Sandpipers and Stints on the Marsh

As Chris eluded to in his last post, autumn migration is now in full swing, and that is particularly evident in the wading birds on Farlington Marshes. Over the weekend I noted that impressive numbers of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints were being recorded along the south coast of Hampshire, so on Saturday evening I nipped down to the marsh to see if I could get in on the action. High tide was around 8pm so I arrived at 6:30pm and headed straight to the stream, a favoured place for waders.


Curlew Sandpipers – Farlington Marsh

As it turned out I had made a good choice and the first two waders I saw were two Curlew Sandpipers, followed by a Little Stint. They were feeding along the stream edge and giving some excellent views. They all appeared to be juvenile birds, unfortunately in the failing light my pictures do not highlight the striking plumage of them, particularly the Little Stint.


Two Curlew Sands and a Little Stint

The birds were feeding in close proximity to each other and at one point a Curlew Sand stepped on a Little Stint pushing it completely under water – needless to say the stint looked a little put out by this incident. I continued to watch the group, and try and get some reasonable images in the failing light when a couple more Curlew Sands joined the group, followed by three more Little Stints.


Little Stints – Farlington Marshes


Little Stints – Farlington Marshes

With the light failing fast and the tide rising I worked my way along the stream to the lake and added another Little Stint to the tally; four Curlew Sands and five Little Stints. A mobile Ruff was a welcome addition to the list, but that was the only other species of note for me. Amongst the usual suspects the other wader species recorded included over 300 each Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, over 100 Lapwing, Grey Plovers, Oystercatchers, Curlew, Dunlin, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Greenshank, well worth a visit if you have the time.

Waders galore

I managed to spend an hour or so at Farlington on Monday, before moving cattle around, to have a look at some birds. I wandered up onto the main lake, looking up the stream. I’d managed to time it for high tide – more luck than judgement- and there was a good number of birds roosting and feeding. The first thing that struck you was the large number of Black Tailed Godwits. It was alive with them. There was also a lonely Avocet filtering its way through the mud.


There was roughly 75 Grey Plover flitting in and out. They were very nervous and would only hang around for ten minutes or so before heading off into the harbour, circling around and landing on the stream again.



The source of their nervousness became clear when a couple of Peregrines bombed through. They circle the stream for a few minutes and then headed off again. Great to see them, even if it did keep putting the waders up though the Godwits weren’t bothered in the slightest. There was also the usual mass of Redshank along the reed edge with numbers of Dunlin building every day.

There has been several birds reported down there over the last few days. An elusive Wryneck, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stints to name a few, so well worth a wander around over the bank holiday weekend.


Turning Point

It’s getting to that time of the year. Birds are starting to finish breeding, DSC_0745feeding up, moult and think about migrating. This is pretty evident at Farlington at the moment where we’ve got a mix of young birds, barley out of the nest and some of the waders are starting to feed up in the lakes around the site. It’s that point where anything could turn up!

The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks have been working hard, often producing three broods per year. Whilst working the other day we found a recently fledged Meadow Pipit bouncing around. The nice end to the summer has hopefully made up for the dreary start and they’ll make it through.


There has been plenty of Blacktailed Godwits roosting on the stream during high tides. They’re easily viewed from the visitor center and there has been a few Green Sandpipers occasionally seen here. They tend to spend most of their time on the scrape in the main marDSC_0829sh but will fly in and out, especially when the Marsh harrier flushes them.

Thankfully the stream and the lake have now returned to normal levels, with a new set of shiny tidal flaps on the outlet that let water out but not back in.This will pay off over the coming months as the waders accumulate here to roost.



Found several of these cheeky chappies recently whilst cutting the grass. One at Swanick and two at Farlington, right in the middle of the main marsh. Wouldn’t really have expected them there. Glad to see them about though, not something I particularly see a lot of these days. WP_20160804_10_59_15_Pro

We were cutting around the ditch that bisects the main marsh today, again to clear some nice grazing spots for the prospective wildfowl. I had a wander over to the scrape and was greeting by a cloud of Lapwing, two Green Sandpipers, a Common one and a Ringed Plover. There was also a Marsh Harrier and two Ravens flying around.


