Thursday, 4 August 2022

RSPB Pagham Harbour & Medmerry :: 30 July 2022

The phone rang at 4.35am and it was Kevin Heath to ask if I was up - he could see no sign of it from the roadside. How embarrassing ... we'd agreed to meet at 4.30am and head for the south coast – the meet time had been chosen as I had an appointment in Banbury at 2.00pm. I had to admit that I had no explanation of why, but I was still in bed - the alarm appeared to have the correct time set but either hadn't gone off, or I'd turned it off in my sleep when it rang. Kev said that he was going to get some fuel and would be back shortly and so I dressed, made a flask of coffee and was on the drive pulling kit from my car as he returned 10 minutes later. I apologised and we set off, stopping for breakfast on the lower part of the A34, arriving in the RSPB Pagham Harbour car park by around 7.00am. We started getting ready to set out when Kev said he felt a bit under the weather - we hadn't been sure where we could park and had opted for the official car park. Along the track we realised that we could have parked in an area about half the distance from our target bird - an error, especially when Kev wasn't feeling right. We bumped into a chap coming the other way and he confirmed we were heading in the right direction and that the bird was showing.

Having crossed a couple of fields we passed through a gate and could see some watchers peering down into a burn ('rife'). A birder approached from the other direction and as he got level with us he pointed slightly behind us and there was our bird, a Squacco Heron, perched on a distant hawthorn bush - we'd been so intent on the rife and birders we hadn't seen it. We stopped where we were and viewed through our bins and scope - I also rattled off a few photos as this might be the best views we got, unless it flew closer. A life tick for me!

As we watched, a chap could be seen working along the hedge line and I wondered if he would flush the bird - not knowing what the bird would be able to see I waited and hoped. Although there was a moment of increased alertness the bird didn't seem disturbed. After a few minutes we talked with a couple of birders who then went off an did the same thing - we talked with a chap who suggested he was also going to view from closer and so I went with him, leaving Kev to view from the path.

Once on the hedge line I could see how the birders were staying partially under cover, in a hollow within the hedge itself. I joined and started taking photos from a more reasonable range - the bird was still relaxed in our presence and was preening. On a couple of occasions, it turned facing first left and then right, but showed no sign of being in a hurry - apparently it had already been perched for almost an hour.

The last thing that I hoped for was to get a photo of the bird in flight and so I stayed put. Eventually the Squacco took off, made a low circle and dropped into the rife. I took a couple of record shots of it there and made my way back to Kev.

Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron

Kev was still feeling a bit rough but there had been reports of curlew sandpiper further along the North wall - a chap Kev had talked to suggested he'd seen them earlier. We saw him ahead and decided to follow, chatting to another birder as we went. When we reached the pools of interest, we all scanned the waders finding only black-tailed godwits, dunlin and three little ringed plovers. A sedge warbler dropped onto a reed ahead.

Black-tailed godwit
Black-tailed godwit
Little ringed plover
Sedge warbler

We scanned BirdGuides to see what else was about and reports had come in for a white-rumped sandpiper, curlew sandpiper and wood sandpiper at RSPB Medmerry - just along the road from where we were. We set off and chatted to another birder doing the same – it appeared that he had been down at the lesser yellowlegs with us a few weeks ago and was planning to make for Medmerry too; he had parked closer and set off well before us. Whimbrel flew across the marsh - I think I've seen more this year than any other perhaps due to the range of places we've visited.

Whimbrel

We parked up at Medmerry and started down the track … people had said it was a long walk and they weren't exaggerating. About two-thirds of the way down the track we talked with a birder coming the other way who crushed our hopes telling us the white-rumped sandpiper had already departed - a second week of missing this species. When we got to the designated spot it was confirmed the main target had gone, and there were no curlew sands. We could see the wood sand though - there were also black-tailed godwits, avocet, common sandpiper and yellow wagtail.

