Sunday, 31 December 2017

31st December - A Review of the Year 2017

At this time of year we all look back on the events of the past year, some of which are memorable, while others are those you choose to forget.  Much has gone on throughout the year, not least in my travels around Hampshire, the country and further afield around the world.  Here is a summary of the year along with a highlight from each month.

January saw our regular trip to Pagham Harbour, and once again we were treated to some lovely weather, there was also a visit to Titchfield Haven and the Lower Test Marshes.  However the highlight was a visit to Eyeworth Pond in the New Forest on the 2nd.  The primary purpose was to photograph Mandarin Ducks, but there were also a group of Goosanders.  The drakes always pose a challenge with their white plumage, and on this visit it was made even more difficult by the dark water of the pond.  I was pleased with this shot of a pair as they swam towards me.

February is one of those doldrum months at the start of the year, the bad dash to get the year ticks eases.  There were visits to the New Forest, and Titchfield Haven when there was the need to shelter in a hide.  Mid month saw a flock of Waxwings turn up at Whiteley Shopping Centre, and as a result a catalogue of photographs.  But it is not to the Waxwings that I turn for this month, but a picture of a pair of drake Tufted Ducks asleep on Fishtail Lagoon at Pennington.  The black and white plumage stands out against the milky grey water, and for Ian and I they are an instant attraction for the camera, we can't resist any photo opportunity, and it has become a running joke.

March saw Ian and I up to our usual quest to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in the New Forest, once again we heard them, and had the shortest glimpse but never good enough, so we will probably return again in 2018.  As well as the New Forest we spent time at Blashford Lakes and on Farlington Marshes where a Short-eared Owl provided a lovely subject.

However it was another owl that stands out in March.  While at Alresford Lake waiting to catch the roosting Hen Harrier, we were entertained by a Barn Owl that flew around the pond and past us at the view point giving some excellent views.

April saw trips further afield, I finally managed to catch up with a Long-eared Owl at Dungeness, my first for a very long while, and there was our almost annual trip to Minsmere at the end of the month, where the usual suspects performed.

The weather was unseasonably warm at the start of April, and this coincided with a short break in north-east Norfolk.  Once again the Bearded Tits were on good form along the sea wall path.

At the end of May, we visited Northumberland, primarily for a trip to the Farne Islands, they didn't disappoint with really close encounters with the Arctic Terns, cliff nesting sea birds and of course the Puffins.  The New Forest at this time of year is also very productive with Wood Warblers and Redstarts, but the highlight this month was not a bird, but a lifer in the form of a March Fritillary on Martin Down.  A sunny afternoon there produced well over twenty of this delightful butterfly in Bokerly Ditch.

The end of our trip to Northumberland saw us into June and we headed south to spend some time in Weardale, County Durham, and there we had a close encounter with Black Grouse, a bird I was catching up.  The butterfly season was probably a few weeks earlier this year, so a trip to Gosport was necessary to catch up with the White-letter Hairstreaks.  At the same time Ian and I visited Fort Brockhurst  and came across these aerobatic Four-spot Chasers.

July is butterfly time, and as has been the case over previous years Ian and I were frustrated by Purple Emperor, once again this enigmatic butterfly evaded our attempts to see it, we spent the time staring at leaves instead.

Another frustration was our attempt to catch up with the Osprey at Fishlake Meadows.  Two trips drew a blank coupled with the frustration to find that the bird appeared after we left.  On one of those blanks we headed off to Shatterford Bottom, in the New Forest and encountered clouds of Silver-studded Blue butterflies amongst the bell heather, an amazing experience.

There were more butterfly lifers in August with Brown Hairstreak at Shipton Bellinger, and Silver Spotted Skipper at Broughton Down.  The month though was dominated by our holiday in Costa Rica.  This was our second visit, the last time five years ago, and it din't disappoint.

We had some incredible hummingbird experiences in El Silencio, and Monteverde, unfortunately Resplendent Quetzel avoided us (a good reason to return once again!), but we caught up once again with the spectacular Scarlet Macaws on the Pacific coast, King Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites in Uvita, and with Humpback whales off Cano Island. 

There are plenty of wonderful Hummingbird pictures, but one that pleased me the most was of this Red-winged Giant Grasshopper, just a lovely composition

Back in the UK, September saw Ian and I visiting Keyhaven and Pennington at the start and end of the month.  At the start of the month we were chasing Clouded Yellow butterflies up and down the sea wall, and encountered a pair of Spoonbill that have become a regular sighting here.

October was very grey and overcast, one trip to Farlington had to be aborted for heavy rain.  Later in the month Ian and I were chasing Ring Ouzel at Leaden Hall in the New Forest.  But the highlight of the month was the trip to India, where we finally caught up with the magnificent Tiger.  In all we saw at least five individuals, being treated to some incredible experiences as these incredible cats walk and sat close to our safari jeep.

