How do I start the first and only post of the year when we’re already well into April… that’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a while. What excuse can I give for this hiatus? Could it be that I haven’t had time? No, not really, I’ve had plenty of time. Perhaps I don’t have any decent images? Well that’s true, but that’s nearly always the case so no real excuse there either. What then? My enthusiasm for borough birding is as strong as ever, so think it could be down to just simply being ‘blogged out’ after writing the 2015 summary, which did take a long time. I’ve been pleasantly surprised though by the number of people who have recently inquired about the blog, either verbally, by e-mail or by leaving a message on the website (shamefully out of date I know) – some even saying they’re missing it! So, here we go again, but as there’s a lot to catch up on, I’m going to keep the narrative as short as possible. Click on any image to enlarge.
What can I say about January? I didn’t even go out on New Year’s Day! Well as usual, everything from the previous (fantastic) year was discarded and the year list started all over again, though with no real urgency it has to be said, plus a lot of my time was spent at Titchfield Haven, trying to catch up with the Penduline Tits…..which I never did……..fs?#@k!!!!
Golden Plover, Green Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Common Gull and Short-eared Owl were all great local birds of course, but if I had to chose a January highlight, it would probably be the single Lesser Redpoll that I found with Siskins at Ewhurst Park on 10th January. Lesser Redpoll are not particularly common in the borough, so not only was it great to get one under my belt early, but for me it was also a Ewhurst first.
Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) – Ewhurst Park, 10th January 2016 (my first ever at Ewhurst)
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) – Wootton St Lawrence – 17th January 2016 – whilst looking for Grey Partridge
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) – Stratfield Saye, 20th January 2016 – WeBS count on the Duke’s estate.
Ashley Warren has been good for Brambling again this winter and at least four were feeding near game hoppers on Ashley Warren hill on 20th January. Always great to get these ticked off and out of the way early, but my best experience with Brambling this year (and I’m going to jump around with dates a bit) came on 5th April near Highclere, when a count of approx twenty, including at least seven males in full summer plumage were present in a large mixed flock with Chaffinches and Yellowhammers – absolutely stunning birds. Sorry to let you down, but I’m afraid I only have a very poor image of the four birds at Ashley Warren.
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) two plus two in distance – Ashley Warren, 20th January 2016
Another species that I’m never totally confident of adding to the borough year list is Grey Partridge, so it’s always a relief to tick one off. In recent years, the farmland around Wootton St Lawrence has been fairly reliable, but I haven’t seen one at the usual spots this year. Luckily there are a couple back-up sites to explore and I was delighted to find more than usual, when a covey of six were on farmland to west of Basingstoke, near Oakley on 22nd January. I’ve actually seen Grey Partridge at three separate locations this year, so things are looking up – there’s a better image from a different site towards the end of the post.
Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) 3 of 6 – Oakley, 22nd January 2016
Treecreeper………more scarce than Firecrest in some parts? Not in this area – I’ve had eleven sightings of Treecreeper (some pairs) since the start of the year, totaling sixteen birds.
Treecreeper (Certhiidae familiaris) – Ewhurst Park, 9th February 2016
Short-eared Owl is one of those species that I always consider to be a ‘good’ bird and delighted to add to the borough year list. They are regular visitors to the district in varying numbers most winters, and this winter has been no exception. Up to six have been reported near Overton, although the maximum I’ve seen together on the downs this year is two.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) – near Overton, 10th February 2016 (three images)
Always great to see the locally not-so-common Common Gull as well. Again, this has been a good year so far, with three separate sightings involving five birds. I was delighted to find these two first-winter birds on the water at Ewhurst Park on 20th February.
Common Gull (Larus canus) – Ewhurst Park, 20th February 2016
Dry sunny days in late February/early March is the time to look for the rapidly declining Willow Tit…but are they actually declining that quickly or are they just under recorded because most of the suitable habitat is private woodland? A further study has been carried out in Hampshire this year, so it will be interesting to see the results. Whatever the answer, and there are various theories, this has been a successful year for me personally, having seen at least four singing males in the borough at two separate sites.
Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) singing male – Basingstoke and Deane, 26th February 2016
Hawfinch has become a bit of a bogey bird for me in the borough, but a run of sightings at one site had at least given me hope. The all too brief view of two birds at Weston Common on 1st March must be the highlight of the year so far, but it was over so quickly that it doesn’t feel like it. As I waited at the spot they had been seen on previous occasions, two birds flew over me, one landing on the top of a tall conifer, the other I lost to view. That was fine for the borough tick and I suppose I was delighted, at least I certainly would have been had the perched bird remained for me to observe a little longer, and even better, long enough to obtain an image. It wasn’t to be though, because within five seconds of landing, it flew off out of sight. I’ve returned a couple of times since, but with no luck. So, Hawfinch is finally on my borough list, but longer and better views are definitely required.
