It was nice to have a bit of a drive out in the car for work today. It started with a site visit to Newhaven where I didn’t even get to see the sea. From here it was along the coast to Bognor Regis, a town I haven’t visited for many a year. On the way I stopped off for my first break at the sailing club in Shoreham where a Black Redstart had been reported. Unfortunately no sight nor sound of it. I was going to have a quick look at the Adur estuary but the tide was in so the sandbanks that the birds are sually seen on were not exposed. I had a quick scan of the sea at Bognor with no joy and was again thwarted by the tide at Langstone Harbour where I stopped for another break. I had been hoping for a few waders here but only managed some gulls and Brent Geese. I took the scenic route home, going up the A36 to Salisbury and then on the A338 through Marlborough to Swindon. This route is slower timewise and just a mile different in distance. This is a much more pleasant route to drive especially as most of my trip had been on motorway and dual carriageways. However my ulterior motive for going this way was a Cattle Egret that had been reported alongside the A338 at Idmiston. With the way my luck had run throughout the day I was prepared for disappointment, so I was pleased to find both the Cattle Egret and a Little Egret feeding just a few yards from the road. I didn’t even need to stop to have a good view of it. so a nice finish to what had been a slightly frustrating day.
I seem to have been really busy lately and my blog routine has fallen by the wayside so here goes in trying to get it going again. Today I had to take the Wife’s car to Hungerford for it’s first MOT. On the way I stopped at Froxfield where I saw twelve Snipe and a Little Egret along with the commoner stuff and Chilton Foliat where there was nothing at all out of the ordinary. After I dropped the car off I headed along the canal towpath to have a walk around the Freeman’s Marsh Nature Reserve. As with a lot of places at the moment it was very muddy so I was glad I had worn my wellies, Best of the twenty-nine species seen or heard were Grey Wagtail, Cetti’s Warbler, three Bullfinch and a singing Reed Bunting.
On the way home a quick stop on the Downs at Ogbourne got me a couple of Corn Buntings and a few more Yellowhammers along with singing Skylarks. A good part of the afternoon was spent cutting back a hedge in the front garden and while I was doing this a Sparrowhawk flew in and spent thirty seconds or so perched on a wall before flying off. A nice garden year-tick.
After work I decided to have a walk along to the viewing area at the Swindon treatment works lagoon. This is another local site that I haven’t visited before. Some clearance work has been done on the reeds recently allowing a better view. There were quite a few birds about with Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen on the lake and Reed Bunting in the reed bed. Two Bullfinch flew over. A flock of twenty or so Teal flew up from another area of the site as did eight Cormorants. These all contributed to a total of sixteen species.
I then had a walk around the hidden lake at Witchelstowe where I put up a single Snipe and also had a Cetti’s Warbler. Again on the way home I had a quick look in at Wroughton Reservoir. Thames Water are currently doing a lot of work here and being Friday afternoon I hoped that they had packed up early and that there would be more birds around. They had and there weren’t but the reason for that was something different. I noticed that the regular group of four Swans were quite agitated and wondered why. Some disturbance in the water soon revealed the reason, an Otter was busy fishing, a long awaited Wiltshire sighting of one for me. I was able to get brief views of it surfacing several times before it moved down the reservoir and disappeared. I wasn’t able to see where it had gone but assume that it got out of the water. After a couple of minutes eight Little Grebe and a couple of Moorhen appeared, apparently Otters do occasionally take small birds so that must be why they were staying out of the way.
After yet another lie-in I headed off to Coate Water. It was so nice to actually see some sunshine. No worries about getting wet or cold. First time for ages I have walked without gloves or a waterproof. Because of this there were more people about but as usual the further from the car park the quieter it became. I have now started to log my sightings on eBird so for the first time decided to try and do a proper count of all species. Overall I did pretty well I think although it isn’t easy with multiple viewing points for one area. I can’t say I would want to do it every time but is was fun. In all a total of forty-one species seen and apart from Wood Pigeon and Crow all were counted giving a total birds seen of nine hundred and sixty three. I had hoped for a higher species count but there were several blanks including Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Goldcrest, Pied Wagtail and LBB Gull. Again there were just two Goosander, two Cetti’s were nice as were three Snipe. Two site year-ticks were Greenfinch and Green Woodpecker. There was however a lot of song, displaying and some evidence of nest building. Roll on the spring.
