A Little Surprise

Looking across Ibsley Water when I arrived at the reserve this morning all was quiet, the lake surface smooth and no sign of anything unusual. A visitor pointed out a pipit that had landed in front of the hide, maybe a rock pipit? A better look and it was clear it was a water pipit, it walked up the shore to get even closer to the hide, perhaps the best views I have ever had of this species. Well pleased that I had seen the “Bird of the day” I went off to open up the rest of the reserve and get ready for the arrival of the volunteers to the day’s task.

We spent the morning clearing some more of the bramble and willow regrowth from the western shore of Ibsley Water. Towards the end of the task I got a call to say that there was a little auk on Ibsley Water, near the Tern hide. I had a pair of binoculars with me (no great surprise, as I almost always do!) and looking across the lake I could just make out a small black and white bird, small enough that it could only be the auk. It drifted about and at times showed up quite well on the glassy surface, even at long range. I realised that, although a long way off we could actually see it, which was more than could be said for people looking from the hides as it was on one of the very few parts of the lake that are out of view of the hides.

This was the first record of little auk at Blashford, not surprising as they are very scarce in Hampshire and are seabirds that spend most of their lives out of sight of land. They nest on islands in the high Arctic under boulder scree, places like Baffin Island, Greenland and Frans Joseph Island. The world population may be in excess of 15 million and apart form when nesting they live far out to see in the northern north Atlantic. They are very small, about half the size of a puffin, close to the size of a starling. They often occur in flocks, but when lost individuals reach our shores they will sometimes join flying flocks of starlings, which is perhaps how they end up inland. At this time of year lots of starlings are flying to us across the North Sea, so it is easy to see how they might join them and end up flying in over the coast.

I did get to the Tern hide later and luckily for me just as the auk passed very close to the hide, I even got a few very poor pictures as digi-scoping a swimming bird at close range is a little challenging, there will lots of much better ones around, but I don’t have any of those , so here is mine.


little auk

As well as swimming about it also did a few dives and later flew off strongly to the south. Although it was unfortunate for people who arrived too late to see it, I was delighted it flew off. Most little auks that arrive on our shores are storm-driven and starving, many are either washed up dead or nearly so, the fact that this one could fly so well means it might just have a chance of getting back to where it needs to be, far out in the Atlantic.

At the end of the day the great white egret was once again perched up in a tree near the cormorant roost on Ivy Lake, I think it is now roosting there most evenings. I also heard water rail calling and singing  Cetti’s warbler.


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