At last, another Year-Tick!

I said in my last post that I would just nip out and find a local rarity, as one does, and I was almost as good as my word! A drake Pintail was on the lake at Ewhurst Park this morning and was my first borough year-tick since 2nd September, in what has been a dismal autumn. I can’t really claim a borough rarity though, as Pintail are fairly regular locally, the last being the long-staying bird at Ewhurst during the winter of 2014/2015, and before that The Vyne and Eastrop Park, both in 2012. Hopefully this one will also stick around a while, but with regular wildfowl shoots at Ewhurst, it’s probably unlikely.

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Pintail (Anas acuta) – Ewhurst Park, 6th November 2016

Nothing else to report really, so here’s a couple of images from last week….

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Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) – Tadley, 30th October 2016

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Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) – Tadley, 30th October 2016

And lastly…..I captured this Song Thrush at the Mill Field LNR whilst searching for Yellow-browed Warblers, or was it Wryneck? I can’t remember.

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Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) – Mill Field LNR, 22nd October 2016

Today’s Pintail means I’ve beaten my worst ever borough year list total of 124 (2012) and with heard-only Cetti’s Warbler I’m up to 126. Things are looking up!

Barry Stalker

Beach Beauty

The very disappointing autumn has continued locally, so when a Shore Lark was found on Hayling Island on Friday evening, a bird I needed for my Hampshire list, it didn’t take long to convince myself to take a break from the tedium and make the journey down to the coast.

Firstly though, I should say that the lack of local autumn sightings seems to be confined to me personally, despite spending many hours in the field. I must have been birding with my eyes closed, with no fewer than three a piece of Glossy Ibis and Yellow-browed Warbler, plus singles of Ortolan Bunting, Pied Flycatcher, Wryneck, Montagu’s Harrier, Honey Buzzard and Sandwich Tern (to name a few), floating around the borough………..

Anyway, back to Andy Johnson’s excellent find on Eastoke Beach, Hayling Island. I arrived with Mrs S late morning and we found the bird immediately, exactly where Andy had reported it the previous evening. A handful of other birders were also there, enjoying this very confiding bird, the first in the county since 2012 and just the sixth this century, including an exceptional total of four in 2009, so not at all a common bird in Hampshire. Yes I know, it should have been on my county list long ago and I can’t for the life of me explain why it wasn’t, but none of that matters anymore and it was well worth the wait!

Click on any image to enlarge. 

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Shore Lark (Eremophila alpestris) – Eastoke Beach, Hayling Island, 28th October 2016

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Shore Larks have always been scarce winter visitors to the UK but are becoming even more scarce, with the numbers visiting each year in decline. Birds visiting the UK, breed Scandinavia and arctic Russia.  They are known as Horned Larks in North America, due to the tufts of black feathers on the head of the breeding male. There are many sub species across its range of five continents or sub continents.

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A superb bird and we celebrated in the usual way, this time at the nearby Ferryboat Inn!

I couldn’t finish without mentioning something from the borough, after all, this is Birding Basingstoke and Deane!

As promised in a previous post, I returned to the Kingfisher site along the River Test near Overton to try and obtain some better shots. I don’t think I managed it really as I was pretty pleased with the images from my first attempt. Here’s a couple of shots from the second session.

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Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) – Overton, 25th September 2016

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On this visit I had a bonus bird using the same perch as the Kingfisher….what a cheek!
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Grey Wagtail (Montacilla cinerea) – Overton, 25th September 2016

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The Stone-curlew season has now come to an end and I’m delighted to say that it was a very successful year for the borough. Of the sites monitored by the RSPB Stone-curlew team, six pairs successfully raised chicks, with a further four pairs raising young on another site; some of the chicks we managed to colour ring. Finding the local autumn roost is always a challenge as its location changes from year to year depending on farming practice; this year’s gathering peaked at 23 on September 6th. By the end of the season I had had enough, but paradoxically I’m already missing the birds and looking forward to next season! I wish I could post some images, but the terms of the Schedule 1 licence forbid it.

That’s about it I think, just enough time to pop out and find a couple of local rarities, don’t go away………

Barry Stalker

Hello Peeps!

I wish I could tell you about an exciting local find over the weekend, I wish I could tell you that, but I’m afraid the rather disappointing autumn continues, at least locally.

