Review of the Year 2017

Review of the Year 2017

compiled by Andy House


As the fifth year of the blog draws to an end, it will prove to have been another interesting one on the Peninsula, providing some memorable moments and a new species to the total, which now stands at 340, (though this total may change slightly from 2018 following the adoption of the new BOU/IOC British List).

With each passing year the amount of data increases, and it starts to produce some interesting statistics, if not (quite yet) any meaningful trends. For example, over the five years a total of 255 species have been recorded, of which 182 have been seen annually, a further 13 in four of the five years,10 in three years, 20 in two and 30 species have been recorded just once. And this year’s total of 215 is just above average and the same score as last year.

Well over 1000 hours of sea-watching were logged at the Bill, in all weathers! (AH (above) & OM)

After last year’s frustrations, the majority of the rarest birds this year – if, by no means, all! - were at least seen by a few observers and not just the finder. The rarest – a first for the county, and a first in Britain for most who saw it – was the Elegant Tern seen in Pagham Harbour in June, and its appearance prompted the biggest and most prolonged twitch ever seen on the Peninsula, with visitor numbers in the thousands during its ten-day stay. 

The gathering crowd, barely an hour after the news of the Elegant Tern was released (AH)

Among the other rarities enjoyed by at least a few were White-winged Black Tern, Long-tailed Skua, Rose-coloured Starling, Glossy Ibis and Cattle Egret, whilst others such as Tawny Pipit, Kentish Plover, Hoopoe, Purple Heron, Grey Phalarope, Puffin, Iceland and Glaucous Gull were only enjoyed by the finders. It was also a year in which day-records were broken for a number of species, particularly in early February, with unprecedented numbers of Razorbills, Gannets and Red-throated Divers seen off the Bill.

It seemed to be a good year for our breeding birds, with the pleasant early-summer weather being ideal, and many of our most important species - like Little Tern, Corn Bunting, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Pochard and Shelduck - all produced good numbers of youngsters.


Shelduck-lings at Medmerry on 6th July (AH)

Increasingly, other wildlife gets a mention, too, with several moth-traps on the go in Selsey, and notable sights, such as a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins off the Bill meriting a mention, whilst potentially two new species – Southern Migrant Hawker (dragonfly) and Nathusius’s Pipistrelle (bat) were recorded for the first time on the Peninsula. 

Southern Migrant Hawker on the Small Pool on 23rd August (AB)

Overall, it was an unremarkable year for weather, with a mostly mild and not excessively wet winter and, after a late start, a mostly warm and sunny spring and early summer before a spell of very wet weather took hold in late July and August. The autumn, too, was generally benign, with unseasonably warm weather carrying on into November, before a spell of fairly cold and dry weather saw most of the year out, though there was a wet and stormy sting in the tail at the very end.

Winter sunrise at the Bill (OM)

Sadly, the relentless development of the area continues apace, with yet more land being consumed for caravans and a huge new estate on once productive fields to the north of Selsey, with even bigger designs on the land between the North Wall and Pagham village, though all is not quite lost yet at this latter site.

The end of the Hawthorn hedgerow at Warner Lane (OM)
Aerial shot circa 2012, showing just how built-up Selsey already is (courtesy Chichester Observer)

Probably the biggest frustration of the year was the inability to control water levels on either of the prime migrant wader sites of the Ferry Pool and the Breech Pool, making the scarcer waders very hard to come by. The Ferry continues to have an unplugged hole in its bank, meaning it dried out to nothing in the dry spring and was only replenished with salt water thereafter, whilst the complicated ownership/management arrangements of the Breech Pool made any control all but impossible, and what little could be done was not helped by the changes in the drainage of the harbour. Next year may well see improvements to the Ferry, though the latter site's situation remains unclear as the spectre of development nearby looms large.

The Breech Pool – full of water and devoid of birds! (OM)

The vast extension to Church Norton Spit has now all but completely vanished, with some of the consequences including the formation of a new lagoon off Pagham Beach and some serious erosion occurring along Pagham Spit, but also a build-up of shingle inside the west side of the harbour-mouth that seems to stop the harbour draining out fully during low tides. This will presumably decrease the amount of mud (and invertebrates) for the waders to feed on, but possibly increasing its appeal to other species such as Avocet and Great Crested Grebe. As ever, with the shingle, we wait to see what happens next!

The view across to Church Norton spit and the recently-appeared shingle ridge (AH)

There were some other changes to the landscape, too, with the iconic Selsey land-mark (in a town that has very few!) of the Lifeboat station being dismantled, and the far horizon now covered in the giant blades of the Rampion Off-shore Wind-farm, some 25 miles to the east, off of Shoreham.


The view looking east from the Bill, now minus the life-boat station (OM)
Gannet off Church Norton, with the Rampion Wind-farm beyond (AH)

Also, after many years of deliberation, the old hide opposite the Ferry has finally gone, after nearly 40 years of service, and a big shiny one is rapidly going up in its stead – let us hope that the Ferry Pool, which is also scheduled for a make-over, proves worthy of it.

The new hide being built opposite the Ferry (AH)

One other event during the year that – with all due modesty! – merits a mention, and that was the publication of ‘A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Pagham Harbour, Medmerry and Selsey Bill,’ which finally came out this summer to a generally favourable reception, and which hopefully provides a good summary of all the birds and sites of the Peninsula. Of course, the wags among the locals pointed out that it was almost immediately out of date because of the addition of Elegant Tern to the list!

As we start another year – the more out of date the better!


That book! (AH)


The Birds

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.

Divers

After a fairly slow start, it ended up as a record-breaking winter for Red-throated Divers, with big counts off the Bill in late January, e.g. 86 heading on the 20th being surpassed by 101 east on 3rd February and then 191 east on the following day, a new day-record for the species. There were no other big days, but a spring total of 166 birds seen heading east was respectable, and there were some good movements late in the year, including 85 west past the Bill on 16th December.

Red-throated Diver at the Bill on 17th February (AH)

By comparison, it was a pretty modest year for our other two species. There were only ten reports of Black-throated Diver past the Bill during the whole winter and spring, and just a handful of reports from the harbour and Medmerry in that time, though autumn numbers were respectable, including a bird that was offshore from Church Norton for several days from 3rd December.

