Blogged Out?

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have recently inquired about the blog, either verbally, by e-mail or by leaving a message on the website (shamefully out of date I know) – some even saying they’re missing it!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)

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

Barry Stalker

A Year to Remember

As darkness falls another year has passed, and yes, I know I’ve said it before in previous end-of-year summaries, but 2015 really has been a truly outstanding year………Birding Basingstoke and Deane!  After saying at the start of the year that I didn’t have the enthusiasm for a serious borough year list, not only was a new personal record of 136 set, but I also added five new species to my borough life list, which now stands at 155……………think what I could have achieved with a little effort and enthusiasm!

Here’s a brief summary of how the year unfolded, and the story of how well over half the total number of species recorded in Hampshire during the year were observed within the borough……………not bad for inland, covering an area of just 250 square miles!

JANUARY was spent ticking off all the ‘common’ stuff at a leisurely pace but there were highlights as well. The drake Pintail at Ewhurst was very accommodating and stayed into the New Year and up to three Short-eared Owls were present at White Hill, Kingsclere. Other locally notable species encountered during the month were Golden Plover, Stonechat, Goosander, Green Sandpiper, Common Gull, Shelduck, Tawny Owl, Water Rail, Kingfisher, Peregrine, Barn Owl, Raven, Chiffchaff and Grey Partridge. I finished the month on 79.


Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) – White Hill, Kingsclere, 2nd January 2015

FEBRUARY saw slower progress; Jack Snipe at The Vyne being about the most important species added to the list. Yellowhammer was 89th on the list and the final tick of the month.

MARCH began positively with the increasingly difficult Willow Tit, and at the same location on the same day, I flushed a bonus Woodcock and found my first Siskins of the year; a species notably absent through the winter. Overton came good with a singing Cetti’s Warbler, presumably the same bird from the previous year, and the first Redshanks appeared at The Vyne. Firecrest and Wheatear completed the additions for the month with ticks 95 and 96 respectively.


Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) – Silchester, 21st March 2015

APRIL saw a cracking Great Grey Shrike on private land on the downs, followed by the first Blackcaps and Swallows, although Blackcaps had probably wintered somewhere in the borough.


Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) – North Wessex Downs, 2nd April 2015

A female Black Redstart at Whitchurch was an unexpected highlight (thanks Peter) and a Little Owl finally showed at a traditional site. Four Ring Ouzel were definitely (!) worth the two arduous walks up Beacon Hill, Highclere, and were fittingly my 100th borough species of the year.


Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) male – Beacon Hill, Highclere, 8th April 2015

Willow Warblers and Sand Martins started to arrive and an extremely confiding Dunlin (thanks Dave) turned up at a packed Eastrop Park and mingled (literally!) with the crowds enjoying the fine weather of the Easter holidays. Stone-curlews had arrived on the downs in March, but my first sighting wasn’t until April 15th and I was really pleased to see my first ever Merlin in the borough on the same day. Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were all gratefully added, followed closely by the first House Martins. A passage Turtle Dove became my 114th borough species of the year and was the final tick of the month.


Dunlin (Calandris alpina) – Eastrop Park, Basingstoke, 15th April 2015

MAY saw the rest of the common warblers mopped up, along with the first Cuckoo (no longer easy), Swift, Nightjar and Hobby. 


Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) – Silchester, 23rd May 2015

I completed the month on 123 with Long-eared Owl. The following hitherto unpublished image is from the previous year but the same location.


Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) juvenile – Basingstoke and Deane, June 14th 2014

JUNE was quiet, as expected, but a fly-over Common Tern was a very welcome bonus and I finally caught-up with Spotted Flycatcher; another species I was starting to fret about. Attending my first Stone-curlew ringing session made it a very memorable month. Year list 125


Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) – Charter Alley, 27th June 2015

JULY saw the start of return passage, with the excellent conditions at The Vyne attracting three Greenshank and providing me with my first ever borough Black-tailed Godwit (thanks Jim) – year tick 127. It was also memorable as I saw my first ever Water Rail chicks, again at The Vyne.


Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) – Vyne Watermeadows, 12th July 2015 

AUGUST arrived and The Vyne remained my focus of attention which looked increasingly inviting for waders. My efforts paid off on the morning of 16th, when I was thrilled to find the borough’s first ever Little Stint! The year list was starting to develop nicely, and year tick 129 added fuel to my ambition of beating my borough record from 2014 – a cracking juvenile Marsh Harrier; another personal borough first!


Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) – Mortimer West End, 30th August 2015

SEPTEMBER is the ideal month in the borough to look for Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Redstart. All three were added to the list and I was up to 132 – just one required to equal my best borough year list total!

OCTOBER saw the record of 133 equalled in unlikely circumstances when I happened on a ringing session on 18th that obliged me with Lesser Redpoll; I even held the bird I ticked! I was now confident that I could go on to beat my personal best…….. but didn’t expect it to be just the day after, when no less than five Avocets turned up at The Vyne; yet another personal borough first! (thanks again Jim). 


Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) – Vyne Watermeadows, 19th October 2015

The new record didn’t last long however……….a superb Great White Egret in Whitchurch on 24th capped off the month and a new record of 135 was set!


Great white egret (Ardea alba) – Whitchurch, 24th October 2015

NOVEMBER was the first and only month where no new species were added to the borough year list, but a Little Grebe at Ewhurst was the 85th species added to my 5km patch year list. Highlights of the month were 400+ Golden Plover at Bere Hill Farm, Whitchurch, and four Goosander at Ewhurst.

DECEMBER was spent trying to increase the year list even further, to the point (and I know I’ve said it before), where it will never be equalled. It was a quiet month, possibly due to the very mild conditions, but a tip-off towards the end of the month (thanks Martin) put me on the right track for Brambling………. I finished the year on 136…………….an incredible year!


Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) – Ladle Hill, 20th December 2015

The complete list can be found at Stalker&type=1

As in previous years, I’d like to thank the various Estate Managers, land owners and gamekeepers for allowing access to otherwise inaccessible sites. I would also like to thank Jim Meikle, Martin Pitt, Peter Hutchins and Dave Walker for passing on their sightings; the year-list wouldn’t have been so high without them. Once again, thanks must go to Mrs S for putting up with the endless hours away from the house.

I also enjoyed a mostly successful year away from the borough, adding Surf Scoter, Bonaparte’s Gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-eared Wheatear and Ring-necked Duck to my Hampshire list; all memorable birds.

On the downside, I dipped on the Penduline Tits at Titchfield Haven, which was a major disappointment.


Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) – Riverside Park, Southampton, 7th May 2015


Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca) – Acres Down NF, 13th June 2015

As usual, I’ve also been involved with a host of survey work…………

As well as the usual BTO Wetland Bird Surveys (WeBS) counts at four sites (some months up to eight), the BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and monitoring of Red Kite roosts, I also took part in the BTO House Martin Survey and The Hawk and Owl Trust Winter Hen Harrier Roost Survey. The later proved unsuccessful, as the site which used to hold up to two birds appears to have been abandoned – but it still meant visiting a remote area of the downs at dusk, once a month between Jan-March and October-December.

In addition, this year I helped out with the Thames Basin Heath SPA Breeding Bird Survey to monitor Annexe 1 species for Natural England. Tadley and Silchester Commons were visited six times each throughout the season.

Also, I was absolutely delighted to join the RSPB Wessex Stone-curlew Recovery Project Team and was granted the required Natural England Schedule 1 Licence for the species. The project involves visiting nest sites, measuring and weighing eggs, monitoring the chicks and attending ringing sessions……pure joy and an absolute privilege. Across Wessex, it was a successful year for the species and I’m really looking forward to the 2016 season.


Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) North Wessex Downs, 24th May 2015

On top of that, I was also involved in writing species’ accounts for the Hampshire Bird Report.

Oh, and I almost forgot my role as administrator for the Hampshire news service ‘Going Birding’, involving the day-to-day monitoring of the website, following up on unusual records that are posted, and exporting and editing the records before sending to the County Recorder………I think you’ll agree, I haven’t been idle!

My final birding of the year was, as usual, taking part in the Hampshire/Surrey Border Christmas Count, now into its 22nd year. Again, I covered the river Loddon from Hartley Wespall to Stratfield Saye and the Stratfield Saye estate.

My final images of the year are not what I would I regard as my best work, but interesting all the same. Two Peregrines were locked in an aerial dog-fight north of Bramley this morning (31st). The bird on the right is a juvenile (female I think, based on their relative sizes), and on the left an adult male. I’m not sure whether this was ‘play’ fighting or more serious, but whatever it was, they were certainly very vocal.


