Sightings for December 2002

December 31st

The wind had shifted to the north today bringing slightly cooler temperatures, however, this didn't deter a Heron from nest building and a Wood Pigeon from singing. Surely this is too soon even for these traditional early breeders. The overwintering Firecrest was seen again this morning by the double bends on Hengistbury, also there was 1 Coal Tit. A pair of Scaup past the Head salvaged a potentially dismal seawatch; 1 Great-northern Diver and 1 unidentified Diver being the only other birds of note. For some reason the harbour has been deserted by the diving birds, there are no Grebe, Diver or Goldeneye to be seen, while a Red-breasted Merganser which overflew the water this morning did not linger. The Pale-bellied Brent Goose is still on Stanpit, as is the Bar-tailed Godwit.

So the curtain closes on a great year of Christchurch Harbour birding. In total, 218 species plus 3 sub-species were recorded. Of the 218, five were new for the area - Rough-legged Buzzard, Bee-eater, White Stork, Bobolink and Pallid Swift. This year has certainly seen the harbour birded with renewed enthusiasm, mainly fuelled by a healthy species count competition amongst some of the locals, the winner seeing 209, a full 25 species clear of second place! The closely fought runners up spot was settled in the final minute of the final seawatch of the year, when today's 2 Scaup appeared as telescopes were already being packed away. Despite the "pressures" the challenge brought, the whole year has been immensely enjoyable and we are looking forward to an even better 2003. Thanks go to everyone who so sportingly participated and are we up for it again next year? That 218 has to be beaten. Thanks also go to everyone who has visited the harbour and contributed their sightings. All records for the year are still welcomed and can be submitted via sightings . We hope to see many more birders in the coming months - all are welcome. Happy New Year.

December 30th

Another warm but wet morning with far less wind than yesterday. This contrived to make the seawatching slightly more entertaining with 4 Gannet, 2 Black-throated Diver, 1 Red-throated Diver and 1 Red-breasted Merganser seen moving past Hengistbury. Around 15 Common Scoter are still feeding in the area, where they are now attracting constant attention from the local gulls, and 1 Purple Sandpiper was on the groynes. On Stanpit, the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was again present, also there are more than 400 Dunlin, 5 Grey Plover and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit. In the hedge around Priory Pools 4 Chiffchaff were seen this afternoon and, after dark, a Little Owl was heard calling in the same area.

Tides 31st December: L01:53 H07:12 H09:41 L13:59 H19:08 H22:21

December 29th

Some pretty grim weather conditions in the form of blustery south-westerly showers made birding difficult today. On Stanpit the Pale-bellied Brent Goose is still present. This is the hrota sub-species of Brent Goose and breeds in Canada, Greenland and Spitzbergen, the normal wintering areas are Ireland, Denmark, north-east England and the eastern US seaboard. This year the site has now held each of the three formally recognised forms of Brent Goose. Also noted amongst the 100 or so Brent Geese was a colour ringed individual with orange C on the right leg and white 8 on the left. Also from Stanpit, a group of around 40 Pintail were seen flying south over the harbour, while there were 7 Grey Plover, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit and 1 Gadwall in the Bight. Earlier in the day, a 1 hour seawatch from Hengistbury yielded nothing more than 2 Razorbill and 1 Guillemot west, and around 10 Common Scoter on the sea. From Mudeford Quay, 2 Purple Sandpiper, 1 Razorbill and 7 westerly heading Red-breasted Merganser were recorded.

December 28th

A Pale-bellied Brent Goose was found on Stanpit today. The bird was one of a group of eight birds on Central Marsh on the edge of North Scrubs and was still present at dusk. A first winter Mediterranean Gull was also seen at Stanpit. The Great Northern Diver and one Goldeneye were between Fisherman's Bank and East Marsh this morning. The Firecrest was with the Long-tailed Tit flock on the edge of the Nursery on Hengistbury. A Little Owl has been seen on Wick twice in the last couple of days.

December 27th

A disappointing sea watch this morning produced very little - just Gannet, Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter. The Harbour still holds 3 Goldeneye and 3 Kingfisher were also seen, the usual bird in the Barn Bight area plus two from Fisherman's Bank. The Firecrest was still in the woodland and a Chiffchaff was in Wick ditch. Flocks of Pintail moving south-east over the Harbour totalled more than 200 birds.

