Sunday, 19 March 2017

18th March - Mark Ash Wood; Fishlake Meadows, & Testwood Lakes, Hapshire

We reach the middle of March and we are faced with weather that isn't sure what it wants to be, and the wildlife is also in the same frame of mind.  The week has seen mild and warm sunshine, however this morning the sunshine was gone, there was rain and wind, but it was mild.  As I arrived at the car park in Mark Ash wood in the New Forest the birds were in full song, and the rain had eased.  I could hear Song Thrush, Blackbird Robin Wren and Chaffinch, and every so often the call of a Stock Dove up in the tops of the trees.

I had arranged to meet Ian, and we were here for the annual Lesser Spotted Woodpecker search, while we have had glimpses and hear them on most visits we have never had really good views.  Walking amongst the fallen Beech trees we pondered whether today would be the day.

A distant drumming changed our direction and we headed south towards a group of tall dead trunks and branches, and I quickly found a Woodpecker at the top.  Behind me I definitely heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call, it being very similar to a Kestrel.  The bird in view then flew off and we picked it up again with two others.  There was though something different, there was a red vent, these were not Lesser Spots but Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and in the end we found five birds chasing each other about.

With the larger Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around there was to be little chance to find the smaller Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, but we persisted and while we waited to hear a call or drum we were entertained by several Wrens, that were busying themselves amongst the fallen trees and bracken and singing frequently.

It then turned into us wandering about hoping, and while we did this the Song Thrushes sang, and the Stock Doves called from the surrounding trees.  Just like the bird in the week in Old Down, the call reminded me of the monkeys in Costa Rica.

There is only so much wandering and hoping one can do, so eventually we decided it wasn't to be and that maybe we should try our luck somewhere else, but where, finally we came up with a look around Fishlake Meadows.

From the view point off the road there were Great Crested Grebes, Pochard, Tufted Duck and lots of Black-headed Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped for Sand Martins.  A Chiffchaff singing was the only indication that migrants could be about.

Leaving the view point we headed to the canal and walked north.  Another Chiffchaff was in the willows by the path, initially not singing it flitted through the branches, but it couldn't contain a song for too long.

Then every where went silent, and alarm calls went out, the reason was overhead as a Buzzard drifted low over the tops of the trees

Very little was to be found heading north, so we turned and walked back along the path, heading for the playing ground at Mercer Way.  All the trees were covered in blossom and it was difficult to see that much, there were Chaffinches and a single male Bullfinch.  Walking around the bushes there was a Goldcrest singing, and it was its gold crest flashing in the gloom beneath the trees that caught my eye.

The little guy then gave some excellent views, something to make up for on a really quiet morning.

Moving from branch to branch, and coming quite close.

We moved away with the Goldcrest still singing amongst the bushes.  It was time for another decision, where to now?  Despite the fact that I have put in writing that Testwood Lakes, and the adjoining Lower Test Marshes were not one of my favourite places, and that I would have to be taken back there kicking and screaming, we decided to go.  Two reasons there had been a Great White Egret reported every day in the week, and there were hides and open water that could attract something.

We walked to the hides with more Chiffchaffs singing but little else..  On the final part of the trail just by the Sand Martin Hide, we found out why it was called that.  Above us were the first Sand Martins of the year.  We counted at least fifteen birds feeding high above the scrape, and coming over the bushes, and over our heads.

We opted to go into the hide, and out in front of us was a lovely Great Crested Grebe.

Scattered across the grass and on the edge of the water were at least 30 Lapwing, and as is the way with Lapwing they would fly up and circle the water every so often.  As they did this they would pass quite close in front of the hide.

It was after one of these Lapwing fly byes that I looked across to Meadow Lake and saw the Great White Egret standing in amongst the reeds close to the shore, and probably in the best place for viewing close.  It had apparently flown in from the north at that particular moment.

Bigger than the more familiar Little Egret, the Great White Egret is about the same size as the common Grey Heron.  However it appears much slighter, with the slim neck making it appear quite elegant.

Records of the Great White Egret  have increased significantly in Britain in the last 20 years. The species now occurs throughout the year in some parts of the country.

The species’ habitat requirements have been reviewed in the UK from research findings conducted in the Netherlands and elsewhere, which may be relevant to the continued expansion of the British population. Following successful breeding by Great White Egrets on the Somerset Levels since 2012, further breeding attempts in Britain are likely, especially in response to appropriate wetland habitat creation.

