I had hoped to get out for a full day of birding today but with loads to be done at home I settled for a morning at the Water Park. The route today was along the Thames Path from Waterhay to the Reed Hide and screen and the back alongside Lake 68. First stop was Lake 82 where there were good numbers of Tufted Duck, Pochard and Red-crested Pochard. Then it was fingers crossed that the goose flock was in the Waterhay field. It was and along with a couple of hundred Canada and forty or so Greylag were the three Pink-footed. Fortunately they were the nearest birds and they weren’t bothered when I stopped to take some pictures.
From here it was a case of following the Thames Path past some more pits until it meets back up with the river. It was pretty quiet along here with little on the water and not much more in the trees and fields.
Arriving at the Reed Hide I sat for a few minutes but apart from a small flock of Teal over the only birds seen were Mute Swan and Mallard along with corvids and pigeons. There was a lot more to be seen from the screen, from here there is a good view along lake 74 and it seemed that most of the wildfowl was at this end. Amongst the Tufties, Pochard and Wigeon were fourteen Goldeneye and a dozen Pintail. The Goldeneye were pretty active with lots of displaying and even some mating. Also seen from here were two of the hybrid Golden Merganser (Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser) which have been around the Park for two or three years. They are certainly interesting looking ducks. The walk back along the path by 68 was quiet as well. It is a big lake but there were less than twenty birds on the water. The highlights along here were a Great Spot and a couple of Bullfinches. Back at the car I was greeted as usual by the local Robin which, when I left the drivers door open while getting out of my wellies decided to fly into the car for a look around. In all I managed an okay forty-three species which got me three Wiltshire year-ticks.
For some birding today I quite fancied trying for the Penduline Tits at WSM, the Baikal Teal at Greylake finishing up with my third attempt on the Snow Bunting at Mere. In the end though I decided to stay local as I have quite a lot of work to do in the garden. The Water Park was my final choice and having seen on the weather forecast that there was going to be fog from the early hours until nine I planned to leave home at around eight. Typically I woke at four and again at six and at both times there was no fog. Anyway I arrived at the Water Park at about twenty past eight and parked along the Spine Road to walk around lakes 28, 29 and thirty. It was -3 and 28 was completely frozen, it’s neighbour, 29 had no ice at all and was the lake of choice for Mallard with at least a hundred and fifty counted. I then set myself up to scan lake 30. I had been there about five minutes when a bank of fog rolled across the water which left me peering into a sea of grey. So it was back to the car and on driving north I found that Kent End and Cleveland lakes were still clear. Kent End had around a hundred and twenty Lapwing and a good number of ducks. I then tried 68 which was pretty quiet but did have four Goldeneye and a flyby Marsh Harrier. On 82 were over a hundred Red Crested Pochard and Tufted Duck. I then moved onto Twitchers but unfortunately the fog had caught me up. With very little visibility here I decided to give the lakes to the north of the A419 a go but the fog had reached these as well. So I decided to give up and go home, obviously halfway back the fog cleared and I arrived home in sunshine. The only consolation being I got plenty of time in the garden.
Today we went to see my son and his partner in Worcester. The plan was to head over to Malvern to walk up to the Worcestershire Beacon and to then go for Sunday Lunch. The Beacon is at 425 metres and our starting point at just over a 100 metres so it is a fair climb. As often the case it was not a birding walk but I did hope to find the Snow bunting that has been near tot he summit for several weeks. It was a lovely morning and we had an enjoyable walk up. We have done it several times before and this was by far the busiest that we have seen it. On reaching the summit I had a stroll around to look for the Bunting but with so many people around there was little chance of finding it in the short time available. Then it was time for the descent and to head off to the Swan at Whittington for what was a very nice Sunday lunch.
