Saturday, 25 February 2017

25th February - RSPB Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex

After sunshine yesterday that saw some lovely images from the garden, this morning iot was grey and overcast with drizzle in the air.  Wwe decided to cross the border into West Sussex with a trip to Pulborough, one of the reasons being there was several good hides to keep out of the weather should it turn bad.

As we leftthe visitor centre and walked down towards the West Mead hide the wind was blowing and the drizzle remained.  Unfortunately due to the direction of the wind the hide did not provide much shelter from the freshening wind, and it was quite cold sitting looking out over the pond in front of the hide.  The duck were using the islands as shelter too from the wind, a pair of Pintail were tucked up and sleeping.

A Shoveler too used the shelter of the island from the wind.

Out on the water there were large groups of Wigeon, Shoveler, and Shelduck.  As usual at the back and furthest away were the Pintail, you could see their tails sticking out of the water as they upended.

Then one male came from the far side to join the pair in the lee of the island.

But rather than tuck in and take the chance for a nap it decided to preen.

Showing off that lovely chocolate brown head and white stripe.

It was turning out to be a Pintail day with four males and a female flying past the hide.

Circling round the islands and then past us once again and down on to the water.

The Wigeon would alternate between the water and the field, grazing amongst the Lapwing.  In addition there were several Starling about feeding in small groups.  The hide was quite full and noisy, but very soon every one moved on, would they miss something?

Every so often the Lapwing would go up, but the others would just ignore them, then all of a sudden they all wind up in a blind panic.  I scanned to see why, then heard a familiar call, a Peregrine, and it was homing in on an isolated Teal.

It missed the Teal, and we watched the duck head off over the hide.  The Peregrine thoug came around to the right of the hide, and swooped low under the overhanging branches of the tree, and the flew close past us low over the field and then out over the water.  Unfortunately this was far too fast for the camera and I only managed some very poor blurred images.  As it headed away from us gaining height I was able to catch it from behind.

It gained height as we watched it, and at one stage I thought it would come back, but it kept on going, disappearing away in the direction of the visitor centre.

All the duck settled down, the wigeon heading closer towards us.  

They make a nice pattern, it could be a jigsaw puzzle or maybe wall paper.

The Pintail was still preening, maybe stopping briefly when the Peregrine passed over.

We then decided to leave the hide, and stepping outside it suddenly felt considerably warmer, the wind coming in through the windows of the hide had made it very cold.

A brief stop in the Winpenny and Little Hanger hides revealed very little, so we headed on to Netley's.  Coming down the zig zag path there was a little bit of activity in the oak trees.  A Nuthatch.

And then a Treecreeper, foraging on a fallen oak bough covered in moss.

We spent sometime in the hide, out on the west brooks, were more Wigeon, Teal and Pintail, a few Cormorants and in front of the hide a pair of Moorhen.  As I watched the Moorhen in the ditch a Cetti's Warbler appeared in the reeds and skulked through close to the water.

Very little seemed to be happening, very much the way at this time of year, the winter still holding on, and everything very much on hold until spring arrives in about two to three weeks time.  So it was back out to the path, where the Treecreeper was still about showing well in another Oak tree.

They move like a little mouse up the bough of the tree, never coming down the tree like the Nuthatch, but flying down and starting all over again.

And that was about it.  We walked back to the Visitor Centre as the drizzle started to return, along the path Robins waited to see if anything was disturbed, they also chose to sing in sub song rather than full voice, the wind and wet conditions probably having an influence.

On the way back to Hampshire the rain rolled in, and it seemed as if we had the best part of the day. Roll on Spring

Saturday, 18 February 2017

18th February - Acres Down & Holmhill Inclosure, New Forest, Hampshire

What a difference a week has made, last week the temperature hardly got above freezing, accompanied by a fresh easterly wind.  This weekend after a misty start the sun broke through and it felt positively balmy.

Helen and I decided to spend some time in the New Forest, and pulled into the Acres Down car park with a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming high above us.  The walk along the main path did not turn up that much, singing Song Thrushes and Robins in the trees and bushes on either side, and the calls of Siskins high in the trees.

