Wednesday 25 February 2015

Bratley Plain and Kings Garden, New Forest - 24th February

Another couple of hours before a bird survey in Marchwood saw me having a quick walk around the Kings Garden and Bratley Plain area of the New Forest, an area that has quickly become one of my favourites in the forest as long as the A31 is out of earshot. I only had an hour and a half so I walked a quick loop through Kings Garden and back over the ridge of Bratley Plain, furthermore there was a biting north-west wind which hurried my pace. Albeit short, it was good to get out in the field after a weekend of socialising and consuming too much red wine for Sarah's birthday bash!

A Wood Lark was singing in the clearing at Milkham Bottom and eventually after a bit of scanning I found it feeding on the ground with a small flock of Redwing, it was remarkably camouflaged on the ground but it soon flew to an Oak tree where it went into a full song. A little further on a scan over the canopy of Roe Inclosure produced a distant pair of Goshawk displaying. The male performing a slow-flapping display flight when they can appear rather harrier like. 

Woodlark - Feeding and singing on the ground at Milkham Bottom

Woodlark - Milkham Bottom

Goshawk - Distant shot of male showing the slightly spread undertail coverts

Goshawk- Male just before performing its slow-flapping display flight

I pushed on up the hill and as I reached the eastern point of Roe Inclosure where it meets the main path to Bratley Plain was the Great Grey Shrike in almost the same bush as I had seen it on 7th February (see here). While a little more obliging the bird was still flighty and was pretty mobile moving around this area of thorn scrub using various lookout posts and occasionally hovering while searching for food.

Great Grey Shrike - Bratley Plain

Great Grey Shrike - In hovering hunting mode and showing its tail pattern

I walked the ridge back to the car park at Milkham Inclosure seeing a few Meadow Pipit and a singing Dartford Warbler and then  it was time to head off for my bird survey.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Walpole Park, Gosport - 17th February

On a glorious spring like day I popped to Merser Way in Romsey to see if I could get any views of the usual wintering Hawfinch flock. I have only heard of up to four this winter but in winter 2012/13 there were up to 40 birds. I wandered around the area of grassland and thorn hedgerows and had to content myself with some rather distant or obscured views and it was not possible to get any photographs so I pulled out as the dog walkers took over.

I then headed to Walpole Park in Gosport to get my annual fix of Ring-billed Gull but whenever I visit the site I ask myself 'why on earth did I come here', still, I had battled through the horrors of Gosport and so may as well settle and have a look at the gull. The Ring-billed Gull was just about the first gull that I set eyes on. It was standing on the edge of the northernmost lagoon looking pretty pleased with itself. An adult Common Gull was loafing around pretty close-by allowing a good comparison to be made.

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Adult Common Gull - Note the diffuse bill mark compared to the well defined ring, darker eyes, more diffuse head spotting, slighter bill and more dove like expression compared to the Ring-billed.

Adult Ring-billed Gull

 Adult Ring-billed Gull. Growth bars can be seen fairly clearly on the mantle feathers in this image. I learned something new, the study of growth rates of feathers by measuring growth bars is called ptilochronology, see interesting paper on the subject here

Ring-billed Gull showing the two small white mirrors on P9 and P10 
making a distinct triangular mark

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Common Gull - Note the darker upper parts and more extensive and better defined tertial crescent

Common Gull - First winter

Black-headed Gull - Just starting to gain its brown summer hood

Black-headed Gull - This bird was the most advanced towards full summer plumage of the 200 or so birds present

A flock of 35 Brent Goose were also present on the grassland between the northern lagoon and the main road and allowed fairly close approach. I am always amazed at the variation in plumage shown by these birds with seemingly no two being the same, I find it very difficult to be able to claim hybrids between this and that race and not really sure how one could be confident of an out of range 'Grey-bellied Brent' - but maybe thats just me.

