Monday, 4 December 2017

2nd December - Beaulieu Estuary and Black Gutter Bottom, New Forest, Hampshire

After the cold, bright freezing days we had during the week, the morning was overcast and just a little above freezing, the weather forecast said it would be warming up, but it felt much colder as I waited for Ian at Nursling.  We were heading to the estuary around Beaulieu.

As we drove along the main path there were Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges everywhere, they scattered as we drove slowly around the pot holes. We headed all the way down to the point, with the tide rising there was the chance to scan for something both within the estuary, and out in the Solent.

Getting out of the car a Grey Seal could be seen hauled up on one of the pontoons, looking more a brown seal, than grey this was probably due to the high amount of tannin flowing into the estuary from the New Forest streams.

There were several flocks of small passerines flying about, and as they passed overhead the majority called to identify themselves as Linnets, however one bird separated from the flock and headed north calling, and I recalled my time in Essex when these birds would callas they flew over the sea wall at East Tilbury, a Lapland Bunting.

We walked to a good vantage point where we could see both the Solent and the estuary.  Along the edge of the estuary was a group of eight Spoonbill, all doing what good Spoonbill all do, sleeping.

Scanning the Solent, Ian picked up a Greta Northern Diver, moving west, diving as it went.  It was relatively close in, but still very distant for anything other than a record shot.

As we watched the diver I picked up a small grebe, and then very quickly a second, at first we though Bleck-necked but as they turned and showed the head shape and the white on the cheeks and neck it was clear that they were Slavonian Grebes.  Again nothing more than a record.

Things then moved at a pace, a large flock of Wigeon had a red head Goosander feeding at one end, and mid channel were two Eider, three Pintail and a single Guillemot, again heading west, and diving frequently.  All these very much too far away.

The tide was now rising quite quickly, filling the channels in front of us, and providing a lake for the Brent Geese. It remained bitterly cold

A single Herring Gull drifted on the rising water in front of us.

Gunfire came from the estate, and this unsettled a lot of the geese and duck.  As they flew off the Spoonbill were awoken from the their dreams, and decided that maybe they should move on.

They circled around the area for awhile before settling back down on the marsh further up the estuary.

Aside from the gun shots the geese and Wigeon appeared to be unsettled, and would take to the air frequently.  As well as the wildfowl, the Rooks and Jackdaws too could be seen flying up in large flocks, but we were not able to find any bird of prey other than a staionary Buzzard

It seems every day out these days produces a Kingfisher, and once again the familiar piercing whistle signaled the arrival of one.  It flew to a post not to far from us.

And decided on one dive into the water, probably just to wash, before returning to the post to sit and watch.

Then it flew off, around the point and came back into the estuary to settle on a post above the Grey Seal.  we walked back to try and get close, but it was off again, out across the saltmarsh.  We were though closer to the seal, who watched us carefully as we approached.

We were more an annoyance as we walked as close as we could get, it kept its eye on use, but never seemed as if it would drop into the water, water which was probably warmer at this time than the air temperature.

The early rush of sightings were now winding down.  Three Little Grebes were in the estuary, and on the Solent up to three Great-crested Grebes, but apart from that it was quiet.

We then decided to spend our time around the lakes and pools, where there were plenty of duck.  The majority were Wigeon, and there whistles could be heard all the time along with the honks of Canada and Brent Geese.

On one of the lakes were up to thirty Pochard, all mostly sleeping.

And in amongst the Pochard were four Scaup, although here only three together

The two on the left are probably first winter drakes, the right hand bird a female.

Scanning around there were plenty of Teal and Shoveler, and five Pintail drakes and a single duck, but like all Pintail, quite a way from us.

The Scaup would alternate from sleeping with bouts of swimming around, here the female.

With not much else about our attention turned to the other ducks on the water, all now in their beautiful breeding plumage.  A drake Gadwall, often over looked but possessing some beautiful markings on the breast in the form of fine black and white waves.

It would seem that Wigeon were everywhere, on the water whistling away and grazing in the grass, with some of the drakes posted as look outs with their heads standing up above the feeding bodies.

Again, due to their numbers they are probably over looked but again they are a very beautiful duck

Lovely reflections in the still water.

We went back to the Scaup to see if there was any movement or activity.  At first they continued their sleeping with heads tucked under the wing.  But then two decided to preen, and one of the drakes, at last, wing flap.

