Sabine's Gull off Isles of Scilly

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Thursday, 11 January 2018

New Year Bird Race 2018

A few weeks previous, and up until the day had seen myself, Bob Self & Derek Barber plan what turned out to be a heroic day's birding throughout the county of Sussex, and after winning last years bird race, the pressure was on for the 'Splash Pointers' to continue this trend.

On the 9th January, I drew up outside Bob's house at 3am and the three of us were off. First up was a local site to us which we all knew very well, and with torches we easily found our first target, this being a Purple Sandpiper. A Barn Owl was also a good spot, but wasn't our only one of the day. However, despite the good start, things didn't carry on this way with dips on Fulmar, Little Owl, Long-eared Owl and Goosander over the few dark hours ahead. Thankfully we were to clear up on some of these a little later on.

As darkness turned into gloom, we saw ourselves in the Arun valley, and here easily added Tawny Owl, and to our surprise, no less then five Woodcock. A walk around produced plenty of new birds for the day, with the best additions being Firecrest and Mandarin. It had only just got light but we were keen to beat the rush hour traffic and head straight down to Selsey Bill.

With light traffic, we made great time and had twenty minutes to see as many seabirds as possible. Great Northern and Red-throated Divers were ticked off easily, as were Guillemot, Common Scoter, Slavonian Grebe and Gannet, although dipping a passing Sandwich Tern was not very clever. With strict timing controls we were off again to Pagham Harbour where the Red-necked Grebe had thankfully held on for another day, and the long-staying Whimbrel was very welcome. A good range of Waders were found, the best being 44 Avocets, but strangely no Knot in sight. Another key site around the Pagham area brought us more luck and a clean sweep of Waders for the day, with highlights being Jack Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and a group of  Knot, whilst a first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull was our only one for the day.

We moved to now several inland sites making the most of the morning, and by the time midday had come, we had smashed 100 species, with the highlights in this intervening period being Brambling, Marsh Tit and various other common woodland species. By this time we knew that luck was on our side for a change, especially when a Sparrowhawk cruised by us, a species rarely seen on bird race days. An inland heath (not giving too much away here) brought us the expected Dartford Warbler and Stonechat, and then we got even luckier at Petworth finding a pair of stunning Goosanders, and the expected flyover Egyptian Geese. 

With 115 species for the day and two hours of light remaining we were dependant on some farmland birds, but the sites were quiet with just Grey Partridge & Raven on offer, and so the decision to quickly descend was well worth it as we caught up with a brief Marsh Harrier and seven roosting Bewick's Swans back in the Arun Valley.

We were reluctant to leave knowing a Hen Harrier could be on the cards, but with now being on 121 and with an hour left of light, we knew we could do better off near the coast, and so headed back to familiar territory where mercifully in the near darkness we found two Fulmars on the cliffs. There was now just one common bird that had eluded us, this being Skylark. Thankfully I knew a likely field, and so with torches at the ready, we went off in search and quickly found two birds. The total now stood at an impressive 123, and could have gone one more if the Black Guillemot had obliged, but by 7pm there was no sign and so we ended the 16 hour day with our heads held high on what was a very exceptional day.

Many thanks to Bob & Derek for a great day, and looking forward to a repeat performance next year.

pair of Goosander at Petworth

The Splash-Pointers