January and February
The milder weather conditions in our area may attract movement of birds from the colder north. It is worth watching the Solent, especially Woodside Bay and off Seaview, for divers, grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers. The estuaries at Yarmouth and Newtown should see flocks of Brent Geese, Black Tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and other waders. Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler,Gadwall and Tufted Duck will also be seen. It is also worth looking at St Helens Duver, Bembridge Harbour and the Brading RSPB Reserve. Inland: walking the cyclepath between Shide and Blackwater you might be lucky to see Siskin and Redpolls. Large flocks of finches may be seen roaming farmland and frequenting hedges.
The overwintering Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps and other birds begin to sing and early nesting starts. The winter bird visitors are noticeably reduced in numbers and the early summer migration starts. Towards the end of the month it is time to visit St Catherine’s Point for a spot of sea-watching – Gannets, Auks, Shearwaters, Skuas, terns, waders, ducks and geese to name but a few birds that might pass. West High Down may have early migrants passing through eg Northern Wheatears. Look out for Sand Martins, especially over Dodnor Pond and Bembridge Ponds.
The last of the winter visitors will have left and the summer migrants will be arriving in greater numbers. The breeding season gets under way. Visit St Catherine’s Point, West High Down and Main Bench for migrants and early breeding sea birds and check suitable habitat for Dartford Warbler. Brook Down is also worth visiting. Stonechat start looking for suitable sites for breeding mainly on downland. Barn Swallows and House Martins return looking for suitable nesting sites. The declining Cuckoo may be heard as it returns from Africa about the 20th.
By now most of the summer visitors will have arrived and the males will be singing as they look for partners to breed. Swifts arrive. St Catherine’s Point is still worth visiting at the beginning of the month especially for skuas. Main Bench and Culver should be checked for breeding Fulmar, Great Black Backed Gulls, Cormorants, Peregrine and Raven. Brading RSPB Reserve should have Reed and Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s and Common Whitethroat as well as some breeding ducks and Northern Lapwing. Yarmouth wetland area will also have breeding warblers and ducks. Nightingales will be heard singing in the areas around Newtown.
This is the month to make late evening visits to Mottistone Common, Parkhurst Forest for breeding Nightjars, Woodcock and Long-eared Owls. If you are able, take a boat trip round the Needles to look at the cliffs around Main Bench and see the breeding sea birds Guilemots, Razorbills and Cormorant.
The birds will have finished breeding and will be moulting and not very visible. Towards the end of the month the return passage of summer visitors begins. Fort Victoria may produce Sandwich and Common Terns and the fields around may have Whinchat, Stonechat and Northern Wheatear.
Most of the Swifts will have left by the beginning of the month but waders should be on passage so visits to Newtown should be rewarding and Osprey may fish in the estuary as they are on their way to their winter quarters in Africa. West High Down and Headon Hill, Mottistone Down, Ventnor Downs and Culver are all worth checking for departing migrants such as Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Ring Ouzels.
This is the main departure month for summer visitors so visit West High Down, Headon Hill, Culver Down and Ventnor Downs as much as possible eg for Redstarts. Newtown will still be visited by Osprey and also you may see a Curlew Sandpiper. Late in the month early returning winter visitors will start to appear. In recent years Great White Egrets have been seen at Brading Marsh. Gannets can be seen again off St Catherine’s Point.
Some late departures of summer visitors will still occur particularly Barn Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins so visit West High Down, Headon Hill and Culver Down. Large flocks of finches will also occur on downs and farmland. Check out the Brading RSPB Reserve site now that the water levels have been raised, for ducks and predators. Black Redstarts can be seen this month.
Sanderling may have returned to Ryde Sands. Brading RSPB Reserve, St Helen’s Esturary, Yarmouth Estuary and Newtown will have increasing numbers of ducks and waders. Look out for harriers and Short-eared Owls.
Waders and wildfowl numbers build up so visit estuaries and the coast. Winter thrushes – Fieldfare and Redwing – are sometimes abundant. In hard winters look out for Waxwings. Kingfishers can be seen in the Medina and at Hersey Reserve.