Sunday, 27 March 2016

26th March - Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

Yesterday, clear blue skies, wall to wall sunshine, a warm feel in the air welcoming Swallows and butterflies, this morning as I packed my gear into the car it was wet, overcast and the wind was picking up and becoming more than a breeze.

I met upo with Ian in the sailing club car park just after 7.30, and out on the beach Ian had already found the day's first year tick, a Sandwich Tern.  It was sitting on the sand amongst Black-headed and Mediterranean gulls. Watching the sea, a single Great Crested Grebe flew past, and a small group of about 10 Sanderling headed east.  In this time the Sandwich Tern decided to leave, we never saw it go.

From the sailing club we walked around the harbour to watch from the sea wall.  Looking back towards the beach at Hill Head, the Brent Geese were collecting on the edge of the water.

The tide was still a fair way out, but the wind was now quite strong and blowing into our faces as we looked out across the sea.  Ian then picked up two duck flying from east to west, it took me a while to pick them up, but as I did I could see that one was all black, while the other was black with diagnostic white wing panels.  It was the Velvet Scoter that has been present all week, along with a Common Scoter.  We watched them head into Southampton Water and out of sight.

A little later Ian again found some duck, this time three Eider, two males and a female coming from the direction of Cowes.

They settled on the water, and gradually drifted towards us, showing well before a kite surfer disturbed them and they flew off to the east.

So it was into the reserve and first stop was the Meon Shore Hide, where you open the windows and are greeted by the constant calls of the Black-headed Gulls as they continually squabble and parade in the effort to attract a mate and repel any others that want to get into their territory.  Some though manage to shut out the noise and settle down for a rest.

Aside from the gulls, others would come close to the hide, this drake teal looking splendid at this time of year.

A quick count around the scrape revealed about 30 Avocet, and in their pairs they were either resting or feeding with that characteristic sweeping action.  We left the Meon Shore Hide though and then walked to the Spurgin hide where the water level is lower, and there was the chance of maybe a wader away from the noise and hustle of the Black-headed Gulls.

There was a wader in front of the hide, but it was an Avocet, however it gave some lovely views and reflections as it fed close to the hide.

A beautiful graceful bird, always a pleasure to watch and photograph.

As well as the Avocet there was also several Gadwall and one pair came close to the hide, although they did seem to be a little concerned, raising the head as if there was some danger about.

It was the Avocet though that continued to demand attention.

The strong wind blowing on the water changing the look of the reflections.

There was a large flock of Golden Plover on the north scrape, and like last weekend at Pennington they could not settle and would be up to fly around before settling again in the same place.  Many of them were showing about three quarters summer plumage.

Other entertainment was provided by the Lapwing, they were obviously searching for suitable nest sites, scraping the ground and vegetation.  As they did so there would be competition and little fracas would break out, one of which flushed some Snipe that had us trying to turn Common Snipe into Jack Snipe, without any luck.

The Lapwing though look wonderful, with what you think is green reflecting all spectrum colours.

We walked down to the Pumfrett Hide, where the noise from the gulls picked up once again, however some of the Avocet were trying to make the most of it.

Out in the middle a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls sat, looking as if they knew that no one was going to argue with them.

The gulls were fascinating to watch, they are constantly calling and on the move, fighting, mating and just walking around and displaying.  I love the way they call while in flight, the bill wide open as they fly around.

We could see the Golden Plover on the ground from this hide, but they were still nervous, and would fly around this time coming close to the hide.

Again you could see the summer "golden" plumage.

At the back of the scrape the Mediterranean Gulls tucked themselves away from the boisterous Black-headed, who despite being smaller appear to be able to boss and bully the Mediterranean Gulls.

The Med Gulls would also fly around and I was able to catch them on the aire, showing the lovely puree white of the primaries.

And like the Black-headed's would fly around in pairs.

Back on the mud, the Black-headed Gulls continued their displays, this one showing a lovely pink flush on the breast.

We paid a brief visit to the West Hide where there was a lone male pheasant on a mound just to the side of the hide.

After negotiating the spray coming over the sea wall as the wind and tide combined to produce a very high tide, we stopped to watch the Sanderlings feeding at the edge of the surf on the beach, some though were just sitting it out

These lovely little waders though would go right to the edge of the surf, picking out food as the surf crashed in.

Sometimes though they would stand in the foam, giving up while other times they would leap up and fly back to the dry.

As well as the Sanderling, there were the usual Turnstones.

We made our way around the the Knights Bank Hide, settling down to watch what was a very quiet scene.  Out in front of us were the Plastic Barnacle Geese.

