Saturday 19th June 2021
I was co-leading a HOS walk around NO today and before meeting the group I spent a few hours checking out what was on the reserve. As usual I pulled over at the Reedy Ditch first where a flock of 16 Little Egrets were just taking off. I’ve noticed them doing this before, flying in to the Reedy Ditch area from their roost site to the west before splitting off in various directions for a day feeding around the reserve. This is my joint largest count at NO.
Along with the egrets at least two Grey Herons were airborne and they flushed 23 Gadwall who were hidden along the ditch. Shortly afterwards a Fox trotted across W Flash carrying what looked like a Canada Goose gosling.
On the Solent three mid-channel Gannets headed west and in the scrub around Gt Marsh the Meadow Pipit chicks had fledged, a juvenile bird sat watching me from the top of a gorse bush. From the back of the flight pond I managed to find the two Little Ringed Plover chicks who were accompanied by both adults. It is now 18 days since they hatched. Nearby I enjoyed a brief glimpse of Shelduck chicks before the adults ushered them out of sight. The yellow spikes of Dyer’s Greenweed were evident in the damp bits around Gt Marsh.
The nationally scarce Corky-fruited water-dropwort is fairly abundant at NO and is in full flower by mid-June. Equally abundant is Hemlock water-dropwort, in fact as you drive along W Lane from the entry gate it’s all you can see out of the side windows.
Family groups often provide a good chance to see birds which are otherwise elusive and that was the case today when a group of juvenile Cetti’s Warblers were calling constantly near DL’O hide and showing themselves almost as often. A walk around the pools near MMs bungalow provided one of the highlights of the day, a close encounter with a Hobby as it dashed after a Redshank.
My own AudioMoth bat detector has finally arrived and Adrian on the Nathusius’ Pipistrelle project has suggested we position it to get a tranche of data looking back along Warren Lane over the cottages from the sluice/weather station area, we have already found that Common and Soprano Pipistrelles use this route regularly.
Monday 14th June 2021
Just passed NP hide a darter perched up nicely and the all black legs, waisted abdomen and reduced black patches on the thorax confirmed it as an immature male Ruddy Darter, a patch tick.
A little further along the path to Gv Marsh an immature male Broad-bodied Chaser was on patrol giving me my second dragonfly tick of the day.
The two well advanced Lapwing chicks were on Gv Marsh although I couldn’t find the younger chicks I had seen in the last week or so. A Brown Hare appeared close by as I watched the Lapwings.
Slightly unexpected was the group of 14 Black-tailed Godwits which flew over Gt Marsh as I arrived. The Lesser Whitethroat which is nesting here was alarm calling incessantly but I managed only a brief glimpse.
There were lots of Bombus lucorum/terrestris workers on the Stonecrop flowers but the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) on the buttercups was a new species for the patch.
An hour of scanning around Gt Marsh produced no sign of Little Ringed Plover chicks or adults, very depressing. There were plenty of agitated Black-headed Gulls and Avocets circling overhead and in total I counted 10 Black-headed Gull chicks and seven Avocet chicks. Although I had managed views over most of Gt Marsh I thought I’d try the raised view over the Marsh from the sea bank. From this excellent vantage point I was delighted to see both of the Little Ringed Plover chicks with one of the adults close by. What a relief!
Just before getting back to the car I checked S Hide Ditch to see the familiar Blue-tailed Damselflies lifting up as I approached and two male Azure Damselflies were new. An Emperor Dragonfly draped itself down from the rushes but was quick to dash up vertically to meet another male Emperor which flew too close.
At the sailing Club the 23 year old Oystercatcher was preening in the seaward side creek and a Gannet was a slightly unexpected find on the flat calm balmy Solent. The Ringed Plover who nested on the road side has finally hatched the eggs and the young have been walked away on to the saltmarsh. This is a real triumph of tenacity for the parents as the nest location meant that they had spent most of the last three weeks dashing to and from the nest as people and cars came close by.
It’s possible that the Little Terns we have been seeing recently towards the point may be nesting on the shingle. Adam flushed one on his way back from his walk onto G Island last week and I also noticed in the log book that Brian and Val had seen a pair feeding from the point on Thursday. I decided to spend an hour or so looking for them at the Warden’s Hut but unfortunately no luck although the heat haze made things very difficult and distant terns were difficult to identify.
On my walk across to the hides an alarmed Little Ringed Plover called loudly as it flushed up from the water’s edge next to the boardwalk bridge. I’d scanned the area before I’d approached but obviously missed it. It is probably one of the adults from Gt Marsh even though that is nearly a mile away. On the 3rd June I had seen one of the adults as it flew over my head calling at the eastern end of Gv Marsh, this was probably the same adult moving back to Gt Marsh from the boardwalk bridge.
From the DL’O screen I could see 2 Shelduck chicks with adults on B Water and then on DL’O scrape there were another 14 Shelduck chicks, they formed a long line following the adults towards the sluice gate. After five or six further scans I decided that there were three Avocet chicks on DL’O. Unlike Gt Marsh the chicks on DL’O never seem to get any bigger which unfortunately means that the Great Black-backed Gulls are picking them off fairly quickly.
From the JV side of B Water a Red Kite floated over the Gins, the Oystercatcher chick was still following the parents on JV Island and there were eight Egyptian Goose goslings poking their heads above the long grass on G West.
Seven Tufted Duck including five males appear not to be breeding unlike the Pochard pair who still have three ducklings following them everywhere.
A teneral female Common Darter rose up from the rushes near the boardwalk and landed in the long grass to harden her wings. The adult Lapwings were calling anxiously overhead and so the chick I saw here last week may still be present but I couldn’t see it. The Lesser Whitethroat was still singing from the Viewing Gate area.
There were lots of juvenile birds on show today including Dunnock, Linnet, Blue Tit, Starling, Pied Wagtail, Blackbird and Coot as well as Little Ringed Plover and Lapwing.
Butterflies included at least four Painted Ladies, a newly emerged Meadow Brown which was new for the patch, several Red Admirals, 7 Small Heaths and a Speckled Wood.
As I headed home I paused at the Reedy Ditch where there were an amazing 45 Greylag goslings.
Wednesday 9th June 2021
Adam asked if Miranda and I could help Graham Giddens ring the Black-headed Gull chicks on the rafts out on DL’O lagoon. Our role was to count the chicks, estimate the remaining live nests and eggs, rescue any chicks that managed to jump over the chicken wire and all the while avoid falling over in the sludgy mud which sucked your boots whenever you moved.
Black-headed Gulls are an important breeding species in the Solent and they formerly bred in much larger numbers on G Island. It was a privilege to be so close to these birds and Graham ringed them as a quickly as possible to avoid upsetting them too much. The adults soon returned as we waded away from the rafts. There were 76 chicks of which Graham ringed the largest 41.
While there I also noticed a Common Blue butterfly in front of DL’O hide and an Emperor Dragonfly was in Spring Meadow as I drove past.
Monday 7th June 2021
I relocated last week’s colour-ringed Oystercatcher and was able to get a better view of the ring on the left tarsus. It was definitely a double yellow ring thus confirming this bird as at least 23 years old. Pete Potts ringed it as an adult at Hamble Point on 28th Dec 1999. It winters near Hamble Point which is 9km away and feeds on wet fields near Pete’s bungalow at Chilling. Mine is the first breeding season sighting in all this time.
The Ringed Plover at the Sailing Club was still sitting on four eggs next to the track. Given the perilous location they have been on and off the eggs countless times and so I hope the eggs have not become too chilled despite the adults amazing persistence.
The Sailing Club Oystercatchers were also still sitting on eggs.
Oystercatcher photos by Ian Williamson
Three more Avocet chicks had hatched on Gt Marsh to join the two well developed ones. There were still four on DL’O scrape of which I think one is from the first brood and three smaller birds from the second brood.
The Reed Warblers which are nesting near the B Water gate had successfully fledged at least three young.
On JV a female Pochard was accompanied by three small ducklings, successful breeding was only confirmed from three sites in Hampshire in 2019.
A Sparrowhawk dashed across W Lane closely followed by a squawking Jay, the first I’ve seen (as opposed to heard) this year. A ‘teenage’ group of nine 1st summer Mediterranean Gulls dropped onto B Water for an evening freshen up.
On the insect front I recorded Peacock, Small Copper and Green Hairstreak and I noticed in the log book that someone had seen seven Common Blues although I’m not sure where they are on the reserve. They need Bird’s-foot Trefoil as their food plant and this flowers on the Flooded Fields near the boardwalk but there was no sign there.
A Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) is perhaps the commonest bumblebee in the UK but the worker nectaring on Common Vetch was the first I’ve seen at NO. Lots of Bombus terrestris/lucorum workers were busy on the large carpets of Thrift. The males, which join the workers later in the month are much easier to separate from each other.
Others flowers included Sea Campion, Common Vetch, Sea Beet, Ragged Robin, Silverweed, Heath Bedstraw and Lesser Stitchwort
On the sea there was a reasonable movement of terns heading west. A single Little Tern, five Common Terns and 10 Sandwich Terns, several of them carrying sand eels back to the 60-pair colony near Keyhaven. There was also a slightly bizarre very thick-billed Sandwich Tern which raised my heart rate for a while.
There were six new Black-headed Gull chicks on Gt Marsh and an unseasonable Black-tailed Godwit was feeding with the Avocets. Unfortunately the Little Ringed Plover chick numbers were down to two.
A Nightjar churred briefly somewhere on Gv Marsh and as darkness fell several Soprano Pipistrelles and Common Pipistrelles accompanied me on the walk back along W Lane.
Later – bad news from Adam’s beach walk the next day, Tuesday 8th. No sign of Peregrine eggs or chicks. Perhaps the 70 mph gales on the 21st May had taken their toll, Adam said the layout of the nest site and the tide lines had changed since we visited last, very depressing.
Thursday 3rd June 2021
As predicted by Adam the Little Ringed Plover chicks had been guided down to Gt Marsh and I found them on the mud on the southern margin. The tiny white chicks were feeding at the water’s edge but would occasionally dash back to Mum when they lost confidence or perhaps when she called them. They would then spend a few minutes sheltering under her.
The two fairly advanced Avocet chicks on Gt Marsh were still around but no new chicks yet from the other five sitting birds. The four Lapwing chicks were still on Gv Marsh. I was several hundred yards back towards the car when a calling Little Ringed Plover flew overhead. No doubt one of the parent birds returning to help with the chicks on Gt Marsh.
I met up with Dimitri and on the walk back a Whimbrel gave a snatch of song. On DL’O there were 10 Shelduck chicks, the first I’ve seen and also four young Avocet chicks. 18 Great Black-backed Gulls were nearby, way too many for the various chicks to have an easy time. From the screen I counted 18 Black-headed Gull chicks on the rafts, it looks like the Common Terns have had to try elsewhere.
On the other end of B Water, behind JV Island, there was a single Oystercatcher chick and a Cuckoo which had been calling for an hour or more was joined by a second bird and together they flew across the water in front of us. Two tiny new Lapwing chicks were also on Wigeon Fields and another newly hatched chick was on G West.
Perched on a dead tree at the back of B Water a Hobby surveyed G West and Wigeon Fields probably watching for hirundines, dragonflies or damselflies. Hobbies are probably breeding in one of the woodlands on the Estate.
I’d arrived at NO at 3:30pm so that I could finish with an evening visit to P Shore. I ended up spending four hours at P Farm hoping to see or hear Little Owls. As sunset approached I watched a White Wagtail feeding with the cattle and after sunset I began to record whatever bats were flying. There were Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Noctules.
Other than a Tawny Owl calling from the woods at just after 10pm it was all quiet on the owl front. At 10:54pm and just as I was thinking about heading home I did hear another owl but it was the screech of a Barn Owl.