Back home in November Ian and I spent time at Keyhaven Marshes and Testwood Lakes, while Helen and I had another trip to Pagham Harbour.

Keyhaven saw more Spoonbill, and on Oxey lagoon a very confiding Grey Phalerope.  At Testwood we caught up with the Hawfinches, and on Meadow Lake four Great White Egrets.  This one spending time preening.

In December a visit to Needs Ore produced eight Spoonbill, and four Scaup.  The highlight of the month though was a very tame Barred Warbler that stayed in the garden behind the visitor centre at Titchfield Haven.  It had been around for a while before I managed to catch up with it, and even then had to wait a couple of hours before it appeared.  But when it did it showed very well eating cotoneaster berries.

So as the year comes to an end we start to plan the new year's travels, some are already planned, while others will take place in good time

Happy New Year to all.

Friday, 29 December 2017

28th December - Titchfield Haven Canal Path, Hampshire

Snow the day before was still around as we left Four Marks, but as we headed south it soon faded away and we were left with frost.  We parked in the car park at the top of the canal path in Titchfield and the headed south into the glare of the low winter sun.  About 200 metres from the car park a power line crosses the path, looking to the right there is a line of trees, and in one of the trees we could just make out a roosting Barn Owl, tucked down in the middle of the old tree.

To our left there was a flooded patch that was frozen, on the edge of the ice there were several Pied Wagtail searching for food, and a Robin flew out into the middle of the ice and slipped to produce a Bambi moment.

A Kestrel flew over and settled in a tree to scan the grass, while a Buzzard sat on one of the fence posts waiting for an opportunity.

At first the walk was pleasant despite the low sun, the path being gravel.  However a little further along it became very sticky, not muddy as the ground beneath the sticky surface was hard, but walking was not easy, and it was very slippery.

In addition to the mud, the canal was almost full, and in places was spilling out across the path.  What with the mud and the low sun that made seeing in front of us difficult the walk was not to pleasant.  We stopped in places to scan the fields, but there was little about.

At Posbrook floods, the water was again frozen, but there was a small patch clear, and here there was a large flock of Black-headed Gulls.

Of the path to the right a pair of Roe Deer were laid down in the sunshine.

We passed another pair a little further on, this time though on the shadow side of the sunshine.  Finally we made it to firmer ground, and then out on to the road, and the beach, where the tide was well out.  Oystercatchers could be seen feeding on the edge of the water, but with so many people about on the beach there was very little else.  Still it looked lovely in the winter sunshine.

We walked around the the visitor centre and had a coffee in the cafe before turning around and heading back.  We decided to leave entering the reserve, just took in the view across the reed beds.

From the road we walked back on to the Canal path.  With the sun behind us it felt much easier walking, even with the mud.

Movement in a branch that stretched out across the water of the ditch stopped us.    I thought at first it was a Wren, but a flash of white told it was something worth stopping for.  After a short wait it appeared again, a smart Firecrest.

Bizarrely, even with the frost having come out of the path and there being more mud, the walk was a lot easier, and we were able to scan the fields with the sun behind us.  A Marsh Harrier flew north over the reeds, and two Buzzards flew from the trees alongside the path.  A little further on as I watched a soaring Buzzard, and Sparrowhawk joined it circling higher over the reeds.

At the Posbrook floods the water had melted, the flock of Black-headed Gulls were still there.  The was only one duck, a drake Pintail, up close to the reds at the back.

Closer to us hiding by the side of some grass in the shallow water was a single Snipe.

As we approached the car park once more we walked past the field where we had seen the owl earlier.  Scanning the tree once again the Barn Owl was sitting more prominently in the open part of the tree.  Eyes closed it was appearing to be asleep, but I bet it was totally aware of its surroundings.

While Helen showed the owl another couple, I walked a little further along the path to see if I could get a better view.  This then revealed the fact that there were actually two owls roosting in the tree.  

The bird tucked away to the left looks like the one we saw earlier in the morning, as it is in the same position.  The other bird, probably appearing from within the tree.

A typical end of year walk, with the added bonus of the Barn Owls and a smart Firecrest.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

23rd December - Pennington Marsh and Hill Head, Hampshire

Another overcast and drizzly day, supposed to be mild, but believe me on the sea wall it was bitterly cold, despite the double digit temperature.  This morning I was at Pennington, hoping to catch up with the recent grebes and divers that have been seen.  As I walked from the car park on the marsh there were large flocks of duck and geese.  I noticed a white headed bird in amongst them, and on a closer look could see it was a Ruff, which then turned into three Ruff.  Here a record shot.

The ducks consisted mainly of Wigeon, Pintail and Teal.

I walked to the sea wall, and on the marsh just before the wall, a lone Wigeon was whistling.

Up on the sea wall there was little about.  The tide was low.  A pair of Avocet flew towards Butts Bay.

It was then a case of scanning the sea with a fellow birder.  There were several Red-breasted Mergansers, and then a Great Northern Diver that was hardly on the surface at all spending time under the water.  The only grebe I could find was a pair of Great-crested Grebes.  A pair of Eider flew into the bay, but other than that there was little else moving.

