I had to meet my son in Gloucester this morning which gave me an opportunity to combine three of my favourite pastimes. We planned to meet at The Aviator cafe at Gloucester Airport which allowed for some plane spotting whilst enjoying a Full English.
After breakfast my Son headed north on the motorway to Edinburgh while I went south to the much nearer Slimbridge. First stop here was the Martin Smith Hide to try for the Jack Snipe. Great views of a Common Snipe and Water Rail but no Jack. From the Holden Tower I added WF and Barnacle Goose, Crane and Peregrine. Then it was back for another look for the Jack Snipe. My luck was in as it was showing, although well tucked into the reeds. Fortuitously at that moment a Pintail swam right into the patch of vegetation causing it to move briefly into view. Having got my target birds and with things to do at home I headed off via Kemble Airfield and the Water Park. A few interesting planes at the former while the Water Park gave me my first Green Sandpiper and my first Wiltshire Little Egret for 2019. That was it for today but looking forward top a full day out with Ian and Matt tomorrow.
Taking advantage of an early finish at work I headed for the Water Park. First stop was lake 74 where I was pleased to find a couple of GBB Gulls along with a Red Crested Pochard for my Wiltshire list. Wildfowl numbers were pretty low with Goldeneye the best. I couldn’t even find a Little Egret let alone a Great White. Moving on I gave a few more pits a quick scan before checking out Eysey and Roundhouse. Again very quiet with a hundred or so Lapwings the only birds of note, also seen here was my first Mistle Thrush of the year. Then it was over the border into Gloucestershire to look for the Chiffchaffs at Kempsford STW. On the way I noticed an open hanger door on the airbase with a U2 inside. Unfortunately it didn’t look as if it was going to be flying today so I moved on. At the Sewage works a Chiffchaff was seen straight away along with a couple of Goldcrests and a Treecreeper. Eventually the Siberian Chiffchaff appeared along with another regular one which had seemed to take exception to the Sibe, chasing it off on a couple of occasions. For some reason I have driven past this site many times without stopping to look. It will now be a regular stop when I am in the area. My final site was Stanton Park where, amongst the twenty-four species seen I finally caught up with a Wiltshire Collared Dove and my first Greenfinch of the year. It is really sad how this once common bird has so rapidly disappeared form the countryside. That will probably be my last birding this week as I have the luxury of not starting work until what for me is the late start time of 07.00. Not sure how the family will cope with me being up after half-seven in the evening.
After staying in bed until an almost unheard of ten o’clock I went out in the garden, cut the grass and hung out some washing! At just gone midday myself the wife and dog headed off to Hackpen Hill for a walk along the Ridgeway to Fyfield Down. Although not particularly cold there was a strong wind blowing which was keeping the small birds out of sight. Apart from corvids and pigeons just a Stonechat was seen along the track to Berwick Bassett pond where we stopped to eat our soup and sandwich. The path to Totterdown Wood was just as quiet and the wood gave just Blue and Great Tits and a lone Dunnock. Heading from the wood onto open ground a couple of Hares shot off from almost underfoot, amazingly the dog didn’t even see them go. A Red kite was on the ground and being hassled by a small group of Crows. A mixed flock of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starlings flew from some trees on our approach and then four Red Kites passed overhead making the most of the wind with an aerobatic display worthy of the Red Arrows. Small birds were again hard to find with just a Meadow Pipit, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer noted. Back on the Ridgeway a flock of at least a hundred Golden Plover flew up from an adjoining field, wheeled around a couple of time before settling back down. Checking out where they had landed I found a number of Lapwing huddled down against the wind. Two Buzzards were the only new species seen on the walk back along the Ridgeway to the car
My intention had been to restart the blog on the first of January but having failed miserably on that one I guess the 13th is better than not at all so here goes.
Following up and down levels of enthusiasm over the last couple of years I am hoping that I will be able to get through 2019 in good form.
The year has started well health wise with another clear scan and blood test following my bowel cancer and on the birding side of things I have also made a decent start with some good Wiltshire birds, and a productive trip (85 species) to Portland and Weymouth last Sunday with Ian and Graham.
