Selsey Bill Spring Summary - 2021


by the Editors

As 2021 began, the hopes of Peninsula birders were high as we all looked to the future and thoughts began to turn to the joys and excitements of the spring sea-watching season yet to come. Spring 2020 had not been great so surely we were due a bumper time this year. But little did we know.......

A few months on and the reality of the situation had become all too apparent; the Covid-19 pandemic still had its grip on the country, there were lockdown restrictions still ongoing, and the weather conditions were conspiring to produce a very disappointing season with some near-record low totals of a good few species. Added to that was the frustration of knowing it was not the same everywhere, indeed at sites further east some record high - if not astonishing - totals of terns and other seabirds were passing through to be observed by the chosen few.

Such are the vagaries of the weather and the geography of our little patch, but through it all our stalwart log-keeper JA managed to stay sane and keep the log ticking over, whilst probably feeling a bit down-hearted and ready to scream. Quite how he manages to compile an accurate and detailed log on a busy day, with observers shouting information at him and whilst intently watching the sea is best known to him, but this skill makes him the best man for the job, leaving your esteemed editors trailing by a distance.

And so we come to the details of the spring 2021. Let's be honest, some of it doesn't make easy reading - just check out the comparisons of the Commic Terns - but it's an interesting report and we continue to be grateful to JA and thank him for compiling this year's summary. Surely next spring has to produce something special.....?   (Eds)

Selsey Sea-watching Spring 2021 Summary

 Compiled by Justin Atkinson

Every day in March, April and May was covered, with a total of 431 hours watched (94 in March, 187 in April and 150 in May).

The winds were from the north-east, north or north-west for the first three weeks of March, mostly moderate with only a couple of days of force 6 or over. The 23rd to 29th brought south-westerlies and westerlies of moderate strength before the wind shifted back to the north-east again and eased off.

The wind remained from the northerly quarter for the first seventeen days of April, before changing to light or very light winds from a variable direction. For the rest of April, apart from the 27th (south-westerly) it was moderate north-easterlies. The first week of May brought westerly and north-westerly winds. It then shifted to the southerly quarter until the 11th, then finally going easterly up to the 16th. Apart from a couple of days of light north-easterlies at the end of the month, the rest of May had westerlies of one sort or another.

Great Northern Diver – One to four birds were offshore most days in March and April, but occasionally up to six, with some of these coming into summer plumage from the middle of April. Birds continued to be seen offshore until the end of May, albeit less frequently. The highest day total was on the 2nd when seven were on the sea. These birds just seem to ‘fade away’ towards the end of May, but there was a notable westerly movement this year, with at least ten seen going west, including five on the 22nd.

Red-throated Diver – A spring total of 190 east and 33 west is below the average. Only 82 went east and 26 west in March, with a further 103 east in April. The peak movement occurred on the 13th April when 17 passed east. The odd bird was seen offshore, with five present on the 18th March. Numbers fell off dramatically in May with only six being seen, the last of which was one east on the 13th.

Black-throated Diver – The spring total was a pathetic six east, well below the average spring total which is 19. None were seen in March, only four in April and just two in May.

Diver sp – During the spring 43 unidentified divers were seen flying east and nine west, the majority of them in March and early April.

Great Crested Grebe – One to three birds were offshore or passing both ways most days in March and April. Nine went east on 18th April. Numbers declined in May, three east and eight west. Two were offshore on the 22nd.

Red-necked Grebe – One was offshore on 12th March and the same or another flew east on 4th April.

Slavonian Grebe – Just the four records in March, one offshore on 4th, one west on 13th, and one on the sea on 14th and 18th.

Fulmar – One went east and 33 flew west in March, with 11 west on the 28th being the peak day. There were no significant movements in April when 32 went east and 52 passed west. The westerly bias continued into May when 39 flew east and 96 went west; 33 were seen on the 8th, but as this was made up of 14 east and 19 west there was likely to be some duplication.

Manx Shearwater – A spring total of 14 east and 58 west is below the average of 95. The first one east on 28th March was 12 days ahead of the average first date. Only six more birds were seen in April, three east on 23rd and three west on 27th.May had ten east and 55 west, with 20 of those seen on the 3rd. Extremely strong south-westerlies on the 21st only produced three sightings, but 32 going west on the 24th may have been birds relocating after the big blow.

Cory’s Shearwater – One flew east at 16.38 on 2nd May, the seventh record for the site.

Gannet – Dedicated observers obsessively counted Gannets throughout the spring; they returned the following results - Spring totals – 4,205 east, 2,128 west.

