heard myself, with the one near Fattengates proving to be the most reliable performer. Hirundines still seem rather thin on the ground, though a little flurry of at least three House Martins, three Swallows and two Sand Martins through in the rain on Sunday was good to see. Just three Swallows through from Hail's View today though during my almost six hour visit, plus singles of House and Sand Martin over the garden. It was great to finally catch up with a Pulborough Wheatear today though - my first of the spring here - with one very distant from Hail's View and another on a fence post out on the North Brooks.

Most unexpected during the week was the very vocal flock of 30 Mediterranean Gulls which flew north over the Brooks/village at dawn on the 18th - I was just getting in my car at the time but managed to glimpse them for a few seconds between buildings and trees. Colin Nicholson also saw them pass over the Brooks, and interestingly Mark McManus had 35 take off from Amberley Wildbrooks and head the same way an hour later - same birds doing a loop or another flock perhaps? There's certainly been good numbers moving along the coast this week.

Sadly I missed the Wood Sandpiper found by George Kinnard yesterday. Indeed, wader numbers were particularly low today aside from a single Dunlin and the resident Redshanks and Lapwings.

The mini heatwave and run of southerlies seems to be coming to an end for now, so it'll be interesting to see what the next few days bring - no doubt something mega will turn up as I'm off to Spain tomorrow until Wednesday!

Incidentally, things have been getting rather more interesting on the nocmig side of things too, with garden firsts of Curlew and Water Rail over recently along with the second record of Common Scoter, but more on that in another blog post.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Bramblings for tea!

Nice to catch up with the Bramblings still frequenting the tea room feeding station at Pulborough this evening after work. Only my second record of the species on the patch after a single flyover last autumn, and my 115th species here this year. Thanks to Gary Trew for the Twitter heads-up!

The Spoonbill was still present on the North Brooks today
- photo by Gary Trew

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Pulborough, 8th April: an unexpected double

After the disappointment of missing the Long-eared Owl at Pulborough on Friday I arrived at the Brooks this morning after a couple of days away, full of optimism despite the rather inclement weather. The murky, drizzly conditions prompted me to check the Hanger first - I usually tend to end up there after checking West Mead and Winpenny - hopeful for a Little Gull, a Tern or just a nice lot of hirundines. In the event I found none of these but, with more or less my first scan with the scope, was amazed to find myself looking at a drake Common Scoter. Clearly it wasn't the only one brought down by the weather as various large water bodies across the south-east found themselves hosting one or more of these today. Still a pretty remarkable record for Pulborough, and evidence of how high the water levels have got here with all the recent rain.
Common Scoter (and Little Egret)
I quickly put the news out before a further scan revealed a Spoonbill busy feeding in the distance. Two patch lifers in as many minutes - that doesn't happen every day! The Spoonbill was still present in the evening but there was no further sign of the Scoter after about 08:00, unfortunately for Pete Hughes who arrived just after I'd last seen it. Whether it had flown when I was looking elsewhere or just drifted into vegetation and gone to sleep, we may never know! It was nice to hear the first Nightingale of the year singing near The Hanger though while we tried to relocate it.

Photos and video all very grainy unfortunately - clearly the murky conditions that brought down the Scoter are also not conducive to great photography!

Other bits of note from my visit this morning were three Ruff, a Green Sandpiper, three Tufted Ducks (two drakes/one female), five Sand Martins, one Swallow, a heard only Water Rail, at least two Redshank and two Fieldfare. Warbler numbers continue to creep up with at least ten Chiffchaffs, eight Blackcaps and two Willow Warblers around.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Pulborough, Easter weekend; a quiet start but getting louder

Aside from a Hawfinch briefly at Jupp's View and a flypast from a pair of Mandarin (year tick!) at Fattengates on Friday morning,  both Friday and Saturday's visits to the Brooks were decidedly quiet for the time of year as the unfavourable weather persisted in delaying migration. Indeed, for the first time in I can't remember how long I finished March without seeing a single hirundine.

Thankfully all that was set to change come Monday, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Easter Sunday itself was a largely non-birding day, as we were out with friends in Arundel, but of course I still managed to squeeze in a bit of birding here and there. A scan of the North Brooks from home at dawn revealed a Great White Egret which flew northeast at around 07:00. Another or the same was right in front of Winpenny Hide later when I made an evening visit to the reserve. Probably the best views I've had of this species anywhere, it was great to watch it feeding away less than fifty metres in front of the hide, at one stage averaging catching prey (mostly newts by the looks of it) every couple of minutes.