The peaceful scenes continued, punctuated by the whistle of a Wigeon, or the splash landing of Brent Geese as they flew in from the surrounding fields.  The Pochard though sleeped on, but with one eye on events.

Back at the car, a strange shape on a piece of driftwood out on the saltmarsh caught Ian's eye, and it turned out to be a Peregrine, probably a male sitting on the wood.  Here was probably too the cause of all the panic earlier this morning.

We decided to move on, it was still very grey and cold, but as we headed north back to nursling it started to rain.  These conditions turned worse as we headed on to the New Forest, and as we pulled up at the footpath leading down to Black Gutter Bottom, there was a heavy drizzle in the air, more from low cloud than actual rain.

Once the drizzle had eased we walked down to the stream, and then up the other side towards Leaden Hall.  Bird life was extremely hard to find, there was the occasional, sharp rattle from a Wren somewhere in amongst the gorse, and every so often as we walked down the hill a Robin would appear as if to watch our movements for disturbing something worth eating.

Up on Leaden Hall several Blackbirds could be seen on the grazed turf, but there was no sign of either Redwing or Fieldfare.  We walked across to view Ashley Hole, and the silence and lack of movement continued.  We decided on walking a loop along to Cockley Plain, and then down into Black Gutter Bottom.  We were hoping to find a Hen Harrier, but to be quite truthful, anything would do.

In amongst the ponies were a group of Fallow Deer, all now with their thicker dark grey winter coats., standing out amongst the deer though was a complete white deer, not albino, but leucistic Fallow Deer.

It appeared quite at ease with the other deer, and as they moved away it went within as part of the group.

A lot of the gorse has been removed from the area, tyre tracks from tractors gouged into the mud, and a lot of open space where previously gorse bushes stood.  Every so often there would be a call of the Dartford Warbler, and a brief view as one flew low between the gorse bushes.  The Wrens too continued to scold, these two doing it out in the open.

As we walked down into Black Gutter Bottom a Raven flew overhead, while a Crow called from the top of a nearby tree.  Every so often a Blackbird would fly over, and as we approached a small copse of trees that included some Holly bushes there were Redwing feeding on the berries and on the ground, and a lone Fieldfare sitting in the middle of the Holly tree.

As I approached to get closer to the thrushes, the Fieldfare burst from the tree and settled conveniently at the top of a bush close by, the first good view I have had of one this winter.

The search for Hen Harrier was becoming fruitless, and it made the walk a burden, there was no sign at all, and this was confirmed by another birder who had been searching.  maybe the gorse clearing work had scared them off, or just the fact that this is now quite a popular place to walk dogs.  Safe to say though we could have searched all day without any joy in finding one.

We decided it was time to call it a day, as we did a group of Fallow Deer jogged down the hill and stopped to watch a dog walker from a safe distance.

A day that had started so brightly gradually fizzled out, leaving an air of despondancy, which in truth was not deserved, such has been our success lately that it was always to be.  The winter here in Hampshire though, by now needs the injection of interest that a new year brings

Monday, 27 November 2017

25th November - RSPB Pagham Harbour and Selsey, West Sussex

The end of November, and what is now our regular trip down to the south coast at Sidlesham.  We arrived on Friday afternoon around 16.00, it had been one of those beautiful winter afternoons as the skies had cleared after early rain.  The drive was in glorious golden sunshine, but as we arrived the sun was setting and there was no chance to go anywhere but the bar.

After yet another wonderful meal, and a relaxing evening we were greeted on Saturday morning with a spectacular sun rise across the harbour, and frost on the grass in the surrounding fields.  The sky was a beautiful blue, and the air cold and sharp, and with it silence as the birds went about the priority of searching for food.  These were perfect winter conditions to walk across the marshes, and down to Selsey Bill.

After breakfast we set out, walking around the old quay where a small flock of Wigeon could be seen sunning in the grass by the side of the many inlets in the marsh.

As we walked the footpath we could see white frost on the grass where the sun was yet to reach, in the shelter of the bushes the sunshine on your face was pleasant, but once out in the open the north west breeze felt chilly and biting.

The tide was out, and under these condition the harbour looks vast and empty.

The Ferry Pool was quiet, a few Teal and some Shelduck at the back.  The RSPB have started to construct a new hide to look out over the pool, and the path from the visitor centre was closed.

We walked on, alongside the long pool where the sunshine lit up the reeds and sent some lovely reflections into the water.  A Mallard pair drifted through the view, the bottle green feathers of the drake catching the winter light.

