A day out away from Four marks i met up with Ian early morning, the tide was already high despite the fact that it was a 13.00 high tide. It was also quite overcast in complete contrast to the forecast clear skies and sunshine. What sun there was was filtering through the clouds.
I wanted the chance to see the Siberian Stonechat that had been at Titchfield for the past week. The Siberian Stonechat, Saxicola Maurus, was split from a subspecies of the European Stonechat to a species in its own right in 2011, but I had never seen one before, and as this was also a first for Hampshire I wanted the chance to see and compare with the many European Stonchats reported with it. Ian had also seen it a week ago which did put some pressure on!
The reserve though does not open until 9.30, so we spent the time watching the sea, and the Meon. On the sea wall a confiding Rock Pipit showed off.
While around the visitor centre two Cetti's Warblers were calling, and also gave brief views. Once the reserve was open we made our way to the Meadow Hide, pausing at the Walkaway pond to see the amazing show of Fly Agaric fungi. The large ones were at least 12 centimetres across the cap, but it was the group that I enjoyed, as I have never seen so many together before.
The hide was quite busy, and immediately you were struck by how many Stonechats there were. They would use the fence, the bramble, the reed mace and any tussock of grass that gave a view point to perch on. In total there must have been well over a dozen birds present.
There were also a large number of jays about, flying across in front of us, in amongst the grass, and perched along with the Stonechats on the fence
This time of year they tend to get overlooked, but they are quite spectacular birds in their own right.
While we were looking for the Stonechat three Swallows flew through, a Sparrowhawk unsettled the Lapwing on the scrape, and a young Marsh harrier would put in brief appearances upsetting the gulls and cormorants.
We searched and scanned but never finding a pale looking individual. In the end we decided the plan for the day should not be compromised, and we left the hide. The intention was to walk along the coastal path to Warsash. As we walked along the road, the now high tide had pushed the Turnstone on to the wooden groynes.
We stopped off in the busy Meon Shore Hide, there were several waders present such as distant Snipe and Avocet, and closer in this quite photogenic Redshank.
And a winter plumaged Black-tailed Godwit (which turned out to be an omen)
The walk was largely uneventful. There was little to nothing on the sea, and in the bushes and hedges only the odd call of a Goldcrest. In the fields approaching Hooks Link there was a large flock of Brent Geese, I estimated it to be about a thousand.
A raven called above us, and as we watched a field two Peregrine flew over, in no particular hurry, but you knew they would be causing havoc somewhere soon. We were also unlucky in the search for the Little Owl at Beam Cottage.
Around the links we encountered several Common Darter, a calling but hidden Cetti's Warbler, many more Jays and a large flock of young Goldfinches.
The stop to remove clothes now that the sun had arrived produced a single Clouded Yellow that flew around the reeds but never stopped for a photograph, while the pools were surprisingly empty despite the very high tide.
On the way back we the Brent Geese numbers had increased and there was a very confiding Stonechat amongst the bramble.
A little further on, from a small clump of bramble a Dartford Warbler came out, there almost as quickly disappeared from sight, and never showed again.
Bird Guides had reported the Siberian Stonechat as having been seen at 11.40, 30 minutes after we had left the hide. We had made good time on our walk back, and this meant that we might get at least 45 minutes in the reserve before they closed at 5.00pm
As we arrived at the Meadow Hide we were told it was showing on the fence. We spent some time trying to string European Stonechats as being pale enough in the setting sun, on a distant fence wire.
I then noticed a bird at the top of a bush in the field south of the fence, it was pale Stonechat size, and behaving just like the others using the prominent perch to look down.
This was it, but then it dropped down out of sight. We waited, but it didn't reappear so we went into the hide just as one of the staff turned up to say they would be locking the hide. Almost immediately it appeared at the top of the bush again. This time the views were longer and I managed some more very distant pictures. in this the bird looks quite pale, with for me the appearance of an autumn Wheatear, or maybe a Whinchat. There is not much black in the area around the head. The spread tail though is distinctive with the dark feathers and the glimpse of the rump shows no streaking unlike that found in the Stonechat.
It dropped to the ground again, and became very difficult to find amongst the similarly coloured grass. Every so often it would hop up onto a tussock, but was clearly nervous of the other bolder European Stonechats. We were then told we had to leave the hide.
As we came out of the reserve and onto the road, a young Kestrel was hunting over the reeds close to the road. So intent was it on finding a meal for the night it was not concerned about me getting close with the camera, the net result was a wonderful portfolio of photographs that show the amazing ability this little falcon has when hunting. Holding the body still while the head searches below. I just love the focus in the eyes. While not being extra pin sharp due to the failing light, the higher ISO provides a watercolour feel to the photograph. Even though I say so myself I am pleased with them.
It was another fitting end to another enjoyable day.