I usually go to see my Mum in London on a Monday but this week changed it to Tuesday so that I could have a days birding in Kent with Ian. With a couple of good birds having been there for a few weeks I was pleased to see that the weather looked favorable. I left home at half-four for the three hour drive to meet Ian at the interestingly named Saint Margaret’s in Cliffe. After a steady drive and a brief comfort stop I arrived at the Dover Patrol Memorial as dawn was breaking. Ian arrived just after me and we sat looking over the Channel towards France admiring an impressive sunrise. As the light improved we spent a few minutes seawatching where I got my first year tick of the day, a Red-throated Diver, there were plenty of birds passing with auks, gulls and Gannets noted. We then walked down to Bockhill to try for one of the three main target birds of the day. With the temperature hovering around zero I was glad that I was wearing my Christmas present base layers, they certainly performed well. After around half-an-hour of waiting with plenty of corvids and Wood Pigeon to watch we heard the Hume’s call from somewhere amongst the ivy-covered trees in front of us. There were a couple more birders standing further along the track and we alerted them that we had located it. It was a few more minutes before we saw any movement with just a short glimpse and then several more before the frequently calling warbler showed briefly but well. Again another wait and our patience was rewarded when the bird came out into a bare tree giving excellent views fro a minute or so. A lifer for me an the second leaf warbler seen in four days. With quite a bit of ground to cover we then moved on to the Sandwich Bay Estate where the road runs just inland of a couple of famous golf-courses. Along here we saw Grey Partridge, Reed Buntings, many Lapwings and a large flock of Greylag geese with several White-fronted amongst them. A Marsh Harrier drifted across putting many birds up including a good-sized flock of Golden Plover. We then walked to the track that runs alongside the beach trying for the Snow Buntings that have been around for a while. I picked up a flock of four small birds and thought they were the buntings but they landed on the golf course out of view. They were then flushed by a Sparrowhawk and gave great views as they flew overhead. Also seen here were a pair of displaying Green Woodpeckers. Next stop was Worth Marsh for the second of the target birds, White Stork. I have seen plenty just across the channel but never in the UK. This unringed bird has been around for a while now and my expert local guide knew exactly where to find it. While watching it hunting on the wet grassland a Ring-necked parakeet flew over, one of a growing local population this was the first time I have year-ticked one outside of West London. Next stop on the tour was the River Stour at Fordwich where we were hoping to catch up with Dusky Warbler. A friend of Ian was in the area and a quick phone call confirmed that the bird was still in it’s favoured location. A ten minute walk took us to the riverbank where within a few minutes we heard the hoped for tac call. With the location pinned down it was just a case of seeing it which was easier said than done. In the end we had to be satisfied with a handful of brief glimpses as the Dusky moved around very low in the vegetation. A little disappointing but at least we did see it. On the way back to the car we had a look on Westbere Lake. There were only a few birds to be seen, Great-crested Grebe was new for the day as was a Kingfisher that flew across the water and obligingly posed on a tree stump for long enough for us to get good view. Having alreadylogged two and a half new sites ( I have been to Sandwich Bay before but not the parts we went to today) the final stop of the day was Grove Ferry which is at the western end of Stodmarsh NNR. The plan here was to catch birds coming into roost. After spending some time in one of the hides trying to count Teal, with many of them tucked away in the reeds it was hard going but we got to somewhere near a hundred. Pintail was a nice but unexpected tick from here. We then moved along to one of the viewpoints from where we had some fun counting the many groups of Cormorants that were coming in, I think we gave up at around two hundred as they started to appear from multiple directions. Bearded tits were pinging away in the reed bed but remained unseen as did Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail. A single Ringtail Hen harrier and half-a-dozen Marsh harriers came in and a group of eleven swans that tried to sneak in low across the back of the reserve were found to have a single Bewicks amongst them. Green Sandpiper was also heard but not seen but we were luckier with Snipe, five been found along the muddy margins. Final bird of the day was a Woodcock that was doing the opposite of the other birds by coming out from roosting. So another great days birding with 82 species seen or heard getting me 18 year-ticks a UK tick and a Lifer.