Time was marching on and we had to turn and make our return to the car, bidding our farewell to the chap we'd followed to site - we arranged to see each other in another couple of weeks when something else arrived. The return back to the car was even longer (at least felt like it) than on the way in - the temperature was also increasing. We heard someone call on us and a familiar face waved - it was the South African chap from RSPB Cliffe Pools that had located the stone curlew last weekend – an amazing coincidence we’d come down here within hours of one another. Gosh we are getting about and meeting people.

Wood sandpiper

We made it to my appointment in Banbury with just five minutes to spare. I thanked Kev for driving and hoped he'd soon feel a bit better.

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

RSPB Cliffe Pools :: 23 July 2022

We set off early on Saturday morning to see the white rumped sandpiper at Dorney Flash on the Buckinghamshire / Berkshire border. It was a clear run and we arrived through the common and encountered cows crossing the road at will - the flat common and spread out herd of cows was an unexpected and strange sight, especially with this road running through. We saw the flash off to our left and two birders already in residence, both standing with scopes and viewing the flash - we jumped out the car, grabbed our gear and set off across the common; a large traditional grassed common, roughly triangular, which is an SSSI and offers panoramic views of Windsor Castle 2½ miles to the east.

No sooner had we set off than ring-necked parakeets called, and a handful flew overhead. Although there are some resident in Banbury I haven't encountered them this year and so this was a year tick - now for the sandpiper. We reached the birders with only one remaining, the other having walked around the lake on our right. We were greeted with "I wouldn't get your hopes up". Sure enough, there was no sign of our target bird, nor the dunlin that it appeared to have been associating with. Scanning around we saw four little ringed plovers and had a great white egret rise from the reeds to our right. Little egret, lapwing and stock dove all showed, but not our bird - Ewan Urquhart arrived and we said hello, then Dylan Parry-Davies and his partner. We waited and chatted until over an hour and a half had passed at which point we decided this was a lost cause, and that we'd dipped. We set off for breakfast and to decided what to do next.

Little ringed plover

Refuelled, we set out again having trawled through BirdGuides to try and find somewhere with a notable species of bird. I'd not seen a stone curlew for a number of years and so we made for RSPB Cliffe Pools - as far again as we were from home - not what we'd planned for the morning. The journey was uneventful and we didn't encounter any of the predicted queues for Dover and the Channel crossings, perhaps turning off just in time. We proceeded down Mead Wall which is a very rough stone road to the RSPB car park - it was so rough I was not absolutely sure we were going the right way. We reached a T-junction and found another car parked and looking at our maps we appeared to be in the right place - we parked up, grabbed our bins and a scope and scanned across the first pool from the viewpoint finding, little and great-crested grebes, greenshank, redshank, great white egret, little egret and best of all black-tailed godwits, new for my year list.

Neither of us had ever visited this reserve before but we could see that there would be great views over the pools, and the River Thames running alongside. I dropped back down to the car just as a chap walked passed carrying a scope on his back - I chatted briefly with him about the location of the stone curlew but he also told us the location of three curlew sandpipers - given that they may change location we headed there first.

Black-tailed godwit

His directions were spot on and the red car was still directly opposite the short path out to the viewing point - it seemed further than we'd been expecting but now there we could see several congregations of birds. As Kev set up his scope and started scanning the water's edge, he happened on a water rail crossing a gap in the reeds to our right - typically I missed it. We focussed on the righthand pool and two groups of birds, a pair, and a three. The pair we could see was a dunlin and another we couldn't identify as it was sleeping with its back to us - it appeared smaller than the dunlin and later we heard that there had been a little stint there - we will never know ...

The group of three were also asleep but fortunately moved from time to time, and we could see there were the curlew sandpiper - so far away that neither the camera or Digi-scoping over the distance and through the heat haze would allow us a record shot. We spent a considerable time watching the curlew sandpipers hoping they'd get a bit more active but then scanned the larger group of birds on the sandy edge between the two pools. Amongst them was a glossy ibis, teal, redshank, little egret, blackwit, lapwing and shoveler. As we waited a rather stunning ruddy darter dragonfly landed ahead of us - as it was closer than the assembled bird life, I thought I'd take a photo!

