Thursday 26 December 2013

Baffins Pond

I have always thought of Boxing Day as a day to be out in the fresh air, anything to relieve the stultifying effects of an over indulgence in rich food and the banal unimaginative products on the television. There must be an inverse law in the fact that the more television channels you have available there is less to watch.

So, not too early this morning, I made my way to Baffins Pond in Portsmouth. Russ Tofts had made a Christmas Day posting on HOS that two Water Rails were present along with a bonus Chiffchaff. Earlier in the year the Water Rails had proved very obliging and given the amount of rain we have had recently, the park paths were more inviting than the muddy bridle paths of Sussex and I can't resist Rallus aquaticus.

I used to fish Baffins back in the 1960's when it was just an uninspiring concrete bowl - what a difference today. Someone with a bit of foresight has added several areas where willow, rush and reed have been able to grow, providing a haven for wildlife in the middle of the city. Good numbers of Tufted Ducks are present along with a few Shovelers and some Mallards of mixed parentage. Mute Swans, a Grey Heron, Coots and Moorhens together with a host of Black-headed Gulls were the supporting cast.

Sure enough, I found a Water Rail but it was somewhat reluctant to pose in the open, lots of people enjoying the sunshine might just have deterred it. The Chiffchaff had found a companion and both were feeding in the reedbed in front of me, one even managed some weak calls. Thanks for the sighting report Russ - a pleasant morning birding

Plenty of Tufteds.......
.....expecting to be fed.

The occasional Shoveler

The ever present Grey Heron

Monday 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas

May I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

One for every month of the year.......

and of course the obligatory Robin.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Spotshank and Red-breasted Merganser

I made a leisurely start to the day's birding, letting most of the early morning rush hour traffic subside before visiting the Nore Barn Stream, a minor watercourse just to the west of Emsworth. This is the home of a very obliging Spotted Redshank which will pose for the camera at really close ranges. You just need to get the conditions right, a rising tide and some nice mid-morning sunshine. Today was perfect. A word of warning this area is very heavily used by dog walkers, most are fine but there are some pretty inconsiderate ones to be found. So if you want to get up close and personal with a Spotshank - pay a visit.

Another resident of the stream
 Inevitably the bird was spooked  by a dog so I packed up and headed for Farlington Marshes for another go at the Bearded Tits. Having parked and started out on the path, in an anti-clockwise direction, I was immediately treated to views of another Kestrel enjoying a meal, this time a male was pulling apart some unfortunate prey.  Just a tad disappointing that the action was happening on the wrong side of one of Farlington's large ant hills. 

 The incoming tide had pushed birds in tight on the patch of mud just to the west of the wall. I managed to record Dunlin, Grey Plover, Knot, Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwits. Then, thanks to another birder, I was treated to the sight of Avocets wheeling around the top end of the harbour, trying to find a piece of exposed mud upon which to land.

 Unfortunately no Beardies today, nary a ping, but lots of other birds about to keep me occupied whilst waiting for the little devils to show. Pintails starting the mating game early, lots of BTGs and Redshanks plus a host of usual suspects. Finally I gave up, had an early lunch and made my way to the North Wall at Pagham. The Ruddy Shelducks were still out in the harbour, although very distant and no shots possible. Back of the pool a Buzzard was working up and down the fence line but none of the wildfowl paid it any notice. Water levels are still high and with no mud the waders had moved to the flooded fields.

I met Dave Shepherd on the wall who informed me that there were two Red-breasted Mergansers about. Lo and behold as we retreated from the cool wind that had sprung up there was the female feeding busily in the sluice and as she wasn't bothered by our presence, giving the opportunity for some close ups in the fading afternoon light.


Usual suspects
Sparking Pintails
Some material for Peter Potts

Wednesday 11 December 2013

"50 Bird Day"

Today's alternative title was going to be "A Study of Stonechats" but that could be rather misleading as I managed to obtain lots of photographs of just two birds - male and female Stonechats. Just lately we have been gallivanting hither and thither, chasing birds to add to the year tick total. Lots of miles with frustratingly little return. So, we decided that today would be a "back to basics" day, birding fairly locally with only half an eye out for a tick. We arrived at Farlington with the early morning freezing fog being gradually banished by the sun rising in a clear blue sky. A gentle walk to the "shed" to try and locate some Bearded Tits - no luck. It was odd to note that the stream above the shed was frozen - evident from several Moorhens walking upon the thin ice, whilst the lake below was ice free.

On round the path, heading for the sea wall, a very obliging female Stonechat kept just ahead of us for some time, constantly being driven off by a pugnacious Robin. Martin paused to capture the bird whilst I continued to the wall to set up the scope to scan several flocks of Canada and Brent Geese, ever hopeful of an interloper such as a White Front. The early morning light served to soften the hue of the normally black Brents to a shade of brown, this meant that each bird had to be scrutinised carefully. 

