Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Ringwood Waxwing

There’s one bird that I’ve been desperate to see in recent weeks, the waxwing. A few weeks ago a whole flock appeared in Poole but they unfortunately turned up on the day my MOT was due. I went and had a look but I missed them and didn’t have time to hang around. This week though I was delighted to discover online that a single waxwing had been spotted on my patch, right here in Ringwood!
Isn’t it stunning? This bird was found at the back of one of the churches and could be viewed easily from the public car park behind it. It was on this tree for most of the week and seemed to be enjoying eating the ornamental apples. They are more often seen in flocks but this one seemed to have got separated.
Waxwings mostly reside in Scandinavia and Russia but visit the UK every few years in ‘irruptions’. They come here in the winter to feed as the current berry crop in their breeding grounds cannot support the population. This suggest there’s a poor berry crop this year or there was an exceptionally good one last year, allowing for a more successful breeding period.
Whilst I haven’t seen anything else as unusual this week I have spotted a couple of interesting pieces of bird behaviour. On the open fields by the River Avon I saw these two cock pheasants squaring up to each other.
Male pheasants are very territorial, and will fight each other when necessary. They have a sharp spur on their back of their leg for such a purpose. This encounter didn’t quite go that far- maybe a little aggression was enough or they deemed a fight unnecessary so early in the year. It is interesting to note the colouring of the individual on the left here. It’s far darker than a standard pheasant and lack the usual white stripe so it’s likely to be some sort of hybrid.
Crows seem to be very active at the moment and I’ve been able to see first hand how opportunist they are. This one found what looks like a rabbit carcass, likely caught by a buzzard or a fox, and was enjoying a good meal.
Yesterday I was walking along the Avon and was surprised to see these two crows stood in the middle of the river. The water is very shallow at this spot but it still seemed odd.
You can clearly see here how the crow has a stone in it’s beak. I can’t really find any information on why it might be doing this but I’ve come up with a few theories. This is a spot where lots of birds like to feed, such as little egrets and a green sandpiper. That suggests that there’s lots of food here so maybe the crow is moving the stones to uncover invertebrates to eat, like a turnstone.
The other possibility is that this is some sort of gift for the other crow, a potential mate. Plenty of bird species do give seemingly random objects to potential mates and I found anecdotal evidence that crows in captivity have presented stones to humans. If anyone reading agrees on my theories or has a better idea please do let me know.
I visited Moors Valley Country Park this morning and caught a glimpse of something in a hole by the river. By the time my camera was on it, this water vole emerged.
It then sat near it’s hole and munched on some grass.
Water voles are the UK’s fastest declining mammal so it’s also brilliant to see one. They seem to be doing well on the Moors River with lots of holes along a long stretch of the river.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Hungry Heron

It suddenly feels a lot like Spring. The temperature is booming, around 13 °C here today. There are buds in the trees, recording stations have detected the thrushes starting to head North again and there are Sand Martins in West Africa on their way North too.
You may remember a few weeks I was talked about the grey heron that seems to be spending its time on the grassy floodplain of the Avon rather than on the river itself. It’s now become very clear exactly why it is doing this as I saw it catch and eat a rat.
It’s easy to imagine that herons only eat fish but they are happy to eat any prey they can get their beaks on. This must be a sizeable meal for a heron and it appeared to be an easy find so it’s no wonder the heron is spending it’s time here at the moment! This second photo shows just how big a meal it was as the heron struggles to swallow it.
Nearby on the river itself this little egret didn’t seem to having much luck when it came to hunting.
I haven’t seen much of the roe deer lately- they put in an appearance last weekend and were very busy eating.
Over the last fortnight I’ve seen a few birds which are unusual for my patch. None of them are especially rare but they are birds I’m not accustomed to seeing around here.We do get the odd jay locally but this is the first time I’ve managed to capture a really clear image of one.
Jays are the most beautiful of our corvids, with the lovely pink colour and the stunning blue section on the wing. Like other corvids they are very intelligent and have apparently been recorded being able to plan for future needs and being able to take into account the desires of their partner when sharing food in the courtship ritual.
A more unusual spot was this treecreeper. There are probably a few around in the area but they are a challenging bird to spot.
I watched this individual as it went about it’s usual behaviour. Treecreepers forage up the tree, working in a spiral around the trunk, and then fly to the bottom of another tree to repeat the process.
The biggest recent surprise was when I stumbled across a whole flock of meadow pipits.

Meadow pipits are generally found towards the North and the West of the country but move south in the winter, which probably explains why I saw them here. The name pipit comes from the sound it makes and this species used to be known as things like ‘chit lark’ ‘tit lark’ and ‘titling’.
In pretty much the same place as the pipits I saw a pair of stonechats today. I do sometimes see them towards the east of my patch, close to the New Forest, but they were the furthest west and closest to the town centre that I’ve ever seen them.