At the jetty there were good numbers of Dunlin and Turnstone, and for a brief moment the Purple Sandpiper was about, but then I lost it as the waders flew off.  A curlew called come from the edge of the water

Then calmed down.

A Great-crested Grebe came in close, probably the only grebe I will see on the sea today.

The tide was still low, but didn't appear to be going anywhere in Butts Bay.  The Brent Geese were arguing amongst themselves.

There was a large flock of Brent Geese on Fishtail, and a single drake Pintail.

For once the Pintail swam closer rather than swimming away.  Then found some shallow water to stand in.

The perfect spot to preen.

First the wing feathers

Then the eponymous tail

Then a ball of feathers

Then back up again.

The geese flew off leaving a Lapwing on the small island

I walked to Keyhaven lagoon and there were more duck upending, at the back of the lagoon was a large flock of Lapwing.  The duck were Wigeon, Pintail and Shelduck.

As I walked back a couple of Dunlin were feeding along the channel.

I decided to walk the sea wall once again.  As I passed the Jetty, a pair of Ravens flew over calling.

They flew around and one landed on the marsh scattering the Lapwings as it dropped down.

The tide now was rising, and there were flocks of waders flying around as the amount of land available to roost on was covered.  Knot were gathering at the end of one of the spits.

Back on the marsh, the Ravens had got together.

And one seemed to be nibbling the neck of the other.  Ravens breed early in the t=year and maybe this is part of the bonding.

While the Ravens were getting it on a Little Egret sat on one of the islands in the middle of the lagoon.

Earlier there had been plenty of mud visible, but now the tide had risen and pushed the Turnstones further up the beach, while a few were standing on the jetty itself.  In amongst them was the Purple Sandpiper.

After a preen they all flew down to the sea weed that was washed up on the beach, the Purple Sandpiper following the Turnstones, who roll the sea weed over with their heads like little bulldozers.

It then seemed to prefer walking and feeding along the tide line

As well as the Turnstones there were a few Dunlin.  The birds didn't seem to concerned as I edged closer.

As the waves broke on the sea weed, the Purple Sandpiper would jump up in an effort to avoid it.

It was extremely confiding

Then a few calls from the Turnstones, maybe they had realised that I was close, and they all flew off, including the Purple Sandpiper.

They flew around, but returned to the sea weed quickly.

I decided it was time to move on, so walked back along the path towards the car park.  In the flooded marsh there were feeding Canada Geese, the Wigeon, Teal and Pintail, plus large flocks of Black-tailed Godwits.  As they fed they continually called to each other.

My plan had always been to leave here at midday and head on to Romsey to see if I could get to see the Hawfinches at Mercer Way, however the weather was turning bad, the drizzle now constant.  I was mulling this as I watched the godwits, when my phone went off.  It was a cryptic message from Ian, who was not supposed to be out.  All it said was "Yes" many times and a thumbs up emoji.  It didn't take me long to work it out.  He had seen the Black Redstart that was reported at Hill Head yesterday.  I decided then that I should go there on my way home, and leave the Hawfinches for another day, when the weather would do them justice.

It took just under an hour to get there, the Christmas traffic slowing things down in Lymington and Lyndhurst.  As I arrived at the chalets I met Ian, who had to shoot off.  He showed me where the bird had been, but wasn't there now.

Now I have seen many Black Redstarts, when in Munich at work they breed around the railway station, and can be seen outside my office window.  However I had not managed to see one in Hampshire, mainly because I have never gone out of my way too, due to seeing them so frequently.  So I stood and waited.  Nothing happened so I walked around the chalets, and along the beach.  On the sea was a lone Great-crested Grebe, but no sign of the redstart.

I walked back through a path, and there it was sitting on one of the chalet fences

As I walked closer it dropped to the grass, then flew under a car, and then back to the fence and finally the wheely bin, before flying off over the chalet to the beach side.

I couldn't find it on the other side, so stood and waited to see if it would appear.  Out on the sea a single Common Scoter flew around the bay.

I walked back and found it once again, this time on a chain link fence, and it was a little more cooperative.

The white in the wing, the feint orange red tail and the dull grey colour make this a first year male.  As the spring comes the grey will become much more darker and black, and the tail a very vivid red as it flicks it constantly.  From the fence it was constantly looking down to the grass.

It dropped to the lawn, picked up something, and then flew off once again over the roof of the chalet, back to the beach side once more.

I walked around and found it searching a hard standing

It was still very active, and would only allow me to get so close.  It then flew off to the path between the chalets.  In certain light it would appear brown in colour, and at other times take on a slate grey appearance.

It continued to move about, and I decided I didn't want to chase it any more, and decided it was time to head home to warm up, and get ready for Christmas.  Tottenham were also playing Burnley this evening, and I fancied that they might come good.

Have a very Merry Christmas!