Sunday, 2 April 2017

Spread Your Wings As The Day Begins

The day dawned mild still and clear. One of those early Spring mornings that brings with it a refreshing positivity of the change in season from dark, cold hibernation to light and life... 

A day out walking is always something we look forward to and cherish.
I had arranged with Chris to meet at Farlington Marshes directly East of Portsmouth. A wonderful peninsular jutting out into Langstone Harbour that contains a plethora of life.
As we began, a Kestrel hovered nearby in search of an early breakfast. It was just after 6am, sunrise is getting ever earlier, the clocks would go forward later too. I was going to a gig in the evening in Southampton so it was destined to be a very long day!
As we headed east towards the information centre that sits next to one of the lakes the Black Tailed Godwits were feeding in the shallows, probing the mud for the tiny creatures just below the surface with a beak just right for the job.



I love reeds. Either the sight of them in the light or the sound with the wind blowing through them.
They never fail to draw my lens.
The early morning sun always gives that soft golden light.
A Robin sat proclaiming it's territory for the coming season, to ward off unwelcome competitors and also to attract a mate.
Greenfinches had begun their display flights too. The male on the right would spiral around chattering in flight giving notice to all of it's presence. The female on the left could well be a prospective mate.
As we reached the sea wall overlooking the harbour occasional flocks of Shelduck flew over into the reserve.
In winter this place is inundated with overwintering wildfowl, by this time many have left for their breeding grounds in northern Europe but some still linger.
Pintail are one example. Just one or two could be seen feeding on the inland lake.

Meadow Pipits are common here. Some over winter, some are Summer migrants ready to set up territories.

Linnets - part of the finch family were also setting up territories. During Winter they flock in numbers, today they were pairing up ready for mating.
You may find this if you have feeders to attract birds. In Autumn and Winter they may arrive in a flock but by now it's probable you will only see birds in pairs or certainly in smaller numbers.
It is still important to put out food for them however. When chicks are in the nest the parents are so busy gathering food and expending so much energy that in Spring and Summer they need as much if not more added sustenance than in Winter. So keep feeding them, plus it's always a pleasure to see them.
Chris and I carried on to the most southerly tip. A place called Point Field for the obvious reason.
You have a choice to either carry on along the sea wall that skirts the perimeter or venture through the field itself. We chose the latter.
The field itself is a mixture of bramble, gorse and grassy areas. A place - if you have seen my blog before- that is habituated by Short Eared Owls during the Winter. They roost on the ground which is unusual for Owls and can nestle away camouflaged and inconspicuous. We couldn't find any here so ventured to the sea wall for a higher vantage point.
No sooner as we had ascended than we spotted our prey tucked away in the grass.... 



They are also unusual in the fact they hunt by day as well as night but this individual was clearly not interested in feeding or even opening an eye too much either. Out of the hundred shots I took this is the most animated it got !
Still a beautiful bird and had us rooted to the spot for an hour until we decided to move on....











Halfway round the peninsular now. Our eyes and ears turned towards a common summer migrant. A Chiffchaff, part of the warbler family was flitting and feeding along the bramble hedge. Some individuals arrive here for winter, some stay all year long whilst some, possibly like this one had just arrived from the continent to breed here.  


Little Egrets are now very common and this one looked resplendent in the sunshine with a magnificent quiff to boot!
Oh those reeds again.....
We had reached the car park and as we were packing Chris spotted more expected Summer migrants. Sandwich Terns (Which reminds me, I must investigate why they are named so?) were feeding close to shore. They are usually one of the early migrant birds seen here although some have overwintered just recently - an indication climate change is having a real effect.










Our gear all packed we headed off east to Hayling Island to the oyster beds.....
Once a thriving industrial site farming the aforementioned mollusc, it is now a very important site for wildlife. The small islands here are a haven for breeding Black Headed Gulls and for the rare Mediterranean Gulls that don't actually breed here but use it as a stopping off point to breeding grounds elsewhere.



They are thicker set than a black headed gull, with a more pronounced and blacker head cap, thicker bill and less black tip to the tail feathers.

Many flew high above our heads and possess a rather annoying call albeit distinctive but giving the impression of an indignant child.   
We left gull central and contemplated our next move. As we made our way back to the car park my first butterfly of the year proclaimed itself...an immaculate male Brimstone that proceeded to feed on the blossom before us and gave us great views of a butterfly that normally flits by without a 'by your leave' 

Even a small Bee - which I believe to be a Mining Bee took the opportunity to hitch a lift or maybe bask for a while on it's wing in the sunshine!?



A really lovely surprise to see the first real good view of the first butterfly of the year. The sign of things to come....?
Our next port of call was the New Forest once again. Acres Down on the Eastern edge  is always a favoured walk.
Once decanted from the cars we have two options. Either walk to the hill overlooking the forest or walk the path through the forest itself. We began on the path....
The New Forest is a real stronghold for the enigmatic Firecrest. Their high pitched call I can still just about hear. It wont be long before it will be out of my decibel range. Suffering from tinnitus doesn't help either.
We found many down the ride here...






Such a time waster but in a good way, we dragged ourselves on....
More butterflies flitted through the glades and basked in the warm sun...
A Red Admiral...
Peacock....

And a stunning Comma also....


All these have overwintered as adults and appear as soon as it becomes warm enough.
In total we saw 2 Comma, 4 Peacock, 1 Red Admiral and at least 17 Brimstone. Although the latter didn't stop to be photographed here unlike the Hayling Island individual.
Interestingly, the name Butterfly is said to be derived from the Brimstone as in 'Butter-coloured-fly'


We had come full circle through the down and were on the home stretch to the car park once more. Up on the hill we could see distant Goshawks and Buzzards riding the thermals and our hope of a Woodlark failed to materialise. Similar to a Skylark but a specialist to areas such as these. It's song is pretty too but not on quite the level of it's cousin.
Our last point of interest Chris spotted on the bank by the path. A Wood Ants' nest. These must number in their hundreds of thousands. The nest itself was about four feet in diameter and a good two feet high.
It was a mass of crawling activity each with their own job to do but in doing so making it look like one complete entity in itself.
It was impossible to get too near as they would have individuals spread out far from the body of the nest and I was very aware not to tread on any. They are twice the size of regular garden ants and the soldiers even bigger.
I've had the unfortunate experience to sit too close to an ants nest and feel the burning force of their formic acid they expel from their abdomens. A bit like cutting fresh chillis and rubbing them in your eyes or anywhere else for that matter, seriously not recommended, so watch where you sit if you are in a forest! 






The title of this post is a lyric taken from the song 'The Sun Rising' by The Beloved