Saturday, 12 September 2015

5th September - Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

With the previous weeks sightings of Kingfisher at Titchfield, Helen was keen to go back and hopefully to see them for herself, so we headed down there, also in the knowledge that there had been a Cattle Egret reported hanging around with the herd of cattle.  The morning was the reverse weather wise of last weekend, we left emerging sunshine in Four Marks, and as we arrived on the coast at Hill Head it was overcast, along with the treat of rain.  It was also very cold for the time of year.

The tide was very low, and along the edge of the sea, Black-tailed Godwits were feeding.

We left the visitor centre, heading for the Knights Bank hide which was reportedly the best place to see the egret.  Above us in the trees as usual on a tall dead branch was a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

As we walked through the bushes you could hear the contact calls of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, and as we approached the Knight’s Bank Hide a Swift flew over along with several Swallows.

The Cattle Egret was following the cattle around in the meadow, but was very distant.  It seemed to have a favourite cow it stayed with, and unfortunately this cow decided that it wanted to feed in one of the far corners that were tucked behind some of the bushes.  Consequently the views were very difficult and distant, but I did manage to get a record shot.

The egret behaved like all the other Cattle Egrets I have seen around the world, scurrying in and out of the cattle feet, looking to pick up insects that he cows disturbed as they grazed.
As well as the Cattle Egret there were a few Yellow Wagtails about, but nowhere near the same numbers as were present last week.  Other birds of note were a Whitethroat, and several Sand Martins moving through amongst the Swallows and House Martins.

We waited to see if the cattle and the egret would come closer, but they stayed in the far corner, after a time we decided we would move on to the other hides.  Approaching the Suffern, I noticed a small clump of lilac fungi that I believe is Lilac Dapperling.

Once again there were Common Buzzards causing some excitement from the hide, but that is what they were, Common Buzzards.  A pair of Barnacle Gees flew in and demonstrated how shallow the water was in front of the hide.  These are plastic birds but still look quite smart for geese.

A Kingfisher was perched on the dead branches over the river at the right hand side; it then flew off, past the hide, but kept going around the bend into the far bay.

A Little Egret was present in front of us, busy preening it cast some interesting reflections in the dark still water.

Then after a preen it was off hunting, running through the water, lifting its yellow feet out as it went.

Time to move once again, and we made our way to the Meon Shore Hide by way of the cafĂ© and a cup of tea.  There was a little more activity than the previous week, with many Black-tailed Godwits close in feeding.

On the closest island was a Common Snipe, head tucked under its wings it gave the impression of being asleep, when in truth it would continually open it eye.  This angle shows the russet colour tip to the tail feathers, something not readily noticed, and the beautiful ochre tinges to the feathers on the back.

At the back of the island was a Black-tailed Godwit that waded out into the deeper water and appeared just to sit content with the water up over the legs.

Looking back at the Snipe and it was gone, in the short time it had woken up and decided to go to the edge of the island where the reflections were at their best.

Then it was time for a preen with some itches in annoyingly difficult places to reach.

The Godwit then decided to get into the act with some serious preening involving the stretching of the wings showing the white wing bar.

The bill would be used to fan through the feathers, taking a drop of water in between to help the smoothing out of the feathers.

By now the Snipe had finished its ablutions and had moved over to the reeds where it was probing into the mud with its long bill.

Most of the teal were asleep, but one was feeding at the edge of the island, walking forward with the bill laying just under the surface of the water and filtering the mud and water as it went.

We walked to the Pumfrett, and Spurgin hides but both were very quiet, so we made our way back to the visitor centre where we had some lunch.  During the time we sat in the garden we were treated to a Sparrowhawk passing overhead.

And the highly remarkable rescue of a bee from the pond, the finest example of life saving you could ever witness.

After lunch we walked back to the Suffern Hide where the water was a lot higher than earlier, and the number of birds present greatly increased, but mostly due to around fifty Black-headed Gulls.  We watched as a Little Egret hunted in the shallow water, as it moved you could see the ripples and even splashes of large fish as they took evasive action to avoid the beak of the egret.

The egret seemingly mesmerised by the movement, and not sure where to go, flapping its wings to steady it as it twisted and turned in pursuit of the fish and every so often plunging into the water but was not successful in catching anything

A nearby Grey Heron that had seemed to be happy just standing on a branch seemed to be alerted by the antics of the Little Egret and waded slowly towards where the fish were moving causing more panic amongst the fish, and more ripples and splashes.  

The Heron, like the egret started to chase around dancing in the water jumping up and flapping its wings.

While all this was going on, the Kingfisher flew through from the left, then returned and landing on a reed stem on the other side from the hide.

