Sunday, 2 May 2021

Accidental Big Day

I hadn't planned to do it. In fact, I headed out birding in a very leisurely fashion this morning. I'd glanced out of the window at around 05:45 and seen the fog so opted instead for a coffee and a browse through the latest British Birds in bed, before setting out at around 07:15. Quite unlike my normal dawn raid on the patch!

I've only ever managed to record over 80 species in a day at Pulborough Brooks once before, while taking part in the very socially distanced Mole Valley Bird Race in May 2020, when the various teams competed remotely from their respective patches. That day I achieved what I considered to be a very respectable total of 83 species from 04:00 to noon. I'd often wondered if I could beat it and had talked about giving it a go with Ed Stubbs at some stage. 

In the end, today turned out to be that day. The morning started well with a flyover Little Ringed Plover near home, a Great Crested Grebe asleep on the Arun (only my second record here this year) and the usual singing Cuckoo, Yellowhammer and a noticeable increase in Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers.

Great Crested Grebe

A scan of the North Brooks revealed a Wood Sandpiper with the assembled Greenshanks and Redshanks; my first of the year here and always a nice bird to find locally. Soon after finding the bird I pointed it out to Jackie Day and other visiting birders, including Steve Baines, with whom I birded the reserve for most of the rest of the morning, notching up another year tick in the form of a Hobby over Winpenny. That took the patch year list to 135, which felt like a very satisfying morning's effort. 

Distant Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank

After saying goodbye to Steve at the car park and hello to various other regulars and RSPB staff, I decided the North Brooks was worth another scan with rain imminently forecast. In the end it didn't produce a great deal, but as I thought about heading for home early afternoon, it struck me I had topped 80 species for the day list for only the second time. A few more additions including Stonechat and Meadow Pipit took the list to 84, my best ever day tally! Now I could really head home feeling smug, I thought. Halfway down the footpath towards the village, the call of a Greenshank had me looking up to see one being chased by a Peregrine - the latter taking the list to 85!

Peregrine vs Greenshank!

After a brief pit stop at home, a bit of a gardening and a trip to the allotment, I decided a return visit to the Brooks had to be done. Could I reach 90 in a day? There were still so many common bits I was missing. I started with a loop of Black Wood where I soon added Willow Warbler, Jay and Coal Tit, before returning to the North Brooks. An earlier reported Yellow Wagtail was nowhere to be seen but suddenly a Curlew appeared; only my second record here this year, and 89 for the day! By this time, I had been joined at the Hanger by legendary former Pulborough Brooks regular, Jon Winder, who said he'd seen a Great Black-backed Gull earlier, and also heard a Tawny Owl which I'd missed. Gripping! With the light fading we both agreed to head for home, but not before a check of the field by the church produced the hoped-for Barn Owl. 90!

It turns out I also missed the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year earlier in the day, so with that, Tawny Owl and the various other omissions, I'm now wondering whether it would be possible to reach 100 in a day. Maybe one day...

Monday, 5 April 2021

It begins...

After a dribs and drabs sort of affair for much of March (quite apt after my last blog post), migration has at last stepped up a gear in the past week with some real goodies turning up at Pulborough in recent days.

The undoubted star of the show was the stunning male Pied Flycatcher which has been present since Saturday morning until the time of writing. It was performing particularly well this morning along the fence line in the northeast corner of Brook Field, and this evening was flicking around one of the large Oaks up Green Lane. Although we've had a couple of good autumns for this species on the reserve, this certainly wasn't one on my radar to add to the year list so soon. Indeed, it's the first one I've seen in the spring here, and the first adult male I've seen anywhere for years.

Pied Flycatcher

One of the true harbingers of spring at Pulborough, the first Nightingale of the year rather hesitantly announced its arrival along Adder Alley on Easter Day, followed by another singing very briefly at the Hanger this evening; three days earlier than my previous earliest record here. 

There's a nice selection of waders to be seen on the North Brooks now, with up to three pairs of Avocet looking very settled, plus up to three Little Ringed Plovers, several pairs of Redshank and Lapwing and five Ruff. 24 Black-tailed Godwit stayed for a few days last week, many resplendent in breeding plumage, but these have since moved on. A Grey Plover on the North Brooks this morning was the first I've seen on the reserve since 2019. Sadly, its stay was short-lived as it met its end at the talons of a Peregrine this afternoon. 

