Sightings for week ending 12/03/2017

Its been a busy week down Farlington this week. Lots of Bearded Tits, a Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher, Barn Owl, tons of Curlew, Brent Geese and Shelduck and still a Short Eared Owl or two. There was a leucistic duck by the building Tuesday which I think was a Gadwall, despite being positioned next to a Pintail.

Today was particularly gloomy but there were 500+ Dunlin feeding on the mudflats west of the marsh with a few Black Tailed Godwits and Redshank mixed in. There was also one solitary Avocet roosting on the lake. I haven’t seen any Avocet around for a little while, despite the high numbers earlier in the year.

Spring really descended on Thursday. We were working in tshirts at Swanwick Lakes, basking in the warmth on the edge of the lakes. Whilst we were sat at lunch we had a Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and a Red Admiral pass by! These are the first butterflies that I have seen this year.

I think Saturday will be the better day this weekend and so will be a good opportunity to see the last of the waders and wildfowl. The numbers have certainly dropped significantly in the last couple of weeks and it will be sensible to keep an eye out for the first of the summer migrants. Reports of Wheatears and House/Sand Martins have been arriving across the country for a week or so now!

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Sightings for week ending 05/03/2017

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It’s been a mixed week weather wise and I think that this will carry on into the weekend with Saturday looking good but Sunday turning grim. So if you are getting out, Saturday would be the best bet.

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I have managed to spend a lot of time down at Farlington this week which has been lovely. Thursday was a fantastic day where we worked in the reedbed and I am glad to say that we were absolutely surrounded by Bearded Tits. I waded into the reed to look for a ditch and four were sat in a tall stand. They were pinging around us all day. Unfortunately this does not help you if you wish to see them as my best views have been whilst standing deep within the reed. I have seen them regularly near the feeder by the building and I have tried to keep it stocked with grit. I have also put millet in and the Reed Buntings are often present.They have started singing as well, I had a lovely view of a pair today.

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With some reasonable spring tides the marsh has been alive with birds. Well over a thousand Brent Geese were in the deeps on Tuesday and today they moved onto the top of the north marsh. Wigeon, Lapwing, Teal, Shelduck and Pintail are still in high numbers and today there were a good number of Grey Plover and Dunlin on the deeps.

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I sat at the lake after checking the sluice today and I was graced with a fly past from the Short Eared Owl and then the Peregrine put everything up. Later in the afternoon a Barn Owl floated up and down the eastern sea wall before heading into the bushes. This combined with a Buzzard and a feeding Kestrel made for a good day for predatory birds.

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There was a Kingfisher reported by the deeps today and I saw one at Southmoor this morning, hovering above the inter-tidal area.

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All in all there are still plenty of waders and wildfowl in Farlington but they’ll soon be going so it’s worth getting down for a last look.

An old goose

429a3052We have been undertaking a large survey project this winter, looking at movements of Brent Geese and waders around the Solent. This will hopefully help towards guiding development in the future as we hope to highlight which areas are most important for the birds. This may be a large reserve like Farlington or a playing field such the Polo Field in Gosport or the college playing fields in Portsmouth.

What is key is to work out what fields are important and how they move around these, not only throughout the day as part of their natural cycle but also when they are flushed by some sort of disturbance event, such as a dog walker, jogger etc. Do they just move a small distance and return or do they move site completely, potentially highlighting a suit of sites in one area that are important if they are moved on by human activity.

With that in mind, we have been looking at a lot of geese! Several thousand throughout the Solent area but one in particular has been noticed a couple of times. This is G4 a colour ringed brent goose that was spotted on the 13th of Feburary in Portsmouth. This was ringed in 1999 in Farlington as a Juvenile. It was then recorded around the harbour, mainly off Portsea Island all winter. It then disappeared until September 2000 when it showed up at Farlington again. It followed the same pattern as the year before and then on 30th March it was recorded at Leyhoern Nature Reserve on the North Coast of Germany.