A little further along, a pair of drakes were acting strangely, they would copy each others movements as if synchronised, as one turned so would the other as if they were inseparable.  I have seen this behaviour between a drake and duck, but never two drakes before.

The fields alongside the path were empty, wire and string hung between posts and sticks to attempt to deter the many Brent Geese about.  Every so often a group would fly out of the harbour and out over the fields to a distant grazing location.  Every so often the silence over the marshes would be punctuated by the startling bang of a gas gun.

Scanning the marsh and the mud there was a large flock of mixed waders in the middle.   were.  Groups were also in flight, wheeling around close to the mud, and flashing silver white as they turned in the sunshine.  Mostly Dunlin, there were also some Knot and Grey Plover amongst them.

An immature Velvet Scoter had been present over the last few days, and I scanned the channel in the hope of finding it.  Great-crested Grebes dived in the mid channel, and then I found it, the head markings clearly helping to identify the duck.  It was quite distant, but this is an acceptable record.

 At Church Norton we walked out to the spit to scan the inlets, and small pools, looking north you could really appreciate what a truly beautiful day it was.

A Curlew fed in the grass close to the edge of the beach.

Another waded belly deep in the pool in front of us.  The low golden sunshine picking out the beauty ion the browns on the body plumage.

And a single Grey Plover came close.

 Every so often there would be the bubbling cal of the curlews close by, but the silence was interrupted by the raucous call of the Black-headed Gulls as they fed in the channels.  We watched one gull as showed of a quite distinctive approach to feeding.

From the water it would fly up a few feet.

Then plunge head first down

Into the water.

Finally covering the head and neck before furiously flapping itself back up.

If it caught anything we couldn't see, but it continued with this approach, moving gradually along the channel as it did so.

We set off to the beach, and then along through the shingle.  Past the Severals where a lone female Tufted Duck dived in the open water, and on past the railway carriages and finally up onto the sea wall.  Despite the cold air, in sheltered spots it was pleasant and I half expected to find a Red Admiral around the houses, but, despite the falling leaves raising expectations, there was no sign of one.

Walking south the low sun was very bright, and changed the view of the sea and beach.  A Herring Gull perched on one of the groyne posts appeared almost in silhouette.

In places the shingle on the beach had been washed away, leaving quite a high drop from the sea wall t the beach.  As we walked every so often there would be the trilling call of a Turnstone as it flew from the stones, their presence hidden by their plumage amongst the pebbles.  

One Turnstone though had found an upturned shell that was obviously holding freshwater, and was drinking from a natural bowl below us.

In the scrubby land just past the East Beach area House Sparrows sat amongst the lichen covered bramble and hawthorn bushes, using the shelter from the bush to enjoy the warm sunshine.

A little further on we could hear the continued chatter of Starlings, and could see a large flock of over one hundred birds sitting in similar bushes in the full sunshine.

The sun was catching their feathers and flashing petrol blues and purples as they turned their heads and chattered away.

We had considered going to look for the Glossy Ibis at Medmerry, and other bird whose plumage would look good in this light, but a passing birdewr advised that it had not been there since early morning.  We had two choices to go an wait to see if it returned, and or stop now for a drink, and then walk back to give us time to visit the North Wall around sunset time.  We opted for the latter, and dropped into the Lifeboat for a drink, and then set off north along the sea wall, with the sun behind us, and in front of us a glorious view of the sea and beach in that lovely winter light.

On one of the basket markers a Cormorant sat preening.

While on the groynes, every so often there would be a few Turnstone, these resting while below on the shingle, other flicked over the stones in search of something.

The road is not tarmac-ed here, and  there are many deep and muddy puddles, but this did not seem to bother a female Blackbird that decided to take a quick splash in front of us.

Then my hunch came right, as we walked past the beach houses a Red Admiral appeared and settled on a plastic drain pipe in full sun.

Not my latest ever, but still a reminder that this has been a very good year for this beautiful butterfly.

At the end of the track and as we reached the boundary of the Pagham Harbour reserve we decided to walk down the beach to the edge of the sea.  The tide was now rising, but there was still plenty of exposed sand that was easier to walk on than the shingle, it was also secluded, and we were able to enjoy the view away out towards Bognor and Littlehampton, and the sound of the sea as it washed up along the beach.  It really was a most fantastic day.

There was little out to sea save for a Great Black-backed Gull and two Great-crested Grebes, along the edge of the water there were four distant Oystercatchers and close in a single Turnstone that ran in and out of the surf.

