Tuesday 12 January 2016

Extracurricular Activity

I've just returned from a couple of days in The New Forest. The route took us right past Blashford Lakes near Ringwood, and it seemed only sensible to have a look. We visited on Sunday afternoon, and again this morning. Blashford Lakes is a complex of gravel pits, some managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. There are footpaths, hides, a handy leaflet with a map for visitors, and millions of birds. Impressive! For example, some 200 Pintail on Ibsley Water, along with masses of more everyday floating stuff. Also, single Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes here, plus - on Kingfisher Lake - a typically skulking Ferruginous Duck. This was the tip of the iceberg, and I reckon you could easily spend all day on this complex and not cover it all.

Ibsley Water is regularly hosting an adult Ring-billed Gull at the moment, and on Sunday afternoon we coincidentally timed a visit to the Tern Hide with the early arrivals at the gull roost. There it was among them...

It's the one in the middle, and there's an adult Common Gull far right for comparison. How can I tell it's not just dross? Ok, even though it's glaringly obvious to anyone, I'll elucidate. Differences from Common Gull: paler grey (like BHG), with far less prominent tertial crescent; chunkier head, bit like a mini-HG. Plus, in this photo you can easily pick out lots of clinching detail: the heavier, bright yellow bill with its broad, black subterminal band (or 'ring'), pale iris, smaller white primary 'mirror', bright yellow legs and diagnostic banana-shaped spleen. Sorted.

It's got to be 25+ years since I last did an inland gull roost, so it was great to sit there for a while and watch some of the big stuff arrive. I tracked a darkish looking adult bird with very limited white in the primary tips as it flew all the way to the front of the raft. I paused just long enough to check the mantle colour and note the clean white head, then announced to the hide: "Adult Yellow-legged just dropped in on the far left," making sure my voice had exactly the right level of relaxed gravitas and didn't squeak with excitement. 'Still got it, hotshot' I thought to myself. I didn't say it out loud of course. That would have been pathetic...

By now the hide was beginning to fill with the evening shift, the gull roost specialists, and it was a shame to have to leave. But Mrs NQS was worried that the one correct ID might go to my head and I'd start blurting out all kinds of guff and embarrass her. So, at 15:30 we left, my reputation intact.

Back again this morning, counting Pintails. Look at the little beauties...

Pintails...with some pretty ducks attached
On Sunday afternoon the place was crawling with birders, but today we were predicting an empty car park. Wrong! It's funny, Blashford Lakes is undoubtedly a superb venue, with huge potential I'm sure, but I'm so glad it's not my patch. Too many people, too much hide-based birding, and too much scanning through floating goods. This afternoon I had time for a walk at Cogden. I didn't meet a single person, entered no hides, and the only scanning was hedgetops and sea. I didn't see a lot, admittedly, but for me there is much, much more to enjoyable birding than birds...


  1. Gav, can you imagine doing the gull roost now where we (well you mainly) used to go.
    Before, if detected, they'd be a guy shouting oi! Now there would be nothing at all. Nothing, at all - until - a couple of helicopters hove into view behind the gull roost and a swat team swarm the banks of the reservoir.
    How they would deal with what appears to be small rocket launchers under the main flight path at Heathrow, one only knows, and some work for the MOD. They'd probably view the birders', 'I've just ID'ed a sub adult Caspian', as some sort of code.

    1. Ah yes, I would imagine security is pretty tight these days. As you say, it used to be just the long-distance "Oi!" from the Thames Water bods with their vans and occasional dog. Mind you, I did once get chucked off Perry Oaks by armed police. I'm glad they asked questions first...

  2. For me, your very last line got it dead right, leave the massed birds to the massed birders.