On Thurday work took me to Poole with a drive alongside the harbour although not much use at six in the morning at this time of year. On the way back to Swindon, good views of the lake at Blashford but nowhere to stop for a look. Then coming out of Salisbury many gulls to be seen at the Old Sarum pig farmbut again nowhere to stop. Saturday was a trip to Plymouth. Headng into the city along the water again it was dark and heading out later on the other side of the road there is nowhere to pull-in. On the long haul along the A38 and M5 it was Buzzard time with around thirty birds seen. Back home a late afternoon dog walk at Barbury Castle got a couple each of Kestrel and Stonechat but no sign of any Short-eared Owls. Today we went down to Christchurch to visit my son. After a nice breakfast at the Hiker Cafe we had a walk at Hengistbury Head. Not proper birding but managed a decent although small list. The sea was quiet with a small raft of Common Scoter, a Great Crested Grebe and a few Cormorants. Waders seen in the harbour were Curlew, Redshank and Blackwit. on the journey home a roadside Great White Egret at Sopley was a nice sighting. I managed a short stop at the Tern Hide at blashford and managed to find a Yellow-legged Gull and was put onto the Pink-footed Goose by a local birder. Unfortunately there was no sign of either of the regular Water Pipits. While I was in the hide my wife gave the dog a short walk, during this she was moaned at by two birders who informed her that dogs are not allowed at Blashford. At the entrance to the main site there are no dogs allowed signs, however on the Tern Hide side of the road there are no signs either at the entrance or in the car park. A look on the website confirms no dogs are allowed so maybe they need to put another couple of signs up to let people know. I have e-mailed Blashford Lakes to clarify the situation.
For the third time this week I was in Wales. Yesterday it was to Barry and Cardiff and today back to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. While I was at Barry I had hoped to drive along the Dock Road to see if the Diver was still around but unfortunately time was against me so it didn’t happen. Today it was a chance to see my regular Dippers again. However after the recent heavy rain the river was running high and fast and all of the regular spots that the Dipper frequents had been engulfed. Looking from the footbridge a movement caught my eye and there was the Dipper picking its way along a moss covered concrete slope on the waters edge. Occasionally it attempted to go into the fast-flowing water but each time pulled back. A Grey Wagtail briefly perched on an overhanging branch but nothing else was seen. At Mountain Ash I did my usual short walk along the river path but all of the rocks and muddy bays were gone. I reckon the water was around a foot higher than on Monday. A pair of Goosander were taking advantage of a small area of calmer water created where some vegetation had taken a hold and debris had caught in the branches. Apart from these the only other birds seen were Song Thrush, Bullfinch and Wren. Finishing work at a little past one I decided on a local twitch with a drive over to Eysey to see if the Great White Egret was still around. I stopped at the gate and a quick scan soon found the GWE in the company of a Little Egret giving a good size comparison. My timing was spot on as both birds took flight and landed out of sight under the front bank of the lake. With nothing else of interest here I headed out past the airbase at Fairford to check out Lake 125 for the 1W Scaup that has been hanging around with a flock of Tufted Duck. Here my timing wasn’t so good, as I arrived at the same time as a squall. The rain reduced visibility markedly and most of the birds disappeared amongst the waves created by the wind. It was a good fifteen minutes before it passed over, then the sun came out causing a large amount of glare from the now calmer water. It took a few minutes but eventually I found the bird and got a fairly decent view. So one Wiltshire and two UK year ticks for me. Whereas ticks are usually few and far between this end of the year, for me, having not been out much they keep on coming
A day off today and on waking was undecided over where to go for a morning bird walk. My choice was between a walk from Axford up to the north-side of Savernake or the Water Park. My decision was made by the fact that I was running a little later than intended so I took the least traffic option which was to head south for Axford. Taking the back roads I spent a good part of the drive avoiding jaywalking Pheasants and stopping to check covey of Partridges in the fields, alas no Greys. At Axford I managed to park directly opposite the footpath and was soon heading for the river bridge. Straight away I was into the birds with Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches and a Blackbird along the path. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling and whilst looking for it I noticed a small flock of birds land in an Alder by the river. a quick look confirmed my thought that they would be Siskins. I watched them for a few minutes, checking carefully for Redpolls. None were found but there were a few Goldfinches amongst them. In all I reckon there were almost fifty birds in the two Alders. Every now and then the birds would as one fly, do a circuit and return. Following them on one of these flights I noticed a lone bird perched atop another tree. Getting the bins on it I was amazed to realise that it was a Hawfinch, a totally unexpected bonus. It stayed for just under a minute before flying across the river and out of sight. A star bird and a long awaited Wiltshire tick, my third of the year, not bad considering the small amount of birding I have done. For a brief moment I considered calling it a day