This afternoon I chose to check out some other areas in the vicinity of Barbury Castle to see if there were any more SEO’s. I concentrated on the eastern side, first on the path above the shooting school and then the valley to the south of Smeathes Ridge. Unfortunately no Owls were seen, in fact there were very few birds at all. Mainly Pheasants (which are bred nearby), a few Blackbirds and a pair of Dunnocks. I did hear a Bullfinch but didn’t see it. Lovely views across the airfield in the crisp still air. That will change if they build the Solar Farm.
I had forgotten about the Richard Jefferies Stone so that was nice to see.
Also impressive was the size of the molehills, Supersized!
Along Smeathes Ridge a fair-sized flock of Starlings flew over, from the direction of Ogbourne and heading north-west. When I got back to my car it was still fairly light so I drove across to the western side of the Castle. Initially no sign of Owls on the hillside but I then picked one up on a distant post alongside the track. I drove slowly along in the car and saw that there were actually two birds. One flew but the other stayed as I pulled up nearby. It watched me for a couple of minutes before deciding to fly off. I was quite pleased with the pictures considering how little light there was. Also seen here was a Kestrel and a Buzzard.
This morning i headed off for a couple of chilly hours in Savernake. Pulling off the A4 into the Forest I was greeted by a large amount of bird flying up out of the leaf-litter. about fifty birds which were all Blue and Great Tits. When I parked and got out of the car I could hear both Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The latter drumming. Two Woodpeckers were soon found chasing each other around. The Nuthatch wasn’t seen but I picked up a Marsh Tit whilst looking for it. Heading off along a very wet track I then heard Goldcrests calling. Three were soon found along with a Treecreeper which started to sing. It then went quiet for a while with a overflying Raven being the only bird of interest. Nearing Savernake Lodge it came alive again with more Woodpeckers, two Nuthatch, a Mistle Thrush and a mixed tit flock which included Great, Blue, Long-tailed and several Coal Tits. Heading back towards the car I added Jay to the list. Several more Coal Tits were also seen. Surprisingly no finches around. I then drove down to the Kennet Valley and soon found some finches. Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Gold finch were all seen. Red Kites and Buzzards were overhead and Mute Swans and Canada Geese were on the wet meadows. I also saw my first Collared Dove of 2015. For the afternoon dog walk I let my wife choose where we went. I was not surprised when she chose Lydiard Park over Barbury Castle, our destination for the last couple of weeks. Lydiard is a place that I rarely go and I was promised a feast of birds if we did the long walk around the fields. There were plenty but most of them were corvids and pigeons! It was only when we got back around the Lakes that more variety was found. A couple of Little Grebes being the best of the stuff on the water. A family of seven Mute swans were still sticking together on the smaller of the Lakes.
In all a total of forty-two species for the day edging my year total closer to a hundred.
I see from the WOS sightings page (http://www.wiltshirebirds.co.uk/sightings/recent-sightings.html) that another photographer has again been giving the breed a bad name by trespassing at Barbury Castle in an attempt to get a better shot of the Short-eared Owls. I thought long lenses were meant to be used to allow photos to be taken without having to do things like this. Especially on sites that, as it says on WOS good viewing can be had from public rights of way. This follows on from occurences of the same behaviour from certain people going off-piste at Pittville Park to get pictures of the Dartford Warbler. A great pity as the actions of a few are spoiling it for the majority. Soon the reporting of many species will stop to protect them from this kind of disturbance. One of the reasons that I do my blog is to allow others the chance to see the birds that I find. Don’t let this sort of behaviour stop this happening. Patience and fieldcraft are the way to get great photos, not trespass and the blatant disregard for the wellbeing of the birds and the pleasure other birdwatchers get from seeing them. Please don’t think that this is aimed at all photographers as I appreciate that most do not do this sort of thing.
The first trip of the year to London today. Arriving at my Mums house there was an unusual silence. Not a Parakeet to be heard. We walked to the tube station, again, no Parakeets. Heaven but I would like just one for my year list. We went up to Harrods and then walked into Hyde Park, along the Serpentine and out at High Street Kensington to go to the fantastic Wholefoods store. Loads of common stuff on the water, gulls, geese, ducks, Coots and Moorhens. After twenty minutes or so a Parakeet was heard and then seen. Now on the list for 2015 and not interested anymore. The shopping bill in Wholefoods only came to fifty-two pounds so not a bad result. Out of interest this is my 700th blog post.
My first Barn Owl of the year this morning, Sitting on a roadside sign on the A420 (Oxfordshire) at 04.30. It flew off as I passed giving me a great view.
After a few days off I decided to take the dog for a late afternoon walk at Barbury Castle. When I arrived there were a few photographers already watching a Short-eared Owl that was trying to hunt the western side of the Castle. I say trying as the strong wind was obviously causing problems. Apparently there had been two showing but I only saw the one. Also noted were two Buzzards, three Kestrels and several small flocks of Starlings which, as on previous occasions were all heading in the direction of West Swindon. I am surprised that the roost site has not been found yet. On my way home a large, nice looking Fox crossed the road in front of me.