I’ve seen plenty of the local buzzards over the last few days. Yesterday there was on it’s usual fence post.dscn2871
Then today I saw a pair engaged in what I think was a mating ritual. It was very tricky to take photos but you can see the two birds here.
Buzzards engage in their mating ritual ‘before the beginning of spring’ which would today perfectly. It certainly looked like how a buzzard mating ritual is described. The male rose high up in the sky to then turn and plummet downwards in a spiral. Buzzards mate for life so it is likely these are the parents of the young birds which were in the area last summer. It must somewhat ruin the romantic moment when some crows start getting in the way though…

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Blashford Beauties

On Friday I had a day off so I headed over to Blashford Lakes for my first visit of the year, knowing it would be fairly quiet there. I could tell it was going to be a successful visit when I got out of the car and immediately saw a redwing.
Because it was so quiet I had plenty of opportunities to get some decent shots of some of Blashford’s waterfowl. Here’s a shoveler, a wigeon and a gadwall.
The Woodland Hide is really busy at the moment with birds in every nook and cranny. The most common bird at the feeders on this visit were siskins but there were also lots of goldfinches around too.
Amongst all the chaos there are a few birds you don’t see at feeders quite so often, like some long-tailed tits and a nuthatch.
I was really pleased to see not one but two species of bird which are new to me. The first was the reed bunting.
As the name suggests, reed buntings are normally found in wet vegetation but in Winter they do stray further afield to find food. It’s not really very far from the reedy banks of Ivy Lake to the woodland hide anyway. These buntings seemed to avoid going anywhere near the feeders themselves, instead grabbing pieces of dropped food off the floor.
The other new bird to me was the brambling. Unfortunately both individuals stayed exactly where the reflection in the window was so I ended up with an obscured photo.
Bramblings are members of the finch family and there was a male and a female bird in the area. This male was frankly one of the most vicious small birds I have ever seen. Whilst it did pop onto the feeders as above, it was mostly found on the ground. Every time any other bird came vaguely near it this individual would chase them off which seemed like a waste of energy given just how much food was available.
Just outside the woodland hide I found these stunning scarlet elf cap fungi.
Whilst many fungi go appear in the autumn, different species grow at different times of year- the scarlet elf cap grows in late winter and early spring. There’s debate about how edible this species is which suggests that it won’t kill you but probably isn’t very tasty. Unless you are a rodent of course as this is a handy source of food for them in winter.
Just outside the reserve I saw a welcome sign that Spring is on it’s way, a group of snowdrops.
We may think of snowdrops as a native British flower but they aren’t! It was brought over from Europe in the early 16th century and wasn’t first recorded as naturalised until 1770. It’s a hardy little flower which can emerge through snow and it can spread in a variety of ways- from offsets of the bulbs, animals disturbing the bulbs, through floodwater and through dispersal of seeds.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Winter Waders

Today I visited the fantastic Lymington-Keyhaven nature reserve for the first time this year. I was really pleased when I arrived to discover that the tide was out.
With the mud uncovered, the area was full of waders scraping around for worms and other food. The photo below gives you some idea of the large numbers of birds out on the mud- the longer you look the more birds you can see!
I always find identifying these small waders difficult. They are all ‘little brown jobs’, especially at this time of year. I think though that the majority of the birds here were sandpipers.
There were also a few ringed plovers in amongst these birds- despite their relative scarcity you seem to almost be guaranteed to see a ringed plover at Lymington-Keyhaven.
A bird of a similar size which I saw was this turnstone, in its winter plumage at the moment. Unlike most of the other birds here the turnstone finds its food by rummaging amongst the stones and seaweed rather than sticking it’s beak in the mud.
Most of the bigger birds stick closer to the shoreline, like the oystercatcher, redshank and little egret below- the latter of which was really being buffeted by the wind!
I was pleased to see a handful of curlews out on the mud. It’s the UK’s largest wader and uses that long curved beak to drag worms out of the mud.
As well as waders, there were plenty of waterfowl around. The most numerous today were teals, on both the marsh and the Solent.
Unlike my last visit there were hardly any wigeon present, just this small group.
There were several shelducks on the Solent, which look really beautiful at the moment.
My final species of the day is the brent geese, of which there was a large flock on the marsh.
Brent geese are winter visitors to the UK. They are vegetarian and particularly like eel-grass. There are two distinct sub-species, light-bellied and dark-bellied- I think these are light-bellied. They probably come from the Taymyr Peninsula in Northern Siberia and fly all the way down here for the Winter.