Sunday, 16 February 2014

Seawatch, Ryde to Seaview

What a difference a day makes! Today was positively spring-like, with plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures, a total contrast to the hurricane conditions of nearly 48 hours ago. We even saw a Chiffchaff fly-catching in trees next to the Ryde-Seaview footpath. It started off cold, with a bit of a frost, but warmed up quite quickly.
I joined the Isle of Wight Ornithological Group's (IWOG) walk and seawatch between Ryde and Seaview, led by Derek Hale, who runs a website with the latest Isle of Wight bird sightings.

Here's the route on Google maps. It's good for woodland birds (Appley and Puckpool Parks) as well as seawatching at the right time of year, generally winter, for waders, gulls, grebes, divers and the occasional auk species.

View Larger Map

I parked my car in Appley park where you get free parking for 5 hours (the sea front, on the other hand, has got year-round parking charges) and met the others at North Walk. The tide was low, although it was starting to turn, and there were plenty of waders and gulls out on the sandbanks. Unfortunately there were plenty of dogs and their walkers on the sandbanks too, why do they feel the need to go so far out among the birds? There's plenty of room further in. Not only that, they let their mutts chase the birds thus disturbing their feeding activities and their rest. When confronted it's invariably 'But he's not hurting them!' No, but the harm isn't a result of a dog biting or killing the bird, it's the stress caused.

N.B., I am a dog lover, I come from a dog-owning family, I just hate the minority of dog owners who behave like total pricks - birds chased, dog shit uncollected so you step in it, dog shit collected but in plastic bags left hanging from trees because, of course, the Dog Shit Fairy will take them away, letting their uncontrolled dogs jump up at you, etc., it's all totally self-centred and unnecessary.

Anyway, when they were left undisturbed by dogs and ignorant owners, there were c.100 Sanderling, a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Guillemot (there have been a lot of storm victims, some living, others dead, washed up along the south coast recently; happily this one was alive and not in bad shape) and the usual gull species (there were no Little Gulls today, sadly).
Walking past Appley Park, we saw Redwings which had been inadvertently flushed by people, they flew up into the trees, disturbing a singing Song Thrush. I've barely seen a Greenfinch all winter - it's been so mild, the garden has been quiet - but there were a few around today.

Out on the Solent, as seen from Puckpool Park, were a group of Red-breasted Mergansers (3 male, 3 female), at least 2 Great Northern Divers (sorry, but I am NOT going to use the atrocious American term 'loon' which, apparently, we are supposed to call them these days. Apart from the fact I can't stand the word and it's yet another Americanism, it's also a very unpleasant term my nasty-piece-of-work stepfather used for the - very sweet - learning difficulties kids who were passengers on his school bus back in the 80s. Therefore I won't use it!), a Slavonian Grebe and a Great Crested Grebe plus six Shags. Shags used to be a rare sight in the Solent, Bembridge Ledge was as close as they ever got, but these days they're being seen in the Solent more often.

The Chiffchaff mentioned at the beginning of the post was fly-catching in trees behind the beach huts at Puckpool while further along at Springvale, a Grey Wagtail was by a temporary pond on a field on the landward side of the road. A Grey Wagtail isn't out of the ordinary, but I haven't seen one for ages and they are such smart little birds. A group of Curlew were on the fields while a Fox trotted across, well out of camera range unfortunately.

Moving onto Hersey Nature Reserve, there was no sign of the Kingfisher which often sits by or on the sluice gate but we did hear a Water Rail calling, it sounds like a pig someone's attempting to kill. From the hide, we could see at least six Snipe fondly imagining themselves unobserved among the reeds, 25 Teal, a Lapwing, a group of Oystercatchers, a Shelduck, three Greenshank, 4 Buzzards and a Peregrine.
The tide was in by now and Sanderling were gathering on the beach, in the same place I photographed them yesterday, there were no Turnstones today. I thought I'd try and improve on the photos I took yesterday. No chance. Why is it that one day I can take decent shots, but the next day not a damn thing is in focus?!

By now it was time to head back to the car and home. Thanks to Derek Hale for leading the walk.