Monday 31st May 2021
I’ve been monitoring various Lapwing chicks over the last few weeks and it was great to see four of the chicks now flying and therefore much safer from predators. Two of these fully mobile chicks were on MMs Pools and another two were on Gv Marsh.
A late Whimbrel flew overhead as I was checking the Avocets. There were two chicks on Gt Marsh, I think it is the same two that I first saw eight days ago, they were looking significantly bigger. Later I saw four Avocet chicks on DL’O. It looks like a different four to the four that were there a week ago as they still looked quite young. The Great Black-backed Gulls probably predated the first four.
The female Little Ringed Plover was still settled on the nest and just as I left to head towards Gt Marsh the male flew past me. I later saw him feeding in the north-west corner of the scrape. It is 22 days since I found the nest with four eggs already laid. Average hatching time for Little Ringed Plover is around 24 days and so they should be hatching soon. The Beach House residents were around and there was a lot of human and dog activity near the nest and so she was constantly on and off the eggs. Once they’ve hatched she’ll hopefully lead the chicks away from danger and towards Gt Marsh – Adam later confirmed that at least three of the chicks hatched on the 1st June. As I headed back to the car a distant Red Kite circled over P Shore.
Back near S Hide clouds of Blue-tailed Damselflies lifted up from the ditch as I walked along the edge of the rushes, they included the pink form violacea. The Lesser Whitethroat singing near the Viewing Gate was wearing a metal ring on its right leg.
While collecting my Trail Camera from the back of B Water I came across a patrolling Hairy Dragonfly. This is the first hawker species of the year and a patch tick for me. I’d hoped to see one on a sunny day towards the end of May, they’re obviously not abundant here and so I was really pleased to catch up with one. I was even happier to see it land on some nearby brambles allowing some decent photos. You can see the hairy thorax and abdomen which gives it its name.
Over on JV Island three Ravens landed in the trees causing a commotion and scattering various ducks, as they flew off an angry Oystercatcher mobbed one of them.
A new patch bumblebee species for me was Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum). A small worker was busy looking for nectar amongst the broom flowers, she rejected them all before finally finding one which she seemed to like. It was only then, when she paused, that I could see the two yellow bars which meet at the join of thorax and abdomen. Most of the other bumblebees were White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) or Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) which as workers are almost impossible to separate from each other.
Insects continued to make up a significant part of today with two Small Heaths, a Small White, four Speckled Wood and a single Small Copper all on the wing on what was the hottest days of the year so far.
I photographed a colour-ringed Oystercatcher at the Sailing Club which could possibly be at least 23 years old. Before he could be certain, Pete Potts who ringed it, asked for a better photo of the ring on the left tarsus. It looks yellow but we couldn’t be sure. I’ll need to keep a look out for it again at the Sailing Club.
Two Sanderling and three Dunlin were in amongst several mobile Ringed Plover flocks which dashed past us at the Warden’s Hut. The Peregrine watch was fairly eventful with a particularly ignorant and arrogant paddle boarder ignoring Ian’s repeated polite request to turn back from his route which was taking him straight up the creek which runs in front of the cottages. Ian had walked to the water’s edge to be within 10 yards of him yet he paddled on without even turning his head. After another 30 yards he saw us reach for cameras at which point he reluctantly turned around.
Another paddle boarder dragged her board across the narrow shingle swatchway which separates the Solent from the Beaulieu River. She was very apologetic saying that she couldn’t cope with the current and wind out on the sea and did it as a last resort.
The silver lining was that a very inquisitive Grey Seal followed both of these paddle boarders and allowed us some close up photographs.
Wednesday 26th May 2021
A noisy family group including at least four juvenile Long-tailed Tits flew across W Lane in front of me while a pair of Ravens drifted over G Camp Field. A Cuckoo called from the NP hide area, I’ve now heard a Cuckoo calling on nine different mornings since I heard my first on the 18th April.
A flock of gulls and terns were feeding off MMs, they included 11 Common Terns and a Sandwich Tern. I later saw the Common Terns on the new wooden groynes which have been built to stop New Forest Ponies getting across from P Shore at low tide. There was also a 1st summer Little Gull in the feeding flock and that makes at least one 1st summer Little Gull on five of my last eight visits. I’d imagine some of these young birds will return to Russia but perhaps not breed.
On Gt Marsh the two Avocet chicks were still feeding along the far edge with parents close by and on nearby Gv Marsh a Fox watched me from just beyond the safety of the hedge while a pair of Roe Deer trotted through the shallow water.
The young male Marsh Harrier drifted over Gv Marsh scattering the Shelduck, Gadwall and Lapwing. When everything had settled again I picked out two small and two larger Lapwing chicks.
In the last week a male Nightjar had been flushed near the NP Hide by Ian and then a few days later by Joost. I took my thermal camera to see if I could see it without disturbing it. There appeared to be no thermal signature from the fence line or from the ground nearby, I carried on walking and was surprised and frustrated when the Nightjar flushed from a few yards to my right. It was obviously roosting in the new fence around the Nightingale plot. Thankfully it landed in a nearby tree and I was delighted to get a decent photo.
Soon afterwards the Cuckoo, which had been calling all morning, landed on the roof of NP hide and gave me a few seconds to grab an image. Remarkably, he will already be thinking about returning to Africa.
It was the warmest day for weeks and I finally saw my first dragonfly of the year, Blue-tailed Damselflies were on the wing in large numbers although the wet channels near the car park and along B Water didn’t produce any patrolling Hairy Dragonflies. A Small Heath butterfly was also enjoying the warmth and was my first at NO.
mating Blue-tailed Damselflies and Small Heath
Over on DL’O scrape Sunday’s four Avocet chicks had reduced to two. It’s the first time for a few years that chicks have hatched here. The Great Black-backed Gulls and Herons will likely take a heavy toll on whatever chicks do hatch.
On the stream that divides G West and G East a family group of four very young Lapwing chicks had been brought to the water’s edge by their parents and nearby a male Pied Wagtail was feeding two recently fledged juveniles.
At the Warden’s Hut I checked in on the Peregrines. It does appear that the chicks have survived the recent 65mph gales as a parent bird brought in an Oystercatcher chick to the nest. I assumed it was an Oystercatcher as there were two frantic Oystercatchers chasing him. I saw Miranda at the Warden’s Hut and she mentioned seeing a Green Hairstreak near MMs. I pulled over on my way home and found one just where she’d said basking on a south facing bank of Bramble, Broom and Gorse.
Sunday 23rd May 2021
In the river mouth a group of seven Turnstone, three Dunlin and a single Grey Plover were all birds which may have decided not to head north to breed. The Pied Wagtails had fledged from the Sailing Club eaves which meant that we could shelter from the cold wind, while Peregrine monitoring, and not worry that we were disturbing them.
Pied Wagtails, female, male and juvenile. Left and top right photos by Ian Williamson
The Ringed Plover who is incubating four eggs continues to stick it out on the nest which is no more than a metre from the road. Half the time she tolerates a passing car but other times she scuttles off. She always runs off whenever anyone gets anywhere near on foot. I hope she can keep going despite the disturbance, thankfully, I could see the eggs were very warm through my thermal camera. The Sailing Club gets much busier from early June so I hope the eggs hatch and she can walk the chicks away before then.
Highlight of the day was seeing an Avocet on DL’O scrape kneeling down with eight tiny legs dangling down form her breast feathers, pretty soon four tiny Avocet chicks appeared. They are precocial and so instinctively know how to feed and they are fully mobile straight out of the egg. There were also six Bar-tailed Godwit waiting out a squall around the back of the island out from DL’O hide. A very close Cuckoo flew across the water 30 yards in front of me while I was stood in the area of JV hide.
The Little Ringed Plover was incubating safely and I began to wonder if the male was still around, I hadn’t seen him for a week or more. A Dunlin landed close by and the male suddenly appeared out of nowhere flying straight at the intruder. I’m next visiting on Wednesday and I’m hoping for chicks by then. I also checked the Avocets on Gt Marsh and there were another two chicks here.
A sea-watch was reasonably productive although showing signs of the end of the season. Six Common Scoter headed east and single Gannets, Fulmar and Kittiwakes were nice to see while eight summer plumaged Sanderling scampered along the beach.
Saturday 22nd May 2021
A very brief visit to NO today. I checked DL’O scrape, Gt Marsh and the Little Ringed Plover nest. There was a 1st summer Little Gull on DL’O scape and another different 1st summer Little Gull on Gt Marsh.
The Little Ringed Plover was safely on the nest but no sign of chicks yet and also no sign of Avocet chicks on Gt Marsh. A well-developed Lapwing chick was on Gv Marsh.
Stonechat and Lapwing
Friday 21st May 2021
Ian and I arranged a sea-watch this morning. This was the stormiest forecast there has been since I’ve been coming to NO. I got out of the car and early indications didn’t bode well as I couldn’t walk a straight line. I was delighted, however, that the bush at MMs provided surprisingly good shelter from the 65 mph south-westerly gales although I was almost in the bush thus sacrificing any views to the west. Whenever I stuck my head above the parapet I was reminded how ridiculously windy it was.
One of the highlights was a steady run of Gannets, for two hours they streamed west, about 25 in total. They are mostly birds from the 6,000 pair breeding colony on Alderney 80 miles to the south.
Two pale phase Arctic Skuas suddenly appeared from the west. Sea birds often barrel back into the wind to control their progress but these skuas were gunning it full tilt. It was a treat to watch four separate Fulmars heading into the teeth of the gale on albatross wings with white protruding heads and pale white primary flashes, above and below. It is believed that spring Hampshire Fulmars are non-breeders associated with nearby colonies in Dorset and West Sussex.
A handful of adult Kittiwakes also battled against the south westerlies struggling and not bouncing along like they normally do. Having scrutinised every sea-watched Cormorant since I started visiting in September I was delighted to finally record a Shag. On a sea-watch at this range it’s the rather thin straight neck, small head, pot belly and wings positioned to the rear that are characteristic.
Waders included a pair of westerly heading Grey Plover and a group of eight Bar-tailed Godwit also heading west.
At the end of the sea-watch I walked over to check that the Little Ringed Plover nest hadn’t had some gale related mishap, at first I couldn’t see her and began to worry she’d abandoned. I changed my angle and then saw her keeping very low with eyes half closed.
We had hoped for Manx Shearwater as several had been seen in the eastern Solent but unfortunately no luck today. Bonixe was a more realistic aim and is again something I’m still to see at NO.
Thursday 20th May 2021
A Cuckoo was calling as I made my way over to check that the Little Ringed Plover was OK. She was incubating and still no sign of chicks for her or for the nearby Avocets on Gt Marsh. I did notice that the Avocets seemed a little less tolerant of my presence so perhaps they somehow know that chicks are imminent.
I had feared that the three Lapwing chicks at MMs had all perished as I hadn’t seen any for more than a week. However, the two well grown chicks which I saw at Wheatear Corner may well be the MM chicks and they’ve just walked over.
On the sea a handful of distant Gannets headed west and a distant pale phase skua was too far out for me to say whether it was Pomarine or Arctic. It seemed large and bulky and I may have seen or imagined spoons looking like ‘trailing feet’, Pomarine is possible but I couldn’t be sure.
Three Kittiwakes included a 1st summer bird headed west. I saw three Little Gulls all of them 1st summer birds in a similar state of moult, two west and one east and so there may be duplication.
A male Red-breasted Merganser from the west was a surprising unseasonal record. I hadn’t seen one for nearly two months. It could be the male that has been seen in Lymington and Christchurch Harbour recently.
After sea-watching Dimitri and I headed to the hides where I collected my trail camera footage. I had captured a Fox, Grey Squirrel, Roe Deer buck and a crèche of 20 Canada Goose goslings being taken to the water by four adults at 5:10am.
