Yesterday I needed to go to Waterhay which is on the edge of the Water Park to collect an order of Beef from Andy Rummings. This gave me the chance to do a bit of birdwatching a little further from home. Unfortunately the weather was awful with a strong cold wind and plenty of rain. I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity so got my wet gear on and had a walk at Cleveland Lakes. All in all it was pretty successful with three year ticks and two others for Wiltshire. These were Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier and Red-crested Pochard for the year and Goldeneye and Pintail for the Wiltshire list. Some of the water levels in the area were pretty high, Andy was saying that on his farm, a couple of areas that don’t normally flood were covered. A look at the Chiseldon floodwater on the way home turned up twenty-three Mallard, hopefully they will become regular and maybe attract a few other species.
This morning I got up a bit later than intended so only managed about forty minutes on the Big Garden Birdwatch. Considering my garden, despite being reasonably wild has never been great for birds I was pleased to get nine species on the list. Of the regulars, Chaffinch, Jackdaw, and Long-tailed Tit didn’t put in an appearance but it was good to get a couple of Starlings. We then took the dog for a walk along Smeathes Ridge, it was disappointingly quiet with until near the end a Mipit was the only noteworthy bird. However not long before we got back to Barbury I was counting a small flock of Fieldfare when my wife called out a passing raptor. I was pretty amazed to see a Goshawk flying purposely east below the level of the ridge. It certainly upset the local Wood Pigeons with several flocks taking flight as it passed over. Certainly not a bird that I would expect to see in the area.
The Goshawk along with a Skylark seen earlier on took my year total to one hundred, a figure that, with a combination of lockdown and my few days incapacitation with covid I certainly didn’t expect to reach so soon.
I have recently noticed a couple of reports from Lawn Woods and Lakes. Having never been there I decided to stop off on my way home from work (first day back today and I am pretty tired). When I arrived it was drizzling so I decided to leave the camera in the car. I walked down the track between the lakes, the smaller had just a few Mallard and the larger more Mallard and a couple of male Goosander. Typically as I didn’t have the camera with me they stayed close into the bank unlike at Coate where as soon as they see you they are off into the middle of the lake. The Alders along the waters edge held a small flock of Siskin, I reckon about eighteen. Birds of the day though were a couple of Greenfinch. Really sad that a sighting of these is so unusual that it is worthy of comment. On the way home a quick look in at Wroughton Reservoir. Nine Little Grebes this time. It must really suit them here. I then took the dog for a short walk to the floodwater and back. Now that the ice has melted the gulls have returned with around seventy of four species seen.
My original plan this morning was for another visit to Moulden Hill but in the end I just went to Coate Water. For a change I had a wander around the arboretum first hoping to get a few of the smaller birds. Conditions weren’t great with a cold wind and light drizzle and maybe this is why there was a lack of birds. The water was more productive with a group of seventy Tufted Duck at the Broome Manor end along with a lot more gulls than normal. Mainly Black-headed along with quite a few Herring, three Common and a couple of Lesser Black-backed. There was just a single Great-crested Grebe, a species that has declined massively over the last few years. There used to be quite large numbers here. Another decreasing one is Goosander, there used to be counts into the thirties, today just two along with a single Pochard. The second lake had twenty or so Teal, a few Gadwall and just a couple of Wigeon. Again no Shoveler, another decline. A Cetti’s Warbler gave a brief view by the first hide as did a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. I ended up with a poor total of thirty-nine species, the lowest this year.
Yesterday was the first time this year that I felt it was okay to visit my Mum in London. There were a few things that needed doing so I planned a two day visit. After driving up in the snow I arrived to a bit of a blizzard which certainly brought out the worst in the few people who were driving, seeing drivers doing 20mph straddling the two outside lanes of the A4 was interesting. Once the snow stopped there was a good amount of bird activity in the garden with several parakeets using the feeders along with Wood and Feral Pigeons and an assortment of tits and Goldfinches.
A walk over to Osterley Park where, despite some serious scanning I wasn’t able to find a Little Owl. I did manage to year tick Egyptian Geese and had good views of a Green Woodpecker.
A stop-off for a walk at Staines Reservoir on the way home today got me Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye and Shelduck for the year-list. Also good numbers of Tufted Duck and Wigeon. The nesting rafts were not on the water so I assume that they have been moved to shore for some maintenance. The sat-nav was advising me to leave the motorway at junction fourteen due to an incident which I did. This allowed me to take the back roads home, not far from Aldbourne there was some roadkill with four Red Kites sat in a nearby tree and four more circling overhead, waiting for a traffic free period for a chance to feed I would think.
