Itchen Meadows 03/12/13 – Winter Thrushes

Seems my other bird-related blog thing has unfortunately run into some technical difficulties and returns a ‘DNS error’ or somesuch – bloody nightmare. I can read it OK, but not log in or post without the whole thing falling over.

Maybe that’s the cue to post everything here after all…

Set off from home this morning at 07:45 – still some gloom left in the air, but relatively mild due to the think cloud overhead. It just  hasn’t been cold enough this year yet. Everything is late and most of the trees are still golden and orange.

Here’s a chronological presentation of what I turned up over the next five hours :

In Riverside Park, roughly 80 BLACK-HEADED GULLS (1) on the water by Cobden Bridge and another 65 on the field. Still a good number of STARLINGS (2) in the treetops where they roost, and two PIED WAGTAILS (3) on the causeway. Counting the Starlings turned up two JAYS (4) in the same tree, and a MISTLE THRUSH (5) singing from another – audible from the bridge and a long way after walking past it.
Also on the water with the gulls, just 12 MALLARD (6) and 16 MUTE SWANS (7) en route up to the jetty. More wildfowl here of course – total of 37 Mutes and 36 mallard. Add into that two MOORHENS (8) and the days first HERRING GULL (9) – one second year bird show sitting on the railings at the end of the Jetty itself.
Continuing up into ‘Compost Corner’ where the City Council keep all the pruned vegetation and grass cuttings passing another 200 Black-heads on the way, mostly on the last bits of mud opposite the sewage farm, feeding up in the last hour of the tide. Close by, a few more Moorhens, Herring Gulls and overhead a small possee of GOLDFINCH (10).
Tucked in along the wall of the Sewage farm, it can be quite hard to spot the LITTLE GREBES  (11) that gather here in winter. Only five today…?
Additional couple of Moorhens here and the usual assortment of FERAL PIGEONS (12), with a couple of HOUSE SPARROWS (13) rummaging around among 4 CARRION CROWS (14).
I overlooked both COMMON SANDPIPERS (15) which suddenly flew off calling from apparently nowhere – a species that will habitually overwinter along this stretch of water.
Always good to see with their characteristic ‘freeze frame’ flight action and piping call.

An adult GREAT-BLACK-BACKED GULL (16) drifted lazily downriver, and one CORMORANT (17) went over high in the opposite direction.
In Compost Corner itself, BLACKBIRD (18), SONG THRUSH (19), GREAT TIT (20), ROBIN (21), BLUE TIT (22), MAGPIE (23) and WOODPIGEON (24).

24 species in the bag as I walked across the grassy picnic area towards the beach, an area locally known also as ‘The Glimpse’ where there is a gap in the riverside vegetation and a load of shingle has built up on the outside of  a large bend in the river.
An excellent spot for KINGFISHER (25) at the right time of year – and the right time of day. Like now! Right on cue, the bird flew from me to the opposite bank and showed beautifully on a tree stump for a few minutes, before flying back in the reeds. repeated this three or four times in the next ten minutes, while I counted the Little Grebes that just kept ‘appearing’. 14 in all. This equals my personal best here last weekend, although someone claimed 15 a few days ago.

And so to Woodmill, local canoeing and outdoor activity centre, where the tidal limit of the Itchen comes a gate and weir. Above here it’s a much calmer, serene chalk stream less than about 30 feet wide and no more than 8 feet deep. Home to chub, grayling, eels, barbel, Salmon, trout – some excellent fishing and its often very busy from here up to Mansbridge and the White Swan PH.
6 COOT (26)  among the ducks that gather to be fed here, another 40 Mallard and one young swan. The family of seven raised along here have split up now – this is undoubtedly one of those. Quick look in the small fen  beside the Golf Course and a few more day-ticks in here – DUNNOCK (27), GREY WAGTAIL (28)  (overhead), COLLARED DOVE (29), JACKDAW (30). Half a dozen Blackbirds too, which suggests a build up in numbers, matched by two large parties of at least 40 Goldfinches.
Only three Crows on the Golf Course today, and a handful of others in the grounds of Woodmill. Nothing like the 40+ that can gather here.

All this is fairly run-of-the-mill for the patch, except the Kingfisher of course which is always a special bird to see and makes a highlight of any walk. I am so lucky to have these showing so regularly not half an hours wander from home.

