Sunday, 15 January 2017

14th January - Titchfield and Lower Test Marshes, Hampshire

After the snow of Thursday and the cold icy wind yesterday this morning it was still frosty, but maybe a little bit warmer as I drove south to meet up with Ian at the top of the Titchfield Canal path.  Leaving Four Marks a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of me as I I drove past the bridleway that leads to Newtown Plantation, the first on the patch for over eighteen months.  

At the car park as I waited for Ian, the gloom cleared and a Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees around the car park.

We set off down the path, and away in the distance you could hear the calls of Teal coming from the Posbrook floods.  We stopped to check the split tree, but it was empty, so continued on towards the floods.  As we got closer we could see a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flying around, as if concerned about settling in the marsh.

Finally the sun started to exert an influence, rising above the surrounding trees in the valley.  There was still frost around, but when the sun did get through you could feel its warmth.  It definitely had an effect on the Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two started to drum above us.  One was quickly picked up, and it flew off, while the other was a little harder to find.  We managed to locate it through the branches in the glow of the sunlight.  Photographing it was not easy as the branches were covering it.  I finally managed this shot.

We walked to a clear spot to scan the floods, behind us a single buzzard sat high in a tree, waiting for the sunshine to hit.  This was the original.

But I think it looks better in black and white.

The teal were still calling and displaying on the floods, and there were also a few Pintail and several Wigeon.  A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were standing in the water, water that was glowing orange in the reflected sunlight.

A small bird flew in, and turned out to be a Chiffchaff.  It was calling and moving quickly through the branches providing a challenge to photograph.  You have to wonder what they find to eat.

We headed on along the side of the canal, in a surrounding field two Roe Deer were grazing.

The sun was now turning everything it touched a golden sheen.  The reeds stood out, and as I looked I noticed movement that turned out to be a Marsh Harrier.

Difficult to follow in the low sunshine, but as it dropped low over the tops of the reeds it was easier to make out.

The sun on the reeds at this time of year is very difficult to ignore.

We decided to not go on further but to head back to the car park and pick up the cars a drive down to Hill Head.  One more check of the split tree revealed the same result, nothing, but in the ditch we watched a very elusive Cetti's Warbler creep through the reeds, while a much more confiding Wren perched on the fence for us.

We parked alongside the sea wall and walked towards the chalets looking for the Snow Bunting.  It was not there, but had been seen earlier so had probably flown to behind the sailing club, a favourite haunt when the tide is up. 

With the rising tide a flock of Sanderling were feeding vigorously at the edge of the water.  Every so often as one became separated from the others it would sprint across the sand at lightning speed to join up with them.

They were constantly moving, very much like the Chiffchaff in its search for food, either digging the bill through the water of sand, or running around to find a better spot.

They left the edge of the water and came closer feeding on the sand.

At this point a dog came along and the whole flock flew off, as Ian pointed out, the dog probably saved us from taking a lot of images!

We walked up the beach and then up onto Brownwich Cliffs.  Our quarry was a Little Gull, a first winter bird has been seen regularly on the fields at the top of the cliff.  As we came out into the open there were a few Black-headed Gulls about a first then Ian picked up the Little Gull at the back of the field.  It settled on the ground well away from us, but was soon up and flying around.  It remained quite distant for a while then finally one of its circles of the field saw it pass us a lot closer.

Here you can see the dusky grey cap and black smudge behind the eye.  There is a dark grey markings on the upper wings around the mantle, and scapulars but not with a distinctive difference, more a merged grey into the white.

It also lacks the dark grey underwing of the adult bird.  A lovely delicate small gull.

We then headed back to the sea wall, and walked to the Sailing Club, in the hope of catching the waders on the roost, but as we walked we realised that of course there was the chance of the Snow Bunting.  As we arrived there were several people pointing cameras at the beach.  But it was clear that the snow Bunting was there.

I finally found it and watched as it preened in the shelter of one of the groynes.

In the environments these birds are usually found the maintenance of their feathers would essential to their survival, and this one was being very diligent.

Using its bill to ensure all the barbs on the feathers were aligned so as to keep in the warmth.

Then finally a good stretch.

Ablutions complete it was off to search for food in amongst the pebbles.

We both got down low to be able to catch this little bird within the pebbles.

