Sunday, 18 December 2016

17th December - Hill Head, Eling & Black Gutter Bottom, New Forest Hampshire

Today was the first time I have been able to get out for two weeks, and as I drove through Four Marks in the early morning I wondered if I would actually get to see anything, it was thick fog, but at the same time not cold.  Turning onto the A32 the fog cleared slightly although you could see it was still around just lingering.  As I reached the the sea wall at Titchfield Haven I was faced with a white out on a very still sea, the tide out and the mud exposed.  We were here to hopefully find some visitors that have been around in the week, the trick though as always is to get them to stay at the weekend.

It was getting light, but as it did the mist thickened slightly.  We headed to the rough ground and beach behind the Hill Head sailing club.  A female Snow Bunting had been present all week, and this was one of its preferred sites.  

There was no sign of the bunting, but out across the beach Brent Geese flew low over the water to feed on the exposed mud.

We walked back to the car, deciding to explore the beach area in front of the chalets.  A Pied Wagtail scurried about on the road close to the sea wall.

Low tide was just before I arrived, and you could see the sea rising some of the spits that had been exposed now being covered.  As A result the waders were moving, and like the Brent they would fly low across the water throwing their reflection in the murky conditions onto the calm sea.

Just before the chalets there is a strip of grass and pebbles similar to that found by the sailing club.  We had only walked a short distance when I stopped and pointed out the Snow Bunting feeding amongst the pebbles very close to us.

At times it was too close and as I backed off it came up onto a concrete slab.

The very surprisingly it flew off, back along the sea wall in the direction of Hill Head.

We decided to make our way back, stopping to check the reeds where a male Stonechat was perched high amongst the reeds, on some dead grass.

We could see quite a few birds on the water off Hill Head including a single drake Eider.  We made our way back to the sailing club to see if we could get a better view.  As we walked more Oystercatchers passed us low on the water.

The large flock was of Great Crested Grebes, 68 were counted but there were probably more hidden by the mist.  The Eider had drifted in closer and by walking down the beach we were able to get an acceptable view.

It was though very murky, and difficult to get any good definition on the pictures.

Standing low down on the beach gave a different perspective.

There were plenty of gulls gathering on the edge of the water, and they were joined by Turnstone and Dunlin, feeding diligently amongst the beach pebbles.

We were face with two choices, go onto the reserve or walk to the Brownwich cliffs to search for the flock of Scoter that had been present for a while now.

We decided on the walk, and headed off along the beach.  Out oon the exposed spits the waders were gathered, Dunlin, and Turnstones fed, and foraged while the Oystercatchers and a pair of Curlew decided to sleep.

Then we found the Sanderlings, busy little waders constantly drilling through the watrer and mud, never stopping, moving constantly together, feeding together their heads plunged into the water

Their silver grey plumage making them stand out from the dowdier Turnstones and Dunlin.  It was as if they were wound up clockwork toys, they never stopped moving.

And while they were feeding there were constant calls, as if to ensure each bird knew where everyone else was.

By carefully walking across the mud we were able to get quite close and able to get some lovely shots of these delightful waders.

Then following the calls of a flock of Turnstones they were off, flying low across the water back up the beach towards Hill Head.  Then all the waders seemed to need to move, and the Oystercatchers along with a few more Turnstone flew past us.

We headed up to the cliffs and made our way along to an accessible vantage point to view out across the water.  There were more Great Crested Grebes about, I counted about 20 more birds.  A long way out just on thee edge of the mist was a sizeable flock of Common Scoter.  They were busy diving and this made it difficult to count, but I was satisfied there were 28 birds, a mixed flock of drakes and ducks, and looking at the ducks I was completely satisfied that the Smew we saw two weeks ago was not a female Scoter!

There was also no sign of the two Velvet Scoter that had been present all week, but with the gloom and murk they could have been anyone

Further scanning produced a flock of 12 Eider, of which only one was a female the rest all superbly plumaged males.  After a while we decided that we had exhausted the area, and that there was nothing else to find, so we walked back to the cars.

Back in the Haven reserve we could just see a Water Rail feeding on the exposed mud below the reeds.

The mist was thinning, and the sun was making its way through, casting strange colours on the sea.  Great Crested Grebes continued to be seen off shore.  They seemed to be everywhere, with numbers stretched out all over the water.

