Tuesday 21 March 2023

Ducking and surfing

A bout of man-flu made the last week-and-a-bit not much fun, but by Friday it was lifting and, with the lighter evenings, there was just time to wander down to the patch at Swineham after work to check for a late departing Bittern, which use the site as a staging post in late February/early March, at dusk. No Bittern was seen but a pair of Mandarin Duck were my first patch tick since 2021 and also a new bird for the non-motorised year list. 

Mandarin Duck, Swineham, 17th March
A phone call from Paul Morton on Saturday morning saw me racing back down to Swineham as he relayed the remarkable news that a Bittern had been heard booming there. Unfortunately the boomer had gone quiet by the time arrived, but a Red Kite and a steady stream of Med Gulls made it worth the visit. I met up with a few other locals that evening back at Swineham as we felt sure the Bittern would leave in the still, clear conditions - but it wasn't to be. My first Sand Martins of the year were, however, some consolation.
Red Kite, Swineham, 18th April
Sunday was of course Mother's Day, and having sent flowers to my own, and ensured that my youngest son was teed up to make breakfast in bed for his, I was granted permission to get out early on the bike. With five Alpine Swift seen the night before at Stanpit and one in Bournemouth, this species was an obvious target, and I resolved to head for the nearest one.
Mediterranean Gull, Swineham, 18th March
I reached the salubrious surroundings of the Bournemouth Asda car park in under 90 minutes, arriving around 0800, where I bumped into my old friend Paul Welling and his son Zach, also hoping to see the Swift. Although the sun was rising rapidly it was still cold - too cold for a Swift to be out looking for breakfast, we wondered? 
Colour-ringed Curlew at Swineham, 18th March
There was no sign by 0900 but shortly after a message from Phil Saunders confirmed that at least one of the Stanpit birds was still present. It was 6 miles away, about half an hour by bike, but I made it shortly after Paul and Zach and, more importantly, just in time to see the Alpine Swift hawking over Christchurch Priory before it was lost to view.
This Slow Worm (top right) was pushing its luck smooching up to an Adder at Swineham
I phoned home to check on the Mother's Day situation and they had decided on a sofa day watching movies, rendering me surplus to requirements so, inspired by the example of all the other birders at Stanpit apparently neglecting loved ones, I started to think about other options to add to the year list. A phone call from Garry Hayman to say that he was watching a female Surf Scoter a further 11 miles to the east on the Solent helped make up my mind, and off I set.
White-tailed Eagle from a neighbour's garden on Bestwall Road, 6th March
Just over an hour later and I arrived at Pennington to find the Surf Scoter fairly close in to the shore. It was drifting west enabling us to walk out onto a jetty near the lagoons for an even closer view and some reasonable photos. A quality 'bike tick' bringing my non-motorised life list to a satisfyingly round 260. 
Surf Scoter, Pennington, 19th March
Conscious of the time I didn't linger and the journey home was one of the toughest yet into an energy-sapping, strengthening wind, during which it became apparent that the man-flu had taken quite a bit out of me. But after a nap and a shower I had just enough energy left after the 70 mile marathon to do my duty and rustle up a Mothering Sunday roast.
Note the all dark wings and pale patch on the nape

Surf Scoter

Showing the characteristically cocked tail

An impressive bird and a great addition to the bike list

Surf Scoter, Pennington, 19th March

Monday 20 March 2023

Puddling, dipping and gulling

My 80-mile New Forest odyssey in mid-February left me a bit short of energy but I was back on the bike the following weekend 26th February in search of new additions to the non-motorised year list. This took me first to Silverlake, aka West Knighton gravel pits, which, at 12 miles to the west of Wareham, is one of the most reliable sites for Goosander within cycling distance. After initially drawing a blank and checking all corners of the complex of lakes, I eventually located a pair of redheads back where I started which must have dropped in while my back was turned. Embarrassingly a pair of Pochard was also a year tick, this species having been vanishingly rare at Swineham this winter. 

Male Crossbill, Culpepper's Dish, 26th February

Female Crossbill, Culpepper's Dish, 26th February

Female Crossbill, Culpepper's Dish, 26th February
After success with the Goosander a spot of togging was in order with reports of a party of Crossbill frequenting a drinking puddle near Culpepper's Dish, a short detour on the way home. After not too long a wait the Crossbills appeared, enabling some half-decent pictures and as I was packing up to leave, they came even closer, requiring a quick reassembly of the camera for a few more shots. 
Two very distant Goosander at Silverlake, 26th February

Male Crossbill, Culpepper's Dish, 26th February

Female Crossbill, Culpepper's Dish, 26th February
A phone call from Paul Morton to say that he had relocated the Black Kite last seen on Boxing Day, about 7 miles to the east of where I stood, provoked a reassessment of my plan to return home at this point. An untimely puncture, my first in over a year thanks to my excellent self-sealing 'Slime' inner tubes, delayed my progress somewhat, but 45 minutes later, after the briefest of flirtations with the A31, I was heading for the hamlet of Anderson which is roughly where the Kite was last seen apparently following a large flock of gulls attracted by the plough. 
Female Stonechat, Swineham, 19th February

Water Rail, Holes Bay, 5th March

Female Grey Wagtail, Holes Bay,  5th March
With my head down I almost didn't notice James Leaver's pick-up parked on the verge - he was also looking for the Kite - and after a brief consultation we resolved to head as far north as we could on a farm track which led close to where the gull flock was lingering. Unfortunately we drew a blank, but it had been a good day, adding Red Kite, Red-legged Partridge and Corn Bunting to the year list as well as the species seen at Silverlake.  
Spotted Redshank, Holes Bay, 5th March

Spotted Redshank, Holes Bay, 5th March

Spotted Redshank, Holes Bay, 5th March

The following Sunday saw nothing more exciting than a Spotted Redshank added to the list at Holes Bay but it was an obliging one at least visiting, pools just yards from the housing estates of Hamworthy. A bit of a cold threatened to bring things grinding to a halt the next weekend but the discovery by Paul Harris of a Glaucous Gull back at Silverlake proved too much to resist. I dosed up on meds, shrugged off the man-flu and made stately progress westwards, arriving to find the Glaucous Gull roosting distantly on a causeway between two lakes. I didn't see a Glaucous Gull at all last year so it was good to get this one under the belt so early in the year. It brought the year list to 133, just a couple behind 'par' for last year.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Silverlake, 12th March

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Silverlake, 12th March

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Silverlake, 12th March