Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Best Laid Plans

A day off for me today and I managed to get up in good time for an early morning visit to Savernake. The first site I visited on the edge of the forest was fairly quiet but gave the best sighting of the morning, a singing Brambling. Not something that I have heard that often in Wiltshire. Moving on to the northern end of the Grand Avenue a walk of just under an hour turned up my first 2019 UK Marsh Tits along with a fair mix of other species. Aside from the common tits, Nuthatches were the most numerous species seen. A pair of Bullfinch, Goldcrest and a Treecreeper the best of the rest. Quite noticeable whilst I was walking was the variance in temperature as I moved through the forest with a couple of real frost pockets where it must have dropped by several degrees despite still being in sun. After the forest I made a short stop at the Marlborough STW where amongst a lot of Pied Wagtails were a couple of Greys. A Wiltshire year-tick, not sure how I have missed them for so long. Usually when I stop here I just check the treatment beds but this time walked some of the perimeter hoping to find a Chiffchaff. No luck with that but there were good numbers of birds including Coal Tits, Goldcrest and three or four Greenfinch. Then it was off home to do a few domestic chores before a quick visit to Swindon. I then intended getting the motorbike out and having a ride down to Salisbury Plain. A dead battery put paid to that idea so it was a drive out to get a new one which only left time for an hours ride out with no time for any birding. It looks like this amazing spell of weather will be ending tomorrow with the prospect of some much needed rain over the following few days.

Back in France

On a short family trip to see my sister in France we still managed to fit in a day of birding.  The first day was spent visiting a few places along the Somme Estuary with a nice picnic at Cap Hornu (is it really February!) right on the waters edge. The tide comes in really fast here and we had to move inland a couple of times to keep ahead of the rising water. As is usual we were joined by some gulls, just Black-headed fortunately so they didn’t cause too many problems.IMG-20190223-WA0004 Plenty of other gulls around with six species seen. Also here were the usual Egrets and Shelduck. We then went for a walk at Hourdel where there are normally a lot of seals on the sandbanks. However with the tide still high there weren’t any sandbanks but a dozen or more were seen swimming around. On the drive back to the house we saw four White Storks. The next day was spent in Rouen with just a few Buzzards seen along the motorway. Friday was birding day and we woke to find it was quite foggy. As usual we started by buying Pain au Chocolat and Croissants at the local Boulangerie before heading to the coast. There was no point scanning the fields due to the fog and it showed no sign of lifting when we arrived at the Pine Woods north of Le Crotoy.  An hour here didn’t find the hoped for Crested Tits so we drove along to the bird reserve at Marquenterre. In the few minutes  it took to drive here the fog lifted and we arrived in lovely morning sunshine.After unsuccessfully scanning the Pines here for Crested Tits we heading down to the reserve. With twelve hides to view from this is a great place to build a good day list. We started of with Great White and Little Egret, Spoonbill, White Stork and a single Crane. this bird arrived here many years ago, somehow got injured and has been here ever since. A few Whooper Swans were about and a little later we caught up with the two wintering Bewicks so getting the three Swan species in a day. The first five hides were pretty quiet but at the sixth a Bittern sitting high up in the reeds was causing the local toggers to go into overdrive. It stayed in sight for about three minutes according great views. Number seven was the best of the day with a mass of wildfowl and waders along with loads more Egrets, Herons, Storks and Herons. Waders inclided Blackwits, Redshank, Spot Red and Lapwing. The wildfowl a good mix with a large number of Pintail being the best. There have been a couple of White-tailed Eagles overwintering here but they left a few days ago. These are turning into a bit of a jinx bird for me, this being the the fourth or fifth that I have failed to catch up with. A couple of Kingfishers showed well at hide ten with nothing much else at the other two. A final look for Crested Tit came up blank so it was time to move on. Our final stop was a walk onto the salt-marshes at the top of the estuary. With the high tide there was a lot of water and large numbers of birds. Hundreds of Shelduck and a guesstimate of well over two hundred Great White and Little Egrets. The reedbeds had many Reed Buntings and surprisingly, four Yellowhammers and a couple of Corn Buntings. Both Cetti’s and Water rail were frequently heard. Walking back to the car a scan of a small area of marsh gave a count of forty-eight egrets in a pretty small area. As I was counting them a male Hen Harrier drifted through my field of vision. After getting my sister onto it I watched it as it quartered the marsh. It dropped down once before continuing to hunt. Then a Short-eared Owl came up from the grass and we watched them spend a couple of minutes tussling before the owl dropped back down. Absolutely magical. On the drive back to the house we finally caught up with some Cattle Egrets, eight  feeding in a roadside field. These gave us a creditable total for the day of seventy-eight species.



Local Birding

With having been busy at both work and home opportunities to get out birding have been limited. I have managed a couple of visits to Coate, one to Savernake, one to the canal at Bincknoll, two to the Water Park and an evening Owl drive. Coate Water was fairly quiet with the highlight being great views of a Water Rail. An hour last Saturday morning in Savernake was okay, the first bird seen was a Grey Heron which flew overhead calling loudly before landing atop a tree. Well away from water so a bit incongruous. A couple of Bramblings were nice but the highlight was a flyover flock of Crossbills. At Froxfield two Green Sandpipers were the best. A pleasant walk along the canal at Bincknoll was pleasant but with just nineteen species seen fairly quiet. A singing Reed Bunting and a pair of Stonechats the highlights. Visits to the Water Park yesterday evening and this morning were more productive. The recently drained Kent End (lake 200) is the current hot spot with regular Great White Egrets, plenty of Lapwing and gulls plus a few Green Sandpipers and Pintail. Unfortunately I am guessing that it has been drained in preparation for work to start in turning it into a Water Ski venue.  A great shame as it will be another good lake lost. The best we can hope for is that it stays in its current state long enough for a good spring wader passage. Not much on show from Twitchers but I managed to add Shelduck, Snipe, Another GWE and a field full of Fieldfare and Redwing while I was here. The reason for my trip out here this morning was to collect a meat order from Andy Rumming. If you want to buy quality beef, locally produced I can certainly recommend it. Last night I headed out on an Owl drive, my third this year. Despite covering almost forty miles I didn’t see a single Owl. It seems that Barn Owls especially are well down in numbers this year.

Barbury Castle in the Snow

During a family walk at Barbury Castle this afternoon I managed a county year tick amongst the reasonable amount of birds seen. We parked at the bottom of the hill on the eastern road and walked along the track at the bottom of the hill to the western end, then up to the Castle itself, across to the car park and then back down the road to the car. Best bird of the day was seen from the bottom track, a female Peregrine which came from the north and headed off over the Castle. Not much else seen at the bottom other than a distant, good sized flock of small birds. At the top heading across towards the car park were a few Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. The Peregrine was seen briefly again from here and a Red Kite was being mobbed by some Crows. On the feeders at the new houses by the road were a good number smaller birds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Dunnock and Robin were all seen. Heading back down the hill a small flock of Thrushes had Fieldfare ,Mistle and Song. Final sighting was a covey of about a dozen Red-legged Partridges conspicuosly walking across the snow covered fields.