Peregrines (Falco peregrinus) adult left – near Bramley, 31st December 2015


Peregrines (adult above) – near Bramley, 31st December 2015

Thanks to everyone who has followed the blog throughout the year; I hope you’ve found it interesting.

Wishing you all a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Barry Stalker 


Tartan Back is Back!

Anyone wishing to blow away the Christmas cobwebs after they’ve had their fill of turkey and mince pies, could do worse than a nice long walk up Ladle Hill, midway between Kingsclere and Old Burghclere, on the North Wessex Downs – it’s lovely at any time of the year, but the stark and desolate winter landscape make it even more beautiful I think, and on clear days, the views stretch out for miles.

During the winter of 2013/14 up to 20 Brambling could be found in the area and after a tip-off last week that there were Brambling there again this year (thanks Martin), I made the trip on Sunday morning, eagerly anticipating another year tick; I wasn’t disappointed.

There were a number of dog walkers about on Sunday, some of them with several dogs running loose, but luckily they all headed for the hill fort on the main Wayfarer’s Walk footpath, whilst I continued along the line of beech trees running south towards Hare Warren. At first nothing, but after about a hundred yards or so, a couple of Chaffinches flew up from the ground into the hedge, and with them a female Brambling…………..borough year tick 136!

I had at least five more of these stunning birds before the end of the tree line, with one or two calling, in a mixed flock with Chaffinches, Goldfinches, two Reed Buntings and a decent number of Linnets. The flock was very mobile up and down the tree line, so the images of this male are about the best I can offer.  


Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) – Ladle Hill, 20th December 2015


Brambling Breed in Scandinavia and Western Siberia, wintering across Europe to the south. Numbers can vary between winters depending on food supply, especially beech mast. Most of those reaching Britain come from Fennoscandia, arriving via the Continent to avoid crossing the large expanse of the North Sea. Occasionally they will visit garden feeders, so keep a look out for them.

In bygone days, Brambling have been known as Tartan Back, French Pie Finch, Brandling and Brindling; the latter (brindled) probably best describing the plumage.


A very successful morning and obviously the place to look for Brambling locally. A great idea for your Boxing Day walk perhaps……..

Will this be my last borough tick of the year? Probably, but who knows what Santa will deliver, and coming from the Arctic, it could be something good……

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Barry Stalker 

Pond Dipping

Since the Great White Egret at Whitchurch on October 24th, I’ve not managed a single additional borough year-tick and my revised target of 140 is now looking decidedly over optimistic; but it’s not for the lack of effort. Heavy rain and gale-force winds over weekend periods have not helped in my search for Crossbill, Brambling etc. but I’m still hopeful.

You’ve probably already guessed that I’ve little to say about borough birding over the last few weeks!

Despite the mild unseasonable weather, the presence of Redwings and Fieldfares in the countryside must mean it’s winter. A decent size flock of Fieldfare were about the Harrow Way, north of Overton on November 14th. Stunning birds I think, but difficult to photograph, at least for me, as I can never quite get close enough for a decent image.


Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) – Overton, 14th November 2015

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November WeBS counts proved unremarkable, but at one site in Overton this Marsh Tit was confiding enough to have its portrait taken.


Marsh Tit  (Poecile palustris) – Overton, 15th November 2015

On the same day, but closer to Whitchurch, a large mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover were keeping company with pigs at Bere Hill Farm, occasionally taking flight. I estimated around 200 Lapwing and 300 Golden Plover, but studying the images a few days later, I increased my Golden Plover count to in excess of 400. The Plovers are not always there, but it’s well worth stopping to look if you’re passing during the winter and there’s often decent flocks of Starling and Linnet there too, as well as a few Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails.

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Golden Plover  (Pluvialis apricaria) – circa 360 here & a couple of Lapwing – Whitchurch, 15th November 2015 

I had my highest ever count of Goosander in the borough on November 21st, when four red-heads were on the lake at Ewhurst Park.


Goosander (all four across the centre of image) – Ewhurst Park, 21st November 2015

By Sunday, the four had become two but were closer to the bank, affording better views and more of a photo opportunity. After finding Ewhurst’s first Goosander during the winter of 2013/14, I’ve been hoping the would become regular visitors, and despite the regular shoots there it seems they probably will.


