Sunday, 17 December 2017

17th December - Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

There has been a Barred Warbler at Titchfield Haven for a couple of weeks now.  Barred Warbler is a bird that I have never seen well, my only sighting was a brief glimpse in bushes at Walton on the Naze about 27 years ago.  Since then I have missed out on many occasions.  So when I learnt of this most confiding bird at Titchfield I was hoping it would stick around.  Family and work commitments construed to keep me away until today.  Some of the photographs seen have been superb, and apparently it allows very close approach.  On Saturday there had been bright sunny conditions, this morning there was supposed to be fog, but we awoke to a frost, and as I drove down to the Haven the temperature was bobbing around freezing all the way.

I parked on the sea wall and walked around to the visitor centre.  The tide was high and in the harbour amongst the mallard and farm ducks was a drake Pochard.  Usually a difficult bird to photograph due to the light grey and dark plumage, close up it was much easier.

This duck was here last year, and likes the company of the Mallard here in the harbour.

I walked around to the back of the visitor centre, where in the garden there are bushes of Cotoneaster, and Pyracantha.  Apparently the Barred Warbler feeds quite openly on the Cotoneaster berries, and has a favourite bush, this bush though was looking a little bare now, there was though another bush to the right of the favourite one.

There was no immediate sign of the warbler, but there were plenty of House Sparrows chirping in the bushes.

It was cold, but I was feeling determined.  It had been seen this morning, and just before I arrived there was a brief glimpse by the pond.  It seems quite regular in its habits, and has been loyal to these bushes, I was certain it would appear.  

The cold started to work its way up through my boots, and the constant sight of empty red berries was starting to worry me as we approached the hour mark. A large white duck flew over, and at first I though it would be a Shelduck, but to my surprise it turned out to be a drake Goosander, and headed out towards the sea.

A crowd had gathered by now, but still there was no sign, the Sparrows continued to chirp, and every so often, a Robin or Dunnock would raise hopes, as they appeared in the bushes.  I have spent so much time looking at leaves, and reeds, and now I can add berries to the list.

Another problem was the weather, rain was forecast for the afternoon, and looking at the radar on my phone, it wasn't far away, probably arriving in the next fifteen minutes

Then a shout came from the path, it had been seen in sailing club car park, so we wall ran over there.  A walk around didn't find it, so I walked back across the road when it flew from the bushes, across the road and into the tree above me. 

Not the best of views, but much better than my previous one 27 years ago!

It then flew off, and into the reserve car park.  I decided to make my way back to the berries, it seemed to be making its way to them.

It was then picked up once again in the trees on the other side of the path.  It sat in tree watching us.

Moving at times to show the barring.

It has been aged as a first year bird, but there was debate today as to whether it may be an adult female.  The eye is yellow, where in an immature bird it would be dark, but the tip of the bill is dark as is found in a first year bird.

It was dark and dull and the pictures are rather grainy.

Then it flew towards us and up into the tree above us, now along with the gloom I was faced with back lighting.

Some though capture the skulking nature of the bird.

Not interested in these berries.

Then it flew from the tree, once again over our heads and to the Cotoneaster berries in the bush on the wall.  Everyone scrambled up the steps, and found the warbler in the hebe bush, but it came out and headed for the berries.

Squashing them before swallowing.

The rain was starting, right on queue, but it didn't matter the warbler put on an excellent show.

Checking out for more berries.

Maybe some above?

This one?

My turn to get photographs of the Barred Warbler eating berries.

It sat quite happily despite the number of cameras pointing at it.

Finally I had managed to get some superb views of a Barred Warbler.

They breed in Eastern Europe, east of Germany and Italy, they are also found in southern Sweden.  Highly migratory, they winter in eastern Africa, but a few move west, and are regular autumn visitors to the east coast of Britain.

I suspect this one arrived on the east coast in the autumn, and then tried to move south in an attempt to reach Africa, ending up here in Hampshire, and finding the berries and habitat very much to its liking, having been here since the middle of November, being seen on and off at first, but much more frequently over the last two weeks as it feasted on the berries.

Having made it through the recent cold snap, it will probably stick around while the store of berries remain, hopefully into the new year when it would be another very welcome year tick.

Having filled up on berries it returned to the shelter of the hebe, but then coming out once again creeping along the ground to the cotoneaster berries.