Wildfowl numbers have really dropped now. There were a couple of drake Pintails lingering into this weekend and a dozen or so Wigeon and Shoveler as of yesterday but otherwise it's only really the Teal hanging on in reasonable numbers. The first Garganey of the year, a splendid drake, showed well on the North Brooks on Wednesday and Thursday but hasn't been seen since.

Garganey. Photo: Dave Carlsson

Warbler numbers continue to increase, with dozens of Chiffchaffs around now, many paired up and already nest building, and Blackcap numbers are steadily building too. The first Willow Warbler turned up on 31st March, followed by at least two more this past weekend. Strangely no Sedge Warbler or Whitethroat yet, although it's still early days, but the Cetti's Warbler persists below the Hanger.

Chiffchaff

It took until the last weekend of March for me to see my first Sand Martins, and Swallows only began trickling through last week, but this past weekend has seen good numbers of both, plus the first House Martin of the year on Easter Day.

Other highlights from this weekend included a year first Great Crested Grebe on the Arun on Saturday and Sunday, a fly-through male Hen Harrier on Saturday and a sloughing male Adder enjoying the sun (out of the wind!) most days.

Great Crested Grebe

Adder

After such a great ten days or so, my patch year list now stands on 119, out of a total of 121 for the reserve so far. Hopefully once this icy spell has passed the flood gates will really open!

Monday, 8 March 2021

Patience

Another relatively quiet (and cold!) morning in Pulborough and Clandon got me thinking a little bit about patience - surely one of the most important traits for any birder. When Kate and I were last in South Africa a few years back, the owner of one of the guest houses we stayed at commented on my patience as I sat out in the garden for several hours watching thousands upon thousands of Cape Cormorants streaming past to roost. It was just a friendly, passing remark of course but it occurred to me that sitting in one place watching one landscape for one particular reason would seem to some people a terribly boring thing to do, I suppose; rather like being dragged to a gallery if one had little to no interest in or understanding of art, there's a certain kind of headspace that needs to be tapped into for one to appreciate something like watching birds for any real length of time. 

There are many kinds of patience required to be a birder, whether local patch workers hoping for the arrival of a particular species to add to the year list, vismiggers staring hopefully at empty skies or twitchers waiting for hours for a rarity to reappear. Right now, after months of cold, darkness and lockdown, most of us are eagerly awaiting the return of the early spring migrants. Few things can lift a birder's spirits at this time of year than the first Wheatear or Sand Martin, although the proliferation of bird news and social media posts can lead to a distinct feeling of FOMO and, yes, impatience, especially if we find ourselves a few days behind our peers in seeing that first returning sub-Saharan visitor

Today, after the cold start, turned into a pleasant, calm and relatively mild day, thanks to the shift in the wind direction to west/southwesterly after over a week of northeasterlies. Indeed, it may only have been a subtle change but there was an unmistakeable hint of southern promise to the air. As I strolled round the field at work during my teabreak, it had the feel of a quiet theatre just before a grand performance is about to begin. The stage is set, the audience are seated and the actors are on their way. All that’s needed is a little patience and all will be revealed. 

Good things come to those who wait... Wheatears in Clandon last spring


Sunday, 28 February 2021

Snow on the last day of Winter

Well, not really, but tomorrow is the first day of meteorological Spring and this morning did deliver two white gifts from the heavens in the form of an Avocet and a Mediterranean Gull, both on the North Brooks and both year ticks (102).

The Avocet spent much of the morning feeding in the larger back pool before wandering over to the shallow edge to roost. When it did so I caught sight of a red ring on one tibia. Despite watching it for quite some time I didn't see the other tibia to confirm that one had a matching ring but it seems very likely this is last year's breeding male returning, as that bird had red rings on both tibias. It will be great to have them back again this spring, if so.

Avocet

The Med Gull was an adult moulting in to breeding plumage. It dropped out of the sky with a bunch of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls, then hung around for a while before flying off south.

Mediterranean Gull

Other highlights from this morning's 77 species total included five Tufted Ducks (three drakes), four Ruff (including one with a smart white collar), five Dunlin, a single Golden Plover, four Black-tailed Godwits, two Red Kites, two Peregrines and at least ten singing Chiffchaffs. Full checklist here.



Saturday, 27 February 2021

Spring?

Despite the cold and frosty start, today turned into a beautifully sunny and quite warm day. It was still icy as I headed out down the river from home at first light though, but as I approached the tree line from the Pig Run, the sound of a Chiffchaff singing came drifting through the crisp air. There had clearly been quite an arrival overnight as it turned out to be one of at least seven around the nature trail, plus another on the edge of Black Wood.

