Local Patch

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.

Slavonian Grebes

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 Park 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 Park Shore was very distant. 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 Pullen 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 Venner hide used to be I watched three Spoonbills fly over presumably from the flooded meadows behind Black Water where I had seen them feeding on Sunday.

Meadow Pipit and Spoonbill

Long-tailed Tits regularly commute up and own Warren 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.

Long-tailed Tit

Sunday 21st February 2021

With the warmer temperatures and lots of birds singing it certainly felt like spring. I headed to Mary Monts, a Dartford Warbler was calling on the walk over. Greenfinches are often tricky to see at Needs Ore 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 call set my heart racing, a Ring-necked Parakeet! I managed to get onto it and get a few shots. This was actually a county tick for me and probably the first record for Needs Ore!

Ring-necked Parakeet

On the walk to the hides I saw Redwing and Fieldfare and there was a record count for me of 21 Pochard on Venner. 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 Black 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 Black Water with five others in the area.

Spoonbills

A huge flock of Dunlin were resting directly opposite the Sailing Club. They looked settled and so I grabbed my hand counter, there were 1,263 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.  

Peregrine

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 Park 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 Mary Monts. A single 1st winter bird and the rest were adults. Otherwise, the sea looked quiet.

Mediterranean Gulls

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.

Slavonian Grebes

A male Red-breasted Merganser flew east, he obviously turned the corner into the Beaulieu 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.

Red-breasted Merganser

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 Venner 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 Black 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.

Greenshank

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 Mary Monts, surprising because the regular pair failed to breed last year due to disturbance. A group of four noisy Magpies headed over the Pullen Hide, the biggest group I’ve seen here.

Atlantic Grey Seal and Roe Deer photos by Ian Williamson

It was around midday and the fog had now disappeared and it was fairly warm. I decided to look for one of the White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Wight and within a few minutes I found a ‘flying barn door’ circling around the top of the main mast. Not a truly wild bird but exciting nonetheless.

At the Reedy Ditch I wasn’t quite ready with the camera as the Russian White-fronted Geese came over the car at 4pm heading towards the roost at Park Shore. I managed a brief shot as they were heading away.

Brent Geese, Russian White-fronted Geese and Greylag Geese

Also heading to roost were five Little Egrets on the island at Venner and as the sun dipped below the horizon I picked out two Black-tailed Godwits in amongst the wheeling Lapwing flocks.

Tuesday 2nd February 2021

It was cold, grey and windy. The forecast said that there was only a 1% chance of rain yet I needed to retreat to the car to escape it. At just after sunrise 16 Little Egrets, probably part of a roosting party from Sowley Pond, arrived from the west. As they got to the Reedy Ditch they split up into three separate groups. A Goshawk appeared briefly just south of the two linked wooded areas where I believe they nest.

It’s likely that there is a Hawfinch roost site just south of here and so I was checking every flying passerine, there weren’t many in the poor weather and every finch was a Chaffinch.

Red-legged Partridges

Bullfinch, Buzzard and Goldcrest photos by Ian Williamson

In the fields alongside the walking trail a group of 25 Pied Wagtails flicked around nervously in the grass while 15 Redwing moved along the base of the hedge behind them. There were at least 50 Knot in the wader roost from the sailing club and a Water Rail flew across in front of the car as I drove past the Shore Hide.

I stopped briefly at Park Shore where the four Russian White-fronted Geese were still present near the Farm Buildings.

the 3 adult Russian White-fronted Geese (juvenile out of picture)

Friday 29th January 2021

From the Reedy Ditch, in the half light, seven Little Egrets flew over from their roost to the west heading towards Venner. The weather was worse than forecast with strong winds and rain clearing slowly. The wind was westerly and so the sailing club would provide perfect shelter, I headed there first.

I prefer a rising mid tide to watch from the point, at a height of 3m the waders are grouping together on the remaining islands and most are mid-channel. This means that they are at a closer range than they will be at higher tide when they move further away to Gull Island and to the Inchmery and Lepe side. On the remaining islands around 30 Knot jostled with the Grey Plover and Dunlin.

Dunlin photo by Ian Williamson

There were five large groups of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and I was pleased to see that one of the Pale-bellied Brent Geese was in the closest group. I found the first hrota on the 30th December and today was the fourth time I’ve seen at least one of them but today my photos were slightly better as the birds were closer.     

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

From the sailing club I could see that two Slavonian Grebes were directly opposite the cottages and were very close in shore huddling closely together in the shelter of the natural bay. In the same direction a female Merlin was also sheltering in the lee of one of the weathered trees which are dotted along the shingle spit. Adam had mentioned that the Merlins have moved further west, to Great Marsh and Park Shore, to escape the Peregrines, and this may be why I hadn’t seen any between 4th November and 23rd January.

He also told me about a Barn Owl roost site. He asked me to keep the precise location quiet and so I won’t disclose it here. I managed to see one of the owls exactly where Adam had said, a patch tick for me. Nearby I picked up a calling Marsh Tit wearing a metal ring on its right leg while a Goshawk was calling from the main group of trees back towards the entry gate.  

Long-tailed Tit and Marsh Tit

I finished by checking the geese flock at the top of Park Lane. The brents were fairly close but unfortunately the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was right at the back of the flock. For the third consecutive time at this location I heard a Crossbill calling overhead.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose back centre

Saturday 23rd January 2021

A Tawny Owl was calling as I pulled over next to St Leonard’s Barn. With the thermal camera I managed to track it down in the large trees north of Gins Lane. It’s difficult to identify species from their thermal signature especially at this range but I could see the owl throwing it’s head forward and its tail down as it was hooting.

At the Reedy Ditch and still before sunrise a male Goshawk powered over the reed bed and on towards Black Water House, soon afterwards a distant ‘keea-keea-keea’ was probably the female calling.  A large headed and short-tailed finch flying towards Venner revealed a broad white wing bar to confirm it as a Hawfinch, perhaps there is a roost nearby. Just before I moved on the four Russian White-fronted Geese flew over the car heading towards Park Shore. 

Firecrest and distant Tawny Owl (thermal camera)

I headed to the hides first. A crest was calling in the hedge next to the cattle field gate and eventually showed the stripy head and bronze shoulders of a Firecrest. The call was harsher and slightly lower pitched than the Goldcrest.

