Monday 6 November 2023

The season of letting go

So then, farewell to October. At a pinch one of my absolute favourite months of the year and which this year produced five local year ticks and a pleasing selection of memorable moments, in spite of birding with my arm in a sling for the most part and being unable to drive. 

This last ten-day period of the month always feels somewhat tinged with melancholy. It's hard not to feel as though autumn has peaked somewhat by the last week of October and that we are inescapably careering into the long darkness of winter, especially when the clocks change and any last hopes of evening birding are extinguished for the next three or four months. 

This year, October went out with a bang, as a series of Atlantic weather systems brought torrential rain which, combined with a period of spring tides, saw the Arun overtopping its banks in many places in the Pulborough area. The flooding in turn attracted my first local Little Gull of the year on the 31st - just a couple of days after my second local record of Long-tailed Duck in two years - and I finally joined the Short-eared Owl party in what looks to be the best autumn/winter for the species in several years. 

21st October

Not loads of time for birding today owing to family stuff but the loop from home to Waltham Brooks and back through the farmland produced a few bits of interest. Over 200 ducks were on the main lake at Waltham, mostly Teal and Mallard though with a handful of Shoveler (2), Gadwall (3-4) and Wigeon (8) mixed in. They were very flighty and at one stage had a single Snipe among them as they flew circuits around the place. Oddly, the only raptors noted were two rather distant Red Kites, so I'm not entirely sure what the wildfowl were getting upset about! A few Siskins and Redpolls were about and there were two Stonechats in the scrub near the railway line.

22nd October

No real birding today but notable by their movement at both Bignor and Fittleworth during family activities were a steady stream of Red Admirals moving through, mostly south-west.

23rd October

I was at Knepp all day today for an excellent beaver workshop so not much birding time, but of note here were three Fieldfares and a single Siskin over towards the western side of the estate (near the beaver enclosure, in fact). 

Here be beavers!

24th October

A mixed bag this morning started with 80 minutes' vismigging from the high ground above Watersfield. It was generally fairly quiet, certainly in terms of thrushes and finches, though there was a distinct increase in Woodpigeons and Stock Doves moving south-west, though still only modest numbers (150 and 69, respectively). Best of all were 20 Pintail (15 south/5 north) over Lodge Hill which may have been local wintering birds arriving in the area, but it was still quite cool to see them 'migging' over open country.

A stroll over to Waltham Brooks later in the morning produced a Great White Egret dropping in near the main lake, a few Skylarks and Siskins over, and a flock of 40 Wigeon flying towards Widney Brooks. A Woodlark flew north-east over the farmland near home. My seventh record of this species within the 1km area in the past four weeks - pretty remarkable!

An evening vigil at Thorndale Bridge proved to be enjoyable but didn't yield the hoped-for Short-eared Owl, despite one seen upriver near Pulborough this afternoon. At least six Marsh Harriers flew past to roost, while one of the adult White-tailed Eagles was upsetting the geese over at Amberley and a Yellowhammer flew over among the many Reed Buntings heading to roost. 

25th October

Rain early morning was slow to clear but mid-morning I headed up to Alban Head for a couple of hours' vismigging which proved quite lively. Highlights were two more single Woodlarks east, 54 Wigeon north (20, 11 and 23), 31 Fieldfare north/north-west and a few Redpolls about. I also heard Crossbill but didn't see it. Back home for lunch and another Woodlark flew north/north-east past the bedroom window. It really is remarkable how many records of this species I've had locally recently.

Another late afternoon session on the river bank at Thorndale Bridge wasn't quite as exciting as yesterday but produced a single juvenile Marsh Harrier, a White-tailed Eagle in the usual tree over at Amberley, around 100 Teal flying upriver and a pair of Mandarins flying downriver. 

26th October

A late start this morning owing to unwelcome rain which put paid to any planned attempts at another proper vismig session. I decided instead to head to Waltham Brooks via the local farmland. Almost immediately I realised there were actually a few bits moving after the rain with first a couple of Grey Wagtails west followed by a Peregrine circling briefly overhead before flying towards Amberley. Even better, this was followed around ten minutes later by a smart adult Mediterranean Gull cruising south with a couple of Black-headed Gulls - my fifth 1km area record this year and the first since June. 

As I approached the railway line at Waltham Brooks I heard a Golden Plover calling somewhere to the east but never got eyes on it. Still, it was my 133rd species for the reserve. It proved quite lively here this morning, with 57 species recorded in two hours including Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier, Water Rail and two Stonechats. Wigeon numbers have really increased locally now, as evidenced by the flock of ~200 which flew north, in addition to the 11 kicking about on the reserve. A distant second winter Great Black-backed Gull south-west over Lodge Hill was only my second record for the reserve. 
Looking west from the river bank at Waltham Brooks
Greatham Bridge
Late afternoon I again headed over to Thorndale Bridge in the hope of a Short-eared Owl but no such luck. In fact the only real highlight here was a lone juvenile Marsh Harrier which powered south over Amberley, presumably heading to roost.

27th October

Kate kindly dropped me at Pulborough Brooks this morning for a couple of hours, my first visit here for almost three weeks! It's amazing to think that once upon a time I could barely tolerate missing a day here. The water levels had increased a great deal since my last visit and all the action was on the now very wet South Brooks which held two Ruff, five Dunlin and around 80 Black-tailed Godwits among the usual Lapwings and wildfowl. It was nice to see quite a few Pintail among the ducks here (at least ten) including my first proper smart drakes of the season. At least five each of Redpoll and Fieldfare were about around the trail while the North Brooks was curiously quiet save for a couple of hundred Canada Geese and a lone Shelduck. 

