A combination of a busy January and February followed by the lockdown meant that my first Portland visit of 2020 was not until almost the middle of June. The main reason for going was to fill some gaps in the year-list. Both myself and Ian went but in separate cars. Not particularly environmentally friendly but unfortunately the only way it could be done. We met on Salisbury Plain where not much was seen before heading to Portland via Martin Down. No sight or sound of Turtle Dove here unfortunately. A quick look in at Ferrybridge got us Little Tern and Mediterranean Gull but, other than Oystercatcher no waders. With the Obs being shut we had to pay to park in the main car park which hurt a bit. All but one of the hoped for birds were seen, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Common Scoter but over a couple of hours we didn’t manage to find a Puffin.
Having checked out some Starling flocks and not finding a Rosy we headed off to a housing estate in Weymouth where one had been around for a couple of days. After parking the cars and a short walk we soon found the birds favoured garden. AFter watching a flyover Marsh Harrier from nearby Radipole we started to look for the Starling and within a couple of minutes it flew into view alighting in a Pear Tree before flying to a garden fence and then down into the garden Not my favourite type of birding but the locals were pretty friendly so we didn’t feel to uncomfortable.
After twenty minutes or so of several great views we left and moved onto Radipole. Plenty going on here with a good number of species added to the day-list including some Bearded Tits. The planned stop on Salisbury Plain on the way home seemed in doubt when we ran into heavy rain but luckily it cleared and we arrived on the Plain in the dry. Heading off-road along one of our regular tracks I saw a Curlew standing in the middle of the track. I stopped and wound down the window to take some pictures and was pretty chuffed to hear a Quail calling. Our main target bird found with absolutely no effort. It sounded really close but as usual wasn’t seen. Other birds seen include Skylark, Corn and Red Bunting and to finish off a good day Stone Curlew.
We fancied having a walk somewhere new today and chose Morgans Hill just outside of Calne. I have no idea why this site hasn’t been visited before as it is very nice and reasonably local. We spent a pleasamt three hours or so here seeing all the expected downland birds and a good selection of butterflies and orchids.
We should have been spending the last few days in Croatia but obviously that didn’t happen. I was going to cancel my holiday from work but decided to keep it and have a couple of days out from home. On Monday my Wife and I went to the Forest of Dean. It wasn’t a birding trip so it was a case of any birds seen were a bonus. We started with a walk along the Severn from Lydney Harbour. Always interesting here but especially so at low-tide and fortunately when we got there it was indeed low-tide. I find it fascinating to see all of the channels in the mud and the variety of items exposed when the water is not there. From here we drove to Symonds Yat East. our usual walk here starts by crossing the river on the hand ferry then walking downstream to recross via the Biblins Suspension Bridge. We found that this is also closed due to flood damage from earlier in the year. However we still had a good walk on the east bank which included a circular walk around the perimeter of Lady Park Wood. Not a great amount of birds seen but the highlight was seeing two Peregrines flying around at Symonds Yat.
On Tuesday the original plan was to make my first visit of the year to Portland but I changed my mind late on Monday evening and instead decided to go to Keyhaven. I left home at 05:30 and following a quick stop on Salisbury Plain which got me good views of Stone Curlew and Yellow Wagtail I arrived at Keyhaven around two hours later. It was a lovely morning with a clear sky and what was soon to become, as the temperature rose, a pleasant cooling breeze. A family group of Stonechats were seen in the Gorse at the start of the walk along with a couple of Dartford Warblers. The latter gave good views but I wasn’t able to get any pictures of them. The main reason for this is that I have new glasses which are photochromatic. Most of the time these are great, however in bright sunshine when at their maximum tint they make it almost impossible to use either the viewfinder or the screen of the camera, it is literally like shooting in the dark. The harbour and the lagoons supplied a steady stream of good birds with the highlight being a good number of Avocets with lots of young. The daylist steadily grew and as I was scanning Fishlake Lagoon I heard the pinging of Bearded Tits and was pleased to get really good views of a group of five foraging in the tops of the reeds. This was bettered on Pennington Lagoon when two Little Terns flew in and started to feed before one flew back out to the Solent while the other landed on a shingle bank allowing superb close views. Other highlights were a flock of almost a hundred Blackwits although they weren’t doing much, a Peregrine out on the Salt-march and a Marsh Harrier that was soon chased off by a number of Avocets when it drifted too close to their young. In all I managed fifty-five species.
On the way home I spent a bit more time on Salisbury Plain adding another twenty-five species to the list. The best birds here were a Tree Pipit and a couple of heard only Groppers along with the usual supporting cast of small birds and raptors. The only real miss here was the hoped for Quail. A Chinook was also good to see.
So an excellent day out ended with seventy-one species seen which included three year-ticks.
Other highlights of the last few days have been a good few juvenile Starlings, the return of general aviation to the skies and someexcellent astronomical sightings on the many clear nights (the moon, ISS and various other satellites and a couple of planets).
