Curlew Sandpiper – Farlington Marshes, Hampshire

A summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper was found on bank holiday Monday at Farlington Marshes, I set my alarm for 6am to head over there on Tuesday morning. The dogs meant that we didn’t get much sleep and so at 3:30am I cancelled the alarm and slept on through! Thankfully the Curlew Sandpiper wasn’t reported and so I was pleased that I hadn’t got up early. That was until just after 11:30am when it was reported again. I quickly threw my scope, binoculars and sketching stuff into the car and headed off down the M27.  

Most Curlew Sandpipers are autumn birds often juveniles moving between their Siberian breeding grounds and wintering areas in West Africa and so it would be nice to see a colourful adult for a change. I also thought it would be good to get one for the year now in case the autumn passage was poor. Autumn Curlew Sandpipers in Hampshire rarely total more than two to four birds.

I arrived and fairly quickly picked out the dark chestnut red sandpiper in amongst a flock of less colourful, slightly smaller and dumpier Dunlin. The longer legs, especially above the ‘knee’, and the long and evenly curved bill also gave the Curlew Sandpiper a more elegant appearance. 

The Dunlin flock was pretty mobile moving from one end of the lake to the other. It was hazy and this made long distance views very soft and sketching difficult and so I ended up following the flock up and down the edge of the lake to minimise the distance in the haze. The muggy warm afternoon was a far cry from Arctic Siberia where this bird was heading to.

A Whimbrel dropped for in for 30 minutes to drink and bathe along with eight Greenshank, 25 Black-tailed Godwit, an Avocet, two Ringed Plover and two Snipe. Several Yellow Wagtails and Mediterranean Gulls called as they went overhead and a Bearded Tit pinged from the reed bed.

There have been a few recent reports of Jack Snipe at Farlington and so I was determined to scan the reed edges carefully. I’d made several passes without luck and then returned to my Curlew Sandpiper sketches before having another Jack Snipe scan. I kept pausing on the 2 Snipe that were present and then came across one of the Snipe again, this time facing towards me, it was difficult to judge size although I noticed that it lacked a central crown stripe. It turned sideways and I noted the split supercilium and very striking golden tramlines down the back. It also started to bob. I expect to see Jack Snipe on the Scillies in October but it’s always best to see scarce birds whenever you can.    

On the walk back to the car several Whitethroats were singing in the scrub and I picked out a Lesser Whitethroat song amongst them. I spent 15 minutes tracking the bird down and eventually had good views as it sang from a partially hidden perch.

A really good lunchtime dash with 3 new year ticks (Curlew Sandpiper, Jack Snipe & Lesser Whitethroat) taking me up to 193.

Arctic Skua & Great Skua – Milford Shelter, Hampshire – 25th April 2019

I’m not a regular seawatcher but any year list would have glaring gaps without a seawatch or two. Just like with land bird migration, the spring and autumn are usually the most exciting times and so once we were into April I kept an eye on the wind direction. Over the last few days the winds had picked up and had turned to come from the south east and so I decided to head down to the shelter at Milford-on-Sea. South-easterly winds push the birds into Christchurch Bay and closer to the shore.

I arrived and set up in the shelter at 6:15am and was soon joined by Philip Fawkes, Dave Ryves and Clay Jones. Almost immediately we had a group of 12 Arctic Terns moving east, a good start as I wasn’t sure where I was going to see this tricky species. They lacked the black primary wedge of Common Tern, they were more buoyant and graceful and their primary feathers looked white and translucent from above and below.

Next along, within a minute or so, was a very close inshore dark phase Arctic Skua. At distance skuas look like dark juvenile gulls although with juvenile gulls you can usually see a lighter head and back even at long range. Gulls also appear more languid than a purposeful skua. In the end we recorded 16 of these ‘pirates’. Two Great Skuas also headed east and their bulky proportions and white primary flashes were visible even at long range.

Nearly all of the birds were heading east and the southerly winds meant that many approached fairly closely and most of them appeared to take the short cut through the narrows and inside the Isle of Wight. Skuas, for example, breed in Scotland, and so head east along the English Channel before rounding Kent and heading north along the North Sea coast.  

A great few hours seawatching, other interesting birds recorded were Whimbrel, Little Gull, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, Black-throated Diver, Red-throated Diver, Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot and Common Scoter.     

Nightingale – Ashlett Creek, Hampshire – 25th April 2019

While we’d been chatting on the seawatch Philip had mentioned the Nightingales at Ashlett Creek and so after a bacon sandwich in the nearby café, Clay and I headed over there. Almost as soon as we’d parked the car we heard distant Nightingale song. A quick tour of the scrub and it seemed like there were one or two males singing although they appeared mobile, perhaps still moving around as they hadn’t settled on a territory so early in the season. It’s always an incredible pleasure hearing a Nightingale in full song. I didn’t see any of them at all well, just a flash of movement somewhere in the thicket, silence and then the song would appear again 50 yards away.

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