As another year is done and we tally up the year’s sightings, it will prove to have been another interesting one, and although there were no new species to add to the Peninsula List, of the 216 seen, there were ten species that were seen for the first time in the four years that the Blog has been running, taking the total of species seen in that time to 251.
It was a frustrating year, in some ways, with most of the best birds only being seen by a very few people, with all of the rarest birds – Aquatic Warbler, Red-rumped Swallow, Corncrake, Shorelark, White Stork, Common Crane, Stone Curlew, Glossy Ibis, Glaucous Gull, Black Guillemot, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters falling into this category. Some of the others, like Cattle Egret, Long-eared Owl, Red-backed Shrike, Hooded Crow and Serin were seen by a reasonable number of people, however, and everyone at least got to see at least some of them.
The cold late spring did reduce the numbers of some species, but a generally benign summer following into a mild and settled autumn made up for it, though the good conditions meant many species fattened up and departed earlier than usual.
A bit of a timely shift of wind direction to the north and east made for an interesting autumn, with the welcome re-appearance of a few wintering birds offshore at Church Norton after a couple of blank years.
There were plenty of changes again in the geography of the area - some welcome, some less so, but Medmerry barely merited a mention, such is the feeling of permanence about it, these days, though the sea will probably have something to say about that before too long.
After years of complaining about the water level on the Ferry being too high we finally got our wish, as a substantial breach in the retaining bank on the south side meant that it could no longer hold more than a fraction of the water it had. Unfortunately, the prolonged dry spell in August and September meant it almost dried out completely making a poor habitat for waders. We wait to see how and when it is repaired.
And one of the positives of the Blog has undoubtedly been that we all value 'our' birds a little more, keeping a more detailed eye on their fortunes, and consequently becoming much more aware of things like the breeding terns, and the numbers of juveniles among the returning geese in the autumn.
As in previous years, this is a list of the bird-watching highlights - and interesting and unusual reports of more familiar birds - rather than a full report, and has concentrated on the birds rather than the finders. Records of rarer species are only included where there is likely to be a description submitted to the SOS.
It was another fairly poor start to the year for Red-throated Divers, with a few wintering birds being seen on most sea-watches at the Bill, but almost no counts into double figures. Spring was a little better, with 206 birds recorded going east, with a peak of 57 on 2nd April, and the last was a very unseasonal record of one at the Bill on 9th June. Return passage began a little earlier than recent years, with two on 15th September, and numbers were reasonable, if not exceptional in the late autumn.
Compared to last year, there were more winter records of Black-throated Diver, including 3E at the Bill on 29th Feb, but spring passage was down again, with only eight birds seen passing eastwards, the last of which was on 2nd April. There were at least couple of birds back in the autumn, mostly seen off the Bill.
Numbers of Great Northern Divers seen off the Bill were down a little on last year, though they still peaked at 13 on the relatively early date of 10th March, but there were regular counts of two to four birds from various sites in Chichester harbour, and in fact the highest count of the year – 14 birds - was off Medmerry on 10th March. The first two autumn birds were back on 20th October and up to half a dozen were regularly seen off Selsey Bill thereafter.
As was the case last year, Slavonian Grebes were more regularly recorded off the Bill than at Church Norton, with them being absent from the latter site for long periods, and peaking at a poor count of 16 on 8th March. There were a few seen off East Head, too, with the best count being seven on 28th January. Encouragingly, there were better numbers in the autumn, with the first bird back at Church Norton on the fairly early date of 5th November, and numbers there had risen to ten by the 14th, with numbers remaining around that number thereafter.
After a blank first half of the year, at least one Red-necked Grebe appeared a number of times in the late autumn, after the first sighting off the Bill on 4th November, with two there on 4th December.
Despite the absence of any severe storms it was a good year for sea-birds, with two rare species seen at the Bill, in the form of a Cory’s Shearwater (just the fourth ever record) on 1st May, and the first Sooty Shearwater since 2012, on 24th September.