Goosander (Mergus merganser) – Ewhurst Park, 22nd November 2015

That’s about it from the borough, but just over the district border and in to Test Valley District, news broke late on Sunday 22nd of two possible female/first winter type Ring-necked Ducks at Rooksbury Mill, near Andover, with the identification being confirmed early on Monday morning. A mad lunchtime dash provided me with a Hampshire tick, as earlier efforts to see this species in the county had failed….same old excuse; procrastination!

No problem this time, but travelling from work meant I didn’t have my camera, and in any case, it was gloomy and wet, but I returned to work happy with my efforts. Luckily they stayed until the weekend (and are still there), so Saturday morning (28th) I returned. The light was harsh early am but I spent a happy hour or so in pleasant company and came away with a few okay shots.


Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)  – Rooksbury Mill, Andover, 28th November 2015


Ring-necked Ducks breed is wooded lakes or ponds in the northern USA and Canada. They are rare but regular vagrants to western Europe, including Britain. Occasionally small flocks turn up, including four at Standlake in Oxfordshire in April this year.

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Sunday 13th I went pond dipping at Titchfield Haven NNR……….. Starting at 9:30 am, this small pond was my focus for the next six hours, as I and a packed west hide eagerly awaited the appearance of a Penduline Tit – a male and two females had been found on 7th and seen regularly from this hide on subsequent days. Well we waited and waited and waited with no reward, except for brief views of a few Bearded Tits, a flock of Golden Plover and singles of Cetti’s Warbler, Kingfisher and Marsh Harrier. I left the hide empty handed at 15:30……another successful dip skilfully executed…..still better than Christmas shopping though!

My list of dips must be the envy of birders everywhere……. 


Titchfield Haven – view from the West Hide, 13th December 2015 – I spent 6 hours looking at this view, not even standing up once!

Barry Stalker

Close Encounter II

Last year’s personal borough year-list record of 133 is fast fading into distant memory, as I added yet another species to this year’s list on Saturday morning, making it 135 for the year so far. My target now has to be 140, which would be extraordinary, but whatever happens, it really has been an outstanding year birding Basingstoke and Deane.

During the winter of 2013/14, the borough had its first Great White Egret, which I covered in the post titled ‘Close Encounter with a Great White’.

Last winter, it was probably the same bird that frequented the River Test around Bransbury Common, just over the district boundary, but (as far as I’m aware) didn’t enter Basingstoke and Deane airspace.

Great White Egrets tend to be faithful to their wintering grounds; for example, the colour-ringed bird that’s been turning up at Blashford for several years. It’s not surprising therefore, that for the third year running, this impressive bird has turned up on the Test in North Hampshire – and this year it’s back in Basingstoke and Deane! The balloon went up on Friday, when the finder of the original bird in January 2014, reported via a Whitchurch resident, that our friend, or probable friend, had returned.

It was a really easy find first thing on Saturday, as it was standing in the River near Whitchurch Silk Mill, and was viewable from the road. It also presented a better photo-opportunity than in 2014 when the bird was mostly distant.


Great white egret (Ardea alba) – Whitchurch, 24th October 2015



Thinking ahead, here’s hoping it remains in the area for next year’s list!

Barry Stalker

A Bird in the Hand

I’ve not posted recently because I was purposely waiting until I had equalled my borough year-list record. Having reached 132 on 13th September, I was very confident of at least equalling the record set just last year, but it took a little longer than I thought, so apologies. Anyway, the record was finally equalled on 18th October in unexpected circumstances, and just a day later, a new record of 134 was set!

Marsh Harrier was year-tick 129 and featured in my last post, so here’s the story from there……

There were still some ‘common’ migrants outstanding and three in particular, so these became my main focus during early September; autumn passage is always more evident for these three anyway.

On 5th September, at least eleven Yellow Wagtails were amongst cattle at Cole Henley; indeed in exactly the same field as I recorded the species last year. One down, two to go.

Before I proceed, I should warn you that the quality of images included in this post range from poor to downright awful!

YellowWagWithCow_D7Y2960Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) – Cole Henley, 5th September 2015

YellowWag_D7Y2960Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) – Cole Henley, 5th September 2015

Number two and year tick 131 quickly followed, the next day in fact, with two female/1w type Whinchats near Silchester.

