Wednesday 30 March 2016

Pennington Marsh and Acres Down - 25th and 29th March

The Easter weekend was fully booked with family social events and a weekend of excessive alcohol intake was on the horizon. But on Friday 25th March before joining Sarah and Tobias at our cottage in Cowley I spent the morning at Pennington Marsh and Acres Down. The morning was a beautiful sunny spring like one and I hoped to see a few summer migrants. Three Chiffchaff half-heartedly sang around the car park when I arrived and so my hopes were high. I started at Efford Lagoon where there were at least 8 Mediterranean Gull, 120 Herring Gull, 20 Great Black-backed Gull and 20 Lesser Black-backed Gull. I wandered southwards scanning Fishtail Lagoon where 12 Snipe and 3 Spotted Redshank were the highlights. I wandered to Keyhaven Lagoon where there were 3 Spoonbill and 2 more Spotted Redshank. The Long-tailed Duck was off Butts Lagoon with 6 Red-breasted Merganser and I watched the latter displaying to one another while the Long-tailed Duck bobbed around keeping his distance from the shenanigans. As the numbers of joggers and dog walkers increased I began to retreat scanning the marshes off Lower Pennington Lane where 75 Golden Plover and 5 Ruff were present along with around 150 Wigeon and Teal but only 9 Pintail - numbers of wildfowl are definitely on the rapid decline now. Not a Wheatear or hirundine to be seen.

I headed off to Acres Down but my time was running short and by the time I had navigated the traffic in Lyndhurst I only had an hour. The weather was superb, brilliant warm sunshine with good numbers of Brimstone and my first Comma of the year. Dartford Warbler and Stonechat were in song and a pair of Wood Lark foraged close to the path but heat haze prevented decent photographs. I spent some time looking for reptiles and a couple of glimpses of Common Lizard, a female Slow-worm and two Adder, a male and an almost black specimen, were good reward. It was time to go and face the bank holiday traffic on the drive to Cowley and I left Acres Down somewhat begrudgingly.

Wood Lark - Acres Down

Wood Lark - Acres Down

Fallow Deer - Acres Down

Male Adder - Acres Down

Male Adder - Acres Down

Tuesday 29th dawned early for me, this came hard after a weekend of parties and a change in the clocks to British Summertime. I completed a survey near to Marchwood and decided that I would pop to Pennington for an hour or so before heading into the office. I only had time to bird Efford Lagoon, walk out via Fishtail Lagoon and around Butts Lagoon and back to the car but this was enough in the strong and biting cold westerly wind and heavy squally showers. The Black-tailed Godwit are looking great in their chestnut summer plumage and around 75% of the 250 or so birds are now in this plumage. On Fishtail there were 8 Snipe and a single Spotted Redshank and in the channel to the east of Fishtail Lagoon were 2 summer plumage Little Grebe showing very well. I noted a steady stream of Meadow Pipit moving north and in the time I was there I estimate that around 50 birds passed overhead. At Pennington Lagoon a quick scan produced 7 Spoonbill and 4 Spotted Redshank so I wandered along for a few photos. The Spoonbill were feeding in the shallows for a while before wandering a shore for a preen and the familiar Spoonbill sleeping pose. Time was pressing on and so I headed back to the car and made for work.

Black-tailed Godwit - Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit - Pennington Marsh

Sky Lark - Pennington Marsh

Little Grebe - Fishtail Lagoon

Spotted Redshank - Pennington Lagoon

Spoonbill - Pennington Lagoon

Spoonbill - Pennington Lagoon

Sunday 27 March 2016

Pennington Marsh - 24th March

I spent a couple of hours at Pennington Marsh this morning and walked from the Lower Pennington Lane car park to Keyhaven Lagoon. It was a bitter day and the feel of spring that we had felt earlier in the week had vanished under overcast skies and a stiff north-westerly wind.