When we arrived at Highland Water there was a group of four dogs so there was little about.  A Grey Wagtail flew off calling and another Song Thrush appeared in the tree beside the path.

We followed the path with little else about.  As the path took us through the Holmhill Inclosure a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called several times, and also drummed.  Unfortunately we were not able to locate it, and it then went quiet as it seems they always do.

With the sun now out and the sky was a lovely blue.  Where the sun filtered through the Spruce trees it would catch the needles and they reflected like silver.

We had remarked it might be possible for a butterfly today, and then there in front of us was a Red Admiral.  It settled on one of the many dried leaves in the sunshine.

The path looped around and we ended up back at the stream once again, faced with the wonderful dead tree on the corner.

We made our way back to the car park.  In one of the marshy areas buy the side of the path Helen found a large amount of recent Frog Spawn, two indicators of spring.

We then found ourselves stopping to be frustrated by a small flock of Lesser Redpolls, they just kept moving making the opportunity to photograph them impossible.  Then when a bird did settle on  one of the high branches it turned out to be a male Chaffinch.

Back at the car we decided to take lunch up to the Acres Down view point.  As I laid the ground sheet I noticed a distant bird circling high in the sky.  A Goshawk, and while it gave some great views in the binoculars it was just still too distant for the camera.

I watched as it looked like it was going to come closer, but again as always it turned and headed into the tall pines on the ridge to the north.

A Small Tortoiseshell flew past and disappeared into the gorse, and as we sat having lunch we could hear the buzzing of bees taking advantage of the flowering gorse.

We decided to walk along the lower trail back to the car, and this proved to be a good choice as we flushed a group of four Woodlark from the heather.  One stayed close.

And then flew up into the nearby Pine tree.

Unlike the Skylark the Woodlark will readily perch in trees, but they feed on the ground

They are much smaller than a Skylark, and appear quite stocky, with a small crest that is not really visible here.  The tail is short and has white tips, while there is a black and white wing patch, just visible here.  the most distinctive feature though is the prominent whitish supercilia, which when seen from behind, meet on the nape in a "V"

A little further on we came across the third Red Admiral of the day, sunning itself on the drying mud in one of the tyre tracks.

We then drove around to Mark Ash Wood, and went off to search for the Tawny Owl, but it was not to be seen.  We then spent some time on both sides of the drive, looking and hoping for a sign of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, but there was nothing.  Al we came across was a lot of singing Robins, a single Wren in a dead tree, and the calls of Stock Dove.  The Stock Doves sound very much like Monkeys, and they could be seen in the tops of the trees.

We then decided on an ice cream before heading home.  The sunshine was very pleasant and welcome, but it would seem that the doldrums that do occure at this time of year have started.

Monday, 13 February 2017

12th February - Whiteley Shopping Centre, Hampshire

Yesterday afternoon we found out that at least five WAxwings had turned up in the trees and hedge around the Whiteley Village Shopping Centre and the Leisure Centre.  Ian dropped in on his way home after we left Pennington and saw them.  This morning they were still there, so Helen and I decided to do some shopping.

I haven't managed to see any Waxwings let alone photograph them since 2011, so this was a key moment for me.  We arrived just as the shops were opening, and parking became the first problem.  Once a suitable spot had been found the next challenge was to find the birds.  They had been seen at the back of the Cinema, so we walked around the car park to the back of the cinema.  As we walked up two other birders were looking into the hedge, and sure enough there they were if a this time a little way off.

At last I have caught up with these wonderful birds, and as we watched them they were joined by the other two birds to complete the party of five.  There has been discussion that these are in fact two adults and three immature birds, probably a family party.  They sat in the top of the tree for awhile.

They then flew off, and I watched two birds fly across the playing field to the housing estate at the other side.  Was this to be my only sighting, I hoped not.  Unfortunately the football pitches were now full, and the games had started.  Ironically I played here for Four Marks Vets about ten years ago against a young Burridge team, in the Hampshire Cup, the less said about the result the better.

There were already several photographers on the edge of the filed, and it became obvious that the birds were back.  I then decided to make my way through the hedge and out on to the field where I could get a much better view.

What a stunning bird, the little wax like blobs on the end of the secondaries that give the bird its name.

