Tuesday, 29 November 2016

26th November - Sidlesham, Pagham Harbour, Selsey Bill and Medmerry, West Sussex

It has been awhile, but we were both looking forward to a break this weekend, and nowhere better than the Crab and Lobster in Sidlesham.  We arrived late on Friday afternoon so were not able to get out in daylight on what had been a lovely late autumn day.  The forecast for the weekend was mixed with dry but cloudy weather, however the morning dawned clear, and despite some cloud build up early on, as we walked around the footpath towards the Pagham Harbour visitor centre it was thinning and there were signs that the sun could come out.

It was just high tide as we left, and the salt-marsh was almost covered.  In these conditions there is an strange silence that seems to fall over the marsh with only the odd call of a Curlew, or the whistle of a Wigeon to alert you to the fact that there is wildlife about.  A small flock of Canada Geese flew low over the water with the spire of Pagham Church in the background.

High tide is a time when those birds that rely on the exposed mud to feed look to sit it out, this Little Egret looked quite fed up as it hunkered down in amongst the vegetation.

We stopped by the creek to look for Kingfisher and were instantly joined by a very tame Robin that was clearly used to being fed.

Helen couldn't resist and did give it some biscuit crumbs.

Turning attention to the creek there were two Redshank, and a single Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the water, and along the shore was a Water Rail.  It walked away from me, but would stop to plunge its head into the water to feed.

Then came around and out into the open, but distant.

At  the Ferry Pool there were three Redshank, six Teal, a sizeable flock of Lapwing and a single Black-tailed Godwit that was covering its face and bill in the dark black mud.

With the water high there was only a lone Moorhen on the Long Pool.  From this view you can take in the vastness of the harbour at high tide.

As we walked along the footpath towards Church Norton we would disturb Curlew from the salt-marsh, this one stayed long enough for me to get a photograph.

At Church Norton the water was still high, and I counted twelve Great Crested Grebes in the harbour.  There was no sign of the reported Long-tailed Duck.  The waders were still roosting on the iron construction, there were Dunlin, Knot, Oystercatcher and a few Turnstones.

On the island in the middle of the harbour I could just make out a Peregrine sitting on the ground.  Apparently there are two regular birds here, this one was probably waiting for water to drop, and the movement of birds that comes with it as they look to feed on the exposed mud.

As we left the bench to walk to the sea another Curlew was feeding close in amongst the eel grass.

A little further along a small group of Wigeon were also feeding on the grass.

We crossed the beach and walked down to the sea. With the tide still high the waves were crashing into the shingle.  Scanning the water there were again several Great Crested Grebes but no sign of any Black-necked or Slavonian.  There was though quite a bit of sea weed washed up, and with it lots of shell fish, and this was attracting Turnstones, Oystercatchers and some Redshank along with a very good collection of gulls, including a Mediterranean Gull at the top of the photograph.

We headed south at first along the edge of the water, and then along the sea wall.  Out on the water were more gulls and I picked out another Mediterranean Gull.

Despite the fact it was nearly midday the sun was very low in the sky, and this was putting up some considerable glare on the sea.  Everything in front of us became a silhouette like this Cormorant sitting on the groyne marker.

 The Turnstones are quite resourceful birds and can be seen in many different locations along the beach, here they were sunning themselves on the groyne.

With the recent storms there was plenty of weed and shellfish washed up all along the beach and along with the gulls there were also plenty of Carrion Crows searching through the tangled vegetation looking for an easy seafood meal.

As we passed East Beach a pair of Stonechat were present in the long grass, using the higher stalks to scan for any chance of an insect in the grass.

We stopped at the Lifeboat pub for a drink, and sat outside.  All wrapped up against the cold air the sun was still warm on the face.  As we sat there a Red Admiral flew past in front of the houses, it has been a very good year for them, will I manage a sighting in December I wonder?

From the pub we headed on south towards the Bill in the sunshine, then made our way through West Sands to the breach at the Medmerry reserve.  As we passed the caravan homes another Red Admiral passed us heading towards the Bill.  Looking out across the open expanse there were collections of birds, but they were all a long way off to really appreciate.  I hadn't brought a scope, but quite frankly even with binoculars I could see there wasn't much other that the normal.

 The tide was falling fast and all the way along the side of the creeks the water was tumbling over the side into the channels.  We walked on in the hope of disturbing maybe an owl, or other bird of prey but it was not to be.  When we had been here last the banks were covered in daisies and insects, today it was most old brown grass.

We dropped down to the footpath and headed in land.  In the fields to our left there was a large group of lapwing, but on our right there were Golden Plover.

I counted 60 birds in total all gathered together in the middle of the field.

The path took us through a solar farm, around the edges there were plenty of Chaffinches and Linnets, plus the occasional Reed Bunting, this one being very obliging.

Our intention for comingn this way was to check the old Ferry Farm buildings, last July we were surprised to find a Barn owl there, and the hope was that it might still be around.  After a very quiet and boring walk we approached the buildings only to find that they had been fenced in, probably due to the fact that they were rather derelict.  So with no chance of finding the owl, we continued on past the Ferry Pool that was now empty, past the Ferry Long Pool which was quite busy with a few Wigeon, but mainly Teal, and then out again to the main harbour past the visitor centre.