Firecrest calling

Gadwall photos by Ian Williamson

In the distance a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker somewhere near St Leonard’s was the first I’ve heard this year. A Greenshank called in alarm as I pulled over at the sailing club. I wound the window for a photo and thankfully it didn’t flush.

Greenshank

A female Red-breasted Merganser was feeding as distantly as I could see in the mouth of the river and a new record count for me of 15 Spoonbills resting on the river estuary. When they flew I could see that there was only one 1st winter bird (black primary tips).

Spoonbill

By using the thermal camera I was rewarded with some very close views of an otherwise unnoticed Rock Pipit which would have flushed in another two steps. 

Rock Pipit

At Mary Monts I watched four distant Slavonian Grebes, the joint biggest count in Hampshire this winter while a Raven tussled with four Buzzards overhead.

Buzzard and Raven

I headed to the top of Park Lane to check the geese flock. Unfortunately the brents were over the hedge in the furthest field and so they were distant and not all in view. After a fair amount of effort I managed to locate two Pale-bellied Brent Geese. The Russian White-fronted Geese were also in the flock and for the second time I heard Crossbills in the pines near the house. I couldn’t see them but they flew over ‘jupping’ with a bleating Siskin for company just about close enough for me to capture them on the sound recorder.  

Crossbill and Siskin calling

To finish, I hoped to see a Barn Owl leaving St Leonard’s Barn at dusk and so I set up next to the bench. No luck again but I was rewarded at sunset with a dashing Merlin suddenly appearing low over the barn before charging down Gins Lane towards Inchmery. The first one I’ve seen since early November.

Sunday 17th January 2021

If I’m driving down Warren Lane close to sunrise I usually scan for Barn Owls at the Reedy Ditch. Unfortunately, no luck again today but I did get good views of a very vocal Marsh Tit and Greenfinch was new for the year.  

On my way to the hides I usually set up the scope at the gate before the main cattle field. On this occasion I picked up the three adult Russian White-fronted Geese swimming from the back of Venner Island, the 1st winter bird soon joined them. I watched them for a while before a hunting Peregrine put everything up. The Peregrine flew straight past me fairly low and as the geese and ducks settled back down there was no sign of the White-fronts.

Peregrine

A male Marsh Harrier, an altogether more leisurely hunter, quartered over De L’Orne while Redwing and Fieldfare called from the trees along the path. 

Back at Mary Mont’s a pair of Sparrowhawks were displaying and the male drifted over towards me on the beach. The only action on the sea were waders moving from Park Shore, they included a Bar-tailed Godwit in a flock of Grey Plover and Dunlin.

Sparrowhawk

A walk around the wet areas south east of Pullen hide failed to produce any Jack Snipe despite the help of a thermal camera. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any here at the moment. I did manage an un-ringed female Dartford Warbler in the same area.  

male Marsh Harrier, Dartford Warbler and female Marsh Harrier

From the sailing club the distant high tide wader roost contained at least 15 Knot and a final stop at the Reedy Ditch produced a single Greenshank. The Russian White-fronts were back again with the Greylags and Canada Geese but they left without me noticing, presumably to roost over at Park Shore.

Russian White-fronted Geese

Saturday 9th January 2021

I left a bit earlier than normal as I wanted to try and see Woodcock feeding at dawn with the thermal camera. I also hoped to bump into a Barn Owl. An hour before sunrise I pulled over next to the gate 100 yards before the Reedy Ditch. Ian had seen a Woodcock in this field a week ago. Tawny Owls were calling. Through the thermal camera I could see lots of white hot spots including Roe Deer, Rabbits and Red-legged Partridges and another white dot I couldn’t identify. It was difficult to resolve the shape at this distance but when the bird flew it was obviously a Woodcock.

From the beach a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers headed west and a close Great Northern Diver on the sea was followed by another distant bird flying east and then a third also heading east but much closer. This juvenile rounded the corner and into the river mouth and I later saw it very closely from the Sailing Clubhouse.

Great Northern Diver

Also from Mary Mont’s a Slavonian Grebe swam west diving constantly and I then saw another 100 yards away. At first I thought it must have moved without me noticing but I was then pleased to see that there were definitely two in what has been a meager winter for Slavonian Grebe on the Hampshire Coast.

Great Northern Diver, Mediterranean Gull and Slavonian Grebe

A Dartford Warbler called from Mary Mont’s grounds and a juvenile Sparrowhawk powered through the trees close by. On the walk back a mobile Long-tailed Tit flock contained a couple of Goldcrests and a Treecreeper struggling to keep up.

Goldcrest and Treecreeper

I finished at the Reedy Ditch and an hour before sunset I was delighted to watch a ringtail Hen Harrier arrive from the east before heading straight over the car and off towards the beach house on Park Shore. It looks like an adult female and is likely the same bird that Ian had seen yesterday and which appeared to fly to the Isle of Wight.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier middle photo by Ian Williamson (harrier heading to the Isle of Wight)

Tuesday 5th January 2021

A bitterly cold day made even colder by a brisk north-easterly wind. There seemed to be few passerines around, I saw very few tits, pipits or finches.

In contrast the Peregrines were very active. I saw one or both of them in four different places including displaying and calling over the Shore Hide, dashing towards Black Water, jostling with the Marsh Harriers over the De L’Orne scrape and even coming in off the sea. From Mary Mont’s the pair of wintering Sandwich Terns commuted back and forth but there were no grebes or divers here.

Stonechat

Dad joined me at the sailing club where there was no sign of the Pale-bellied Brent. We could see a distant female Eider on the sea diving with wings half open and a Great Northern Diver was fishing in the mouth of the river. Seven Avocet were roosting way up the river on the far bank.

Spoonbill photo by Ian Williamson

There’d been a notable arrival of thrushes with at least 50 Song Thrushes and similar numbers of Redwing. Fieldfares were in double figures along with a handful of Mistle Thrushes. A Green Woodpecker near the Venner hide was only the second I’ve seen at Needs Ore.

Kestrel, Reed Bunting & Wigeon photos by Ian Williamson

After lunch we headed to Park Shore to check the geese flock at the top of Park Lane. The 1,000 strong flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese contained the four Russian White-fronts and as on my previous visits they were very distant but we managed some record shots. After a much longer look and with the light fading I managed to relocate the Pale-bellied Brent Goose towards the back of the flock.

Friday 1st January 2021

As on my first visit every month I made a concerted effort to record every species I saw with my previous best day totals being 74 in both November and December. I met up with Ian after lunch.