The North Brooks was fairly quiet, with a noticeable reduction in ducks, particularly Pintail. Two Black-tailed Godwits were the only waders of note here. I headed round to check the Mid Brooks which produced five Dunlin and singles of Ruff and Golden Plover among the hundred or so Lapwings. There was a clear distinction between the wintering flock and those preparing to breed onsite, with much displaying going on among the latter. 

Down at Hail's I sadly wasn't able to find the Red-legged Partridge that Paul Davy had yesterday afternoon, but it was nice to see the lingering male Hen Harrier again, quartering briefly before heading off to Greatham, flushing dozens of Snipe in the process.

Mid-morning I met up with Anna, Rob and Paula from the RSPB to help with a Woodlark survey. We each took up a post at likely spots between the visitor centre and the Triangle for an hour and confirmed the presence of two pairs. Rob also imparted news of a pair of Crossbills on the heath - a year tick for me - so I pretty hastily headed that way after saying my goodbyes and connected with three munching on pine cones near the new access gates. The male was even singing occasionally in the now very pleasant sunshine. A very nice way to reach 100 on the patch year list - the first time I've reached that milestone before March.

Woodlark

Crossbill

Full eBird checklist here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S82437322

On my way home I also saw my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year near Wiggonholt Church.

Small Tortoiseshell


Monday, 22 February 2021

Light at the end of the tunnel

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like this winter has been very long, and I know I’m not alone in considering my birding very important for my mental well-being. 

This seemingly never-ending lockdown and what seems like weeks on end of grey and rain, the recent cold snap aside, have really made the second half of winter drag. A big morale boost for me towards the end of winter in recent years has always been the day when my work hours change to summer timings (08:30-17:00) meaning there’s enough light and time for an hour or so's birding before work.

Today was that day! I jumped out of bed in total darkness and it was only just beginning to get light as I arrived on the patch. I wasn't expecting much from the first such pre-work visit of the year, but as I passed the pipe pond at Fattengates a clatter of wings followed by a series of yapping calls alerted me to three Mandarin Ducks flying up from the water. Just silhouettes of course, half an hour before sunrise, but still a very welcome year tick after a fortnight's drought. My local year list is now teetering on 99, with the Pulborough site total for the year on 103 - I've missed Great Egret, Redshank, Curlew and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker so far, in case you were wondering.

Year ticks aside, it was just such a great feeling to be out early again, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of what felt like a remarkably spring-like dawn, despite it still being February. Indeed, this past weekend's weather could scarcely have been more different from the previous one's sub-zero temperatures and biting winds. Birdsong has really ramped up a gear in the past few days, with Cetti's Warbler, Firecrest, Chiffchaffs and Woodlarks all in fine voice on Sunday.

Other bird highlights from this morning's 47 species tally included a single adult White-fronted Goose on the South Brooks, a Tufted Duck pair on the pool at West Mead, a Barn Owl near Fattengates, a Woodcock over the ZigZag path and the aforementioned singing Woodlarks. Bring on spring!

Firecrest yesterday


Monday, 11 January 2021

New year, new list

 As I said in my recent end of year round-up, I'm absolutely determined that 2021 will be the year I reach 150 on my Pulborough year list.

It's been a good start so far with 91 already on the scoreboard from five patch visits which, based on previous years attempts, sets me roughly on course to hit 100 by March.

Highlights so far have included a flock of 39 White-fronted Geese on the 10th, 7 Goosanders and 2 Tufted Ducks (also on the 10th), the celebrity Marsh Tit at Fattengates, the long-staying Cetti's Warbler on the east side of the North Brooks, the wintering flock of Woodlarks in Uppertons Field, a couple of Chiffchaffs near the sewage works and a bonus early Blackcap in our neighbour's garden on the 3rd. A gripping miss was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker seen by Mike Unwin on the 2nd, as this is a species I've still yet to catch up with on the patch, despite the RSPB having recording drumming birds in spring on audio recorders dotted about the place. I'm going to be helping the RSPB with this project this year though so hopefully will finally catch up with one.

Some photo highlights of 2021 so far...

Marsh Tit

Firecrest

Blackcap

Raven

White-fronted Geese leaving the North Brooks

Tufted Ducks on the Arun

Stonechat

White-fronted Geese heading off

Goosanders on the Arun, five of the seven.