Great Northern and Black-throated Divers off Church Norton on 4th December (AW)

Great Northern Diver numbers were lower than recent winters, despite being recorded almost daily, with peaks at the Bill of just nine on 17th Feb and eight on 7th and 22nd April. The last sighting of the latter species was on the late date of 29th May. Numbers were a little better in the late autumn, with double-figure totals spread around the Peninsula’s coastline on several days.

Grebes

Encouragingly, it was the best winter for some years for Slavonian Grebes, with counts of 34 on 4th January and 19 on the 8th being reminiscent of former times, and there were regular records from the Bill, too, with a peak passage of 22 east (plus four lingering offshore) on 5th February, and the last report of the spring was from here, with four offshore on 28th March. The first four returning birds were off Church Norton on 6th November, a day later than last year, and an encouraging pre-Christmas peak of 22 birds was noted on 5th December.

Slavonian Grebe at Church Norton on 11th January (AH)

Its scarcer cousin was just that this year, though, with a report of a Black-necked Grebe in the harbour on 3rd November and one seen off West Itchenor on 6th December being the only records.

Black-necked Grebe at West Itchenor on 6th December (PH)

It was a bit better for Red-necked Grebes this year, with one off Church Norton spit on 4th January, two off the Bill on 1st May and a succession of reports, following one at the Bill on 23rd November ,until the year's end.

Seabirds

It was a fairly poor spring for Manx Shearwaters after an early start, with the seven west on 22nd March only followed by another 14 throughout April and May, but summer storms in early June produced some good counts, including 43 west on the 4th and 37 east and 59 west on the 8th. There was also, unusually, an autumn record, of one west on 7th October.

Early June also produced Balearic Shearwaters, with four west on the 8th and two more on the following day, though a single west on 3rd September was the only other record for the year.

That unsettled early June weather also made it a good year for Storm-Petrels at the Bill, with totals of two on the 6th, one on the 7th, seven on the 8th and one on the 9th.

There was an unprecedented influx of Gannets early in the year, with 600 off the Bill on 4th January and large counts continuing right up to the end of February, including a day record of 1813 west and 182 east on 29th January.

Gannets at the Bill on 2nd February (AH)

The numbers of Shags reported at the Bill seems to steadily increase every autumn (though they are rarely recorded elsewhere), and this time they were reported almost daily, with counts of up to four or five – almost all first-year - birds being quite regular.

Shags off the Bill on 3rd November (AH)

Herons

It was a very good year for heron species, with some of the scarcer species putting in an appearance and, after three blank years, no less than three different Bitterns appeared in the early part of the year – on Ivy Lake from 3rd January until 15th February, at Drayton Pits from 17th to 30th January and Chichester Marina reed-bed from 15th to 17th February. An unusually early autumn record was returned from the North Wall on 10th September, and though there were no more sightings, a remote-control camera being used to check for mink filmed one in nearby Bremere Rife on 5th December.

Bittern at Drayton Pits on 25th January (OM)

Remarkably, just two days after a Purple Heron was seen at Medmerry on 20th April, another two appeared together, seen flying in off the sea though, frustratingly, none of them were seen subsequently.

Purple Heron at Medmerry on 20th April (D Killick)

After a Cattle Egret was found on farmland behind the North Wall on 1st August there were a succession of sporadic records, including  two birds on 17th and 20th August, right up until 23rd October, but the birds could go missing for long periods and never gave themselves up easily.

Cattle Egret at the North Wall on 12th August (BI)

Even less easy to see were Great White Egrets, with two individuals seen from the North Wall - on 29th September and 5th November - which both flew off shortly after discovery to be never seen again, and three together at the Medmerry breach on 28th November that flew away out to sea.

After the previous winter’s bonanza, there were no Spoonbill reports until one dropped in on Medmerry from 20th to 22nd April, and after three appeared there the following day there were no more sightings until one appeared in the harbour on 12th August. It was a fair autumn, thereafter, with reports including three at Medmerry on 21st August and (the same?) three in the harbour the following day, and five birds settling in together in White’s Creek for a few days from 25th September, with at least one bird remaining into December, with reports from both the harbour and Medmerry.

Spoonbill in White’s Creek on 4th October (AH)


Glossy Ibis made it onto the list for the year on the late date of 14th November, when one took up residence on the building site at Toe End, near the Medmerry Breach until the 25th.


Glossy Ibis at Medmerry on 17th November (AH)

One species that can’t, strictly speaking, be added to the list is White Stork, as the two widely-appreciated birds that appeared behind the North Wall on 9th September and roamed the area for several weeks afterwards were known to have been escapees from the re-introduction scheme on the Knepp Castle Estate in the north of the county.

White Storks at the Ferry on 12th September (AH)

Wildfowl

The only wild grey geese were two White-fronted Geese that were seen on a number of occasions between 5th and 8th January around the North Wall area.

Fairly good numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese were around early in the year, though they departed fairly early and a spring passage total of 3833 east was above average, with three-quarters of the total occurring in March, including the peak day of 644 birds east on the 28th. Unusually, there were three sightings of a single bird in the harbour in June and July, whilst the first three birds back were seen on 19th September. There seemed to be a lot of geese around the harbour in the autumn, but like last year there were very few juveniles among them.

Dark-bellied and Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Church Norton on 10th November (AH)

There were just three Pale-bellied Brent Goose records this year – of two east past the Bill on 1st May, one in the harbour on 6-10th November and another past the Bill on 3rd December.

The appearance of around 80 Barnacle Geese off East Head on 25th January was unusual, but not unprecedented, as this is the third time in four years that a large flock has popped up briefly on the Peninsula in the early new-year, only to swiftly depart again, and their origin remains a mystery. Also, a single bird was in the harbour on 7th November and six were at Medmerry on 12th December, with five still there on the 18th.

Barnacle Geese at East Head (MR)

There was no repeat of last year’s Egyptian Goose breeding success, though a pair were seen around Runcton and the pits from 17th January until 12th February, and four went over the Ferry on the 15th, but thereafter there were multiple records of a lone bird from both the harbour and Medmerry during the remainder of the year until early November, when two appeared together around Honer Reservoir.

Egyptian Goose on the Ferry on 16th July (SH)

That perennially controversial species, Ruddy Shelduck, turned up again, albeit briefly, with a pair in Pagham Harbour 6th November, a very typical date for this species.