It was a more typical year for Balearic Shearwaters at the Bill, with just four sightings, totalling twelve birds, thus – two on 27th March, eight on 21st April, one on 7th August and lastly, one on 4th November.
Spring totals of 83 east and 102 west at the Bill made it a good year for Manx Shearwaters, after a late first date of 21st April, when 57 birds were seen, followed by an even bigger day of 68 birds on the 29th. There were some reasonable days, during the summer, too, though not on that scale.
After a blank year last year, there were two Storm-petrels seen, too, feeding around distant fishing boats on 9th May.
After last year’s poor showing, it was a considerably more interesting this time around, with star-billing going to a White Stork seen circling over West Wittering on 17th April, and an elusive Glossy Ibis that was seen on the Ferry and Breech Pool on 31st August and over the Visitor Centre the following morning.
Spoonbills, these days, are almost standard fare and there were multiple sightings from both Pagham Harbour and Medmerry in the early part of the year, with the last being of two in the harbour on 17th April. Certainly at least three birds wintered, but some of the later sightings may have been on other migrating birds. The first autumn records were of one going west over East Wittering on 10th September and two at Medmerry on the following day, with a scattering of records in October and November, though none appeared to settle in.
One of the birds of the year was the very smart breeding-plumaged Cattle Egret that appeared in the heronry in Owl Copse on 13th April, remaining there, if often elusive, until the 19th, before popping up again at Marsh Farm, Sidlesham in late April and early May and finally re-surfacing on the Ferry between 18th and 22nd June.
Great White Egrets remain scarce on the peninsula, despite their improving fortunes nationally, and the only record was of three apparently arriving from the continent on 26th November, seen first at the Bill and then over Snowhill Creek before continuing on into Hampshire.
The only grey goose of note was the White-fronted Goose that frequented Medmerry during autumn 2015, which popped up again at the North Wall on 13th January and then took up a prolonged residence around Ivy Lake, from 28th February to 24th April, when it finally departed, oddly mirroring last year’s Bean Goose.
Dark-bellied Brent Goose numbers were a little lower than recent winters, and they departed fairly early on, too, but the spring total of 2931 east past the Bill was in line with the long-term average, and reasonable numbers returned, with more juveniles than last year, but still not as good the preceding two.
It was a slightly better spring for Garganey sightings, though with still rather fewer than we have become accustomed to in recent years, with records from the North Wall on 23rd April and 4th May, Ivy Lake on 24th April and one past the Bill on 6th May. There was also an oddly unseasonal record of a female at Medmerry on 15th July, and the last record of the year was of one past the Bill on 7th August.
There was breeding success this year, too, for Gadwall, a species that has rarely, if ever breeds locally, with two families on the Long Pool and a further one at Medmerry, and Pochard, another scarce breeder, with at least three families around the Chichester Gravel Pit complex.
A somewhat contentious female Scaup was present from 2nd to 10th January on New Lake, Chichester, with a majority (but by no means unanimous!) considering it good, and there was a brief sighting of another female on the second Several on 17th September. Finally, a first-year male settled in on Ivy Lake from 14th November onwards, with others at Medmerry from 1st to 7th December and on Pagham Lagoon on 2nd December.
Velvet Scoters are also becoming harder to see, with just three first winter records (and a maximum of three past the Bill on 17th January) and a single spring record of one east on 2nd April, though there was an improvement in the autumn, with one past the Bill on 15th October and seven east on 12th November and thereafter up to six birds were seen fairly regularly, though there were an exceptional 10+ together seen off Church Norton on 11th December.
Though still down on the long-term average, a total of 4011 Common Scoters east in the spring was a considerable improvement on last year, though autumn numbers on the move were again fairly low, but a flock of at least 100 birds – all female/first-winter types - took up residence from late November off the Coastguard Station.
The first record of Long-tailed Duck wasn’t until the very unusual date of 11th June, when one went west past the Bill, but it ended up a very good autumn for the species with two settling in around Pagham Harbour from 8th November onwards, singles past the Bill on the 14th and another on 26th December, one which took up residence on Ivy Lake from 19th December and, finally, one off the Coastguard Station on 31st December.