Brent Goose - Adult birds with fairly well marked necklaces and contrasting belly and flanks

Brent Goose - 1st winter birds, rather brown looking with whitish edges to the coverts

Brent Goose - Adult with more uniform underparts

Brent Goose - 1st winter with very well marked necklace

Brent Goose - 1st winter, a very dull bird with brown body, white covert fringes 
worn away and no noticeable necklace 

Brent Goose - A fairly pale bellied bird

Brent Goose - Head study

After an hour or so at the park it was time to head off to my bird survey and as I did some of the Brent took flight and headed northwards inland to feed on one of the many playing fields in the Gosport area.

Monday 16 February 2015

Mark Ash Wood - 12th February

I had a few spare moments today and so decided to pop to Mark Ash Wood in the New Forest and located along the Bolderwood Arboretum Ornamental Drive to the west of Lyndhurst. I parked in the small carpark on the east of the road and walked a short way eastwards. It was fairly quiet as it was late in the day but the Tawny Owl showed nicely from its day roost in a Beech tree and Brambling and Redpoll called overhead. 

Monday 9 February 2015

Bratley Plain and Eyeworth Pond - 7th February

The first time I visited the Bratley Plain/Kings Garden area of the New Forest was on 2nd January with Trev when we failed to locate a Great Grey Shrike that had been present. So with reports of the bird there again on 6th February I decided to have another crack at the bird today. In a still bitter north-easterly and with much of the water on the heath frozen, I walked the exposed ridgeline southwards from the carpark at Milkham Inclosure to the main path that passes east to west from Bratley Inclosure to Kings Garden and from here I chose a high spot to scan across Bratley Plain and Buckherd Bottom. After some scanning and very few birds I spotted a grey dot in a bush about 500m to the north-west in the Hawthorn bushes flanking Roe Inclosure, through binoculars I couldn't decide whether this was a lump of lichen or some litter but then the wind shifted the branches and I could just about visualise what could be the Great Grey Shrike so I headed back north from my view point and onto the main path back towards Milkham Inclosure and as I walked I periodically stopped and scanned and eventually I was certain I had the shrike. When I was about 200m away I stopped and ran of some photographs and that was it, the bird flew, gained height, hovered over the thorn patch and flew way into the distance before dropping into Buckherd Bottom. I contemplated chasing it but surveyed the terrain and decided against it. I checked the thorn bush where it had been sitting to see if it was a regularly used perch and found numerous droppings beneath  and then noticed a small bird, possibly a Robin impaled on a thorn - this was the first time I had found a shrikes larder in the UK.

Great Grey Shrike perched distantly in a Hawthorn bush

Great Grey Shrike hovering before flying off into the distance

The shrikes larder, I suspect this is a Robin 

View across the heath to Buckherd Bottom, this is an extensive area of heathland. The shrike flew from this position to just beyond the middle ridge visible in the left of the photograph

New Forest Ponies

I decided to head back to the car as the time was pushing on, I cut through Kings Garden and Milkham Inclosure birding as I went, it was fairly quite but with many of the common birds now in territorial song, a sign of an approaching spring. I watched a Great-spotted Woodpecker feeding in a Scot's Pine often clinging to the outer limbs and investigating the needle clusters. A Raven passed overhead and Siskin called from the trees.

Great-spotted Woodpecker


With a couple of spare minutes I decided to pull into the carpark at Eyeworth Pond to try to get some shots of Marsh Tit, this is a good area for the species as the public put down seed and they allow close approach but other than some fleeting glimpses they were not performing today. The Mandarin Duck showed well, with 11 birds present in the only unfrozen area of water on the pond. I watched the feeders for a while and then had a sudden feeling of being a bit of a dude watching plastic ducks and Blue Tits - it was time to head home.

