Monday, 26 May 2014

24th May - Acres Down, New Forest

Despite a poor forecast Ian and I met up in the car park at Acres Down and set off south along the ridge.  It was cloudy but away over towards the Isle of Wight you could see breaks in the cloud and even the possibility of blue sky.

We walked around the copses and bracken, with Willow Warblers singing in the trees and Lapwing calling as they performed their acrobatics in the open patches.

After walking through one small copse we came across a group of Fallow Deer feeding by a bush.  As ever they heard us very quickly.

Walking back over the hill to the footpath, we disturbed a brown bird from the ground.  It was carrying food.  It perched up on a small tree and allowed me to get quite close.  From the patch on the wing, and the short tail, I believe this to be a Woodlark.

A Cuckoo had been calling earlier, and as we walked back another broke into song.  We set off to find the source, but as we got closer it stopped, and it became clear that it had flown off when we heard it away off in the distance.

We did though come across a family group of Wrens, and this youngster sat on a branch "dipping" while waiting for the adult to feed it.

 Suddenly we heard the Cuckoo again, and we set of in pursuit.  Ian found it in a tree nearby, then we watched as it flew across in front of us and then up into another tree a little further away.  There it sat, allowing some distant photographs.

As we tried to get closer it flew off, so we walked back through the bog to the higher ground.  As we did we came across cotton grass, and this Marsh Orchid

There were also quite a few of these Round-leaved Sundews, beautiful little plants

The blue sky was now moving across and the sun had started to come out.  We thought this might bring out the butterflies, but we didn't see one all day.  The only insect resembling a butterfly was this Common Heath Moth.  We saw several in amongst the heather.

We made our way up to the viewpoint, where there was already someone watching.  He must have regularly watched the area because he was extremely knowledgeable, and was very helpful in identifying very distant views, and we quickly became able to pick out the Common Buzzards from the possible Honeys, and the Goshawks.

The Goshawks were quite spectacular.  There 26 pairs nesting in the Forest, and we watched a s female chased others away from there territory.  They have young hatched now, and the task is all about finding food.  The male does most of the work, and we probably saw one male.

This is a very distant shot of a female Goshawk.  Believe me when you watch them you quickly realise they could not be anything else.

We watched one bird go through a display flight, raising the wings high with deep wing beats, and then flying through a series of switchbacks.  

We never managed to see Honey Buzzard, apparently they are probably now nest building or brooding.  The best time for them is when they are feeding young, like the Goshawks now, in July and August, so a return will be necessary.

We decided to take a walk into the woods leaving the view point behind us.  Almost immediately we came across a male Redstart on the path in front of us, and then a pair when we stopped to watch a singing Firecrest.  Some really spectacular birds in the same place!

A singing Wood Warbler completed the birds we were looking for, but it stayed well in amongst the leaves and it was not possible to photograph.

The path took us down to Highland water, and we walked by the side of the stream.  I hoped for Grey Wagtail, and then found one, then mentioned the possibility of Kingfisher when I heard a similar call, and before we knew it one had zipped away from us.  Despite a search along the stream we could relocate it.  The stream though and the iron brown water was lovely.

We walked back, hopeful to find a butterfly, but there was nothing.

Just before the car park we came across a family party of Coal Tits, it seems this was the theme for the day.

It had been a great day, the weather had played ball to, the afternoon being quite warm in the sunshine.  I always seem to forget how close the New Forest is to us, it is a wonderful place (when the weather is good).

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

4th May - Thorpeness to Eastbridge, Suffolk

Another beautiful day, the wind having turned more to the south meaning the chill it was bringing had dropped off.  Not such an early start but as we were going to walk along the beach north, and then around the Sizewell area and back.  As we set off the tide was out and we were able to walk on the sandy part of the beach as opposed to the shingle and stones which can be a little tiring.

The sunshine was a little watery too start with, but was sufficient enough for us to realise that we had probably put too many clothes on.  Leaving Thorpeness the stand out on the beach front was this parade of brashly painted houses.  I am not sure what the objective of this was, butthe paint is not helping the rendering.

The beach and coast here was not as severely affected by the tide surge in December as the Norfolk coast, but there was an impact and much of the shingle and pebbles have been piled higher up the beach producing a pronounced shape at low tide.

As we headed north we could always see the huge monolith that is the Sizewell Nuclear Power station, and it is hard to realise that there is a village on the beach close by.  

The beach has many fishing boats that are currently used lying on the beach, and some that have seen better days.

