I had a couple of hours spare this morning so headed off to West Kennet where a Black Redstart was seen a few days ago. Even though it is just a few miles from home this was a new area for me. Although there was no sign of the target bird the area certainly has potential and deserves another visit when more time is available. There is a good mix of farmland, hedgerow and downland. It is close to the source of the Kennet and currently the river is dry but through the winter it should fill up adding more interest to the area. The best birds seen here were a flock of twenty-one Golden Plover, my first of the autumn. I then crossed the A4 to Avebury Trusloe where I walked up to Windmill Hill. There were many Skylarks passing overhead along with a couple of flocks of Linnets. Otherwise it was the normal farmland birds, Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and Goldfinches.
Friday was a shall I shan’t I go for the Siberian Accentor on Saturday kind of day. I kept changing my mind from go to not go but finally at around seven in the evening decided to go. A quick call to Matt who had been waiting on me confirmed the go. Then it was a bit of a rush to get everything together ready for picking Matt up at 02.30. I managed just short of four hours sleep before the alarm went off then it was a quick bit of toast and juice before heading off to collect Matt. With the motorways quiet, clear and fortunately with no closures for road works we were going through Hull at around six a.m. With YWT volunteers already out directing traffic we arrived in the designated parking field at half past, two hundred and forty miles in four hours, pretty good going. Matt had heroically stayed awake for the whole journey. Then it was a brisk walk to join the queue by the gas terminal. There was low cloud and drizzle and a light south-easterly wind. Hopefully ideal conditions for migrants. Redwing, Siskins and Brambling were heard overhead and a Tawny Owl called from nearby trees. As the skies started to lighten Brambling were seen and a Woodcock flew over a couple of times. It was a little while before the news that we were hoping for was passed along the queue. The bird was showing. The first group was sent in for their five minutes and as it got lighter our turn eventually came. Despite the gloom we had great views as the bird fed almost constantly on the mossy old car park. It was occasionally hassled by Robins and Blackbirds but seemed fairly settled. My first pre-dawn lifer. Then it was time to move on and we headed on back to the car and off on the short drive to Kilnsea. On the way we saw a group of Bean and White-fronted Geese in a roadside field along with many Fieldfare and Redwing. After a quick chat to the volunteer at the car park we set off to explore what was a new area for both of us. Walking along to the Bluebell Cafe area there were loads of Robins and Goldcrests around. On reaching the dunes by the car park we soon found the hoped for Shorelark, only my second ever. Walking along to the Canal Scrape it was more of the same along with waves of thrushes dropping in as they arrived off of the sea. Reaching the scrape another birder said he had heard a Dusky Warbler so we spent a few minutes staking out the bushes before heading for the hide. The hoped for Jack Snipe wasn’t showing but it wasn’t long before Matt saw it come out of the reeds and start to bathe. It then scuttled off into some vegetation where glimpses of it were had as it preened. It was time to move on and we headed further along the road towards the ringing area. Here we saw Siskin and Black Redstart and then had two Short-eared Owls coming in off of the sea. A scan of the Humber mudflats added Brent Geese and Dunlin to the list. On the shore were many more thrushes and there were Goldfinches and Great Tits flitting around. Heading back the way we had come we just missed out on a Dusky Warbler but after some more moving around and searching we finally managed good views of one as it moved in and out of the reeds, the second lifer of the day.While we were looking for it we had great views of a couple of Woodcock, one flying right across in front of us. It was then back to the car for some well-earned food. A few skeins of geese came in from the sea, these were Greylag and White-fronts. After lunch it was off to the church and the Crown and Anchor. A good size group of birders were gathered at the church looking for Firecrest and Pallas’s Warbler. Eventually we managed good views of both. In the pub garden was another Firecrest. Another look at the Humber got us Redshank and Knot but there was no sign of the reported Purple Sandpiper. It was now near to one o’clock and time to head homewards as I had visitors coming in the evening. We stopped of for another look at the Accentor. No queues this time and it was good to see it in proper daylight. We could have done with more time here as there were loads of birds in the hedgerows and trees but we needed to head south. It was another great journey although the A42 being closed meant we ended up coming home along the Fosse Way. All in all a great day. To be honest probably the best day of birding ever for both myself and Matt. It was also good to have seen half-a-dozen other Wiltshire birders. Totals were high fifties for the daylist with two lifers and another year-tick. A big thank you to all the volunteer marshalls with their great management of the twitch.
