Tuesday 1st March 2022

A day when I braved the drizzle. Arriving at 8am I finally succumbed to hopelessly damp optics at 2pm.

Ian had seen the returning Oystercatcher near the Warden’s Hut yesterday and so I decided to head to the Sailing Club first. The Oystercatcher was in exactly the same spot as I had seen it last year on an island in the Old Spit Channel. The rings are the same other than I couldn’t see the yellow ring on the right tibia. Maybe it was caught up in the feathers or possibly lost altogether since I saw it last June. It was ringed as an adult (not a chick or a 1st summer bird) in 1999 and so is at least 25 years old.

25 year old Oystercatcher

On the far end of Gull Island the 1st year Peregrine was surveying the river. I used the Warden’s Hut as a hide and was able to get closer to the Dark-bellied Brent Geese, they were feeding on the muddy inland edge of the spit and I was pleased to see that the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was amongst them. 

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

It was getting close to high tide and on the 17th Feb the spit opposite the cottages had been packed full of roosting waders. High tide was a similar height today but the spit was empty and the water level seemed much lower. I did ask the Hydrographic Office for an explanation but their detailed and helpful response left me really appreciating just how complex tidal prediction is. Local conditions mean that a tidal prediction for Buckler’s Hard or Stansore Point can be significantly off by the time you get to Warren Shore. 

From the Warden’s Hut I picked up the two Slavonian Grebes on the sea and soon afterwards another two were also drifting west on the falling tide. On the river there were at least six Great Crested Grebes clearly paired up now and two of them were bill wagging in the preliminary part of their courtship dance.

A small group of Dunlin landed close by. The race that winters around the UK is Calidris alpina alpina and they go back to Norway to breed.

Dunlin

On De L’Orne a Kingfisher was sat at the back of the lagoon and there were 2 Greenshank on the Scrape. Greenshank that leave before mid-April are usually heading to Scotland to breed and those that leave in late April or early May are usually heading to Scandinavia or further east.

Greenshank

Having said that, in 2021 it was impossible to tell when the Greenshank left as I recorded a single Greenshank in every week of the year and so there didn’t appear to be a gap after which birds left for Scotland/further east and before returning birds appeared in the early autumn. I believe that Greenshank return north to breed in their first summer and so it seems odd that we should have had a Greenshank on De L’Orne in every week during May to July.

Also on the scrape the Avon Valley colour-ringed Redshank was still present and there were now 23 Avocets.

From Venner Hide I counted 62 Black-tailed Godwit on Wigeon Fields and a breeding plumage Cormorant was wing drying on the Island. The gular angle looks close to 90 degrees and with the extensively white head I wondered if this may be a sinensis race Cormorant. Given the overlap on this feature, however, it’s probably best to wait for an individual with a gular angle greater than 90 degrees.

Cormorant

Very few, if any, Cormorants breed in Hampshire although some non-breeders, maybe younger birds, do remain to spend the summer. Most of our wintering birds will head back to the continent to breed. Also on Venner there were 12 Tufted Duck and four Spoonbill.

Checking the sea again I picked up two distant rafts of Eider all drifting quickly west, groups of 25 and 15 with most of them head thrusting, wing flapping and bickering. 40 is my highest count here. A very distant diver headed east. The feet looked large and protruding so I initially doubted that it could be a Red-throated Diver but the characteristic head lifting, as though uncomfortable, was diagnostic.

As the tide receded further I could see more of the single beach and a colour-ringed Redshank appeared. I had a frustratingly short view before it flew off. It had a red or deep orange ring on the right tibia and a white/cream flag with three numbers/letters on the left tibia. Hopefully I will see it again and get longer views.

A Skylark flew up from the saltmarsh in front of me and uncharacteristically it soon landed and I managed a few photos.

Skylark

The highlight of the day was the pipit which also lifted up from this area. Even in flight I could see a pinkish wash to the chest and breast. It landed and I had brief scope views, the head was bluish and the supercilium was whitish, this was a nicely marked littoralis Scandinavian Rock Pipit. I’d seen several Scandinavian birds at the Sailing Club on the 3rd November 2021, this could be a bird that has wintered here and is now acquiring its summer colour.

littoralis Scandinavian Rock Pipit photo by Mike Rafter

In the autumn, migrant Rock Pipits of the subspecies littoralis arrive from Scandinavia. They can be very difficult to separate from the British petrosus race but the location of wintering Rock Pipits can help with assigning to race. Rock Pipits seen on the shoreline or a rocky coast are almost exclusively the nominate petrosus birds some of whom breed in Hampshire, Hurst Castle for example. Rock Pipits encountered on saltmarsh, however, like here are good candidates for the littoralis race.

I was frustrated not to get a photograph but thankfully Mike also saw the same bird and had better luck. This individual may well be the same Rock Pipit I have seen near Mary Monts on several occasions throughout the winter but only now is it assignable to race with its pinkish breast and bluish head.

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