Wednesday 8th December 2021

After Sunday’s excellent sea watching day I returned to Mary Monts this morning. Storm Barra had passed through and I half hoped that a Grey Phalarope or Little Auk might be possible. Unfortunately, the best I could manage was a Razorbill and a Shag both heading west. Two Rock Pipits were nearby on the edge of the strip of water that lies inside the shingle beach.


I headed to the Sailing Club for a rising mid tide to see what waders were gathering. I was probably a bit early, the tide was around 1.8m and still too low. A slightly unusual sight was four Little Grebe together on the edge of the river up towards the Royal Southampton Yacht Club. Just opposite the Yacht Club eight Avocet were gathered in their favourite position.

Grey Plover

I checked the sea in line with the eastern end of the Isle of Wight which is where the scoter were on Sunday. Amazingly the Velvet Scoter were there again. A Slavonian Grebe, a drake Eider and another Razorbill were sheltering in the slightly calmer river mouth.

At 10:30am I was stood in the shelter of the Sailing Club under the eaves when a confident ‘teu’ call grabbed my attention. I immediately thought Snow Bunting and a second ‘teu’ was followed by a lovely rippling trill. A confident bunting shape flew towards me against the bright sky. I had expected to see white underwings and black wing tips, I didn’t but the backlit silhouette probably made this difficult. It flew over the Sailing Club and so I wasn’t able to see which way it went. It had disappeared by the time I ran around to the side of the building. In an effort to relocate it I walked to the Cottages and then along the Old Spit back to the Warden’s Hut. I then drove back down Warren Lane and walked out along the shingle spit. Unfortunately there was no further sign of the bunting. I had a sound recording and so I felt confident that the identify would be confirmed later.

From along the spit I watched a White-tailed Eagle over De L’Orne and then a second eagle came closer and then flew out to the Isle of Wight. Soon afterwards four Spoonbill passed close by heading west.

White-tailed Eagle heading back towards the Isle of Wight
Turnstone photo by Ian Williamson

I returned from the spit just before the tide got too high and I decided I would try the private areas around Great Marsh to check for any wrecked birds. Nothing unusual although I did see my fourth Razorbill of the day just out from the Beach House.

I finished the day with a trip to the hides. Yesterday’s mid-day high tide in conjunction with Storm Barra had seen De L’Orne South flooded. Adam had to head down urgently to open the gate to Lapwing South so that the cattle could escape the rapidly submerging field.

The female Scaup was still present on Black Water but the best part was seeing the flooded fields truly flooded and with lots of wildfowl and waders enjoying the new ‘lake’. Three Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit together, the middle bird is a 1st winter with retained juvenile coverts and tertials.

Black-tailed Godwit

I’ve included a couple of video clips of the view from the screen at De L’Orne and also the view back from Black Water gate towards the flooded boardwalk bridge.

View from De L’Orne screen
View from Black Water gate looking back towards the boardwalk

When I got home I put the sound recording I’d made of the bunting on to Xeno Canto and soon received a comment that it was too harsh for Snow Bunting, more likely a Lapland Bunting. I canvased the opinion of five other birders and the consensus was Lapland Bunting although it wasn’t unanimous.

I was aware how similar Snow and Lapland Buntings calls are but as there had been a Snow Bunting on the spit and I’d spent many hours looking for it I assumed I’d found it and didn’t properly consider Lapland Bunting. Lesson learned!

With hindsight the trill part of the call sounded dry and not the liquid Serin-like quality of Snow Bunting. Also, in retrospect I didn’t see white wing flashes even when the bunting flew away from me (when it wasn’t backlit in silhouette). Looking at my audio recording the trill part of the call, on the sonogram at around 7 seconds (see below), is fairly high pitched with at least part of it above 5kHz where the Snow Bunting trill is usually below 4kHz. This, in my opinion, is pretty conclusive.

For the last 12 months I’ve been ‘continuous sound recording’ via a sennheiser microphone sticking out of the top of my rucksack. On most occasions I return home with eight hours of recordings which I never listen to but today was an example of when it’s worth it. I’ve included the Lapland Bunting calls here.

Lapland Bunting
Lapland Bunting sonogram, part of the trill at 6.75 seconds is above 5kHz

If accepted this will be the 4th record for Needs Ore, after two in the 1960s and one in 2012.

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