Monthly Archives: February 2015

IKEA via Cardiff

Yeaterday, with a visit to Ikea in Bristol needed I decided to combine it with some birding. Cardiff seemed the obvious place to go as Bristol was around halfway there.  The long staying Little Bunting and Lesser Scaup being the target birds. Despite having seen both of these birds recently Pete kindly agree to be my navigator for the day. Although he won’t admit it I reckon the chance of a first ever site visit to Ikea swung the decision. So eight o’clock saw us leaving Swindon and an hour and a half later we were pulling up outside the hide at Forest Farm.

Less than five minutes later the Little Bunting was on the daylist. An extremely easy life tick. Fantastic to see it feeding so close giving plenty of opportunity to pick out the main identifying features.

Unfortunately it didn’t seem to want to reveal itself completely, always staying close to cover. Great views of Reed Buntings as well for comparison.

After spending a few minutes watching the Bunting we checked out the feeders. They were busy with tits, also Robins, Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Nuthatch.

We then headed off along to the nearby River Taff looking for Dippers. First bird seen was a Grey Wagtail and then three Goosanders. I managed a brief view of a Dipper which flew off from the bank as we approached.  A year tick for me.IMG_7774 (1280x951)

We then set off across Cardiff to the Bay, another new area for me. We had hoped to park near to the boardwalk at the wetlands but there were no spaces. Driving around looking for a vantage point we found a great place to park right on the waterside. There were several flocks of Tufted Ducks around so we settled down to check them out. We were fortunate being able to stay in the car as it was extremely windy. I started of with the nearest birds while Pete took on the more challenging further out and into the sun birds. After a couple of minutes he found a good candidate and managed to get me onto it. Initially it had its head tucked down and when it did look up it was hard to be sure due to the bright sun. We moved a few yards and eventually the flock drifted into a better position allowing us to confirm it was the Lesser Scaup. Our luck was certainly holding up. Another couple of birders who we had seen at Forest Farm arrived and we were able to put them onto the bird as well. We then headed over to Penarth and the Barrage entrance hoping for Black Redstart and Rock Pipit. The conditions were not conducive to finding small birds and we only managed singles of Wren and Pied Wagtail. Also seen here were Mute Swan, a few Gulls and Cormorants. A pity but we were happy to have got both of the target birds. This is an interesting area with an interesting mix of old and new. Also great views of Cardiff across the water

Obviously the final stop was Ikea in Bristol, I have only been here with the family before and try and keep out of things until collection and payment. It was the first visit for Pete so between us we didn’t have a clue on how the system works. Anyway I managed to get what I needed and we were in and out in forty minutes. Not much of a birdwatching spot mind with the birds seen here being a few gulls and Feral Pigeons

My UK list is now creeping up on the three hundred mark with just nine more needed. Just one new bird a month will see me hit it by December. We shall see.

Wiltshire Barn Owl

At just gone half-four this morning I got my first Wiltshire Barn Owl of 2015. Slightly unexpected as there was rain in the air. However there it was perched on a fence at the side of the A419 between the Esso garage and the Cricklade slip road. Nothing else of any interest seen on my travels today. Back home after  work and I had to stay in for some visitors. While I was waiting I spent some time scanning Liddington Hill. Well I have seen SEO there before. Not today though. I did manage Kestrel, Starling, Wood Pigeon and several corvids. Also a few small birds but well out of range to identify.

Barbury Dog Walk

Having picked the dog up from his holiday accommodation it seemed only fair to take him for a walk. The Barbury Castle area seemed to be the obvious choice so at just gone four we were on our way. When I arrived there were, as usual some other people already owling. A very cold motorcyclist from Calne and three others who were first-timers. It wasn’t long before the first SEO was seen and soon two others appeared. After the usual hunting and posing on fenceposts one of them caught a small mammal. As it flew up and away, first one, and then two Kestrels appeared. Both started to hassle the Owl, trying to steal the food. After a few attempts one of them was successful and rapidly flew off with its prize. Whether it is an Owl or a Buzzard that they go for it seems that on most occasions the Kestrel is the winner. Other birds noted were, two Buzzards, four Kestrels in all,  Mistle Thrush, a few Fieldfare, Blackbirds, plenty of Starlings and gulls overhead, and singles of Chaffinch and Stonechat. A few Pheasants were on the around and a Grey Partridge was heard.

Back Home…

…from London after three days with very few birds seen. On a family walk in Osterley Park this morning the highlight was my first Green Woodpecker of the year. Not often I get to past mid February without seeing one. A couple of Mistle Thrushes and a Little Grebe were the best of the rest. Unusually Coots well outnumbered Moorhens out on the grass with a good couple of dozen scattered around. They look quite comical running for the water as we approached them. There seem to be fewer Parakeets around at the moment, not sure why but not complaining.

