Saturday, 19 December 2015

19th December - Titchfield Haven & Farlington Marshes, Hampshire

Its the December doldrums, this year enhanced by the mild and overcast weather.  I had to get away to find some birds so met up with Ian at Titchfield Haven.  As we sorted ourselves out and waited for the reserve to open, a strange event was happening over the Solent.  A body was rising in the sky casting light across the sea towards us.

When we were both last here at the start of November we picked up a male Pochard along the river.  Since then it seems it has become a regular in the harbour, and as we made our way to the visitor centre it was showing really well below us.  Unusual these days to get such good views of a Pochard, and once again you can appreciate what a lovely bird it is.

The waved markings in the grey feathers on the back reminding me of a similar pattern on the Waved Albatrosses on the Galapagos.

Plus the delicate markings of the grey blue on the bill, and the red eye.

With still some time to wait we walked to the edge of the beach at Hill Head and scanned the sea.  What looked like a diver species headed east, and there were Ringed Plover and Dunlin feeding with the commoner Turnstone.  The sun was still trying and was casting the water on the beach a golden colour providing a back drop in which the Black-headed Gulls sat.

First stop was the Suffern hide, and as is usually expected a Kingfisher could be seen sitting on the reeds on the other side of the river, in an area of calm water.

A jewel of colour amongst the beige of the reeds.

It dived once, then disappeared probably to find somewhere to dispatch its catch, the reeds not be strong enough to do it.

We left the hide and headed off to the Meadow Hide.  As we made our way along the board walk there were small parties of Long-tailed Tits, and in amongst them was a very tame Goldcrest.  It appeared to be more interested in searching for food than worrying about us, and came very close.

But it was continually moving and very difficult to pin down.

Reaching the Meadow Hide there were Canada Geese feeding on the grass, and amongst them two Barnacle Geese.  As well as the geese there were several Curlew, and a Marsh Harrier hunting st the far end of the reserve.  In front of us a Coot was extremely intent on fetching weed from the bottom of the pool in front of the hide.

A flock of Shelduck flew past us, the sun picking them out against the steel grey skies, was the weather going to change?

All the time we could see Lapwing flying around ion large flocks.  Probably up to 200 birds would drift around the reserve.  There was no sign of any predator that could have upsest them, so we decided it must be the wind surfers kites.

We walked back to the Meon Shore hide where it was amazing to see virtually no birds.  A Water Pipit was reported from the Spurgin Hide so we decided to check that out.  Along the way a very confiding Robin sang to us from the side of the path.  It is only through the photograph that I noticed it was perched on one leg.

As we entered the hide it was immediately clear that it was even quieter than the Meon Shore.  There was a distant snipe, and a pair of Pied Wagtail appeared to liven things up.

As we were about to leave a Marsh Harrier appeared and gave some good views as it quartered the reed beds.

It would move along the top of the reeds, and then come back again in front of the hide

Like in November we decided to leave Titchfield and head to Farlington, the hope was we could catch up with the Short-eared Owls reported from there recently.

We walked down the sea wall, and decided to walk across to the visitor centre.  A male Stonechat was behaving like the Kingfisher seen earlier, perched on a reed stem, and looking down into the water.  It then flew up into the bushes.

Brent Geese were everywhere, and with my new found enthusiasm to to find a Black Brant I worked my way through the flocks in the hope of finding something different.  Unfortunately there was nothing out of the ordinary.  The flocks though were very twitchy, flying up at the slightest threat.

As we walked around the sea wall we found that Farlington specialty the Farlington Black Bunny.

The normal rabbits did not appear to like it very much and would chase it off.  We then found another, and spoke to someone who had seen one in a different location so there are at least three.

The tide was rising and Pintail could be seen gathering and feeding in the surf.

In the channel there were five Great-crested Grebes, and at least three Red-breasted Mergansers.  The Dunlin were also feeding in amongst the Pintail.

A break in the clouds allowed some more December sunshine through, lighting up the Dunlin feeding on the mud.

We had heard that there had been a Shortie hunting in the area earlier, so we decided to make our way to Point Field.  From here we watched the marsh, and after seeing a single Buzzard we picked up a Short-eared Owl at the back of the reed bed.  We had a decision to make stay and wait to see if it comes this way, or head around to where it was.  We decided to walk around the sea wall and take the chance.

As we did so we would stop and look, and we picked it out once again in the distance, and I took a record shot just in case.

Then a bit of luck, we could see some birders walking towards the location of the owl, and the chance was they would push it in our direction, which is exactly what happened.  As we past the lake, the owl was sitting on a post close to the sea wall

As we watched it flew off, and around the field before dropping behind a hawthorn bush.  A close look showed it sitting under the bush so we walked on to get as close as we could.

It remained sitting on an ant hill, and we watched it for some time as it scanned the area constantly just like it was watching a tennis match.

It was getting very dark now, and the photographs very grainy.  Looking at the other side of the wall the tide was rising, and a small flock of Grey Plover gathered on a sand bank.

We were then shown a spot where i t was possible to get a little closer to the owl, and we could rest the camera on a gate.  The view was a little better.

Then it twisted its head, looked up to the sky, stretched out, and flew off around the bushes and away.  It came back briefly, but the light was now very poor.

We watched it for awhile, and waited to see if it would appear closer, but it didn't and we decided to leave happy that we had been treated to some great views, if not that killer opportunity.  However I am sure that there will be more opportunities, the owls seem to be staying for the winter.

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