Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Birding Keyhaven Marshes

Our Tuesday group met on the first day of Spring at Keyhaven for a walk round the marshes, in glorious sunshine but with a chilly wind.  It was a day when it was very noticeable that numbers of waders and wildfowl were much lower than of late, already flying north towards their breeding grounds.  We're sure this will change over the next few weeks with new waders coming through from the continent.

There was still plenty to keep us occupied, starting with a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls, a few Brent Geese, Redshank and a single Oystercatcher.  Also the first of five bird of prey species with Marsh Harrier and Buzzard as we began walking the sea wall.  We were pleased to come across a flock of 30 Turnstones on the tideline, they hadn't forsaken us yet. We stopped to look over the small pools with a single Black-tailed Godwit, a few Redshank and Teal, also a Meadow Pipit.  A Kestrel hovered over the fields and then went across to the saltmarsh.  As I watched it I heard some of the birds on the marsh fly up agitated, Nick found the culprit as it flew towards us low and fast, a Sparrowhawk.  Nick luckily had his camera ready and got a couple of shots as it flew across us.  
Sparrowhawk - Keyhaven © Nick Hull
We reached Keyhaven Lagoon, first though a pair of Stonechats took our attention feeding on the ground and then popping up on top of the gorse or on the wire fence.  I could see a large white blob on the lagoon, looking very much like a hunched Spoonbill.  Not only was it indeed a Spoonbill moving round a little further we found four roosting together, one very briefly lifted up its head to show its bill.

Also on the lagoon were 22 Pintail, Wigeon, a few Lapwing and a smart Greenshank.  A couple of Roe Deer   On Fishtail Lagoon we added a couple of Snipe and three Spotted Redshanks, several Shoveler and Little Grebes.  On the saltmarsh all we could add were four Dunlin other than Redshanks and Curlews.
Redshank-Black-tailed Godwit Keyhaven ©Nick Hull
As we came up to the ancient highway a Cetti's Warbler called, a Skylark spiralled up in song despite the strong wind.  On the old tip pool were the usual Black-headed Gulls, Tufted Ducks, Coots and Canada Geese.   Suddenly the gulls lifted up and seemed upset, Nick again came to the rescue seeing the Peregrine flying along back of the old landfill.  It did land and we had poor views only really seeing its head as it came up from eating something it had obviously caught.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

A good week Birding catch-up

It's been good birding over the past week or two with some excellent birds despite some grotty weather at times.   On  Sunday, 26 February, we had a group out for the day in the New Forest and it was challenging with wind and rain but we braved it and were rewarded for it.  Starting in the north of the forest watching for Goshawk, we'd had good views of a pair the week before so were very hopeful of a repeat.  Though we did see a pair they were fairly distant but with Wood Larks, Mistle Thrush, Raven and Lapwing nearby we didn't mind.

Moving on to Eyeworth Pond for the Mandarin Ducks we were not disappointed watching several drakes flying around the pond chasing each other, quite a sight!  Another reason to pop into Eyeworth is for Marsh Tit attracted to seed that someone puts down on the wooden posts.  Of course it also attracts other small birds including Coal Tit.  On to Bolderwood for a comfort stop and a quick look round, on the grass were several Mistle Thrush and a couple of Song Thrushes.  However it was Scott that picked up a two of Crossbills flying over us.  

Now the rain was heavier and we moved on to Beaulieu road to have lunch before looking for the Great Grey Shrike.  We added Stonechat and not much else and certainly not the Shrike!  However, our last stop at Blackwater Arboretum was now much less windy and much drier, even a bit of blue sky at last.  We had seven species of finch with Chaffinch, Siskin, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, a brief view of a Redpoll nicely picked up by Angus.  However the best was left to last with Hawfinch, we saw a few flying in but not stopping then one landed in a dead fir.  It stayed there for at least 20 minutes while we watched and admired it, in the end we had to leave.  
Male Hawfinch - New Forest © Nick Hull
On Tuesday, 28 February, Nick and I went with our friend Margaret to Abbotsbury, West Dorset.  It was very windy to say the least but we walked over the field by the Swannery looking for the Richard's Pipit that have been wintering there.  Nick spotted them in a private field but through the scope we managed good views, super looking birds.  Feeling a bit battered in the wind we got back to car and looked over the water in a bit more comfort.  We found the Long-tailed Duck and Scaup, also watched a Marsh Harrier briefly quartering the reeds.  After a great pub lunch we popped down to Portland Harbour for the Slavonian Grebe recently reported and Nick found two so another year tick in the bag.

