It was a cold morning, overcast and dry, but without the forecast easterly wind. I was meeting Ian at Fort Cumberland, we were hoping to catch up with a reported Black Redstart. It was the first time here for both of us, and it took a while to work out the best way to go. we ended up walking to the marina car park and then around by the beach.
The site was perfect for Black Redstart, disused buildings broken windows and concrete strewn everywhere. we could see feral pigeons on the ledges but unfortunately no Black Redstart. We walked back and forth scanning through the fence but there was nothing about. What we did see though was a fly over Sparrowhawk first thing and a Meadow Pipit in the fort grounds.
The reason for starting at the fort was to allow the tide to rise at Southsea Castle, this was to be the third attempt to see the Purple Sandpipers reported there through out the winter. This time though it cost us to park, so the feeling was that they had better be there.
As we walked to the castle it was clear that the tide was a lot higher than previously, and as we got closer to the sea wall we could see movement amongst the sea weed.
At first you think one or two, then slowly others appear. We counted definitely 9 but there may have been 10. They were scurrying about pushing their orange bills into the sea weed and the cracks in the concrete.
The waves were breaking over the rocks and sometimes they would not mind it, other times they would run away as the surf came through.
They are smart looking waders.
They were making their way along the wall away from us, reaching a small pool that interested them as they stayed and worked the water.
We watched the antics of these energetic little birds for awhile then decided to move on, leaving them amongst the sea weed and surf.
As well as the sandpipers there were several Oystercatchers about, and a few Black-headed Gulls which were almost sporting full brown hoods.
A Rock Pipit was also feeding amongst the sea weed.
leaving Southsea we headed to the New Forest and Shatterford, this time the quarry was a well reported Great Grey Shrike, but there a lot of heath in that area, and a Great Grey Shrike can be a master at hiding when it wants too.
From the car park we could see Mistle Thrushes and Redwing feeding on the open grass.
The forecast easterly wind had arrived and as we walked down the track towards Woodfiddley we reminded ourselves of the last time we were here, last summer with dragonflies and butterflies about.
There was very little of note to see, and we followed the path while continually scanning the area across the railway into Pig Bush territory. The ground was very boggy here so we decided to return the way we had came which turned out to be the right decision because as we came out of the trees I picked up a very distant grey and white shape, the shrike at the top of a birch tree. we watched as it flew around the area, returning always to the tops of the trees to be able to scan the area.
To get closer we made our way to the main track, crossed the water at Woodfiddley. The first good view was of it in a birch tree.
It then controversially flew off across the main path and away to the other side. We could see it in the distance and made our way around the bog again to get a view. Now light grey bird at the top of a tree sticks out well, but when that bird decides to go into the tree it becomes a different prospect to find. here not immediately visible
But with a different angle you can get a better view.
All the time I could see the bird scanning the area, looking down and up. It didn't seem concerned about us, and we could get better views.
Then it turned and swooped down to the ground, and a Meadow Pipit flew up, the shrike had just missed it, and it flew up to the top of a birch tree, this time in plain view.
Again looking all around it.
Then it was off again after a Meadow Pipit, and we watched it give chase before the Meadow Pipit was able to accelerate away, the shrike returned to another tree even further from us.
It was quite a show, I have not seen one actively hunting before.
We decided to head back to the cars, and debated where next to go. The sun was coming out so we opted for Acres Down, ever hopeful of a surprise. From the car park we walked the main path towards Boulderwood, and after short way stopped when we heard the familiar chipping of Crossbill. Where we found them though was a surprise. There was a single male and two females, and I concentrates on the male at the top of a deciduous tree.
It was interested in the bark of the tree.
And i was able to watch it feeding on the lichen that was covering the branches.
Then more calls and they were off over our heads. we returned to the car park and walked up to the down. Taking the low path we did not notice the freshening wind, but as we came up to the view point we could feel it was quite strong and cold, this was probably contributing to the lack of birds, we had hoped for Woodlark but all we found was a pair of Stonechat.
We made our way back to the cars again, and set off for Eyeworth Pond, there had been Goosander here, and it was always a good place to get reflective shots of that colourful duck the Mandarin.
When we arrived there were plenty of Mallard and a couple of Canada Geese but no sign of any Goosander or Mandarin. There was though a lot of Blue Tits taking advantage of dropped bread for the ducks and what was left of the feeders.
We walked around the pond and on the far shore a drake Mandarin appeared from under the trees.
With this one came others but they remained on the far side of the pond.
We turned our attention to the Blue Tits and other small birds attracted by the food. The Blue Tits looking splendid in the sunshine and lichen.
A Nuthatch also performed well on the bough of an oak tree.
We sat and watched the antics of the Blue Tits, they were being quite aggressive to all the birds attempting to feed, sheer quantity of numbers would give them the confidence to chase off Chaffinches and Great Tits
Close in the mallard were coming for bread, and I was able once again to appreciate the lovely marking and colour of the feathers on the drake.
By now one or two Mandarins were swimming closer, I don't think they were after food, but more likely love, this male swam across calling with a quiet whistle.
Coming closer to us it would raise its head and the sails on its back in display.
Whistling all the time.
the reflections looking wonderful in the dark water.
As we watched yet another Mandarin set off on a swim towards us Ian picked up a Kingfisher fly to a post in the water at the back of the pond.
It flew from there to the trees overhanging the water, where it dived several times before flying off calling as it went.
And there we left it, the hope had been that maybe the Goosander would come into roost but there was no sign, and it was getting colder as the sun sank. Another successful day, with the hope that spring is just around the corner.