As it is now the thirteenth and I hadn’t yet been to Coate Water I looked in on my way home from work. Good numbers of ducks with Teal being the most numerous followed by Wigeon. Also seen were Pochard, Tufted, Shoveler, Gadwall, Goosander and best of all a male Pintail. Not particularly common here. Also noted were three Snipe and a Buzzard.
This afternoon I was in Marlborough and despite the rain decided to take the circuitous route home via Chilton Foliat. A small loop into Savernake got me absolutely no birds. Along the A4 it was mainly Pigeons and a few corvids. Just before Froxfield a male Sparrowhawk shot over the roadside hedge and flew, about three feet above the ground, along the verge. At one point it was alongside the car but I slowed to let it get ahead of me. Amazingly it flew along the verge for a good half-a-mile. I was travelling at an indicated forty miles an hour to match its speed. Eventually it crossed back over the hedge and disappeared from view. At Froxfield birds seen were Little Egret, Grey Heron, several Moorhens and mallard and a large flock of Wood Pigeons. At Chilton Foliat they are still working on the ex woodland. The western side of the road has now been cleared and on the eastern side some new trees have been planted creating a completely different habitat. On the water it was pretty well all ducks. I was surprised at the large amount of Gadwall, at least sixty-eight counted but as some were moving in and out of the riverside vegetation I think that there were a few uncounted. Also twenty-seven Mallard and fourteen Tufties. A couple of Mute Swans and a heard only Little Grebe were the only other birds on the water. The only non-water birds seen were, Blackbird, a Robin heard singing in the undergrowth and several small flocks of Wood Pigeons. They certainly don’t seem to mind the rain.
The Wide Water
After a day of sunshine which was spent working indoors my wife and I took the dog for a walk at Barbury Castle. It was late afternoon, had clouded over and looked as if it was going to rain. There were several birders / photographers already on site when we arrived. In the strong wind two circuits of the Castle were made seeing just a few Linnets and a hunting Kestrel. We then walked along the road towards Barbury Racecourse. A few small groups of Starlings were heading to roost, a few corvids were on the hillside and the Kestrel was still hunting but of Owls there was no sign. Back at the car most of the watchers had given up. The first day for a week with no sighting of SEO. Maybe they weren’t keen on the wind and were hunting somewhere more sheltered.
Today saw my first proper out of county trip in 2015. Blashford Lakes was the destination and seven a.m. saw myself and Pete heading off in the wind and the rain. We were trusting that the forecasters had it right when they predicted improving conditions throughout the morning. After a leisurely drive down we started off, in the dry, with a look at Harbridge Meadows. A few Swans were scattered around, alas all Mute. Also seen were Greylag Geese and Pied Wagtails. Then it was a drive around Mockbeggar Lake hoping to pick up Great White Egret. Another miss on this one but a dozen Goosanders over, and four Mandarin on the water were both year ticks. We then moved on to Kingfisher Lake for the Ferruginous duck that has returned here for another year. I had tried for this one last year with no joy and wasn’t holding out much hope today. It had started to rain (as forecast) and we parked on the housing estate and headed for the footpath that runs alongside the fenced off lake. A couple of other birders were already there, one had seen the duck and was just going. The wind and rain gave my new water-resistant fleece lined trousers a good trial (which they passed with flying colours). Viewing here is not easy as you are looking through gaps in the hedge and after around twenty minutes we gave up and headed back to the car with intention of returning later when the weather had improved. Next was the Hide on Ibsley Water where we started with a Long-tailed Duck hunt. The bird was spending a fair bit of time underwater but eventually we got some good views. We then concentrated on the rest of the birds, fifty plus Pintail were seen and there were a lot of Wigeon as well. No sign of the Black-necked Grebes amongst the many Little Grebes. Also no rare gulls but two Great Black-backed were nice.
We then moved over to the Woodland side of the reserve. No Bittern from the Ivy Hide but a couple of brief but good views of a Water Rail. The main hide was a hive of activity with a constant stream of birds using the feeders. Finches were the most numerous with Green, Gold and Chaf. in good numbers along with a few Siskins. Redpoll don’t seem to have arrived yet. A supporting cast of tits, Nuthatch and GS Woodpecker were around along with singles of Collared Dove and Pheasant. The latter spent its time wandering around feeding on food dropping out of the feeders.
Then it was back to Kingfisher Lake and on with the Fudge Duck Hunt. Some birders were leaving having seen it but we were informed that it had gone behind the island. So it was a case of scan through the gaps again. With lots of Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted and Pochard to around it wasn’t easy. A whistle from Pete saw five of us moving briskly along the path. He had seen it briefly but it had gone from sight again. After a couple of minutes. I found it again and for a short time it was out in the relative open allowing all to get a good look at it. Mission accomplished we headed off home. A look in at Sarum Pig Farm found a couple of hundred Golden Plover, probably treble that of Lapwing and a good number of Black-headed and LBB Gulls.
Red Kite and Kestrel were noted and couple of hundred Redwing were in a field just outside of Chiseldon. In all a good day out with fifty-four species seen including the best of the target birds. If you haven’t been to Blashford yet I recommend that you go soon.