Things should hopefully be building up soon. No sign of any Wheatears or Yellow Wags yet but they can’t be far away.

Hook Heath butterflies


Being new to the post, I have spent a little bit of time wandering around the reserves getting to know my way around. One of the areas I have been most impressed with is Hook Heath Meadows. This collection of wet meadows, near the top of Portsdown Hill, provided one of the best butterfly related outings of the year for me.


You couldn’t move for Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers but most impressive was the sightings of two of my most favorite species – Silver washed Fritillaries (7!) and a lonely White Admiral.

I have a particular fondness for White Admirals and their lonely wanderings throughout our woodlands. Not a common butterfly, this is accentuated by their very low population densities, often only appearing in very small numbers in woodland. The most I have ever seen in one outing is five. It makes you wonder just how they manage to reproduce and maintain their populations.


A rubbish pic of a White Admiral

The Silver Washed Frittilary  is one of our most impressive butterflies, and unmistakable due to their size. Hook Heath was alive with them one sunny day the other week, an excellent sign of the health of the site and a good indication of how well the mix of woodland edge habitat is working on site.


Setting the table

It seems like a lot of our time is taken up with grass cutting at the moment and on that note we’ve been very busy at Farlington over the last couple of weeks.


Perfect for a hungry goose

A lot of the cutting we do supplements the grazing work going on, to reduce the tough stuff the cattle won’t eat and help with the overall diversity of the sward and the benefits that brings to inverts etc.

Farlington is a little different as our goal is more geared towards providing  optimum foraging and roosting habitat for our winter waders and wildfowl. In particular Brent Geese.


The vols hard at work – long hours of strimming

There has been a lot of research into Brent Goose feeding behavior and the overall view is that a short sward, under 5cm, is perfect for the geese to feed on. It doesn’t matter how you arrive at this, cutting, grazing etc. This is why you often see them on playing fields throughout the area. This has become more important in recent years as there has been a significant loss in salt marsh and inter tidal grazing of eel grass that they would normally use.

The cows do the bulk of the work on the marsh but this time of year we cut all around the Deeps and other areas that hold water in winter, to get an autumn flush of grass and a nice short sward – setting the table for the Brents arriving. Our volunteers have therefore worked tirelessly over the last couple of weeks to do this. Hopefully this will mean the Brents and other species such as Wigeon, will have an excellent area to feed on over the winter.

On other news, birds are starting to pick up on the marsh. Recently there has been a Marsh Harrier hanging around, large numbers of Black Tailed Godwits and several Common Sandpipers with the odd Green one. We also saw a Raven floating around whilst working yesterday.


The guys. Not that the masses of thistles aren’t ideal but on the plus side there were over 100 Goldfinches on them

Exciting times in the NE meadow


We’ve been very busy in the north east meadow of Swanwick Lakes over the last couple of weeks. It looks absolutely fantastic, with a very flower rich sward. When you wander through, it is alive with crickets and butterflies. One day last week on a hot day, you couldn’t move for Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

We have spent a lot of time with brush-cutters, and some hardy volunteers, taking out the willow and bramble regrowth that would, in time, cause the meadow to scrub over and lose diversity. This is in preparation for the cows, who we shall move in the next few weeks.

This part of the site is targeted as wood pasture, so a scattering of trees is the overall aim. Over the last few years the team has been steadily thinning out the oaks, which may seem destructive but it creates this much more open woodland effect. Combine this with the flower rich grassland in between and you have a recipe for very high diversity, with a huge range of niches available. This is particularly important for invertebrates which then equates to more species up the food chain.


Not all the scrub is cleared. Chunks are being left for nesting birds with the aim to bring back Nightingale on site.


All in all, it is a very exciting part of the site, with a huge amount of potential that is steadily being reached.