The sole record of Goosander in the first winter period was of one at Church Norton from 5th-7th January, whilst in the autumn there was a flurry of records involving up to five birds in the harbour and from the Bill between 11th and 16th November, though none subsequently.
The fortunes of our harriers continue to diverge, with no sightings of Hen Harrier for the first time ever, but Marsh Harrier reports becoming too numerous to report individually, in March and April and particularly from mid-July onwards at both Pagham Harbour and Medmerry, with three at the latter site on 1st October being the best.
Red Kites remain quite an uncommon visitor to the peninsula, with spring dispersal in March and April, and this year into May, accounting for eight of the year’s ten records, including notably, 12th May, with three over the Visitor Centre and two over Park Farm, Selsey, and two records from the Bill – on 22nd and 30th March. The other records were of two over the A27 at Chichester on 9th February that had probably drifted south from the Downs in poor weather, birds over Medmerry and Hunston on 30th August and one over Church Norton on 9th October.
After a spring with just two reports – on 12th April from Church Norton and 23rd April from Medmerry, the area experienced an early autumn Osprey bonanza with almost daily reports of between one and three birds from both Pagham Harbour and Medmerry between 16th August and 1st October, with many reports of sustained views of birds successfully hunting.
It was not a great year for Hobby sightings, reflecting a poor year nationally after the cold wet spring, but the Bill still returned 13 in off the sea in the spring, with the first on 17th April and including four in quick succession on 6th May. There were a few summer records from Chichester GPs and the farmland north of Selsey suggesting pair or two may have bred locally, whilst there were good numbers seen in August and September, with the last two seen at Church Norton on 1st October.
There were half a dozen winter records, and similar in spring of Merlin, with three seen off the Bill including one being chased by an Arctic Skua on 1st May. The first autumn record was from Medmerry on 16th September, and thereafter there were fairly regular reports from both there and the harbour.
There were an encouraging number of Grey Partridge reports throughout the year, considering there did not appear to be any ‘released’ birds last autumn, with several pairs seen in spring around the harbour and family coveys seen in early autumn at both Church Norton and Medmerry.
Probably the most painful miss of the year for the locals was the first Corncrake for fifteen years that was seen and photographed by a visiting birder on the Breech Pool on 12th September.
Probably the least-expected record of the year was the first Stone Curlew on the peninsula in over twenty years, which appeared on the improbable date of 4th December in fields at Ella Nore (West Wittering), though sadly it didn’t linger.
Breeding Avocets appear to be here to stay on the Stilt Pools at Medmerry, with the first pairs back on 23rd February and at least 20 pairs rearing young again this year during their prolonged breeding season.
And again, it was another good season for Little Ringed Plovers, with at least ten pairs rearing young on the same pools as the preceding species. The first of the year, though was seen on the Ferry on 19th March, and it was also host to some high counts of juveniles in the summer, including ten together on 12th and 13th July. Also, one was seen at the Bill, where it is a very rare bird, on 30th April.
The other rare wader of the year (and the first since 2009) was the smart (though always fairly distant!) Kentish Plover that graced Church Norton from 30th May to 1st June, allowing many people to catch up with it.
Fairly typically, there were just a couple of spring Little Stint records – from Medmerry on 17th May and Church Norton from 30th May to 2nd June, but it was a particularly good autumn, starting with two at Church Norton on 31st July, and probably involving up to 20 birds, including five that were on the Breech Pool from 26th August to 2nd September and the last of the year at Church Norton on 19th October.
After a blank spring, it was quite a respectable autumn for Curlew Sandpipers, though none made themselves especially easy to find. The first of the year was at Church Norton on 13th August, and the highest count was 12 briefly in White’s Creek on the 27th, but the only place that was vaguely reliable to see them was Ferry Channel, with from five to ten present on the dropping tide between 16th and 26th September, with the last of the year seen at Church Norton on 8th October.
There was quite a good count of 492 Sanderling going east past the Bill in the spring, including 155 on 9th May.
