Monday, 25 April 2016

Sound of a Nightingale

Early Sunday morning (24th April) we met for a walk up Challow Hill for a very special bird.  Gathering in the National Trust car park we watched a pair of Swallows busily setting up home in the visitor centre and a Raven sat up high on top of Corfe Castle.  
Raven atop Corfe Castle ©Nick Hull
Along our walk we had the usual Blackbirds, Wren, Robin, Chaffinch etc and in the field where we often see Alpaca's a pair of Song Thrush.  Walking through the gate on to the footpath we started by seeing and hearing Chiffchaff, the first of many and a Siskin called as it flew over.  Then we noted our first Blackcap singing.  While watching a pair of Yellowhammers Mick caught sight of a Dartford Warbler, but it was very elusive! However Yellowhammers were definitely very showy and they certainly brightened tup he day! A Buzzard came over and looked as if it made a pass at the male Stonechat then a Blackbird before landing on the bank, when it sat up on a bush it had empty talons.
Green-winged Orchid © Nick Hull
Walking on further we had several Whitethroats which were very much in evidence, singing and displaying and then we heard the Nightingale. somewhere up ahead.  Walking on a little further we stopped and looked, Mick found it singing from a thorn allowing us good views which were even better viewing through the scopes. We stood and watched for ages until it moved and then disappeared into another bush.  We moved up the slope with Linnets and Greenfinches now singing and displaying until Nick spotted the Green-winged Orchids.  A beautiful plant so well worthy of our attention and taking of photographs.   A Meadow Pipit flew in close by and suddenly flattened itself on the ground and froze and a Sparrowhawk speeded just a few inches over its head and chased a Blackbird down the slope.  At the top of Challow Hill we heard our first Skylarks with two birds having a sing off at the corner of their territories.
Nightingale - © Nick Hull
Our return walk was rewarded with half the group taking the higher path back the way we came and getting superb views again of the Nightingale.  While the other half took the low path with a pair of Blackcaps coming very close before noticing us and a beautiful fox sauntered up the hill.  We stood closer to the Nightingale but having to look through a thick tangle, therefore he was not disturbed by us and we were able to listen to the sheer beauty of his song being so close and strident it was absolutely spellbinding.

We finished our walk with big smiles and stopped off in the visitor centre for a well deserved tea and cake.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Birding Catch-up

I visited Wareham Forest, Dorset twice last week, on Tuesday 12th April with a friend and then with our Sunday group yesterday (17th).  Both days the sun shone and though bit of a chill in the air it was good to bring the birds out.

Of course on both days we had many of the same birds, spring migrants Chiffchaffs and Blackcap were quite vocal but it wasn't until Sunday that I heard the Willow Warbler.  On each occasion finding Tree Pipit was difficult, we did see one but quite briefly.  Swallows yesterday were flying over in small numbers all morning.
Peregrine Falcon © Nick Hull
On Tuesday, a pair of Peregrines were creating such a noise, the male was flying round calling while the female, also very vocal, was sat on the pylon.  We scoped the female and then watched the male fly in and then they copulated. When we went back on Sunday only the male was seen. On the heath it was good to see so many Stonechats and of course several Dartford Warblers, plus a few Linnets.

The star of the show had to go to the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, on Tuesday we were watching Marsh Tit and Treecreeper when I heard it call first.  I then heard it call again very close by but we could not find the bird and then heard it more distantly, quite frustrating not being able to see it.  When we returned on Sunday, we heard it drumming but only saw it as it flew.  Each time we heard it drumming it moved, on one occasion it was really close but on the wrong side of the oak!  So only some of the group saw it fly back across to the tree line by the stream.  So frustrating but that was the best we managed, but it was still good to hear it call and drum, never an easy species. As for other species we managed our first Speckled Wood of the year and a couple of Peacock butterflies.
Speckled Wood 1st of the year Wareham Forest ©Nick Hull
On the 13th April I met a friend and we chose Pennington Marshes, on the Hampshire coast and it was a great choice.  Starting at Lower Pennington Lane and looking over the pool on the old landfill  site, with a pair of splendid adult Mediterranean Gulls and you could hear others flying around.  A 1st summer Little Gull was sat on the water with Black-headed Gulls when two Spoonbills flew in and started preening.  Looking back for the Little Gull we found it was now hawking delicately over the water. A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew over, a Kestrel started hovering and Skylarks were displaying.

Moving on we watched a Peacock butterfly enjoying the warm sunshine and a couple of Roe Deer were feeding in the marsh.  Then we heard a Whitethroat so turned round to watch him singing and flying up and down to the next bush.  A Dartford Warbler turned us back to the marsh and it was on top of a gorse bush.  A short burst of song from Reed Warbler took our attention away again and we stood waiting for him to show, though he did it was all too brief.  All the time Cetti's Warblers were very loud and there were 4 or 5 in a quite small area.   Then it was Stonechats and Linnets, we'd barely walked more than a 200 yards and there was just so much to see and hear.
Cetti's Warbler © Nick Hull 
At last we had reached Fishtail Lagoon and a pair of Reed Buntings were down amongst debris swept over the coast path by the recent storms.  Oh, if only I had my camera with me they were so close!  On the salt marsh were several Dunlin now attaining their black bellies, also Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Turnstones.  Renee saw something in the reeds and up popped a superb pair of Bearded Tits and this time even closer than the Reed Buntings - I really needed a camera!  We just stood quietly and watched them for ages until eventually they flew over to a more distant reed bed.