Bac at the cars we decided to head west in search of the Cattle Egret seen at Eling, there were also two Cattle Egrets reported from the east at Warblington, but we also wanted to spend some time in the New Forest so elect for Eling.  As we pulled out on to the M27 the sun came out.

Not sure of where the best place to look for the egret we parked up and walked a loop.  This took us through a wooded path where a Nuthatch was making a lot of noise.

The reason it was upset was probably due to the presence of a Great Spotted Woodpecker that flew away into the heart of the trees.

The walk took us back to the main road, and then along a path to the turn we had made when we arrived.  Looking across the road we could see white birds in the field opposite.

We crossed and walked up the road, looking through the hedge we could see the Cattle Egret feeding under the pylon.  It was difficult to get a clear view so we walked to a gate where we could see it very clearly.

The yellow bill, and more stockier appearance could be seen well and compared with the more slighter and delicate Little Egrets that were feeding in the same field.

It then flew off around the corner, and we were able to crawl along a ditch to get some closer and slightly better views.

As it fed it would stop, and lift its head up, taking an upright pose to check all around it

Finally it moved out of sight and we decided to move.  Walking back along the road a Buzzard was sat in a dead tree.  We had seen it from the other side when we first set of walking.

Ian then picked up a Peregrine coming from the direction of Southampton Water.  It flew past us and looked like it would settle in one of the pylons but at the last moment decided to keep going.

Back at the cars I noticed that we were parked close to a pylon.  I looked up, more in curiosity, because of a strange shape.  The shape turned out to be part of the pylon, but as I came away from it I saw there was a bigger shape, and that this was grey and white.  The Peregrine had flown a little further and settled in the pylon above the cars.

From Eling we drove into the New Forest, specifically Black Gutter Bottom, and after some lunch we set off into the valley once again, in the hope of finding the elusive Hen Harriers.

As we passed the small copse of Scots Pine we could see thrushes feeding.  As we got closer we could see that as well as the Blackbirds there were also Fieldfare and Redwing.

I was able to get quite close to the normally quite shy Redwing.

We crossed the stream and then headed up to Leaden Hall.  It was very quiet no sign of any birds.  From Leaden Hall we walked down to Ashley Hole, and despite some time spent search and scanning all we could find was this white stag Fallow Deer.

From here we headed west and arrived at Cockley Hill the area where we had seen Great Grey Shrike back in November.  All we found today was a pair of Raven that seemed to fly around in circles, constantly calling.

Again no sign of any raptors, and we were then subjected to some clever teasing by a pair of Dartford Warblers.  They would pop up at the top of the gorse, and as we approached would then fly off back to where we had been.  This happened on several occaisions and all we were able to get were some distant shots when they sat high on the gorse.

Sunset was coming, and it was getting quite murky.  We slowly made our way back, constantly scanning the open heathland but with no luck.  As we walked up the side of the valley I was taken by a lone silver birch on the horizon, and thought it would look good in black and white, and I think it does.

We did see a raptor, but it was a Buzzard that was sitting on a short bush, and then it dropped away gliding over the bracken.

And that was about it.  The morning had been very successful, but the afternoon a little disappointing.  That though is the beauty of all of this.  The forest is always a challenge, and one day it can turn up some amazing stuff, and then on others absolutely nothing.  Today was one of the latter.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, 5 December 2016

3rd December - Farlington Marshes, & Hayling Oyster Beds, Hampshire

This week it has been cold, real winter cold, with temperatures falling as low as minus six degrees on Tuesday.  Friday saw the clear skies replaced with overcast conditions but the temperatures never pushed above five degrees, and with the added dampness it felt even colder.  So as i left home Saturday morning with cloud and the temperature a little above freezing I wondered what the day would bring.  When I arrived at Farlington Marshes and met up with Ian the light was nudging through, and away to the east there was a sunrise that looked like a fire raging on Hayling Island.

The cloud did not appear to be too thick, and as the sun rose there were glimpses of the red light through the cloud.  We walked along the sea wall to the lake, disturbing a Kestrel from the path that went and sat in a tree, who knows what it could see in the gloom.

Low tide was at 7.00 and as we walked around the wall there was plenty of mud, and not very much concentration of birds about, everything was spread out and lost in the channels.

We headed for Point Field, and as we walked through the first gate we saw several mist nest strung up across the brambles and in the gaps between the bushes.  As we approached the spot where we had seen the Short-eared Owls roosting last month we could hear voices and turned to find a group in the process of ring the birds taken obviously from the mist nets.

