Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Moments Roll By, Feeling Numbness Heave a Sigh

As is my custom, I venture out on the last day of the year. A walk of reflection over the happenings of the past twelve months and to enjoy time out too of course.

I normally choose a place I haven't tried before but this year I was drawn to the same walk as last year. Ashlett Creek on the western shore of Southampton Water.

It felt like a circle was complete, and what a rollercoaster of a year it has been when I think back to the time I was here twelve months ago. Change certainly is the one true constant in life.

I parked in the gravel car park opposite the Jolly Sailor pub looking down the creek which was full of sailing boats moored at their jetties.
The old mill house sits empty and forlorn between the creek and the mill pond. Once a snooker club, I wonder what fate has in store for it?
The mill pond was emptying out as high tide was approaching and this was my first port of call. There is usually something of interest there and you are normally guaranteed a sighting of the iridescent blue beauty of a Kingfisher.
The first sightings as I reached the wall to the mill pond was of Black Headed Gulls and Black Tailed Godwits feeding on the shallow draining water.
A Little Grebe was also taking advantage to feed in the calm waters in the golden winter sunlight.

Then the unmistakable peep of the flying King...or Queen perhaps, as this was a female?

 It settled in one of it's many perches around the pond.

 As it decided what to do, my attention was drawn back to the Godwits and a Kestrel patrolling overhead.

The Kingfisher was back, zipping past me and settled on the Mill House sluice gate..

The Black Tailed Godwits seemed wholly ambivalent to the comings and goings of the blue wonder.

Eventually I managed a distant shot of her successfully catching a fish.

She reached a suitable branch and gave the fish the regular couple of thwacks, positioned it head first and swallowed it whole.
She had several perching points around the pond. Some were quite high in the trees.

Others were more man made...
It was almost time to start my walk along the shore but I couldn't resist a Little Egret as it landed close by...

One last glance back at the Mill Pond, the Little Grebe was still feeding in the left bottom corner and the Kingfisher was still high in the trees.
It's almost impossible to believe that just left and North of this shot is the massive facility of Fawley oil refinery.
I walked across to the opposite side of the creek to the mill and pub and followed it out into the open water which was all exposed mud on the low tide.

Redshank dotted the edge of the water taking advantage of the goodies in the silt.
The path edges Southampton Water, of which the creek was emptying it's contents.
I followed the path South towards Calshot. The Red Funnel ferries were busy back and forth to the Isle of Wight.
As the path opens out, the disused Calshot power station hove into sight. It sits alone bordered by the marshes.
As nature does, it was taking advantage of the massive building. I heard the cronking of Ravens and found them using the massive girders as perching points.
Last year I saw a Peregrine using the roof as a vantage point for it's next meal. I couldn't locate one today however but they can be unobtrusive tucked away in the colossal structure. 
I crossed the bridge of the inlet that lets water into the facility. A Great Crested Grebe was feeding just offshore.
The view of Calshot activity centre opened up before me now. Once the place for the royal naval flying boats, it now houses more peaceful uses and also the radar station guiding shipping off into The Solent and English Channel beyond.

As I reached the most southerly tip of Calshot the reeds border the marshes. The sun lit up one of my favourite plants.
The tide being so far out there were little wildfowl about in the bay. Wigeon and Teal were the few duck staying around. 

The imposing power station gave me my last shot before heading back to Ashlett Creek

Half an hour later I had arrived. The creek had begun to fill up on the incoming tide just as the sun was setting. All was still and calm. A fitting end to another enjoyable day and fascinating year.
I retired to the pub for some refreshment and reflection.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next, or just another day?
Either way we attach significance to it, wipe the slate clean, a brand new dawn.

So here I was at the beginning of January recharging my batteries ready for another year.

This time in the new year always had a starkness about it for me, a raw newborn coldness, not something I cherished but now that feeling has softened and Nature has been the catalyst. Living in Hampshire also helps enormously.

My first walk of 2018 was the jewel on the south coast, our default destination, Pennington and Keyhaven.
The day started dull but was due to become bright, if not cool and a little blustery but this is the coast of England after all!
I reached the car park at Pennington just before dawn and had the pick of parking places. Once packed up with camera, binoculars and refreshment I walked the old tip towards the shore.