The next part of the walk, from the old Mansbridge up the Itchen navigation footpath goes across an area of open grassland referred to as Mansbridge Meadow, and its an area that I tend to overlook because it’s usually full of dog-walkers, litter and generally discouraging for birds. It’s just behind here that GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS (31) nest, and the male was around the nest site this morning, calling loudly from his vantage point.
Apart from that though, just a small number of routine garden birds including the first encounter of the day with a party of half a dozen LONG TAILED TITS (32).

2 more Coot, 3 Moorhens and 4 Mallards on the disused reservoir, last stop before I start the routine ‘Meadows Walk’ which starts where I lock up my bike (walking today) at the footbridge a few metres down from Mansbridge Lock, now clean up, waymarked and identified on the Itchen Heritage Trail.

Hard to believe barges pulling coal and stone used to pass through here :


My eye was drawn to the six Moorhens walking around in the lock, and something obviously ‘not quite the same’. Similar size and manner, with a flicking white under-tail, but ‘leggier’, greyish and paler. Bins easily confirmed WATER RAIL (33) and for the next ten to fifteen minutes I enjoyed probably my best ever views of this elusive bird, scoped in the open until it got too close to focus! A real joy – especially when I picked up a second bird up a the top end, just before the reedbed! I have heard Water rail here on both the last two walks, and glimpsed a beady eye last week, but I don’t recall ever seeing birds wandering about so relaxed like this, poking around in the vegetation and showing beautifully.
As the spot is still about half a mile within the northern boundary of Southampton UA, I deemed it worth putting out the news and it’s great to know that during the course of the morning others have enjoyed a similar experience.

The next bird of note in the noisy ‘corridor’ along the M27 motorway was a BUZZARD (34) which came down into the long grass behind the White Swan PH. I wonder if Buzzards eat moles? there was a lot of freshly turned earth about…

There were Goldfinches, Blackbirds, 3 Song Thrushes and more small tit flocks along here too – evidently a lot of birds around this morning. It seems a completely different place form the relatively low number so everything I seem to see during more regular afternoon  sessions… That’s another wonderful thing about watching a patch diligently, even when it can seem a little dull and routine. Change the route or the time of day and things come to life again.

When I emerged from under the motorway onto the Meadows ‘proper’ in was just after 09:30 and things were still starting to come out of evening roosts. First off I picked up a sizable flock of 250 Woodpigeons and noted steady passage northwards of STOCK DOVE (35), but it quickly became apparent that the day was going to be dominated by the Thrushes. over the past few weeks, REDWING (36) numbers have steadily been around 200 in this area, especially just beyond the boundary stream around the concrete ‘two bridges’. There are plenty of berries to feed on, and this morning there were, quite literally, birds everywhere. Easily 200 in the first few groups, calling, feeding, chattering and flying about in every direction. At one point, I was right among them and had redwing on all sides. I can honestly say that every tree, bush and briar in this patch was host to a party of thrushes. Some FIELDFARES (37) among them, but only a handful, and they associated with small groups of Blackbird and Song Thrush. Migrants too no doubt, but most often overlooked as such.

Also WREN (38) here, GREENFINCH (39) and CHAFFINCH (40) for the day list and a (very small?) number of MEADOW PIPITS (41). I think I only had half a dozen of the latter all morning. They must come in more at night – the roost can hold easily upwards of 50 birds…
It was good also to connect with the male BULLFINCH (42) who I see on most visits now. One of my favourite birds and I’m still relatively unfamiliar with them.

A note in my scribbled book suggests I added up the Redwing flocks here as I moved towards the  central area and they got fewer in number – 450 birds by 10:00

Walking up the eastern side, where most of the Thrushes went, I scanned back and had another of those ‘moments’ albeit briefly. A male TEAL (43) took flight from a hidden stream, circled once and whizzed off high to the north. Perhaps heading for the ‘secret lakes’ – definitely not a common bird here and the first I have come across this season. Quite a bonus.
A single KESTREL (44) picked up hovering on the open grassland  100m north, more Woodpigs, Stock Doves, blackbirds, Fieldfare and Redwing and more of the same as I circumnavigated the wet, squidgy part up towards the bridge into the Country Park and north to the southern edge of Decoy Wood


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