Monday 25 September 2023

The Summer Ends

September can be a changeable month, both in terms of the weather and the birding. Sometimes it feels like an extension of summer, at other times autumn can start to bare its teeth a little early. Technically we're still in summertime as I write this, astronomically speaking, though of course ornithologically it's been autumn for quite some time and meteorological autumn began when September started. 

Weather-wise this ten day period saw a dramatic shift from some of the hottest weather of the year so far, to proper westerly, squally Atlantic conditions towards the end. It's also mid-September where the birds on offer locally takes a distinct turn towards autumn proper, and this year has been no exception, as the likes of Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat and other passage passerines begin to ebb away, and one's thoughts turn towards the first thrushes, finches and Yellow-browed Warbler. Siskin has been perhaps the most frequently encountered species on many of my birding forays these past couple of weeks - an encouraging sign after a very poor winter for the species last year. 

Plus of course there was the star species, the Aquatic Warbler at Beeding Brooks, which delighted all who went to see it, me included.

11th September

I don't often twitch much these days but couldn't resist the urge when an Aquatic Warbler turned up just 20 or so minutes from home, found by Jamie Wilkinson on the 10th. 

After dropping B at nursery I headed down to Beeding Brooks where I found a group of around ten birders already gathered, most of whom had already seen the bird. It showed pretty quickly but only very briefly in flight a few times before giving fleeting perched views at 9.20 then going to ground for two hours. When it eventually reappeared at around 11.30 it proved a little more showy for a short time, deigning to stay in the open for as long as five seconds - enough to appreciate the warm ground colour, strong head stripes and tramlines on the back and relatively plain face. A world lifer for me - my first in the UK for quite a while. 

The bird never quite showed well enough from my angle to get any photos today, but see further down this blog post for pics from my second attempt.

Other highlights from the morning here included a flock of five Crossbills north-east, a Hobby south-west, at least one Kingfisher flying past three times (or three different Kingfishers!), heard-only Siskins and a couple of Ravens.

Beeding Brooks
In the evening a Barn Owl was heard calling near home. 

12th September

For the first time in quite a while I had a proper two hour session at Burton Mill Pond, checking all three water bodies (Burton Mill, Chingford and Black Pond). It felt distinctly autumnal in the misty, murky conditions, although still warm and very humid. The selection of passerines encountered was rather less summery, with three each of Firecrest and Marsh Tit the highlights among the usual tits, Nuthatches and a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Very vocal adult and juvenile Hobbies were flying around over the trees at Newpiece. In terms of water birds, Chingford Pond was where the action was happening - as is often the case here - with minima of 70 Gadwall, 40 Tufted Duck, 15 Teal, 10 Shoveler and half a dozen Pochard. The water level has been dropped to allow work to be carried out on the outflow channel, so the margins are looking perfect for waders. Unfortunately, none were to be found today, though there were workmen and a photographer present around said margins. 


Early afternoon, a short walk round the local farmland and brief skywatch produced just the faintest whiff of autumn vismig starting to pick up, with around 150 hirundines (mostly House Martin) west/south-west, a single Meadow Pipit south and a heard-only Siskin - the latter recorded locally for the third consecutive day. 

13th September

A return visit to Beeding Brooks this afternoon after a morning co-leading a garden safari at Knepp. Thankfully, the juvenile Aquatic Warbler proved much more showy than on Monday, showing well within ten minutes of my arrival and several more times in the next hour before going to ground again for a while. I even managed to get a couple of record shots this time! A search further upriver for the reported Red-backed Shrike proved sadly fruitless but other bits of note from a couple of hours here included a Green Sandpiper which flew up from the pool by the river and off east (apparently quite a good record here according to local birders I spoke to), two Ravens west and at least five Yellow Wagtails over. 
Aquatic Warbler
14th September

A morning safari in the Walled Garden and orchard at Knepp produced Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher plus Blood-vein and Brindled Green among the usual suspects in the moth trap - although it has to be said the catch was fairly minimal owing to the overnight temperature dropping into single figures for the first time in quite a while. Brrr! 
On the way home I stopped off at Chantry Hill for a walk round. It was rather quiet but very pleasant nonetheless with highlights including two Wheatears, two Common Whitethroats, singles of Stonechat and Lesser Whitethroat, a Hobby worrying a flock of around 40 House Martins and at least one flyover Yellow Wagtail. 
Red Kite
15th September

Not much birding today, though the moth trap produced Frosted Orange and Pale Mottled Willow, both new for the garden. A quick look at Waltham Brooks on the way home from Knepp early evening revealed two Stonechats in the scrub near the road and the usual selection of Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal on the main lake. A small group of Gadwall were also heard flying over the garden in the evening.
Frosted Orange
16th September

Another day without much birding, though a short skywatch in the garden early morning produced a little trickle of Siskins heading south/south-west, a theme that continued at our allotment later in the morning, with more heading over. Also of note here were a Common Gull flying west and a Willow Emerald Damsefly in nearby trees, a species that is rapidly spreading across West Sussex.
Willow Emerald
A walk at Knepp with friends early afternoon yielded 15 White Storks, a couple of Red Kites and Buzzards and other usual fare. In the evening, a short walk/skywatch on the local farm fields produced a little flurry of southbound Swallows. 