There was lots of bird activity already. To my right on Fishtail Lagoon there were numbers of various wildfowl and waders. The whole area had succumbed to the previous days' rainfall combined with high tides. The usual islands and marsh were underwater but that's the beauty of this place, it can absorb this like a sponge and protect further inland. Either side of the marshes that are less protected, there had been flooding. This is why these natural habitats are so important.
As I reached the sea wall, hundreds of waders were zipping low across the water looking for a roost at high tide. Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Black Tailed Godwit all vied for positions just above the water.
The choice here is head East or West. I chose the former just as a group of Pintail flew in to the lagoons.
Although it had begun dark and gloomy, the forecast of bright sun didn't seem too far away as I looked across to the West with Hurst Castle jutting out into the Solent with The Needles just beyond to the right.
Where there is prey, there are raptors. Normally it's the mass eruption of roosting birds that gives a sign of an incoming threat but twice in a row I picked out two before anything else had spotted them. Firstly the smallest of them all, a Merlin which came in off the sea at distance so I wasn't able to get even a record shot and secondly-
a record shot- but you'll have to take my word that this is a Peregrine Falcon flying low over the reserve just about to put up everything in it's path.
From what I can make out it was quite a dark plumaged bird so maybe a juvenile?

After the excitement of birds of prey the inland lakes off the sea wall produced some Red Breasted Mergansers. Two males and a female or 'Redhead'

The clouds were leaving to the east by the time I had reached Oxey Lagoon and bright sun took it's place.
The boating lake usually throws up Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes. These were here as usual but in front of one of the islands were three Greenshank and a Kingfisher which shot across the lake before I could get a focus on it. This was turning into a rather special day and it was only just midday.

Just past the boating lake is the last marsh before Lymington Harbour. Normandy Marsh is either one or t'other. It's either teeming with birds or silent. Today it was definitely the former and bathed in glorious winter sunlight which is always a bonus as it's a fair trek to reach it if you happen to park at Pennington or Keyhaven.

The view down the marsh is always impressive especially in bright sunlight. There was a real smorgasbord of species there. Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and more that would reveal themselves as I wound my way round the path that cups the mini reserve.  

Out upon the sea the bay gives good shelter to all sorts of interesting types.
Great Crested Grebes are common along the coast in winter. Sometimes gathering in large numbers, other times in single figures.
There is the chance of observing all five species of Grebe that can be seen in the British Isles off the coast here. Little Grebes are most common on inland lakes as I have shown. Great Crested are the next up and largest and very regularly seen are Slavonian Grebes. I managed to photograph one here in the background against a Great Crested. The difference in size and plumage is quite apparent. Both sporting winter colours. The winter plumage makes them a lot harder to define. If it were Summer then it would be a forgone conclusion. The Slavonian's Summer headress is one of black cap with chestnut feather horns beginning at the eye and flowing through to the top of the head, completely unmistakable. The can be confused however, with Black Necked Grebes in Winter. Black Necked are more often found on inland lakes though.
The other Grebe and most rare is the Red Necked. One had been seen here over the last few days but was proving elusive for me. 
The Slavonian has a distinctive red eye as has the Black Necked. The Black Necked has a more rounded head plus the white patch to the face curves up further through the nape.
I was all Grebed out by now and thankfully a 'Keeyak' call above me alerted me to two Sandwich Terns out fishing. These birds used to be only Summer visitors, now a small population overwinter so if you are lucky enough you may see them pass by. Another sign of a changing climate.

Normandy Marsh had other gems to relinquish. 14 Avocet roosted on the edge of one of the islands.
Plus a male Goldeneye - an overwintering diving duck - fed nearby. Apart from a small population that breed in the highlands of Scotland, you will only encounter these here in Winter.
Search as I might out in the bay, the Red Necked Grebe failed to appear. The Great Crested teased me all the way back.
Retracing my steps past the boating lake one of the Greenshank had decided to become active, against the better judgement of a roosting Redshank on the shore.
The other two weren't interested.
And as for the Little Grebes, they just kept on diving for food like little clockwork toys I used to have in the bath as a child.
The whole reserve is made up of numerous little or large lakes and lagoons. On the next one after the boating lake I found a small group of Teal. It was the time of year I always enjoy watching the males court one or two females. The punks of the duck world circle the female and perform their head flicking routine... up, forward and right back whilst constantly chirruping like demented trim phones from the eighties.

When you take time to look closely at their plumage, they are quite beautiful.
Oxey Marsh is up next and almost always a guarantee of one of my favourite waders. The Spotted didn't disappoint. There were eight here but most of them were sleeping and sat in amongst several Common Redshank.This was a time to test ones knowledge to separate them. The Common have slightly darker backs, less pointed bills and deeper colour to their legs. 

I was now negotiating the sea wall and having passed some birders they informed me of all four Slavonian Grebes together just ahead giving great close up views, so they said...
No matter how close I got the Grebes thought better of it and flew off West. You can just make them out in flight ahead of me.
Luckily a Raven across from Oxey Marsh gave me some solace, probably my favourite of the corvid family.
The Mergansers were still here too.

Eventually reaching Pennington jetty, the Slavonians had decided to stop alluding me. Three were together while Billy-no-mates decided on time apart again nearby.

