The week started well at three a.m. on Monday morning when I went off on one of my favourite delivery runs to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. At Aberdare there is a nice river walk where I usually see a Dipper. This time before I arrived at the river bridge I could hear a Dipper singing. I approached slowly to avoid flushing and was rewarded by great views of the bird sat on a rock in the river singing and then feeding. The bird then flew, passing under the bridge and off downstream. As I moved onto the bridge to watch it a Kingfisher flew from a nearby perch. Later on along the river at Mountain Ash two Goosander were busily fishing and a Grey Wagtail was also seen. With it being a lovely sunny morning, having seen some good birds and with a first for a long time day of birding planned on Wednesday I headed back towards Swindon in good spirit. However just after crossing the Severn Bridge I received a phone call that changed it all. It was to tell me that a close family member had tragically died and I spent the rest of the journey deciding how I was going to break the news to my wife and children. Later on with my wife I was back on the motorway heading to London to see my chidren and mother. Tuesday was spent sorting the logistics of getting eight people across to Northern Ireland for a funeral on the coming Friday. I went to work on Wednesday and on Thursday it was a drive to Bristol airport for a flight to Belfast. Having previously been to family Catholic funerals I knew that attending one in Northern Ireland would be a very intense and challenging experience. Friday dawned bright and clear but with a cutting wind chilling all. After walking to the church, the service and then the walk to the top of the hill in the town we drove to the cemetery, on arrival several Hooded Crows flying overhead provided a welcome distraction from proceedings. Later on in the day the family headed for the nearby seaside town of Newcastle which nestles along a bay in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. Many happy memories of family walks here were brought back, with some of my best sightings of Black Guillemot amongst them. In hope I scanned the waters of the bay and was rewarded with fine views of a single bird fishing. Also in the bay were Common Scoter and Cormorant. Along the waters edge were many waders, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone and Curlew. This walk and these sightings were just what was needed at this time and will provide a happy memory of a very sad day. My Brother -in-law had always lived a slightly chaotic life with many of his journeys to and from England having been eventful, with oversleeping and last-minute dashes to the airport and it seemed his spirit was still with us on the journey home. A plane had made an emergency landing at Belfast during the afternoon causing many flight delays. On arrival at Bristol airport fog had descended and we were unable to land. The plane diverted to Exeter and after a wait and a coach transfer back to Bristol we finally arrived home at three in the morning.
This morning on my way back from Bournemouth I stopped for a break at a regular place on the road from Bulford to Tidworth. A few weeks ago I found a Yellow-browed Warbler here. A short walk alongside the beech trees was quiet but on returning to the lorry I found a flock of Chaffinches feeding amongst the leaf litter under the trees. Some careful searching turned up a smart maleBrambling amongst them along with four Jays.
After several months with very little birding done a report of a Rock Thrush near to Abergavenny piqued my interest. It was reported on Thursday evening and I decided that if my work schedule was kind, and that it had stayed overnight I would head for the hills. I finished work at around 12.00 and it hadn’t been reported so a little disappointed i headed for home. Whilst eating my lunch I checked on Twitter and saw that it was indeed still around. A quick exit from the house saw me, at a bit past one heading west on the M4 hoping that I would be ahead of the inevitable Friday traffic chaos. Normally when I go to this area I route myself via Gloucester and the Forest of Dean to avoid paying for the Severn Crossing. Time did not allow for this luxury so I soon found myself paying out £6.50 for the privilege of entering Wales. I knew the area the Thrush was in from previous trips to Blorenge for Red Grouse so had no problem finding it. On arrival I managed to find a parking place and after getting my coat and scope heading off in the wind and light drizzle for the quarry. I soon found the right place and joined the row of birders already there. I found myself next to David another Wiltshire birder and was soon onto the bird. Despite the conditions it was showing well, managing to find some sheltered spots. I stayed for about half-an-hour, ever conscious of the time and the traffic on the return journey, knowing that I would receive a frosty reception from my wife if she got home from work before I was back. Fortunately the motorway was kind to me and I made it with ease in less than four hours for the whole trip. The following day I was going walking and decided to go from Hackpen Hill to Fyfield Down. For a change I took the binoculars and was rewarded with 30 species including Tree Sparrow, Golden Plover and Grey Partridge. My next opportunity to get out was on Sunday morning and I decided to head to the Shorncote area of the Water Park. I was really disappointed to find the area was quite neglected with poor views from the hides. The only plus was that the paths had been improved. However I understand from Ben at the Water Park that all being well things may well be improving in the not too distant future. Good news as this could be a great birding area. While I was in the hide I heard that a Ring-necked Duck had been found on Lake 74. This would be a Wiltshire first for me so off I went. Meeting up with Nigel and several other locals at Twitchers we scoured the visible areas of water with no luck. Despite this three passes by a female Marsh Harrier made the visit worthwhile. Just before leaving several skeins of Geese flew in, mainly Canada and Greylag but also the now regular group of fourteen Barnacle. Inevitably within minutes of arriving home the duck was found so I decided to head back. Unfortunately it was only visible from the hide at the northern end of the lake which is a good fifteen minute fast walk from the nearest parking. Still needs must and sweating a little I arrived at the hide where I managed a brief view of it before spending a frustrating few minutes trying, at a fair distance to get good views of a constantly diving duck. Eventually it settled in one spot and although still spending a good bit of time underwater did allow reasonable views. Great Spot and Jay were both seen on the walk back to the car finishing off a good day. Maybe, just maybe i am getting back into it.