…..with a family trip to London and Suffolk with very little chance of birding. On Saturday morning I managed a short walk on Liddington Hill. No sign of any Ring Ouzels but there were plenty of birds about. Several flocks of Meadow Pipits totalled well into three figures and there were flocks of fifty or so Yellowhammers and Linnets. Corn Bunting, Chiffchaff and Skylark were all heard singing and Buzzard and Kestrel were seen. In London we went to pick up my daughter from university and found time for a walk at Pen Ponds in Richmond Park. Having seen many deer on the drive through we saw and heard some bellowing males. A flock of fifteen Wigeon were flying around and a late Common Tern was a surprise find. There were several Pochard and Tufted Duck on the western lake. Grey Heron and Cormorant were seen along with Eygptian Geese, a Grey Wagtail and many Parakeets. In a bird filled Suffolk today all I managed were twenty-five House Sparrows and two Collared Doves in my great aunts garden, a roadside Jay and six Buzzards circling overhead the pub that we went to for Sunday lunch. I am working Monday to Friday this week so not much opportunity for getting out until next weekend.
Sunday just gone it was the day for the WOS autumn meeting at Portland. The forecast was for another nice day which is normally what most people want for a day at the coast. For birders this isn’t always the case and unfortunately for us it meant that although there were plenty of birds about there was very little in the way of good migrants. Three of us (Myself, Richard and Steve) left Swindon at 06.30 and for a change I got to sit in the passenger seat. Not much of interest was seen on the way down, a Jay was about the best. Our first stop was the Haylands estate at Weston to look for the Rosy Starling that has been seen on and off for the last few days. Housing estates aren’t my favourite birding sites, especially when you are checking the rooftops and realise that someone is looking back at you from their bedroom window. It was all to no avail as all we found were Common Starlings. The fields adjoining the estate had good numbers of Mipits and Goldfinches. Moving on we met up with the rest of the group at the Bill car park. Walking down to the sea there were a few Wheatears seen and more Mipits. We started off with a short seawatch. Short because there were very few birds to watch. Other than gulls we managed half-a-dozen Razorbills, a couple of Gannets, one flock of five Scoters and a single distant Shearwater species. Then it was off to the Obs quarry to try for the Wryneck that has been around for most of the week. First bird seen was the resident Little Owl. It was the a case of watching Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks whilst waiting for the Wryneck to show. Eventually it did show giving all of the group good views.We were also treated to a couple of flyovers by a Peregrine. Next was a walk around the Top Fields after a quick look-in at the Obs, where it was confirmed that quality birds were in short supply, as had been the case for most of the previous week. The walk turned up a couple of Chiffchaffs, several Stonechats and more Mipits. Many Swallows and House Martins were passing overhead. A quick look at the rocks on the eastern side added Rock Pipit and Turnstone to the day-list. After eating our sarnies we headed off to Ferrybridge with another look for the Rosy Starling on the way. Again no luck but we did have a Wheatear perched on a rooftop. Ferrybridge gave us Little Egret, a couple of Med Gulls and five wader species, Oystecatcher, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Barwit and Curlew. As usual we finished up at Lodmoor which turned out to be the best site of the day. Walking the western path we had great views of Bar and Blackwit, Grey Plover, Dunlin and a single Curlew Sandpiper. Annoyingly I had left my camera in the car so missed out on some potentially good photographs. In the gull flock were almost sixty Med Gulls of various ages which with expert help from Granville gave many of us the opportunity of a masterclass in their identification. Some of the group also saw Snipe and Water Rail here. Small birds were in short supply here with most (mainly Cetti’s) being heard but not seen. Moving further around the reserve we had Grey and Common Sandpiper, a single Barnacle Goose amongst the many Canada Geese and Kingfisher that stayed perched on a post for a good while before flying across in front of us. It was then time to head back to the cars and to set off home. As usual we had an enjoyable day, disappointing for the lack of migrants but otherwise good. Thanks to Graham for leading and to Richard for driving. My total for the day was sixty-six species ( with just a single year-tick) but as most of these were written down at the end of the day rather than as we went along I may have missed a couple.
