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!