Highlights were the four Russian White-fronted Geese (three adults and a first winter) again at the top of Park Lane and 35 Mediterranean Gulls together in the adjacent field.

Sparrowhawk photo by Ian Williamson

A Great Northern Diver flying east and 20 Great Crested Grebes grouped together with a single drake Pochard from Mary Monts. 15 Avocets and a Spoonbill on the scrape. Firecrest, Treecreeper and Marsh Tit all at the Reedy Ditch. 149 Grey Plover in the high tide roost on the shingle ridge opposite the cottages. A Water Rail briefly on the edge of the footpath near De L’Orne hide and all five thrushes including high counts of Song Thrushes.

Pintail and Rock Pipit

I finished with a healthy 81. Ian beat me by 1 with his list including Barn Owl, Woodcock and Goshawk.

Tuesday 29th December 2020

The morning tide was mid-level and rising and so I decided to head to the Sailing Club first, it was also drizzling and so that would offer me some shelter. It was just after sunrise and with the low cloud and drizzle the visibility was very poor. Soon the rain strengthened and with wind coming from the east I didn’t have much protection. I decided to retreat to the car with the engine on to keep warm as the freezing rain lashed down on the windscreen.

After 30 minutes I ventured back out and while scanning the Brent Geese found a paler individual. I had to wait 10 minutes for it reveal itself properly from the long grasses. I was then delighted to see it was an adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose with gleaming white sides. Two populations of Pale-bellied Brent Geese reach Britain, those that breed on Spitsbergen winter in Northumberland and the Greenland birds winter mainly in Ireland. Our familiar Dark-bellied birds breed in Siberia and winter in southern England largely between the Humber and Exe estuaries.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

The 14 Avocets and 14 Spoonbill were roosting again from De L’Orne with the Spoonbills surprisingly active. A Dartford Warbler was churring close by and a distant calling Spotted Redshank was the first I’ve recorded for six weeks.

Spoonbill

A brief seawatch produce a fairly close Great Northern Diver but nothing moving and no sign of the Slavonian Grebes. A distant gull with a gleaming white head and dark mantle had me wondering about Yellow-legged Gull but the structure and wing tip pattern weren’t right and I think the dark mantle may have been an artifact of the back lighting.

Brent Geese and Canada Goose photos by Ian Williamson

I decided to head over to Park Shore. At the top of Park Lane I pulled over to scan a distant flock of geese and after a few minutes I found myself subconsciously repeating a call I could hear ‘jip jip jip’. It suddenly dawned on me that they were Crossbills and luckily I found them pretty quickly, two males and a female. A good record for the site and a patch tick.  

Crossbill

A busy flock of 30 Mediterranean Gull were bathing at Park Shore. A Grey Wagtail and a Raven called as they flew over and four Collared Doves were the first I’ve seen in December. I was hoping for a Barn Owl but no luck today.

Saturday 26th December 2020

It was forecast to be stormy but dry and so I decided to spend a few hours watching the sea from the lee of a weathered hawthorn bush near Mary Mont’s house. I was hoping for Gannet and Kittiwake but they are rare here and I don’t think it was stormy enough although it was certainly wetter than forecast.

I watched an immature male Eider dealing with a crab and then soon afterwards a Great Northern Diver much closer and also wrestling with a crab. The Slavonian Grebe had become a pair with both birds close together viewable distantly to the east along with half a dozen Great Crested Grebes. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers flew west and a Mediterranean Gull followed soon afterwards.

Mediterranean Gull

I finished the afternoon by heading to Park Shore looking for the Russian White-fronts. I found more than 1,000 Brents in a grassy field near the foreshore but there were no White-fronts amongst them. The scrape at the eastern end looked good for waders although I’m not sure if it will have dried out by the spring.

Egyptian Geese

Presumably what was the same pair of Red-breasted Mergansers had now settled on the sea but took off before another squall hit. I headed back to the car, it was good to see Park Shore for the first time.    

Saturday 19th December 2020

On Thursday at dusk while at the Reedy Ditch I’d seen, distantly to the west, a very large flock of Brent Geese in front of Rolf Park Farm. This morning I decided to try and get closer to them and had in mind that looking north from Park Shore would achieve this. I drove past the normal turn into Warren Lane and then left down Park Lane. After a hundred yards or so a panoramic view opens up to the east and I quickly noticed a large flock of Brents in the nearest field.

I pulled over set up the scope and amazingly the first goose I got in the scope was an adult Russian White-fronted Goose! It was with three others, two more adults with their black belly barring and white frontal blazes and also a single juvenile/1st winter bird. The goose flock comprised 950 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 88 Greylags, 45 Canada Geese and the four Russian vagrants. Greenland White-fronts are larger, darker and with a more orange bill (as opposed to pink). I looked for Pale-bellied Brents but couldn’t find any.

Four Russian White-fronted Geese (front centre) with Brent Geese

They were too distant for decent photos but close enough for acceptable record shots.

Russian White-fronted Geese

While watching the geese flock I heard and then saw a Raven, Lesser Redpoll and Marsh Tit. There have been a handful of Russian White fronts in Hampshire and so I was delighted to find my own.

Four Russian White-fronted Geese with Greylags photo by Ian Williamson

Ian saw them again the next morning when the Brents had disappeared but the White-fronts and the Greylags had moved closer.

Russian White fronted Geese, right hand photo by Ian Williamson

I then headed over to Needs Ore as I was taking part in a synchronised wintering Sandwich Tern count. There were two Golden Plover, six Spoonbill and three Avocet on De L’Orne. On Blackwater I saw Mute Swan N7L. She is a 12-year old female ringed as a first year at Christchurch in 2009. She bred successfully on Hythe Marshes with male J5A from 2010 annually through to 2019 and was often seen with cygnets on the eastern shore of Southampton Water. She has now been sighted at Needs Ore with a new mate who has lost his plastic ring (K6V) but is an adult ringed in 2014 at Keyhaven. Her old mate may have died in the last year or so.

Golden Plover

From the sailing club I noticed the Slavonian Grebe on the sea, it was now further east and level with the wardens hut. A pair of female Eider drifted up the river in front of the sailing club. 20 Skylark fed in the short coastal grasses and 40 Black-tailed Godwit flew in to land in the field below Exbury. Unfortunately there were no Sandwich Terns on show today.