Ruddy Shelducks at Church Norton on 6th November (AH)

It was a very poor year for Garganey, with only three records: a pair briefly seen at Medmerry on 7th April, a pair that went east past the Bill on 19th April and three heading east on 11th May.

A pair of Gadwall successfully raised young again on the Long Pool this year, whilst at least one family of Pochard – a nationally scarce breeding species - was on Ivy Lake and four families were on the Drayton pits.


Pochard family on Drayton Pit on 5th June (SR)

After a surprisingly blank year, last year, for Mandarin there were five spring records – two each from Medmerry and Birdham Pool – after the first of the year at Chichester Marina Reedbeds on 4th April, with autumn records of a single male from the North Wall on 18th November and up to four birds on a number of subsequent dates at Birdham Pool.

Mandarin at Chichester Marina Reedbeds on 4th April (OM)

The first-winter drake Scaup that appeared on Ivy Lake last autumn remained until 10th March, maturing into fine adult plumage before it departed. The only autumn records were  of two west past the Bill on the fairly early date of 5th October and one at Medmerry on 28th December.

Scaup on Ivy Lake on 27th February (BI)

The Long-tailed Duck on Ivy Lake also remained into March, departing one day after the Scaup did. There were plenty of other records early in the year off both Church Norton and the Bill, including three at the former on 7th January, and three west past the latter on the 14th, with the last one of the spring going east there on 11th February. There were two autumn records of birds going west past the Bill - on 8th October and two on 16th December, - whilst an obliging first-year bird settled on the small artificial reservoir at Honer, from 13th November into December before (presumably) relocating to Pagham Lagoon, and another was off East Head on several dates from 21st December.

Long-tailed Duck on Ivy Lake on 5th March (SH)

It was the best winter for some years for Eider, with three taking up permanent residence in the area, and a first-winter drake in particular favouring the Bill and providing many photo opportunities. Passage birds were recorded on a good number of days in the spring, with 29 east on 1st May being the biggest day-total for quite some time. At least three birds then settled into the harbour for the summer, remaining on into the autumn.

Eider at the Bill on 5th May (AH)

Another species for which the winter of 2016/17 was a good one was Velvet Scoter, with up to four individuals regularly recorded off of the Bill, Medmerry and Church Norton in January and February, and a spring passage total of 66 compared very favourably to last year’s one bird! In the autumn a first-year bird settled into the main channel of the harbour from 10th November to 16th December, and was watched from Church Norton by a surprisingly large number of people keen to catch up with this otherwise essentially maritime species.

Velvet Scoter at Church Norton on 10th November (AW)

It was a good year for Common Scoters, too, with at least 100 wintering off the Coastguard Station (between Medmerry and the Bill) and a well-above average spring passage total of 7046 birds east, with large counts right up till the end of May (eg 385 east on the 26th) and almost daily sightings of 30+ birds throughout the summer and early autumn.

Common Scoters passing the Bill on 21st May (AH)

Goldeneye, by contrast, seem to be getting increasingly scarce, with just four around the harbour and a maximum of eight (on 16th February) at Dell Quay in the first winter period. The first returning bird was on Pagham Lagoon on 31st October, but only three or four settled in to winter, with just six at Dell Quay.

Goldeneye at Church Norton on 5th November (BI)

The first Goosander was not sighted until 28th October, when one was at Dell Quay, swiftly followed by further records of three west at Church Norton on 5th November and ones and twos seen on several subsequent dates until the end of the year.

Goosander at Church Norton on 8th December (AW)

Raptors

After the first blank year ever in 2016, there were at least a few Hen Harrier sightings this year, with the first on the early date of 25th August at Medmerry, and three more reports thereafter, though none lingered.

Hen Harrier at Medmerry on 25th August (SH)

Marsh Harriers weren’t particularly numerous this year, with the odd bird settling in for a day or two, but none lingering for any longer, though there were over 30 reports, mostly in spring and autumn. Two of the more unusual of those were a bird seen on 21st and 22nd January hunting over Drayton Pit and one flying in off the sea at the Bill on 20th March.

Marsh Harrier at Chichester Marina on 19th February (BI)

There was an increase to around 20 reports of Red Kite this year, with three quarters of them between March and May from a wide range of locations, with the only multiples being two over Church Norton on 13th March and 5th April, and a flock of four seen first over Selsey town and then Sidlesham on 25th May.

Red Kite at Church Norton on 5th April (AH)

One of the biggest disappointments of the year, particularly after last autumn, was the paucity of Osprey reports. After an average spring of half a dozen sightings, with the first (seen at both the Bill and the Ferry) on 21st March and the last at Church Norton on 12th April, there were high hopes for August and September, but the birds never settled, with just ten sightings between 4th August and 1st October, all of birds just passing through.

Osprey at the Ferry on 21st March (AH)

After the first Hobby, at Ivy Lake on the early first date of 29th March, it was a slightly better spring for the species than last year, with a total of 19 seen arriving off the sea at the Bill, including four on 6th May. The first returning bird was at Medmerry on 16th July, and the last bird of a reasonable, if unspectacular autumn, was seen over Runcton on the fairly late date of 25th October.

Hobby at Church Norton on 15th September (AH)

There were just two reports of Merlin early in the year – at Medmerry on 7th January and Warner Lane, Selsey on 22nd February, with presumably a passage bird chasing migrants at the Bill on 20th March. It was a better autumn, though, after the first – at Medmerry – on 20th August, with fairly regular reports from both there and the harbour throughout September and October.

Merlin at the Bill on 20th March (OM)

One of the most unexpected and exciting events of the year was the regular wintering pair of Peregrines successfully rearing two chicks on ‘their’ island in the middle of Pagham Harbour, one of only a handful of records of ground-nesting by the species in Britain.

Peregrine at Church Norton on 12th August (AH)

Gamebirds/Rails

Grey Partridges remained scarce all year, with barely a dozen reports returned from a range of sites, though a pair were known to have bred at Medmerry.

After a good autumn last year, there were plenty of Water Rails around, though none were as obliging as the pair that frequented the Ferry all winter, appearing out in the open for long periods to feed on the mud near the road, every time after it rained.