December 26th

This morning's heavy rain and strong winds restricted coverage to an hour or so sea watching from the car on Mudeford Quay where the 2 Great Crested Grebe and the usual Turnstone were on view. Common Scoter were moving west in small flocks - in all 22 were counted - and a single Red-throated Diver flew east. Distant flocks of wildfowl also moving west were probably displaced birds from the Avon Valley - 10 Pintail and 8 Teal were amongst them but most of the birds were too far off shore to be identified with any certainty.

December 25th

Both Velvet Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser were seen off the Head this morning but a brief search of the Harbour from Fisherman's Bank failed to locate the Great Northern Diver. However the Great Northern was found towards the Salt Hurns later in the day and there was also a second bird on the sea off the main groyne. The woodland had 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 2 Green Woodpecker the latter showing a distinct lack of Christmas spirit as they fought in what was probably a territorial dispute. The 2 Goldeneye are still present along with 3 Little Grebe and there were 2 Great Crested Grebe off Mudeford Quay. At least 3 Chiffchaff were around the Golf Course at Stanpit.

December 24th

The Great Northern Diver was still present this morning - it was showing well from Stanpit looking towards Mudeford. There were also 2 Goldeneye and a Great Crested Grebe in the Harbour. Other wildfowl on the Marsh included 158 Brent Geese, 350 Wigeon, 110 Teal, 9 Shoveler and 1 Gadwall. The numbers of waders are still high with 65 Ringed Plover, 30 Grey Plover, 400 Dunlin, 85 Redshank, 7 Turnstone and one each of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit. There were also still Snipe on East Marsh but difficult to estimate the numbers present.

December 23rd

The gloom returned to the Harbour this morning in the shape of low cloud and mist. Hence visibility was very poor. Both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were in the woodland together with the over wintering Firecrest. There were also around 55 Snipe in the area adjacent to Barn Bight.

December 22nd

The monthly WeBS count was carried out in the Harbour this morning. Fortunately the overnight rain had stopped and yesterday's murk had gone so conditions were quite good. Sightings included the Great Northern Diver, 3 Little Grebe, only 5 Little Egret, a lone Greylag Goose, 145 Brent Geese, 14 Shelduck, 276 Wigeon, 130 Teal, 4 Shoveler, 5 Goldeneye, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 259 Coot, 54 Oystercatcher, 35 Ringed Plover, 28 Grey Plover, 690 Lapwing, 5 Purple Sandpiper, 350 Dunlin and a very impressive count of 200 Snipe.

December 21st

Visibility was no better today as Hengistbury was shrouded in mist - in fact it worsened by late morning when the drizzle set in. Barn Bight still held 4 Little Grebe and two Goldeneye, including the stunning drake. An examination of the Lapwing flock in flight over the Harbour revealed 2 Golden Plover in their number. Common Scoter were very active off the Head constantly moving around in small flocks of half a dozen birds making the numbers difficult to estimate but there were probably in excess of forty birds. There were no divers or auks seen today just a single a male Red-breasted Merganser moving west. By mid morning small flocks of wildfowl started to appear over the sea - these were probably birds displaced by shooting in the Avon Valley. There were around 100 Wigeon, 22 Pintail, 7 Shoveler and 25 Teal. There was a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch in the woodland and 3 Redwing passed overhead - also on the Stanpit side there were 2 Bullfinch near the golf course.

December 20th

It was much milder this morning but inevitably this meant misty and murky conditions and hence much reduced visibility. There were 8 Little Grebe and just one female Goldeneye in Barn Bight. The scoter flock of around thirty birds is still present off the Head and there were 2 Red-throated Diver on the sea close inshore - three more birds, 2 west and 1 east, were also seen. The only other sightings were of a single Guillemot and 2 Red-breasted Merganser.

December 19th

At last the frost arrived, but the wind had settled down a little. Both Hengistbury and Stanpit were birded today. This morning on Hengistbury there were 2 Firecrest in the Wood, but the sea held most of the interest. 4 Velvet Scoter were seen along with around 15 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Diver were settled on the water and 2 Eider passed by east. There were also around 40 distant Auk recorded. On Stanpit this afternoon there were excellent numbers of birds. The count totalled 357 Dunlin, 161 Wigeon, 127 Snipe mainly in two wisps, one of 65 birds the other of 40, 82 Teal, 23 Grey Plover, 19 Ringed Plover and 8 Black-tailed Godwit. Also plenty of Brent Goose, but they were spread out and not easily countable. This evening I hand the website over to Ian Southworth and Roger Howell for the next 8 days while I spend Christmas in Northern Israel. May I wish all 60 daily visitors a very Happy Christmas.

December 18th

Another very cold day which limited birding activity. A brief scan from Mudeford Quay at lunchtime confirmed the Great-northern Diver is still present. Also in the harbour were 7 Goldeneye and 2 Little Grebe, and off the head at least 30 Common Scoter and 2 Auk were seen. Also a Great-spotted Woodpecker in the Wood.

December 17th

The chilly east wind returned today ahead of a predicted cold snap. Before light this morning a Redwing was heard around the old depot site at Stanpit. On Hengistbury, 1 Firecrest was seen in the Nursery, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker were in the Wood, and a Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were towards the end of the sandspit. The sea had the regular flock of around 30 Common Scoter while 1 Velvet Scoter was with them today, as well as 1 settled Guillemot, 1 passing Razorbil and 1 Red-throated Diver. There was also a sizeable gathering of freshwater duck off the head, a total of 200 Wigeon, 40 Pintail and 2 Shoveler were counted. The Great-northern Diver is still feeding actively in the harbour, also seen there were 12 Little Grebe, 7 Goldeneye and 1 Grey Wagtail.

December 16th

Both the harbour and the sea resembled a mill pond today in conditions close to force zero. Despite the excellent viewing conditions, the sea produced little; just 1 Red-throated Diver, 30 Common Scoter, 3 Guillemot and 1 Razorbill, but on the groynes 5 Purple Sandpiper were present. A Firecrest was seen in the Wood, along with 2 Jay and a Repoll passed overhead. In Barn Bight, just 5 each of Goldeneye and Little Grebe were counted, a Kingfisher was also present there. 2 Raven were heard then seen over the northern extremities of the harbour this morning.

December 15th

The wind had shifted a few degrees north which meant the Beach Huts did provide shelter in the early morning wet conditions. Divers were the order of the morning with all 3 species being seen: in total 5 Red-throated were noted, 4 went east and another was very close inshore just west of Long Groyne; 4 Great-northern were seen, 1 moving east, 1 going east then coming back west and 2 on the sea; and to complete the set, 1 Black-throated passed eastwards. The 40 or so Common Scoter were still present, but being continually harassed by the large gulls. Far fewer Auks than yesterday were around, just 2 Guillemot, 2 Razorbill and 3 sp. An interesting record was 13 Lapwing in off the sea from the south, perhaps this signals an influx of continental birds. Also on Hengistbury, 1 Firecrest was in the Wood and a Kingfisher was in Barn Bight. This afternoon at Mudeford Quay, the Eider was still showing well and a further 2 Red-throated Diver were seen, along with 12 Turnstone, 3 Great-crested Grebe and 1 Purple Sandpiper. The information services report that the Great-Northern Diver is still in the harbour, also 1 Red-throated Diver, 1 Slavonian Grebe and a high count of 39 Grey Plover.

December 14th

The sea was extremely lively today in a not too uncomfortable north-easterly. By far the best record was an exceptional group of 21 Velvet Scoter that passed close by the Beach Huts heading west, probably the largest group ever recorded off there; this was in addition to 2 of the same species going east. There were over 80 Auks seen today, of the birds identified most were Guillemot with lesser numbers of Razorbill. These were certainly birds feeding in the area, rather than just passing by. 8 Red-throated Diver were seen, a group of 3 heading east and 1 bird feeding close inshore to the Beach Huts. Other settled seaduck were 40 or so Common Scoter off Hengistbury and the confiding Eider off Mudeford Quay. Passing birds included 7 Grey Plover and 2 Gadwall going east. Other notable birds seen on Hengistbury were 1 Woodcock, fortuitously flushed from the side of the path at the end of the head this morning, and 2 Bearded Tit in the HHC reedbed. Also recorded on the head were 4 Siskin going east, 3 Purple Sandpiper, 2 Redwing, 1 Sanderling and 1 Chiffchaff. Shortly after 10:00am the regular Saturday morning duckfest got underway, as birds displaced by shooting in the Avon Valley started to appear high over the harbour; numbers were around 220 Wigeon, 150 Pintail, 2 Shoveler and 1 Tufted Duck. In the harbour, the Goldeneye count has reached double figures with 10 seen today, also 5 Little Grebe. The information services report the Great-northern Diver to be still in the harbour.