There were just two spring Ruff records - of probably the same bird - seen at Medmerry on 2nd April and the Ferry on the following day, though the autumn was better. The Breech Pool was the most reliable site, with between one and three birds seen on many dates between 15th July and 15th September (but involving at least six different individuals), and two October birds, on the 12th and 21st. A long-staying bird was also commuting between the Ferry and at Medmerry between 16th August and 16th September, with another report from the latter site on 1st October.
The advent of Medmerry has seen a marked increase in wintering Green Sandpipers, and they commute regularly to the Ferry from there, with a minimum of four (on 15th February at Medmerry) in the first winter period and five (on the Ferry on 15th October) in the second, plus a few scattered reports received from elsewhere.
For the first time in many years a Common Sandpiper wintered on the peninsula, being seen on the Stilt Pool at Medmerry right through into April, and it was back in residence in the autumn. The best count of migrants was of 12 at Church Norton on 3rd July.
A Greenshank at Medmerry on 3rd January was a real surprise, given that they never seem to winter beyond the eastern edges of Chichester Harbour, where there were four at Fishbourne Creek and up to two at Snowhill Creek, and it could possibly have been the same bird seen on the Ferry on 24th March and west past the Bill three days later. Spring numbers were fair, with a peak of 12 in Ferry Channel on 26th April, and autumn numbers were good, too, particularly on the Breech Pool, with double figure roosting counts regular and a peak of 16 on 28th September, and two were still present on 1st November. Two at Medmerry on 4th and 29th December suggested that they will winter there again this year.
Spotted Redshanks wintered again in fair numbers, with at least three in Pagham Harbour, one at Medmerry, three at Fishbourne Creek and one or two at Snowhill Creek. There were one or two summer-plumaged birds in late April and early May, and the first returning migrant of the year was of this species on 10th June at the North Wall. This area remained the best site throughout the summer and early autumn, with roosting birds seen on many days, with a highest count of 10 on 28th September, and four birds were still present on 1st November, with one or two set to over-winter there and elsewhere.
Whimbrels wintered again at Church Norton, Fishbourne Creek and West Itchenor, with two at the latter site on 8th February, and regular birds were back at the first two sites again in the autumn. A total of 447 birds east past the Bill was better than last spring, but again numbers of its compatriot, the Bar-tailed Godwit, were down again, with just 117 birds counted, half of last year’s already poor count. Marginally encouragingly, at least a dozen - half of which were juveniles – were back in Pagham Harbour in the autumn.
There was just one record of Woodcock for the year – at Medmerry on 24th February, but Jack Snipe numbers were better than recent years, with regular first winter period reports from Fishbourne Creek, including four on 8th January, and from East Head, and autumn records from the latter site, on 1st November and Church Norton on the 16th.
The sole record of Grey Phalarope was of one west past Selsey Bill on 1st January.
Living up to its unpredictable reputation after last year’s poor showing, 2016 was a good year for Pomarine Skuas, with a fine total of 81 seen, though the biggest day – 5th May – only accounted for 33 birds. As many of the birds were quite close in, and spread over more days than usual, few determined sea-watchers failed to connect with any this year. There was also a late autumn record - of one west past the Bill on 23rd December.
It was a similar tale for Bonxie, with several January records, a first spring bird on 22nd March and a spring total of 49 that was better than last year, but still below average. As ever, there were a few autumn records of this and the preceding species, but only ones and twos.
The two Little Gulls at Chichester Marina only just lingered into the New Year from the old, but a succession of records from the Bill in early January, including seven on the 3rd, when there were also eight at Church Norton, made up for it. The first migrants were two at Medmerry on 29th March, and throughout up to three birds could be seen on the Stilt Pools, with three also on Ivy Lake from 30th March to 4th April and a different two on 14th April. The spring total of 63 east past the Bill was just ahead of last year, but still below the long-term average.
Overall it was a very unexceptional year for Kittiwakes, which was probably good for them, if not us, as they tend only to occur in big numbers after periods of sustained stormy weather.