Water Rail on the Ferry on 13th March (AH)

Waders

Once again, the Avocet colony at Medmerry appeared to be flourishing, with at least 20 nesting pairs again, and an apparently good number of chicks reared to fledging. Possibly as a consequence of this success, the wintering population in the harbour peaked at an impressive 80 birds on 21st February, whilst 78 there on 5th March coincided with 40 birds being noted at Medmerry – numbers undreamt of only a few years ago. There were over 50 back in the harbour by early November, too.

Avocets in Ferry Channel on 25th February (AH)

Little Ringed Plovers did well again at Medmerry, too, with probably half a dozen pairs rearing young, including a very late chick seen in the second half of July. Away from Medmerry, the Ferry once again produced the first (two) of the year, on 13th March, and for the second year running the Bill produced a record – of one east on 5th May.

Little Ringed Plover at Medmerry on 29th March (SH) 

Also, for the second year running, a smart male Kentish Plover popped up in the harbour, this time on the east side on 26th May, though it only remained until the tide pushed up.

Kentish Plover on the east side of the harbour on 26th May (AH)

The only spring Little Stints were one at Medmerry from 2nd to 4th May, and one at Church Norton on 13th June, but it was quite a good autumn, after the first one - on the Ferry - on 30th July. Four together at Church Norton on the 3rd, with two remaining till the 5th were the only August records, but a spread of reports through September and October (including two at Medmerry on the 27th) suggested at least half a dozen different birds.

Little Stints at Church Norton on 3rd August (AH)

There was just one spring record of Curlew Sandpiper – at Church Norton on 14th May, and they were fairly hard to come by in the autumn, with the first, at Snowhill Creek, on the late date of 10th September. Ones and twos turned up in September, with three at the afore-mentioned site and two in White’s Creek on the 30th being the only larger count, though, unusually there were reports of a single bird at Church Norton until 6th November.

Curlew Sandpipers in White’s Creek on 30th September (AH)

It was a fairly typical spring for Sanderlings, with over 400 counted heading east and a modest peak of 83 east on 30th April.


Sanderlings at the Bill on 6th June (AH)

The Purple Sandpiper has become a rare bird in recent years, with the last record in 2014, so the very obliging individual that settled on the groynes at the Bill on 8th and 9th November was very welcome. Amazingly, two more dropped in at the Bill on the 11th before heading off west and then one popped up at both the Bill and Church Norton on 31st December to complete a good autumn for the species.

Purple Sandpiper at the Bill on 8th November (AH)

Ruff, too, appear to be becoming scarcer, with just two on 21st April, and three on the following day and one on the Ferry from 8th to 12th May being the only spring records – though the latter bird, a spectacularly tiger-striped male, was much appreciated. The first returning bird was at the North Wall on 18th July, but only another half a dozen reports were received during autumn migration, though, unusually, two settled in around the North Wall to winter.

Ruff on the Ferry on 8th May (AH)

After a blank year, last year, there was a reasonable showing of four Wood Sandpipers, at Medmerry on 1st July and on the Ferry on 13th and 19th July, and 2nd August, though none lingered for more than a few hours.

Wood Sandpiper at Medmerry on 1st July (AH)

Wintering Green Sandpipers have become a familiar sight on the Ferry and at Medmerry, where one or two were seen regularly in the early part of the year, with other reports coming from Park Farm, Selsey, Chalder Farm and Runcton. The first returning bird was over Pagham Spit on 18th June and there were regular reports from the Ferry through the summer and autumn, including peaks of five on 22nd August and four on 20th October.

Green Sandpiper at Church Norton on 5th October (DM)

The Common Sandpiper survived a second winter at Medmerry and was back in residence again this autumn, though passage bird numbers were distinctly average.

Common Sandpiper on Pagham Rife on 13th July (JDW)

A Greenshank over-wintered at Medmerry, too, with peaks of two at East Head and four at Fishbourne Creek in the early months, though spring passage numbers were lower than last year. Autumn numbers were a little better, with 16 on 4th August and 16 on 2nd October at the North Wall, and a flock of 25 flying out from Ferry Channel on 25th September being the best counts. Four birds at Medmerry on 5th November suggested that they may be settling in there for the winter.

Greenshank at Church Norton on 31st August (AH)

Spotted Redshank
s again wintered in reasonable numbers, with peaks of five in Fishbourne Creek on 3rd January and three around the North Wall on 20th January. The first of a number of smart summer-plumaged birds was on the Breech Pool on 21st June, and small numbers remained throughout, with seven still in the vicinity on 20th October.

Spotted Redshank on the Ferry on 7th July (AH)

The regular Whimbrel saw out the winter in its usual spot at Church Norton, settling in again in the autumn, but there was only one other report of a wintering bird, from Fishbourne Creek on 25th February. Another good spring total – of 561 birds east – was recorded at the Bill, including 94 on 29th April.

Whimbrels in Ferry Channel on 19th April (AH)

Though still below the long-term average, it was a much better spring, too, for Bar-tailed Godwits, with 543 birds counted east past the Bill (compared with just 117 last year), including 243 on 29th April.

Bar-tailed Godwits at the Bill on 30th April (AH)

Woodcock records were typically few in a mild winter, with just three noted, at Church Norton on 22th January, at Westlands Copse, Itchenor three days later and one in Sidlesham on 6th March, and there was one record late in the year - of two in Mapsons Lane, Sidlesham on 26th December.

Jack Snipe
were recorded fairly regularly in January and February from their traditional site at Fishbourne Creek, with additional records from Drayton Pits on 15th and 17th January, Porthole Farm on 22nd January and East Head on 1st March. The first of the autumn was back at Fishbourne Creek on 9th November.

Frustratingly, in a period of stormy weather where Grey Phalaropes were reported from many areas, the only one to appear on the Peninsula was on a pond with no public access at Medmerry on 18th September, and it didn’t linger.

Grey Phalarope at Medmerry on 18th September (IL)

Skuas

Surprisingly, after a good year last year for Pomarine Skuas, 2017 went two better, with a total of 83 birds east during April and May. The first four were seen on 23rd April, and like last year there were few big days, with a count of 26 on the late date of 10th May being the biggest.

