This afternoon I went for a walk from Folly Farm up to the Ridgeway. Arriving at Folly Farm I was surprised to find five cars parked there. I didn’t recognise any of them as birders cars so it wasn’t because a local mega had arrived. In all on my walk I counted seventeen other people, the most I have ever seen up here, more even, than when there has been a major Ring Ouzel hunt going on. Four Redwing were at the top of a tree by the road and three Fieldfare were seen further along the track. My next surprise was finding two Goldcrest at the Copse, not a common sighting in the area. Overhead, two Red Kite, Buzzard and Raven were seen and a lone Stonechat was up near the Ridgeway. A lone Mistle Thrush, singles of Blue and Great Tit and two each of Wren and Blackbird completed the tally for the walk. If you don’t include the Crows and Wood Pigeons I saw a total of twenty-one birds, just four more than the human count.
A day off today and the original plan of a trip to Savernake with Ian had been cancelled. I didn’t fancy Savernake on my own again and had all but decided on the Water Park. At the last minute I changed my mind for the bizarre reason that it was frosty and my car scraper had broken. My Wife was ready to go to work so after letting her defrost her car I got her to drop me at Coate Water on her way. Plan was to have a walk around Coate and then to walk home to Chiseldon. I started at the outfall stream, wondering if the Dipper from last year had returned. No sign but did find a Grey Wagtail. A good part of the main lake was frozen with Black-headed gulls standing around on the ice. The usual gulls, Coot and Mallard around the diving board along with a few Tufted Duck and a pair of Pochard. A single male Goosander was asleep a little further out. Moving on to the other end of the lake I counted sixty-one Mute Swans, probably the most I have seen here. In the woods near to the Hodson road were a couple of Nuthatch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Water Rail was heard. Arriving at the causeway a Kingfisher was spotted on the nature reserve lake. At Hide 1 a Water Rail was picking up food under the feeders, one of the best places around to see one of these. This end of the lake was frozen but I could hear Teal and Wigeon calling from the far end. On the way to Hide 2 I added Bullfinch and Goldcrest to the day list and top end of the lake were good numbers of Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon and Teal. A field here had good numbers of Starling, Blackbird, Redwing and Song thrush feeding amongst the Sheep. The walk back to Chiseldon was very quiet with a Buzzard the only new species seen giving a walk total of forty-six species.
With a present drop needed in Verwood I planned in a few hours at Keyhaven as well. Disappointingly no Owls were seen en-route and arriving in Verwood at half-six in the morning I noticed one of the neighbours checking out the early morning visitor. It was only intended to be a brief stop so I was off after a cup of tea. Next stop was Bournemouth Airport where my Son is doing his flying training. He was hoping to fly at 08.00 but unfortunately due to the high winds it was re-scheduled for later in the day. I decided not to hang around as there was no guarantee that he would fly if the weather didn’t improve. So after a nice bacon and egg roll it was across to Keyhaven. Arriving at a little before ten I had a quick look at Sturt Pond. With it being high-tide there were only gulls and a few ducks here. The fields along to the harbour road were productive with a large flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Amongst them I picked out a few Ringed Plover. Then it was a drive along the flooded harbour road where a flock of Brent Geese seemed weren’t bothered by a car driving alongside them as they swam around.
Parking the car I had to wait for a violent squall to pass over before donning waterproofs and wellies. Pretty well the first bird seen was a smart male Marsh Harrier that was hunting the reedbed. As watched it dropped into the reeds and after a short while came up carrying prey. A great start. With a strong wind blowing I wasn’t expecting to see much on the landward side so concentrated on the harbour. A few Dunlin, Turnstone and Redshank were feeding along the shoreline along with the odd Mipit and Pied Wagtail. Out in the harbour on the few raised areas were large numbers of Dunlin and a few Curlew. Also plenty more Brent Geese and lot of Mallard and Wigeon. The first lagoon had a lot of water so apart from three Little Egrets there were just waterfowl to be seen. As the tide started to turn a couple of flocks of Curlew flew out to the harbour and more ducks were coming inland. The next lagoon had a few waders on it, mainly Dunlin and Lapwing with a couple of Grey Plover and Redshank. Apart from a few gulls the sea appeared to be devoid of birds, however I eventually found singles of Great crested Grebe and Goldeneye and other than a few flying Cormorants that was it. Along one of the ditches I found a Kingfisher and a couple of Reed Buntings. By now I was on the Pennington Marshes and it was more of the same. I wasn’t sure how far to go and decided to gas far as the corner overlooking Lymington Spit. It was a good decision as the lagoon here had a flock of six Spotted Redshank along with another two roosting. The main group were constantly feeding seemingly their heads under the water more than up as can be seen in this photo .The walk back wasn’t so pleasant as it was into the wind but there was plenty of bird interest as the water receded and the waders came much closer. Oystercatcher was the only species added but the numbers, especially of Dunlin were impressive. Arriving back at the car in a hail-storm the walk ended with forty-four species noted, not bad considering the small amount of small land birds seen.
