Features


2006 in Christchurch Harbour


It's now just over 50 years since Frank Clafton's "attempted Ornithological Survey " of Christchurch Harbour in 1956. In the December of that year, Frank was instrumental in the formation of Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Survey Group (CHOSG) and the first official report appeared in 1957. Actually, having seen both publications, I think Frank was being a little hard on himself with the word "attempted," as the 1956 work seems far more detailed than that of the following year.

As Frank left the area to take up the position of warden on Bardsey Island, there were a barren couple of years, 1960 and 1961, when no report was issued. However, thanks to the efforts of Tony Wise, 1962 saw the rebirth and not a year has been missed since. So, although CHOG was fifty last year, there is still a bumper fiftieth report to look forward to. Thanks to all of those past and present devotees who attended the 50th celebration at the Regent Centre earlier this month. One potentially sobering statistic from that evening, however, was the youngest attendee being aged 40!

The year 2006 was not a spectacular year in terms of numbers of species recorded. In fact, the period finished with 214 notched up, that's 5 shy of last year and well short of the 224 figure for 2004. It was really the sea that failed to deliver; for example, a lack of early year seawatching put paid to Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe, while the autumn missed Grey Phalarope, Long-tailed Skua and Sabine's Gull, which have all become expected. Of course, the late year visible migration was never going to match the exceptional 2005; nevertheless, it still represents the year's highlight for many of the present day regulars. This year, it was a local favourite, the Woodpigeon, which excelled - with day totals of 74000 and 81000 on two dates in early November. It does seem there is something in the geography of Christchurch that makes the area such a thoroughfare for these birds.

Naturally, there was the established year-listing competition and Dave Smith's dedication saw him, once again, beat all opposition. As usual, there was a closer fought battle for the runner-up spot and Darren Hughes narrowly pipped Ian Southworth. At present, there is a certain caginess as to who will be competing next year.

 
Subalpine Warbler - Marc Read                  Long-eared Owl - Stephen North

For some of the regulars, it wasn't the national rarities that created the biggest attractions. At least one individual casually notched up his fourth Subalpine Warbler in April, but it wasn't until the appearance of a Long-eared Owl three days later, that the pulse really raced. It was a similar scenario with the discovery of a Wryneck and a Nuthatch on Hengistbury within an hour of each other. Many opted for the latter as the priority. Supporting birds throughout the year included: a colour-ringed Stone Curlew in July, recently fledged from Wiltshire; while September saw one, then very quickly two, Cattle Egret at Stanpit; October produced Little Bunting and Pallas' Warbler; and, finally, there is the Marbled Duck upon which to ponder. Of course, there are many other quality records, but those can wait for the 2007 report.

 
Stone Curlew - Alan Hayden                     Cattle Egret - Alan Hayden

Whilst the birds may have been down, members are up with the level being at an all time high. Thanks to all who have recently joined and to those who continue to subscribe. Also increasing, are the numbers of visitors to the website. Please do continue to send in daily sightings and photographs - all are very much appreciated. Even if your sightings don't make the daily post, they do get entered onto the larger CHOG database.

The formation of the Stanpit Sub-committee in the middle part of the year saw CHOG stepping up its conservation activities. The purpose of the committee is to work closely with Christchurch Borough Council, Bournemouth and West Hants Water Company, Natural England, Friends of Stanpit Marsh and many other interested parties, to ensure the well being of Stanpit Marsh as a SSSI and a Local Nature Reserve. Already, the committee have submitted some detailed proposals for inclusion in the new Stanpit Marsh Management plan, which is scheduled for draft release in spring next year. CHOG also have a representative in the newly formed Hengistbury Head Supporters Group. It is hoped that 2007 may be something of a watershed and could see CHOG becoming more involved with everyday, local conservation issues, rather than just a bird recording organisation. Many thanks to all of those who have been working on these initiatives.

It's just left to say a very Happy New Year to all members and website visitors, and we're all looking forward to that first Wheatear of March.

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