Sunday, 31 March 2019

Pulborough, late March

As is so often the case, March this year delivered a rather hesitant trickle of migrants for most of the month before ending with a rush of arrivals in the last few days.

The first Little Ringed Plover of the year is always a very welcome sight and this year's came at Winpenny on the 17th (Steve Chastell/Paul Davy) with at least two or three present on a number of days later in the month and perhaps as many as five on the 31st with two on the South Brooks early afternoon and three from the Hanger in the evening.
Little Ringed Plover. Photo: Carey Lodge
Redshanks and Lapwings are both well and truly back on territory, with at least ten of the former around most days now, making their presence heard from all around the reserve!
The high pressure towards the end of the month slowed down any visible hirundine arrivals - many presumably cruising over at altitude - with just a handful of Sand Martins and a couple of Swallows and House Martins reported. That was until today when a shift to rather more unsettled weather and a brisk northeasterly brought down impressive numbers. Around two hundred mostly Sand Martins were feeding over the North Brooks this evening along with at least half a dozen Swallows. 

The widespread arrivals of Garganeys on the 23rd/24th initially fell rather short of Pulborough with a single drake found by Paul Davy at Waltham Brooks on the 24th. By the end of the week though a drake made a couple of appearances on the patch, first on the North Brooks on the 28th (Tracy Bain) then at Hail's View on the 29th (Alan Baker, C&J Moore, Paul Davy). By today there were two drakes and a female at Waltham, so presumably the Pulborough individual is among that trio. Hopefully I'll catch up with another on the patch at some point this year!
Black-tailed Godwits at West Mead
A female Merlin continues to be a fairly regular sight around the place, mostly recently flying low over the Hanger this evening, putting the wind up the hirundines out on the North Brooks (although it did make counting the latter a lot easier as they all flew up high in a tight flock!)

A first winter Little Gull was seen on the 15th and the 18th, while the long staying pair of White-fronted Geese at last departed this week, last reported on the 26th. 

The common warblers are certainly coming in thick and fast now with the first singing Willow Warbler in Black Wood from the 29th and at least a dozen Chiffchaffs and half a dozen Blackcaps noted on most visits.

Remarkably, aside from a distant glimpse of a probable from the Hanger this evening, I've managed to get through March without a single patch Wheatear, and I haven't heard of any reports from anyone else either. Hopefully there'll be one any day now - the forecast for the coming week doesn't look brilliant with just a whiff of southerlies on the cards on Thursday but the possible showers and northerly winds should bring down anything that does try to make it through. 

Onto nocmig and, when the wind at last abated, a series of night recordings in the third week of the month proved productive with Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover (video below) and a flurry of Common Scoter the highlights. As ever I've still got a backlog of recordings to go through so am looking forward to seeing what else was captured. For regular updates on my nocmigging check out Trektellen.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Pulborough, 9th-10th March

A classic March weekend, weather-wise, and just a few more signs of birds on the move despite the blustery conditions.

Gulls were a strong feature of both days but particularly on Sunday, with at least eight adult Mediterranean Gulls (in various stages of summer plumage acquisition) around this afternoon plus seven Lesser Black-backeds and good numbers of Herring, Common and Black-headed.

Saturday morning's undoubted star bird was a female Merlin which sat out in the short grass on the North Brooks for several minutes before flying off low over the water. Also of note was a bit of Fieldfare movement with at least 110 quite high east in little over half an hour or so. I noted very few Redwing all weekend.

