In pursuit of my target to do twelve thousand steps every day in December I decided to walk home from work today. It was actually a bit excessive as I had already done almost six thousand at work and the walk would add around another twelve. I finished work at a quarter to two and stopped at my car to put walking shoes on. My route was to be along the old railway path up to the Old town then on pavement to Coate Water to rejoin the railway path south of the motorway. Most of the route is along national cycle route 45. I made good time reaching Coate Water pretty well on the hour. I allowed myself a ten minute stop at the first hide before tackling the slightly harder section to Chiseldon. I made it home in and hour and forty-five minutes and according to my tracker the distance was a touch under six miles and just under the twelve thousand steps. I did take the bins but as my main focus was breaking two hours not many birds were looked at. Most surprising bird seen was a Grey Wagtail along a small stream at the top of the path up to Old Town. Apart from that a couple of Great Spots and a Nuthatch amongst the commoner small stuff and a few Wigeon amongst the regular ducks at Coate. In all a most enjoyable walk and I am wondering why I haven’t done it before.
Having only managed a couple of local walks recently and following a nice family Christmas it was good to have a birding trip planned. It was to be a back by lunchtime one with two target birds. I also had the luxury of someone else driving so a quarter to seven saw me being picked up by Richard and Nige. Our first destination was the old airfield at Weston-Super-Mare which a small number of Penduline Tits have taken a liking to. Now the site of an industrial estate, a caravan park the Helicopter Museum and a wetland nature reserve it was a new birding site for us all. We arrived just as it was getting light and on opening the car doors could hear Cetti’s and Starlings in the distance. Although it hadn’t yet started to rain it was certainly a waterproof coat and wellies kind of morning. After a quick play of the calls that we would hopefully be hearing we headed off across the bridge and along a muddy pathway. A good number of Starlings were moving around in the reeds and Canada Geese were noisily departing from their overnight roost. After a few minutes the Starlings departed en masse, for a short while the sound of their wing drowning out any the calls of any other birds. The area has a large amount of reeds which would have made finding Bearded Tits hard work, fortunately there were only a few fairly compact areas of Bull-rushes which are the preferred habitat for the Pendulines. I wandered the length of the reedbed and on my return Nige said that he thought he had heard a call. I started to scan the rushes and noticed some white fluff blowing in the wind. From previous sightings of Penduline I knew that this happened as they fed and sure enough I got a brief glimpse of a masked face on a Bull-rush. Too quickly and without pinpointing the exact location I called for the others to join me. Fortunately we all managed a glimpse of a single bird before it moved left and out of sight. Having seen some of the excellent photos of the birds I took a chance and moved along to the rushes that were closest to the path. I soon found a feeding bird an again called to the others. This time there was no problem with location as it could be seen with the naked eye. It was then joined by a second and then a third bird and we watched them for a few minutes until they again move on. We relocated them for a third time but just as we started to watch they flew up and away over our heads and the stream to another large area of reeds. Other birds seen and heard here were Teal, Wigeon, Cetti’s, Water Rail and Raven.
Happy with our sightings of a lifer for Nige and year-tick for Richard and myself we headed off to Barrow Tanks to try for our second target bird. I have passed this site many times in the truck but have never birded it. With viewing not being so easy here we weren’t too confident but our luck was running and we got fairly good views of a lovely male Long Tailed Duck. Another year-tick for Richard. From here we headed home, happy with our sightings and the fact that we hadn’t got a soaking.
Another day out today and my choice was a morning in Weymouth with a couple of stops on the way home. The plan was to concentrate on the bay and the harbours with hopefully a few more gaps getting filled. The first hurdle was overcome as I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed at half-five, this saw me arriving in Weymouth at a few minutes past eight. First thing I wanted to do was to give Weymouth Bay a good scan. To do this I spent fifty pence for an hours parking in the Pavilion Car park. I have not birded from here before but it was an excellent choice. Several Great Crested and one Slavonian Grebe, two Great Northern Divers along with Shag, Cormorants (25+), Guillemots, Razorbills and plenty of gulls got the day off to a good start. Nothing was seen from a quick check of the sea from Nothe Fort car park so I then moved on to Sandsfoot Castle. Black-necked, and Slavonian Grebe, RB Mergansers, Great Northern and a very distant Black-throated Diver were all seen from here. Then it was a look from Osprey Quay area which gave nothing new. I had decide not to stop at Ferrybridge as I wanted to try for Cirl Buntings at West Bexington. I made a rookie error here. I hadn’t screen-shotted the location of the birds and as there was no signal had to work from memory as to where they were. Unfortunately I got it completely wrong and spent thirty minutes or so checking out the wrong location. What was even more annoying is that when I checked the location later it was almost next to the beach car park where I had stopped for a few minutes to eat. Maybe if I had checked over my shoulder instead of just looking out to sea. Hopefully a lesson learned. From here I had planned a diversion on the way home to go for a Snow Bunting just outside of Mere which is in the south western corner of Wiltshire. I have previously seen one in Wiltshire but the views were pretty poor, as this one had been very obliging I reckoned it was worth the extra distance. I found the track I needed easily enough and started to walk to the location that I had remembered to download on the phone. A lady in a car stopped and asked if I was going to look for the Snow Bunting, when I said yes she said that she had seen it just a few minutes ago and mentioned where I needed to look. There were two dog walkers ahead of me and typically they turned off of the track at the exact point the bunting had been at. When I arrived a minute or so later, nothing. Then a car arrived with three people and four extremely yappy dogs. These proceeded to put up all birds in the area, not a good start. I then spent the next two hours wandering up and down the track checking out the adjacent fields as with a continuous stream of dog walkers nothing was going to come near the track where everyone else seemed to have seen and photographed it. I managed to see every bird that had been reported except for the bunting. There were several hundred Starlings, dozens of Fieldfare and Redwing along with Corn Buntings, Skylarks, Mipits and Pied Wags. A couple of other birders came and went and then the nice lady returned. She again stopped her car and when I told her that I still hadn’t seen it, she very kindly showed me a couple of pictures of it that she had taken with her phone. Just on that gate she said pointing behind you , it spends a lot of time on there. I did manage to thank her with what I think was a smile. By now the light was starting to go and a light drizzle (not forecast again) was starting so I called it a day, walked back to the car and headed for home. I had been hoping for an hour or so on the Plain on the way home but there was no chance of that happening. So another good day with a good start and a slightly frustrating finish.