Pomarine Skua at the Bill on 12th May (AH)

It was a remarkable year for Long-tailed Skuas, with the first spring bird since 1985 occurring on 11th May, having been tracked through the Solent, and then being seen further east, too. For several Bill regulars who missed this bird, there was redemption on 3rd September when, amazingly, two birds together lingered offshore for two hours before drifting off to the west.

Long-tailed Skua at the Bill on 11th May (DM)

It was an average sort of year for Arctic Skuas, though a bird seen on 7th February at the Bill was possibly the first record for that month, with a below average, but still better than the previous spring total of 115 birds east past the Bill. Odd birds occurred all through the summer and on into November at the Bill, and there was a very unusual record of one chasing terns inside the harbour at Church Norton on 21st July.

Arctic Skua at Church Norton on 21st July (AW)

Bonxies are increasingly seen in winter, and there were a couple of January records from both the Bill and Church Norton, and it was a good spring, too, with 94 birds seen heading east at the Bill, including a remarkable 39 on 29th April.

Gulls

It was a poor winter for Little Gulls, with a bird at the Bill on 4th and 5th February being the only record, and it was a pretty poor spring, too, with just 54 seen past the Bill between March and May. At least two first-year birds were present throughout much of the summer, though, popping up at Medmerry and in the harbour during late May and June, and there were a handful of autumn records at the Bill, including eight west on 4th September.


Little Gull at Church Norton on 5th July (J-PC)


There were some good counts of Kittiwakes offshore from the Bill early in the year among the influx of Gannets and auks, most notably 250 on 4th January and 300 on 7th and 8th February, though numbers remained typically modest during the remainder of the year.


Kittiwake at the Bill on 3rd September (AH)

Mediterranean Gulls have become so ever-present and numerous they barely merit a mention these days, but the flocks of 500-1000 birds that build up at Church Norton and Medmerry in late summer still seem a remarkable sight to those of us excited to find just one not that many years ago.

Mediterranean Gull at East Head on 1st March (AB)

That other southern European species, Yellow-legged Gull, however, is becoming quite scarce, with just one winter record – from Church Norton on 4th February, and nothing much else recorded beyond the half a dozen birds that summered off the North Wall and a single bird at Medmerry.

Yellow-legged Gull at Medmerry on 11th August (AH)

However, both those classic winter visitors from the far north, Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull put in an appearance, the former at Medmerry on 25th January and again at the Bill on 6th February, and the latter at the Bill on 11th February, though neither lingered to be more widely appreciated.

Glaucous Gull at the Bill on 6th February (AH)

Not a species that normally receives a mention, but exception must be made for the Black-headed Gull colony on Tern Island, which reached an impressive 294 nests this year, with the harbour full of barely-fledged youngsters in July.

Black-headed Gull chicks at Church Norton on 23rd May (IL)

Terns

Undoubtedly the bird of the year was the Elegant Tern that appeared at Church Norton on 10th June. Having turned up briefly in Hampshire a few days previously (allowing them to steal the laurels for the ‘first for Britain!’), it was on the radar, but no-one was prepared for the bedlam that was to come. Within a matter of hours there were hundreds of birders present and the following day (a Sunday) that figure was approaching the thousands, with roads blocked, nerves frayed and the reserve over-run. Things did settle down after that, and though it was often sat out of view in the tern colony for long periods, with patience everyone who wanted to see it did so during its ten-day stay.


Elegant Tern at Church Norton on 10th June (AB)

The moulting adult White-winged Black Tern, seen first off East Head and then at the Stilt Pool at Medmerry on 16th August (and at the latter site on the following day, too) was the first for the south end of the Peninsula since 1988, but still had to settle for second place, though it was much appreciated by those who trekked down to see it.


White-winged Black Tern at Medmerry on 16th July (AH)

It was a fairly poor spring for Black Terns, with the first not seen until 30th April, when, in fact, 11 of the total of 17 went east past the Bill. Oddly, one turned up on the evening of 10th June in front of the Elegant Tern watchers, but there were no more records until 16th August, when two were in the company of the previous species off East Head. The only obvious autumn movement was on 3rd September, when a minimum of seven and possibly up to 14 birds were seen off the Bill in stormy conditions.


Black Tern at Church Norton on 10th June (AH)

There were two spring records of Roseate Tern at the Bill – on 17th April and 1st May, whilst the tern colony at Church Norton drew another one in between 12th and 18th June, the detection of its presence undoubtedly helped by the assembled crowds!

As is usual these days, a few Sandwich Terns were wintering again, though eight off East Head on 15th January is the highest total yet recorded, and it was a good spring at the Bill, too, with a total of 3348 birds east being well above average. As far as breeding was concerned, it was so near yet so far, with an unprecedented 67 nests counted before sadly a Fox got onto Tern Island and wiped most of them out, though a handful of chicks did survive to fledging.


Juvenile Sandwich Terns at Church Norton on 30th July (AH)

It was a less good year for Common Terns, though, after the first on 28th March, with a well-below average ‘Commic’ Tern total of 2723 birds heading east, of which 1015 were definitely Commons. Also, all 13 nests on Tern Island were lost to the Fox. Two first-summer birds were seen in the harbour on a number of dates from 28th May, with their rarely seen sub-adult plumage initially causing a few heads to be scratched. The last of the year was at Church Norton on 10th October.

Common Terns at the Bill on 26th April (AH)

A total of 36 Arctic Terns were positively identified among the east-bound terns at the Bill, with the first on 22nd April, the same date as last year. Between 15th and 27th September at least half a dozen sightings of one or two juvenile birds were made from the harbour, the Bill and Medmerry.

All the news about Little Terns was good this year, with a better than of late spring count of 355 birds passing the Bill, with the first on 9th April, and for the fourth year running a successful breeding season, with at least 17 chicks being fledged. The whole colony upped and left on the early date of 23rd July, with just a few reports of migrants thereafter, until the last on the late date of 16th September.

Little Tern at Church Norton on 13th May (AH)

Auks

This year will long be remembered as the Year of the Razorbill, with unprecedented numbers off the Bill, in particular, during January and February. There were some big counts of ‘auk sp’ in January – notably 2000 offshore on the 6th, but numbers increased again in early February, with estimated record-breaking numbers of 2000 Razorbills and another 1000 auk sp (of which the majority, it is reasonable to assume, were Razorbills, too) either heading west or lingering offshore from the Bill on the 7th. Encouragingly, this seemed to be a local feeding frenzy rather than caused by storms or food shortages, as there were no reports of dead birds on the strandline and within a week they all more or less dispersed. 