For our other speciality gull, the Yellow-legged Gull, it was another poor year, with just one unseasonal record - from Church Norton on 28th January, and summer counts from Pagham Harbour and Fishbourne Creek struggling to make double figures.
The only unusual species seen were a Glaucous Gull off Church Norton on 28th January, that had presumably wandered briefly from where it had been wintering around Climping and Goring, and a probable first-year Caspian Gull in the same location on 26th November.
It was the best spring for a number of years for Black Tern passage at the Bill, with a total of 117 east after the first on 21st April, including 39 on 5th May. Unusually one, and then two birds took up residence at Church Norton between 25th July and 2nd August, though they could be hard to track down at times, and the last record was of one west past the Bill on 28th September.
There was, however, just one Roseate Tern record this year, a single going east past the Bill on 22nd April.
A spring total east of 2681 Sandwich Terns was almost identical to last year and on the long-term average, but the interesting development this year was that for the first time (and after several years of teasing us all) the species actually bred in Pagham Harbour, with three pairs successfully rearing chicks. There were good numbers around again in July and August, peaking at 150 in the harbour on 27th July, with a few seen regularly right up into October, with the last eight seen past the Bill on the 12th, though as is usual a few remained to winter in Chichester Harbour, occasionally straying to the Bill, with four there on 30th December.
It was a much better spring for Common Tern passage, after the first one seen on 26th March, with a combined Common/Arctic and ‘Commic’ Tern total of 5730, four times better than last year and above average. There was also reasonable breeding success at Pagham, with sixteen pairs fledging at least nine chicks, and a big post-breeding build-up, peaking at 300 or so on 27th July. The last bird of the year went past the Bill on 4th October.
There were only 23 positively identified Arctic Terns past the Bill, with the first on 22nd April, and under ten in the autumn, though two juveniles were seen at the Bill on 30th September and four there on 4th October.
The official count of Little Terns passing the spring was only 189, after the first two on 15th April, far below average, but accurate counting has become difficult in the last few years as birds have taken to lingering to feed for days at a time, including a very impressive count of 56 birds offshore on 26th April. Remarkably, as their newly established home on the extension to Church Norton spit disappeared as fast as it formed, the colony re-located itself to Tern Island and had another successful breeding season, with thirteen pairs fledging nine young. The post-breeding build-up in the harbour peaked at 65 on 27th July, and the last two of the year were seen there on 28th August.
The first Black Guillemot since 2010 was seen heading east off the Bill on 1st April, and there were also three Little Auks recorded there, too – on 4th, 7th and 20th November.
Given the absence of any big winter storms, Razorbills and Guillemots were only ever seen in moderate numbers, with the former outnumbering the latter by about four to one, though there were a few days of reasonable auk movement in the autumn, including a combined (with most recorded as auk sp) count of 277 east on 9th November.
After a blank last year, there was just one record of Ring-necked Parakeet for 2016, with one heading out to sea, before quickly retreating, at the Bill on 31st March.
The most consistently reported Barn Owls were the pair at Medmerry, seen all year on the west side, and they undoubtedly bred there. Other locations where intermittent sightings were reported included Northcommon Farm, the Ferry, Church Norton, Marsh Farm, Sidlesham and Birdham, suggesting that there are several pairs in the area.
Little Owls were reported fairly regularly from Marsh Farm, Earnley and Porthole Farm, Ham from March to July, and there were sporadic reports from the area north of the North Wall during the year, but few from other sites, though one was seen on 14th and 19th July on roadside perches along the main road in Sidlesham.
In what was a good year for owls locally, Long-eared Owls did not disappoint, with one flushed from Church Norton Spit on 29th January, and a much more obliging individual roosting along the North Wall from 13th to 19th April.
It was actually quite a good year for reports of Short-eared Owl, but there was no reliable site where they could be expected to be seen, although the North Wall, Church Norton and Medmerry all returned plenty of sightings. Four were seen coming in off the sea at the Bill, too – two in April and two in October.