At Keyhaven Lagoon five Spoonbill showed very well as they fed in the shallows on the east side of the lagoon. It was great to watch these often lethargic birds feeding in sweeping unison. One bird was colour ringed and a little research suggests it is from a Netherlands ringing scheme. A barking dog flushed the birds and they flew together and headed east, later being reported from Normandy Lagoon. Earlier in the week 11 birds had been present here.

Spoonbill - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Colour ringed Spoonbill from a Netherlands ringing scheme- Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

A scan from the seawall at Keyhaven Lagoon produced the long staying drake Long-tailed Duck in a channel off Iley Point. This bird appears to be a young male, perhaps a second year bird which is now undergoing moult to summer plumage. The head and breast being speckled with the darker garb of summer. Most duck species show two moult cycles per year, however, Long-tailed Duck are unique in that they undergo three moult sequences. These are (1) in summer/early autumn consisting of replacement of head, neck and scapular feathers continuing in September-December where all feathers are replaced except tail, wing and rear underparts; in April (2) when much of the head, breast and mantle are moulted; and after breeding (3) when the rest of the feathers are moulted including the flight feathers. This bird is therefore undergoing moult 2 as described above. The wing feathers are clearly worn having been retained since the post-breeding moult, number 3 in the sequence above.

The Long-tailed Duck was feeding avidly amongst a fast moving tidal stream running through the salt marsh and spent a great deal of time underwater.

Long-tailed Duck off Keyhaven Lagoon moulting from winter to summer plumage

The tide was high and therefore most of the waders were roosting on the saltmarsh and on Keyhaven Lagoon. A roosting flock of 37 Curlew on Keyhaven Lagoon was notable and also here were three Spotted Redshank and two Greenshank.

Dunlin, Grey Plover, Knot and Brent Geese on saltmarsh off Keyhaven Lagoon

Roosting Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank

Cormorant fishing, very successfully, for shrimps in the shallows of Keyhaven Lagoon

I then spent some time birding around Efford Lagoon scanning the gull flocks for a Yellow-legged or Caspian Gull but no luck. There was a good selection of common gull species and eight adult and two 2nd summer Mediterranean Gull.

Mixed flock of Herring, Lesser Black-back, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gull on banks of Efford Lagoon

A male Dartford Warbler showed well, albeit in windy conditions, in the gorse along the Ancient Highway. This bird gave bursts of song in the intermittent sunshine. A summer plumage Water Pipit showed briefly on the floods to the south of the Ancient Highway but unfortunately I was too quick in raising my camera and flushed the bird into the rushes.

Male Dartford Warbler - Efford Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Male Dartford Warbler - Efford Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

I spent a little bit of time scanning the marshes on the bend at the bottom of Lower Pennington Lane. A lovely white necked Ruff showed well. The Golden Plover flock was down to around 150 birds but many were now in or close to summer plumage.

Male Ruff - Pennington Marsh

Golden Plover - Pennington Marsh

Sunday 20 March 2016

Beaulieu Road Station, New Forest - 18th March

I have had little success with the regular Beaulieu Road Station/Pig Bush area Great Grey Shrike this winter with a least three unsuccessful attempts. This despite many reports of the bird showing well often to the east of the railway line. So, it was pleasing that with an hour to spare before a bird survey I ran into the bird fairly quickly on 18th March at Bishop's Dyke. The bird was conspicuous perching atop a very tall Silver Birch and as I approached I realised that the bird was in full song and therefore presumably a male. At a distance I heard a very harsh grating call from the bird, identical to this call here, which appears to be an alarm call. At closer range the song could be heard and was very similar to the form of the song that can be heard here, this is often described as an early season/pre-breeding song. I watched the bird for at least 15 minutes before it headed north across the heathland and as I walked back towards the car a little later the bird had travelled almost as far as Denny Wood and was now perching on low bushes and clearly in hunting mode.