as topping a Hawfinch was unlikely. However I carried on and soon added Goldcrest, Treecreeper and two Great Spots to the list. Moving on a Nuthatch was heard and then seen along with a couple of Redwing. Ascending to the edge of the trees a couple of Jays flew by calling loudly. Three Red Kites and a Buzzard were overhead. In Savernake there had been a large amount of tree felling and there were few birds around. Wrens were heard but not seen in the undergrowth and a couple of Robins were about. I completed a circuit and was heading back to the northern edge of the wood when a good sized flock of mainly Coal Tits appeared. As is often the case they were high up in the trees and I soon got a sore neck while watching them. The day just kept on giving as alerted by some calls I got onto a group of around a dozen Crossbills as they flew over and out of view. Then I heard the distinctive call of Bullfinch and found a lovely male. I wasn’t so lucky on hearing a Willow Tit as despite several minutes of looking it couldn’t be found. Time was moving on and I needed to be heading back to the car. On the walk back I added Raven and then along the river, Heron, Little Grebe and Grey Wagtail to bring the day total up to thirty-six. Not a great quantity but the quality was outstanding.
An 02.45 start for work today and a run to Hounslow and Ruislip. An aeroplane fix while delivering at Hounslow with a stream of big airliners heading into Heathrow including several A380’s. At Ruislip there were many noisy Parakeets and not much else. Later on in the day the Wife and I went for a walk around Avebury. Not much about around the Stones, a few House Sparrows and plenty of Jackdaws. Wandered along to Manor Farm to see if there were any Tree Sparrows. There weren’t but there were a lot of Starlings. The small trees and many of the buildings were adorned with several hundred of them with many small flocks either arriving or heading off towards the downs. Just as I arrived home an old biplane flew over. It was a De Havilland Dragonfly that first flew in 1937. Eighty years old and it both looked and sounded beautiful.
Today it was a trip to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. Braving the heavy drizzle as usual I managed to visit a couple of stretches of the Afon Cynon. At Aberdare the Dipper wasn’t at its usual spot but a short walk upstream soon found it. Driving over the river bridge at Mountain Ash I could see four male and a female Goosander. A short walk here was worthwhile with two Dippers just across from the railway station, A Grey and two Pied Wagtails, and more Goosanders in the form of two females. A look-in at Wroughton Reservoir on my way home only gave Gadwall, Tufted, Mallard, Mute Swan, Moorhen and two Little Grebe.
The week started well at three a.m. on Monday morning when I went off on one of my favourite delivery runs to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. At Aberdare there is a nice river walk where I usually see a Dipper. This time before I arrived at the river bridge I could hear a Dipper singing. I approached slowly to avoid flushing and was rewarded by great views of the bird sat on a rock in the river singing and then feeding. The bird then flew, passing under the bridge and off downstream. As I moved onto the bridge to watch it a Kingfisher flew from a nearby perch. Later on along the river at Mountain Ash two Goosander were busily fishing and a Grey Wagtail was also seen. With it being a lovely sunny morning, having seen some good birds and with a first for a long time day of birding planned on Wednesday I headed back towards Swindon in good spirit. However just after crossing the Severn Bridge I received a phone call that changed it all. It was to tell me that a close family member had tragically died and I spent the rest of the journey deciding how I was going to break the news to my wife and children. Later on with my wife I was back on the motorway heading to London to see my chidren and mother. Tuesday was spent sorting the logistics of getting eight people across to Northern Ireland for a funeral on the coming Friday. I went to work on Wednesday and on Thursday it was a drive to Bristol airport for a flight to Belfast. Having previously been to family Catholic funerals I knew that attending one in Northern Ireland would be a very intense and challenging experience. Friday dawned bright and clear but with a cutting wind chilling all. After walking to the church, the service and then the walk to the top of the hill in the town we drove to the cemetery, on arrival several Hooded Crows flying overhead provided a welcome distraction from proceedings. Later on in the day the family headed for the nearby seaside town of Newcastle which nestles along a bay in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. Many happy memories of family walks here were brought back, with some of my best sightings of Black Guillemot amongst them. In hope I scanned the waters of the bay and was rewarded with fine views of a single bird fishing. Also in the bay were Common Scoter and Cormorant. Along the waters edge were many waders, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone and Curlew. This walk and these sightings were just what was needed at this time and will provide a happy memory of a very sad day. My Brother -in-law had always lived a slightly chaotic life with many of his journeys to and from England having been eventful, with oversleeping and last-minute dashes to the airport and it seemed his spirit was still with us on the journey home. A plane had made an emergency landing at Belfast during the afternoon causing many flight delays. On arrival at Bristol airport fog had descended and we were unable to land. The plane diverted to Exeter and after a wait and a coach transfer back to Bristol we finally arrived home at three in the morning.
