Tuesday 21 April 2015

Pennington Marsh - 18th April

I was hoping for some spring migrants but as I parked on the corner at Lower Pennington Lane and walked west the north-east wind gave a bitter bite and I wished that I was wearing an extra coat and gloves - it was sunny but it felt far from spring like. On Pennington Marsh there were still fair numbers of Wigeon and Teal and a single female Pintail while a scan through the grassland revealed that many of the Lapwing were already incubating eggs. At the Efford Lagoon my first migrants, three Little Ringed Plover fed on the grassland around the lagoon while a Whitethroat sang from the hedgerow along the Ancient Highway with a second bird more distantly on the marsh. I walked out past the Shoveler Pools my hands turned to ice and I had to take shelter from the wind in a sheltered sunny hollow to recover them - approximately six Whitethroat sang obliviously in the Brambles and a female Marsh Harrier past east. At the jetty there was a flock of 25 Turnstone, many gaining their summer plumage with lovely chestnut upperparts and black chest markings. On Butts Lagoon a Ruff and a Spotted Redshank were again present but the Ruff was a far darker bird than that seen on 6th April and so was likely to be a different bird - it was in the same location as the bird on 6th and I at first took it to be the same bird. The distinctive call of a Sandwich Tern and there the distinctive rakish shape flying west along the Solent, my first of the year. On Fishtail Lagoon there was a nice gathering of 30 Shelduck and a lonesome looking Brent Goose while on the mudflats was a flock of 250 Dunlin, many birds now in summer plumage. I wandered onto Keyhaven Lagoon, the wind seemed to be getting colder, there was a single Common Tern, again my first of the year, patrolling the south-east corner of the lagoon and giving excellent views. I decided to call it a day and head for Denny Wood but a final scan at Efford Lagoon produced 30 Sand Martin, five House Martin and five Swallow.

My first Whitethroat of the year


Female Marsh Harrier

Skylark on the old tip

Turnstone - Now developing their summer plumage with a mix of rufous feathers on the upper parts and a gradually blackening breast

Ruff - Male in the same location as bird on 6th April but apparently a different bird



Common Tern - My first of the year foraging over Keyhaven Lagoon.
 A bird that seems to have a fairly concolourous dark bill. 

Common Tern


Denny Wood felt positively warm, my main target here was to see if the Redstart were back and within seconds of leaving the car I heard them singing. Over the course of an hour or so I saw at least 10 birds many singing males but also a pair prospecting nesting sites, breeding was in full swing. A single Willow Warbler was singing but there were few other migrants evident and with time ticking on I needed to head for home.

Redstart - Male investigating nest hole

Redstart - On song post atop an Oak

Redstart - In full song

Marsh Tit foraging in fresh Oak leaves

Sunday 19 April 2015

Tuscany, Italy - 10th-15th April

After a number of birding trips of late it was time for a laid back family holiday and so Sarah, Tobias and I were heading for Tuscany for a long weekend's break. I have previously only been to Italy once before when Sarah and I visited Rome and Pompeii in 2008. Italy has a reputation for being birdless but I had hopes for a few padders even if there were no lifers readily available.

We flew with British Airways from Heathrow at 08:50 to Pisa landing at 12:00, Italy being one hour ahead of the UK. We stayed at Castello di Castole to the west of Siena between Casole d'Elsa and Pievescole, not for any bird reason in particular but because the hotel is of good quality, child friendly and has grounds of 4,500 acres which may hold a few birds - okay, so there was a bit of a bird slant to the choice. I had looked at hiring a bird guide for a morning but in hindsight decided not to do this due to limited time and the desire to spend time with Sarah and Tobias and to relax. I contacted Marco Valtriani at 'Birding in Italy' he was very responsive and helpful and I would certainly recommend his services if you are planning a trip although, of course, I did not bird with him. We hired a car from Avis and based our entire holiday not too far from the hotel. Our return flight was at 13:05 from Pisa landing in Heathrow at 14:30.

  • Day 1 (10th) - Flight Heathrow-Pisa (08:50-12:00) followed by drive to Castello di Castole arriving at around 15:00 spent the afternoon relaxing.
  • Day 2 (11th) - After a leisurely start spent the late morning and the afternoon relaxing in the town of Siena.
  • Day 3 (12th) - Spent the day walking the tracks around the hotel grounds.
  • Day 4 (13th) - Drove to Florence (approximately one hour) and spent the day in the city.
  • Day 5 (14th) - Spent the morning walking within the grounds of the hotel and headed to the beautiful town of San Gimignano
  • Day 6 (15th) - Left hotel at 09:30 for the 1.5 hour drive to Pisa and our flight home at 13:05, flight delayed until 13:30 landing in the UK at 14:40.
Throughout our stay the weather was warm and spring like with temperatures ranging from 19-23c and light winds.