Fairly low numbers were around in March (123 east, 389 west) when this species wasn’t even seen every day. April was better with 2,661 east and 797 west, although the biggest day movement was only 365 east on the 24th. Birds were also seen feeding that month with 1-10 birds offshore occasionally.

In May 1,421 east and 942 west were recorded and there were also more birds offshore, including 70 on 24th and 105 the following day.

Cormorant – Under recorded and no notable counts received….although numbers did seem down on previous years.

Shag – Seen regularly in small numbers in March, with 23 east and nine west. Thirteen on 20th was the high count, and there was a single bird offshore on eight days in the month. Similar numbers seen in April and still the odd bird offshore. Only three noted in May. All the sightings followed the same pattern, birds moved east in the morning and west in the afternoon, normally quite close in.

Little Egret – One headed out south on 9th April. One flew north on 20th April.

Great White Egret – One flew out south-west on 22nd May at 07.45.

Grey Heron – One flew east offshore on the 4th March. Two birds came in off the sea on 3rd April and then headed east along the coast. One east on 9th May was about a mile offshore and another went east on 14th.

Mute Swan – Two flew west 8th March. One close in offshore on 26th April, drifted off west.

White-fronted Goose - A lone bird went east on 20th April. There was also a strange looking goose that passed east with a Brent Goose flock on 1st May. Showing some features of a White-fronted, namely a white forehead and pink bill, the rest of the bird was more Brent-like and was presumably some sort of hybrid.

Canada Goose – A flock of seven flew east on 27th April.

Brent Goose – A spring total 2709 east is slightly below average. Totals for March were 1,964 east and 62 west, these included c1000 east on the evening of the 9th. April totals were lower, 547 east and four west, the peak day that month being the 28th when 263 flew east, a fairly late date for such a movement. As always, there was still some movement into May, albeit much reduced, where 198 east and one west were recorded. Over half of these were seen on the 1st when 115 flew east, whilst the last straggler was seen on the 12th.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose – One east on 1st May, amongst a flock of Dark-bellied birds.

Barnacle Goose – Three west on 17th April were clearly en route to Greenland.

Shelduck – Only four March records, then two to five birds seen regularly in April and the first half of May, with a pair again looking to breed (seemingly unsuccessfully) on the beach/long gardens. Three flew west on 26th May.

Wigeon – Just eleven east in March and none in April or May.

Gadwall – A flock of six east on the 24th April was the only record.

Teal – A pair flew in from the west on the 24th April and settled on the sea for a while, before flying off east. Possibly the same pair was seen on the sea the next day.

Mallard – Two to five local birds seen regularly throughout March, April and into May, up to the 22nd.

Pintail – In March 29 passed east, with 25 of those on the 2nd. There were only three in April and none in May.

Garganey – Four records in April (the spring average is three). Two males and a female flew east on 3rd, six days ahead of the average, and another male went east on 15th.

Shoveler – Seven east and six west in March, then 23 east in April, when there was also a pair seen offshore for a day. Singles and pairs seen occasionally moving with Scoter flocks.

Pochard – One east on 30th March was the only sighting.

Tufted Duck – One east on 8th and three east and three west on 24th April.

Eider – Ten went east in March. There were one to two birds offshore between the 9th and 27th April.

Long-tailed Duck – A female was present offshore from the 4th March to 28th April; it would routinely fly in from the west and land on the sea, normally just to the east of the Mile Basket. It was possibly the same bird that was seen here in January.

Common Scoter – A spring total of 6,055 east was well above the average of 4406. March saw 541 passing east with 339 of those on the 30th. A very healthy 4,157 went east in April and this included 1,876 on the 24th. This is the fifth highest day count, the highest being 4,100 on 9th April 1966. Fewer passed in May, 1,357 east and 57 west. As is usual with this species, birds continued to move late into the month, as shown by 99 east on the 22nd and 156 east on the 27th.

The offshore flock built up to around 30 birds by the end of March and seemed to have dispersed by mid-April, although some birds did appear back offshore at the end of May.

Velvet Scoter – Only seen on the ‘big’ scoter day, the 24th April, when 14 went east. This is well below the average for a spring, which is 43.

Red-breasted Merganser – Spring total was 190 east and 138 west, with over three quarters of those in March. There were also one to ten birds offshore during that month but fourteen on the 20th. Sightings decreased during the first half of April, when 37 went east and 26 west. There were still two to five offshore on the odd day in the first half of the month. Last recorded on 29th.

Red-legged Partridge – Two records, one bizarrely flew west over the sea on 4th March, and one was running along a nearby road on 9th April.