Here you can see the defined "v" marks on the primary tips, and the clearly defined black throat.  This is an adult male bird.

The black bib clearer here, the female bird's bib is much more diffused.  Another identification feature of the adult male is the broad yellow band at the end of the tail.

The males also have a longer crest than the female.

The correct name for the bird is the Bohemian Waxwing, the other member of the family being the very similar Cedar Waxwings, which is smaller and plainer.lacking the yellow markings on the primaries.

This a first winter female, with the diffused black bib, and the pale yellow or almost white lines on the primaries, along with only a few waxy tips to the secondaries.

There were still plenty of rose hips about, and the birds showed their dexterity in plucking them, and then throwing them up to swallow.

At this time of year they gather in flocks to take advantage of the berry crops.  We get Waxwing years when the berry crops fail in Northern Europe the birds migrate, starting in Scotland and the north east, then working their way across the country.  This winter has been one of those years and the birds have finally made it to the south coast.  There have been two main sightings so far here in Hampshire, this the first one I have been able to get to.

Two of the immature birds turned their serious attention to the berries.

Another immature bird, the broader band on the tail and a slightly longer crest means this is probably a male bird.

The rose hips and other red berries take their toll, in fact the Waxwings metabolism is able to cope with the alcohol formed from the fermenting berries in most cases, but when they gorge on too many too quickly it can have disastrous consequences.

Some lovely pictures against a lovely dark background of the cinema

Both young birds tucking into the rose hips

Their feeding behaviour has been likened to parrots.  The berries are the winter food of choice, but during the summer and the breeding season they feed on insects and grubs.

Then the birds that were perched higher up, and away from those feeding on the berries suddenly elongated their bodies as if stretching up to see.  The first though that maybe their was a predator and this was an alarm stance.

And with that they all burst out of the trees, and away over our heads across the playing field.

The birds were mobile turning up in other trees around the centre, although they seemed to favour the bushes at the back of the cinema

The Waxwings will continue to search out the berries across the country before making their way back to Northern Europe and their breeding grounds beyond.  They could still be about along the east coast in late April, as they are in no rush to reach their typical breeding grounds on the edge of the taiga forests in Finland and Northern Russia, where the snow is still to melt in late May.  Breeding will take place in June, the nests being built in coniferous woods, around marshy and swampy ground where there are plenty of insects.

At last I have caught up with them and managed to get some acceptable shots of this beautiful winter visitor.  May every year be a Waxwing year

11th February - Pennington, Oxey, Normandy & Keyhaven Marshes, Hampshire

February has been yet another uneventful weather month so far, and while this weekend saw the temperature fall along with sleet showers I wouldn't say it was a time of interesting weather, the sort that would turn up something interesting.  As I drove south to meet Ian at the Pennington Marsh car park the temperature hovered around freezing, after leaving Four Marks in a snow shower.  By the time I reached the destination the thermometer had risen a degree or two, but it was very cold, and there was still the feel of sleet in the air.

The fields next to the car park were flooded, and in the gloom I could hear the calls of Wigeon, and the continual peeping of Lapwing.  All of a sudden the lapwing would go up, and with them a flock of Golden Plover.  At the back of the field the reason was clear, the familiar "V" shape and rocking flight of a Marsh Harrier could be seen just above the sky line.

The concern did not last long and soon the Lapwing were drifting slowly back down to the ground, and the calling continued once again.

From the car park we walked down the side of the marsh.  All of a sudden the waders were up again, this time in a frenzied panic with the flocks tightly together and the calls much more immediate.  Then we saw the reason, the unmistakable silhouette of a Peregrine flying low over the marsh.  We watched as it dropped down on to the marsh, and bent over as if it was plucking a kill.

We were not sure what had happened but the Peregrine was definitely pulling away at a bird.  It had either just taken it and was disturbed or it had been there a while, having killed earlier.

The situation then became a little easier to understand as a crow started to move in on the Peregrine, and its kill, but the Peregrine was having nothing of this, and as the crow got closer the falcon flew at it and chased the crow away, at one point it looked like the falcon hit the crow.  The crow would retreat to the top of a nearby bush, while the Peregrine flew around.

