About Two Owls

Monday 29 January 2018

A Mystery Solved

We had a Sunday group out in the New Forest today (29th) looking for woodpeckers and other woodland species.  Highlight of the morning probably has to be coming across a small feeding group of six Marsh Tits plus one seen earlier, along with other tit species.  There were also a lot of Stock Dove activity and we recorded our first singing Chaffinch and Mistle Thrush of the year.  We ended our walk with a great view of a male Crossbill which seemed to be singing a sub-song.

Crossbill - Shattisford New Forest © Nick Hull
Crossbill - Shattisford © Joe Baldwin
Though we also had a bit of a mystery, Fran called me to what looked like single frogs eggs (spawn) on a leaf, then we found it wasn't the only sample of spawn there were lots scattered all over a fallen tree and all around a patch about a metre square.  We discussed various theories but came to no conclusions.  I ended the conversation by saying I'll put it out on Twitter someone will know.  Once home I uploaded photographs taken at the time and soon after received a couple of replies.  One of these was from Richard Broughton @woodlandbirder that we had considered but with first hand knowledge is always better.  He replied  "A raptor (usually Buzzard) has eaten a frog, and discarded the spawn. It gets scattered around as they flick it off, and some maybe washed off by rain, which expands it", this seems the most plausible as we know there are Buzzards in the area.

Frog Spawn scattered probably by a Buzzard when eating Frog.
Scattered Frog Spawn over fallen tree

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Surprise Barn Owl & Birding on Patch

Jackie and I traveled up to Salisbury on Monday (22nd) but on our return I decided to take a cross country route home.  Our first stop was at Wyke Down, it was pretty quiet though we had a Peregrine sat out in the middle of one field and a Buzzard was close by in a small tree.  We watched from our parking spot for a while and we we started to see other species, Stonechat in the rough grass opposite us, Pheasants, Magpie, Crows then both Jackie and I heard a short cackle, Fieldfare in fact around thirty birds flew right over the car .

After a while we continued on seeing more Fieldfare and Blackbirds, then Jackie picked up a falcon perched in a tree stopping we realised it was a Kestrel and I found two Red-legged Partridge sheltering under the edge of the wood.  We traveled further along the road to another location where we used to like to stop and listen to drumming Snipe several years ago and sadly not anymore.  As we arrived there was a photographer waiting and Jackie then noticed a Barn Owl quartering the meadow.  So obviously we waited and watched it for sometime but just as we were thinking of leaving it flew directly towards us I grabbed the camera and jumped out of the car and as she passed took a couple of shots.  We decided to wait and see if she would return back past us, and eventually she did but she took us by surprise.  I managed a couple more shots as she passed but the evening light was going and I have to say the results I had were totally luck as I didn't check the camera settings I just upped and took a few shots.
First pass of possibly a female Barn Owl © Nick Hull
One of the later shots as she returned passing us she took a glance as
she passed © Nick Hull
As she notices me or may have heard the shutters sound she turned away
slightly © Nick Hull
Birding on Patch - 23rd January
Birding the home patch and showing others around that patch is always a little worrying somehow as you know the patch is good and can turn up surprises even in the winter.  As you will know the weather wasn't good the forecast was overcast with 90% chance of rain.  As the group arrived it was dry but as I started to lead them out to the bay it started to drizzle, by the time we reached the bay it was blowing across the bay in heavy gusts, so we took shelter by the trees which at least broke the wind. Ann picked up two birds feeding on birch catkins and on checking them out they were obviously two Lesser Redpoll.  A species that is usually recorded as flyovers during migration times, not a bad start considering.  We walked back through the wood and picked up many of the usual garden species which you would expect in a semi urban area and we picked up Jackie who joined us for the rest of the walk. Walking towards Border Drive and Chad Copse we continued adding the commoner species Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Starlings and the local pair of Magpie, Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tits  and several singing Dunnock and the local House Sparrows.  A Sparrowhawk whizzed over scattering a large charm of Goldfinch and a handful of Greenfinch a species that is just hanging on here.
Spoonbill Lytchett Bay © Nick Hull
As we walked through Chad Copse there was a another noisy flock of Goldfinch feeding in the alders and we heard the squealing of a Water Rail.  I then found one then two swimming into cover in the copse a few of the group managed to get a rear view just before they disappeared.  As we turned to move on I noticed another behind us but at the same moment it flew up the path and into the wood out of sight. Out on the sports field there was a flock of Black-headed Gulls with a number of Oystercatchers.  On reaching the foreshore path looking over the bay the rain stopped and the visibility improved.  Scanning the bay we picked up the usual waterfowl, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard on Lytchett point we added Canada Goose and Redshank.  Over on Turlin Point Cormorant and more Oystercatchers, both Jackie and I heard the 'choo choo choo' of a Greenshank but couldn't locate it. Further out in the bay off Turlin Point we found a group of Red-breasted Merganser and Christine then picked up what she thought was two Spoonbill which turned out to be three roosting on Otter Island.  B