We arrived at JV hide to see one of the White-tailed Eagles heading over Wigeon Fields towards the Reedy Ditch and we later saw it again over G West. Back at S Hide we watched the Swallows who have made a nest in the toilet thus making it out of bounds for the next month or so.
Another short sea-watch produced six Common Scoter and just as we were finishing a pair of adrenaline charged pale phase Arctic Skuas blasted past us heading west close to the shore.
Sunday 16th May 2021
Our Peregrine monitoring was from 8am -11am and the forecast was for thundery showers. I arrived at around 6:30am so that I could check Gt and Gv Marsh first. The female Little Ringed Plover was safely on the nest and the water levels for the Avocets looked good although no chicks yet.
A new colour-ringed Avocet (Green/Blue-Lime/Black) has appeared. He is a 7 year old male ringed as a chick at NO in July 2014. Over the next few years he moved between Titchfield Haven, NO and Poole Harbour before first being recorded breeding at Normandy Marsh, Lymington in 2019 and 2020. He spent the subsequent winters there before preparing to breed again this year. In mid-April, however, a predator or human disturbance caused several pairs of Avocet to abandon the site. Green/Blue-Lime/Black tried Pennington Marshes first but then returned to NO. There is still time for him to breed here and I’ll keep an eye on how he gets on.
There was an encouraging seven Lapwing chicks on Gv Marsh with at least three looking old enough to look after themselves. Lapwing have a very poor productivity rate and even getting seven chicks away from the 23 pairs on the reserve would be an OK return.
Shortly before meeting up with Ian I relocated the 1st summer Little Gull on Gt Marsh. Soon afterwards we had to shelter under trees in one of the most violent bursts of rain and hail I can remember. Having got so wet we retreated to the cars for a coffee and a dry out. We then headed off for our Peregrine monitoring.
The male Peregrine spent the first two hours sitting on the black barrel in sporadic heavy rain looking a bit miserable, the highlight being when the adults switched over on the nest and we saw the female for the first time. We did a bit of sea-watching while we watched the Peregrines and the first highlight on the sea was a Razorbill heading east.
At just before 10am Dimitri excitedly called out an unfamiliar seabird heading east and we quickly got onto it. A pale phase skua and on first glance very powerful looking with a heavy breast enhanced by a prominently marked breast band. It seemed larger and less maneuverable compared to the bouncy Kittiwake flight of the Arctic Skua. We were therefore surprised to see that it didn’t have the characteristic spoons of a spring adult Pomarine. It chased after a Common Tern and truly dwarfed it, I would say it was close to Herring Gull in size. No doubt a Pomarine Skua but with the spoons lost or being moulted out.
After the Peregrine monitoring we headed back to MMs for some extra sea-watching. The same Little Gull, or another, flew out to sea over our heads to join the feeding gull and tern flock. We then picked out a Little Tern amongst the Common Terns and Sandwich Terns.
A quick walk around the hides and Dimitri found the White-tailed Eagles perched on the fence at the back of Wigeon Fields.
Saturday 15th May 2021
A day affected by heavy showers. I started by sea-watching in promising conditions with moderate south westerlies and poor visibility which often brings birds closer to the shore. There was a good passage of Common Terns and Sandwich Terns with a single Little Tern. A female Eider was close offshore and six Common Scoter headed east before settling on the sea. What looked like an Osprey appeared to be heading over from the Isle of Wight. My view became obscured by branches as I was nestled in the hawthorns to shelter from the wind and rain, unfortunately, when I moved position I couldn’t then relocate it, very frustrating. The sun came out, visibility increased, the Isle Of Wight appeared from the murk and seabird passage dried up, no skuas today.
I headed off to check the Little Ringed Plovers and was pleased to see the female on the nest incubating. Over on Gv Marsh there were still four Lapwing chicks. On Gt Marsh water levels weren’t quite so high as Adam had removed a sluice board earlier this morning. There were 10 Avocet with five of them sitting on eggs.
The Garden Warbler was still singing in the beach house scrub and I managed a few record shots.
I decided to head back to the car through the gorse bushes. I don’t usually go this way as you pass a Larson Trap and it always has a Magpie in it. It was to be a good decision as I flushed a female Nightjar from near Gv Mire, a really unexpected highlight and a patch tick.
I met up with Dimitri and we headed off to the hides. As we were approaching B Water Gate I saw the White-tailed Eagle flying low over JV. Dimitri shouted there’s two of them, I wrongly assumed that he was mistaking a Buzzard as a 2nd eagle and was amazed to see there were indeed two eagles in the air! They began to circle over JV island and so we headed down the track towards JV. They weren’t on show when we arrived but we soon picked up one flying low on to Wigeon Fields and the second bird soon joined it.
For the next 30 minutes they loafed in the sun while a brave Carrion Crow pulled at their tail feathers and the Greylags wandered dangerously close. They are G408 and G393. G408 is a 2020 male and G393 is the eagle we have been seeing regularly around the Gs area and which I first saw six weeks ago. The now ‘resident’ G393 is a 2019 male and may well have established a territory here.
I collected some footage from a Trail Camera I’ve set up. I’d captured a female and male Roe Deer, the male walking 20 seconds behind the female.
Roe Deer, male following the female
On DL’O there were 8 Avocets of which six appeared to be sitting on nests, including Gt Marsh this makes 11 sitting birds altogether. There were six Black-tailed Godwit on the scrape and a late Grey Plover called overhead. The eagles made another brief appearance dropping into land on what appeared to be the fence line near the Black-headed Gull rafts on DL’O lagoon.
I pulled over at the Reedy Ditch and watched 20 House Martins and 10 Swallows before I headed home.
Thursday 13th May 2021
A Cuckoo was calling as I walked over to MMs. It was the 7th time I’ve heard one since 18th April which makes me wonder if it may be one or two individuals on territory. I later saw it flying over Gv Marsh with its flickering wings never going above the horizontal.
I checked MMs and could only find one Lapwing chick. From there I walked to the beach house to see if the Little Ringed Plovers were ok, which they were. The female was on the nest and the male was nearby.
The water levels at Gt Marsh looked a little high and some of the Avocet nests looked perilously close to the water. It started to rain and in the strong breeze I decided I needed shelter which I found in the lee of the hut. From there I noticed a wheeling melee of feeding gulls just off shore. The gulls at the front kept peeling off and circulating to the back of the line like time trialers do in a bicycle race. It was difficult to watch any particular gull for long, there were Sandwich Terns, Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns, Herring Gulls and a single Mediterranean Gull. I was hoping for a Little Gull and I was delighted to find a first summer bird loitering at the back of the group although it soon disappeared.
Towards the Isle of Wight a couple of Gannets headed west and a flock of seven Sanderling headed east, a mix of summer and winter plumaged birds.
The Garden Warbler was still singing in the beach house scrub as I headed back to Gt Marsh where I found another 1st summer Little Gull resting and preening on one of the tiny islands. I was much closer here and got a few better shots. The amount of black in the head suggests that this bird and the off shore bird were different individuals.
On nearby Gv Marsh I was pleased to see all four of the Lapwing chicks and a pair of brown hares resting in the warm sun.
After a coffee in the car I headed to the hides. An adult Spoonbill on DL’O flood was the first I’ve seen for more than five weeks. A mixed group of four Black-tailed Godwit and three Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding on DL’O scrape and a Whimbrel was in the grass alongside them. From the new viewing screen I was pleased to find a smart Hobby, probably newly arrived sat on the fence line which separates Three Fields East and Centre Field.
When it’s cold and windy you don’t see Butterflies and Dragonflies but the hardworking bumblebee is out in all weathers. My first Early Bumblebee of the year was collecting pollen from Sea Campion out on the point gorse bushes. Given the weather I thought another hour or so sea-watching might be worth it and so I headed back to MMs. On the way I found a Ringed Plover nest with two very young chicks, perhaps a day old. The second chick is underneath the breast feathers of the adult.
The gull and tern flock had disbanded but there was still a small passage of terns heading east. Nearly all Sandwich Terns and Common Terns but with an Arctic Tern amongst them. The translucent primaries and secondaries were very obvious in the strong back lighting giving the bird a two toned appearance. The belly also appeared a shade darker and it dived in stages looking slightly hesitant.
Sunday 9th May 2021
With my Peregrine monitoring at 11am I decided to have a good look around Gt Marsh and Gv Marsh first. At MMs I saw that at least two of the Lapwing chicks were still around. I also saw one of the Little Ringed Plover adults again but I headed off to Gt Marsh without being able to find the 2nd bird.
There were 19 Avocet with 5 sitting but no sign of chicks yet, they have started hatching at Lymington. A colour-ringed bird proved to be a seven year old ringed at NO (at DL’O) as a chick in July 2014. It was seen at Cliffe Pools in Kent in September 2014 and it was then recorded in Suffolk in three consecutive summers (2018-2020) where it was thought to have bred.
Nearby I heard a singing warbler which I initially assumed to be a Blackcap but soon realised it wasn’t. The familiar Blackcap tends to end up with what I find a slightly disappointing and thinner fluty crescendo whereas this bird was more consistent, richer and fuller. I managed a couple of brief views and captured some audio. Garden Warbler is a patch tick for me. Lesser Whitethroats were also singing with at least five around the reserve.
I headed over to Gv Marsh to count the Lapwing chicks, there were three (four last time) although it wouldn’t surprise me if another one or two were hidden. Finding Redshank chicks is even harder, they rarely emerge from the rushes.
I then decided to spend a bit more time trying to find the second Little Ringed Plover and possibly the nest site as the habitat looked good and I’ve seen them five times since the 3rd April. Eventually the single adult was joined by the second bird which quickly returned to an area which I subsequently realised was the nest site. She sat down and over the next 30 minutes she didn’t move other than to stand up occasionally, look between her legs and adjust the presumed eggs beneath her. I contacted Adam and he jumped in the car.
Little Ringed Plover pair, female on nest, male and the four eggs
When Adam arrived we re-checked the nest position and walked towards her, she walked away as we approached. We put up nine iron posts and strung the rope around the nest site. It took us around three minutes. I grabbed a quick photo of the four eggs and soon after we had retreated we were pleased to see the female return to the nest and settle. This is the first Little Ringed Plover nest to be found at NO.
On my way to the sailing club to monitor the Peregrine nest I checked DL’O scrape from Two Bridges gate. There were two Curlew, perhaps the two I’d seen the previous Saturday. A handful spend the summer here out of the 100 or so that winter. There were also eight Avocet with three sitting and 10 summer plumaged Dunlin scurrying around, they’re on route from West Africa to their breeding grounds in Greenland. At the sailing club a pair of Pied Wagtails were feeding young in the eaves and a Grey Seal was busy eating what looked like a Cuttlefish and a couple of Gannets headed west off shore.
Just over 30 minutes into my Peregrine monitoring, at 11.36am, Alan found a Long-tailed Skua heading east over the spit at Hurst. He put the news out on the county rarity WhatsApp group. It was heading inland of the Isle of Wight and was likely heading my way! I was at the Wardens Hut and 20 minutes later it came past me, a superb adult bird with a dark cap, no white in the primaries and amazing long tail streamers. It wasn’t seen at various other places to the east where people were ready and looking and so may have taken a shortcut and headed up over the Isle of Wight, it was fairly high already. What an amazing few minutes!
Sandwich Tern and Long-tailed Skua (honest)
After the Peregrine monitoring I headed over to the hides to see if the Common Terns were still on the raft. Unfortunately the raft was unoccupied and there were no Common Terns in the vicinity. I checked the fields – either side of the walking trail, the flooded fields, Venner, Wigeon Fields and the Gins – and I saw only one Lapwing chick. Several birds were sitting, presumably incubating and so there may be more chicks soon but it was still a disappointing return.