The rain was now a little harder, so I decided it was time to leave, After a two hour wait the bird performed very well, all had been worthwhile.

As I walked back to the car, I could see three Shelduck on the Meon.

A Common Gull was also sitting on one of the posts in the rain.

The tide was still high so despite the rain I walked along the beach to see if there were any waders roosting.  First to appear was a Ringed Plover.

Then a Redshank walked along the edge of the water.

On the shingle alongside the harbour mouth were a group of Sanderling and Ringed Plover.

A careful approach can allow you to get quite close to these roosting waders.  The Sanderling are lovely in their silvery grey winter plumage.  The only part of the ring I can read here is "26"

Happy to continue roosting.

Some more Ringed Plover.

And another single Sanderling, this time awake!

As I walked back to the car a single Great-crested Grebe was just off shore, you can see the rain was now quite hard, it was also very cold.

As I sorted myself out the car I looked across the the Meon Shore hide in the reserve.  Mist was welling up across the scrape as the warmer air started mix with the cold.

I decided that he best place to be would be back home, so I packed up the car, and set off home, satisfied with the day's proceedings.

Monday, 4 December 2017

2nd December - Beaulieu Estuary and Black Gutter Bottom, New Forest, Hampshire

After the cold, bright freezing days we had during the week, the morning was overcast and just a little above freezing, the weather forecast said it would be warming up, but it felt much colder as I waited for Ian at Nursling.  We were heading to the estuary around Beaulieu.

As we drove along the main path there were Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges everywhere, they scattered as we drove slowly around the pot holes. We headed all the way down to the point, with the tide rising there was the chance to scan for something both within the estuary, and out in the Solent.

Getting out of the car a Grey Seal could be seen hauled up on one of the pontoons, looking more a brown seal, than grey this was probably due to the high amount of tannin flowing into the estuary from the New Forest streams.

There were several flocks of small passerines flying about, and as they passed overhead the majority called to identify themselves as Linnets, however one bird separated from the flock and headed north calling, and I recalled my time in Essex when these birds would callas they flew over the sea wall at East Tilbury, a Lapland Bunting.

We walked to a good vantage point where we could see both the Solent and the estuary.  Along the edge of the estuary was a group of eight Spoonbill, all doing what good Spoonbill all do, sleeping.

Scanning the Solent, Ian picked up a Greta Northern Diver, moving west, diving as it went.  It was relatively close in, but still very distant for anything other than a record shot.

As we watched the diver I picked up a small grebe, and then very quickly a second, at first we though Bleck-necked but as they turned and showed the head shape and the white on the cheeks and neck it was clear that they were Slavonian Grebes.  Again nothing more than a record.

Things then moved at a pace, a large flock of Wigeon had a red head Goosander feeding at one end, and mid channel were two Eider, three Pintail and a single Guillemot, again heading west, and diving frequently.  All these very much too far away.

The tide was now rising quite quickly, filling the channels in front of us, and providing a lake for the Brent Geese. It remained bitterly cold

A single Herring Gull drifted on the rising water in front of us.

Gunfire came from the estate, and this unsettled a lot of the geese and duck.  As they flew off the Spoonbill were awoken from the their dreams, and decided that maybe they should move on.

They circled around the area for awhile before settling back down on the marsh further up the estuary.

Aside from the gun shots the geese and Wigeon appeared to be unsettled, and would take to the air frequently.  As well as the wildfowl, the Rooks and Jackdaws too could be seen flying up in large flocks, but we were not able to find any bird of prey other than a staionary Buzzard

It seems every day out these days produces a Kingfisher, and once again the familiar piercing whistle signaled the arrival of one.  It flew to a post not to far from us.

And decided on one dive into the water, probably just to wash, before returning to the post to sit and watch.

Then it flew off, around the point and came back into the estuary to settle on a post above the Grey Seal.  we walked back to try and get close, but it was off again, out across the saltmarsh.  We were though closer to the seal, who watched us carefully as we approached.

We were more an annoyance as we walked as close as we could get, it kept its eye on use, but never seemed as if it would drop into the water, water which was probably warmer at this time than the air temperature.

The early rush of sightings were now winding down.  Three Little Grebes were in the estuary, and on the Solent up to three Great-crested Grebes, but apart from that it was quiet.

