Sunday 10 March 2024

In like a lion

1st March

Here we are then, at last - the first day of meterological spring, and it was another wet and squally start to the day. In fact, most of the day really! In the gaps in the (sometimes very heavy and haily) showers I managed to sneak in quick looks at Waltham Brooks, Bignor Park scrape and Amberley. The latter was still holding lots of Dunlin (30 or more), three Ruff and a Great White Egret but there was still no further sign of the Turnstone from earlier in the week. A burst of sunshine just as I was heading home coaxed quite a few raptors into the air including 4-5 each of Red Kite and Buzzard and one of the White-tailed Eagles. Otherwise, rather meagre highlights from earlier in the day were five Tufted Ducks on the lake at Waltham Brooks and a Little Grebe and ~35-40 Siskins at Bignor Park. 
Amberley Wildbrooks
2nd March

A really unpleasant start to the day with wind and heavy rain saw me enjoying an unusually lazy start to the day before heading down to Havant for a morning of family stuff. By the time we got to where we were going, the weather had actually markedly improved and the sun was even breaking through a bit. A text came through from Steve Chalmers informing me of two Black-necked Grebes on the South Brooks at Pulborough. Oh no! Just four months on from the Slavonian Grebe at the end of last year - my previous Pulborough tick - here was another grebe species new for my Pulborough list, and I was 30-odd miles away. Luckily the birds hung around and I was able to enjoy good views (albeit distant) from Hail's View mid-afternoon, with the pair even displaying to one another a few times. It's been a while since I've seen that! Also of note here were a singing Firecrest and a few Siskins in the alders near the viewpoint. It was great to catch up with Steve himself too, who was rightly very pleased with his find - although I must acknowledge Steve Baines who picked up the birds first off, but wasn't able to clinch the ID in the foul weather. I have been there before and know just how frustrating it can be!
Black-necked Grebes
3rd March

A deep frost this morning, meaning it took several minutes of scraping to clear the car windscreen. First stop was the private reservoir over near Petworth which was pretty much the emptiest I have ever seen it -  hosting just five Little Grebes, and singles of Coot and Canada Goose. I didn't stay long and instead decided to dash back over to Pulborough to see if the grebes were still about. En route I went through some pretty dense fog patches and my hopes were not high that the visibility would be much good when I arrived. Pulborough village was surprisingly clear but, sure enough, scanning from by the visitor centre revealed a blanket of fog hugging low over the South Brooks. It gradually lifted enough to reveal no sign of the BNGs, perhaps not surprisingly, although a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a sure sign of spring, as was the very welcome sound of a Woodlark singing over the heath - the first one I've heard here this year. It was a relief for RSPB warden James too, as he told me recently he was getting anxious that they might not return this year. 

Fast forward to early afternoon and I found myself with another little window of free time. By the now the day had warmed up considerably, with the spells of sunshine helping drive the temperature up into double figures. I had to drop Kate and B off in Bury so decided on a lunchtime session at Amberley, viewing from the south side. No sooner had I arrived than I picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier circling quite close over the southern edge of the flood water. To my amazement, it circled higher and drifted closer, until it wasn't far off directly overhead, before straightening its course and heading purposefully south towards the Downs. Easily my best ever views of the species locally, and possibly anywhere in fact!
Hen Harrier
On the way home I briefly stopped off for a check of the Bignor Park scrape which revealed a pair of Egyptian Geese with five very fluffy young - my first 'FL' breeding code on eBird of the year, always a special moment!
Egyptian Goose family
4th March

Thick fog enveloped the lower levels locally this morning so, after dropping B off at nursery, I decided on a quick jaunt up at The Burgh, which I found to be bathed in glorious sunshine. In fact, despite only being 8.30 in the morning, I actually felt quite overdressed within a few minutes of leaving my car. A couple of Grey Partridges sounded my arrival, while Chaffinches and Yellowhammers jinked and jangled in the hedgerows. It's always good to be back up here. 

Today I did the short loop from Canada Barn up to the main north-south path to the south of Rackham Hill then back via the little copse. There were hundreds of gulls down in the valley south of the Dew Pond, mostly Common Gull and Black-headed Gull as far as I could see. Red Kites were, as usual, the most abundant raptor, though a Merlin was a nice bonus dashing through over Canada Barn as I got back to my car. 
A lunchtime walk round the fields near home proved fairly uneventful on the bird front, aside from a few Buzzards getting up in the warm sunshine. There were quite a few invertebrates on the wing though, including a Peacock butterfly. 