Whinchat_D7Y3096Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) – Silchester, 6th September 2015 Whinchat_D7Y3082Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) – Silchester, 6th September 2015

I completed the hoped-for trio on 13th, with a cracking adult male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) in oaks south of The Vyne watermeadows, but unfortunately I was unable to photograph it as the views were all too brief. Another adult male was seen at The Mill Field LNR, Old Basing on 19th, but again, I couldn’t even manage a record shot.

Also on 13th, twelve Egyptian Geese were on the lake at Ewhurst Park – a new site record by some margin; the previous best being four!

egyptian_D7Y3123Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) – Ewhurst Park, 13th September 2015

Egyptian_D7Y3117Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) – Ewhurst Park, 13th September 2015

On private land, and well away from public gaze, Stone-curlew numbers peaked at nineteen on 9th, and at another location there were five on 27th, rising to a minimum of seven by 8th October, when two Short-eared Owls were also seen.


Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) – Basingstoke district, 27th September 2015 

After the Redstart, my attention turned to various other passerines, but despite many hours in the field, I had to wait a further five weeks’ before another year tick graced my notebook.

Sunday 18th October was a WeBS day, so the morning was spent in the Overton area where I carry out counts at four sites. On my way home I stopped at a regular site to find a ringing session being carried out. This was the first time I’d seen ringing at this location and the very affable ringer told me it was only his second time there. He was happy for me to watch and I spent a very pleasant and extremely educational hour or so in his company. It turned out that we had a few mutual acquaintances, which worked in my favour, as he allowed me to handle the birds prior to their release – it was an absolute joy! I hoped for Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) and wasn’t disappointed; he caught and ringed about fifteen, and I released about ten I suppose! I learnt a great deal about ageing and sexing – stuff you just don’t see through a pair of binoculars or telescope…..tail shape, feather pattern, emargination; I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. As well as the Redpolls, I released about ten Long-tailed Tits, around the same number of Blue Tits, one Coal Tit, two Goldcrests, a Blackcap, a Great Tit and a Robin.

A 600mm lens wasn’t really suitable for this occasion so no pictures were taken; a shame, because this was the first time I had year-ticked a species and handled it at the same time! This of course brought my borough year list to 133, equalling last year’s record!

With two and a half months of the year remaining, I was confident I could now go on a set a new personal year-list record for the borough…….. but I hadn’t expected it to be so soon!

Monday 19th was a dull, overcast day with occasional drizzle and of course a working day, so I didn’t expect to be doing any birding – how wrong! For much of the day I had been involved in a video conference with colleagues in Milan, but during a coffee break mid-afternoon, I checked my ‘phone to find a text message, a missed call and a voice mail from a friend who watches The Vyne on a regular basis – there must be something good there I thought! In great anticipation I listened to the voice mail – an Avocet was on the watermeadows!! I had just enough time to text back, and astonishingly he replied that there were actually five Avocets on the watermeadows!! I had planned to work fairly late on Monday, but as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I was away from the office as early as possible!

A quick dash in the car and by 16:45 I was watching the five Avocets, my first in the borough and just the third ever recorded locally – the previous occuring in 2008, also at The Vyne, with the first being at Overton in 2001 (both previous records being singles). I was still in office attire and I was wet, but the year tick was firmly etched in my notebook; superb!

I dashed home, changed into my birding garb, grabbed the camera and returned to view the birds and attempt a few record shots. I had half expected them to have gone when I returned, because before I left they were being pushed around by Black-headed Gulls and were flying around looking a bit agitated. Luckily they were still there, and looking a bit more settled on the eastern side of the meadows. I Stayed until 6pm when it started to rain a little heavier and was actually quite dark. No one else turned up to see them during the time I was there which I found slightly surprising; there was no sign of them the following morning.

Avocet_D7Y3543Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) – all five – Vyne Watermeadows, 19th October 2015

So, I had beaten my previous borough year-list record of 133 set last year during the sponsored birdwatch – a record I never thought I’d get close to and especially not so soon…..and what a way to do it; thanks Jim, a great find!!

It has been an outstanding autumn so far, and with strong winds forecast it could get even better! Watch this space………..

