Sunday, 27 January 2019

26th and 27th January: Pulborough and Coldwaltham

I didn't get in a huge amount of time on the patch this weekend owing to being in Hampshire from Saturday lunchtime to Sunday lunchtime for the wedding of two very good friends. Despite that, I still managed to sneak a couple of patch year ticks.

Two hours at Pulborough first thing on Saturday before the wedding and the rain was a fairly lively session with my first Barn Owl of 2019 quartering over the South Brooks followed by an immature male Marsh Harrier causing havoc over the North Brooks. A decent selection of waders too with the highlights being at least five Ruff (Ads Bowley had ten later in the day), 36 Black-tailed Godwits and a single Golden Plover in with the Lapwings. Shelduck numbers are starting to increase now with at least 17 yesterday and 16 today.

Sadly I couldn't find the two White-fronted Geese that have been around on and off a few times this month, most recently on Friday, so it was a bit galling to see Sean Moore and Ads Bowley reporting them as present again on the North Brooks from late morning yesterday. Clearly these birds don't get up as early as I do!

With that in mind, when we got home just after noon today I quickly set up my scope in the attic and set about scanning what was clearly a good size flock of geese just south of the Stor. It took a while thanks to unfavourable sunlight and the distance but I eventually picked up the White-fronts among the Canadas and Greylags. Later on I dropped in to the reserve and had much better views of them from the Hanger - they were still in much the same spot when I headed home a little after 16:00.

With no news on the Glaucous Gull at Holmethorpe SP in Surrey since yesterday morning - which I was tempted to go and see - I decided instead to stay much closer to home and dropped in to Coldwaltham Sewage Works early afternoon in the hope of finding the two Siberian Chiffchaffs which have been around for a week or so at least.

Having not visited since the autumn I was pleased to find the place absolutely heaving with Chiffchaffs - certainly at least fifteen but likely many more. Some clumps of Willow had four or five in at a time and there were often as many as that flycatching out over the filter beds. I quickly found a Firecrest flicking around the brambles near the main gate but after an hour of sifting through the Chiffs still hadn't seen one I felt happy calling a tristis. Another look through the gate just as I was about to call it a day revealed a very cold two-tone looking Chiff on the edge of one of the filter beds - this looked the part. It flew off into the brambles and a short while later I heard a couple of clear tristis-type calls close by and the two Siberian Chiffchaffs revealed themselves together. As reported by Alan Kitson last week, these two do seem to associate with one another rather more exclusively instead of just tagging along with the other Common Chiffs. Nice birds to see so close to home.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Coldwaltham Sewage Works

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Pulborough, 19th-20th January

A distinctly soggy and rather uneventful few hours on Saturday morning, though it was good to add a few species to the patch year list, the first of which was at least three Yellowhammers along the Arun as I walked down to the Brooks from home. A showy Kingfisher at Winpenny was another first for the year as was a Grey Wagtail which flew over the North Brooks as I was heading for home early afternoon.

Other bits of note were singles of Dunlin and Little Egret on the North Brooks and a very confiding Firecrest near the picnic area, though always that bit too quick for my camera, sadly. As I was walking back towards the village an adult Great Black-backed Gull drifted northwest overhead.
A blurry Firecrest
Much more clement weather today and a better selection of birds to boot. Two Firecrests were closely associating in brambles near the visitor centre first thing. A single Golden Plover flew over Winpenny, calling - volunteers Graham and Neil reported at least four with the Lapwings later on - while five Ruff joined the Dunlin on the North Brooks though didn't return after one too many flushes, presumably from a Peregrine which I didn't see. Black-tailed Godwit numbers have really tailed off with a couple at West Mead yesterday and just 23 on the North Brooks, and three at West Mead and 25 or so from The Hanger today.
Black-tailed Godwits at West Mead
Best of all though was the now regular as clockwork Woodlark flock - 18 today - which flew up from Uppertons Field and away to the northeast at 16:15. My 79th species at Pulborough this year, and thanks must go to Alan Baker for the tips on the best place to stand!
Meadow Pipit - nice view of the hindclaw!