Along with many others on waking up to a bit of a winter wonderland (unless you were out on the road) we decided to change our plans for the day. We had intended to go for an early morning walk at Greenham Common and then to head into Newbury for a cooked breakfast and a bit of christmas shopping. We ended up with a wander round Morrisons and a circuit of the lake at Coate Water. There were a few people out at Coate but not as many as I had expected. We only saw one snowman, a wasted opportunity for the local kids. When ours were young we missed a chance to get out in the snow. The corner by the cafe (which was closed as usual when the weather is inclement, not much commitment by whoever runs it.) had a few people feeding the birds and there was a frenzy of Coot, Mallard and BH Gulls along with a hundred or so Feral Pigeons on the path. Of more interest were a group of Tufted Duck that were constantly diving. One 2W Common Gull was associating with them, maybe hoping to snatch an easy meal. Just before the causeway between the lakes a Kingfisher flashed past and on the partially frozen reserve lake was a large flock of Canada Geese. Carrying on a around the main lake we ventured out onto one of the fishing stands. From here I counted fifty-one Mute Swans and three Goosander, two male and one female. Also seen were a few large gulls and half-a-dozen Wigeon. Along the Hodson Road path along with a small flock of Great and Blue Tits was a single Goldcrest. That was about it for here. Back at home was the usual noisy flock of House Sparrows and a small charm of Goldfinches.
Another trip to Aberdare and Mountain Ash today, this time with a bit more snow. As usual I stopped off by the river at Aberdare to look for the Dippers. Reaching the footbridge over the river I heard a Dipper calling and within seconds both of the birds flew fast and low under the bridge. I got them in the binoculars just as the first one landed in the water, disappearing under the surface. This is something I have not seen before. The other bird alighted on a rock and then entered the water in the more usual way. These birds are very confiding unlike others I have seen, maybe with a footpath running alongside the river they are more used to people as they are quite happy being watched at close quarters. After a couple of minutes they flew a little further upstream and started feeding again. They were constantly dipping their heads under the surface and appeared to be finding plenty of food. A lot of other avian activity here with eight other species seen. Then it was onto Mountain Ash where, after my delivery I was unable to stay for my break as another vehicle was due to arrive. On my way back to Swindon I noted a good number of gulls in the area around the tip just before Junction 15. Unfortunately a hard area to bird due to limited access. I took the long route home via Barbury Castle where a Mipit and a Stonechat were posing on adjacent fence posts and there were a couple of flocks of Fieldfare.
Work today was a trip to Aberdare where I had my first snow of the season (only a dusting though). A quick stop at river got me almost point blank views of the two resident Dippers. After work I needed to go to Marlborough to put in my Christmas meat order at http://www.sumblerbrosbutchers.co.uk/. I then visited a couple of other shops in the High Street before heading home via a couple of birding spots. The sewage works had four Grey and around a dozen Pied Wagtails along with a couple of Mipits. At Axford another Grey Wagtail, a Goldcrest and a couple of Great Spots. The drive back having seven Red Kites drifting around near to the Ramsbury Brewery, several coveys of Red-legged Partridges and three good sized flocks of Fieldfare.