One of the oddest events of the year was the Tawny Owl taking a liking to the box in the Discovery Area usually used by Kestrels, after almost all the adjacent trees had been removed. Progress was followed from the brooding mother in early April to the appearance of two large chicks that eventually sat out on the next-door branches until they moved off at last on 15th May. There were also a couple of sightings on the edge of Priory Wood at Church Norton – on 18th April and 7th May, and again on 5th December, which was encouraging as they seemed to have abandoned that traditional area in the last few years.
After last year’s two Nightjar records, we went one better this year, with one seen hawking over the sea off the Bill on 7th May, presumably a very late spring migrant flushed from a path at Northcommon Farm on 4th June and finally one in the Rectory garden in Selsey on 9th and 10th September.
Once again, the Severals at Church Norton turned up trumps with a very obliging Wryneck, present from 31st August until 6th September, though the other two seen were much less so, with only brief views of one near the Visitor Centre on 21st September and one along the North Wall two days later.
The first Shorelark seen on the peninsula since 1997 was seen briefly at East Head on 31st October, and was presumably the bird that had been present on Hayling Island for the preceding few days. Sadly, it was never seen again at either location, or anywhere else!
It was poor year for that other heathland specialist, the Tree Pipit, with an early migrant in the Bill House garden on 30-31st March being the one of only two seen on the ground – the other being at Church Norton on 25th August, and fly-overs consisted of just one in spring, on 5th May and half a dozen in the autumn.
It was equally poor for Water Pipits, with just two records – on 25th January at the North Wall, and one at Fishbourne Creek on 27th December..
It was a respectable year, however, for Yellow Wagtails, with 49 seen coming in off the sea in the spring at the Bill, and a few others seen on the ground, including the first at Sidlesham Sewage Farm on 14th April. It was surprisingly numerous in autumn, with the biggest counts being 100 at Medmerry on 26th August, 200 at the North Wall on 29th August and 100 on Ferry Field on the late date of 27th September, with the last of the year at Greenlease Farm from 9th to 12th October.
There was also a Blue-headed Wagtail at the Bill on 12th May.
On the same day there was - for the second year running - a Red-rumped Swallow at the Bill, but like last year’s it didn’t linger.
The first Sand Martin of the year was at Chichester GPs on 20th March, with the first House Martin also there, on the 26th, and the first Swallow in between, on the 23rd, at Pagham Spit.
The cold, damp spring clearly reduced hirundine numbers, with less Swallows breeding locally, but the House Martins continued to delight at the Bill, coming in for fresh mud from the puddles on Grafton Road from May through to July.
Whilst not quite up to the numbers of last year, there were still some big hirundine days, including 1000+ Sand Martins at Medmerry on 18th and 23rd August, and at the Bill there were 1830 House Martins west on 23rd September and 2100 Swallows west on 4th October. There was an exceptionally late Swallow at Church Norton on 10th December.
Last dates were: Sand Martin - 1st October, House Martin – 4th November and Swallow – 10th December.
After a spring with just two brief April sightings - on the 3rd at Church Norton and the 12th at Warner Lane – it was a good autumn for Ring Ouzels, with at least 16 individuals involved, including eight on 6th October, the day after the first was seen along on the Long Pool. The last of the year was at Runcton on 25th October.
Another mild winter meant that, once again, Fieldfares and Redwings were thin on the ground, with highest counts, both from Medmerry, of just 28 of the former on 18th February and ten of the latter on the 23rd, and they remained few and far between in the autumn, though a few Redwing were seen on ‘visible-migration’ watches. Sadly, one flying in off the sea on 10th March was seen to be forced to ditch on the water and then killed by Herring Gulls.
It was another reasonable year for Whinchats, after the first two at Warner Lane on 19th April, and there were a couple of unseasonal mid-summer records - of different birds - at Church Norton, on 3rd and 9th July. Medmerry was the best place to find them in autumn, with several double-figures counts, and a peak of 14 on 10th September, with the last of the year there on 12th October.
