Sunday, 12 November 2017

11th November - Pennington, Oxey Marsh, Keyhaven, Mark Ash Wood and Black Gutter Bottom, Hampshire

The forecast was not good, and as I drove along the M27 it was raining quite hard, however on arriving at the car park in Lower Pennington, the rain had eased, and the wind was not as strong as I thought it was going  to be.

As the gloom lifted it was possible to see across the field to the north of the car park, there were several cattle about and in amongst them was a white bird which had to be the recently reported Cattle Egret.  

Once Ian had arrived we kitted up and walked into the field using the hedgerow as cover to get a little closer.  Having seen hundreds of Cattle Egrets as long ago as two weeks while on holiday in India, it did seem a little strange photographing just one in the rain here in the UK, but despite the fact that their numbers are increasing, they are still a good bird to start the day.

It flew around on several occasions, choosing to settle back with the cattle.

Staying close to the cows, as they grazed the grass.

One bird in the bag we set off across the old tip heading towards the sea wall, and then to the left past Butts.  It was raining, but not too hard, enough though to mean the camera had to be covered.  On the wall there were Rock and Meadow Pipits, and on the water were plenty of Wigeon and Teal, the whistles of the wigeon adding to the gloomy conditions.

As we walked along onto the lagoon alongside Oxey Marsh I pointed out to Ian a small wader feeding belly deep in the water, the Grey Phalarope that has been present  for some time this autumn.  There have been several birds about since September, and as is the case with phalaropes they have all been very confiding.  All of those we missed for various reasons, so today was really our last chance, and we were in luck.

Initially we photographed from the top of the sea wall.

But then took the chance to walk down and get close and low on to the bird.

It behaved with out and concern over our presence, moving into the calmer and shallower water.

Normally I have seen them swimming or belly deep, and spinning in the water, but the lagoon here was quite shallow and its feeding behaviour became like that of a wader.

It then flew away from us, and settled further along in the lagoon.  We were able to once again get down low, and wait until the Phalarope came close.

We left the Grey Phalarope feeding close in and walked on.  One of many Curlew that were about fed in the sea weed on the tide line.

At the far end of Oxey Marsh a female Red-breasted Merganser fed in the company of a Black-headed Gull.

We decided to turn around and walk back towards Butts Bay.  Another Curlew was in the water just offshore.

On the other side of the wall a male Shoveler was looking superb in the grey water.

The bramble and hawthorn bushes were busy with small birds and always worth a look for Dartford Warbler, they were not there but Ian found a Kingfisher in the bush.

There were plenty of Turnstone feeding on the tide line as we passed the jetty, and in amongst the many Turnstone, Ian found a single Purple Sandpiper.

An unexpected find, and even the more special as we had been talking about missing out on them so far this year.  It was flighty, and moved away from us with the same Turnstone to settle a little further on, feeding in another pool.

It continued to stay just ahead of us, but did settle to allow me to get down the side of the wall.

Then it was gone, flying into Butts Bay and lost to sight.

On Fishtaill there were good numbers of duck.  A smart drake Wigeon.

Two pairs of Tufted Duck

And my favourite the Pintail.

Great having them back in full plumage.

A Lapwing roosted on the edge of the small island throwing a nice reflection.

While there were several Reed Buntings on the path and feeding on the saltmarsh.

A Grey Heron stood out against the dark green background of the marsh at the back of Fishtail, its posture and expression providing a good description of the morning conditions.

Overhead Pintail flew out to the Solent from Keyhaven Lagoon.

On the beach as we walked around toward the marina, there were plenty of Brent Geese feeding at the edge of the water, and on the beach itself was a superb Raven.

We were able to get closer.

As we watched this one, its partner flew above calling.

At the car park we found the reported new hide, which looks out over the Pans.  It has been made into a nice little area, and as we stood talking saw two Kingfishers, one flew over the reeds, while another fished from the overhead wires, similar behaviour to those on India.

We walked back to the car park along the Ancient Highway, a male Stonechat appeared in the bushes, and pleaded to be photographed.

After lunch we headed into the New Forest, and Mark Ash Wood.  This is a location we only visit in spring, mainly in the hope of seeing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, today though the target was some sizeable finch flocks that had been reported.  Our journey there took us along the ornamental drives, and the colour in the trees as we drove through the forest was incredible.  On arrival at Mark Ash it was also quite spectacular.