The lingering pair of White-fronted Geese remained on the South Brooks, most reliably viewed from Hail's View, which has also been the best place to catch up with most of the waders lately with high counts of 5 Ruff, 6 Dunlin and 3 Redshank in the past few days, plus the first Green Sandpipers (2) of the year on Friday. Black-tailed Godwit numbers have been slowly creeping back up this week, with around 50 present on the North Brooks today.
Highlight of the weekend for me though was finding a patch tick Cattle Egret from the Hanger, strutting about among the cows (surprise, surprise!) in the field between the A283 and the North Brooks. I and most of the other regulars check this field regularly for this very reason but, prior to today, Paul Davy's record of two briefly on the North Brooks last September was the only Pulborough record of this species. Quite often a Little Egret briefly gets the pulse going before its true identity is confirmed, but just as I was about to write today's bird off as another false alarm I realised it did indeed have a yellow bill and yellow legs. Bingo! I put the news out and headed round to Mare Hill Road where I met up with Gary Trew and Paul and we enjoyed good views of the bird before it flew at 16:55 and battled slowly southwest against the wind, presumably to roost at Arundel WWT where one has been coming in most evenings through the winter.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

A day to remember

When I moved down to Pulborough from near Guildford two years ago, fellow Surrey emigrant and one time Pulborough stalwart Jon Winder assured me 'you'll never have a bad day at Pulborough Brooks'. He was absolutely right; even the less action packed days here serve as a stark reminder of just how quiet a quiet day at my previous patch, Shalford Water Meadows, could be. Other days are just outstanding and today was one of those days that all patch birders look forward to. 

There's something about early spring that I just love - the bristling feeling of expectation in the air and almost palpable sense of birds rushing towards our shores from warmers climes - and after heavy rain last night I was particularly excited to hit the Brooks this morning.

West Mead was fairly quiet with just the usual selection of ducks on show and a Water Rail squealing somewhere towards Black Wood. At Winpenny the fun started though as I quickly picked up the two White-fronted Geese that have been lingering locally since the back end of 2018. Searching through the Lapwings in front of the hide I found the first Dunlin of the day. I could also hear a Redshank calling but wasn't able to locate it. The Lapwings were very vocal and displaying but I was sure I could hear a Curlew calling in among all the bustle and, sure enough, a minute or so later one flew in from the south and dropped down on the marsh; my first here this year. No sooner had it done so than all the waders whooshed up in the air as a male Merlin made a dash through the middle of them and lunged straight for the Meadow Pipits and Skylarks hiding out in the grass. It gave excellent views as it twisted and turned at breakneck speed inches above the ground before vanishing towards the farmland across the Arun as quickly as it had appeared. The Curlew attempted to land a couple more times but the Lapwings gave it a less than warm welcome so it eventually gave up and disappeared off to the west.
The North Brooks were rather quieter than of late with just a further four Dunlin, five Ruff and three Black-tailed Godwits of note. A few Gulls - Common and Black-headed - were dropping in but not like the numbers seen yesterday which produced a 2cy Med Gull and an adult, the latter of which I missed. After a while I moved on, with a vague plan to check down at Jupp's View. At the top of Green Lane, however, I paused to scan across the Mid and South Brooks, from where I could see there were hundreds of Gulls down towards Hail's View. That rather changed my plans and I hastily made my way in that direction, a flyover Crossbill or three en route (heard from under the trees) providing the second year tick of the morning and a nice bonus in the form of a singing Firecrest.

Down at Hail's View I made a quick estimate of the Gull numbers - at least 300, mostly Black-headed - and soon picked out an adult Mediterranean Gull in near summer plumage. Fairly quickly though the whole lot were flushed up by the first of two Marsh Harriers and it was clear the Med I'd seen was not the only one around, as I could clearly make out calls from what sounded like at least two or three more birds as more and more Gulls seemed to wheel in from all around. Time and again they settled and flushed again. Eventually they settled for longer, by which time Paul had arrived, and I was pleased to be able to pick out three smart adult Meds for him. Also of note down here were two Peregrines, noisily mobbing any Buzzard or Marsh Harrier foolish enough to get close, a pair of Stonechats, a Sparrowhawk and much better views of the White-fronted Geese
A day to remember and, with at least four singing Chiffchaffs around the reserve, further sign that birds are on the move and spring is getting into gear.