Stonechats survived the winter in good numbers, with 12 seen at Medmerry on 14th February, and plenty seen on spring migration. Mirroring the previous species, there were a couple of July records, though both of juveniles at Medmerry, on the 5th and the 18th (two birds). Autumn counts were high again, from the first on 10th September at Medmerry, with this site producing at least 20 on 10th October.
The first Northern Wheatear of the year was on the very late date of 21st March, at Medmerry, and it was generally quite a poor spring for them. Numbers weren’t great in the autumn, either, though there were at least 80 in the area on 11th September, including 30 at Church Norton and at least 50 on 17th September, including 20 on the North Wall and 13 at East Head, with the last of the year was seen at Medmerry on the early date of 16th October.
It was an odd year for Common Redstarts, with a better than average ten seen during the spring at the Bill, and the odd showy one, such as the first of the year at Park Farm, Selsey from 2nd to 5th April, but generally they felt quite scarce. Autumn numbers seemed quite low, too, despite good breeding success in the county and Hampshire, with the last, at East Wittering, seen on 4th October.
A couple of Black Redstarts over-wintered at Medmerry, and another took up residence in the paddocks at Park Farm, Selsey from 28th February into early April, and there were another half a dozen spring records, including two very late records from the Bill, on 12th and 22nd May, with the latter date producing two birds. Autumn, by contrast was no more than average, with two birds in October at Greenlease Farm on the 9th October, three by Medmerry Breach on the 24th, one at Church Norton on the 26th and two in Pagham churchyard on the 31st. Wintering birds included two at Medmerry Breach, one by Selsey Coastguard Station and another at East Head.
The rarest warbler, and indeed rarest bird, of the year was the Aquatic Warbler that popped up in a hedge near Owl Copse before one very lucky observer on 16th August. Sadly, a series of bad timings meant its identity wasn’t confirmed and the news put out until it had moved on. It was the first record since 1990 of this globally endangered species.
It was a better than average (at least in recent terms) spring for Grasshopper Warblers, with one at Church Norton and at least two around the North Wall on 19th April, one on Pagham Rife two days later, one at the Bill on 28th April and finally another at Church Norton on 10th May.
Reed Warblers were very late to arrive, with the first at Medmerry not until 22nd April, and there were several very late records from the Bill (where they are clearly just passing through), including two on 3rd June. The last was on 19th September at Medmerry.
Autumn passage of Chiffchaffs, on the other hand, was particularly good, with 30th September and 1st October producing well over 100 birds each day around Church Norton alone, with many more elsewhere.
Common Whitethroats, like a number of species were a bit thin on the ground this year, with a first date of 13th April and a last of 2nd October.
Lesser Whitethroats seemed relatively numerous in spring and summer, though, with the first a day ahead of its near-relative, but like many species the good weather in August and September meant that return passage happened quite quickly and without any build-up of birds waiting for a break in the weather, with the last seen on 25th September.
Many other species, including Garden Warbler, with a last date of 11th September, and Blackcap followed a similar pattern, though there was a late record of the latter from Church Norton on 11th November.
One species that fared particularly well was the Dartford Warbler, with probably six birds over-wintering, with three around Church Norton, one on Pagham Spit, at least one at Medmerry and another on East Head, with birds recorded at all those locations again in the autumn, as well as a long-stayer in a straggly hedge at Park Farm, Selsey. A juvenile that remained around the gardens at the Bill from 8th August to at least 25th October drew a lot of attention, as it was a ‘tick’ for most of the regulars.
Another ‘tick’ for many at the Bill was the Yellow-browed Warbler that appeared in the well-named ‘This Blessed Plot’ allotment on 9th October, though sadly it didn’t linger. Another, in a garden at East Beach, did stay for a few days from 20th October, but chose a fairly inaccessible location in a private garden.
There were a scattering of Firecrests over-wintering, including at Church Norton, Birdham, Chichester GPs and Apuldram, and a flurry of migration around Selsey in late March, when one was at Park Farm on the 26th, three were in Paddock Lane on the 29th and two were at East Beach Pond on the 30th. There were only a few autumn records, with the first seen at Church Norton on 19th October, though there were three there on 13th December.
