Wednesday, 15 September 2021

150! And other news...

As anyone who's been vaguely following my tweets or occasional blog posts will probably know, I confidently announced back at the end of last year, having got to the end of December with my Pulborough year list teetering on 149, that 2021 would be the year I finally reach 150. The first quarter of the year was strong and I was into the 140s by mid-May and feeling confident although, after my 'What doldrums?' post on here in June, things did go rather worryingly quiet for a while. Thankfully, August proved to be typically excellent and I cruised into September sitting pretty on 148. Fast forward to this past weekend and, after a very exciting Saturday evening (more on that shortly), I was all set to write a blog post explaining the events that led to my 149th species of the year, and ponder what might be number 150.

As ever though, the birds had other ideas and on Sunday afternoon I found myself racing back to the reserve to catch up with the big 150, sooner than expected.

It's been four years since the last record of Pectoral Sandpiper at Pulborough, and the species has been on my mind lately, with various inland records around the country. Indeed, as I left the reserve after my early morning whizz round on Sunday I ran into local birder Andrew Rodgers, who was just arriving, and suggested it might be one we see turning up soon. "I'll see if I can find one for us", he said as we parted. As it turns out, it was volunteers Graham Osborne and Neil Buckthorpe who were the lucky ones later on in the day. I'd just got back from Knepp and was finishing lunch ahead of a busy afternoon of various household and allotment chores when the text from Graham came through: "Hi Matt, Pectoral Sandpiper on North Brooks." A little while later it was in my 'scope view, happily feeding away in the afternoon sunshine, in exactly the spot I was hoping to find one earlier. In all honesty, 150 probably would have felt that bit sweeter had I found the bird myself, but I still wasn't going to complain, and graciously thanked Neil and Graham for the find and speedy news.

Pectoral Sandpiper on the North Brooks, photo by Paul Davy

Anyway, back to Saturday evening, because it's really quite an extraordinary turn of events that probably wasn't done justice by a few rather panicked tweets at the time. 

Just after 16:40, Wes Attridge posted on Twitter and the Surrey birding WhatsApp chat that he'd had an Osprey low southwest over Capel. In other words, heading roughly towards Pulborough. I should add at this point that just half an hour or so before this I'd been saying to Kate that if I was going to get Osprey on my Pulborough year list it really needed to happen in the next week or two otherwise the window would likely have closed for the year. I should also add that I'd only had one Pulborough Osprey up until this point, back in April 2019. Indeed, it might be surprising to learn that a search on the BirdGuides app reveals just a dozen or so records for the reserve in the past decade. So, trickier than one might expect for a wetland reserve beside a major river, and very much a case of being in the right place at the right time. 

So, back to this particular Osprey. I decided a good skywatch had to be in order, just for the one in a thousand chance that this bird might actually continue on its flight path and drift overhead. I also gave Gary Trew the heads-up, as he lives a mile or so east of me on the other side of Pulborough. I'd reckoned it would take the bird at the very least 40-45 minutes to reach us, if it didn't deviate from its course, so I was amazed when Gary tweeted at 17:12 that he was watching it flying past his house! I immediately sprang up from the garden chair and sprinted up to the attic window just in time to watch it cruising past on the far side of the Brooks, catching the early evening sunlight as it powered off towards the South Downs. Magic! Amazingly, it's not the first time it's happened either, as a couple of years ago Wes gave a heads-up for those of us up Leith Hill tower that he'd had an Osprey over Dorking town centre heading our way, and we managed to get on that one too. It turns out lightning really does strike twice - especially with sharp-eyed friends like Wes!
Saturday's Osprey, photo by Gary Trew

Me just after seeing the Osprey from the attic, photo by Mrs Matt

My rough guess of the Osprey's flight path, sketched just after it passed Pulborough

So, that's 150 then. Oh, and the other news bit? Well, just as I've completed one big challenge for 2021, it's almost time for the next one to begin...

New addition to the life list - due in November!


  1. Congratulations on both Matt !
    I hope your new challenge will be your most rewarding yet. Good luck !

    1. Cheers Peter, let's hope so! Looking forward to having a new birding partner, for the first few years at least...