I tried to go out for a quick walk on Wednesday in between the showers, but the heavens opened and I ended up driving to the Quay and the cliff top to watch the crashing waves and pouring rain. After a quick trip to the supermarket, once parked back in my drive, the sun decided to come out again, but too late the moment had passed.
The weather forecast yesterday evening said we were due a dry, but cold day today. So I went to bed knowing that I would finally be able to get out, but where to, that was the question.
When I woke my mind immediately started debating with itself the possible location for my day out. I could go to Pennington Marshes, but I might not be able to see much if the water levels were high. I could go to Stanpit Marsh to spot the harriers, kestrel or sparrow hawk, but I have been there on my last three trips out. I wanted to go Martin Down, where I had previously only been with my brother, but I worried I wouldn’t be able to find it, or that I would get lost in the unfamiliar woods.
All the thoughts of getting lost, or not seeing a bird I wanted to see were making me anxious, so I got up and went downstairs and put the news on to distract me. As everyone left the house to go to work, I finally made a decision. Don’t waste any more time, get in the car and head out to Holten Lee near Upton, Poole.
I parked in the car park and before I had even got all my stuff out of the car, I had four robins in the tree next to me. Most of the time robins are solitary birds, but these birds were clearly grouped together and happily following each other and singing to other robins in a nearby tree. As I headed off to the toilets (always my first port of call before a long walk) I could see and hear lots of birds in the bushes and trees around the car park.
There were blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits and wrens. I expect the birds were just as excited as I was that it was not raining.
The last time I was here I walked around the farm land, but I decided that the long grass on the tracks would probably make my shoes very wet, so I thought I would just head straight to the wood and then the hides and heathland.
I knew that there are resident little owls on this site, but not where exactly. Along the path to the wood you pass Two Oak Field and my guess would be that the owls would love the oak trees, so I scanned them with my binoculars. There was no sign of an owl, but there was a large nesting box on the back of one tree.
Now that the trees have mostly lost their leaves it is so much easier to see the birds in the branches, but they also can move about much quicker, so getting photos is still as hard. There seemed to be lots of finches about, chaffinch and bullfinch, and I could also hear the high notes of a goldcrest or firecrest. I could hear a song thrush in one of the trees, but try as I might, I could not spot it.
There are so many lovely colours on our birds, and the bullfinches were beautiful.
As I walked around the base of the hill there was lots of surface water running off the fields and the trees were standing in a lot of water. I could hear a strange call coming from the undergrowth. I wondered if it was a kestrel or other raptor, but then it sounded more like an animal. I kept stopping to see if I could spot anything. I noticed that just beyond the trees was the edge of the marshland and reeds and it occurred to me it could be a water rail, a wading bird that follows the reeds at the edge of the water to feed. The water rail has a call that sounds very like a piglet. I couldn’t see anything, so I’ll never know.
There are views from the wood across Poole Harbour and as I walked through the woods I could hear the strange noises of a ferry horn and also the train running close by to Wareham. Patches of land so close to busy towns with all this beauty.
The last time I walked through the wood on the hill it was covered in a thick blanket of ferns, and on several occasions I thought I would get stuck or lost, but today I could easily follow the path and could see that it wasn’t that big and it led you round in a circle, back to where you started. Nothing to worry about here.
As I walked back toward the path I stopped in my tracks as I spotted the bright chests of the bullfinches as they flew into a bush with the last remaining red berries on it. They scattered when they spotted me, but were then replaced with two wrens. I happily watched them for a few minutes, until I became aware of a little bird on the gorse in front of me.
It was a goldcrest, with its distinctive yellow striped head, pale circled eyes and what looks like a downward sad mouth. I am never sure , until I have time to see the detail back home, whether I have seen a goldcrest or a firecrest.
I watched it for ages as it flew from bush to bush, such a tiny little bird, but absolutely beautiful. My photos were rubbish, but I was very happy to have seen it so close and not really bothered by me, once flying almost straight at me, at which point I nearly dropped my camera.
Back on the path you meet the first hide overlooking feeders, a pond and then views across the marsh to the harbour. There was a lot of activity, robins, squirrels, blue tits, great tits, and a nuthatch and they were all sweeping in and out at great speed to get a quick bite. The hide was very cold as there was no sun to warm it up, so I decided to carry on walking, to keep my body temperature up.
I followed the raised walk way through the reed beds, a sweeping path that I am sure in the summer must be filled with reed warblers and buntings. Another date to be pencilled in the diary.
Once off the walkway you walk through the trees to another hide looking over the water. I met a fellow birdwatcher coming back from the hide who asked if I had been in the other hide and seen much. I told him I had seen quite a lot. He said there had been a lot of activity earlier at the water hide, but now everything had disappeared. We exchanged good wishes for the rest of the day and I continued to the hide.
There were a lot of birds high in the canopy of the trees and at first I thought they were starlings, but there was none of the normal noise associated with them. I managed a quick glimpse of one bird as it stopped on a branch and to my surprise it turned out to be a flock of redwing. They had moved on before I could get a shot on my camera.
I entered the hide and a man was in there. We spoke for a while, but as there wasn’t much happening I decided to walk around the heath. There wasn’t much about, probably because it was so cold, so my hopes of seeing stonechats or Dartford warblers were thwarted. I walked in a small loop across the heath and headed back the way I had come. When I got back to the first hide I stopped outside to see if I could see any of the little birds on the branches of the trees, to get some photos, but no sooner had I spotted them than they disappeared behind the hut to the feeders. I guessed photos on the feeders was probably better than none.
There was a lady in the hide who I had said hello to earlier and she said there were lots of birds showing, including a great spotted woodpecker. I said I had seen a nuthatch earlier which she had not seen yet. As if by magic it turned up , so I sat down in one of the chairs and we sat chatting and watching the birds for about 30 minutes.
The sun came out and the light and warmth brightened the moment for us and the birds.
We discussed photography, photoshopping pictures, which neither of us do, pros and cons of bird feeders in the garden and rats. It was really nice to sit and talk and exchange stories of places to walk too.
We both followed a chap on social media who works at Holten Lee and posts pictures of a little owl and she said he had shown her where it could be spotted. We left the hut and walked back to the car park and opposite the field with the two oaks where I previewed thought the owl would be, she showed me an old dead oak where there is a nesting box (so far unused) and another couple of oaks where the owl is regularly seen perched. We scanned the trees to see if we could spot it (at this point I was so cold I was shivering and could hardly hold my binoculars still) to no avail and we joked that it was probably behind us laughing.