Monday, 15 January 2018

13th January - Hurst Spit, Keyhaven, Pennington and Normandy Marsh, Hampshire

The week had been grey, overcast, misty, damp and murky, all words that adequately describe a British winter.  This morning though it seemed a little clearer, although very dark as I set off on my first real outing of 2018, last Sunday having been a one bird target trip.  Temperature wise it was just above freezing but there was a fresh south easterly wind.  I was meeting Ian at Hurst Spit just before sunrise.  As I pulled up the tide was very high, and it was still very dark.

Gradually the light increased and away in the east there was a tinge of pink in the sky, maybe we were to be treated with a rare glimpse of the sun.  Out of the gloom a Kestrel appeared hunting over the field.  In the available light the wings become a blur as the falcon hovers in the search for prey.

We walked onto the beach and settled down on the rocks, further along the beach towards Milford the waves were crashing onto the rocks, and looking along the spit towards Hurst Castle there was a mist from the sea as the waves there pounded the shingle.

As we settled down I picked up a single Guillemot that flew around and finally settled on the sea, and was picked up every so often.  There was very little else moving, the highlight being two Red-throated Divers that flew past the Needles into the Solent through the gap, then we lost them, about half an hour later they turned up in the water offshore.  Far out Great Black-backed and Herring gulls could be seen around crashing waves just off the Needles, and three Bar-tailed Godwits flew past heading west, but the hoped for Gannet and maybe some duck never appeared.

After just over an hour we decided that it was enough, and headed off to the Keyhaven car park.  From there we set off around the sea wall.  The tide was very high, but with nothing of note on the sea.  passing Keyhaven lagoon there were groups of Wigeon and Pintail feeding, with flocks of Lapwing at the back.  Fishtail was just as interesting with Brent Geese in the shallower areas, and very little else.  Along the sea wall there was a single Rock Pipit that followed us as we walked.

We reached the corner at Butts Bay and scanned the sea with only a pair of Red-breasted Merganser in view.  The sea was choppy, and the birds could disappear behind the swell, making it hard to track anything.

At the Jetty we decided to head inland to check out Pennington Marsh.  There was plenty of standing water, and plenty of birds.  As we walked the raised path we could hear the chatter of Black-tailed Godwits close to the hedge.  At a gap in the hedge we were able to get close to them as they fed.  In amongst the Godwits were the beautiful Pintail, easily my favourite duck, and I was able to get some close shots.

Its not the colours that grab you, its the style, the chocolate brown head with the white line that stretches up the neck, the beautiful black and white feathers, and of course the pin tail that completes the pleasant shape.


But in my efforts to get that one spectacular shot the birds were off.  First the Black-tailed Godwits.

 Joined then by the Teal

And finally the Pintail, that settled a little further away from me.

 Looking across the marsh there was a large flock of Golden Plover gathered together od land within the flooded areas.  I have seen estimates of the numbers here of around 600 birds and I could well believe it there were a lot.  Here just a few.

The Black-tailed Godwits continued to chatter as they fed, and were also constantly on the moving, flocks flying up and settling down in a new spot, there black and white wing bars flashing as they took off and flew around to land.

In amongst the godwits we counted three Ruff, two with a dominant white plumage, and one a little browner.

We decided to walk along Pennington Lane, to get even closer views of the marsh.  A Curlew wading slowly through the water.

One of the many Black-tailed Godwits that were stretched out all over the marsh.

And another Ruff, they were quite mobile so it was difficult to say for certain how many, but definitely three, maybe four or even five.

We walked along the footpath that runs from Pennington Lane past the cottages, scanning the gnarled oak trees for maybe a Little Owl.  At Oxey Creek we headed back out onto the marsh, and walked through Moses Dock, to the eight mile pond.  White foam can be seen on the shore and islands of this lake, but one white spot turned out to be a roosting Greenshank.

On the water were up to half a dozen Little Grebes, busily diving in the clear water.

At Normandy Marsh there was quite a bit of activity, three red head Goldeneye, and Ian saw a male that I missed.  The usual duck and geese bathing and resting in the shallow water and on the islands, and a group of 16 Avocet.  We decided to try and get closer to the Avocet and walked around the marsh.  On the corner a small dark bird flew out of the gorse, and then slowly made its way through the branches, a Dartford Warbler.  I struggled for a bit to get a clear shot, but finally managed one that showed almost all of the bird.

A little further on and we were able to get some good views of the Avocet, albeit that they were resting.

One though was a little more active.

We were stopped by a passer by and asked what the birds on the marsh were, but as we were explaining the different species I picked up a Kingfisher that flew across the water and alighted on one of the perches.  Apologising for breaking off the conversation we moved quickly to get a closer view.  The Kingfisher sat on the post watching the water below.

It then dived, was unsuccessful and returned to the top of the a post carrying the electrified wire.  The challenge here was the white background of the water, but it brings out the beauty of the Kingfishers plumage.

Then it was off again, flying out across the water and gone.  We walked on, but as we reached the corner of the marsh I called for Ian to stop, the Kingfisher had returned and was sitting on brackets close to a post, intently looking down into the water below.