I was in London today on one of my regular support visits to my Mum. Having driven up yesterday evening I woke to a dull and grey sky and basically it stayed that way for the whole day. An occasional splash of colour was supplied by Parakeets raiding the fat balls in the garden and a Red Kite was seen circling as we left the house to go into Hounslow to visit the bank and to do some shopping. They are definitely moving east at a fair pace. After a few things had been done in Hounslow we headed for Tesco to do the food shop. I had remembered seeing that a couple of White-fronted Geese had been reported from Syon Park so a quick stop was made en-route. It didn’t take long to find them grazing amongst the regular flock of Canada Geese. They were a bit distant as the lousy picture shows but a nice bird to start the February bird list. Also around were a good number of Mistle and Song Thrushes but surprisingly no Redwing. Just around the corner from Syon is a spot by the London Apprentice riverside pub that is good for a short walk. We spent a few minutes here being entertained by a couple of hundred Black-headed Gulls that were feeding on the water. The flow was quite strong and they were drifting downstream on the tide for a couple of hundred metres before flying back upstream and repeating the process. As always here there were plenty of Feral Pigeons and a few Eygptian Geese amongst the Canada Geese, Mallard and Swans.
Yesterday I needed to go to Waterhay which is on the edge of the Water Park to collect an order of Beef from Andy Rummings. This gave me the chance to do a bit of birdwatching a little further from home. Unfortunately the weather was awful with a strong cold wind and plenty of rain. I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity so got my wet gear on and had a walk at Cleveland Lakes. All in all it was pretty successful with three year ticks and two others for Wiltshire. These were Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier and Red-crested Pochard for the year and Goldeneye and Pintail for the Wiltshire list. Some of the water levels in the area were pretty high, Andy was saying that on his farm, a couple of areas that don’t normally flood were covered. A look at the Chiseldon floodwater on the way home turned up twenty-three Mallard, hopefully they will become regular and maybe attract a few other species.
This morning I got up a bit later than intended so only managed about forty minutes on the Big Garden Birdwatch. Considering my garden, despite being reasonably wild has never been great for birds I was pleased to get nine species on the list. Of the regulars, Chaffinch, Jackdaw, and Long-tailed Tit didn’t put in an appearance but it was good to get a couple of Starlings. We then took the dog for a walk along Smeathes Ridge, it was disappointingly quiet with until near the end a Mipit was the only noteworthy bird. However not long before we got back to Barbury I was counting a small flock of Fieldfare when my wife called out a passing raptor. I was pretty amazed to see a Goshawk flying purposely east below the level of the ridge. It certainly upset the local Wood Pigeons with several flocks taking flight as it passed over. Certainly not a bird that I would expect to see in the area.
The Goshawk along with a Skylark seen earlier on took my year total to one hundred, a figure that, with a combination of lockdown and my few days incapacitation with covid I certainly didn’t expect to reach so soon.
I have recently noticed a couple of reports from Lawn Woods and Lakes. Having never been there I decided to stop off on my way home from work (first day back today and I am pretty tired). When I arrived it was drizzling so I decided to leave the camera in the car. I walked down the track between the lakes, the smaller had just a few Mallard and the larger more Mallard and a couple of male Goosander. Typically as I didn’t have the camera with me they stayed close into the bank unlike at Coate where as soon as they see you they are off into the middle of the lake. The Alders along the waters edge held a small flock of Siskin, I reckon about eighteen. Birds of the day though were a couple of Greenfinch. Really sad that a sighting of these is so unusual that it is worthy of comment. On the way home a quick look in at Wroughton Reservoir. Nine Little Grebes this time. It must really suit them here. I then took the dog for a short walk to the floodwater and back. Now that the ice has melted the gulls have returned with around seventy of four species seen.
