Monday, 6 March 2017

4th March - Harbridge, Blashford Lakes, Pipers Wait New Forest, and Alresford Pond, Hampshire

The remnants of the evening before could be seen everywhere as I passed by the Broadlands Lakes on the M27 heading west towards Ringwood.  Heavy rain, as a part of thunderstorms fell last night and the river and the lakes were very swollen with the fields flooded in many places.  As a result a mist hung low over the fields.  It was still overcast but away to the west I could see blue sky approaching and hopefully it would be a good day.

I was meeting Ian at Harbridge before going on to Blashford Lakes, our first visit there this year.  A White-fronted Goose had been reported from here over the last week, but as I arrived the fields were virtually empty save for a pair of Mute Swans in one of the pools of water.  At the back of the field to the north the mist hung around the bushes and trees, and a Greylag Goose flew across to add to the misty scene.

 Another goose overhead turned out to be an Egyptian Goose a first for the year, and scanning the far fields found several pairs of Canada Geese but there was no sign of the White-fronted Goose, or any more Greylags.

The mist started to lift but the calm still conditions was turning the many pools of water on the fields into mirrors.

 The Mute Swans then became an attention their reflections showing beautifully in the water.

As I stood scanning the fields I could hear them grazing behind me, pulling the grass from beneath the water.

The clear skies had by now pushed far enough to the east to allow the sun to come through, and once the rays of sunshine found the fields the Lapwings were suddenly displaying, flying around in pairs performing some wonderful aerobatics, twisting and turning and stooping and diving over the field.

you don't really appreciate the incredible aerobatics at the time, but as I looked back through the photographs I found one where the Lapwing had turned itself upside down in one of the dives.

The sun not only brought out the lapwings, the song of the Skylark rang out across the fields and the mist evaporated away.  A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew around calling with their jerky flight, while somewhere along the hedge a Reed Bunting sang, well lets say it made a noise, as a song it is very disappointing.

Grey Herons were a feature with at least a dozen being seen flying across the fields and heading either towards the lake complex or to the River Avon.

Despite all this activity, there was no sign of the sought after White-fronted Goose so we decided it was time to move on to Blashford.  The main hides do not open until 9.00am, but the Goosander and Lapwing hides on Ibsley Water are not locked so we headed to the Goosander, and as we lifted the hide windows were greeted by a beautiful calm scene, the still water reflecting beautifully the blue sky above, and small groups of Pochard cutting dark lines through the water as they crossed in front of us.

The drake Pochard were displaying, and you could constantly hear they dog like yelps as they swam around the females throwing their heads back in an effort to impress.

In many cases they were already paired up, but there were still several drakes that were determined to find a suitable mate.

But as always it was the females that determined what ever the males did, and they would follow them around all over the water.

It was nice to see so many Pochard out on the water.  Over the last two decades the number of Pochard migrating into the UK during the winters have declined, and this decline is mirrored by breeding declines else where in Europe.

Researchers have found that the decline is related to gulls, mink and nutrients. 

Pochards build their nests among Black-headed Gull colonies for protection and there are fewer Black-headed Gull nesting colonies across a number of European countries, including Norway, Germany and Latvia.  Explosions of plants and algaes in wetlands and waterways, caused by nutrients washing off farmland, seem to have prevented Pochards and other birds from diving for food, while the American Mink is also though to have decimated a lot of duck, not just Pochards
As well as the Pochard there were a few pairs of Shoveler, and they could be seen mostly tucked up sleeping around the fallen trees.

A single Cormorant was sat on the wooden bridges out in front of the hide, again the still water providing a lovely reflection.

On the far side in front of the spit were four Goosander. 

As the sun rose and the breeze got up the water changed, many of the calm, still areas now rippled by the light wind.  Close to the hide though it stayed mirror like calm, and this enhanced a bird mostly overlooked, as is swam towards the hide.  A Coot looking quite smart in the breeding plumage, the white knob on the head and the beady red eye standing out amongst the sooty black feathers.

A grey Wagtail flew up to the wall beside the hide, and foraged for insects woken by the sunshine on the bank.

Back on the water the fallen branches in the water were providing a form of shelter for the ducks, and they would stay close.  They also provided a nice background for the photographer.  First a lovely male Shoveler

Then a drake Pochard  

We moved on from the hide, heading around to the lapwing.  In the trees and hedge along the path were Song Thrush and Redwing, Long-tailed Tits and a Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker.  There were also Mediterranean Gulls above us, their distinctive calls giving away their presence.

We passed a viewing area where a Little Grebe in full breeding plumage was diving amongst the weeds.

Without the shelter of the bay that the water from the Goosander hide gets, looking out of the hide the conditions were a little different.  There were though large groups of Wigeon, twenty one Goosander including two drakes and more Pochard.  The duck though we hoped we would be able to get closer to was also there, the Goldeneye.  There were four drakes and as many females, and like the Pochard the Goldeneye drakes were in full display mode.

