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24th Feb 2018 - The great spring migration begins!

It is hard to believe the time has flown by so fast and it is only 5 weeks until the majority of our winter birds will have left us

As the daylight hours are getting noticeable longer our rangers are noticing that our wintering birds are starting to move on. Ranger Patrick reports on the changes he is seeing across Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester harbours.

The numbers of ducks and geese across the Solent has significantly decreased over the last month. The difference was very obvious at Nutbourne Marsh this week at high tide as the regular flock of around 350 brent geese were not there and the numbers of winter ducks were significantly lower. There were only a scattering of wigeon and teal, with the occasional pintail mixed in to add some elegance to the proceedings.

This pattern has been repeated across all the sites I have been visiting. For instance Bosham Quay had almost no birds during my last low tide visit.  This trend is unsurprising as the birds will already be starting their migration routes North as the trigger to migrate is from daylight hours rather than temperature (it hasn't exactly been warm recently). Many of our birds will start their journey by either heading towards East Anglia or flying across the channel to Northern France and the Netherlands, the intrepid few may even go to Belgium.

The same pattern is being seen with the waders. Dunlin numbers have had a noticeable decrease as have the other wader species such as grey plover and black-tailed goodwit as we would expect at this time of year. The avocet flock that has been present at Prinsted has seemed to dispersed which is a shame. But, that was tempered with a lovely flock of golden plover in amazing light. Not a bad trade off really!

Divers and grebes are still being seen in good numbers, with great northern divers seen daily in the harbours. I saw a Slavonian grebe last time I was at Sandy Point and there is still a group of black-necked grebes in Langstone Harbour.

Lets talk about gulls (briefly), the black-headed gulls are already part way through their moult into breeding plumage and in no time the earliest birds will start nesting (early bird gets the worm after all), there seem to be more Mediterranean gulls present too. Some interesting gulls have turned up recently including an adult ringed-bill gull (an American gull) and an Iceland gull, which I confess would not know what it looked like even if it flew into my face! 

Onto some of the land based species and there has been a mini-influx of black redstarts into Southsea, some of the photos being taken are stunning. These birds are on their spring migration heading north and usually will just make a short stopover with us before moving on. Some may stop to nest on the urban rooftops of Southern England, clearly they see this as suitable alternative to the rocky mountain-tops where they would normally breed! I showed new ranger Natalie her first Dartford warbler at East Head last week, this stunning but shy little bird is a year round resident on the Solent coast. Hopefully this is the first of many she'll see.