Features


2005 in Christchurch Harbour


Although slightly down on species from last year, there were some memorable moments of high quality. The period's total was 219, which is 5 short of 2004, but does include a first for the recording area and possibly Britain, Elegant Tern. Of interest, the previous few years' totals read as: 2002: 218, 2003: 212 and 2004: 224. As usual, the year list competition took place and, as usual, through a mixture of dedication and expertise, Dave Smith won it, weighing in with an impressive 208 species. The real race, however, was won by Ian Southworth on 186, narrowly pipping Chris Chapleo who lagged by just one.

Another sterling effort from Leo Pyke, mildly assisted by the newly formed Report Sub-committee, saw the publication of the 2004 Annual Report in August. As a result of the increased interest in harbour birding, this task is becoming tougher each year and we must all thank Leo for her hard work. Also thank you to all the observers who took the time to document and send in records. Meanwhile, the website continues to attract new visitors, assisted by a fantastic Autumn migration November turned in the peak statistics, with an average of 215 visits each day. Up by 60% on the same period as last year. Also at a record high is membership, with 211 fully paid up individuals.

The first three months of the year saw little out of the ordinary, other than a flock of Waxwing, the first for many years, overflying the harbour on 23rd January. The spring migration period could probably be described as average and was highlighted by Dotterel and Ortolan Bunting on 28th April, and Red-rumped Swallow two days later. It wasn't until the following month that the excitement really started.

On May 10th, Lawrie Chappell found an orange-billed tern on East Marsh and initially assumed it to be a Lesser Crested Tern, which, in itself, would have been only the second record for the area. A few moments later, as the bird flew, an all white rump was revealed and changed the identification to that of Elegant Tern. As soon as the news was released, birders from the south descended onto Mudeford Quay, where it was hoped the bird would re-show itself. After a nervous couple of hours, it did, and was excellently photographed by Kit Day, who kindly allowed some shots to be published on the website.

 
Elegant Tern - Kit Day

There are several high-pedigree records of Elegant Tern from around Britain, but these are still at pending status with the BBRC. Given the number of observers and the quality of the notes and accompanying photographs, this bird could well become the officially accepted first for Britain. During the whole episode, one of the strangest sights was that of two harbour-listers actually running away from the bird so it could be 'scoped from within the limits of the recording area. The timing of the record was unfortunate for many of the regulars and given the relative few who connected it is now almost bad manners to mention the event. "Don't mention the tern - I did once, but I think I got away with it."

May also saw Purple Heron, Iceland Gull and Puffin making it onto the year list. However, not to be outdone, June turned in its own goodie, with Dorset's third Spotted Sandpiper being found by Ian Southworth on Stanpit. Despite being present all day, the bird remained distant and the weather was quite appalling, so only record shots could be managed.

 
Spotted Sandpiper - Paul Norris and Alan Hayden

July saw Little Grebe again breeding in the area, following on from last year's first. Other than that, there was little to write about and everyone was longing for the end of the summer.

The early autumn saw another bird race, this time contested by three teams. Two of whom employed identical tactics in utilising bicycles for the first time. It is doubtful that this really helped and in fact may have even hindered efforts, but it did nevertheless spark some amusement as unattended bikes were mysteriously moved around the head. Even more amusing were the Priory Marsh ponies removing Dave Smith's sandwiches from his bag, left untended on the boardwalk, as he attempted to locate some early Snipe.

October and November saw some great individual records, including the harbour's third Great White Egret and the first Marsh Tit for some time. The really spectacle, however, was the passerine migration, which surpassed all previous years. For the last couple of decades visible migration watching has been a major part of the harbour year, but this season several other South Coast sites were also regularly watched and some fascinating analysis has been made that will no doubt be published in the future. Amongst large numbers of the common finches, there was also an unprecedented movement of Hawfinch. In total, 38 birds were recorded, with the daily maximum being 20. Also seen in well above average figures were Crossbill and Bullfinch, with cumulative numbers of 256 and 236 respectively, and small numbers of the latter are wintering in the area. A Redwing movement involving 17000 birds on one morning in November was described as, "once in a lifetime," and smashes all previous records. In all, over 300 000 birds were logged passing through the area during the period. Thanks to Chris Chapleo for providing the final counts. More from Chris on this phenomena will appear in the 2005 Annual Report.

Some stormy weather towards the end of November produced a series of Leach's Petrel records. As would be expected, Grey Phalarope were also driven onto Stanpit, where one unfortunate bird was taken by a Sparrowhawk while being watched by several birders. More of a surprise though, was a Red-necked Phalarope on the sea off the Beach Huts, this being the first for many years.

 
    The sadly departed bird - Alan Hayden       One more fortunate - Stephen North        

As is often the case, December failed to produce anything of real quality and most year-lists ground to a halt. Not even a cold snap at the end of the month could bring in anything too exciting.

I am sure there will be more competition next year and hopefully we will see even more visitors to both the recording area and the website. Each year holds surprises and we're all looking forward to several during 2006. Who knows we may get that long overdue Rose-coloured Starling, or something even better… Hopefully, the next time, more of the regulars will be around when the big one strikes.

Finally, another thanks to all the contributors who send in records and reports, without them things would be very dull, also to the site's two main photographers, Alan Hayden and Stephen North, who continue to produce some stunning work.

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