Monday, 14 January 2019

12th and 13th January: Pulborough and Newhaven

On Saturday I devoted a good few hours to an extended patch session to try and add a few species to what has been a fairly sedate start to the year list so far. It was a relatively quiet first couple of hours but things picked up later on when a ringtail Hen Harrier flew past Hail’s View followed by a cream cap Marsh Harrier - both year ticks. A Woodcock also flew up out of Black Wood past the viewpoint - my second of the year on patch after one over the car park after work on the 8th - while two Dunlin and thirty or so Black-tailed Godwits were the best on the North Brooks. Other bits of note were a Peregrine, nine Shelduck, three Red Kites and at least a dozen Gadwall. The patch year list now stands on 73.

Of note on Sunday but sadly not seen by me were two White-fronted Geese at West Mead. The presence of at least one domesticated and ringed individual in late summer and autumn makes judging truly wild birds at Pulborough a little trickier -  perhaps these were the same two seen in December, it will be interesting to see if they stick around.
White-fronted Geese, photo by Neil Buckthorpe

On Saturday afternoon news broke of the Hume's Leaf Warbler in Newhaven, present since just after Christmas apparently, so with only around three hours' birding time available on Sunday morning I knew where I was going to be heading.

I parked up on Robinson Road just as it was getting light and wandered the short distance up to the area where the bird had been seen the previous day. I was the first birder onsite but was soon joined by others including Alastair Gray. It didn't take long before we heard the bird call - rather like a more staccato Yellow-browed Warbler with a dash of Pied Wag - and it led us a bit of a merry dance around a hundred or more square metres of dense scrub before eventually giving pretty decent views in Elders at TQ442021.
Hume's Leaf Warbler, photo by James McCulloch

Sadly I barely had chance to think about getting my camera out before it flew off and disappeared into scrub quite some distance away. Thankfully others with more time got further views of it after I left and some even managed some photos. It seems likely it'll stick around for a while yet so hopefully lots of others connect with it. Other bits of note here were at least two Cetti's Warblers, a flyover Brambling and a Magpie nest-building.

Monday, 7 January 2019

2018 Pulborough Brooks patch review

2018 was my first full year patch watching RSPB Pulborough Brooks and it turned out to be a pretty good one! Since we moved down to Pulborough in summer 2017 I'd spent the latter part of that year getting to know the reserve, its hidden corners and some of the local birders. Heading into 2018, I was excited to see what I might find and, to make things that bit more interesting, I set myself a target of 150 species in one year – not a particularly easy tally for an inland site but, I hoped, a doable one given the quality and diversity of habitat. In the end I fell one short of that target but still can't complain given the great selection of species that I enjoyed over the course of the year, including finding three site firsts in the form of White-rumped Sandpiper, Iceland Gull and Common Scoter.

For posterity's sake I thought I'd just put together a little month-by-month summary here showcasing some of the highlights from my own perspective. I've tried to include as many noteworthy records from other birders as I can but, given how well-visited Pulborough is, it's probably inevitable I will have missed a few - please let me know if so and I will add them.


The year got off to a strong start with the overwintering Temminck's Stint incongruously adding itself to my New Year's Day list along with a Hawfinch (can't be too often those two species end up on the same day list, surely?) and my only Pulborough record to date of Whooper Swan. The Swan was seen again on the 4th on the North Brooks before flying off down the Arun. The first ringtail Hen Harrier of the year was also seen by some on the 1st.
Hen Harrier, photo by Chris and Juliet Moore

Two Bewick’s Swans were on the North Brooks on the 7th while two flew southwest over West Mead on the 28th - nice to see in what was generally a poor winter for them locally. A Great White Egret was seen at various points around the reserve on the 8th - the first of the year here. Up to three Ruddy Shelduck were around on and off for most of the month, joined on the South Brooks by an Australian Shelduck on the 27th.

My first patch Avocet was on the North Brooks on the 13th while thanks to volunteer Gary Trew I also picked up my first local Woodcock flying through the car park on the evening of the 25th. Two Tundra Bean Geese were on the North Brooks on the 14th which I sadly missed (the first of several frustrating dips this year!) Another gripping miss was the most fleeting of glimpses of what must have been a Water Pipit at West Mead on the 20th, I just needed a fraction longer look at the bird to be sure in my mind but sadly it flew too soon.

