New Forest Snow :)

So Chris and I had a 3 day weekend this week and had decided to spend the Friday on a rescheduled trip to WWT Slimbridge. Yet another overnight snowfall on Thursday* put paid to that plan, so instead we had a lovely relaxed day nearer to home, albeit with a lack of birding. It was just lovely to spend a chilled out day together ahead of a busier weekend.

Whilst I’ve been on 2 HOS walks this year, Chris has only come to the Red Kite walk, so I was actually really surprised when he agreed to accompany my Mum and I on a walk from Shatterford in the New Forest. Honestly, I’m convinced it was only because Chris didn’t want me to spot anything I’d not seen already without him seeing it too. Again, Chris and I brought the average age of the group down quite considerably, but I am still warmed every time I go on a group by how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to share their time and knowledge with others. I also quite like how excited other birders often are by having young, enthusiastic birders with them. Its really lovely to feel so welcomed.

The walk started brilliantly, with Goldcrest feeding in a pine by the car park which also had Treecreeper having breakfast on the trunk of the same tree. There must have been at least 6 Goldcrest which was lovely to see and some were even feeding on the ground, which no one in the group had seen before. Seeing such tiny birds on the ground right out in the open didn’t seem right as my mental image of Goldcrest is a tiny fluff-ball hiding amongst foliage and seeming altogether more shy and reclusive. A fantastic start to a lovely day. The walk continued with success- pairs of Crossbill (another of my Top 10) collecting nesting material and taking it up high in the pines for construction was gorgeous to watch, with one particular pair showing really well and deciding to have a pine cone snack for all to see on the only leaf free branch. My favourite moment of the morning was watching Mr Crossbill scoffing the seeds from a pine cone so greedily that he lost his grip and dropped the cone. I love slightly comical birding moments.

Once the Crossbills had given up putting on a show, we headed off for the main attraction of the walk- Great Grey Shrike. This bird is regularly reported in the area and had been seen the day before, so we set off towards its most recent haunt. Within seconds of arriving, the walk leader had spotted the Shrike high atop a distant shrub, surveying his surroundings and looking alert. Success. I never thought tracking down a bird would be so easy, but he was so far away I don’t think I’d ever have spotted him was it not for the more experienced birders there too. At this point Chris was seeming quite disheartened so telling him at this point that this was another of my Top 10 crossed off felt pretty mean, especially considering someone else had pointed it out to me. More Goldcrest appeared, bobbing along a pine hedge and again feeding on the ground- the cold must be leading them to desperate measures!

The walk later threw up a load more winter visitors and woodland species, with Siskin, Redwing,  and Mistle Thrush all seen before lunch. Chris had his birding moment of the day after lunch, when he spotted a lovely male Stonechat by himself, which I think he was pretty smug about. Although he didn’t say it, I could tell he felt excited for spotting something that the other birders hadn’t spied first. Adding Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and this time a pair of Stonechat before returning to the car rounded of a great day out in the forest. The residual snow and cold weather made for a bleak day on the moorland areas, but really highlighted just how beautiful the New Forest really is and reminded me how much I love spending my time outside when I can. Going back to the office on Monday morning was a bit of a come down after a wonderful day out and about.

Jo

*Note to self: next time I want snowfall, plan a trip to Slimbridge. The two seem to correlate at the moment!

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A non-birdy bird filled walk

Last Sunday involved us heading out for a walk with friends. Friends who are very much NOT interested in birding. Despite this, we did pack the binoculars, and it was a good job that we did- what a day of great finds!

As we were really only planning a short walk and then a nice lunch somewhere, we decided to walk the couple of miles from Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard and back. Whilst the outward leg was a little boring scenery wise, the return journey along the Beaulieu River was great and definitely to be recommended.

Finding a hide along the way, I was hoping that the frozen water could throw up something interesting, but this was very much not the case on this occasion with only a fluffed up Pheasant making an appearance! It did prove to be a much better spot for drinking hot chocolate somewhere sheltered than for finding birds. We managed to make it the whole way to Buckler’s Hard without spotting anything of note except this very friendly Robin atop a post, which Greg got very close to:

Buckler’s Hard threw up all manner of birds. Some very friendly Mallards hoping for lunch, Black Headed Gull galore, an inquisitive Mute Swan Cygnet and the most bedraggled looking Lapwing I’ve ever seen. There was also a lone Brent Goose which came very close, which really emphasised how tiny these Geese actually are- barely larger than a Mallard. We had barely started to head back to Beaulieu for lunch when I spotted a cormorant sized bird coming in to land on the water. Something about it didn’t fit for cormorant, so I decided to have a quick peek through my bins.

