Monday, 15 January 2018

Wow! Day, Birding the Harbour

No matter how you plan a birding day you never connect with all the birds you would like to see, you alway miss something.  Once in a while everything goes to plan and Saturday was one of those days, we met at the NT car park at South Haven and headed out on to the beach to look out over Shell Bay.  

Oystercatchers, Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit quickly seen, but the sea was very choppy making it difficult to see the birds on the sea.  With constant scanning we started to pickup a Great Northern Diver off Pilots Point, a Black-necked Grebe and several Shag came into view.  One of the group noticed another diver this time close in right in front of us, after a few minutes it turned out to be another Great Northern this time an immature but as we watched a second suddenly surfaced right next to the first, this was an adult which gave great comparison to their ages.  We also had several Red-breasted Mergansers in flight and on the sea.
Great Northern Diver © Nick Hull
Moving to look over the inside of the harbour mouth we had a Razorbill surface right in front of us and as soon as it spotted us it dived again and were were able to watch it in the clear water as it swam beneath the surface, excellent.  Also from here another Great Northern Diver just off Brownsea shore more Red-breasted Merganser, Shag and Cormorant were scattered all over the harbour but the bird I was looking for I couldn't find.  I decided to try viewing from another angle so we headed off to the Houseboats, this gives a good view over Bramble Bush Bay and can be good for waders too.  On arriving we added several Dark-bellied Brent on the shoreline with Oystercatchers and Herring Gulls.  Scanning the old tank teeth concrete blocks which often have a few waders roosting we quickly added Grey Plover, a single Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Turnstone and beyond Redshank on the shore.  A little way out into the harbour we had our first Goldeneye with a couple of stunning males, further out three more Black-necked Grebe.  The RSPB Birdboat had just sailed around Goathorn and moved into Brand's Bay and started moving off towards Brownsea when I picked up three birds lift off the water and circle high towards Furzy Island, one showing white secondaries a Velvet Scoter.  I watched it until it pitched in alongside a few Mergs and Great Crested Grebe out from Furzy Island but with the magnification up on the scope you could see it well.  before we moved on we had nice views of two of the wintering Sandwich Tern and a Yellow-legged Gull put in an unexpected appearance just as we were leaving.
Velvet Scoter from Two Owls Archive
After all had their fill of the Velvet Scoter we headed to the hide looking over the south end of Brand's Bay.  Here we were able to pick up all the usual wildfowl species that we expected to find in much larger numbers as they moved off the roosts when the tide started to change and go out.  It was here that Joe found our only Shoveler of the day and Tony found a godwit roosting on a spartina islet in the bay, with close scrutiny it was a Bar-tailed Godwit in full summer plumage, a bird that seems to have his seasons mixed up a bit. A little later Tony again picked out a distant white bird a single Spoonbill feeding in one of the narrow channels through the cordgrass margins of the bay.

Middle Beach was our next venue for our lunch break.  Though we had seen Mediterranean Gull already here is alway a good location in winter for this species and indeed some forty individuals were resting on the sea with first and second winters and adults.  More Black-necked Grebe were scattered over the bay and another two Great Northern Diver but it was Joe that picked out a small group of Common Scoter.  

Next around to the western area of the harbour to Middlebere but with a quick stop at a favourite sewage filter beds en-route.  As we crossed the railway line heading towards the filter beds a chunky bird flew out of a tree on our left across the front of the car I glanced at it and right away realised what it was a Hawfinch.  I slowed and stopped as I saw it land in the top of an oak tree to the right of the road.  Jackie pinpointed it as I informed the following cars and we all managed good view what a bonus bird.  The sewage works proved good with at least twelve Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Grey Wagtail also our first Wren of the day.
Hawfinch Two Owls Archive
Middlebere can always be good in the late afternoon though our walk down the lane only produced a Song Thrush, Reed Bunting and a couple of Black-headed Gulls over the reedbed.  I have to admit it wasn't looking too good. Once in the hide the tide was fully out and it looked like there were few birds around but slowly we started checking them off.  Two Spoonbill flew in from the west and pitched in right out front, things were improving.  It was Ben that called first "small raptor moving left fast"  no one else picked it up but quickly after a ringtail Hen Harrier seemed to appear from nowhere and moved off to the left, quickly followed by a fast moving falcon.  Unfortunately I didn't see the falcon and there was a little discussion going on to its identity when the Ringtail came back into view flushing a number of Meadow Pipits from the marsh and there sweeping in behind came the falcon.  Small very pointed wings, a slate blue cast to the upperparts, a male Merlin which put on a great show before heading off down channel and the harrier moved off over Coombe Heath and towards Arne. By this time the light was fading and there was definitely a chill in the air so we decided to walk back to the cars and Jackie.  As we arrived back at the cars a darker looking ringtail was quartering the heath right in front of Jackie giving us another view of one of these super raptors making it a real fitting end to a excellent birding day around the harbour.
Merlin from Two Owls Archive

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