Ian picked up Sand Martin over the trees at the back of the Frying Pan, and as we watched them I picked out one with a white rump, a House Martin, and the earliest I have ever seen.  In fact with the Sand Martin and the house Martin this is the first time I can recall ever having seen all three hirundines before the end of March.  In all I estimated that there were at least 10 Sand Martin, and a single House Martin above the trees.

There was also a March Harrier over the reed bed, it showed the colours of a female, but looked quite small, and the colour on the head seemed to be both grey and yellow so it could have been an immature male.

In front of us there were several Lapwing that were determined to move the Magpies away by dive bombing them, but hey also found time to display together showing some amazing coordinated acrobatics above the field.

After stops in the Meadow and Surfern hides, and to try and find the many singing Chiffchaffs along the walkway, we made our way back past the gauntlet of the sea wall and to the Meon Shore Hide.  The numbers of Black-headed Gulls seemed to have increased and the noise appeared even louder.  Every so often  the gulls would take to the air creating what seemed like a snow storm, the sky turning white.  On one of these "storms" The small group of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank flew in closer to the hide.  There were six Redshank present

And ten Black-tailed Godwits.  These birds were not showing such advanced summer plumage as the birds from last weekend.

The Black-headed Gulls would move amongst the Godwits as if on purpose looking to move the godwits out of the way, or even just teasing and playing with the larger birds.

There was yet another chance to photograph the Avocets as they came closer to the hide.

The Avocets though seemed to get caught up in the Gull snow storms, their black and white plumage loosing them in the many gulls.

But of course it was all about the gulls, the scrape the islands and the air was just full of them, and like it or not they were the focus of attention through the eyes and the ears.

Then for the last time until the autumn we had to leave the hide as they locked up at 4.00pm, but despite the forecast we had managed to avoid the rain, sheltered from the wind and picked up five year ticks (well I did, I think Ian had just a couple), and some nice close action.

Friday, 25 March 2016

25th March - Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

Its Good Friday, the sky was blue, and the sun shining.  We all as a family met up and headed for a walk around Ashdown Forest with the focus on Pooh Bridge.  The walk though skirted the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood, made its way to Hartfield, and then back down to cross Pooh Bridge.

As we set of from the car park an immaculate male Brimstone flew past, and as usual didn't stop, but flirted with me as it hovered around the grasses.  We came off the main track and walked across a field.  The sun was very warm for the first time this year and soaring Buzzards could be seen on either side of us as we walked.

Walking along the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood there were Goldcrests calling and in the pine trees above us I could hear Siskins calling.  A Kestrel set the alarm calls off as it crossed over our heads, and in the fields Rooks foraged probably for the nests in the distant rookery.

As we came out of the wood and walked through some horse paddocks Katie spotted a Swallow, the first of the year and it conveniently perched in a dead tree, briefly sang.

This was my first swallow of the year, and I would consider this to be a bird that has returned to its nest site, as all around us were horse stables.

Buzzards were now everywhere, and one came close enough to attract my attention.

In the sheltered area the sun was warming everything up and more butterflies appeared, a Peacock flew past us, then two Small Tortoiseshells were dueling around a clump of daffodils, then settled on a piece of mud.

Not my first this year, but the first pair to allow me to photograph them.

A little further on another orange butterfly appeared, this time a Comma and definitely my first of the year.

This spot was very well sheltered and the butterflies were coming thick and fast and they were very mobile.  Another Comma, and two more Small Tortoiseshells, and then a Peacock that settled on the ground to show the wonderful colours in the wings.

The walk then made its way uphill, and into the village of Hartfield where we stopped for a drink in the pub.

Out of the village we followed a very muddy track towards Pooh Bridge.  From the track it ten comes out across a field.  The bridge was very busy, lots playing Pooh sticks.  From there we made our way to the car park.  A lovely walk in some gorgeous spring sunshine, just so disappointing that the weather will not last for the rest of the holiday.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

19th March - Mark Ash Wood New Forest & Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes, Hampshire

Ian and I were meeting at Mark Ash Wood in the New Forest early in the morning with jsut one intent to find the elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  Last year we had two goes at this, and we failed last Saturday this year.  The weather wasn't brilliant, overcast, cold and when I left home there was drizzle in the air.  As I pulled up and we kitted up we were serenaded by the whooping calls of the Stock Dove.

We headed across the road, and down the valley.  As we did so there was a rapid drumming coming from the same area we had heard them last week, we made our way there as the drumming continued.  We were standing under the trees with bird drumming above us but could we see it?  Of course we couldn't!

Then like last week the drumming stopped and it went quiet.  The silence though was then interrupted when a Firecrest started singing close by.  It was moving through the ivy that was draped across one of the Beech trees, then flew across to hide in a Holly bush

Finally it managed to show itself a little more in the open.