It was then recorded almost every year in the Netherlands in late April or early May and then it was then picked up in Portsmouth again in 2011 and 2012 during early winter and then Germany in 2014 and 2015 in early April.

This shows the clear staging areas that this goose was using along the coast of the Netherlands and the north coast of Saxony. It spent many of its winters (probably all of them) in the Langstone harbour area and then around April it popped over the sea and spent a month or so in Netherlands and Germany before carrying on up north.

The early data is much more complete, with more recorders around then. This allowed a good idea of what was happening around the harbour for this goose and this is reflective of at least its family group if not a wider sub population as the geese are creatures of habit and tend to do the same thing each day, each year.

We have started to see patterns through the survey work that we have undertaken this year. For instance the Gosport geese follow a circuit around the amenity pitches throughout the day before flying out to Portsmouth harbour to roost. The geese off of the west side of Hayling move out to the RSPB islands at high tide before moving onto Farlington and then on to the playing field behind and then reverse to roost in the lakes on the reserve or on the islands.429a2881

It’s really important that we know what these birds are doing and the colour ringing scheme has provided some excellent data. Not only do we know that that goose is 18 years old (oldest record is 28) but we know roughly where it goes whilst its in our area and then where its staging grounds are on the way back north. There are a number of different colour ringing schemes across the area on a wide species of birds such as Black Tailed Godwits. The bird pictured above was recorded moving around the Solent area one year,showing a range of sites used. It was then recorded in late Spring in Iceland. The next winter it was back in the Solent area before heading to the west country. Really interesting stuff.

 

Lunchtime Chiff & Other Niceties (Thursday Notes)

Yesterday the Beechcroft team joined us down at Farlington and we managed to finish off the fencing near the cycletrack entrance. It took us the best part of a morning to make it look proper smart so we rewarded ourselves with a sunny lunch-break sitting outside the reserve hut with the March solar rays beating down. It was really rather pleasant and to make it even better a Chiffchaff came and joined us, bellowing out its song from a Hawthorn behind the hut. It wasn’t bothered by us at all and we managed to get great views of it.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

With sandwiches consumed and a good amount of sunshine absorbed, we spent the afternoon going around the reserve ticking off a selection of odd jobs. After we had finished up and packed the tools away I stayed on and went for a walk around the seawall talking with visitors and seeing if we had any new feathered arrivals on the reserve.

I was hopeful for a Wheatear, Sandwich tern or a Sandpiper but alas my luck wasn’t in. There were plenty of other niceties though. A lone Bearded tit (what looked most probably like a female) skimmed along the reedbed pinging as it went. The usual fine selection of waterfowl (Shoveler, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and Pintail) were still on the deeps area. Although it certainly looked like there were now fewer Wigeon on the reserve. The Brent were still present all over the reserve but in distinct tight groups, no doubt waiting for the ‘leader’ to say “right lets go!”. Lapwing are now throwing themselves around the skies busy setting up territories and showing off.

Distant Lapwing

Distant Lapwing

Looking out from the point a Seal was hauled out on the mudflats to the South. Unfortunately the Short-eared owl (last seen on the 13th) did not make an appearance in its usual area of the point field, so I carried on walking making sure I paid special attention to the Willow Pool, keeping an eye out for Wheatears. Try as I might I couldn’t make any tufts of grass on top of anthills into Wheatears so I continued on around the seawall. On the Lake was a Greenshank and a Spotted redshank with a selection of Black-tailed godwits (in the begins of their summer plumage). Also to the right in the reed stubble area were 7 Snipe. 

Black-tailed godwit showing off its part summer plumage

Black-tailed godwit showing off its part summer plumage

Greenshank & Redshank on the lake

Greenshank & Spotted redshank on the lake (blurry digiscope)

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – Caught a slightly better image with my camera after it moved onto the stream.

Before returning to where I had begun a single Avocet was busy feeding on the stream as the gulls began to come into roost.