10th April
After a very early start (04:00) we landed in Pisa on schedule and after vast amount of faffing at the Avis car hire centre we were on our way to our hotel. The drive went smoothly, Tobias asleep and the sat-nav guiding us smoothly along. We saw little, a few sparrows which I took to be Italian Sparrow but we didn't stop. A quick stop for some roadside orchids along the road to the hotel produced a nice group of Early Spider Orchid. We got to the hotel checked in ordered a bottle of Champagne and relaxed on the veranda of our room enjoying the view of the Tuscan landscape and a few birds. We saw Cirl Bunting, Firecrest, abundant Serin, Woodlark, Black RedstartFirecrest, Swift, Swallow and House Martin. Italian Wall Lizards were abundant and scuttled around the flower beds near to the door of our room.

Early Spider Orchid

Italian Wall Lizard

Italian Wall Lizard

View from our balcony at the Hotel Castello di Castole

11th April
We spent the day relaxing in the town of Siena today and didn't really see any birds to speak of. The usual species were visible from the balcony plus we added Short-toed Treecreeper and three Scop's Owl calling at night.

12th April
We spent the day relaxing in the hotel with a nice walk through the grounds of the hotel. The walk was not as relaxing as we had anticipated mainly due to the tracks around the grounds being very steep in places, this meant that I spent much time pushing a push-chair uphill or controlling it as it went down. The birds we saw were much as we had seen from the balcony, we added Hare to the list and saw a range of plants although it appeared that we were a little early in the season for most species to be flowering. Butterflies included Orange-tip, Wood White, Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail and Brimstone.

Italian Wall Lizard

Purple Milk-vetch

Scarce Swallowtail

St. Bernard's Lily

Green Lizard

Wood White

13th April
Today was another day spent in a town, this time Florence around one hour to the north-east of our hotel. I have to say that I was not fond of Florence, very crowded and not especially attractive. We added Mallard to the list and there were a few Swallow, House Martin and Italian Sparrow in the town.

14th April
I decided to get up early today and do a little birding. I birded an area of grassland and scrub plus into some pretty birdless mixed woodland in the hotel grounds. Hare were abundant this early in the morning before people were around and there were also many Roe Deer. I added Redstart, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Garden Warbler and Sardinian Warbler to the trip list but otherwise it was relatively slow going and birds were pretty unapproachable in general although I had nice views of Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper.






Short-toed Treecreeper

 Wall Brown

Speckled Wood


After breakfast we went for a short walk around the hotel grounds, this time staying on roads that were a little flatter. We added a few nice butterflies to the list including, Pearl-bordered FritillaryGreen-underside Blue and Southern Festoon the latter two of which were new for me.  

Green-underside Blue

Green-underside Blue

Southern Festoon

Edible Frog

Bumblebee species on Bugle

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the fantastic town of San Gimignano where we had views of Italian Sparrow and I enjoyed a lovely lunchtime glass of Chianti.

Italian Sparrow

15th April
Our final day consisted of driving back to the airport at Pisa for our 13:05 flight back to the UK.

Bird Species List
Common Pheasant
Rock Dove
Common Woodpigeon
Eurasian Collared-dove
Common Swift
Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Yellow-legged Gull 
Little Owl 
Eurasian Scops-owl
Tawny Owl
Eurasian Buzzard
Eurasian Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Common Kestrel 
Eurasian Skylark
Barn Swallow
Northern House Martin
White Wagtail
Northern Wren
Common Blackbird
Common Nightingale
European Robin 
Black Redstart
Common Redstart
Common Firecrest
Common Chiffchaff
Garden Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Common Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit 
Eurasian Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Eurasian Jay
Common Magpie
Eurasian Jackdaw
Hooded Crow
Common Starling
Italian Sparrow
Common Chaffinch
European Serin
European Goldfinch
Cirl Bunting

