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 http://www.goingbirding.co.uk/hants/listbreakdown.asp?year=2015&observer_id=24&name=Barry 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!