Great Grey Shrike in song, note the small tooth near the bill tip - Bishop's Dyke

Great Grey Shrike - Bishops Dyke

Great Grey Shrike in song - Bishops Dyke

Also at the Shatterford/Bishops Dyke area were six Stonechat, four Siskin, two Redpoll and seven Crossbill while Curlew bubbled from the bogs and Lapwing displayed overhead.

Male Stonechat - Shatterford

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Pennington Marsh - 12th March

Today Sarah was taking Tobias to a birthday party and so I had the morning to head out birding locally. I headed down to Pennington Marsh early but as I approached Brockenhurst the fog thickened and by the time I reached Lymington visibility was no more than 50m, I abandoned and decided to head back inland to Beaulieu Road Station where the sun was partially shining through the fog and visibility was 100m or so. But, as I parked up and wandered south from Shatterford car Park the fog drew in and visibility declined to 75m or so. A fly over Redpoll, a couple of fly over Siskin and a Water Rail calling from the mire was scant reward. News broke that the Long-billed Dowitcher was showing well at Pennington so I figured it must be clear there but as I approached the car park the fog was still thick and visibility was less than 100m. Black-tailed Godwit showed well in the floods near the car park, a female Marsh Harrier appeared from the gloom, shadows of Snipe and a Spotted Redshank were the highlights. Optimistically I had carried my camera and I managed a murky shot of a Little Grebe and a male Reed Bunting both of which showed at close range. It was all a bit slow going and not particularly exciting so I headed back home, stacked the fridge with beer and settled in front of the Six Nations for the afternoon - result!!

Little Grebe in the fog - Pennington Marsh

Reed Bunting in the fog - Pennington Marsh

Pennington Marsh, Cornwall and Portesham - 20th February - 11th March 2016

After my trip to India I have generally lacked the motivation to get out and about particularly given the poor weather and general lack of birds at what is typically a slow time of year. With some brighter weather and a few mornings to spare I have been able to drag myself out into the field. On 20th February I visited Pennington Marsh, birding was classic February, high numbers of waders and wildfowl, the former just beginning to enter summer plumage and the latter often in courtship display. Golden Plover numbers exceeded 300 birds and the site and sound of these birds was stunning, the flock often rising as a Peregrine buzzed overhead or the local Marsh Harrier performed a fly-by. Two Spoonbill were fairly showy, a juvenile and an adult, while a female Long-tailed Duck off Keyhaven only gave me very distant views as did two Slavonian Grebe off Normandy Lagoon. Up to six Ruff were also present, most often on the flood off Lower Pennington Lane but also on Fishtail Lagoon. The wintering first winter Long-billed Dowitcher also showed on Fishtail but spent most of the time that I was there asleep mixed with the Snipe and Redshank. Below are a selection of images from Pennington Marshes on 20th February.

Lapwing - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Golden Plover - Pennington Marsh

Brent Goose - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Ruff and Herring Gull (1st winter) - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Herring Gull (3rd winter) - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Great Black-backed Gull (adult) and Black-headed Gull - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Brent Goose - Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill (juvenile) - Saltmarsh off Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill (adult to left and juvenile to right) - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill (adult) - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Tufted Duck (pair) - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

On 4th March we drove down to our cottage at Trowan just to the west of St. Ives. I was feeling like shit with classic winter man-flu so I treated this as a bit of an R'n'R weekend. Although the presence of Scarlet Wines nearby meant that I tried to drown my bugs in red wine rather than having a sensible detox recovery! I did manage to get out on 5th where I birded round Perranuthnoe to Boat Cove (looking for the Hudsonian Whimbrel) and then the coast at Marazion and Penzance (for the Pacific Diver). It was a pleasant enough morning but there was no sign of the Whimbrel until I returned to my car and bumped into an old friend, Adam Davison, who I had visited Venezuela with way back in 1992. After a bit of a catch up blah we headed down to the bay where I had a few minutes for a final scan and picked up the Hudsonian Whimbrel flying in high from the west with a Curlew. Its dark rump was visible even at this distance, we hoped the bird would drop in onto the sands in front of us but unfortunately it continued east and dropped into Trevean Cove. I had to go but Adam wandered along the cost and had great views - he gripped me of by sending images later in the week. A quick scan from near to Jubilee Swimming pool for the diver produced nothing more than a single Great-northern Diver and a Guillemot on the rather rough sea. Sarah, Tobias and I spent the afternoon at St.Ives with an evening return to Perranuthnoe for the Whimbrel but with no luck.