Mandarin Ducks on ice

Blue Tit on a lichen and moss covered Oak

Thursday 5 February 2015

Pennington Marsh and Denny Wood - 4th February

I had a bird survey to carry out near to Marchwood and so, not being far from my patch, I couldn't resist a quick walk around Pennington Marsh. I started at Sturt Pond and the base of Hurst Spit, this is an area near to my main birding area that I rarely visit. I had a quick walk, the northerly wind was biting and this is a particularly exposed area, other than a few gulls, Teal and Snipe on Sturt Pond and 15 Sky Lark and a handful of Linnet there was not much to be seen so I headed back to the heating in the car and drove around to Pennington and more familiar ground.

I stopped at the floods off Lower Pennington Lane where the usual range of ducks and waders were present There were fewer Golden Plover today than on 1st February with perhaps 150 birds present. Lapwing and Redshank showed well close to the road and I spent a little time watching and photographing these.

Lapwing with fly-away crest in the strong northerly wind

Redshank foraging in the flooded grassland

Golden Plover in flight

Golden Plover in flight

I then wandered out past Fishlake Lagoon where good numbers of Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and wildfowl were present feeding in the flooded grassland at the back of the lagoon. I then headed back along the northern bank of Butts Lagoon to Shoveler Pools. There was not a great deal to be seen, a fleeting view of a Cetti's Warbler and an increase in the number of Song Thrush and Blackbird were notable.  

It was fairly slow on the Shoveler Pools with a loafing Grey Heron and the Teal in full display. So I decided it was time to head for my survey although I did pass via the Efford Lagoon where there were approximately 60 Coot, 150 Herring Gull, 200 Black-headed Gull and approximately 20 Ringed Plover. The later were a mix of winter and summer plumage birds, the summer birds seemed to be getting territorial despite the blasting winds.

Grey Heron roosting at Shoveler Pools

Coot - Many of the 60 Coot at Efford Lagoon were feeding on the short grass that surrounds the lagoon

Ringed Plover - A winter plumaged bird

Ringed Plover - Two summer plumaged birds

A quick stop for lunch at Denny Wood produced a small number of Redwing, Marsh Tit, a calling Hawfinch and little else.

Nuthatch - Denny Wood

Monday 2 February 2015

Pennington Marsh - 1st February

Its been almost a month since I visited Pennington Marsh and I decided to brave the blasting northerly winds and sub-zero temperatures today. My plan was to spend the morning out birding but come 10:30 I was frozen and the thought of bacon sandwiches sent me scurrying for home - obviously getting soft! I parked at Lower Pennington Lane and did a quick dash out past Shoveler Pools to the jetty, west to passed Butts to Fishtail and then back to the car before sitting overlooking the floods off Lower Pennington Lane for 20 minutes or so. These were the highlights:

Two Rock Pipit fed on the seaweed at the base of the jetty........

......along with six Turnstone which showed well. Always fascinating birds to watch as they flip debris along the shoreline. I particularly like the last photo of a bird peering beneath a pebble.

The tide was very high and the saltmarsh was largely underwater and hence many of the waders were up and flying around as they were pushed off usual roosting sites.


Mixed flock of Grey Plover, Knot, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit. The third bird from the right, a Bar-tailed Godwit, is in almost full summer plumage.

Also in summer plumage was this Great-crested Grebe just offshore at Butts Lagoon.

The saltmarsh was largely flooded during the high tide and these Brent Geese foraged in belly deep water. The left had bird is a first winter, the pale edges to the wing coverts still visible.

There were many Canada Geese on the saltmarsh including these two birds with extensive white on their foreheads.

A Peregrine kept harassing the birds at the site but it seemed to be for fun rather than with any real intent to capture prey.

Mixed flock of Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler on the floods at Pennington Marsh.

Buzzard with full crop flew low over Pennington Marsh putting up many of the birds

There were large numbers of Golden Plover on the floods at Pennington Marsh with around 500-700 birds. Unfortunately they were always in poor light and a little distant for decent photographs. There were also six Ruff amongst the gathered masses.