Having posted yesterday that I wasn’t doing much birding at the moment it was typical that today an opportunity to go out arose. The day started with another Barn Owl sighting early this morning, this one a little further along the A4361 between Beckhampton and Devizes. Having finished at a reasonable time I decided to head out to the Water Park for a look at the Black-necked Grebe that has been on lake 65 for a few days. To get there I parked near to Ashton Keynes and walked along the Thames Path. I hadn’t been walking for very long when a flash of blue heralded the appearance of a Kingfisher. Fortunately, rather than disappearing from sight it perched on an overhanging branch and as I watched, it dived into the water and emerged with a fish. wonderful to see. A Great Spot Woodpecker called from the trees and a brief glimpse was had as it flew away. Several Wrens were seen as I walked along the river along with various tits and finches. At lake 41 a white blob on the far back turned out to be a Little Egret rather than the hoped for Great White. I then spent a few minutes scanning 57 for the Scaup with no joy. Crossing the Thames on small footbridge I arrived at lake 65. There were a couple of birders here and one of them kindly let me look at the Grebe in his scope. I then found it myself and watched for a few minutes as it continually dived and resurfaced in almost the same spot. Then it was back to 57 to try again for the Scaup. Along with a couple of others I scanned with no success. Goldeneye and Pochard were the best we found. Then it was back along the Thames to the car. A quick look-in at 28, 29 and 30 turned up a female Goosander but no Smew. A drive by Twitchers added Lapwing and Shoveler to the list of just over thirty species before I headed home.
Well maybe not the Last Post but as you may have noticed there haven’t been that many lately. Why? Well the main reason is that my enthusiasm for birding has dropped off in a big way recently. So no birding means no posting. There is no particular reason for this, priorities have changed and my time seems to be taken up by other things at the moment, therefore birds will just have to be fitted in as and when. However as always do a sighting of a Barn Owl alongside the Wroughton to Broad Hinton road early this morning was great. It was a bit of a surprise as the conditions weren’t great, strong wind and light drizzle aren’t usually a good combination for Barn Owls. Unfortunately it was probably pretty hungry from the recent poor conditions so was getting out whenever it could.