It was raining for most of the way home but had stopped just before the Hungerford junction so I decided to stop for a look at Chilton Foliat. Not much going on with just the usual stuff on the water but in small quantities. Back at work tomorrow so not much will be seen in the next few days either.

How Not To Do It

Today I was on my way to London to spend a few days at my mums. On the way I had planned to stop to look for the Ring-necked Duck that has been at Bray Pit for a few weeks. However, as it hadn’t been reported over the weekend and that is was raining heavily I had decided not to bother. Approaching the Maidenhead junction on the M4 I changed my mind and decided to go for a look. From the small amount of research I had done I managed to find the car park for the BBONT reserve Then my problems started, it was raining hard and with no signs to the reserve it was a case of which way to go. Following the path alongside the watersports lake ignoring the path that went across the river. After being passed by a convoy of mud-spattered Segways I realised that I should have taken the other path. Retracing my steps I crossed the river and set of along an extremely muddy path. Through the trees I saw another lake, this one had a lot of ducks on it. Mainly Tufted along with some Pochard, Gadwall and Mallard. It was then that I realised that I hadn’t even checked if the Ring-necked was a male or a female. This meant that I had to check through all of the ducks on the lake, double the work. Three-quarters of an hour later, I was wet, my scope and bins were wet, my boots and leggings were covered in mud and still no RND. Very different from the New Brighton experience on Saturday. With a deadline for me to get to London it was now time to leave. The conditions underfoot were not conducive to fast walking and I had to be careful not to end up face down in the mud. So a lesson learnt, know where you are going and know what you are looking for.

After the Twitch

A quiet day today with next to no birdwatching. It was very quiet on the afternoon dog walk with just the regular common birds seen. Highlight was, while driving to Marlborough to pick my daughter up from work, a Merlin atop a tree on the roadside just before the golf course at Ogbourne St George. This species is reported fairly regularly along this road but it is only the second time I have seen it. Also seen perched along here were a Kestrel and a Buzzard.

Laughing on the Wirral

A Laughing Gull has been present at New Brighton for a couple of weeks. Earlier in the week I had read a couple of reports from Oxfordshire birders who had been to see it I decided that if it was still around on Friday I would go. Having invited Pete and John to come with me and the bird still being around Saturday morning found us on the road at just before six. At around nine and after just shy of two hundred miles of driving we arrived on Marine Parade New Brighton.

Quickly out of the car we walked the few yards across to the Marine Lake to find it completely devoid of birds. A couple of other birders told us that it was on the beach so we headed for the promenade. We soon found the Gull standing on the beach. After a couple of minutes it flew up giving great views of the dark wings and long beak. It headed over to the lake and landed on one of the pontoons. After grabbing some bread it was off and away again. The next few minutes were spent chatting to some birders who had travelled up from Rainham in Essex (links to their blogs at end) and scanning the birds on the beach. Plenty of other Gull, noisy Oystercatchers and Turnstones on the rocks. The gull put in another appearance, this time staying long enough to allow some photos to be taken.

We then went over the road to the Seaside Cafe for breakfast, an old-fashioned place. lino floor, old wooden bench seats, nice atmosphere and an extensive menu. Full English for £4.95 hit the spot and set us up for some more birding.

We headed back to the prom with our scopes and managed to pick up some Purple Sandpipers on the rocks by the lighthouse. At high tide these roost on the pontoons on Marine Lake but today with the tide going out were a little harder to find. Next stop was Morrisons to use the loo’s and then Wallasey Shore to look for a couple of Snow Buntings. We followed a couple of other birders onto the beach and were lucky as they had found them and put us straight onto the birds. They were feeding amongst the debris along the tideline. We watched them briefly before they were flushed by dogs. The last we saw of them was as they flew off along the beach, landing a few hundred metres away. We then set of for Burton Mere RSPB reserve where a Long-eared Owl was at roost. After getting a little lost due to misreading a sign we arrived in the car park and headed for the visitor centre. Along with many others we headed of along the paths and boardwalks to the far end of the reserve which is where the Owl was roosting. This was easy birding as a small crowd was gathered at the viewing spot and an RSPB guide was helping people find the LEO which was roosting deep in a Hawthorn between a small stream and a railway line. With the naked eye I could easily see the Owl but it was harder to pick out with the bins and even more so with the camera. I managed a couple of record shots through the branches before we moved onto the nearby hide.

