Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Farlington Marshes & Brownsea Island

After my recent trip to Christchurch Harbour, I had begun to realise that there were some great birding venues down on the south coast and had decided to explore the area further. Accordingly I'd been keeping an eye on sightings in that area with a view to putting together a trip in due course. A green-winged teal down at Farlington Marshes in Hants, in the Hayling Island harbour area seemed like a good starting point and when a ring-billed gull turned up in nearby Gosport I thought that with two target birds this was enough for a trip. In addition I'd been meaning to go to Brownsea Island for some time where spoonbills and curlew sandpipers would be a possibility so this made a total of 4 target birds so hopefully something would stick. It would mean quite a long day but I was game to give it a go.

After a few postponements, a day with reasonable weather and no family commitments meant that I could go on the trip. I got up at 6am and was out of the house by 6:45. The journey to Farlington Marshes was uneventful and I arrived at about 8:15 to find the place deserted. Not knowing the layout I started walking along the west sea wall, noticing lots of bird activity in the bushes (green finches, robins, tits, blackbirds etc.). I soon found a good vantage point to scan the mud flats (it was low tide) and found the following: hundreds of black-tailed godwits, lots of redshank, a single turnstone, quite a few grey plover and curlews, a few shelduck, a lone avocet, plenty of roosting black-headed gulls (which I didn't check for Meds.) and quite a few little egrets. I was pleased with the avocet in particular. After a few hundred yards I saw the end of the "stream" as it's apparently known. The green-winged teal was supposed to frequent this long thin pool with reeds along one side, so I turned off at this point. At the end of the stream was a pool with some wader scrapes and a scan revealed lots of sleeping snipe by the edge of the reeds. The hedge line by the edge of the pool had several stonechats in, flitting back and forth and calling loudly. I started to walk the length of the stream, stopping every few yards to scan all the teal. I wanted to make sure that I saw them from all angles in order to maximise my chances of picking out that all-important vertical white stripe that signified the green-winged teal. In passing I noted plenty of shoveler, normal teal and wigeon, a few common gulls amongst the black-headed, a few redshanks and godwits and some coots and moorhens but no sign of the green-winged teal.

At the north end of the stream I met up with the warden. He said that after some rain, he would expect the birds to disperse so that it could be anywhere on the reserve and to keep a general look-out. With all the reed beds there I also asked about beared tits and he said that there were a few present and in fact he half expected them to be flying about this morning. He also mentioned an osprey that was sitting on a post on the east side of the reserve which I thought that I'd go and take a look at. I told him about the avocet and he was quite interested in this as it was the first one to return for the winter there and had not been seen previously. As I moved off I thought that I heard the "pinging" call of a bearded tit over the roar of the traffic (the motorway is rather close to the north edge of the reserve). I looked over the reed beds and saw some long-tailed birds skimming over the reeds before ducking down again - clearly they must be bearded tits but not a great view. The next moment I got a better glimpse of a lovely male before it too ducked back down. I waited to see if they would reappear but they didn't. A very nice bonus bird to see!

I walked the entire sea wall around the reserve, seeing the osprey sitting on a very distant red post and eating a fish. There were also more of the same waders, with the addition of quite a few pintails and some great crested grebes feeding in the channel itself. A few flyover goldfinches and linnets and plenty of meadow pipits and skylarks were seen. When I got back to the southern end of the stream I thought that I would have one last look for the teal but by this time several other people had arrived, none of whom had seen the bird and there was also some more disturbance with some reed cutting going on and there weren't many birds around. Needless to say there was no sign of the bird. So for the first venue I'd missed my target bird but had picked up a bonus bird in the form of the bearded tits. The osprey and avocet were also nice birds to see so I was well pleased with progress so far. I got back to the car and considered my options: I was running a bit behind schedule and was wondering about whether to try for the ring-billed gull at Gosport or not but decided in the end to go for it.

It took about twenty minutes to get to Gosport as there was a bit of traffic around. I arrived at Walpole lake to find a most unlikely venue. It was basically a small boating lake in a public park and seemed completely deserted. I had read that if the bird wasn't present then it went to the tidal estuary behind the lake so I started to go round it when I noticed a second smaller lake the other side of the first. This seemed to have all the birds on it so I went over to that. The lake was only about 20 or 30 metres across and there were quite a few gulls on it. I sat down on a park bench and scanned the birds. To my amazement I soon picked up on the bird, sitting quite happily in amongst the other gulls, ducks and pigeons that were loafing around. I had a go at some digiscoping shots but I am learning that the autofocus has trouble with predominantly white birds so the results weren't brilliant. It was a good enough view to note the pale iris which confirms it as a ring-billed rather than a common gull. Pleased with connecting with this bird I then set off on the one hour journey for Bournemouth in order to get over to Brownsea Island.

The Gosport ring-billed gull

I arrived at just before 2pm, which gave me just enough time to find a parking space and buy my ticket before the ferry arrived. On it I met a fellow birder who was consulting for the BBC who were due to start filming Autumn Watch there next week. We had an interesting chat, and he was telling me that Brownsea Island lagoon was the best place to go (which was actually already my intention) and that there were loads of siskins in the woods.

It turned out that the last ferry left at 4pm so I had less than 2 hours in total on the island. Accordingly I hot-footed it over to the lagoon and entered the first of the three hides that overlook the water. What was immediately obvious was that there were a lot of birds to look through. There were literally hundreds of waders covering the water and it was going to take some time to check through them all. From the first hide there were lots of cormorants and black-backed gulls resting on a scrape together with at least 8 little egrets + plenty of black-tailed godwits and redshank. The first hide only gave a view of the corner of the lagoon so I soon departed and made for the second hide. Here I had a good scan around for the spoonbills and I soon found an island which I recognised from photos as being the one that the spoonbills favoured but alas it was empty so that was another target bird miss. Nevertheless I was keen to search through the birds to see if I could turn up some curlew sandpipers and also to take some photos of the birds, some of which were incredibly close to the hide.

A thorough search of the lagoon revealed hundreds of black-tailed godwits and a similar number of avocets. Lots of redshank as well but a much smaller number of greenshank (perhaps a few dozen). There may well have been some spotted redshanks in amongst the redshank but I didn't look too closely. There were also about one hundred dunlin and I searched these carefully for curlew sandpipers but didn't manage to turn any up. There were also plenty of little egrets dotted about the place. Eventually I reckoned that I had searched through all the birds and could relax and take some photos. As the birds were so close I was able to get some great shots though I still had problems with the focusing on the mostly white avocets. Below are the best of my efforts.

A redshank

One of many avocet that overwinter there

A greenshank feeding close to the hide

A video of a feeding avocet
To watch this in high quality, click here and select "Watch in high quality".

A video of a feeding greenshank
To watch this in high quality, click here and select "Watch in high quality".

All too quickly my time was up and I made my way back to catch the ferry. Brownsea Island certainly is a great place I shall definitely return for longer next time so that I can take in more of the Island.

So only one of my target birds was present but I managed to pick up a bonus tick in the form of the bearded tits so another couple of year ticks to add to the list.

2008 Year List

205: bearded tit

206: ring-billed gull

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