Sunday, 29 November 2015

28th November - Pagham Harbour, West Sussex

This weekend was a Crab and Lobster weekend always something to look forward to, but when we awoke of Friday morning it looked as if it was to be an extended Christmas shopping day in Chichester rather than enjoying a winter walk along the North Wall at Pagham.

And so it turned out to be.  Heavy overcast conditions in the morning gave way to very heavy misty rain throughout the day, the result was some more Christmas shopping online, but sitting at the bar.

Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny, but with a fresh breeze.  There was blue sky and some lovely winter sunshine, but the forecast was not good for later in the day.  We took the decision to walk to the North Wall, and set off through the muddy fields.  As we reached the gate to the path onto the wall a Robin was singing in the bushes, the sunshine picking out its red throat as it turned to watch us.

Out of the wind it had been quite mild, and I was beginning to question the need for the heavy coat , fleece and hat, but once up on the wall the need was clear.  The wind by now had picked up considerably, and behind us we could see grey clouds gathering.  We negotiated the muddy path, stopping to watch a wren flitting in and out of the rocks on the wall, a Reed Bunting also flew past.  On the Breech pool there was a pair of Mallard and that was literally all.

We met a local birder who walked with us to the sluice, like us he was disappointed with the lack of bird life, and we all were hoping that the Kingfisher might brighten the day up.  It wasn't on the posts, but as we stood talking the familiar whistle heralded the arrival of the bird from the ditch in the reeds.  It flew around us, past the sluice, then around the Salthouse and over the path and then settled on the sluice on the other side.  I made my way to get a better look and it then flew off over the reeds and out of sight.

We stood waiting again, and sure enough it came back this time flying past us, dropping down by the main sluice and then gone, we suspect it carried on along the sea wall..

Along White's Creek there were Redshank and several groups of Wigeon.  Hidden in the saltmarsh were also a few Curlew.  We decided to walk on with the aim of getting to the Spit, and to walk around the little Lagoon.

We walked past the golf course where there was a large gathering of Brent Geese.  As we came out back into the harbour looking to the west the skies were very dark and groups of Brent Geese were flying across the water to join the geese on the golf course.

We headed off around the spit, on the water there were at least five Little Grebes, and plenty of Linnet in the gorse.  As we reached the furthest point by the hide, the rain came, along with the wind.  Fortunately we started with the rain and wind behind, but as we turned to walk past the lagoon we were treated to the full force.  We stopped and sheltered byu the lagoon, watching more Little Grebes and a few Tufted Ducks.

Finally the rain eased and the sun came out, but the wind had strengthened even more, and I was not looking forward to crossing the wall again as we would be walking straight into the wind, and possibly more rain.

Passing the paddocks I was taken by a little Shetland Pony with a curly coat.

The tide was now well up, a combination of one of the highest tides for awhile and a strong gale force wind that was blowing the water into the harbour had resulted in the water being very high well before the designated high tide.

We had left geese still on the golf course, and there was a large group on the open water that was White's Creek when we walked past earlier.  Away in the distance you can see the dark clouds that had just treated us earlier.

My worst fears were then realised as we crossed the North Wall, another shower, but thankfully not too long.  Once it passed I was able to watch and photograph a small group of Wigeon close in.

They were feeding on the eel grass that was being held up by the high water.  Always a lovely duck to watch, and also listen to, their whistles evoking the sound of wilderness, and when coupled with the call of the curlew it is magical.

And that was about it.  We walked back to the pub, and debated walking on to the visitor centre, the clouds though looked very ominous once again, so we decided that we would return to the bar, which is exactly what we did, spending an afternoon with a drink, some lovely company, and a roaring fire, while the wind and rain battered the windows outside.

It was a shame that for once the weather let us down, this has happened only once before on these pilgrimages, we will be back in the new year, and hopefully normal service will be resumed.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

7th November - Titchfield Haven & Farlington Marshes, Hampshire

It was appalling weather as I left home this morning.  I was heading for the shelter of the hides at Titchfield, without them, birding today was going to be wet and difficult in the strong southwesterly winds and the heavy rain that was coming with it.  When I arrived the tide was high, and the wind was throwing the sea over the wall and onto the road.