The 5th was spent having a wander on the beach at Perranuthnoe and then the afternoon was spent eating and drinking in celebration of Mothers Day at the Gurnard's Head  - a hazy red wine fuelled afternoon for me which saw the Hudsonian Whimbrel showing well for much of the afternoon at Trenow Cove but I was in no frame of mind to go to see it - nor fit to drive either.

I decided to get up early on 6th and do a dawn raid on Trenow in the hope that the Hudsonian Whimbrel was still there but I only had until 09:00 before having to get back to load the car for the drive back to Hampshire. I intensively walked and scanned the shoreline from Perranuthnoe west to Trenow. There was a lot of shoreline as low tide was at 08:20 and it was hard work scanning the exposed rocks, sands and muds. A Whimbrel in Boat Cove got the heart thumping but when it flew the distinctive white rump ruled out Hudsonian. Other than Curlew, Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatcher there were no other waders and the Hudsonian Whimbrel was resigned, like my views of the Church Norton bird, to shite views only from Saturday's session. Still, the sea was exceptionally calm and St. Michael's Mount was stunning in the early morning sun and after a bit of scanning I picked up the Pacific Diver albeit distantly to the 'left' of the island as well as five Great-northern Diver.

St. Michael's Mount in the early morning sun

Whimbrel - Not the one I was looking for though

Grey heron fishing in the rock pools

I cannot remember the last time I saw Pallas's Warbler in the UK, it was almost certainly on the Isle of Wight and probably at St. Catherine's Point and possibly in the late 1980's, it was certainly a long time ago. So, the species has been on my radar to see again for a few years but its not the sort of bird to drive a great distance for particularly as I am not inclined to twitch birds at anything more than an hour or two from home.  Its a rare bird in Hampshire thats for sure. I guess its a little more regular at Portland but Portland is a little far for anything other than a decent tick - Pale-legged Leaf-warbler would have done it! So, when news of a wintering bird broke on 25th February at Portesham, Dorset I quickly looked at my options of paying the bird a visit. My first trip on 3rd March had ended in failure in a howling south-west gale and I had a fleeting fight view only. Then on 11th March everything fell into place, a free'ish morning before a bird survey and a fine, albeit overcast, day. The bird showed well as it fed along the disused railway line to the west of the village, a seemingly rather random and obscure patch of bramble in a similarly random patch of the Dorset countryside, this bird had presumably arrived in north-west Europe or the UK in the autumn and had filtered its way slowly south to this location. It amazes me that such tiny birds make it all the way from Asia,  truly staggering feet. Anyway, it was a stunning little bird and hyperactive flicking through the bushes, sallying after flies and rarely staying still for any length of time.

Pallas's Warbler - Portesham, Dorset

Range of Pallas's Warbler (screen grab from HBW Alive) - Simply amazing that such a tiny bird can travel all the way to the UK on such a regular basis

On the way back from the Pallas's Warbler on 11th March I popped into Pennington Marsh for an hour. There were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit on the floods off Lower Pennington Lane and the usual range of common wintering birds on the floods. The light was superb but I had only carried my 7D Mark II and scope with me, I am still practicing with this combo and many of my shots were not sharp.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult) - Efford Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit - Pennington Marsh

Pintail - Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Pennington Marsh

Displaying Teal - Pennington Marsh

Shoveler - Pennington Marsh