Sunday, 29 January 2012

Hampshire birding

28 January 2012
Spanish Sparrow and House Sparrow, Calshot, 28 January 2012

With birding in Kent pretty settled I had discussed a day in Hampshire with Gary last weekend. On Friday he called me and asked if we were going: I quickly confirmed. So at 06:30 I picked Gary up and headed down the A3 to the Hampshire coast. We started at Warblington, driving down Church Lane checking the fields for a small white egret. Gary shouted 'There it is' and we stopped. Looking to the left there was indeed an Egret, but it was a Little. Scanning the field found three more, all Little's and all eating earth worms brought to the surface by the light drizzle. We continued on to the Church and made our way to the field at the rear. The cows had been brought in for milking and the Cattle Egret was nowhere to be seen. We checked all the fields several times and even looked in the farmyard, but no joy. Not quite the start we hoped for. A Chiffchaff along a small ride was the only highlight, giving great views as it fed in the small, streamside bushes.

We decided to give Hayling Island a look for the Shore Lark, and with the aid of an old Birding Site Guide located the southern end of the Oyster Beds. We initially scanned the water, which at low tide, hosted 7 Black-necked Grebe, and a dozen Red-breasted Merganser. At the pools we met two very helpful local guys who first showed us where the Shore Lark had bee hanging out and then located it for us. It spends its whole time on a small raised bank in the middle of the Oyster Bed and for us gave reasonable views from the bank footpath. A small group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese gave good views in the pool and an interesting Little Egret flew past showing apparently dark tips to its primaries. I am not sure if this was a plumage anomaly or mud caught on the feathers during feeding. Either way this feature could suggest a Little Blue Heron... 

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Hayling Island
Little Egret, Hayling Island. Note the odd dark tips to the primaries.
Shore Lark, Hayling Island

Next we headed along the A27 towards Southampton and then down to the boating lake at Gosport. Here we quickly located )in fact Gary had seen it before I'd even bought the parking ticket) the adult Ring-billed Gull and managed some close views until a rather inept photographer flushed it.

Ring-billed Gull, Gosport


The next target was the wintering (or perhaps now resident) Spanish Sparrow that had been found in gardens at Calshot over Christmas. Though I've seen many hundreds of these abroad, I had never previously seen this species in Britain. We arrived at the site to find just a couple of other birders and had just missed the bird in the Russian Vine. While looking around the housing estate we missed it again, when it appeared on a feeding station in a resident's garden. When we managed to miss it a third time I gave up hunting and went indoors, looking through the kitchen window with the owners. They assured me it was sat in the honeysuckle at the back of the garden, unseen, And eventually they were proven right when it joined the mass of House Sparrow, and two Reed Bunting on the seed they had put out to attract it. Good views were had over the next hour or so when it occasionally came out into the open.

Spanish Sparrow, Calshot

At one point all the Sparrows retreated into the cover of the bushes, and this beast of a female Sparrowhawk crashed into the garden. 

A Sparrow's worst nightmare - the silhouette of a Sparrowhawk passes over

After thanking the house owners and contributing to their collection for the Hampshire Wildlife Trust we drove north west into the New Forest. We soon arrivied at Hawkhill Enclosure and after a short walk found ourselves withi ten feet of the Dark-eyed Junco feeding on a seeded stump beside the path. Gary had seen this American visitor a few weeks ago but the views were poor - what a contrast to today, sharing the scene with just a couple of other birders. 

Dark-eyed Junco, Hawkhill Enclosure, New Forest

In the trees above the Junco a couple of Common Crossbill gave great views as they stripped bark from the branches. A very pale Redpoll appeared briefly and a small group of Siskin flew over unseen. 

Male Common Crossbill, Hawkhill Enclosure, New Forest

Female Common Crossbill, Hawkhill Enclosure, New Forest

Sunday, 22 January 2012

21 January 2012
Martello Towers along the beach at Hythe, Kent

We arrived at Hythe just after dawn, perhaps a little early as the light was not really good enough for photography. However we decided to check the beach and soon found a single Purple Sandpiper feeding on the shingle with the local Turnstones. It was quite approachable with care and we watched it feeding on cockles as the heavy tide washed them ashore.

Purple Sandpiper, feeding on the shingle beach

There was no sign of any others on the rock breakwater, so we tried further along near the Hythe Imperial Hotel. I checked the rocks while Gary waited to purchase a car park ticket. One bird was quickly seen roosting quietly out of the wind, so with ticket secured, just as the wardens appeared, we settled in to get some nice images. There were seven birds in total and we were able to carefully climb onto the rocks to get pretty close views. The light was still poor, but with care and persistence managed to get some nice results. Great birds.

Purple Sandpiper roosting at Hythe

The birds were disturbed by some passers by so we decided to head off toward Dungeness. Two superb adult Mediterranean Gulls were feeding on the local playing fields, so we stopped briefly to photograph them.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Hythe 

We stopped briefly at West Hythe, but there was little to be seen so we drove slowly around the lanes across Romney Marsh in the general direction of Dungeness. The marsh, despite some apparently excellent habitat was pretty quiet. Four Little Egret along a ditch and a Common Buzzard beside the road were not surprising these days. Several flocks of Fieldfare (the first I've seen all winter) were feeding in the fields and numbered about 250 in total, and three Tree Sparrow were attracted to someones feeders. Otherwise, no finch flocks or buntings anywhere.

Four Little Egrets along a ditch

We arrived at Dungeness and headed for the beach while the tide was high. We checked the various Gull roosts around the point, soon locating the resident first-winter Caspian Gull. Moving in for some images we were somewhat surprised just how close it allowed us. An absolute cracker.  

1st winter Caspian Gull

1st winter argenteus Herring Gull (for comparison)
Adult Great Black-backed Gull
1st winter Caspian Gull

A series of shots as it takes off, flushed by a fisherman 

We spent some time trying to locate the resident Glaucous Gull or some other oddity, but to no avail, so we decided to check the sea. With a strong westerly wind blowing the point provided some protection, bringing auks, divers, grebes, gulls and Gannets close in.  A trawler arriving back at the beach attracted a horde of gulls and Gannets.

A Gannet joins the throng
Gannets looking for an easy meal 
1st winter Kittiwake
Adult Kittiwake
Adult Kittiwake
Further along the beach a second winter Little Gull appeared, feeding along the tideline. 

2nd winter Little Gull

Further checks of the roosting gulls failed to locate the Glaucous Gull so we headed inland to check Dengemarsh. A brief flight view of a Great-white Egret and a couple of hunting Marsh Harriers were the highlight, but the sight of the new predator fences around various fields and marshes was depressing. What was once open, wild landscape now looks like a series of paddocks - ugly and largely pointless. Is this really the best way the RSPB can spend its money?

1st winter Kittiwake
 We next visited the ARC pits where a single drake Smew was sheltering from the wind behind the bank. Four redhead (female or immature) Smew were seen at opposite ends of the pit and a Kingfisher was pointed out on a distant bush. After some time I managed to locate the immature male Long-tailed Duck at the back of the pit - it seems to spend more time under than on the water. A smart looking bird. A Sparrowhawk drifted by and a Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds on the far side. Our final stop was the RSPB reserve and Burrowes Pit to see the gulls come into roost. Initially there was little to be seen other than huge numbers of Cormorant from Makepeace hide. Gradually however Lapwings, Greylag Geese, Gulls and Marsh Harriers came into roost. Good numbers of gulls arrived, including the Caspian Gull seen earlier (it has a distinctive bill) and over 850 Great Black-backed Gulls. We stayed until dark (nearly 17:00) and then headed off home. A great day, good company and some nice images.