Sunday, 29 January 2017

Joyful January Wildlife

The week began rather gloomily here with three days of thick fog smothering the area. I took a photo of the fishing lake to demonstrate:
It has since cleared and the temperature has finally warmed up a little. An interesting new resident, or at least one I haven’t noticed before, is this canada goose.
As you can see, this individual has unusual plumage on its head. On canada geese the black on their necks continues over the top of the head and then connects to the beak over the eye. There’s a hint of black above the eye but otherwise this is a very white-headed goose. It’s possible that this is just temporary but if permanent it’s unusual. It’s possible that this individual may be the result of crossbreeding between different geese species or it could simply be natural variation.
The fantastic BBC programme Winterwatch has been on this week and one of the most interesting features was the amazing starling murmurations over at Studland Bay. Studland Bay is about a fifty kilometre drive from here in Ringwood but as the starling flies it’s only twenty-five kilometres (over Poole Harbour). The BTO’s ringing programme shows us the remarkable distance starlings can travel (see here) so it seems possible that the starlings I see in the garden could well be part of these huge murmurations 25 km away!
Here’s a video via YouTube of the Studland murmuration:

I had a lovely walk by the Avon today and got very close to this grey heron.
I’ve noticed lately that the herons seem to be found on the grass near the river rather than on the river shore. The river level remains very low in places, especially for winter, and I suspect that the herons are struggling to find much food in the shallow water, instead finding things in the grass. There is a lot of rain forecast for this week which might be good news for the herons.
There was also a little egret stood in the middle of the river today. It didn’t seem to interested in hunting though.
You can clearly see here how low the water level is. Usually at this time of year you wouldn’t even be able to see those stones through the water but at the moment they are really exposed.
I also got really clear views of one of the Avon roe deer family. I most often see does but today I saw this buck.
Roe deer have fairly weedy antlers compared to other British deer. It’s still fairly early in the year so it’s difficult to age this buck yet. It’s clearly at least two years old though as the antlers have a secondary branch. Roe deer antlers take around four months to grow so hopefully later in the year I’ll see a fully developed set.
I’ve noticed a few more signs of Spring this week- all over the area hazel trees are producing fresh catkins.
I even noticed some new fern growth on one of the old railway bridges. Being a bridge there are not trees to block out sunlight and the metal probably traps the heat, giving these plants strong conditions to grow even at this early stage of the year.
Finally, here’s a photo of a singing chaffinch that I was pleased with.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Cold Creatures

It’s been another cold week here with frosts every day- I think we’ve had more frosts this week than we had over the whole of last winter! It’s cold enough that a large portion of the fishing lake is frozen over. It’s largely surrounded by trees so only the more open end and a section in the centre near the island are ice-free at the moment.
Hard to show clearly but I think you can see the ice here
Of course this creates challenges for the lake’s residents. The birds are forced into the few ice-free areas if they want to sit on the lake as normal. The great crested grebe managed to find a quiet spot but the canada geese and mallards have been crowded into one small area.
The geese and mallards have most commonly been seen on the island at the moment. The geese have even ventured a little way in rather than sit right on the shore as usual. I guess this is the warmest place to be-it’s South facing meaning it catches more sunlight and the trees probably trap a little of the heat too.
The black-headed gulls are less bothered by the ice though and seem to be using it as a handy place to stand. I even noticed a herring gull joining them today, which is unusual on the lake.
After a few week’s absence the green sandpiper was back on it’s stretch of the Avon this weekend. The running water means it doesn’t have to worry about any ice here.
I also spotted our neighbourhood buzzard Mary yesterday too, perched on a telephone pole. She seems to prefer to sit on wooden posts like these rather than trees. Out of the many times I’ve seen her I’ve only seen her sat on a tree once!
This morning I had a quick visit to Hengistbury Head at Christchurch Harbour this morning. It’s a good spot for birds and I saw a lot this morning- virtually of them redshank. I scanned the busy marshy pools for other birds but as far as I could tell, they were all redshank today.
On the gorse there were a few stonechats flitting around and I was lucky enough to get a really clear photo of this one. Perhaps it was particularly brave or not very energetic due to the cold but it allowed me to get really close.
It may be chilly but there are already signs of Spring. Shoots are appearing through the soil, some local trees have blossom and the gorse is in flower. We’re in the grip of winter but spring is on the horizon…