While not excessively active every so often it would do something, here it's having a good scratch.

Standing still, any movement would be slow and careful, the head not moving, the eyes fixed completely on a spot in the water or amongst the reeds.

There was a distraction on the bank, and two of the several Coots that were grazing suddenly squared up to each other, fluffing out the wing feathers and pulling the head backwards.

When Coots fight it can be quite violent, they throw their feet forward and fall backwards the claws on the feet being the weapon of choice.

We turned back to the egret, and it had moved, and was now hunting in more open water.

It was now a little more impatient and moved around a little more, every so often jumping up and flying a short distance.

Eventually it ended up closer to the Heron hide, so we decided to move on and see if we could get a better view.

As we entered the hide we could see it, and as we started to open the only window on the side of the hide it flew off to the other side of the lake.  Frustrated we decided to sit it out and see what happened.

In that time another lovely Great Crested Grebe swam close to the hide.

The Egret did return, but stayed close to the shore away out of sight of the hide again.  We waited and it soon returned across the lake to the other side once more.

The entertainment, but more through the horror, was watching at least four drake Mallard attacking one lone female.  There were mad wing beats and splashes as the drakes fought.  At first we thought it was just the males, but it soon became clear there was a duck present.  Every time she tried to get away she was attacked again, and there were even drakes coming out of the reed bed to join in.  

Finally they stopped, and incredibly the duck then swam off with one drake.  So was it the drake trying to fight off the others, or was it just a case of gang rape.  It was incredible to watch though.

Then from the other side of the lake the Great White Egret flew up and headed towards us, giving us the opportunity for a flight shot.

At first with the background of the newly emerging pussy willow.

Then as it came closer a background of bare branches

The egret then disappeared into the bay to the left of the hide, so we decided to move back to the other hide.  There was nothing new here, and I decided to spend sometime photographing the Black-headed Gulls, they were skimming the water probably taking the small insects that were hatching.

There was only so much time we could spend in the hide so eventually we set off to walk around the lakes.  As we left the hide the San Martins were back, again taking advantage of the insects that were attracting the gulls.  This took them over the blossom covered hawthorn bushes that were lining the path we were walking along.

Dropping quite low at times.

We walked around to one of the viewing screens where there were at least five Snipe feeding in the exposed mud.

As well as the Snipe there were more Lapwing, Teal Shoveler, and a pair of Gadwall, plus about twenty Wigeon, a pair of which came by quite close.

There was little else to see by now so it was back to the car park, and more decisions, but for me it was the end of the day.  This time of the year is difficult, not quite spring and definitely not winter.  The many flocks of duck have gone and everything seems like it is just waiting.  Still the egret was a nice bird today, and we had some really good views, and it is always nice to see San Martins in March.

Monday, 6 March 2017

4th March - Harbridge, Blashford Lakes, Pipers Wait New Forest, and Alresford Pond, Hampshire

The remnants of the evening before could be seen everywhere as I passed by the Broadlands Lakes on the M27 heading west towards Ringwood.  Heavy rain, as a part of thunderstorms fell last night and the river and the lakes were very swollen with the fields flooded in many places.  As a result a mist hung low over the fields.  It was still overcast but away to the west I could see blue sky approaching and hopefully it would be a good day.

I was meeting Ian at Harbridge before going on to Blashford Lakes, our first visit there this year.  A White-fronted Goose had been reported from here over the last week, but as I arrived the fields were virtually empty save for a pair of Mute Swans in one of the pools of water.  At the back of the field to the north the mist hung around the bushes and trees, and a Greylag Goose flew across to add to the misty scene.

 Another goose overhead turned out to be an Egyptian Goose a first for the year, and scanning the far fields found several pairs of Canada Geese but there was no sign of the White-fronted Goose, or any more Greylags.

The mist started to lift but the calm still conditions was turning the many pools of water on the fields into mirrors.

 The Mute Swans then became an attention their reflections showing beautifully in the water.

As I stood scanning the fields I could hear them grazing behind me, pulling the grass from beneath the water.

The clear skies had by now pushed far enough to the east to allow the sun to come through, and once the rays of sunshine found the fields the Lapwings were suddenly displaying, flying around in pairs performing some wonderful aerobatics, twisting and turning and stooping and diving over the field.

you don't really appreciate the incredible aerobatics at the time, but as I looked back through the photographs I found one where the Lapwing had turned itself upside down in one of the dives.

