A spontaneous weekend away with the in-laws allowed us to have a nice break and also for me to get out and do a bit of Hampshire birding. My birding mission for the weekend was to hopefully find a New Forest Woodlark but realising that I was out of season to hear a singing male and also that the New Forest is a large area compared to the population numbers of Woodlarks it turned out to be a failure.
21st June. A grey and windy Saturday morning looked like it might break so I optimistically headed down to Keyhaven to see what was around at the Pennington Marshes. With the wind and grey skies, photography was a challenge but trying out my new scope proved to be hit and made me realise further the importance of a sturdy tripod! The first subject I got the scope on was a Common Tern which finally came to rest for me to get a good look. My second digiscope picture was of a Little Egret which kindly stayed put for me to practice on! A Grey Heron flew lazily over the water right in front of me which was promptly snapped. A small party of young Great Tit chicks were hiding amongst the reads with one bird allowing a quick photo opportunity. Moving on to Fishtail Lagoon and as a light drizzle came off the Solent, the Swifts and Hirundines had dropped right down to feed over the water below the strong winds. I stopped near a fence and eventually several Sand Martin alighted on the wires for me to get a lovely view. A fleeting glimpse of a solitary Sandwich Tern with a good sized fish in its bill was too quick for me to get more than a fuzzy photo but within 5 minutes I was watching a Little Tern fishing right in front of me. A new UK species tick with decent pictures too! Moving further round another Little Tern was fishing over the next lagoon along with Common Terns and the obligatory Little Egrets. Numerous Shelduck, Lapwing and Black-Tailed Godwits kept their distance, with several Oystercatchers battling the breeze. Later in the afternoon the sun came out so I headed over to find Normandy Lagoon and after walking the wrong way and finding another fishing Little Tern, I found a reserve map showing where the lagoon was and on getting there had great views of Little Terns fishing and eventually wonderful views of 2 parent birds at a nest with a small chick just visible. On the way back to the car, a Kestrel showed briefly and I flushed a Common Sandpiper right next to the sailing club.
22nd June. This was going to be my Woodlark day but as they grey and cold morning continued I realised that I really had no idea on where to look for them. I was in the area recommended to me at Beaulieu Road Station and around Denny Wood but saw nothing more exciting than a small party of juvenile Pied Wagtails, Stonechat and got mocked by a Green Woodpecker. After 3 hours of fruitless searching I decided to cut my losses and head over to Blashford Lakes to hopefully get a few nice pictures for the day. I headed straight to the Tern Hide where the worlds most tame Little Ringed Plover were showing down to 10 feet! Common Tern were fishing in front of the hide giving nice views. I then had a quick walk around the reserve and a visit to the Woodland Hide which had been so successful in March but with the foliage obscuring the light I decided against photographing the Chaffinch and Greenfinch feeding there. I then headed out to the Lakes again and to the Goosander Hide where I got some great views of summer plumage Little Grebe. Many Sand Martins were bombing in and out of the newly created artificial nests but were too quick to attempt photographing with the still strong winds. A brisk walk up to the Lapwing Hide gave a view over a blustery lake with only a few brave Coot and some distant Greylag Geese seen. Walking back to the car a pair of Buzzard flew over the lakes to the north with one bird landing atop a dead tree for a distant perched photograph.
Later in the afternoon, we went out for a walk around Pennington again, with more nice views of Common Tern, Little Tern, Sand Martin and Swift. I attempted to photograph the Swifts but with the strength of the wind and the speed of the birds it wasn't ever going to happen! I had a lovely but really quick view of a Weasel which ran across the path and we both saw a young Fox as we neared the car. A single Collared Dove clinged to a telegraph pole in the strong wind before we drove back home!
23rd June. I'd fancied a trip to Dorset to try and get to see some of the birds and by getting up at 5am and heading off it allowed me to get to the RSPB reserve at Arne by 6:20. I thought I saw a Honey Buzzard briefly flying through the trees at one of my stops before reaching the reserve but wasn't convinced. The Sika Deer around the reserve gave exceptional views, one young individual down to a range of 8 feet but the contrast of the beautifully coloured animals against the purple heather was really memorable. Bird wise it was very quiet with a young Coal Tit pushing my photographed species list up to 155. A few distant Little Egret, and Black-Headed Gulls could be seen on the shore line but with the tide out they were never "in range". Also a few Shelduck were feeding on the mud and distant calls of Oystercatcher and Redshank could be heard. After moving out of the woodland and on to the open heaths, the star of the day appeared. I located a pair of Dartford Warblers by the males song, a speciality species at Arne, and proceeded to get a great set of pictures. After walking round the entire reserve and seeing a few more Dartford Warblers, Meadow Pipits and being mocked again by a family party of my new "bogey bird" in Green Woodpeckers, I headed back to the car but not before snapping a Carrion Crow bathed in some good light.
After the frustrating drive through Christchurch's roundabouts and traffic lights earlier that morning I decided to get back via the A31 and nipped back to Blashford Lakes to see if anything else had arrived there. Nothing exceptional but the Little Ringed Plover show was still on and a moulting Lapwing came fairly close to the Tern Hide. Also a Great Crested Grebe put in a swim past illuminated to perfection.