A flock of 49 Golden Plover flew over the South Brooks on the 27th – my highest count of this species here this year though Gary Trew had 120 on the 30th. The Black-tailed Godwit flock peaked towards the end of the month with a count of 800 or so on the 28th. The first Woodlark of the year was heard singing over the heath on the 30th.


The Temminck’s Stint remained a regular feature of my patch visits into February, as did the Hawfinches, which were most frequently encountered in small numbers either at Wiggonholt Church or in the Hanger Wood area – sometimes giving great views in the bushes close to the Hanger viewpoint. A Great White Egret was on the South Brooks on the 7th (Russ Tofts). Nine Red Kites from Hail’s View on the 17th was my highest count of this species here this year. A Woodlark was heard singing over the heath early on the 23rd, with Crossbill heard over Black Wood the same morning.
Temminck's Stint (with Dunlin), West Mead, photo by Ed Tooth


The month began with the wintry blast from the Beast From The East, which delivered some surprises – most surprising of all was a Cetti’s Warbler scurrying about on our neighbour’s patio on the 1st! Sadly the severe weather may have been the death knell for the Temminck's Stint as it wasn't seen again once the snow arrived. An Avocet was on the North Brooks on the 10th while the first newly arrived Chiffchaffs were singing on the same morning. It was also on the 10th that two Woodlark were confirmed as present on the heath. The first breeding Redshanks began arriving early in the month, with one on the 6th and three by the 11th. Six Dunlin on the 6th provided further evidence of wader movement as did a Ruff on the 14th and a Curlew and two Little Ringed Plover on the 17th. Three Wheatears on the 13th (Gary Trew) were the first of the year. 
Wheatear, photo by Gary Trew

Shelduck numbers reached their year peak mid-month with at least 32 present on the 17th. A Mediterranean Gull flew south with Black-headed Gulls on the 18th while a Great White Egret was on the Mid Brooks on the 21st along with two Curlews. A ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting over the North Brooks on the 23rd while a Spotted Redshank flew over on the same day. Two Great White Egrets were on the North Brooks on the 25th (viewable from my bedroom window!) while a singleton was on the Mid Brooks on the 27th. 
Shelduck, 18th March

Little Ringed Plover, 18th March


Eight Mediterranean Gulls flew northeast high over the garden on the 1st followed by a very vocal flock of 30-odd early on the 18th which evidently did a bit of a tour of the Arun Valley with sightings from other birders at Amberley (Mark McManus) and another onsite at Pulborough RSPB (Colin Nicholson).
Mediterranean Gull
The first Willow Warbler of the year was singing along the Arun near home on the 1st while the returning 'Willow/Chiff' was back at Fattengates by the 3rd. A single Great White Egret was present for much of the month and joined by a second on the 29th. A juvenile Iceland Gull flew west over the visitor centre with Lesser Black-backeds on the 2nd - a first for Pulborough! The first Sand Martins and Swallows appeared early in the month with fifteen and four through respectively on the 2nd. A single Common Tern flew east on the 3rd (Chris & Juliet Moore). A Water Pipit was on the North Brooks on the 6th (Chris Moore) – a surprisingly infrequent occurrence at Pulborough and the only confirmed record in 2018 though sadly not seen by me. A Long-eared Owl was also seen up the ZigZag path on the 6th.
Great White Egret, 14th April
The first
of the year arrived on the North Brooks on the 8th along with a drake Common Scoter (another site first after my first nocmig record over the garden on 25th March). The Spoonbill stayed until at least the 13th but the Scoter sadly did a vanishing act less than an hour after I first found it. The first Nightingale of the year also arrived on the 8th, singing near the Hanger. Three Bramblings (two female, one male) were hanging around the tea room feeders on the 10th – a good find by Gary Trew and the showiest individuals of this species I’ve seen here.
Common Scoter drake on the North Brooks, 8th April
Brambling near the tea room feeders, 10th April
The first Lesser Whitethroat of the year was singing on the 13th, with two by the following day. Meanwhile, on the 14th a Tree Pipit was singing on the heath and the first Sedge Warbler was singing near Nettley's. A Whimbrel was present on the 15th and the 17th.
Whimbrel, photo by Gary Trew
The long staying Avocet pair lingered throughout the month and were seen mating on occasion. The first Wood Sandpiper of the year was seen from West Mead and Winpenny on the 19th (George Kinnard). The first Cuckoo arrived on the 19th. On the 23rd Lyn and Mike Hunt found a Black-winged Stilt which remained until the 25th (thankfully long enough for me to twitch it at dawn just a couple of hours after landing at Gatwick after a few days in Spain!). 
Black-winged Stilt, 25th April
Also on the 25th Matt Palmer had a Wood Sandpiper on the Mid Brooks, three Whimbrel on the North Brooks and two Hobbies over the heath - the first 2018 record of this species. The first Common Whitethroats arrived in the third week. A Turtle Dove flew low over Adder Alley early on the 27th - the only record of the year. A drake Pochard on the 28th was my first of the year - a rather scarce species at Pulborough.The popular family of Tawny Owls appeared near West Mead towards the end of the month and performed well into the first week or so of May until the RSPB took the decision to close off the seasonal path to minimise disturbance to the birds. A stonking male Whinchat on the North Brooks on the 29th was my 140th species of the year. Two Great White Egrets were at Winpenny on the 29th and the first Swifts were seen on the same day.  
Juvenile Tawny Owl