There are two platforms just off shore from the power station.  These platforms were responsible for the pumping of sea water into the power station to be condensed to drive turbines and for the cooling water systems.  The water was then returned to the sea about 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding water.  In years when the station was running it was possible to view terns and gulls feeding at the outflow, the warmer water proving an attraction to fish.  Today though the platforms provide the attraction to the gulls, and as we go closer the answer to the question that was puzzling us became clear

Every ledge on the platform was covered in birds, Kittiwakes to be exact.  

They were nesting on the platforms, and were collecting nesting material from the scrape at Minsmere, and then flying back with it.  The numbers we saw on the scrape were only a selection of the birds present here, and we were watching them fly to the platforms with material, and come back for more.

The Kittiwakes are very vocal and feisty around the nest, greeting each other with loud calls.

Larger gulls such as Herring and Lesser Black-backed occupied the top of the platform, the Kittiwakes taking the ledges.

Leaving the Kittiwakes we headed up the beach to the dunes.  In front of us the dome of the Sizewell reactor loomed menacingly like a scene from an old Sci Fi film.

In amongst the dunes and shelter we suddenly began to see butterflies.  We turned inland and headed along the Sanderling Trail, that was strangely identified by a Nightjar on the sign.  Whitethroat and Blackcap sang from the trees and the butterflies started to stop for the camera.

First was a small white.

Then a male Orange Tip.

And a Small Copper

The path followed a stream, and this produced the first Damsel Fly of the year, a Large Red.

It was now quite warm as we were sheltered from the breeze, the sun was out and it was a very sandy area.  A Large White settled on a Bluebell, always a nice composition

I stopped to attempt to photograph a Chiffchaff, it proved a little elusive but I managed to get it in the end.

Around the corner another was in a much better position but as I attempted to focus on it Helen pointed out something in the sky.  It was quite high up but unmistakeably a Hobby, again the first for the year.

The path carried on though closed trees and open rides where you would see more butterflies on the wing.  On one such ride I was bale to get this Green-veined White on a Dandelion.

Finally the path came out onto a track that lead to a road and into Eastbridge.  There was a Fun Run on, and we passed may runners and walkers as we headed towards the village.  Suddenly I heard a burst of song that I had hoped to hear at Minsmere but hadn't, a Lesser Whitethroat.  The song is more a rattle and not as scratchy as the Whitethroat.  The bird itself having a darker grey head and neck.  As for size they are much the same so I am not sure where the "Lesser" comes from.  

When we lived in Essex I used to see them a lot, but on the patch at home I am yet to find one, so it was nice to get some good shots of this one.

We stopped at the Eels Foot Inn for a drink, a popular spot with those who had decided to walk today rather than run.  After another lovely pint of Adnams "Ghost Ship" we returned to the footpaths and headed back down towards the sluice with Minsmere on our left hand side.

There was not a lot of interest on this section of the walk.  Lapwings displayed in the fields, but now it was quite warm, and the birds were quiet.  There was also a bit of a heat haze which reduced the clarity.

Looking over towards Minsmere you could see new studio for the BBC Springwatch Team.  The programme due to start on the 26th May will be coming live from the reserve, and will be based here for the next three years.  It will be fascinating to watch a the cameras on a reserve we are very familiar with, and hopefully to see some of the places you can't access.  Lets hope they get weather like we had today.

Just before the sluice I found another new butterfly for the trip, a Small Tortoiseshell sunning on the dry ground.

At the Sluice we turned to the south and headed along the beach back to Thorpeness.  A brief stop for a coffee at the levels did not produce much other than some very distant heat hazed duck and waders, and a Meadow Pipit on a post.

Past Sizewell we stopped in the beach cafe and had an ice cream, then we took the footpath rather than the beach as the tide was now in and it was only shingle to walk on.  The footpath wound its way along the cliff.  Bluebells lined the path and in places fell away towards the beach, creating the scene of blue woodland flowers backed by the waves of the sea.

We finally made it back to the village and made the most of the rest of the afternoon's sun sitting in the little garden looking out past the tea rooms and mere.  We had beeb so lucky with the weather and the cottage, and it had been a lovely weekend.

3rd May - Minsmere, Suffolk

We decided on an early start to beat the masses that were going to descend on Minsmere over the course of the day and indeed the holiday weekend.  It was a bright sunny morning but with a cool northerly wind, but it had eased a little bit from the blast we had encountered the evening before.