Another increasingly frequent winter visitor to the borough is the Great Grey Shrike; always a joy to see and another very welcome borough year tick. This beauty was originally found on 18th February near Laverstoke, but was not seen again until 1st March. After three attempts I finally caught up with it on 4th March; many thanks Dave for passing on the news. I don’t suppose I’ll ever match the images I obtained of this species in April 2015, so this record shot will have to do. Most importantly, it’s on the year list and was actually still in the area as of 9th April.
Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) – Laverstoke, 4th March 2016
This year I’m again taking part in the Thames Basin Heath Breeding Bird Survey, primarily to target Annexe 1 species, namely Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Nightjar. For my first visit of the year to my assigned sites, I took my camera and wasn’t disappointed…..
I’m not going to advertise the location – if you’re local, you already know!
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) – Basingstoke and Deane, 7th March 2016
Dartford Warbler – Basingstoke and Deane, 7th March 2016
Once or twice a year I carry out WeBS counts on the Duke of Wellington’s estate at Stratfield Saye. On 14th March I was delighted to find a singing Cetti’s Warbler along the river; a site first. Only trouble is it just wouldn’t show, so goes down as a heard only. This is the third separate Cetti’s I’ve had in the borough in as many years, which is very encouraging.
Firecrest has become a regular and expected borough year tick, but apart from the one occasion when I found a singing male on Beacon Hill, Highclere, all my sightings have been from the same location, and this year has been no exception. Firecrest have become very common across Hampshire, but for some reason not up here in the far north, at least not at the sites I visit. I can never quite get the shot I really want of Firecrest as they seldom stay still, are often high in the trees and invariably have foliage covering some part of them as the flit about. Actually, these probably are my best ever shots, and I’m quite pleased with the first one. The images are of two different birds, both males.
Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) – Basingstoke and Deane, 1st April 2016
Here’s the improved Grey Partridge image I promised, taken on the downs during early Stone-curlew work.
Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) – North Wessex Downs, 5th April 2016
To date, four pairs of Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) are back on territory in the borough, plus one or two single birds that have been observed near known breeding sites; hopefully it will be another successful season for this enigmatic species. Whilst on the subject of Stone-curlew, take a look at this fantastic life size wood carving that was recently a wonderful surprise birthday present from my daughter and son-in-law.
Spring wouldn’t be spring without the dreaded hike up Beacon Hill, Highclere, to (hopefully) connect with Ring Ouzel which pass through the area on passage. I was actually going to wait until someone else reported one before making the trip, as they’re not guaranteed, but last Saturday (9th) conditions looked good so I set off early. I’ve never seen the footpath so muddy which made it really hard-going and actually quite dangerous I think. Others thought so too and some people were turning back; Hooray, fewer dog walkers! Halfway up, I stopped to photograph this lovely Chiffchaff.
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) – Beacon Hill Highclere, 9th April 2016
And incredibly, it wasn’t long before my binoculars focused on a cracking male Ring Ouzel on the path in front of me, although distant……this was without doubt the easiest Ring Ouzel I’d ever had on Beacon Hill! Mission accomplished, I could have turned back there and then, but I continued in the hope there would be more birds and perhaps a photo opportunity – there was both! Further up the hill I could hear the ‘tacking’ calls of a second bird to my left, which on sighting me, flew across the path and away, unfortunately alerting the first bird to my presence, which also flew off over the ridge and out of sight. I had several tantalizing glimpses around the footpath that circles the hill fort until I pinned them down…….but there wasn’t just two, there were four! I say there was a photo opportunity but these record shots were about the best I could manage. There were three females and one male as far as I could tell.
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) 3 of four (the fourth just out of shot) – Beacon Hill, Highclere, 9th April 2016
Ring Ouzel (male) – Beacon Hill, Highclere, 9th April 2016 (crop of above)
This next image is a poor one, but still gives a good comparison with the Chiffchaff image I think, especially the all important primary projection which is clear in both images.
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) – Overton, 10th April 2016
Here’s some interesting shots to finish the post……..this Common Buzzard appears to have strayed into the territory of a pair of Ravens, which didn’t seem at all happy. Note the similarity in size of the two birds and the fantastic diamond shaped tail of the Raven.
Raven (Corvus corax) & Buzzard (Buteo buteo) – Silchester, 9th April 2016
Today (15th April) the borough year list stands at 103 species seen, plus Cetti’s Warbler which was heard only, and I’ve seen 64 species within the 5km patch, centred on my house.
I’m sure I’ve left out some interesting stuff but that’s about it I think. Thanks for all your inquiries and thanks for reading……I’ll try not to leave the next post so long!