A little farther afield though……

A juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper was found at Titchfield Haven NNR on Saturday 10th September. Although initially reported as a Little Stint, it was re-identified from photographs later in the day, allowing no time to travel down. Having missed this species previously in Hampshire, due mainly to procrastination (again!), I was keen to add it to my Hampshire list and waited anxiously for news overnight.

But not wishing to neglect my usual patch of course, I was up early on the Sunday and doing the local rounds; a Spotted Flycatcher at The Vyne being the highlight and only my third of the year, including the Overton pair!

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Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata ) – The Vyne, 11th September 2016

I was in luck, there was positive news as soon as the excellent reserve at Titchfield was open, so a quick dash home to pick up Mrs S (wine was promised!) and we were off. An hour or so later we were entering the Meon Shore hide, which was busy, but not so busy that a seat couldn’t be found……..everyone else presumably having caught up with the the previous birds!

click on any image to enlarge.

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Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 11th September 2016

Semipalmated Sandpipers breed in tundra in Canada and Alaska. They are long distance migrants, wintering in coastal South America, with some going to the southern USA. They are rare but regular vagrants to western Europe.

Semipalmated Sandpipers get their name from the partial webbing between their toes.

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Heavier crop of above with semi-palmation (webbing) just visible  

The stout thick-based bill, short primary projection and dark cap, together with the lack of prominent white ‘V’ pattern on the mantle or a split supercilium, set this apart from a juvenile Little Stint.

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For those who don’t know, in North America, small sandpipers of the genus Calidris are for some reason referred to as peeps; we of course know them as stints.

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What will turn up next? A White-rumped Sandpiper I suppose…….

Until next time, good birding

Barry Stalker

 

A Flash of Azure

As a birder first and a bird photographer second, most of my images are obtained whilst walking about birding, just snapping away when anything comes close enough; I don’t even use a tripod. However, to photograph one of our most iconic and colourful birds, a bird I’ve wanted to get to grips with photographically for a long time, a different approach was required……no tripod still, but more patience and a little concealment, although no hide as such. Until now, all my Kingfisher images, and there aren’t many, have been taken from distance and are frankly poor, so when a friend from Overton told me of a private location on the Test where Kingfishers are regularly seen on a favoured perch, I couldn’t resist. I first visited the location without the camera, and he was right, a female was visiting the perch and staying for up to five minutes, around every twenty minutes or so; it was perfect. So, mid-morning on Saturday 3rd, I settled into position and waited for the bird to arrive, and I didn’t have to wait that long……….a flash of azure and there it was, a female Kingfisher, in all her undoubted splendour; what a bird! For those who don’t know, female Kingfishers have red on the lower mandible of the beak, whereas the male is all black, This bird could possibly be a juvenile – the legs are fairly bright, but there does seem to be the hint of a pale tip to the beak in some of the images.

Saturday was rather dull, and although I was pleased with the results I will definitely be going again! Click on any image to enlarge.

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Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) – River Test, Overton, 3rd September 2016 (all images)
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So what else has been happening since my last post?

I continued to visit our breeding peregrines and I’m pleased to report that the two remaining juveniles fully fledged, continued to thrive and have now left their natal area. 

As far as borough year-listing goes, I don’t think I’ll be breaking any records this year. An exceptional autumn could change that of course, but as I write it’s not looking promising. The Vyne was superb last year, and made all the difference, but so far this year it has been a bit disappointing, the high water levels to blame, with very little mud on show although improving. In contrast, just up the road at Alresford Pond there’s plenty of mud, and as a consequence, plenty of waders, but there’s still time of course.

It’s not all bad news from The Vyne though. A single Dunlin turned up on July 30th and remained for a couple of days, two-three Green Sandpipers were present throughout August, peaking at four on 29th, a Common Sandpiper was on show on August 14th-20th and the odd Snipe has also been around. Throughout August I had several sightings of a juvenile (or juveniles) Water Rail out in the open on the watermeadows, confirming successful breeding at The Vyne for the second year running.

On the downside, Redshank failed to show at The Vyne at all this year, but I had a stroke of luck when a juvenile turned up on a private lake on July 18th, the owner asking me to confirm its identification…and naturally I took along my camera!