The peregrine then returned to its meal, but the attack did not deter the crow and it repeatedly tried again, each time getting a little closer, and each time it was aggressively chased off by the falcon.

After each chase the Peregrine would return to the kill.

Finally the Peregrine had enough, and took off with the kill, which we could now see was an unfortunate Lapwing, carrying it low over the marsh and away to the cover of the distant hedge.  The Crow returned to the bush to watch the marsh once again.

As we approached the sea wall, the flooded area seemed to be covered with Shoveler, some remained quite close to us, not concerned by our presence as they fed in the marshy water.  The drakes look superb at the moment, the sharp orange flanks, and the bottle green heads with that bright yellow eye, and of course the wonderful shoveler bill.

 Finally we tried to get a little too close and the duck burst from the water, and headed to the far side of the marsh.  But this provided the opportunity to also appreciate the colours of these ducks in flight.

As we walked up onto the sea wall we found a very confiding Curlew, that just walked a little in front of us.

Walking along the sea wall heading east the pools to our left were full of Wigeon.  Every so often their whistles would punctuate the silence over the marshes.  It was turning out to be a good day to get close to photograph the ducks.  These male Wigeon looking equally superb.

The dark and still water providing a reflection and wonderful background.

A little further on a lone Greenshank was feeding in the deeper water.  Again the darkness of the water providing the perfect backdrop.

Scanning the marsh we picked up a single Marsh Harrier, and followed it as it drifted over the back of the marsh.  The typical hunting behaviour of this raptor is to follow a regular course so we decided to take the path through the marsh, and just wait to see if it returns.  It did, coming over our heads, pulling away when it realised we were there.

We decided to wait again, and as we did a couple of Roe Deer emerged from the scrub.  First the doe who walked past us, and then a buck with nice velvet covered antlers.

It stopped as we called just to see what we were.

The doe though was spooked and she set off across the flooded ground, leaping high and flicking back the hind legs in a defensive show.

This is as much a way of confusing potential predators, of which of course there are very few in this country.  the odd hunter, and of course the car being the only threat.  With the heaight she could leap you can understand why when crossing a road they can be quite a danger to passing vehicles.

The buck followed the doe, but not with the same concern, and we decided to walk on.  We were heading into the cold easterly wind.  Down on the marsh the duck were seeking out shelter from the cold, and even the hardy Little Grebes were taking the opportunity to shelter where possible.

We walked around to Normandy Marsh, the rising tide pushing Brent Geese and Lapwing from their roosts in the bay over and onto the marsh.  We picked out a group of Avocet, and walked around to get a closer look, but as we did so runners and other walkers disturbed them and they flew further away from us.

As we edged closer to the Avocet, a movement below us along the ditch brought some colour to a dull day.  A Kingfisher sped past, then alighted on one of the electric fence posts and looked down into the water.

Again we tried to get closer but were thwarted by a dog that flushed it from the post, and it flew ahead of us before settling on the fence itself.  Not the best photo opportunities as the pictures are distant and gloomy, but enough to brighten the day.

As we turned to head back the Avocet had now settled, a black and white bird for a monochromatic day.

The walk was now with the wind behind us, and we noticed the difference, while still cold it felt a little more comfortable.

A call behind us alerted us to a Raven on the sea wall, which was then joined by another.

Ravens in the highlands and mountains are very early nesters, but here they seem to hang on a little longer.

Rather than cross the marsh we decided to walk around Oxey Marsh.  Below us from the sea wall once again were a collection of duck and waders.  A preening Black-tailed Godwit.

While Teal tucked themselves away beside the tufts of grass, and snuggled down to see out the sleet that was now falling.

Then we came across the bird we had hoped to find here, in fact three of them, Spotted Redshanks, and fortunately close in.

 Again some lovely reflection in the grey water of a very elegant wader.

I had noticed a distant bird out to sea, and had assumed it was a Great crested Grebe as we didn't have a scope with us.  However as we walked around the marsh the bird was closer and it definitely wasn't a Great-crested Grebe, but a Slavonian Grebe.

Back to the marsh, and more Shoveler showing close to the path, again the beautiful bottle green head, and that striking yellow eye.

A Little Egret striking a perfect pose was to perfect to pass by.