After an unsettled and cold end to April the first couple of days of May were enough to shake off the dregs of winter and by the end of the first week it was feeling much more like early summer, with the first truly hot day of the year on the 7th (little did we know then we were heading into one of the hottest, driest summers on record!). The first Garden Warbler of the year was singing at Fattengates on the 1st, while two Cuckoos were singing onsite on the same day. A Great White Egret showed well in front of Little Hanger on the 1st while on the 5th the first Osprey of the year was seen, circling briefly over Winpenny before flying north. On the 7th there were an impressive six Wood Sandpipers on the North Brooks (Clive Hope). A Greenshank made an appearance on the 6th while a Long-eared Owl was found on the 10th. The first Nightjar of the year was churring on the heath on the 13th and the first Spotted Flycatcher was living up to its name in Black Wood on the 17th. A smart drake Garganey (aren't they all?) was at Winpenny from the 17th to the 19th at least.
Osprey, 5th May, photo by Ian Tamon

Long-eared Owl, 10th May
From the 18th onwards Winpenny was the place to see waders with a remarkable few days of action there, the water level clearly optimum for birds passing through. A Spotted Redshank dropped in on the 18th and another or the same one was present on the 21st and 22nd. A Grey Plover was present from the 21st to at least the 23rd and there were two on the 26th. Two summer plumage Dunlin were present from the 21st -23rd and were joined by an equally colourful Curlew Sandpiper from the 22nd-23rd. Ringed Plover were present in varying numbers for several days, peaking at at least ten on the 23rd and 24th, while a remarkable 22 Greenshank dropped in on the 24th, reducing to five on the 25th and four on the 26th. A Wood Sandpiper joined in the fun from the 23rd to the 26th while a Temminck’s Stint was a 'blink and you'll miss it' job on the 23rd and 24th.

Four Mediterranean Gulls flew over on the 20th while two dropped in on the South Brooks on the 26th. The first Lapwing and Redshank chicks made an appearance mid-month while it was clear by the third week that there were only three Nightingale territories onsite, despite hopes that more would arrive once the weather improved after a cold start to spring.


