Sunday, 31 January 2016

30th January - Keyhaven, Pennington, Oxey Marshes & Black Gutter Bottom NF, Hampshire

It had been appalling weather the day before, and as I drove along the M27 towards Lyndhurst it was grey and damp with a slight drizzle.  The forecast was for it to clear early on, and maybe we would get the chance to see some sunshine.  

On arrival at the car park at Pennington there was a strong breeze and it felt considerably colder than it had for awhile.  Once we were ready Ian and I set off heading towards Fishtail and Keyhaven, as we reached the sea wall a small group of Wigeon were close to the path, and as we passed they slowly but firmly moved away from us.

We walked west, but decided to head back, and then away towards the east.  The tide was falling and large flocks of waders were whirling around as they moved from their roosts to the open mud.  In amongst one group of Grey Plover and Dunlin were three Bar-tailed Godwits, they landed with the Dunlin and plover but were soon off again, and flew past us.

As we scanned the sea I an picked up a Great Crested Grebe flying from the lagoon towards the sea, They are a lot more graceful on the water than they are in the air.

And once in the air they are not very good at landing, feet down acting as air brakes, and you can clearly see the lobes on the feet as opposed to the webbed feet of the ducks.

Head up, wings out and feet down as the descent slows.

The literally dropping on to the water, with several bounces.

Then swimming off with that embarrassed attitude when you hope no one saw what happened.

We walked on to get a closer look at the spit that was now emerging from the sea.  Along with the gulls, Dunlin and Grey Plover were more Bar-tailed Godwits, we counted at least 13 feeding along the shore.

Just beyond the spit Ian found a single Slavonian Grebe, this is a distant but acceptable record shot.

We walked the wall to the footpath inland across Oxey Marsh.  There were a few Meadow Pipits around, and a pair of Bullfinches that as ever proved to be quite elusive.  As we gave up on them a Song Thrush burst into song from the same bush.

We made our way back onto the sea wall, and in the shallow pools there were plenty of Teal and Wigeon.  The calm still water providing perfect reflections.

Across the field a single doe Roe Deer stood watching us.

A Kingfisher flew past us and settled on the rocks on the sea wall, but as we tried to get close it was off across the bay and over the wall and out of sight.

The tide was now well out, and there were Redshank, Lapwing and Teal feeding in the shallow water.  One Redshank was feeding on the edge of the exposed bladder wrack, and then out into the shallow water where the reflections were wonderful.

Not just for the Redshank but drake Wigeon as well

There were at least six little Grebes on eight acre pond, and at the back of the pond in the dark shadows cast by the surrounding trees was a group of Tufted Duck.

And as they swam closer they came into the reflections of the boat house across the water.

The sun had now come out and the whole place was looking completely different.  Close in as we walked towards Normandy Marsh was another Great Crested Grebe.  Still in winter plumage it still appeared quite elegant on the water, and wisely stayed away from flying.

In amongst the bladder wrack Lapwing both fed and enjoyed the sunshine, the bottle green of their plumage hiding them among the sea weed.

On Normandy Marsh there was a large flock of Lapwing, plenty of Pintail and Shelduck, and the usual Wigeon, Teal and Pintail.  Scanning the islands we also found three Avocet hidden behind the islands.

We decided to head back, pausing to see if we could find the reported Dartford Warbler, but it remained elusive.  We made our way back around the sea wall this time rather than cross the marsh.  A Cormorant was fishing on the lagoon, you could see the bubbles as it dived and searched around the banks.

Scanning the sea we could see several Red-breasted Mergansers, and then in amongst them an picked out a single male Eider.  Cue another long distance record shot.

I then picked out a group of six waders roosting in a shallow area of the lagoon, and as we got closer we could see they were in fact Spotted Redshank.  The sun was now behind clouds and everything was very grey.

But as we waited the sun arrived across the marsh and lit the group of waders up.

Despite the fact that the tide had been falling when we arrived it was once again rising, and now there were flocks of waders circling around looking for suitable land to feed on.  This group doing so in front of the Hurst Spit and the Needles.

We were heading to the car for lunch, and looking across Pennington Marsh the water and fields were teeming with duck and waders including a flock of 35 Golden Plover.

Ian found two Ruff, and almost immediately he said so they went up with a large flock of Lapwing, something they were doing almost all the time.  We watched a the Ruff flew around and then settled further away from us.

A little further on I found the third bird feeding closer to the path in perfect sunshine.

As we ate our lunch in the car park we watched a large flock of Brent Geese in the fields beyond the lane, and as dog walkers cross ed the field they all went up with that wonderful noise.

After lunch we headed out towards Fishtail Lagoon, and then around towards Keyhaven.  We were looking for a reported Spoonbill, but there was no sign of any large white bird other than a Mute Swan.

Then As we scanned the sea and marsh Ian found a white bird that turned out to be a Spoonbill feeding half hidden in the marsh.

Just a head at first then almost all of the body appeared.

It was then all about finding a Long-tailed Duck, and it was I an again that delivered, the duck being found with a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.