This weekend started with a good day out in Hampshire. Myself Matt and Graham headed for Keyhaven with an initial stop on the A31 in hope that the White-tailed Eagle would put in a first light appearance. Alas it didn’t but as usual Keyhaven gave us a good species list including a close up Scaup on Keyhaven Lagoon, large numbers of Brent Geese and Pintail, a male Eider on the sea and eleven wader species. Then it was back to the A31 for an hours stroll hoping for the Eagle to appear. It didn’t and apart from a few crows no other birds did either. Then it was off to Blashford Lakes for the final hour nad a half of daylight. The Yellow-browed Warbler wasn’t showing so at around a quarter to four we headed off to the Tern Hide for the gull roost. With no sign of the Caspian Gull three Yellow-legged were the best birds found. With no owls seen on the return journey the day ended with an excellent eight-one species seen which included eleven NFY.
Noting that the Ring-necked Duck had reappeared at the Water Park and finishing work at lunchtime today I headed off to the Water Park. There are two places to park for Lake 16 and I chose the southerly end. Snatching a quick sandwich before venturing out into the cold wind I had a quick check of Twitter. RND showing well at the northern end of 16 at 11.30 was the message I got. So a quick drive to the other end and in the company of another Wiltshire Birder (safety in numbers when in Gloucestershire!!) the duck was soon found, close in along with a small flock of Tufties. With this being about the twelfth lake checked out for this bird over four visits it was nice to finally get it on the yearlist. It just needs to head back into Wiltshire now. From here I headed over to Eysey where I year ticked Golden Plover for Wiltshire but by minutes missed out on an Oystercatcher.
For her birthday my Wife and I have just had a couple of nights away staying in Southsea. The main reason for choosing this area was to spend a day at the Historic Dockyard. Our hotel was a short walk from Southsea Castle so after an excellent cooked breakfast and although this wasn’t in any way shape or form a birdy trip it would have been rude not to check out the Purple Sandpipers. We struck lucky with the tide and had ten birds feeding in good view just below the Castle. I really need to sort out getting another camera. From here we followed the Millenium Trail alongside the sea to the museum. As expected there were a few Brent Geese on the Common along with many gulls. A boat trip around the harbour from the museum found more geese and gulls along with a few Cormorants. The Dockyard is superb, the Mary Rose alone being worth the entrance fee but a single day is just not long enough. After a bit of shopping at Gunwharf Quays and cocktails at Las Iguanas we headed back to Southsea keeping an out for somewhere to eat. There are many quirky places in the area and we struck lucky at Pie and Vinyl (http://www.pieandvinyl.co.uk/) where we had good food in an interesting setting. After another good breakfast it was back to the castle where again ten Sandpipers were seen. We then walked east along the front all the way to the entrance to Langstone harbour. Redshank, Turnstone, unlin and Curlew were noted along with many more Brent Geese. On the return trip we had tea and cakes at the Southsea Beach Cafe (www.southseabeachcafe.co.uk/) before heading off home.
Hoping to beat the rain first thing yesterday morning I headed out to Barbury Castle to have another look for the Snow Bunting along the Ridgeway. Just before I arrived the rain started so I decided to abort the walk, I just didn’t fancy another windswept soak. Must be getting softer with ageing. So this morning a first- light look out of the bedroom window confirmed that, as forecast it was clear skies and soon to be some sunshine. I got up and headed out noting that although clear it was still rather windy. Arriving the racecourse end of Barbury I realised that I had left my big coat at home, fortunately I keep an assortment of clothes in the car so was still able to dress suitably for the conditions. Heading east along the Ridgeway I soon encountered birds which to be honest was unexpected considering the strong biting wind. A large flock of corvids was in the field to the south of the path and several of the small trees contained good numbers of small birds. A scan with the scope found Yellowhammer, Linnet, Chaffinch and Corn Bunting. There being at least a hundred of the latter. As I moved towards them they took to the air and flew off towards the Castle. Skylarks were singing and a small flock of Stock Doves were feeding alongside the path. Another large flock of small birds flew up from the stubble field and alighted in the trees behind me. A good look and they all appeared to be Linnets, around three hundred was my estimate. They took to the air again heading back to the field. A cat and mouse game then started as I tried to get close without putting them up. They were hard to find in the stubble and were very flighty but eventually they settle onto a field of grass where I was able to confirm that they were all Linnets. Another scan of the stubble a bit further along found another mixed flock, mainly Yellowhammer and Chaffinch with a few Corn Buntings interspersed, eventually despite cold fingers and watering eyes I picked out a Snow Bunting. Frustratingly it kept disappearing amongst the stubble but I got reasonable views before the scattered flock took to the air when I got a good flash of white before it went from view. The flock flew away of the ridge of the hill so happy and cold I walked back to the car, it was a lot pleasanter with the wind behind me.