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Redshank (Tringa totanus) – Basingstoke and Deane, July 18th 2016

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Recent additions to the year list have been Yellow Wagtail, sixteen in fact on August 28th, mingling with cattle at Cole Henley. Whinchat is the latest, three being seen on September 2nd, including two that were in company with Wheatears and Stonechats along Lloyd’s Lane, Ramsdell……….the Whinchat and Wheatear being patch ticks!

That’s about it for now, thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

 

 

 

 

 

Peregrine Update

Two posts in a week, I can hardly believe it myself! Only a short one though, to update on our local breeding Peregrines.

I’m happy to report that the second fledgling has now been bold enough to move away from the nest and was yesterday higher on the pylon and keeping company with its sibling. The bird on the left is a female I think, with the male that was taken into care on the right.

Both are looking fit and well…….

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Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) juveniles – 7th July 2016 (Click on the images to enlarge)

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………..and occasionally flying sorties from the pylon.

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Peregrine juvenile – 7th July 2016

Barry Stalker

Referendum Day Rescue

As a young YOC member in the early 1970s, I remember receiving a poster depicting a young Tawny Owl with a caption that said something like ‘Please Leave Me Alone’. The advice in the message was aimed at anyone who found a fledgling to leave it exactly where it was and not be tempted to take it into care themselves, or take it to a vets or the RSPCA, as the parents were invariably close-by and still attending to it. That advice still stands today and I’ve had several instances where I’ve heeded the advice, but there are exceptions….

On Thursday 23rd June (Referendum day), a young male peregrine (Falco peregrinus) was found by a farmer on the roadside close to Basingstoke – intervention was required to ensure its safety. The fledgling was from a nest I had been watching for some time and was high-up on an electricity pylon. The grounded bird was one of three chicks that had semi-fledged from the nest.

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Nest site, high up on the pylon.

The bird was still close to the road when I arrived about 4pm, but had hopped through a fence and into the adjacent field, so was at least off the road and out of immediate danger. It seemed unable to fly, was not at all vocal and would allow very close approach; what to do?

I and the others gathered watched from a distance as it continued to hop around the field, but things took a turn for the worse when it jumped on to some brambles, scrambled over the top and ended up in a river; there was nothing for it, I had to go in! This sounds more dramatic then it actually was as the river was only about two feet deep! I was joined in the river by the farmer, Richard, who along with his wife Linda (and others) were superb throughout. After a couple of minutes we fished out the now thoroughly waterlogged peregrine; if it couldn’t fly before, it certainly couldn’t now!

Click on any image to enlarge.

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Richard and I fishing out a very wet peregrine from the river- 23rd June 2016

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Myself and peregrine both waterlogged (at least my boots were!) – 23rd June 2016

Shortly after, we were joined by Hampshire County Recorder Keith Betton who had received the initial call for assistance (Keith coordinates the monitoring of breeding peregrines across Hampshire). Firstly the bird needed to be dried, so we removed it to the farm buildings where a low setting on a hair drier and gentle application did the trick. We also gave it a meal of raw chicken, which it gratefully accepted and certainly made the bird calm and relaxed. Examination revealed no obvious injuries apart from a damaged tail feather and even though the feathers were not yet completely hard-penned, in theory there was no reason why this bird couldn’t fly.

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Dried and fed – 23rd June 2016

But what to do next?

We tried to encourage the bird to fly by releasing it at waist height, but every time it just dropped to the ground.

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Keith trying to encourage the youngster to fly – 23rd June 2016

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And having no luck – 23rd June 2016

Richard and Linda had a small portable structure in the yard that would at least get the bird off the ground and away from any predators overnight, so we placed it at the base of the pylon and hoped that once we had all withdrawn, the fledgling would start to call to its parents which were high up on the pylon with the two siblings. 

Richard and Linda were happy to feed the bird every couple of hours until darkness fell and I agreed to return the following morning to check its progress. We weren’t at all confident it would survive the night but all things considered, this seemed the best course of action, at least in the short term.

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On Richard and Linda’s portable structure – 23rd June 2016 about 18:30

Thankfully it did survive the night but other than that there was no real change on Friday morning (apart from us leaving the EU!) and after observing from distance for some time, it was clear there was no interaction between the fledgling and its parents. I ‘phoned Keith to discuss, who in turn contacted the Hawk Conservancy Trust for their opinion. Their suggestion was to monitor the bird for a few hours more and if there was still no interaction remove the bird from the site and take it firstly to the vets for assessment, and depending on their advice, the bird of prey hospital located at the trust. A preliminary vets appointment was made for 14:10 in Andover.