We had not heard the woodpecker for sometime, and we wandered aimlessly back along the main track watching the Robins on either side of us, and the many Song Thrushes.

A rustle in the dry leaves on the forest floor would reveal yet another Song Thrush.

As well as the thrushes, Great Tits were inspecting all the possible holes in the trees for nest sites, most of them though looked to have a large opening which would not be suitable.

Just as we were discussing what next to do, we heard the drumming once again from the same area, so we turned on our heals and made our way back.  Once again when we reached the tree the drumming was coming from above us, then I an saw it fly and picked it up in a tree, but could only see the head.  I couldn't get on it, but then it flew again and we were able to see it fly off in typical woodpecker dipping style.  I watched it as it flew away and into another distant tree, then a few seconds later we heard the drumming again.  Walking in the direction of the last drum we stood and waited.  

We were now of the opinion that the bird probably does a circuit that goes around the car park.  It probably has favourite "drumming" trees that it uses as it circuits the territory.  After waiting a while with no further calls of any type we slowly made our way to the car park.  As we arrived we heard the drumming once more from the back of the car park.  We decided there and then that we would leave, and head down to the coastal marshes.  As we left the Stock Dove continued their whooping calls from the trees above us.

We headed to Pennington, and from the car park I could see five Brent Geese in the field on the other side of the lane.  One of the geese had a very pale flank compared to the other geese with it, and I wondered if this could be a Black Brant.  I managed to get closer and this was the best picture I managed to get.

From the books, the Black Brant has a very strong contrast between whitish flanks and a very dark belly, and the white marks on the neck are very well defined, large and wider at the fore neck, sometimes merging at the front.  While this goose had a very definite white flank, the neck marks are not that different to the other geese, and as a result I am not claiming a Black Brant here.

Leaving the cars we walked along the cycle track towards Keyhaven.  Brent Geese could be seen flying over the waste tips and across the marshes.  On the grass were Curlew and several Lapwing.

At Keyhaven the tide was still quite high, and a Red-breasted Merganser was in the harbour diving quite close to the sea wall.

The wind would catch the head feathers blowing them around like a bad hair day.

We walked towards Keyhaven Lagoon, and just before we reached it Ian found the male Long-tailed Duck in one of the channels where the tide was still quite high.  Just like when we saw it last month it was choosing to keep company with a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.

With the tide falling the waders were appearing on the mud, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits were close in, the Godwits showing almost three-quarters of their summer plumage, a lovely brick red neck and upper wings.

At the back of the lagoon were two Spoonbill, but they were a long way off for decent photographs.  Pintail fed close in, but in my efforts to get closer I flushed them and was left with this Little Grebe feeding around the bullrushes.

We walked around to Fishtail Lagoon, and scanned the water and marsh at the back.  As we did so the Spoonbill on Keyhaven flew in to give some really lovely close views. They were an adult and juvenile, the juvenile landing quickly, but the adult circling for awhile.

Rocking back and forth or "wiffling" as it is known as it came into land.

Then proceeded to feed, swishing the head and bill back and forth deep in the water before flicking up its catch and swallowing.

The feeding didn't last long, and it took off once again to join the juvenile on the bank on the far side.

The juvenile bird lacks the dark bill with the yellow tip, having a pink bill instead, the juvenile also has black tips to the end of the primaries.

As well as the Spoonbills the Pintail were also giving some nice close views.  These lovely ducks need to be enjoyed now, as soon they will be gone, and when they return it will be in the drab eclipse plumage.

The drake was extending its neck in alarm at something.

And sure enough they were off and away, I am still not sure what it was that spooked them.

Behind us on the estuary mud Dunlin and Grey Plover were feeding in amongst the channels.  This Grey Plover though was obliging as it stood at the top of one of these channels.

We were searching the many tussocks of grass in amongst the marsh for the long staying Long-billed Dowitcher, but without any luck.  Every Snipe was inspected, and in the course of this search we found two Ruff and had a very brief glimpse of a Water Rail as it scampered between the cover of the grasses.

Another brief sighting was that of a Water Pipit that called as it flew over our heads and then dropped into the marsh.  We were informed by someone else that it was the pipit but I was not able to get on it again.

Apart from the searching for the Dowitcher we were also treated to the arrival of nine Spotted Redshank, that then flew off, and returned as only eight.

And then a fly past of nine Spoonbills, coming in from the east, and then heading out towards the saltmarshes.

Finally we decided that we were not going to find the Dowitcher so made our way back to the cars.  As we walked alongside the ditch you could hear the contact calls of Chiffchaffs and could then see them catching flies from the reeds, taking advantage of the still and warmer conditions.  We suspected these were migrant birds newly arrived today.

