As it’s been a while since my last post I have a lot to get through so I’ll get on with it……………….I’ve been twitching again I’m afraid, and not just in Hampshire!
I thought it was about time I caught up with Hampshire’s celebrity Mega at Titchfield Haven NNR; the Greater Yellowlegs. So on June 6th I headed off in the hope of a Hampshire and British tick. The ‘legs’ was first found way back in January, but it went missing and I thought my chance had gone, but it re-surfaced in April (where had it been?) and since then has become ‘part of the furniture’ at Titchfield. I should have gone way before I did but took a relaxed attitude shall we say…..
Anyway, I arrived early, hoping the bird would be viewable from the road which it sometimes is, as this would have given the best chance of some decent images. Alas it wasn’t, so I waited for the reserve to open, paid the entrance fee and I was one of the first in. I headed straight to the Suffern Hide, where it had already been seen first thing by the warden. It was actually a very easy twitch as the bird was already out on the mud, although distant, and keeping company with one of its closest relatives, a Greenshank. The hide soon filled and I was quickly reminded why I don’t like this type of birding anymore! Amazingly, so many people had still travelled distance to see this bird, even after it being present for over a month, but even now there was still debate about what they were watching. “It’s the one on the right” “No, No, it’s the one to the right of the Black-headed Gull, just beyond the post, to the left of the Oystercatcher on the right!” This went on for a while until someone brought order to the hide by shouting “It’s the one with the yellow legs!!”………….
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) – Titchfield Haven, 6th June 2015
Greater Yellowlegs (with Greenshank, left) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 6th June 2015
Actually, having the Greenshank in the same view gave a great comparison of the two birds, but they certainly weren’t difficult to tell apart, unlike another recent twitch………read on.
Greater Yellowlegs (with Greenshank, right) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 6th June 2015
Greater Yellowlegs breed in Canada and Alaska, and migrate to both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States and further south to South America. They are very rare vagrants to western Europe. Another excellent Hampshire tick was in my pocket!
Whilst at Titchfield, I couldn’t help but grab a few shots of some Avocets – always a pleasure to see and they remind me so much of trips to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere when I was a boy.
Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) – Titchfield Haven, 6th June 2015
Avocet – Titchfield Haven, 6th June 2015
Moving on and out of county………….. on 13th June I treated (!) Mrs S to a day at the coast, dropping in at Church Norton at Pagham harbour to pick up the Hudsonian Whimbrel that had taken up residence there. We arrived late morning, and just in time to receive news of yet another MEGA…a Black-eared Wheatear had been found in the New Forest – Hampshire of course! I didn’t panic, at least not outwardly, and joined the other fifty or so birders to wait for the whimbrel…an hour passed and nothing, then another half hour and still nothing. I had promised Mrs S lunch, so I reluctantly suggested we leave and come back in an hour’s time. We found a nice little pub where Mrs S enjoyed what was apparently her best ever tempura prawns……at least something was going right! A quick check on Birdguides half way through lunch and the whimbrel was now showing! Back we went, straight down to the front to find three whimbrel out on the sands. Picking out the yank was actually not that easy and I take my hat off to the original finder. “It’s the one on the right”, some people were saying, (I don’t think it was the same guy that was at Titchfield) and perhaps it was, but it wasn’t obvious at distance; a flight view was required. As luck would have it, a Hurricane was practicing aerobatics overhead, and the pilot duly obliged with a low pass (show-off!) and flushed everything, including the whimbrels! I didn’t track the right-hand bird especially, but one of the three stood out as having a uniform brown rump, instead of the white rump of European Whimbrel……..it was the Hudsonian and a life tick!
My attention very quickly turned to the wheatear and Mrs S had no objection to travelling back via Acres Down in the NF to try for a second MEGA in one day…………………as long as more refreshment was on offer on the way home; no problem there!
We arrived at Acres Down late afternoon to find that there were clearly a large number of birders present, but I found a parking spot relatively easily. A short walk from the car park and I was setting my ‘scope up along the fence line overlooking a caravan park. Within seconds I was on the bird, and it was every bit as gorgeous as it hoped it would be. From distance, it appeared that there was just a hint of colour on the upper breast, making it an obvious eastern race melanoleuca.
Two subspecies are recognized: Oenanthe hispanica in south-western Europe/ North Africa, and Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca in SE Europe, Turkey to Iran. I believe that some authorities’ plan to give full species status to both – Western Black-eared Wheatear and Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear are found in south-east Europe to Iran and the Caspian Sea, migrating to northern Africa. It has more extensive black markings on the head and throat and is more ‘black-and-white’ than hispanica, lacking much of the orange tones exhibited by that race.
The Black-eared Wheatear inhabits open, rocky areas, with scrubby vegetation on slopes or foothills. It also occurs in gardens and agricultural land.
Black-eared Wheatears feed mainly on insects and spiders. It also consumes some molluscs, grasshoppers and all types of insects, as well as berries and seeds. It hunts from a perch and swoops down onto prey or catches insects on the wing.
It is a rare vagrant to north-west Europe.
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca) – Acres Down NF, 13th June 2015
An absolutely stunning bird, well worth the journey, and yes, we did imbibe on the way home!