It didn't stop there with another photo opportunity on the next lagoon, a summer plumaged Spotted Redshank just below us.  I turned round as I heard the rasping call of a Sandwich Tern and watched it fly past.  Our day finished with two Swallows as we arrived back at our cars.  One of those brilliant birding days to remember.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Looking for Migrants at Thorncombe and Weymouth

Meeting at Thorncombe Wood, Dorchester on Saturday, 9th April, in beautiful sunshine we listened to Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Chiffchaff and Siskin flying over.  Walking through the woodland we heard and saw the usual woodland species including Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits, Blackbird, Wren and Robin.  The songsters that stood out most were Chiffchaff, their song followed us all over the wood.  Mistle Thrushes were the other stand out song of the morning as they sit up on top of a tall tree and sing non-stop, or so it seemed.  While some watched a Sparrowhawk a pair of Marsh Tit caught the eye of the others as they hung upside down on the outer twigs of a birch tree.  As we were coming out on to the piece of heathland which had some fir and scrub a pair of Goldcrests were seen as well as singing Coal Tit.  

With a great view over Norris Mill and out towards the coast we watched a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks and two Sand Martins flew over.  Coming back to the wood a couple of Roe Deer carried on munching the undergrowth and taking no notice of us, though soon our attention was taken by a Green Woodpecker.  We had heard one "yaffle" earlier but this male flew into a tree in front of us, accompanied by his mate which was briefly seen.  Nearly back to the car park we had two pairs of Treecreepers which gave us a good show.

By now it had clouded over and it started to rain quite heavily as we drove down to Lodmoor RSPB reserve.  Briefly the rain stopped and we got ready to walk round the reserve, a Sand Martin alighted on a wire above our car allowing the photographers amongst us to get some good shots.  However, it soon started raining very heavily again and we took shelter in our cars to wait for it to ease.

Sand Martin - Lodmoor © Nick Hull
We were soon back out and birding again, Swallows started gathering along the wires with one or two Sand Martins with them.  We also watched them actively feeding and it was a delight to watch their acrobatic flights and listening to their calls, a very welcome sight.  We were hearing Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff and soon realised their had been a good fall of these migrants as we went round the reserve, as they were very vocal and actively feeding in the bushes.  Summer is definitely on it's way!  Cetti's Warblers were also in very good voice though as usual extremely hard to see.  We also had a male Blackcap.  The female Marsh Harrier was seen quartering first, later the male came across and two Buzzards were seen soaring over the wood.

Waterbirds were not forgotten with a pair of Shoveler, Great Crested Grebes displaying and when a Tufted Duck got too close broke off to see him out of their territory.  Little Grebes "whinnied", plus Shelduck, Gadwall, Pochard, Mallard and Teal were all seen.  Waders were thin on the ground with just a single Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit, the latter had been colour ringed and we know it came from the Axe Estuary and we are awaiting more details on this bird.  Two pairs of Oystercatchers were in front of the bandstand viewpoint, one giving a lovely aerial display.   

After lunch we spent an hour at Radipole RSPB reserve, seeing many of the birds we had at Lodmoor with more Willow Warblers, a few Chiffchaff and a very smart male Redstart though it at times could be quite elusive and only gave us brief though good views.  We also had a male Marsh Harrier here, a different individual to the Lodmoor one as its plumage was different.   All too quickly our day was over and it was time to leave and make our way home.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Early Spring birding in the New Forest

Yesterday, 6th April, our group met in the New Forest and as we arrived a Coal Tit was singing, Siskins flying over and then the sound of a Curlew.  We watched fly towards us, over the pine trees  and over our heads, giving his beautiful bubbling display calls, spellbinding!   As we walked down the path we had Meadow Pipit displaying, first of several we saw today and then heard the Curlew again.  This time though the pair came round together displaying and the pipit was forgotten!  Now Curlew is becoming a scarce breeder in the New Forest they are very worthy of our full attention.

A Wheatear was seen distantly on some gorse but then lost to view on the ground, its place taken by a male Stonechat and nearby his mate.  We had at least 3 further males singing on our walk.  A small trickle of hirundines went through, mainly House Martins with the odd Swallow with them and a distant Buzzard.  Approaching the wood we heard above the nearby noisy tractor a Woodlark, it took some finding but Alan was the first to see him, actually he was high above our heads displaying, a beautiful song and a beautiful bird, we left him up there.

Male Common Redstart from the archive
Joe and I heard a Redstart but not a full song, so into the woods a short way and Chris saw him first but it then dropped out of sight.  But not for long he then popped up on a dead tree trunk right in front of us, a very smart male, so good to see them return for the summer.  All the while a Mistle Thrush was singing away.  The usual woodland species were seen including Treecreeper and Nuthatch, also good views of a pair of Marsh Tits. 

A Goldcrest was singing in a holly tree as we walked by back on to the heath and where we heard our first Willow Warbler, we had two on our walk.  In the very wet area in front of us were a pair of Lapwing, Grey Heron and Little Egret.  Starlings adorned a dead tree for a while and a pair of Greenfinch flew down on to the little bridge.  A larger pond had Mallards, a pair of Greylags and a drake Teal.

It had been a rather boggy walk at times meaning a few detours but very rewarding and the rain held off until we arrrived back to the cars.