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