Monday, 13 February 2017

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.

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