As we watched the duck it obliged by suddenly taking off and flying past and closer to us.

Settling on the water and giving us some great views.  A male Long-tailed Duck is a very smart little duck, and despite the distance I was able to get an acceptable shot.

Then as we watched the duck a Spoonbill flew over.  Was it another bird or the one we had seen earlier.  It was a young bird as the bill was all black so it was a good chance it was the same one.

Turning around I scanned the marsh and lagoon behind us, and I noticed a larger whit ebird roosting.

It was another Spoonbill, and as they normally seem to do it had merged into its surrounding by sleeping.  We now had the perfect hat trick, seeing one feeding, one flying and now one asleep!  It then woke up, and with a limp moved towards the water.

Nothing else happened it limped about a bit, then tucked its head under its wing and assumed the normal Spoonbill position.

We decided to head back to the cars, we wanted to go into the Forest in search of Hen Harrier.  As we walked past Fishtail a drake Pintail appeared in the sunshine.

We drove to Black Gutter Bottom, parked and headed across the moor towards Leaden Hall.  Looking back it was clouding over, but there was still clear sky away to the west.

As we headed down into the valley we were being watched by a group of Fallow Deer.

At Leaden Hall there was a small group of Redwing and Fieldfare, it was also quite wet.  We headed towards Ashley Hole where once again we were watched by a group of Fallow Deer.

We scanned the area with no luck, and as it was now getting late and dusk was approaching we turned to head back.  The path took us sideways to the plateau, and something made me look back.  As I did so I saw a grey shape drift across on front of the distant gorse.  A male Hen Harrier, 

We had no idea where it had come from but we watched as it flew quite high away towards the south west, and then out of sight over the distant conifers.

Elated we made our way back across Leaden Hall, and then down towards Black Gutter Bottom.  A few Crows flew over as did a flock of Fieldfare.  As we approached the valley bottom Ian called out, another Hen Harrier was coming straight towards us.  Another male bird (I was disappointed it wasn't a Ring-tail!).

It came closer in the gloomy light, and you could see the pigeon shaped head of this beautiful raptor, why would anyone want to shoot these magnificent birds.

Was it the same bird we had seen earlier?  Was there enough time for it to come back from where we saw it out of sight, turn left and head east to bring it around Amberwood and Islands Thorn inclosures towards Bramshaw, and then back west along the Gutter and then appear in front of us?  I am not sure, but there may have been time for it to do so.

It flew past us and headed up the valley towards Leaden Hall.

We walked up the hill to the view point and scanned to see if there were any other birds about, but the light was fading, and the only birds we saw were Fieldfare heading towards Leaden Hall.

It was the perfect end to a great day, a jewel in terms of weather compared with the day that preceded and the day that followed.  A male Hen Harrier is always a wonderful bird to see, and we were treated to some great views today.

Monday, 25 January 2016

23rd January - Selsey, West Sussex

Another weekend away at our favourite place.  We arrived Friday, but the weather was not conducive to a late afternoon walk, so we retired to the bar.  Saturday morning though the skies were clear and there was a little mist hanging over the fields at the back of the Crab and Lobster.  After breakfast we kitted up, and then set off to walk around the peninsula.  As we walked around the old Sidlesham Quay the mist was building up rather than dispersing, and looking out into Pagham Harbour it was very grey.

We stopped to check the pond on the opposite side of the road from the marsh.  A grey heron was sitting in a cedar tree, preening what looked to be very damp feathers

Whether this was a result of the recent rain, the dampness in the air, or just an early morning bath it wasn't clear, but it as completely occupied by the task.

Around the fringes of the reeds Mallard sat, most of the birds were paired up except for this lone male.

We made our way along the footpath towards the visitor centre, pausing to watch a pair of Goldcrests feeding on very small insects in amongst the lichen on the branches of the Blackthorn.  They would hover picking them off in flight.

Everywhere was very damp with the tree branches holding drops of water, and the spiders silk glinting like small silver chains stretched out in the trees.

When we reached the turn for the visitor centre the channel out into the harbour was filling up with the rising tide.  Small parties of Teal could be seen displaying, the males conducting their head bobbing routine for the many females with them.  Further out there were Shelduck and Wigeon, while Curlew called and emerged from the marsh as the rising water removed their roosting sites.

As we walked through the visitor we could hear Wren and Great Tit calling.  We crossed the road and briefly scanned the Ferry Pool where there were large flocks of Wigeon and Lapwing.  Along the path in the direction of Pothole Farm Chaffinches and Blackbirds were busy in the hedgerow, and I noticed another small bird catching insects from the bushes.  Every so often there would be a quiet seep call, and eventually I managed to locate the owner, a Chiffchaff.  I watched as it crept through the branches finally coming out into the open.

The path took us past the sewerage plant where the Starlings seemed to be riding a merry-go-round as the washing bars rotated over the beds, the birds dropping to the coals and then flying up as the bars came close.  There was also a count of about a dozen Pied Wagtails along with a single Grey Wagtail, its yellow colour standing out in the grey conditions.