On Thursday Ian and Matt were heading out for a days birding but unfortunately I had a hospital appointment in the afternoon. However on Tuesday the hospital rearranged my appointment and I managed to book the day off work so was all set for my second birding trip in eight days. Thursday morning arrived along with the rain and wind but at least with a nice late 06.15 I got a good nights sleep. First stop was to be Chard reservoir, a new site for us all with a Red-necked Grebe the target bird. When we got there it was still raining hard and we prepared ourselves for a soaking. However on arriving at the Fishermans car park at the north end of the reservoir we were delighted to find the Grebe showing well just a hundred yards or so away. All we had to do was to open the car windows and enjoy watching the bird from the comfort of the car. A great start to the day a site that would have justified more time if the conditions had been better. A few birds were noted on the cross-country drive to Ashcott Corner on the Somerset Levels to get the list ticking over. Crossing Greylake there were large flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Starlings to be seen. Matt got a glimpse of a Kingfisher and the first of several Great White Egrets was seen. Arriving at Ashcott the weather which had started to improve turned wet again with the arrival of heavy drizzle. Gearing up in wet gear and wellies we set off along the South Drain towards Noahs Hide. The target bird here was a Ring-necked Duck which we knew would be hard to find amongst the many hundreds of wildfowl on the lake. Fortunately the majority were Wigeon giving us a better chance of finding the RND. Despite searching for the best part of an hour it couldn’t be found. With the sun now out and once we had enough of the loud whistling noise caused by the wind blowing through the hide and the group of, in age at least mature birders, who seemed to be competing to see who could make the most noise we left the hide and continued west along the reserve hoping to find three Whooper Swans that were supposedly around. After braving the wind along the drain it was a relief to turn onto the sheltered path that led to the Decoy Hide. Along here we were surprised to find a Damselfly and a Butterfly, obviously the small amount of heat generated by the December Sun. This was new territory for us and after a fair walk we finally saw the hide. It appeared to still be a way away so after checking out some more Tufted Ducks we decided not to carry on and to retrace our steps back to the car. Just before rejoining the South Drain we saw a Kingfisher and a Ringtail Hen Harrier. From here our next stop was to be Chew Valley Lake. We drove out over Tealham Moor and inevitably when Matt checked RBA the RND had been reported as being seen from the Decoy Hide about half-an-hour after we had been in the area. It was decided not to return and within the hour we were at Chew Valley. Conscious of the short time we had available a whistlestop tour of the Lake got us, amongst others, Blackwit, Little Stint, Water Rail, GBB Gull, Goosander, Goldeneye, Pintail, Shelduck and Several more GW Egrets. The main target bird here was Long-tailed Duck which we weren’t able to find. As is usually the way, today, some good pictures of it from yesterday were posted as were some of the RND. Final stop was to be Blagdon Lake, another new site for me where we had more luck with Ian soon finding the male Scaup. Almost of interest here was a very pale Buzzard a picture of which can be found here; http://www.blagdonlakebirds.com/. That was it for the day, Ian pointed the car in the direction of home via Bristol and another great day of birding was over with around seventy-five species noted.
Some days on my way to, and at work I see very little in the way of wildlife, today I just seemed to attract all sorts. On my drive into work at half two this morning I had two foxes run across the road a little way ahead of the car and a Roe Deer step out of the roadside vegetation causing me to brake sharply to avoid contact. In the lorry heading up the Fosse Way just outside of Moreton-in-the Marsh a Barn Owl appeared swooping low across the road. Not close enough to need to get on the brakes but I did hit the cancel button on the cruise control. . On my return journey a flock of Fieldfare flew low across the road giving me a very close view of one individual. Finally a Goldfinch suddenly appeared directly in front of me, unfortunately despite it taking evasive action there was a surprisingly load bag as it was hit by the roof spoiler adding one more to the road casualty total.
