Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Even Yet, Thou Art to Me, No Bird but an Invisible Thing, A Voice, A Mystery...

It was Saturday morning 2.45am, I had reached my destination near Hurst Castle opposite the narrowest channel to the Isle of Wight. The stars and moon were showing through the hazy clouds, the wind was a cool brisk north easterly and I tried to get my head down for a little sleep before greeting Chris three hours later...my brain was having trouble trying to shut down however...

I had been out the previous night at a gig in London and was due to meet up with my friend the next morning for a seawatch and walk around the coast here.
It was strangely exciting to walk around the spit here at this unearthly hour even though I was so exhausted. I wish I had the energy to spend a little while longer while no soul was about...
Rather than go home first I thought it best to travel straight down here to the destination so I could be up early to greet my friend. I must be mad!

My alarm sounded, so I hurried to put the kettle on for coffee and breakfast....
Although it was now 6am, the sun was fairly high in the sky already.
Chris was punctual as ever so we gathered our gear and headed down to the base of Hurst Castle spit, set up our scopes and see what was passing through.
This time of year is excellent for migrating birds through the English Channel and Solent if the wind is favourable. Normally an easterly is best.
It was still a north easterly but we had hopes of good sightings through the narrow gap  here.
As we settled down over the bank and out of the wind looking west our first views were of Little Terns fishing just offshore ahead of us...

The sun was showing signs of breaking through which was much desired as we were wrapped up in thermals to keep the cold at bay. It's that time of year when the weather can range between winter chilly to summer swelter. 
On the beach in front of us a beautiful Bar Tailed Godwit landed nearby but just out of sight for a decent photo. A Common Gull was rather more available for shots though.
The view looking west takes in the coast along to Milford Haven and across the western Solent to the Needles. Always a great spot to see Gannets out fishing. Although distant, they didn't disappoint.
Such large elegant seabirds that glide effortlessly over the waves until plunging head first for the chance of a meal.

There was some fairly good bird movement by now. Whimbrel, a rarer cousin of the Curlew were fairly frequent through here.
The Needles just apparent through the haze with the lighthouse on the western tip...
As we scanned the horizon,the Gannets kept appearing in the lens
Now more Terns were appearing. This time Sandwich Terns. Much larger than the Littles with a pale yellow tip to the bill. These are now starting to overwinter in this part of the country in small numbers. They were always a summer visitor only but climate change is clearly having an effect. Mild winters are becoming the norm.

More Whimbrel passed by...
Then directly in front of us a male and female Eider dropped in..
The male always seems such an ethereal bird.

We had sat on the beach for over 4 hours now and had distant views of Kittiwake, Guillemot, Red Breasted Merganser, constant flows of Swallows in off the channel finally making landfall along with an occasional Swift and Sand Martin. I marvelled at the journey they had just undertaken to come here to breed for the season.
I had made one sojourn to the van for another brew in this time. Whilst doing so Chris had some rare Black Throated Diver pass by. They would do that as I was gone wouldn't they?!
One of the birds coveted on a seawatch are Skuas, either Pomarine, Arctic or Great Skuas and they are prevalent at this time, chasing and catching Terns for a tasty meal. Thanks to social media, reports of them heading east towards us came through so we waited to see if they would pass down the Solent or head south around The Isle of Wight. We waited with baited breath but they failed to show so we decided to move on, only latterly hearing they did eventually make it past the point at which we had sat. Such is life!

We packed up and drove a mile east to Keyhaven for a walk along the coastal reserve here with inland lakes and pools so favoured by the migratory wildlife.
We parked up and walked the path along the seawall from the harbour to the marsh and pools and heathland.
Warblers are a very common species here in Spring and one is more common than others, the Whitethroat...  

This one sat up very well proclaiming it's territory. They do at this time of year. Give it a month and they will be more difficult to photograph once they are nesting and skulking out of sight.
The gorse here was a riot of yellow that almost became too painful on the retina to view. The smell is so pungent too. Very much in the scent of coconut although my partner Sarah and Chris have trouble noticing this smell. To me it is overpowering along with the colour!

Looking south towards the sea and onto the marsh the unmistakable  'Cronk' of a raven drew our attention. They are reasonably common here and this one was out looking for a meal. Much to the distress of the local Lapwing who took a dim view in this marauder on it's patch. It may well have a nest in the vicinity and a Lapwing chick would make a tasty snack for a hungry Raven.

The Lapwing made constant passes directly at the huge corvid.

It was clearly not welcome here and who can blame it with a beak that size?
The Raven will take any opportunities of a meal, it's just trying to survive like the Lapwing
Moving on, the beginnings of The Thrift or Sea Pink were apparent. Soon there will be carpets littering the ground all along the south coast.
As we carried along the seawall path, a couple told us of a sighting of a Cuckoo just further along in the scrub. After my unsuccessful attempts at trying to see this wonderful harbinger of Spring I was determined it wasn't going to slip past me again.
We could hear it calling and noticed the webs of the moth caterpillars it loves to eat in the gorse. Surely it would show?
Chris spotted it first but I couldn't get on it and it disappeared into the gorse.