Okay, onto the most important part…..the local stuff, and I was delighted to catch up with a cracking Turtle Dove on Saturday 20th. I had in fact, already year-ticked this species on April 26th, but it was an obvious migrant just passing through and the sighting was brief with no chance to grab a picture. An increasingly scarce bird, not just locally, but nationally too. Always a pleasure to see and hear and always a summer highlight; enjoy them while you can…………….
Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) – Basingstoke District, 20th June 2015
I know it was some time ago, but cast your mind back to my last post when I hoped that someone would find me a nice twitchable Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) in the borough… well someone did, many thanks Jim! A pair have taken up residence within the grounds of the Vyne National Trust property, so Saturday morning was all about trying to catch a glimpse of one. As the Vyne doesn’t open until 10 O’Clock, I had some time to kill, so I thought I’d try my luck with Common Crossbill in Benyon’s Inclosure, near Silchester, in the hope of finding a post breeding flock. Not a sausage, but boy am I glad I went! At exactly 08:30, my attention was drawn to a couple of what I thought initially were Black headed Gulls overhead….. but one of them seemed to have long pointed wings………….it was a tern! Both birds continued northwards but were gradually moving further apart from each other. Luckily the tern, which I now identified as a Common Tern, came a little closer, and although still distant, it was in range for a record shot.
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) heading north – Benyon’s Inclosure, 27th June 2015
Common Tern breed just over the border in Berkshire and I guess this was on a sortie from there, or perhaps it was just a failed breeder. There is no suitable breeding habitat for this species within the borough and they are rarely seen. From memory, this was just my third sighting since I’ve been watching the borough seriously, and my first during the breeding season. I was naturally delighted with my ‘bonus’ tick.
Off to The Vyne then, and hopefully my second borough year-tick of the day………
I arrived just before ten as I wanted to be the first through the gate. Luckily I am a NT member, although nowadays I don’t make as much of my membership as I should and indeed once did. Anyway, year ticking this increasingly scarce borough bird would be well worth the price of the annual subscription!
And it didn’t take long to find one – it was exactly 10:28 when one appeared on top of a large willow and stayed long enough for a couple of shots. Saturday was very bright and the sun was harsh; not at all conducive to photography, but I was fairly pleased with the results….and VERY pleased with the year tick! Thanks again Jim!
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) – The Vyne NT, 27th June 2015
Spotted Flycatcher – The Vyne NT, 27th June 2015
I went home very pleased with my morning’s work and expected my birding to be over for the day, but, incredibly, during the afternoon, I was driving through the village with Mrs S, when we saw a bird fly from a fence post and immediatly return to the same location on the fence…..on went the brakes, and a short reverse, and we were watching……….you guessed it………… a Spotted Flycatcher! Unbelievable; I’d been fretting about this species for a few weeks! I returned with my camera about an hour later and saw the bird almost immediately. It seemed to have a couple of favourite perches, so I had a quick word with the house owner (as I’d be pointing my camera towards his house), and set myself up in a concealed location for a very enjoyable hour…….
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) – Charter Alley, 27th June 2015 (all images)
Then something incredible happened………..
The bird I was focusing on started posturing and wing fluttering, before a second flycatcher flew in and passed food to it – it was courtship feeding by the male to the female – the first time I had ever witnessed this in Spotted Flycatchers! The shots aren’t great as I was using spot focus, but they tell the story and I’m actually delighted with them; the female is on the left.
female posturing and wing fluttering
The male departs – the whole thing lasted seconds
Courtship feeding of the female by the male is not uncommon in Spotted Flycatchers. It is believed that most of the nest building is carried out by the female, encouraged and rewarded by tempting food morsels brought by the male. It is not only while constructing the nest that insect prey is carried to the female, as she is often fed as she incubates the eggs and as she is laying them.
Although I only witnessed the episode through the viewfinder, it was a memorable experience.
Delightful little birds, but like so many species, in severe decline…….just thirty years ago, there were six times as many Spotted Flycatchers making their way from Africa each spring to raise their young in these islands. Indeed, just a few years ago I could rely on up to four pairs within a mile of my house, including breeding pairs in neighbouring gardens. Anyone who now has a pair in their garden are very privileged. Basingstoke and Deane is almost 250 sq. miles of course, so I’ve no doubt there are other pairs in the area this year. Having said that, I only had one response to my appeal for a twitchable bird……………..It’s okay, you can stop looking now!
I was so pleased to get what are probably my best ever shots of the species.
I’m delighted to have recently been invited to join the RSPB Wessex Stone Curlew Recovery Project Team, and now hold the required Natural England Schedule 1 Licence for the species. This not only means that I play an active role in the protection and monitoring of Stone-curlews, but I also get to see more birds, and much closer, in otherwise inaccessible areas. I also see the nests, eggs and chicks, and on Wednesday 17th June attended my first ringing session which was incredibly exciting for me; I felt very privileged. As the Stone-curlew is probably my favourite bird, I couldn’t have been more pleased to be considered. I’m looking forward to become more experienced with the field craft required to carry out the required monitoring of this shy and secretive species and to make a worthwhile contribution to the team.
For those unacquainted with the species….the stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) is one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds, restricted to just a few areas in southern and eastern England. Numbers declined dramatically in the sixty years between 1931, when the species was widespread with up to two thousand pairs, and 1991, when the population was down to just 168 pairs. The RSPB, along with Natural England, have been working with landowners, farmers and conservationists, to help to reverse the loss and increase numbers.
Phew, that was a lot to get through!
Thanks for reading and enjoy the sunshine!