Sunday, 1 February 2015

31st January - Moor Green Lakes & Bransbury Common

Overnight we had snow, about a couple of centimetres, but enough to cause some concern.  However by the time we were ready to go out the snow showers had turned to rain, and once out of Four Marks there was no sign at all.

Ian and I were off again, the first stop being Moor Green Lakes just over the border in Berkshire.  We were on the hunt for Smew, two have been seen here, and red head and male.  It was the male I wanted to photograph, a beautiful duck.

We arrived to a sprinkling of snow in the car park, and birds using the feeders in the bushes.  As we walked along the path past the horse paddocks several Song Thrush were feeding in the field with many Blackbirds.

As we past the paddocks and came upon the lake a small duck was making its way out from the shore.  It was one of the birds we were here to see, a red head Smew, or female.

As would be expected she swam away from us heading to the far side.  The smallest of the saw bill duck we get here in the UK, they are a really lovely bird.  Known as a saw bill they have serrations on the bill that allow them to catch fish or other swimming prey.

We watched as she settled, and then for some reason was dive bombed by a Black-headed Gull.  After that she raised herself out of the water and flapped her wings.

Now for the drake, and we found it on the same lake, but so far off in the distance it was impossible to photograph.  As we watched it it became clear it had been joined by the female red head, but we never saw her fly in.

We carried on to the south lake, and here there were two pairs of Goosanders, another member of the saw bill family, but much larger than the Smew.  The females have a similar red head plumage like the female Smew.

The walk took us along the River Blackwater, and gave us the opportunity to look across the lakes.  There were small groups of Wigeon and Shoveler on the open water, and quite a bit of frozen water.  We stopped at a group of Alders where there was a small mixed flock of finches.  We were able to see Lesser Redpolls, and Siskins mixed in with Goldfinches.  Out on the water there were more Goosander, a group of four females and two males.

As we walked back along the river a pair of Mallard were feeding close to the bank of the river.  

The water was running quite fast and the Mallard were acting like Harlequin duck, plunging head first into the strong flow of the water.

It was not clear what they were feeding on, maybe weed that was pushed up from the bottom by the fast flowing water.

A little further on I found a Grey Wagtail walking along the edge of the river, and when it flew off it was replaced by a Chiffchaff, that also then flew off calling.

We walked back to the south lake, and by now it was raining quite hard.  We stopped at a screen and scanned across the water, and found the Red head Smew again by the bank amongst the Mallard and a pair of Goosander.

Leaving the Smew we walked up to the north lake, and scanned for the drake once again, but couldn't find it.  A local birder came towards us and we stopped to talk, as we were talking I noticed the drake Smew flying across the lake, coming from the close corner where we had seen the red head when we arrived.  This was frustrating as it would have been close there and we would have seen it if we hadn't have stopped.  Never mind I have a record shot, but it was not what I was hoping for, and by no means does it do this fantastic duck justice.

As we walked back to the car the horse paddock was full of thrushes.  we could see Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrush.  There was also a single Fieldfare, but closest was this Redwing.

A Jay was also present in the trees close to the car park.

We changed and set off for the next location, Bransbury Common, back over the border in Hampshire.

When we got out of the car it was clear that the wind had picked up, not a good omen, owls don't like the wind.  A group of eight Roe Deer could be seen in the distance running through the field, and as we walked down the footpath a huge flock of Woodpigeon took off from the field next to us, it seemed for no real reason

At the bottom of the footpath a single Fieldfare was in one of the bushes, and as we walked onto the common, a Kestrel was hunting close in.  As I looked at the Kestrel I noticed a grey patch on the side of one of the hawthorn bushes.  The first of our quarry here was really easy, a Great Grey Shrike.

We walked around the path to get a closer view, it was sitting in a sheltered part of the bush, in the sunshine when it came out.  It sat there preening for some time showing well.

But then a couple with a dog came by, and it was off, across the common and into a hedge that divided the neighbouring field.  Here it perched at the top of a branch, and could be seen scanning the field.

It sat there for awhile, shifting positions as the wind blew the branch around, a very typical shrike pose.

Then it was off and away from us, and out of sight.  We walked up to the river, negotiating the tussocky grass, and flushing a few Snipe.  I am not sure who was more startled the Snipe or me.

The common is very open and we scanned across open areas searching for movement.  But it was from the fields the next bird appeared, a Red Kite drifting over us and then away towards the trees.

The Red Kite gone, the Great Grey Shrike appeared once again, perched again in a typical shrike way.

I tried to get closer to it, and was startled once again by a Snipe that burst from below me.  I watched it fly away, and it kept going, wishful thinking for a Jack Snipe.

The shrike flew over my head, and then into a bush on the other side of the river.

Finally it was off and gone from sight away along the hedgerow past the ford.  While all this was going on Ian had seen the Great White Egret briefly, and I had missed it.

We continued to scan the common, and the wind seemed to increase.  We made our way to a bit of higher ground and some shelter.  Then at 15.30 a white speck appeared in the far corner of the common, a Barn Owl hunting in the open.

While it was very distant it was lovely to watch as it flew up and down, twisting and turning and every so often dropping to the ground.  It would not stay down too long and would pop up and continue the quartering.

It was during a spell out of view a large white bird was picked up coming across us.  It was the Great White Egret, and it flew off over the trees away to the east.

Gradually the owl made its way closer to us, and the views were a little better and the photographs can now show a Barn Owl rather than a white spec.

It seemed to find a lot of interest at the base of a small bush, continually hovering with legs down, and then dropping into the grass.

The hope that the owl would come closer never happened, and it looked like other than a couple of Kestrels there was not to be anything else appearing.  

This short video clip gives some idea of the distance the bird was from us

The sun was dropping and the feet were starting to get cold as we were standing around.  The decision was taken to call it a day, and we headed back to the car.  Some quality birds today from a day that threatened to be a disaster weather wise first thing.  The photography could have been better, but then you can't have it all.

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