As you can see, the fledgling looked alert and healthy…………..it just needed to remember how to fly! 

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Still on the structure – 24th June 2016

There was no change by early afternoon, plus it was now raining heavily, so I decided the vets was the best course of action and reluctantly took the bird away in a cardboard box. 

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24th June 2016

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Such a privilege to see one of these magnificent birds close-up – 24th June 2016

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24th June 2016

The fledgling received a clean bill of health at the vets so it was off to the Hawk Conservancy Trust at Weyhill near Andover, one of the only specialist bird of prey hospitals in the UK. Jane and Gary looked after the bird at the hospital and were happy with the progress it made over the next few days – wing exercising and flying from perch to perch in the rehabilitation aviary.

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The Hawk Conservancy Trust

All concerned were keen to see the bird back at its natal area as quickly as possible, to give it the best chance of being reunited with its parents and siblings.

During the period that the rescued bird was hospitalized, I received some bad news from Linda….one of the other fledglings from the pylon was found dead at the base, appearing to had been attacked, probably by a fox… the decision to remove the first bird seemed to have been the right one.

I returned to collect the rescued bird on Thursday 30th; a big thank you to Jane and Gary at the trust. Later that day and in the company of Mrs S and Linda, I released it back on to the same small structure at the base of the pylon and we all quickly left the area. Later in the day there was excellent news from Linda….our bird had flown back to the pylon, was yelling like mad and being visited and fed by the adults; I was thrilled at the news, as was everyone.

I visited again the following day to find the rescued bird at the very top of the pylon exercising its wings. The second fledgling seems less advanced and up until now has always remained close to the nest, and often in the nest, which is lower down the pylon, so the bird at the top was certainly the rescued bird.

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Wing exercises back on the pylon – 1st July 2016

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Wing exercises back on the pylon – 1st July 2016

The parents were regularly returning with food for both fledglings.

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Adult returning with food to the rescued fledgling – 1st July 2016

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Adult returning with food to the rescued fledgling – 1st July 2016

I was back again on 3rd to watch the rescued bird still continuing with its wing exercising.

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3rd July 2016

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3rd July 2016

Then came the moment I had been waiting and hoping for….the rescued bird took flight, headed for and alighted on the next pylon along, a distance of over 700 yards! It joined one of the adults there and was very vocal.

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Flying to the next pylon, 3rd July 2016

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A magnificent sight – 3rd July 2016

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3rd July 2016

The exposed nature of pylons means the failure rate of breeding peregrines using them as nest sites is high, so complete success cannot yet be claimed for this particular bird, but everyone involved did their best; fingers crossed for a happy outcome. I’ll continue to monitor the birds and will hopefully see the other fledgling flourish without the need for any intervention. 

In other local news………. anyone who follows this blog will know that every year (at least in recent years) I struggle to add Spotted Flycatcher to the borough year list. Actually, struggle is probably the wrong word as at least one pair usually turn up somewhere, but in the last couple of years it has been a nervous wait as I’ve not managed to connect with one until mid-late June; the average arrival date in Hampshire being 28th April. This year I think I was a little too complacent…a pair did appear in the borough on 11th May at a breeding site that was successful in 2015, but I made the mistake of not attending immediately, expecting them to be present at my convenience; I was wrong!

I thought my chance of a borough year tick had gone, but thankfully a pair were found near Overton on 20th June, and this time I took no chances!

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Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) – Overton, 20th April 2016 (all images)

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Panic over! Indeed, as I write, a second pair have taken up residence at another traditional location locally, so I guess I’ll have to accept that they are settling down in the borough later in the season and be more patient next year.

I’ll finish off with some random images….

This is one of a pair of Woodlarks that raised three young locally.

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Woodlark (Lullula arborea  ) – Silchester, 11th June 2016

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Woodlark (Lullula arborea  ) – Silchester, 11th June 2016

And finally, back to falcons, this time a summer visitor.