The young White-tailed Eagle took off over the Gins giving me my closest views so far and there were 2 Black-tailed Godwit on DL’O scrape. Two Painted Lady butterflies were a patch tick newly arrived after the long run of northerlies had thankfully ended.
Thursday 6th May 2021
Ian and I were meeting Adam to do the May shoreline survey, this is primarily to check for the number of nesting Ringed Plover, Oystercatchers and also to, hopefully, find the Peregrine nest. A second shoreline survey is carried out in mid-June to look for chicks in the areas where we see evidence of territories and nests on the walk today. This whole beach is closed off from 1st March and so it’s a privilege to be invited out on this walk.
We’ve recently had some high spring tides in conjunction with storms and there was a very real risk that many nests including the Peregrine’s may have been washed out.
Before we all met up I checked Gt Marsh and counted 18 Avocet with four of them sitting. No sign of the Little Ringed Plover pair. There were two juvenile Stonechats around Gv Mire and two Common Terns appeared to be prospecting over Gt Marsh. A Cuckoo was calling regularly before I saw it briefly flying over Pullen. On nearby Gv Marsh there were two Lapwing pairs each with two chicks.
Stonechats adult and juvenile
I headed back towards the meeting point and was delighted to find the pair of Little Ringed Plover on the grassy shingle between the beach house and the hut. This may well be the nest site with both birds sparring with a pair of Ringed Plover who also appear to be nesting here. If successful this will be the first breeding record for NO.
A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in P scrub and two Sedge Warblers were also singing from here and from the P Reeds. Pairs of both Pochard and Tufted Duck appear to be breeding on NP.
On the shoreline walk out we counted 16 Ringed Plover pairs with a similar number again behaving as though they had no nest site to defend often flying long distances along the water line, these quick to flush shoreline individuals are likely to have been washed out. Overall the numbers were better than we’d hoped. We also found a nest with two eggs.
As we got past the level of the Warden’s Hut I noticed the female Peregrine taking off several hundred yards further down the spit, I tried to get a fix on the precise location although it was difficult given how long and undulating the spit is. We continued onwards but, unfortunately, we were unable to find the nest. Lots of the usually dry shingle and sand areas appeared to be damp and the tidelines on either side of the spit were higher than usual. We also didn’t see any Peregrine kill larder sites. We got to the very end of G Island, braving a crazy attacking Oystercatcher, and we were beginning to think that the Peregrines had been washed out.
On the walk back both Peregrines appeared again circling and looking agitated, perhaps we were close to the nest and at roughly at the point where I guessed the female had left earlier I found the Peregrine nest with three eggs. The eggs were still warm, we left quickly so that the female could return. Back towards the start of the spit we noticed evidence of a kill larder with feathers, bones and an Oystercatcher’s head.
Peregrine and Ringed Plover nests
The next really high tide is in just under three weeks on the 26th May. If the weather is calm we should be OK as it’s low pressure and high winds that create higher than forecast tides and huge waves crashing over onto normally dry sections.
A wander around the rest of the reserve produced the Barnacle Goose again near JV feeding with Canada Geese on V South. On DL’O there were eight Avocets with four of them sitting. That’s the same number of apparent nests as on Gt Marsh although the Avocets on DL’O are much more prone to Great Black-backed Gull predation, we had found a Great Black-backed Gull nest on G Island.
Egyptian Geese and chicks, Barnacle Goose and Greylag Goose
There were four Common Terns calling and flying over the lagoon and I was pleased to see two of them land on the vacant left hand raft, one of the terns moved up to the top of the posts and began calling, appearing to stake a claim to the raft. Fingers crossed that they can fend off the Black-headed Gulls.
A distant Red Kite gradually circled gradually moving closer to me on the Gins and a spring Whinchat was an exciting find on the fence line on the edge of Gins West, viewable from JV.
Common Terns including a pair on the raft and Whinchat
I saw three Wheatears today, one at the start of the shoreline walk, one on the Wigeon Fields and another at the sailing club. On the drive back home I pulled over to photograph the Green-winged Orchids in Spring Meadow, Miranda had mentioned them to Ian earlier.
Saturday 1st May 2021
Ian organised a Bird Race for 1st May to attempt 100 species in the day, all at NO. We met at St L’s Barn at 4am. Our initial targets were Tawny Owl and Barn Owl and Woodcock with the thermal camera. We had no luck with any of these and we headed to S’s Wood for 5am. The highlights here were Tawny Owl, Cuckoo, Jay and Snipe all calling. We also saw Mistle Thrush, Nuthatch and an unexpected Firecrest. The main things we missed which we might subsequently struggle with were Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goshawk, Marsh Tit and Coal Tit.
Next stop was Reedy Ditch where an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull went over.
A brief stop at MMs and a sea-watch produced several Common Terns going east, a Grey Plover on the beach and a Wheatear at W Corner. In the week I had seen Little Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit all on Gt Marsh but unfortunately there was no sign of any of these birds today. We therefore headed to the hides at around 11am more than a few species behind where we needed to be to hit 100.
In the hides area we picked up an unexpected Common Sandpiper and Raven and a hoped for but not guaranteed Sedge Warbler. We were slightly disappointed not to get Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Black-tailed Godwit which I had seen here in the week.
Sand Martin and Common Sandpiper
We needed to continue catching up and another sea-watch produced a flurry of unexpected highlights – Common Scoter, Little Tern and Sanderling with a newly arrived Lesser Whitethroat. This brought us to 95 before our 3 three hour Peregrine Monitoring started at 2pm.
The Peregrines took us to 96 before we picked out a pair of Red-legged Partridges near the sluice gate, we thought we were going to miss them. Then a group of distant Bar-tailed Godwits towards Lepe and two Curlew on Inchmery. The Curlew took a bit of finding given the good numbers of Whimbrel on the reserve. For the next 2 hours we were stranded on 99 before a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed at the Reedy Ditch to bring up the 100.
A brilliant and tiring day. We had missed Magpie, Willow Warbler, Eider, Coal Tit, Green Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Black-tailed Godwit and Sparrowhawk. 105 ought to be possible, maybe next year…
Thursday 29th April 2021
From the Reedy Ditch I watched a female Marsh Harrier carrying nesting material over P Shore View before dropping into the reeds. They haven’t bred here recently and it seems that NO may be attracting young birds who go through the motions, perhaps they are practicing. I later saw a male Marsh Harrier quartering in the NP hide area. They are difficult to age but he looked like he was in his fourth summer and so ought to be old enough to breed.
I headed over to MMs Pools where a vocal Lapwing pair were obviously anxious about something and then I noticed their three chicks who quickly headed for the cover of the rushes. They usually have between two and four chicks but do well if more than one survives. Two red-headed Coot chicks were close by in the edge of the reed bed and a Yellow Wagtail, my first of the year, called as it flew overhead. A Blue-headed Wagtail was seen here on Tuesday.
Grey Plover were calling as I walked over to Gt Marsh. I heard several overhead today, they don’t breed in Hampshire but a small number do stay for the summer, the majority head to the Arctic to breed.
There were 29 Avocets on Gt Marsh and five of them were sitting on eggs. They paid me no attention as I stood on the raised bank near the beach house. Once they have chicks they will be less tolerant of my presence and I’m likely to be mobbed. A quick scan around the rest of the marsh and I was pleased to see the Little Ringed Plovers again. They may attempt to breed and the habitat looks suitable, looking forward to checking on their progress.
Reed Warblers photos by Ian Williamson and Brian Fairbrother
There were also single Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the marsh. The Bar-tailed Godwit was the only one I saw all day which is surprising given how many were around last week. Forty Whimbrel were still feeding in various fields around the reserve, hopefully yesterday’s rain will help them penetrate the ground!
As I got back to the car for a coffee three noisy Common Terns wheeled overhead. We’re hoping that they use the rafts which have been built for them on DL’O lagoon. A tape of their calls is playing on a loop. They bred successfully in 2019 but the lockdown meant that rafts weren’t put out in 2020.
On the way to the hides a Yellow Wagtail picked up from the flooded fields near the boardwalk. I followed it as it landed on V South and I managed some photos although the distance and the heat haze made them no more than record shots.
An obliging Willow Warbler was the first I’d heard for a while, they are hugely outnumbered by Chiffchaffs here. He was singing from just outside B Water hide. There were seven Reed Warblers, three Sedge Warblers, three Lesser Whitethroats and 15 Whitethroats singing around the reserve.
It was flat calm and a bit of sea-watching produced two Little Terns heading west, a patch tick for me. Twenty Sandwich Terns were also off shore plunge diving and amongst them five Common Terns were also feeding. Along the shingle spit a Turnstone was still hanging around and a Sanderling was a nice find on the beach.
On the way home a brief stop at the Reedy Ditch produced a mixed flock of twenty hirundines and an unexpected Green-winged Orchid in the middle of Warren Flash, I needed my scope to identity it!
Sunday 25th April 2021
A Cuckoo called again this morning as I headed over to the beach. A seawatch first thing with Ian in encouraging conditions was really disappointing with two Common Terns and a passage of easterly heading Swifts being the highlights. Two very distant divers remained unidentified in the heat haze. I think the first was Great Northern and the second Red-throated although we couldn’t be certain.
There were six Reed Warbler singing around the reserve and a similar number of Whitethroats but no Willow Warblers which appear to just pass though at NO. Thursday’s two Lapwing chicks were still on Three Fields South and I located another two chicks on Three Fields North, the parent birds looking permanently stressed. Greater Stitchwort was flowering in the hedgerows.
Two Greenshank were roosting on DL’O scrape with a dozen Bar-tailed Godwit. Back at the car I checked the ditch for Hairy Dragonfly which occurs here and is the first hawker of the year, no sign today. A female Wheatear, probably yesterday’s bird kept us company around the Wardens Hut while Dimitri and I watched G Island for paddle boarders and canoeists.
Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits were again all over the reserve but there were fewer than yesterday moving on the sea.
A Small Copper was basking on a warm log in the gorse bushes at the point while a fully laden White-tailed Bumblebee worker was nectaring from the gorse flowers. I checked the area for Green Hairstreak which are on the wing by now but it seemed a little exposed in the strong easterly wind.
Another eight Common Terns passed off shore just as I was finishing the Peregrine watch. Dimitri texted me news of four more Lapwing chicks on Droveway South which I pulled over to watch on the way home. That made eight chicks in all today.
Saturday 24th April 2021
A Cuckoo called at just before 7am as I was heading to count the Avocets. A few Sand Martin drifted east and a Dartford Warbler churred just up ahead. One or two Lesser Whitethroats were rattling away, several Whitethroats were singing and there were so many mobile Linnets that it became tiring checking every bird!
I counted 29 Avocet on Gt Marsh including AX and a double green lime/yellow but no sign of the pair of Little Ringed Plover from Thursday. The two pairs of Redshank spent most of their time looking agitated and half a dozen Teal were still around. A quick look on the sea behind me and I could see that Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit were going past in small numbers.
I headed back to MMs sea-watching bush and on the way Alan reported from Milford Shelter that a Bonxie had gone through the narrows into the Solent and so likely would be heading my way. Clay and Ian were both on their way and within 15 minutes we were all watching the Solent hoping for the Bonxie. Unfortunately there was no sign, perhaps we all missed it, or it turned back or it was sat on the sea.
There was a strong passage of Common Scoter off Milford but apparently they were circulating in the bay and as is often the case none of them came up the Solent. We did see three Gannets and two groups of Common Terns and a blunt-nosed black auk species was close enough to identify as Razorbill.
I also picked up a distant diver heading rapidly east. It appeared slender necked and white headed with rather deep wing beats. Undoubtedly a Red-throated Diver and probably the bird that Alan had seen heading into the Solent. Thirty late straggling Brent Geese also headed east.
I looked over my shoulder while sea-watching and noticed a smart White Wagtail feeding around MMs Pools. I got closer by crouching and approaching slowly behind a tussock of grass. My third of the spring so far and soon afterwards a female type Marsh Harrier flew low over Pullen.