December 13th

Surprise of the day was a freshly dead Nuthatch found in Stanpit village, barely 10 metres outside the recording area. This is an extremely rare bird in the harbour. The mild, still weather has returned and the recently discovered grebe hotspot - Mudeford Quay - was well watched today. There were at least 8 Great-crested Grebe by late afternoon, but no sign of the previous days' more unusual varieties. The female Eider continues to feast on crabs in the Run, at times it is extremely close and giving great photo opportunities. Also around that area are 10 Turnstone and 1 Purple Sandpiper, and a Guillemot was just beyond the sandbar at lunchtime. In the harbour itself, the Great-Northern Diver is still spending most of its time underwater, there are 8 Goldeneye and at least 1 Bar-tailed Godwit. Many thanks go to James Lidster for an excellent and very entertaining talk tonight. His knowledge of China and its birds was enlightening.

December 12th

In the slightly warmer and calmer conditions, a rather ill looking Red-necked Grebe spent most of the afternoon close inshore between Mudeford Quay and Avon Beach, but was viewable from within the recording area. There was also a Slavonian Grebe in the Run and 9 Turnstone on the beach. Past Hengistbury this morning, 14 Brent Goose, 20 Shelduck and 1 Great-northern Diver moved east. On Stanpit this afternoon there were 14 Grey Plover, 1 Knot and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit. At dusk over 30 Little Egret roosted in the Nursery.

December 11th

A very slight rise in temperature today, however, the guys that ventured onto the head will argue otherwise as the east wind was still biting. Seen moving past Double Dykes was 1 Little Auk along with a total of 26 Scaup in various sized groups. Also past there in mixed directions were 12 unidentified Auk, 6 Goldeneye, 3 Tufted Duck and numbers of Wigeon, while on the sea were 3 Eider, including 1 drake, and 3 Great-crested Grebe, also 21 Pintail arrived in the harbour. From the Beach Huts, the Common Scoter flock was counted at 45 birds, 1 Eider was on the sea and 2 moved past, and 2 Red-breasted Merganser went west. At least 10 Siskin were scattered around the head, 1 Peregrine was overhead and 1 Sanderling went by. In the harbour, the Great-northern Diver is still present, as are now 9 Goldeneye but just 2 Red-breasted Merganser today, also 1 Great-crested Grebe. In the pines bordering the approach road to Mudeford Quay, there were 4 Crossbill this morning, 13 Turnstone were on the beaches around the quay and 1 Velvet Scoter went past. A little later, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit passed by into the harbour. On Stanpit this afternoon there was a seasonally excellent wader selection with 2 Knot, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Greenshank, a real winter rarity, and 18 Grey Plover, and by the Golf Course a Kingfisher and Chiffchaff were noted. The information services reported just one Slavonian Grebe off Mudeford Quay throughout the day.

December 10th

The biting east wind continued, but still the temperature stayed just above zero; nevertheless, the cold weather water birds are starting to appear. Best were 3 Slavonian Grebe on the sea off Mudeford Quay this afternoon, despite the prevalence of these birds just east and west of Christchurch they are rare birds for the harbour. Also off the Quay was a female Eider and 3 Turnstone were around the Lifeboat Station. In the harbour, the Great-northern Diver is still present, there are still 6 or 7 Goldeneye, and the Red-breasted Merganser flock has increased by 1 redhead to 5 birds. The information services reported 3 Long-tailed Duck and 5 Common Scoter past Hengistbury, 3 Purple Sandpiper and 1 Merlin about the head and a Yellow-legged Gull at Mudeford Quay.

December 9th

The wind swung slightly more easterly and was stronger and colder; but thanks to the cloudy skies, the actual overnight air temperature was a mild 5 degrees Celsius. As can be expected in these conditions, there was a noticeable increase in the number of diving duck. Off Fisherman's Bank this morning were 6 Goldeneye, all female/immature types, so accounting for the drake that has been around for a week or so, the harbour total is at least 7 birds. Also from Fisherman's Bank were 4 Red-breasted Merganser, a good number for inside the harbour, the group comprised of 3 redheads and 1 drake. A Firecrest was on Hengistbury and 12 Eider were seen from there.

December 8th

A gloomy, damp day with an extremely chilly wind from the north-east. There was no sign of the probable American Wigeon on Stanpit, but Wigeon numbers were much reduced from yesterday, just 40 or so birds being present. However, a Little Owl was seen mid-morning and the Great-northern Diver was again there. Other birds counted from that side of the harbour throughout the day included 153 Brent Goose, with first-winter birds constituting around 10% of the gaggle, 150 Dunlin, 19 Grey Plover, 2 Knot, an excellent winter record, 2 Shoveler, 1 Turnstone and 1 Grey Wagtail. On Hengistbury, 1 Velvet Scoter was seen, but the Common Scoter flock was too distant to be counted. Barn Bight held 4 Little Grebe and 4 Goldeneye, and a Kingfisher was in the Holloway's Dock area. 5 Red-breasted Merganser were seen today, a pair over the harbour, 1 past the head, a drake fishing in Lobs Hole and a single bird flying upriver. Elsewhere, a Merlin was over Wick Fields at dawn.