Best of all was probably the Harbour Seal which Ben spotted just off shore, right in front of us. A scarce visitor to the bay but as we were watching a few Black-headed Gull swooped down towards it and the seal launch itself upwards towards the closest bird to a height approximately half its body out of the water, the gull gained height quickly before it became lunch.
Ringtail Hen Harrier from Two Owls archive © Nick Hull
The morning wasn't over as we were wondering where the seal was going to resurface all the the Wildfowl took flight which included a flock of approximately sixty Avocet which had been unseen up to now.  The cause of this was soon apparent a ringtail Hen Harrier crossed the bay and the point and quickly disappearing behind the wood but after a short while returned again giving better views as it quartered the Lytchett point and unsettled the wildfowl again. Curlew and Redshank lifted off before the harrier moved away towards the west of the bay out of sight.

Our return walk was fairly uneventful until we reach the cars when I picked up a Grey Wagtail outside our house which ending our walk very nicely.

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

Monday 8 January 2018

Boat, Car, Tramper & Birds

As Jackie is a little restricted with her mobility due to the injury she sustained at the end of last year our new year birding has been not quite the same as usual.  We have been lucky over a number of years in  on the 1 January to be invited by a friends Mark and Mo on a round-the-harbour bird boat and this year our only worry was whether Jackie could manage to get on the boat.  After a restful New Years Eve we thought it a worth a try and we set ourselves a challenge to see 100 species in the first week of the new year. 

So as normal for birders you always check out the birds in the garden and around the house and on your travels, in our case from from home to Poole Quay picking up Liz on the way.  We arrived on the quay with plenty of time and with help from Liz and Marcus we managed to get Jackie on the boat with little problem.  As the tide was in it allowed plenty of water for the boat to head up the Wareham Channel, this Mark hoped would add to the variety of species to our harbour list which it did though the wet weather was slightly against us to start with.

Great Northern Diver Two Owls archive ©Nick Hull

Heading off from the quay we checked off Common Guillemot, Feral Pigeon, Cormorants and Dunlin though I missed Turnstone.  As we sailed past the new dock the water seemed pretty empty, it wasn't until we were opposite Patchin's / Gold Point that we started to pick up a few birds Oystercatcher, Little Egret along the shore and one or two Red-breasted Merganser further out in the harbour.  I then picked up a Great Norther Diver off Rockley Point.  As brunch was being served and we had to return back passed Holton and Keysworth I went below and joined Jackie for breakfast.  Once we arrived at the mouth of the Frome River I went back up on deck but it was soon clear that Jackie needed to be up top as well.  So with a little help we managed to get her position in a seat so she could see over the reeds lining the river bank.   We sailed up to Ridge quay where the boat turned to return to the harbour before the tide started to turn and left us high and dry. 

It was around this time the first harrier was seen a 2cy male Marsh Harrier over the Wareham Meadows, which flushed a good sized flock of Lapwing, several Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.  Then a little later Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and a single Snipe flew up and around.  Several Little Grebe were seen and I saw a Cetti's Warbler fly across the stern of the boat and quickly disappeared into the reeds. As we came to part of the river so we could look over Arne Moors in the distance a male Hen Harrier was picked up quartering the moors shortly after I added a a ringtail moving across the same area a Kestrel was next hovering further to the left.  We rounded the mouth of the river and another male Marsh Harrier moved over Giggers Island and Bearded Tit was seen in the reeds but missed by me and Jackie.  We had three more Marsh Harrier over Keysworth one of them may have been the young male from earlier.   
Marsh Harrier from Two Owls archive © Nick Hull
Back on the harbour proper we sailed across Balls Lake area towards Arne and up the Wytch Channel to as far as Round Island.  Red-breasted Mergansers, Goldeneye and two groups of Black-necked Grebe a single Sandwich Tern over Arne Bay and a few Spoonbill roosting on Patchin's Point. Shelduck, Brent Geese and a Common Seal was nice to add to the day list as we ran up to Round Island.  We returned across the middle of the harbour and then headed to go round the back of Green Island.  As we approached Green Island with Furzy on our left I picked up a small grebe which I quickly id'ed as Slavonian when it took off and crossed the bow of the the boat enabling a number at the front to see it as it flew off towards Long Island.  We had very distant views of two Spoonbills roosting along the Wytch shoreline with Little Egrets.  More Brent, Curlew and Redshanks were between Ower and Newton's Bay as we rounded Green Island and headed towards Brownsea there was a good flock of Merg's, Goldeneye and a scattering of Great Crested Grebe.  As we passed Goathorn Point there was Dunlin and Grey Plover on the shore and Velvet and Common Scoter off Brownsea and another Great Northern Diver was seen.

