Black-winged Stilt – Pulborough Brooks RSPB, West Sussex

While out with Sarah in Romsey news came through of a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve 50 miles away in West Sussex. 

Over the last few weeks I had missed Black-winged Stilts on three occasions including two early morning visits to Dorset and Wiltshire. On each of these occasions I had waited until the next morning before going for the stilts and they had left overnight. This time I decided I would go the same day. We got back home at just before 2pm, I was quickly on the road and I arrived at the RSPB reserve in the Arun Valley at just after 3pm.

The stilts had been found on North Brooks and were viewable from Hanger View but as I was pulling into the car park a message reported that they were now taking an afternoon nap visible from Jupp’s View and so I headed there first. 

I joined four other birders and began watching the pair of stilts as they rested on the edge of the scrape. I grabbed my sketchbook as feeding waders move very quickly and having the stilts resting fairly stationary was worth capturing in a sketch.

After a few minutes they were up and feeding and their incredibly long legs were revealed. The male had a darker black back and more black in the head and a hint of a pink flush to the breast. A Lapwing flew in too closely and they were spooked and flew off west back towards Hanger View. I followed and got further views and sketches. The word elegant just doesn’t do these birds justice.

It’s amazing how often Black-winged Stilts turn up in pairs. I can’t think of any scarce migrant which repeatedly does this as often and if previous form is anything to go by they will leave after dark especially as a clear night is forecast (yes they did!)

Having failed with this species so many times this year it was great to catch up with them. Black-winged Stilt takes me to 214 for the year.

Nightjar – Foxbury Common, New Forest – 22nd May 2019

Nightjars normally arrive from Africa in the second or third weeks of May although I have seen them as early as the 5th May in the past. With a run of fine sunny days I decided to see if they had arrived locally. Dad always sees them at Half Moon Common which is near the Bramshaw Commons although he was in Romania on a bird photography trip and so I couldn’t ask him for precise directions. I’d only seen Woodlark at Half Moon Common and had never tried for Nightjar’s there and although I hadn’t been there for 22 years I felt confident I’d know where to go once I was there.

However, I arrived to find it looked a little different and the area that I thought looked the best for Nightjar was actually fenced off and with a no entry sign. A quick check online suggested that parking in the Half Moon Common car park was the right idea but that the Nightjars were on the adjacent Foxbury Common and it appeared that this private area was indeed Foxbury Common. I wandered further along the fence to see if there were suitable areas that weren’t private. I heard a Woodlark singing and after checking various raised singing posts I eventually found him on the ground only 30 yards in front of me.

After a while I walked a little further south and noticed a gate and a stile which would take me closer to the edge of a pine forest with open felled areas and heathland. A sign said that this area was Foxbury Common and I began to feel more confident about my chances. Once I was onto the common I walked up and down the gravel tracks before picking a suitable spot to wait, listen and watch. At 15 minutes after sunset I heard my first churring male Nightjar. Cupping your hands behind your ears really enhances the sound and it made it seem like the bird was very close.

I walked into a slightly different position and at 30 minutes after sunset I had my first view of a flying male as he came to within 50 yards of me and with the light still reasonable I had excellent views in my binoculars. They are rather Kestrel-like in shape with a buoyant tern like action and obvious white flashes on the primaries. He landed in the closest tree and I watched him churring from a partly hidden branch. 

A little later on as I was walking back to the car I heard their rather owl/frog-like ‘kruit’ call and another male landed in a close by tree and perched flat along a large fully exposed horizontal branch giving me the classic Nightjar silhouette against the sky.  

It’s always a treat catching up with these amazing nocturnal birds and I’m now up to 215 for the year.

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