As always, thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

Right Place; Right Time

Following on from the superb Little Stint at The Vyne a couple of weeks ago, my excellent form continued with an almost equally good find – certainly a personal borough first but not actually a first in the borough. With so many great district birds this year I’m actually starting to believe I can eclipse my 2014 personal year list record of 133, and I certainly didn’t expect to be thinking in those terms this year. I need a few fairly common but by no means guaranteed passage species to make an appearance this autumn……the next two to three weeks will be critical and I’ll certainly be giving it my best shot! 

Back to the weekend…..

Saturday was rather disappointing….not only did I fail to see anything particularly decent, but I thought there was a problem with the camera or lens which had stopped auto- focusing; expensive I thought. I did the usual rounds but my mind was on the camera issue, and late morning I left The Mill Field, Old Basing, feeling rather dejected. Back at home, closer inspection revealed that I had accidentally set the focus to manual mode so there was nothing to worry about and the problem was easily rectified; phew!

Same routine on Sunday; out nice and early in the hope of some autumn migrants, and we’re talking Whinchat, Redstart, Yellow Wagtail or perhaps even Wryneck, a species I’d found almost a year ago to the day. Sadly none of those were on show first thing, but later I was in for a surprise. As I was walking along a footpath adjacent to some rough ground at Mortimer West End, I saw what I initially thought to be Buzzard, but as I followed it through my binoculars I could see that it was in fact a Marsh Harrier – I could hardly believe my eyes; another cracking year tick! The harrier, a juvenile, was in sight for literally a couple of minutes before it was lost to view over Benyon’s Inclosure, but the now perfectly focusing Canon captured some reasonable record shots – I was delighted with the shots, but even more delighted with my find.


Marsh Harrier (juv) – Mortimer West End, 30th August 2015 (all images)

MHarrier_D7Y2901 MHarrier_D7Y2907 MHarrier_D7Y2913 MHarrier_D7Y2915

Marsh Harriers have been recorded in the borough once or twice in the past, but they are rare and infrequent visitors. There is no suitable habitat locally where they are likely to turn up regularly, so one needs to be extremely lucky to record one; a couple of minutes either way and I would have missed it…. right place; right time. Again, this is what makes local (wherever you live) birding so rewarding.

This time I returned home a very happy man!

Further outings over the weekend produced nothing of note; a Spotted Flycatcher and a couple of Lesser Whitethroat being about the best of the rest, but with the harrier on the year and borough life list I could hardly complain.

Barry Stalker



A Stint at The Vyne


After a very busy few weeks but with very little birding I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms! Mrs S sensed this and actively encouraged me to get out…………

So last weekend I was out early and as keen as mustard. I spent a few hours on Saturday morning doing the usual rounds but with little reward. I was hoping for a Whinchat perhaps or maybe a Yellow Wagtail to add to the year list. I returned home empty handed but had a really enjoyable time anyway.

Time was limited on Sunday (16th) as I had volunteered (!) to put some shelves up for my daughter and son-in-law, so again, I was out early. Last stop of the morning was The Vyne watermeadows which has already been very rewarding this autumn. The Vyne has more-or-less the only habitat in the borough to attract  waders in numbers, so its continued management is essential.

I had in fact already been to The Vyne on Saturday morning, recording five Green sandpipers, thirteen Lapwing and eight Grey Heron, but with the excellent conditions there at the moment, it really is essential to visit regularly. A scan from the south side revealed very little, so a walk to the hide was necessary, even though I was now running late! I found the hide empty, as is most often the case, and set my ‘scope up in the corner. I found a single Green sandpiper and little else, until a few minutes later when I came across a juvenile Ringed Plover, or possibly a Little Ringed Plover; to be honest I couldn’t make my mind up at distance, but then something else came in to view, smaller than the plover…………..… was a stint!

Even at distance, it could make out the double white ‘V’ on the back, pure white undersides, short black beak and dark black legs (precluding Temminck’s)……… it could only be a Little Stint – what a bird AND a borough first!

A quick call to Mrs S to explain my delay and I quickly got the word out. Then I didn’t take my eyes off the bird for fear of not being able to relocate it! Around twenty minutes later I was joined by local birder Martin Pitt, who had made a made a mad dash from Chineham on his bike! Always great to get others on to a local rarity, and I believe several others had the bird later in the day.

Due to the distance and the small size of the stint, I didn’t even attempt to photograph it.

I went home a very happy man and spent the rest of the day engaged in DIY with a broad grin on my face……another first!