On our monitoring a young Peregrine dashed over the Island but didn’t draw the attention of the adult birds. My guess is that she is one of the young from the 2019 nest, she headed off back west along the shingle ridge.
A male and female Wheatear ran along the edge of the gorse near the Warden’s Hut and showed well for 30 minutes or more until a Sparrowhawk dashed over the gorse line weaving between the bushes. The first two House Martins of the day appeared and the steady easterly stream of Swallows continued.
I saw at least 200 Whimbrel and 50 Bar-tailed Godwit during the day but the best views were of grounded birds. A group of 25 Bar-tailed Godwits gradually walked south down the edge of the river and I used the wooden structure near the slipway as a hide.
As I was heading back home the car proved to be a useful hide for close views of the Whimbrel who were feeding in Droveway South.
At the Reedy Ditch there were Egyptian Goose chicks, Greylag goslings and Mallard ducklings.
Thursday 22nd April 2021
Just west of NP hide I heard my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year, they are often difficult to see and so I was pleased to get a few shots of it singing from the Blackthorn. I noticed a ring on its right leg. Graham believes that it may be one of the returning birds he ringed last year. I managed to hear or see three other Lesser Whitethroats during the rest of the day.
A Red Kite drifted over P Shore, my fifth sighting of the spring quite possibly involving five different individuals. An initial scan of the Avocets on Gt Marsh produced two Little Ringed Plover! They are likely to be a different pair to those seen three weeks ago, they looked quite at home on one of the islands and so I was slightly surprised when they left purposefully, out to sea, 40 minutes later. There were 37 Avocet on Gt Marsh which is my highest count to date, they included a colour ringed bird which is probably from the French ringing scheme although Graham often has difficulty in getting them to respond with details.
By the time I had got to the hides I had counted five singing Reed Warblers including a pair at B Water gate and nine singing Whitethroats but no Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers or Blackcaps. The male Marsh Harrier was quartering over BW. He looks as though he is approaching adulthood, hopefully they may breed.
Whitethroat, Reed Warbler and Little Ringed Plover
While I was near B Water hide Phil Hawkes reported an Arctic Skua heading east through the Solent. I decided I would head back from the hides to sea-watch from MMs. The winds were around 20 mph and from the east. I sheltered in the lee of the bush and Joost joined me soon afterwards. At 9:45 am I watched a dark phase Arctic Skua appear from the west. It headed rapidly east with a buoyant but powerful flight. Even more unexpected was a Fulmar which flew west at just before 10:30 am.
Other birds heading east included nine Sandwich Tern, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a pair of Eider and a steady stream of Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel, with 20 and 55 respectively inside the hour.
It was brilliant to see my first Lapwing chicks of the year. There were two near the water trough on Three Fields South and another two chicks on V Creeks.
Sandwich Tern and Lapwing chick
Sunday 18th April 2021
On the drive down W Lane I paused at BW House to watch a male Kestrel who was perched on the Dovecote, they are nesting here. I headed to MM’s Pools but a Marsh Harrier beat me to it and as a result there were few birds around when I arrived, only a Little Egret enjoying the early morning sun.
Next stop was Gt Marsh and Gv Marsh. Linnets were everywhere. I saw my first Dartford Warbler for two weeks, it was a male in the Ringing Area and a pair of Bullfinches showed well nearby including a ringed bird which Graham first trapped four years ago.
Highlight of the day was a Cuckoo calling at 6:45am. It called again at 7:15am but not again all day. It reminds you of the benefit of heading out early. Greenfinches aren’t particularly common here but they showed well today and a Whitethroat was singing constantly but moving between song posts in the gorse and scrub adjoining Gt Marsh.
An Avocet wearing yellow flag AX was with 19 other Avocets, down from the 36 I had seen on Thursday although I later saw another eight on DL’O scrape. AX was last seen at Titchfield Haven in July last year. It was ringed as a chick at Gt Marsh in the summer of 2018 and at 3 years old it is now mature enough to breed.
Our Peregrine monitoring was from 8am to 11am and passed without issues. A Sparrowhawk flew over the river towards Exbury and a Whimbrel was close by in a marshy creek.
Once we’d finished we headed to the hides and on the way found another five Whimbrel feeding in the Wedge Field. In the warmer weather there were more butterflies on the wing with fresh Speckled Woods, a Peacock and a couple of Large Whites. Several Buff-tailed Bumblebees were also looking for nesting holes.
The Reed Warbler at B Water gate was singing constantly but again failed to show for a photograph, maybe next time. The juvenile Russian White-fronted Goose was still present on Venner Island with a pair of Wigeon lingering and a pair of Pochard perhaps thinking about breeding. I wonder if the juvenile White-front may stay here for the summer. I know that Roseate Terns, for example, stay on their wintering grounds in Ghana during their first summer before heading north to breed when they are two years old.
A Chiffchaff jumped out in front of us giving excellent views. You can see the short primary extension (obviously shorter than the tertial length) which is a good ID feature separating this short range migrant from the longer range Willow Warblers (who have longer wings)
I checked the AudioMoths and thankfully both were still flashing green meaning that the batteries had lasted and everything was still working. It may well be, however, that there will be few Nathusius Pipistrelle records given the colder weather we’ve had. I reset the timer, inserted new batteries and new SD cards. I was just about to head to Lepe to sort out the AudioMoth there when I heard that there was an issue at G Island with paddle boarders sunbathing very close to the Peregrine nest.
I headed back and arrived to hear that the intruders hadn’t heard the Loud Haler siren and also didn’t hear the shouts. The Harbour Master was called but they aren’t insured to go out on the Solent and as the paddle boarders were on the seaward side of G Island there was nothing they could do. Thankfully they left after about 30 minutes.
While we were chatting near the Warden’s Hut I heard the classic rippling call of several Whimbrel and looked up to see 45 heading east in a classic goose like V-formation, an impressive sight.
Thursday 15th April 2021
A male Shelduck was head throwing in display on NP and a female Pochard swam low hugging the reed bed. Shelduck will certainly breed here and the Pochard may try although not many do in Hampshire.
There was a further increase in Avocet numbers with 36 now on G Marsh. They included the 7 year old who was ringed as a chick at NO and which I saw here on the 1st April. A pair of very vocal Redshank were running around in a courtship chase.
Pochard, Redshank and Egyptian Geese
On Venner South a huge flock of 141 Mediterranean Gulls, mostly adults, were resting on the grass. There were perhaps 250 in the general area and local breeding for some of them seems likely. In 1968 G Island was the first place where Mediterranean Gulls bred in the UK.
A pair of Little Grebes came very close to us in B Water hide and with the sun still low behind us the colours were intense. I caught the male while singing, the babbling trill that is part of the soundtrack to spring at NO.
The Marsh Harriers were actively displaying and repeatedly dropping into the base of the reeds near the trees which border the northern side of B Water. This is the same place that I saw a male and female carrying nesting material last week. At one stage two female types tussled mid-air.
While in B Water hide I watched the White-tailed Eagle lift up into view over the Gins. I first saw it in this general area two weeks ago but this time it was much closer. On Tuesday it had spent most of the day on the ground near the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, roughly in the direction we were looking. This bird is a 2019 released male.
There was no obvious arrival of migrants with unchanged numbers of Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs. The juvenile Russian White-fronted Goose was still on JV Island with the Barnacle Goose resting only a few yards away.
Barnacle Goose and Russian White-fronted Goose photos by Ian Williamson
A lingering group of 8 Great Crested Grebes floated off shore from MMs house. The Egyptian Goose pair shepherded their eight chicks into the reeds at the back of the Reedy Ditch and a smart White Wagtail was new on the Warren Flash side of the ditch.
Tuesday 13th April 2021
Ian texted me at just after 10am to say that there was a Barnacle Goose on Venner. They are a declining feral resident with up to 30 or so wandering in Hampshire and nearby counties. This is the first one to be seen at NO since I started visiting. Sarah and I were due to go out for a drive to Stewarts Garden Centre in Christchurch and so I suggested we detoured via NO first.
We arrived an hour later, I made my down the walking trail to find Ian and Clay at the start of the Boardwalk Field. Ian’s scope was trained ready on the sleeping Barnacle Goose. It immediately woke up and took to the water to swim around JV Island before getting out to feed on the edge of the Wigeon Fields.
I headed back to the car and just before getting back to the road I noticed a couple of Swallows on the wires. I managed a ‘flight’ shot just as one of them lifted off.
There was still another patch tick waiting for me back at the parking area. Ian and Sarah had heard several Whimbrel calling while I was watching the goose. Thankfully another called loudly soon after I arrived back at the car and I watched it lift up from the saltings before heading purposefully east. My camera was off but thankfully I had just enough time to boot it up, switch to continuous auto tracking and get a few flight shots.
Saturday 10th April 2021
Four pairs of Shelduck were flying around NP Marsh. Hearing them calling to each other is a treat. The male closely pursues the female with an amazing discordant whistling call with the female calling ‘gagagaga’ back to him. You only here it when they’re close and they seem to fly around endlessly calling to each other.
Alan texted me to say that he had found a Little Ringed Plover on DL’O scrape, perhaps Joost’s bird from yesterday. He said it was displaying. Ten minutes later I was in DL’O hide and watching it, distantly, throwing its breast forward, head towards the ground and with its tail held high behind. It also appeared to be nest scraping. It will be interesting to see if it hangs around. Nearby Phillip F has been watching two displaying birds at Lepe and Adam is planning a shingle island out from DL’O hide which would be ideal for Little Ringed Plover.
On the other side of the hides I noticed the 1st year Russian White-fronted Goose with Greylags on B Water just out from NFOC hide. I wonder if it will attempt to follow the adult birds back to Russia, I last saw them almost a month ago.
Around the edge of JV a mixed group of small gulls fed actively, at least 25 of them were Mediterranean Gulls. Another six birds were on DL’O scrape. The birds on DL’O suffer from Great Black-backed Gull predation and menacingly an adult was stood nearby watching them. Earlier, on G Marsh, 21 Avocet were paired up ready for breeding with several of them already on the islands that Adam created a few years back. Two pairs of Pochard were on B Water. They occasionally breed here so I will keep an eye out for them.
There had been a definite increase in Swallow numbers with birds lingering over B Water, at least 20 with a single House Martin amongst them. A quick sea-watch produced a patch tick, a Sanderling heading east. I haven’t seen any all winter, the best chance is no doubt during passage. A summer plumaged Great Crested Grebe also lingered off shore.
Great Crested Grebe photo by Ian Williamson and Ringed Plover
I’d seen two different Red Kites around B Water over the last week and today I watched two together heading over towards Inchmery. They could be the same two individuals but it’s equally likely they are new birds passing through.
Linnet and Meadow Pipit
I did my Peregrine monitoring with Dad and Dimitri. Not long into the session the two adult Peregrines saw off a young Goshawk who was sat on the ground in the middle of the island probably quite close to the nest. We watched high speed dives from the male with the young Goshawk throwing its talons up to meet the diving Peregrine. The female joined the male and together they drove off the interloper. I’d seen this brown immature Goshawk a few weeks ago patrolling over G Island.
Thursday 8th April 2021
On a shortened visit today I headed to the beach first but couldn’t resist the pink twilight sleeping Mute Swans at Reedy Ditch.
On the walk to the beach an immature Goshawk broke through the trees near the information board being chased by a smaller Carrion Crow. There were still 10 Turnstone on the shoreline, only a few remain into April and May.
Oystercatchers were mating and it was clear that there had been a further clear out of Brent Geese, Teal and Wigeon. There were 11 Avocet on DL’O scrape and, later, a similar number on G Marsh. Linnets and Reed Buntings were singing in the NP area.
