I spent a bit of time this afternoon scoping the Liddington Hill area from the bedroom hoping to get Short-eared Owl onto the window list. I started looking at around ten past three as the light was still good. All I managed to get were a few Crows, two Magpies and best of all a Hare that was sat right on the highest point and stood out well on the skyline. Checking out the Swindon Birds website this evening I saw that Martin had two Owls there at gone four o’clock. Unfortunately the light isn’t good enough to pick them up this late. However I may have another go tomorrow afternoon.
Late afternoon news from Gloucestershire yesterday necessitated a quick change in my arrangements for today. This allowed me time albeit with an early start to get to Stow-on-the Wold hopefully to catch up with my second new UK Thrush this month. So after scraping the car clear of frost at a little before half-six three of us left Chiseldon via North Swindon to collect number four to head out to Stow. Fortunately the fog wasn’t as bad as forecast and we made good time arriving at around a quarter-past seven. As it was still almost dark decided to wait in the car for a few minutes before joining the light flow of birders heading for Fishers Close. I then got a Tweet reporting the Thrush already showing so we piled out of the car and made the short walk to the site. After a few minutes of standing in the cold ( a far cry for my last one in the sweltering heat of the Boqa Valley Majorca in August last year) a resident came out and informed us that the Thrush was feeding in his garden. It was then a case of waiting for it to show. Within a few minutes it obliged by flying up into a tree in the same garden. Despite the lack of light the bird was easily identifiable and with a little imagination the blue tinge could be made out. It then dropped out of sight for a while before reappearing a few minutes later. This time with improved an light level much better views were had by the well in excess of fifty birders present. Three of us had other commitments later in the day so when it next dropped down we all decided that we were happy with the views and headed back to the car. After an uneventful journey home it was time to prepare for an afternoon trip, with my Wife and the dog, to Imber Village on Salisbury Plain. The main purpose was to visit the abandoned village www.imbervillage.co.uk/ but a little time was made for birdwatching. Unfortunately it was very quiet with only fourteen species seen which didn’t include any Harriers, Owls or Shrikes. However we had an enjoyable walk around Imber including a visit to the church. Back to work tomorrow so that is probably my lot for birding this year.
Having been able to change a medical appointment at short notice I was able to accept an invitation for a trip up to Beeley to try for the sometimes elusive Dusky Thrush. Ian picked me up at the respectable time of five thirty and we headed North. A nice change for me to be in the left-hand seat. After an uneventful drive we arrived in the delightful village of Beeley in the Derbyshire Dales, unusually for me an area I am not familiar with. The small Orchard that the bird visits was easily found due to a small crowd of early-birders who had arrived earlier that us. We spent the next thirty minutes or so watching numerous Blackbirds and a few Fieldfare feasting on fallen apples. The Dusky has been associating with Redwing of which none were to be seen. Also seen were a couple of Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Robin and four species of Tit. Additional entertainment was provided by a dry-stone waller who was surely not used to having an audience of birders whilst he was working. We were joined by Rob, a friend of Ian and between us we decided it would be best if we headed up to the fields above the village to find the Redwing flock(s). Walking along Pig Lane we soon found Redwings feeding in a field containing Shetland Ponies. A good scan confirmed they were all Redwing with no exotic cousin amongst them. We then spent the next three hours or so tracking various flocks of Redwings around. They were reasonably flighty, probably due to the presence in the area of a Sparrowhawk. At one point the bird was found on the ground but before we could get on it properly the flock flew up into the trees.The next few minutes were spent getting possible unsatisfactory views as the bird moved around in the trees. Four Ravens passed overhead as did a Buzzard. Several Canada Geese flew up from a distant flooded field. The flocks then all moved out of sight so we decided to head for the The Old Smithy Gallery Cafe and Bistro for a warming drink. After some lovely bowls of Broccoli and Stilton soup and a couple of Luxury Hot Chocolates between us we headed back out. The sky had cleared and it was now sunny as we walked back along Pig Lane. As we were scoping a small group of Redwing another birder informed us that the Dusky was showing well a little further up the lane. We were soon getting great views of the bird as it fed out in a field, interestingly not straying as far from the hedgerow as were the Redwing. We were able to watch it for a good few minutes although it and most of the other birds disappeared back into the hedgerow on a couple of occasions. We then decided to head homewards arriving back after another good journey around twelve hours after leaving. In all twenty-eight species were noted and the Dusky Thrush was my thirteenth new species of the year. I should as many others have thank the residents of Beeley for their friendliness and tolerance of the invasion of birders to their small village.
