Having been frustrated by not being able to get to the seafront at Southsea on my last two work visits I finally managed it today. I had finished my delivery before nine this morning so decided to go and see if I could stop near to the seafront. I took a chance and parked nearto the mini go;f course and walked across to the Castle. THere was a nice flock of Brent Geese on the grass and on arriving at the front the first bird I saw was a Rock Pipit. The tide was a little way out but I soon managed to find a couple of Purple Sandpipers. I wasn’t far from the Pyramid building where a Black Redstart has been seen recently but wasn’t sure that I had time to search for it. A couple of birders were walking across from the building and a quick enquiry found that they hadn’t been able to find it. So decision made I headed back to the truck and away to sample the joys of Waterlooville. Back in Swindon I drove home via the B4005 from the M4 to Wroughton were some Cattle Egrets were seen on Thursday. As was the case yesterday there was unfortunately no sign of them.
Whilst I was driving to see the Cattle Egrets today I was thinking how much birding (along with most things in life) has changed with the influence of social media. Not so many years ago the spreading of information on unusual birds was quite a slow process. Somebody saw something then when they got home or to a phonebox (remember them) the information got passed on. Sometimes it took days for things to get around. When mobiles came in things speeded up a bit but it all depended on being able to make and receive calls. I remember workplaces not being so keen on personal calls in work time. Now with Twitter, Facebook et al this information is passed around almost instantaneously. Many times it is sent out as the bird is being watched and then like sheep everyone heads off to see whatever it is. Obviously I am as guilty as the next person for this. But the question is; Is it a good thing? It certainly is if you are a lister, number collecting just got so much easier. You just look on the internet see whats around, plan a route and go see them. Surely though this has taken a lot of the enjoyment out of the hobby. Wherever you go you pretty well know what you are going to find. Going to Keyhaven tomorrow well you can see what has been around for the last few days. Not much! then have a look for somewhere that has got better birds. Want Ring-billed Gull, go to Blashford. Want Lesser Yellowlegs then Lychett Bay is the place for you and so on. Obviously birds aren’t quite the same as aircraft, they don’t have schedules or set routes and they do inconveniently do their own thing sometimes but you can see what I am getting at. The anticipation of wondering what will be seen when you go out has been replaced by the anxiety of will it still be there when I arrive? Of course you already know the answer to that as you have been checking reports on your phone throughout the journey. Then when you arrive there is often very little skill required to find the bird as you know exactly where to go from all the reports from other birders. Obviously this isn’t the way that all birders go about things but it seems to be more of the norm now. Yesterday I had a day out just going where the fancy took me. I didn’t find anything special, but saw some great birds in some lovely places and in many ways it was a lot more satisfying than a three hundred mile chase to see a Lesser Spotted Whatsit at wherever it was. That said I was quite happy, thanks to Twitter to have seen the Waxwings in Highworth last week and the Cattle Egrets today.
With the weather today being pretty rubbish I had decided to have a day catching up with stuff at home. I was in the middle of making bread when I got a Grapevine text reporting two Cattle Egrets at Heddington which is a couple of miles from Calne. It also said they had been there for a couple of weeks. However I decided to go as soon as the bread came out of the oven. This area is another that i don’t know very well, I have been to Heddington once, a few years ago for Sunday Dinner at the Ivy pub. It was a wet drive down via AVebury and the only birds of any interest seen were a dozen or so Red-legged Partridges in a field alongside the A361.Fortunately Heddington is a small place and the Egrets were seen straight away in a field of sheep behind the Ivy Pub. I watched them for a couple of minutes from the car and then moved onto the village car park. A short walk from the car got me a lot closer and again I watched them for a couple of minutes. Not long but long enough to get quite wet. They were busily feeding and took no notice of me. Annoyingly there were close and I could have got a good photo if I had a camera. A little later on I had a call from the repair people quoting over a hundred and eighty pounds for the repair of said camera. Definitely not worthwhile so maybe will be looking for a new one sometime soon. With the amount of Cattle Egrets in the country at the moment I am sure that there will be more to see locally but it was nice to get them in the book this early in the year.