Linnet and Reed Bunting
With the recent northerlies there appeared to be no significant increase in spring visitors with five Willow Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler and 2 Reed Warblers singing round the reserve. A male and female Marsh Harrier were both seen carrying nesting material down into the reeds at the back of B Water and at one stage the female mobbed a Red Kite who had appeared suddenly.
female Marsh Harrier carrying nesting material and later mobbing a red Kite
The Red Kite broke away and quartered over DL’O lagoon and was then mobbed by the Black-headed Gulls who have settled on the rafts. Based on primary moult, breast markings and tail wear this appears to be a different Red Kite to the one I saw last Thursday.
A lovely fresh Small Tortoiseshell was basking on some flattened reeds, my first at NO and the only butterfly I saw all day.
I relocated the female Garganey on the edge of JV and Ian dashed across from the beach for a patch tick. Soon afterwards the constantly moving Garganey was off again.
female Garganey on the edge of JV, right hand photo by Ian Williamson
Eight Swallows and a House Martin passed through heading east and a Stoat, my first here, ran across the road near the parking area.
Sunday 4th April 2021
Joost was in the car park when I arrived and so we headed down to the beach together to see if yesterday’s Little Ringed Plovers were still around. Just down from NP hide we walked the length of the ditch and unexpectedly flushed a Jack Snipe. I’m sure it must be newly arrived. It flew silently and low and I could just about tell where it landed. I used my thermal camera to try and relocate it before we got too close so that we could get a photo without flushing it. Unfortunately the Jack Snipe was hiding deep within thick grasses and I couldn’t see its thermal image and managed to flush it again. Nice flight views but not the photo I’ve been hoping for.
The Little Ringed Plovers had moved on but a ringed Dartford Warbler showed nicely in the morning sun while a Sedge Warbler was singing energetically from the reedbed and a new Wheatear flitted along the beach fence-line.
After a quick coffee in the car I headed over to the hides. Ian had seen one of the Russian White-fronted Geese yesterday and I managed to relocate it swimming on JV. I assumed all four of the birds had headed back to Russia and so this was a surprise. It looks like it is the 1st year bird who has been left behind.
Collared Dove, Linnet and Chiffchaff
Just behind me a snatch of song was clearly a Willow Warbler and I turned around to see it working its way through the sallows.
On the way back along the walking trail Brown Hares were playing chase in the adjoining fields and I heard a very close and quiet sub song which I thought was a sylvia warbler maybe Blackcap. I followed the sound and glimpses of the bird as it moved slowly back down the other side of the hedge. I decided to walk further ahead of it to the end of the hedge so I could look back along the length of it. The bird flew past me and it was the first Whitethroat of the year and my earliest ever.
distant Whitethroat, first of the year
At around 11am Dad and Ian arrived and we walked the beach loop again. Three Bar-tailed Godwit were new for the day and a flock of 100 Dark-bellied Brent Geese showed that there were still a few around. We were almost back at the car when a Green Woodpecker called in the distance.
During our three hour Peregrine watch a young Mediterranean Gull and a young Spoonbill both flew close by and a House Martin was new for the year and along with lots of this year’s common spring migrants it was my earliest ever.
immature Spoonbill photo by Ian Williamson and 1st year Mediterranean Gull
Saturday 3rd April 2021
Today was the first day of our Peregrine monitoring. Ian and I had a shift from 8am-11am and so I got there at 6:30am to have 90 minutes around the hides before heading to the sailing club.
It was pretty cold with the wind having swung around to the north and it felt as though spring migration may be halted as a result. Yesterday’s Reed Warbler was singing again near B Water gate and a Blackcap and a Cetti’s Warbler were singing from where JV hide used to be. As I was heading back across the cattle field I heard a Sedge Warbler behind me, I headed back. I tracked it down to the white flowering Blackthorn near B Water hide and although I got a recording of its song I didn’t see it. This is my earliest ever Sedge Warbler.
an early Reed Warbler
I chatted with Clay on the way back and so I was slightly late back to the sailing club to join Ian. The Peregrine monitoring was uneventual although not for a Woodpigeon who appeared from the west in the talons of the male. The male handed over his catch to the larger female and she spent the next 90 minutes devouring it while the male stood with back turned 20 yards away.
I had to leave earlier today and I was almost home when, at 11:42am , Clay reported a pair of Little Ringed Plover on the pools near MMs house. I quickly u-turned and texted Clay and Ian to ask them to stay on the birds if possible. Thankfully they were still present when I arrived and I joined Ian at around 12:10pm.
Little Ringed Plover pair bottom left photo by Ian Williamson
Amazing to think these attractive waders may have been in Senegal just a few days ago. They certainly looked tired as they rested on the mud below the sea-watching bush.
Thursday 1st April 2021
I was meeting Adrian Bicker at Lepe at 10am to help him with his Nathusius Pipistrelle research. To give me a few hours at NO first I got there for sunrise. I headed over to the beach and it was clear that there were lots of newly arrived Linnets. It was also the lowest tide I’ve seen so far and there were 68 Mediterranean Gulls strung out along the shoreline. They were all adults other than a single 1st year bird, perhaps their breeding success wasn’t great last year or the younger birds were elsewhere. Along with increased numbers of Linnet I heard at least five Siskin overhead.
A Blackcap was singing opposite the gate near the NP hide and the two Wheatears which had been along the fence line had moved on. I scanned from the gate before the cattle field and noticed a distant raptor on the fence posts beyond JV hide. I switched to scope and was delighted to see it was a Red Kite. Heading around towards JV hide I managed closer views before it took to the air mobbed by crows. It spent the next few minutes quartering over the water meadows behind B Water. There has been a noticeable passage through Hampshire in late March and this is only the second one I’ve seen at NO.
Out from DL’O hide the Black-headed Gulls were showing interest in the rafts with 35 of them congregating in the area. 15 Avocets were feeding, broadly in pairs, on the lagoon and on DL’O scrape. One of the Avocets had colour rings which confirmed that Graham had ringed it at NO as a chick in July 2014. In its first year it made a tour of RSPB Reserves to the east, being seen at Pagham Harbour, Minsmere and Titchwell, before returning to Hampshire. It has returned to NO every summer and it has once been reported wintering in Poole Harbour in Dorset. The last sighting was in April last year when Graham saw it at NO.
There were at least 10 pairs of Lapwing in the fields either side of the walking trail hedge with several of them already incubating eggs.
An adult Great Black-backed Gull came over low down. In certain lights mantle colouration can be difficult to assess and unless size and bill shape is easy to judge it can be tricky to separate Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. A useful non mantle shade ID feature is the amount of white in the primary tips. Great Black-backed Gull has extensive white mirrors on both P9 and P10. Lesser Black-backed Gull has a very slim small white spot on P10 only.
incubating Lapwing, Great Black-backed Gull and Oystercatchers
I got back to the car at 9:15am and headed over to Lepe to meet Adrian. I am running three AudioMoths for him. I need to change the batteries, reset the AudioMoths and post Adrian the SD cards back every three weeks. We installed one at Lepe and two at NO, at the Warden’s Hut and on the beach fence-line. I’ve also ordered one for my own use and will move it around the reserve to see what other species we have. There has been very little bat monitoring here in the past.
Back at NO the first Swallow of the year drifted past me at S hide, always a thrill. There were at least five others during the afternoon with all of them heading east with some purpose. Presumably they cross over to Lepe and head inland at some stage after that.
first Swallow of the year
It was a particularly high spring tide and at least 47 Curlew were driven down the river to roost on G Island. A Peacock and Red Admiral were on the wing in sheltered sunny spots and a Spotted Redshank called in the distance.
Highlight of the day was a distant White-tailed Eagle which appeared over Inchmery being mobbed by a Buzzard, which it dwarfed. The eagle drifted over in the B Water direction perhaps over Buckler’s Hard and St Leonard’s Grange. Two Sandwich Terns were calling over the Wardens Hut as I tried to relocate the eagle.
White-tailed Eagle photos by Ian Williamson
To finish I headed back over to B Water. As I got to the hides junction a Reed Warbler jumped up into the bushes opposite. It quickly disappeared but started singing nearby. This is, by two weeks, the earliest Reed Warbler I’ve ever seen.
Sunday 28th March 2021
With a forecast for south-westerlies gusting to 42mph I headed to the beach for a 7am start. Ian met me there and Joost, Simon and Dimitri also joined later.
On the way down W Lane I got my stuff ready at the pull over near the gate. This gave me the chance to listen for Nuthatch in the woodland opposite. I was pleased to record one calling just a few seconds before I was ready to give up, a patch tick and a difficult bird at NO.
Down at the beach I was tight in against the large bush which meant that I was nicely sheltered. Most birds were heading east with the highlights in a four hour sea-watch being 2 Gannets, 8 Kittiwakes, 10 Eider, a Sandwich Tern and three Sand Martins in off the sea. Gannet is a patch tick but overall it was perhaps a disappointing return given the conditions. Having said that it is probably still a few weeks early and birders at the usually better Milford Shelter had a similar tally.
My earliest Wheatears over the years have all been in the final week of March and so Dimitri and I headed back to the car via the fence-line to see if we could find one. Dimitri noticed a passerine running along the base of the fence and right on cue it was a female Wheatear. A male had been seen in this area yesterday, males have a blacker face mask, are darker blue and with blacker wings.
newly arrived female Wheatear top photo by Ian Williamson
Over on JV 15 Black-tailed Godwit were feeding at the water’s edge with some in full summer plumage and others still to start their moult. There were two more Sand Martins hawking over BW and on the wet fields behind I was delighted to relocate the female Garganey just over 1km from where it was first seen last Sunday. There are plenty of wet areas here which are obscured from view and given the distance it had moved it’s not surprising that it had gone missing.
summer and winter plumaged Black-tailed Godwits
Out from the Sailing club three Knot roosted facing into the wind and it was clear that the number of Dark-bellied Brent Geese had fallen significantly. A male Wheatear showed briefly in the gorse and a female Red-breasted Merganser flew into land in front of us.
Thursday 25th March 2021
I pulled over just after the entrance gate to listen for Nuthatch, no luck today although a Goshawk was calling from the woodland opposite and male and female Muntjac crossed the track in front of me, the male showing his stripy face and horns.
With a moderate south westerly blowing I decided to head to the beach first. I could hear Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler from the smaller pond near MMs house and on the way over a male Linnet was in full out song, when the female arrived they flew off together.
The sea was reasonably active with a steady stream of Mediterranean Gulls heading west, 25 in all. First new bird for the year was a group of three Common Scoter, 2 males and a female. They were flying west to start with but turned towards me before swinging around to head east. Their paler primaries stood out.
The first Sandwich Tern since the 5th January headed west soon afterwards. Not sure if this is a newly arrived migrant or one of the wintering birds appearing again.
Through the binoculars a group of three gulls caught my attention as their flight was particularly buoyant and tern like. I half wondered about Kittiwake but quickly discounted this through the scope as they were much smaller than an accompanying Black-headed Gull and one of them had a full black hood. Also obvious were rounded white wings tips, black underwings and a noticeable white trailing edge to the secondaries, all confirming Little Gull, a patch tick. Several have been heading past the Isle of Wight recently but far fewer come inside the island to be seen off NO.
Common Scoter, 2 males and a female
Another unexpected bird was next, an auk heading rapidly east showing a brownish colouration, messy underwings and a pointed head profile. Guillemot was another patch tick and a NO rarity.
It was around now that it started to rain and it did so on and off for the rest of the day. A band of showers had been forecast to go south of the Isle of Wight but with a northerly shift this long thin band of clouds spent the rest of the day dropping rain over the Hampshire coast. Back at S hide I noticed a male Chaffinch with a mild bacterial infection of the foot (bumblefoot).