And another beautiful duck that is often passed by, the Shelduck.

The three Spotted Redshanks we had seen earlier had stayed on the pool, we now came across another six all feeding in deep water with that frantic approach, plunging the head deep down and upending in search of food.

At the back of the marsh we picked up another Spotted Redshank making a total of ten present.

As we watched the redshanks a small bird appeared on one of the small islands, it then flew to  the bank and proceeded to make its way along the edge of the water.  The breast was lightly speckled, but with a lighter belly, and there was a light supercillium above the eye.  A Water Pipit.

The day was turning out be special despite the cold, and we remarked on how few birders we had come across.  Clearly a day for hardiness.

Another interesting aspect about the day was how the gloom and dull conditions were providing some lovely scenes for photography.  A couple of drake Tufted Ducks at rest on the water through some lovely reflections.

Closer in and this drake just keeps its yellow eye on me.

Then my favourite a drake Pintail, again, obligingly close in, to allow a close appreciation of the beautiful markings.

Then framed by the steely grey water.

By now we had reached Fishtail, and were hoping that a Spoonbill would be about.  There was no sign at all, and as we waited an watched we were entertained by a single Redshank below us.  here you can see the main difference from the more elegant Spotted Redshanks, the Redshank is stockier with a much shorter bill, and feeds in a more methodical away than that of the frantic approach by the Spotted Redshanks.

 As we approached Keyhaven Lagoon we could see Little Egrets dotted around the shore, but there was no sign of any Spoonbills, then from over my head one appeared, circled above the lagoon before dropping down and out of sight at the back.

 Then our attention turned to a marsh Harrier that was quartering the marsh, as we followed it another appeared in the same view, a female, and what was probably an immature male.

The immature male drifted away from us, while the female passed us by heading off in the same direction we had seen one previously.

Back on the lagoon, the Spoonbill had come out of the cover and was settling down to do what Spoonbills do best.

The tide was now falling, and out over the saltmarsh the waders were getting restless.  All of a sudden there was a huge flock rising up from the beach, and circling around over the sea.  These looked like a collection of Dunlin, Knot and Grey Plover.

Then Ian picked out the possible cause of all the commotion, a Peregrine on the beach, this time without a kill.

With the tide falling the channels were now full of fast flowing water, and in one of these were a female Red-breasted Merganser, and two female Goldeneye.  They all were diving frequently in the fast flowing water.

We carried on around to Keyhaven Harbour, in the hope that there would be some Red-breasted mergansers close in.  We were not disappointed as we picked up two males preening.

The frustration though was that they appeared to be content to roost, and it took a while for them to raise their heads.  Finally one did.

As the falling tide revealed the beach, a flock of Turnstone worked their way through the exposed pebbles, always keeping a safe distance ahead of us.

As we approached the harbour a Marsh Harrier put up a lot of waders from the reed bed at the back.  Eventually the Marsh Harrier settled down in a bush, and we could just see its head as it scanned around the reed bed.

Behind the Harrier a Buzzard flew up from the barn and drifted away and out of sight

We then made our way back to the car park at Pennington.  In the gravel pits were good flocks of Gadwall and Shoveler, and on the main pit several hundreds of Canada Geese along with Brent, and several Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls in amongst a group of Black-headed Gulls.

After lunch we scanned the flooded field once again, the more obvious sightings were lapwing, Golden Plover and Wigeon, but closer in, with a little perseverance there were several Snipe.

They were moving about amongst the grass and water, and either ran through the marsh, or flew as they realised that we were close.

Once they move they are easy to locate but stationary is a different subject.

Then suddenly everything was up.  It started when a single lapwing close to the road was spooked by us, the effect of that then spread through the whole marsh, all the other Lapwing took to the air calling.  Snipe appeared from out of nowhere with their characteristic call, Wigeon were frantically whistling and the Golden Plover formed tightly in a flock high above us.

Once it was clear there was no real threat everything started to settle down, the Lapwing drifting slowly apart and then quietly back onto the marsh.  The Golden Plover flew around a little bit longer but finally also headed back down on to the marsh.  

This time a little closer than they had been.

