Waltham Brooks and Titchfield Haven

It's been a while since I made a blog due to work and study commitments, but I've started getting out bit more recently and had an extraordinary week this week where on two occasions I was in the right place at the right time. 

With a week off work, on Monday I managed to get up for an early morning trip and arrived at Waltham Brooks at just gone 4:30 AM. There was a low fog across the Arun Valley and the lake on the reserve was invisible. It's been very popular for herons and egrete here recently with Cattle Egrets being seen regularly amongst the cattle and Matt Phelps reporting 20 Cattle Egrets on 1st July! As I approached the viewpoint over the lake there were at least two Grey Herons flying about. A bird emerged from the fog that stood out. It appeared smaller and paler than a Grey Heron, about Little Egret size. It's flight was unusual, more like an owl than a heron, heavy with stiff wings. It flew once around the lake and dropped down into the reeds at the back of the lake out of view. I managed to get my bins on it for a brief time and the wings appeared pale grey, but the back was dark, almost the inverse of a Grey Heron's patterning. I thought I could make out a dark patch on its head. Due to the low light levels and still being half asleep I questioned whether I had seen it properly and I'd just got confused with a one of the more common herons. However, my thoughts turned to the possibility that it could have been a Black-crowned Night Heron. I have only seen these birds in field guides and photographs. Night Herons are vagrants to the UK, currently only breeding as far north as Belgium, with a few turning up in the UK each year. In fact, one was reported flying over Waltham Brooks in 2019. I felt justified then to feel a bit uncertain about what I had seen, but still had a gut feeling I might have been into something. I headed around the resere hoping I might get better views of the reed bed it dropped into, but there was no sign. I was happy to patch tick Common Sandpiper and Cattle Egret, but couldn't get my mind off this early morning encounter with a mystery bird. I messaged the local WhatsApp group and explained what I had seen, and forgot about it. At 21:53 a message came through from Matt saying there was a Night Heron currently on the main lake at Waltham Brooks!

I had a visit planned to Newtown Common near Newbury on Thursday evening for some Nightjarring with the work lot. I wanted to make a day of it and as my drive would take me towards Southampton I decided I would spend the day at Titchfield Haven, a site I've not visited before. After a brief look at the terns at Hill Head and a whip around the west side of the reserve I headed back to the car for lunch. There was a chap in front of Hill Head Sailing Club scoping out the terns, so I headed over. As I approached he looked round excitedly and said there was a Roseate Tern in his scope! I got great views through the scope and it was so close I even got some pictures of it side by side with a Sandwich Tern (a confusion species) for comparison. This was my first encounter with this species and they are very smart looking birds. The breast had a subtle pink wash and the bill was pitch black right up to its fine tip, unlike the Sandwich Tern which has a yellow tip to its black bill. 

Sandwich Tern and Roseate Tern

I later noticed from a picture that the Sandwich Tern was ringed. I found the ringing scheme and discovered it was ringed in Wexford in 2018 making it a 5th calander year bird. Previous sightings show it likes to spend the winter in Namibia, but there are is no summer data. Interestingly the Roseate Tern is unringed, which is surprising as the birds are so closely montitored at the colonies in the UK and Ireland that it would rare if a nestling were missed.


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