The second place I planned to visit was Longham Lakes, which was more or less on the way back from Sturminster Marshall. The main targets were Scaup, Cattle Egret and Great White Egret. I had only seen Cattle Egret and Scaup once in 2019 and so I thought it would be a good idea to see them as soon as I had the opportunity. There was also a Great White Egret here.
We parked in the Bridge House Hotel car park and made our way to South Lake. A message on RBA had said that the Cattle Egrets had roosted on the island at the northern end of South Lake and that they were still there at 8:50am. We walked around the eastern edge of the lake but there was no sign of them. There were good numbers of Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon but I couldn’t see any Scaup on the first few passes across the lake. A smart adult winter Mediterranean Gull perched close by on one of the buoys and as we walked further another group of Tufted Ducks appeared from behind the island and the four Scaup were with them.
The group included a 1st winter male and four females. Scaup are broad chested with large rounded heads and with no sign of any tuft on the head. The male showed a patchy grey back and the females striking and extensive white faces. They are some of the most maritime of all the ducks that visit us and they feed mainly at night. The nearest breeding populations are Norway and Iceland. Most of the wintering birds around the UK are coastal but smaller numbers can be found on lakes and reservoirs. Ringing recoveries suggest that most of the UK wintering birds are from Iceland.
The egrets had been seen regularly in the fields around Hampreston which is to the west of Longham and so we headed in that direction along the causeway which separates the two lakes. As we got to the other side we could see the partly flooded fields and another birder pointed out exactly where the Cattle Egrets and the Great White Egret were.
The two Cattle Egrets were associating with six Little Egrets and both showed a lovely pinky buff patch on their heads. They interspersed periods of standing still with periods of feeding around the edge of a shallow pool. The Great White Egret was slightly further away but also showed well. It’s amazing to think how quickly these two egret species have become so well established in the UK.
As were leaving another birder mentioned that he had seen a Firecrest a little further down the path. We followed his directions and fairly soon I noticed a small bird flick up into the brambles and sure enough it was the Firecrest. In the bright overcast light the colours looked amazing. We watched it for five minutes at close range, what a gem of a bird. A Cetti’s Warbler on the top of the reeds for several seconds was also new for the year.
Black-necked Grebe – Ibsley Water, Hampshire – 5th January 2020
As we were leaving Longham Lakes we checked RBA and Going Birding and then decided to head home via Blashford Lakes to see the Black-necked Grebes which have been wintering on Iblsey Water.
An immature male Long-tailed Duck has also been present here since early November but hadn’t been reported since the 2nd December and so I assumed it had moved on. I was pleased, therefore, to note it being reported again on Going Birding, just as were entering the hide.
I quickly found the two Black-necked Grebes on the far side. They’re a black and white version of the cream and brown Little Grebe. In winter they prefer large open reservoirs and sheltered coastal waters with a southerly distribution being most abundant around the Thames Estuary and along the south coast of England. Black-necked Grebes are scarce and elusive breeders in England with only 38 confirmed pairs (in 2010) spread out between sites in north, central and southeast England.
The Long-tailed Duck was much closer, preening and diving in the south west corner. During the winter Long-tailed Ducks are found all along the North Sea coast from Shetland south with the largest numbers in the Firth of Forth, the Firth of Tay, the Moray Firth and around the Outer Hebrides and the Northern Isles. Smaller numbers are patchily distributed along the south coast. The Long-tailed Duck is listed as vulnerable following the detection of a significant decline in the Baltic wintering population.
Other new birds for the year on Iblsey Water included Egyptian Goose, Goldeneye, Goosander, Greylag, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Pintail. Water Pipit, Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper had also been reported from the Tern Hide over the last week or so but unfortunately there was no sign for us.
A quick coffee and cake in the visitor centre and then a visit to the other hides but unfortunately there was no sign of Redpoll or Brambling from the Woodland Hide or Bittern or Water Rail from Ivy Lake Hide.