The sun not only brought out the lapwings, the song of the Skylark rang out across the fields and the mist evaporated away.  A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew around calling with their jerky flight, while somewhere along the hedge a Reed Bunting sang, well lets say it made a noise, as a song it is very disappointing.

Grey Herons were a feature with at least a dozen being seen flying across the fields and heading either towards the lake complex or to the River Avon.

Despite all this activity, there was no sign of the sought after White-fronted Goose so we decided it was time to move on to Blashford.  The main hides do not open until 9.00am, but the Goosander and Lapwing hides on Ibsley Water are not locked so we headed to the Goosander, and as we lifted the hide windows were greeted by a beautiful calm scene, the still water reflecting beautifully the blue sky above, and small groups of Pochard cutting dark lines through the water as they crossed in front of us.

The drake Pochard were displaying, and you could constantly hear they dog like yelps as they swam around the females throwing their heads back in an effort to impress.

In many cases they were already paired up, but there were still several drakes that were determined to find a suitable mate.

But as always it was the females that determined what ever the males did, and they would follow them around all over the water.

It was nice to see so many Pochard out on the water.  Over the last two decades the number of Pochard migrating into the UK during the winters have declined, and this decline is mirrored by breeding declines else where in Europe.

Researchers have found that the decline is related to gulls, mink and nutrients. 

Pochards build their nests among Black-headed Gull colonies for protection and there are fewer Black-headed Gull nesting colonies across a number of European countries, including Norway, Germany and Latvia.  Explosions of plants and algaes in wetlands and waterways, caused by nutrients washing off farmland, seem to have prevented Pochards and other birds from diving for food, while the American Mink is also though to have decimated a lot of duck, not just Pochards
As well as the Pochard there were a few pairs of Shoveler, and they could be seen mostly tucked up sleeping around the fallen trees.

A single Cormorant was sat on the wooden bridges out in front of the hide, again the still water providing a lovely reflection.

On the far side in front of the spit were four Goosander. 

As the sun rose and the breeze got up the water changed, many of the calm, still areas now rippled by the light wind.  Close to the hide though it stayed mirror like calm, and this enhanced a bird mostly overlooked, as is swam towards the hide.  A Coot looking quite smart in the breeding plumage, the white knob on the head and the beady red eye standing out amongst the sooty black feathers.

A grey Wagtail flew up to the wall beside the hide, and foraged for insects woken by the sunshine on the bank.

Back on the water the fallen branches in the water were providing a form of shelter for the ducks, and they would stay close.  They also provided a nice background for the photographer.  First a lovely male Shoveler

Then a drake Pochard  

We moved on from the hide, heading around to the lapwing.  In the trees and hedge along the path were Song Thrush and Redwing, Long-tailed Tits and a Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker.  There were also Mediterranean Gulls above us, their distinctive calls giving away their presence.

We passed a viewing area where a Little Grebe in full breeding plumage was diving amongst the weeds.

Without the shelter of the bay that the water from the Goosander hide gets, looking out of the hide the conditions were a little different.  There were though large groups of Wigeon, twenty one Goosander including two drakes and more Pochard.  The duck though we hoped we would be able to get closer to was also there, the Goldeneye.  There were four drakes and as many females, and like the Pochard the Goldeneye drakes were in full display mode.

The courtship display, involves the male stretching his head forward along the water and then snapping the head rapidly upward over his back, with the bill pointed skyward, while uttering a shrill, two-noted call.

Head back

Right Back

And then thrusting the head up and calling 

And as you can see the female is not in the least impressed.

The males were busy following the females around bobbing about, and sometimes they would both bob their heads when alongside each other.  The males were also very busy preening, and the intense preen would end in the duck lifting itself out of the water and vigorously wing flapping.

It was time to move on, and we set off back along the woodland path, pausing to try and get some good views of a male Bullfinch that was stripping the buds off the willows.  As you can see both the white clouds and the many branches did not make it easy.

We had a brief stop in the Tern Hide, where the main interest were the Tufted Duck in front of the hide.  The black and white plumage always makes for interesting pictures on the silver grey water.

Next was a visit to the Woodland Hide.  On the side of the path we stopped to take a look at this striking fungi.