Thursday 17th December 2020

Redwing were calling overhead as I paused at the Reedy Ditch and from De L’Orne I watched as 14 Spoonbill came into roost landing next to 14 already roosting Avocets. The Avocets move away at the end of the summer. Most head to Titchfield Haven to moult and then disperse to wintering grounds such as Poole Harbour. In mid-winter a few begin to filter back and a count of 14 is typical for this time of year. We then see a big increase in March, as the breeding birds return, along with some on passage.

Spoonbills photo by Ian Williamson

Back at the car I switched to wellies and headed over to the beach and the wet margins around Pullen. A large female Sparrowhawk stood on the high tide ridge above the beach. A strong supercilium had me wondering although her proportions and slender legs weren’t right for Goshawk. She powered off in my direction but was quickly lost to sight behind the trees.

I’ve checked the sea off Mary Mont’s house every time I visit hoping for Slavonian Grebes and today for the first time I was successful. A lovely dapper Slav showed distantly to the east associating with a couple of Great Crested Grebes. Just behind them a couple of big bruiser Great Northern Divers drifted west against the rising tide. Later I returned to find the Slavonian Grebe closer, just about close enough for some record shots. A patch tick for me. In the last five years Slavonian Grebes have arrived a month earlier than in 2020 – 18th November, 15th November, 25th November, 19th November and 18th November.

Slavonian Grebe

During my visit I counted 19 Linnets at both ends of the reserve and so perhaps it’s one winter flock and they spend their days commuting between Mary Mont’s house and the Sailing Club. They showed very nicely and so I checked them all for Twite, just in case…

Ian had seen a Jack Snipe on Tuesday and armed with directions I tried the same wet ditch, unfortunately no luck today. I then did a loop I’ve done many times over the last six weeks and just as I was finishing I flushed a silent and starling sized snipe, he waited until I was six foot away before flying and would have given me amazing views if I’d been checking carefully ahead of me. The Jack Snipe flew back in the direction of the first ditch I’d tried and so it may well have been Ian’s bird. Another patch tick for me.

While walking back to the car I bumped into one of the Dartford Warblers and ended up having great views. This bird was one of the two birds who have rings on their right legs.  As I got back to the car for lunch a mobile tit flock included a sneezing Marsh Tit.

Dartford Warbler

I joined Brian and Val at the Sailing Club and Brian mentioned seeing what he thought might be Golden Plover on the lagoon from the sluice gate, he’d only had his binoculars at the time. I headed off and sure enough there were five in amongst the Lapwings, my third patch tick of the day. I got back to the Sailing Club and then picked out another 60 Golden Plover in the fields below Exbury House and in amongst them were 52 Black-tailed Godwits, my largest count to date.  

A brief stop at the Reedy Ditch produced 171 Starlings on the wires and a huge flock of bickering Brents in a grassy field near the farm buildings on Park Shore.

Saturday 12th December 2020

On the drive down Warren Lane a noisy Greenshank called and flew up from the Reedy Ditch. There were more than 20 winter thrushes in the area of the hides with at least 15 Fieldfare and 5 Redwing. From the beach a drake Eider headed west half way out and a single Great Crested Grebe dived close in shore.

Pintail

I met Dad at the Sailing Club. The nine Spoonbill were roosting on Inchmery and the 11 Avocet were again on the scrape opposite De L’Orne. Later the Spoonbill flew further east before landing near the mouth of the river where they began to feed. The wheeling flocks of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover contained a smaller number of Knot, at this distance they were little more than smaller ‘Grey Plover’ without black armpits. Later I managed to pick out around 15 Knot from the long line of waders feeding along the shoreline. A distant female Red-breasted Merganser dived in the mouth of the river. It may be the same female I have now seen on three occasions in this exact spot.

Curlew and Peregrine photos by Ian Williamson

A walk around the gorse bushes produced my first Dartford Warbler for a fortnight. Soon afterwards I heard a second bird calling and checking photos later it was evident that one bird had a ring on the right leg and the other on the left leg (left handed ringer). There is also at least one other non-ringed bird. I spoke to Graham Giddens and he confirmed that he ringed 2 Dartford Warblers on November 26th, the first birds he had seen or ringed since the Beast from the East. Both birds were first winters and although young birds can be difficult to sex in their first autumns, from the wing lengths it seems likely they were male and female.

This suggests that there are at least five Dartford Warblers in this small area. Graham’s two birds with rings on their right legs, a bird which had a ring on its right leg before Graham ringed his, the bird with a ring on its left leg and a non-ringed bird which was seen after Graham ringed his birds. Hopefully if we don’t get some adverse weather we may have breeding Dartford Warblers again in 2021.

Dartford Warbler and Linnets

It also occurred to me that I haven’t seen or heard a Spotted Redshank for a month and a Merlin for six weeks, perhaps they’ve moved elsewhere to winter.

Sunday 6th December 2020

On the walk over to the hides there were two vocal Fieldfares, a Mistle Thrush and plenty of zitting Song Thrushes. Black Water had good numbers of duck with 2 drake Pochard, 5 Tufted Duck and 105 Shoveler being the highlights.

After a coffee I walked out to the beach and found a Coal Tit with the mobile tit flock. As a Snow Bunting had been reported yesterday flying from Hill Head towards Lepe I decided to walk out along the beach hoping it might have relocated to Needs Ore. Unfortunately, the only passerines I saw were half a dozen Skylark and a flyover Siskin. Oystercatchers and Turnstones accompanied me as I walked the length of the shingle spit.    

Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit

It was fairly quiet from the Sailing Club with a single Bar-tailed Godwit being the highlight amongst the feeding Dunlin, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover. I walked to the sluice to check out the scrape and counted 11 Avocet, the peak winter count so far.  

A brief stop at the Reedy Ditch produced the highlight of the day, a lovely Short-eared Owl quartering over Park Shore.

It showed well at 3:10pm and then again at 3:35pm, even landing on a post briefly.

Short-eared Owl photos by Ian Williamson

Tuesday 1st December 2020

A cold start and there were Fieldfares calling as soon as I got out of the car. I found a group of 15 birds halfway along the walking trail but they were pretty skittish and were soon gone, ‘shacking’ as they went. Fieldfare seem to be hugely outnumbering Redwing this winter. There was very little activity on the sea. The familiar flock of 11 Turnstones were picking through the high tide line and three Oystercatchers were stood at the water’s edge.