Ian and I had a day of birding marked on the calendar for Thursday with a lets see what’s about sort of plan. A flock of Parrot Crossbills in Berkshire was the obvious choice so 07.00 on a bright crisp morning found me yet again heading east on the M4. This time I had the pleasure of being in the left-hand seat. With plenty of Red Kites seen along the way and with managing to avoid heavy traffic the Sat-Nav got us to the Kings Ride in Camberley in good time. Not as grand as it sounds this leads onto a lovely area of heathland on the Berkshire / Surrey border. Being next to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there was the almost constant sound of gunfire. Along with the many aircraft overhead and the distant drone of traffic it wasn’t the most peaceful of sites. Using directions from the Berkshire birds site www.berksbirds.co.uk we headed of onto the heath. As we hesitated at a crossway a couple of local dog-walkers who had somehow worked out where were headed pointed us in the right direction. We soon arrived at the small group of Scots Pines that the Parrot Crossbills have been favouring to be told by other birders that the flock was in the area. It wasn’t long the distinct calls heralded the arrival of the flock. The birds split up, disappearing deep into three of the pines before eventually, briefly coming into view, perched high up in view against the clear blue sky. In the sunshine the bright orange / red males were striking and obvious, the females a little harder to see, sometimes a branch jumping about deep in the tree was the only indication the birds were there. When a bird did decide to stay in full view for a while showing off the massive beak and solid build. It was easy to see the cones being ripped open by the powerful beak and on occasions a whole cone was removed from the tree and the bird stripped it whilst holding it in its claw. Eventually the whole flock, almost as one flew up and headed off to the east, we counted twenty birds so it may be that there were three or four Common Crossbills amongst the Parrots. It was now time to try and find a Dartford Warbler which had already been heard. After a few minutes of following small tracks through the Heather and Gorse we managed a couple of Stonechats, some Wrens and finally a brief glimpse of a Dartford. We then disturbed two Roe Deer before getting a better but still brief flight view of low flying Dartford. Agreeing it was time to head back to the car we had views of Jay and Great Spot Woodpecker. An appearing out of nowhere flock of birds were quickly identified by Ian as Woodlark, we counted eighteen in all, a real bonus. A celebratory sausage sandwich and hot drink were next. These were had at the excellent cafe at Blackbushe Airport were we both enjoyed some time watching planes. Next stop was a small; wooded area at Hartley Wintney where Hawfinch had been seen the previous day. A short walk got us Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and frustratingly a heard only Hawfinch. With no other obvious local sites to visit we agreed that heading to Old Sarum on the outskirts of Salisbury and then onto Salisbury Plain would be a good plan. There were a good number of Gulls at Old Sarum and getting out of the car we started to scan, Starting from the left the third gull in was a smart adult Yellow-legged, Ian who had started from the right quickly got on it and then soon found another. Both gave good views. Further scanning found one more. Apart from four species of gull we also had Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Starling and Mallard here. We then headed to the Plain accessing it from Netheravon. A few Fieldfare were on the airfield and a small group of small birds that flew up from the roadside were Chaffinches with a single Brambling amongst them. Weather Hill Firs was our first stop with Brambling being our hoped for bird. Coal Tit and Siskin were heard as we got out of the car. Wandering into the trees we soon found a small flock of birds dropping down to the ground, moving closer we managed to pick out a few Brambling amongst the Chaffinches. Then a Sparrowhawk shot through sending all the small birds into the hedgerow. After watching for a few more minutes it was time to move on. With the car not being ideal for many of the tracks on the east side we drove over to Upavon from where we would access the central perimeter road at Casterley Vedette. As we drove up the lane a large flock of pigeons took to the air, typically there was a car behind us so we couldn’t stop. Once we were able to let the other car passed we stopped and were lucky enough to pick up a Ringtail Hen Harrier low over the fields. We watched it until it dropped out of sight over the ridge. We then drove west along to the track and as we were heading into the sun viewing was quite difficult. So at Redhorn we turned and retraced our path. Not much seen, mainly Starlings with a lot of small flock presumably heading to roost, also a couple o Kestrels and Corn Buntings. By now the light was fading fast so it was time to head for home. Despite driving the lanes and a look in at Barbury Castle no Owls were seen. We ended the day with around fifty species which included one lifer, one UK year tick and two Wiltshire Year ticks. Thanks as usual to Ian for chauffeuring me around.
An American Horned Lark was found at Staines Reservoir last Friday and being unable to visit at the weekend I kept my fingers crossed that it would hang around for a few days as a visit to my Mums was planned for Tuesday afternoon / Wednesday. Fortunately I had finished work in good time and 13.00 saw me heading east on the M4. On arrival I was lucky enough to park in the layby by the gate at the western end, I hadn’t fancied leaving the car on the verge and don’t like leaving a loaded car at the less than salubrious car park at the eastern end. A quick walk up the slope found several birders strung out along the fence scoping the western bank of the North Basin. The Lark was apparently a fair distance away feeding in the vegetation. Despite several people calling out markers as to its location I couldn’t find it. Fortunately I was able to use another birders scope, this at least got me a sighting but still no real clue as to where the bird was. Moving along a few yards I had another try and eventually found it for myself It being an occasional glimpse of a head popping up from the grass. After a few more minutes it showed itself properly, emerging for a short time onto a bare patch of moss. The light was good so despite the distance the mainly white head markings were obvious. A shame it was so distant but was still worth the time spent. When it disappeared back into cover I had a wander along the causeway to check out the rest of the reservoir. Plenty of ducks were seen but I wasn’t able to get onto a Black-necked Grebe. With the temperature dropping and the light fading I decided to call it a day and to head off ahead of the inevitable heavy traffic. In the end I was lucky as the bird hasn’t been seen since.