Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Goshawks & Hawfinches Galore

Our Two Owls group met this morning in the New Forest, the title of our walk was Goshawk & Hawfinch and despite it being cloudy and breezy we had a great day.

Our morning started with a Marsh Tit in the car park before moving up to the viewpoint to look for Goshawks, hopefully displaying.  On the way we saw many of the usual woodland species such as Robin, Blue Tit etc.  As we cleared the woodland and walked out onto the heathland at the top of the hill I heard a brief "tulee" call looked to my left and there, was a Woodlark which landed just ten metres from us and gave us some lovely views, though not for long before it realised we were there and it was off.  We moved on out to our first viewpoint which looks over a vast area of the New Forest.  We were rather early and with the cool dull conditions it wasn't ideal for raptors but you just have to give it a go.  Well it warmed a little though the wind persisted, while we waited we had Siskin over and the Woodlark started to sing then two birds were singing.

We must have put in at least half to three quarters of an hour watching and scanning before we picked up a single Buzzard then two and then another pair, we then had a tantalising very brief view of what was probably a Goshawk but in when behind some distant high pines.  A little time after one of the group asked "whats that" pointing up, I took a quick look and saw two birds the upper being another buzzard the lower second bird had a different 'jizz' altogether flatter wings, longer tail and a barrow-chested look, a Goshawk. I called Goshawk and managed to get everyone onto it as it started to cruise over the trees moving to our right.  We watched this bird for maybe two minutes before it disappeared into some distant trees. As we continued to scan a small finch sized bird flew into the top branches of an oak in my shop view and I could hardly believe what I could see it was a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

After a while without anymore luck we moved on to another viewpoint, as we arrived Joe calls Hawfinch but no one else got onto it before it disappeared.  A few minutes later I picked up another Goshawk but only a few managed to get onto it but Alan then said it had come back and we directed everyone on to it as it drifted left along the tree tops.  It then began to soar a little trying to game height.  It was at this point a second bird came in from the left and as they almost met both birds changed their flight action to a lazy kind of deep flap then they both went off in different directions.

We watched a little longer before heading off to explore the rest of the area, we hadn't gone far before we had two more Woodlark and a Raven cronked as it flew over. A little way further on some finch activity was noticed around a small copse of trees and when scoped it seemed to be mainly Chaffinch and a couple of Bullfinches.  Then as we continued to scan through the birds sat in the tree a Hawfinch was noticed, then another and after a short while we had at least a dozen birds.  Leaving the Hawfinch we moved on back towards the cars and on route we had sightings of a flock of Redwing  accompanied by a single Fieldfare and we had a perched Buzzard which showed well.  We also recorded a number of Mistle Thrush one of which was singing well living up to its "Storm Cock" name.  Back at the cars we all moved on to our afternoon location where we stopped to have lunch first before exploring the Aboretum.

Whilst having lunch we had fly over Siskins they seem to be very common this year. Starting our afternoon walk we added several more of the commoner woodland species like Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Goldcrests but it was a typical quiet winters day in the woods.  We then reach the arboretum where we came across a small mixed tit flock, heard Great Spotted Woodpecker and then picked our place to wait and watch to see what species came into roost.  It didn't seem long before the first Hawfinch were picked up by us hearing their 'tick tick' calls and two were located in the top of one of the pine trees.  One of these birds was positioned just right and gave excellent scope view much better than the feeding birds we had seen earlier.  We continued watching and had some nice views of Siskin feeding in a larch and then another pair of Hawfinch arrived.  Shortly after a flight of six birds that circled around and flew straight into one of the pines and disappeared from sight.  Now the afternoon was growing a little cooler the light was decreasing and everyone agreed they'd had great views, and some very happy to add a new species to their life list, we called in a day.

Though we didn't have a massive list we certainly had some quality birds which was all made easier by have a wonderful group to show around this superb forest.

Hawfinch © Nick Hull  

Monday, 15 February 2016

Short-eared Owl & more at Pennington Marshes

Sunday 14 February, it was Valentine's Day and for me seeing a Short-eared Owl was definitely my biggest treat!  It was our Sunday monthly outing and we started on our walk from Ridgeway Lane, Pennington in beautiful sunny weather.   While we waited for everyone a Treecreeper obligingly crept up a nearby tree, Greenfinch and Chaffinch singing and a pair of Collared Doves flew by.

