Monday, 19 February 2018

17th February - Harbridge, Blashford Lakes, Eyeworth Pond, and Acres Down, New Forest, Hampshire

Another frosty morning, and a return to the same site we had been at last weekend, the flood meadows around Harbridge, between Ringwood and Fordingbridge on the River Avon.  lats week it had all been about catching the good weather early on, but today the forecast was much more welcoming, and we were looking forward to sunshine for once.  As I drove along the A£! through the New Forest there was low lying mist over the heath, and around the copses, turning off at Ringwood there was mist across the road, and as I crossed the bridge as I headed towards Harbridge mist hung over the river, and across the meadows, the density increasing as the light became brighter.

I parked the car and walked back to the river, I wanted to try and capture the misty views before they disappeared.  Last week it had all been about the vivid colours on the sunrise, today it was about the diffused softness of the trees through the morning mist.  The view looking north from the bridge.

 And then from the other side looking south.

The gulls were moving once more, today a little earlier than last week due to the lengthening days, but the numbers moving north appeared much reduced on those of last Saturday, maybe they were lost in the mist above us.

Across the meadow I could hear the simple refrain of a Reed Bunting, and from even further back another in response.  Scanning the grasses I could not see the owner. Also hidden by the mist were the Canada Geese, their presence too, announced by there honking calls.

Once Ian had arrived we set off the down the lane, once again in search of the Bewicks's Swan, but in truth it was about the magic of these meadows at dawn, today enhanced by the softness of the surrounding mist, and the belief that maybe today would deliver weather wise.

Looking back there was a hint of red arriving in the eastern sky as the sun started its arrival.

Passing the church a Song Thrush was in full voice above us in a conifer.

At this time of year the song of the Song Thrush dominates the countryside, an early singing bird the characteristic fluted notes are repeated up to three times with a powerful delivery, and can be heard from considerable distances.  The birds sit stock still in the branches, you know they are there because you can hear them, but sometimes locating the owner of the voice is very difficult.

As we walked along the lane the mist obscured vision across the fields to the west, although it was possible to make out the dark shapes of Greylag and Egyptian Geese, along with a few distant white blurs.  Away behind us in the mist we could also hear the familiar "gronk" of a Raven, and there was constant noises coming from hidden geese.

Slowly the sun was now rising, gone were the bright colours of last Saturday, replaced to day with a mellow hue through the trees, and a soft white edge to the grass from the early morning frost

A shape in the field turned out to be a Buzzard, probably searching for a breakfast in the soft ground.

A little later we saw the buzzard on the top of a post with hat looked like a vole of some kind, it then flew off into the mist.  We carried on along Churchfield Lane, approaching North End Farm.  Another Song Thrush was singing in the tree above us, and the corvids, Jackdaws and Rooks were gathering together on the overhead lines.

Pied Wagtails were flitting about on the roof of the farm buildings, and there was the chatter of House Sparrows as they sought to find some warmth in the rising sun.  Walking past the barns Ian pointed out a strange sight on one of the dead trees at the back of the farm buildings.  The branches were covered completely in Starlings.

It reminded me of trees I have seen in the tropics with epiphytes growing on them, but no these were birds, and every so often others would fly in to increase the numbers.

The tree is obviously situated in the line of the rising sun, and the birds use the branches to sit on and warm up after coming out of their overnight roost.  In the morning mist though it makes the tree look very strange.

We walked on hoping that maybe there would be other creatures warming up around the farm buildings.  Several open windows were in full sun, but there was no sign of the hoped for Little Owls.  

Our view of the tree with the starlings changed as we walked, along with the lighting.  In this frame it wasn't until I looked at it at home that I realised there was what looks like a Kestrel sitting at the top of the tree, the Starlings were either unaware or realised that it wasn't the Kestrel that you could see that was the danger.

On our return, the mist was lifting and you could get a sense of how close the Starlings would sit on the branches

 The sun was now burning through the mist, and the signs were all there of a beautiful day, with wisps of cloud speckling across an electric blue sky.

We could now see across the fields, and scanned through the small family groups of Mute Swans, which unfortunately were all Mute Swans.  

The Raven called once again, and a Buzzard flew across the field which brought the Raven up from the ground to chase it off.  We can only presume there was a carcass on the ground.  There were several remains of swans across the fields,a nd this can only be as a result of the swans hitting the power lines.  We watched one swan have to take evasive action as it cam across the meadows, crocking its neck at the last moment and just missing the line.  Some of the lines have discs on them to break up the wire and make them visible, but many don't and this probably contributed to the Raven's breakfast

Last week we watched as birds flew into the fields, today there was less movement, only the odd single and pairs flying between the fields.

