Monday, 18 February 2019

Pulborough, 16th-17th February

Another good weekend on the patch which delivered two year ticks - one of them a new addition to my Pulborough list.

Saturday morning was a misty affair with not a great deal on offer on the Mid Brooks. The North Brooks appeared quiet too, at first glance, but before long I picked up a drake Goosander drifting about in front of Little Hanger hide. A hard species to catch up with at Pulborough, I've missed just one or two since we moved down here, so I was very pleased to finally get it on the patch list at last!

After a while of watching it from Little Hanger I moved on up to the Hanger from where the bird was still visible. At around 09:50 it took flight and did a lap of the North Brooks before heading northwest, and I assumed that was the last I'd see of it. However, it returned less than half an hour later and remained for most of the day - long enough for Paul to catch up with it (although he also said it flew off at one point before returning) and for me to get it on the attic list!

Other bits of note from Saturday were three Ruff, two Water Rail (heard only), 20 Shelduck, 150+ Black-tailed Godwits, at least six Gadwall and two pairs of Tufted Duck. Also great to see was a confiding Weasel at the Hanger. With all the early migrants arriving on the southerly winds in previous days I'd been half hoping to find a Little Ringed Plover, but sadly no joy - although it wasn't a totally fantastical wish as one turned up in London that day!
The Brooks were bathed in glorious sunshine on Sunday morning and there seemed to be singing Reed Buntings and drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers all over the place. The regular two White-fronted Geese showed well on the Mid Brooks with a few Canada Geese. It was nice to clearly see the belly bars and white blazes rather than just squinting at goose-shaped specks in the distance.

On the North Brooks, highlights were the three Ruff again, a single Dunlin and at least a hundred Black-tailed Godwits. A Peregrine and a Marsh Harrier were keeping the Lapwings and ducks - and each other - on their toes; one making a few lunges for the other each time it went to ground.

I kept one eye on the sky from the Hanger in the hope that one of these ridiculously early Swallows might whizz past. No such luck but I did notice two gleaming white dots high overhead which proved to be my first two Mediterranean Gulls of the year. They circled briefly over the North Brooks before drifting south.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Pulborough, 8th-10th February

After the excitement of realising I'd reached my UK 300 with last weekend's Bonaparte's Gull and another after work dash on Thursday to see my first inland/Surrey Black-throated Diver at Mercer's Lake near Redhill, a relatively quiet three day weekend meant only one thing: hitting the patch hard.

It's been a slower start to the Pulborough list this year with the likes of Bewick's Swan, Hawfinch and even Tawny Owl still missing, even though they were all on the list by this time in 2018. That's one of the joys of patch birding though; every year is different. Indeed, I'm only aware of one Hawfinch record at the Brooks so far in 2019 - will we ever see numbers like last winter's again, I wonder?

Nonetheless, the prospect of some windblown surprises courtesy of 'Storm Erik' had my hopes heightened for at least a couple of year ticks and perhaps something even better.

Friday was very wet and windy and although I'd planned to do an all-dayer I had to admit defeat early afternoon, with singles of Ruff and Dunlin, 110+ Black-tailed Godwits, a cream cap Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Golden Plover (heard only), 2 Little Egrets, 3 Snipe, 2 adult Great Black-backed Gulls, at least 40 Common Gull and 9 Shelduck the best I could find in the challenging conditions.

The GBBGs were nice to see as they're the least common of the commoner Gulls to get on the deck here, in fact former warden Pete Hughes today said he reckons he's seen more Common Cranes grounded at Pulborough than GBBGs! Presumably the two seen earlier in the week by Gary Trew and Alan Kitson, they became a regular fixture of the weekend, present again for much of the day on Saturday and just one making a brief appearance on Sunday morning. The increase in Black-tailed Godwits was interesting as numbers have been pretty low since Christmas and, as predicted by Pete H, numbers increased further with at least 480 present on Saturday and Sunday, a good number of them bearing leg rings.
Great Black-backed Gulls
An all day session in much better weather on Saturday got off to an auspicious start when I picked up what I believed to be a first winter Caspian Gull among the Common Gulls and a few Herrings Gulls on the North Brooks. It only stayed for a few minutes, sadly, but I managed a few grainy phonescoped shots which were enough to get confirmation of the ID from Ed Stubbs and Josh Jones at BirdGuides. A first record for Pulborough and perhaps one of the Goring birds that had been blown up the valley by Storm Erik, or simply just fancied a change of scene!
Caspian Gull
Saturday proved to be an excellent day with 66 species recorded in 9 hours. Juliet Moore picked up a Merlin blasting northwest over the Hanger towards the farmland just across the Arun. What was presumably the same bird was seen again from my attic on Sunday afternoon putting the wind up the Meadow Pipits in the same area. Other bits of note were a leucistic Black-headed Gull, 5 Ruff, 4 Dunlin, a Little Egret, 20 Shelduck and at least two Marsh Harriers. A late afternoon search for the lingering Woodlarks in Uppertons Field proved fruitless but a brief glimpse of a ringtail Hen Harrier being chased along the bank of the Arun by a Carrion Crow was more than ample consolation.
Leucistic Black-headed Gull

