Black Redstart – Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire

A pair of Black Redstarts were found over wintering near Lee-on-Solent in early January. One was an adult male. I’ve seen very few adult male Black Redstarts and the photos online showed what a gorgeous looking bird it was with the combination of deep black, brilliant orange on the tail, undertail and rump and with a splash of white on the secondaries.

Having read the directions on Going Birding and RBA I still wasn’t sure where to go as its favoured location was opposite the end of Courageous Road and I couldn’t find that mentioned anywhere on Google Maps.

Roughly speaking, the area is south of Daedalus Airport and just west of a new industrial park. The area appeared to be a new residential development and I assumed that most of the roads (including Courageous Road) had been built since the last Google Maps photos. I noticed on Going Birding that Martin had seen the bird on Friday morning and so I texted him for help with finding Courageous Road. His directions proved to be excellent including directing me in from the east as the access road to the development from the west (where I would be heading from) hadn’t been opened and connected yet.

I arrived at just after 8am and parked at the junction of Courageous Road and opposite the bare waste area and large spoil heap. Martin had recommended patience as he had to visit three times before he saw it.

The location looked absolutely perfect for a Black Redstart. This species originally inhabited stony ground in mountains and along cliffs but it has adapted to include urban habitats which are similar, things like post war bomb sites and industrial and development locations that have bare areas and cliff-like buildings.

I walked around the waste ground checking out the railings around a derelict old building, the small trees around the spoil heap and the bramble patch which had grown up against the adjoining warehouse. Someone whistled to me and it was one of the builders in his huge JCB, he gestured in my direction. I couldn’t decide if he was mad with me for trespassing (although I couldn’t believe that I was) or whether he was trying to tell me where the Black Redstart was. Thankfully it was the latter and he went on to point out its favoured locations.

Soon after he drove back towards the building site a passerine flew into the top of the nearest tree. It flicked its bright red tail and turned to reveal its jet black face. It was a lovely blue grey colour overall with a jet black face and throat. The orange on the tail ran all the way up the rump and along the undertail coverts and there was a very obvious white flash across the secondaries and tertials.

Most of my subsequent views were in the bare trees which made it difficult to find the bird in the telescope but thankfully it seemed fairly settled giving me enough time to line him up.

Next stop was Hill Head for divers and scoters off shore and possible Sanderling and Kingfisher. I’d forgotten to factor in tide height and as it was almost low tide finding Sanderling wasn’t possible and I couldn’t find a Kingfisher near the sluice gates. Although it was fairly flat calm off shore I could only find Great Crested Grebes and a small group of Eider. I scoped a group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on south scrape.

I then headed to the north end of the canal path for Barn Owl and Water Pipit. The Barn Owl was in his normal roost tree but I couldn’t find any Water Pipits around the floods at the Bridge Street end.

Semipalmated Sandpiper – Oxey Marshes, Hampshire – 18th January 2020

My next plan was to try Alresford for the Water Pipits at the cress beds but as I got back to the car a message came through that the Semipalmated Sandpiper had been relocated on Oxey Lagoon. I changed plans and headed to Lymington. This would also give me the opportunity to see the Slavonian Grebes which had been loafing close off Oxey for a few days and Oxey Marsh is also a good site for Spotted Redshank.

I arrived and after a brisk walk joined three other birds watching the Semipalmated Sandpiper. I added a brief sketch to my pages from when I saw the bird in November. I then turned my attention to the Slavonian Grebes which were very close by off shore. As they were so close and actively diving it was tricky to keep them in the scope view. I can’t remember ever having such good views of this species and I didn’t see Slavonian Grebes in Hampshire at all last year.

A Purple Sandpiper had been seen with the Turnstones in Oxey Creek and so I headed there next and on the way I found four Spotted Redshank roosting on Oxey Marsh. There were good numbers of Dunlin wheeling around in the channel touching down occasionally before nervously taking off again. Watching the Dunlin it then occurred to me that I couldn’t have given you a reason why the Semipalmated Sandpiper I’d just been shown wasn’t a Dunlin!

I arrived at the Turnstones to join three other birders and we watched the Purple Sandpiper foraging amongst the sea weed. It was about now that RBA reported that the Semipalmated Sandpiper was in fact a Dunlin! The bird was pointed out to me when I joined the other birds and I hadn’t doubted the ID, lesson learned.

I finished the day by dropping into Eyeworth Pond to see the Marsh Tits and a partially hidden drake Mandarin.   

Bearded Tit – Weymouth & Portland, Dorset – 21st January 2020

I was meeting a group for a photography workshop at Portland Bill at 12:15pm. I decided to leave early and look for a few interesting birds in the Weymouth area.

I headed to Radipole for sunrise and ventured into the reserve and I’d gone no more than 100 yards before I heard the pinging of nearby Bearded Tits. I waited for a few minutes and a gorgeous male appeared towards the top of a reed followed by a female. This was my target bird and I’d allowed an hour and so with lots of time in the bag I headed on towards Portland.

On the way I dropped into Sandsfoot Castle in the hope of seeing Great Northern and Black-throated Divers. This proved to be a lot trickier. The sun had risen into an empty blue sky and so looking east from Sandsfoot Castle was challenging. There are at least four Great Northern Dives and a single Black-throated wintering here and they had been reported most days. After close to an hour of viewing I still hadn’t seen any divers, only Red-breasted Mergansers and Great Crested Grebes. I assumed that the divers must have been nearer the eastern edge of Portland Harbour and so out of range for me especially given the difficult light conditions. With one final scan I managed to find a very distant Great Northern Diver close to the Portland Breakwater Fort.

I jumped in the car and headed around to the Chesil Beach and pulled over to scan the western side of the harbour from the Portland Beach Road. No sign of anything new. I then pinned my hopes on the fact that the Black-throated Diver might be nearer to the south east corner of the harbour and so I tried Portland Castle. Within a few minutes of scanning I found the Black-throated Diver and it was much close than the earlier Great Northern Diver. Looking west the light was also much better here and it was easy to note the crisp central dark line which ran down the centre of the neck without any indentation, the eye contained within dark feathering and the obvious white flank patch.  

Last stop was Portland Bill. I had seen Purple Sandpiper in Hampshire a few days before and so I concentrated on sea watching. Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter were the main targets. I saw all of the common sea birds including huge numbers of Guillemots and Razorbills all heading east and eventually I picked out five Red-throated Divers also heading east. I didn’t see any Common Scoters.

Hawfinch – Mercer Way, Romsey, Hampshire – 23rd January 2020

This is a reasonably reliable location for Hawfinch. They winter in the park which opens out at the end of Mercer Way. It’s a slightly odd choice for the Hawfinches as it is within an urban area and it’s probably due to the high proportion of cherry trees here which provide a good food source for them.

I wandered around the area looking and listening but only had a Red Kite, three Bullfinches and five or so Redwing to show for my efforts. After almost exactly an hour I noted a single Hawfinch at the top of a tree and had it briefly in the telescope for no more than five seconds.  

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