Sunday, 19 March 2017

18th March - Mark Ash Wood; Fishlake Meadows, & Testwood Lakes, Hampshire

We reach the middle of March and we are faced with weather that isn't sure what it wants to be, and the wildlife is also in the same frame of mind.  The week has seen mild and warm sunshine, however this morning the sunshine was gone, there was rain and wind, but it was mild.  As I arrived at the car park in Mark Ash wood in the New Forest the birds were in full song, and the rain had eased.  I could hear Song Thrush, Blackbird Robin Wren and Chaffinch, and every so often the call of a Stock Dove up in the tops of the trees.

I had arranged to meet Ian, and we were here for the annual Lesser Spotted Woodpecker search, while we have had glimpses and hear them on most visits we have never had really good views.  Walking amongst the fallen Beech trees we pondered whether today would be the day.

A distant drumming changed our direction and we headed south towards a group of tall dead trunks and branches, and I quickly found a Woodpecker at the top.  Behind me I definitely heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call, it being very similar to a Kestrel.  The bird in view then flew off and we picked it up again with two others.  There was though something different, there was a red vent, these were not Lesser Spots but Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and in the end we found five birds chasing each other about.

With the larger Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around there was to be little chance to find the smaller Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, but we persisted and while we waited to hear a call or drum we were entertained by several Wrens, that were busying themselves amongst the fallen trees and bracken and singing frequently.

It then turned into us wandering about hoping, and while we did this the Song Thrushes sang, and the Stock Doves called from the surrounding trees.  Just like the bird in the week in Old Down, the call reminded me of the monkeys in Costa Rica.

There is only so much wandering and hoping one can do, so eventually we decided it wasn't to be and that maybe we should try our luck somewhere else, but where, finally we came up with a look around Fishlake Meadows.

From the view point off the road there were Great Crested Grebes, Pochard, Tufted Duck and lots of Black-headed Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped for Sand Martins.  A Chiffchaff singing was the only indication that migrants could be about.

Leaving the view point we headed to the canal and walked north.  Another Chiffchaff was in the willows by the path, initially not singing it flitted through the branches, but it couldn't contain a song for too long.

Then every where went silent, and alarm calls went out, the reason was overhead as a Buzzard drifted low over the tops of the trees

Very little was to be found heading north, so we turned and walked back along the path, heading for the playing ground at Mercer Way.  All the trees were covered in blossom and it was difficult to see that much, there were Chaffinches and a single male Bullfinch.  Walking around the bushes there was a Goldcrest singing, and it was its gold crest flashing in the gloom beneath the trees that caught my eye.

The little guy then gave some excellent views, something to make up for on a really quiet morning.

Moving from branch to branch, and coming quite close.

We moved away with the Goldcrest still singing amongst the bushes.  It was time for another decision, where to now?  Despite the fact that I have put in writing that Testwood Lakes, and the adjoining Lower Test Marshes were not one of my favourite places, and that I would have to be taken back there kicking and screaming, we decided to go.  Two reasons there had been a Great White Egret reported every day in the week, and there were hides and open water that could attract something.

We walked to the hides with more Chiffchaffs singing but little else..  On the final part of the trail just by the Sand Martin Hide, we found out why it was called that.  Above us were the first Sand Martins of the year.  We counted at least fifteen birds feeding high above the scrape, and coming over the bushes, and over our heads.

We opted to go into the hide, and out in front of us was a lovely Great Crested Grebe.

Scattered across the grass and on the edge of the water were at least 30 Lapwing, and as is the way with Lapwing they would fly up and circle the water every so often.  As they did this they would pass quite close in front of the hide.

It was after one of these Lapwing fly byes that I looked across to Meadow Lake and saw the Great White Egret standing in amongst the reeds close to the shore, and probably in the best place for viewing close.  It had apparently flown in from the north at that particular moment.

Bigger than the more familiar Little Egret, the Great White Egret is about the same size as the common Grey Heron.  However it appears much slighter, with the slim neck making it appear quite elegant.

Records of the Great White Egret  have increased significantly in Britain in the last 20 years. The species now occurs throughout the year in some parts of the country.

The species’ habitat requirements have been reviewed in the UK from research findings conducted in the Netherlands and elsewhere, which may be relevant to the continued expansion of the British population. Following successful breeding by Great White Egrets on the Somerset Levels since 2012, further breeding attempts in Britain are likely, especially in response to appropriate wetland habitat creation.

While not excessively active every so often it would do something, here it's having a good scratch.

Standing still, any movement would be slow and careful, the head not moving, the eyes fixed completely on a spot in the water or amongst the reeds.

There was a distraction on the bank, and two of the several Coots that were grazing suddenly squared up to each other, fluffing out the wing feathers and pulling the head backwards.

When Coots fight it can be quite violent, they throw their feet forward and fall backwards the claws on the feet being the weapon of choice.

We turned back to the egret, and it had moved, and was now hunting in more open water.

It was now a little more impatient and moved around a little more, every so often jumping up and flying a short distance.

Eventually it ended up closer to the Heron hide, so we decided to move on and see if we could get a better view.

As we entered the hide we could see it, and as we started to open the only window on the side of the hide it flew off to the other side of the lake.  Frustrated we decided to sit it out and see what happened.

In that time another lovely Great Crested Grebe swam close to the hide.

The Egret did return, but stayed close to the shore away out of sight of the hide again.  We waited and it soon returned across the lake to the other side once more.

The entertainment, but more through the horror, was watching at least four drake Mallard attacking one lone female.  There were mad wing beats and splashes as the drakes fought.  At first we thought it was just the males, but it soon became clear there was a duck present.  Every time she tried to get away she was attacked again, and there were even drakes coming out of the reed bed to join in.  

Finally they stopped, and incredibly the duck then swam off with one drake.  So was it the drake trying to fight off the others, or was it just a case of gang rape.  It was incredible to watch though.

Then from the other side of the lake the Great White Egret flew up and headed towards us, giving us the opportunity for a flight shot.

At first with the background of the newly emerging pussy willow.

Then as it came closer a background of bare branches

The egret then disappeared into the bay to the left of the hide, so we decided to move back to the other hide.  There was nothing new here, and I decided to spend sometime photographing the Black-headed Gulls, they were skimming the water probably taking the small insects that were hatching.

There was only so much time we could spend in the hide so eventually we set off to walk around the lakes.  As we left the hide the San Martins were back, again taking advantage of the insects that were attracting the gulls.  This took them over the blossom covered hawthorn bushes that were lining the path we were walking along.

Dropping quite low at times.

We walked around to one of the viewing screens where there were at least five Snipe feeding in the exposed mud.

As well as the Snipe there were more Lapwing, Teal Shoveler, and a pair of Gadwall, plus about twenty Wigeon, a pair of which came by quite close.

There was little else to see by now so it was back to the car park, and more decisions, but for me it was the end of the day.  This time of the year is difficult, not quite spring and definitely not winter.  The many flocks of duck have gone and everything seems like it is just waiting.  Still the egret was a nice bird today, and we had some really good views, and it is always nice to see San Martins in March.

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