17th September

An early start this morning for WeBS day. Sadly the low cloud and north-easterly didn't produce a tasty wader at my private reservoir site over near Petworth, or any waders at all for that matter, with even the recent lingering Common Sandpipers having moved on at last. Highlights on the water were three Shoveler, 11 Pochard, 52 Egyptian Geese and a site high count of 126 Coot. It was fairly lively on the passerine front with Yellow Wagtail and at least two Siskins heard flying over, plus a few Meadow Pipits.
Egyptian Geese
On the way home I dropped in at Burton and Chingford Ponds for a brief look. At least 52 Gadwall were on Chingford Pond and there was a light easterly passage of hirundines, otherwise highlights included a vocal juvenile Hobby again, 5 Red Kites circling together and a minimum of 50 Siskins. 
Continuing the vismig theme, a short stint in the garden mid-morning produced a little flurry of hirundines and a couple more Siskins, followed by a kettle of 19 White Storks which took a while to decide on their direction of flight before drifting strongly south-west, apparently later seen over Southampton. 
White Storks
Late morning saw us heading up to Surrey to meet friends for a quick walk at Thursley Common before lunch. Perhaps unsurprisingly the first bird I heard as soon as I got out of the car was Siskin and their 'pew' calls soundtracked what turned into a pretty short walk, as our storm chaser friends alerted us to the rush of wind preceding a torrential downpour, meaning we thankfully got to shelter before the rain hit (Amazingly, an inch of rain fell in the following hour!). Just prior to the rain I noted around 20 House Martins drifting east.

Back at home in the evening I took a short stroll out to Thorndale Bridge which produced a vocal male Tawny Owl (new for me at this hotspot) and 2-3 Water Rails squealing on the Amberley side of the Arun. 
18th September

The morning after the storm before. A midnight thunderstorm of biblical proportions which brought down trees in the local area and blew out the bulb in my moth trap (that will teach me to bodge a rainguard with a garden umbrella...). Unsurprisingly, all the moths had vacated the Skinner by the morning, with just a few Willow Beauties scattered about and a new for the garden Garden Carpet doing a rubbish job of trying to camouflage against some nearby woodwork. 
Garden Carpet
After dropping B off at nursery I popped by Pulborough Brooks for a brief scan of the North Brooks which produced my first Pintail of the autumn (at least five among hundreds of Teal) plus 3 Ruff, 5 Snipe and a perched adult Hobby. 

With more rain on the way and a bit of a window of opportunity I decided to dash back over to the reservoir near Petworth, in the hope that the storm had dropped something in. It proved to be a very worthwhile decision as I approached the rim of the reservoir and peered over to be greeted by the sight of two juvenile Black Terns hawking up and down over the water - not just a first for this hotspot but a first for me anywhere in my local area and, indeed, anywhere in inland Sussex. For the next hour or so I delighted in watching them feeding over the water and occasionally resting on the buoys at the southern end. A truly wonderful bird to encounter in this unlikely location in the middle of rural West Sussex, following on from the lingering Long-tailed Duck here last winter. What next! 

Other highlights here this morning included a showy Wheatear on the fence by the reservoir and a Lesser Whitethroat in nearby scrub, the latter actually a hotspot tick but rather overshadowed by the terns!
Black Terns
Black Tern
19th September

Another distinctly autumnal morning with drizzle in the air and a brisk south-westerly wind. While driving through Houghton/Amberley this morning I noticed an adult Great Black-backed Gull on the river bank near Houghton Bridge. Not a regular sight round these parts, especially not on the deck. After dropping B at nursery I decided to head back over to Petworth to check if the Black Terns were still around. They weren't but, frustratingly, I did have another tern flying away from me heading purposefully south-west, but didn't get good enough views to clinch the ID. It seemed fairly uniform grey on the back and very buoyant, but unfortunately will have to go down as one that got away. 

There was a bit of House Martin passage going on with at least 110 birds powering straight into the wind during my 90 minutes here. Otherwise, highlights were restricted to ten Pochard and 14 Shoveler on the water and a flock of 20 Meadow Pipits overhead.

20th September

Very little birding today, as I was leading a garden safari at Knepp in the morning and heavy rain set in by mid-afternoon until nightfall. Passing glances at Waltham Brooks and Southlands Farm, West Chiltington on my way to and from Knepp, respectively, revealed much the same species on offer at both sites. 20 Shoveler were on the main lake at Waltham Brooks plus a few Gadwall and a lone Grey Heron perched on the post in the water, while Southlands hosted 10 Shoveler and five Teal. The almost total absence of waders at both these sites in recent weeks reflects what a generally poor wader autumn it's been everywhere, combined with higher water levels than we were experiencing this time in 2022. 

No comments:

Post a Comment