Away over Pennington Marshes a huge flock of Golden Plover could be seen moving in a tight formation as if under threat, we couldn't find the threat though and they soon dropped back onto the marsh calling all the time.

After lunch we walked along the lane to get a closer look at the Golden Plover, but as we arrived they were off again, a whirr of wings and the sky was full of the sound of their calls and the beats of their wings as they moved back and forth around the marsh.

As you can see several of the birds show partial summer plumage and as they turned the golden yellow of their upper parts stood out.  Finally they dropped a long way from us, and slowly their calls began to die out indicating that they were happy where they were.

We waited though, and were rewarded by finding two Ruff quite close in, one of which was a male that was beginning to develop the fancy breeding plumage that gives the bird its name.

Leaving the marsh we took the footpath that is the quickest and sheltered way to Normandy Marsh.  The wind on the coast was from the east and was quite cold out in the open.  In the trees as we walked were Redwing and of course the usual Woodpigeon.  In the fields were Oystercatcher and a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits.

Up and out on to the sea wall, a Curlew was close in feeding amongst the sea weed.

With the long curved bill, they have a rather stately appearance as they slowly make their way across the mud, never hurried, almost as if they feel this is all theirs.

A little further on there were a couple of Ringed Plover feeding with Dunlin.

On Normandy Marsh a large flock of Brent Geese were in the water, and then were off flying out across the mud before coming back in smaller groups, heading low across the sea wall.

Other than the geese there was little else of interest on Normandy so we made our way back around the Oxey Marsh.  On the mud close to the sea wall were several groups of Black-tailed Godwits, some of which were showing some wonderful colour as they fed in the mud.

On the marsh side of the wall there were flocks of Wigeon, another beautiful duck when seen close up, the waves of dark grey against the light grey on the feathers on the flanks and wings being so delicate and contrasting wonderfully with the pink blush on the breast

As we came round the wall we could see three Spoonbill on the bank, there were two adult birds and a juvenile, the adult in the middle preening the wind catching the "Indian Chief" style crest hat they sport when in breeding plumage.

Both adults stood watch as the younger bird kept its head tucked well under its wings.

Then the more alert adult bird flew off, and we caught up with it as we walked around to Pennington Lagoon.  It was feeding quite vigorously, and for once we were able to observe a Spoonbill doing something other than sleeping and preening.

What I found quite remarkable was the frequency with which it would catch something to eat.  Once it had it would toss the head back and swallow.

Above you can also see the yellow and red markings on the throat, another sign of the breeding plumaged adult bird.

It continued to patrol close to the far bank head and bill deep in the water and catching something on about every fifth or sixth sway.

As we watched the Spoonbill all the Plover went up again, this time there was a threat, a female March Harrier appeared above the marsh.

The plan now was to go back to the car, grab a scope and have another go on Fishtail for the waders.  Walking along the footpath there were more Chiffchaffs fly catching in the shelter of the bushes.  Some were quite brightly plumaged birds indicating that hey were almost certainly newly arrived migrants

We headed back along the other side and almost immediately I saw a long tailed small bird burst from the gorse.  We followed it and could see it moving through the gorse but it never really came out.  A Wren appeared and then this lovely male Reed Bunting appeared.

Both were not what I hoped the long-tailed bird was, and finally it did reveal itself, as I thought a Dartford Warbler, and a female, it still wanted to hide in the bramble though, but there is enough here to confirm the identification.

As we walked along he sea wall, yet another beautifully plumaged Black-tailed Godwit was feeding with a Redshank in on the channel close to the sea wall.

Once again we scanned the marsh, and once again all we could find were Snipe, then from behind us a Pipit called, and we turned to watch it fly close to the wall and settle on a pile of sea weed.  Perfect a Water Pipit and close in, then behind us a runner and cyclist came and flushed before we could get a shot, it flew off but fortunately landed on the spit in the middle of the lagoon.

It made its way around the outside of the island.  The streaks are confined to the upper part of the breast unlike the Rock Pipit, and while not visible in the photograph the upper parts were taking on a pink hue.

As is always the case it could have come closer but decided to turn away.

We turned back to searching the marsh, but the main highlight was a single Black-tailed Godwit flying in.

Coming to the conclusion that the dowitcher was not there we headed back to the car park, and then down the road once again to see the Golden Plover, now back in the place they had been earlier, settled in the shallow water.

The Plover didn't move, the Ruff were still about, but nothing much else happened, as a result we decided to call it a day and head back to the car and home.

A great day with some quality birds.  No migrants yet, just a collection of winter birds, but no less rewarding.