Down Down Down

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.


Expect the Unexpected

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.

Tempted Out

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.

Peep Show

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.

A Barbury Sunset

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.

Staying Local

This morning I went for a walk at Soutleaze, an area I haven’t visited for quite a while. On the northernmost lake were two Mallard and three Little Grebes. There were large numbers of Swallows and House Martins overhead and a flock of Goldfinches was quite mobile. A single Whitethroat and a couple of Blackbirds were the only other birds seen in this area. At the lake nearest to the motorway there were a few Mallard, nineteen Canada Geese and single Coot and Mallard. A good scan found a Green Sandpiper amongst the geese, a Snipe in the vegetation on the lake margins and just as I was leaving a Lapwing flew in./ This evening I went back to Coate with my camera. When I arrived there were some people feeding the birds but the Med Gull wasn’t amongst the seventy or so Black-headed. Moving around a bit I found it sat on the far side of the third platform up on the diving tower. I was joined by Jon Mercer and together we walked to the opposite side of the tower hoping for a better view. As we arrived a black-headed Gull landed next to the Med. This caused the Med to get up and walk back to thew other side of the platform. So it was back to our orignal spot where we managed a few pictures. A couple of minutes later it flew off along the lake where it disappeared from view around the corner. It seems that half-six to seven may be a good time to have a look for it as these are the times it was on the platform yesterday and today.

Fourth Time Lucky

Today at Coate and after visits this year to Langford Lakes, Sarum pig farm and yesterday evening to Coate Water, this evening I finally caught up with a Med Gull in Wiltshire. Yesterday evening I suggested a  family walk at Coate to try for the individual that has been reported a couple of times recently. I didn’t manage to find it but what was found was a mass of people out playing Pokemon Go. In my eyes very strange, but hey each to their own. Despite extensive scanning of the area I couldn’t see any myself, maybe I need a pair of Virtual Reality Binoculars! So this evening I headed back there on my own (wife and daughter are off on their way to Rhodes for a week). On parking the car I realised that I had left my camera at home which was a promid=sing start. Good birds often appear when I do this. After negotiating the hordes of Pokemon players again (yes really there were dozens of them) I got to the diving board and a quick scan found the Med Gull on the second level. Assuming it the same bird it was interesting to compare the stage of moult to the recent pictures on the SBaW website. After watching it for a few minutes I decided to shoot home to get my camera. Somewhat predictably on my return it had gone. The only other bird of note was a Grey Wagtail. Another good county tick, I am now only eight short of my best Wiltshire year total and with five months to go I may have a chance of beating it.

Barbury Birding

Just for a change I managed to get out reasonably early this morning. Around a quarter to nine! I headed for Barbury for a bit of from the car birding. A drive along the Old Ridgeway track started well with a smart male Redstart. Corn buntings and Skylark were singing and there were good numbers of Linnet around. Swallows were dipping into the pond where there were a few dragonflies patrolling the margins. Plenty of butterflies were on the wing with five species seen. Half way along the track I turned a drove back parking a couple of hundred yards before the road. Here I heard Quail and Grey Partridge but neither were seen in the long grass. Buzzard and Red Kite were seen overhead. Later in the day I went to Dobbies in Cirencester with my daughter where we were treated to a flu=yover by a KC10 and three F35s on their way back to the States. We then went to the Swan Inn by the Thames at Radcot where, sitting by the river we enjoyed a very nice burger while watching Swallows and House Martins feeding over the water. Three Red Kites and a Hobby were also seen here.

Recent Birding

Last Sunday myself and Pete headed south and managed reasonable views of a Honey Buzzard and also a heard but not seen Tree Pipit.  Then it was three busy days at work before a trip out today. Pete Matt and I headed off to the Plain with a stop en-route at the column in Savernake where we found a single Purple Emperor that was initially on the column but when the sun came out gave an excellent flying display before landing on the ground giving great views of its vivid purple colouring. Also seen here was a large Dragonfly which we think was an Emperor. We had a successful time on the Plain with twenty-eight species noted. Stars of the show were two possibly three Montagu’s Harriers and two Stone Curlews. In all we saw six species of raptor, Buzzard, Red Kite, Monty’s, Hobby, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Only two Whinchat were seen but there were loads of Stonechats around including several family groups, it appears that they have had a good year. Other seen included Skylark, Mipit, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch, Linnet and Pied Wagtail. Pete saw a Redstart which Matt and I missed. A single Quail was heard but as usual not seen. On the aviation front four types of helicopter were noted. Apache, Gazelle, Lynx Wildcat and Puma.

