First away day of the year, and it was off in search of Hen Harriers in the New Forest, the weather though had a part to play, and with quite heavy rain and strong winds the plan was to meet Ian at Blashford Lakes so that we could take advantage of the hides while it rained itself out, then hopefully we could set off into the Forest in the early afternoon.
When I arrived Ian had already secured one of the only open windows in the Ivy North hide. As I settled down a Water Rail appeared in an open patch. It was raining hard and very dull hence the very grainy picture.
On the other side of the hide a female Bullfinch had found some food amongst the bramble bushes.
While it rained we sat an watched the reed bed in the hope of seeing the Bittern, but there was nothing moving. On the lake there were Tufted Duck and Wigeon, but they were all very distant. Once the rain had stopped we walked around to the Tern Hide, and found out that we were not alone. The hide was packed, standing room only. However after awhile the numbers decreased, and it was possible to get a place at one of the windows. The weather turned once again and a squally shower came in, hides are not the best places to be when the wind is blowing straight in through the open windows.
The birds again were very distant, there were good numbers of Pintail on the far side, and Wigeon would arrive on a regular basis, There were several Goldeneye, I could see at least three males and I did manage to see three Goosander at the back of the lake, while there was also some good numbers of Pochard.
An immature male Long-tailed duck was feeding in the far west corner, again very distant and very mobile. Just as we were about to leave the reported Black-necked Grebe was found, and we settled back down to watch it as it dived its way closer and across the lake. The hope that it would come closer, was in vain, but I did manage to get an acceptable record shot.
When we finally left the Tern hide there was only two people in it, a big change from when we arrived. We made our way back to the visitor centre where a large flock of Siskin were feeding in the trees. Despite searching we could not find any Redpoll amongst them.
We decided to head off as the weather, while still rather windy was dry, and there were signs of sunshine about too.
Our first stop was Harbridge, not because there was anything reported, but because we wanted to see the site for future reference. There were several Mute Swans in the fields along with Greylag and Canada Geese and this pair of Egyptian Geese.
Scanning around the fields we also found these Roe Deer. There was in fact three another was hidden in the long grass.
Leaving Harbridge we set off for the forest, parking at the Telegraph car park. The initial plan was to walk to Eyeworth Pond, and then come back around to Leaden Hall, however as we sorted ourselves out, and I wandered around the car park area I found a Ring-tail Hen Harrier. It was flying over the heather, and was using the wind to rise and bank, then swoop low back over the heather and gorse.
We watched as it banked around and headed back into the wind before turning again and using the wind to disappear down the valley.
We waited but couldn't see it again, so decided to take the track towards Leaden Hall. The track was wet and muddy, and also very windy. The only birds we saw initially were crows, and then as we took smaller tracks we were flushing Meadow Pipits.
We finally reached the Leaden Hall area which was an open grass bank. With the wind we decided to head to an area of shelter, the objective to have a cup of coffee, and also the shelter might be a better place for a Hen Harrier to hunt.
We headed down the valley towards Ashley Hole, and as we did so Ian pointed to a male Hen Harrier drifting over the valley in front of us.
It remained quite high, and rose and fell as it negotiated the still blustery wind. Never that close, but close enough to admire this beautiful raptor I did manage to get some acceptable record shots of it.
The head looking down for any source of food.
Elated to have been able to see two Hen Harriers in the early afternoon we celebrated by drinking our coffee. We were then joined by another birder who had seen the male, and as we talked another, maybe the same bird drifted along the valley, but a little further away, this was just all too much.
We stood around and waited for another performance but it never came, so rather than be greedy we decided to set off in search of the pond. As we walked down the valley I noticed a small herd of Fallow Deer feeding in the afternoon sunshine.
The walk was to be eventful, initially with just a map, then with a map and a compass we made our way through the Islands Thorn Inclosure. Birds were far and few between, there was a few Redwing and Blackbirds, but the highlight was a Woodcock we flushed as we negotiated one of the many bogs.
Despite the best efforts, we missed the pond emerging from the inclosure north of it, and as the time was late we decided to give it a miss and walk back to the car, in a more direct route. The highlight of this trek were another herd of Fallow Deer, and a pair of Stonechat.
There was still about 45 minutes of daylight left so we drove up to the parking place near to Black Gutter, and made our way to a dry spot, joining a couple of others to hopefully watch more Hen Harriers coming into roost.
We were not let down, first a male drifted across and then dropped into the heather, and then a very distant Ring-tail also disappeared into the heather. An amazing day, I can't recall so many excellent views of Hen Harrier, and definitely never so many good views of the stunning grey male. The only down side was there were no Merlins into roost, I really am never satisfied!
Some quality birds and a great walk around an area of the forest I have never explored before, a really good start to the New Year.