A new year once again, and after the celebrations of New Year’s Eve, and the wet and dismal weather that greeted us when we surfaced yesterday, today was bright and cold. One highlight yesterday though was a male Siskin on the feeders in the garden the first since I removed the feeders due to Trichomonosis back in September. We decided to head out for a bank holiday walk, and as we drove away from the house a Red Kite swooped low over the garden. The destination was to be the New Forest, specifically Eyeworth Pond. However what I hadn’t bargained with was the bank holiday visitors to the New Forest, and as I drove through Fritham past the Royal Oak pub, the tiny lane was covered in 4x4s, and out along the road were family parties with dogs and unfolded maps trying to work out where to walk.
Unperturbed I continued on towards the pond, and as we did the number of cars reduced, there were still plenty of cars in the small pond car park, but I managed to find a space. As I got out of the car I could see several Goosander at the back of the pond, and a single male Mandarin in open water behind the many feeding Mallard.
All kitted out we left the car and stood watching the water. Several more mandarin appeared, this time with females. Unfortunately they do not possess the wonderful plumage of the males, but do still have that delicate soft look about them.
The Goosander remained at the back of the pond, I could see three drakes, their creamy white plumage on the breast and body standing out against the darkness of the pond water, while the bottle green head and neck would tend to disappear. There were also about eight red-heads, the term used to identify the female or juvenile birds. This is probably a female bird going into adulthood. The adult females have a solid reddish plumage behind the bill, while the juveniles show a white stripe leading from the bill to the eye. The adult female also has a black tip to the bill. Here the bill is almost black.
There were many people around the edge of the pond, the Mallard benefiting from both the seed put out for the smaller birds, and the lumps of bread being hurled at them by over generous children. We walked through the wood and headed out along the main track passing Howen Bottom and heading in the direction of Longcross Plain. It was one of those typical New Forest Walks, beautiful light on the birch and bracken, but apart from the odd Robin or Crow totally devoid of any wildlife. On reaching the road the path looped back and eventually into the woods surrounding the pond once again. We came across a group of Fallow Deer, all stags, and all of different ages. They all possessed antlers, but only one or two, showed the characteristic palmate antlers that look like giant hands.
The walk had been a short one, but enough to blow away the cobwebs, and we arrived back at a slightly quieter pond, where the reduced activity had allowed the Goosander to be a little more approachable. Here a pair in mid water, you can see the full reddish plumage on the females head
Here two drakes together. I find male Goosanders extremely difficult to photograph, this is due to the large panels of contrasting dark green and white which plays havoc with the exposure, add to this the darkness of the water and it is very trial and error on what exposure to use.
The mallard were still collecting in front of us, and in the bushes Blue Tits were busy going from feeders and on to the ground to pick up the seed left for them. A Kingfisher was busy fishing on the far side of the pond. Every so often there would be a flash of blue or orange as it dived into the water. Finally it flew out of sight behind the island, where reportedly there was a pair of Wood Duck. Then from beneath the branches of the bushes on the island a pair of male Mandarin Ducks appeared.
The light was superb, picking out the deep orange of the whiskers and the “sails” as they quite quickly paddled across the pond in front of us.
The Mandarin Duck originates from East Asia, and was introduced into Europe from China, and have become established following escapes from captivity. In the 20th century a large feral population was established in Great Britain. It is a perching duck species, and is closely related to the North American Wood Duck, the only other member of its genus Aix.
The habitats it prefers in its breeding range are the dense, shrubby forested edges of rivers and lakes, mostly occurs in low-lying areas, the surrounding fringes of Eyeworth Pond are ideal for what can be a very secretive duck. They prefer to feed at dusk and dawn and can spend considerable amounts of time hidden away in the low lying branches. They mainly eat seeds, with beech mast and acorns a favourite during the winter, again Eyeworth providing plenty for them.
A small group of two males swam out accompanied by two females, both ducks have crests, the males though being a little more elaborate. The males also have two orange “sails” that are elongated tertial feathers in the wings, these are used in a highly ritualised display that includes raising the crest and sails, drinking and preening behind the sails. Here the low sunlight has caught the raised sails as the males swim with the females.
Two males conducting some synchronised swimming
The camera just wouldn’t stop taking shots.
A small group came closer and I was able to get some shots through the branches of the trees close to the side of the pond.
But they quickly returned to the open water, the blue sky reflecting nicely in the ripples of the water
We decided to walk up the road to get a drink at the Royal Oak. Bizarrely we sat outside on the 2nd January watching families complain about the benches being wet. When we arrived back at the pond I was quickly informed by one of the photographers there that the Wood Duck had appeared from the other side of the island and showed well. Unfortunately they disappeared once again just before we returned.
Out on the water the Goosander had now moved to the north eastern corner of the pond, the light again giving good reflections but playing yet again with the exposure.
A female Grey Wagtail flew in behind us and fed around a small flooded pool in front of the car park.
The Goosander were gathering again at the far side of the pond, and the Mandarin had gone missing, and while there was no sign of the Wood Duck my attention turned to the seed scattered around the edge of the pond and the birds feeding on it. A Marsh Tit coming very close.
The dominant bird though was the Blue Tit, with many about squabbling over the rights of certain patches, and then flying into the lichen covered trees to sit in the afternoon sunshine.
The Coal Tits performed there typical smash and grab raid technique, moving cautiously through the branches and then dropping quickly to the pile of seeds and then back up straight away into the tree to eat it.
Back to the water and still no sign of the Wood Duck. The Kingfisher though reappeared and I did manage to catch it as it flew back and forth from the shore to the island.
The total count of Goosander was twelve redheads, of which the majority were adult females, and four drakes. Every so often the mallard would have a funny five minutes and the Goosander would move away into the more open water for some privacy from the ducks.
Here you can see the clear markings and black bill of the adult female closer.
The cold was now beginning to bite, and I was considering joining Helen in the car to set off home even though the Wood Duck had not put in an appearance. I took one final scan through the branches on the island, at first to try and see the Kingfisher that had flown, but then I noticed some different white markings on a small duck.
A continued look finally revealed the drake Wood Duck, and behind it the female. They never showed any better than the picture you see above, but it was good enough to ensure I got the tick.
The last Wood Duck I had seen was in Vancouver, where they are expected to be seen. Like the Mandarin the population here in the UK is here because of escapes. Their numbers are not as widespread as the Mandarin, and they are little more secretive and harder to see.
A lovely easy day to start the year with some wonderful light and gorgeous subjects.