Following on from my walk to Liddington Hill on Wednesday I spent an hour or so at Coate yesterday and had a drive along the Kennet today. At a quiet Coate the best bird were Kingfisher, a Little Egret and three Wigeon. At around three a.m. this morning I was woken by a vocal Tawny Owl on the roof of the house, heard but not seen which was most annoying as I still haven’t actually seen one this year. This morning after a bit of shopping in Marlborough I stopped of at Froxfield where I was rewarded with five Snipe and singles of Green Sandpiper and Meadow Pipit. Chilton Foliat was very quiet with just a few Mallard and Gadwall on the wide water. There were at least fifteen trout beneath the road bridge. I then stopped at Axford for my lunch where again it was quiet. Grey Wagtail and Jay were seen along with six Swallows and a mixed flock of Sand and House Martins. Only a single bird of prey was seen on the whole drive, a Buzzard over Ogbourne St Andrew.
I have been a bit down for the last few weeks with little inclination to get out birding. Maybe the effects of all the medical crap over the past few months has finally caught up with me. However last Thursday I decided that I would get up early on Friday morning and head for Slimbridge for the Spotted Crake. I woke well before the alarm (about five) and managed to convince myself that it would have gone overnight and so decided to stay in bed. I didn’t wake again until eleven (yes really) and a quick look on Twitter showed that I had made the wrong decision. With people coming to stay for the weekend I had no chance of going until Monday so spent the whole weekend seeing how well it was showing. So on Monday morning I was up early and arrived at Slimbridge for opening time. Arriving at the hide I was informed that it hadn’t yet been seen. And it wasn’t seen again having done a bunk on Sunday night. Normally I wouldn’t have been that bothered but this time I was seriously pissed off and wasn’t far off chucking my binoculars and notebook into the pond. I couldn’t even work up the enthusiasm to check out any of the other birds on site. Not even Curlew Sand, Little Stint, Spoonbill and Marsh Harrier tempted me. So onto today when I forced myself to head up to Folly Farm from where I walked up to the Ridgeway and along to Liddington Hill. I have to say I enjoyed it and it was good to push myself a bit. On the bird front I managed twenty-one species with the highlights being Stonechat, Yellow Wagtail and Raven. At least six Buzzards, two Red Kites and three House Martins were the best of the rest. I have committed to going on the WOS trip to Portland on Sunday so hopefully things are on the up again.