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Hobby (Falco subbuteo) – Mortimer West End, 2nd July 2016

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Hobby (Falco subbuteo) – Mortimer West End, 2nd July 2016

As always, thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

A Nice Easy Twitch

On Sunday 22nd May, a stilt sandpiper was found at Pennington marsh near Lymington by Hampshire birder Richard Coomber; only the second ever recorded in Hampshire and the chance of a personal county tick! I couldn’t make the journey on the Sunday (here we go again, more procrastination!) so had an agonizing wait until the following day. For once I was in luck, the bird had remained overnight so I was out bright and early on Monday. Being a weekday it was easy to park at Lower Pennington and after a short stroll along the path to Fishtail Lagoon I was soon watching our American friend, along with about a dozen or so other birders, including the ‘policeman’ of British birding…………….

A nice easy twitch; just how I like it!

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Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

Stilt sandpipers breed in the open arctic tundra of North America. It is a long-distance migrant, wintering mainly in northern South America. It is a rare vagrant to Europe. For once I pitched my visit just right – by the following day it had gone.

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Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016 (with Dunlin for size comparison)

Pennington/Keyhaven marshes is a fantastic reserve and one I know well, although I don’t visit so regularly nowadays. So after watching the stilt for a good while, I took a turn around the reserve………spoonbill, garganey, cuckoo, Cetti’s warbler, shelduck, black-tailed godwit, dunlin and oystercatcher were just some of the species noted, and I couldn’t resist stopping to photograph both common and little terns feeding along the sea wall. Click on any image to enlarge.

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Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

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Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Pennington Marsh, 23rd May 2016

 A very pleasant few hours. I won’t mention missing the Red-breasted Flycatcher on 29th May…….so on to local stuff!

The following images were all taken in the borough this spring and most require no narrative; I hope you enjoy them. Click on any image to enlarge.

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Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) – Ashford Hill, 17th April 2016

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Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) – Vyne Watermeadows, 17th April 2016

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Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) – Ecchinswell, 19th April 2016

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Lesser Whitethroat – (Sylvia curruca) – Bramley, 20th April 2016

Coming to a pylon near you…

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Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) – 20th April 2016

After a break last year, a pair of Oystercatchers have again made an appearance in the borough, but unlike 2014 when they were observed on and off through April-June, this year I only saw the pair once; a single bird being observed on 30th April. 

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Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) – 26th April 2016

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Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) – 26th April 2016

Is it me, or were Whitethroats late this year? It’s unusual for me to record Lesser Whitethroat earlier than Common Whitethroat which has been the case this spring, and they were noticeably absent from several sites where I would expect to see them earlier in the month. I had to wait until 26th April to see my first this year.

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Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) – Ramsdell, 26th April 2016

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Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) – Charter Alley, 26th April 2016

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Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) – Ewhurst Park, 26th April 2016

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Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) – Silchester, 30th April 2016

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Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) – Silchester, 30th April 2016

I usually have to wait until the Autumn to catch up with a local Redstart, so a nice spring record was most welcome. This female made a brief appearance on 30th April.

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Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) – Silchester, 30th April 2016

I don’t think he can see me here…oh yes I can!

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Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) – 1st May 2016

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Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) – Silchester, 3rd May 2016

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Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) – Silchester, 3rd May 2016

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Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) – Mortimer West end, 3rd May 2016

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Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) – Benyons Enclosure, 4th May 2016

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Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) – North Wessex Downs, 4th May 2016

Last year I confirmed breeding of Turtle Dove in the borough which was a personal first. Indeed, I probably had more local sightings of this endangered species last year than in any other year since I’ve been watching the borough seriously. Not so this year unfortunately, but thankfully at least one has graced us with its presence.

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Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) – 6th May 2016

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Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) – 8th May 2016

Regular readers will know that I sometimes stand in for the regular recorder and carry out WeBS counts on the Duke of Wellington’s estate at Stratfield Saye. The estate is a great place to see and hear Sedge Warbler and I recorded six territories during my visit on 12th May.

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Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) – Stratfield Saye Estate, 12th May 2016

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Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) – Stratfield Saye Estate, 12th May 2016

The year list currently stands at 119 (excluding heard-only Cetti’s warbler), four behind the same date last year.

That’s about it I think, thank you for reading and enjoy your birding wherever you are.

Barry Stalker

 

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.

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Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) – Ewhurst Park, 10th January 2016 (my first ever at Ewhurst)

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Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) – Wootton St Lawrence – 17th January 2016 – whilst looking for Grey Partridge

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) 3 of four (the fourth just out of shot) – Beacon Hill, Highclere, 9th April 2016

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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.

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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.

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Raven (Corvus corax) & Buzzard (Buteo buteo) – Silchester, 9th April 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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). 

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.  

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

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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.

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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