Following the Owl blank last night I decided to head to the Ridgeway for this evening’s dog walk. The track up to Russley Down was the chosen area. With the early phase waxing crescent moon it was pretty dark so the head torch was definitely needed. Again a few Redwing were heard overhead against the distant, faint but constant hum of the motorway. Then movement ahead, real or imagined? I wasn’t sure. Yes again, definitely something on the fence. Then the light from the torch reflecting on a pair of eyes. A look with the binoculars confirmed a Barn Owl. The Owl then flew a few posts further away, just keeping to the edge of the throw of light. I turned off the head torch and quietly moved forwards. Think on Malc, do you really believe that you could sneak up on a Barn Owl in the dark!! Turning the torch on again, I had actually managed to get a bit closer before the Owl flew again. This continued for a couple of hundred yards when the Owl, probably fed up with being followed, flew off across the field. Certainly a different experience from watching Owls from the car. I carried on up and then saw four more lights shining. Moving closer I could make out two Roe Deer. Time to head back and a Barn Owl was heard calling and then another brief glimpse as one flew across the track in front of me. Then I was back at the car and ready to head off home. On the drive back I saw two rabbits and a fox.
With my son returning home after five weeks working in America I was unable to go to the November WOS meeting therefore missing out on an Owling opportunity. However, as my wife had heard Tawny Owl in the village on three consecutive mornings I had high hopes on the evening walk. I headed north towards the motorway and then doubled back to the western end of the village. All that was heard on this section were a couple of deer barking, a distant Pheasant, some Redwing over and a Magpie chattering away in the hedgerow as I walked past. Back in the village I listened expectantly for what was Steve’s local Tawny to call.Tonight as on the other nights this week it wasn’t to be so I headed home Owless again.
Having decided to give the WOS walk around Castle Combe a miss, myself Pete and John decided to head to Farlington Marshes in Hampshire to try for the Red-breasted Goose that has been around for a few days. This was to be my first visit to this site. Having scraped the ice from the car before starting and driving through plenty of mist on the way we arrived in glorious sunshine. I had decided to park in the Broadmarsh car park which is right on the coast path. It was almost high tide and the first bird seen was a Red-breasted Merganser. There were a lot of Brent Geese on the sea along with a few Great-crested Grebe. A Sparrowhawk shot across the car park, a Kestrel was hunting nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker landed on a nearby telegraph pole.. Several Turnstone were seen perched on a boat in the bay. On the walk along to the marshes we saw Heron, Little Egret Curlew and Redshank. After looking unsuccessfully through a couple of flocks of Geese we located the Red-breasted Goose feeding on the marsh. It could be surprisingly hard to see but we had great views. Also on the grass were many Lapwing and Wigeon. Out in the harbour on various little island were hundreds of waders, most being Knot and Oystercatchers with a few Grey Plovers also seen. Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, several Robins and a lone Rock Pipit were added to the day-list. Cetti’s Warbler was heard but not seen. By now the Red-breasted Goose had moved onto a small lake on the marsh, giving closer views, a stunning bird. Walking back to the car with the waters receding we were treated to the sight of dozens of waders flying onto the exposed mud. With Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Dunlin we managed ten species of wader. A flock of around twenty Merganser were noted along with a handful of Goldeneye. After having lunch we decided to brave the traffic in Portsmouth with the Purple Sandpipers at Southsea Castle our target. On arrival we decided that an hours parking should be enough. As it happened ten minutes would have been fine as I picked up a Sandpiper straight away and we all had good but brief views. A second bird was then found which allowed a more leisurely view. Having read about these birds on various blogs I think we were extremely lucky to find them so easily. The again returned Ring-billed Gull at Gosport was our next stop. This entails a drive of about fifteen miles to get to a place less than a mile across the river. On arrival we spotted a couple of likely candidates but they were both Common Gulls. Another promising bird was seen but before we could check it out properly it flew off towards the river. Despite a good search and then waiting for an hour or so it was not relocated . With a life and two-year ticks on an absolutely beautiful day we decided to head for home with a day total of fifty-three species. For the last few miles I diverted onto the back roads hoping that an owl would be out early. None seen but we had great views of two Hares crossing the road in front of us.
I had no real idea of where to go this afternoon but ended up heading out towards the water park. Noticing the flooded fields around Cricklade I decided to check some of them out. It was mainly gulls, gulls and more gulls. With the majority being Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed. A few Common were scattered amongst them and in one group I picked out a Great Black-backed. Moving on to Twitchers a good scan of lake 74 gave plenty of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal plus a few Tufted and four Goldeneye. Also plenty of Cormorants, a few Herons and a single Little Egret. Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch were also seen. Moving along to Waterhay a flock of twenty-nine Lapwing were flying around as were some large groups of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starlings . Final bird seen here was a Little Grebe.