Having left the car the rain returned, and was the heaviest of the day, so we sort shelter under the trees.  When it eased we walked north from the car park.  When we found birds they were mostly Tits, with Coal Tits seemingly everywhere, flying up out of the leaf litter.  Ian was fortunate to catch a glimpse of a Hawfinch, but it eluded me.

Despite the tits there was little else so we walked back and crossed the road, heading south.  Again some amazing colours.

Looking into the wood the fallen leaves providing the perfect carpet.

After about 200 metres, we came across birds on the ground, at first more Coal Tits, but then Chaffinches and finally the bird we were hoping to find the Brambling.  All the birds were very cautious and would fly up from the leaves and bracken as we walked slowly towards them.  I did manage to pick out a male feeding on the crest of the hill, it was though very dark.

As we walked closer more birds would appear.

A Treecreeper distracted us for a moment from the many finches on the ground.

We followed the birds, as they came off the ground in their hundreds, mostly Chaffinches, but with good numbers of Brambling too.  There were also the highest number of Coal Tits I have ever seen in one place.

It was quite a spectacle as the birds just flew up from the ground in huge flocks, and then when we stopped in a clearing we watched birds flying into the tree tops from all over, they just seemed to keep coming.

We walked on enjoying the sight, and also taking in the forest colours.

In an Alder there was a good flock of Siskin, at first I thought there were Redpoll too, but was mistaken.  

We realised that we had walked in a circle following the flocks, and had ended up the spot where we had first seen the flocks earlier.  You had to scan the leaf litter to find the birds, but even then it is hard to pick them out.

Then you walk a little closer, and the flocks burst from the leaves, here mostly Brambling.

The we managed to find a female that was too busy eating a beech seed to worry about us.

And they are a bit big to eat quickly.

Time was moving on, and the skies were clearing.  We wanted to see if we could find the reported Hen Harrier at Black Gutter Bottom so left the finches to their feeding and set off.

On arrival the skies at clouded over again, and there was some drizzle in the air.  Not the best of views when we reached the bottom of the gutter.

As we attempted to cross the stream that was swollen by the days rain, we were alerted to a harrier on the ridge.

It was a male, you can see the grey plumage with the  black wing tips despite the gloom.

It drifted along the ridge and then out of sight.  We cross the stream and walked up to Leaden Hall.  We were informed that it had been seen again, but despite waiting it didn't reappear.  As the gloom set in once again we decided to walk back in the hope it may appear in the gutter.  But all we did see was a single Fieldfare flying over.

An excellent day despite the weather with some really good birds

Friday, 10 November 2017

28th October - Sawai Madhopur to Delhi, India

We were up with the the residents who were excited to head out on their safaris, most of them for the first time.  We though, were waiting to be picked up to be taken to the station for our train journey to Delhi.

As with every major Indian city, the railway station is the centre of the city, and attracts all types.  Fortunately we were met by the tour rep who guided us through the station to the platform and arranged the porter to carry our luggage.  Do all railway stations look the same?

We were taking the Janshatabdi Express that starts for Kota and arrives into Delhi Hazrat Nizamuddin station.  It was set to depart at 7.05, but arrived a little late. once our bags were on board we settled into the seats we had been allocated, and look down the coach at our fellow passengers.

 Yes it was a little chaotic, but we wouldn't have expected less, there was constant chatter and kids screaming but this seemed to be acceptable.

Fortunately we had seats alongside a window, and despite the fact that my seat was permanently reclined we were not too badly off.

As we left the station the sun was attempting to shine through the dust that was quite thick, the train passed through very dry land with bushes scattered around.  There was little to see, every so often a Kingfisher could be seen on the wires, and out in the fields when there was some water the Cattle Egrets.  As we approached the outskirts of the cities there would be activity, Black Kites would appear, and some of the patches of water would have duck, but in most cases there would only be a few Cattle Egrets.

Half way into the journey the air cleared, the dust of the desert gone, and as yet we were not close enough to Delhi for the smog and pollution.  The agriculture changed too, the fields being used for growing rice, and patches could be seen to be in different stages of cultivation.  Where there was water though the Cattle Egrets would gather in quite large numbers, it is amazing how these birds can seek this out and congregate in such large flocks. If you look close you can see the white specks that are Cattle Egrets!

