Last Saturday, Chris and I took part in the naturebites bird race. You can see the full results (and how unimpressive our total of 41 was) here. Whilst we were nowhere near to the very impressive 108 species spotted by the winner, we had a great day birding out and about in the cold weather.
Overnight snow put paid to our original plan to head to WWT Slimbridge for their Festival of Birds and to get Chris some binoculars of his own. Slimbridge has had some excellent birds seen there recently and I was looking forward to a day of waders and wildfowl as well as all the events that the Festival had in store. Instead, we stayed local to Hampshire and decided to head to Farlington Marshes so Chris could up his wader knowledge while the tide was in and species were relatively close. We took a detour to Southsea on our way to see a bird I really should have put on my top 10- Purple Sandpiper. These are very frequently reported at Southsea Castle, and having checked the tide tables for high tide, I thought our luck was in. What I hadn’t banked on was that high tide doesn’t just mean birds close to coast, it means that the tide is so high there would be nowhere for the Sandpipers to sit. This disappointment on side, we managed to spot Gulls, several common birds and a couple of lovely Sanderling during our walk along the shore so it wasn’t an entirely wasted detour but probably not the best use of our first bird race hour!
Arriving at the Broadmarsh end of Farlington, this time high tide proved successful as most ducks and waders were close enough to the shore for us to identify them. Having IDed as many waders as we could, we kept walking towards the reserve. Whilst I had planned a lunch spot across on the harbour side, Chris’s lack of breakfast resulted in us stopping for a break much sooner than planned, overlooking what I thought was a pretty uneventful pond. A couple of fat Teal, a lot of Coot and a few Mallard accompanied a small group of Brent Geese. We’d not been there long, when the sound of wingbeats caused us to turn our heads. A large flock of Brents were coming in to land. Watching at least 100 Geese trying to direct their rather cumbersome selves towards the small patch of non-frozen water was entertaining to say the least. Somehow, we managed to watch this spectacle without getting covered in Goose excrement (an achievement in itself!) and most of the flock made it onto the pond with rather ungainly but successful landings.
We’d just about settled into our thermos of soup when a bird came speeding past to our right and then settled on a perch at the edge of the reedbed. A Kingfisher. Within a week Chris had gone from zero to 4 sightings. This was a great spot, but paled into insignificance compared to what came next.
Looking onto the lake and reedbed, we both noticed two little brown birds flutter along the waterside and disappear amid a whir of wings into the reeds. Once hidden, a series of calls escaped. I’m no expert on birdsong, but I do know that bearded tits ‘ping’ and this certainly sounded a lot like ‘pinging’ to me! Before long, the rustles began to emerge as birds atop the reeds, Bearded Tits gorging themselves silly on the seeds. Appearing couple by couple, there were at least 3 pairs flitting around feeding and bouncing from reed to reed. We watched them whilst we finished our soup, so close we were able watch them quite happily without our binoculars. Their balancing skills are to be envied, and how they don’t fall over when jumping onto a new reed which bands over with their weight is truly amazing. I couldn’t have dreamt of seeing one pair, let alone so many so close. We stayed put for over half an hour whilst the birds enjoyed their lunch. I have to say that leaving was incredibly difficult- I could have watched them all day, but we had a walk to finish and I wanted to track down a Pintail for Chris to see. Before leaving, a warden we’d been chatting to pointed us towards an incoming Marsh Harrier quartering the reserve. From nowhere, I’d managed to go from none of my top ten to ticking off 2 in half an hour, all without really trying.
Have a quick peek at what we saw through someone else’s video here:
While we tracked down a couple of Pintail in the distance, after our lunchtime birding bonanza nothing quite managed to live up to our Bearded Tit amazement. These birds were even more amazing in reality than I could have imagined, perfectly marked, and flitting around in pairs this has to be my most memorable bird experience to date.