There were good numbers of duck on Black Water with eight Tufted Duck newly arrived, 60 Shoveler, 40 Gadwall and six Pintail. On the scrape from De L’Orne 18 Shelduck was the highest count I’ve had. I got back to the car to find an obliging Fieldfare calling in the bushes around the shore hide.

Fieldfare calling near the Shore Hide

On the drive out to the point I noticed a large flock of waders, obviously displaced by high tide, they had settled on the shingle bank opposite the cottages. They were mainly Grey Plover and Dunlin, perhaps 80 of each and there were at least 5 Knot amongst them.

I spent a few hours watching from the sailing club house. Highlight of the day was a very close juvenile Red-throated Diver which showed well 100 yards out before drifting further up the river.

juvenile Red-throated Diver

A large group of 130 Greylag were gathered along the northern shoreline and five previously hidden Spoonbill took off from the same area. A family of two adult and five juvenile Brent Geese were stood in front of the sailing club. It’s amazing to think that this family has stayed together all the way from northern Russia.

Brent Goose family

The female Red-breasted Merganser which has been fishing in the mouth of the river was still present and a couple of Sandwich Terns were diving regularly before returning to rest on several buoys. Six Skylarks were creeping in the short grass at the edge of the marsh and 14 Linnets were also coming down to the ground to look for seeds. Several obliging Rock Pipits showed off nicely.

Rock Pipits around the Sailing Clubhouse

Friday 27th November 2020

The Great Northern Diver was still showing well from the beach gate and at least half way out a distant flock of Common Scoter headed west, a single male accompanying five female types. Still no Slavonian Grebes. I heard one of the Dartford Warblers but couldn’t locate it and a walk around the wetter parts failed to produce snipe of either species.

On the walk to the hides distant shack-shacking from a Fieldfare was soon followed by a distant bird perched up and a mobile Long-tailed Tit flock included a Goldcrest and a Coal Tit.

Coal Tit

Fieldfare

The Lapwing roost on De L’Orne had grown to 601 birds together with good numbers of Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler and six Avocet. A Raven was perched on one of the fence posts, the Rooks on the adjacent posts providing useful size comparisons.

Little Egret

The female Marsh Harrier was particularly mobile ranging from Inchmery to the Reedy Ditch. From the sailing club the number of Spoonbills sleeping on Inchmery had grown to eight although I later saw all eight heading towards Lymington before two of them doubled back.

At high tide the single Bar-tailed Godwit was again present roosting with Grey Plover and a female Red-breasted Merganser was associating with Great Crested Grebes in the mouth of the river.

Sunday 22nd November 2020

From the car park I could see a drake Eider heading east and then what looked like mergansers heading west, they were too distant to be certain. With some activity on the sea I decided to head there first.

The first few birds I picked up on a flat calm sea were Great Crested Grebes but then a Great Northern Diver. He sat very low in the water with a big lumpy head, huge bill and dark half collar. I tried to get some video but it was very frustrating. He dived for a minute reappeared in a different position and was then on the surface for less than 10 seconds, by the time I’d found him again he was diving.

I’d been half expecting mergansers for a fortnight and so it was great to finally watch three Red-breasted Mergansers heading west, a patch tick and the first of the winter.

The walk over to the hides was fairly quiet other than three Fieldfare overhead. A pair of Pochard were resting directly out from Black Water hide. Around 200 Lapwing were on the scrape viewable from De L’Orne hide, there was a single Black-tailed Godwit with them. I’d also noticed a single Black-tailed Godwit with a large group of Lapwing on 4th November, perhaps it was the same godwit still thinking he was a Lapwing. Nearby yesterday’s seven Avocet were still on the scrape feeding in the slightly deeper water.

Pochard and Gadwall

I spent an hour or so watching from the Sailing Club, there were few bird highlights here although it was great to find a Common Seal looking straight at me and showing his heart shaped nostrils.

After a sandwich I headed down to the beach again and soon picked up a distant diver heading west. Even at this distance it looked too slight for Great Northern Diver. As it flew closer I could see a smallish head which was extensively white and with a characteristic head nodding movement. My first Red-throated Diver at Needs Ore.

As I was watching the diver I could hear the Dartford Warbler calling behind me. After the diver had disappeared towards Park Shore I began to look for the warbler. I ended up with some reasonable pictures and was surprised to see that it had a metal ring on its right leg.

Dartford Warbler

This is definitely a second bird. Based on my photos I’d say this 2nd bird is a female and the first is a male. If I’m right and they both stick around then this could be the return of breeding Dartford Warblers.

Thursday 19th November 2020

Still no sign of any Slavonian Grebes or Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea first thing or again mid afternoon, they’re both often here by mid November.

Great Crested Grebe photo by Ian Williamson

A Treecreeper was a slightly unexpected find 200 yards west of the Shore Hide. There were plenty of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes around and with them a single and silent Redwing halfway along the walking trail. I walked over to the hides to find that the reeds had been cut to improve visibility in front of the NFOC hide although there were few birds on Black Water or on the scrape from De L’Orne.

A single Siskin called overhead and a group of seven Avocet flew up the river and over onto De L’Orne scrape. A pair of Spoonbill were roosting distantly on the far side of Inchmery. They have a reputation for always sleeping but on this occasion they were flushed by the rising tide and flew straight towards me and two minutes later they were right overhead.  

Brent Goose and Little Egret

Highlight of the day was a Bar-tailed Godwit roosting with Grey Plover on Inchmery. It’s the first I’ve seen here, they’re fairly regular but not guaranteed. Three Sandwich Terns in the mouth of the river are looking like wintering birds now.

At least six Skylark were feeding around the warden’s hut and as I walked around the sluice gate one of the Kingfishers flashed turquoise as it flew away. When the wind dropped it was much warmer and there were at least three Common Darter still on the wing.

Stonechat photo by Ian Williamson

I headed back towards Black Water hoping for a late afternoon Hen Harrier, Barn Owl or Short-eared Owl, no luck unfortunately. Fourteen Stock Doves were roosting in the trees on Venner Island until they were evicted by Rooks.

Monday 16th November 2020

The Dartford Warbler was calling as I made my way down to the beach. The sea was quiet again although an adult winter Sandwich Tern heading west was the first I’ve seen for a few weeks. A Greenshank flew over calling and an adult Mediterranean Gull also headed west scanning the shoreline as it went. I wandered around the wet margins south of the Pullen hide and flushed seven Snipe but no sign of their smaller relative.

