Monday 20 August 2012

Birding by Pager 19 August 2012

Sunday dawned glorious and sunny as predicted and by prior arrangement myself and Badger were destined for the New Forest for one final attempt to see a Honey Buzzard. Time is running out to see them this year as they have already been seen heading south in various coastal counties. I had failed miserably in three previous attempts to see this most elusive and unpredictable of birds in the New Forest this year but was up for giving it one more go. I duly collected Badger from Abingdon at 8am and the Black Audi was pointed southwest down the A34. Badger has a pager which alerts him literally within minutes to anything and everything birdwise that is found on a daily basis. A pager is an essential tool for what we get up to-namely chasing after rare and not so rare birds at a moment's notice. In fact I believe the pager may be part of Badger's anatomy so closely does he keep it by his side. And no bad thing I say as I have also got the full benefit of his regular pager updates. 

We were approaching  the divergence of the M27 - left to Ringwood (New Forest) and straight on to Portsmouth when Badger checked the pager and announces 'Spotted Crake at Farlington Lagoon near Portsmouth'. Dilemna. We are travelling at 70mph and filtering right to Ringwood. "Shall we divert and go straight on to the crake? Its not far". 'You're the driver it's up to you entirely to decide' says Badger helpfully. I carry on to the New Forest. "The Spotted Crake can wait - maybe after we have seen the Honey Buzzard?" I somewhat optimistically reply.With my luck we are going to be fortunate to see a Honey Buzzard at all so will probably be in the New Forest all day. We arrive at Piper's Wait at around 9.15am (the irony of the second part of this name will not be lost on Honey Buzzard watchers) and install ourselves in our chairs to scan, from an elevated position, a wide area of forest before us where it is rumoured Honey Buzzards may appear. Fifteen minutes in and I have already eaten all the sandwiches which are meant to last me all day. Why do I do this? I have always done it since I was a child. Thirty minutes have passed and what happens? No. Wrong. A glorious male Honey Buzzard, grey on the upper-parts and white below appears in front of us in the sky and soars around for five to six minutes before disappearing below the tree line. We cannot believe our luck and eagerly await the next appearance. But it never happens. Literally just a few Common Buzzards soaring overhead. I fall asleep and at 1130 by mutual consent we decide there is more to birding than staring at an empty sky. 

                                                                            Nice hat!                                                                       
Badger's pager has confirmed the continuing presence of an adult Night Heron at Pennington Marshes which is relatively nearby on the Hampshire coast. We set off in the now blistering heat and via a car crash (not us) at Beaulieu and gridlock in the miniscule car park at Pennington eventually find ourselves on a bank overlooking some marshy pools. This is not where the Night Heron is but a perfectly acceptable collection of waders parade before us comprising six Wood Sandpipers, three Green Sandpipers and a juvenile Ruff. The Wood Sandpipers to me, always appear so much more graceful and slimline than the Green Sandpipers which always manage to look clumsy and obtuse alongside their more elegant cousins. But where is the Night Heron? Some local birders give us directions and we head off on foot in the opposite direction from the car park to find a small lake with a marvellous show of white water lilies. A small island in the lake has a large Willow tree growing on it and near the base is a Little Egret preening but higher up is our quarry, perched absolutely still. The Night Heron. I would like to say we saw it well and we did but only bits of it at a time as in typical fashion it was well hidden in the depths of the tree, obscured by twigs and leaves, so all of it was not visible at one time. I saw it's yellow legs and feet, its dove grey front and when it imperceptibly moved its head, a wine coloured eye and a black cap. We watched its various bits for thirty or so minutes and then took up the original pager challenge and headed for Farlington Lagoon. 

I know this area well as it is a former haunt from when I lived in nearby Sussex so we soon arrived at the lagoon where the Spotted Crake had been regularly reported on Badger's pager throughout the day. It was now around 4pm but we had timed our visit right as the tide was fully in and the sun was behind us, so the lagoon was filled with waders waiting for the tide to turn and the viewing conditions nigh on perfect. All very well but first let's find the crake. Badger and I were separated along the seawall with other birders in between us. I looked at the muddy fringes of the reeds on the other side of the lagoon and there was the crake bang slap in the middle of the scope."Badger. Over here!" I called. A sea of faces turned towards me. From previous experience when you shout to your colleague everyone supposes you have found the bird and deluge you with requests for directions. This is all well and good but it had been a long day and I was not yet ready for this. I adopted the pose of someone just calling to his friend about nothing in particular. Badger wandered over and casually I told him where the crake was and he found it with little bother. Then and only then did I alert the others but even with specific instructions it was a struggle to get some of them onto it. 

This is always the dilemna in these situations. You locate the bird, want to see it and watch it but know if you announce you have found it you will waste valuable time assisting others with directions. It was not so critical in this case but if you have been waiting hours for an elusive skulking bird it may be only seconds you have to see it. Even with the crake, although we found it quickly a friend earlier had to wait 3.5 hours to see it. The crake eventually put on a grandstand performance for us, bathing and preening in the open but always remaining close to cover. 

The lagoon was alive with other birdlife. The evocative calls of the various waders and the constant movement providing a counterpoint to the incessant background vehicle roar from the nearby M27

I counted the following waders on the lagoon.

Common Redshank 410
Black tailed Godwit 275
Oystercatcher 273
Grey Plover 100+
Whimbrel 2
Common Greenshank 3
Ringed Plover 2
Common Sandpiper 1
Little Stint 1

 and Port Meadow thought they were having a good run!

Behind the lagoon a Whinchat and a family of European Stonechats were perched on a wire fence.We watched the crake for an hour before it finally disappeared into the reeds. We walked back down the seawall to the car. "Fancy seeing an Osprey?" 'Don't mind if I do' replied Badger. "Come on then there is just time and I know just the place". 'You're the driver'. We went a few miles east to Thorney Island just into West Sussex.  A look over a five barred gate at Thorney Deeps and there to round off a now perfect day was an adult Osprey perched on a post

Nice one!

All pictures courtesy of Badger productions

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