Well maybe not the Last Post but as you may have noticed there haven’t been that many lately. Why? Well the main reason is that my enthusiasm for birding has dropped off in a big way recently. So no birding means no posting. There is no particular reason for this, priorities have changed and my time seems to be taken up by other things at the moment, therefore birds will just have to be fitted in as and when. However as always do a sighting of a Barn Owl alongside the Wroughton to Broad Hinton road early this morning was great. It was a bit of a surprise as the conditions weren’t great, strong wind and light drizzle aren’t usually a good combination for Barn Owls. Unfortunately it was probably pretty hungry from poor condition from the recent poor conditions so was getting out whenever it could.
A thank you to the sharp-eyed readers of this blog who pointed out that yesterday I managed to turn a Siskin into a Serin. This small error has now been corrected. My apologies to the hordes of birders who raced down to Blashford this morning to see the aforementioned bird. I hope you had a great time looking for it!!
Yesterday I had to go to Swanage but had little time for birding. Also I wasn’t able to take my scope so just had binoculars. The only birds of any interest identified on the sea were a few Gannets and a couple of GBB Gulls. On the way home I made a brief stop at Blashford Lakes. The Woodland Hide was as usual great with the feeders busy. A smart male Siskin was best here. Ivy South didn’t have a Bittern waiting for me and a couple of minutes in the Tern Hide was long enough to get my first Goosanders of the year. There was enough light left for a bit of a drive around on Salisbury Plain which was worthwhile with three Short-eared Owls being seen. Also a couple of large flocks of Starlings passed over and I got my first Linnets of 2017. Today was spent at my Mums in London. A walk in Osterley Park found a single Egyptian Goose amongst loads of gulls, a few Shoveler and a single Teal loafing about on the ice on the still almost completely frozen lakes. As usual plenty of Parakeets were flying around but little else was noted.
Another trip to Worthing today and it was a lot nicer driving now that the fog has finally gone. For various reasons I wasn’t able to have my normal walk on the pier but despite the biting wind I did manage a ten minute walk along the front. Only birds seen were a few gulls and a couple of Cormorants. Driving back I was just about to join the A27 near to Patching when I noticed a few gulls milling around. Obviously it isn’t always easy to look in detail while driving but one of the birds looked a bit different and it appeared that it was being mobbed. As I got a bit closer I realised that it was a Bittern. Slowing right down I managed to get a reasonable view of it before it dropped down behind some trees. Checking on a satellite view of the area this evening there is a lake behind those trees so I guess that was where it was headed. Quite a surprise sighting. Further along the road and with the tide right in there was nothing to see as I passed Langstone Harbour but in the water alongside the road to Portchester was a flock of around forty Brent Geese. Back in Wiltshire on my way home I looked in on Wroughton Reservoir where the numbers had dropped back to normal with just a couple of Little Grebe and a few Tufted and Gadwall.
On my way home from work yesterday I had a look at Wroughton Reservoir guessing that there may be more birds here than usual as it stays clear of ice longer than other local waters. I was right as there were over eighty Tufties and more than thirty Gadwall along with Mallard, Coot, gulls and just four Little Grebe. Later on in the afternoon I took the dog for a walk at Coate Water. I was expecting most of the lake to be frozen but what was a surprise was that the water level on the main lake is very low. I assume it has been drained down for some maintenance work to be carried out. There was one good area of clear water and this had a lot of birds on it. There was a good mix of ducks, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted, Teal and Pochard. plenty of Coot, a few Moorhens on the margins, thirty-six Mute Swans, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant made up the rest. The water on both sides of the causeway was frozen apart from a small patch from which two swans were trying to climb out onto the ice from. From here I could hear but not see Teal so decided to walk along to the far hide. From here I could see that almost all of this lake was also iced over with one small open area to the left and a larger one along the far bank. The first had around fifty Coot and a few Wigeon whilst the one along the far edge was full of Teal. I estimated well in excess of three hundred.There were also a handful of Herons. Today after a bit of a lie-in and breakfast in bed the wife, myself and the dog headed off for Bradford-On-Avon for a walk along the canal. We had a quick look at the Mill Pond at Box hoping for a Dipper but with no luck. At Bradford we set off along the canal which was well frozen in places. Have to say that living on a canal boat seemed even less appealing in these conditions. As we were walking a Kingfisher came through the trees from the river and landed in a tree just across the canal giving us great views. We stopped at the Avoncliff Aqueduct to eat our lunch, it was quite noisy due to some major tracklaying work on the railway but this gave an additional point of interest. We walked all the way to the road bridge near to Freshford, admiring some lovely canalside properties on the way. Here we turned back and retraced our steps to Avoncliff where we dropped down to the riverside path before returning to Bradford. By now we were hungry so went to Poppies Tea Rooms where, as we had muddy boots, we sat outside and enjoyed a great cream tea. Then it was a quick wander around the town before walking back to the car and heading home. Other than the Kingfisher the best bird was an overflying Raven, other than that it was a mix of tits, Robins, Wrens and finches.
