Monday, 24 July 2017

22nd July - Fishlake Meadows and Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

This week has been as if Mother Nature once again is looking to address the natural balance, we have had a relatively dry summer up to now, but over the course of the past few days there have been some quite heavy storms, including spectacular thunderstorms last Tuesday.  Friday evening saw heavy rain, and early in the morning when I set off to meet up with Ian the roads and surrounding vegetation were very wet.  

The Destination was Fishlake Meadows which is an area of land to north of Romsey. It comprises of a mix of open water and standing water, reed bed and swamp, and a flood plain marsh which is crossed by rivers and ditches.

Public access is currently only available along rights of way which offer views from the barge canal that runs along the eastern boundary, and a viewing area from the path which runs from east to west through the site.


It was to the viewing area that I went on arriving and was greeting with this sight which reminded me of some of the swamps I have visited in Florida and Louisiana.




We were here for the regularly reported Osprey, but of course there was no sign of it.  As I stood and scanned the open water and dead trees I picked up a Hobby flying through the branches, while over the water a little closer in were a pair of Common Terns.

 
Ian joined me, and we picked up the Hobby once again, this time perched on a dead tree, but still very distant.



Every large bird that appeared above the tree tops was greeted with enthusiasm, until of course it was identified.  Cormorants, and Greylag geese appeared and landed on the water, the Grey Herons looked a little more like what we were hoping to find but were very quickly dismissed.  A pair of juvenile birds flew in and stood on the top of two dead trunks, and peered down to the water below.



A Kingfisher added to the interest, flying from left to right and back using the pools created by the dead branches to fish in, annoyingly it was always to far away for any photography so we ended up just watching as it stayed tantalisingly out of reach.

We walked along the path the to try and view from another area, and then came back when that didn't work, and walked along the Barge Canal Path.  From here we could see the dead trees, and Ian picked the Hobby up again, from its behaviour it seemed to be catching dragonflies and then eating them on the perch.



As well as the Hobby we were also kept entertained by Reed Warblers busily feeding young spread out between the reeds and the hawthorn bushes.  And of course there was always the many Woodpigeons perched in the trees to raise the expectation.

Away to the south west dark clouds were amassing, and it was clear that rain was on its way.  The forecast had been for showers from mid morning, and by now it was 9.30 (is that mid-morning?).  We took the decision to move on to somewhere that would allow us to continue birding and stay dry, and we decided on moving on to Titchfield Haven.  

Unbeknown to us as we arrived at the Haven at 10.00am the Osprey was being seen fishing at Fishlake, the air was blue when later we found out while sitting in the hide, fortunately we were on our own!

So after checking in at the Haven we headed to the Meon Shore Hide, the rain had stopped and there was a little bit of sunshine about.  As we entered the reserve a Whimbrel flew overhead.



Then confirmed the sighting by calling as it headed west, apparently it had arrived in a party of six, the other five deciding to head east.



In the hide we were greeted with silence.  The last time here it was a cacophony of bird calls, mostly from the breeding Black-headed Gulls, but now they had fallen silent, and it was a joy to settle down and scan out from the hide.  In front adult Common Terns were sitting on the exposed posts.



While a juvenile could also be seen a little closer to the hide.



The sky was threatening again, and it was just a case of sitting tight and just watching, fortunately there was always something going on.  On one of the far islands a Cormorant came out of the water with an eel.  This attracted the attention of a Grey heron, that probably thought there was the opportunity to pick up a free meal.



The Cormorant continued to struggle with the eel, and the Heron edged ever closer.



Finally the Cormorant managed to swallow the eel, and the Grey Heron realised the chance had gone.



I was secretly hoping the heron made a move to take the eel, as I would have been intrigued to see what the outcome would have been, would the Cormorant have tried to protect its meal?  We will never know, as the Cormorant moved to drink water in an effort to help swallow the eel.

The rain was now coming down extremely hard, all though this seemed to galvanise activity on the scrape, a pair of Common Sandpipers flew around the islands, coming ever closer to us, but never actually settling down anywhere.  What was the purpose of this mad dash in the rain, maybe to wet the feathers?

It is quite satisfying sitting in a hide as the rain falls. The Black-tailed Godwits too came closer, these too feeding in the shallow water close to the hide while the rain came down.



There were several groups of Gadwall with ducklings dotted around the scrape.  This group of four coming closest.



While at the back of the scrape eight Avocet appeared, one sporting a nice set of rings on its leg.  In amongst the Avocet were two juvenile birds set aside by the brownish patches and not the jet black of the adults.



Another juvenile Common Tern appeared on the posts, this one probably being a little younger than the bird seen earlier due to the more downy brown cap on its head.



As the rain eased the Common Sandpipers were off again, this time though one landed on the edge of one of the islands a little closer to us.



Two kestrels then appeared hovering over the grass on the western side of the scrape.  It looked as if one of the birds was one of this years brood, and it tried to stay close to the adult, but was chased off and flew across the scrape.

One of the Common Sandpipers then appeared on the western shore bobbing along the edge of the water.



The kestrel that had been hovering over the grass then shifted position, and dived at the sandpiper which immediately flew off calling and back to the perceived safety of the far north bank.

The call of the sandpiper seemed to unnerve the Black-tailed Godwits and this forced them closer to the hide.  many still showed partial summer plumage, the lovely brick red colour.



Here we were able to see the flexibility of the mandibles as it probed and tossed out something from the mud.


I am not sure what spooked this bird as it fed, but it lept to the air throwing mud all around.


There had been movement in the reeds in front of the hide, and this had resulted in some very brief views of a Reed Warbler as it flew out of the reeds, and then returned.  But finally it stopped to show itself, a rather exhausted looking adult bird.



