First View of Salt Water in the UK This Year.

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t yet visited the coast in the UK this year. This is mainly because I have been busy at home and have also had a couple of short breaks across the Channel. Today was a “close but not quite there day” with a work visit to Cornwall where at Truro I was able to spend a few minutes checking out the city end of the Truro River. Unfortunately with a 450 mile round trip and some work to do I didn’t have time to do anymore than that. With the tide well out there were plenty of birds on the mud, mainly gulls but also a few Blackwit and Redshank both of which were UK year ticks for me.

First February Birding

The last few days have been pretty busy with a three day trip to Dusseldorf and Cologne at the end of January and then a five day course for work in Warrington. So it was nice to have a free morning to get out and do a bit of birding. Westbury Sewage Works is not the most exotic of birding sites but it is currently home to a some good overwintering birds. The works are accessed by the in current times perhaps unfortunately named Slag Lane. A quick internet search revealed the historical reasons for the name. It was the site of an ironworks and slag is a  waste product from iron production. There had been a petition to change the name from residents of some recently built houses which was rejected by the council with the following comments.

“The area was the site of an iron works which created the local mine holes or lakes and slag heaps.“The residents who asked for the town council to support a name change did not bother to attend our meeting.

“The committee decided that the name Slag Lane is historic and appropriate in this context, and that  new residents moving into homes in Slag Lane knew perfectly well the name of the road before they moved.”

I headed off along the footpath having correctly guessed that wellies would be needed. There was plenty of birdsong, dominated by several Dunnocks and accompanied by Robins, Song Thrush, Wren and Chiffchaff. On reaching the area that I had been told the bird frequents I was extremely fortunate to see it almost immediately with it flitting about in the trees immediately above the footpath. After I lost sight of it I moved on into the adjoining fields hoping for a clearer view. It was not to be but I did see several Chiffchaff including the Siberian that is also overwintering along with several Goldcrest and many Pied Wagtails. Other than a very brief maybe glimpse I didn’t see the YBW again, nor did I find the overwintering Whitethroat but definitely a worthwhile visit.

A Quick Water Park Twitch

After work today I headed out to Lake 82 at the Water Park where a Scaup was found at the weekend. It had been reported as still being there this morning so I was hopeful that I would see it. As I got out of the car I could hear shooting fairly close by and hoped that the ducks hadn’t all been scared off. Approaching along the footpath I was relieved to hear Wigeon calling so birds obviously were still on the lake. Reaching the gateway viewing point I had a choice of two flocks of Tufted to search through. As good birds are usually the furthest away I picked the far flock and soon found the Drake Scaup. For most of the time I was there it was preening with an occasional dunk underwater. I managed a few poor quality pictures. I blame the rubbish light and the distance for that rather than my lack of photographic

skill.

A French Footnote

Today my sister went back to Les Renclotures and from the exact place  that we had been watching for it on Friday had great views of the Black-winged Kite. A little frustrating but pleased that she managed to catch up with it. She also saw Goldcrest, Firecrest and Treecreeper here, three species that we missed on all three days.BSK

After that she went to Le Hourdel which we were going to look in at but went to see the Wild Boar at Cap Hornu instead. Here she managed to find a flock of Snow Buntings which was another species that eluded us both on the previous days

Day Three of my First French Trip of 2020

Another cold morning and another pre-dawn start. A Barn Owl on the drive to get our croissants was the first bird of the day. The Kite had been seen again on the previous afternoon, possibly going to roost so we were on site as it started to get light. Conditions were far from ideal being heavily overcast and misty. Soon after we arrived three Marsh Harriers come out from the roost followed by a Hen Harrier. All ringtails incidentally. Cetti’s and Water Rail called from deep inside the reedbeds as it got lighter but after an hour with no sign of the Kite we decided to head off but planned to return in the afternoon. Driving out along the extremely bad track the car almost got stuck in deep mud but fortunately my sister managed to extricate it. A look in at the Lakes at La Basse found nothing of interest but on the large lake across the road which is still being worked we found a Great Northern Diver. The Marquenterre reserve closes during January and early February but there is a path that runs out to the Baie de Somme along the back of the reserve. Here we hoped to find Crossbill and Crested Tits in the Pines. We managed to get the Crossbills with a handful flying into into nearbt trees calling loudly. The poor light seemed to suck the colour from them but we could  just about make out the green and red of the males and females. Not much was seen on the reserve but a couple each of White Stork and Whooper Swans were the best. Four Spoonbills flew out towards the bay and a scan of the waters edge found hundreds of Curlew, Oystercatchers and Shelduck. Back near the Pines an unusual call turned out to be a displaying Mistle Thrush.

From here we headed to the sluice gates at Le Crotoy from where there is a nice view of the lovely town. We had our lunch here while watching Avocet, Redshank, Curlew and Shelduck. In the water was a lone Little Grebe and several Seals. A Kingfisher appeared and posed nicely for a photo.