Eventually it showed...What a creature and boy can it fly !
The Cuckoo is one of those iconic birds that always makes the heart race when it is heard and seen. Others I put in the same bracket are the Kingfisher, Barn Owl and Swift amongst others...
It kept on zipping backwards and forwards at some speed. It's shape and velocity is very reminiscent of a raptor and can be easily mistaken for one. We both discussed this as one reason it is not welcomed by the smaller birds here along with the fact of it's very existence... to parasitise many of the birds' nests.
This was a male so is of no immediate threat to lay eggs in any nests but it didn't stop the Linnets chasing it from the scrub in quite a comedic fashion. I've seen raptors mobbed by other birds before but to be chased in such a way was bizarre! I think they know exactly what the bird is all about. 

It's speed as it bolted from the gorse was electrifying and I had to be quick to get a half decent shot

It landed not too far away just below us as we looked down from the sea wall path...
It didn't stay for long and sped up the path below us. I jump down to the lower path to try a stealth approach but it was gone, flying low...
We could hear it every now and then as we carried on with our walk. I do love hearing its onomatopoeic sound. Let's hope we are able to keep listening. Cuckoo numbers have declined by 65% since the 1980's...
More Little Terns chattered their way past us as they hunted for fish just offshore. We were treated to closer views than before.
 They are our smallest Tern to breed here and their numbers have been helped by conservation efforts locally but their numbers are still a concern.
Out on the adjacent inland pools we noted some Tern rafts put out to encourage them to nest upon. Decoy birds had been placed on them to try to encourage breeding too. 

They have rapid wingbeats as they steadily scan the water below for small fish...

Once one is located, they plunge to capture it's prize. In this instance, a successfull hunt!
We carried on and a Shelduck on one of the islands on the pools grabbed my attention as it slept...

As we reached one of the reed beds the unmistakable melodious chatter of a Reed Warbler emanated from the dense straw forest. Normally difficult to see, I was in the right place to see one through the haystack. It stayed for me and sang it's little heart out..

Little Egrets are common here and this one was a little more accommodating than some and allowed closer contact. 
Many of the species we had seen so far have arrive here for the summer. Some winter visitors that should have left by now were still here.
The beautiful duck, the Pintail was feeding up, no doubt getting ready to leave soon to head north.
Now a common sight, even in spring is the Marsh Harrier. This was distant and looked like a juvenile male

Closer in at the reed bed again the classic chinkling call of a male Reed Bunting trickled out towards us.

Another winter migrant on the verge of departure is the Wigeon, just a couple left now.

Back out to sea, the tide was slowly receding, we could smell the shore as it did so and more Little Terns hunted in front of us again.
Probably my favourite Tern. So diminutive but full of character.

A similar and more regular wader to the Whimbrel is the Curlew. The largest of the waders we see here. Another bird with an onomatopoeic name, it's eerie 'Curleuiw' call rang out before us...

As spring is now in full swing, so our attention does the same towards the emerging Lepidoptera, specifically Butterflies...
I love nature in all it's glory and over the last few years Butterlies have created their own little niche inside my heart. I have ventured far to capture glimpses of one of our most beautiful species and today was to cement my love for these enigmatic creatures even more so.
Chris and I had happened across a fellow who can be best described as The Butterfly Whisperer. We have seen him on occasion at various places as he searched for what is clearly his passion and he wanders about calmly and sedately without a care in the world.
He is a font of knowledge too and upon greeting him, he led us to the first sighting this year of a Small Copper and one of my favourites...
It didn't stay for long and we parted company and went on our way.  
We were now heading back towards the car park at Pennington and in the pools Mallard ducklings dotted around trying to keep up with mum..
Two Avocet dropped in over our heads too...
Along the ditch a couple of Redshank mooched around feeding. A few stay here to breed.

Another Tern was spotted near to where we had had the great views of the Littles' earlier. This one the slightly larger Common Tern...

It has a rather harsher screeching call than the former and was a little unsuccessful in it's fishing attempts before us !

I noticed it had been ringed but was unable to get close enough to recognise the numbers. It was a shame as any information on the details of this bird is an excellent way to understand the movements of such a declining species and help towards its preservation.

These two were clearly pairing up for breeding

We were now at Fishtail Lagoon and began to head further back to our cars. As we turned the corner along the sea wall we spotted the Butterfly Whisperer lying on the bank below the path. He was holding a Thrift flower and studying the creature upon it. It was another butterfly I was hoping to see. The Green Hairstreak. Britains only green butterfly and oh so tiny.
Just out of shot is the chap's hand. Green Hairstreaks are very accomodating and can be great to get close to... 

All along this southerly facing bank were several Small Copper too, and some in perfect condition, clearly just recently emerged.
I indulged myself in their exquisite beauty....

It was so difficult to drag myself away from such eminence. If I was on my own, no doubt I would have lingered quite a while longer but Chris needed to get back and as it happened, the sun was disappearing behind large clouds so the Butterflies would do likewise in the foliage..
Back at the car park a red admiral showed it's hand on the shrubbery there despite the shade.
A quick sojourn along one more path before the final push home provided some superb views of the most prolific warbler of the day, the Whitethroat. Always a challenge for a decent shot, this one decided it liked it's portrait taken and sat for a while in the Hawthorn, much to our pleasure...

Another excellent day. Great views of a Cuckoo, sublime views of the Butterflies and one very tired Smudger. Boy did I sleep well that night !

The title of this post is a line taken from the poem 'To the Cuckoo' by William Wordsworth