Our Wednesday group on 1 March, we met at Knoll Beach, Studland for a walk in the wood, it was a quiet start with the usual common woodland birds.  Not much on Littlesea but Joe had spotted a small bird to the right of the hide, so we investigated.  Very glad we did as I walked to side of the hide on the ground were a small flock of Redpolls feeding.  We stood and watched these beautiful little birds for ages before finally they flew off.  
Great Northern Diver Studland © Nick Hull
Now for a spot of seawtaching first from Knoll Beach and then from Fort Henry, with a scattering of Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes and then two Great Northern Divers showed very well.  Then we heard the familiar call of Ring-necked Parakeets, despite being a brilliant green in colour they really don't stand out but eventually we had very good views of them.  On the way back to the cars admiring the beautiful spring flowers, with Snowdrops, Primroses, Daffodils, Fran saw a small bird flitting around and I able to see it briefly before it flew off, a Firecrest!

On the afternoon of 2 March it was sunny and we had a chance to visit Wareham Forest to look for the Great Grey Shrike, we started with Reed Bunting, then a few Siskin flying over as well as a Raven.  We hadn't walked that far when the shrike put in an appearance.  It was distant so no photo's again for Nick but through the scope we could admire it.  We added Stonechat on our walk back to the car.  

As we had been so lucky to see the shrike so quickly we popped over to the bay at the end of the afternoon but only recorded the usual gull coming into bathe before going to roost in the Wareham Channel.  But we were handsomely rewarded with a female Hen Harrier.

This week we've also caught up with the Snow Bunting on Studland Beach, if you've not seen it yet it likes to hang round Pilots Point area.  On a beautiful spring day you won't be disappointed, this was our view on Tuesday 7 March.  Shame I managed to put my thumb over part of the lens!

Studland Beach looking towards Sandbanks © Jackie Hull

Friday, 24 February 2017

Deep Sounds from the Garden Pond

Sorry for having blogged of late but we have been away and both ended up with a nasty cold virus which we have now both recovered from so hopefully we can get back to normal.  So we will catchup on posts over the next few days hopefully, but for now a short blog from earlier in the week
Our small garden Pond
This last week it suddenly came to Jackie's notice that we had a couple of Frogs and a few Palmate Newts  in the pond.  Next day we had a little frog spawn and even more frogs, in fact our peek count was ten pairs.

Over the next few days all we could hear was a continuous deep croaking from the pond and every morning more spawn would appear.  Until today when there was only spawn and all the frogs seem to have gone.

Below is a sound recording of what we were hearing. Also you can hear Goldfinch sounds as they came and went from our feeding station.

Frog spawn and you can just make out a Palmate Newt having breakfast

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Birding Poole Harbour

We had a great day with the group yesterday (4th February), starting at South Haven looking over Shell Bay.  As we walked through to the dunes Martin picked up a male Bullfinch that gave brief views and we checked off a few of the common woodland species.  Setting up our scopes and looking out over Shell Bay, at first glance there seemed to be little around.  Then I picked up single Black-necked Grebe quite close inshore and a adult Mediterranean Gull a little further up the beach.  Further offshore near to Pilots Point I found a Great Northern Diver.  Then a couple of Shag surfaced both showing their crests and looking ready for the breeding season.  A while later a black duck came into view we had good scope views of a very nice drake Common Scoter.  We also found Meadow Pipits a single Rock Pipit and a handful of Oystercatcher further up the beach. It just goes to show that what appeared at a glance to be an empty sea with a little persistence some nice birds were found.

We moved on to look over the inner harbour and Bramble Bush Bay, here we straightaway added Red-breasted Mergansers which were scattered all across the area in small groups, another Great Northern Diver was found in the South Deep off Brownsea as was another Black-necked Grebe.  Cormorants on Stoney Island had the company of a Grey Heron which somehow looked a little odd out in the middle of the harbour.  Still looking over the same area, though from the Boat houses a little further along the beach towards Redhorn Quay, we added another Great Northern Diver, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Goldeneye distant Shelduck and Little Egrets.  Jackie then noticed a female Sparrowhawk towards North Haven harassed by a Carrion Crow, it didn't relent in its pursuit as it flew across us and out towards Studland Bay.

