Monday, 25 June 2018

Mind the Gap

So yes, as I was saying, June has been quiet...

That wonderfully simple yet accurate term in the butterflying community - 'the June gap' - used to describe the midsummer lull between the dwindling of the spring species and the full emergence of the high summer ones could, I always think, be just as readily applied to birding at this time of year.

Of course there are plenty of resident and migrant birds busy breeding everywhere but still there is that unavoidable sense of things getting distinctly quiet come mid-June and with the spring being so late in getting going this year the onset of the doldrums felt particularly sudden and pronounced, and even I must admit to having found the urge to get up at 5 to hit the patch most mornings waning somewhat recently.
Adult and juvenile Rooks
There have nonetheless been a few birds of note at Pulborough this month with more records of Osprey and Garganey in the past couple of weeks (I still haven't caught up with the former on patch!) and the odd couple of Mediterranean Gulls here and there. What was presumably the same Avocet pair from earlier in the year made a brief reappearance on the North Brooks on the 8th, while the Winpenny area has been playing host to at least one Snipe throughout the breeding season. The seemingly solitary male Nightjar continues to call near Black Pond every evening I've checked, and it's been good to see at least one Barn Owl around on most visits lately - thankfully some of them made it through that awful end to the winter.

After the excitement of the Royal Tern at Pagham, the following evening (20th) delivered my first and so far only patch year tick of June in the form of two Common Terns flying south over the North Brooks. This was particularly noteworthy for me as it's the first Tern of any species on my Pulborough list.
Med Gull over Winpenny, 18th June
Thankfully, the four week quiet spell seems to be coming to an end with the first hints of birds beginning to move again in the past few days. On Sunday morning the Brooks held six Little Ringed Plovers and three Green Sandpipers - one of which dropped down in front of Winpenny for barely three minutes before flying off south at height - and a Sand Martin was noted powering south overhead; the first one I've seen here for a while so presumably not a local bird. Then last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a Water Rail calling as it flew over the house. With the evenings gradually beginning to draw in from now on (I get told off if I mention that to my other half...) and July just around the corner, hopefully wader passage will really get going in the coming few weeks.

Signs that the butterfly June Gap is coming to an end were evident on Sunday also, with singles of White-letter Hairstreak and White Admiral seen along with good numbers of Purple Hairstreak. Also of note were my first two Brown Hawkers of the year and two Water Voles plopping into the ditches on the recently opened Wetland Discovery Trail.
White-letter Hairstreak

Two other bits of good news worth a mention: I was delighted to read that the breeding waders at Pulborough have had such a good year with 41 Lapwing chicks and 10 Redshank chicks successfully reared, thanks in no small part to the hard work put in by all the RSPB staff and volunteers. Secondly, I was also pleased to hear that my record of a juvenile Iceland Gull flying over the visitor centre on 2nd April was accepted by the Sussex rarities committee, making it the first record for Pulborough Brooks!
Juvenile Lapwing

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A Royal Flush!

My plans for Tuesday evening were fairly sedate: water the allotment, a bit of reading (trying to finish Michael McCarthy's excellent The Moth Snowstorm) and hopefully finish the blog post I've been working on about how quiet June has been so far in birding terms.

Then the orange-billed Tern which had been reported at Church Norton earlier in the day and was presumed to be last year's Elegant Tern was re-identified as an American Royal Tern - the 2nd summer bird that's been in France and the Channel Islands in recent months - and in a matter of minutes I was heading south on the A29.

I got to Pagham in just over half an hour and was pleased to find just a dozen or so cars in the car park, and even more pleased to discover the bird still on show out on the Tern Island. It made a brief flight around the harbour before settling back on the island where it gave good views for all present, its huge carrot bill impossible to miss as it caught the evening sunlight. It was in all aspects a chunkier-looking bird than last year's Elegant, a clear half size larger than the Sarnies around it and with that stouter, straighter bill, pale back and punky black crew cut, spiked at the back and already beginning to recede into winter plumage at the front.

By the time I left at least sixty people had connected with the bird - it was good to run into Robin Stride among other familiar faces.

I even got home in time to finish my book! Now to finish that blog post about June being quiet...

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Dragons on the doorstep

Despite spending ten hours at the Brooks over the weekend it was proving to be relatively quiet on the bird front - unsurprisingly for the time of year - so on Sunday afternoon I headed to Fittleworth in search of dragonflies. Common Clubtails, to be precise, which I had no idea were so close to home (thanks to Pete Hughes and Amy Robjohns for their Twitter tip-offs!).

A short walk from the B2138 road bridge east along the River Rother and sure enough we enjoyed fantastic views of at least 4-5 Clubtails patrolling about and occasionally perching on the riverside vegetation. There were also amazing numbers of Banded Demoiselles around, including a female we watched catch and then eat a Mayfly right in front of us!
Common Clubtail
Common Clubtail
Banded Demoiselle (male)
Banded Demoiselles
Banded Demoiselle (female) with an unfortunate Mayfly

Closer to home: Hairy Dragonfly (male) at Pulborough Brooks

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Further adventures in Surrey seawatching

Just thirty days after the four Bonxies that Wes, Robin and I had past Leith Hill the last thing I was expecting was another inland pelagic surprise so soon, but that's exactly what happened this morning.

I'd just pulled up to the front gate at my work in Clandon and was beginning to open up when a rather distant bird caught my attention. I had my bins around my neck as usual and scanned to see a Swift dashing low over the trees, but then noticed two much larger black and white birds flapping slowly in the opposite direction in the distance. I couldn't immediately interpret what I was looking at but a few seconds through bins was enough to convince me they were something a bit unusual.

Luckily I had my scope on the back seat of my car (which, by the way, was still stopped in front of the gates with the engine running at this point!) so quickly got it out and got on the birds in question. I was then immediately in no doubt what I was looking at as the birds' brilliantly white backs and long scythe-like wings contrasting strongly with their jet black wing tips - even in the rather gloomy light conditions - and bulky bodies tapering at both ends with a yellowish tinge to the head ticked all the boxes for adult Gannets. I continued watching in disbelief and managed to get a couple of shaky-handed phonescope record shots as the birds powered slowly east-northeast over the trees, gliding quite frequently as they went.

I've had two previous records of Gannet in Surrey, both juveniles and both within a few weeks of each other in autumn and early winter 2013 but to see two full adults flying over the leafy landscape of Clandon in June was just bizarre. Presumably they were 'cutting the corner' of the south-east and heading for the Thames Estuary and had got pushed down low by the cloud and drizzle. It was interesting to note that another or one of the same two (age unknown at this stage) was seen flying west over Sutton a couple of hours later.