Sunday, April 17, 2005

The big weekend - part 2. 162 species in total

Up at 0545, and swiftly out into the field – as we got my bike out of the garage, a guttural ‘growk’ overhead had us both looking up and calling “Med Gull!” – a garden and Sway tick for Steve – a good start! On the way down to Hurst, in frosty and very calm conditions, I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming – they’re clearly a bit commoner than you imagine sitting in a car!

I was in position at the base of the beach at 0645 on a truly glorious, flat calm morning, and had the place to myself for the best part of an hour, before first Phil Lord & David Thelwell, and later Marc Moody arrived for company and more pairs of eyes! I quickly connected with several flocks of Common Scoter milling about offshore, and there were many Gannets and a few Fulmars drifting past. A tight flock of Eider heading east made a long-anticipated debut on the year list, and we had three Red-throated Divers rapidly east too, though these were easily trumped by a close Black-throated Diver (a Hants tick for me), flagged up in advance by a phone call from Steve up at Barton-on-Sea. Steve also successfully tipped us off on the position of the semi-resident Shag near the yellow buoy!

A very few Common Terns also moved through, along with several Little and Sandwich Terns mooching about in the area, and a hoped-for but not really expected addition was Great Skua, with two migrating strongly east. Another Hampshire (albeit tart’s) tick in the bag! After the first, we phoned Steve, who quickly got onto the second one – a Barton tick for him! Nice to be able to return the favour….

Once things had dried up by about 1100, I headed back to Keyhaven, and stopped by the lagoon, where two birders had their scopes up. Any luck? Yes! The drake Garganey was on show – result! Buoyed up, I headed on to the balancing pond area, where a Gropper had been in song at dawn – no joy, needless to say…. But a Reed Warbler grumbled away in the reedbed, and I heard and glimpsed several Bearded Tits over the Phragmites too, in addition to several quite showy Cetti’s Warblers, and yet more Swallows appearing over the marshes. Finally for the coast, I connected with the singing Whitethroat near the jetty.

A speculative stop in the New Forest on the way home, hoping for Wood Warbler, produced instead a singing Garden Warbler – a fitting end to a very good day and weekend, packed full of quality birds and the thrill of migration time. 18 new species for the weekend!

The big weekend - part 1. 151 species in total

I was pretty much ready to go for the ‘big weekend’, when breaking news of the reappearance of the “Longparish Chiffchaff” made me change my plans. I had missed this bird the previous week as I was up in London, but it had now been relocated, and informed opinion seemed to be inclining towards Iberian Chiffchaff – I couldn’t not go for it! So it was off on a 40km warm-up ride to the north of Winchester. I heard the bird immediately on arrival – and it didn’t sound quite right. It was pretty convincing for a while, but then slipped into pure ‘chiff-chaff’ song – at best a dreaded ‘mixed singer’, or maybe a hybrid? Certainly an interesting bird, but my legs could have done without the mileage! Never mind….

So after that false start, I set off just after 1100, and surprised myself by reaching Pennington in only just over two hours. I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a long walk around Pennington, Oxey and Normandy marshes, with good results. After seeing a couple of Med Gulls, and a pair of very smart White Wagtails on the beach, I scored my first new species with a flock of 10 Whimbrel, the first of about 25 seen over the weekend. In quick succession, I had several Little Terns (at least 10 were around the area), plus the hoped for 4 Spotted Redshanks and at least 7 Greenshanks, in addition to a few commoner waders, including the superb Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, now in almost full breeding plumage. A moderate Swallow passage was also going on, with about 200 an hour mid-afternoon.

I returned to my bike, and pushed it along the back lane to Keyhaven – sadly no sign of the drake Garganey which had been present until at least Thursday. But up at Hurst Beach, I scored quite quickly with a distant Fulmar and a couple of House Martins in off the sea. The light wasn’t great for other seabirds, so I kept my powder dry, and headed for Milford-on-Sea. From the clifftop, I had another, much closer Fulmar, and better still, a pretty early Swift flew low over the houses as dusk closed in. I treated myself to a slap-up Italian meal, and then pedalled up to Sway, to check in with Steve Keen, who had very kindly offered me a bed for the night. Once introduced to the family (including Barney the puppy), we went out for a beer or two at the local hostelry, but I crashed out soon after 2200, with seven new birds in the bank!