As we approached Delhi, from about an hour away from our scheduled arrival everything changed.  The air became very dirty, and the visibility poor once again.  Fields were mixed in with heavy industry, many steel yards and warehouses.  Huge tower blocks were under construction, mostly looking like they were to house flats and apartments.  Closer still and the industry gave way to slums, with pools of what could only be raw sewerage running along side the rail tracks.

People though went about their business, stopping to talk, exchange niceties about the day, and the rail track became a easy and quick way to get somewhere.  

As we stopped at several stations you had a glimpse of rail travel for the local Indians, open windows with bars

And people just milling around on the platforms just seeing the time away.

Finally we arrived in Delhi, and as we stepped down from the coach we were met by our guide, and a porter.  We then made our way through the many bodies that somehow were on the platform, and through the station to meet the car.  It was then a short journey to our hotel, the Lalit, the same hotel we had arrived in a week ago.  After checking in it was to be an afternoon by the pool.

When we had arrived last Saturday I had watched the Black Kites above the hotel, today it was my intention to try and photograph them, but would be challenged by the net that was strung across the pool to keep the feral pigeons out.  I waited until later in the afternoon before I got the camera.

Watching the kites it was clear they had a system, they would circle around all parts of the hotel building, and then venture out across the road and then back once again.  

While they were scanning the area as they glided and soared, you had to wonder what they were looking for or in fact actually found.

With the grey sky despite the sun being out, it was difficult to gauge the right exposure, and with the kites being basically a dark brown bird it was made harder.  

It was a little easier when they flew close to the buildings.

The kites would gather on the mobile and floodlit masts and I was also informed that they would gather here before heading off to roost after sunset.

As the sun set, it became a large red ball through the dusty, polluted skies.

 Many kites soaring around the buildings.

The Sun falling against the aerials on the buildings of Delhi.

In the morning with the sunrise the Black Kites would appear outside the hotel once again.  I watched from our hotel room as they circled both below and above us, they just seem to be a part of the city.  You can also get a sense from this video of the scale of the air pollution, as the colour is washed out of everything by the filtered sunlight.

We left the hotel after breakfast for the airport being a Sunday the roads were relatively clear.  The route took us through the diplomatic area, and past the goverment buildings of the capital.  On our last visit here we had toured the city, but not this trip.  Looking at these scenes you get an idea of the vast differences that exist in India, here the grandeur of the capital city, in such contrast to scenes we have experienced on our travels around the country over the last week.

 We arrived at the airport, and swiftly moved through the check in process, then it all came to a halt.  It took us just over two and a half hours to get through immigration and security.  The hall was absolute chaos.  I have never experienced anything like it at any airport I have been through, I am just thankful we arrived at the airport in plenty of time.  In the course of the process my passport was check seven times!  As we left security we walked straight to our gate and virtually on to the plane.  The experience of arriving and leaving India was awful, the one down side to a wonderful holiday.

And so our time here in India was at an end.  It had been a wonderful experience, and all the arrangements here on the ground in India had been excellent.  The booking was made through THG in Swansea, but they used an Indian agency TBi, or Trail Blazers India.  We were met always on time, looked after at every hotel.  As already stated our driver Vinod was excellent, he kept a very clean car, was always punctual, and an excellent driver, how he remained so calm in the traffic will always be mystery to me.  In Ranthambore the ground team there Ranthambhore Routes were excellent, very helpful, and I am sure we have them to thank for getting us into the zones where there was the best chance to see the Tiger.

The hotels we stayed in were all very good, and the staff very friendly here are the details and my comments:

Delhi:  The Lalit   website here
Very nice large hotel, catering for western clientele, with plenty of space and good restaurants

Agra: The Clarks Shiraz website here 
 A little tired, but with a very nice rooftop bar with distant views of the Taj Mahal.  Very good top floor Indian Restaurant

Jaipur: The Hilton Jaipur website here
Like the Lalit in Delhi, catering for the western tourist, plenty of restaurant space, clean and efficient 

Ranthambore: The Tigress website here 
Lovely hotel with wonderfully attentive staff.  The food was very good, the room excellent.  very close to the main entrance to the National Park 

The focus of the safaris, and indeed the trip was not for birds, and this is reflected in the total seen, just 74, but of those 74 species 18 were lifers for me so it wasn't a total disaster for my world list.