Tuesday, 17 December 2013

14th December - Blashford Lakes

With it being relatively quiet locally I decided to spend the day at Blashford, somewhere I had visited once, but now wanted to spend some time there in the hope it may deliver something special.  I arrived around nine and met up with Ian who had already had the opportunity to wander around some of the hides.

We started on Ivy Lake, and visited the south hide first where there was little about.  Next stop was the north hide, but with the windows covered in condensation on the outside, and only two side windows that opened it was almost impossible to see anything.  We decided to give this a miss, and made our way across to the Tern Hide, looking over Ibsley Water.

The lake was covered in duck, geese and swans, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over, and a pair could be seen on one of the banks amongst the Greylag Geese.  The duck were mostly Wigeon and Gadwall.

There seemed to be little groups of co-operative feeding going on, a Mute Swan, Coot, Gadwall and Wigeon would all be up ending together, making the most of each others feeding attempts.  There was even a Little Grebe close by, looking to pick off any insects or small fish that might be disturbed.



The ducks kept themselves distant from the hide, but every so often one or two would come close to the hide.  I resisted the temptation to photograph the Wigeon and Shoveler that came close, I have taken many pictures recently and probably do not need any more, so it was nice when a drake Gadwall approached allowing me the chance for some photographs



Its a delicate looking duck, from a distance it looks just a grey duck, but close up you can see the lovely wavy pattern of black and white on the breast and flanks and subtle browns on the wing feathers.  In flight it shows a white wing panel against black, and the the tail is black.  All this is set off by bright orange feet.

In amongst the many Wigeon and Gadwall were Tufted Duck and a few Pochard, there were in fact a small group of Pochard behind us in the calmer waters.  A white cheeked duck raised the hopes of s red head Smew, but turned out on inspection by telescope to be a male Ruddy Duck.  I haven't seen one for ages, before the cull and when I was living in Essex they were numerous, today though we felt as if we should publicise it too much!

Another diving duck, the Goldeneye was also present with about five males and three females seen.  They two did keep their distance and this was the best I could get.



Goosander could be seen on the banks sitting out of the water  There were two males and three Red Heads visible.  Every so often they would walk into the water swim around, and then return to rest on the bank.  Unfortunately they too were to far off for a reasonable photograph.

We left the hide and decided to walk around the lakes, returning to Ivy Lake.  In the south hide there was a group of Tufted Ducks and Coots feeding together, it seems a popular tactic.  The male Tufted Duck came close and provided a good opportunity for a picture, the drops of water still on its back.



We came out of the hide, and decided to walk alongside the river.  A Sparrowhawk emerged from behind a tree, and then drifted off only to be joined by another smaller hawk.  It looked like one was a female by the size accompanied by a juvenile male which was much smaller.  In a tree overlooking the lake stood a Heron totally unconcerned by the hawks



We made our way to the Goosander Hide, where we did get very good views of the Goosander.  They were still distant, but we could now see three pairs, and a single red head.  This male went for a little swim and preen before returning to the spit to rest.



A Great Crested Grebe came close to the hide, starting from beneath a willow tree that bent down into the water.



I have a very close affection for Great Crested Grebes, during my child hood they could be found on the lake close to our home, and I loved to watch them when ever I could.  They were probably the first more exotic bird I noticed as a boy, and they totally fascinated me.  As this bird came closer the shadows, ripples and reflections in the water framed the elegance of the bird, and despite the fact that it was in winter plumage it does look quite stunning.



The wind picked up briefly, and changed the complexion of the water creating a different scene.



But then the water settled down, and it continued to drift and dive, and I continued to enjoy the lovely bird.




As I watched the grebe I heard a familiar call, and something darted through my peripheral vision.  A Kingfisher, and it flew into the willows close to a sluice gate.  We could just make it out through the branches



It sat for a while, bobbing every so often, then suddenly it flew out low across the water in front of us and away to the left.  It eventually ended up on a wire looking down into what must be shallower water.



We watched it dive, go from sight, then return to the wire, and then back across in front of us, and into the branches again, almost in the same place.  It did exactly the same again, bobbing and looking, then came out flew around the sluice and off into the willow the grebe had been under earlier.



After awhile it did come back, so it would seem this is a regular bird with regular habits.

Just as we were about to leave we noticed that the Red-crested Pochard had come closer, sneaking in with a group of Wigeon.  An interesting bird, it looks nothing like a Pochard, but none the less is a very smart looking duck, with the red crested head, bright red bill, and the black breast and tail separated by the grey and white back and flanks



It would dive and come up with weed in its bill, apparently they feed on weed, more by dabbling than diving.



We finally left the hide and made our way back to the road.  The lake winds around here, and is much calmer.  The bank is lined with alders, and a party of Long-taield Tits were making their way past us calling and flitting in the higher branches.  I found a Siskin, and as I walked for a better view I saw another Kingfisher fly across the water.  A little further on a Lesser Redpoll called and eventually landed in the tree above us.

We took the path down between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake.  As we walked along the path the Long-tailed Tits followed us calling all the way.  At one point we were very close, and as a result you get a sense of intimacy, as they let you in to their world as they forage and call.

A gap in the hedgerow revealed the Great White Egret on the other side of Ivy Lake, quite close to the north hide (but I don't think many would be able to see it).



We moved around to a screen where we could get a better view, and watched as it waded close to the reeds watching the water carefully for any chance of a meal.  As we did so the Long-tailed Tits called to us from above in the trees hanging over the screen.





We walked down to Ivy Lane, stopping to view through the last of the screens.  A wader was stood on what had to be vegetation in the water.  We were not sure what it was at first, but it turned out to be a Green Sandpiper on closer looks.



We then made our way along Ivy Lane, and they back to the cars.  we decided to drive to the car park by the Tern Hide, as this was recommended as the best viewing point for the Starling show.  As we arrived a large flock of at least 100 plus Greenfinches did not want to be missed or over shadowed by the main event, and continued to fly around above our heads and settle in the trees.



The conditions were quite gloomy, and the sun that was about in the afternoon had been replaced with clouds.  We took our place on the hill, and waited.  At about 3.45 the first Starlings started to appear away to the west, it may look bright in the photographs but these have been enhanced to show the birds



Then gradually small squadrons would appear to join the main flock swelling the numbers, a Sparrowhawk was seen briefly, and this caused a little panic, but two Buzzards that flew past seemed to be ignored



The without really seeing it happen the flock became thousands and the birds started to dance above the trees.




Some would veer off to the left, and others to the right, and then you would see them streaming back with probably even more birds in tow to continue the sky dancing above the trees.




As it got darker and later, they started to reach the shows climax with some amazing patterns.








I tried to get in closer with the lens, but in the gloom it was a little blurred, but then it must give an indication of what it must be like in the flock!



They would drop down, and then when they flew up the numbers seemed less and less.  It was now quite dark so we left the stragglers to fly around, and we made our way back to the car.  Another amazing wildlife spectacular.

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