To all who have followed me this year;
Early this morning as I was heading for the M5 a Tawny Owl flew across the A417 near to the Duntisbournes. After work I spent an hour or so around Barbury Castle hoping for a Short-eared Owl or two. None seen but other birds around were three each of Kestrel and Buzzard, a flock of around forty Yellowhammers, five or six Greenfinches, Great Tit, Robin, Wren, Blackbird and Chaffinch. Also seen were many groups of Starlings which appeared to be heading in the direction of West Swindon.
After a morning of laying floor tiles I treated myself to a trip out toBlakehill for, hopefully a bit of Owl watching. Despite having been yesterday Pete was keen to go again so I picked him up on my way over. There were already some cars in the car park and a scan of the path found a group of photographers already set up. It was a lovely afternoon, crisp and sunny with very little wind. First bird noted was a Robin. There were plenty of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starlings on the grass along with a couple of Mistle Thrushes and a few Blackbirds. A small bird which briefly perched on a bush was I think a Reed Bunting. A couple of birds were seen perched on some distant bushes. One looked to be aKestrel, confirmed when it flew up and started to hover. The other which looked smaller and had a more upright stance was by common consensus identified as a Merlin. It stayed in the same place for at least twenty minutes before flying off. The first of three Buzzards was also seen. Within a couple of minutes it returned to the same perch. At just gone three-twenty I spotted the first Short-eared Owl which was hunting at the far side of the site. over the next forty or so minutes it, and at least two others were seen with one remaining perched on a post for a fair while. Unfortunately the Owls all stayed a good distance away leaving the photographers little chance of any decent pictures. On the drive back heading from Purton to Lydiard a Sparrowhawk shot over the hedge and flew low along the road before flying over the opposite hedge. Best bird for me was the Merlin which I reckon will be the final year tick of 2014.
Early this morning I was heading south on the A346. Passing Ogbourne St George a Barn Owl was perched on the crash barrier on the left of the carriageway. Quite often they don’t move but this one decided it was a good time to fly up. As there were trees on the verge side it flew out into the road ahead of me. Fortunately there wasn’t any traffic coming the other way so I was able to move over and just managed to miss it. As I saw on the M4 last week they often end up as roadkill so I was very glad I was able to miss it. Pheasants are fair game but certainly not Owls.
This year Christmas was spent at my son’s house in Wellington Shropshire. I had high hopes of getting some birdwatching fitted in but as seems to be the way lately it didn’t happen. Luckily the best bird of the break was the Christmas Turkey. On Christmas Eve I made a late morning stop at Priorslee Lake which is a good spot for gulls. Despite it being too early for the main roost there were several hundred gulls on the water. Mainly a mix of the common species but I managed to pick out two Yellow-legged, Greater BB and a Mediterranean.
On my own and with limited time. I had no chance of finding the recently seen Caspian though. On Boxing Day we had planned a walk on Long Mynd which apparently is a good place for SEO, Merlin and Red Grouse. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and with rain, snow and wind we decided that it wasn’t worth the drive. Instead we went up to the top of the Wrekin. An enjoyable walk despite the conditions but birdwise a dead loss with a few Tits, a couple of Chaffinches and a Jay about the only things seen.
That is the amount of time I managed to spend birding this week. On Monday I went for a late afternoon walk from Folly Farm. There were a good number of birds around with the most interesting being a very noisy and mobile flock of corvids. In total over a thousand birds. They seemed unable to settle for long and were constantly moving from field to field. A flock of Yellowhammers numbered around twenty with a few Corn Buntings with them. A handful of Skylarks passed over and a Kestrel was hunting. Also of interest was the recent hedgelaying that has been carried out along the track. Nice to see the old country skills being used. It looks a little sparse now but will be good for next year.
Tuesday saw me at Coate Water. Best bird here was a female Stonechat. A dozen Snipe and three Meadow Pipits were also good. On the lakes were the usual waterbirds with at least a hundred Teal and probably the same amount of Tufted Ducks. Five Goosander were my first for this end of the year. A noisy group of Starlings was at the top of a tree and a couple of Roe Deer soon made off when they saw me approaching.
On Friday it was a brief visit to Barbury. After the large flocks on my last visit, this time was a lot quieter. Single Buzzard and Kestrel, a flock of thirty or more Yellowhammers at the base of the Castle and a hundred or more Chaffinches with a few more Yellowhammers feeding on spilt grain at one of the farms.