When we arrived in the car park there were several cars parked already, and a few people left over from the dawn chorus walk that had taken place.  We made our way towards the Bittern Hide, a favourite place where you get a lovely view across the reed bed, while also being able to watch open water.

There were people already in the hide, and they turned out to be friendly and informative, and we would continue to bump into them throughout the day.  Looking out from the hide all that was present was a drake Gadwall, in the open water looking stunning in the early morning sunlight.

On the other side of the reeds a Mute swan was also lazily moving back and forwards, probably standing guard over a mate on a nest.  Once again the shadows and the the reflections in the stillness of the water framed a lovely scene.

It wasn't long before a Marsh Harrier was up and flying low over the tops of the reeds.  This one is a male, the grey in the wings identifying it.

The drake Gadwall was joined by another, and they swam together for awhile before they slowly drifted apart.

A group of four Red Deer wondered down the path, and they were quickly joined by Jackdaws that were looking for either food or nest material from the deer or close to them.  This one seems to be carrying mud.

The deer themselves were making most of the shelter the reed provided from the cool wind to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

As we sat there we would be disturbed every so often by a burst of song from a Cetti's Warbler.  While being very loud in song it is not always that easy to see them.  But this individual was being very obliging and came out onto a dead branch.

It is the best views I have had of one, and it soon became clear that there were two, and probably a nest as they would keep returning to the same spot, and continue to bellow out the call.

The Marsh Harriers continued to drift by, although at a distance that made it hard for the best pictures

This is a female, slightly larger than the male she also has a yellow ochre head.  The male was about as well, and came close and hovered as if to hunt.

While watching the harriers I noticed something coming fast straight at us, and lifting the binoculars I could see it was a Sparrowhawk, a large female.  She flew straight at the hide low over the reeds then just in time up and over the hide.

As you continue to scan the reeds something will suddenly pop up.  This time it was the briefest of views of a Bittern as it came out of the reed bed, and almost as quickly dropped back down.

So it was back to the Marsh Harriers and they continued to perform in front of us, gliding slowly over the top of the reeds, then twisting back, hovering and looking down into the bed, and thenn on and again to continue scanning.

Cloud was beginning to roll in, and we decided to go and get some coffee and breakfast, you are though reluctant to leave a good seat because you never know what you will miss,m but there is also the draw of the other places.

We stopped quickly to check for Adders in a site we had been told of but we couldn't find any.  One had been seen earlier, but they are very sensitive to any disturbance, and apparently the one seen was shedding skin, and this makes them even more nervous.  So it was to the cafe, that Chris Packham describes as "wonderful" and a bacon and sausage sandwich.

The Sand Martin's are back at the the colony behind what is now the dipping pool but for me will always be the original car park.  The birds were busy clearing out the nest holes, and you could watch them flying in, and kicking sand out.

We walked along the north wall, and then around the scrape.  At the first hide the gulls were dominant with their calls ringing out while they fought and displayed with each other.  This Black-headed Gull was perched close to the hide.

Scanning through the gulls I found one then two with black legs and a very battleship grey mantle.  My immediate thought was Kittiwake, but surely not here on the scrape, but they were, and there were at least 12.

They stood there ground quite fiercely with the other similar sized guklls such as Common and Black-headed

But why were they here.  The mystery was further confounded when as we left the hide and walked along the beach we could see them flying out to sea with a beak full of mud and vegetation.  They could also be seen returning with empty beaks.  Where were they going with it?  Why were they here?

Another gull that caught my eye was a partially black full hooded gull, it was black not brown with significant black in the primaries.  The full black hood would be a Mediterranean Gull, but not with black primaries, maybe it could be a hybrid of the two?

Leaving the gulls and the scrape we walked on to the sluice, where this time of year the swallows can be found, and they didn't let us down.

We walked back into the reserve and along by the reed beds.  Reed Warblers were singing almost everywhere, and one was very close to the path, and with patience we were avble to watch it, although the reeds would partially hide it as the breeze blew them about.

Leaving the scrape we turned back towards the Bittern Hide and beyond there to the Island Mere.  On the way there were several Muntjac Deer feeding either side of the path.

At the Island Mere Hide it was quiet, but over the mere there were several Swifts, the first of the year for me.  I managed to photograph one.

There were two pairs of Great Crested Grebes out on the water, and a Little Grebe close in by the reeds.

Bearded Tits could be heard pinging around the reed beds, and they could be seen briefly as they flew past.  We could hear Bitterns booming but they never showed.  Leaving the hide Cetti's Warblers sang from the reeds, and one even showed, dancing on a log in front of us.