After a coffee in the car I headed over to the hides. I’ve been double checking young Pied Wagtails throughout March hoping for a spring migrant alba and today…success! A lovely pristine White Wagtail around the flooded areas on the fields west of the walking trail. Clean demarcation from black head to pale grey mantle as well as grey rump and white flanks. Not a full species but lovely to see.
While in DL’O hide a Spotted Redshank called ‘chew-it’ as it flew over and a Sparrowhawk dashed past just 10 feet in front of the window. I recorded my highest count of Red-breasted Merganser this winter with two pairs distantly off the sailing club. A good end to a really great day!
Sunday 21st March 2021
I watched Water Rails and Redshanks mating as I headed over to the hides. The Black-tailed Godwits, 19 of them, were again feeding on the edge of the flood near DL’O hide although they appeared nervous in the long grass. On the scrape there were 20 Avocet and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was accompanied by around 100 Brent Geese. There was no sign of the White-fronts.
While I was walking back from the hides, at just before 9:30, Joost found a female Garganey on the water’s edge near the entrance to MMs house. I was five minutes away and thankfully it was still there when I arrived. It was in a place where you felt it wouldn’t stay long, perhaps it was newly arrived on the final leg of its journey from Africa. At around 9:45am it flew off west but appeared to land on the other side of MMs house, perhaps on G Marsh and so I decided I would try P Shore later.
I hadn’t seen the Peregrine pair on G island on my last two visits and so I was pleased to see them soaring high above the cottages, the male looking noticeably smaller. Last year in late spring several lockdown picnickers landed on G island, the adults abandoned the nest and the chicks starved. This year we are organising a rota to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Peregrine
My first two butterflies of the year appeared in a warm burst of sunshine near the cottages, a Peacock and a male Brimstone. There were also several Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens keeping low to the ground looking for next sites.
At the weather station a couple of birders reported a Red Kite, there is a small passage through Hampshire at the moment. Later I did see a Buzzard missing or moulting several central tail feathers giving it a kite-like tail but no sign of a Red Kite. As I got back to the car a quick scan of the sea produced a pair of Eider heading east.
Reed Bunting, Pheasant and Marsh Harrier photos by Ian Williamson
I decided I would head to P Shore to see if I could relocate the Garganey on G Marsh. On the way through I stopped at the Reedy Ditch to photograph a pair of Mute Swans and their reflections.
Now that winter tit flocks are no longer moving down the hedgerows it is more difficult to catch up with things like Coal Tit and so I was glad when a brief stop at the pines at the top of P Lane produced one in the hedgerow opposite. At P Shore a male Kestrel was hunting for voles diving regularly although usually without luck.
There were five Snipe in one of the larger damp areas but unfortunately there was no sign of the Garganey. The final bird of the day was a Raven honking over the pines near the car park.
Thursday 18th March 2021
There was an obvious heavy movement of Meadow Pipits throughout the day with at least 100 coming in off the sea in groups of 10 or so. Aside from the pipits there was little other sign of spring migration, just a handful of Chiffchaffs singing around the reserve.
On the walk to the hides a group of seven Black-tailed Godwit were feeding near DL’O hide, they are quickly acquiring their summer chestnut tones. Three Spoonbill were resting around JV and nine Avocet were on the scrape.
One of the highlights of the day was watching a majestic Goshawk powering over G island and then on towards Inchmery. In the rest of the New Forest they are shy and elusive with most views being distant displaying birds in the spring. Here they are seen regularly and sometimes quite close. The powerful proportions, very long neck, heavy hips and pregnant look are all obvious in these photos. The heavily marked underparts and unmarked face make this a juvenile bird.
Other than the geese the most vocal birds were the Oystercatchers and the Redshank. There seemed to be fewer Teal and Wigeon, perhaps some have already headed back to their breeding grounds in Iceland, Scandinavia, the Baltic and Russia. I was hoping to see a Sand Martin or a Wheatear but no luck.
While watching the scrape from the gate to the south I noticed a Merlin on a raised mound near the waters edge. After spending 20 minutes watching the activity all around it the Merlin launched into the air pursuing a flock of Meadow Pipits. It came very close to catching one on several occasions but the pipits just evaded it. Soon afterwards the Merlin returned to a post along the estuary fenceline and was slightly closer.
Merlin top photo by Ian Williamson
At least one Slavonian Grebe was still present on the sea with 24 Turnstones turning seaweed and stones along the high tide line, my highest count at NO so far. A Dartford Warbler sang briefly near NP hide but I couldn’t track it down.
One final shot for the day. A Barn Owl in the darkness with the thermal camera. You can see how much blood supply there is to their face, more than with other birds.
Turnstones and Barn Owl with thermal camera
Tuesday 16th March 2021
A rare birding trip away from NO. On Sunday 15th March a drake Baikal Teal was found on Ripley Farm Reservoir south of Ringwood in the Avon Valley. The news was kept to a handful of observers. One of these people added their record to eBird and as a result the news services, RBA and BirdGuides, reported it the next day.
The bird wasn’t seen on the Monday but Ian rang me on Tuesday to say that the bird was showing again and so I headed down there. Just as I was leaving home the Hampshire Rarities WhatsApp group reported the news, given this I was surprised by how few people were on site when I arrived, no more than half a dozen. The bird was asleep with Wigeon on the far side of the reservoir. It woke up occasionally during the next hour or so.
Baikal Teal photos by Ian Williamson
I saw an adult drake in Cambridgeshire almost exactly two years ago. This bird was also with Wigeon and eventually headed north but remained in the UK at Druridge Pools, Northumberland until July, I think the record has been rejected as a result. Time will tell as to whether the Hampshire bird shares the same fate, it may even be the same individual.
Sunday 14th March 2021
A sea-watch with Ian first thing produced almost nothing only partly ‘saved’ by a male Eider heading east.
Meadow Pipits were singing in the cattle field on the walk to the hides, the Greenshank showed beautifully again in front of DL’O hide and the Black-headed Gulls continued to show interest in the rafts. The count of 24 Oystercatcher on the scrape was my highest yet, perhaps breeding birds returning.
Nearby the four Russian White-fronted Geese and 13 Spoonbill were resting on the water’s edge at JV. There were five Pintail here and another three out on the estuary. I later saw the White-fronts on the fields south-west of the Reedy Ditch layby. Although I’ve seen a few Chiffchaff in the last week today was the first time that I’ve heard one singing.
Oystercatcher photo by Ian Williamson and Chiffchaff
I checked the sea while at the Sailing Club and found a Great Northern Diver loitering further east. Six Bar-tailed Godwits roosted at Inchmery with the Pale-bellied Brent Goose pulling up eelgrass in front of them. The Peregrines were active on the island.
A pair of Goldcrests flitted around the bushes near the cottages with the male flashing his intense orange crown to his partner. At the Reedy Ditch Ian found an Otter spraint, greenish in colour and smelling of jasmine tea! A Pheasant appeared to be playing dead as a Marsh Harrier drifted over.
Friday 12th March 2021
With a strong south-westerly forecast I headed to the beach for a couple of hours sea-watching. The large bush near MM’s house provided great shelter from the wind although it didn’t protect me from the torrential hail shower.
Most migrating sea birds travel along the seaward side of the Isle of Wight and so sea-watching here can be quiet. Today, as expected, most birds were heading east. It was clear that Common Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls were moving in good numbers and a distant Lesser Black-backed Gull was more unusual. Mediterranean Gulls were moving west and therefore a lot more slowly than the other gulls.
After the hail shower it brightened up for a while in time for the highlight of the day, a group of four Kittiwakes moving east, two adults and two first year birds. The two-toned wings and black tips were obvious even at long range and so were the black Ws on the two 1st year birds. 25 Meadow Pipits also came in off the sea and one of the Peregrines powered west.
Brown Hare photos by Ian Williamson
On the walk to the hides a 1st year Sparrowhawk flew low over the fields towards B Water. I only saw two Spoonbill today and they appeared to be paired up feeding on the flood in the cattle field. The gusty wind played havoc with their long crown feathers. Two pairs of Black-headed Gulls were using the rafts out from DL’O hide and three Pochard and two 2 Tufted Duck were still viewable from B Water and JV hides.
Another highlight was seeing the Russian White-fronted Geese again on the water’s edge at JV. The Greylags and Canada Geese carried on as normal but the White-fronts stood to attention, definitely slightly nervous of me. I’ll be sad when they head back east.
The high tide waders included five Knot and eight Bar-tailed Godwit and a pair of Rock Pipit were feeding around the Sailing Club House. A Chiffchaff was chasing insects near the Reedy Ditch as I headed home.
Sunday 7th March 2021
One of the most familiar sounds at the Reedy Ditch in spring is the far crying rapid babbling trill of the Little Grebe. They’re often hidden but this one drifted out into view. Just behind it a newly arrived Chiffchaff flicked through the reed bed, my first of the year.
16 Avocet were feeding along the river edge including a tagged individual wearing ‘AL’ on a yellow flag on its left leg. This bird was ringed as a chick here in June 2018. After that it was seen at various Hampshire sites, then it turned up at Oare Marshes in Kent in July 2020. It was last reported in August 2020 at Titchfield Haven by me! (I thought ‘AL’ seemed familiar) Being in its third year it is mature enough to breed for the first time.
In the hope of finding a Jack Snipe, and having failed ten times or more in the NP area, I decided to check out the damp area between the cottages and the sluice, near the weather station. After a couple of scans with the thermal camera I came across a very bright sharply defined oval shape. Excitedly I switched to binoculars and quickly found the Jack Snipe. Two broad golden stripes stood out, my best ever views. I took one extra step to improve the angle for a photo and it flushed. I had expected it to easily tolerate the distance, I’ll be more careful next time.
While stood near the sluice gate I heard a quiet and brief snatch of subsong, it sounded like a Sylvia warbler. Having cleaned up and amplified my sound recording it was obviously an early Blackcap. Our wintering Blackcaps move to Germany to breed and perhaps this bird was tuning up before heading across the channel.
The first bumblebee of the year was a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). The queens are carrying eggs from last summer and they are looking for a place to nest, they often use a deserted mouse’s hole.
There was a pair and a single Slavonian Grebe on the sea and one of the pair was rapidly acquiring summer plumage. It was way too distant for anything other than a hideous record shot especially in the heat haze. The third bird joined the pair and together they all flew off towards the Isle of Wight, landing roughly half way out. Back at the Reedy Ditch I checked through the 1st winter Pied Wagtails looking for a White Wagtail and the Meadow Pipit flocks for a Water Pipit, no luck today.
1st Winter Pied Wagtail, Bar-tailed Godwit and Slavonian Grebe
As sunset approached the four Russian White-fronted Geese came in from P Shore, circled around catching the evening light on their undersides before landing at JV, presumably to roost. The first winter bird is now acquiring belly bars and a white blaze.
Thursday 4th March 2021
A cold and grey day which at times seemed desolate and birdless although I did manage 75 species but nothing too exciting. From the Sailing Club I could see 21 Avocet feeding at the edge of the river. This is my highest count at NO and a clear sign that birds are returning to breed.
I always open the window in DL’O hide with a degree of excitement hoping there is a wader at the water’s edge. It doesn’t happen very often but today there was a lovely Greenshank. He bobbed up and down in alarm but stayed long enough for a photo before flying off silently. Most Greenshank winter in Africa but around 20 or so winter along the Hampshire Coast with maybe just 1 or 2 at NO this winter. We should get a few more in the next few months as our birds are joined by passage birds heading back to Scandinavia.
A group of 23 Curlew were feeding in the grass just over the fence towards the scrape. My biggest wintering count is around 70 birds although they are often spread out and hidden so it’s difficult to be sure of the wintering total. Around 40 pairs breed in the New Forest but I’d imagine our birds will head back to breed in Scandinavia.