Puffins via a Pratincole

For Tuesday and Wednesday I had planned in a trip to Pembrokeshire to hopefully add Chough and Puffin to my year-list. I had a hospital appointment in Marlborough at twelve and my intention was to go directly from there to Wales with the RSPB reserve at Dinas being my first port of call. However with the Collared Pratincole still at Ham Wall I decided to head to Somerset first. I didn’t get a way from the hospital until almost half one so after an extremely good journey didn’t get to Ham Wall until almost half three. I headed of along the canal choosing to cross over and watch from the opposite side to the second viewing screen. When I got to the appropriate spot I was informed that it hadn’t shown for a couple of hours. Hoping that it was therefore due to be up and about soon it was looking good for me to get back on the road to Wales. Unfortunately the bird had other ideas and it was almost five before it showed. It was only up for a few seconds and a fleeting glimpse although enough to identify the bird really wasn’t good enough for a new life tick. I decided to walk around to the viewing platform hoping the slight extra elevation would allow a sighting of it on the ground. So it was back to the waiting game which was enlivened by frequent appearances by Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers and a single flyby from a Glossy Ibis. Finally at gone six someone found the Pratincloe on the ground. It was however only viewable from my original spot across the canal so off we all trooped. Once there it took a bit of finding as it was hunkered down in the grass. It did eventually get up and move allowing all some good views. Despite it now being well gone six I walked further down the track to the spot where the Little Bitterns were. I could hear one barking away deep in the reeds but as there hadn’t been a sighting for several hours didn’t stay. I eventually set of for Wales at almost half-seven and arrived at Martins Haven after dark. It was a sleep in the car job so after setting the alarm for half-five I settled down for some shut-eye. The alarm woke me to a lovely morning so it was up and off on the short walk to the edge of the cliffs overlooking Skomer. On the way I saw may Linnets and Mipits and a couple of Stonechats. A group of five Choughs were noisily feeding on the short grass near to the cliff-edge. They flew off as I got closer. Unusually these were the only ones that I saw here, normally they are around all of the time. A quick scan of the sea found plenty of Gannets and gulls but no auks. I set up the scope and soon found large rafts of them much nearer to Skomer than the mainland. There were many Puffins, a fair few Razorbill and just a few Gullemots. Several Fulmars were passing by along with just a couple of Kittiwakes. Five Ravens were also seen. This is one of my favourite places to just sit and chill but I had a busy day ahead of me so at around seven I headed on back to the car.

I first headed for the Gann where a quick scan of the beach found Curlew, Whimbrel Redhank and Oystercatchers. Then it was off to Fishguard, firstly for breakfast and then to search for Black Guillemot in the harbour. This was my first visit to Fishguard and for I had been expecting a shabby faded dock town but was pleasantly surprised to find it to be an attractive little place. Most importantly I found a nice cafe where I had a good breakfast. I then headed to the harbour which is actually in Goodrich. For the princely sum of forty pence I parked by the front and headed off along the causeway between the two parts of the harbour. Reaching the end I set up the scope and started to scan. I started with the dock wall on the far side as I had been told that the nesting area was along here. With no luck I carried on scanning the harbour and as I did a Black Guillemot flew across my field of view. I followed it noting the obvious white wing patches until It flew up under some pilings near to the ferry terminal. A great result as I has guessed this wouldn’t be an easy one to get. Incidentally these are apparently the southermost nesting ones in the UK.

From here I headed off to the fabulous Strumble Head for a bit of seawatching from the famous WW2 bunker. Other than many Gannets and a few Manx Shearwaters it was very quiet here but it was a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. After watching the Irish Ferry pass and seeing a juvenile Wheatear it was back into the car and off to Dinas.

This involved an enjoyable drive through the Welsh countryside and into the Cambrian Mountains. Three in the afternoon in mid July is not the best time for birdwatching in woodlands but it is a fabulous reserve and worth visitng just for the walk around. I had been hoping for a lingering Pied Flycatcher but from the sightings board it appeared that they had been hard to find all year. I had seen a couple of Redstarts on the drive in and saw three more here. Single Spotted Flycatcher and Marsh Tit, some Yellow Wagtails along the river and Buzzards and Peregrine overhead were the only notable birds her. I was disappointed not to see Dipper or Common Sandpiper along the river but it was still a worthwhile visit.

Then it was time to head for home and after another uneventful journey I got back at just before eight. With just over five hundred miles covered, sixty-three species on the trip list including one lifer and three-year ticks it was another successful couple of days.