What was surprising was that they were almost all Razorbills, with a very modest peak of just 40 Guillemots seen on 5th February.



Razorbills and Guillemot at the Bill on 7th February (AH)

Just a solitary Puffin was picked out among the hoards, on 4th February, and just a single Little Auk was recorded in the autumn, with one flying west past the Bill on the late date of 2nd December.


Pigeons/Owls/etc

It was a marginally better year for Turtle Doves, with spring birds at Medmerry on 9th May and 15th June, and two that took up residence at West Wittering from 25th to 29th May. One of the most watched and appreciated birds of the year was the amazingly tame juvenile that settled in literally outside the front door of the Visitor Centre from 13th to 20th September, allowing an endless procession of bird-watchers and photographers stunning views during its stay, unconcernedly feeding around the little pond. There was one last record, too, of one at Church Norton on the fairly late date of 1st October.


Turtle Dove at the Visitor Centre on 18th September (AH)

It was generally a pretty poor year for Cuckoos, with calling males quite few and far between, even in their favoured areas. There were some odd records, though, including an extremely early one heard in dense fog at Drift Lane, Selsey on 16th March, with the next not noted until 21st April at Medmerry, and juveniles were seen along the Long Pool on 12th July, at Medmerry on 18th August and at West Itchenor on 31st August.

Cuckoo on Pagham Spit on 29th April (AB)

There were plenty of reports of Barn Owl again this year, though almost all of these in the first half of the year related to the pair at Medmerry, though another pair were reported regularly from the North Wall in July and August, and intermittently thereafter, and what was presumably a different pair were in the Ham/Porthole Farms area from mid-September onwards.

Barn Owl at Medmerry on 13th July (AB)

Unfortunately, the winter of 2016/17 was a bad one for our local Little Owls, with the regular birds at both Porthole Farm and Marsh Farm, Earnley disappearing and there being very sporadic reports from the North Wall area, with the only sighting of two being at Bramber Farm on 15th March. The bird at Northcommon Farm, was however still present and often very obliging until, in September, the owners burnt down the wood-pile it liked to sit out on.

Little Owl at Northcommon Farm on 30th March (SR)

Tawny Owl numbers seem to have recovered a bit, with birds calling again in areas where they had been absent in the last year or two, and remarkably, there was successful breeding again in the nest-box in the Discovery Area, with two owlets fledging.

Tawny Owlets in the Discovery Area on 28th May (DM)

Short-eared Owls were absent in the early part of the year, with the first record being of one in off the sea at the Bill on 2nd April, and it or another was at Medmerry on the following day, with the only other spring report being from the latter site on 17th May. It was a fair – if not exactly classic! – autumn, though, after the first returner at Church Norton on 10th August, with Medmerry producing regular sightings in September and October, with a handful of reports from the North Wall, too.


Short-eared Owl at Medmerry on 6th October (AH)

Yet again, a Nightjar was seen coming in off the sea at the Bill, this time a well-watched individual on 10th May.

And also, yet again (!), a Hoopoe made a brief appearance on the Peninsula without any of the locals seeing it, with one flushed from Church Norton spit on 21st April which disappeared away into the Priory to never resurface.

The first (three) Swifts of the year were on 21st April at Ivy Lake, and the last (two) of an unremarkable year for the species were at Church Norton on 3rd September.


Swift at Medmerry on 7th May (AH)

Another mild winter meant another good year for the local Kingfishers, and there were a succession of summer sightings from the Ferry Channel area, possibly suggesting a breeding pair nearby, though there was no confirmation.


Kingfisher in Fishbourne Creek on 6th January (AH)

Larks/Pipits/Hirundines

There were just two Woodlark reports – an unusual one of a bird on Pagham Spit on 15th January, and a more typical one of two over the Bill on 12th October.

A large pipit seen and photographed on Ferry Field on 25th April was considered to mostly likely be a Tawny Pipit, and would be the first record since 1994.


Tawny Pipit on Ferry Field on 25th April (IL)

There were no spring records of Tree Pipit, though seven autumn birds, between one on 13th August in the Discovery Area and one at Medmerry on 19th September was a pretty average figure for recent years.


Tree Pipit at Medmerry on 24th August (AH)

The uncharacteristically amenable Water Pipit, first seen in the previous December, continued to draw crowds at Fishbourne Creek until at least 26th January, whilst birds seen at Medmerry on 20th April and along Ferry Channel on 31st October were more typically unobliging.


Water Pipit at Fishbourne Creek on 5th January (BI)

It was a poorer year than last for Yellow Wagtails, in both spring and autumn, with just 33 at the Bill, including the first three of the year on 14th April. The first (three) returning birds were at the North Wall on 26th July, but numbers were generally low, with a peak of 120 there on 13th September, with numbers at Medmerry and the Ferry never getting near that level. The last of the year was at the North Wall on 8th October.


Yellow Wagtail at Medmerry on 31st August (SH)

A very interesting, if little known, bird was the ‘Channel’ Wagtail – a hybrid between Blue-headed and Yellow Wagtails - seen in the horse paddocks on 17th April, which was a first record for the Peninsula.


‘Channel’ Wagtail at the North Wall on 17th April (AB)


The first Sand Martins – a dozen of them – were at Ivy Lake on 18th March, but it was a pretty average spring for sightings thereafter, whilst the first returning birds were a shade later than usual, with two over Selsey on 30th June. It did seem to be a good autumn for them, though, with some very large counts from the first big one of c1000 birds in two different flocks over Medmerry on 17th July until the last big gathering of up to 400 birds at Medmerry on 15th September, though numbers dropped away quickly after that, with the last two seen at the same site on 27th September.


Sand Martins at Medmerry on 25th August (AH)

The first Swallow was four days behind the preceding species, also on Chichester Gravel Pits, though, surprisingly, the biggest days at the Bill weren’t until early May, with a peak of 480 north on the 7th. A pair took up residence in the busy hide at Church Norton, rearing two broods, the latter of which didn’t finally fledge until 18th September. The biggest of several big days of movement at the Bill was 24th September, when 3684 birds were logged going east, whilst the last two of the year were seen at Ham Farm on 6th November.