The sun finally broke through as we passed the model aeroplanes at Porthole Farm, and headed in the direction of Ham.  In a small group of Alders was a flock of Goldfinches the light making them appear truly golden.

the footpath diverted away from the farm and up to the bank that surrounds the newly formed Medmerry Reserve.  As we approached the bank a pair of Reed Bunting appeared in the hedge in front of us, the male not so happy to have its photograph taken, but the female very confiding.

It was almost high tide, and the waves from the sea were crashing through the breach area, the water levels up over the marsh.  In front of us were a few Brent and Wigeon, and behind us a Kestrel hovered over the reed beds.

We walked west, in the direction of Chainbridge, there were few birds about, a lone female Tufted Duck in the pool with two Coot, a pair of Stock Dove over the fields, Black-headed Gulls on the water and away in the middle of the water three pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers.  As we reached the bridge there was a male Stonechat briefly on the top of one of the bushes.

In the field at Chainbridge there was a large flock of about 300 Brent Geese, and something spooked them up into the air.

We walked through the holiday camp to the beach, where a scan of the sea revealed only more Mergansers and a Cormorant.  We walked through the camp and out onto the footpath into Selsey.  This turned inland and then down a road to the Bill, once again the only birds of interest were Cormorants, Mergansers and a few Turnstone on the beach.  The weather though had changed once again, the fog rolling in from the sea, making it quite mirky and damp, but still dry

After a break for a drink in The Lifeboat we continued our walk along the sea wall. The conditions had brightened and there was even the hint of dome sunshine.  In the open grass area at East Beach a female Stonechat appeared on the dead stalks, always a nice sight.

A little further along the calls of a large flock of House Sparrows could be heard, some of the males feeding in the dead grass.

While others used the fence and bramble to clean up after a wash in the water that had collected in one of the boats.

The tide was now well on the turn and the sandy beach that was being revealed was attracting the Turnstones, they were looking for any sign of a meal in the surf.

The gulls that had flown by were mostly Black-headed, but as one came close along the edge of the water I could see it was the one gull I had hoped to catch up with, a Mediterranean Gull.

At Church Norton we turned inland past the Severals.  A small group of Wigeon had flown in from the harbour to enjoy the freshwater.

We checked the harbour for the reported Spoonbill, but there was no sign, even amongst the Great Black-backed Gulls it had been reported being with.  We made our way through the Gorse and Bramble where again I hoped for a Dartford Warbler, but only managed to get views of a little Wren, appearing above the branches as it called.

There was a beautiful drake Tufted Duck on the Long Pool with two coot and an invisible calling Little Grebe.

While in the fields on the other side there was a single Roe Deer, the first I have seen for some time this winter.

The path was very difficult, with muddy pools and slippery conditions but we finally made it to solid ground as we walked past the Ferry Pool.  The water level is low due to a breach in the bank and there were many lapwing in the shallow water, and many more settled in the field.  Once again they were spooked and flew up, circled around but settled back into the field.

Redshank fed in the shallow water, the grey conditions making it look quite atmospheric.

We walked through the visitor centre once again, and then back out along the sea wall in sunshine, the clouds though continued to come and go.  We wanted to get to the North Wall, a weekend here is not complete with out a visit there, and despite the possibly very wet conditions at the back of Halsey's farm we were determined to get there

It was very wet, but not muddy just mostly a flooded field, but we made it, and as we walked up on to the sea wall we were greeted with the sight of yet more Lapwing flying up from the marsh.  A conservative estimate was of about 500 birds, and with a similar number at the Ferry Pool it accounted for quite a few Lapwing.

As we walked along the main path of the wall, huge flocks of Lapwing would fly back and forth

Looking out into the harbour there was a group of seven Grey Heron settled on Owl point.  They all looked like adults and were sporting quite smart yellow bills.  They roost in the nearby copse which is also an Egret nesting site so I am not sure if they nest there as well.

In the fields behind the wall there were large flocks of Brent geese, and feeding in amongst them were quite a few Curlew.

We made our way to the Sluice where the hope was we would find the Kingfisher.  A little concerned that the number of people and dogs about would scare it off we approached carefully, and suddenly it flew around and up the sluice in front of us.  The water here was very fast though, and would not have been ideal for fishing.  As we watched and waited it flew out of the sluice and down White's Creek and away, the weak sunshine highlighting the turquoise colour on its back.

We waited again, to see if it would return, and as we did so the Lapwing stood out on the mud which was reflecting the low sunshine.

Finally we gave up on the Kingfisher and decided to head back.  Looking out across the wall to the north, with the dark grey clouds and the golden reeds highlighted by the setting sun, it was a timely reminder as to why we love coming here year after year.

The Geese were still in the field as we negotiated yet another muddy path, then for some unknown reason there calls changed and they were off up into the sky.  Joined by the Curlew they circled around then headed out into the harbour for the evening.

With the geese gone we made our way back through the flooded fields to the Crab and Lobster.  Once again we had been blessed with some dry and interesting weather.  Back at the bar I worked out that we had walked fourteen and half miles, and as we sat there with a well earned drink it felt like it!