A pair of Ravens were honking as I made my way to the hides. Two men with rifles were hiding behind artificial fences and although I didn’t hear them fire their guns there was very little bird life on Black Water. The lagoon from De L’Orne was completely flooded with the extremely high spring tide spilling over the sea wall, topping up the brackish water levels. There were two Spoonbill asleep on the lagoon and a tightly grouped flock of six Avocet were standing on a tiny exposed area of mud.  I heard one of the Spotted Redshank calling but couldn’t locate it.

One of the Peregrines was sat on the shingle spit and from the point I could see a huge roosting flock of waders. They were very distant and appeared to be mainly Dunlin, perhaps 400 with around 50 Grey Plover, similar numbers of Ringed Plover and Curlew and at a least one Knot. Five Rock Pipits were feeding on the wet margins in front of the Wardens Hut.  

There were plenty of ducks on the high tide in front of the sailing club and most of the males were now in full breeding plumage and many were starting to display to their females.

Pintail photo by Ian Williamson

A stop at the Reedy Ditch produced a Treecreeper and a Coal Tit. They were with Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests in the Oaks just north of the ditch, both are patch ticks.   

Friday 13th November 2020

I headed to the beach where the sea was quiet with three Great Crested Grebes fairly close in shore. As I was about to head back inland I picked up a Great Northern Diver heading west, the first of the winter and a patch tick. The Dartford Warbler was very obliging following me along the fence line and showing well in the sunshine.

A noisy group of four Raven circled over Black Water and four Avocet were feeding from De L’Orne hide.  I met up with Ian at the sailing club where one of the Peregrines watched us from Gull Island, a single Greenshank fed near the pontoon and a Spoonbill flew up from Inchmery Marches before settling on the edge of the estuary.

Pintail photo by Ian Williamson

As I was heading back to the car I watched a Marsh Harrier quartering over the spartina marshes in front of the Shore Hide and just before dusk I pulled over in the Reedy Ditch layby hoping for an owl. No luck, unfortunately, although there was a fair bit of activity and I was rewarded with a stunning Firecrest, a Marsh Tit and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Firecrest photos by Ian Williamson

Tuesday 10th November 2020

After a drizzly and foggy start there were good numbers of thrushes including 30 Blackbirds, 15 Song Thrushes and 6 Mistle Thrush. The sea was quiet other than nine Great Crested Grebes and a Wheatear on the fence line near the beach was the latest I’ve seen in the UK.

The immature male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the Black Water before dropping down and completely disappearing into the reed bed. I counted 331 Teal and 479 Lapwing although I’m certain there were more hidden from view.

Teal photo by Ian Williamson

Avocet numbers were up to five and I heard a Spotted Redshank and saw one Greenshank. Two of the five Spoonbill were still around and resting on the Estuary Scrape while five menacing Great Black-backed Gulls fed from a Greylag carcass.

Spoonbill

Saturday 7th November 2020

I arranged to meet Dad to show him around the reserve and we started by meeting Ian to see if we could find Wednesday’s Penduline Tits again. There was no sign although I did manage to pick up single Bramblings and Fieldfares flying over east, both patch ticks for me. Other finches were also on the move with handfuls of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin also going east.

There were two Great Crested Grebes on the sea and a pair of Swallows drifting over the Pullen Pool were the latest I’ve seen in the UK. The Dartford Warbler was on the beach fence line very close to Mary Montagu’s house. A confident sounding pipit picked up from the marsh looking robust and dark and proved to be a Rock Pipit

We headed to the hides with a Chiffchaff calling as we walked along the walking trail hedge. Highlight of the day was a female Goldeneye on the water near Venner hide. I texted Ian and he confirmed that Goldeneye is very rare here and actually a patch tick for him despite having been birding here for more than ten years! He route marched over to join us!

A Little Egret and Greenshank were close range treats from the De L’Orne hide and two Avocet were swimming on the Estuary Scrape. A curious Southern Hawker buzzed us several times in the winter sunshine and the five Spoonbill were resting on Inchmery Marshes viewable from the point.

Little Egret

Wednesday 4th November 2020

A lovely calm sunny day after several days of wind and rain. The Dartford Warbler was still in the south west corner of the reserve in gorse bushes near Mary Montagu’s house. A pair of Lesser Redpoll flew over calling but there was only a single Great Crested Grebe on the sea.

I headed over to Black Water for high tide where 363 Lapwing and 48 Shoveler were on the Estuary Scrape. While I was sat in Black Water hide a Marsh Harrier quartered close by before settling on a dead tree across the water. A pair of Pochard on Black Water were a patch tick and a male Tufted Duck was only the second I’ve seen so far. A Merlin dashed over the fields as I was heading back from the hides.

Wigeon photo by Ian Williamson

Seven Greenshank and two Spotted Redshank were roosting in their normal spot hidden from De L’Orne hide but viewable from the gate to the south. A single Black-tailed Godwit, the first I’ve seen since September, was with the Lapwing. Two calling Chiffchaff were either late migrants or possibly wintering birds.

A single Rock Pipit was hunting for insects from underneath and around the sailing clubhouse and one of the Peregrines was surveying the marshes from its position on Gull Island.

Peregrine

As I was leaving, at just after 3pm, Nigel Jones texted to say that he had found two Penduline Tits! They were in the reed bed around the Pullen Hide not far from Mary Montagu’s House. I was just passing the start of Gravelly Drive which leads down to Mary’s house and so I quickly abandoned the car, messaged Nigel to see if he still had them and then jogged off hoping to join him.

He replied to say he was still there and I soon noticed him on the other side of the reed bed. Two minutes later I was with him, slightly out of breath. He suggested that we head around to the other side as the birds had flown in that direction. We headed back towards the Pullen Hide and then played their call back, we also tried some pishing and amazingly they called back and then danced across the top of the reeds heading in our direction. They sat up posing nicely on the edge of the reed bed, right in front of us, amazing! Ten seconds later they were off, flying west towards the marsh around Mary Montagu’s house and they weren’t seen again.

Penduline Tits photos by Nigel Jones

There had been five Penduline Tits at Titchfield Haven at the end of October, it’s possible that our two birds may have been part of that party. Penduline Tit is a county tick for me and this is only the third time I have seen them in the UK.