With a birding day out planned for Pete and I today the decision on where to go had to be made. There were three choices, Beeley for Dusky Thrush, Camrose for Masked Wagtail or Thurlestone for Desert Wheatear. I discounted the Thrush as it has been very elusive over the last couple of days and although a lovely area not much else around to be seen. Also a no for the Wagtail as I have a feeling that it may be around for a while longer giving another chance to get down there. Also I have been down there already this year so again not much else as to go for. That left the Wheatear which had reappeared yesterday after going missing on Tuesday following the unfortunate ringing incident on Monday. So at six yesterday evening the decision was made. A five am start for the Wheatear. After a moonlit drive down on the M5, A38 and some interesting Devon lanes we arrived in the pleasant village of Thurlestone a little after first light. Following a stop at the Post Office to confirm the location of the beach which resulted in me buying a Pain au Raisin and a Sausage Roll soon found the beach car park. After an initial scan of the sea got us Shag, Cormorant and GBB Gull. It was then a short walk to Leasfoot beach which is in a small bay just below the golf course. A couple of Mipits and a Pied Wagtail flew over us on the way along. An initial scan of the sand and seaweed found nothing other than a couple of Crows. We then walked the length of the beach which only took a couple of minutes, this found us just a single Rock Pipit. We then scanned the cliff and edge of the golf course before heading back along the beach. Two birds flew over and landed a little way ahead of us. The first was a Pied Wag, the second was the Wheatear which proceeded to give us great views as it flitted about. At one point landing just a few feet from us. After a couple of minutes it flew off and we weren’t able to find it again. A fabulous bird and another lifer for me. After another check of the sea we headed off to Broadsands via Slapton and the Dartmouth Ferry. Not much seen at either other than a few Gannets. As we arrived at Broadsands it started to rain which hadn’t been forecast. A wander along the hedgerows got us Bullfinch, Chaffinch, some tits but no Cirl Buntings. Some time checking out the bay was more productive with Great Northern Diver, two each of Black-necked Grebe and Razorbill and several Fulmars found. Unfortunately ther was no sign of the scoters. Another look at the hedges added Chiffchaff but again no Buntings. So it was onto Labrador Bay which is south of Torquay where the RSPB reserve which is another Cirl Bunting hotspot. When we arrived it was still raining with quite a strong wind. Sitting in the car eating our lunch looking out gave us little confidence that we would find much. After food it was out for a not so pleasant stroll on the reserve. Initially, other than a Blackbird nothing was seen but then at our chosen furthest point before heading back to the car a small flock of birds flew up from a field into the hedgerow. Despite the poor light and rain we managed to pick out eight or nine Cirl buntings. Another great result. It was now gone two and our next stop was to be Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham where an American Wigeon has taken up residence. We set up in the fabulous new hide and proceeded to scan through the many Wigeon in front of us. We found Blackwit, Redshank and a Snipe but no American Wigeon. Deciding to walk along to the estuary we found another flock of Wigeon in the next field, again no joy. In rapidly fading light the estuary gave us Curlew, Dunlin, Barwit and many Avocets. Another look at the Wigeon as we walked back to the car was unsuccessful so we headed off, slightly disappointed, back to the motorway and home. But no worries it had been another good day covering three hundred and fifty miles, with fifty-seven species, one lifer and a year-tick. Best of all was confirmation of our choice of bird to go for as neither the Thrush or the Wagtail being reported today.
For mainly social and domestic reasons birds have been pretty low on my priority list lately and I saw no reason for that to change this weekend as I was working both days and still had loads to do at home. However the day got of to a nice start with a Woodcock seen flying overhead work at a quarter-to-four this morning. Then in Worthing a walk along the pier found five Turnstones. Finishing work at just gone half-twelve I decided on another quick visit to the Water Park for my fourth attempt at seeing the Great White Egret that has been in the area of Lake 74 for a few days. This time I was lucky as on pulling up at Twitchers I could see it on the far bank, Out of the car and a quick look with the bins before getting the scope out. No sooner than I got it in the scope it upped and flew across the lake towards me before disappearing off to the right. Great timing for a change. A quick check on Twitter before I headed home showed that an Eastern Black Redstart had appeared at Tewkesbury Abbey. In birding time this was almost on the way home. A quick call was made to the wife and permission was granted for the diversion. By two o’clock I had parked and seen the bird. It was pretty mobile but giving good views on the Abbey and even better when it dropped down into a nearby tree. Twenty minutes wasn’t really long enough watching but I needed to get back home. So I headed back to the M5 and home happy with a Wilts year tick and a lifer (sub-species still though I guess).