Today I had a drive out in Wiltshire hoping to fill a couple of gaps in the UK and county year-list. First stop was my annual visit to Westbury STW to try for the Siberian Chiffchaff that has been around. This is a regular site for them and I have seen one here before. Despite the forecast saying it would be dry I arrived in light drizzle. It was exceptionally warm though and there were clouds of small insects on the wing. Pied Wagtails were seen in good numbers, well over a hundred I reckon. There was one good candidate for White Wag but I just couldn’t get a good view of it. A single Grey was also seen. Checking out the hedgerows I found seven Chiffchaffs with two in full song. Unfortunately the Sibe was a no show but as always it was a worthwhile visit with masses of birds to be seen. From here I headed for the outskirts of Trowbridge hoping for more luck with finding Jack Snipe. This is another site that I visit once a year and as usual I was in luck with four Jack’s found along with a dozen or so of the common variety. Again there was plenty to be seen, a large flock of Chaffinches contained at least one Brambling and there were also a few Yellowhammer and Reed Buntings seen. It was an enjoyable trip out and I was happy with a fifty percent success rate. There was no more time for birds as I was heading for Marlborough to do a bit of Christmas shopping.
One common bird that I have managed to miss this year is Lesser Redpoll. Determined to find one I headed to Ravensroost Wood which is one of the remaining parts of the ancient Braydon Forest. Not an area I visit much so, despite it being only a few miles from home I had to get the OS map out to remind myself how to get there. I arrived to find an empty car park, always a bonus as it hopefully meant no dogs around. After checking the reserve map I headed along one of the smaller tracks and it wasn’t long before a few Long-tailed Tits appeared. As is often the case they were the leaders of what was a good-sized flock of birds. I soon added Great, Blue and Marsh Tit o the tally along with Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Chaffinch and at last a couple of Redpoll. With a couple of Great Spots calling in the background the wood was alive with sound. Then as soon as they had arrived the flock was gone and the woods were silent again. Moving on I added Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock and Song Thrush to the list. Three Nuthatches appeared, with seemingly each trying to outcall the other and again they all passed on. A lone Redwing was found along with two more Woodpeckers. Around the meadows were a couple of flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing numbering more than a hundred birds. I had intended to go on to Somerford Common but as I had been later than intended getting out gave it a miss as I needed to do some shopping on the way home. Back at home a check out of the front window found seventy or so Lapwing in the field opposite. Last week there were also Golden Plover but none were there today.
Just before bed I was checking out twitter and noticed that a Pacific Diver had been found on Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir which is adjacent to the steel works at Port Talbot. It is a place that I have passed often whilst driving on the M4 but have never stopped at. Unfortunately family commitments meant time wouldn’t be available to go. However an early morning phone call changing some times gave me a free five hour window and with the Diver already having been reported I decided to give it a go. A good run meant the hundred mile journey was done in just over an hour and a half. Then, with no obvious way onto the reservoir it was how to try and see the bird. I lucked in with a couple a other birders appearing who knew where to go. A trek over some fields and through a wood got us onto the reservoir track and then it was a good walk around to the far side where a handful of other birders could be seen. when we got there the Diver was pretty close in and gave great views although it was frequently diving. After twenty minutes or so a car drove up to us and a security guard informed us that we shouldn’t be on the reservoir without permission from TATA Steel. To be fair he was very pleasant and even offered a phone number that could be called to ask for permission in the future. Whether or not this would be given I don’t know. To be fair to us there weren’t any obvious signs saying access was restricted but to counter that the access route we used wasn’t exactly the most obvious. Later on in the day birdguides was mentioning an offsite viewpoint that could be used to scan the reservoir so I shall know next time. It was then time for the drive back home and another good run meant that I arrived back at ten past two, all but a few minutes inside my five hour window.
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,