Kestrel – One present on 28th March, one flew in off the sea on 1st April and one was present on 23rd April.

Hobby – One north on 24th April was the first, five days later than the average. Another six were seen that month, three of those on the 29th. Some of these birds arrived not long after dawn. Another eleven came in during the first two weeks in May. On the 9th a bird was seen hunting insects and another or the same was seen offshore later in the day, again presumably hunting.

Falcon sp – An all dark falcon, possibly a melanistic Hobby, flew in off the sea at 5.55 on 5th May.

Peregrine – Four records: one was offshore on 20th April, one was chasing Bar-tailed Godwits over the sea on 25th April, one was pursuing a wader on the 9th May and another or the same was hanging around on the 16th.

Merlin – Just the two records, one east on 28th March and a bird north on 23rd April. Both these birds may have been hunting offshore.

Sparrowhawk – Seen on several days, from 23rd March to 11th May, mostly the same male cruising low along the beach looking for incoming passerines.

Marsh Harrier – One in off the sea at 11.30 on 23rd April was the only record.

Common Buzzard – One flew over the Bill on 25th April.

Oystercatcher – Spring totals were 162 east and 94 west. With local birds still about and passing both ways, it’s always difficult to ascertain true migrant totals, but figures do show an obvious easterly bias.

Avocet – Four flying east on 23rd April was the only sighting.

Ringed Plover – One on the beach on 18th and 22nd March. Three went east on 25th April. May recorded three east and one west, whilst one was on the beach on the 1st.

Grey Plover – The spring total was 63 east and five west. Eleven flew east and a single bird flew west in March. Passage increased in April with 49 east and one west – the peak day being the 24th with 14 east. Six were seen in May.

Lapwing – Three seen heading south on 24th April, turned back north and went inland.

Knot – Spring passage total was well below average. Only two March records, presumably local movements, 17 east on 20th and 20 west on 28th. Just 18 east in April was a poor showing. Only one May record, a summer plumaged bird on the beach on the 9th.

Sanderling – A confused picture here as the spring totals were 99 east and 171 west. Two flew east in March and there were three singles on the beach early in the month. No clear indication of passage in April with 44 east and 33 west, although 27 of those were on 27th. There was also the odd bird on the beach during April. In May 53 went east but 138 flew west including 30 on the 8th and 53 on the 22nd. Fifteen were on the beach on the 10th.

Dunlin – Similar confusion with this species as to the one above, with 54 east and 160 west. Twenty four passed east in April, whilst numbers for May show 30 east and 160 west, this including 112 west on the 22nd. There was also an obvious increase of Dunlin in the harbour around this time, presumably late movers.

Black-tailed Godwit – One east on 24th April was the only sighting.

Bar-tailed Godwit – A spring total of 1,100 east was above average. The first were 33 east on the 9th some five days later than the average first date. The April total was a respectable 1,095 east and the best day was the 22nd when 533 passed, most of those in the late afternoon. As with the next species the latter third of April tends to produce the majority of the passage. Only five east and two west in May. Additionally a bird was on the beach on the 14th.

Whimbrel – Spring total was 466, which is above the average. The first were two east on 8th April, four days later than the average. April totals were 449 east and ten west, the bulk of the passage being in the last week of the month. The peak day was the 24th when 112 passed east. Birds continued to move into May with 17 east.

Curlew – Only one passed east in March, whilst 18 went west on 11th. Only nine east and five west in April, and only one in May on the 28th.

Common Sandpiper – One on the beach on the 2nd May was a week later than the average first date. Another was seen flying west along the beach on 8th May and the last was one on the beach on 11th May.

Turnstone – The spring totals of 138 east and 105 west do show an easterly bias, but as this species is often moving about to and from different parts of the beach it is hard to judge migrants. Varying numbers were seen on the beach during the period, high counts being 35 on 26th March and 21 on the 14th April.

Pomarine Skua – The spring total was 29 east and 2 west; 31 in a spring is well below the average, which is 52.

A pale-phase and dark-phase flew east at 18.25 on the 22nd April, a day earlier than the average first date. Three more went east the next day, two at 07.12, and one at 09.40. The ‘big day’, although not very big, was the 24th April, when 13 passed east, three at 10.52 and the remainder, including a flock of four at 15.57, in the afternoon. Two of the birds on that day were dark-phase individuals. There were two more April records, two east on the afternoon of the 25th and an early bird at 06.52 on the 27th. Ten were seen in May, although two of those were heading west. One on the 3rd at 14.35. five on the 8th, all singles and all in the afternoon, then followed Another three singles passed the next day, all late afternoon, and finally one east at 06.32 on 10th.

