local patch

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.

Little Egret

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.

Bullfinch

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.

Greenfinch

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.

Whimbrel photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Speckled Wood

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)

Chiffchaff

I serviced 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.

Shelduck

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.

Mediterranean Gulls

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.

Little Grebe

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.

Marsh Harriers

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.

White-tailed Eagle

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.

White Wagtail

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.

Barnacle Goose

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.

Swallow

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.

Whimbrel

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.

1st year Russian White-fronted Goose

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.

Pochard photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Mute Swans pre dawn

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.

Red Kite

A lovely fresh Small Tortoiseshell was basking on some flattened reeds, my first at NO and the only butterfly I saw all day.

Small Tortoiseshell

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.

Dartford Warbler photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Brown Hare

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.

Red Kite

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.

Avocets

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.

distant Gannet

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.

Muntjac

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.

male Linnet photo by Ian Williamson

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).

Chaffinch

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.

White Wagtail

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.

Coot photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Garganey

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.

Peacock photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Mute Swans

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.

Kestrel

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.

Meadow Pipits

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.

Marsh Harrier and Carrion Crow photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Goshawk

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.

Redshank

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.

Greenshank

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.   

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

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. 

Pheasant

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.

Spoonbills

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.  

Russian White-fronted Geese

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.

Little Grebe photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Reed Bunting

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.

Blackcap subsong

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.

Russian White-fronted Geese

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.

Greenshank

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.

Curlew

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.

Ringed Plover photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Song Thrush with damaged left leg

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).

Spoonbills photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Mediterranean Gull

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.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

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.

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 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.

Long-tailed Tit

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.

Alexandrine Parakeet

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.

Pochard photo by Ian Williamson

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.

Spoonbills

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.

Dunlin – 1066 of them

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 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.

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 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.

Lapwing photo by Ian Williamson

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.

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 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.

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 P 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 JV 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

I hoped to get another look at the Glossy Ibis today and improve my own photos.

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.

It was now well after 8am and on the previous two mornings the ibis had appeared by now. It became clear that it was feeding elsewhere or had left altogether. There was no sign on any of the three occasions I spent time in the Reedy Ditch or JV areas.

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 S Hide.

I stopped briefly at P 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)

Sunday 31st January 2021

I was still in bed when I noticed a phone message reporting that a Glossy Ibis had been seen at the Reedy Ditch. It had flown in at 8:15am and was seen walking the edge of the reed bed before disappearing behind brambles. It wasn’t seen again by 9am. I had decided not to go to NO today as we had a 2:30pm zoom call for Mum’s birthday. With the ibis news, however, I decided that I would head down for a few hours and I arrived at the reedy ditch at 11am. There was no sign.

Over the next 90 minutes I walked up and down the road to get as many viewing angles as possible. I also checked the adjoining fields and at 12:30pm, with rain threatening, I watched another bird coming in and was thrilled to see the classic ibis profile. It drifted off south losing height behind the trees. I sprinted back to the layby to try and see it again but there was no sign.

Glossy Ibis

I presumed that it had dropped into the wet fields towards P Shore but 15 minutes later I was pleased to see it again in the grass near the reedy ditch gate.

Glossy Ibis

There has been a wintering Glossy Ibis at Stanpit but given the fact that the Stanpit bird was seen at 10am today this must be second bird. I left at 1pm with the rain falling steadily.     

Ian visited the next morning and the Glossy Ibis arrived from its roost, probably around B Water and JV, at just before 8am. After dropping down behind a hedge it then magically re-appeared in an adjacent field only 15 yards away. It remained settled in this area posing for frame filling photos.

Glossy Ibis photos by Ian Williamson

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 JV. 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 G 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 29th 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 G Marsh and P 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 P 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 SL’s Barn. With the thermal camera I managed to track it down in the large trees north of G 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 B Water House, soon afterwards a distant ‘keea-keea-keea’ was probably the female calling.  A large headed and short-tailed finch flying towards JV 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 P 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 SL’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 MM’s 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 P 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 SL’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 G Lane towards Inchmery. The first one I’ve seen since early November.

Sunday 17th January 2021

If I’m driving down W 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 JV 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 DL’O while Redwing and Fieldfare called from the trees along the path. 

Back at MM’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 P 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 NP 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 P 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 MM’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 MM’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 P 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 S Hide, dashing towards B Water, jostling with the Marsh Harriers over the DL’O scrape and even coming in off the sea. From MM’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 JV hide was only the second I’ve seen at NO.

Kestrel, Reed Bunting & Wigeon photos by Ian Williamson

After lunch we headed to P Shore to check the geese flock at the top of P 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 P 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 MM’s. 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 DL’O 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 DL’O 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 P Shore. At the top of P 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 P 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 MM’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 P 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 P 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 RP Farm. This morning I decided to try and get closer to them and had in mind that looking north from P Shore would achieve this. I drove past the normal turn into W Lane and then left down P 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 NO as I was taking part in a synchronised wintering Sandwich Tern count. There were two Golden Plover, six Spoonbill and three Avocet on DL’O. On B Water 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 NO 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 DL’O 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 NP. 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 MM’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 MM’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 scrape 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 P Shore.

Saturday 12th December 2020

On the drive down W 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 DL’O. 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. B 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 NO. 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 P 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 B Water with eight Tufted Duck newly arrived, 60 Shoveler, 40 Gadwall and six Pintail. On the scrape from DL’O 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 DL’O 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 B Water hide. Around 200 Lapwing were on the scrape viewable from DL’O 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 NO.

As I was watching the diver I could hear the Dartford Warbler calling behind me. After the diver had disappeared towards P 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 S 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 B Water or on the scrape from DL’O.

A single Siskin called overhead and a group of seven Avocet flew up the river and over onto DL’O 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 B 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 JV 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 NP 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 B Water. The lagoon from DL’O 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 B Water and four Avocet were feeding from DL’O hide.  I met up with Ian at the sailing club where one of the Peregrines watched us from G 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 S 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 B 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 NP Pool were the latest I’ve seen in the UK. The Dartford Warbler was on the beach fence line very close to MM’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 JV 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 DL’O 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 MM’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 B Water for high tide where 363 Lapwing and 48 Shoveler were on the Estuary Scrape. While I was sat in B Water hide a Marsh Harrier quartered close by before settling on a dead tree across the water. A pair of Pochard on B 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 DL’O 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 G 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 NP Hide not far from MM’s House. I was just passing the start of G Drive which leads down to MM’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 NP 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 MM’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 NO 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 NP 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 B 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 JV 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 NO 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 DL’O hide was my first for NO 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 DL’O. While stood at the gate an impressive Goshawk powered over the mouth of the river and then over the fields south of B 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 B Water and a Spotted Redshank swam right in front of DL’O 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 DL’O 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 NO 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 NO. 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 NP 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 B Water hide a female Merlin dashed over the reeds before heading over to the point. A Knot roosting at high tide from S hide was the first I’ve seen at NO.

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 B 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 NO. The highlight was one of the first birds I saw, a lovely Firecrest in oaks opposite the gate to the NP 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 B 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.