Spring Cometh

Well looks like spring could well be on the way; Wheatears are fastly being reported up and down the country and I even heard my first ‘proper’ Chiffchaff (I’d like to think it is one that hasn’t over wintered) down at Farlington today! The Brent are also looking like they have very itchy feet too and if I was a betting man I would put money on them leaving next week, once this wind changes direction back to a south westerly, aiding their journey northwards.

Elsewhere down on Farlington the volunteers and I started on our long list of fencing jobs by doing battle with the fence line near the hut, which needed reinstating. They did a cracking job – so good in fact I’d be pleased if a contractor had produced such a straight, taut piece of fencing. We still have a bit to finish off but you get the idea from the photo below.

Fine bit of fencing. Still to be completed....

Fine bit of fencing. Still to be completed….

Unfortunately being so close to the busy A27 left little scope for seeing or hearing much nature but while sitting eating lunch we did see a small colourful butterfly. I didn’t get a good look at it but I think it was either a Small tortoiseshell or a Comma. Later in the afternoon, however, while grabbing some more fenceposts I did get a good look at a Peacock butterfly basking on the warm woodwork.

After we had packed up all the tools and the volunteers had left, I drove up the main track to turn the truck around. In the fields behind the building were a dozen Curlew feeding and a pair of Reed buntings in the adjacent reed bed. The showy male hung around for a while and I even managed to get some photos.

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Male Reed bunting

Curlew

Curlew

The Brent are looking very flighty now and all took off numerous times in very large flocks – tell tale signs that they soon will be returning to their summer stomping grounds. Before they all took off I managed to see two adult birds with colour rings. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read the rings in the long grass though but it was nice to see that there are still some (old) birds hanging around in the flocks.

Colour ringed Brent goose

Colour ringed Brent goose

Big group of Brent over the main marsh

Big group of Brent over the main marsh

Another Trip to Distant Shores

Slightly different weather conditions to last time

Slightly different weather conditions to last time

Yesterday the mainland South Hants reserves teams went over to the Isle of Wight to help Jamie, IOW reserves officer, with a large tree felling job. Apart from the horrendous traffic getting to the ferry, the day started well & we were treated to blue skies which allowed for a little seabird watching on the Solent crossing.

Chawton Field - looking north towards Cowes along the Medina river.

Chawton Field – looking north towards Cowes along the Medina river.

Chawton field is one of the newest pieces of land to come under management from the island HWT team. It sits next to the Medina River, just south of Cowes. The estuarine environment is rich in wildlife but under an ever increasing amount of urban squeeze. The task for the day was to remove a line of planted Willow, Oak and Ash to make the pasture behind more attractive to roosting waterfowl at high tide – a much needed sanctuary from the human impacts in the surrounding area.

In between the heavy showers (not that you would know it from the blue sky photos) and chainsaw time we sat down for some lunch looking over the estuary. In that short amount of time amongst the usual Brent geese, Shell duck and Oystercatcher we saw 2 kingfisher, a Little grebe and a Red-breasted merganser.

Lunchtime view - not a bad place for a picnic

Lunchtime view – not a bad place for a picnic

In other bird news, at Farlington, there have been 58 Avocet  reported (11th Jan) to the west around the main channel by the bridge of Eastern Road. Two Spoonbill (reported present from 9th – 13th Jan). They have been fairly mobile around Farlington & Langstone harbour but mainly reported as on the scrape behind the reedbed. And also a Dartford warbler has turned up, reported in the same area as before Christmas (on the seawall near the entrance to the bushes footpath, half way between the lake viewpoint and the car park).

Heres hoping the Greater Yellowlegs which have now disappeared from Titchfield turn up at Farlington….

Brent, Brent, Brent

A bit of a late post from Saturday as events overtook me and I did not get it done yesterday. Something strange seems to be going on as Saturday was the third fine day in a row, I think it was sometime in August, or possibly last March that we last had such a run of good days!