This week I have had a couple of trips to Poole which has allowed me to check out Holes Bay. Unfortunately no sighting of the hoped for Osprey or Spoonbill bu nice all the same. I also managed to take some breaks on Salisbury Plain and got my first Grey Partridge of the year along with a Hobby, a few Apaches and a Hawker Hunter, a pretty rare sight in the skies nowadays. Last night I remembered to go outside for the ISS pass and also saw the HTV-9 supply ship a few minutes after.
Today we had planned a family day out and I suggested a walk from Aust Warth to New Passage. We got away from home in good time and with excellent timing, we all, including the two dogs got great views of the Collared Pratincole as it flew between the Salt Marsh and the reserve. There were plenty of other birds to be seen and Greenshank was another year-tick. Despite the wind we were able to enjoy a picnic not far from the waters edge from where we watched a group of Starlings feeding on washed up seaweed.
With lockdown restrictions relaxed it was nice to be able to get out to do some proper birding. I had a couple of days off work so early Thursday morning saw me at the Water Park. Various sites were visited throughout the morning and managed just shy of sixty species which included seven UK year ticks. These were Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Crane, Nightingale, Cuckoo, Whimbrel and Cattle Egret. It was good to see large numbers of Martins, Swallows and Swifts as these seem to have been pretty scarce up until now. Fairly early on I heard and then saw a U2 depart from Fairford, later on it returned and I was able to get over to the base to see it doing some circuits. Somehow I hadinadvertantly managed to set my camera to Black & White and only realised part way through the day.
On Friday I headed for Salisbury Plain with a diversion en-route to look for a Hoopoe that I had seen mentioned on Twitter. As expected I couldn’t find it but discovered an interesting new to me corner of Wiltshire. On the Plain I managed to get twenty-eight species including NFY Stone Curlew along with several Whinchat and Stonechat. There were also a few helicopters around to add interest.
At home there has been plenty of activity, mainly with the regular Sparrows, Starlings and Jackdaws but I dd get a new garden tick with a flyover Little Egret and there have been some Grey Herons around as well.
Saturday late afternoon got me to Savernake on a family walk. There was quite a bit of activity with a Treecreeper giving me a Wiltshire tick. The pond at Thornhill was interesting with Broad-bodoed Chaser above the water and dozens of tadpoles in it. On the way home we picked up an Italian takeaway from Pinos in Marlborough which was very nice. Obviously it isn’t as good as a sit down meal; but it is nice to be able to support these places through the hard times.
Busy at work again and no bird friendly runs so not much seen until the weekend. Had a really productive walk to and around Liddington yesterday morning. I took a different route this time, starting by going to the top of the Castle, then along the Ridgeway and back home via Folly Farm. As on previous walks there was the the constant song of Skylarks, I ought to try counting them all but that would restrict the other sightings. However I reckon the total must have been somewhere around a hundred. Also plenty of Corn Buntings but only a handful of Yellowhammers. After the fall of Wheatear last Sunday I only saw one this week but two Whinchats were excellent. Also had two female Ring Ouzel and my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year. This was number 150 for 2020, just over six weeks later than last year. In the afternoon I had Buzzard, Red Kite and Sparrowhawk from, low over or in the garden. The Sparrowhawk was really landed on the aerial on the roof setting all the Starlings off. Typically my camera was in the house and I rushed in to get it only to see the hawk flying off as I came back out.
Ths morning I did a short walk to the river at Barnfield while waiting for The Food Warehouse to open. Not much was seen but a sad sight was a dead Tawny Owl on the bridge. This afternoon we had a walk from home to the second hide at Coate with a reasonable selection of birds seen. At Coate were the first Canada Geese goslings that I have seen this year. Also a good few lambs in the fields.
I was at work on Saturday with no chance to see any birds. On Sunday morning I went with my Wife who was going shopping at the Barnfield Lidl / Food Warehouse. As we couldn’t both go in I went for a walk along the old railway path towards Moulden Hill. There were plenty of birds around with six species of Warbler heard or seen including the hoped for Grasshopper warbler that has been reported in the area recently. Having been unable to get to my regular Kennet Valley site for these I was pleased to get one on the list.
In the afternoon while having a break from gardening I had a Raven soaring over the garden. This was another year-tick, much later on in the year than usual as normally I see them quite regularly at Liddington. Back at work on Monday and i should have been going to Poole which gives me a chance to scan Holes Bay. However plans changed and I ended up going to Salisbury, Gosport and Basingstoke. At Salisbury there was a Goldcrest singing for most of the time I was delivering, Gosport had the tide right out this time but all there was on the mud were a few gulls along with the jellyfish in the Cockle Ponds. I needed to have a driving hours break on my way back from Basingstoke so was able to stop on the industrial estate on the south-side of Greenham Common. From here there is a path which come out not far from the fire plane. I spent just under forty-five minutes here during which time I logged twenty-one species including (as I didn’t have my camera with me) good views of Woodlark and Dartford Warbler. I had hoped to at least hear a Cuckoo but it wasn’t to be.
