Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Surfs up

I think I've created a monster. My brother-in-law, Martin, who two years ago was mad keen on mushrooms has now become a lister. Last year he got 199 for the year and this year he's really keen. So keen, i'm struggling to keep ahead of him. After a trip to Dorset he got to within 8 of me so I decided a spurt was needed.
Judith was off on a day trip to Brussels so I left about 6.45 to head to the south coast. First stop was Gosport for the male surf scoter. I've seen juvenile/ females before but not a smart male so I was particularly looking forward to it. I got to the Pebbles restaurant car park about 8.45. The weather was a tad chilly but the wind wasn't too bad so the waves were manageable. I almost immediately got onto two diving ducks. One looked pretty plain but the second, even with the naked eye, had a bold white patch on the nape of its neck. I spent about 30 minutes watching them. They never got close in, but scope views showed the almost bizarre beak of the surfie.

You can see the bulbous beak with its orange banding and the white neck. Nice bird.

Second stop was only 30 minutes away at Southsea Castle. This was much closer as the scoter flew but you had to navigate the estuary to get there. The target was a group of overwintering purple sandpipers. You were pretty much in the centre of the town but the castle, more of a fort really, was nicely on the waters edge with rocks and seaweed. A perfect habitat for purple sandpipers.

Unlike a lot of waders these are very confiding and so it proved. A group of 7 let me get quite close, along with a sanderling who was hanging about as well.

So with two year ticks I headed off for a third. At Chichester Gravel pits a bean goose (race tundra) had been hanging around with the feral greylags. I went here last year to not see a dusky warbler, but this was altogether easier. It was just mooching about on the lake.

Superficially these look quite similar to our much commoner greylags but they are smaller, have a smaller bill with dark markings as you can see here and their legs are a different colour, although with geese that often not very useful!! Anyway, three year ticks and all easy-peasy.
Next stop was to go to Thursley common. This is a good wintering spot for great grey shrikes and one was in residence. By now the weather was gorgeous and felt quite warm. I've been to Thursley often, and know the area where the shrike normally feeds, an are known as "shrike hill" for obvious reasons. There were about 5 or 6 other birders looking but no one had the bird. I went for a bit of a stroll and as i got of the top of the hill a flash of grey went past me and settled on top of a tree.

That was the shrike adn for the next 10 minutes or so it flew around the area going between trees and bushes and dropping down to grab what I presume were small beetles.

My last stop was to the short distance to Farnham Country Life Park. I was there last year for the 2-bar crossbill but there nothing exotic on offer today.The farmland artefacts weren't of interest but this is a good spot for heathland birds. One especially is very good here, and it probably my favourite chorister of the bird world, the woodlark. They din't disappoint, despite it being late afternoon. Three or four birds were in good voice with their flutey rise and fall song.

One of the other speciality birds was also there, the Dartford warbler. As ever you heard them more than seeing them but I did get occasional fleeting glimpses of purple shapes in the heather. No signs of any crossbills though which was disappointing.

Still, a good day all round and back well ahead of Martin...