There was nothing unusual found, mostly Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens and Blackbirds.  But with their presence in the field there was no sign of any owls.  We stood on the sea wall watching and waiting to see if anything turned up, but nothing did, so eventually we decided to walk on to the hut and the reeds to see if there was anything there.

The wind was picking up from the east and it was quite cold as we headed to the information hut.  The fields were empty but the odd Brent Goose would fly in overhead, and as we approached the reed bed there was a sizeable flock of Canada Geese grazing on the grass.

In the stream there was a couple of Black-tailed Godwits, and many Moorhen, but no sign of any Bearded Tits.  We walked alongside the stream where we disturbed a Grey Wagtail.  This took us back to the sea wall by the lake.  On the mud the tide was now beginning to rise, pushing the duck closer.  Teal could be seen lining the edge of the channels, but more impressive were the Pintail, for once males quite close to the wall.

They have to be my favourite duck, the chocolate brown head with the white stripe from the belly extending up the side of the neck, the beautiful grey and brown scapulars and the jet black undertail coverts extending to the thin feathers of the tail that give the duck its name.

 The closeness didn't last and they slowly, calmly started to swim away.

But if you were careful you could use the bank as cover and then get closer to the birds without them moving away too quickly.

Even with a good three to four hours before high tide the birds were beginning to move from the mud into the fields and onto the lake.  The sea wall is a really good vantage point to catch the birds in flight, sometimes passing quite close, like this Brent Goose.

 The sun was now breaking through as a clear patch of blue sky was moving through from the east.  This emerging sunlight was catching the duck as they came over the wall.  Wigeon, now were flying in.

And Shelduck in flocks, and single birds.

We decided to walk around once again to Point Field.  In one of the ditches alongside the sea wall were a pair of Shoveler, and as the we stopped to watch them the sun came out and picked out the wonderful bottle green colour in the head feathers.

The duck was obviously aware of this and stopped to re-arrange the head feathers!

From the south point the tide was well up, and there were Brent and Dunlin feeding at the edge, with Pintail, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Great Crested Grebes in the channel

In Point Field the ringers were now clearing up, taking down the nets in the bramble, so once again no sign of the owls.  We walked up to the Deeps where the were plenty of Brent on the water.  With the sky now clear the water reflected a deep blue around the grey geese.

The ducks kept coming, this time a pair of Gadwall.

As the tide rose the Dunlin were active, busily feeding in the rising water and continuously calling all the time.  Every so often the Dunlin would fly up as the water became too deep, to settle back on dryer areas.  This concentrated them in large flocks close to us.  The birds were almost silhouetted in the low December sunshine, the transparency of the primary feathers being caught by the light as they flew in.

 The tide on the east side of the marshes was almost up to the wall, but on the west side there was still plenty of mud exposed.  We walked back through Point Field, again with no sign of any owls, then up on to the sea wall where Ian picked up a Peregrine flying low over the water in the direction of the roost sites to the east.  With the low sun, and the southerly aspect it was difficult to get anything other than a record shot.

We could see flocks of duck and waders pouring over the sea wall to roost on the lake.  There was already a good sized flock of about 450 Black-tailed Godwits present, but these were continually joined by birds coming in from across the mud.

The light now was wonderful, turning the reed bed into a golden set of stems.  Teal lined the edge of the reeds and a Little Egret sat preening in the reeds, the sunshine sending a reflection in the black water.

I estimated the godwit roost to now be around 650, with them forming a tight mass in the middle of the lake.  Behind them was a group of Redshank, and as we watched they were continually joined by birds coming iin from all angles.  There was also a good number of Brent Geese, and many Pintail.  All the time the birds would fly in over the wall.  Pintail looking as splendid in flight as they do on the water.

Who wouldn't want these three drakes on their wall?

Or maybe these Shelduck?

A little Grebe dived close to the sea wall.

Our attention then turned to the flock of Avocet out on the water on the western side.  Earlier we had counted 32 but now the numbers had increased.  Eventually they took off and flew in closer to the wall, and I counted 59 either swimming in the water or standing on the small island.

But as the tide rose they decided to fly off, being joined by those swimming and headed back out to open water.

Where they settled on the water again, their black and white plumage making it hard to pick them out in the open water.

