About Two Owls

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.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Hitting 400 British species

Though I'm fully aware that there are many birders out there that have reached the 400 UK species in a handful of years by spending their bank account and overdraft doing big years etc.  I also have friends that have reached 500 for UK, but as essentially a county birder and not an out and out Twitcher this turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Early in 2016 I realised that I was nearing the 400 species for the UK and thought I would try and reach this goal by the end of the year.

Anyway cutting a long story short I reached December 2016 and I was on 399, I was holding out for that 400th tick to be in my own county.  Well that wasn't to be, so I had to look further afield and there were two species that were possible without driving many miles. One was the Blue Rock Thrush at Stow-on-the-Wold and a Desert Wheatear in Devon at Thurlestone. Well the thrush won so on the 31st December when it was obvious that nothing was going to turn up in Dorset Jackie and I headed off to Stow.

After a two and a half hour drive we arrived at Stow and after searching for parking, we headed for the nursing home garden where our target had taken up residence. It took us all of three minutes on arrival to see the bird which flew out of a garden up onto a roof the first sighting for an hour and a half. It was such a shame that it was such an overcast and dull day as it didn't show this super bird at its best for photography.
Blue Rock Thrush - Stow-on-the-Wold © Nick Hull
Once we had our fill of this stunning thrush we headed back towards the car and found out that a Waxwing had been found in a tree at Union Street just two roads away from where we parked the car so we gave it a try and found a couple of other birders watching it.  Good views were had and we headed for the car and home after a very successful twitch. Just wish all twitches were so easy I'd probably take a few more trips to see good birds.

Waxwing - Union Street - Stow-on-the-Wold © Nick Hull