With the forecast looking good I got up a little earlier than usual and went out for my first drive since I had my operation. Not wanting to go far I decided Finch Corner at Barbury would be a good choice. A quick look in at the western end of the Castle found four Buzzards and a Kestrel hunting along the ridge. Two Corn buntings were on the roadside fence posts. I then drove along the lower track to Finch Corner. A couple of birders were already here and had put food out on the grass and the gate posts. Plenty of bird were moving about with Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits the most numerous. Quite a few were flying out from the bushes and out into the fields and I was beginning to wonder if there would be any left to come to the seed. Eventually a couple of Brambling appeared as did a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Brambling were quite aggressive chasing other birds away from the food. The track was fairly busy with a photographer (Gary Chalker) arriving, a variety of four-wheel drives and a dog walker. Each time they passed all of the birds would move away for a short time. A lone Tree Sparrow appeared soon followed by three more. Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird put in an appearance but there were no Reed buntings today. In total I stayed for about an hour and a half and logged twenty species.
At lunchtime we took the dog for a walk at Barbury Castle. As it was so windy we took the lower path at the bottom of the Castle. Despite the atrocious conditions there were plenty of birds at the aptly named finch corner. First one I got the bins on was a female Brambling closely followed by a Reed Bunting. Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Great and Blue Tits were also seen but the Tree Sparrows were keeping out of sight. Further along the track a Kestrel was braving the rain. We decided to walk up to the Castle but didn’t walk all the way around. The only birds seen at the top were a couple of Crows. On the way back to the car we saw two Bramblings and three more Reed Buntings.
Pete and I had planned to go on the WOS walk on the Imber Ranges. But with the forecast for Wednesday looking pretty grim we decided to go today instead. Arriving from the eastern access point to SPTA W we drove right across to Warminster and then worked our way back. One of the first birds seen was a Stonechat. There were plenty of corvids around including a flyover Raven. Two more Ravens gave better views near to the Tank Wash at the Warminster end. A Sparrowhawk was circling and Buzzard and Kestrel were seen. While scanning the ranges I found bird perched on a fence about two miles away. Wishful thinking said Short-eared Owl but eventually we agreed that it was another Buzzard. Approaching Imber village a flock of more than two hundred Golden Plover flew over. In the village itself a flock of small bids contained Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits along with a couple each of Nuthatch and Goldcrest. A drive along the American Road found flocks of Fieldfare and Starlings and we heard a Green Woodpecker. Big list total are not expected on the Plain but we had now reached the dizzy height of twenty-seven species. As always it wa interesting seeing the old tanks and the deserted buildings in Imber village. Unfortunately the hoped for Hen Harrier still hadn’t been found. We then decided to head east, crossing the A360 to drive the northern perimeter road of the Central part of the Plain. Our plan was to park near to the Redhorn Vedette to view the ranges, hopefully finding the elusive Hen Harrier and also Short-eared Owl. More Fieldfare and Starlings were seen along with a few Chaffinches and loads more Corvids. Turning south at Redhorn a Barn Owl was hunting. We watched it on and off for almost an hour while we were scanning the area. It didn’t appear to catch any prey but was frequently mobbed by a pair of Crows. At four o’clock we called it a day and headed for home. Another Barn Owl was hunting alongside the track and as we dropped down toward Upavon there was a flock of several hundred Rooks and Jackdaws. In all a very enjoyable day with twenty-nine species seen.
Christmas this year was at my Mums in London. As I’m not driving at the moment I went up by train. My first train journey in years which was most enjoyable. Avian interest was supplied by at least a dozen Red Kites. I arrived at lunchtime and later on in the afternoon paid the first of three visits to Osterley Park. Over the visits forty species were noted with the best being Kingfisher, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Goldcrest. Despite time spent searching no Little Owls were seen this time. The same couldn’t be said for Parakeets with dozens of them around. Today we went for a family walk in Bushey Park. Three Green Woodpeckers were seen along with many more Parakeets. Unsurprisingly with the waether being so nice (sat outside eating lunch in a t shirt) only a couple of deer were seen, both being young Roe Stags.
Undoubtedly the best bird of all was the Turkey on Christmas Day.
Yesterday afternoon I had a wander around the Washpool area which is a small nature reserve on the edge Chiseldon. It was fairly quiet on the bird front but three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Jays and a Grey Wagtail made it a worthwhile walk.
This afternoon, after the rain my wife and I took the dog for a walk round the main lake at Coate Water. On the gull front, although at a similar time it was quite different to Saturday with only around three hundred Black-headed and a couple of Herrings seen. There were six Goosanders (three male and three redhead). Others of interest were a Kingfisher, a Green Woodpecker and a Goldcrest.