On to the look over Brand's Bay we added to our wader list with Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshanks and Grey Plovers. There was plenty of wildfowl, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, fewer Mallard and Pintail and Brent Geese and a scattering of Great Crested Grebes.  From here we moved to Middle Beach where scanning the bay added numbers to species we had already seen with a further twelve Common Scoter, four Black-necked Grebe a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and our fourth Great Northern Diver.  The only species added was a single very distant Razorbill. Walking around the coastal path as we passed Fort Henry, Tony picked up two Ring-necked Parakeets which soon turned into four which gave the group great views as the fed and checked out nesting holes.
Ring-necked Parakeet © Nick Hull
It's amazing how time flies when your enjoying your birding and it was time to take a break for our packed lunch adding Raven and Buzzard before moving on to Norden.  Where we found at least a dozen Chiffchaff but no sign of the Siberian or the Firecrest, but Stock Dove and Grey Wagtail were added.  It was off to Hartland Moor and Middlebere, Hartland added Kestrel but there was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike so we walked to the Middlebere hide via Tim's Tump where we had more Brent, Little Grebe, Jay and our first Gadwall.  From the Middlebere hide the tide was pushing in and all the waders were moving into the roost front of the hide so many were hidden from view, but many were seen when they lifted off and stretched their wings or moved as the tide pushed them off.  here was good numbers of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Lapwing, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Wigeon, Teal and Brent Geese.
Lapwing and Dunlin © Nick Hull
We ended the day with Dartford Warbler calling at dusk, two Spoonbill, three Marsh Harrier and three large flocks possibly a thousand birds in all of Starling heading towards Studland no doubt for the evening murmuration before going to roost.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Keyhaven/Pennington Marshes & Upton CP

On Wednesday 18th January our group met at Keyhaven and started immediately with Marsh Harrier, in fact three of them, mostly just resting on top of the bushes.  A Cetti's Warbler sang from somewhere in the reedbed as we started to walk around the sea wall and as usual the Turnstone were searching through the seaweed and doing what Turnstones do, flipping pebbles for a tasty sandhopper or two.  On the far shore there were many Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Curlew and in the distance we saw a very large flock of Brent take flight and heading inland, no doubt to feed on the fields.  Tony picked out a distant Grey Plover and a little later we had a few closer individuals which we could study much better.  As we walked on we could here the calls of Curlew and Grey Plover from the distance edge of the salt marsh and the odd Redshank would be seen flying a short distance to find a better feeding area.  Andy had a little luck with his camera with a very confiding Rock Pipit which seemed to be more interested in feeding than it was in Andy or the rest of us come to that. 
Rock Pipit © Andy Copplestone
Keyhaven lagoon we found it frozen with only a few Teal, Pintail, Wigeon a single Lapwing and Stock Dove.  Fishtail lagoon was also partially iced over but the bank had a good selection of wildfowl, we added Shoveler and Gadwall to our ever growing list.  We were treated by a flyover of noisy Canada Geese and another flock of Brent. We were just continuing along toward Butts Lagoon when I noticed a large brown bird with slow wing beat heading towards us, as I raised my binoculars to get a better look my initial thoughts were bird of prey.  You can imagine my surprise when it turned to give me a side profile and it was a Bittern I quickly called and I was very pleased that everyone in the group got onto it before it descended into the reedbed of Butts Lagoon.  On reaching the lagoon we scanned the reeds in the hope of getting another sighting but with no luck.  
Bittern © Andy Copplestone
Looking over the outer marsh there was a good few waders roosting mainly Grey Plover and Dunlin but we managed to find a handful of Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot amongst them. Out on the Solent there were a few Great Crested Grebes, several small groups of Red-breasted Merganser and Wigeon then a Kingfisher was found fishing from the Pennington jetty.

Pennington Marsh was fairly frozen though there was good numbers of Lapwing, Pintail, Wigeon and Snipe but no sign of any Golden Plover or an wintering Ruff seen on our last visit.  We added little on our way back to Keyhaven.

On Sunday 22nd January our Sunday group met at Upton Country Park, being on the edge of Poole Harbour it comes into its own in winter.  When we have a freeze  the water treatment works outfall flows into the top end of north east part of the bay warming the water slightly so it doesn't freeze like many of the other peripheral bays.  This of course has the attraction for the wildfowl searching for a place to feed.  

Today the bay was stacked with Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Avocet, Curlew,  Redshank, Knot, Spotted Redshank and Oystercatcher  scattered all over the north west and north east sections of the bay.  We managed after sometime to find our target species for the day a "redhead" Smew, a delightful female which has been returning to Holes Bay for the last couple of winters or so.  She was mingling with the Wigeon out in the middle of the main channel a little different to her usual habits of either being on her own or with Goldeneye. 
 Smew © Nick Hull
The renowned PC World drain produced a Little Egret, at least a half dozen Chiffchaff, Pied Wagtail and a single Grey Wagtail.  The woodland of the park produced the usual tit species and we found a small tit flock that included a couple of Treecreeper, Nuthatch and in the same area a couple of Redwing.  
A view across Holes Bay N/E section © Jackie Hull

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Twitching a male Desert Wonder

After our visit to Ham Wall Jackie and I stayed over in Glastonbury and woke next morning to the promise of a bright sunny day.  A quick check of the Sat nav found that Thurlestone in Devon was about two hours away so, after a very quick stop at Tesco to pick something up for breakfast, we headed south.