The Hen Harrier made an appearance again on Sunday afternoon, as it was flushed up from the long grass near Hail's View by Crows and flew towards the Mid Brooks. Other highlights from today's visit were my first patch Tufted Ducks of the year - a pair on the North Brooks late morning - along with the first singing Reed Bunting, 3 Ruff and an immature Marsh Harrier. At Hail's View, in addition to the Hen Harrier, were a single Dunlin, a pair of Stonechat and two Red Kites. A tight flock of at least 30 Golden Plover flew south early afternoon.
Tufted Ducks

The water levels have really gone up thanks to recent rainfall and the snow melt from off the Downs last week and the Arun is the closest I've seen it to overtopping its banks since we moved down to Pulborough in 2017. The next few days could be interesting!

Sunday, 3 February 2019

2nd-3rd February: Pulborough and Erith

Another quiet weekend on the patch, with the cold weather sadly failing to deliver any surprises. Indeed, it seems as if the only notable cold weather movement was restricted to the southwest of the country.

Five Golden Plover over Winpenny with a flock of Lapwing on Saturday morning got my hopes up but, if anything, numbers of the latter were rather down on recent weeks, as were wildfowl. A cream cap Marsh Harrier was patrolling over the Mid Brooks on Saturday while a single Peregrine was perched out on one of the fences, followed by two together in the same area on Sunday morning. As I've mentioned in a previous post, Black-tailed Godwit numbers have tailed off now with many of the Icelandic breeders having already headed to the east coast to prepare for their journey back to their breeding grounds in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, a group of forty or so were still on the North Brooks on both days this weekend, even though the majority of the water was frozen solid on Sunday morning. The cold weather is clearly making it harder for Barn Owls as two were out hunting well before sunset on Saturday. Remarkably, still the only Owl on my patch year list!

With the patch proving a little slow going I've been taking advantage of the increasing daylight hours by getting out and about for the odd twitch. An after work midweek dash for the 2nd winter Glaucous Gull at Holmethorpe SP near Redhill proved successful and suitably whet my appetite for another gull-based adventure, slightly further afield, to see the adult winter Bonaparte's Gull on the Thames at Erith on Sunday. The commonest gull missing from my UK list, I'd been more than a little tempted having seen photos on Twitter from the likes of Jamie Partridge and Rich Bonser, one of the finders of the bird and, when I realised I had a fairly free weekend ahead and Erith is a little over 75 minutes drive from Pulborough, it was a no brainer really.
Glaucous Gull, Holmethorpe SP, 30th January (it was quite dark!)
With bread in hand I arrived at the pier at around 11:00 only to be told by birders present - including the other finder Dante Shepherd - that the bird had been showing really well until about ten minutes before I arrived. Typical! Thankfully more birders turned up, including Rich B, who luckily picked the Bonaparte's up just as he'd thrown the last of his bread in the water and was preparing to leave. For the next quarter of an hour or so the bird put on a great show, either bobbing about on the river or frantically flying closer to us to try and nab some Morrison's sliced white from off of the Black-headeds. The light was perfect allowing for really clear views of the dainty black bill, flesh-coloured legs and neat black trailing edge to the wing - often even without the need for bins as it was just a few metres away. A nice bonus was a 1st winter Caspian x Herring bearing a German ring (X90A) which was known to Dante and some of the other regulars. Dante also picked up at least one Yellow-legged which I didn't properly get on.
Adult winter Bonaparte's Gull, Erith

Presumed 1st winter Herring x Caspian Gull
Having been birding for just under ten years but never being much of a twitcher I have at last limped my way to one away from 300 species in the UK; what will number 300 be, I wonder?*

* Edit: after a recount it seems that the Bonaparte’s was in fact my 300th UK species!