I managed to sleep until eight this morning which was fairly reasonable. Having decided to stay fairly local I left home at nine heading for an area of the county that I haven’t birded before. En-route I checked out the Wide Water at Chilton Foliat. Not much here, a few Mallard, Gadwall and Coot along with a single Little Grebe. My destination was Buttermere, a small village which is pretty well the most easterly point of the county. It is also apparently, the highest village in Wiltshire. I think that it could also be the muddiest as well. The surrounding roads were plastered and the bridleway that was the start of my walk was even worse. I started with a quick look inside St James Church which is one of the smallest in the county. Heading off along the bridleway the first birds seen were a small flock of Redwings. Next were the first of many Red Kites, over the whole walk there were a dozen or more. Next a pair of Ravens flew over cronking loudly. These were closely followed by a Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard, again the first of many. The path followed the edge of the woodland which seemed almost birdless. A Nuthatch was the only bird I heard. One of the reasons I chose this area is that it is close to Combe Wood which is a known site for Hawfinch. I have visited it once and did see one, quite frustrating as the edge of the Wood is right on the county border. It is also very close to the Tripoint where Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire meet. The path took me right to the border where I turned and headed back into Wiltshire. Up to now there had been horses and cattle, from here there were sheep. Some loud calling heralded the arrival of an Unkindness of five Ravens. they were then joined by a sixth, possibly the most I have seen together locally. Also in view at the same time were four Kites and three Buzzards. Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay were heard and the bright red of a male Bullfinch caught my eye. As the path turned back toward the village four Jays flew out of a tree ahead of me. The path them passed through the grounds of Ballyach House. Passing the Stables and then the paddocks I came across a flock of Fieldfare and Starlings. The path then entered the Woods as it dropped back down to the first bridleway. From here I headed off towards Little Bedwyn and Stype Wood. I only had a short walk here but managed to find Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, two more Bullfinches and a Goldcrest. Heading back through Bedwyn and then Chisbury I arrived at Froxfield. Around the water here were Snipe, two Green Sandpipers, six Lapwing and three Little Egrets.I got the scope out to look at the Snipe and eventually, with some difficulty managed to find seventeen. Many were deep in cover and very hard to see. No Jack Snipe found though. I then moved along to the Kennet near to Knighton where the best bird was a Water Rail that flushed from the bank as I crossed the bridge. Final stop was a look over the lake at Ramsbury Manor, amongst the Canada Geese and Mallard were a few Tufties and a Black-necked Swan. Driving home cross-country I managed to add Hare to the mammal list of Roe Deer, Rabbit and Squirrel. Also seen on the drive were several more Kites and Buzzards, loads of Redwing and Fieldfare and four more Bullfinches. Bird total for the day was forty-seven. I intend to have a few more days like this, there are still many local parts of the County to be explored.
Yesterday morning saw me heading north on the Fosse Way in what didn’t appear to great conditions for seeing owls. It was either foggy or a light drizzle for most of the time. But surprisingly I managed three Tawny Owls spread between Cirencester and Wellesbourne. One was sat in a roadside tree and the other two flew across the carriageway ahead of me. I have now seen four Tawny Owls this year. Last year I saw none. This morning started well with a Roe Deer seen near to Waitrose on my way into work. Today my run was to Poole and Southsea so a cross-country route on a moonlit night was hopefully going to be productive. Wrong!!. All I saw were a few small mammals, mice or shrews and a large rat. Early morning Barn Owls seem to have disappeared recently. Heading into and out of Poole was frustrating as there are good views of the harbour but obviously of little use when it is dark. At Southsea there is nowhere for me to park so nothing there, all I managed were a group of nine Little Grebe and a few Brent Geese in the water alongside the M275. After work I needed to go into Swindon to put my camera in for repair. As I don’t like paying for parking I know a few places that I can park for an hour for free. One of these is near the Railway Village and I was parked there form half-two until just before three. When I got home I saw a Tweet reporting a couple of Waxwings in that area at three twenty-five. To be fair i was head down in a hurry but annoying all the same. Tomorrow and Thursday are my days off this week and as often seems to be the way recently these are coinciding with two days of not so good weather. My original plan for tomorrow was a trip into Gloucestershire for the Richards Pipit at Arlingham and then possibly a look-in at Slimbridge. Not sure if I will bother with that now. May just have a lie-in and then do some more local birding. Staying in bed is not always easy as the body-clock is used to sleep by eight pm and then up before three but hopefully a couple of beers, some cheese and a whisky will do the trick.
This morning I had planned to go on a walk in Savernake but waking up to thick fog persuaded me that staying in my warm bed was a better option. So this afternoon myself, the wife, daughter and dog headed off to Great Bedwyn for a stroll along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Wilton Water. This is a section that I haven’t walked before and it is quite an interesting stretch. There is an interesting selection of boats moored at Great Bedwyn, some traditional narrowboats, some widebeams and a few converted working boats. It is also the base of the Bruce Trust who offer canal holidays for disabled and disadvantaged people http://www.brucetrust.org.uk/. The walk passed under four bridges and past four locks. With the railway just across the water there were also trains to be seen although there were only GWR 125’s today. There were quite a few birds around although not a great variety with a total of twenty species seen or heard. A Heron on the far bank of the canal didn’t move as we passed, intent on it’s quest for food. A couple of small flocks of Blue and Great Tits moved past and a number of Goldfinches were feeding high up. A Jay flew off ahead of us and a Water Rail squealed from a patch of reeds. Crofton Lock House was passed and we noticed it had no road access. An internet search later on revealed that it is off grid and its power is provided by wind and sun and it has its own water supply, not from the canal I hope. At Crofton Lock there is a smallholding with several pigs which possibly were Berkshires. On reaching Wilton Water we were at the summit of the canal and opposite to the Beam Engines. We had brought drinks and cakes with us so sat by the lock to enjoy them. A scan of Wilton Water found a good few more birds than were here the other day adding another five species to the tally. Around thirty Gadwall, many Mallards and Canada Geese, fourteen Little Grebes and a few Coot and Moorhens. Then it was time to retrace our steps back to the car. The Heron was still around but this time on our bank and it moved along three times as we approached before crossing back to the far bank. In all the walk was a gentle although sometimes muddy four miles.
