Wednesday 10th February Light NW Mostly Sunny
Goodbye to Kerry and Dominik, with a new addition to the Biking Birder family, an otter who fits in well with Sid the Frog.
Through Lyndhurst once more and along the A35, turning down a small road heading south. The road goes through a superb forest if tall redwoods and pines before I reach the entrance to the Blackwater Arboretum. A Hampshire birder had emailed me over this being a place where I could add lesser spotted woodpecker to the year list. Through the park and out the back to access a long bridleway, I walk slowly searching the tree tops after having hidden the bike in thick undergrowth.
There are only a very few birds; nuthatch and titmice. Then I hear it; the sound of a lesser spot' drumming. It is a short burst so much higher in tone than a great spotted woodpecker and unmistakable. I turn around to look in the direction of where I think the bird may be and find a tree to sit against and scan. With my thick waterproof trousers coming in handy, I sit on the leaf litter and wait. It drums again; three bursts in quick succession and now I can see it high in the canopy of an oak tree with some dead branches pointing skywards. I try to photograph it but can only get out of focus branches in shot. Two buzzards circle over and the diminutive woodpecker has gone. I sit for around another half hour in the hope that it would return.
Two stock doves much in love flutter around the treetops, flying like slow butterflies in a display flight, a sight I hadn't seen too often before. Three treecreepers come close as do a couple of nuthatches but I have no more sightings of the lesser spotted woodpecker. I am thrilled to have seen it though as in 2010 I missed it altogether. Last year I only saw one, at Ynhs Hir RSPB reserve in Wales and now both times I have failed to get a photograph.
I go in search of another, walking the bridleways and through the forest along a large stream hoping that my luck will bring the bird. More treecreepers; they really are showing well today, and the occasional titmouse, particularly long-tailed but no more woodpeckers of any kind.
Back at the Arboretum, I sit for a spot of lunch, hot cross buns, bit of brie and an orange. Then I cycle along the lanes and byways to Keyhaven, past the high tower at Sway.
There has been a long-tailed duck reported here and I walk the bike along the sea wall to try and find it. The tide is as high as it can be be and the first road is flooded and blocked off. I meet an artist, Lesley Banks of Knightwood Photoart, who is sat photographing a nearby flock of brent geese. We chat for a while about her work before I head off once more eastwards along the sea wall.
Through Keyhaven harbour where little grebes and red-breasted mergansers are diving amongst the boats. I meet a couple of birds and put a report of a long-billed dowitcher into the back of my mind as they don't seem that hot on birds despite being friendly and eager to tell me what they do now. If such a rare American wader was in the area my good friend and taskmaster, Phil Andrews would surely have told me about it, wouldn't he?
Along the wall beside Keyhaven Lagoon dartford warblers occasionally show themselves in the dense vegetation and a superb short-eared owl quarters the grassland, dives and catches a vole and flies further away after eating it.
Now the couple at Keyhaven had told me that the long-tailed duck was very elusive and hadn't been seen today so my opinion of their knowledge is a little diminished when I find the bird. It is a beautiful male too, swimming not too far away in a saltmarsh channel with two goldeneye. I show the bird to a couple of passing lady birders. It's great to share their enthusiasm at seeing such a beautiful bird.
I try to phone my Mum and Dad; I always report a good bird for the year list but have no signal. Neither can I text Phil, Steve, Jason or Bart, my birding pals.
With two birds on the year list today my mood is high and I bird along the seawall enjoying views of geese and ducks, waders and egrets. A flock of a few hundred waders includes knot, dunlin and bar-tailed godwits. Grey plovers and redhank, curlew and oystercatchers are on the grassy knolls and the mud. Six spotted redshank are close by and a single greenshank flies past.
The weather is gorgeous and the views over and along The Solent are tranquil and lovely. When the pathway is empty of walkers, I cycle along enjoying it all. I pass the area where the Keyhaven couple had said they saw the dowitcher and give it a cursory glance and scan. I am all alone, no other people yet alone birders are here.
Into Lymington at around 4:00pm, I sit beside the yacht marina and my mobile quickly receives two text messages.
“long-billed dowitcher at Pennington at Fishtail Lagoon.”
“LTD off Keyhaven Marsh. Did you get my dowitcher message?”
Rude words! I cycle back to where I think Fishtail Lagoon is just as the only dark cloud on view comes over. A short shower ensues. It gets dark. It gets too dark. No dowitcher.
Lesson learnt. Don't let birding arrogance dismiss the words of a couple of 'dudes.'
The year list stands at 160. This is twenty one ahead of where I was this time last year.
32.17 miles 1121 feet elevation up 1087 elevation down