A kestrel was perched high above the rough ground to the back of the centre.

On reaching Sidlesham Quay we decided to carry on out across the North Wall, there was always a chnace the Kingfisher would perform at the sluice.  Walking through Halsey's Farm another Kestrel was using the trees as a vantage point to scan the field below.

Crossing the fields towards the wall was not too difficult, despite the recent rain it was still quite passable.  Close to the creek Wigeon were feeding on the grass.  There were mostly females in the group, the few males were on sentry duty with their heads up watching for any sign of danger.

It was now getting quite dark, and the skeins of Brent Geese were moving across the harbour and north across the wall in the direction of Honer Reservoir, or maybe Chichester lakes.

The water was high in the breech pool, and of a consequence there were only Mallard to see with just a few teal hidden in the reeds.  We walked to the sluice but there were quite a few people about and there was no sign of the Kingfisher.  With the sun now almost set we turned and headed back to Sidlesham.  More Brent flew above us high in the direction of Chichester.  they were joined by Canada Geese that took the lower altitude low over the marsh and with the last colours of today's sun in the background.

Not the best of birding days, but a lovely walk in one of our favourite spots in what has become regular good weather when we are here, maybe we shouldn't make too much of that as it might tempt fate.  So it was back to the pub, and a drink before yet another superb dinner.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

19th November - Needs Ore and Lower Test, Hampshire

It turned out to be one of those days.  It was a beautiful morning, cold with a frost, but with clear skies.  I was meeting Ian and we were to try the Needs Ore Reserve for the first time.  We had the instructions to get the permit, and turned up at the Beaulieu Motor Museum at the appointed time of 8.20.  After an hour some staff appeared who informed us that they do not issue permits at the weekend.  So what to do?  We decided to see if we could get in.  As we approached the gate we were greeted by staff from the Beaulieu Estate who took pity on our story and let us in.  We really should have realised then that maybe this was not to be our day.

We walked down to the Sailing Club where there were a few duck, mostly Wigeon and Teal, and Redshank flying around.  Out on the marsh there were Curlews, and plenty of Rooks and Curlew.

We then walked back to try the hides, first the Shore hide to get our bearings and then we walked down to the Black Water.  Out in front of the hide were several Pintail close to the reeds, and a few Shoveler.  Two drake Shoveler were feeding closest to the hide.

We then walked to the west end of the water where the hide looked out across water and onto open fields where Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were feeding in the tussocky grass.

Very littler else was about and after waiting for a rain shower to pass we walked back, but looking out towards the west the sky was very grey, the orange leaves of the Oak trees contrasting against the sky.

We had lunch withe rain falling and the sky looking very dark.  We decided then to head inland and to try the Lower Test Marshes.

We walked from Test Lane and along the boardwalk to Salmon's Leap bridge where there was not just one Goosander but two!

As we walked around the path to the boardwalk once again we had further views of the goosander.  One of the Redheads was definitely larger, and the breast was much whiter.

The tide was very high, and the boardwalk was flodded in places, we walked to the hide, but in keeping with the day there was very little about, just three Little Grebes, two Mallard and two Black-headed Gulls.

As we walked back a little bit of excitement, a female Marsh Harrier drifted over the reeds being mobbed by crows

Back at the bridge, there was now only one Goosander, it was the smaller one close in to the shore.

It was getting dark now, and it was threatening rain as we made our way back to Test Lane.  In the same place as we had seen one last year a Grey Wagtail called and appeared on the flooded grass, then flew to the large patch of dead leaves.

The area was covered in insects and the wagtail was so occupied with catching them that it allowed us to get quite close, but it was very gloomy so not the best shots.

And that was about it.  We disturbed some Meadow Pipits as we walked back, and we heard both Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff in the scrub but never saw them.  As we reached the railway line the rain became harder and we decided that it was now best to end the day.  We had hoped the reported Short-eared Owl might be about, but there was no chance with the rain.  We headed back to the cars and hoped that our next rip would be a lot better, but you have to have a few bad days to appreciate the good ones.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

5th November - The New Forest and Farlington Marshes, Hampshire

After the rain of the previous day, I set off in clear skies, just before dawn.  It was cold and there had been a frost.  After negotiating a closed road I arrived at Black Gutter Bottom just before seven, it was very cold, but the forest looked lovely as the sun was not quite up yet.

We walked from the cars down the hill towards the stream at the bottom of the gutter, there was frost on the grass, bracken and gorse.

 As the sun began to emerge the colours came out in the heather and the bracken.

 As we approached the trees at the top of the hill on the edge of Leaden Hall, Fieldfare burst from the trees that were now leafless and berry less, although there was some crab apples still about.

As we walked onto the plateau the sun finally emerged lighting up the area, and highlighting the frost on the short grazed grass.

Looking to the west as the sun gained some height in the sky, the trees were bathed in golden light enhancing the glorious autumn colours.