Here are the photos...


Grey Wagtail - a massive crop of the only pic which came out

Oystercatchers at Hersey NR




After I got home yesterday, I listened to Southampton's FA Cup match away at Sunderland. It was piss-poor, to say the least. Saints lost and the assistant manager, Jesus Perez, was quoted saying 'We are not disappointed'. No, but the fans are! What was the bloody point, if you're not going to sodding bother??!! There's not much to play for in the league, we're not going down, we won't make the top six so trying to win the FA Cup, a major trophy, should have been a high priority. Our best chance in years to progress and, maybe, get to a final (we were a couple of wins away) and actually win something - for a team of their size, Saints have won practically f-all over the years, with the exception of the FA Cup nearly 40 years ago and the League Trophy in 2010, yet they couldn't be arsed. Insulting for the fans to say the least.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

After the (latest) storm

We had yet another storm yesterday, which lasted well into this morning, and it was the most intense storm yet with Violent Storm Force 11 winds gusting up to Hurricane Force 12 at times. At midnight the gusts were so violent, the house shook! Luckily we got away with no more damage at home than lop-sided fences (they were mostly destroyed during the stormy Christmas period) and overturned bins.
There was flooding all over the Isle of Wight, debris everywhere, trees down and structural damage. Part of Undercliff Drive, between Niton and Ventnor, has been/is being evacuated due to the serious risk of landslides and a section of the road collapsed last weekend. Other roads have also been damaged by small landslides and/or the tarmac breaking up; the surface of one road near me has been destroyed and it's not safe to drive on so they closed it.

I went out today to photograph the aftermath of the latest, and worst, hammering in a long line of hammerings this winter. I have also got a few bird pics, they'll appear later in this post.

Shingle was deposited along Springvale Road at Seaview

Flooding on the Eastern Yar

Flooding at Alverstone (near me), it had been across the road but had receded a bit.

Because of the damage, the Isle of Wight is one of the places getting assistance from the armed forces; a Chinook helicopter dropped soldiers, vehicles and sandbags, etc., at Newport this afternoon.

On to the birds...

Sanderling at Ryde

Sanderling at Seaview

Turnstones at Seaview

Turnstone and Sanderling

Carrion Crow at Seaview

Rook at Sandown

Friday, 7 February 2014


Another brief respite between storms so it was out to see if I could see the female Smew which had been reported on a flooded field at Brading Marshes, just off Laundry Lane. Brading Marshes is an RSPB reserve but birders, even RSPB members, can't visit it and can only bird from public roads and footpaths, such as Laundry Lane (but fishermen can, apparently, go onto the reserve which is totally ridiculous). This makes looking for birds more than a tad awkward at times.

Anyway, despite two hours of searching, there was no sign of the Smew. I did see the RSPB warden, who drove past in his 4x4, and he said it'd been seen on Wednesday and he thought it was still about. I'll give it another go if the weather isn't too atrocious over the weekend.

iPhone photos of the flooded fields.

The Smew-less scenario aside, it was a pleasant morning (apart from my borrowed wellies rubbing my feet) and there were plenty of other birds about, albeit at a considerable distance. A nice male Stonechat greeted me on a fence post by the lane, the flooded fields played host to large numbers of Coot, a few Moorhens plus Med Gulls, Black-headed Gulls - some members of both species were beginning to get their breeding plumage - and Common Gulls. Three Grey Herons sat at the side of one of the fields and were joined by a couple of Little Egrets.
Over on the marshes, there were large numbers of Pochard and Wigeon (I looked for the Smew among them but it wasn't, but I was told that it generally kept itself to itself), plus some Shovelers with their huge bills. There were also very large (hundreds of individuals) flocks of Starlings and Lapwings; always good to see, given that these species have caused concern over the past decade or so because of alarmingly declining numbers. Little Grebes were also around.

Before going to Laundry Lane, I had made a brief visit to Seaview to see if there was anything out on the sea (there wasn't, it was pretty choppy out on the Solent, making it hard to see what was around). There were the usual Gulls (Black-headed, Great Black-backed, Herring, Common and Mediterranean), a few Carrion Crows and some Oystercatchers on the shore, but that was it. A visit to the hide at Hersey produced nothing of note; an elderly couple plus another older bloke were in the hide and the woman saw a Snipe, unfortunately it was gone before I'd even got in there properly! I daresay I'll see one before the winter is out.

