Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Little Gull and Garganey

During spring migration West Sussex often seems to be sitting in a dead triangle with good birds being reported in Hampshire and in East Sussex and with very little making landfall along our piece of the coast which lies between them. So today, looking for a piece of the action, we set off for the Hampshire Wildlife Trust's Testwood Lakes to look for the Little Gull and Garganey that had been reported there.

I had not been there before and initial impressions were not good. We pulled into the first car park next to Testwood Lake to be greeted by the usual assortment of dogs and dog walkers including one rather large Pit Bull/Staffy type wandering about without a lead. Fortunately the sight of a Little Gull performing acrobatics over the lake soon diverted our attentions from the potential threat.

Little Gull

I am no expert at ageing gulls but I assume that this is a second calendar year bird.

Photographing them is great fun but always a bit of a compromise. If they are at a distance you loose the detail. If they come in close you get the opportunity of some great pictures but their erratic flight pattern and frequent changes of direction make them very difficult to track and keep in focus.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull gets in on the action - and proves a lot easier to photograph

A quick check on the map showed that there was a second car park further along the track and that we were not actually in the Wildlife Trust reserve. A short drive and a large "no dogs allowed" sign and our opinions of the site improved dramatically.

A short walk took us to a couple of good hides looking out over the scrapes and Meadow Lake. There was also a Sand Martin wall that was seeing a lot of action.

Sand Martin Wall

It was interesting to see that here they plug the holes with sand each winter and the birds have to dig there way through to get a nesting burrow. I don't think they do this at the Arundel Wetland Centre, which could be part of the reason why the Sand Martins always stop there to have a look but never actually nest there.

The scrapes and lake also gave us our first Swallows and Little Ringed Plover of the year but the real prize was the drake Garganey. Dave picked it up as it flew into the reeds on the edge of Meadow Lake. We then had about an hour of watching as it attempted to stay hidden whilst feeding amongst the reeds. It was distant and it was hidden most of the time but these were the best views I have ever had of a Garganey.

Drake Garganey

and with a Mallard for comparison of size

We moved on to the New Forest in the afternoon looking for signs of Goshawks or Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but the best of the day had gone. It even looks as though the Tawny Owl at Mark Ash Wood has abandoned its usual hole. The only thing of note in the forest was the increase in the level of tourists, bicycles, and mobile sheds. I am already looking forward to next winter.

The main birds of note in the forest were the Stonechats, Meadow Pipits and Woodlarks.

Meadow Pipit?

and I still haven't seen a Wheatear this year!

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