Late Autumn and Early Winter 2023/24 Birding Highlights

William Legge writes…..

As the late autumn migration wound down, the last few months of 2023 were particularly unsettled. It was downright wet and windy for much of the time, but temperatures were generally above average and there were fewer frosts despite a cold snap in late November and early December.

Regardless of the wet weather, wildfowl numbers remained elevated through to the end of November when the cold snap and resulting    surface ice forced many to move on.

Most reports, except for the Tufted Duck, were below the peaks recorded earlier in the autumn, but there were still some respectable counts. 52 Gadwall on Oct. 25th, 38 Shoveler on Oct. 27th, 29 Mute Swan on Oct. 31st and 96 Coot on Nov. 1st. Tufted Duck bucked the trend with numbers increasing to an autumn peak of 82 on Oct. 31st.  Scarcer wildfowl at this time included up to five Common Pochard, two (Eurasian) Wigeon on Oct. 11th and a single female/1st winter Goosander present from Nov. 5th-12th, with the same or another logged on Nov. 29th. (Common) Teal continued to be scarce with 19 standing on ice on Dec. 1st being the best showing.

Only Tufted Duck and Common Pochard rebounded after the cold snap with highs of 65 and eight by the end of December, and three (Eurasian) Wigeon were present on Dec. 15th. The only notable report of geese was of 60 Greylag Geese leaving the reserve roost at first light on Dec. 31st.

The arrival of a Black Swan (pictured above) on Dec. 6th provided an exotic touch, a species whose natural range is limited to Australia! It is either an escape from a wildfowl collection or more likely from one of the growing number of naturalised individuals roaming the country. Black Swans did breed successfully in the wild in Hampshire in 2019. Regardless, it provided an unexpected sight at the Pond, and currently remains in residence, despite being bullied by the local dominant male Mute Swan. Numbers of Great Crested Grebes continued to disappoint at seven before a general exodus during the cold snap, recovering to five in December and the only Little Grebe reported was a single on Nov. 6th.

However, the highlight of the period was an unprecedented influx of Firecrests, with a minimum of 27 logged along the southern side of the reserve between Chestnut Grove and Brookly Wood to Sandy Bay on Nov. 28th-29th along with a notable 22 Goldcrests. With both species being fairly inconspicuous, we are not sure whether this influx relates to local area Firecrests dispersing to the reserve after a presumed excellent breeding season or an influx of migrants from further afield.

From the images above you can see how similar these two tiny birds are. On the left is the male Firecrest and on the right, the Goldcrest.

Regardless, the numbers involved are unprecedented for a single site in Hampshire for the time of year. A follow-up search for Firecrests at the end of December only logged two individuals so it appears the influx was short lived, perhaps due to the onset of colder weather in early December. Other passerines of note included the last Common Chiffchaff of the autumn on Nov. 17th and up to two Cetti’s Warblers in the reedbeds until at least midNovember. Wintering Siskins returned with 120 logged on Nov. 24th rising to 250 by Dec. 15th, so do look out for their ‘swarming’ feeding flocks in the alders at the Brookly Wood over the next month or two.

Late year notable roost counts included an influx of Redwing (image above) in mid-December with 650 roosting on Dec. 12th rising to 1,100 on the evening of Dec. 17th, with most appearing to arrive in the evening from the direction of Fleet. Other high roost counts included 31 Cormorant on Oct. 23rd and 31st, 80 Magpie on Oct. 23rd, and 500 Jackdaw on Nov. 9th. Up to five Little Egrets roosted nightly through to the end of the year and these were joined by a Great White Egret on Oct. 23rd. Looking forward to longer days. Good birding!

Contributing Observers: T S AuYeung, John Clark, J P Duncan, Chris Leonard, P Nield, Sarah Slingo, Graham Stephenson and C H Wan

Photo Credits:  Black Swan, Cathy Holden

Bird illustrations from RSPB at: