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...

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