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.