Yet another sunny and mild Friday gave way to overcast skies and drizzly rain as I left the house on Saturday morning. Still it was a definite improvement on the weather of the previous weekend, and as I got out of the car at Cut Bridge the rain had eased, but a heavy mist hung over the sea obscuring the island, and Needles, and the only way you knew it was there was from the loud booming noise of the fog horn signalling the presence of the lighthouse.
Ian and I walked up the bank and over the ridge to the rocks where we settled in, sheltered from the breezy easterly wind. Looking out across the sea all that was visible was a white wall, with no definition between the sky and the sea, the conditions did not look ideal. The tide was dropping, and a ridge of water could just be seen where the tide was rushing past Hurst Point, and out around the Island. The sea itself was quite calm, but there was still a substantial swell that would send some impressive waves crashing onto the pebbled beach.
There was very little moving, the occasional Herring and Great Black-backed Gull would pass low over the water, and then a pair of Sandwich Terns raised the interest as they headed east towards Hurst Point, this was further increased as behind us a group of five adult Mediterranean Gulls called and flew along the spit. Everything then returned to quiet until out on the water a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew past.
The mist lifted quite quickly, one minute it was there and the next we could see the Needles, there was also some weak sunshine breaking through, but this did not improve the sea watching, and it became quite apparent that it was pretty much a waste of time. It was time to move on, so we packed up and walked along the spit to take a look at Sturt Pond.
The pond is at the base of the spit that winds out to Hurst Point, and has formed as a result of the many tributaries that flow into the sea here, and the channels silting up. We followed the stream that runs out of the pond, and walked around the perimeter. Brent Geese could be seen on the areas of marsh in front of the hide, and in the middle of the pond were Black-headed Gulls and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits, one or two of which were just beginning to show signs of their brick red summer plumage.
A couple of dog walkers with their dogs running free passed the birds without any reaction, but as we tried to get a better view they all took off.
The path winds up through the reed bed where Dunnocks, and Robins sang and Blue Tits called from the surrounding bushes, but there was very little else. Re-tracing our steps we returned to the cars, stopping to check that an upright bird on a rock on the spit was not a Wheatear, but a Rock Pipit instead.
We drove around to the car park at Keyhaven Harbour, from where we would walk around to Pennington. As we sorted ourselves out before setting off, a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming. The sound though was a little tinny, and once we located the bird it was clear why. It was drumming at the top of a pole holding the power lines, and the metal bracket was vibrating as it hammered at the post.
Yet another dog walked flushed the woodpecker, and shortly after a female Marsh Harrier appeared over the reed bed and flew away with that rocking "V" shaped flight.
We decided to walk Iley Lane in the hope of some migrants. There were good numbers of Meadow Pipits and a pair of Stonechats about. On the flooded meadows Wigeon and Canada Geese grazed, and at the back of the old tip three Roe Deer could be seen, one grazing the other two watching us lazily from a sitting positions.
We were walking the loop back towards Lower Pennington Lane, and stopped to check the fields and balancing pools for any sign of the the recent White-fronted Geese. The water level was low, and there were several Black-headed Gulls on the exposed mud and gravel, while a single Redshank patrolled the edge of the water.
The buds were just beginning to emerge on the bushes lining the footpath, and we soon heard the soft piping call of a Bullfinch. The male kept itself hidden, but the female was quite happy to sit out in the open.
The male finally put in a brief appearance
Another group of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over, signalling their presence with their unmistakable call, something so different from the raucous, continual calls of the Black-headed Gulls on the gravel in the pit.
As we reached the turn into Lower Pennington Lane we came across another pair of Bullfinches, the male, this time, happier to show off that gorgeous cherry pink breast.
We had picked out a distant Stock Dove sitting at the top of a dead tree, but as we walked south down the lane we came across another perched at the top of a dead tree stump. Pigeons and Doves get overlooked, mainly due to the fact that there are many feral types that are seen in cities, and then of course there is the huge numbers of Woodpigeon that fill the fields and woodlands. Close up the Stock Dove is a lovely bird, a gentle looking expression with a lovely wash of grey, purple pink and green around the neck.
The lane winds through hidden houses, past the caravan park, and out into the open marsh. There is a small balancing pond surrounded by gnarled and moss covered trees. In the middle of the pond swam a pair of Tufted Duck, surrounded by the black water and sinewy reflections of the moss. It made for an irresistible combination.
The green accentuated against the black water.
We joke about photographing Tufted Duck, but they are very photogenic.