As my wife was having a chocaholics party this evening I decided to go out on an Owl drive. The first for quite a while. I started around the Ogbournes with no luck. Stopping in Marlborough for a bag of chips and then on through Savernake Forest. Nothing seen here either. I stopped near to St Katherines to eat my chips and just after I started off again saw a quick glimpse of a Tawny Owl and then a great view of a Barn Owl on a roadside fencepost. It then flew across the road in front of me and I watched it over an adjoining field for a minute or so. Also seen here were two Fallow Deer. Heading cross country towards Ramsbury I came across a Tawny Owl on the roadside verge. It flew up as I drove past and I had a brief glimpse on the grass of a small rodent that it had been eating. Just outside Axford on a byway I saw two more Tawny Owls and what I think was a Woodcock which flew up from the side of the track. Several rats ran across the track here, maybe the reason the Owls were around. I stopped here for a few minutes and heard at least two Tawnys calling. A bit of a surprise along here was a bat flitting along the hedgerow. Apart from a Pheasant on the roadside nothing else was seen on the rest of the drive. A very successful couple of hours, well worth the effort. With no chance of any other birding during the week I shall hopefully get the chance to do the same again soon.
A bit random but maybe of some interest, here are a few pics from my trip to France. Not many birds in them though.
With family visiting and the weather being pretty miserable there were no plans to go far today. In the end we took the dog for a walk around Coate Water and then I chose to walk home rather than going back in the car. Just the regular birds on show with Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Kingfishers the best seen. Just outside Chiseldon, a Grey Wagtail was seen in the usual place by the stream. And that was it for the day, the weekend and probably until next Friday.
American Golden Plover at Port Meadow, not seen since two o’clock Friday. Shall I, shan’t I? As I had been planning on a trip to Farmoor this morning I decided that it would be worth the extra few miles to go to Port Meadow. Arriving at just gone eight there were four birders there already. The Plovers? Well, they were there but mostly at least five hundred feet just circling around the area. This allowed time to scan the rest of the birds here. On the duck front there were plenty of Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon and a single smart male Pintail. Wader wise were at least sixty Snipe, nine Dunlin and many Lapwing. The plover flock briefly landed a couple of times allowing the now almost twenty strong group of birders a fleeting chance of a scan. Then they were off again. We were attracting a fair bit of attention from passing runners and dog walkers, quite a few asked what we were looking at, then having confirmed that we were all barmy wandered off. The flock finally settled, albeit at some distance and in poor light. After some more fruitless scanning I decided to head off, as I still wanted to go to Farmoor and I needed to be home before one. A quick stroll along the causeway and I was stood getting great views of one of the Slavonian Grebes. It was very active, briefly surfacing between often successful dives for fish. A bit more walking found me a female Scaup which also seemed to be spending more time underwater than on the surface. Unlike the accompanying Tufted Ducks, most of which were sleeping. After spending a few more minutes watching the Grebe I headed back to the car. On the drive home I had great views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker that flew low across the A420 in front of me. Another enjoyable morning with a no-show lifer and another year tick (the Grebe).
After work I decided to check out a couple of the local waters just in case the Diver had relocated locally. A vain hope I admit. No sign at Liden Lagoon so it was on to Coate Water. With the sun shining the main lake looked good with plenty of birds, unfortunately just the usual species seen. A look in at the far hide showed the second lake was fairly quiet. Finally it was into the first hide which is where the main action was. First of all there were five people in there, mainly photographing an obliging juvenile Kingfisher which was busily catching fish from a branch right in front of us. Also around were a couple of Little Grebe, Nuthatch and Marsh Tit, another Kingfisher was heard calling in the distance. Heading back to the car a Grey Wagtail was seen and during a final scan of the lake the fantastic sight of three Kingfishers chasing each other around. No consolation for missing out on the BTD but a great hour or so anyway. Later on I took the dog up to a windy Barbury Castle. Not much around with just a Buzzard, 2 Kestrels and a handful of Meadow Pipits worthy of note.
I had no expectations of the Black-throated Diver staying until Friday when I was back home from France. However, when I saw it was still there on Thursday my hopes were raised. I decided on a pre-work visit so I arrived at Moulden Hill just before seven, a little tired as we had only arrived home a little before midnight. Surprise surprise, there was no Diver to be seen. My hopes were raised as a sleeping bird drifted into view, dashed as I identified it as a Great Crested Grebe. With there being nowhere for the BTD to be hiding I heading back to the car and off to work with just the noise of the extremely vocal Mallards sounding as if they were laughing at me. It turned out that the bird had left the previous afternoon. Maybe it had caught all of the fish in the lake or maybe it knew when I was coming home. Incidentally, if it had stayed it would have been number 159 for Wiltshire this year, equaling my highest total. Still a few more weeks to go so hopefully I shall still manage to better it.