Friday 30th October 2020

The next few days were forecast to be wet and windy and so I decided to head to Needs Ore earlier than planned to try and beat the forecast. Unfortunately it wasn’t much better today, windy with drizzle and sea spray in the air, quite challenging.

The highlight was five Spoonbill initially sleeping and then feeding on Inchmery just opposite the pontoon. There was also a female Eider sheltering nearby in the mouth of the river. There were at least six Great Crested Grebes with two on the sea and four in the more sheltered river mouth. 30 Dunlin and 10 Grey Plover roosted on the Estuary Scrape at high tide and a Spotted Redshank and two Greenshank were viewable distantly from the gate.

Grey Plover photo by Ian Williamson

I flushed three Snipe and a pair of Skylark from the spit near the point and two Rock Pipits flicked around the boats near the sailing club.

Monday 26th October 2020

The first time I raised my binoculars was for a patch tick, a Green Woodpecker on the grass near the Pullen Hide. The Dartford Warbler was still in gorse bushes near the beach although I only heard it today. The sea was quiet with just a Great Crested Grebe off shore.

At Black Water the female Marsh Harrier was perched on a dead tree but flew just before I had my camera ready. A Peregrine was in full hunting mode powering across the fields towards the Venner Hide and 22 Pintail out on Inchmery Marsh was a site high count. Brent Geese numbers continue to rise and it’s great to see lots of juvenile birds with their white-edged covert feathers.

juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose
juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose photo by Ian Williamson

As the sun came out a Migrant Hawker appeared and there were several Common Darter pairs egg laying in tandem. A piping Kingfisher rounded the corner near the sluice gate and the Sandwich Tern was still in the river entrance.

Several Chiffchaff were still calling and a group of nine Swallows over the Reedy Ditch were getting quite late.

Sunday 25th October 2020

I headed to Needs Ore hoping that the stormy weather might have brought something in. I had to dodge the showers and at one stage got caught in a torrential downpour of hail. An Avocet on the scrape from De L’Orne hide was my first for Needs Ore and 69 Shoveler was my highest count here. I always scan the fence line and it was great to watch a Merlin sheltering in the lee of a fence post. This view looks south east so straight into the winter morning sun and so initially she wasn’t much more than a silhouette. When the clouds came over the Merlin ‘appeared’ from the dark shadows, it was brilliant to see all her subtle detail before she dashed off purposefully like a miniature Peregrine.

After a coffee in the car I headed off towards the beach. The Dartford Warbler had moved further west almost to the beach gate and this time I managed to get a few record shots. The sea was quiet other than adult and 1st winter Mediterranean Gulls flying west.

There appeared to be a new arrival of Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes but nothing more unusual. A pair of Redpoll called as they flew over but there were no hirundines today. The long distance view over the scrapes from the gate to the south produced 2 Spotted Redshank in a place where they are hidden from De L’Orne. While stood at the gate an impressive Goshawk powered over the mouth of the Beaulieu River and then over the fields south of Black Water. A Little Grebe looked out of place exposed in the mouth of the river while the lingering Sandwich Tern drifted over.

Thursday 22nd October 2020

After a few wet and windy days it was still fairly cool and breezy this morning. Siskin were flying over east as I headed down to the beach. Turnstone, Curlew, Grey Plover and Oystercatcher were dotted along the shoreline although there didn’t seem to be much on the sea. I was pleased to relocate the Dartford Warbler in the same group of gorse bushes near the beach fence line and with a lovely male Reed Bunting nearby.

Reed Bunting calling

Plenty of Skylarks were moving and some were singing. A handful of Swallows drifted overhead and then straight out towards the Isle of Wight. The immature male Marsh Harrier drifted over the reeds at the back of Black Water and a Spotted Redshank swam right in front of De L’Orne hide. Nearby one of the Peregrines sat preening on the bank overlooking the Estuary Scrape.

Spotted Redshank

Most days I see a pair of Goldcrests struggling to keep up with the mobile Long-tailed Tit flock, on this occasion the male flashed his amazing orange crown to his mate. A Sandwich Tern was plunge diving off the pontoon before resting on the nearby buoy. There have been three in recent days, perhaps they will spend the winter here.

Sandwich Tern

Sunday 18th October 2020

I arrived just before a high spring tide and so headed over to De L’Orne hide to see what was roosting on the Estuary Scrape. There were 75 Curlew including a colour-ringed bird with yellow over red on the right tibia. Unfortunately it was roosting on one leg and stubbornly refused to reveal it’s left leg. This Curlew is from a foreign ringing scheme but without the left leg ring information it isn’t possible to pin it down further, I’ll have to keep an eye out for it on future visits.

I also noticed a smaller wader with the Dunlin. It was facing directly away from me with its head tucked away. Eventually it woke up and started to feed and I could see it was a Little Stint. The Dunlin all flew off but the stint remained. I took some video and was able to see pale tramlines confirming this bird as a juvenile. A good record for Needs Ore and my second in a fortnight. I heard a Green Sandpiper but couldn’t locate it.

Little Stint

After a coffee I headed down to the beach to try and relocate yesterday’s Black-throated Diver, unfortunately no luck. It was flat calm and quiet with three Great Crested Grebes the only birds I saw on the sea. 20 Swallows drifted over east and I heard a Dartford Warbler calling, another good record for Needs Ore. There have been very few following the Beast from the East 2.5 years ago. I finally tracked it down in the gorse bushes south east of the Pullen hide, near the beach fence.

There was only one Chiffchaff today and no visible passage of thrushes or finches. As we’re heading into Black Redstart time of year I thought I would finish off with a walk around the point. It was a bit of a long shot as there haven’t been any here for a few years now. I got out of the car and scanned the fence posts near the sluice gate and amazingly a Black Redstart popped up into view! A great finish to a brilliant day.

Black Redstart

Saturday 17th October 2020

From the car I walked down to the beach, it was clear that there was a passage of finches. Along with Linnets, Goldfinches and a smaller numbers of Chaffinches I recorded at least 100 Lesser Redpoll and 50 Siskin all flying east. A group of seven Lesser Redpoll settled in a birch tree allowing me some extended telescope views. The Lesser Redpoll count is probably a record for the site. Graham Giddens trapped and ringed Lesser Redpolls here this week for the first time and the birds included individuals from Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. House Martins and Swallows were also heading east, at least 50 of each.

