Tuesday, 29 December 2015

29th December - Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

After a check at Redbridge to see if the Short-eared Owls were still about, and finding that they haven't been a round for a few days, we decided to drop into Titchfield Haven, where I found out that the Pendulines had returned in the morning.

As we walked to the visitor centre we passed a very full harbour, and the Turnstones were all sat on the harbour wall.

However we decided to start on the east side, thinking that the West hide once again would be crammed.  So first stop was the Suffren, where the water was high, but close to the reeds in front of the hide were two male Pochards, and out on the water a Black-headed Gull the winter light casting a lovely hue on the bird.

I could hear the pings of Bearded Tits and managed to see just one.  More visible though were three Reed Buntings feeding on the reed seeds.

We were here for one bird, and finally it put in an appearance. First Helen picked it up hovering over the water in the bay opposite, then it re-appeared in the tree to the right, above some Mallard and Gadwall.

Then it dived.

After this it went into an extensive preen, meaning the dive was probably for a wash and it wasn't fishing.

The Lapwings were once again very jumpy, and they would all take to the air and fly around above the Meon scrape.  On one such flight everything else went up to including a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits which appeared from the direction of the meadow.

There were also a flock of about 80 Golden Plover that circled much higher than the other birds.

It would seem the air was the best place to see anything, and away to the west a large flock of Brent Geese appeared over the tops of the trees.

We decided to leave the hide and walk to the Meadow Hide, this happened to be just as it decided to rain, a short shower.  Once over though the sun returned and away to the north a rainbow, contrasting against the orange branches of the trees and the dark grey skies.

A little further on it was the Silver birch lit up.

And then as we walked along the board walk as it opened up the sky was filled with a huge rainbow arch.

We walked back to the car for lunch, the tide was high, and there was a brisk wind, looking out across the reed bed a Marsh Harrier drifted over the top of the marsh land.

The birds continued to fly up from the scrape, and this time the Golden Plover came closer, almost overhead.

In the winter sunshine the Haven looked wonderful.

I only had some brief time, so I headed back into the reserve.  I checked the West Hider in the hope that (a) there would be some space, and (b) that maybe the Penduline Tits may show.  However the answer to (a) was no, there was no space, a hide that is usually empty was packed, and the naswer to (b) was no, only a brief glimpse around 13.30 but not seen since.

I walked back to the Meon Shore where there was a large gathering of Oystercatcher, a few Golden Plover, and several Lapwing including this one close to the hide.

And that was it a brief visit with nothing really special.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

21st December - Guildford, Surrey

I work in Guildford, and at the back of the car park there is a good expanse of woodland.  I have worked here on and off for over 20 years, but since about 2008 I have noticed the substantial corvid roost that occurs in the winter.  In that period there was a time when the birds disappeared but for the last three winters the birds have returned.

I normally witness the sounds and the mass of birds in the air as I arrive around 7.00 am during December to January, by February the mornings are lighter and the birds have gone before I arrive.  Over the last few weeks though with the heavy overcast conditions the birds have been starting to roost earlier in the afternoon.  Today I left around 16.00 and as I walked out I could hear the jackdaws continually calling as they wheeled around in the air above the trees at the back of the car park.

I decided to drive down to get closer, and was able to video the birds as they moved from being settled in the trees to back out flying once again.  As well as the Jackdaws there were Rooks and Crows, although the latter in not so large numbers.  

Here is the first video, and if you listen carefully a Song Thrush, an early songster in this crazy weather.

Having finished I turned back to the car, and as I reached the door the noise level increased and the birds all took to the air, showing the true number of birds that were in the roost, quite amazing.  I struggled to get the camera out again, and just managed to capture the atmosphere as the birds continued to call and fly around in circles.

This gathering of birds may not have the magical feeling of the pre roost sky dancing of the Starlings but in its own way it is very impressive.  These are much larger birds, and so much more noisier both in the sound of there calls and their wings as they wheeled around above me.  I am glad I have finally been able to capture the event.

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.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

5th December - Blashford Lakes and Lower Test Marshes, Hampshire

After the brief interlude of sunshine yesterday morning normal service was resumed today with overcast and dull conditions, and the added bonus of a gale force wind.  I met Ian at Blashford Lakes, parking outside the entrance to the visitor centre and then heading off to the Goosander Hide.  As we walked through the gate we were surrounded by Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests something that was going to be a common occurrence today.