The courtship display, involves the male stretching his head forward along the water and then snapping the head rapidly upward over his back, with the bill pointed skyward, while uttering a shrill, two-noted call.

Head back

Right Back

And then thrusting the head up and calling 

And as you can see the female is not in the least impressed.

The males were busy following the females around bobbing about, and sometimes they would both bob their heads when alongside each other.  The males were also very busy preening, and the intense preen would end in the duck lifting itself out of the water and vigorously wing flapping.

It was time to move on, and we set off back along the woodland path, pausing to try and get some good views of a male Bullfinch that was stripping the buds off the willows.  As you can see both the white clouds and the many branches did not make it easy.

We had a brief stop in the Tern Hide, where the main interest were the Tufted Duck in front of the hide.  The black and white plumage always makes for interesting pictures on the silver grey water.

Next was a visit to the Woodland Hide.  On the side of the path we stopped to take a look at this striking fungi.

It is Scarlet Elf Cup.  The fungus grows on decaying sticks and branches in damp spots on forest floors, generally buried under leaf litter or in the soil. The cup-shaped fruit bodies are usually produced during the cooler months of winter and early spring.
As you approach the hide you can hear the constant calls of the tits and finches and the perpetual movement in the trees and then down to the feeders.  We watched from outside, but eventually had to go into the hide.  After a short wait we managed to get a seat by the open, clear window, and then just waited for the birds to turn up.

 A Lesser Redpoll )or do we just now call it a Redpoll?), was at first on the feeder, and it was possible to see the really bright scarlet breast and forehead.  It then dropped to the floor to feed on the fallen seeds, giving some great views.

The trick here is not to photograph the birds on the feeders which is easy, but to catch them on the surround branches and twigs. The background them becomes nicely blurred and frames the bird.

A Goldfinch

A male Siskin

A Great Tit

There was also a pair of Reed Buntings, the female a little more adventurous than the male which sat in the bush for sometime before taking on the Goldfinches and Siskins on the feeders.

A pair of Long-tailed Tits then entertained with their acrobatics. They are probably a breeding pair, the large winter flocks now having been broken up.  Hanging by one leg from the branch and holding the seed to eat with the other leg, its mate doesn't seem to be impressed.

But then wakes up to the idea.

The one bird we hoped to find though was the Brambling, and finally a male appeared on the feeder.  Under the circumstances I broke my rule of photographs on the feeders, and it turned out to be the right decision as just after I took this two Jackdaw came in and everything flew off.

With everything gone we decided to move on to, the next stop was to be the Ivy Lake south hide, but before then we stopped to appreciate the wild Daffodils on display outside the Woodland Hide.

The lake wasn't the attraction at the next hide, although there were some very smart looking Gadwal close in.  An underrated duck, probably dismissed as a greyish brown duck, but look closer and there is some wonderful detail there.

 The attraction in this hide was a roosting Tawny Owl on the far side of the lake.  the directions were straight forward.  Find the mistletoe at the top of the tree, and then come down to 7 o'clock, and the owl will be in the tree about 10 feet off the water.

So can you see it here?

It is in the middle of the picture with its head turned away.  Once located with a scope you could pick it out with both binoculars and the naked eye, but until then it was very difficult.

It was time to move on, we intended to go into the New Forest, but on the way stopped once again at Harbridge in the hope we could find the White-fronted Goose.  The timing was perfect, as we finished lunch it started to rain, and as we pulled up to the side of the road to look across the fields we had scanned earlier that morning the heaven's opened.

Once the rain had stopped we scanned once again there were plenty of Greylag Geese about, but spread out across the fields.  It was Ian that found it, thankfully in one of the closer groups, but then once confirmed the identification it went to ground and all we could see was its head just above the grass.

Knowing there was another shower on the way we didn't rush and waited to see if it would oblige us and get up.  Eventually it did and we were able to get some good views.

As Ian remarked it doesn't have the aggressive appearance of the larger Greylags, and the head is much darker, while the goose itself is smaller than the Greylag geese it seemed to keep company with.  It moved along the bank weaving in and out of the grass mounds.

 Happy with the views we headed off into the Forest, passing through Godshill we came across a particularly heavy shower, which stayed with us as we arrived at the car park at Pipers Wait.  After sitting out the rain we set off around the wooded area that was unsurprisingly quiet.  We then walked out into the open and around the more open heath area.  It was then that Ian picked up a large bird of prey that at first I thought Buzzard.  It flew quite close over the tree tops to the east.  There was something wrong though, the tail was long and the whole jizz completely different to that of a Buzzard, as it banked it became obvious, a Goshawk.

As is always the case it was flying away from us across over the trees.

  and finally out of sight.

We walked on in the hope that it might re-appear, the rain returned but not the Goshawk, so we decided to make our way back to the cars and try somewhere else.  As we walked back the sun returned sending a rainbow across the valley to the east where the Goshawk had just flown across a little earlier.