On Wednesday evening I started to get a toothache so yesterday I called to see if i could get an emergency appointment. Fortunately for me they had one at 11:15 this morning. My original intention had been to return to work after the appointment but a Pallas’s Warbler at Abingdon in Oxfordshire which is around thirty miles away changed my mind. I went into work a little earlier than usual (02:30) so I could get what needed to be done finished and headed straight to Abingdon from the dentist. Abingdon is not a place that I know but the satnav got me to unusually named Peep-O-Day Lane which leads to the sewage works where the bird was. Surprisingly this isn’t the only road with this name in the UK, there is another in Dundee. I parked the car and after a few minutes walk alongside the STW I found a few birders and toggers looking for the bird. It had recently been seen and was associating with a small flock of Long-tailed Tits. After a couple of minutes a small flock of birds appeared but they were Goldfinches. Then a couple of tits appeared and almost immediately the Pallas’s was seen. It was quite easy to pick out as it was frequently hovering as it moved from branch to branch. Despite the poor light excellent views were had as it and the tits moved through the trees. The best views were had from the playing field side, the downside of this was that the grass was covered by three to four inches of water, as I hadn’t thought to change into wellies I was pleased that my work boots were in good condition and didn’t leak. Someone called a Firecrest but unsurprisingly there wasn’t a lot of interest although I did have a half-hearted look for it. After a couple of minutes the flock moved on and as I was happy with the views I had of what was only my second Pallas’s Warbler I headed back to the car. The main reason I didn’t hang a round was that I wanted to go to Thrupp Lane Radley to try for a Ring-necked Duck. Another new site for me and again the satnav got me there with no problem. On getting to the side of the lake I joined another birder who had not yet seen the duck. THere were a few tufties around the islands along with Pochard, Shoveler and Teal. A Little Grebe swam into view but still no sign of the target bird. I decided to move along the path a bit and from the new vantage point soon picked the bird out. I remember the first time I had seen one and how worried I had been that I would be able to identify it amongst the tufties. However as before it stood out well with the grey flanks ad more upright stance. Despite it being on the far-side of the water great views were had. it was then time to head home, well pleased with getting both of my target birds.
Having heard about a flock of Hawfinch in Savernake there was no contest as to where to go birding today. I was joined by Simon and other than a group trip to Norfolk we haven’t been out birding together before. As he lives in Stroud it was an opportunity to show him some new sites. He arrived at mine at nine o’clock. The weather was awful, cold, wet and windy. If i had been on my own I would have stayed in bed. We started off on the downs at Ogbourne and saw my first Fieldfare off the year but little else. Marlborough sewage works had a few Wagtails and and a Mipit. At Froxfield it was just Mallard, Swans and a couple of Little Egrets. So on to Savernake and on arrival we found that the Grand Avenue was closed. They do this one day a year to preserve its status as a private road. Fortunately we were still able to walk in which upped the step count a little more than expected. We eventually found a good-sized flock of small birds and soon Simon got onto a male Brambling. I had just got on it myself when he found a Hawfinch. We soon got the total up to thirty plus Brambling and six Hawfinch. I then found a Treecreeper and then a superb male Bullfinch appeared. Typical as neither of us had got our cameras. The birds appeared to be flying down so we moved along a bit and found them on the ground. We decided to go back for a scope and cameras and on our return were able to get great views of eight Hawfinch and many Brambling. Unfortunately the photos weren’t so good. We watched the flock for a few minutes until they were disturbed by some dog walkers. We also got Nuthatch, Jay, Marsh and Coal Tits along with further views of the finches a bit later on. Having previously only seen single Hawfinch on two occasions before in Wiltshire this was indeed a special occasion.
We then headed off to the Plain, my plan was to start on the central perimeter road and then move over to the eastern side. There were good numbers of Fieldfare and Starlings along with Corn Buntings and Red Kite. No sign off any Bustards though. There were no red flags flying so it was possible to turn onto the Plain and drive on byways that are usually closed. We eventually drove right around the Larkhill Artillery Range via Chirton Gorse to the Redhorn Vedette. A first for me and a great introduction to the Plain for Simon. There were plenty of Roe Deer about but not many birds, but it was a great experience. Also of interest were the many old tanks that were grouped around, presumably being used as targets. Back on the perimeter road we had good views of three Grey Partridges and more Red Kites. Dropping down to Upavon from Casterley we got another Kite and then Simon picked up a low flying raptor, as I stopped it dropped over the ridge before soon reappearing giving us great views of a ringtail Hen Harrier. We then went over to the east and parked to spend time scanning. There was a Kestrel sat on a tree by the track, a Stoat crossed the track and immediately the Kestrel dropped down. Luckily for the Stoat it missed and flew off with empty talons. We ended the day on forty-three species.