It was a typically modest showing in the spring for Pied Flycatchers, with the first in the unusual location of Ivy Lake, Chichester on 19th April, the second along the Long Pool on 25th April and the third and last at the Bill on 10th May, this being the first record there for over ten years. The autumn was similar, though the locations were less unusual, with two in Church Norton Churchyard from 13th to 16th August, and another there on the 25th, plus one on the North Wall on the 18th.
It was a fairly routine year for Spotted Flycatcher sightings, too, with the first (three) at Church Norton on 1st May and modest numbers seen over the next couple of weeks and similar from mid-August until the last on 30th September.
After a surprisingly blank year last year, Bearded Tits returned to the peninsula this October, with three on the Severals on the 22nd, and then four that settled in on the Breech Pool from the 25th for at least a couple of weeks.
A totally unexpected Marsh Tit turned up at the Bill on 30th March, the first record of this peninsula rarity at that site in fifty years!
One of the revelations of the year was that Coal Tits were quite regular at a number of sites around the periphery of the peninsula, with reports from Runcton, to the north, and West Wittering, Itchenor, Birdham, Somerley and Apuldram along the western edge of the area. Sightings on the southern end were restricted to one on the Small Pool on 26th September and two in Church Norton car-park on 28th October.
It was a similar pattern for Treecreeper and Nuthatch, with reports from Runcton, West Wittering and Itchenor for both species, but the only reports of the former from the south of the peninsula were at Church Norton in February and October, and there were none at all of the latter.
There was just one Red-backed Shrike seen in the year, a juvenile that was only present for a few hours in the hedges around Halsey’s Farm on 15th September.
A Hooded Crow popped up again this year, firstly on Church Norton spit on 10th April and then on the tidally-exposed spit off Hillfield Road, at the Bill, two days later and, as with the bird of two years ago, it moved off with the rising tide never to be seen again.
There were well over sixty records of Raven during the year, and seen in all months except June and July, with Church Norton and Medmerry accounting for well over half of them. Following on from the Bill’s first record of modern times last year there were a further four this time, with two seen on 26th and 29th March, one on 3rd April and another on 18th October.
Probably the most infuriating bird of the year was the stunning male Serin that took up residence in the vicinity of the Bill from 13th April until 19th May and played hide and seek with observers, being heard in flight or glimpsed at least once a week in that time, but only giving itself up to good views on its very last day.
It was a decidedly mediocre year for most other migrant finches, though, with just a single spring record of Siskins – of a flock of twenty or so behind the Visitor Centre on 24th February, and just a scattering of autumn fly-overs, from a late start of 28th September, and similarly poor for Lesser Redpolls, with barely twenty seen after the first on 10th August.
There was just a solitary record of Brambling, with one amongst the Chaffinches at Ivy Lake on 3rd April, and Bullfinches were scarce, too, with the few records that there were coming from Chichester Gravel Pits and two or three sites on the west of the peninsula, such as Almodington, West Itchenor and Chichester Marina, though one was at Church Norton on 16th December.
Rather sadly, after the last couple of years of population growth, the Corn Buntings at Medmerry seemed to have declined again. There were good numbers going into the winter, but there were barely half a dozen singing males this summer. The reasons are not clear, though the county’s core population around Arundel Estate and The Burgh seemed to have been similarly affected, with a lack of food linked to the cold, late spring most likely to have been responsible for knocking them back.
Yellowhammers, on the other hand, seemed to be at a recent high at Medmerry, with plenty of birds present throughout the year, and in March and April a few birds were seen along the west side of Pagham Harbour, where they have been largely absent for some years. The Apuldram flock seemed to do well again, and there were 30 or more seen around the Slipe Field on the east side of the harbour during the winter.
Reed Buntings found that area to their liking, too, with 100+ present in January and February, and seem to be doing well elsewhere, with large numbers in both the winter periods and during the breeding season around both the harbour and Medmerry.
A Snow Bunting finally made it onto the list on 30th November, when one popped up in that most traditional of haunts – the northern tip of East Head – remaining into early December.