Nightingale – Ashlett Creek, Hampshire

Redstart – Acres Down, New Forest – 13th May 2020

With the Coronavirus crisis it had been over 10 weeks since I last went birding. The government relaxed the lockdown slightly on the 11th May allowing people to head out “to visit a public open space for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote physical or mental health or emotional wellbeing”. I headed to a few places where I could guarantee social distancing. At the end of February my year list stood at 158 which was ahead of my previous record of 150 in 2019 but given the lack of birding subsequently I was now 46 behind my 2019 total which was 211 at this stage last year. I headed to Acres Down first with Redstart and Tree Pipit as the targets.  

It was fairly cold and a little breezy and there were no Redstarts in the trees that had supported 6-10 singing males last year. There were plenty of Blackcaps, Song Thrushes, Stock Doves, Goldcrests and Coal Tits all singing. I retraced my steps slightly and tried a different area of the wood and after 100 yards or so I heard a singing male Redstart although it took a while to find him.

I then headed off onto the heath to look for Tree Pipit. I passed a family group of five Woodlark and several Meadow Pipits singing. A Peregrine passed over with a bird in its talons and then a Sparrowhawk soon afterwards being mobbed by Linnets. There were lots of Stonechats singing with the occasional fluty notes from distant Woodlark.

Eventually I heard the song of a Tree Pipit and soon afterwards noticed a pipit parachuting down accompanied by its diagnostic song which includes elements of Wren and Chaffinch followed by a final “seea seea seea”. I got the Tree Pipit in the scope and could see the strong facial pattern and as it was perched I could also see the short hind claws.

Nightingale – Ashlett Creek, Hampshire – 13th May 2020

I debated about heading straight off to Fishlake Meadows where I could add five or more year ticks but instead headed to Ashlett Creek for Nightingale. I only count birds that I see and hearing Nightingale is sometimes the best you can hope for and so success here was by no means a certainty. I parked on the slipway near the Jolly Sailor and headed south east into the thicket which sits alongside the power station. I headed to the place that I had seen a Nightingale briefly last year and after around ten minutes I heard a male singing. I quickly tracked the bush down and managed to find the Nightingale perched out in the open but he darted off before I had focussed my binoculars. I persevered and a few minutes later had him singing right out in the open only 20 yards away. Slowly I raised and then focussed my binoculars before moving slightly to see around an obscuring branch and then I had absolutely perfect views of him singing for 30 seconds or so, without doubt the best ever views I’ve had of this species in 35 years.

Hampshire Ornithological Society carried out a breeding season survey into Nightingale numbers in 2018 and this was published in the annual report. There has been a long term steady decline in Hampshire starting as far back as the 1950s. In 2018 a total of 26 singing males were recorded of which only six birds from three tetrads were thought to be breeding. This is a decline of 65% in the number of tetrads recorded and an even more staggering fall in the presumed breeding population of singing males from 61-65 down to 6-14, a 90% fall in just six years. The decline is due to the loss of habitat through lack of or unsuitable management, deer browsing and human pressure. Also changes to and losses of habitat on wintering grounds and migration stop may be contributing factors.

Given the low population here this could be my last Nightingale at Ashlett Creek especially as this area (including the Power Station) is regularly considered for residential development.

Garden Warbler – Fishlake Meadows, Hampshire – 13th May 2020

I then headed towards Romsey and Fishlake Meadows. This is a great location for Garden Warbler and I quickly heard one singing and then had good views. Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were also in good numbers although there was no Grasshopper Warbler which I had seen last year. I was hoping for Sand Martin but other than Swifts all the hirundines were House Martins with a handful of Swallows.

I walked to the viewing screen in the centre of the reserve and was pleased to find a single Sand Martin. I heard a squealing from the reeds and peered over the lip of the viewing screen and saw four black mouse like objects scurrying away. They joined there parent a lovely Water Rail. Soon afterwards a Hobby drifted over no doubt looking for some aerial prey.

Nightjar – Foxbury Common, New Forest – 13th May 2020

After tea at home I headed out to Halfmoon and Foxbury Common in the evening. My target was Nightjar with an outside chance of Woodcock. It was cool with a slight breeze and 13th May is still fairly early for Nightjar and so I wasn’t particularly hopeful although I have seen them before this date on several occasions in the past.

I did hear a distant Nightjar at 25 minutes after sunset but I couldn’t locate it. Several Cuckoos were showing well, Tree Pipits were singing and a Hobby flew past on several occasions.

Woodcock – Churchplace Inclosure, New Forest – 15th May 2020

The forecast was for a still warm evening and so I headed off to Churchplace Inclosure and so, it seemed, did most of the midges in the New Forest! I arrived at the cross roads I had found last year, it was 8:30pm, still 20 minutes before sunset. I kept walking around in tight circles, almost on the spot, in an attempt to evade the hungry midges.

At 9pm a Noctule bat appeared above the tree tops, just like it had last year. In 2019 I first saw Woodcock at 17 minutes after sunset and so I was starting to get anxious when nothing had appeared by 23 minutes after sunset. Then I heard the piercing call followed by low grumbling noises and a Woodcock shot out from the tree-tops. The long bill and wings never above the horizontal were characteristic.

Soon afterwards another bird flew lower and then I realised it was a Nightjar and then another Nightjar alongside it, both were silent. This was an unexpected bonus after missing Nightjar on Wednesday evening.

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