We started along the path to look over the marshes, stopping at the first field to see a single Brent Goose striding busily over the field as was a Little Egret, several Curlew and Lapwings.  Another field further on held a group of Redshank, three Ruff and a Stonechat.  Then a passing birder told us about two Short-eared Owls he had just been watching along a path we had just passed.  So we walked up the path, listening to Skylark and scanning the fields as we went.  It was Beverley that spotted an the owl first, it was sat on a post, though a little distant Nick managed to get a photo, it then flew and we watched it quartering the rough grassy field.
Short-eared Owl, Salterns Pennington © Nick Hull
Back on to the lane we resumed our walk down to Pennington Marsh, stopping to watch a Goldcrest and heard a Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Arriving at the end of Lower Pennington Lane looking over Pennington Marsh we had a pretty large flock of Golden Plover in with all the Lapwing and then they all took to the air so we could really admire them, though what made them take flight we don't know.  We had heard the Long-billed Dowitcher was in the field by the caravan park so walked on.  Unfortunately something had put all the birds up and even though they did settle we couldn't find the dowitcher. Though there were a lot of other birders trying to find it so plenty of eyes looking but to no avail.  On the old landfill site pond were Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal and Coot, along the edge Oystercatchers, Canada and Brent Geese also Redshank.  Then a shrill call was heard "cheweet" several times, as a Spotted Redshank flew over head but wasn't seen to land.

As we began the walk down to look over Fishtail Lagoon we looked back to see all the birds up in the air, I soon spotted the cause of this furore - a Red Kite, causing mayhem as it majestically flew over the old landfill site.  In the distance we found three Buzzards also up soaring over the woods.  A Kestrel was then seen over Fishtail lagoon, the marshy area behind held many Shoveler and we could hear the 'whinny' of Little Grebe.  With our backs to the lagoon and looking over the salt marsh we had yet another bird of prey when Liz spotted a Peregrine which then settled on the outer marsh.  

Waders on the salt marsh included Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone.  In the Solent were a couple of pairs of Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, two Slavonian and one Black-necked Grebe.  Very distantly Liz picked up a couple of Eider, including a drake.  Returning to the cars a field we passed earlier now had a flock of Fieldfare and Redwing.


Fieldfare-Pennington © Nick Hull

Redwing-Pennington © Nick Hull

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Wild Birding in Somerset & Slimbridge

We didn't pick the best weekend weather wise for this trip but we still had a great time and great birds.  On Friday 5 February, we drove up to Slimbridge, it's been many years since we last visited this reserve when we twitched a Little Crake!  Viewing  from the Observatory, the hides and Holden Tower we had spectacular views of 1000's of Golden Plover constantly flying up and swirling around along with Lapwing and lesser numbers of Dunlin.  Other waders included a few Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and three Ruff.  Of course there were plenty of ducks, large numbers of Wigeon, also Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Gadwall.  It was good to see Bewick's Swans and two free flying Common Cranes, though undoubtedly the latter were not "tickable"!  The other highlight of our visit was seeing White-fronted Geese, like the Bewick's Swan, now so rarely seen in Dorset.
One of the free flying Common Crane-Slimbridge
Staying at Meare, Somerset we woke on Saturday 6 February to a wild windy wet day and we were supposed to be meeting our Two Owls Group for a day on the Avalon Marshes and finishing with the Starling Murmuration.  Having seen the forecast we had swopped the group over to Sunday so the day was ours to explore and try to keep dry.  As you can park next to the hide at Catcott Lows it was an easy choice and had the hide all to ourselves and a good array of wildfowl.  The ducks, Wigeon, Teal, lots of Shoveler, Pintail, Gadwall and Mallard were close to the hide, trying to find some relief from the relentless wind and rain, though every now and then they would have a little fly about.  We also had just one Lapwing and eight Snipe flew a short distance past the hide. We finished our morning by driving to Barrow Mumps where we had scope views (from the car) of five Whooper Swans.   We then gave in to the weather.
Flight of Pintail ©Nick Hull
Catcott Lows in storm Imogen ©Jackie Hull
Thankfully Sunday 7 February, was a much calmer day and some sunshine so our group met at Avalon Marshes Visitor Centre, where the feeding station had a good variety of birds which included Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.  Our first stop was Catcott Lows and on the road to Burtle from Westhay Nick stopped the car by the side of the road to look through a flock of Little Egrets, He thought there may be a Cattle Egret with them.  He was absolutely right and very pleasing to see a Cattle Egret and an excellent start to our day.  As we approached Catcott a female Kestrel flew across the road and landed on a rotted log at the bottom of a hedge.  Unlike yesterday the ducks were much further out, the only species we added was Tufted Duck and Meadow Pipit.