A cormorant was also present on the benches, giving some nice views of a bird not often photographed.

But that was about all, a rather quiet day with every so often something to keep you interested and some acceptable views of Kingfisher.

29th August - Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

Through the week Titchfield had been reporting some good birds both on the reserve and out in the Solent.  The weather was to be better today than the rest of the week, and as I arrived the skies were blue and there was plenty of sunshine about, which was in away not what I had hoped for, with a rising tide, some murkiness may have been good for the Solent area, as it was you could see the Island and plenty of yachts.

On the groynes there were foraging Turnstones, some in their splendid summer plumage.

looking into the reserve gulls and a few Common Terns were on the islands, and a Kingfisher could be seen perched on the wooden supports.  On the exposed mud were several Redshank a Common Sandpiper and this Greenshank.

As we waited for the reserve to open the green wing tagged Marsh harrier appeared, perched in one of the distant trees then headed off back up river.

Just outside the visitor centre was a flowering buddleia that had a total of six Red Admirals nectaring on it.

There was also several Small Whites, a Green-veined White and this Holly Blue.

Ian and I decided to walk down the east side to the Meadow Hide, the Osprey that had been about all week seemed to work to a timetable, coming from up river around 10.00 to 10.30, the Meadow Hide would provide a good place to look for it.

On the path we came across several Common Darters.

And on the entrance to the hide a very confiding Southern Hawker.

From the Meadow Hide there was a herd of cattle in the distance that were an attraction to a flock of about 30 Yellow Wagtail, but they were extremely distant, only being identifiable by the yellow flashes as they flew up disturbed by the cattle or a passing Magpie.

A young Kestrel appeared on the fence post to the left of the hide.

It was then that we found out that the Osprey had flown over the reserve at about 9.45, exactly when we were walking through the wooded area.  There was some debate to whether it had gone up river or out to see, but it would seem that it had gone.  We gave it a little longer, watching the sky but also the reeds where Reed and Sedge Warblers were quite active, then decided to head back to the shore.  Stopping at the Suffern Hide we walked into views of several Buzzards high in the sky drifting east.

In total I counted 20 birds, and some were showing signs of something else, with wings held very flat and what appeared to be long tails.  One bird was very pale on the head, but on close examination of the photo is a Buzzard and not the hoped for Honey.

Once the buzzards had passed, and the excitement died down the area in front of the hide became very quiet.  We watched a Heron stalking and catching fish.

Then there was this Woodpigeon trying out a Kingfisher pose.

We made our way back to the visitor centre and out on to the bridge where a Kingfisher was perched on the reserve sign.

No hiding where it was seen then!

It then dived behind itself, and caught quite a large fish 

Which it proceeded to smash against the board.

Then turned it around to head first and swallowed it, then continued to sit watching the water in between bobs

The Kingfisher then flew off around the reeds, and we walked to the cars for some lunch, and then on to the reserve on the west side.  As we walked along the road I heard familiar ping calls, and there in the top of the reeds was a family of Bearded Tits.

We counted 10 before they split up and flew across the river to the reeds on the other side.

Once again there was a lot of water in front of the hide and not much going on.  We could see a few Black-tailed Godwits, quite a few eclipse Teal, Gadwall and Mallard, and several Lapwing, one of which was close to the hide.

It was much the same at the Pumfrett Hide so we carried on to the Spurgin Hide where there was a little more mud, and as a result some waders.  In front of us a Common Sandpiper.

There were also two Green Sandpipers away to our right feeding on the flies that were on the surface of the water.

In the still areas of the pool the reflections were mirror like.

It was then the rain started, almost as forecast at just before 15.00, we made our way back to the car, pausing briefly to watch a few Common Terns both adult and juveniles fishing over the sand banks off shore.  Not the best of days, but any day you get good views of a Kingfisher is still a good day.

Friday, 11 September 2015

22nd August - Cape Cod, Massachusetts - Day Three

Our last day, with an afternoon departure back to Boston, so the opportunity to relax in the morning.  The forecast rain has yet to come, but the morning was still very humid with very low cloud, the sun though could be felt through the overcast conditions.

The choice was either to sit by the pool, or to have a walk around the area.  There was a footpath leading from the hotel to the Cape Cod cycle track that runs the length of the peninsula.  This also follows the power lines, and with that comes a fire break in the pine trees.  I was interested in exploring the area, in the hope of finding some of the commoner garden birds, birds I was very familiar with when we lived in New Jersey.

The area is lined with pine trees, and it was not long before I could hear the calls of Chickadees and the quiet tapping of what I suspected was a Nuthatch.  I waited and watched and then a White-breasted Nuthatch appeared on the trunk of a pine in a classic pose.

