8 Apr 2015

8 Apr 15 - March: A Surprise Month On The Studland & Ballard Patch

March is generally a month of over expectation on the Birding front. The worst of the Winter is normally over and the lengthening days suggests a change is on the way. There are the first migrants to look forward to seeing. But it is always a matter of luck if the decent days, when these migrants are on the move, overlaps with the weekends. This March was a good example of this. It got off to a good start with mild, dry conditions and a bit of sun. A visit to Greenlands Farm on 1 Mar produced the first patch Year Tick for the month: a Siskin overspilling from the neighbouring Rempstone Forest. It also produced a flyby Peacock Butterfly along the sheltered wooded border of the patch.
Peacock: Good I saw this on the first as it turned out to be the only Butterfly of the month. I'm still on track for a Butterfly on the patch in every month this year (but December is still going to be a challenge). A record shot from St Aldhelms Head (20 July 14)
The following weekend was also mild & sunny. In the hope of an early Spring Black Redstart, and an outside chance of one of the first Dorset Sand Martins or Wheatears, I tried a long walk over Ballard Down on 7 Mar. Having walked over half way round, I found a female Black Redstart. Later on there was a cracking male Black Redstart within 200 metres of the start (or about 3 miles given I walked the long way round). This was great as Black Redstart is a species I should see on the patch, but it is not a guaranteed Year List. Even better a prolonged search of Brands Bay later that day produced an even more erratic Spotted Redshank. Despite being easy to find on the nearby Brownsea lagoon & regular in the Middlebere & Wytch channels (all within a few minutes flight), they only appear in Brands Bay every other year & even then they don't linger. I guess disturbance on the Brownsea lagoon, might explain where this one came from.
Black Redstart: Female. Old Harry (7 Mar 15)
Wheatears were seen around a number of Dorset coastal sites during the following week, so I wasn't surprised to find a couple of males with a Stonechat party on a walk over Greenlands Farm on the 14 Mar.
Wheatear: Male. Greenlands Farm (14 Mar 15)
The first half of March had been full of the promise of an early Spring and a few migrants. That all seemed to stop the following week when a spell of cold NE winds had set in. In late Autumn, light Northerly based winds can be good for Vis Mig across the harbour mouth. So I wasn't too surprised to find a light movement of mainly Finches on 21 Mar, although it quickly dried up. A good search around the area failed to produce much of note. The cold winds had halted the arrival of Summer visitors. But it was obvious that some of the Winter species had departed. Despite a prolonged search, I was unable to find any Goldeneyes. Other species like the Slavonian Grebes had alteady gone (my last sighting was 9 Mar). The following day started in a similar fashion, but it was milder. The lighter winds seemed to have halted any Finch movement. Early news from Stanpit indicated an early morning arrival of Garganey. So Steve Morrison & I decided on a good search around the quieter pools of Studland in the hope of finding my second patch Garganey: but not surprisingly there was no success. But while chatting & looking at the South Haven pool, we found the first Studland mega for the year, a first Winter Goshawk which flew low over the pool. It returned five minutes later for a second pass, before climbing high to cross the harbour mouth. This was a species that has never been high on my list of species I expected to see at Studland, given how scarce they are in the Purbeck area. The day wasn't over as we carried onto check the Eastern Lake for Garganey & flushed my second sighting of Jack Snipe for the Studland patch. This dived back into the edge of the Eastern Lake, but out of sight. So we decided to leave it in peace, rather than flush it again. The lack of photos couldn't dampen the feelings that evening.

Hopes for some other early migrants ended when I saw the weather forecast for the final weekend of strong gusty South Westerly winds. Far too strong for any migration. I got out for some half heart Birding on the 28 Mar. The final weekend day I was off the patch for the monthly WeBS count in even stronger, more unpleasant, conditions on the Sunday. After that, I decided to have a quick look at Middle Beach and was pleased to see two adult Kittiwakes flying South towards Old Harry. A final patch Year Tick for the month to take me to 131.

This compared to 130 by the end of March in my best ever patch Year List in 2009: the year I reached 176. So I just need to get one extra species in each of the remaining 3 quarters of the year & I reach my target of 180 species. It is interesting to compare the differences. This year I have seen some excellent patch species: Great White Egret (multiple dates, but my first patch record was only 8 Sep 14). I have also seen my second patch records for Black Guillemot (several dates), Great Grey Shrike (several dates including the first two weekends of the month) & Jack Snipe. More expected species were Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Pheasant, Greylag Goose, Guillemot, Kingfisher & Siskin, as well as, easy to miss in a year species such as Little Gull, Hen Harrier & Marsh Harrier. The star species was clearly the Goshawk.

Of the 13 species I saw in 2009 that I've missed by the end of March this year, some aren't surprising: Pochard (now locally extinct at Studland), Ring-necked Duck (a patch rarity with one record since I've lived in Dorset), Ruddy Duck (now gone from Poole Harbour these days following the DEFRA's (Dept for  Eradicating Fancy Ruddy Americans) shoot-to-kill policy). Another good species for 2009 were two Glaucous Gulls (my only Studland records). Velvet Scoter & Goosander are more erratic visitors, but I'm surprisingly there have been no Eider this Winter). A Wintering Barn Owl in 2009 is a species I will probably miss this year. A couple of species that have been locally scarce this Winter are Crossbill & Redpoll: But I expect to see both later this year. Finally, Sand Martin, Swallow & Blackcap were early migrants that I failed to see due to the late March weather, (but will be quickly seen as the weather improves). Overall, I think I am in a stronger position on the patch Year List than the single species suggests.