Looking to the east close to the river there was still mist ,low down, shrouding the grazing geese.

But to the west the visibility was much better, but unfortunately only Mute Swans.

Scattered across the field were hundreds of thrushes, mostly Fieldfare, but there were a few Redwing amongst them, and they were then joined by Starlings too.  Estimates were probably around 300 to 4000 thrushes in vision, and there were also birds on the other side of the lane.  Only a few though would stay close to the road for photographing.

We walked back past the church, with the Song Thrush still singing, and as we crossed the small bridge a Wren announced itself with its powerful song, and then sat out in the open for us.

Not really bothered by our presence.

But in the end cocking its tail before flying off.

We walked up to the bridge over the Avon, in the meadow the Reed Buntings were still singing, and a Stonechat put in an appearance on top of the spider web covered grass.

The scene from the bridge had changed, the mist lifting and the sun now beginning to signal the start of a lovely morning.  On the water there were six Tufted Ducks and four Little Grebes

From the south the weir was now visible, and there was the powerful smell of river water ozone.

We continued the scan the meadows for the swans, and counted around the whole area 85 Mute Swans, but no sign of the Bewicks's.

I walked down to the edge of the water where there was still wisps of mist hanging above the current.  The stone of the bridge reflected in the water softened by the presence of the light mist.

It was time to move on and we decided to give Ibsley Water one more try, last week it had been the lure of the hides to escape the oncoming rain, today we hoped the sunshine might deliver a photograph or two.

First stop was the Tern Hide.  There were plenty more duck to see, but they were all very distant.  Wigeon and Pintail were snoozing on the far side, and in amongst them were Tufted Duck, Pochard, a few Goldeneye and a single male Goosander cruising back and forth between the duck.

We decided to move to the Goosander hide.  The little bay here was also very calm, the water exceptionally still and mirror like, and reflecting the blue of the sky.  Bird wise there was little about.  A pair of Shoveler by submerged trees, and Goosander on the distant spit.  A small group of Canada Geese swam close to the hide, breaking through the stillness of the water.

Throwing a lovely reflection in the water.

But that was about it, so we moved on yet again, taking the trail around to the Lapwing Hide.  In the alders lining the edge of the Mockbeggar lakes were several Siskin.  

Yet another Reed Bunting sang hidden from within the reed bed, as we walked the path to the hide.  The Reed Bunting was joined by a Song Thrush that sang away in the distance and a Green Woodpecker calling from the birches.

As we settled down in the hide a pair of Goldeneye were on the water just off the spit.  Scanning the water there were just the normal duck, and no sign of the Black-necked Grebe we had seen last week.

The two Goldeneye drifted to the left, but started to return, coming closer to the hide. The pair would dive together, but when they both surfaced the female would lay flat on the water and the male would casually preen, then throw back its head, and the pair would then dive.

This behavior would be repeated as the ducks came closer to the hide.

With the male throwing back its head and pointing upwards a lovely reflection was thrown across the mirror like water.

 Then following one sky point the male rushed at the female who was lying in the water.

 And mounted her pushing her under the water, and trying to grab her neck.

Then they parted and both swam off in opposite directions heads raised above the water.

 The male continuing towards us.

Then finally settling down to a more normal pose.

The sunshine and warmer temperatures now mid morning was having a definite effect on the birds, not only were the Goldeneye thinking of procreation, the Oystercatchers were also considering the opportunity, and three birds were flying around the area calling all the time with their annoying piping whistles.  I watched three birds as they flew up from the far bank chasing each other low over the water, and then past the hide throwing yet another reflection across the ice blue water.

We had other places to visit so set off back to the cars, on the way we stopped at the screen to view the lake, a pair of Moorhen were also in on the act, a single female (presumed) Moorhen swam across followed by a male (presumed), the male swimming with its head flat on the water similar to the pose adopted by the female Goldeneye.  When the female stopped, the male would turn around and adopt this pose, the tail lifted and the wings extended upwards.

The only other bird seen on the water was a Little Grebe that swam past the reeds and through the reflection lit up brilliantly by the sun.

 Walking back we were finally able to see the singing Reed Bunting.

