Wood Sandpiper – Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

There had been a large influx of Wood Sandpipers mainly on the east coast including a count of 110 (!!!) at Cley Marshes in Norfolk. The nearest individuals to me were single birds at Langford Lakes in Wiltshire, Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex and Titchfield Haven in Hampshire.

Titchfield Haven is much the nearest and somewhere I know well and so I decided to head there. If the Titchfield bird had gone I would then need to decide if I should head to West Sussex or Wiltshire. It is very likely that there will be more Wood Sandpipers in August but I wanted to get one under my belt now just in case.

I bought my pass from the Visitor Centre and I was the first person into the Meon Shore hide at just after 9:30am. The first wader I saw was a Green Sandpiper and then I found the juvenile Wood Sandpiper. So dainty, elegant and alert, almost fragile looking. It remained on show for an hour or so allowing me to get some sketches.

Whilst I was looking at a Common Sandpiper I heard the Wood Sandpiper calling (and so it would probably be in flight) and when I looked back I wasn’t surprised to see that it had gone, it wasn’t seen again.

Birding highlights were the Wood Sandpiper, 3 Green Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 7 Dunlin, 20 Black-tailed Godwit and several juvenile Sandwich Terns and Mediterranean Gulls.

I will finish July on 228 for the year with the Wood Sandpiper being my only new bird for July and a full month since my last year tick – Roseate Tern also on the south scrape at Titchfield Haven on 28th June 2019. My 1996 year list has now moved ahead of me, I finished July 1996 on 229 for the year. I should still get 250+, hopefully…

Quail – Martin Down, Hampshire – 6th August 2019

Quail is undoubtedly the commonest bird I’ve not yet seen in Britain. I’ve heard countless males over the years singing from wheat fields in the summer, they are reluctant fliers and spend their whole lives hidden away and so seeing one is close to impossible and I only count birds I’ve seen on my British List.

While visiting Martin Down with Darcia and Rob we heard a male singing just over the hedge which runs westwards from the Sillen Lane Car Park. At first we thought that the bird was right in front us in the relatively short grass of the main downland. However, as we walked towards the calling it proved to be quite a bit further away than we thought and in fact it was over the other side of the main hedge in a large wheat field.

Most males have stopped singing by early August and with an impending flight back to Africa (the Quail not me) I decided to return on my own to spend a few hours looking. I walked for an hour or so all around the public footpaths around the edges of the fields and heard two distant males and in the end I decided that they were both in the same field, the large field that you can view from the gate and hay bale west of the car park at the end of Sillen Lane.

I decided to head back to the first male in the south western corner of the main field, probably the same bird I had heard with Darcia and Rob a couple of days before. I soon relocated the singing bird and I noticed an obvious gap in the hedge and so I was able to walk through and stand at the edge of the field.

It did sound close although it’s difficult to judge distance given that their song is explosively loud and so you can be a lot further away from the bird than you realise. This is especially true if the wind is blowing towards you and judging the direction can also be tricky if the bird turns its head as it’s singing.

Over the next 30 minutes the Quail continued to sing. There was a tractor trail creating two very narrow visible lines through the field and I hoped that the Quail might wander across this narrow open area although this did seem highly unlikely.  

I had downloaded the song of Quail onto my phone and before visiting I had also read the BTO Bird Watchers Code which states, with regard to tape luring, that “repeatedly playing a recording of bird song or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.”

As the breeding season is all but over and most males have stopped singing and young birds are self sufficient by now I decided to try one burst of 30 second song. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to to happen but amazingly the Quail picked up and flew straight towards me and over my head!

I’ve never tape lured any bird before and I had no idea that this would be as immediately successful as it was. The Quail flew over my head, over the hedge and 50 yards onto the main down. I walked back through the hedge and soon found it calling in the low grass. I kept my distance and focused my binoculars ready before it flew again giving me an excellent extended flight view, this time it dropped into a large patch of Marjoram. The final view was it powering off again back towards the wheat field where it landed roughly in the same place it had originally been. What a totally unexpected few minutes!

The Quail was streaked brown with an obvious whitish eye-stripe and most striking of all were the very long and pointed wings and the powerful rapid direct flight (they are strongly migratory birds) quite unlike the short-winged partridges and their relatively weak flutter-glide style.

Having seen Quail now and finding the tape luring experience slightly stressful I think I will content myself with heard only records in the future.

Quail takes me to 446 on my British List and 229 for the year.

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