Today an hour in Savernake before shopping in Marlborough. As I turned off of the A4 into the forest a flock of small birds flew up from the leaf litter at the side of the track. I stopped and they flew back down and continued feeding. A good mix of species with Chaffinch, Blue, Great and Coal Tits and a couple of Robins and Blackbirds. No matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find a Brambling though. Having parked the car I set off along a fairly muddy track. Completely birdless to start until a flock of Long-tailed Tits moved through. As usual there were some hangers-on, Blue and Great Tits plus a pair of Bullfinches. I could hear Buzzard and Nuthatch calling but neither were seen. A Raven flew over continually cronking. Three Wrens were heard but not seen and a group of scolding Blackbird also remained unseen. More calling heralded the arrival of another flock of Long-tailed Tits. continually on the move again they bought in some other birds. This time three Goldcrests and two Treecreepers along with more Great, Blue and Coal Tits. Another pair of Bullfinch were found after I heard them calling. Then it was back to the car and off to Marlborough. On the way I saw a Jay and a circling Red Kite. To finish off the birds, along the Kennet in Marlborough were Mallard, Mute Swan, Coot and Moorhen.
After a morning of Christmas shopping and a bit more work on the house I managed to fit in a couple of hours of birding. So after doing a couple of things in Marlborough I went to the east end of Savernake. Managed to find a flock of tits moving through. Mainly Blue and Great along with a couple of Coal and a Goldcrest. Nuthatch and Jay were heard but not seen. I then picked up a small flock feeding at the top of the trees. Eventually they dropped down and I saw that they were Lesser Redpoll. Just five of them but always a good bird.
I then decided to drive home on the back roads via Ramsbury and Aldbourne Chase. There were a few Fieldfare around and near to Rudge a covey of ten Grey Partridges feeding in the middle of a field. The most I have seen together for a
long time. Also seen were a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel. Final stop was at my local Little Owl site. My last few visits have drawn a blank and I have been wondering if they had gone, especially as on my last visit two Buzzards were perched in there favourite tree. So I was pleased to see two Owls sat out in their usual spot.I watched them for a few minutes until they both flew off.
On my way home from work this afternoon I spent a little time in the Barbury Castle area. A good choice as it was awash with birds. Several large flocks were seen with each numbering several hundred. Three were of Fieldfare, two of Starlings and one of Wood Pigeons. The latter were feeding on the ground until a Buzzard flew over them causing them to fly up. Around fifty Yellowhammers and Corn buntings were sat in a single tree and at least twenty Skylarks were moving around on some rough ground. Quite a few Blackbirds (at least thirty were seen) as were a few Redwing and a single Mistle Thrush. Two Kestrels were also noted. Other birds seen were Chaffinch, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Magpie and Pheasant.
With a couple of hours spare this morning I went for a walk in Savernake. Starting from Eight Ways i did a loop around Thornhill and back. The first birds seen were a Red Kite followed literally by a Buzzard. A dozen or so Great Tits and a couple of Blue Tits were next. At Thornhill it was pretty quiet with a couple of Bullfinches over and a Wren and Blackbird by the pond. A lone Redwing also flew in, landing in a berry laden bush. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard and a Nuthatch seen. Reaching the return track there had been a lot of forestry work going on. Piles of logs were along the track which was extremely muddy in places due to the heavy machinery being used. In a couple of places you could see where the vehicles had been entering and leaving the forest.
A small flock of birds was found which consisted of six Coal Tits, a Marsh Tit and a couple of Blue Tits. A charm of at least thirty Goldfinches flew over then circled and landed at the top of the trees. Final sighting was of a Jay that flew across the track near to the car. On the way home I took the back road from Ogbourne through Draycott and back to Chiseldon. I noticed a few birds flying into some bushes ahead of me and stopped in a gateway to look at them. It was a good-sized mixed flock of Fieldfare, Redwings and Starlings which were flying between the bushes and the adjoining field. Fortuitously next to the gateway I had pulled into was a largish puddle that the birds were drinking from. Using the car as a makeshift hide I managed a few reasonable pictures. Also seen here were four or five Skylarks further out in the field and Chaffinches and Goldfinches.