Friday, 28 May 2021


I feel like I’ve been saying 'what a weird year' a lot lately, but it’s hard to disagree. The driest, coldest April for decades, dominated by northerlies, clearly held back a lot of migrant species and the exceptionally wet May has undoubtedly taken its toll on both residents and migrants who have managed to breed. Of course, these extreme shifts in weather patterns are sadly no surprise and will only intensify in years to come. One can only imagine the challenges climate change will throw in the way of birds traversing Africa and mainland Europe to reach us each year, but that's a much larger topic for another blog post, perhaps.

From a patch birding perspective, I knew in January if I was going to reach 150 at Pulborough this year then I needed to be hitting 140 by the end of the spring. Having failed to connect with the likes of Whinchat, Redstart and Tree Pipit in the past few weeks, it’s fair to say I didn’t have Brent Goose and Hawfinch on my radar as potential additions to the list come late May. Indeed, the Brent Goose on the 26th was my 140th Pulborough species this year, with this morning’s flyover Hawfinch taking me nicely into the 140s, leaving me with seven months to find another nine. Not quite home and dry yet but feeling quietly confident!

Brent Goose on the North Brooks, 26th May

Photo by Chris and Juliet Moore

The Brent Goose was long overdue after an oddly quiet winter for them at the Brooks, especially considering there had been several records by this time last year. I perhaps should’ve expected to find it on the reserve in the morning as I’d actually thought I’d heard one through the bedroom window the previous evening, but I decided I’d imagined it and thought nothing more of it until my usual early morning scan of the North Brooks.

The Hawfinch was a real bonus, and my first on the reserve since the unforgettable 2017/18 influx. I actually heard it several moments before I saw it. I was walking through the narrow section of Adder Alley and heard what sounded a little like a Reed Bunting call to the north of me, but straight away knew it wasn't quite right for that species, followed by a loud tick slightly reminiscent of a Grey Wagtail. That species is not a particularly common sight on the reserve at this time of year so it was enough to make me look up just in time to see the unmistakable chunky, big-winged, short-tailed shape of a Hawfinch flying straight over my head, quite low, calling several more times as it carried on south over the trees towards the South Brooks. 

With a week of settled weather and easterly winds ahead (at last!), I'm excited to see what surprises this peculiar year throws up next.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Accidental Big Day

I hadn't planned to do it. In fact, I headed out birding in a very leisurely fashion this morning. I'd glanced out of the window at around 05:45 and seen the fog so opted instead for a coffee and a browse through the latest British Birds in bed, before setting out at around 07:15. Quite unlike my normal dawn raid on the patch!

I've only ever managed to record over 80 species in a day at Pulborough Brooks once before, while taking part in the very socially distanced Mole Valley Bird Race in May 2020, when the various teams competed remotely from their respective patches. That day I achieved what I considered to be a very respectable total of 83 species from 04:00 to noon. I'd often wondered if I could beat it and had talked about giving it a go with Ed Stubbs at some stage. 

In the end, today turned out to be that day. The morning started well with a flyover Little Ringed Plover near home, a Great Crested Grebe asleep on the Arun (only my second record here this year) and the usual singing Cuckoo, Yellowhammer and a noticeable increase in Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers.

Great Crested Grebe

A scan of the North Brooks revealed a Wood Sandpiper with the assembled Greenshanks and Redshanks; my first of the year here and always a nice bird to find locally. Soon after finding the bird I pointed it out to Jackie Day and other visiting birders, including Steve Baines, with whom I birded the reserve for most of the rest of the morning, notching up another year tick in the form of a Hobby over Winpenny. That took the patch year list to 135, which felt like a very satisfying morning's effort. 

Distant Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank

After saying goodbye to Steve at the car park and hello to various other regulars and RSPB staff, I decided the North Brooks was worth another scan with rain imminently forecast. In the end it didn't produce a great deal, but as I thought about heading for home early afternoon, it struck me I had topped 80 species for the day list for only the second time. A few more additions including Stonechat and Meadow Pipit took the list to 84, my best ever day tally! Now I could really head home feeling smug, I thought. Halfway down the footpath towards the village, the call of a Greenshank had me looking up to see one being chased by a Peregrine - the latter taking the list to 85!

Peregrine vs Greenshank!

After a brief pit stop at home, a bit of a gardening and a trip to the allotment, I decided a return visit to the Brooks had to be done. Could I reach 90 in a day? There were still so many common bits I was missing. I started with a loop of Black Wood where I soon added Willow Warbler, Jay and Coal Tit, before returning to the North Brooks. An earlier reported Yellow Wagtail was nowhere to be seen but suddenly a Curlew appeared; only my second record here this year, and 89 for the day! By this time, I had been joined at the Hanger by legendary former Pulborough Brooks regular, Jon Winder, who said he'd seen a Great Black-backed Gull earlier, and also heard a Tawny Owl which I'd missed. Gripping! With the light fading we both agreed to head for home, but not before a check of the field by the church produced the hoped-for Barn Owl. 90!

It turns out I also missed the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year earlier in the day, so with that, Tawny Owl and the various other omissions, I'm now wondering whether it would be possible to reach 100 in a day. Maybe one day...