Our next destination was to be Alresford, a Cattle Egret has been there for sometime now, and would seem to be a dead cert, then on to the pond and roosting Hen Harrier to finish the day.

The dead cert failed to materialise, we could not find any sign of the Cattle Egret, all that was about was a single Little Egret, and two Green Sandpipers.  So as we walked to the pond viewing area in the hope that maybe it could be there.  It wasn't.

However there was plenty about to keep us entertained as we waited for dusk and the main event, the roosting Hen Harrier.

The water levels were quite low, and there were large patches of mud visible, and around the fringes Teal dabbled, while three Lapwing stood in the middle of the mud their reflections cast into the water.

Of the duck the Teal were the most numerous, but there was also a pair of Shelduck, at least a dozen Gadwall, and of course Mallard.  But it was the Tufted Duck that caught the attention once again.  With the changing light and the blue sky the water was converted into silvers and shades of blue, and this also produced some lovely reflections.

It was hard to resist the images that presented themselves in front of you as we waited for the main event.

There were three Lesser Black-backed Gulls about, and these flew by the viewing area.

The pond is said to have been constructed about the year 1199 on the orders of the Bishop of Winchester, Godfrey de Lucy, in order to create a head of water for a canal. This canal is supposed to have run from Alresford Pond to Winchester, Southampton and the sea. De Lucy is said to have finished it with locks and aqueducts so that barges laden with wool could travel downstream. Unfortunately this story is completely untrue.

It was in fact one of the Bishop of Winchester's great fish ponds.  Fresh fish was a highly prized luxury in the Middle Ages. Pike, perch and bream eaten fresh on fish days and during Lent were delicacies enjoyed by only the very wealthy. Ordinary folk had to make do with dried fish. The Bishops of Winchester made great fishponds near their palaces. Frensham ponds supplied the Bishop's castle at Farnham. Fisher's Pond supplied their residence at Mansell.  Bishop's Waltham palace had a superb fishpond which was partly destroyed by an act of bureaucratic vandalism in the 1960's, and is now being restored while Alresford Pond supplied the palace at Bishop's Sutton.

Today the pond has been allowed to silt up, as can be seen by the shallowness of the water in many places and the predominance of reeds away to the north eastern corner.  the only access to the pond is via the viewing area that is on the west side of the pond, and it is also possible to get close to the water from the garden of the Globe Inn

With the sun now dropping lower in the sky the light took on that golden glow and over in the far corner Mute Swans were creating loving shapes with their necks

The Tufted Duck were still just in front of us, and one decided to go into a small pool close by where the water was much darker providing a different aspect.

but then returned in front of us passing though a completely still and mirror like patch of water.

Then suddenly there was a short and sharp shower, which completely caught me unaware as I had no cover for the camera.  however it didn't last long, and ended up providing soem incredible scenes across the lake.

As we watched the brightness of the rainbow intensified and reflected beautifully in the water. 

This provided some unreal opportunities, a Carrion Crow flying through the colours of the rainbow.

While the elegance and stature of the Mute Swan is enhanced by the rainbow colours reflected in the water.

Then as quickly as it arrived the rainbow was gone, and so was the sun, sinking slowly away to the west leaving the failing light to emphasis the cumulus clouds that had built up away to the east and their reflection in the mud and water of the pond.

By now it was getting dark and we were becoming a little concerned about the main event.  Quite a crowd had built up all waiting for the arrival of the Hen Harrier.  What happened next though was a big surprise, and probably a case of the support act usurping the main event.
on the far side of the pond a Barn Owl appeared and hunted over the reeds with that characteristic carefree butterfly like flight, twisting and turning to check out every opportunity.

It flew back and forth over the reeds every so often dropping into the reeds as if looking to catch something.

This was great, the views were distant but even so unexpected, and always a pleasure to watch regardless of how far way they are.  then it began to make its way around the north side of the pond, and despite the presence of at least three Magpies started to come closer to us.

It then turned back and I felt it would recover its route as they usually do as there was little suitable hunting close to us.
But, maybe due to the Magpies, it reappeared again and this time flew towards us.

Coming closer and closer.

The camera just firing away with me hoping that it was not too dark to slow the aperture speed and blur the image.  They weren't too bad.

As it passed us it seemed as if it turned to look at us

And clearly didn't like what is saw and turned away across the pond and back towards the far reed bed.

 AI then picked up movement over the reeds and thought it was the Hen Harrier finally, but to my amazement it was the Barn Owl once again, it had got there very quickly.
So where was the Hen Harrier?  Then just after 17.50 a ring tail appeared from the north east corner flying in just above the trees.  It was now very murky but there was sufficient light through the binoculars to see the bird, its white rump showing clearly.  It dropped into the reeds and briefly settled in a small tree before taking off again.  Here is an extremely poor record shot, but considering the poor light it is not that bad, you can at least see the white rump.

So that was it, a quite remarkable end to the day, something I had not expected, but thoroughly enjoyable once again.  Every day should be a Barn Owl day!

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