Up to now the Fieldfare had been hidden in the trees, and we only knew they were there when they burst out with their chuckling calls.  But as we walked around the plateau area one came to the top of a tree as if to enjoy the early morning sunshine.

Using the cover of several bushes we were able to get closer.

A beautiful overlooked bird

We headed to the south across the heather, and came a cross a small group of scrubby bushes.  There was one Dartford Warbler that avoided me, and several Reed Buntings that didn't.

Birds you never expected to see here appeared two pairs of Bullfinches flew around us, and yet more Reed Buntings, this one sitting high on the gorse like a Stonechat.

We stopped to look over the valleys in the hope that a Hen Harrier might drift past, but unfortunately the scene was as you see here.

It was then that Ian picked up a Great Grey Shrike at the top of a birch tree in the middle of the bracken.

It didn't stay long and flew away into the gorse, and then after some searching, and some help from a pair of Chaffinches we relocated it on the branch of a dead tree.  As I approached it was off again, flying to another branch.

It sat there in full view allowing us to get closer.

The small birds were making a lot of noise and would every so often mob the shrike, as a result it flew off again this time settling in a Holly tree.

From the Holly tree to the top of another evergreen, it was continually scanning the ground and the sky.

The views we were getting were superb, and when it flew again we just had to follow it.  It flew down into the valley, but not too far away and we located it on the side of a tree.

Again some lovely views

Then from here it flew across to another tree, and immediately saw something on the ground flying down to pick up what looks like a beetle.

Then it was off again, back to where we had watched it earlier.  There was a dead tree there, and when we had watched it earlier I thought the would be perfect for ity, and this time it obliged and flew to the top.

Brilliant views of a wonderful bird

Finally it decided enough was enough and flew off, heading out over the valley.  Ian followed it as it flew towards the car park at Godshill, and finally out of sight.  Or was it?

As we walked back to Leaden Hall Ian picked up a bird at the top of a silver birch tree.  Another Great Grey Shrike, or was it the same bird.  It was about 15 minutes since we had seen the bird at Cockley Hill, could this be the same bird or were there two in a very close territory. As we approached it flew off across the heather.

We decided then to walk down to Ashley Hole in search of a Hen Harrier.  We were to be unlucky but we did managed a very distant Goshawk.

As we walked back to the plateau at Leaden Hall we came across the Great Grey Shrike again, this time sitting in a silver birch.

Once again it flew off and we couldn't find it again.

We decided that it was time to move on, and headed down the hill back to the cars.  Another Dartford Warbler teased us, disappearing into the bracken.  While coming up the hill on the other side of the stream a Stonechat insisted that I photograph it in the flowering gorse.

Hen Harrier had eluded us, but the Great Grey Shrike was stunning.  Our next destination was to be Farlington Marshes, the target here were the tree Short-eared Owls that have been present all week.

After a quick lunch we started our walk around the sea wall, the tide was rising, and the Brent Geese were moving.

A surprise was a Sparrowhawk that appeared above us.

On the Lake the high tide wader roost was building up, as we watched flocks of Redshank were flying in the increase the number of birds on the water and edges of the lake.

There were also good numbers of duck, the Teal looking splendid in the full plumage.

The water reflecting a little of the blue sky patches.

While there were also good numbers of Pintail, but as always keeping either out of sight or at a distance.

A good sized flock of Dunlin flew in and could not settle as they flew around they unnerved the others and everything went up.  The Black-tailed Godwits a blur of black and white, plus if you look a little bit of coloured bling!

After everything settled down once again the waders continued to fly in, Lapwing appearing from all sides.

We waited to see if the waders would go up again, but all seemed quite settled so we decided to walk around the wall to Point Field.  As we entered the call of a Dartford Warbler was a surprise, but we were pleased to see that this bird was more confiding than those in the New Forest.

It was a Dartford Warbler that allowed us to find the Short-eared Owls.  Another pair were flitting around in a patch of bramble, and as we waited for them to appear Ian found not one Short-eared Owl.

But two!

Then I found a third!

The first bird was the most restless.

And very soon it was off, away and dropping again into the long grass.  We stayed and watched the others.  Finally the second bird became restless, and it too flew off.

We watched it fly out of Point Field and out over the marshes.  The thirs bird stayed quite still, not looking like iot was going to move at all.  We continued to keep watching it, but in the end decided to head back to the wall to see what was going on.  One of the Owls was sitting on an ant hill on the marsh.

It continued to hunt, and I managed to catch this one with what looks like a vole.

It flew to another anthill and attracted the attention of a Magpie.

What we didn't know was that the owl was still holding the vole, but the Magpie did and it approached finally forcing the Owl to the other side of the ditch where it dispatched the vole when the magpie came close again.

It then continued to fly around the marsh, and we chased  it about until it settled once again.

It was then hunting in the sunshine that had returned as the clouds broke up above us.

Some great views.

By the time I had to leave there were three Owls hunting in Point Field.  I made my  way back to the car, the tide still high and the waders still on the roost.

As I reached the car a Brent Goose was sitting in golden water, magical.

Yet another brilliant day....