Brownsea Lagoon had lots of water so waders were in low numbers but non-the-less there was the usual variety though the Stilt Sandpiper couldn't be found probably due to the depth of the water.  Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Pintail, Shoveler, Gadwall, Buzzard were all added to the list. We made out way back to the the Quay where we added Lesser Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeons, Pied Wagtails and Starlings.  Counting up there were 96 species seen from the boat a New Years Day record but I only managed 77 and Jackie only managed 58 due to the fact she could move around on deck to see everything.

Back on shore we headed off in the car to Poole Park to add a few more to our day list with Coot for me and Goldeneye, Coot and Greylag Goose for Jackie.  I was going to continue around to Sandbanks for Bar-tailed Godwits but Shore Road was jammed with queuing cars so we headed to Lytchett Matravers Saint Mary's Church in the hope that the pre Christmas Hawfinches were still visiting.  Though we had a short wait checking off species like Green and Goldfinch, Dunnock, Robin, eventually a Hawfinch flew across from one of the Yew trees right in front of us then a little later I had two flying away towards a wood to the northwest - excellent.  Next off to Hartland Moor arriving there about 16:00 after a half hour wait, seeing very little accept a couple of distant Buzzard, a Dartford Warbler started an end of day calling session right next to the car.  Then I picked up movement on a distant post and realised it was a Merlin but unfortunately by the time Liz and Jackie got out the car it had disappeared and the light was so bad we decided to call it a day and head home.
Hawfinch from Two Owls archive © Nick Hull
On the 3rd January we had a Two Owls visit to Blashford Lakes, fortunately they have a Tramper, a motorised wheelchair, so we arrived early and booked it out for Jackie so she didn't have to miss out. We met the group by the Tern Hide which is where we started the morning.  We recorded a good variety of wildfowl and had close views of a Black-necked Grebe right out front of the hide and Jackie caught up on a few duck missed of the 1st.  Joe picked up an immature gull flying in across the lake which pitched in on its own out in the middle, getting it in the scope it was a Herring Gull sized bird with a slopping forehead giving it a nosy look, it looked white headed to pale mantle and darker wing coverts black primaries with black band on tail. It appeared fairly long winged the bill showed a black goynal band with slightly paler base to the bill.  It had to be the Caspian Gull that had been regularly visiting Blashford this winter, it was a nice unexpected sighting as usually seen in the roosting birds in the late afternoon.

Next we walked to the Woodland hide and we caught up on a good number of the woodland species with highlights being Brambling and Siskin.  From the Ivy South hide it was again searching through the duck to find 'new for the year' species without luck.  We then walked up through the wood along Docken's Water, here we had Goldcrest and Jackie saw a flyover Redwing.  We turned and walked along the path beside Rockford Lake and we didn't need to walk far when I found our target bird here  of Bullfinch, in fact there was six feeding along the hedge.  From the screen we added Teal to the year for Jackie and by the end of the day I had made 101 for the year and Jackie was on 86.

We drove home via Ibsley stopping by the water meadows and looked through a flock Greylag Geese and found the adult Pink-footed Geese, then further up the lane to North End Farm were a flock of Egyptian Geese.

Back in the Car
Our next chance to try and get Jackie up to 100 in the first week of the year had to wait until the 6th and we decided the best way to add to our list was to head to the Weymouth area stopping at a couple sites on route.  From home we drove to Lane End and Hyde then on to Tincleton Cressbeds picking up a number of the usual species such as Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtails, Collared Dove and Song Thrush.  One of the highlights were Bullfinches seeing several flitting around the hedgerows. Next we wound our way to Lewell as there had been a Cattle Egret seen the previous day in a field behind the Barn.  On arrival we found at least thirty Little Egret in with cattle in a field two back from Lewell Barn.  It took five minutes or so to find the right place to view the field to see all the egrets feeding there.  After a short while I found the Cattle Egret, also 2 Egyptian Geese, and Jackie was able to get a view with only  having to take a few steps.  On to Maiden Castle where we added Mediterranean Gull, Linnet and Skylark but no Corn Bunting or Golden Plover.
Little Owl - Portland Obs Quarry © Nick Hull
After lunch our first stop was Sandsfoot Castle which gives a good view across Portland Harbour, adding Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe, a distant Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe.  After a while  of scanning the harbour I added Goldeneye and then Razorbill but little else could be found so time to move on.  The tide wasn't right for Ferrybridge so we headed to Portland Bill where we stopped briefly to view the Obs Quarry and was successful finding the Little Owl.  Then on to the Bill car park for a seawatch though the first bird to be added was a Raven in the car park.  Viewing out over the sea we had our first Gannet then Kittiwake, I then picked up diver flying past probably a Black-throated but needed a scope on it to clinch it.  However the Rock Pipit was easy on the lighthouse building and a pair Stonechat was nice to see flitting around the rock just out from us.  It was now time to drive home.