We moved on to Ham Wall and a very muddy walk to the new Avalon Hide as the main footpath was closed.  It was wortVh the walk as we had at least five Marsh Harriers including an adult male and female.  Adding to the raptor list was Sparrowhawk, Merlin and Buzzard.   Fran was following the Merlin when she called out "Bittern" as one flew up from the reedbed flying a short distance before landing again.  However, though we could see where it landed and caught glimpses it did not reappear.  A Great White Egret flew across the reedbed, our first of the day.  After lunch we had a walk on Shapwick Heath with more Marsh Harriers, another Sparrowhawk and Great White Egret.  The only other additions to the list was a female Stonechat, a hand full of Greylag Geese a single drake Goldeneye and a few Pochard.

Time to carefully retrace our steps down the very muddy path at Ham Wall to the viewpoint for the Starling Murmuration.  It was raining and it was a concern that there would not be the spectacle we hoped for, but we were not disappointed.  At first we could see large numbers in the distance and wondered if we were perhaps in the wrong place, but no later they started pouring into the reedbed in front of us.  Coming from the left, the right and head on an uncountable number of birds!  They seemed to go straight into the reeds and we thought due to the rain that was it, no murmuration tonight.  The sight of all these birds in the reeds was amazing a sea of Starlings, and in the words of Mathew "it looked like a layer of topsoil"!  However they were obviously not comfortable here and they took off and swirled around and streamed off, like a pouring of birds over the trees it was an amazing spectacle to behold.  The noise I can only describe like the sound of constant running water.
You just turn your back and they're in your camera bag. ©Nick Hull



Monday, 1 February 2016

A day on Brownsea Island

We joined a Dorset Wildlife Trust members day to Brownsea Island yesterday (Sunday 31st January).  While waiting to board the boat over to the island a Common Guillemot swam by the quay, Nick wanting to get a photo followed it and realised how quickly they can swim, but he did get a shot.
Common Guillemot - Poole Quay © Nick Hull
The boat first went round part of the harbour before landing on the island, as we past fisherman's quay Nick spotted a Sinesis Cormorant and on the way back with camera ready he managed to get a good photo.  We were soon finding many Red-breasted Mergansers, much harder to spot were Goldeneye.   Several Great Crested Grebes dotted about and a few Black-necked Grebes, I picked up a distant Great Northern Diver and a second just before we came into land on the island.  The Shags were showing their beautiful crest and looked very smart, however no sign of the Black Guillemot.

Once on the island we had a quick look over the lagoon before taking walk up from the church up to look over the harbour towards Sandbanks for another look for the Black Guille, again with no luck.  On our walk we heard Raven "cronking" and then we watched it carrying a stick presumably to add to its nest.  In the woods we had the usual species including Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin and Great Spotted Woodpecker, though we only heard the Green Woodpecker.  We watched a Treecreeper busy searching for insects ignoring us completely as did a Coal Tit foraging on a rotting log.   A Mistle Thrush started singing and we could hear Siskins, a flock of Long-tailed Tits trickled through with their constant contact calls.
Treecreeper - Brownsea Island © Nick Hull
Going back down to the Villa for our lunch sitting out by the feeders with the usual chickens keeping us company, while on the feeders we had Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Chaffinch.  We had already seen Red Squirrels but one very confiding individual came on the feeder just a few feet from us.  Obviously this squirrel decided we may have something better and came up on to the picnic table, I thought he was going to pinch my sandwich!
Red Squirrel - Brownsea Villa © Nick Hull
Looking over the lagoon from the Macdonald hide we could see a huddle of waders on a sandbar, a mix of Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlin, though they were soon up into the air.  So scanning the sky I found the culprit, a Peregrine!  It landed by the sea wall and the waders seemed happy with that and soon settled back down.  Another look round picked up Turnstone, Grey Heron and Pintail.  
Greenshank - Brownsea Lagoon © Nick Hull
We decided to move on to the next hide and en-route we watched a Common Buzzard over the wood.  From the hide we had several Greenshanks and a couple of Spotted Redshank and just tucked into the reeds were a few Snipe.   There were a very large number of Shoveler on the lagoon, other wildfowl included Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall.  Now time to go back to the quay for the boat home as we passed the boardwalk we had a very smart female Grey Wagtail.  While we waited to leave we had lovely views of Great Northern Diver.