With a longish walk at the Water Park planned for today I was a little disappointed to see that it was foggy when I got up. However by the time I set off it had started to clear. My first stop was at North Meadow outside Cricklade. on the flooded fields here were a few Lapwing and gulls and little else. From here I made a quick check of the scrape from Twitchers, just in case the Great White Egret was around. It wasn’t. I then went to look for the Smew and I found two Redheads on 28 along with a pair of Goosander. Then it was off to Waterhay for my walk along the Thames Path to the Reed Hide. A Common Gull was standing on its own in one of the fields and a flock of Redwings were in the trees of the car park. On 68a/b were eight Goldeneye. I cut through the hedge by lake 59 where four male and two female Bullfinches were seen. Small birds were in short supply with few seen overall. As I neared the Thames I could hear Curlew and found a flock of seventeen on the flooded fields across the river. Also here were two Blackwits, two Redshank and a Green Sandpiper. Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker were heard but not seen around here. Reaching the hides a scan along 74 found large numbers of Shoveler and Wigeon along with a few Tufties and Teal and a couple of Goldeneye. Not much was seen from the Reed Hide but Cetti’s and Water Rail were heard. Heading back alongside 68a/b a raft of around two hundred and twenty Pochard was a nice find. A flock of Lapwing flew up from the scrape as did three male Pintail. After returning to the car I decided to look in at Eysey on the way home. I stopped along Friday Hams Lane to check out another flock of Lapwing and got a flyby Kingfisher as a bonus. The water at Eysey was almost empty but a scan of the trees found a Buzzard. As I watched it flew and all of a sudden a Peregrine appeared and started to mob it. Eventually the Buzzard flew off and the Peregrine then disappeared over the trees. Nearing home I headed in towards Swindon to try for the Dipper that has been seen around the Eldene / Park South area. Parking in Shaftesbury Avenue I walked across to the small rubbish strewn stream. To be honest i didn’t think there was much chance of seeing it but as I approached the culvert where the Dorcan Way passes over the stream I saw it bobbing away on the edge of the water. As I watched it walked in and submerged. When it surfaced it stayed for a few seconds before flying along the culvert and out of sight. Certainly an interesting place for it to be and thanks and congratulations to the finder. All in all a good day out with three year and seven county ticks.
I am still struggling to get my birding year going, in the words of my wife “I am just not feeling it at the moment”. However there have been a few moments over the last week. The first was a Barn Owl riskily hunting the verge alongside the A350 at Lacock early on Friday morning. A perilous thing to do as shown by the sighting of a dead one alongside the A421 near to Bicester on Wednesday. Saturday morning found me in Savernake Forest after a bit of shopping in Marlborough. I recently read somewhere that Blue Tit numbers were well down, not in Savernake they weren’t as it seemed that every other bird seen was one. A Grey Heron at Thornhill pond was a surprise, I don’t think I have seen one on the ground in the forest before. ALso of interest was the number of Bullfinches seen, at least a dozen were noted. I have noticed elsewhere that they to seem to be around in good numbers this winter. For Sunday, somewhat rashly I had volunteered to drive a minibus full of members of the Delta Reds Netball Team (including my wife I should add) to Wembley to watch England in the Quad Series. After dropping them off I headed for the WWT centre at Barnes to pass the time until I needed to pick them up. A worthwhile visit with good views of two Bittern and a Caspian Gull which was a lifer for me. Several Snipe and Pintail were noted but the Water Pipit couldn’t be found. Yesterday afternoon I took the dog for a walk along the Railway Path. A good few birds around with another three Bullfinches being the best. This afternoon a walk with the dog in the Hackpen area got me up to one hundred species for the year. My slowest century for a good few years. The fact that eighty-six of these have been in Wiltshire shows how little travelling I have done so far. Still it was a good bird that got me there, a Tree Sparrow. Two more Bullfinches were seen but better than that three Greenfinches also. I have now seen a grand total of five this year. A good few Raptors about with Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrels seen in various numbers. I have noticed over the last few mornings the increasing number of Song Thrushes singing, a sign that Spring is not that far away maybe. All being well the plan is for a few hours at the Water Park tomorrow so hopefully a good day-list will be had.
….as in a quiet start to February after a quiet finish to January. On the return leg of a wet trip to Bournemouth today a good few birds were noted at the pig farm at Old Sarum. Several hundred Lapwing, plenty of gulls and a couple of Little Egrets were seen as I drove past. On a stop for a break near to Bulford I saw and heard several Skylarks displaying. Nearer to home and just before leaving the M4 an adjacent wet field held a skewer of Egrets. Obviously I wasn’t able to stop to confirm which sort. So on my home from work I headed along Wharf Road to see if I could find them. The field I had seen them in is not really visible from Wharf Road but fortunately they had moved and were in the field next to it. I was also lucky that there was a place to pull in. A quick count revealed twenty-two Little Egrets and unfortunately none of the Cattle variety. This is the largest gatheing of egrets I have seen in the Swindon area. It could be worth keeping an eye on the area in case something more interesting turns up. I stopped by Wroughton Reservoir as well and there were fewer birds than last time. Twenty-one Gadwall, four Tufted, five Little Grebe and a couple each of Mallard and Moorhen was all that was there.
A thank you to the sharp-eyed readers of this blog who pointed out that yesterday I managed to turn a Siskin into a Serin. This small error has now been corrected. My apologies to the hordes of birders who raced down to Blashford this morning to see the aforementioned bird. I hope you had a great time looking for it!!