Ian and I parked the cars, got our ticket and then braved the sea and walked around to the Meon Shore Hide.  It was not a day for great photography, with it being very gloomy.  Out in front of us on the small island were a Redshank, two Lapwing, four Teal and two Snipe.  One was settled down dozing, while the other was a little flustered by the proximity of the Teal.

It was though as they say perfect weather for ducks, and the Teal were making the most of it.

Fortunately there was plenty going on despite the rain.  A distant Peregrine put up all the Lapwing and Starlings, and a male Pintail flew over.  On the water there were groups of male Teal, and female Teal, still not ready to pair up.

On the islands, and along the edges of the water there were more Snipe, and Starlings seemed to be everywhere.

With the tide high there were plenty of Oystercatchers roosting on the islands, and in amongst one group was a male Pochard.

The snipe in front of us continued to move about, avoiding the ducks as they fed by the edge of the water.  They had a strange behaviour where they would lay their head and bill horizontal with the water, and raise their tail up almost vertically.

Snipe would fly up from almost everywhere, and it was impossible to count their actual numbers.  The Lapwing though were more stationary, and it was possible to count them and I reached a total of 130.

One though did fly straight at us as it came into land on one of the islands

A break in the weather allowed us to walk around to the Spurgin Hide, where lifting the windows there was nothing.  With the weather closing in though we sat tight, and after awhile was rewarded.  A female Marsh Harrier fighting the wind hunting low over the reeds scattering the ducks on the meadow.

It fought its way past us into the wind, then gave up and allowed the wind to take it back from where it had appeared, and then it did it all again, coming past us a little closer.

A few duck settled on the water in front of us, but didn't stay.  A pair of Stonechat appeared on the cut reed area, using the wind to perfect their hovering techniques, then settling back in the shade of the vegetation.

We picked up our lunch, and sat eating it in the Suffern Hide.  The highlight here was a Coot, a Little Grebe and a very brief and fast Kingfisher.  From their we went to the Meadow Hide where we could see the Marsh Harrier once again, a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits, A male Pintail and four females, and a single Green Sandpiper.

Amazingly the weather started to improve and the sun came out, it was decision time.  We had always wanted to go to Farlington to try and catch up with the Short-eared Owls, but the weather never seemed to be right.  However with the sun we decided to give it a try, and headed back to the cars and then off to Farlington.

We walked along the Seawall, and Ian picked up what we were certain was an owl, but it was very distant, and we watched it head high away towards the A3.  Rather than walk the sea wall we crossed alongside the lake.  Suddenly all the gulls went up from the water.

Ian picked up a Peregrine flying just above the reeds, then out of sight.  As we waited it appeared again and then zipped away heading out across the marsh.

In front of us a large flock of Linnets were sitting in the Hawthorn bushes.

And out in the middle of the water a Grey Heron sat in the late afternoon sunshine.

we decided to walk the sea wall now briskly in the hope of finding the owls, that is if they would show in what was still a very brisk wind.

As we passed the Deeps I picked up a white shape in the middle.  A closer look revealed it to be a Sleeping Spoonbill, what else would it be doing?

The sun now was almost set, and looking away to the west we could see the Portsmouth skyline, and the Spinnaker Tower backed by golden light.

A kestrel was hunting over the sea wall, and as is typically the case in those situations, allowed us to get quite close.

I then tried to adjust for the bright back light by opening the exposure, but for some reason (gloved fingers) I not only did that, but I changed the settings to monochrome.  The results though, I was pleased with

It seems to add to the detail.

The sun was now down, and we headed back to the car.  We had manged to fashion some good birds out of a day the most of which was dominated by horrible weather.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

31st October - Blashford Lakes and Leaden Hall New Forest, Hampshire

This time last year Halloween was bathed in warm sunshine with temperatures close to the twenties.  Today was forecast to be a warm still day, maybe not as warm as last year but everything pointed to a nice day.  As I left home it was misty in Four Marks but this cleared s I made my way across the New Forest.  I was meeting Ian at Blashford Lakes but arrived a little early and the gates were still locked.