Walking towards the car park, I was struck by how empty the marsh was. Last month this was covered with huge flocks of Wigeon, their whistles constantly heard across the marsh, Black-tailed Godwits would feed busily in the partially flooded grass, and the elegant Pintail dabbled through the pools. Today there were some Wigeon on the far side, a group of about 50 Golden Plover, and pairs of Canada Geese, but above all else it was quiet.
Lapwing could be seen, and every so often they would fly around in that looping and diving display flight and calling. One or two were close to the side of the road.
Again, what appears from a distance to be a plain green plumage is in fact a myriad of colours.
As we reached the car park we scanned across the marsh and pools of water, and found three Ruff, one of which was showing a lot of white as it developed its breeding plumage.
From the cycle track we viewed Efford Lake in the hope of some Sand Martins, but there was nothing about other than the usual duck and three more Ruff
We headed from the car park towards the Jetty. Something disturbed the Golden Plover out on the marsh and they took off and circled before settling back down on the marsh once again.
It was another of those high low tides that are frequent here, but scanning the sea at the Jetty revealed nothing out on the water. The lagoons were also very quiet with a few Shoveler and Mallard. On the mud around Butts Bay were Grey Plover and Dunlin, and a few Turnstone feeding on the near shore until a dog walker through a stick into the bay and the dog rushed in and spooked all the waders.
With the relatively calm conditions there was hope that the bearded Tits might show, but this hope was short lived. However on Fishtail lagoon there were two sleeping Spoonbill at the back.
Pintail had been conspicuous by the absence around the marsh, but this was obviously because they had gathered on Fishtail. Once again the numbers were no where near those of last month, but nevertheless they were the most numerous on the lagoon.
Moving around to Keyhaven provided very little else. Another Spoonbill was asleep with a Little Egret on one of the islands, and close to the sea wall a single Spotted Redshank fed amongst the vegetation.
By now it was midday, and after a quick lunch we decided to head north to Blashford, the hope being that there might be a few migrants about such as Sand Martin and Wheatear. However before we went to the lakes we decided once again to try for the Bewick's Swan at Harbridge. After our last attempt in February, the swan had not been reported, but just this week it had turned up again, and there had been a nice photograph posted on Friday of it close to the road.
As we turned off the Fordingbridge road and crossed the stone bridge we could see white birds away off into the distance. A scan through them with the scope did not locate the hoped for bewick. We decided to take one car, and leave Ian's van to tour the lanes to the north of the church. The Swan had been seen on Friday in Kent Lane, but driving up and down only saw us looking at Mute Swans once again.
We came back towards the church, and turned left into Churchfield lane, and pulled over at a gate that over looked the field to the left. Once again scanning the many swans and geese did not produce the Bewick's, but there was an interesting goose, a Chinese Goose.
This is a breed of domestic goose, that has descended for the wild Swan goose. they differ from the Swan Goose in being much larger and having a large basal knob, which is larger in males than females, we were looking here at a female. This one has probably escaped and found the large flocks of Greylags here at Harbridge.
As Ian watched the goose I noticed that there were swans on a large pool in the field further up the lane, I looked through the swans and immediately saw a yellow bill. We left the car and walked along the lane. At last the Bewick's Swan was there in the water with the Mute Swans. As always we realised you couldn't really miss it as it stood out by being much smaller than the other swans, and with the bright yellow bill. The neck is also held straight as opposed to the curve of the Mute Swan.
The Mute Swans began to move, and slowly the Bewick's walked off with them leaving the water slowly.
Strangely the Mute Swans seemed more concerned about us than the Bewick did, and the Bewick came around the edge of the pool.
It then stopped to dabble in the water.
Harbridge used to be a regular site for Bewick's Swans with herds of over a hundred birds present, but over the years the numbers have dwindled to the point where one bird is a highlight.
Ian and I had seen one two years ago here, missing out last year. It was great to finally catch up with this bird as we had given up hope, it was a case of fourth time lucky! Slowly it walked away from us, passing through a flock of Greylags as it headed to the concentration of Mute Swan.
We walked back to the parked car, and I spent sometime watching the Egyptian Geese while Ian looked up the Chinese Goose.
I packed the camera away in the car, and as I was about to get into the car I noticed a large raptor on the other side of the road flying north. Long wings and long tail, I knew what it was, and I also knew Ian does not get the same opportunities as I do to see a Red Kite, so I called to him and he got out of the car quickly.
The Kite was flying away from us, and Ian went to run after it, but I called him back, as it would be better to give chase in the car, and that is what we did. It took some effort to catch it, but we did and pulled over ahead of it.
