2004 in Christchurch Harbour

The past year has to go down as being one of the most memorable of the recent past. A total of 224 species and 1 nationally rare sub-species, Black Brant, were recorded in the area. This compares to 212 in 2003, which was considered a poor year, and 218 in the preceding period. Since 2002, birding in the harbour has had an added competitive edge, with several bird races and a year list competition. The winner again in 2004, predictably, but deservedly, was Dave Smith with a commendable total of 214 species. The real race, however, was for second place, which was closely contested by Mark Andrews and Ian Southworth, with Mark just edging 2 ahead of Ian and finishing on 193 - but he needed Tree Swallow to manage it.

The 2003 report was published in August and, as always, is an excellent piece of work. The driving force behind the report is Leo Pyke, who puts in many hours of record collation and editing. Thanks to Leo for another great job. For me, one of the highlights of the report is Ian Southworth's review of the year and I don't want to pre-empt that by going into detail about all the notable records of the year. However, I can't resist just re-capping a few birds and moments.

The early part of the year saw the Red-necked Grebe from 2003 remaining and gave most year-lists a kick-start. Other excellent local records were Black Guillemot and Ring-billed Gull. On the subject of gull's, it was nice to see Limpy, our faithful Yellow-legged Gull, in the area during the spring and autumn. This is the third calendar year that he has frequented South Marsh on Stanpit.

March saw Ian and Jean striking gold with an Alpine Swift over Hengistbury, but, despite a frantic drive from my Mudeford office, I failed to get there in time. Only to be caught out by a fire drill in my absence. April saw a few records of Serin and, of course, CHOG's bird, the Mullet Hawk. The same month hosted a memorable bird race with around 10 Grasshopper Warbler on site, as well as Serin and Nightingale, and, as one team staked out the clump waiting for the latter, out popped a male Subalpine Warbler! April 10th saw large falls of both Willow Warbler, over 700 birds piling off the head, and Ian Southworth, piling into a bramble bush. After an absence of some years, Golden Oriole made it back onto the list.

Breeding birds suffered varying fortunes and both sides of the harbour were censused, on behalf of Bournemouth and Christchurch Councils respectively, by Dave Smith. Results will be published in the 2004 report. There were two new breeders for the area. Firstly, Gadwall, a small family being found in Barn Bight by Mark Andrews. Secondly, Little Grebe, a pair remained remarkably concealed through the season as they raised two young in the Ironstone Quarry.

Some birds occurred in well above average numbers this year, most notably: Wood Sandpiper with daily maximum of 7 birds in August and Green Sandpiper with over 15 birds recorded one day. Both species favoured Priory Marsh and gave excellent views. Another bonus was Black Tern with several being seen in August. Early September saw many Osprey records, for a short period one could expect 4-5 sightings in a day. In the late autumn, Arctic Tern were also relatively easy to record off the Beach Huts.

August was good, with Tawny Pipit, White-winged Black Tern, Aquatic Warbler, Quail, flushed by Paul Morrison, Pectoral Sandpiper, Goshawk, Wryneck and Grey Phalarope accelerating the years' tally. However, if August was good, then September was even better. Birds in that period included: Honey Buzzard, over 3 in one day, Ortolan Bunting, Red-footed Falcon, Ross's Gull, Black Kite, Spoonbill, Sooty Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Leach's Petrel flying across the harbour, Hen Harrier and Lapland Bunting. The Ross's Gull was, personally, particularly frustrating, as I was awoken at 2:00am in a Hong Kong hotel room by a text message from Shaun Robson enquiring, "is the Ross's genuine?"

As autumn wore on, things didn't really slow down. One Saturday morning saw 2 Common Rosefinch passing through the area, but the following Monday, 11th October, produced 4 quality records for Dave Smith - Dusky Warbler, Stone Curlew, Snow Bunting and Richard's Pipit. Most of the harbour regulars could only watch their pagers with mixed emotions as they trudged around various Scilly islands!

October really saw the end of the action, a Gull-billed Tern was seen mid-month by Tony Tucker, but no-one has seen him since. Where are you Tony? The afternoon of the last day of the month can only be described as awesome, however, I'm not sure all spouses saw it the same way. Firstly, news broke of a Great-grey Shrike on Wick Fields and the regulars assembled, including Dave Smith who had just put his toe into a hot bath. The bird, found by Lawrie Chappell, showed extremely well and constituted just the second harbour records. Coincidentally, Lawrie had also found the first, but that, unfortunately, remained a single observer record. The best was yet to come. As I arrived back home, Mark Andrews called to say he had a Tree Swallow over his Wick garden. A particularly frustrating few minutes followed, listening to Mark perfectly describing the features of this third record for Britain over the telephone. Despite Dave's second bath time interruption of the afternoon and a hurried drive across Tuckton Bridge, alas, the bird had gone. Ironically, this also seemed to signal the end of a truly fantastic birding year, with the remaining nine weeks producing relatively little of interest. The migration certainly ended early in 2004.

Throughout the year, the number of visitors to the website has increased steadily and peaked with a daily average of 133 in November. Thank you to all of you who take the time to log on and even more thanks to those who submit sightings. Thank you also to Ian Southworth for taking over the site during my periods of absence, and to Stephen North and Alan Hayden who continue to send in quality photographs.

I can't imagine 2005 could eclipse 2004, however, I am sure the birders who frequent the area will try to ensure it comes close.

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