We left the cars outside, and walked through to the visitor centre where there was a lot of activity around the feeders.  This Coal Tit waiting its turn amongst the lichen in the tree.

A little further down the path close to the Woodland Hide there was a nice flock of Goldcrests calling from the oak trees.

A Kingfisher sped past us calling and then disappearing out of sight.  The sun was now breaking through the misty cloud and we decided to walk back to the Tern Hide.  On the way we stopped to watch a Kestrel sitting on the wire fence in the sunshine watching the longish grass below.

As we were the first ones to arrive earlier in the morning it was a big surprise when we entered the Tern Hide to find it was almost full.  Fortunately we were able to find a seat, and looking out across Ibsey Water it was nice and calm.  

All through the week there had been an Osprey reported using the same post and the same behaviour almost every day.  Looking out across the water there was no sign of the Osprey.  There was though a couple of nice adult male Goldeneyes.

As is always the case here the birds were spread far and wide with large flocks spread across the water.  Close in there was a good flock of Lapwing on one of the spits, and six Little Grebe slowly made their way close to the hide.

On the far side there was a gathering of Cormorants, and Gulls, and along the bank you could make out the white chests of Shoveler, and away to the right in one of the bays there was a large flock of Tufted Duck with one or two Pochard in amongst them too.

A whistle heralded the appearance of a Kingfisher and it zipped past us the only clear view being of the electric blue on its back.

After getting an alert that there was in fact a Black-necked Grebe on the water in the morning we were directed to where it was.  It was possible to make it out right at the back of the lake.  A distant speck but quite clearly a Black-necked Grebe.  

We decided to move on to either the Goosander or Lapwing hide to see if we could get closer to the Black-necked Grebe.  A decision was taken to go to the furthest point, the Lapwing Hide, along the way a male Great Spotted Woodpecker posed nicely at the top of a tree, for me at least!

The hide was not too busy and as we settled in we asked if there had been any sign of the Osprey, and we were nonchalantly told that it was there on the post eating a fish.

And it was, quite a way out but we could sit and watch as it tore apart the fish it had caught in the weak autumn sunshine.

And also a shot taken through the scope with my phone.

Away to our right the Black-necked Grebe appeared in the company of a large flock of Coot and several Tufted Ducks.

Coming ever closer with the Tufties and Coot, the red eye and characteristic up turned bill clearly visible.

It was nice to see a male Pochard come close.

I can recall large flocks of this handsome duck on lakes when I was birding in Essex, but now they appear to be quite rare, further emphasised by the fact that they have now been added to the Red List.

Away to our left in the bay there were five Goosander close to the bank, four red heads and a single first winter male.

It was decision time once again could we get better views of the Osprey from the Goosander hide?  Would the hide be full?  We made our way to the hide, but as we approached you could see the post in the water, and the Osprey had gone.  This seems to be the pattern for us, we miss the bird as it flies over as we walk through the trees.  It happened at the Haven in late August, and it seemed to have happened again.

There was one person in the hide and we enquired where it had gone.  In fact it hadn't gone far, just further to the back of the hide where it was bathing in a patch of shallow water.  It continued this wash and scrub up for sometime before flying off and back to its favourite perch.

And there it sat preening and drying out its wings.  This is a late bird, and apparently it is ringed, so probably a British bird.  l expect it to stay around while the weather remains mild and settled, what happens when it changes will be interesting.

More Goosander were sitting on the side of the water, frequently being disturbed by the grazing horses.

And the Horses were also upsetting a single Green Sandpiper that was feeding along the edge of the water.

The light was beautiful, and the water very clam and reflective.  The Black-headed Gulls sitting on the wooden bridges were throwing long white shadows in the blue water.

A Little Grebe once again was busy diving close to the hide, highlighting the almost mirror like quality of the water.

Time was rolling on, and the Osprey appeared to be going nowhere, while the Kingfishers had also decided not to play ball so we upped once again and set off back top the car park and something to eat.  