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Antlers in the Heather

I was optimistically hoping to show you some lovely photos of wildlife in the snow this week. Whilst much of the UK did indeed receive some snow, we barely had a flake down here on the South coast. The weather has been cold though and that has meant lots of birds visiting the garden.
As ever, the starlings are the most common visitors and are rowdily pushing each other out of the way to get to the food. Their feathers are looking particularly beautiful at the moment.
Other regular visitors include house sparrows and collared doves. Whilst the sparrows have plenty of room to feed the much larger doves struggle sometimes.
This year I’m taking part in the BTO’s garden birdwatch survey which involves keeping weekly records of the birds which visit the garden. As well as giving data to the BTO it will also enable to be to generate my own which should be interesting over time. For more information check out the survey website.
On the fishing lake there were a pair of goosander yesterday and I was able to see them both clearly for once- you can really see the difference between the genders here (the first is male, the second female).
The grey wagtail was on the Avon again yesterday too, looking vividly yellow. This is a female as it has lots of white between the yellow.
Whilst near the Avon I saw a kestrel hovering above the floodplain, trying to find prey. They are such incredible fliers that they are really tricky to photograph! At least you can tell what bird this is.
I headed up into the New Forest today and I’d barely stepped out of the car when I finally spotted a bird I’ve been looking out for all winter- a redwing. Redwings are winter visitors and members of the thrush family. There was a whole flock in this field which is exactly what I’ve been hoping to see for months now.
Whilst up in the forest I turned a corner and was suddenly greeted with this great sight.
These are a group of ten fallow deer stags. They are in their darker winter coats which did make me wonder about the ID. When they eventually stood up I could see them more clearly, especially their tails which give them away.
You can see this group is very mixed in term of age. One of the stags had only the slightest hint of antlers, a few had smaller ones and several had large sets. You can see where the deer have been rutting with the odd broken antler and one deer having a very severe limp on it’s back leg.
It’s always nice to get close to the New Forest deer and I was especially lucky today to get so close to such a large number of them.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Feral Pigeon's Friend

Today there was something of a surprise in the garden. A while back I discussed the feral pigeon that is a regular visitor to our garden. It was also a mystery how this feral pigeon had ended up in our suburban estate and it usually visited the garden along with woodpigeons and collared doves. I’d never seen it with another similar pigeon. Until now!
On the left is our pigeon and next to it is a darker companion. Pigeons breed throughout the year so it seems likely that this may be it’s partner. The mystery only deepens- after nearly three years why has a second pigeon now appeared? Was it around before and not travelling to the garden? And where are these pigeons coming from? As you can see, they are both well-groomed and good-looking birds, somewhat different from their counterparts in the town centre. The plot thickens…
There was no sign of the green sandpiper on the Avon today but a grey wagtail was there in it’s spot.
The river is very different from the woodland streams that they usually breed in but they are well known for finding all sorts of water sources in the winter.
I have noticed that this stretch of the river still has very little water in it. The stony area where this wagtail is standing is in the middle of the river and is rarely visible, especially not to the extent it is now. It shows how little rainfall we’ve had recently. I also wonder if recent work nearby to reduce flooding may have affected this stretch of the river- could this potentially be an effect which won’t go away?
I’ve been pleased to see that there is still the occasional goosander on the fishing lake. Whilst there’s not been another day with 30+ birds present there are one or two most times I walk past.
On a recent to Blashford Lakes over Christmas I was lucky enough to see a couple of more unusual birds. Thanks to an eagle-eyed birder in the hide, I managed to see this snipe on the edge of one of the lakes.
Somewhere in the region of 300,000 snipe join our 800,000 residents over the winter from Northern Europe. Here we are actually towards the edge of their region with few breeding pairs in the South West of England.
Another exciting spot was this water rail.
Water rails are not hard to see due to their scarcity but due to their timidness. Not that this individual seemed to know that as it was happy to parade around in front of a growing group of birders and has been doing this regularly over the last couple of weeks. It’s found a pool in amongst some Alder trees and seems happy there.
Another highlight from that visit was watching goldfinches feeding off the dead seedheads at the edge of the lake complex. There are few public places (I imagine there’s some private gardens) where you can see this locally.
To end, here’s a few other birds from that visit.
Grey Heron