Unlike the Lapwing that pretty much spread out across the whole of the marsh, the Golden Plover keep close together in a large single flock.

Despite all the commotion the Shoveler continued to feed, and again were close to the side of the road allowing some nice views.

We walked on to the bend in the lane where we could scan the marsh from the gate.  There were plenty of Pintail tucked away at the back of the field, and a Roe Deer by the far fence.  As I scanned I noticed a reddish blob, that once again turned out to be a Fox, tucked in amongst the gorse, and sheltered from the cold wind.

For the second week running I had found one.  This one though was not enjoying the sunshine, but looking to keep warm with its brush tucked around it.

It was watchful though, and kept its eye on this Lapwing that never went too close.

As we made our way back to the car park a drake Pintail had come close to the road side, and provided yet another great shot.

From the car park we headed back towards the sea wall, scanning the floods for any sign of a reported Ruff

At the sea wall Goldfinches were feeding on the teasel heads.

As I watched them I couldn't help but think about how some Goldfinches, namely those that consume all my seed in the garden, have it easier than others.

They do look better perched on the teasel heads than sitting on a feeder though.

From the jetty we could see the Slavonian Grebe once again, and walked along the jetty to get a little closer.  Gradually the grebe came closer too, this being the best shot, you can almost make out the red eye.

As we watched and photographed the grebe, flocks of waders streamed by, moving east to take advantage of the mud that was becoming exposed.  There were lots of Dunlin and Knot, but also several Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover too.  Here there are four Bar-tailed Godwits, in total we counted 15.

As we walked back down the jetty Turnstone were feeding amongst the bladder wrak, flicking it over and pushing it out of the way to search for insects and any type of food.  A Rock Pipit moved amongst them, looking to capitalise on their work.

here you can see it is much more heavily streaked all over the breast and belly, and there is no supercilium. 

As we walked the stream of birds heading east continued, a Grey Heron with its slow and effortless languid flight passed by just above the water.

A Curlew, probably the same bird we had seen earlier flew past and onto the sea wall behind us.

Above us also mixed flocks of Pintail and Wigeon headed inland to the pools and marsh.  Here the Pintail...

 And here Pintail and a female Wigeon.

With tide falling and water pouring out of the sluice, the edge of the exposed mud was covered in waders and Black-headed Gulls.  Feeding just up from the water's edge were several Ringed Plover, their technique being a calm and measured approach picking out any food opportunity gently.

While the Dunlin busied themselves around the water's edge, drilling their beaks into the water and the mud below.  In some case forcing themselves deep into the rushing water.

The air was full of the soft piping calls of the Dunlin, and in complete contrast the raucous calls of the Black-headed Gulls.  Then they were all up and away, something having triggered them to move away.

All that was left was a Little Egret fishing in the flowing water, as it waded carefully the yellow feet emerging from the muddy grey water.

The wind was blowing the fine display feathers on the back and neck, one of the reasons these birds were sought after in past times to allow ladies to decorate their hats.

We walked around to Keyhaven Lagoon once again, but there was no sign of the Spoonbill we had seen earlier, a Rock Pipit held our attention for awhile along the sea wall, but we could see it was definitely a Rock Pipit.

We had been out now for just over eight hours, and the cold was now beginning to get through.  A Reed Bunting sitting in a bush provided a good photographic opportunity, and a chance to forget  the cold.

 Scanning over Fishtail picked up a Marsh Harrier once again, as it flew close a Crow in the bush beside us called out in annoyance.

 The Harrier slowly headed our way circling above us giving some excellent views.

It came overhead before drifting back from where it came from.

As it moved away the crow called again, and we turned to have a Raven come close just over our head, the crow obviously not liking the Raven coming too close.

The cold was now beginning to eat into everything, and we decided to head back to the car park, before we left though there was one more chance to capture a pair of Pintail tucked away from the wind beside one of the islands.

As I drove home I thought about the day, with the cold and the gloom it was not the sort of day when I would have expected to get a lot of good photographs, however today had turned up quite a few, it was as if the cold weather allowed us to get closer.  The ducks particularly were wonderful, and for some reason the grey conditions helped to emphasize their beauty.  We had found some really special birds, and withstood all the winter weather could throw at us for well over eight hours.