Not such an energetic feeder as the Chiffchaff or the Sanderlings it slowly moves inspecting every space between the pebbles for any sign of something to eat.

But also frequently stopping to look around.

Sheltering behind the wood of the groyne to get the best of the warmth from the sunshine.

We decided to move on, leaving the Snow Bunting to others.  We walked to the end of the beach looking for the waders that use this area to roost at high tide.  We could hear Turnstone calling, and several Ringed Plover appeared above the pebbles.  Crawling once again across the beach I disturbed some of the Sanderling and they flew off, but there was still quite a few left along with Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone.

The light was lovely as we watched them using the groyne as a sort of screen.  A Ringed Plover separate from the group, this is a first winter bird, it lacking the coloured bill.

A Sanderling broke away from the crowd and found a feather that seemed to become of interest, it constantly dropping it and picking it up.

More Ringed Plover.

Here the adult bird with the coloured bill.

As well as the beach the Turnstone were using the groyne to roost on, again all in the sunshine.

Then the Sanderling that had flown off earlier returned to the roost.

The numbers now were well over 30 and they jostled together on the beach.

Moving close together right up against the groyne to get the best shelter and position to get the benefit of the sunshine, which must have been welcome after the freezing temperatures of the last few days.

The groyne was not only attractive to the Turnstone, but also a single Dunlin who watched as it friend the Turnstone took forty winks.

But then the Turnstone left it on its own.

Just before we left I felt I had to show the complete scene with the birds huddled together close to the groyne out of the wind, and catching the sunshine.

We hauled ourselves up, and made our way back to the gate.  As we did so we checked the beach for the bunting, but it wasn't there, then a Pied Wagtail flew in with another bird, the Snow Bunting.  It landed close to us so of course we couldn't just leave.

This wonderfully confiding bird gave some superb views.

And against some beautiful backgrounds

Then back to the beach again to forage for food.

Now we had a decision to make, where to go next.  We finally decided on chasing a Bittern at Testwood Lakes.  Not one of my favourite places but here was the chance to redeem itself.  We walked around to the hide on Meadow Lake, the sun was still with us but the clouds that were now about indicated that it maybe won't last.

Out on the water there was a flock of Tufted Ducks, the sun creating a silhouette against the water.

As well as the Tufted Duck there were three Pochards, not a common duck these days.

More pictures of the Tufted Ducks against the water.

The patterns in the water contrasting with the black and white of the duck..

A Scaup had been reported in the week so when a few more Tufted Ducks flew in with checked them over and got a little interested when one showed a white patch at the base of the bill, however with a crest it was a female Tufted.

One interesting sight was a group of Shoveler feeding on the far side of the lake, they were moving around in a circle, both drakes and ducks together.

Still no sign of the Bittern, but a Grey Heron flew past us in the hide.

Still no sign of the Bittern despite frequent scans of the reed bed, we had to make do with one of the Pochards coming close again.

Patience ran out so we decided to head off to the Lower Test Marshes, once again Testwood Lakes having failed to deliver.

We walked to the hide with very little about, then decided to walk around the road to the other side and along Test Lane.  The marshes were full of Wigeon and mostly Black-headed Gulls, but very little else of interest.  Along Test Lane a Buzzard and Kestrel teased us as we crossed the railway and onto the marsh.

Walking through reeds and marsh we disturbed several Snipe, but one that took off from very close to us was interesting.  It was much smaller than the others, with a shorter bill.  The only doubt I had was that it flew a good distance over the river before dropping back into the reeds.  Jack Snipe drop quickly, but this one didn't maybe because of the river.  Not enough though for me to claim it.

On the river close to the reeds the Wigeon moved slowly away as we came too close for them.

We then walked back to the cars at Salmon's Leap across the board walk with hardly anything about.  At the bridge we found the two Red Head Goosanders, the first on the far bank on the right hand side of the bridge.

And the second, sitting in amongst Black-headed Gulls in the usual spot.

It is easy to complain about the afternoon, and forget that the morning delivered some wonderful scenes.  The afternoon was a bit dire, only made worse when seeing the news from other sites later in the evening.  The wonderful light and the ability to get close to both the bunting and the waders was very special and has delivered some lovely images.

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