Then it was back to Les Renclotures where despite spending a couple of hours searching there was no sign of the Black Winged White Kite. This part of the reserve is bordered by the narrow gauge chemin de fer de la baie de somme railway (https://www.chemindefer-baiedesomme.fr/fr/bienvenue-sur-le-reseau-des-bains-de-mer). There was still plenty to see with the Harriers showing well, many egrets along with Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. We also saw our only Wagtails of the trip, a group of four Whites. With the light starting to fade we started the long trudge back to car the feeling pretty disappointed about the Kite but happy with the overall experience.

This was the end of the birding which had given us a fairly low species count of eighty-nine over the three days. I managed to add one more this morning (Saturday) with a roadside Tawny Owl on the way to get my pastries before heading back to the Tunnel Sous la Manche for the journey home which was completed in a very respectable five hours and twenty minutes overall.

Day Two of my First French trip of 2020

With plenty of good local sites to visit we don’t normally travel far for our birding but today we had decided to go to the Dunkerque and Calais areas. Again we set off in the dark and arrived at the docks in Dunkerque in good time. I am a fan of industrial landscapes so there was plenty for me to see and enjoy. Several areas were mentioned in our birding sites book ad we visited three of them. The main one being the canal that links the main dock area to the see where we hoped to find plenty of both divers and grebes. We didn’t getting just Great Crested and Little Grebe and no divers. There were several Red-breasted Merganser and a lot of gulls with five species seen. On one of the beaches along with some WW2 bunkers were Sanderling and Grey Plover and on the sea impressive numbers of Great crested Grebes. At the very least there were over four hundred including one raft of over a hundred birds. At the western docks we found a single Black-necked Grebe, and a good number of Curlew and Oystercatchers before, despite being alongside a public road, being moved on by the police.

Our next stop was Grand Fort-philippe where we had hoped to get some waders but found only gulls. It was then to the reserve at Platier d’Oye where again it was quiet but we did tot up thirty-eight species which included Spoonbill, several hundred Lapwing, Golden Plover, Snipe,Redshank, Cetti’s and on the sea from the beach, Common Scoter, Gannet, a couple of Red-throated Divers. Snow Bunting had been one of our target birds today but again we had no joy.

During the day we had a report of a Black Winged Kite seen in Picardie the previous day and we worked out that it had been seen fairly close to where we had been by a couple of birders that we had been speaking to at Les Renclotures. They had been parked at the other end of the site to us and we guessed had seen it on their way back to the car-park which was pretty annoying. So obviously that was where we would be heading on Friday morning.

 

Day One of my First French Trip of 2020

Just home from a four night with three days of birding visit to my sister in Picardie. After the seemingly incessant rain of late we struck lucky with the weather. The extremely high pressure (a three hundred year record of 1049.7mb at Heathrow on Tuesday) giving us cold but calm days with a mix of sun, cloud and murk. Each day we set of before dawn starting with a visit to the local boulangerie to collect our breakfasts which consisted of a mix of croissants, pain au raisin and pain au chocolat. On Wednesday we started on the cliffs at Ault where we found Fulmars already preparing to nest. On the sea we counted around one hundred Red-throated Divers along with plenty of Merganser, Gannet and  Common Scoter. Next was the Hable D’ault where both of the days target birds were to be looked for. These were Richard’s Pipit of which  three had been reported and a single Ferruginous Duck. Despite spending a lot of time searching we didn’t find either but a Water Pipit was some consolation. It was pretty quiet here overall and we only managed twenty-nine species. You may notice in one of the pictures a number of decoy waterfowl. Almost all of the areas we visit are hunted over but the wildlife seems to be able to co-exist with the hunters. The hunters have a lot of power over local policy and often it is only the hunting that has saved the area from the developers. Obviously this is an emotive subject but maybe it is a price worth paying for them to remain intact.

With the tide well out a stop at Cap Hornu was poor for birds but I got to see a local celebrity. A Wild Boar that has made itself at home in a horse field just inland from the beach. It has been here several weeks and appears completely at ease with the many people who come to see it.

We ended the day at Les Renclotures, an area of Salt Marsh and Reed Beds situated between St Valery and Le Crotoy. Again it was pretty quiet but some good birds seen including Bearded Tit, four Marsh and one Hen Harrier, White Stork, Great White and Little Egret along with at least fifty-three Cattle Egret.