It is Scarlet Elf Cup.  The fungus grows on decaying sticks and branches in damp spots on forest floors, generally buried under leaf litter or in the soil. The cup-shaped fruit bodies are usually produced during the cooler months of winter and early spring.
As you approach the hide you can hear the constant calls of the tits and finches and the perpetual movement in the trees and then down to the feeders.  We watched from outside, but eventually had to go into the hide.  After a short wait we managed to get a seat by the open, clear window, and then just waited for the birds to turn up.

 A Lesser Redpoll )or do we just now call it a Redpoll?), was at first on the feeder, and it was possible to see the really bright scarlet breast and forehead.  It then dropped to the floor to feed on the fallen seeds, giving some great views.

The trick here is not to photograph the birds on the feeders which is easy, but to catch them on the surround branches and twigs. The background them becomes nicely blurred and frames the bird.

A Goldfinch

A male Siskin

A Great Tit

There was also a pair of Reed Buntings, the female a little more adventurous than the male which sat in the bush for sometime before taking on the Goldfinches and Siskins on the feeders.

A pair of Long-tailed Tits then entertained with their acrobatics. They are probably a breeding pair, the large winter flocks now having been broken up.  Hanging by one leg from the branch and holding the seed to eat with the other leg, its mate doesn't seem to be impressed.

But then wakes up to the idea.

The one bird we hoped to find though was the Brambling, and finally a male appeared on the feeder.  Under the circumstances I broke my rule of photographs on the feeders, and it turned out to be the right decision as just after I took this two Jackdaw came in and everything flew off.

With everything gone we decided to move on to, the next stop was to be the Ivy Lake south hide, but before then we stopped to appreciate the wild Daffodils on display outside the Woodland Hide.

The lake wasn't the attraction at the next hide, although there were some very smart looking Gadwal close in.  An underrated duck, probably dismissed as a greyish brown duck, but look closer and there is some wonderful detail there.

 The attraction in this hide was a roosting Tawny Owl on the far side of the lake.  the directions were straight forward.  Find the mistletoe at the top of the tree, and then come down to 7 o'clock, and the owl will be in the tree about 10 feet off the water.

So can you see it here?

It is in the middle of the picture with its head turned away.  Once located with a scope you could pick it out with both binoculars and the naked eye, but until then it was very difficult.

It was time to move on, we intended to go into the New Forest, but on the way stopped once again at Harbridge in the hope we could find the White-fronted Goose.  The timing was perfect, as we finished lunch it started to rain, and as we pulled up to the side of the road to look across the fields we had scanned earlier that morning the heaven's opened.

Once the rain had stopped we scanned once again there were plenty of Greylag Geese about, but spread out across the fields.  It was Ian that found it, thankfully in one of the closer groups, but then once confirmed the identification it went to ground and all we could see was its head just above the grass.

Knowing there was another shower on the way we didn't rush and waited to see if it would oblige us and get up.  Eventually it did and we were able to get some good views.

As Ian remarked it doesn't have the aggressive appearance of the larger Greylags, and the head is much darker, while the goose itself is smaller than the Greylag geese it seemed to keep company with.  It moved along the bank weaving in and out of the grass mounds.

 Happy with the views we headed off into the Forest, passing through Godshill we came across a particularly heavy shower, which stayed with us as we arrived at the car park at Pipers Wait.  After sitting out the rain we set off around the wooded area that was unsurprisingly quiet.  We then walked out into the open and around the more open heath area.  It was then that Ian picked up a large bird of prey that at first I thought Buzzard.  It flew quite close over the tree tops to the east.  There was something wrong though, the tail was long and the whole jizz completely different to that of a Buzzard, as it banked it became obvious, a Goshawk.

As is always the case it was flying away from us across over the trees.

  and finally out of sight.

We walked on in the hope that it might re-appear, the rain returned but not the Goshawk, so we decided to make our way back to the cars and try somewhere else.  As we walked back the sun returned sending a rainbow across the valley to the east where the Goshawk had just flown across a little earlier.

Our next destination was to be Alresford, a Cattle Egret has been there for sometime now, and would seem to be a dead cert, then on to the pond and roosting Hen Harrier to finish the day.

The dead cert failed to materialise, we could not find any sign of the Cattle Egret, all that was about was a single Little Egret, and two Green Sandpipers.  So as we walked to the pond viewing area in the hope that maybe it could be there.  It wasn't.

However there was plenty about to keep us entertained as we waited for dusk and the main event, the roosting Hen Harrier.

The water levels were quite low, and there were large patches of mud visible, and around the fringes Teal dabbled, while three Lapwing stood in the middle of the mud their reflections cast into the water.