Seeing what looked distinctly like some sort of Diver, I got very excited and ran to get as close as I could, shouting ‘Its a diver, WOW, its a diver!!’ to the rather bemused others. As I’ve said before, birdwatching isn’t exactly the coolest of hobbies, and I think this is a case in point of how to appear to be a complete weirdo. Whilst Chris seemed to realise that I may have seen something quite special, I think our friends thought I had finally lost it! Sharing binoculars, Chris and I both managed a quick glimpse of it before it dived, popped up in the distance and didn’t emerge anywhere visible again. Whilst I’m convinced it was a winter plumage Great Northern Diver, Chris remains sure that it was a Black Throated Diver. We’ll never know, but based on size, I am sure that I saw my first GND in the most unlikely of locations!

Walking back, my birding luck continued with a scuffle of leaves amongst brambles. Keeping my binoculars firmly fixed (and apologising for the continual bird detours), I was delighted to notice one, then two female Bullfinch emerge from the scrub to feed. Another of my top ten, these were beautiful to watch and I am convinced that this makes it into my top 5 birds ever. Whilst I didn’t see the male, the two females made a beautiful addition to my year list. The walk back was far more scenic than our route out and managed to throw up Cormorant, Shoveller and Shelduck along the way. These more than average ducks even interested our non-birder friends, which surprised me no end and did make me wonder whether everyone can get into birding, its just a matter of finding the right birds for them to be interested in.

I think I’ve learned the trick for spotting birds I’d really like to see- don’t go out expecting to see them! Anyone who is keen for a birdy or non-birdy walk sometime, please let me know, you never know what may turn up.

Sorry Chris, but I think that makes us even at 3-3!

Jo

3-0 no more

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.

I also managed to add another bird call to my memory bank- the Curlew. This sound is brilliant and has to be the soundtrack of choice to this fantastic day’s birding.

Many thanks,

Jo

Mystery diver

So yesterday, I’m pretty sure I observed this happen…

 

 

Massive highlight to my birding year and this rounded off a fantastic weekend birding. I’m waiting for Chris to download our photographs from the weekend, but spotting a mystery bird from a distance to discover it was a diver was fantastic. I’m just deliberating if it was Great Northern or Black Throated! I’m with GND and Chris is thinking BTD.

 

Jo

Jo’s January Round Up

Wildfowl and Waders at Farlington

So, over one month into the Big Year- it’s time for our first set of monthly totals….

I can reveal that in January 2012, I saw 81 species of birds. Pretty chuffed with that total! Just going to gloss over the fact that my target list stands at an unimpressive 0/10. Oh dear- lots of birds but not the right ones.

The highlights for me were the Redpoll, Redwing and Bittern at Blashford and the wildfowl and waders at Farlington. Lots more birding to come this year and now my new glasses have finally arrived I can actually see the distance in focus again which always helps.

Chris- your January total please……..?

Jo

Preview- naturebites Bird Race

So yesterday Chris and I took part in the naturebites Bird Race. Whilst we were planning a big day out to the Festival of Birds at WWT Slimbridge, we put our travel plans on ice as we didn’t want to be travelling so far with potential for serious snowfall. Instead, we stuck closer to home and undertook the race in Hampshire. Whilst we weren’t taking the ‘race’ part seriously and really planning the day to see as much as possible, this was a fantastic excuse to get a load of biding in locally as we had 6 hours in which to see as many species as possible.

 

Full report to follow, but by far the most exciting event of the day was the appearance of a flock of Bearded Tit (one of my top 10!) during our lunch break, who stuck around for over half an hour! The photo below is terrible (shot on a mobile phone into the sun!) but it shows how close we were to these amazing birds. The couple of fat blobs at the top of the reeds are the tits, and the fuzzy silver thing is the lid of Chris’s thermos. Chris has much better shots which we will upload later on…

 

Image

 

Today has also been full of birding surprises. I have a lot to fill you in on!

Jo