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