Being the honest person I am - and not wanting a ticket because, knowing my luck, a traffic warden parking attendant would probably come along if I hadn't paid - I'd put £1 in the car park ticket machine before going into the little reserve. Luckily no-one from the council had come along, because I would have got a ticket. £1 is supposed to get you parking for up to 1 hour, but looking at the ticket just before I drove off revealed that I'd only got a paltry 20 minutes! Is this a new sharp practice and the latest way of raising revenues? I don't know why they charge during the winter anyway, hardly anyone uses those parking spaces.

The roads have been badly damaged by flooding and it's a similar story right across southern England, with Somerset particularly badly affected. Knighton Road near Newchurch, never up to much at the best of times, now looks like the lunar surface and strips are missing revealing the road bed beneath. Our village is flooded, luckily I live further up the hill out of reach of the Eastern Yar's worst excesses. We still have two more weeks of storms forecast but, on the news earlier, they did say the jet stream is expected to weaken before the end of the month. I bloody well hope so! I think we deserve a good summer after this...

Sunday, 2 February 2014


Today is Imbolc (the day varies, this year it's 2nd February), the day when pagans celebrate the imminent coming of spring and the growing power of the sun. I am not a pagan (I am an atheist) but I am definitely looking forward to spring. It certainly felt as if spring is not too far off with mild temperatures - when you were out of the strong breeze - and sunshine today. I guess it won't last, yet more rain and general grot is in the forecast.

I went to Newtown, somewhere I'd not been to in a while and, as usual it was full of birds.

First of all, I stopped at the bridge just before you get to the Old Town Hall top see what was about. There were Brent Geese (at least 100), around 20 Curlews, plus Lapwings and Redshanks, on the fields next to the river while, on the water, were Pintails, Teal and Wigeon...I am seriously lazy when it comes to counting birds...

Blue sky!!! The local Mute Swan approached, soliciting food, which I didn't have.

From there I went down to the boathouse. As to be expected, everywhere was wet underfoot, with a lot of mud, and I counted myself lucky not to have got absolutely plastered in the stuff, as I only had basic cheap Doc Marten-lookalike boots on. I walked with care, trying to avoid the worst of the marshy bits, and it seems to have worked, only getting minimally splattered with mud. I had intended to go to SCATS on my way there and get some wellies but forgot it was Sunday and nothing is open until 10am (damn, that means tomorrow is Monday and w*** beckons!).

A Rock Pipit was close to the path; as with most of the other photos, this is a hefty crop. The 70D (and the 6D) lends itself well to cropping, far better than my old 7D did, due to a larger megapixel count.

There were the usual ducks and geese, plus waders. I counted 50 Shelduck, although I think there were more, and there were many more Brents than that.

The local Canada Geese were around and three flew past.

Other birds included Greenshank, a Peregrine, Dunlin and Knot but, disappointingly, there were no Goldeneye, Eider or Red-breasted Merganser, birds I would pretty much have expected to see, and which have been seen recently. These could have been further out on the Solent.

However, three Grey Seals over on the shingle bank (East Spit) at the harbour entrance made up for that and I took a - ridiculously long-distance and heavily-cropped - photo of them. Two are immediately obvious, and you can just see the third, brownish-coloured one on the right, partly hidden by the front seal.

Before going home, I briefly went to Yarmouth intending to go to Rofford Marsh. I went via Thorley and still got stuck for ages in the ridiculously long-period temporary lights. Not wanting to wait, I reversed back up the road, turned in someone's drive and was just driving back when a Hen Harrier - presumably the same one as last week - flew across the road in front of me...typical, great views and I couldn't take a photo because I was driving!


After I'd got home, via the hospital, Morrison's filling station and the local shop, I got a text saying a female Smew was at St. Helens. Sadly, I'd already had a couple of pints of beer by then so I had to give Ms. Smew a miss.