March 5th to 9th 2022

In the first part of the week the wind was from the north-east and so it felt brutally cold especially at the Sailing Club. Sunday’s WeBS count from Inchmery Quay, where you look south and south west, was more sheltered.    

At Mary Monts I was hoping to see the pink littoralis Rock Pipit again or the colour ringed Redshank which I saw only briefly on Tuesday. No luck with the pipit but the Redshank appeared again and I was able to confirm an orange ring and a white flag with ‘CEJ’.

Redshank

This Redshank was ringed as a juvenile on 11th September 2021 at Freiston on the Wash and this is the first sighting since ringing. The project helps monitor the survival of Redshank and get a better idea of turnover of juvenile Redshank passing through the Wash in autumn. Interesting that this Redshank may be flying back to Scandinavia soon via the Wash when there is suitable habitat right here with up to 15 pairs breeding on the reserve.

There was almost nothing on the sea, a familiar story recently.

The Avon Valley colour-ringed Redshank was still on Sluice Gate Saltmarsh and the 1st winter Peregrine was sat on Gull Island, facing away into the biting north-easterly wind.

Redshank

At this time of the year it’s difficult to ignore the aggressively loud display of the hunch-backed Oystercatchers. Fifteen pairs were recorded last year including seven pairs along the spit and two pairs around the Sailing Club.

Oystercatchers

At the Sailing Club a 3rd cycle gull drifted over, the darker grey mantle and large size looked interesting and so I got some photos. Although the mantle colour looked good for Yellow-legged Gull the wing pattern and scruffy head weren’t right, I think the brutish appearance and dark mantle indicates argentatus Herring Gull, the nominate race from Scandinavia.

probable argentatus Scandinavian Herring Gull

Below is a similar aged British race argenteus Herring Gull taken at the same time. You can see that the Scandinavian Herring Gull above has a darker mantle (even allowing for lighting differences) is more retarded in its moult with a black tail pattern and no grey adult feathers across the wing coverts. Angles can be deceptive but the argentatus bill also looks longer giving a more pinched out snouty expression.

argenteus British Herring Gull

A largish bird dashed into view from over the river, it was great to finally see an adult Peregrine again, over three months since my last sighting. This was a male based on his size and proportions, he flew across in front of the Sailing Club and landed on the shingle just beyond the Warden’s Hut.

male Peregrine

The 1st winter female Peregrine was still in view now on the other side of the river. She flew over and joined the male, sitting within a few yards of him. Although I didn’t see it Val confirmed that they subsequently mated at least twice on Gull Island.

Female Peregrines do occasionally breed at one year old and so there is a chance that they may be successful. Perhaps this is our original male and the new young female may be from Calshot or Keyhaven. I first saw the young female on 11th December.

Not a regular sight here so it was nice to see two separate adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying down the river towards Lepe. You can see that one has a darker mantle than the other demonstrating the considerable variation in mantle shade with British graellsii. The Scandinavian race intermedius is usually considerably darker than my darker bird. The paler bird may be the same individual that I saw on De L’Orne Scrape on 17th February.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull

On the walk to the hides I was surprised to see a large flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese feeding on Droveway East and later on Droveway South. It is great to see them using these fields, there were 450 altogether. On the flooded fields the regular Greenfinch flock lifted up from the vegetation near the boardwalk bridge. There were also 11 Meadow Pipits here and my first singing Chiffchaff of the year was near the gate at Black Water.

The wintering Spotted Redshank was on the grassy fringe just in front of De L’Orne hide. I opened the window as slowly and as carefully as I could but as soon as the window angle changed the glinting of the glass flushed it sending it over to the roosting stones on the scrape. I later saw it on Gins East and given that this is a private area it may well explain why there can be long gaps in between sightings.

Spotted Redshank

The numbers of Avocets continues to increase with 32 now on the reserve, 26 on De L’Orne and 6 on Great Marsh. Avocet AX was on De L’Orne scrape and at least two other Avocets were mating. There were two other yellow-flagged Avocets, probably VI and a newly arrived bird but they were too distant to read. Three of the Avocets flew over to De L’Orne giving closer views.

Avocets

From the De L’Orne viewing screen I picked up a very distant Red Kite over Exbury. Ian and I later saw it on our WeBS count at Inchmery and we then had much better views as it came close over Venner. March appears to be the best month for Red Kite here with birds moving though in early spring.

Red Kite photo by Dimitri Moore

Around Venner there were three female type Marsh Harriers. I had recently spoken to Graham about them, he has seen two female types together on several occasions here but my third bird today, a 1st year female type with a missing primary on the left wing is new. This bird can be aged confidently as a 1st winter by the buffy head (rather than whitish) and the primaries and secondaries which are clearly buff tipped.

1st winter Marsh Harrier with a missing primary and White-tailed Eagle below

Graham suspects that the two other birds which he has seen regularly are a sub-adult female who has extensive creamy shoulders and a 1st winter bird. Graham saw the younger bird well yesterday and it had a dark iris suggesting that it is also a female. Today I watched this younger bird (see photo below) interacting with the older female talon grappling and mock food passing and constantly flying closely together.

1st winter female Marsh Harrier

You can see this is also a 1st winter bird but with worn feathers so that only a few of the secondaries still have buff tips, these feathers are almost a year old. The buffy head has also bleached and is nearer to the blonde of an older bird, however, an older bird would show more extensive creamy shoulders and would show different ages of feathers within the wing. Also none of the primaries or secondaries would have buff tips and the tail would be paler rufous-brown as opposed to chocolate brown.

The three year old male Marsh Harrier I have seen on several occasions may be old enough to breed but we ought to have seen evidence of food passes and nest building by now.

While in Venner Hide a pair of Roe Deer charged down Gins West Bank, dived under the barbed wire in front of us and then disappeared down the track that runs along the southern edge of the Gins. 

Roe Deer

The Dunlin didn’t seem quite so active as they’ve been on previous WeBS dates and with the wind lighter and the sun behind the clouds conditions were good for counting. Dunlin numbers were still high at 726 and almost 500 Dark-bellied Brent Geese were still on the river.

An impressive 400 Mediterranean Gulls were settled in the river mouth and on the muddy islands as the tide rose. Along with my count of 405 in late July these are the highest ever counts at Needs Ore. There was also a site high count (for me) of 38 Common Gulls which is the highest count by anyone for over three years.

On the way back from Inchmery to complete the Needs Ore part of the WeBS count we stopped briefly at the Reedy Ditch. A Goshawk appeared suddenly over Warren Flash and then drifted up higher tussling with a Carrion Crow. The wide hips, bulging secondaries, protruding cuckoo-like head and heavy powerful chest were all good features. It was actually slightly smaller than the Crow and so almost certainly the male. There is a breeding pair in Stagg’s Wood and this is the best time of year to see them especially on sunny days with a breeze.

male Goshawk

On Gins East several Black-tailed Godwit were roosting and they included a lovely summer plumaged bird. Most of the other godwit are nowhere near this advanced. The bill looks particularly short on this individual suggesting that it is a male, males are also more colourful. Black-tailed Godwits will be heading back to Iceland in the coming weeks. Some studies have suggested that Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits that winter in Portugal moult earlier than British wintering flocks.

summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit
winter plumaged Black-tailed Godwit

There was also a good count of 12 Snipe hiding together and most of the remaining Teal also seem to be here.  This is a private area but a key route on the Breeding Bird Transect which starts later this month and runs for 12 weeks. It was good to see that waders and wildfowl didn’t seem too perturbed by my presence.

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