Working all day Saturday, doing the garden Sunday morning and then going to Marlborough for a High Tea at Polly’s left me with no time for birds again. All I managed was two Grey Wagtails along the Kennet at Marlborough and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers at Draycot when I stopped in to see if the Little Owls were about. In the garden were a couple of Common Blue Damselflies and a Red kite overhead. The Tea at Polly’s comes highly recommended.
A bit later than intended I headed out to Lammy Down for a short walk. Quail was the hoped for bird but as with my last downland evening walk I didn’t hear one. A calling Grey Partridge was my consolation prize. Birds actually seen were Corn bunting, Yellowhammer, Skylark, Chaffinch, Buzzard and Kestrel.
Yesterday evening news that a Hoopoe had been present in Ashton Keynes for most of Sunday was Grapevined. This meant that plans for this morning had to be amended. Having finished work at 03.30 I wasn’t that keen on getting up at eight but somehow managed it. I arrived at the Ashton Keynes Cricket ground at a little before nine. First thing I saw was a JCB working on the access road, the second was a tractor cutting the grass on the pitch and the third was a couple of dog walkers. Not a promising start. Unsurprisingly there was no sign of the Hoopoe. Plenty of other birds around, Blackbird, several Pied Wagtails, Swallows and five Magpies being noted. A quick phone call confirmed where it had been seen earlier on but still no sign. I kept scanning the grass and finally managed a brief view of the bird before it just disappeared from view. After a few more minutes it dropped down onto the grass from a tree. Finally a decent view of a Hoopoe in the UK. I have seen a few abroad but have had four or five dips over here. It was only on the ground for a short while before the Magpies started hassling it. Back it went into the trees and this was repeated a few more times. Fortunately it moved to another tree, this time a more open one which allowed good views. Some other birders turned up and the bird obligingly dropped down onto the grass and began to feed. As is often the way I had things to get done so had to leave at just gone half-nine. It appears that the bird has performed well for all during the day but as is usual these days it seems that some photographers have been getting closer to the bird than they should be. I always thought that the purpose of a large lens was that you could get good shots from a respectable distance. Obviously I was mistaken.
After a last-minute change of plan I found myself with nothing going on Wednesday. A chat with Pete while we were in Hens Wood saw us deciding to head down to Bowling Green Marsh near Exeter to hopefully see the Ross’s and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Twelve o’clock saw myself, Pete and John heading west on the M4. After a good journey we arrived in the area at a little before two. As the tide was still out we had a drive around Exmouth first. Plenty of gulls to be seen, mainly Herring along with one or two Lesser and Greater Black Backed. Also a Gannet well out at sea. We also looked in at Exton Station where the Ross’s gull apparently spent time but after a quick look around decided to head for the hide at Bowling Green. We arrived at what was a pretty crowded hide at a little past three and settled down to wait for the gulls to fly in as the tide came rose. While we were waiting we scanned the Godwit flock to check for a Barwit amongst the Black-tailed. We managed to find just one which was a year-tick for me. A Common Gull was the first to arrive followed by a steady stream of Black-headed and a couple of Mediterranean. At sixteen minutes past four the Ross’s Gull arrived and proceeded to give us all great views. Likewise the Bonaparte’s which flew in a few minutes later. Both were lifers for me as was the Ross’s for Pete and John. What was so nice was the fact that we got really good views with time to study them both in detail. Then it was sit and wait to see if the Little Gull would also turn up which it eventually did. This gave us a total of nine gull species for the day. I have to admit that, as for many birders gulls aren’t my favourite birds, (because they are hard going in the id stakes) but I really enjoyed this afternoon.
At five ‘clock we decided to leave and head for home via the Somerset Levels. Arriving here at a quarter to seven we walked along the old railway to Ham Walls. A couple of Booming Bitterns were heard, what a great sound. Also seen were Great White and Little Egret, Marsh harrier and Cuckoo. Plenty of other stuff heard including several Cetti’s Warblers. Eight o’clock saw us heading back to the car and home.