As mentioned before the only difference lockdown has for me is not being able to travel far on my days off. So on Saturday I stopped for a walk at Coate Water which is on my route home from work. A successful visit with Common Sandpiper, House and Sand Martin being year ticks. On Sunday I went to Crawley and Gosport for work gives me a pleasant drive through Pulborough and then over the South Downs. Gosport was disappointing as the tide was in so that meant no waders on the mud. However a large number of jellyfish in the Cockle Ponds at Walpole Park were an interesting sight.
I even had a year tick amongst the forty-five species seen, Common Tern on a lake next to the A27 at Chichester. Yesterday evening some time was spent in the garden to see the Space X launcher go over the house. We had hoped to see the Starlink satellites but couldn’t but did manage a single meteorite along with three other satellites.Today was a day off and I chose to walk to Liddington Hill from home. I woke at 07.05 and looking out the window saw that the hill was obscured by mist. I had breakfast and left the house at 8. As I headed towards Liddington there were many Skylark and Corn Bunting singing and sun was just starting to burn off the mist so I had my timing right. A couple of flyover Yellow Wagtails were a nice year-tick. On reaching the western slopes of the downs I soon picked out a couple of Ring Ouzels feeding on the grass along with another heard in the hedgerow. On the higher part of the slope were the first of many Wheatear. They were spread out all along the slopes so hard to count but I reckon at least thirty were around. A few Swallows passed through and Red Kite and Buzzard were overhead. Four more Ouzels were seen along with eight Fieldfare and three Whitethroat.
. There were also plenty of Yellowhammer, Linnet and Mipits. The Wheatear and Ouzels were very flighty so I struggled to get any decent pictures however in the end one Wheatear was more confiding so I did manage some. In all I noted a reasonable thirty species.
This morning I left home at about half-seven for a walk to Folly Farm and Liddington Hill. Other than corvids and village birds the first notable bird seen was a Red-legged Partridge wandering across the main road near to the farm shop. Not something it would have got away on a Friday morning in normal times. I could already hear singing Skylarks and it wasn’t long before the first jangling song of a Corn bunting was heard. Both of these songs were to accompany me for most of the walk. With the naked eye what I initially thought was a Buzzard in a field turned out through the binoculars to be a Hare which kindly started to practice some solo boxing just as I took a picture of it. Yellowhammer, Linnet and Goldfinch were added to the list along with Blackcap and my first Whitethroat of the year. Unfortunately it was a real skulker, not wanting to come out in the open at all. A Sparrowhawk shot across the path sending a few Yellowhammers into a panic. Further on I started to scan the hillside and soon picked up a couple of Wheatear with a group of eight found a little nearer to the hill. Unfortunately there were no Whinchat with them. While I was watching them a small flock of six Fieldfare flew over which was a surprise as I thought they would all have gone by now. No sign of any Ring Ouzels but to be honest I spent most of the walk checking out the higher ground for Wheatear than hunting the hedgerows. In all a pleasant but pretty chilly walk with a total of thirty species seen.
Things are still pretty busy at home and work so struggling to get on here regularly to post. I have made two visits to Coate Water recently. On Sunday I walked there and back from home and today my Wife dropped me there on her way to work and I walked around the lake and then home. With forty-six and fifty species seen respectively both were fairly productive. Over the two walks the species total seen was fifty-seven. on the walk on Sunday one of the first birds seen was a Ring-necked Parakeet, the first I have seen in the village and only my second in Wiltshire. I was not surprised to see it as it had been mentioned on our local facebook group that there was one in the area. Amazingly I saw another one at Coate Water, another site first. Sedge,Reed and Willow Warbler were all new for the year and I also managed a couple of Wiltshire year-ticks. The algae is already making an appearance, a fair bit earlier than normal and there is plenty of breeding activity with at least three Swans on nests and the first Mallard ducklings seen today. Today Little Egret and Cetti’s Warbler were both new to the site for 2020 and a single Pochard was still hanging around. Today I saw a Red Lite with a damaged wing feather. On Sunday I managed to get a picture of an empty M4. I never thought that would happen midway through a Sunday morning.Back in Chiseldon the floodwater still hasn’t turned up a single decent bird. The water is rapidly receding in this dry spell so my hopes of a wader or two are rapidly receding. In the garden the Starlings, Jackdaws and House Sparrows continue to entertain. My Wife saw a Pied Wagtail by the pond but it had flown by the time I got downstairs. Also with the amount of fish in the pond I am surprised that we haven’t had a visit from a Heron. I seem to be having a run of getting some quite decent photos so please bear with me for this selection.
From Coate Water,
South of the M4,