Amazingly the Sat nav was dead right and two hours later we were parking in the car park for Leas Foot beach which lies just beyond the golf course.  We passed a birder leaving and he said it was still there on the rocks at the far end of the beach. Five minutes later we were stood on the beach and watching our target flitting around the rocks feeding.  I managed to take a few shots though it was fairly distant not wanting to disturb it, after all seeing it for us is the main thing.  A photograph is an extra bonus if I can get one as you don't want to flush it off for any following birders that might be coming to see it.

It was amazing how this bird had found like coloured habitat that when it was motionless it just blended in with the surrounding rock and sand, perfect camouflage.  I even managed a distant classic wheatear shot of it atop the coastal path fence post.  It took a little flight up the beach which was perhaps a little closer to where we were standing, it didn't seem to bothered about us and I managed a couple more shots.
Cropped from above photograph © Nick Hull
Then unbelievingly it flew straight at us, it had obviously seen something in the sand right in front of us and went for it landing just three metres away. It very quickly became obvious it had seen a Sand Hopper the camera seemed to go into overdrive at this point.
Desert Wheatear with Sandhopper © Nick Hull
Pleased with our views and pretty sure that I had at least one or two good shots I went off down the end of the beach as a Black Redstart had appeared.  Jackie went and sat in the sun on some rocks near the access to the beach. Managed a couple of shots of the redstart and headed to join Jackie.
Male Black Redstart © Nick Hull
As I approached Jackie she indicated to me not to approach too fast and pointed to her left and there right next to her was the wheatear.  I joined her at her rocky seat and couldn't not take a few closeup shots of this stunning bird.
Desert Wheatear Leasfoot Beach Devon © Nick Hull

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Birding The Levels

With our success on the 31st December with the Blue Rock Thrush Jackie and I took a trip down to the Somerset Levels to check out the Starling murmuration. 

We arrived mid morning and didn't waste much time before heading off towards Noah's Lake on the Shapwick Heath reserve.  Starting birding in the car park we checked off many of the common species before we really got going.  Though as we crossed the road and walked past the alders we had our first of several Chiffchaff that we would see during the day.  The reserve was fairly quiet on our walk out only recording just a few waterfowl, a few Pintail flying over, a single Stonechat and Redwing, also our first sighting of a Great White Egret of the day flying over.  
Great White Egret © Nick Hull
From the Noah's hide there was good numbers of wildfowl on the lake but limited in number of species. Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck predominated with Mute Swan, Greylag Geese and Cormorant in lesser numbers.  We were treated to close views of a Water Rail which kept dashing out from its reed cover to snap up small fish that was rippling the calm water near to the hide.  We heard that the Whooper Swans were in the far right corner of the lake but they couldn't be seen from our location so we headed off in search of view of these super northern breeding swans.  In fact we didn't have far to walk just a few hundred metres and we were able to scope an adult Whooper out on the lake.  
Pied Wagtail © Nick Hull
We lunched in good company with Stonechat and various tit species coming and going at the feeders and this female Pied Wagtail was hanging around waiting for us to move on so she could feed on any crumbs we'd left.  So after finishing lunch we set off to explore Ham Wall.  It's hard to imagine most of all this reserve has been transformed from a peat extraction site to extensive reed beds with areas of open water ideal for Bittern, wildfowl and harriers and many reed nesting species in summer.  Walking to to the first viewing platform it didn't take us long before we saw our first Marsh Harrier, a stunning male, also our second Great White Egret which seemed to be coming into breeding plumage showing plumes. We moved on towards the second viewing platform checking off Goldcrest, more Chiffchaff and Reed Buntings.  On the open water there were Shoveler and Gadwall and we came across a small roost of three Great White Egrets with two Grey Heron and a Little Egret.  On reaching the platform I was watching two male Marsh Harrier when Jackie called my attention to a flock of finches feeding in an alder to my rear.  She said "I'm sure I just heard Redpoll" after a scanning through a number of Goldfinch I spotted two Lesser Redpoll and soon got Jackie onto them a good bird to get as they seem to be a little scarce this year.  

Time was by now getting on and it was thought that the Starlings would start arriving around 16:00hrs as it was a very bright day, so we started back towards the first platform.  By the time we reached the first platform people were arriving to see the murmuration so we joined them and waited.  It was about half an hour before we saw the first single Starling arrive, then a few groups then one or two large flocks and then came several really massive flocks.  These flocks you would have been happy to see murmuring and thinking Wow! but once all these joined together all the sky that we could see had Starling several deep in it.
Starling Murmuration in the setting sun - Ham Wall © Nick Hull
The birds were roosting in two main areas one opposite us at the first platform and the others maybe larger numbers going in behind the second platform.  They certainly put on a spectacle for the many people that were watching probably up to a thousand people were stretched along the path, it just shows the effect that a single TV programme can do.
Starlings still arriving after the sun had set.