Bird of the day was an early Black-throated Diver, probably a juvenile, which I watched from the beach gate as it drifted east on the tide. The full breasted profile, horizontal dagger-like bill and greyish head and neck sides were obvious. Red-throated Diver is a slighter bird, paler necked and usually holds its bill up tilted. Great Northern Diver shows a blacker head and neck with a dark half collar and it’s head is lumpier often with a white surround to the eye. Perhaps the most striking and diagnostic feature, however, was the isolated white rear flank patch which was visible throughout. This is the rarest diver to occur in Hampshire and this record is the 2nd earliest Black-throated Diver to have been seen in Hampshire in nearly 30 years.

Black-throated Diver

With a late morning high tide of 4.0m I headed over to the Estuary Scrape and had good counts of 170 Lapwing, 60 Ringed Plover, 50 Dunlin and 39 Shoveler. One of the Peregrines powered along the estuary fence line before swooping up to perch on one of the yacht masts where he remained for at least 20 minutes. While in Black Water hide a female Merlin dashed over the reeds before heading over to the point. A Knot roosting at high tide from Shore Hide was the first I’ve seen at Needs Ore.

A flock of noisy Long-tailed Tits moved down the bushes along the point with a pair of Marsh Tits and four Goldcrests following in their wake. Nearby four Rock Pipits flitted between the Warden’s Hut and the boats around the Clubhouse. The number of Brent Geese had increased significantly since last weekend with at least 200 in the river entrance and a pair of Raven honked overhead as they drifted out towards the Isle of Wight.

Sunday 11th October 2020

A Merlin dashing over the fields near Black Water was the highlight today. The male Common Scoter remained off shore although distantly, almost mid channel. I saw only one hirundine all day, a single Swallow.

The Wheatear remained at the point and again it was the only one I saw. Nearby two Clouded Yellows paused regularly to nectar on late flowering Thrift. Other lingering migrants included at least 10 Chiffchaffs.

55 Lapwing roosted on the Estuary scrape and a female Marsh Harrier drifted over Inchmery while both Peregrines were perched up surveying the marshes. A Rock Pipit called from its vantage point on the Sailing Clubhouse and a pair of Raven drifted over.

Clouded Yellow

Saturday 10th October 2020

Having seen the 1st winter Wilson’s Phalarope on Fishtail Lagoon I headed over to Needs Ore. The highlight was one of the first birds I saw, a lovely Firecrest in oaks opposite the gate to the Pullen Hide, associating with a mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests.

The sea was fairly quiet other than a group of four Eider close in shore. The number of Chiffchaffs was down to around 10 and I only saw one Wheatear during the five hours. It definitely felt like we were heading into winter and the first returning Brent Geese, twenty of them, off the point, added to the wintery feel.

Two Marsh Harriers were quartering over the Black Water, a female and an immature male. There were three Greenshank from the Estuary Hide and I also heard but didn’t see a Spotted Redshank from there. The three Sandwich Terns remained, fishing off the point.

Marsh Harrier

Monday 5th October 2020

A walk through the scrub and bushes beyond Pullen hide produced lots of calling Chiffchaffs and there were still good numbers of Swallow passing through, perhaps 100 and half a dozen Wheatear feeding along the tideline. Later, I watched an immature male Marsh Harrier quartering over the reed beds adjacent to Black Water and a Yellow Wagtail called as it flew over.

The main highlight today was watching a Little Stint fly onto the Estuary Scrape. I managed to watch it for 10 minutes but it was fairly flighty throughout and soon left strongly to the west. Six Greenshank were also feeding around the edge of the scrape.

A pair of Rock Pipits landed close to me on the pontoon before leaving to explore the sailing clubhouse. The male Common Scoter was again seen drifting close in shore out from the cottages.

Wheatear

Tuesday 29th September 2020

I explored the south west bushes to start with and was rewarded with a very close Short-eared Owl quartering around the pool near Mary Montagu’s house. A Spoonbill drifted high overhead towards Black Water.

An impressive passage of hundreds of House Martins and Swallows included the odd Sand Martin and a Sedge Warbler at the edge of the reed bed near the Pullen hide was an increasingly unusual record for the site. Two Wheatear lingered along the beach and 20 Chiffchaffs were very vocal including several who were singing.

I had reached the hides before Ian rang to say that there was a male Common Scoter close in shore off the beach. I returned to the beach gate and had great views as it drifted east.

Waders around the hides included 12 Greenshank, 3 Spotted Redshank and 3 Green Sandpiper. A wander around the point produced a stunning Merlin first seen perched on distant fence posts before powering towards me chasing Linnets and Meadow Pipits and then flying straight over my head.

Insects included a Clouded Yellow drifting west along the beach, several pristine Small Coppers, a perched Migrant Hawker and several Common Darter.

Migrant Hawker

Saturday 26th September 2020

An obvious passage of at least 40 House Martins with lots of vocal Chiffchaffs and an obvious movement of Redpoll including a flock of 10 on the ground which I was able to get in the scope. Several newly arrived Wheatears with around 6 in total and a vocal Marsh Tit accompanied me on my walk around the bushes and trees west of the Pullen hide. A pair of Peregrines were seen from the Estuary hide with one of them sitting on the fence posts and the other on the ground in the flooded fields. Five Spotted Redshank were swimming together out from Black Water hide and they included a juvenile bird. A very showy Water Rail ran across in front of Black Water hide and several Sand Martins hawked over the water. 15 Curlew were feeding close by up on the bank north from Venner hide. A Field Grasshopper near the sluice gate where there was also a pair of Kingfisher and a Red Kite drifted over Inchmery.

Green Sandpiper

Tuesday 22nd September 2020

A large scale movement of Siskin and Swallow. Also a few Redpoll overhead.

Newly arrived were 90 Wigeon and 190 Teal. A Hobby dashing down Warren Lane was a surprise and a Spotted Redshank right in front of me from Black Water Hide where I also heard Bearded Tits.

A juvenile Common Sandpiper proved to be the only one of the autumn. A lovely Whinchat at the start of the diagonal bridge field and a scoped Yellow Wagtail on the ground near the bridge.

Yellow Wagtail photo by Ian Williamson

Tuesday 15th September 2020

I purchased my new permit on Monday 14th September and headed down for my first visit to Needs Ore since 1996! Highlights were 2 Yellow Wagtails calling as they flew over, 2 Green Sandpipers and a Wall Brown butterfly nectaring on Hawkbit at the start of the Walking Trail.