We then decided to spend our time around the lakes and pools, where there were plenty of duck.  The majority were Wigeon, and there whistles could be heard all the time along with the honks of Canada and Brent Geese.

On one of the lakes were up to thirty Pochard, all mostly sleeping.

And in amongst the Pochard were four Scaup, although here only three together

The two on the left are probably first winter drakes, the right hand bird a female.

Scanning around there were plenty of Teal and Shoveler, and five Pintail drakes and a single duck, but like all Pintail, quite a way from us.

The Scaup would alternate from sleeping with bouts of swimming around, here the female.

With not much else about our attention turned to the other ducks on the water, all now in their beautiful breeding plumage.  A drake Gadwall, often over looked but possessing some beautiful markings on the breast in the form of fine black and white waves.

It would seem that Wigeon were everywhere, on the water whistling away and grazing in the grass, with some of the drakes posted as look outs with their heads standing up above the feeding bodies.

Again, due to their numbers they are probably over looked but again they are a very beautiful duck

Lovely reflections in the still water.

We went back to the Scaup to see if there was any movement or activity.  At first they continued their sleeping with heads tucked under the wing.  But then two decided to preen, and one of the drakes, at last, wing flap.

The peaceful scenes continued, punctuated by the whistle of a Wigeon, or the splash landing of Brent Geese as they flew in from the surrounding fields.  The Pochard though sleeped on, but with one eye on events.

Back at the car, a strange shape on a piece of driftwood out on the saltmarsh caught Ian's eye, and it turned out to be a Peregrine, probably a male sitting on the wood.  Here was probably too the cause of all the panic earlier this morning.

We decided to move on, it was still very grey and cold, but as we headed north back to nursling it started to rain.  These conditions turned worse as we headed on to the New Forest, and as we pulled up at the footpath leading down to Black Gutter Bottom, there was a heavy drizzle in the air, more from low cloud than actual rain.

Once the drizzle had eased we walked down to the stream, and then up the other side towards Leaden Hall.  Bird life was extremely hard to find, there was the occasional, sharp rattle from a Wren somewhere in amongst the gorse, and every so often as we walked down the hill a Robin would appear as if to watch our movements for disturbing something worth eating.

Up on Leaden Hall several Blackbirds could be seen on the grazed turf, but there was no sign of either Redwing or Fieldfare.  We walked across to view Ashley Hole, and the silence and lack of movement continued.  We decided on walking a loop along to Cockley Plain, and then down into Black Gutter Bottom.  We were hoping to find a Hen Harrier, but to be quite truthful, anything would do.

In amongst the ponies were a group of Fallow Deer, all now with their thicker dark grey winter coats., standing out amongst the deer though was a complete white deer, not albino, but leucistic Fallow Deer.

It appeared quite at ease with the other deer, and as they moved away it went within as part of the group.

A lot of the gorse has been removed from the area, tyre tracks from tractors gouged into the mud, and a lot of open space where previously gorse bushes stood.  Every so often there would be a call of the Dartford Warbler, and a brief view as one flew low between the gorse bushes.  The Wrens too continued to scold, these two doing it out in the open.

As we walked down into Black Gutter Bottom a Raven flew overhead, while a Crow called from the top of a nearby tree.  Every so often a Blackbird would fly over, and as we approached a small copse of trees that included some Holly bushes there were Redwing feeding on the berries and on the ground, and a lone Fieldfare sitting in the middle of the Holly tree.

As I approached to get closer to the thrushes, the Fieldfare burst from the tree and settled conveniently at the top of a bush close by, the first good view I have had of one this winter.

The search for Hen Harrier was becoming fruitless, and it made the walk a burden, there was no sign at all, and this was confirmed by another birder who had been searching.  maybe the gorse clearing work had scared them off, or just the fact that this is now quite a popular place to walk dogs.  Safe to say though we could have searched all day without any joy in finding one.

We decided it was time to call it a day, as we did a group of Fallow Deer jogged down the hill and stopped to watch a dog walker from a safe distance.

A day that had started so brightly gradually fizzled out, leaving an air of despondancy, which in truth was not deserved, such has been our success lately that it was always to be.  The winter here in Hampshire though, by now needs the injection of interest that a new year brings