May 292016

Another morning at Pennington Marshes was needed and I was on site by 06:00. It was remarkably cold for this late in the year with a north-easterly wind blowing and so I set off with fleece and gloves.

Birding Efford lagoon it was apparent that the Swift, Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin were struggling for food as they foraged a few centimetres above the waters surface.

Numbers of each were approximately 30, 20, 75 and 50, respectively. There was little else to be seen on the lagoon but for half a dozen Dunlin so I set off on my usual circuit covering Shoveler Pools, Butts Lagoon, Fishtail Lagoon, Keyhaven Lagoon and then along the Ancient Highway.

I spent a considerable amount of time scanning through the waders in the bay off Butts Lagoon. There were around 200 Dunlin gathered and I was secretly hoping for a rarity – maybe a Broad-billed Sandpiper but it was not to be. Most of the Dunlin were in a pretty much incomplete summer plumage so I guessed that these birds are non-breeders as surely breeding birds would be on territory by now?

There was a considerable amount of variation within the plumages on show and I supposed that much of this variation was down to the extent of summer plumage gained and sex. However, one or two birds appeared to be markedly greyer and I guessed that these may have been of the race schinzii while the majority were of the nominate race alpina.

Both are common in the UK with the former said to be the common wintering race while the latter is a migrant wintering in southern Europe and north-west Africa. Schinzii breeds around the Baltic, coast in northern areas of the UK, Iceland and south-east Greenland while alpina breeds from northern Scandinavia and northern Russia east to the Taymyr Region.

Other waders in the bay off Butts Lagoon included 15 Grey Plover, five Whimbrel, 30 Ringed Plover and 25 Turnstone. Good numbers of Swift buzzed overhead and I scoured them for a bird with a white rump but no luck.

Little Tern – Pennington Marsh

Little Tern – Pennington Marsh

Dunlin (above 12 images) – I think all the above are probably alpina with broad rufous fringes to the scapulars and greater coverts and heavy streaking on the breast above the black belly.

This bird I believe maybe schinzii with paler chestnut fringing, broad grey tip to the scapulars and a small belly patch. There is also a clearer white band above the belly and the bird appears paler although this maybe an artefact of the number of winter type feathers in the upper parts.

Ringed Plover – Pennington Marsh

Ringed Plover – Pennington Marsh

Swift – Pennington Marsh

Swift – Pennington Marsh

Common Tern – Fishtail Lagoon

Common Tern – Keyhaven Lagoon

The skies were blackening and my walk along the Ancient Highway was rather hurried as I aimed to get within a short dash of the car. I spent some time scanning the Swift and Hirundine over Efford Lagoon hoping for a Red-rumped Swallow. These birds were putting on a fantastic show as they buzzed low over the water surface. The first spits of rain hit and I made a run before just as the skies opened.

Reed Bunting – Pennington Marsh

Swift – Efford Lagoon

Swift – Efford Lagoon

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Simon Colenutt

Simon Colenutt

I began birdwatching at the age of nine when living on the Isle of Wight. After obtaining a copy of the Isle of Wight Bird Report from 1976 I realised that Manx Shearwater, Arctic Skua, Pomarine Skua and Black Tern were regularly seen at St.Catherine's Point, only five miles from my home village of Chale Green. To a nine year old these birds were near mythical and so I just had to go and try to see them. Little did I know that these birds were seasonal and after a long winter of seeing nothing I eventually started to bump into other birdwatchers as March drew to a close. It was then that Dave Hunnybun, Dave Wooldridge, Paul Castle, Peter Gandy and Audrey Wilkinson introduced me to the art of seawatching and the joys of bird migration, I have not looked back since.

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