A trip to Hungerford this morning to get the car serviced. It works quite well as I drop the car then go for a walk through Freemans Marsh to Cobbs Farm Shop and then walk back into the town along the canal. The walk starts at the canal bridge in the town, then along the towpath to cross at the first swing bridge by the church. Ten follow the path onto Freemans Marsh. It was pretty cold, -2 when I started and they weren’t many birds around. Wrens, and Robins were the first seen along with a few Goldfinch and Chaffinch. It livened up a bit with several Fieldfare and Redwing about along with single Song Thrush and Bullfinch. The river has split into two along here and the path runs alongside one part. Just Moorhen seen along here but on reaching the bridge over the other part a Little Egret flew up and a Kingfisher was sitting in a bush from where it dived into the river before flying off. Presumably it had caught something. A small flock of Lapwing passed overhead, a Reed bunting was calling and another flock of Goldfinch were feeding in some Alders. A good scan of them picked up a couple of Siskin. After a wander around the Farm Shop where I was tempted but did not succumb it was over to the canal for the walk back. A calling Kingfisher shot along the canal closely followed by another. One of them obligingly perched in a bush allowing me to get some reasonable pictures. Whilst here I got a brief glimpse of a Cetti’s as it shot into the reeds.
With the car now ready it was back to the garage to collect it and then a drive down to Salisbury Plain. Merlin was the target bird and I was very lucky to find one fairly quickly. It gave good views perched atop a bush before flying along the track. It briefly landed on the track before flying off out of sight. A couple of Kestrels and Stonechat were the best of the rest with no sign of any Hen Harriers. Also noted were some fair sized flocks of Starlings.
On the drive back I saw a couple of Rd Kites and Buzzards to add to the reasonable day-list.
With a busy day ahead I managed to fit in a short walk in Savernake, luckily before the rain set in. There were a good number of birds around and despite the light and visibility being pretty rubbish I managed twenty-one species in around an hour.
On Monday I headed back up to visit my son in Shropshire. Having finished work at lunchtime I was going to have enough light left for a bit of birding. A Red-necked Grebe has been hanging around at the Venus Pools Nature Reserve. A look at the map showed that it wasn’t a great distance away from Wellington where my son lives so a no-brainer reallyas it would be a new site, a year-tick. After stopping at an excellent farm shop en-route I arrived at the reserve at a little gone three o’clock. With information from Twitter I knew that I needed to head for the Causeway and to view the adjacent fishing lake. I soon found the correct lake and with an elevated viewpoint I was able to see almost the whole of the lake. After a couple of minutes I realised that the Grebe was either nmot around or in the small area that was obscured by the bankside bushes. After walking down the hill I was able to see this area and it wasn’t long before the RNG was found. Although not particularly close it was nice to see one on a calm lake rather than bobbing around between the waves somewhere out at sea. I had forgotten to charge the camera so it packed up after a single shot was taken which was a bit annoying.Having watched the Grebe for a few minutes and being conscious of the rapidly fading light I made my way to one of the hides from where it was possible to scan the actual reserve. There were good numbers of a variety of wildfowl to be seen along with Lapwing and at least forty Snipe. A little more time here would have been nice but I was happy with having seen the target bird.
The evening consisted of a couple of pints and an Indian. The next day was to be spent waiting for someone to come and collect a car which was be returned from lease. Despite several phone calls I couldn’t pin them down to a time so only able to get out for a breakfast. Typically they didn’t turn up until almost three which left no light for any stops on my drive back home.
Following on from the long day yesterday I went out for a bit of local birding today. Snipe were the target and fifteen or so Common Snipe and also some Jack Snipe were fair reward for making the effort. A stop at Barbury Castle on the way home found a few Fieldfare and a flock of probably three hundred Starlings along with a few other of the commoner species.
Leaving home at 04:00 is a nice late start for me and today I was going to be a passenger with Ian driving on a birding day out which was to start in Devon and end in Hampshire. The fog that had been forecast did not materialise meaning that we arrived at Broadsands Paignton well before dawn. The local cafe wasn’t open and nor was the cafe at Sainsburys. Having missing the entrance to Greggs we ended up getting sustenance at McDonalds. By now it was getting light so it was back to Broadsands where, as soon as we got out of the car we heard a singing Cirl Bunting. We ate our breakfast while scanning the bay for the Scoter flock. With the sea being relatively calm we soon managed to find a few Scoter but they were a fair way out. We decided to go up onto the headland hoping that the extra height would be beneficial. It was and the Surf Scoter was soon picked out from the small group of Common Scoter. Also with them was a Velvet Scoter. Some more scanning found Gret Northern and Red-throated Diver, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Shag and several Fulmars. Then it was a stroll around the edges of the car park looking for Cirl Buntings. More were heard but we didn’t manage to see one. Ian heard a Firecrest and we soon saw that along with several Goldcrest. With more to see in the limited daylight at this time of year we moved on, headed for Man Sands, a new sight for us both. On reaching the car park we met up with another birder and headed down the steep and slightly treacherous path to the coast. Just before you reach the sea there is a relatively small lake which has a large amount of vegetation in it giving plenty of places for a Teal to stay out of sight. Initially we found a couple of Common Teal, a female Gadwall and some Coot and Moorhen. Setting up for a potentially long wait we commented that it may have been a good idea to have carried some supplies down with us. A local birder came along and confirmed that the BWT had been showing less than an hour before so at least it was still around. He also pinpointed the best area to keep an eye on before he moved on. After around thirty minutes pleasant minutes of waiting in which time we logged, Reed Bunting, Green Woodpecker, Cetti’s Water Rail and Kestrel, a possible candidate put in an appearance. Fortunately it stayed in a reasonably clear area of water allowing us to spend a bit of time. We noted the light patch by the bill, the eye-ring and bright orange legs which all but convinced us that we had the right bird. The gods were obviously smiling as the bird came out of the water and placed itseld in view between two Sallows and started to preen. A sudden flash of blue as it lifted a wing confirmed the i.d. allowing us to relax and enjoy the bird.