Out on the marsh the ever present Buzzard was occupying one of the ant hills, totally motionless and obviously eyeing up some potential food source, though I have never witnessed it catching even a worm. On round to the viewpoint where I came across yet an even more obliging female Stonechat, this one foraging under one of the wooden benches, it was happy to pose on post or wire. Of course, what should arrive after a short time? another belligerent Robin - determined to protect his territory. Food must be still in good supply as whilst we were snapping away the bird caught at least two strange looking caterpillars.

Further round the wall we found Dunnock, Goldfinches and 2 Rock Pipits to add to our ever increasing list. On the pool, all the usual wildfowl and more scatterings of Brent Geese. In the reed beds just north of The Lake viewpoint the Beardies were "pinging" but each time the birds rose from the reeds they moved further away. Finally three birds came towards us but no chance of any shots before they retreated.

Next a visit to the North Wall at Pagham, a venue that on its own will provide 50 species in a day. As we walked along the wall we spied the familiar figure of Dave Shepherd peering into his scope. After a typically cheery welcome, Dave informed us that out on the mud were two Ruddy Shelducks. A careful check to make sure that they were not the itinerant pair of escaped Cape Shelducks, definitely the "genuine article" and without even trying - a year tick. After some time we were treated to a fairly close flyby of a Peregrine, unusually not spooking every bird present, flying low over the mud  it finally perched on a wooden stake in the gulley adjacent to White's Creek and as far as I know stayed there until we left.  

Standing on the sea wall with hawk-eyed Dave normally results in the sighting of a something unusual, and yet again we were in for a treat. A very rapid and low level flyby of a Merlin which came across the meadow at the back of Breech Pool, paused briefly on the wire fence, and then continued over the tops of the reeds performing several aerobatic turns before disappearing. Disappointment that I couldn't get Martin onto the bird but the visit was over in just a few seconds - another year tick. Water Rails are very active at Breech Pool and today was no exception, during the visit we were treated to squealing, a flyby and one bird appearing on the path several times, obviously unsure whether it should be in the harbour or the pool. We waited patiently for an owl to appear but none came and we left just as the upper limb of the sun was dipping below the horizon in the direction of Church  Norton.

Back at home I compiled the record of the day, I don't keep notes in the field preferring to sit at the computer to write a list, sure enough we ended up with a total of fifty one species seen and of course the ubiquitous Cetti's Warbler only heard. And now, without apology, a "Study of (2)Stonechats"



Monday 9 December 2013

Deepest Kent

I have to start with an apology to Mike Hook, I promised that the next time we ventured deep into Kent I would e-mail him so that we could meet up. Sorry Mike, we sat outside my gate dithering about where to go today, West or East and finally Martin decided that we would again chase White Fronted Geese. 70 WFGs had been reported at Swale, so we left post haste for the Isle of Sheppey.  Road works on the A23 and M25, coupled with mist conspired to delay us but we finally crossed the shiny new bridge and I was filled with anticipation. I had previously told Mike that I hadn't visited Leysdown since 1967 and he told me that it probably hadn't changed much since then. Well Mike you were dead right, it is still the shanty town that I remember from so long ago, not a place to write home about but it does have a certain shabby chic.

The road down to Shell Ness provided a large measure of discomfort but the sign that greeted us was certainly a shock. I don't know which joker put the sign up but it is almost a perfect description of the place, a remote area. If the journey through Leysdown was depressing this forsaken place was the epitome of desolation. Hardly a bird present, just a few Meadow Pipits on the marsh, some lonely Pied Wagtails and 20 or so Shelducks out on the mud.

Dire warnings about deepest Kent

Somewhat crestfallen we made our way back to Elmley, another wide open space with very few birds present. However, I must explain that we only made the long drive to the visitor centre, not to the reserve itself. We passed plenty of Lapwings, Curlew and a handful of Black-tailed Godwits on the way. As we arrived we could see two birders peering intently over the wall, "What have you got?" we enquired. "Two owls in a box" was the reply and we scurried off for the cameras. Not the best of shots of a Barn Owl but I promised I would publish one for the birders who we met.

Thoroughly disheartened, with not many birds to be seen and even less captured by the lens, we decided to complete our foray into Kent at Oare marshes. Our last visit there was brilliant and we anticipated that we would, at last, get something for the blog. Slightly disconcerting was the "road closed" sign on the way in, I guess that the flooding had been fairly serious in these parts, but the barriers had been removed and we could actually get down to the reserve.

Yet again Oare came up with the goods, high water levels meant that most birds had decamped to the flooded fields rather than the customary pool. Lots of Ruff, Teal and Snipe to be photographed. Then, an obliging Water Rail squealed to let us know of its presence and boldly swam across in front of us, rather too close for the lens I fear. Finally a stunning display of a Marsh Harrier quartering the reed beds on the pool. We managed to view several altercations with the resident Crows - great entertainment.




Too close - move away


With the sun slowly sinking in the west and there being insufficient light for any more photography, it was time for home - cracking day after all!