Yesterday evening I was informed of pager report of a possible sighting of a Shag at Coate Water. As I was getting ready to go out for a meal I wasn’t able to get out for a look. This would be a county tick for me so reasonably early this morning saw me arriving at Coate for a mosey around. Coate Water is a fair size with a good number of areas out of sight so my expectations weren’t high. The main plus point was that I didn’t have my camera as last night I had forgotten to get it out from the guest room at home and had not wanted to disturb my son, his girlfriend and dog so early in the morning. A scan of the water around the diving board drew a blank so the next area to check was the small island near to the jetty as there are a couple of trees near the water that birds use. There were a number of gulls perched along with another bird that I instantly realised could well be the Shag. Although it had it’s head tucked away the colouring and size looked good. It had light fringed feathers on the side and the underside appeared to be mainly dark. After a good ten minutes of inactivity lifted it’s head and started to preen. Before I managed to get a a good view of the head it went back to sleep. Another few minutes passed before it moved again, this time it obliged with good views of the head allowing me to see the crown peaked at the front.I then put the news out and got a reply from Pete saying he was on his way over. I took a couple of pics through the scope with my phone but without an adaptor this isn’t particularly easy.The bird became more active and I was worried that it would fly of before anyone else arrived. A Cormorant flew in and landed close by giving a good size comparison. Eventually Pete arrived and after a few minutes of watching the bird suddenly flew. Fortunately it came towards us and then landed alongside the dam where it proceeded to fish. Each time it submerged it made a good leap into the air before going under, another good id. feature. It came within a few feet of the bank giving great views which made more more annoyed that I didn’t have my camera. All I managed were a few more lousy shots on my phone. However the important thing was I had seen it and had great views of my 215th Wiltshire bird. From Coate I needed to go to Waitrose so paid a brief visit to Southleaze where I got two Green and a Common Sandpiper. In the afternoon we had a familly walk up to Liddington Hill. Very quiet on the bird front with just three Kestrels and a Red Kite worthy of note.
After a few weeks with next to no birding I was finally tempted out by a report of a Black-necked Grebe that had been seen from Twitchers Gate. Having got home from work at six I didn’t arrive there until just before seven. With several other birders on site to point out where the Grebe was it was an easy county year-tick. Other birds noted were a vocal Cetti’s, fifteen Little Egrets, many Cormorants, two Green Sandpipers and a single Teal. Also a Tawny Owl could be heard calling in the distance.
A last-minute decision saw myself and Matt leaving Swindon late this morning en-route to Seaton to try for the Least Sandpiper that has been showing well for a couple of days. After a good run down the M4 and M5 we arrived in the car park in a little under two hours, pretty good going. I last visited this area about ten years ago on a family holiday and apart from the trams seems to have changed a fair bit. A short walk from the car took us to the right hide and within a minute we were onto the bird which was feeding really close to the path. It was a bit awkward watching it through the gaps in the fence but we had great views as it fed alongside a Dunlin. Very useful as for a size comparison. Matt also found the Wood Sandpiper that was feeding on the other side of the path to the hide. This bird was coming even closer and a couple of times walked right under the raised walkway, It was later joined by a Common Sandpiper. Unfortunately one photographer decided to climb up the fence and when I suggested that it would be better if he came down stated “it’s okay the birds won’t see me” well they obviously did as they disappeared into the grass only returning after he had left. After watching the Sandpipers for a while we wandered down to the hide where we added, amongst others, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover and Black-tailed Godwit to the day list. After grabbing a sarnie in the hide we went for another look at the Least Sand before heading back to the car. A Spotted Sandpiper had been showing at the on the route home Sutton Bingham Reservoir so this was to be our next stop. On arrival at this new to both of us site we stopped on a causeway but there was no sign of a Sandpiper. A passing local birder stopped and informed us of where it had been seen earlier so we followed him down to “The Arm”. Unfortunately despite several birders looking for it the Spotted Sand wasn’t found although we did mange a Common. After another scan from the causeway we decided to head for home. A good cross-country run via the A303 saw us back in Swindon before seven. The Least Sandpiper was my twelfth UK Sandpiper and the third new one for the year.
Yesterday evening I took the dog for a walk at Barbury Castle. I parked at the western end and straight away on opening the car door I heard a Quail calling from the field to the west of the road. I walked east along the track at the bottom of the hill where there was another one calling. A few Swallows passed overhead, a Buzzard was sat on a post in the field and a couple of Yellowhammers were heard. A Hare posed for a minute in a field alongside the racecourse. The sunset was quite impressive and didn’t give any clue to the change that was coming to the weather. On the drive back another Buzzard allowed the car to get closer than usual before flying off.