An unsuccessful dive and it was back to the barbed wire.

A female from the red colour on the lower mandible, her head was constantly bobbing as she stared into the water, another dive and this time successful, although at the time it was difficult to see, from the photograph you can see she has caught probably a small Minnow or Stickleback.

A few shakes of the head and the fish is gone.

Then from the barbed wire to the shelter of the post once again, getting closer to us, and not showing any concern for the passing walkers and dogs.

A model of concentration

Changing position slightly.

Then moving on to a post, we followed and she was happy to let us approach.

Another post.

And then another.

Then you take your eye off her for a second and she was gone, presumably across the water and over the marsh as we could not see her along the ditch.

We spent some time scanning the sea from the corner, but other than a couple of Great-crested Grebes there was little else of interest.

We decided to head back, stooping for the Avocet once more.

At Oxey lake the tide was falling and a group of Teal were approachable from the shore.  The males were engrossed in their display to a single female.

 Stunning little ducks up close.

We walked around to Oxey marsh, and saw four Spotted Redshank head off towards Normandy, and then a little further on saw the remaining two head off towards Butts.  A little further on there was a single Greenshank sitting quietly by the side of one of the islands in the lagoon.

Offshore our scanning for grebes continued without any luck, but Ian did manage to locate two Eider, an adult and immature male.

In the large lagoon ahead of the jetty there were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.

They were fishing, adopting the "snorkeling" approach, sticking their heads underwater to look for possible prey.

 Its not often you get the chance to photograph these duck in still calm water.  the drake showing off his punky crest.

We had been seeing the lapwing and Golden Plover go up in tight flocks over Pennington Marsh, probably as a result of a Peregrine being present.  Eventually the tight flocks of panic would loosen and the birds, like these Lapwing, drift overhead before settling back onto the marsh.

 The still waters were providing some good opportunities to practice selecting the right exposures for the white background.  A drake Wigeon.

With the tide now dropping quickly the waders were appearing on the exposed mud, here a Ringed Plover.

And a Grey Plover patrolling the tide line.

We scanned again from Butts Bay, but could only find a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and the immature male Eider.  On one of the emerging spits of mud a single Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding amongst the Black-headed Gulls.

In Butts Bay a lone Greenshank stood in the main stream as the water raced out into the bay.

 Having flown to the end of the stream it then proceeded to run back through the water.

With the cars at the Keyhaven Harbour car par we still had a fair walk to get lunch.  There was very little though of interest in the rest of the walk.  However at the harbour there were a lot of waders out on the mud.  about 200 Black-tailed Godwits were sitting on an exposed mud flat in the middle, and along the tide line were several Dunlin, and Grey Plover, this one coming quite close.

After having something to eat we decided to visit the new hide that has been built over looking the Pans, an area of the Avon floods, just a short way from the cars.  We had seen the construction last year, and I applied for the electronic key fob, which I received just before Christmas, this being the first chance to visit. 

We let ourselves in, and almost immediately after settling down a Kingfisher called and zipped past the window.   Our attention turned to a female Bullfinch on a bush outside the hide, close to the feeders.

Then the Kingfisher came back and it looked as if it would perch close to the hide, but at the last moment flew on to a post a little further away.

Another female bird, and from the post it flew into the reeds, and at first was obscured by them, before coming out more into the open, perched on a feed stem.

There was a dive, a return to the stem before almost immediately flying off over the reeds and out of sight, leaving behind only a whistle.

A Water Rail then made a dash across the cut reeds disappearing into the reeds without a clear chance of a photograph, while above a pair of ravens called and flew over heading towards the west.

Another fly past came in the form of three Stock Doves, at first settled on the mud behind the distant reeds before flying past us.

Then a very nice surprise, a Water Rail appeared beneath the bird feeders and gave some great views, the best views of Water Rail I think I have ever had.

Normally a secretive bird, it was great to see one so close in the open.

 Another Kingfisher appeared on another post outside the hide, it was all happening at this time, another female and probably the same bird

 Back to the Water Rail that was showing very well again.

The fallen seed clearly the attraction.

 A wonderful experience.

With the rail still present under the feeders another bird appeared out of the reed bed, this time in more accustomed Water Rail habitat.

 A Little Egret then joined the show, fishing in the pool, and throwing a lovely reflection.

 Then a third, possibly fourth Water Rail appeared again from the reeds.

 Time was drawing on, outside it was getting very gloomy once again, so we decided it was time to leave.  Outside over the harbour the Golden Plover were still flying around, gathered in a huge flock., the size of the flock was definitely in the hundreds.

 We had a short walk up Iley Lane where we managed to see Gadwall onthe pond, but little else of interest.  After that it was time to call it a day, maybe we didn't see what we had hoped to see, the Red-necked Grebe, (and the frustration at this was increased the next day when it was reported having been seen just off the jetty), but in all it was quite a special day with some great views of Kingfisher, that very enigmatic bird, and some of the best views of Water Rail I have ever had.  2018 off to a good start.

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