A little further on and I an spotted a Kingfisher which then flew off, perched up again, then disappeared through the branches.  As we approached the hide a Sparrowhawk flew across us, heading off with a very keen tail wind.  Then I flushed a Snipe from the boggy area.  I waited to see if it dropped quickly, but it kept going, confirming it as a Common Snipe.  In front of the hide there was a group of Pochard and closer in a small group of Tufted Duck.

Little Grebe were keeping close to the bank, and there was a female Goldeneye a little further out.  A male Goosander flew in, then started to preen and drifted from left to right.  Then it started to swim back, coming a little closer to the hide.

WQe sat and waited in the hope that a Kingfisher might take advantage of the sheltered bay, but nothing appeared.  A group of eight Egyptian Geese flew across from the right, and in the distance we could make out Wigeon and Pochard.  After a while we decided to call it a day, and left the hide walking towards Ivy Lake, and we headed down the centre path.

I finally managed to just pin down a Goldcrest as it moved through the hedgerow.

We had come out without a map and were heading for North Poulner Lake, or as the maps call it Northfield Lake, our quarry was a Black-throated Diver that had been around for just over a week.  In a roundabout way we managed to find our way, and with the help of a local fisherman we ended up in the right place.  The fisherman had advised us that it was close to the bank and out of view, but when we arrived it had been spooked into the middle.  The problem though was that the only viewing place was through a chain link fence, and then through the branches of the trees.  At first it was distant, but then it came closer as it dived.

The views were good but very difficult through the fence and trees.

In comparison with the other two divers normally seen it looks much sleeker and streamlined.  Compared with the Red-throated it has a more defined breast and neck, the head held horizontal while the Red-throat is almost always angled up.  Then unlike the Great Northern the head is gently rounded, but as it turned its head there was evidence of a forehead.  The bill too is a lot more slender that the Great Northern.

Black-throated Diver is the rarest of the divers to be found in the south duringthe winter, and it was a treat to be able to get such wonderful views.

As it swam it would constantly push its head under water looking for any suitable prey.

We decided to see if we could get a view from the entrance to the lake.  As we approached a fisherman was leaving, and after Ian negotiating he kindly let us into the lake and we were able to walk down to the shore of the lake where we were able to get clear views.

Slowly it drifted away from us into the middle of the lake, and out of sight.

We then made our way to Kingfisher Lake where we had hoped to find the Ferruginous Duck, but despite an extensive search once again through the fence we were not successful.

As we walked alongside the stream we saw our third Kingfisher of the day, again flashing past us.  The walk took us back into the reserve, and in the hedges we flushed a flock of Bullfinches.  We could see three pairs but there were definitely more about.  A male showed well tucked away in the branches.

We stopped off in the woodland hide, where at first it was very quiet, but then Blue Tits arrived and all of a sudden there were birds everywhere, at least six Blue Tits

Three Great Tits.

A single Siskin appeared.

Then at least two Lesser Redpolls, this being one of them.

Goldfinches squabbled on the feeders, and one sat nicely on a teasel head for me.

There were Chaffinches and Greenfinches, and just like the last time we were here the Bank Vole appeared under the feeders.  The finch family was completed when a male Brambling turned up on the feeder, fighting with the Chaffinches.

As we walked back to the car it started to rain, and after lunch we decided to head to the Lower Test Marshes where in the week there have been two Short-eared Owls.  As we set off along the board walk the rain stopped and it brightened up, and the wind dropped a bit, we were hopeful, but the conditions were still not good.

A Stonechat was on the board walk and in a flooded area a Grey Wagtail was feeding by the water edge.

There were several large Pipits flying around the flooded marsh, they looked quite light, and could possibly have been Water Pipits, but they never settled in a position to allow a clear identification.

We made our way to the area where the owls have been performing, but there was nothing happening.  The wind was still fresh, and maybe this was the problem.  The highlight as we stood watching the field was a Pintail flying over, and a singing Cetti's Warbler.  As the gloom closed in we decided to head back, the owls were not going to show this afternoon.

As we walked back along the board walk Ian pointed out a murmaration of Starlings away towards Redbridge,. not a huge gathering, but its always nice to watch them flying back and forth in formation.

Not a bad day despite the conditions, you can't complain when you get a county tick.