We walked up from the beach, and then back into the harbour at Church Norton.  The tide was still low but there was a definite movement now amongst the Brent Geese, and a large group could be seen on the raised mud in the middle of the harbour.

We walked along the railway sleepers past the hide, in the bushes was a large flock of long-tailed Tits and several Goldcrests.  Away to our left we could hear the constant calls of Brent Geese and had to assume they were gathered in the field alongside the chapel.  Every so often small groups of geese would fly over our heads, coming from the marsh and heading to the the others in the field.

We climbed up onto the raised wall, and walked through the bushes, at the end of the path, there was a gap where we could see the large flock feeding in the field, this despite the presence of the string and wire strung between the poles in a effort to make it difficult for them to land.

We dropped down onto the marsh once again, and walked through the oak trees, then suddenly another loud bang from one of the gas guns, we wondered if this would deter the feeding geese, and at first nothing happened, then the noise level increased and suddenly a dark wave of geese came over our heads.

I suspect that with the bang, the geese stopped feeding the majority undisturbed, then maybe a few were spooked and then they all panicked and they all took off.  They flew around the harbour, but very quickly turned back and flew back to the field to resume their grazing, as they did so they flew past a distant moon, unseen in the bright blue sky.

We made our way back to the Ferry Pool, where little had changed, other than the Teal were now a little closer and sifting through the mud in the bright water.

From the Ferry we made our way back to Sidlesham with the sun getting lower in the sky, despite it being only just after two o'clock.  We navigated our way through the mud as we crossed the fields from Halsey's Farm to the North Wall, and as we came through the gate and onto the wall we were greeted with this lovely view.

The tide was still rising, and duck and waders were still a fair way out into the harbour.   Looking towards the village of Pagham on the east side of the harbour clouds lined up across the distant sea looking like large rolls of cotton wool.

In the pool below Owl Copse a Coot swam through the inky black water that acted like a mirror to the surrounding trees and reeds.

In the bushes on the wall, Reed Buntings moved ahead of us, pausing at times in amongst the branches.

On the breech pool were Teal, Mallard and a few Black-tailed Godwits.  The Teal were tucked up against the reeds at the back of the pool, and with them were three feeding Snipe.

Two female Mallard were perched on the posts that run through the pool, lit by the golden light that was now sent across the marsh and reed beds beyond the breech pool.

As is always the way when we visit the North Wall, we walked to the Sluice in the hope of finding the Kingfisher perched obligingly close by.  And as is almost always the case, there was no sign of it, which with all the people and dogs about was not a surprise.

The tide was now rising very quickly and on the water in front of the sluice were two Great-crested Grebes.

Roosting land was now a premium as the tide rose, and turned golden with the setting sun

The sun was now quite low in the sky, even though there was at least an hour to go before sunset.

We settled close to the water, and as we did so the Kingfisher flew out from almost beneath us.  It had been sitting in the sluice all the time, unconcerned by the people and dogs that had been present.  We watched it fly low across the water to the far bank, and decided to wait to see if it would return.

Helen watched the sunset, while my attention was taken again by the antics of the Black-headed Gulls.  They would fly around and skim the water, this time though silhouetted by the golden water.

Then one started to plunge head first into the water, just like the one seen earlier at Church Norton.

Lifting off again and leaving a ring of ripples.

 I followed them as they circled the water, and just loved the silhouettes as they passed through the reflected sunlight.

While i was watching the gulls Helen concentrated on the changing scene around us, the falling sun dropping behind the remaining clouds.

While in the far distance the outline of the clouds looking like thin pencil lines in the sky.

It was now turning quite cold, the breeze picking up with the high tide.  We decided it was time to head back to the warmth of the bar.  The duck were now closer, and a drake Pintail sat alone on the water, lit by the last of the sun's rays.

As we left the North Wall, the scene was very different from when we arrived just under and hour previously.

Crossing the field towards Halsey's Farm a Grey Heron stood on the fence posts at the back of the field, taking in the last of the sunshine before it dropped away to the west.  The hunched up posture of the static Grey Heron will always be associated with cold winter's days, it goes back to my memories of the cover of an influential ladybird book series, and in this case "What to see in Winter".

Yet another wonderful day walking around the peninsula, again not blessed with any special wildlife sighting, but nonetheless enjoyable for it.  The weather had produced some marvelous scenes, and it was just wonderful to be able to relax into them.

We headed back to the Crab and Lobster, and a welcome drink in the bar alongside a lovely open fire.