My original plan this morning was for another visit to Moulden Hill but in the end I just went to Coate Water. For a change I had a wander around the arboretum first hoping to get a few of the smaller birds. Conditions weren’t great with a cold wind and light drizzle and maybe this is why there was a lack of birds. The water was more productive with a group of seventy Tufted Duck at the Broome Manor end along with a lot more gulls than normal. Mainly Black-headed along with quite a few Herring, three Common and a couple of Lesser Black-backed. There was just a single Great-crested Grebe, a species that has declined massively over the last few years. There used to be quite large numbers here. Another decreasing one is Goosander, there used to be counts into the thirties, today just two along with a single Pochard. The second lake had twenty or so Teal, a few Gadwall and just a couple of Wigeon. Again no Shoveler, another decline. A Cetti’s Warbler gave a brief view by the first hide as did a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. I ended up with a poor total of thirty-nine species, the lowest this year.
Yesterday was the first time this year that I felt it was okay to visit my Mum in London. There were a few things that needed doing so I planned a two day visit. After driving up in the snow I arrived to a bit of a blizzard which certainly brought out the worst in the few people who were driving, seeing drivers doing 20mph straddling the two outside lanes of the A4 was interesting. Once the snow stopped there was a good amount of bird activity in the garden with several parakeets using the feeders along with Wood and Feral Pigeons and an assortment of tits and Goldfinches.
A walk over to Osterley Park where, despite some serious scanning I wasn’t able to find a Little Owl. I did manage to year tick Egyptian Geese and had good views of a Green Woodpecker.
A stop-off for a walk at Staines Reservoir on the way home today got me Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye and Shelduck for the year-list. Also good numbers of Tufted Duck and Wigeon. The nesting rafts were not on the water so I assume that they have been moved to shore for some maintenance. The sat-nav was advising me to leave the motorway at junction fourteen due to an incident which I did. This allowed me to take the back roads home, not far from Aldbourne there was some roadkill with four Red Kites sat in a nearby tree and four more circling overhead, waiting for a traffic free period for a chance to feed I would think.
The Wife, dog and I visited pastures new today with a walk through Quidhampton Wood and up to Bincknoll Castle. The walk starts from the parking area alongside the Salthrop road. I use this road regularly and every time I pass the parking area I think one day. I remember that it was an area my friend Steve birded regularly when he lived in Chiseldon. It was a glorious day, very little wind and clear skies. Having had another long lie-in we didn’t start the walk until half eleven which probably didn’t help the bird count. It was very quiet with only a handful of species noted in the wood, Nuthatch being the best. After a fair bit of mud plugging we finally reached the lower slopes of the Castle and after a steep and challenging climb were able to enjoy superb views from the top. It would make a superb picnic spot but of course that sort of thing is not allowed anymore. I did wonder if the second the sun glinted off of a flask of coffee, would the police helicopter swoop down to shower us with £200 fines. After an enjoyable but apart from corvids and pigeons, bird free three quarters of an hour or so we headed of across the fields back to the car. It was mightily wet up her, in place the puddles were more than half way up the wellies deep. I was disappointed not to get sight or sound of a Skylark but to be honest it was a bit of a birding desert up here, intensively farmed for profit and not wildlife unlike the Downs further to the east. However a most enjoyable walk in an interesting new for me area. A quick look in at Wroughton Reservoir on the way home was a little more productive than yesterday with seven Little Grebe being seen. The feeders at home were pretty busy especially as the local House Sparrows have discovered them. Also Jackdaws have been demolishing the fat balls. A small flock of seven Pied Wagtails passed over just before dusk, presumably heading to roost after feeding around the Chiseldon Floodwater.