It came low circling over the field, and attracted the attention of a Raven. There were several crows in the field, and clearly they were attracting the kite that was probably scanning for possible food.
I know I have lots of Red Kite photographs, but I never tire of watching them, and I hope I never will. It is a bird that holds a special place for me. As a boy with the Observer's book of Birds I longed to see one, they were extremely rare, with a small population in West Wales. I finally managed to catch up with one in the early nineties, and even then never imagined I would be able to get the views I have had over the last fifteen years.
After a couple of more circles it flew up to a nearby tree and perched up, something that I rarely get to see.
We tried to get closer but it was soon off again, flying over the field and past us on the road.
I had left the car in the middle of the lane, and had to move it when a van approached. We tried to follow the Kite as it continued north, but got distracted by a Kestrel on a post, that Ian was able to photograph from the car, but I had to just watch.
We eventually caught up with the kite again, but by now it was gaining height and drifting away across the fields. As a result we headed back to Ian's van, and then made our way to Blashford Lakes.
We walked to the Tern Hide on Ibsley Water, the car park was full, and we expected the hide to be so too, but there were seats available, and we settled down to scan the water and surround gravel banks. The remainder of the day was to turn out to be quite special with the birds we saw, but unfortunately the viewing was not suitable for photography, with most of the good birds well out of distance for the camera.
First was the Little Gull that had been present through the week. We picked it up being chased by a Black-headed Gull, which seemed to often be the case. It was an adult bird in non-breeding plumage, so no black hood, but the black under-wing was clearly visible as it twisted and turned to get away from the attention of the Black-headed Gull. It would show in this manner frequently, but was also seen sitting on the water where it would drift about on its own. In fact if it came close to any other gull or duck it would immediately be chased away.
Next were two Wheatears, the first of the year, a male and female on the gravel to the right side of the hide. It was never possible to photograph them, but it was possible to get a record of another early migrant, the Little Ringed Plover which was visible in the same spot. It is there in the centre of the picture, the yellow eye ring standing out.
Every so often duck and a Little Grebe would pass in front of the hide, the Little Grebe in breeding plumage.
A female Goldeneye was diving close to the hide on her own. There were at least two drakes present but these were on the far side of the lake, just about visible through the scope.
There had been reports of the Black-necked Grebe still being present, and I scanned to very far side of the lake. I picked up a small bird that was constantly turning and showing a lighter belly. When it finally settled it was almost all dark, but with orange plumes either side of the head, it was the Black-necked Grebe, almost now in summer plumage. It continued to preen extensively, moving to and fro in front of the trees that were close to the edge of the water, but a long way away.
Attention then turned to the large flock of gulls gathering in the middle of the lake. One of the our fellow birders in the hide had picked up a gull that showed a ring on the bill, and was a candidate for Ring-billed Gull. The fact that we all managed to get onto the bird was the first achievement. It was then a case of identification. At first I thought the bird looked to nice, with a clean white head, but in comparison with the surrounding Common gulls, the bill looked a lot heavier, and the head had a more sloping forehead than the rounded appearance of the Common Gulls. At the distance we were viewing it from,and in the available light it was not possible to see the eye colour. The mantle, too, was a lot lighter than that of the Common Gulls, in fact this was the easiest way to pick the gull out. Where the Common Gulls had a visible tertial crescent, this gull was almost all grey. And on the few occasions it flapped its wings the mirrors on the primaries were quite small.
The consensus in the hide was that this was an adult Ring-billed Gull, and the more it was watched and observed with the Common Gulls the consensus became a conviction that it was a Ringed Bill Gull. It was a shame that we were not able to get some photographs.
The gull was watched on and off, along with the Little Gull again, and a small flock of seven Mediterranean Gulls. In front of the hide a pair of Tufted Ducks drifted past, who could resist?
Love the way the water droplets gather on the feathers
While out on the island the Goosander were moving from shore to water. The Drakes looking particularly impressive.
As the afternoon wound around to closing time a Lapwing walked slowly along the edge of the water in front of the hide.
It has been a day for Lapwing
There had been many Pied Wagtails on the shingle, and a smart male also joined the lapwing in front of the hide.
With it starting to rain we decided to call it a day. A day that started out quietly slowly gather pace and ended up delivering some great birds in the afternoon. It might not have been a day for photography in all cases but from the pure pleasure of seeing quality birds it was second to none.
Next weekend Easter is upon us, I wonder what that will bring, I hope it is something huge.