 

 

99 – 100

This morning I had an 09:00 finish at work for a hospital appointment. When I go to the hospital the weather was overcast and damp. When I left it was much improved so as planned I headed Park Corner Quarry near to Daglinworth in Gloucestershire to try for the Great Grey Shrike that has been there for a few days. I saw one here several years ago and could just about remember the way. I had been heading into cloud most of the way and as I turned off of the main road the heavens opened which wasn’t particularly promising. However the rain soon stopped and coming out of the woods I saw several cars parked on the verge. The sun was breaking through as I got out of the car but the Shrike was not showing. Apparently it had been before the rain arrived. Fortunately it soon reappeared, first with a fleeting glimpse as it flew across the back of the scrub before it showed well moving from bush to fence and back again. We were looking straight into the sun which made photography a bit awkward. After showing well for several minutes the bird suddenly flew up and headed off high to the south before going out of site behind the trees. The it was off to the Water Park and Lake 16 for the Black-necked Grebe which was soon found out in the middle of the lake. Distant and diving frequently but giving good views. Now being on ninety-nine species for the year I headed to Lake 44 for an easy year-tick of Red-crested Pochard bringing me up to One Hundred. Goosander was a CWP year-tick but despite locating a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits I could not find the Firecrest that has been seen around here. Heading homewardsI made a quick stop at Twitchers but there was no sign of the Marsh Harrier.

A Grand Wiltshire Tour

On Sunday myself Ian and Matt spent a day birding in our home county of Wiltshire.  As Wiltshire being an inland county it is not one that features anywhere near the top of any birders list of places to visit. However days like this highlight that with a bit of effort a great day can be had. The day started, in the dark at around a quarter past seven with my birding partners arriving at my house during a very heavy shower. It soon passed and we headed off. First stop was the River Kennet at Chilton Foliat. En-route we had a roadside Barn Owl. The Kennet was pretty quiet with just a few common species put on the list. Froxfield was very wet so again not much seen. Some time spent in Savernake was very productive with the target species of Willow Tit seen well. Best of the rest here were Siskin and Redpoll along with a Woodcock that was Ian flushed but only Matt saw. We had hoped for Hawfinch but had no luck. A quick diversion to the edge of the Downs near to Avebury added Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Redwing, Fieldfare, Sparrowhawk and a flock of at least three hundred Golden Plover. We then started to head south and a wetland site got us another target bird, Jack Snipe along with Common Snipe, Reed Bunting and a bonus Peregrine. The plan from here was to go to Westbury sewage works for a Sibe Chiffchaff but seeing reports of a Caspian Gull alongside the A36 at East Clyffe made us change our minds. Arriving at the layby overlooking the Wylye valley we started to scan the fairly large and scattered gull flock. It was made harder by having to look through trees for many of the birds. With mainly LBB and Black-headed in the flock it reasonably easy to find three Yellow-legged but the Caspian was eluding us. Eventually Ian found what he thought was it and after a frustrating few minutes of trying to get a clear view the identity was confirmed. A nice Wiltshire tick for me. Also here were at least fifteen Little Egrets. A quick stop in the next layby which overlooks the Langford Lake reserve got us the long-staying Ruddy Shelduck. Then it was a drive along the A303 past Stonehenge to Salisbury Plain. Here we found a flock of nine Great Bustards which were a life-tick for Matt. Along one track we put up our second Peregrine of the day before we set ourselves up at a good viewpoint and started to scan. Matt soon found a hunting Short-eared Owl, the first of two seen. A Sparrowhawk shot low across the grass putting up a few small birds. Unfortunately we didn’t see a Hen Harrier which was a shame and looking on the Wiltshire sightings page we later found that we had passed within a mile of a White Stork which although one of the introduced birds would have been nice to see. Despite not going near to the Water Park we racked up a respectable day total of sixty-nine species. Just a single Coot would have got us onto seventy!

An Hour on the Downs

On my way home from work I stopped of by the Ridgeway near to the Wiltshire / Oxfordshire border to sit in the car eat my lunch and hopefully see a few birds. It can be a bit hit and miss in these places, one day loads of birds and the next day next to nothing. SO today it started well with a couple each of Red Kite and Buzzard along with a Kestrel. A couple of flocks of Starlings were flying in the distance. Seeing a few birds flying up and down from a puddle I parked the car and settled down to watch. Chaffinches, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings were the first birds seen. At one stage there were around twenty-five Corn Buntings scattered along the hedge. Then a couple of Reed Buntings appeared. The birds were flying between the hedgerow and a nearby weedy field with a few dropping down by the puddle to drink. Unfortunately a couple came along the Ridgeway with four dogs which caused all of the birds to fly off. I started to have a scan around whilst waiting for them to hopefully return and soon picked up a fairly large (several hundred flock of Starlings which was then joined by another. After a few minutes the small birds started to fly back into the hedgerow and I soon added House Sparrow and Great and Blue Tit to the list. Then a fifty plus flock of Linnets flew in calling loudly. Another scan of the hedge picked up a couple of Tree Sparrows, the first I have seen in this area. Some more people then came along the track and I decided that it was time to get myself off home.