A couple of lousy photos were managed before we set of on the slog back up to the car park. Back at the car it was decision time. The sensible option was to head for the Topsham area, the crazier on to go for the Semi-P at Pennington just a mere three hour (if all went well) drive. Obviously that is the one we went for and we even fitted in a small diversion off of the main road into Axminster where we didn’t find the reported yesterday Whooper Swan. We arrived at the Pennington Lane car park at a few minutes past three and started off for Oxey Marsh. This is a fair walk and we were concious of the already fading light. A passing birder said that the bird hadn’t been seen for an hour or so which dampened our spirits somewhat. It was hard not to stop and look at the many other birds around but we eventually got to Oxey where a couple of other birders were trying to relocate the Semi-P which had flown just a couple of minutes earlier. We spread out around the lake and a wave from one of the others indicated that he had found it. It was feeding in a sheltered corner of the lagoon and gave us all some great views. With the target bird found we were able to check out some of the other birds in the rapidly fading light. Ruff, Avocet, Dunlin, and Ringed Plover were amongst the twelve other wader species seen. The Long-tailed Duck was found although typically it was spending a lot more time under the water than on the surface. Out on the sea were Goldeneye, Merganser and a female Eider. A single Great White Egret was seen in flight and several dozen Brent Geese passed over in flocks of varying sizes. On the drive home we had hoped for some owl sightings to finish off the day but it was not to be. The day ended with a species total of eighty-eight with for me two lifers and five other year-ticks along with three year-ticks for Ian. As always thanks to Ian for a great day out and for again doing all the driving.
This morning I decided on a walk from Axford up onto the ridge at the northern end of Savernake and then back down to the River Kennet. It was a cold and sunny when I started out at a little past eight. In the riverside Alders there were a couple of Siskins in with a small flock of Goldfinches, surprisingly these were a Wiltshire year tick. A Nuthatch was heard and then seen, unusually it was calling from an exposed branch in the hedgerow. As I started to climb the ridge a Song Thrush was seen followed by Redwing and Fieldfare, a little later a quartet of thrushes was reached with an overflying Mistle Thrush. Along the ridge a small flock of tits held a couple of Goldcrests. A dozen or so Golden Plover passed overhead and then a few Redwing dropped into a berry laden bush followed by a couple of other birds. I started to scan and was pretty surprised to find two Hawfinches perched on the top. These were a prized year tick. From here it was just the regular woodland birds before I dropped back down to the river. This was running quite high and fast which limited the birds seen. Fourteen Cormorants were roosting in a single tree and a pair of Black Swans sailed past on the current. A total of thirty-six species were seen with two more added on the drive home. A really pleasant walk here as usual and it was also good to see plenty of colour still on the trees.
I spend a fair amount of time driving at night and this year , compared to previous years have seen very few Owls. In Wiltshire the tally is just two Tawny with no Barn Owls at all. So on to this morning, I left Swindon in the rain at around four o’clock but by about half past, just before I got onto the Fosse Way at Cirencester it had stopped. Just before Bourton-on-the-Water I saw a Little Owl atop a road sign, only my second one this year. The Owl that is, not the road sign. A little later and now in Warwickshire a Barn Owl was seen perched on a hedgerow. Finally as I was stopped at the traffic lights at the Longbridge Interchange a movement caught my eye. It was another Barn Owl that had alighted on the fence of the field margin. Fortunately there was very little traffic about so I was able to sit for a couple of changes of the lights to watch as the Owl made a couple of unsuccessful forays into the long grass below the fence. A pretty good result and I have another trip along the Fosse tomorrow so hopefully a repeat performance although on a Monday morning it will be a lot busier. What I am wondering though is that if Owls in general have had a bad year as this is certainly the least I have seen for many years.
Waking up to a wet and miserable morning I wondered if my planned trip to the Water Park would happen. Fortunately the weather improved mid-morning so I headed out. First stop was Eysey where there was a lot of water but not a lot of variety in the birds seen. North Meadow was also quiet with mainly Black-headed Gulls on and around the floods. A walk along the old railway path to 201A came up trumps with six Curlew and a Great White Egret. Also seen here was my first Fieldfare of the season and a Buzzard which obliginly stayed long enough for me to get a photo. Then it was onto Twitchers from where I got eight species of duck including male Goldeneye and Pintail. While eating my lunch I finally managed to see the Marsh Harrier that has eluded me all year which was a great result.A couple of Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were also good to see. My final stop was at Waterhay where I added Snipe, Redwing and Moorhen to the day-list which ended up on forty-six. There is certainly a lot of water around so wellies are pretty well essential if you want to go far from the car anywhere in the park.
It has been a busy few weeks with family and work so not much birding has been done other than a few days with my sister in France and a week in Spain which did get me a few good birds. My french year list is at around 75% of my UK one which shows how little home birding I have done. With the Christmas rush starting soon at work soon I am not sure if it will improve before the New Year.
I finally managed to get out locally this afternoon with an after work twitch to Bromham for a Black Redstart which was a year tick. Although I had the location I was expecting it to be difficult but heard it as soon as I got out of the car and then saw it satraight away as well. Pretty good views as well so I was very happy.