Looking across the lagoon we picked up a few more species for the day-list.IMG_7618 (1280x852) These included Shelduck, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew and Blackwit. After another look at the Owl we strolled back to the visitor centre where we spent a few minutes looking for a Spotted Redshank. After only finding ordinary Redshanks and four Ruff we went back to the car. Here we eat our sandwiches before heading back home. Due to delays on the motorway I took the cross-country route which saw us back  at around six o’clock. This concluded an intense twelve-hour day covering 408 miles (which was my longest twitch) with one lifer and six year-ticks the result.


Somewhere New

As I was driving from Aldbourne to Swindon this morning I noticed that the Downs to the east of the road were of a similar make-up to the area of Barbury Castle that the SEO’s are frequenting. Stubble fields and a west-facing, rough grass slope. So this afternoon I went for a walk there. I parked near to Liddington Warren and took the Byway up onto the Downs. The first part of this was quite challenging to walk on as it has taken a battering from the four-wheel drive crowd. I am a supporter of them using these ancient rights of way but when this is the result can understand why there are calls for them to be banned.

I had only just crossed the road when I saw a small bird fly up onto a fencepost. A female Stonechat which was soon joined on adjacent posts by two more, another female and a male. A great start. Unfortunately these were the best birds seen on the walk. Moving onwards and making the fairly steep climb to the ridge I saw just a single Red Kite and some corvids. The strip of trees at the top held quite a few birds, mainly Blue and Great Tits along with a couple of Chaffinches and a heard only Great Spotted Woodpecker. Also at the top was a good-sized barrow mound,  a good place to sit and scan the surrounding area from. I then walked back along the ridge to the Byway and then down to the car. The same or another Red Kite came over, three Red-legged Partridges flew up from the field and a singing Yellowhammer was heard. So despite their being no Owls this is definitely an area that will be worth exploring some more.

Savernake Sunday and Threes at Barbury

Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours in Savernake. All the usual stuff seen with several Marsh and Coal Tits around. A Willow Tit was heard and despite being fairly close to it I just couldn’t see it which was a bit frustrating. On a lovely sunny afternoon after work I drove home via Barbury Castle where I saw three each of Short-eared Owl, Buzzard and Stonechat. Single Red Kite and Kestrel and plenty of Starlings were also noted. One of the Owls was circling with the Red Kite and later on was noisily seeing off a Buzzard. There were quite a few photographers around and compared to their kit mine is pretty insignificant but here are some photos anyway.

Three Good Birds

Today I was visiting my Mum in London and managed to fit in some birding as well. Passing the sewage works at Slough a flock of several hundred Parakeets flew out from their roost. Quite an impressive sight. Despite that I was running slightly late and that it was drizzling I stopped off at Staines Reservoir hoping to catch up with the Great Northern Diver that has been around for a while. Joining up with a small group of local birders I was informed that there was a Slavonian Grebe on the South Basin. As it was fairly calm and there were few birds around it was quite easy to find. Very black and white it gave good views as it swam towards the shoreline. I was just thinking of getting the camera out when it turned away and decided to fly to the far side of the basin giving a good view of the white panels on the wings. A great bird and a nice surprise. Next it was time to look for the Diver that apparently had been spending a lot of time underwater whilst moving around most of the south basin. Again I was fortunate and found it quite quickly. However it was hard to get the scope on it as it wasn’t spending much time on the surface. Final bird was a distant sighting of a Scaup on the far side of the north basin which is currently being drained for maintenance work to be carried out. Could be good for passage waders in a month or two. I wasn’t that bothered about the Scaup as a visit to Kensington Gardens was planned where another has been around for a few weeks. After a pleasant tube and bus (new Routemaster)

trip to Kensington Gardens my Mum and I were watching the 1st winter Scaup diving in the middle of the Round Pond. according to the excellent local blog ( this is where it has been spending most of its time. As we walked around the (rather large) pond the Scaup started to drift towards the shore, eventually, despite spending a lot of time resting coming quite close in giving excellent views.

Other birds around were, Feral Pigeons, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls, Canada and Egyptian Geese, Tufted  Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen and Mute Swan.

It was quite entertaining watching the gulls and pigeons flying en-masse around the banks to wherever people were feeding them.

On this visit we had decided not to go looking for the owls so it was time to go to Wholefoods ( for lunch and a bit of shopping before heading back to Mum’s house. I left there at three and stopped off at Chilton Foliat on the way back. Very quiet with a few Gadwall, Mallard and Wigeon along with a couple of Little Grebe. On the drive home from Chilton three Buzzards and several small flocks of Fieldfare were seen. Looking at Twitter when I arrived home I was annoyed to see that the Ring-necked Duck had reappeared at Bray. It hadn’t been reported for a few days and I had forgotten to check before leaving London therefore missing out on a lifer.