Arctic Skua – A poor spring for this skua with 85 birds seen going east. The first record was of a dark phase bird flying east on 2nd April, three days later than average. April’s total was 51 east and one west. The peak day was the 24th with nine seen. A further 34 went east in May. One to two birds were still being seen offshore towards the end of that month, with the last seen on the 29th.

Great Skua – A spring total of 57 east is below average. The first one was seen on the 11th March, 20 days ahead of the average. Only three others were recorded that month. The April total was 48 east and five west. The 26th was the peak day with 12 east recorded. One or two birds seemed to be offshore from the 9th until the end of the month. Exactly how many individual birds where involved in the offshore sightings throughout the month is hard to say. Only five birds went east in May, the last being seen on the 21st, whilst single birds were offshore on four days in May.

Mediterranean Gull – An easterly spring total of 564 was respectable. The 69 east and 13 west in March possibly included some local movements. There were also up to eight offshore most days that month. An obvious easterly passage was recorded in April totalling 487 birds. The bulk of this passage took place between the 14th and 20th, with the biggest day being the 17th when 147 went east. There were still one to six offshore during April. Very few seen in May, eight east, one west and a couple of offshore sightings on the 2nd and 3rd.

Little Gull – A total of 85 east this spring is slightly above the average. Not seen until the 16th April, when nine passed east, two weeks later than the average first date. A reasonable passage of 83 birds in April, 35 noted on the 24th. Just two in May on the 2nd.

Black-headed Gull – No real movement noted in March, and only 52 recorded east in April. Birds were offshore and on the Oval Field in varying numbers during the period.

Common Gull – In March, 79 east with most of those being seen mid-month, plus the odd bird offshore. In April, 72 flew east, the majority early in the month, but only one seen in May, a bird west on the 12th.

Lesser Black-backed Gull – Not a commonly seen bird at the Bill but only two sightings would suggest it is very under recorded.

Great Black-backed Gull – No notable counts made.

Herring Gull – It’s either a slow day or a very low tide if these are being counted….. 487 were present at low tide, on the various shingle bars on the 30th April, whilst 443 were seen the next day!

Kittiwake – Only 18 seen in March. April was better with 54. Numbers increased in May with 62 east and 166 west, including 39 west on the 24th and one to five offshore feeding in with the terns mid-month.

Sandwich Tern – The average first date is 16th March and the average spring total is 2903. Very difficult to ascertain correct migrant totals for this species due to lingering and feeding birds, but 2,120 were recorded this spring as heading east, which is below the average. Unusually the first migrating birds were seen in February this year when a flock of 21, initially on the beach, took off and flew away eastwards. The March total was 126 and this included 44 east on the 30th. Birds were already lingering offshore in March, 38 were there on the 29th. In April 1,983 went east with the biggest day being the 23rd when 267 passed east. Offshore numbers also increased that month to a peak of 75 on the 27th. With even larger numbers present and coming and going from the harbour, determining eastward moving birds in May became even trickier, only 11 east were put down for that month. Offshore birds reached over a hundred on more than one occasion in May, 120 on the 12th and 111 on the 4th.

Roseate Tern – One was offshore with a mixed flock of terns from 06.40 on the 14th May. It moved off east at 6.50 and was probably the bird seen later that morning and subsequently at Pagham Harbour.

Common Tern – A well below average spring. One east on 26th March was four days ahead of the average first date. Only four others seen in March, then 605 recorded in April, with numbers not really picking up until the 24th, when 233 went east. There were large numbers of lingering birds at the end of April including 120 offshore on the 29th. Just 114 went east in May. Good numbers of birds offshore throughout May, though lessening towards the end of the month. A first summer bird was seen on the 17th.

Arctic Tern – Eighteen went east on the 25th April, six days later than the average first date. The April total was 28. Just one recorded in May, a bird offshore on the 3rd… 29 in a spring is about average.

'Commic’ Tern – The spring total (birds additional to the above two species) was 505 east, the vast majority of those being recorded at the end of April and start of May.

It’s painful, but let’s have a little comparison with what was seen elsewhere on the 28th April.....

Dungeness – 23,272 Common, 4,840 Arctic, 84 Black, 4 Roseate and 274 Little Terns.

Brighton – c15,000 Common, c1,800 Arctic, some Black and Little Terns.

Cap Gris Nez – 6,236 Common, 2 Arctic, 652 Black and 419 Little Terns.

Selsey Bill – 56 Common, 92 Commic and 83 Little Terns.