Swallows at Church Norton on 10th September (AB)

Chichester Gravel Pits also saw the first House Martin, on the fairly late date of 4th April, whilst the birds at Selsey Bill once again delighted the sea-watchers through the late spring, gathering mud from the puddles in Grafton Road. The big movement days were all in August this year, with a peak of 2244 west on 26th August, and a gathering of 1000+ birds around the houses three days later was a spectacular sight. Numbers were fairly low through September, and the last were two at Church Norton on 20th October and a late single over the Broadreeds (old Pontins) estate at the Bill on 6th November.

House Martin at the Bill on 10th June (AH)

Thrushes

There was a very early Ring Ouzel, seen around the Visitor Centre on 28th March, but there were only three more spring records – from the Tramway/Long Pool area on 17th (a pair) and 23rd April, and a much more obliging bird around the tennis courts at Northcommon Farm on the 18th. It was a poor autumn, too, with just four birds seen – though the first, at Church Norton, stayed for five days from 9th October. There was another one there on the 26th, and then one in a Selsey garden on 5th November and at Northcommon Farm on the following day.


Ring Ouzel at Church Norton on 9th October (AW)

Despite the mild weather there were reasonable numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares about, with 50+ of each around Medmerry and Mapson’s Lane in Sidlesham in January and February, and cold weather in late January brought 50 of the former and 200 of the latter to stubble fields at Kipson Bank Farm, Hunston. There were more autumn records than usual, with Fieldfares outnumbering Redwing, but small flocks and odd individuals of both species could be encountered in a wide range of sites.


Redwing at West Wittering on 9th December (GM) (above) & Fieldfare at Honer Reservoir on 12th December (AH)

Unfortunately, in what was a poor year in the county for Nightingales, there was no suggestion of breeding, though singing was heard on three or four occasions from the Tramway area in April. One seen outside the Visitor Centre on 9th September was the sole autumn record.

It was a below par spring for Whinchats, with barely half a dozen records, after the first on 22nd April at Medmerry, though it was a fair, if unexceptional autumn, after the first two were seen there on 5th August. Medmerry dominated reports, with all the big counts coming from there, including 12 on 26th August, and also saw the last of the year on 17th October.


Whinchat at Medmerry on 22nd April (AH)

It was also the key site for Stonechats, with a winter high of ten there on 5th January and some exceptional counts during survey work in the autumn, including 51 on 26th October. There was also an indication of possible breeding, with an adult and a young juvenile there on 2nd July.


Stonechat at Medmerry on 14th September (SH)

The first Northern Wheatear of the year was at the classic time and place - 12th March on Church Norton spit though, like many of the spring migrants, numbers were decidedly average thereafter, with a peak of 20 or so around the area on 10th April being a peak. The autumn was fairly indifferent, too, with no big falls and the last one was seen at Medmerry on 26th October.


Northern Wheatears on Church Norton Spit on 27th August (AH)

The first two Common Redstarts were seen on 1st April, and oddly at the same location – the paddocks at Park Farm, Selsey – as last year, and this was also the site where the last of an unexceptional spring was seen on the late date of 21st May. The first return bird was at Halsey’s Farm on 18th August and the last of the year was at Warner Lane paddocks on 29th September.


Common Redstart at Church Norton on 17th April (TRo)

There were probably two Black Redstarts wintering on the east side Medmerry this year, whilst the first migrant was at Park Farm, Selsey on 12th March, with another three or four birds seen in late March and early April at Church Norton, including two on 22nd March, and another at Selsey Golf Club on 31st March. The first of the autumn was in a Selsey garden on 22nd October and was followed by a succession of records from the breach area at Medmerry over the next few weeks, though two in gardens east of the Bill on 14th December was the only other report.


Black Redstart at Medmerry on 15th November (AH)

Warblers/’crests/Flycatchers

There was a fairly respectable spring showing (at least in terms of recent years!) of Grasshopper Warblers, with one at Medmerry on 21st April followed by two at Church Norton on the next day and one at the Bill on the day after that, with one along the edge of the Slipe Field on 3rd May completing the list.

The first Sedge Warbler of the year was at Ivy Lake on 30th March, with the first Reed Warbler on the Long Pool on 7th April, and both were last seen on 3rd October – the former at Medmerry and the latter at both Church Norton and the North Wall.
 


Sedge Warbler at Church Norton on 11th June (AH) & Reed Warbler at the Ferry on 20th May (AH)

It was the same date as last year - 29th March for the first Willow Warbler, seen at Ivy Lake, with a pretty average spring and autumn for the species, with the last two at Honer Farm on 2nd October.

Willow Warbler at Church Norton on 23rd July (AH)

There was little out of the ordinary to report for Chiffchaff, either, though a count of 20+ birds enjoying some winter sun at Sidlesham SF on 22nd January gives a clue as to just how many must over-winter these days.

Chiffchaff on a fishing boat, mid-channel, off Selsey on 26th September (CW)

Church Norton hosted the first Wood Warbler to be seen locally since 2013 on 22nd April, though sadly it didn’t linger, with another heard, but not seen on the 29th, and there was also an autumn record from the edge of the peninsula, on the canal-path at Donnington on
7th September.


Wood Warbler at Church Norton on 22nd April (PM)

Despite large numbers in the country again, the only Yellow-browed Warbler reported was one that was heard only in the East Beach area on 28th September.

The first Whitethroat was along the Tramway on the early date of 29th March, and the last (four) were at Medmerry on 4th October.

Whitethroat at the Ferry on 14th May (AH)

Lesser Whitethroats were reasonably conspicuous in the spring, after the first two at West Itchenor on 18th April, and in a good autumn for them they were particularly evident at Church Norton, with an apparent family group around for several weeks near the hide. The last of the year was at this site, too, on 2nd October.

Lesser Whitethroat in Sidlesham on 29th April (AH)

It was a typically sparse spring for Garden Warblers, with just a handful of records after the first of the year in a West Wittering garden on 21st April, and they were hardly numerous in the autumn, with the last seen on the early date of 15th September, at Church Norton.


Garden Warbler in the Discovery Area on 8th August (AH)

Blackcaps are rarely recorded in winter on the Peninsula, so one in the Bill House garden on 8th January was notable, and, indeed, the next sightings were not until 27th March, when individuals were seen in gardens in both Selsey and Sidlesham, and the last (four) of the year were seen at Church Norton on 16th October.