5th March

Not much birding today, but a brief look at Woods Mill lake in my lunch break produced a pair of Little Grebes and a Chiffchaff, the latter singing somewhat hesitantly.

6th March

The shift to easterly winds saw the inevitable lingering morning fog rearing its head, which precluded any early morning birding today. I got out at lunch for a walk over to Waltham Brooks, where I found at least two each of Tufted Duck and Little Grebe on the very flooded main lake and Chiffchaffs dotted about all over the place. Viewing from the window at home later on in the afternoon I noted a Raven flying over towards Amberley (strangely my first this month!) and a couple of Sparrowhawks displaying.

7th March

Another foggy start to the day so I decided to try for a quick scoot around up Chantry Hill on my way to Woods Mill, thinking I would discover the summit to be above the fog. Sadly it wasn't to be, and the 20 minutes I had time for up here was a rather wasted little session, although it was nice to glimpse and hear a few Corn Buntings through the murk.
Yellowhammer in the fog
Come lunchtime it had turned into a lovely early spring afternoon so I made sure to get out of the office for a stroll round the Woods Mill reserve which produced a singing Chiffchaff, three Buzzards getting up on the thermals and a female Stonechat along the stream - a first for me here. 
It was still plenty light enough after work for a brief look at the South Brooks from the tea terrace. The amount of flood water had gone up again since the weekend, and the few Lapwings still about were looking rather bewildered where their prospective nest sites had gone. Three Avocets on an island at West Mead were my first locally this year, as was a Redshank flying from one tiny bit of exposed land to another. 
Sunset over a flooded Pulborough Brooks
8th March

A big walk home from Pulborough this morning proved somewhat frustrating, despite the beautiful weather, not least because my planned route was scuppered by impassable flooding meaning I had to walk along the noisy A29 rather more than I'd hoped. Amazingly, within spitting distance of the road I did pick up a couple of singing Firecrests, Chiffchaffs and even a Cetti's Warbler in brambles by the railway line in Hardham. A Redshank was heard but not seen at Widney Brooks. Several Chiffchaffs were singing here and at Waltham Brooks too, it certainly feels as though this species has properly begun to arrive on its breeding grounds in recent days, rather than just dispersing from wintering grounds.

In the afternoon a brief check of Fittleworth Water Meadows revealed a displaying Lapwing, while Bignor Park scrape still held the Egyptian Goose family but not much else. Finally, a check of the flooded meadow near Swan Bridge in Pulborough late afternoon produced my first local Mediterranean Gull of the year - an adult - feeding among 80 or so Black-headed Gulls.
Mediterranean Gull
9th March

An early stroll round the local fields near home didn't produce too much excitement aside from a couple of singing Chiffchaffs, a Kestrel, and a Lesser Black-backed Gull north-east. 

Later in the day I checked out the private reservoir near Petworth in the hope of a bit of wader action but there was similarly nothing much doing, aside from four Gadwall, a pair of Shoveler and a Great Crested Grebe. Again, a Chiffchaff was singing in the bushes nearby, as this species starts to make its presence known at many of my regular spots. A quick look at the scrape at Bignor Park/Hadworth Farm revealed a Green Sandpiper. 

10th March

Today was looking promising. For several days, the promise of north-easterly wind combined with some fairly steady rain from mid-morning looked a bit tasty and I had Little Gull on my mind up until yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately the forecast didn't quite deliver and had changed by this morning. There was still the easterly wind but no rain. After a very quiet WeBS count in Petworth I decided on a proper session at Burton Mill Pond - this always takes a minimum of 80-90 minutes to take in the three ponds and I just don't often have that kind of time lately, certainly not on weekdays. 44 species was the total here this morning, with highlights including a singing Woodlark, at least eight Mandarins (a good count here) and some 120 or more Siskins. In fact, one Alder tree by Black Pond had a minimum of 60 Siskins in it!

Then I checked out Waltham Brooks briefly which held eleven Tufted Ducks and a few dabbling ducks, singing Chiffchaff etc, as well as a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying up and down the river. 

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