December 7th

A cold, damp morning with nearly as many hangovers as birders. Initially the going was slow, but as the heads cleared things improved, with the sea providing most of the action. There are now 2 Velvet Scoter accompanying 40 Common Scoter and all 3 divers were seen - 2 Great-northern, 1 Black-throated and 1 Red-throated - also 8 unidentified auks. There is a definite influx of Little Grebe, there are now 10 birds in Barn Bight, also there 3 Goldenye and the Great-Northern Diver. A very late Swallow passed low through the harbour mid-morning. At Stanpit there was a female probable American Wigeon, 7 Jack Snipe and 1 Firecrest.

December 6th

The scoter flock although still present off the Head was much more distant this morning. Given the poor light however it wasn't possible to pick out the Velvet Scoter. A scan of the Harbour failed to locate the Great Northern Diver but there were 6 Little Grebe, 3 Goldeneye and the Kingfisher in Barn Bight, as well as the Common Seal. A Kingfisher was around Mudeford Quay at dusk.

December 5th

A good day for the time of year. This morning was very clear with a chilly easterly wind. On Hengistbury, a Snow Bunting flew from Holloway's Dock over towards Stanpit. The female Velvet Scoter was seen again with around 25 Common Scoter and the mystery harbour Diver was identified as a Great-northern. At lunchtime a Kingfisher was around Mudeford Quay. An early afternoon count on Stanpit totalled 220 Dunlin, 170 Brent Goose, 33 Oystercatcher, 20 Ringed Plover, 18 Common Gull, a good harbour count, 8 Little Egret and 3 Grey Plover. A final highlight was a Barn Owl, brilliantly illuminated in the street lamps as it flew silently over Two Riversmeet car park at 6:25 this evening. This is the fourth owl species for the harbour this year. Tonight is clear and cold, tomorrow could see a frost.

December 4th

Two Tawny Owl conducted a very vocal dispute around the old Stanpit Depot site at 2:30 this morning, a Redwing was heard at the same time. At daybreak it was another very still morning, but it crucially produced a Little Auk passing close by the head. The offshore Common Scoter flock is still slowly increasing and now amounts to 35 birds. This is the first time for many years that such numbers of seaduck have lingered in the area. A Red-throated Diver moved by in an easterly direction. The Wood still has 1 Firecrest and 1 Coal Tit, and Barn Bight offered 2 Goldeneye, 1 Little Grebe and 1 Kingfisher. The unidentified Diver was still in the harbour.

December 3rd

An almost windless but cloudy morning with the only reports being of the usual suspects on Hengistbury. These included 1 Firecrest in the Wood and 25 Redpoll overhead, perhaps these birds are wintering, and 1 Red-breasted Merganser and 1 Guillemot past. In Barn Bight, there are still only 3 Goldeneye, but this will surely increase, 2 Little Grebe, 1 Kingfisher and the Common Seal. A dark Diver sp. was seen in the harbour during the afternoon.

December 2nd

Late autumn visitors to the harbour today included 3 Black Redstart around the Beach Huts and 2 Firecrest in the Wood. Also around the Beach Huts were 15 Stonechat, which may mark an arrival of birds. Other passerines noted on Hengistbury were 12+ Goldcrest and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker around the Nursery, and 8 Siskin and 5 Goldfinch overhead. Some brief seawatching produced 6 Turnstone east and 1 Guillemot west. The 3 Goldeneye, including the handsome drake, were today in Barn Bight along with 25 Teal, 4 Little Grebe and the Common Seal.

December 1st

A moderate south-westerly made seawatching appear the best option in the early morning drizzle. From the Beach Huts over 25 Common Scoter were flocked together on the water, while past there, 3 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Great-northern Diver, 1 Sanderling and 1 Purple Sandpiper were seen. Redwing were calling from the Nursery in the early morning and at least 2, but probably 3, Firecrest are in the same area. Between the two bends is the best place to catch up with these birds. A Kingfisher was sat on fence posts alongside the flooded field by the HHC and the Common Seal spent most of the morning in Barn Bight.There was a healthy lunchtime count from Stanpit, including an impressive 247 Brent Goose, 189 Dunlin, 48 Teal, 9 Shoveler, 8 Ringed Plover, 8 Common Gull, 8 Grey Plover and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, which is a good winter bird.

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