Blackcap at the Ferry on 20th May (AH)

By contrast, wintering Dartford Warblers have become the norm in recent years, and records were received from Church Norton beach, the Long Pool, Park Farm, Selsey, East Head and Medmerry in the early months, with autumn birds back again at most of the above locations by mid-October.


Dartford Warbler at Church Norton on 1st November (AH)

Probably helped by the mild winter, there were regular reports of Firecrests early in the year, from at least six locations, though one in a Selsey garden on 27th March was probably the first migrant, whilst in the autumn there was a definite influx, with reports from many locations, including the Bill, where they are unaccountably scarce.


Firecrest at Church Norton on 23rd April (DM)

There were just two Pied Flycatchers seen in the spring – at Church Norton on 12th April and at Northcommon Farm on the 28th, whilst in the autumn there were just four reports – one at the former site on 6th September, two from the latter on 11th and 25th September and the last of the year at Honer Farm on 2nd October.


Pied Flycatcher at Church Norton on 12th April (AH)

As usual, Spotted Flycatcher was the last of the regular spring migrants recorded, with the first at Northcommon Farm on the late date of 7th May. Autumn passage was unremarkable, though seven at Church Norton on 25th August was a good total, and the last of the year was there on 6th October.


Spotted Flycatcher at Church Norton on 15th August (AH)

Starlings/Tits/Crows/etc

Amazingly, almost exactly four years after the last Rose-coloured Starling was seen on the Peninsula, one was found in the same East Beach garden by the same observer on 12th October, remaining in the vicinity for two weeks, though often hard to find in the many nearby gardens.

Rose-coloured starling in an East Beach garden (SR)

Bearded Tits were a little more numerous this year, though none made life easy for us! Two on the Breech Pool on 6th February were the only winter records, whilst there was an intriguing record of at least six in Chichester Marina Reed-beds on 29th June, which could conceivably have been reared locally, though the fact that they didn’t re-appear suggests they were dispersing from elsewhere. Autumn started with a bang on 3rd October, when a flock of 14 were seen on the Breech Pool before quickly flying off high to the west, though there were subsequent records from there, Pagham Lagoon, Fishbourne Creek, the Severals and Ham Farm pond.


Bearded Tit on North Wall on 8th October (SH)

The status of Coal Tit has been revised somewhat in the last two or three years, from an uncommon visitor to a scarce, but resident species, with the western and northern boundaries of the Peninsula producing birds on a fairly regular basis, but the churchyards of Pagham and Sidlesham were about the only sites in the south to produce any records at all.


Coal Tit at Birdham Pond on 27th August (MR)

Treecreepers and Nuthatches appear to have an even more westerly bias, with Itchenor Pond particularly reliable for the former, with the only other site to produce a sighting being Sidlesham Churchyard on 5th and 9th January, and a record of the latter from Runcton on 15th August being the only one away from the coastal woodland around Itchenor and Birdham.

Nuthatch at Chichester Marina on 5th January (OM)

After a blank last year, there was a single Great Grey Shrike, seen on the west side of Medmerry on 27th October.


Great Grey Shrike at Medmerry on 27th October (A Playle)

There were numerous reports of Ravens once again from a wide range of sites, though the fact that majority were in February and March and again in September suggests an element of migration or dispersal is occurring.


Raven at Church Norton on 29th January (AH)

Sparrows/Finches/Buntings

The first Tree Sparrow on the Peninsula for at least five years was a surprise visitor to a Selsey garden on 4th November, though sadly it swiftly moved on and was not seen again.

Early in the year there were the usual scattering of Bullfinch records from various of the Chichester Gravel Pits and from the Itchenor Pond area, though one seen at Ferry Corner on 29th May was very unusual. The autumn saw a few more records than usual in the south of the Peninsula, with both the North Wall and Church Norton (where they are normally a scarce visitor) returning fairly regular reports of one or two birds from mid-September onwards.


Bullfinch at Church Norton on 14th November (AW)

Frustratingly, the huge influx of Hawfinches into the country during the autumn almost completely passed the Peninsula by (not entirely surprisingly so, given the lack of woodland), with a solitary record from Drayton Pit, the northern-most extremity of the area, on 25th November being the sum total.

Visible migration reports of both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll were very late to start this autumn, though it was a better year than last, with the first of the former at the Bill on 17th September and the first (two) of the latter at the North Wall on 4th October. The biggest day for Siskins was 25th October, when 30 went over the Bill and there were a dozen or more in the alders at Church Norton and the Visitor Centre. Generally, much the scarcer of the two, there were as many Lesser Redpolls as Siskins seen, with 19 of the latter over the Bill on 27th October the peak.


Lesser Redpoll on the North Wall on 4th October (AH)

Brambling numbers were a little better, too, if hardly sensational, with one on the North Wall on 28th October followed by four over the Bill and one over Medmerry on the 30th and finally one in a garden near the Bill on 2nd November.

After last year’s disappointments, Corn Buntings seemed to bounce back at Medmerry, with at least three or four pairs round Ham and other successful breeding pairs around the breach and on the western side. Groups of at least a dozen seen at Ham in late August and an apparent family of five seen regularly on the western side in September will hopefully survive the winter to continue rebuilding the population.


Corn Bunting at Medmerry on 15th May (AH)

Yellowhammers seem to continue to prosper at Medmerry, but away from there, Apuldram and the North Wall area records were very few, with only one report from Church Norton (on 11th June) and just a handful of sightings from the wider Peninsula.

Juvenile Yellowhammer at Medmerry on 31st August (SR)

All the Snow Bunting reports came from East Head in the early part of the year, with the one present in December remaining into January and presumably joined by another from 10th Ferbruary until 25th at least, with the last report (of one) on 2nd March. A good autumn produced an incredibly tame bird around the Lifeboat Station area on 28th and 29th November and two around the concrete slabs at Church Norton on 4th to 6th December.


Snow Bunting at Selsey Bill on 28th November (AH)











3 comments:

  1. what an amazing blog - thanks very much

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well done Andy, another comprehensive report !!

    ReplyDelete
  3. A fine summary, completed by 31st Dec, well done Andy

    ReplyDelete