This afternoon I headed over to Coate Water, mainly to check out the gulls. On the main lake were a hundred and thirty-four Canada Geese and on the nature reserve another one hundred and twenty-one. twelve Goosanders were seen, this time with the males outnumbered seven to five. From the first hide a Treecreeper was coming to the fat balls. A rough count of the quite impressive gull roost came up with a figure of one thousand two hundred Black-headed, a single Yellow-legged and small numbers of Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Common. Also seen was what maybe a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (thanks to Martin Adlam for his opinion). I definitely need to spend time on gull id.
Unfortunately these were just scanned with binoculars as at the moment I am not able to lug my scope around. As I was walking back towards the car park end many more were flying in.
My first proper day out since my op was a trip to Slimbridge, ably chauffeured by Pete. After a pleasant cross-country drive via Tetbury and Dursley we arrived at Slimbridge. First stop was the South Hide where a few minutes searching found us the long staying Scaup amongst the Tufted Ducks. Then it was across to the Zeiss Hide. It seemed strange being here without my scope but at the moment I am not able to lug it about. From here we could see large numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing and Golden Plover. The latter two being flushed a couple of times by a Peregrine. Then it was back to the car for lunch before heading for the Holden Tower. We just made it the Tower before the rain started. On he Tack Piece were a flock of Greylag Geese. A search through them found just two White-fronts, my target bird for the day and a year-tick. Out on the Dumbles were a few Bewicks and three Cranes. Other new for the day species seen from here and the other nearby hides were Black-tailed Godwits and Pintail. All in we managed over fifty species, another good day of birding.
This morning I went for a walk from home along the railway path towards Marlborough. My intention was to walk as far as the helicopter hanger and back, a distance of just over two miles. By the allotments were a few House Sparrows and Chaffinches along with a single Fieldfare. The Fieldfare has set itself up in an apple tree which it aggressively defends from all-comers. There were few birds along the next stretch with a couple of Bullfinches seen and a singing Corn Bunting heard. On reaching the hanger I decided to walk a loop past Chisedon Camp and South Farm. Here I added Redwing and a flock of fifty plus Fieldfare along with five more Bullfinches and a Buzzard. Arriving back at the railway path by the Firs a Green Woodpecker was a surprise addition to the list, next were four Goldcrests and a Treecreeper plus another couple of Bullfinches. Heading back towards home I saw five singing Corn Buntings in the trees alongside the main road and a pair of Yellowhammers bathing in a puddle on the track. In all I saw twenty-five species. I have to admit that I was pretty tired when I got home having walked just over three miles so the rest of the afternoon was spent in front of the TV.
As I am unable to drive for a while it will be on the buses for me. A trip to Marlborough yesterday cost me £5.30 but my walk today was a little closer to home. My wife dropped me at Coate Water and I planned to walk to the hides and then come home on the bus. I made a good start on the birding front with Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush and Jay all seen down by the miniature railway. On the dam end of the lake were all of the usual species. At the Broome Manor end there were four Goosander, three males and a female. Plenty of gulls were loafing on the water with all but a couple being Black-headed. On the other lake, along with the common stuff were Teal, Shoveler, a single Pochard and three more male Goosander. A small flock of Goldfinch and Siskin were flying around and an increase in calls heralded the arrival of a Sparrowhawk. Along towards hide two a Goldcrest was moving along with a flock of Long-tailed Tits. Also seen were Great-spotted Woodpecker, Redwing and Bullfinch. Heading back past the flood water I came up on three Roe Deer. Initially they weren’t aware of me and I got reasonably close before they sensed me. After a few seconds of looking at me they turned and ran.
Unfortunately most of what we hear about the NHS today seems to be negative. My recent experience has been totally the opposite. Less than three months ago I visited my doctor as I had been I was getting breathless during normal daily activity. Initial blood tests showed that I was anaemic, further tests including endoscopy and a CT Scan revealed that I had Bowel Cancer. Obviously a hell of a shock for me and my family. Just over a week after receiving this news and only two weeks after my scan I was admitted to the Great Western Hospital for an operation to remove the cancer. Four days later, after successful laparascopic (keyhole) surgery and an enhanced recovery programme I was discharged. In all this was just a total of seventy-four (74) days from my first appointment with the doctor to being discharged from hospital. The whole experience although challenging was made so much easier by the incredible professionalism and dedication of the staff that helped me along the way. From my doctor, the consultant, the appointments secretaries, the nurses, auxiliaries and support staff, everybody was amazing. Now I appreciate that not everybody will have been as lucky as I have with their experience of the health service but I just wanted to put on record my thanks to all of those who helped me along the way.