I always find it fascinating how the calls of birds outside of Europe can be very similar to those you are familiar with.  For instance the chickadees are unmistakeably tits, and the cluck of an American Robin, the Blackbird or Fieldfare.  The one that always gets me though is very similar to that of a Robin alarm, and it is a bird with a dominant red plumage, the wonderful Northern Cardinal.  A very secretive bird that will skulk through the branches, but then emerge to give you a flash of its wonderful red plumage.

Eventually the Chickadees showed, these are Black-capped Chickadees as opposed to the Mountain Chickadees we saw in Grand Teton, looking very much like a Marsh Tit, their behaviour is a kin to that of the Blue Tit, and is a regular visitor to garden feeders.

At the top of the conifers there were several calling American Goldfinches, but unfortunately they never came to a position where I could get a suitable photograph, all I could manage was views of their bright chest and bellies.  Charming little birds with bright yellow and black plumage, they resemble a canary more than our goldfinch.

If you just stand still and watch the birds will come to you, next up was a Downy Woodpecker, a small woodpecker just a little bigger than a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  It was creeping along the branches of pine tree, making it very difficult to get a clear view and photo.  They lack the red seen in the Hairy Woodpecker, and have a smaller more delicate bill.

A Common Grackle then appeared at the back of the trees, large flocks of these can be seen at dusk heading for communal roosts.

There had been a very distinctive and loud song around the hotel, the owner usually delivering this from the top of a bush or post.  As is the case with these loud songs the owner is a little drab, in this case a Song Sparrow, unlike our sparrows the song is quite tuneful, and very diagnostic for a LBJ

Back in the pines another familiar call, this time like that of a Great Tit indicated the presence of a few Tufted Titmouse.  It is though not as spectacularly marked as the Great Tit, it sporting a rather drab grey plumage, but with a jaunty tuft to give it the name.  This one was feeding on berries.

I then came across a family party of Song Sparrows that were quite approachable.

I then decided to leave the path, and take one of the many paths that led through the fire break.  A bird on the overhead wires had caught my eye, and as I made my way through the bushes it flew off, but below it on the ground was a nest box on a pole, and on the nest box was an Eastern Bluebird, complete with beetle.

The Eastern Bluebird differs from the Mountain Bluebirds we had seen in Wyoming by having a red throat and chest, but retains the lovely blue head back and wings, although this one does look a little tired.  It would seem that these birds have been encouraged here by the nest boxes, and by the presence of a ring that they have also been studied.  

I edged closer to get a better view.

A little further on there were several juvenile birds using the wires to look for food, dropping to the ground from the wire to pick up beetles and other insects.

I then came upon an area of grass at the back of Willy’s Gym, here there was more movement, juvenile Cowbirds feeding in the grass.

From the surrounding bushes there was the mewing call of a Grey Catbird, it appearing briefly on a branch before flying off.

Then a lovely Baltimore Oriole in the tree in front of me, that made three iconic birds that have given their names to American sports teams, Cardinal, Bluebird, and Oriole.

In the garden in New Jersey these orioles would come through in the late summer, always appearing like this one at the tops of the trees.

From behind me there was some more tapping, and I expected another Nuthatch, but found this Downy Woodpecker that gave some better views than earlier, albeit still dark and with the head hidden.

Conscious of the time, I was deciding whether to turn back when I noticed a falcon fly across an open field, and perch up on a security floodlight.  It was an American Kestrel so I decided to try and get as close as I could.  This was the best I could do, still a little distant, but you can see the key differences from the European Kestrel, the two dark stripes by the side of the head.

Leaving the Kestrel, I made my way back to the hotel.  As I returned to the grounds I noticed a dove on a piece of rough ground.  This is the commonest American Dove, the Mourning Dove, but a bird that we became very fond of in New Jersey, one of which we named Colin.  Colin used to visit the deck regularly with a mate, as doves seem to do.  They would always wait for the gate to be open to enter the deck, never hopping through it when closed.  Then one day we returned home to find a dead Cooper’s Hawk on the deck, with Colin in its talons.  The hawk having taken the dove and then it flew into a window and killed itself.  Colin has never been forgotten, and this picture is in memory of Colin, I'm an old softie at heart.

That then was it, the end of a wonderful holiday in which we have seen so much, spectacular scenery, some amazing Wild life, a bird I only dreamed of seeing, and some incredible whale behaviour.  I think it is fair to say that both Helen and I were probably a little uncertain as to how we would feel about returning to the US, but we both agree that this has been a wonderful experience and in many of the places we visited it exceeded our expectations.