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