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.
Today I went on an Indian cookery course near to Radstock. I left a few minutes earlier than needed so I could stop off at Box en-route to look for a Wiltshire Dipper. With it being a miserable morning and despite arriving just after the official sunrise time the light level was not good. With the limited time I had available I wasn’t hopeful of a positive outcome. Parking near to the recording studio I quietly approached the bridge over the river. As I looked over a Kingfisher flew from a perch right below the parapet. It was quickly followed by another bird which crossed over the river and disappeared under the overhanging vegetation. In the gloom I was not able to be sure that it was a Dipper. After a couple of minutes late a bird flew from the bank and away upstream under the bridge. A brief call confirmed that it was indeed a Dipper. I took the path upstream and arriving at the mill pond could hear a Dipper singing. I quickly found it perched on an overhanging branch and was able to watch it for a short while before it flew. I managed to find it again and watched as it entered the water a couple of times before moving away out of sight. Considering that on previous visits here I have spent a considerable time searching for both of these birds I certainly struck lucky. After the course I was going to drive across to Chew Valley Lake but it was pouring with rain so decided to give it a miss and headed straight home.
It has been a frustrating week as I have not been finishing work until late afternoon most days which did not allow me time to get out to the Water Park to catch up with the “showing well” Ring necked Duck. Finally, today after having had good views of Dippers in Wales and also getting my first Raven of the year I finally managed to finish early. So it was straight to to Keynes Country Park to check out Lake 31. Despite a thorough check of the one hundred plus Tufties and Pochard of the RND there was no sign. A most enjoyable walk though as it brought back happy memories of many visits here with my kids when they were young. A couple of other birders had done 32 with the same result so I headed over to 29 / 30. As I got out of my car another arrived and I was extremely surprised to see that it was Lee Evans who was on the same mission as I. Together we scanned the lakes finding the Red-headed Smew and a couple of Goosander but again no sign of the target bird. Lee was going on to Shorncote for the Sibe Chiff but I decided to check out a few other lakes for the duck. After a fruitless trek around five more sites I arrived back at 31. A couple of Gloster Birders were also here and they informed me that the Chiffchaff along with its common cousins had been showing well. Obviously I had made the wrong choice. Another scan of the lake came up with nothing so it was time to head off for home. A pleasant afternoon but disappointing overall.
Today I managed to combine some birding and family time. The offer of Sunday lunch persuaded my wife and daughter that a walk along the Severn Way at Arlingham would make a good day out. Arriving at around ten we donned wellies and headed off on the Hare Walk, one of four circular trails that start and finish at the Red Lion pub http://www.redlionarlingham.co.uk/ . The wellies were certainly needed as the fields surrounding the village and the Severn Way itself were wet and muddy. Redwing, Song Thrush and Green Woodpecker were amongst the birds seen before we reached the river. A small group of birders marked the spot were the Richards Pipit was and I was soon enjoying good views of my first lifer for 2018. Daughter and Wife both ticked it as well. Also seen here were a couple of Stonechats. Then it was on with the walk stopping for an occasional scan of the gulls on the mudbanks in the river. When the tide is out it is hard to believe that the grass we were walking on can be covered in water. Other than the final field being inches deep in a mix of slurry and water the walk was very enjoyable. We arrived back at the car just in time for our one o’clock table for Sunday lunch. The pub felt really welcoming and my first chore was to choose between the four local ales on offer. Next was which to have of the three meats on offer. Myself and my daughter had beef and the wife chose pork so a bit of sharing around went on. After polishing of an excellent plate of food we still just had room for dessert, I went for the crumble which was also excellent. So yet another hostelry on my highly recommended list.
On the way home we stopped off at the excellent Gloucester services on the M5 between junctions 12 and 11A. http://www.gloucesterservices.com/ which has a really good farm shop. Being really full helped here as we managed to leave without buying anything despite the mass of tempting products.
So another day off coincided with another extremely wet day. Originally I had intended to do a bit of a road trip, possibly to Nottinghamshire for a Spotted Sandpiper. However my potential partner in crime couldn’t make it so not fancying a long drive on my own I went instead to the Water Park. As a Smew has finally turned up it was to be my main target. Arriving at first light I was pleased to find it on Lake 28 associating with a small group of Tufted Duck. Interestingly a Red-head Smew was in Oxfordshire until the 22nd and this one was first reported on the 25th. The same bird maybe. Also here were a pair of Goosander. I then walked through the old Cotswold Community site to Lake 87 but apart from a flock of Lapwing there was nothing else worth mentioning. From here I headed to Cleveland Lakes where my plan was to walk the Thames Path to the Reed hides, returning alongside Lake 68. Passage along the Thames Path involved as much wading as walking, in some places it almost breached my wellies. It was pretty quiet birdwise, the rain keeping most small birds out of sight. Kingfisher was the highlight and a Great Spot and a couple of small groups of Bullfinches being the best of the rest. A Curlew was heard but not seen. The path to the Reed hide was also submerged in places. On arrival at the main hide it was pretty quiet but soon after they started shooting, I understand in the area around 28. As the guns started mant hundreds of wildfowl took to the air, wheeling around in many large flocks. Many of them, mainly Wigeon and Teal, settled on the water in front of the hide where they swam noisily around, never completely settling. From the other hide where you look over the end of 74 there were also many hundreds of ducks. Mainly Wigeon but also over a hundred Pintail along with many Tufted, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal, Gadwall and a few Goldeneye. The walk back along the side of 68 gave smaller numbers of the same with another Woodpecker and more Bullfinches. From here I headed home with a quick stop just outside Cricklade to scan North Meadow. Four Little Egret and a few gulls and Mute Swans were all that was seen. In all I managed forty-eight species which wasn’t too shabby considering the conditions. For tomorrow a trip into Gloucestershire to look for the Richards Pipit is planned.