The month got off to a good start with a drake Garganey on the South Brooks, a Spoonbill at Winpenny and an Osprey and two Mediterranean Gulls over the North Brooks (Alan Baker et al) - all on the 1st - but otherwise it was a relatively quiet month, as one would expect for the time of year. The Garganey was seen again on the 2nd while the first returning Green Sandpiper was on the South Brooks on the 6th (Alan Baker/Alan Kitson). Two Common Terns flew east on the 7th and two more flew south over the North Brooks on the 20th. Two Avocets were present on the 8th and four Crossbills were on the heath on the 12th (Frank Antram). Two Mediterranean Gulls flew over on the 19th. More dispersing waders began to appear later in the month with three Green Sandpipers on the 24th and a peak year count of eleven Little Ringed Plovers on the 28th. The RSPB announced towards the end of the month that it had been a very successful season for the breeding waders with 41 Lapwing chicks and 10 Redshank chicks making it to juvenility.
Green Sandpiper


The drought-induced doldrums well and truly started to set in in July, but at least for us birders the month tends to offer the first real signs of early autumn and seven Little Ringed Plovers on the 1st was certainly an encouraging start. Rather less seasonally, a Woodlark also made its presence known on the same day, singing over Hanger Wood. As the water levels fizzled away to almost nothing after weeks without any proper rain, the remaining pool on the North Brooks (kept partially filled for the benefit of the cattle) proved particularly enticing and more waders began to trickle in as days went by with 6-7 Green Sandpipers on the 5th, increasing to nine by the 10th and twelve on the 21st. The first returning Black-tailed Godwits began to arrive too with ten on the 10th followed by three Common Sandpipers on the 17th and odd ones and twos of Dunlin and Greenshank

Mid-late July is always a classic time for gull dispersal so it was no real surprise to see a juvenile Mediterranean Gull drop in on the 22nd followed by two more on the 29th. Liam Curson also had a third calendar year bird following a tractor around the South Brooks on the 10th. An early returning (or local breeding?) Whinchat was on the North Brooks on the 21st followed by two together in the same area on the 28th. A female Wigeon on the North Brooks on the 28th and 29th was a bit unexpected, perhaps a non-breeding bird. A Grasshopper Warbler took up residence on the east side of the North Brooks from the 27th, sometimes heard reeling softly.


As expected the trickle of waders continued into August, despite the lack of any substantial rain, with a single Common Sandpiper from the 3rd to the 5th joined by a second on the 6th. Ten Green Sandpipers were present on the 5th and a Curlew flew south on the 10th. The first returning Wood Sandpiper was on the North Brooks on the 5th followed by another on the 21st. Willow Warblers began moving early in the month with half a dozen or so onsite on the 5th and at least double that number by the 11th. Other migrant passerines followed with a Reed Warbler in the picnic area on the 8th and a single Whinchat on the 10th followed by four on the 13th and at least ten on the 24th. From mid-month onwards hirundine numbers began to swell with lots of Swallows in particular starting to gather on the fences and hedges around the reserve.
Lesser Whitethroat, 5th August

Juvenile Swallow, Redstart Corner, 13th August
The star bird of the month though was surely the Pied Flycatcher up Green Lane on the 10th, a great find by Clive Hope (though sadly another dip for me!). The first returning Wheatear was noted on the 19th as was a Spotted Flycatcher - the latter followed by at least three or four around the horse paddocks on the 25th and 26th. A Tree Pipit was near West Mead on the 24th and 25th while three Yellow Wagtails on the 24th were the first sign of returning individuals of this species.
Tree Pipit and Song Thrush, 24th August
Gary Trew had an Osprey over the village heading towards the Brooks on the 19th which I somehow missed despite being slap bang in the middle of the reserve; it's fair to say this was my most dipped species on the patch in 2018! The 25th was a particularly busy day for passerine movement with at least ten Lesser Whitethroats around, some of them still singing, and 5-6 Redstarts around the aptly named Redstart Corner. On the 27th I finally caught up with a patch Firecrest flitting about and sub-singing in scrub on the eastern edge of the reserve. The end of the month saw the year's only Little Stint (Carey Lodge/Russ Tofts), present for just a few hours on the North Brooks on the 29th.

