Monday, 23 July 2012

Titchfield Haven

There’s a necklace of wonderful estuarine nature reserves on the south coast of England looking across to The Isle of White.  I reach one of the very best through Hampshire’s leafy lanes, passing picture postcard half-timbered thatched cottages reminding me that there’s so much history down here.  Approaching the reserve I meander through new housing estates with names telling me that birds are not far away; Cuckoo Lane, Puffin Close, Tawny Owl Crescent.  Then roads named after the shipping forecast; Malin, Viking, Biscay, announcing that I’m also near to the sea.

Titchfield Haven is a manmade series of freshwater scrapes at the lower end of the Meon Valley and teems with birds.  Islands dot the scrapes and provide safe breeding habitat for the still noisy Black-headed Gull colony, Common and Sandwich Terns, Avocets and Lapwings all of which are feeding or loafing about the reserve.  Breeding is more or less over, but chicks of various ages and sizes are still being attended to, alongside a few early autumn migrants such as Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Ringed Plovers.

Avocets with small chicks are very aggressive towards the Black-tailed Godwits; any godwit coming within 30 or 40 yards is immediately steered away by the noisy adults.  How times have changed; a generation ago Avocets bred in small numbers at a few places in eastern England, they’re now spreading rapidly and we even have them in South Wales.

The National Nature Reserve is an exemplar of a partnership and one of the very best examples of how to involve people with wildlife I know.  Natural England and Hampshire County Council together with an army of volunteers provide a quite exceptional wildlife experience and without any disturbance to the birds.  The interpretation boards and many hides are first class, the enthusiasm and friendliness of the volunteers is a delight, making a visit a really great day out.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Brown Pelicans

Who can resist Brown Pelicans?  These majestic and elegant birds, so emblematic of the US coast have never failed to move me.  All the photographs were taken by Chris on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas during our recent trip in April 2012.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Least Sandpipers

These shots were taken on the Bolivar Peninsular in Texas during April 2012.  Although often seen far away, these individuals were close and very tame indeed, concentrating on topping up their energy levels needed for the onward journey north to the Arctic.

Monday, 2 July 2012


There’s a wonderful stretch of the upper Wye where I can always find nesting Common Sandpipers in summer.  The journey to Newbridge-on-Wye passes through the rolling hills of northern Carmarthenshire, all intensely green at this time of year and only takes about an hour and a half.  The river is magic up here and with plenty of rain over the last few weeks, it glistens in dappled sunlight through the trees.  At this point the water always runs fast, exposing riverbed-stones, ideal for Common Sandpiper, Dipper and Grey Wagtail perches.

The Oaks are alive with noisy newly-fledged tits and below the bridge a pair of Grey Wagtails feed a couple of fledged young; they’re a delight to watch and are common on these upland streams.  I hear the simple song of Pied Flycatchers in the woods along the bank and am reminded I must be at least 500 feet above sea level; I don’t see any nest boxes and so these will be using natural holes in trees.  The thin piping sound of a Common Sandpiper disappears upstream; I must have just disturbed one.  I walk along the bank and find two, obviously a pair and get close; with bobbing tails they feed oblivious of my presence now just yards away.  I compare them with Spotted Sandpipers and remember a juvenile, which stayed the whole winter by a reservoir near Cardiff a couple of years ago.  More vividly I recall about twenty on the banks of the Patuxent River last autumn in full summer plumage showing their lovely spotted breasts.

I can't find Dippers, no doubt they're about, but the Common Sandpipers are more than enough as I head off to find Nightjars a few miles down the valley.  I arrive in a forest clearing as the light fades; it’s warm and still, the conditions are perfect.  A few late Blackbirds, Robins and Coal Tits call, but little else stirs.  Almost at once eerie Nightjar churrings drift across the conifer plantation.  Even though they’re all around me, seeing them is not easy. It’s difficult to tell which direction the calls comes from and with hardly enough light left I just make out two in the darkness, but well enough to see the white wing patches on the end of their wings against the night sky.

As the light fades completely I sit and listen to the eerie calls in the blackness.  I recall autumn ringing trips to southern Portugal years ago and catching European and Red-necked Nightjars in the same mist net.  We used a tape-lure under the net, which I suppose was cheating.