Another early evening stakeout on the river at Thorndale Bridge again proved fruitless on the owl front but I was rewarded for wading almost up to welly depth through flood water by a smart adult male Marsh Harrier (plus sub-adult male and juvenile) hunting just the other side of the river, flushing 25 Snipe in the process. 
Marsh Harrier
Nocmig has been very quiet so far this autumn, but last night the microphone picked up a nice Barn Owl calling close to the garden. 

28th October

Family stuff today so no real birding but a short local walk early afternoon produced a Marsh Harrier briefly circling over Watersfield before drifting north-west over Lodge Hill. 

29th October

A very wet night gave way to a morning of sunny spells and squally showers. A short break in the downpours allowed for a quick check of the private reservoir near Petworth (thanks to a lift from Mrs Matt) which produced a couple of surprises. Firstly, a late Swallow over the ploughed field to the north of the reservoir which also held 25 Pied Wagtails and a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets. Secondly, a Long-tailed Duck on the reservoir itself. This was particularly unexpected, as it's coming up a year to when I found one here during a WeBS count in November 2022, that bird went on to stay until the end of December. I really struggle with aging and sexing female type Long-tailed Ducks in winter garb, so would welcome any comment, but have included photos below of today's bird and last winter's bird. Could it be the same one? If so, the likelihood is it surely must be a roaming feral bird. If not, perhaps today's is a genuine storm-blown individual which by some extraordinary coincidence has found its way to the same site as its predecessor. Otherwise, it is was usual fare on the reservoir, though a Great Crested Grebe was my first here since July. 
Today's Long-tailed Duck
And the 2022 bird...
Pied Wagtail
30th October

More heavy rain this morning delayed me heading out on foot from home, and scrapping my planned attempt at a vismig session. Instead I did the full loop out to Waltham Brooks, around the main lake and down the river bank. The water levels had increased dramatically since my last visit, with some of the paths entirely impassable (I had to get out onto the road in order to access the river bank from the north-western corner of the reserve. Avian highlights included a late group of eight Swallows feeding over the river and the north-western side of Amberley, a flock of ~40 Fieldfares over Greatham Bridge and good numbers of ducks - perhaps unsurprising given the water! Around 90 Wigeon flew north while at least 140 Teal were flying about plus a few Shoveler and Gadwall. As I was heading bak from the river bank towards the sewage works a Hummingbird Hawkmoth whizzed past heading purposefully south towards Amberley. 
Looking across the swollen River Arun towards Amberley
A very flooded Waltham Brooks
Continuing the theme of summer migrant stragglers, while working on the computer at home mid-afternoon I glanced up and out of the window towards Waltham Brooks and noticed a bird that on initial appearance seemed to be moving like a large hirundine. When I got bins on and realised it was a falcon and that it was clearly feeding on flying insects, the penny dropped that I was looking at my latest ever Hobby in the UK! I watched it for a minute or two before it drifted off south and I lost it behind trees. 

Late afternoon I decided to attempt my first drive for over a month. I didn't go far but had a quick look at the now very flooded scrape at Hadworth Farm in West Burton (my first check of this site since it dried up back in May) which produced a distant Green Sandpiper, a pair of Gadwall and seven Red-legged Partridge - the latter a good bird this close to home. I don't tend to see many of them away from the Downs round here. I then carried on a bit further to Burton Mill Pond, for my first visit here since before my accident (so around six weeks). An hour stakeout from the viewing platform produced the usual Cormorants flying in to roost (51 tonight) plus a few Little Egrets (9), Pied Wagtails (at least 25), Starlings (70) and Jackdaws (230). Two Water Rails were squealing in the reeds and a Kingfisher flew across the pond a couple of times.
Green Sandpiper
Little Egrets
31st October

A mostly fine morning after overnight rain and seemingly the last calm one of the week, with stormy conditions on the way as October gives way to November. I started this morning's local birding session with a relatively short vismig session up at Alban Head to the west of Watersfield. Despite the clement conditions, there really didn't appear to be much moving at all, despite some large counts of Woodpigeon in other locations in the south this morning. Highlights from 90 minutes here were singles of Crossbill and Yellowhammer north-west and a few Skylarks going in various directions, and two Red Admirals

I decided to head up to Watersfield Common and Waltham Park for a bit of a change, in the hope of finding some finches and other passerines. Watersfield Common delivered straight away with a single Crossbill and a flock of at least 15 Lesser Redpoll, followed by two showy Firecrests. Crossbill featured again at Waltham Park with one flying south at the same moment two late House Martins flew high south-east - not quite my latest ever in the UK but it's still pretty remarkable I've had Hobby and two hirundine species on the last two days of October! Other bits from here were seven Siskin and 11 Redpoll flying over, presumably all Lesser.             

A great little afternoon session up at Pulborough proved to be a perfect way to finish my October local birding campaign. I'd actually just popped up to the village to get a few bits from the shops when news broke of a Little Gull over the floodwater between the North Brooks and the village hall. I dashed down to near our old house and quickly picked up the gull - an adult - resting on the water, before taking flight again and hawking for a few minutes. It repeated this routine a few times before eventually flying off with a small group of Black-headed Gulls. While this was going on my attention was drawn to a bird sailing right over my head which I quickly realised was a Short-eared Owl! Steve Chalmers reported one from his nearby garden a few days ago and presumably the same bird was seen over the North Brooks at the weekend, so it wasn't a surprise to see, but something about an SEO always gets the blood pumping! It dropped in towards the river bank where it was promptly chased off by a Magpie, then it gained height and flew towards the North Brooks. Here it continued to gained height, with an irate Rook in tow, until it was just a dot, then drifted off south - presumably in search of somewhere less flooded to hunt.
Short-eared Owl
Little Gull

No comments:

Post a Comment