With the tide about an hour from high tide we decided to return to the cars for lunch, and then to head off to our second destination the Hayling Oyster beds.  We had been here last in January, when the weather was very similar.  From the car park we walked around the path and past the small scrape that had a couple of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, and a very confiding Greenshank.

It was feeding close to the path, moving quickly through the shallow water.

The stillness of the water providing some lovely reflections.

It would stop every so often to preen.

Then off again.

Out on the main water the waders had collected on the islands that form the lagoons, with the tide still high, there was no moving on as Dunlin, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher and a few Brent Geese packed together on a limited amount of space.

We made our way to the far beds where the path takes you out closer to the open water.  As we walked to the furthest point ahead of us there were flashes of white against the blue water as flocks of waders continued to flock over the water, the white showing as they twisted and turned.

Out on the open water were several groups of Red-breasted Mergansers and Great-crested Grebes.  We managed to find at least 5 Black-necked Grebes, there had been up to 12 reported today.  There had also been a report of a very distant Long-tailed Duck, and as we continued to search the water Ian found one, a drake and then quickly after what looked to be a female.  Here you can see a very distant drake.

The tide was falling, but slowly and birds were beginning to move about.  Red-breasted mergansers started to move into the lagoons

Coming in low over the water in the sunshine two pairs, ladies first.

We continued to scan the water, counting Black-necked Grebes but never achieving a number greater than five.  Then a small duck on the water with a striking white cheek patch, and a rather flattish head and very small bill.  The view was distant and impossible to get any meaningful photographs as you can see.  Here it is on the right and you can see a size comparison with the merganser.

We both watched it for quite some time as it dived, drifted and occasionally wing flapped.  It was very reddish brown in colour on the head, but when it wing flapped or dived it was grey on the body, even lighter on the belly and there were white patches on the wings.  We recognised that this would be under considerable scrutiny, and I did consider a female Common Scoter that could also show a light patch around the cheek, but in this bird the patch was very white and with the flat head and small bill the only bird I would be happy with was a redhead Smew.

It stayed along way out, and drifted more to the right and towards the bridge.  As well as the mergansers we saw it with a female Goldeneye and it was much smaller.

We never stopped looking for the bird, mostly in the hope it would come closer, but by now things were beginning to move out on the islands and water.  It seemed as if all the waders roosting on the island were spooked by fishermen, and huge flocks took to the air, all closely knitted together.

Impressive close in, but perhaps more so when looked at a distance as the turned and banked flashing white and dark grey in the afternoon sunshine.

At times through the camera the sky was just full of them.

Creating different patterns across the sea and sky, they consisted of Dunlin, Knot and Grey Plover

The Portsmouth skyline acting as a back drop to the spectacle

After a while they would slow down and look to settle back on the rocks, as they dropped back down it appeared as if they were being poured back into the roost

One lone Grey Plover obviously decided it was not one of the crowd and flew past us onto the rocks in the lagoon.  The diagnostic black under wing patch showing nicely.

The sun was now getting very low in the sky and was sending a light across the water, bathing all around us in a lovely golden hue.  Despite the fact that it was now two hours after high tide the waders were still in roost.  On the far side of the lagoon Redshank and Turnstone huddled together on the rocks.

Brent Geese were moving now though, passing by between us and the sinking sun.

We decided to make our way back, and to search the water closer to the bridge in the hope of relocating the Smew, maybe a little closer to shore.  We did find the Smew again, but it was still very distant, maybe even further away, this time with Goldeneye.

The water was now definitely falling, and allowing the wading birds to start to return to the water and edges.  This Little Egret was fishing in the sunshine.

While this Redshank was maybe waiting for the tide to fall a little more.  The light though was highlighting the bird, and the surrounding water.

Back on the scrape, the Greenshank was still about, this time in a golden light instead of the monochromatic views we had earlier.

This one in golden water.

Another example of the wonderful light was a drake Wigeon out on the other side of the lagoon.

There were still waders on the rocks, but these all took flight as we watched and set off around the water, feinting to return only to set off once again.  As they looked to drop to the ground the sunlight picked out their wings and made the primaries glow a golden orange, beautiful against the dark shadows of the rocks.

Finally they came together and settled back down again again against the back drop of the Portsmouth sky line

Back at the car park, I missed a Kingfisher that appeared briefly on one of the posts out in the water.  It had been a day of contrasts, overcast and cold conditions early on with very little about, then in the sunshine plenty of activity and photographic opportunities in some wonderful winter light capped off with a Smew,and of course the company through the day.