The fine weather brought out the visitors in fair numbers and the fields were well spread with birds, especially brent geese. I took a walk round the reserve in the morning. starting at the Building there were several bearded tit calling, although they were not showing, the same could be said for the Cetti’s warbler singing from the reeds. Cetti’s warbler were very much in evidence generally and I had one that I saw well calling near the East Wall Blockhouse and another singing in the Point Field as well as several in more conventional locations. At the Deeps a carrion crow was calling vigorously from a fence post on the  seawall, with each full-throated “caw” the tail fanned and eyes closed as the third eyelid came across the eye.

calling crow

calling crow

I think crows are responsible for the outbreak of clam shells across the marsh at present. They collect them from the shore ans fly about dropping them until they open enough to allow the flesh to be removed. Years ago when I first saw this behaviour thought the object was to crack the shell and wondered why they so often dropped them onto soft grass or mud. Then i found out that the idea is to wear the clam out, they can only hold the valves of the shell tight shut for so long before the muscles tire and that lest the crow inside. The shells left are clean and complete, just like the ones littering the Bushes at the moment.

clam shell

clam shell

Out in the field by the Blockhouse a buzzard was just finishing off some unfortunate prey item. When I last worked at Farlington some seven years ago they were still notable birds on the Marsh.

buzzard

buzzard

Looking out into the Harbour from the East wall I could see the RSPB islands and the contractors machinery, they are doing a shingle recharge to try to get a long shingle bank that will stay well above the high tides. Last summer most of the nests on the islands were washed out by tidal surges.

South Binness recharge works

South Binness recharge works

Looking from the Point the flat calm sea meant I could see all the birds floating on the surface very well and I picked out 3 Slavonian grebe and distantly down near the Harbour entrance 2 great northern diver, the last being new for my yearlist.

The fields were full of brent, well over 2000 spent the day on the Marsh and at pone time I could see something like another thousand on the mud off the eastern side of Portsea Island. I came across a number of colour-ringed birds, including several “old friends”, but also two that were new to me, both were white and blue combinations, I will have to try to find out where they come from.

white V, blue = (WVB+) brent goose

white V, blue = (WVB+) brent goose

I also came across several variations on the usual brent goose theme, there was speckle-head.

speckled brent

speckled brent

Just inside the field off the south wall I found the smartest looking brent I have ever seen, if it had a tailor it would be on Saville Row. It wa sa large bird, so I assume a gander, but it had a rather small neck mark and a somewhat paler than average belly, resulting in a fairly strong contrast with the black chest.

super smart brent

super smart brent

Ok, so I probably spend too long looking at brent geese. I also found the usual pale-bellied brent, at times right next to the path just east of the Building.

pale-bellied brent

pale-bellied brent

The picture was “digi-binned” which is to say taken by holding the camera up to my binoculars, instead of “digi-scoped” by holding to the telescope. There are many obvious differences from the usual dark-bellied brent, but one of the less obvious is well shown here, on a dark-bellied the dark belly extends back between the legs, whereas this area is completely white on pale-bellied birds.

During the day I also saw  two birds with some characteristic of the Pacific race, known as black brant. The first was a largish one, so a gander and typically much darker, more chocolate-brown than dark-bellied brent and with pale,  more defined flank patches, but it did not have the very broad neck collar typical of that race, so I would guess it is the result of  across with a dark-bellied brent. The second was a small goose (female) and she did have a very large white collar which met across the front of the neck.

brantish neck

brantish neck

Although she looked quiet good and was certainly not a pure bred dark-bellied brent I don’t think she quite cut it as a black brant either.

Brant-like brent

Brant-like brent

Trouble is I know dark-bellied brent vary a lot, but I am not sure how much black brant vary. In general the females of brent are duller and have smaller neck collars than the ganders. So this one, with much more contrasting pattern and very full neck collar when compared to the dark-bellied birds, really stood out, despite being a female.

I did warn you I spent too long looking at brent geese!