I know, I know, it’s been an age since my last post and I don’t really have any excuses as I’ve been birding just as much as ever, perhaps even more!
My borough year list currently stands at 92, (2nd March) which is identical as the same date a year ago! It’s encouraging, but a bit of a false position I’m inclined to think, as last year I already had the likes of Great White Egret and Great Grey Shrike under my belt, whereas thus far, this year’s all been a bit predictable, apart from Pintail and Goosander I suppose. When I get some time I’ll enter my year list on Going Birding. Speaking of Going Birding, for those who don’t know, I’ve taken over the day-to-day running of the site for Hampshire. It’s not particularly demanding but it’s proving to be very interesting and I’m really quite enjoying it.
Remember the trouble I had finding Common Gull last year? Not so this year! My first was at Little London on 11th January, in horse paddocks with black-headed Gulls and a further nine were seen on 21st January during a WeBS count on the Stratfield Saye Estate. Which species will prove to be problematic this year?
Common Gull – Little London, 11th January 2015
So, what to write about the local birding during February? I guess I’ll just have to talk about anything I have some usable images for, and herein lies the problem! A fairly successful day I suppose was 8th February; a WeBS day. Having already picked up Jack Snipe at The Vyne first thing, I headed over to Overton for three of my (now) six regular WeBs counts. On the outskirts of the town I stopped to witness an aerial battle between a Red Kite and a Short-eared Owl, which I had seen distantly from the car. The kite, which had badly damaged primaries on one wing, seemed content to share its air-space, but the owl certainly wasn’t and attacked the kite at every opportunity. I watched for sometime before they drifted west and out of sight.
Red Kite & Short-eared Owl - Overton, 8th February 2015 (10am)
Red Kite & Short-eared Owl – Overton, 8th February 2015 (10 am)
During the WeBs at a private site, I managed a couple of other reasonable shots… this Grey Wagtail came close enough to have its portrait taken and I was particularly pleased to capture a singing Treecreeper.
Grey Wagtail – Overton, 8th February 2015
Treecreeper – Overton, 8th February 2015
To round off a fairly decent day behind the lens, I stopped off at Ashley Warren, where this juvenile Red Kite was most accommodating.
Red Kite – Ashley Warren, 8th February 2015
News broke on Wednesday 25th February which prompted my first out-of- borough twitch of the year. An adult drake Surf Scoter had been found in Stokes Bay near Gosport; this would be a Hampshire tick for me. As seems to be the norm with Hampshire rarities, they are found during the working week, making it difficult for me to visit before the weekend – regular readers will know that this has cost me in the past! The weather worsened over Wednesday night making conditions less than ideal for sea watching, but the bird remained and was reported throughout the day on Thursday. Temptation started to take hold, especially as the weather forecast was for fine, settled weather on Friday. Decision made – I would head down to the coast on Friday afternoon, that way it wouldn’t interfere with my local birding over the weekend, plus there would be fewer grockles along the beach, even though technically I’d be one myself!
It was a nail biting Friday morning, as our celebrity was reported early in the day but not for the rest of the morning. Then, just as I was about to leave Basingstoke, a twitter alert arrived bearing the news I was dreading – apparently the bird had flown towards the IOW and had been lost from view; typical! Should I bother, or should I just spend the afternoon birding locally? I decided to take a chance and arrived on the coast just before 2pm. If the bird was showing, then surely there would be a few birders about, but I couldn’t see any and began to fear the worst. I scanned the bay but could only pick out a Great Crested Grebe on the water. Looking around, two chaps with binoculars were standing outside a beach cafeteria but didn’t look like typical birders; I enquired anyway – they were birders, and relayed the good news that they had just been watching the scoter but much further west in the bay. Ten minutes later and after a short drive I was watching two drake common Scoter in company with Hampshire’s fifth ever surf Scoter – superb!
The Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) is a medium-sized Nearctic diving duck which feeds primarily on molluscs and crustaceans, such as razor clams. They breed in Alaska and northern Canada and winter on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. The specific name perspicillata is from the Latin for conspicuous or spectacular, in reference to the bizarre multi-coloured bill of the drake. They are scarce vagrants to Europe but turn up regularly.
Conditions were great for photography but they were always a little too distant for anything other than record shots. I watched them for about two hours, in which time they regularly flew east and west along the bay, often returning to exactly the same area; they dived constantly.
Surf Scoter (centre) with two drake Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015
Surf Scoter with Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015
Surf Scoter with Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015
Surf Scoter (left) with two Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015
Surf Scoter (left) – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015 (the sailor must have had a decent view)
That was the story of my first ever Hampshire Surf Scoter, and very enjoyable it was too.
As I walked back along the beach I took advantage of this gorgeous Oystercatcher and a small flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese which flew over heading west. I was in the car and back home by 17:15.
Oystercatcher- Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015
Dark-bellied Brent Geese – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015
The last couple of weekends have been spent trying to find Willow Tit, which is becoming increasingly difficult in the borough. Five sites were visited over the two weekends requiring a great deal of leg-work. I finally had a single sighting on Sunday (1st) with decent but brief views, as well as hearing the crucial song and calls. I used to find these attractive little birds easily, but haven’t seen one at the same site for two years running for a number of years. Walking back to the car my attention was drawn to a lot of flapping high above me, flapping which turned out to be a peacock! Even more remarkable is that it took flight and flew high over the trees and out of sight!
Peacock – Popham, 1st March 2015
I hope you enjoyed this latest attack of Hypergraphia – hopefully the next one won’t be too far away!
Thanks for reading.