Total = 48 species

Thursday 9 April 2015

Pennington and Keyhaven Marshes and Denny Wood - 6th April

Since getting back from Norway I have not been out birding and there were no summer migrants on my year list. Much of the Easter weekend was tied up with domestic duties and various social events not least Tobias's 2nd birthday. However, on Monday I had set aside the morning to spend some time at Pennington Marshes and the New Forest while Sarah went shopping with her mum. The alarm went off at 05:30 and by 06:30 I was at Pennington Marsh. There was a fog in the air as I drove through the New Forest to get to Pennington and within around 30 minutes of arriving at the marshes a fog bank appeared from the west and enveloped the coast in thick fog. I decided to head out with no camera and just my scope and bins but could only see for approximately 50m. I walked from the car park out past Butts Lagoon along the seawall to Pennington Lagoon. A Willow Warbler sang from scrub alongside the Old Tip and I could just about make out its pale legs at a range of 10m in the fog, a Ruff and a partial summer plumage Spotted Redshank were on Butts Lagoon and a second Spotted Redshank on Pennington Lagoon. The sun was starting to break through and the fog was visibly lifting so I decided to head back to the car for my camera. At Pennington Marshes I paused on the corner of Lower Pennington Lane and scanned the marshes, the Lapwing were in full display and the pipping of 'singing' Redshank was all around. There were a few Wigeon (30) and Teal (50) remaining and I scanned amongst them for Garganey but it was not to be. Back at the car I grabbed my camera and headed off in the sunshine. This time I walked out past Shoveler Pools, and as I left the car park a Sand Martin flew over, scanning Pennington Marshes there was a fine male Wheatear perched atop one of the venting pipes - thats more like it! At Butts Lagoon the sunshine was bright and the Ruff and Spotted Redshank were still present along with around 30 Teal and five Snipe. I waited for a while to see if the Spotted Redshank or Ruff would come closer but they were always a little distant for anything other than record shots. The Spot Shank was in partial summer plumage and it was not long before it would gain its full summer dress and be on its breeding grounds, it fed furiously in the shallows often submerging itself with just its back remaining visible.

Male Ruff just starting to gain its breeding plumage

Spotted Redshank, this bird has gained a great deal of its summer plumage with extensive black appearing on the underparts

Spotted Redshank showing its characteristic foraging behaviour

I walked west along the seawall past Butts Lagoon and stopped briefly to scan the Solent, there were eight Great Crested Grebe and good numbers of Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover, most still in their winter plumage on the remaining mudflats. Approximately 30 Brent Goose were still present. In the sunshine the hordes began to appear, mad shouting dog walkers, cyclists, children and joggers and the place began to feel more like a theme park than a nature reserve. At Fishtail Lagoon there were three partial breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit and more Teal, Wigeon and two more Ruff.

Dunlin, Knot and Grey Plover off Fishtail Lagoon

Partial breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit

Numbers of birds on Keyhaven Lagoon were high with around 40 Shelduck, 40 Black-tailed Godwit, 25 Pintail, 40 Wigeon and 50 Teal, there were two further Ruff and a single Spotted Redshank. There was a definate air that these birds wouldn't be with us for much longer. Half a dozen Willow Warbler sang from the scrub bordering the lagoon and a single Swallow, my first of the year, zipped eastwards.

Ruff on pools to west of Keyhaven Lagoon

Ringed Plover

I then wandered along the Ancient Highway where a great deal of activity from the local breeding birds was evident with nest building Robin, Greenfinch and Blackbird. A few Chiffchaff were singing loudly but by now the numbers of people using the site was almost unbearable and so it was time to head for a short stop in Denny Wood before heading home. Although a quick scan through the 250 or so gathered Black-headed Gull on Efford Lagoon produced a bird bearing a white ring with the combination 23N4, I contacted Tim Ball who runs a colour ringing project in Berkshire, he returned the following information on the bird:

Black-headed Gull – White 23N4
EY83034 1 08/06/2014 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire) 
24/06/2014 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire)   16 days
27/06/2014 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire)   19 days
02/07/2014 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire)   24 days
25/03/2015 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire)   290 days
31/03/2015 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire)   296 days
05/04/2015 Hosehill Lake LNR: 51°25'N 1°5'W (SU6469) (West Berkshire)   301 days
06/04/2015 Pennington: 50°44'N 1°34'W (SZ3192) (Hampshire)   83km SSW 302 days

So it looks like the bird has been semi-resident at its place of ringing through the latter part of last summer and into the spring before going on a wander to the south coast.

Denny Wood produced relatively little with mainly common woodland birds in full breeding swing there didn't seem to be any summer breeders on site and no sign of any Redstart, I had the feeling that migrants were a week or two behind schedule as normally the first Redstart are on territory by now.

Greenfinch on the Ancient Highway

Treecreeper prospecting for a nesting site in Denny Wood