It was well past lunchtime and apart from some much needed sustenance back at the van, I had other places on my list for the day.
The flooded fields proved a great contrast of light with this Mute Swan as I dodged inland towards the car park.
The fields by the car park, once dry only a few weeks ago, were back to their usual avian encrusted waterworld.
Pintail, usually so reticent, had become much more obliging and the sun was playing ball too.

There had to be around 500 Golden Plover roosting here. These two were the closest however, along with the Lapwing.
A rare Ruff fed on the wet grassy banks that still stood above water. There must have been lots of invertebrates pushed up to the surface by the water.
None more so than in the camping fields to the rear of the car park. I've never seen so many birds here.
Even the Brent Geese were taking time to bathe in the floods.

Every now and then the birds would fly up in alarm. I couldn't make out any raptor in this melee of Golden plover though.
I left the Brent Geese and the rest and climbed into the van towards my next destination...a housing estate in Romsey...
So Romsey... not the first place that springs to mind when looking for wonders in Nature, but look and ye shall find...
Fishlake Meadows, as you may have gathered if you have read my previous posts, is former farmland reclaimed rightfully by Mother Nature and is becoming a hotspot in the middle of suburbia for many special species. It naturally floods and has been pumped dry for generations, except for now, where it reverts to wetland.
The Wildlife Trust has just be given lease to manage the reserve and provide more access for homosapiens as well as the native flora and fauna to thrive.
There is still only a couple of good vantage points to observe the comings and goings here.
It is a migratory oasis for Ospreys, something I missed out on last year but have had the pleasure of witnessing 4 individuals flying here in 2016.
It has also been known to accommodate Bittern, Otter and Marsh Harrier, the latter of which I have seen, along with other raptors including breeding Hobbies. Great White Egrets occasionally visit too.
Once the access has been improved, a whole new world will be opened up, right on everyones' doorstep. Forget Peppapig World up the road, this will be the place to be !
Although I agree, from this shot, a line of dead trees is hardly inspiring?!

My main port of call actually lay a few hundred metres away along the canal path to a play park surrounded by trees in the middle of a housing estate.
As I reached the bridge I needed to cross over the canal, the local friendly cat greeted me.
After a few head bumps and tickles, I headed for my destination.

 The bird I was in search for was a Hawfinch. Probably the bird that gives others bill envy.
For some reason, they are drawn to this place every year in single numbers but this last year and now are proving to be good Finch years. Huge influxes of Brambling and Hawfinch have been witnessed in this country.

It didn't take long to find my quarry. Normally all you have to do is find birders pointing binoculars and cameras at the said bird.
There were several flitting around the trees and others venturing to the ground also. I had never been this close to a Hawfinch. They normally sit close to the treetops but perhaps today would be a special day?

Today definitely was a very good day....

 They have superior power in their bill and crush seed regardless of it's size.

Not only impressive is their bill, the colours are equally so...

There were several Bullfinches around the treetops too, maybe they weren't wanting to feel outdone?

There was little sunlight left. What there was, I was going to wring the life out of it, so it was onwards to my very last destination of the day. Black Gutter Bottom.
I was in hope of seeing roosting raptors. Hen Harriers and or Merlin too.

 I parked at the usual place adjacent to Black Gutter and worked my way down the hill and up to Leaden Hall on the opposite side where the roost site is.

Apart from Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush there was very little to be seen, certainly no raptors that I could lay my eyes upon.
So maybe a little perturbed at a no show, I gave up and trudged back to the van and home.  

Being it a finch year I thought it best to carry on in this vein so I went in search of rare Parrot Crossbills in Camberley whilst at a party in Cobham over the weekend.
My first foray began on the Saturday evening although the birds had gone to roost by the time I had arrived. So after the party I ventured forth the next morning in the hope of a sighting. I was lucky the second time round.

I have seen Common Crossbills in the New Forest on a few occasions, they are normally very reticent when it comes to showing well. Parrot Crossbills on the other hand are a little different. In fact they are the total opposite. So indolent to the point of lethargy.
Having spent time in their company they move little from tree to tree, feasting on all the pine cones before them.

The females quite clearly less adorned as the males.
As I observed the birds in the pines, several dropped to the ground to drink in the puddle before me and gave good close up views of their unique beak. The perfect tool for prizing pine cones apart.

I was so lucky to be able to see them. Parrot Crossbills rarely venture this far south. They breed in northern Europe and in winter can be sometimes seen along the east coast but much further north.

Having satiated my thirst in a pine forest in the middle of Camberley I walked back to the van with a happy heart.
On the way home I stopped off in Titchfield. The lovely quaint village near my home. The canal path that connects Titchfield Haven is currently home to two Barn Owls that roost in a tree there during the day. They were still there on my way past.
The second bird clearly still visible in the corner of the split tree.
What a start to the new year. If this was the beginning, what must there be in store? Bring on 2018  

The title of this post is taken from the poem. 'The End or the Beginning' by Jeswin Vargsehe.