Although there is plenty of suitable habitat I’ve only heard two regularly singing Cetti’s Warbler, one near the gate to the hides at B Water and the other opposite the Reedy Ditch layby. It will be interesting to see if other males start singing as spring gets underway.
Lots of common passerines were singing but perhaps the most conspicuous birds were the Chaffinches with their jaunty song and regular ‘pink pink’ and ‘hu-eet’ calls. Some are probably newly arrived short distance migrants.
Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Robin
Nine Spoonbill rested on the estuary with the breeze ruffling up their pineapple-like head plumes. The small roost of gulls at Inchmery included 91 Mediterranean Gulls, the majority of whom had full black hoods, they are further advanced than the Black-headed Gulls. A single male Red-breasted Merganser was in the mouth of the river with a handful of Great Crested Grebes, two is my peak count of Red-breasted Merganser this winter, depressingly low.
As the tide came in waders started to gather. Most were Grey Plover and Dunlin but the constantly shifting groups included at least four Bar-tailed Godwit and eight Knot. Being almost a mile away I pushed the scope up to 40x, at this range plumage details become difficult and so size, shape and feeding action become key features. Most of our wintering Bar-tailed Godwits head back to Arctic Russia to breed. The spring passage Bar-tailed Godwits due next month tend to breed further east in Siberia.
Compared to the winter visitors some of the Lapwing, Redshank and Ringed Plover will remain to breed and they are becoming more vocal and active as a result. While scanning through the lines of waders I came across the stylish black and white Pale-bellied Brent Goose, this is the 10th time I’ve picked him out this year.
The first meadow just west of the cottages contained a mixed flock of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. When they flew there appeared to be around 25 birds, perhaps half of each species but on the ground they were very difficult to see. It was the same at B Water House where I found another group of Meadow Pipits feeding in the grass. I could see five birds but through my thermal camera I could see that there were actually 30 white blobs! The thermal camera is a great tool in this type of situation where birds are half hidden or their environment is cluttered and distracting.
While checking through the Meadow Pipits a dazzling Firecrest flicked up and showed off in the hedge behind them.
Sunday 28th February 2021
Ian told me about a Song Thrush with a damaged left leg he had first seen by the water trough in the autumn and who had survived the winter. I managed to find him myself this morning, he was actively feeding and his leg didn’t seem to be causing him too many problems.
Winter Linnet numbers are much lower than in the autumn and the smaller number of males were now starting to sing. A tight flock of 25 Black-tailed Godwit wheeled over B Water and three Bar-tailed Godwit were in the high tide wader roost off Inchmery. I find that their lovely pink bill-base is the easiest way to pick them out at this long range.
From the Sailing Club I could see 17 distant Spoonbill on JV. They flew over to DL’O scrape and then on to the estuary. I later saw another two Spoonbill more than two miles away at P Shore. I’m not sure if they were different birds and so I’m not sure if the total number was 17 or 19 (which would be a record).
61 Shelduck on the scrape was also a high count. Mediterranean Gulls were calling and flying overhead looking great in the low sun with several of them sporting full back hoods.
I checked through the distant gulls which roost and wash at Inchmery. It’s a tricky business as they are more than a mile away and a slight heat haze didn’t help. I counted 35 Mediterranean Gulls and 20 Common Gulls and two larger ‘black-backed’ gulls, all the gulls were swimming. I watched the two larger gulls for half an hour and was eventually satisfied that they were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a patch tick. Eventually they stood on a small raised area of mud and showed off their intense yellow legs confirming the identification. This is the start of a small spring movement although few come through NO.
Great Northern Diver and Lesser Black-backed Gull (range of 1.25 miles)
I heard a distant Spotted Redshank and 30 minutes later I was pleased to see two birds swimming and wading in deep water at the back of DL’O. Although they winter here this is only my second sighting in the last 3 months.
I headed over for a few hours at P Shore. Earlier on in the morning I had seen one of the two Pale-bellied Brent Geese out from the Sailing Club but here there was an individual much closer amongst a group of 100 Dark-bellied Brents on the sea. They were probably taking refuge from a Marsh Harrier who I later saw quartering over their normal roosting fields.
I walked as far east as possible to the fence before the beach house. A Great Northern Diver was close in and two Slavonian Grebes were further away opposite MM’s house. On G Marsh there were 12 Redshank, a Greenshank and 2 Spoonbill.
Thursday 25th February 2021
From the Sailing Club I was surprised to see six Slavonian Grebes in three pairs close together on the sea. This is my highest count here and one of the highest Hampshire counts in recent years. The numbers have built up from a late arriving individual in mid-December, then two in late December, four in late January and now six.
Roughly in the same direction the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was with a group of 100 Dark-bellied Brents just over the creek from the Wardens Hut. I managed closer views by using the hut as a shield. It will be sad to see the Brents heading back to the Arctic Russian coast in the next few weeks. In the far distance towards Inchmery House a single Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding amongst the high tide groups of Dunlin and Grey Plover. This is the 5th time this winter I’ve seen a single Bar-tailed Godwit in this location, perhaps it’s the same individual. A Pied Wagtail was singing from in front of the Sailing Club. The song is slow and laid back and he sang from the ground for much of the time I was here.
Little Egret and Pied Wagtail
There were three or four Great Crested Grebes in the mouth of the river and also a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. I later saw, what was presumably the same male Red-breasted Merganser, heading back towards P Shore. Also moving on the sea were several Cormorants in full breeding plumage. While sea watching I noticed a very distant falcon heading straight towards me from the Isle of Wight. The very quick flicking flight pointed to Merlin and as it got closer I could see it was a female type. It landed in a small tree near the cottages and although I was quick with the camera I wasn’t quick enough and could only manage an ‘exit’ photo.
Breeding plumage Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser and Merlin leaving
Distant divers can be difficult to identify and the diver that I picked up heading towards P Shore was too far out for safe identification. Thankfully it doubled back and came closer. A pot-bellied appearance with huge feet and an indented collar all confirmed Great Northern Diver the commonest diver on the Hampshire Coast. Half a dozen Lapwing were wheeling and tumbling around displaying with their slightly electronic sounding calls. The cat like mewing of Mediterranean Gulls overhead caught my attention, several of them with full black hoods already.
I walked around the wet areas hoping that the thermal camera might help me find a Jack Snipe. I did flush nine Snipe from near the NP hide but no sign of Jack Snipe, I’ve only had one brief flight view all winter. On the walk over to the hides a group of 10 Meadow Pipits posed on the barbed wire fence, today was the first time this year I’ve noticed their cocked tail parachuting display flight. From near where the JV hide used to be I watched three Spoonbills fly over presumably from the flooded meadows behind B Water where I had seen them feeding on Sunday.
Meadow Pipit and Spoonbill
Long-tailed Tits regularly commute up and own W Lane but they are so active it can be difficult to photograph them. I waited and hoped that one of this group would land in a convenient spot and this time it did.
Sunday 21st February 2021
With the warmer temperatures and lots of birds singing it certainly felt like spring. I headed to MM’s, a Dartford Warbler was calling on the walk over. Greenfinches are often tricky to see at NO but today they were displaying, wheezing and enjoying high speed chases. The sea was flat calm and quiet other than a male and female Eider heading west and two of the Slavonian Grebes showing well close in shore.
I headed back for a coffee and as I stood by the car a loud and confident but unfamiliar call set my heart racing. I managed to get onto it, a Ring-necked Parakeet! …or so I thought. The call did seem odd and the bill seemed a little large but it didn’t occur to me that it could be anything else. Ian saw my photos and heard my sound recording and having visited India several times suggested that it was the Alexandrine Parakeet which has been in the Lymington area for a decade although not seen recently. This identification was later confirmed by Nigel Jones.
On the walk to the hides I saw Redwing and Fieldfare and there was a record count for me of 21 Pochard on JV. Two thirds were males, they usually outnumber females in the UK as the females tend to travel further south to winter. There were also 14 Tufted Duck of which 8 were males. Two pairs of Lapwing were calling and displaying around B Water, around 20 pairs normally breed here.
It was low tide by the time I got to the sailing club. I noticed that at least 600 Brent Geese had moved from the estuary and were feeding on the wet grassland around the scrape and the striking Pale-bellied Brent Goose was amongst them. There were five Spoonbill feeding on the flooded meadows to the north of B Water with five others in the area.
A huge flock of Dunlin (photo directly below) were resting directly opposite the Sailing Club. They looked settled and so I grabbed my hand counter, there were 1,066 in total.
While watching from here a Peregrine suddenly appeared from the north flying straight at me before twisting and flicking to lose height and speed before swooping up almost vertically to land on the Jetty Mast just 30 yards away.
As I headed home I stopped briefly at the Reedy Ditch where the four Russian White-fronted Geese were still present with the Brents over towards P Lane.
Wednesday 10th February 2021
The return of the Beast from the East had been suggested in the forecast. In the end we didn’t get the snow that was anticipated but it was certainly cold. I dusted off my pocket warmers, topped them up with lighter fluid and headed out.
First stop was the Reedy Ditch to check for any Hawfinches leaving a possible roost site, no luck unfortunately although the ringed Marsh Tit was still around. A group of around 10 Mediterranean Gulls were bathing on the shore next to MM’s. A single 1st winter bird and the rest were adults. Otherwise, the sea looked quiet.
Eventually I tracked down the four Slavonian Grebes, they were very distant, almost around the corner to the east. Over the next 45 minutes, however, they drifted on the falling tide gradually moving west until they were directly opposite me and fairly close in shore.
A male Red-breasted Merganser flew east, he obviously turned the corner into the river as I later saw him close in off the sailing club. A gorgeous bird and much rarer than they used to be, especially here.
A Golden Plover gave its plaintiff whistle somewhere overhead but I couldn’t track it down. All day I saw large groups of Lapwings displaced by the cold weather but there were no Golden Plover amongst them. In the distance, almost all of the way to Lepe, I picked up one of the Pale-bellied Brents with its white flanks gleaming in the low winter sun.
Shin-high ice spikes had formed into incredible stalagmite-like features around the edge of JV island and perhaps as a result a dense group of 30 Coot were jostling together on the grass by the edge. Nearby there were 72 Shoveler on the ice free north-eastern corner of B Water.
I saw all five thrushes today including 2 Fieldfare and 4 Mistle Thrush. The biggest numbers were of Redwing with at least 120. There were also migrant Song Thrushes flying high in groups, not their most familiar behaviour and so I may have miscounted a small number of them as Redwing although there were at least 25 Song Thrush feeding together in one field.
Saturday 6th February 2021
At just after 7am and as I was about to get to the right turn next to St Leonard’s Barn a Barn Owl suddenly flew alongside the car and kept pace with me for a hundred yards or so, we exchanged eye contact for a moment, an excellent start to the day.
By the time I got to the Reedy Ditch it was clear just how dense the fog was. A Firecrest appeared close by and a female Goshawk was giving a single note call from the small wood to the south. A Hawfinch called as it went over but I didn’t see it, it does seem very likely that there is a roost nearby.
The fog didn’t really lift properly until 11am which meant a lot of hanging around waiting. Once things cleared I headed off to the hides. A very distant first year Sparrowhawk sporting white back markings was sat on a post in the distance towards De L’Orne and there was a record count of 18 Spoonbills on the scrape.
Lapwing, Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk
Another peak count for me was 42 Shelduck split equally between a group on the scrape and the rest dotted along the estuary. Meadow Pipits were calling regularly and I eventually found 25 of them together in a tree. The wintering Greenshank touched down on the flood water near the cattle field bridge.
As I headed to the beach a Dartford Warbler was calling but I didn’t see it despite the warm sunshine and light wind. A slightly unexpected find was a first year Peregrine sat on the shingle beach distantly from MM’s, surprising because the regular pair failed to breed last year due to disturbance. A group of four noisy Magpies headed over NP hide, the biggest group I’ve seen here.