Glossy ibis
Ruddy darter

Eventually we decided to move on and we were actually here to have a go for the stone curlew - left or right, back where we'd come from or round the other way ... we opted for pastures new and found it was quite a walk even to the sea wall. From the sea wall we could see out to the Thames and a group of seals on the opposite bank. There were various gulls out on the muddy shore and a flock of common gulls on a pipe out from the wall itself.

Seals
Common gull

We checked the map and followed the sea wall around to the spot that overlooked the bay indicated on BirdGuides. We scanned around noting the large number of avocets showing, many feeding but also considerable numbers resting on the water's edge. We could hear voices ahead and went to investigate - we found a handful of birders, two of whom had seen the stone curlew about 45 minutes before we arrived - it had retreated into the scrub behind the shore and disappeared from view. We joined the vigil. Soon one of the birders left, leaving a spot to sit in the shade - the sun was now beating down and the temperature had risen to 26°C. We waited and talked with the others beside us - nearest me was a South African chap who after an hour decided to try viewing from a different angle. I was getting jumpy and thought we'd likely dipped - not in the full sense but that it could very well be much later before the bird emerged. Kev dragged his heels - in the end this was so lucky. Another 20 minutes later our South African companion appeared up on the sea wall saying he'd seen the bird over the back of the scrub standing clear on the sandy inlet. We all rushed up but couldn't see anything from where he was now standing. We therefore returned to his original position and started looking. Suddenly one of the observers spotted it, briefly raising its head above the scrub. We all got on it and then to out excitement it stood up and preened. I know the photo below is not great but given the bird was 300m away and there was significant heat haze, I'm amazed I got a record shot at all!

Stone curlew

A single male marsh harrier cruised far to our left and across in front, occasionally mobbed by a couple of crows - again it was too distant for anything but a record shot - seems to par for this site.

Marsh harrier

We watched for a while and then said our goodbyes, thanking the finder for sharing with us. We set off back to the car, a nearly 25-minute walk from there. As we walked along, we saw a huge brown hawker dragonfly which landed nearby and then along the causeway between pools we encountered a few Jersey Tiger moths; a daytime flying moth - when they land they disappeared unless you could spot where they landed.

Brown hawker
Jersey Tiger moth

Reaching the car we set off home passing queues of people heading to the channel crossings - clear in our direction. We stopped for a very late lunch and got home in time for my evening visitors, just.

Monday, 18 July 2022

Normandy and Stanpit Marshes :: 16 July 2022

The forecast suggested we'd have a very nice weekend leading to likely record UK daytime temperatures by Tuesday. I chatted with Kevin Heath and agreed to meet early on Saturday morning to head down to Normandy Marsh, Lymington hopefully to see if we could connect with the lesser yellowlegs reported there over the last couple of days - worryingly there had been no update on Birdguides since Friday late lunchtime but by a little after 9.00pm we had an update it had been recorded earlier that evening.

I got up at 4.30am (its not late, no no, it’s early early early – Spin Doctors) and set off at 5.00am stopping in Lymington at the only cafe we could find open - a Caffè Nero. We were only minutes away from the Bath Road car park and stopped here to eat our breakfast rolls, watching out over the water as the Isle of Wight ferry left port. We found there was space for three or four cars at the gate into the reserve and noted that for our next visit - we'd followed the instructions on the reserve leaflet, and it is good to see what is actually available when you visit these new venues.

We started out along the path and noted redshanks and a curlew out on the mud - the tide was out or on the turn. We approached the end of the path to see that there were a handful of birders all gathered on the sea end of the Normandy Lagoon, looking back in, presumably as the light was mostly behind them. A tern flew past and immediately we realised it was small and as it made another pass and dived, we realised it was a little tern - a year and life tick for me - Kev had seen some in the north east a month or so ago. The day had already delivered.

The seawall offers views across mud flats, where a number of bird species come to feed. Large numbers of Brent geese seek refuge here in the winter, along with roosting dunlin, black-tailed godwit and grey plover.