On the grass land close to the path were a few rabbits feeding, always a cute subject I couldn't resist.

Back at the Sand Martin bank I waited and caught one just as it was emerging from the nest hole.

We walked around the the north hide where there was little activity.  As we came out of the hide both a Blackcap and a Garden Warbler was singing.  The Garden Warbler was very difficult to spot, but it is there if you look closely.

We walked along the beach again, heading to the levels where there had been a Garganey reported.  On the short grass between the gorse a Small Copper butterfly was sitting out of the cool breeze.

A little further on a Whitethroat was singing from the top of the gorse.

The swallows were still active at the sluice, but would rest on the branches close by.  Once again I was able to get quite close.

At the levels there was no sign of the Garganey, just a few Redshank and an Avocet.  I did though manage to find a male Wheatear on the dried mud.  This is a poor shot but serves as a record.

We decided to walk back to the reserve, the sun was warm if you managed to get out of the wind by sheltering amongst the gorse, something this little rabbit was doing.

As we reached the sluice and entered the reserve I noticed two large birds flying over the reed bed.  Picking them up with binoculars I could see that they were Bitterns.  They continued to fly quite high around the reeds in front of the Bittern Hide.  I do not recall seeing Bitterns in flight for as long as these two flew about.  Finally they dropped down in a location that was probably in full view of the hide.

We popped into the South Hide, I wanted the chance to photograph some of the terns, and was fortunate to find three species sitting on one of the islands.

Here we had three Little Terns, two Sandwich and four Common Terns.  The little and common terns were chased off by a Black-headed Gull, but it did not seem to want to take on the Sandwich Terns.

The whole scrape did not have that many waders present.  What there was though was in summer plumage.  This Black-tailed Godwit.

And this Knot, showing why in certain countries it is known as the Red Knot, we typically know there as grey birds.

The dominant wader was of course the Avocet, the bird that made this reserve famous.  Some can be seen on their nests while other pairs are still courting.

We left the scrape and once more walked around the reeds knowing we were heading back to the Bittern Hide.  When we got there there were a couple of spaces free so we settled down again for another watch over the vast reed bed.

First up was a male Marsh Harrier, but this time passing close to the hide, out over the open water.

We were then treated to a bit of theatre and comedy involving a Water Rail, and fortunately the Marsh Harrier was not around.  In the morning a Water Rail would every so often run from one reed bed to the other across an open piece of water.  I never managed to capture it as it would suddenly appear and race across.  This afternoon as we sat there it started again.  the rail would appear from one side.

And after a while would come straight back.

Then it came back again.

Only to shortly appear again from the same place

How did it do that?  Had it managed to get back without us seeing?  Although soon became clear when two little bundles of black feathers appeared and raced across

They were then followed by three more

The clue was there in the second photograph above, the adult rail is carrying what looks like food, so we have to assume it was feeding the young or the other adult, then when the time was right the adults have led the young to a safer place that has a good food source.  Wonderful to watch, and there were cheers in the hide when the youngsters appeared.

The drama of the rails over, somebody picked up what was thought to be Cuckoo, but there was some doubt, maybe it was a falcon.  It was very distant, and wasn't perched like a Cuckoo.

Just as I got the telescope out to have a closer look it flew, and was unmistakeably a Cuckoo.

We continued to watch the reeds, and as if on call a Bittern flew up from the reeds, and then down again, this time the picture is a little clearer.

By now the Marsh Harriers were a little more active.  Both male and female could be seen regularly hunting the reeds, checking for ducklings, voles and maybe baby Water Rails.  The male coming closest to the hide.

Away to our right as we looked out over the reeds they seemed to have a nest.  following the male one time you could see it was carrying prey, and it headed towards the area of the nest.  As it got close the female flew out to join him, and they wet through with a food pass.  The pictures aren't the best but they show the ritual that helps maintain the bond between the two.

Unfortunately it looks like a young duck or rail.

The afternoon was turning into early evening, and we were joined by a group of Red Deer that emerged from the reeds and waded through the water to the main path.

By now were debating when to leave, this is always a difficult decision because you will always wonder if you have missed something, but you have to go sometime.  This time though we were given a sign.  From the reeds came another Bittern, but this time much closer and it also did not just drop into the reeds immediately, it flew right in front of the hide.

On that we decided it was time to depart and we headed back to the car and the cottage.  Another great day at a wonderful reserve which will soon be seen by many in ways we would never dream of I am sure.