On Sunday a Snow Bunting was seen along the Ridgeway not far from Barbury Castle. As this would be a county tick for me I was keen to try to find it. As with last week a busy work schedule meant that I wasn’t able to get out there until this afternoon. The last few days have been cold, sunny and relatively calm, typically today was not so pleasant with a cold wind and some light drizzle. A birding friend was looking on Monday and had told me that the flock of finches that the bunting had been with was in a stubble field a few minutes walk from the car park at Hackpen Hill. Heading along the Ridgeway the first birds encountered were a large mixed corvid flock. A couple of Wrens were squabbling in the hedgerow and a small flock of Stock Doves flew from the stubble. With no sign of the flock I reached the end of the stubble field not that far from Barbury Castle Turning into the wind I started to retrace my steps. A cronking sound heralded the arrival of three Ravens, two of which alighted in the field for a short time before flying off. A few Skylarks also flew up but still no finches. I stopped the scan the field again finding a Hare that was hunkered down low. Something unseen startled it and as it ran off across the field it put up a flock of finches. With the light being so poor it was hard to pick out much detail but I identified Chaffinches and Linnets. Most of the flock landed back on the ground with others heading for the top of some trees. Then again they went up, this time all ending up in the trees. This was repeated a couple more times before they all headed off towards Barbury, most frustrating. There was no point chasing them so I headed back to the car. A return visit will be made. From here I visited a nearby site where I got a consolation tick of Tree Sparrow. We are very lucky to have good numbers of these in the area thanks to the hard work put in by Matt Prior and his team. Also seen were a few Greenfinches, a bird that is getting harder and harder to find nowadays. On the drive home Red Kite, Buzzard and Stonechat were added to the list for the afternoon.
On my drive into work this morning I had two Tawny Owls fly across the road as I drove into Wroughton. For work I went to Plymouth and on the way back into Bristol. This gave me the chance to drive past Barrow Tanks where using the height of the cab to my advantage I was able to scan the reservoir and managed to find the Long-tailed Duck that has been hanging around here for a while.
With a walk with the dog planned for this morning my wife suggested that we went to Keynes Country Park and who was I to argue. When we got there the park closed sign was out so we drove to South Cerney and parked at the recreation ground. From here we walked to Shorncote and the onto the back of the Country Park. Along the stream at Shorncote were a single Chiffchaff, two and three Wrens. A Water Rail was squealing in the distance. Since I last came this way they have diverted the path so it was further than I remembered to reach Lake 31. We passed the northern end of 88 and 87. On the grass south of 88 were six geese, two each of Canada, Egyptian and Greylag. From the map I worked out that they were sitting in Wiltshire making the Egyptian a 2018 county tick. Reaching 31 I started to check out the duck flock in the vain hope that the RND had returned. As I was doing this my wife said what is that flying over? I looked up and realised that it was a Great White Egret and that it was being closely followed by a another, this is the first time that I have seen two together at CWP. We circumnavigated 31 and then headed back to Shorncote and then to the car at South Cerney. Back at Shorncote a flock of Goldfinches, five Lapwing and two Reed Buntings were added to the list. We headed home via Driffield and Harnhill where with no time to search ourselves I was hoping to find someone watchimg the Great Bustard but nobody was around.