On the road to the cars we came across another singing Song Thrush.

Next stop was Milkham Inclosure in the New Forest.  We stopped here in search the on and off reported Great Grey Shrike.  After conversations with an interesting fellow car park visitor we headed west from the car park, birds were far and few to be seen, in fact the most numerous were the Song Thrushes that came up off the ground as we passed.  A Stock Dove called from a high perch in the pines, and as we crossed a boggy patch Ian flushed a Woodcock that immediately disappeared into the surrounding trees.

There was though no sign of any shrike and in the end we decided to move on, next stop was to be lunch at Eyeworth pond.  Now the morning had been beautiful, with plenty of sunshine, and this had definitely influenced the British public to come out.  We encountered t-shirts and shorts wearers, and the number of cars that you don't even see at the height of summer.  On the drive through Fritham we passed many parked cars as the public fought for the closest parking to the Royal Oak Pub, but fortunately the car park at Eyeworth Pond was relatively empty, and we were able to park easily and take the time to have some lunch.

As we stood talking and eating, a Marsh Tit appeared on the branch alongside us.  Fortunately I had my camera, Ian didn't.

Quite happy to preen.

 Lunch finished we made our way down to the pond.  As we arrived there had been people feeding the ducks, and I had seen a single drake Mandarin Duck, the main reason for visiting here, however after lunch the duck had been scared away by someone who felt the need to paddle in the water while holding a dog.  It must be that "British and the sun is out" thing!

There was though a drake Mandarin standing on the branches around the small island.

As we stood willing the ducks to return the birds started to gather in the trees by the edge of the pond.  I decided to share my oat and nuts bar with them and the party did begin.  Back came the Marsh Tits

 And bizarrely, although I didn't see it a bread eating Nuthatch.

It reminded me of the time when I was a boy and would be taken to Christchurch Meadows in Oxford, there you could sit on a bench and the birds would come to feed all around you, getting close and showing no fear.  The Nuthatch after eating the brand returned to a more normal diet of oats.

Mesmirised by the number and frequency of small birds flying around your feet we completely forgot about the Mandarin Ducks until Ian pointed a drake out that was swimming close to us.

There is no getting away from the fact that the plumage is stunning, and the little drake would lift and lower the sails as it swam back and forth.

This was the only duck that came close, however we could see three on the island and two more on the far bank, so six in total but there was probably more.

 Back to the tits, and what is good to see is the number of Blue Tits and the number that would collect together to feed.

First four, 

 Then five...

And finally six

 A Grey Wagtail flew across the pond, and another Marsh Tit put in an appearance before we decided to leave.

The weather had closed in now, and dark grey clouds had rolled in making those in shorts look rather silly.  We had debated where to go next but opted for the original plan and that was to visit Acres Down.  Once again the car park was over flowing something we rarely seen even in the summer.  We found a spot outside, and then made our way up the hill, and out onto the down.  The hoped for Woodlark did not appear, but around us there was plenty of song as we walked to the view point.

Conditions were not as ideal as when we had considered coming here, gone were the white puffy cumulus clouds replaced by almost complete cloud cover, still it was always worth a try, the displays we had seen earlier in the day giving us a positive feeling

As we set ourselves to scan the horizon I picked up a large raptor above the trees to the left of the distant Boulderwood, and as it circled it was clear it was a Goshawk.  We watched it circle, and gain height, moving higher but towards us.  The views always impeded by the grey sky background, but clearly a Goshawk.

We could also hear calling, and as a result of the calls i scanned the sky away from the first bird and found a second quite close.  In fact Ian had been on a different bird to me, as they came together I got the record shot of the two.

 They then drifted back from where they came and out of view.  i did pick up another bird a little later but this could have been one of the two.  As we stood watching we could hear song from the woods beneath us, and for one brief moment there was a snatch of song from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  This was sufficient for us to walk on in search of the elusive little woodpecker.  We walked back to the south and down through the gorse.  We found Meadow Pipit, a Stonechat and many Song Thrushes, but no sign of Woodlark or the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  In fact we never heard it call again.

We walked around the the marsh and through the trees to follow a circle back to the main path.  By now the wind was picking up and despite the distant blue sky it was overcast above us.  At this point we decided to take the decision to call it a day.  Weather wise a significant improvement on previous weekend, but still a complete contrast between the morning and afternoon.  Some good birds though, and the year list is progressing, but still with some that you would expect to see missing for now.