Linnets were singing all over the reserve and there were half a dozen pairs of Stonechats and a similar number of Reed Bunting pairs around Pullen, Black Water and the Reedy Ditch.
The three year old male Marsh Harrier drifted over Pullen reedbed and a characteristic call had me turning around to watch a pair of Red-legged Partridges disappearing into the gorse, they’re getting harder to see here.
Near Pullen a blackthorn twig hosted two rare lichens right next to each other, Teloschistes chrysopthamus (Golden-eye lichen) and Physcia leptalea (with the raised black cups)
21 Herring Gulls were scattered along the low tide beach line and nearer Mary Monts there were 30 Mediterranean Gulls including three 1st winter birds.
Highlight on the sea was a Velvet Scoter which spent most of the morning drifting offshore straight out from the Shore Hide. The yellow bill sides and lack of white facial spots indicate that this is a male.
Velvet Scoter breed on Scandinavian coasts, particularly northern Norway, and they winter along the Baltic Coasts. Some reach the south and east coasts of the UK. There have been up to six along the Hampshire Coast this winter and there have only ever been half a dozen recorded at Needs Ore including three birds together from the Sailing Club in early December 2021.
10 Eider headed east while a pair of Red-breasted Merganser were still lingering off shore. Common Gulls were also heading east but there’s been no sign of Slavonian Grebes since 25th February.
I walked onto the private areas to survey for Lapwing and Redshank and was delighted to find a Little Ringed Plover. It was within 20 yards of last years nest site and is no doubt one of the returning Little Ringed Plover from last year, he has been to Senegal and back since I last saw him in August! A real highlight.
The Dartford Warbler was calling and singing nearby. I wasn’t able to see if it was ringed but I presume it was the first winter male which Graham ringed here on January 22nd and which has been seen and heard on several occasions over the last two weeks.
There were 17 Avocet on Great Marsh including AX, they were inspecting the newly created islands. I’m sure that good numbers of Black-headed Gulls will also use them.
I saw the Little Ringed Plover again, now on Great Marsh, feeding in an area which last years birds used regularly and where their three off spring spent most of their time. I’m pretty sure that only one bird has returned so far and that it is probably the male given the blackish face and breast band which appears to lack any brown feathers.
Little Ringed Plover adults don’t usually leave their breeding areas together and so it is unlikely that they maintain their bond in their wintering quarters. Pair bonding mainly happens after arrival back on breeding grounds although some pairs are already established on arrival like our pair from last year.
The Peregrine pair were on show on Gull Island including a very vocal display flight with stoops, tumbling, mock food passes and talon grappling. Shortly afterwards a procession of three Peregrines dashed past me heading towards the cottages. I think it was a new male being chased off by the resident male with the young female following close behind.
A pair of Common Seals were hauled up on the other side of the river, one of them looked like the same blonde individual that I had seen last month.
A Grey Wagtail called as it flew overhead near the Sluice Gate but I didn’t see it. Most of my records at Needs Ore seem to be autumn migrants with the odd winter record, this is my first spring record. Nearby a Small Tortoiseshell landed briefly near the Sluice Gate and a Comma was missing part of its wing, perhaps the victim of a bird strike.
Another Comma was basking in the sunshine along the Main Hedge, there were also two Peacocks here. Lots of queen bumblebees were active nectaring on various blossoms, most of the ones I saw well were B. terrestris, Buff-tailed Bumblebee and also B. lucorum, White-tailed Bumblebee.
I was pleased to see that at least one of the drake Garganey was still here although given the number of Garganey that moved through Hampshire on Monday this could conceivably be a new bird. It was resting on the fringe of the island opposite De L’Orne hide and then ventured closer before hiding behind one of the newly created islands, it was much closer than when I had seen the group of three on Saturday.
Garganey are early spring migrants on their way from their wintering grounds in Africa to breeding areas all across Europe and Russia with around 100 pairs breeding in the UK mainly in the south and east.
The Spotted Redshank was still present on the scrape near the roosting stones and then later hiding along the Sluice Channel viewable from the Sluice Gate. The wintering Greenshank was also hiding here.
The Brents had been grazing on De L’Orne South but something flushed them on to the water where they were easier to count, there were 252 which is probably most of the remaining Brents on the reserve. There were only 100 Brents left in April on last year’s WeBS count.
My highest Avocet count so far this year was a combined 45 birds with the 17 earlier on Great Marsh and another 28 here on De L’Orne scrape/lagoon. Ominously there were two adult Great Black-backed Gulls standing close by, a sign of things to come, as the Avocet numbers increase and they start to nest so will the Great Black-backed Gull numbers increase.
22 pairs of Black-headed Gulls were already very noisy around the rafts. In a month’s time Adam will put out two extra rafts and set up a Common Tern tape lure to try and encourage them. Three pairs raised five young here in 2019. Holding the rafts back until the Common Terns have arrived from Africa means that they are less likely to be reserved by the Black-headed Gulls.
Adam accompanied me around the Breeding Bird Transect route which includes the private areas around the Gins. I will walk the transect once per week for 12 weeks, primary targets species will be Lapwing and Redshank. The walk around the Gins today produced at least 30 Snipe.
There were three pairs of both Pochard and Tufted Duck on Venner, both species bred here last year so it will be interesting to watch progress over the coming weeks. A Red Kite flew purposefully through the reserve as we sat in Venner Hide. Five Spoonbill on Venner included the 1st winter bird.
As Adam and I got back to the viewing gate Mike said he had just seen a Black Swan on Venner. It took a while for it to show again and in fact there were two. They are a native to Australia and have escaped from wildfowl collections in the UK. Just like Mandarin Duck they have become self-sustaining and are well established in the wild and so are likely to be officially added to the British Avifauna at some stage soon.
As I drove home I paused along Warren Lane to look into Droveway South and was pleased to see a flock of wagtails which included at least one White Wagtail.
Wheatears and Sand Martins are two of the species that you look out for at this time of year but White Wagtails are usually just as early. They are subtle but attractive birds which are often overlooked. They are a passage migrant through Britain from early March to May. Most are heading to Greenland and Iceland and most of the Icelandic population of 50,000 pairs is believed to pass through the UK.
The key features are shown nicely in the above photo. A clean demarcated black line across the nape, a pale/pure grey mantle, pristine white flanks and greyish (not blackish) rump. It was the 25th March that I first saw White Wagtails last year.
Another wagtail looked superficially similar at first glance but showed a slightly darker mantle, duskier flanks, a blackish rump and blackish mantle feathers coming through thus making it a moulting 1st winter Pied Wagtail.