Back to Sunday morning and before we headed to Arundel I managed a little skywatch from the garden which proved productive as my first Willow Warbler of the year was singing over towards the Arun while an unmistakeable 'k-yow' call alerted me to eight Mediterranean Gulls circling high overheard, drifting slowly north-east.

A rather late night on Sunday led to a leisurely start on Monday, and I arrived at the reserve at around 09:20. A quick glance skyward as I reached the gate revealed a few gulls drifting west overhead. I scanned through them with bins, ticking each one off as a Lesser Black-backed, all until the last gull of the group which instantly stood out as something different.

A chance break in the rain saw a glimmer of sunshine at just the right moment reveal the plumage details as the bird briefly circled overhead: a gleaming white trailing wing edge from the body to the wingtip, contrasting strongly with the otherwise rather dirty, biscuit-coloured tones of the rest of the bird, a rather short tail fanned in a wedge shape, a short and dainty head reminiscent of Common Gull and long, narrow pointed wings. The overall impression was of a somewhat more compact and slighter bird than the preceding LBBGs, but the main thing that stood out was the two tone colour of the coffee beige and gleaming white wing edge. I was in absolutely no doubt I was looking at a juvenile Iceland Gull. No sooner had I had this realisation than the bird had resumed direct flight and was fast drifting away over the roof of the visitor centre, so I by the time I'd fumbled to get my camera out of its case and focus, it was sadly too late to get a record shot. Well, I lie, I did get one photo, but the less said about that the better to be honest!
Iceland Gull (honest!)
Anyway, an auspicious start to the day. A scan of Upperton's Field revealed a couple of Red-legged Partridges but sadly no Wheatears. At Fattengates I thought I heard a Green Sandpiper call overhead and, sure enough, when I got to West Mead I found one working its way along the edge of the pool here. At least four Redshank were again making their presence noisily known on the Mid Brooks today, often getting chased by the Lapwings, as were a pair of Dunlin which dropped in later in the day.

A decent day for waders all round with at least sixteen Black-tailed Godwits on the Mid Brooks and three LRPs and a single Ruff on the North Brooks. The Great White Egret flew down in front of Winpenny Hide again and showed very well for everyone present.
Great White Egret again coming in to land at Winpenny
At The Hanger I picked up a distant hirundine moving east through the now torrential rain which proved to be my first Swallow of the year, followed closely by a couple more shortly after. Clearly the long awaited blast of southerly wind and rain was beginning to deliver the goods. The hirundine arrivals continued at Hails View with at least one more Swallow and fifteen Sand Martins feeding here early afternoon before they gained height and continued north. There were at least seven singing Chiffchaffs around the reserve again while Willow Warblers were singing rather half-heartedly at West Mead and Hail's View. (Good to hear from Gary Trew on Tuesday too that the regular 'Willow Chiff' has returned to its usual spot at Fattengates, combining elements of both species in its song). Wildfowl numbers are really dropping away now, but it was entertaining watching the Teal displaying at Little Hanger.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Up on the Downs

After another relatively quiet and migrant-free morning on the patch yesterday, Kate and I headed up to Kithurst and Chantry Hills on the South Downs above Storrington for an afternoon walk; one of my favourite downland spots in this area after The Burgh. Sadly, despite checking every fenceline and field, if there was a Wheatear or a Ring Ouzel up there then it did its level best to avoid us - there wasn't even a Chiffchaff to be found in the bushes.

On the plus side, it's good to be reminded that some of the classic farmland bird species are still hanging on here. Through the song of several Skylarks and flight calls of Yellowhammers I picked up the jangling keys tones of a Corn Bunting singing near the dew pond.
In autumn and winter there was a decent-sized flock in this area (up to fifty in late October), and now listening to one singing away with the Surrey Hills in plain sight to the north - a county in which the species hasn't been recorded as breeding since at least the mid-90s - I couldn't help but feel a sense of poignancy. For the time being, the Corn Bunting remains a feature of the Sussex countryside but with the fields on the Downs here already ploughed, sown and green with early wheat and winter oilseed rape, one can't but help ponder for how much longer.