What will turn up next…………

Thanks for reading

Barry Stalker




View from the Hide

Looking back through my borough records for the last five years I couldn’t find a single year-tick entry for July. This surprised me a little so I thought I’d better try and do something about it! Here’s the news…..

I had my second Common Tern of the year on Saturday 11th and in almost exactly the same circumstances as the first. I was right on the county border near Silchester when it flew over, again heading into Berkshire. There’s plenty of water just over the county border so it’s no surprise they turn up now and again; it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and luckily, this has happened to me twice this year. The light was grim, but it’s a better shot than the one from a few weeks ago. 


Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Silchester, 11th July 2015

At another location on the same day I found two Turtle Doves sitting together in a dead spruce. The light was still very poor when I took this image, but I’m fairly certain that the bird on the left is a juvenile as it doesn’t seem to have any collar at all; this didn’t occur to me until after I’d seen the images. I only viewed them through binoculars, so I returned a while later with my ‘scope but by then they had gone. I think Turtle Doves do breed in the borough in small numbers but if this is a juvenile, it’s the first time I can actually confirm it. I shall certainly return to try and find them again. Turtle Doves are under enough pressure on migration, and although I don’t think hordes of people would turn up to see them I think the location is best left undisclosed.


Turtle Dove (Steptopelia turtur) – Basingstoke and Deane,11th July 2015

In the same area and just as I was about to leave, a bird flashed past me and landed in a tree a short distance away. So brief was the view, that I initially thought it to be a Mistle Thrush, but closer inspection revealed it to be a juvenile Cuckoo – it was gorgeous. It always remained partially obscured but I was pleased with the images I obtained and even more pleased with the experience.


Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) – juvenile – Basingstoke and Deane 11th July 2011 


Hard to believe that this bird will soon be making the long and arduous journey over the Mediterranean and across the Sahara to central Africa! 


As regular readers will know, my usual circuit often means a visit to The Vyne water meadows near Sherborne St John; this is especially the case in spring and autumn. It seems strange to think of mid July as autumn, but for many species, post breeding dispersal and return passage is underway. Anyway, conditions have been improving on the meadows and it is now very suitable for waders, although it is rapidly drying out. The Vyne is about the best place in the borough to pick up passage waders and I was delighted on Saturday to find not one, not even two, but three Greenshank amongst around 80 Lapwing and my first Common Sandpiper of the autumn. This was the first Greenshank I had seen in the borough since 2011. Photography is never easy on the meadows and there was a lot of heat-haze on Saturday, but I came away with a couple of record shots and an excellent borough year tick; my first ever in July!greenshank_D7Y2363

Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) – Vyne Watermeadows,11th July 2015 (one of three)


Greenshank – Vyne Watermeadows, 11th July 2015 (two of three)

I couldn’t get a three of three!

I returned to The Vyne on Sunday morning, but the weather had changed to overcast with drizzle and all three Greenshank and the Common Sandpiper had seemingly moved on – although one never quite knows on the water meadows, as without walking the entire circumference of the lake much of the site remains hidden from view. An afternoon text (thanks again Jim) confirmed that all the Greenshank had gone, but they’d been replaced by something even better and a Basingstoke and Deane life tick – a Black-tailed Godwit!! It was then a mad dash, as I was shopping in Newbury with Mrs S………….shopping abandoned (she has enough shoes anyway!) and I was flying back down the A339!

As this was a new borough species for me I made a bit more effort in trying to get some shots, and although still distant, the hide afforded the best opportunity. This was the view from the hide. 


Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) – Vyne Watermeadows, 12th July 2015 



And finally, a flight shot showing the distinctive white wing bar and white rump.


So, two excellent year ticks, and for the same date I’m now ahead of my record year of 2014 by well over a month! I have also now year ticked a species in the borough in every month of the year.

Fingers crossed for a great autumn….

Barry Stalker





Best ever Tempura Prawns

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…… 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

BEWheatear_D7Y0295 BEWheatear_D7Y0389 BEWheatear_D7Y0457

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!SpottedFlycatcher_D7Y0815

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)

_D7Y1034U _D7Y1047U _D7Y1056U _D7Y1074U _D7Y1081U _D7Y1096U

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


Food pass

_D7Y1117U _D7Y1118U

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.

_D7Y1131U _D7Y1134U _D7Y1135U


And finally…

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!

Barry Stalker