Then the reason for the exhaustion a begging youngster right in front of us.



Another Grey Heron, probably the same bird that was looking to take the eel from the Cormorant earlier, appeared close to the reeds to our left.  It stalked along the edge of the reeds as if hunting, and then went out of our sight as it moved in front of us.



A small dark wader flew in and became a Common Snipe.  The water here was a either a little deep, or the mud not very solid as it would seem to sink lower into the water as it fed and would have to flap vigorously to get out.



It finally found some more solid footing and proceeded to feed.



We had forgotten about the Heron in front of us, and suddenly there were loud calls and squawks coming from the reeds in front of us.  The gulls went mad and all the Godwits took off once again.


The main calls were from a Moorhen, so we could only presume that the Heron had taken a young bird.  The Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns were incensed though, and they set about dive bombing the Heron.  We couldn't see the Heron, but as the gulls and terns dived in you would hear it call out.

The terns soon stopped their mobbing, but one Black-headed Gull took it on itself to continue, making repeated dives on the invisible Heron.  It then tried a different tactic, flying out into the middle of the scrape and turning and flying low over the water at the heron, swooping up at the last moment to come over the top of the reeds.



In the end it realised that this was a futile exercise, and that the Heron was not going to be moved and it gave up.  The heron slowly made its way to the island in front of the hide where many of the gulls had been sitting.  As the Heron arrived the gulls calmly and slowly moved away leaving the island to the Heron.  The Heron then flew off, allowing everything to return to how it was.

A partial summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit preened in front of us.



Pausing to send a lovely reflection into the still water.



It then joined two other godwits, and you can see the variation in plumage.



Further preening and maybe a nap?



While here some showing off, standing on one leg appears to be easy.



There was more activity in the reeds away to our left, this time the movement was accompanied by the familiar pings of Bearded Tits.  Finally they appeared and we could see that they were two juvenile birds.



They flew closer to us, moving through the reeds in front of us and giving short glimpses as they searched for seeds on the top of the mud.  A quick dash across the gap and away to the reeds on the right of the hide, the pings letting us know where they were even though we were unable to see them.  They did return, but still the views were brief as they weaved their way through the reeds.

It was dry, and we decided to move on to stretch the legs, we headed along the path, and decided on walking all the way the the Spurgen Hide.  However we stopped along the way as a group of Sedge Warblers were moving around a small bush and the reeds.  They kept low in the reeds and this was the best shot I could get through the reeds.



Then one appeared high up the stalk of the reed, but it quickly became clear this was not the Sedge, but an adult Reed Warbler, and unlike the Sedge Warbler it posed quite nicely.



Giving some great views.



The view from the Spurgin hide was like the newspaper photographs taken back in 1976.  Baked mud with a mosaic of cracks, and very little else about.  A family party of Canada geese moved across the mud, and a solitary Oystercatcher sat in the middle, occasionally calling when it could hear others from the scrapes do so.

The activity was confined to the air space above the marsh and in front of the hide.  Swifts flew back and forth, and like the last time we were here at the Haven, the challenge was on.  many frames and this was the best of the bunch.  Not as sharp as I would hope for but quite a nice try.



Ian caught sight of a green Sandpiper that flew onto the mud in front of the hide, and then went out of sight.  I missed it completely but shortly after a familiar call went out and it was off and away from us and heading south across the scrapes.



We both picked up a Sparrowhawk that flew low across the marsh with a kill, but it was impossible to photograph, it headed across the meadow to trees on the other side.  I took a lot of frames from this hide and the above two were the only ones worth keeping.  So we walked back to the pumfrett hide where there were plenty of eclipse ducks in front of t he hide, Mallard, Gadwall, teal and Shoveler mostsly we overlooked these for the spectacle of flying that came from more Swifts and hirundines that were hawking insects over the water and reeds.  It was constant movement as they would fly into the wind, turn and circle back around to do it all again.  Once again many frames were exposed in the hope of getting that pristine image.

Pristine was a little bit of a problem, but this Swallow wasn't too bad.



And this one



The Swifts once again were about, this could have been a little sharper, it looked good on the camera screen.


But the award goes to this head on view of a Sand Martin


The Swifts and hirundines were not the only ones moving.  Black-tailed Godwits seemed to appear from anywhere and fly past us into the South Scrape.  The Avocets too were on the move.  I didn't see them come from the south scrape, but we did see them head back there.


And another Green Sandpiper flew past calling.


It was time to move on, and we walked around to the east side, a quick look at the bridge revealed a Kingfisher that immediately flew out of sight around the reeds.  The next stop was the Suffern hide, where there was absolutely nothing so it was on to the Meadow hide with a brief look in the Walkway pond, which again had nothing.

Sitting down in the Meadow Hide we picked up a Sparrowhawk once again, it was a male and probably the same bird we had seen earlier.  It looked like it was carrying a Swallow.  It headed off towards the trees by the side of the fence, and as it got closer a Kestrel came from no where and looked to chase the hawk, I suppose in the hope it would drop its catch.  Both disappeared into the trees, and were then followed by another Kestrel.  I know Kestrels will mob Barn Owls in an attempt to have them give up their prey, but never thought that they would do the same with a Sparrowhawk.

The kestrels appeared from the trees and sat on the posts looking intently at the ground.


One of the two came a little closer and we could see it was a juvenile bird which might explain the kleptoparasitic behaviour, meaning that they collect prey by theft.


Describing today would be a statement of two parts, frustration by missing the Osprey, but it was nice to watch the Hobby.  At Titchfield there was some interesting behaviour to watch, and some great photo opportunities.  Overall it was a shame the weather misbehaved but then this is the first time this summer that it has let us down

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