Thursday 4th March 2021

A cold and grey day which at times seemed desolate and birdless although I did manage 75 species but nothing too exciting. From the Sailing Club I could see 21 Avocet feeding at the edge of the river. This is my highest count at NO and a clear sign that birds are returning to breed.

I always open the window in DL’O hide with a degree of excitement hoping there is a wader at the water’s edge. It doesn’t happen very often but today there was a lovely Greenshank. He bobbed up and down in alarm but stayed long enough for a photo before flying off silently. Most Greenshank winter in Africa but around 20 or so winter along the Hampshire Coast with maybe just 1 or 2 at NO this winter. We should get a few more in the next few months as our birds are joined by passage birds heading back to Scandinavia.

Greenshank

A group of 23 Curlew were feeding in the grass just over the fence towards the scrape. My biggest wintering count is around 70 birds although they are often spread out and hidden so it’s difficult to be sure of the wintering total. Around 40 pairs breed in the New Forest but I’d imagine our birds will head back to breed in Scandinavia.

Curlew

Although there is plenty of suitable habitat I’ve only heard two regularly singing Cetti’s Warbler, one near the gate to the hides at B Water and the other opposite the Reedy Ditch layby. It will be interesting to see if other males start singing as spring gets underway.

Lots of common passerines were singing but perhaps the most conspicuous birds were the Chaffinches with their jaunty song and regular ‘pink pink’ and ‘hu-eet’ calls. Some are probably newly arrived short distance migrants.

Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Robin

Nine Spoonbill rested on the estuary with the breeze ruffling up their pineapple-like head plumes. The small roost of gulls at Inchmery included 91 Mediterranean Gulls, the majority of whom had full black hoods, they are further advanced than the Black-headed Gulls. A single male Red-breasted Merganser was in the mouth of the river with a handful of Great Crested Grebes, two is my peak count of Red-breasted Merganser this winter, depressingly low.

As the tide came in waders started to gather. Most were Grey Plover and Dunlin but the constantly shifting groups included at least four Bar-tailed Godwit and eight Knot. Being almost a mile away I pushed the scope up to 40x, at this range plumage details become difficult and so size, shape and feeding action become key features. Most of our wintering Bar-tailed Godwits head back to Arctic Russia to breed. The spring passage Bar-tailed Godwits due next month tend to breed further east in Siberia.

Compared to the winter visitors some of the Lapwing, Redshank and Ringed Plover will remain to breed and they are becoming more vocal and active as a result. While scanning through the lines of waders I came across the stylish black and white Pale-bellied Brent Goose, this is the 10th time I’ve picked him out this year.

Ringed Plover photo by Ian Williamson

The first meadow just west of the cottages contained a mixed flock of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. When they flew there appeared to be around 25 birds, perhaps half of each species but on the ground they were very difficult to see. It was the same at B Water House where I found another group of Meadow Pipits feeding in the grass. I could see five birds but through my thermal camera I could see that there were actually 30 white blobs! The thermal camera is a great tool in this type of situation where birds are half hidden or their environment is cluttered and distracting.

While checking through the Meadow Pipits a dazzling Firecrest flicked up and showed off in the hedge behind them. 

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