Monday, 11 April 2016

Isle of Wight - 9th and 10th April

My weekend was spent on the Isle of Wight visiting family and spending a great deal of time birding. It was great to get back to the island and stomp my old birding grounds without the need to dash back. On Saturday I was up at 05:15 and by 06:30 was walking the fields to the west of the lighthouse and out to Rocken End at St. Catherine's Point. The weather was overcast with a Force 5 westerly wind blowing and there had been heavy overnight rain. There seemed to be little in the bushes so I made for the seawatching point to the west of the lighthouse. The sea was incredibly rough and the 'race', an area where tides meet forming a curving transition between smoother and rough waters, was in a frenzy. Over the course of the next two hours, as the weather brightened from the west, I recorded the following (all moving east unless stated):
  • Brent Goose - 24 (one flock)
  • Common Scoter - 36 (largest flock of 10)
  • Black-throated Diver - 1
  • Manx Shearwater - 2 west
  • Gannet - 28, 27 west
  • Great Skua - 3 (at 08:20, 08:45 and 09:35)
  • Arctic Skua - 1 pale phase 07:50
  • Kittiwake - 2
  • Sandwich Tern - 2
Brent Geese passing St. Catherine's Point

A male Redstart fed frantically in the Brambles beside Knowles Farm, evidently a newly arrived migrant. As I walked up the Lighthouse Road it was evident that there were large numbers of Willow Warbler in the bushes and as I wandered west through 'Wood Warbler' valley and out to Windy Corner I recorded around 50 Willow Warbler and around 15 Chiffchaff plus 8 Blackcap. There had evidently been a 'fall' due to the heavy overnight rain. The heavens were looking like they were going to open so I headed for the car.

Next stop was West High Down in the west of the island, I parked near the old Clock Museum and walked up the footpath east of Warren Farm, the hedgerow to the north of the down was hopping with Willow Warbler and at least 2 Redstart were present plus a couple of Goldcrest. I then walked over the down heading west, there were Willow Warbler in the Gorse, a Dartford Warbler, a couple of Raven and the local pair of Peregrine showed well. A scan from a viewpoint that affords good views of the south facing cliff produced none of the expected Guillemot or Razorbill. I continued towards the coastguard cottages before dropping back to the north side of the down and walking the hedgerow at the foot of the north side of the down, this is where all the bird activity was and there were at least 50 Willow Warbler and another Redstart.

Willow Warbler feeding in Gorse - West High Down

Stonechat - West High Down

Rock Pipit - West High Down

West High Down viewed east towards Tennyson Down and St. Catherine's Point in 
distance to far right

South facing cliffs on West High Down with St. Catherine's Point to right

Peregrine - West High Down

View of Hurst Castle from West High Down

Redstart - West High Down

I then drove the short distance to the Western Yar and parked by the old station and walked along the disused railway line to view the pools. Here, 30 Black-tailed Godwit, 10 Willow Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, 25 Teal and Greenshank were the highlights.

It was now 15:00 and time was running out as were my energy levels! I decided to head back to St. Catherine's Point where I birded Wood Warbler Valley out to Windy Corner and the top end of the Hanging Valley. Highlights were two Swallow, 25 Willow Warbler, 4 Blackcap, 2 Peregrine and a showy Red Squirrel.

Dark-edged Beefly Bombylius major - Wood Warbler Valley, St. Catherine's Point

Red Squirrel - Wood Warbler Valley, St. Catherine's Point

Willow Warbler - Wood Warbler Valley, St. Catherine's Point

Willow Warbler - Wood Warbler Valley, St. Catherine's Point

Weather chart from 9th April showing frontal system that resulted in the fall of 
Willow Warbler and Redstart 

St. Catherine's Point showing the main birding areas

St. Catherine's Point showing the lighthouse, East and West Fields and Knowles Farm

St. Catherine's Point showing northern end of Hanging Valley, Gore Cliff and the landslip area above Rocken End. West High Down is visible in the distance far left of the image

On Sunday I was up at 05:15 once more and back to the lighthouse at St. Catherine's Point. The wind had gone south-east overnight and, given that this is a favourable wind direction for seawatching, my hopes were high. I arrived at the lighthouse at 06:30 and began scanning, almost immediately picking up small numbers of Sandwich Tern and Manx Shearwater. There was a good collection of birders that eventually joined me and it was great to spend time with Andy Butler, Ian Ridett, Dave Wooldridge and Dave Hunnybun, Andy and the two Dave's being particularly influential in my formative years of birding and natural history exploration. It was Dave Hunnybun's birthday and we had a cook-up of bacon sandwiches on the Trangia stove to celebrate. This brought back many happy memories of birding at St. Catherine's Point in past years. Anyway, enough of the nostalgia, this is what we saw with figures in brackets from other south coast sites this morning.
  • Brent Goose - 23 (Portland Bill 0, Selsey Bill 7, Splash Point 105, Dungeness 939)
  • Shoveler - 5 (Splash Point 4, Dungeness 31)
  • Teal - 5 (with Common Scoter) (Selsey Bill 5, Splash Point 5)
  • Common Scoter - 277 (Portland Bill 709, Selsey Bill 464, Splash Point 518, Dungeness 1439)
  • Red-throated Diver - 3 (Portland Bill 1, Selsey Bill 5, Splash Point 6, Dungeness 0)
  • Manx Shearwater - 2
  • Gannet - 119 
  • Grey Plover - 2
  • Whimbrel - 4 (Portland Bill 2, Selsey Bill 0, Splash Point 9, Dungeness 4)
  • Arctic Skua - 6 (all dark phase at 7:05, 08:10, 09:15, 10:45 and 12:05) (Portland Bill 3, Selsey Bill 6, Splash Point 2, Dungeness 5) 
  • Kittiwake - 5 
  • Sandwich Tern - 103 (Portland Bill 27, Selsey 233, Splash Point 150, Dungeness 1200) 
  • Commic Tern - 43 (Portland Bill 16, Selsey Bill 30, Splash Point 102, Dungeness 230)
  • Kestrel - One flew out to sea at around 10:30, returning at 12:15
  • Willow Warbler - 2 in off sea
It is interesting to note some of the patterns in the numbers and particularly the general accumulation of numbers of birds as one progresses from west (Portland Bill) to Dungeness (east). There are some odd anomalies such as the pattern in Common Scoter, presumably the fall in numbers of birds at St. Catherine's, Selsey and Splash Point relates to birds passing too far out to be seen. It should also be noted that there is a degree of variability in survey effort with for example Dungeness being recorded for much of the day and St. Catherine's being recorded from 06:30-11:30. By 11:30 at St. Catherine's the wind had picked up to a Force 6 easterly and passage had dropped off and most of us had departed

Common Scoter - St. Catherine's Point

Brent Geese - St. Catherine's Point

Common Scoter - St. Catherine's Point

Common Scoter - St. Catherine's Point

Arctic Skua (dark phase) - St. Catherine's Point

Gannet - St. Catherine's Point

Gannet - St. Catherine's Point

Gannet - St. Catherine's Point
Main spring seawatching sites along south coast of England

After the seawatch I had a short wander in Wood Warbler valley but there were hardly any birds around compared to yesterday so I headed off content with the weekends birding.

Weather chart for 10th April showing south and eventually south-east and
then east winds which produced good seawatching conditions