This morning I was driving back to Swindon from Banbury. For a change, instead of the usual M40, A34, A420 route I heading back through Chipping Norton, Burford and Lechlade. I needed to stop for a break and had decided on a layby just before Highworth. Just before I got there I received a text. Pulling into the layby I checked my phone, “Waxwings back in Highworth” was the message. Just for a change I knew there was somewhere I could park nearby so off I went. I was soon parked and a five minute walk took me to Cherry Orchard, as I turned the final corner I could see a photographer on the path with his camera pointing upwards, a promising sign (this was Neil the finder whose house is just over the road from their favoured tree). And in that tree that I didn’t see them in the other day were three fabulous Waxwings. Along with a few locals we watched them as they fed on the berries. I was sending out texts confirming they were still around when Nigel arrived and we watched them for a few minutes before trilling loudly they flew off. As they headed away four more appeared from behind the houses and they all flew off to the east. Fortunately for other birders who arrived later they (in fact eight) returned later. Then it was back to the truck and off to Swindon. So a good choice of route home, a local birder who got the news out and a well timed text got me my first Waxwings for three years. On the way home from work I stopped off at Finches Corner to eat my sarnies. I put some seed out and immediately birds appeared. Several Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches were first followed by Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds. Several Fieldfare and Starlings were also seen. A day off tomorrow with the morning pencilled in for a walk in Savernake. However fog is forecast which could make it a challenging session. Fingers crossed it isn’t too bad.
Yesterday I had my first work trip of the year to Worthing. As usual after my delivery I headed for the pier. Perchance I had obtained an Almond Pain au Chocolat (as you do) so my walk was much enhanced by eating this as I strolled along the boards. As usual there were many Feral Pigeons around, usually of almost as little interest as RN Parakeets but today they got a bit more attention as they were year-ticks. The tide was right out which makes finding the resident Turnstones a little harder. When the tide is in they are to be found roosting or feeding on the pier itself or on the metalwork below, with the tide out they range across the stony sections along the beach of which there are many. I was fortunate and found them fairly quickly which was good as I only have a quarter of an hour or so to spare. A scan of the gulls found a GBB amongst the Herring and Black-headed and also found me an unexpected Sanderling. Later on heading into Portsmouth a few Brent Geese were noted feeding on the estuary. There were also quite a few waders but with nowhere to stop I couldn’t check them out. The same problem arose at Southsea where I could have gone to find Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart but it was not to be. On my way home after work I stopped off at Southleaze for twenty minutes or so but despite it being calm, bright and sunny no Owls were seen.
Last year although I heard many Tawny Owls I didn’t actually see one. This year I have one in the bag already, seen sat in a tree over the road while driving through Savernake early this morning. Unusually during my many early mornings on the road I have not seen a Barn Owl for quite a while. Strange as I believe that they had a reasonable breeding year in 2016 so there should be a fair few about. Later on I checked Twitter before I left work and saw that Waxwings had been reported in Highworth. So that is where I headed. I met up with some other birders including the finder (thanks for getting the news out Neil) but unfortunately they had moved on. However it seems that good numbers are now moving south so hopefully we will catch up with some soon.As I was nearby I had another look in at Roves Farm. On the way I checked out a few bird in the roadside trees and managed to get my first Greenfinch of the year. Again no Cattle Egrets. It seems that they have moved on, a possibility backed up by a report of three in the Chippenham area today. I still had a bit of time left before the sun set so headed for Folly Farm to look for the Short-eared Owls. I only walked down to the copse but managed views of at least two that were hunting on the slope of the hill. Up to four were reported by others. Also seen here were a Kestrel, three Wrens and plenty of Fieldfare.
This morning I arrived in Hayes West London just as it was getting light. Within thirty seconds I had my least favourite bird on the 2017 list as two Ring-necked Parakeets flew over calling loudly. They were closely followed by two flocks of eight and ten respectively. I am sure I will see many more this year but the only one I will be interested in would be a Wiltshire sighting. Finishing work at twelve-thirty I headed out for an hour at the Water Park. Looking over Lake Seventy-Four from Twitchers, going by the small amount of wildfowl, apart from the temperature it could almost have been September. There were around a hundred and fifty Wigeon, a few less Coot a few Mallard andTeal and a couple of Grebes. On the rafts were thirty-one Cormorants and I then found the star bird, a smart male Pintail. As many of the smaller lakes were frozen I had expected good numbers on here. I then headed for Eysey, en-route I picked up Green Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit and Red-crested Pochard. Eysey was also quiet with mainly Coot, Mallard and Tufted Ducks. On the way home I stopped in at Roves Farm ana again there was no sign of the Cattle Egrets. Have they moved on? Finally I went for a look at my local Little Owl site and was pleased to find one sat out enjoying the afternoon sun. Back at home I spent a few minutes scanning the slopes of Liddington Hill for SEO. No luck again so it was annoying to find out that three had been seen hunting at around the time I was looking. Not sure why I haven’t been able to pick them up.