Little Tern – Spring total of 230 is well below average. The first birds were recorded on the 13th April, one day later than the average, when seven flew east. April’s total was 197 east, 83 on the 28th being the peak movement. There were also 25 birds offshore the same day. We started to see birds feeding/lingering offshore from the 19th and with regular birds offshore it is always hard to come to a definitive total for migrants, but 33 were put down for easterly passage in May. Highest total for offshore was 25 on the 28th April.

Black Tern – Not seen until the 2nd May when one was offshore, this being eight days later than the average. There were only another six in May, four on the 9th and two on the 11th. Seven in the spring is well below the average of 35.

Auk sp – Figures for unidentified auks were: March – 76 east, 498 west.  April – 175 east, 109 west.  May – 222 east, 116 west. The largest daily movement was 248 going west on 6th March.

Guillemot – None were seen in March, only 5 in April and 26 in May.

Razorbill – Always more common than the previous species: 36 went east and 74 flew west during the period, with more than half of those in May, with one or two birds seen occasionally on the sea.

Puffin – One east at 07.28 on 24th April.

Green Woodpecker – One present on 28th March and the 8th April.

Stock Dove – A couple of sightings in March, four east on the 20th and two east next day.

Turtle Dove – One north on 10th April; considering how rare this species has become, to see it two years in a row was a surprise.

Short-eared Owl – One flew in off the sea and continued north on 11th April.

Ring-necked Parakeet – One flew east over the beach on 30th March.

Swift – First seen on the 25th April when 12 came in off the sea. This is two days later than the average, with only 12 others seen that month. In May, 429 north included 247 on the 19th. Selsey birds appeared to be present from the 8th.

Skylark – Four records: one north on 30th March and 23rd April, a bird flew east offshore on the 8th May and one headed out south on 11th May.

Sand Martin – Three north on 30th March were nine days ahead of the average first date. A further 45 were seen in April, although none between the 3rd and 18th.

Swallow – The first Swallow flew in on 29th March, one day earlier than the average, and five more were seen that month. Small numbers then trickled in until the 22nd April, after which there was an increase in numbers. The peak day was 28th April with 171 north. The total was 658 north for the spring, with roughly two thirds of those being in April and a third in May.

House Martin – First recorded on 23rd April, with two north, nearly two weeks later than the average. Just nine others that month, with 23 seen coming in during May. Our local birds seemed to be present from 7th May when four were seen around the Bill House. Numbers had increased to at least 11 by the 12th, and a survey of the local houses, carried out on the 29th produced 19 birds.

Meadow Pipit – The peak time for movements of this species is mid to late March, with 886 birds observed coming in off the sea and heading north during the month, 216 of those being on the 16th. April produced 419 north, of which 354 were on 1st and only small numbers thereafter.

Yellow Wagtail – One north on the average date of 15th April was the first. Fifteen others were seen in April and a further four in May, with the last of those on the 19th.

Pied Wagtail – Twenty seven flew north in March and 19 in April, but only five sightings in May.

Redstart – One was seen coming in off the sea on 13th April, two days earlier than the average first date.

Whinchat – One seen in the ‘long gardens’ on the 25th April was still present the next day. This was eight days earlier than the average. Another bird was recorded on the 7th May.

Wheatear – Two north on 21st March were the first, two days later than the average first date. Ten others were seen that month, and 20 in April. Five came in in off the sea on the 7th May and a single bird was on the beach on the 9th. A late migrant was seen on the 28th.

Common Whitethroat – Two were present on 19th April, and another on the 28th. Just four records for May, two in the gardens on the 7th, one on the 13th and another the following day.

Blackcap – Just two seen in April, one on the 8th and another on the 29th. Only two in May, both on the 7th.

Garden Warbler – Two were seen on 27th April, one in the ‘secret garden’ and one in the bushes alongside the Oval field.

Willow Warbler – Only one in April on the 5th. Only seven others were seen, all on the big incoming migrants day on 7th May.

Chiffchaff – The first was a bird in the gardens on 15th March. Eight others were seen that month, but only six in April. One was seen on 19th May.

Goldcrest – One north on 20th March was the only record.

Starling – One north on 19th March, was seen to come in from a very long way offshore.

Rook – One in off the sea from a long way out on the 9th March, and three more doing the same on the 16th April.

Goldfinch – Twenty came in on 1st April. Ten flew north on 15th April.

Serin – One in off the sea at 08.46 on 26th April. On a morning of incoming migrants on the 7th May, two different individuals were seen coming in off the sea, both males, one at 06.30 and another at 07.02.

Linnet – 43 went north in March and another 60 in April.




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