Of the duck the Teal were the most numerous, but there was also a pair of Shelduck, at least a dozen Gadwall, and of course Mallard.  But it was the Tufted Duck that caught the attention once again.  With the changing light and the blue sky the water was converted into silvers and shades of blue, and this also produced some lovely reflections.

It was hard to resist the images that presented themselves in front of you as we waited for the main event.

There were three Lesser Black-backed Gulls about, and these flew by the viewing area.

The pond is said to have been constructed about the year 1199 on the orders of the Bishop of Winchester, Godfrey de Lucy, in order to create a head of water for a canal. This canal is supposed to have run from Alresford Pond to Winchester, Southampton and the sea. De Lucy is said to have finished it with locks and aqueducts so that barges laden with wool could travel downstream. Unfortunately this story is completely untrue.

It was in fact one of the Bishop of Winchester's great fish ponds.  Fresh fish was a highly prized luxury in the Middle Ages. Pike, perch and bream eaten fresh on fish days and during Lent were delicacies enjoyed by only the very wealthy. Ordinary folk had to make do with dried fish. The Bishops of Winchester made great fishponds near their palaces. Frensham ponds supplied the Bishop's castle at Farnham. Fisher's Pond supplied their residence at Mansell.  Bishop's Waltham palace had a superb fishpond which was partly destroyed by an act of bureaucratic vandalism in the 1960's, and is now being restored while Alresford Pond supplied the palace at Bishop's Sutton.

Today the pond has been allowed to silt up, as can be seen by the shallowness of the water in many places and the predominance of reeds away to the north eastern corner.  the only access to the pond is via the viewing area that is on the west side of the pond, and it is also possible to get close to the water from the garden of the Globe Inn

With the sun now dropping lower in the sky the light took on that golden glow and over in the far corner Mute Swans were creating loving shapes with their necks

The Tufted Duck were still just in front of us, and one decided to go into a small pool close by where the water was much darker providing a different aspect.

but then returned in front of us passing though a completely still and mirror like patch of water.

Then suddenly there was a short and sharp shower, which completely caught me unaware as I had no cover for the camera.  however it didn't last long, and ended up providing soem incredible scenes across the lake.

As we watched the brightness of the rainbow intensified and reflected beautifully in the water. 

This provided some unreal opportunities, a Carrion Crow flying through the colours of the rainbow.

While the elegance and stature of the Mute Swan is enhanced by the rainbow colours reflected in the water.

Then as quickly as it arrived the rainbow was gone, and so was the sun, sinking slowly away to the west leaving the failing light to emphasis the cumulus clouds that had built up away to the east and their reflection in the mud and water of the pond.

By now it was getting dark and we were becoming a little concerned about the main event.  Quite a crowd had built up all waiting for the arrival of the Hen Harrier.  What happened next though was a big surprise, and probably a case of the support act usurping the main event.
on the far side of the pond a Barn Owl appeared and hunted over the reeds with that characteristic carefree butterfly like flight, twisting and turning to check out every opportunity.

It flew back and forth over the reeds every so often dropping into the reeds as if looking to catch something.

This was great, the views were distant but even so unexpected, and always a pleasure to watch regardless of how far way they are.  then it began to make its way around the north side of the pond, and despite the presence of at least three Magpies started to come closer to us.

It then turned back and I felt it would recover its route as they usually do as there was little suitable hunting close to us.
But, maybe due to the Magpies, it reappeared again and this time flew towards us.

Coming closer and closer.

The camera just firing away with me hoping that it was not too dark to slow the aperture speed and blur the image.  They weren't too bad.

As it passed us it seemed as if it turned to look at us

And clearly didn't like what is saw and turned away across the pond and back towards the far reed bed.

 AI then picked up movement over the reeds and thought it was the Hen Harrier finally, but to my amazement it was the Barn Owl once again, it had got there very quickly.
So where was the Hen Harrier?  Then just after 17.50 a ring tail appeared from the north east corner flying in just above the trees.  It was now very murky but there was sufficient light through the binoculars to see the bird, its white rump showing clearly.  It dropped into the reeds and briefly settled in a small tree before taking off again.  Here is an extremely poor record shot, but considering the poor light it is not that bad, you can at least see the white rump.

So that was it, a quite remarkable end to the day, something I had not expected, but thoroughly enjoyable once again.  Every day should be a Barn Owl day!