Along with many others I have decided to do a 10km radius from home bird list this year. In setting a circle centred on my house I realised that the majority of it was Swindon with very few reasonable birding sites. Therefore, rightly or wrongly I decided to I decided to set my house towards the top of the circle which gives me a lot more options. This now includes some of my regular sites including, Savernake, Avebury and a good stretch of the River Kennet. My feeling is that you need some decent sites in the area otherwise it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.
Unfortunately though it was for work, and it was at 02:00! I was driving today and had a choice of runs, Milford Haven and Haverfordwest were on offer and although on of my favourites was I decided to much for today so I settled for Swansea, Port Talbot and Maesteg. Fortunately for me I got delayed at the fist two deliveries so it was light as I headed for Maesteg. A quick diversion and stop got me a distant view of the Pacific Diver, happy days. Back in England and the roadside field came up trumps with a flock of Golden plover and a GBB gull amongst a large mixed flock of gulls. Finishing at a quarter to three and with the rain finally stopping it was a quick drive over to the Water park to try for the Great Northern Diver on 82. My luck was still running as I found it straight away and fairly close. Although it was diving a lot i managed what was for me a half decent picture as well.
At a little after five-thirty myself, Matt and Richard were on our way for some new years birding in and around Weymouth. I decided to route via Devizes and Salisbury to give us the best chance of seeing some Owls on the way. Averbury, Devizes and Shrewton all came and went with nothing seen other than Mute Swan and Mallard on the pond in Devizes. We crossed the A303 at Stonehenge and Matt called a Barn Owl. It was perched on a road sign but Richard and i missed it. A quick three-point turn was made and it was still there, another turn and we saw it fly across the road and onto the verge. Less than a mile later and a second one was seen. The route I take is to Wilton and past the racecourse and as we left Wilton a Tawny Owl shot out of the trees and dropped onto prey at the roadside. A short way on and another Tawny was seen. Just before we reached Martin Down another Barn Owl was see perched alongside the road. What a start to the year. We arrived at the Radipole car park just as it was getting light. Heading onto the bridge we saw three Egrets out on the wooden rails. Obviously Little Egrets, well actually no, Cattle Egrets. And they were gone when we got back just under an hour later. Also here were a couple of Med Gulls. We walked the Buddleia loop with Cetti’s and Water Rail all around. We also managed to hear and then see a Bearded Tit. From here we headed for the Pavilion car park to check out Weymouth Bay. As well as the NYD swimmers we saw Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet GND, Brent Geese and best of all, directly overhead a Peregrine with a freshly caught pigeon. Next stop was the beach below Sandsfoot Castle where, despite the rain we added Merganser, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebe and another GND. As it was raining quite hard we bypassed Ferrybridge and went straight to Portland. After sheltering in the Obs for a while and adding Chiffchaff to the list we headed off along the coast. No Little Owl in the quarry, just a sheltering Kestrel, then Purple Sandpipers and Rock Pipit before a bit of seawatching. There were hundreds of Auks heading left and then the highlight, a feeding frenzy of hundreds of Gannets and gulls fairly close in. With the wind blowing, large waves and a heavy swell it was pretty impressive. Walking on we added Kittiwake and Fulmar to the list but missed out on small land bird, not a single Linnet or Stonechat seen. A quick check of the bays near the huts failed to find Black Redstart and then it was time to move on. At this time of the year with limited daylight it is hard to fit all of the sites into the day. Ferrybridge was quiet with just five Barwit some Dunlin, a Little Egret and a Shelduck seen. Then it was off to our final stop of the day, Lodmoor. We headed for the viewing shelter but soon came across a small group of birders, the usual question was answered with Iceland Gull. And there it was standing out amongst the other gulls. A minute or two later and it had moved out of sight so great timing. From the viewing area we added quite a few more birds, the regular very white Ruff, Blackwit, Wigeon, Dunlin and at least thirty Snipe. Long-tailed Tit and Greenfinch got the list up to a respectable seventy-six species. A steady drive home added just Pheasant to the list.
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,