Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Pipits and Pigeons at Pennington and Romsey

With a bit of free time this weekend I decided that a little birding was in order between house duties. On Saturday I had a short stroll around Pennington Marshes. Pennington Marsh is feeling decidedly wintery since my last visit on 11th and 12th October (http://thedeskboundbirder.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/pennington-marsh-11th-12th-october-2012.html)  and the marsh to the south of Lower Pennington Lane is holding much surface water so numbers of birds here were large with approximately 250 black-tailed Godwit and many lapwing and golden plover. Duck numbers were high with over 1000 each of wigeon and teal and many pintail and shoveler. In the winter sunshine the ducks were displaying and the marshes echoed with the 'weeee-oooo' of wigeon and the soft piping of teal. Pintail too were getting into the spirit with their soft bubbling teal like whistle. Pintail, at close range are stunning ducks with their soft blue-grey vermiculated bodies, chocolate head and hind neck with a strap like spur of white extening up either side of the neck, shaggy golden and black scapulars and long fine black 'pin-tail' eminating from the greyish tail set within the jet black ventral area.
Northern Pintail, Terry Sohl - The Deskbound Birder
Northern Pintail (Male) - Photo by Terry Sohl (view Terry's massively 
impressive range of photographs here: http://sdakotabirds.com)
Ducks at this time of the year are an interesting mix of fine adult males and the young of the year approaching their first adult feathers with often strange conbinations of adult male and immature feathering, Wigeon can be particularly variable with a wide range in male plumage patterns but all ages seem to join in with bouts of display.

A female merlin was patrolling the marshes harassing the dunlin flocks and I watched her single out a dunlin from the main flock and pursue it for over a minute making repeated lunges just for the dunlin to perform a neat zig-zagging shimmy and elude the predator. Fortuitously, for the dunlin, the main dunlin flock passed close by and the pursued made a dive for the crowd, the Merlin realising that it was out gunned by numbers dropped like a stone to harass the meadow pipits and skylarks feeding below in the grasslands.

Amongst the pipits in the grassland I came across four water pipit feeding amongst the flooded grassland and rush beds. Water pipit is unusual in that those seen in the the British Isles in late autumn and winter have migrated northwards from mountaineous areas of southern and central Europe. These birds breeding in the short and flower rich grasslands and scree scattered slopes of the likes of the Alps and the Pyrenees decend to the more moderate climates of the lowlands of Europe to the north (including Britain), west and south and into northern Africa where they frequent freshwater marshes.

Water Pipit, Daniele Occhiatos - The Deskbound Birder
Water Pipit - Winter Plumage (Photo by Daniele Occhiatos', see more of
Daniele's stunning images at http://www.pbase.com/dophoto

On Sunday I walked from home onto the meadows between Sadler's Mill and Squabb Wood that constitute my 'very local' patch. I spent a short while at the 'viz mig watch point' which has great views over the River Test valley and enjoyed small flocks of lapwing, redwing, fieldfare and skylark moving north. However, most notable were the vast numbers of wood pigeon that seemed to be erupting out of the woodlands, and fittingly mostly from Squabb Wood, due to the local shoots. It was impossible to count the birds but I estimated approximately 2,000-3,000 birds present.

Populations of wood pigeon in the west are more sedentary than those in the east and those in the UK appear to travel only a short distance from their natal grounds. By contrast northern and eastern populations are more migratory with, for example, those from Scandinavia migrating south-west through Denmark, the Netherlands and into France while many of these continue and pass to the west of the Pyrenees to take advantage of the autumn acorn crop in Spain. While migration patterns through the UK are not fully understood it would appear likely that this wave of migrants passes through the UK explaining the large numbers recorded on the east and south coast in late Autumn. These birds probably account for those seen today above the beech and oak woodlands that line the Test Valley in which Romsey is located although, conversely, it is thought that continental birds pass through the UK rapidly accounting for the very small number of ringing recoveries of continental birds in the UK and thus these birds in Romsey could relate to aggregated British stock.While much maligned and overlooked, close study of woodpigeons reveals that they are quite stunning beasts but en-mass they provide a late Autumn spectacle that is hard to rival.

Romsey Birding, Simon Colenutt - The Deskbound Birder
View of Romsey showing Romsey Abbey from my 'viz mig watch point'
above the Test Valley (S.Colenutt)