The Wife, dog and I visited pastures new today with a walk through Quidhampton Wood and up to Bincknoll Castle. The walk starts from the parking area alongside the Salthrop road. I use this road regularly and every time I pass the parking area I think one day. I remember that it was an area my friend Steve birded regularly when he lived in Chiseldon. It was a glorious day, very little wind and clear skies. Having had another long lie-in we didn’t start the walk until half eleven which probably didn’t help the bird count. It was very quiet with only a handful of species noted in the wood, Nuthatch being the best. After a fair bit of mud plugging we finally reached the lower slopes of the Castle and after a steep and challenging climb were able to enjoy superb views from the top. It would make a superb picnic spot but of course that sort of thing is not allowed anymore. I did wonder if the second the sun glinted off of a flask of coffee, would the police helicopter swoop down to shower us with £200 fines. After an enjoyable but apart from corvids and pigeons, bird free three quarters of an hour or so we headed of across the fields back to the car. It was mightily wet up her, in place the puddles were more than half way up the wellies deep. I was disappointed not to get sight or sound of a Skylark but to be honest it was a bit of a birding desert up here, intensively farmed for profit and not wildlife unlike the Downs further to the east. However a most enjoyable walk in an interesting new for me area. A quick look in at Wroughton Reservoir on the way home was a little more productive than yesterday with seven Little Grebe being seen. The feeders at home were pretty busy especially as the local House Sparrows have discovered them. Also Jackdaws have been demolishing the fat balls. A small flock of seven Pied Wagtails passed over just before dusk, presumably heading to roost after feeding around the Chiseldon Floodwater.
With shopping to be done in West Swindon today I planned on getting up early (before dark and having a walk at Moulden Hill Country Park. Amazingly I managed to get up at half-seven and was out of the house by eight. It was a lovely morning with a fairly heavy frost and a fair bit of ice around. Having not been here for a long time (probably the day after the Black-throated Diver left, one of my biggest Wiltshire dips) I had taken some advice on a route from Moulden regulars Matt, Nigel and Richard. This was a circuit the took in the lake, the River Ray and part of the disused North Wilts Canal. I had walked all of these individually but not as a single walk. The lake here for some reason does not attract many duck species and today there were just Mallard to be seen. Also on the water were Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Coot, Moorhen, Black-headed Gulls and Little Grebe. Three Cormorants were in a tree on the island, a Heron was seen and a Water Rail heard in one of the reedbeds.
A Green Woodpecker was heard as was a Great Spot. I had noticed that there were quite a few Magpies flying around, over the walk I counted at least twenty and I reckon there were a few more than that around. Certainly the most I have seen in one area for a long time. Moving on through the mud to the fast flowing River I found my first Chiffchaff of the year, even managing to get a few pictures of it.
A flooded field across the river held a number of gulls including a couple of Commons. Where the river and canal meet there was a Goldcrest flitting around and a little further along a small mixed flock of Siskin and Goldfinches. I spent ages watching them but was unable to find any Redpoll amongst them. Song Thrushes were singing constantly all the way around, a reminder that we are slowly moving towards spring. Back at the car park a flyover Grey Wagtail was species number forty for the walk.
In the afternoon I was back at Smeathes Ridge walking the dog. A small mixed flock of Starling and Fieldfare were moving around and a pair of Stonechats seen. The highlight however were a couple of Peregrines that flew over, one was seen to unsuccessfully have a go at a Wood Pigeon before landing on the top of an electricity pole.
A short stop at Wroughton Reservoir on the way home was disappointing with very few birds to be seen. The low water levels due to the ongoing maintenance work may have some bearing on this. First time for ages that I haven’t seen any Little Grebe here.
Another morning where the good intention of getting up early didn’t happen. It is going to be oh so hard when I finally get back to work and have to start getting up at silly o’clock again. First of all I spent a few minutes watching my feeders which now seem to be getting used a bit more. The Long-tailed Tit flock passed through twice and the local House Sparrows also seem to have started to visit. Managed a few pictures but I really do need to give the windows a clean.
