Sunday, 5 July 2009

New Forest Honey Buzzard

As regular readers (if there are any!) may know, after a many wilderness years as a non birder, I have only comparatively recently taken up birding again. There are not many birds left on my life list that I have only seen as a boy with lesser spotted woodpecker, golden eagle and honey buzzard being the only ones and I managed to see the woodpecker earlier on this year. I'd been meaning to "re-do" honey buzzard for some time and when a fellow birder told me of a location in the New Forest where they could be seen I decided to nip down there one morning. The weather was still very hot so I decided to make it a relatively early visit though the buzzards aren't usually soaring until it's warmed up a bit. On the morning that I'd chosen, our three year old son decided to wake us up at 5am so I got up did a bit of work that had to be done first thing and was ready and out the door just after 6am. The journey down took just a little over an hour and by 7:30am I was in the New Forest area. I had decided to visit a know hot-spot for wood warblers first to see if I could see one of these delightful warblers. The location was a wood by a small stream and clearing where they were known to frequent though I was wondering whether it might now be a little late for them to be singing. As I got out of the car and collected my gear together I heard the unmistakable call of a party of crossbills flying overhead though I couldn't see them. I wandered down to the clearing where there were loads of young chaffinches flying around, a spotted flycatcher was seen with a beak full of insects and there were countless tits calling in the trees. I heard another crossbill calling and this time saw a lovely red male fly over and settle briefly in a tree though not long enough for a photo. I decided to go for an amble parallel to the stream to see if I could hear any wood warblers but despite walking for a good twenty minutes not a single one was heard so I suspect that my fears about it being too late in the year were correct. I did manage to hear and briefly see a lesser spotted woodpecker, deep within the woods. As time was marching on I retraced my steps and just as I was getting into the car another male crossbill flew over and perched briefly on the top of a nearby tree.

I was not able to take any bird photos on my trip but I thought that this shot captured the atmosphere of part of the wood rather well. I saw the lesser spotted woodpecker not too far from this spot.

I decided to take the scenic route to the honey buzzard location across the open heathland area of the New Forest. I was keeping an eye out for birds such as dartford warblers as I went along when I spotted a pipit by the road side. Judging by its rather confiding nature as it sat unperturbed a few metres from the car, it was probably a juvenile and it stayed out in the open for long enough for me to get a good view of the finer streaking on the low breast that signifies a tree pipit as opposed to a meadow pipit. I had the car window open and I could hear several adults singing from nearby so it was obviously a tree pipit hot spot.

I soon arrived at the buzzard location and encamped in the shade of a convenient tree. Whilst waiting I could hear some "hueet" calls which turned out to be a couple of redstarts, either juveniles or females, flitting around some distant bushes. After some time of scanning away I spotted a raptor flying low over some trees some distance away. It flew into a tree and I was able to get my scope onto it and to see that it was in fact a lovely male honey buzzard: it's streaked white breast and grey hooded head showing well despite the distance. I managed to see it as it flew off and noted the distinctive lined pattern of the underwing. Later on a buzzard took to the air and started soaring but it looked to me more like a common buzzard than a honey and the shape of the bird didn't strike me as particularly different from a common buzzard.

I had been toying with the idea of nipping off to another spot that was a know dartford warbler hot spot but as time was marching on I decided to head for home. The journey back was uneventful and I arrived back in time for lunch. It had been a nice little morning's trip with a few new year ticks to add to the list.

National Year List 2009
205 crossbill 02/07/2009 New Forest, Hants
206 tree pipit 02/07/2009 New Forest, Hants
207 common redstart 02/07/2009 New Forest, Hants
208 honey buzzard 02/07/2009 New Forest, Hants

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Back on the Downs

Whilst a few waders (oystercatchers and green sandpipers mainly) are starting to be seen within the county there is still not much around so this week I've made a couple of evening trips to the downs. I needed quail for my county and national year lists and I wanted to see if I could get some better photos of some downland birds. Both evenings the weather was superb and the light pretty good for photography. I find the downs very atmospheric in the summer: it's the remoteness of it all, the fact that you can hear sounds a long way away and the beautiful gently rolling countryside which all appeal to me. There were plenty of butterflies around: ringlets, marbled whites and meadow browns making up the bulk of them. In my two trips I covered quite a lot of area and I reckon there were at least seven singing male quail in the area. Unless one happens to stumble across one and accidentally flush it the only way of seeing a quail is to tape lure it and as I've already seen one previously, I am reluctant to disturb such rare breeding birds in this manner so in my year lists quail are given special dispensation that they only need to be heard to be ticked. I am still thinking about whether to count heard-only in my lists though there's only one possible left now (a long-eared owl) that fits this category. I'll wait to December to see how desparate I am to include it as a tick! The first trip up there I heard a young tawny owl making its begging call from within a cops so on the second trip I decided to take a closer look. The copse itself is private and inaccessible but a path runs down one side and with a bit of peering through the bushes I did in fact manage to see the owlet, which was reasonably advanced and able to fly, calling from within a tree.

A red-legged partridge. Both partridge types are plentiful on the downs

I think that this is a spotted orchid.

A pyramid orchid.

A corn bunting.

Another corn bunting. Their jangling song is an integral part of the summer downland experience.

A linnet.

A yellow hammer.

Another couple of ticks for the year lists.

Oxon County Year List 2009
168 quail 29/06/2009 Downs (heard only)
169 tawny owl 03/07/2009 Downs

National Year List 2009
203 quail 29/06/2009 Downs (heard only)
204 tawny owl 03/07/2009 Downs