In one of the inlets the autumn foliage was reflecting in the water, and in amongst this appeared a Great Crested Grebe.

Back at the visitor centre the feeders continued to be busy, this time I was able to catch the Coal Tit in the sunshine.

After lunch we paid a visit to the Woodland hide where the feeders were very busy.  The male Brambling put in a brief appearance on the feeders but not at the window I was watching.  Here the Great and Blue Tits would busy themselves from the bushes to the feeders, and a Nuthatch would cause havoc as it smashed in chasing everything away.  Underneath the feeders were Chaffinches and Dunnock and this little opportunistic Bank Vole.

I was keen to try and catch the birds away from the feeders, this Great Tit posing nicely.

As did this Blue Tit too.

Just as we were about to leave this Lesser Redpoll turned up.

With about two and half hours of daylight remaining we decided to move, we wanted to have some time in the New Forest, and headed for Black Gutter Bottom with a view to walking up to Leaden Hall.

Parked off the road we walked down the track.  The last time we were here a few weeks ago birds were at a premium but we did manage some poor views of Ring Ouzel.  Today as we walked down the track we found a confiding Kestrel on the gorse.

We crossed the swollen stream, and walked up to Leaden Hall where there were several Starlings but little else.  We walked to the other side and a little way down into Ashley Hole.  Visibility was excellent but scanning across the tops of the bushes did not reveal anything.  It was quiet from a noise perspective as well with the only sounds the occasional calls of Meadow Pipits.

Then we heard the distinctive "chuck" of a Fieldfare behind us, and walking up to the level ground found them along with Redwing in the Birch trees that surround the open area.  The Fieldfare were mobile but a few Redwing stayed in the tree as we walked closer.

The thrushes along with Blackbirds and Linnets were using the large pools of water to bathe in, and then would fly up to the gorse and trees to dry off.  Finally a Fieldfare appeared on the top of a gorse bush in the late afternoon sunshine.

These were my first of the season, and in the sunshine they look a very splendid bird.

We stood watching the birds bathing and moving through the trees and Ian managed to find a Dartford Warbler that was also preening.  In fact after seeing one we started to see more, and could hear them calling from the gorse.  Most of the views were distant so we started to walk through the gorse in the hope of getting some better views.  The warblers kept calling but giving only partially hidden or quick views.

It was as we walked through the gorse that I picked up a stocky bird flying stiff winged towards us.  As it came closer I could see that it was a Falcon, and at first hoped it would be a small one, for it to become a Peregrine as it flew past us quite low.

Not really a place and time I would have expected to see one but there was no doubt.

I then picked up a small bird at the top of a birch tree and watched as it flitted about amongst the branches.  It then flew from the tree down to the gorse, a long tail and distinctive flight confirming it was a Dartford Warbler.  We then watched and waited as it moved in the gorse.  Finally it appeared and fortunately in the warm sunshine.

Then it moved to the next bush and foraged about around the gorse leaves.

Diving into the bush then appearing conveniently always in the sunshine

Then for the final appearance at the top of the bush in a classic Dartford Warbler pose.

The sun was setting fast and the hope was that we would be able to find a Hen Harrier or better a Merlin coming into roost.  We slowly made our way down to Black Gutter Bottom where the setting sun and the golden brown bracken was creating a scene completely different from that earlier in the afternoon, it was almost turning the area into the red planet.

We made our way to the higher ground to allow views across the valley. The sun still big and large, and the sky a brilliant orange red.

Behind us we could hear the calls of more Fieldfare, and a large flock of at least a 100 birds passed overhead in the direction of the distant trees.

We stood once again watching and waiting but apart from the thrushes, and a large group of Herring Gulls we saw nothing.  The sun now was almost set.

We stayed for a good while after the sun had finally disappeared in the sky, scanning in the gloom for any sign of a harrier, but we could only find the odd Crow.  In the end we decided it was too dark and returned to the cars.

It hasn't been a bad week for me, some quality birds for the end of October, and with the prospect of more to come over the coming weeks.