My daily walk today was at Stanton Park, another site that I used to regularly visit in the mornings before starting work at Honda. Again I haven’t been here for ages, getting to revisit these places is definitely one of the few plus points of being tied to local birding. I guess that it has been there for a while but I set off along what to me was a new path into the Great Wood. This is where I hit the mud, on a couple of occasions it was more than halfway up my wellies. Some of the areas were so wet as to be impassable and I was starting to hope that I might put up a Woodcock. It was all Great Tits in here with a total reaching double figures. A couple of Blue Tits, Robins, Dunnock and a Chaffinch were the others seen. Crossing back into the main wood I soon found a Treecreeper, the first of the year. I spent ages trying to get a picture of it but all I managed were plenty of empty tree trunks. I guess I should have put my glasses on. Further on a Nuthatch was calling and a Great Spot flew over. A look at the lake from one of the fishing stands found very little. Three Swans, a handful of Mallard, a Cormorant and a few Black-headed Gulls was all there was.
The outfall stream which was more like a torrent was checked for Wagtails but with so much water there wasn’t a chance of one. The fields held a flock of at least sixty Redwing and my second year-tick, a Mistle Thrush. A second check of the lake from a different viewpoint added nothing to the list which ended up on a total of twenty-nine. Best photo opportunity of the day was a slightly different angle on some of the Black-headed Gulls.
With the not so nice weather today I was tempted to just stay indoors but forced myself to go out for a walk. Coate Water was an obvious choice as hopefully there would be plenty to see on the water if as I suspected most of the smaller birds would be sheltering out of site. In the end I managed a fairly good thirty-one species of which sixteen were water based and fifteen on the land. I even did a bit of counting, the most numerous species of those counted was Mute Swan with eighty-three birds, The Black Swan was also here, first time I have seen it this year. A close second was Canad a Goose with eighty and then Teal with forty-one. It was nice to see a few more Wigeon as well. Bird of the day was a Sparrowhawk that flew low along the path ahead of me between the two hides. From the second hide I decided to do the complete circuit across the fields to Coate farm and then back to the car. At the farm I got my first Meadow Pipit of the year. On my way home I had a quick look in at Liden Lagoon and managed to pick up Shoveler for the Wilts year-list. The water level was pretty high here and it was the first time that I have seen the footpath covered by water.
On my way to a follow up visit to the building society in Hungerford I had another quick look at the Chilton Foliat Wide-water. As yesterday it was fairly quiet, partly due to the warm weather (it only gets a lot of birds when there is a freeze) and partly because of the high water level and fast flow rate, Best bird was out of the water, a Marsh Tit. I stopped at Knighton on the way home for my exercise walk. I usually only visit here in the spring for Gropper so it was nice to try it at a different time. Unfortunately the high water was an issue here as well and the only water related bird seen was a Grey Wagtail. Apart from that it was mainly tits and Blackbirds along with the ever present Red Kites. An even better picture managed today.
This morning I had a Building Society appointment in Hungerford so decided to take my exercise walk on the way at Bedwyn Common which is at the edge of Savernake Forest. There was plenty of birdsong as I got out of the car but the birds were pretty hard to see. In all I managed fourteen species in about thirty minutes. There were at least four Nuthatch calling and a couple of Jays. A small flock of Chaffinch passed through but I couldn’t see any Brambling amongst them. I was hoping to find a Treecreeper to add to the year-list but wasn’t able to. From here to Hungerford is a short drive along the A4. I made a brief stop at Froxfield and a look from the roadside gate added Grey Wagtail and Green Sandpiper to that year-list. Also seen here were three Little Egret, two Lapwing and some Fieldfare. On the drive home from Hungerford a small covey of Red-legged Partridge were the third NFY of the day. The floodwater at Chiseldon was busier than usual with eighteen Black-headed gulls and two Common Gulls along with the regular Pied Wagtails. Back at home there was a Red Kite around again and I actually managed to get a half decent picture of it.
New Year Woodcock at Coate Water, Whooper Swans at Castle Eaton, first Brambing Nightingale Wood, big Golden Plover flock along the Ridgeway, Goshawk along Smeathes Ridge, Glossy Ibis from Twitchers, Rosy Starling at Moredon, Wood Warbler and Firecrest Franchises Wood,
2021 UK Highlights
03-01 1st Waders of the year, 1st Parakeets of the year (not), Dusky Warbler Siddington, Northern Mockingbird at Exmouth, Rustic & Little Bunting Thursley Common, Whiskered Tern Longham Lakes, River Warbler Ham Wall, Purple Heron Fishlake Meadows,