Yellow Wagtails


The continued paucity of water and an almost total absence of easterlies meant September was a decidedly tepid affair with no new year birds for me and a very disappointing wader passage - especially in comparison to 2017. There were a few bits of note though including at least four Redstarts, three Whinchats and a Reed Warbler onsite on the 7th and a strong passage of at least two hundred House Martins south on the same day and four to five Hobbies around.
Reed Warbler
What was presumably the same Reed Warbler hung around in Adder Alley for at least a week, singing occasionally. The best birds were reserved for the end of the month, however, with Pulborough regular Paul finding first two Great White Egrets on the North Brooks on the 29th followed by two Cattle Egrets with the Highlands on the 30th - it was inevitable the latter would turn up sooner or later given the remarkable influx of this species at the time, but still a great record. Sadly they didn't stay long and flew off east before I could get there. The lack of water kept the wildfowl numbers low right through the month but it was encouraging at least to see the first Pintail arrive on the 7th, and increasing numbers of Snipe as the month progressed, peaking at 33 on the 17th.
Cattle Egret, 30th September, photo by Paul



Another fairly quiet and largely dry month, though what little rain we did get at least saw the water levels on the Brooks begin to increase and with it the numbers of wintering wildfowl and Lapwings slowly start to grow. Away from the water birds the first returning Redwing was seen on the 6th followed by a single Fieldfare on the 21st and a general increase in Blackbirds and Song Thrushes - I recorded at least 52 of the latter on the 7th including a flock of a dozen over Fattengates. The biggest surprise of the month came on the 8th when a Yellow-browed Warbler was recorded on nocmig from home, presumably flying over as it only called once. 

A late Redstart was seen at West Mead on the 19th and the 21st while singles of Crossbill and Brambling flew over on the 20th. Late October of course sees the start of Woodpigeon season and while no sustained counts were made I did note eighteen-hundred flying southwest in an hour on the 27th. The first Short-eared Owl of the year was seen on the 23rd (Graham Whitehead), 24th and 28th. A ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting over the South Brooks on the 30th (Gary Trew). Marsh Harriers again became a regular sight quartering around the reserve this month, with at least three present on the 27th; these are thought to be some of the individuals that roost at WWT Arundel.
Marsh Harrier, photo by Ed Stubbs



The first properly wet spells since the summer drought finally saw the Brooks water levels back to something approaching normal for the time of year and the wildfowl numbers increased accordingly! In fact they increased so much that a Red-breasted Merganser turned up on the North Brooks on the 16th - only the second documented record for the reserve after one in 2009 so I was more than a little disappointed to miss it! A Grey Plover was on the North Brooks on the 3rd while another was at Winpenny with a Curlew on the 16th. The only Hawfinch of the autumn/second winter period flew over Adder Alley on the 3rd. Short-eared Owls were seen on the 4th, 10th, 11th, 19th, 20th and 25th, with the year high count of three together on the 11th. Merlins were seen on the 4th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 22nd. A Woodcock flew through Hanger Wood on the 11th. A Great White Egret flew over the Zig Zag on the 16th. A Red-billed Teal on the North Brooks on the 25th was a bit unexpected, clearly an escape and perhaps the same bird seen at Arlington Reservoir a few weeks before.
Short-eared Owl, photo by Dorian Mason


The obvious star bird of the month and, arguably, the whole year was the White-rumped Sandpiper, present at Winpenny from the 8th and last seen on the 13th - a first for Pulborough Brooks and the wider Arun Valley and the first twitchable WRS in Sussex since the 1990s. A Firecrest was on Green Lane on the 13th and at least two were seen over the Christmas period in the Fattengates area. Ruff numbers increased from one mid-month to at least seven over the Christmas week. Merlins were seen on the 11th and the 21st. On the 14th four Bewick's Swans flew northeast from the North Brooks at first light - the first here this winter. Later the same day two unringed adult White-fronted Geese were found among the usual geese grazing near the Arun. 

An impressive flock of Woodlarks, varying in number between 18 and 22, were seen flying in and out of Uppertons Field on a number of occasions from the 18th until the end of the year. What was surely a Dartford Warbler called quietly from the scrub on the north side of Uppertons Field as I was walking down the ZigZag on the 23rd but I wasn't able to pin it down, sadly. Two Black Swans were seen from Winpenny on the afternoon of the 27th. Two Woodcock flew up from the heath early on the 28th while later the same day a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen near the top of Green Lane – as far as I’m aware the only record of this rapidly declining species on the reserve in 2018. 
White-rumped Sandpiper, 8th December