This morning on my way back from Bournemouth I stopped for a break at a regular place on the road from Bulford to Tidworth. A few weeks ago I found a Yellow-browed Warbler here. A short walk alongside the beech trees was quiet but on returning to the lorry I found a flock of Chaffinches feeding amongst the leaf litter under the trees. Some careful searching turned up a smart maleBrambling amongst them along with four Jays.
After several months with very little birding done a report of a Rock Thrush near to Abergavenny piqued my interest. It was reported on Thursday evening and I decided that if my work schedule was kind, and that it had stayed overnight I would head for the hills. I finished work at around 12.00 and it hadn’t been reported so a little disappointed i headed for home. Whilst eating my lunch I checked on Twitter and saw that it was indeed still around. A quick exit from the house saw me, at a bit past one heading west on the M4 hoping that I would be ahead of the inevitable Friday traffic chaos. Normally when I go to this area I route myself via Gloucester and the Forest of Dean to avoid paying for the Severn Crossing. Time did not allow for this luxury so I soon found myself paying out £6.50 for the privilege of entering Wales. I knew the area the Thrush was in from previous trips to Blorenge for Red Grouse so had no problem finding it. On arrival I managed to find a parking place and after getting my coat and scope heading off in the wind and light drizzle for the quarry. I soon found the right place and joined the row of birders already there. I found myself next to David another Wiltshire birder and was soon onto the bird. Despite the conditions it was showing well, managing to find some sheltered spots. I stayed for about half-an-hour, ever conscious of the time and the traffic on the return journey, knowing that I would receive a frosty reception from my wife if she got home from work before I was back. Fortunately the motorway was kind to me and I made it with ease in less than four hours for the whole trip. The following day I was going walking and decided to go from Hackpen Hill to Fyfield Down. For a change I took the binoculars and was rewarded with 30 species including Tree Sparrow, Golden Plover and Grey Partridge. My next opportunity to get out was on Sunday morning and I decided to head to the Shorncote area of the Water Park. I was really disappointed to find the area was quite neglected with poor views from the hides. The only plus was that the paths had been improved. However I understand from Ben at the Water Park that all being well things may well be improving in the not too distant future. Good news as this could be a great birding area. While I was in the hide I heard that a Ring-necked Duck had been found on Lake 74. This would be a Wiltshire first for me so off I went. Meeting up with Nigel and several other locals at Twitchers we scoured the visible areas of water with no luck. Despite this three passes by a female Marsh Harrier made the visit worthwhile. Just before leaving several skeins of Geese flew in, mainly Canada and Greylag but also the now regular group of fourteen Barnacle. Inevitably within minutes of arriving home the duck was found so I decided to head back. Unfortunately it was only visible from the hide at the northern end of the lake which is a good fifteen minute fast walk from the nearest parking. Still needs must and sweating a little I arrived at the hide where I managed a brief view of it before spending a frustrating few minutes trying, at a fair distance to get good views of a constantly diving duck. Eventually it settled in one spot and although still spending a good bit of time underwater did allow reasonable views. Great Spot and Jay were both seen on the walk back to the car finishing off a good day. Maybe, just maybe i am getting back into it.