We arrived back in Swindon before ten and with two hundred and sixty mile travelled. An excellent day of birding.
Finally I must add a big thank you to the local birders who have regularly updated Twitter and Birdguides on the status of these birds. Also for theirhelp in the hide, helping others to find the birds amongst the many gulls in view. All done with good humour considering that, due to the number of visiting birders they weren’t even able to get seats in their own local hide.
This evening I went to Hens Wood with Pete. We went to see if there were any Nightjars there. We arrived at around nine o’clock and after a stroll along the footpath found somewhere to sit by the main clearing. On the walk up from the main road we saw a Hare ahead of us on the track. During the evening we saw two more. We also had great views of a Badger that had wandered out on the track. We saw it a few seconds before it saw us. Then it was off along the track and into the undergrowth. It was a really nice evening with clear skies and a waxing gibbous moon. Gradually the singing Blackbirds and Song Thrushes quieted and by ten o’clock the wood was almost silent. Just the sound of a plane passing overhead or a car travelling along the M4. A few moths were flying around, some maybe destined to become a bat meal. Actually we only saw a handful of bats, certainly less than normal. A Barn Owl flew across the clearing carrying prey but we didn’t hear or see either Woodcock or Nightjar. We started to walk back towards the car and along the path saw three Glow Worms.
With a better day forecast today Pete and i headed south to Franchises Wood which is right on the Hampshire border at the northern edge of the New Forest. We left Chiseldon at around half-six and within an hour we were parked, had seen a Stonechat and were walking into the wood. Within a couple of hundred yards we heard a Firecrest calling and after a couple of minutes of watching managed good views. A couple of minutes later we had great views of a smart male Redstart. Moving on we added Coal Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a heard only Nuthatch to the list. Two Cuckoos were heard but not seen as was another Firecrest. We then managed brief views of a third Firecrest. With two of the four hoped for species seen we were getting fairly near to the edge of the wood when I heard a Wood Warbler singing. By following a Deer track deeper into the trees great views were had of our third target species. We watched it for a few minutes as it moved around its territory singing loudly. As we got to the end of the walk we had a brief view of a Spotted Flycatcher but unfortunately it didn’t hang around. Back at the car I tried to get onto Twitter and Bird guides to see if any good birds had been found in the area. With a very weak signal I soon gave up and we headed for Salisbury Plain. More good birds here with Curlew, Stone Curlew and Whinchat being the best. Skylarks, Corn Buntings and Meadow Pipits made a good supporting cast. Back home I checked online and found that a Short Toed Eagle had been seen in the New Forest, probably no more than a dozen miles from where we had been. It appeared that it had been moving around and not many people had seen it so it wasn’t an issue that we hadn’t known. So another great trip with four year and county ticks collected.
As it has been over two weeks since my last post I thought that I should get posting again. It has been a busy few days with some of it spent in East Devon and most of the rest taken up with work. The trip to Devon was five days at Devon Cliffs just outside Exmouth, a last-minute thing in the school half-term. My wife, daughter and a friend went down in the car while I went on the bike. I took a cross-country route and stopped for a couple of hours on the Somerset Levels. A worthwhile visit with great views of Bittern and Marsh Harrier.
As I knew there wouldn’t be a great deal of time for birds I hadn’t taken my telescope. This was the wrong decision our caravan had a great sea view. With binoculars I managed a few birds including Common Scoter and Gannet but the scope would have been useful. Around thirty species were seen included Sanderling and Dunlin at Exmouth and plenty of Rock and Meadow Pipits.
Friday was going home day and I had decided to ride along the coast and stop off at Portland and Lodmoor. Then on Thursday evening I saw on the internet that a Ross’s Gull was at Bowling Green Marsh, about six miles away. However the weather on Friday morning was awful so I decided not to go for it. By the time I got to Portland the weather had improved bit it was quiet as expected with just the resident birds for interest. Lodmoor made up for it though with a Temmincks Stint showing well.
The only other birding that had been done up until today was a short visit to Twitchers and another evening visit to Savernake where I managed a brief glimpse of Nightjar.