The salty mud creates a habitat for plants such as yellow-horned poppy, sea campion and sea aster, and healthy fish populations make the marshes a fantastic place for sandwich and little terns, black-headed gulls, and cormorants.

We worked round the lagoon and joined the onlookers - we were soon on the lesser yellowlegs, distant but great views through the scope. I took some photos, but it was going to be one of those birds that stayed just at the edge of the reach of my lens. Another year and life tick.

Lesser yellowlegs
Lesser yellowlegs

We watched on but the views stayed the same and gradually the heat haze started to make it more and more difficult to get a decent shot. Kev made a good choice and turned to look out across the coastal mud and spotted large numbers of redshank, a couple of greenshank, curlew, whimbrel, a bar-tailed godwit, Mediterranean gulls - year tick, two black terns fishing off-shore, and eider ducks - the black terns were yet another year tick. This place was turning out to be gold.

A redshank dropped in near the lesser yellowlegs and after a short while the two birds seemed to get annoyed with the others presence and kicked off. They bounced around on the edge of the rocks beaks raised and landing on one another. I only managed a couple of shots before the yellowlegs retired from the altercation, flying to the front of the island.

Lesser yellowlegs
Lesser yellowlegs
Lesser yellowlegs
Lesser yellowlegs

We continued watching over the lagoon and out across the decreasing expanse of mud - the tide coming in. We were entertained by a small number of little terns feeding in the lagoon and a small channel between us and the lagoon - from time to time they would hover before diving, and it was on these occasions that I managed some photos - in the end I had quite a collection!

Little tern
Little tern
Little tern
Little tern
Little tern
Little tern
Little tern
Little tern
Little tern

While watching one of the little terns, the yellowlegs flew off landing on the backside of one of the islands but no one was absolutely sure where. I walked down the path following a little tern and stopped to photograph a rather sleepy avocet - Kev had spotted another on a nest at the back of the lagoon. A chap stopped to talk to me and as he walked away from his tripod and camera it fell over, landing heavily on the hood and smashing it. Thankfully his lens appeared undamaged. We followed the terns back and stopped again to watch stonechats with juveniles feeding on and just beyond the fence.

Avocet
Stonechat
Stonechat

The tide was almost completely covering the mud flats and we decided to pack up and head for Stanpit Marsh over by Christchurch - a Caspian tern had been reported there again. The bird seems to rotate between Stanpit Marsh, Coward's Marsh and Brownsea Island Lagoon. We pulled in enroute at GR Eggs for a snack and more coffee, stopping to consume them before moving on. We looked up the details of the morning’s sightings and corrected the satnav for Fisherman's Point - opposite the Stanpit Marsh reserve. Stanpit Marsh is situated on the north side of Christchurch Harbour, just below the confluence of the rivers Avon and Stour. The site has an unusual combination of habitats including salt marsh with creeks and salt pans, reed beds, freshwater marsh, gravel estuarine banks and sandy scrub. It was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1964 and in 1986 as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

We got to the jetty and set up a scope and were onto the bird, on the ground with numbers of black-headed gulls and dunlin. In just a couple of minutes we were fortunate as the bird made a short flight landing almost on the same spot and never getting any closer. It gave a photo opportunity - not a full frame effort but as it was another year and life tick, I'd let it off.

Caspian tern
Caspian tern
Caspian tern
Caspian tern

On the reserve bank we could see a large flock of gulls, curlew, whimbrel, lapwing and starlings and decided to make our way to the reserve. From here we could see the gulls a bit better and picked out a couple more Mediterraneans. We packed up and left the large numbers of boats, canoes and paddleboards on the water, stopping to chat with the volunteers in the Visitor's Centre - we looked at some left wings that they’d found nearby - they appeared to be herring gull juveniles that were likely predated. We'd had a cracking day and I'd added five new year ticks to take me to 200, three of which were lifers. Why is it that it always feels a longer journey on the way home?

Mediterranian gull