Sunday, 1 November 2020

Wet weekend - but a welcome patch tick!

What a thoroughly unpleasant weekend it's been, weather-wise, with November continuing right where the wettest October on record left off. It's fair to say I can't recall ever getting as drenched on a birding session as I did on Saturday morning, but not without valid reason.

I'd had a decent morning on the patch -  66 species recorded including 14 Crossbills, a Brent Goose, 108 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Marsh Harriers, 2 Peregrines, Marsh Tit, Cetti's Warbler and a late Swallow, among others - and was just giving the North Brooks a final scan as the forecast rain band was arriving on the strengthening southerly wind and I knew I had a half hour walk home ahead of me.

A group of gulls loafing on a pool on the far north side of the North Brooks caught my attention. We don't see good-sized gatherings of gulls on the deck here all that often, so I scanned through them hoping for something unusual. As I did so, a small flying wader caught my eye. It seemed very skittish, and never settled for long but the fact that when it did land it did so on water combined with its obvious dark eye mask and cap told me straight away I was looking at a Phalarope. When on the water it looked buoyant and rather plump and long-bodied, oddly reminiscent of a Little Gull as it bobbed about among the nearby Black-headeds. It was being rather harried by crows at one point and disappeared behind vegetation for a while before reappearing in the centre of the pool and starting to feed in its distinctive way, pecking at the water. Now that I was happy I was looking at a Grey Phalarope I reached for my phone to put news out and try to phonescope it but unfortunately in the short time I spent fumbling in my pocket the bird had apparently flown again and I wasn’t able to relocate it, despite another hour of searching - though the rain and wind by then seriously hampered my efforts. I had another scan of the pools in that area of the North Brooks later in the day but without any joy. 

Still, it's hard to let the brevity of the sighting put a dampener on what was a long-awaited Pulborough tick for me, especially after October proved to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of the birds to effort ratio. The 2020 year list now stands on 148, with two months still to go...

Black-tailed Godwits over the North Brooks

Sunday morning started out even more unpleasant than Saturday, with heavy rain hammering on the window as I awoke. A delayed start to the day's birding produced rather fewer species and the raptors were slow to rise, though the wing-tagged, Norfolk-born juvenile Marsh Harrier put on a good show on the South Brooks along with the two Peregrines again, and a male Hen Harrier was enjoyed by others later in the day. Lapwing numbers have grown to at least five hundred now, with three Ruff to be found among them today. A frustrating 'one that got away' occurred in the form of a possible 2nd winter Caspian Gull which flew west past Jupp's View. Sadly I couldn't get my camera on it quick enough, but it would have been only my second Pulborough Casp, if so.

The wing-tagged juvenile male Marsh Harrier, born in Thorpe Marshes in Norfolk this summer

In the afternoon, Kate and I headed down to Littlehampton to get a bit of sea air ahead of the impending second lockdown. We decided to check out the West Beach which we've not visited before. A blustery walk was enlivened by a Dartford Warbler in the bushes near the visitor centre, associating with at least five Stonechats, although always rather elusive. On the beach itself were c.75 Sanderling and at least 30 each of Turnstone and Ringed Plover, while singles of Gannet and Brent Goose flew east and west, respectively.

Brent Goose

Dartford Warbler - elusive, as I said!