Having been frustrated by not being able to get to the seafront at Southsea on my last two work visits I finally managed it today. I had finished my delivery before nine this morning so decided to go and see if I could stop near to the seafront. I took a chance and parked nearto the mini go;f course and walked across to the Castle. THere was a nice flock of Brent Geese on the grass and on arriving at the front the first bird I saw was a Rock Pipit. The tide was a little way out but I soon managed to find a couple of Purple Sandpipers. I wasn’t far from the Pyramid building where a Black Redstart has been seen recently but wasn’t sure that I had time to search for it. A couple of birders were walking across from the building and a quick enquiry found that they hadn’t been able to find it. So decision made I headed back to the truck and away to sample the joys of Waterlooville. Back in Swindon I drove home via the B4005 from the M4 to Wroughton were some Cattle Egrets were seen on Thursday. As was the case yesterday there was unfortunately no sign of them.
Whilst I was driving to see the Cattle Egrets today I was thinking how much birding (along with most things in life) has changed with the influence of social media. Not so many years ago the spreading of information on unusual birds was quite a slow process. Somebody saw something then when they got home or to a phonebox (remember them) the information got passed on. Sometimes it took days for things to get around. When mobiles came in things speeded up a bit but it all depended on being able to make and receive calls. I remember workplaces not being so keen on personal calls in work time. Now with Twitter, Facebook et al this information is passed around almost instantaneously. Many times it is sent out as the bird is being watched and then like sheep everyone heads off to see whatever it is. Obviously I am as guilty as the next person for this. But the question is; Is it a good thing? It certainly is if you are a lister, number collecting just got so much easier. You just look on the internet see whats around, plan a route and go see them. Surely though this has taken a lot of the enjoyment out of the hobby. Wherever you go you pretty well know what you are going to find. Going to Keyhaven tomorrow well you can see what has been around for the last few days. Not much! then have a look for somewhere that has got better birds. Want Ring-billed Gull, go to Blashford. Want Lesser Yellowlegs then Lychett Bay is the place for you and so on. Obviously birds aren’t quite the same as aircraft, they don’t have schedules or set routes and they do inconveniently do their own thing sometimes but you can see what I am getting at. The anticipation of wondering what will be seen when you go out has been replaced by the anxiety of will it still be there when I arrive? Of course you already know the answer to that as you have been checking reports on your phone throughout the journey. Then when you arrive there is often very little skill required to find the bird as you know exactly where to go from all the reports from other birders. Obviously this isn’t the way that all birders go about things but it seems to be more of the norm now. Yesterday I had a day out just going where the fancy took me. I didn’t find anything special, but saw some great birds in some lovely places and in many ways it was a lot more satisfying than a three hundred mile chase to see a Lesser Spotted Whatsit at wherever it was. That said I was quite happy, thanks to Twitter to have seen the Waxwings in Highworth last week and the Cattle Egrets today.
Yesterday morning saw me heading north on the Fosse Way in what didn’t appear to great conditions for seeing owls. It was either foggy or a light drizzle for most of the time. But surprisingly I managed three Tawny Owls spread between Cirencester and Wellesbourne. One was sat in a roadside tree and the other two flew across the carriageway ahead of me. I have now seen four Tawny Owls this year. Last year I saw none. This morning started well with a Roe Deer seen near to Waitrose on my way into work. Today my run was to Poole and Southsea so a cross-country route on a moonlit night was hopefully going to be productive. Wrong!!. All I saw were a few small mammals, mice or shrews and a large rat. Early morning Barn Owls seem to have disappeared recently. Heading into and out of Poole was frustrating as there are good views of the harbour but obviously of little use when it is dark. At Southsea there is nowhere for me to park so nothing there, all I managed were a group of nine Little Grebe and a few Brent Geese in the water alongside the M275. After work I needed to go into Swindon to put my camera in for repair. As I don’t like paying for parking I know a few places that I can park for an hour for free. One of these is near the Railway Village and I was parked there form half-two until just before three. When I got home I saw a Tweet reporting a couple of Waxwings in that area at three twenty-five. To be fair i was head down in a hurry but annoying all the same. Tomorrow and Thursday are my days off this week and as often seems to be the way recently these are coinciding with two days of not so good weather. My original plan for tomorrow was a trip into Gloucestershire for the Richards Pipit at Arlingham and then possibly a look-in at Slimbridge. Not sure if I will bother with that now. May just have a lie-in and then do some more local birding. Staying in bed is not always easy as the body-clock is used to sleep by eight pm and then up before three but hopefully a couple of beers, some cheese and a whisky will do the trick.
This morning I had planned to go on a walk in Savernake but waking up to thick fog persuaded me that staying in my warm bed was a better option. So this afternoon myself, the wife, daughter and dog headed off to Great Bedwyn for a stroll along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Wilton Water. This is a section that I haven’t walked before and it is quite an interesting stretch. There is an interesting selection of boats moored at Great Bedwyn, some traditional narrowboats, some widebeams and a few converted working boats. It is also the base of the Bruce Trust who offer canal holidays for disabled and disadvantaged people http://www.brucetrust.org.uk/. The walk passed under four bridges and past four locks. With the railway just across the water there were also trains to be seen although there were only GWR 125’s today. There were quite a few birds around although not a great variety with a total of twenty species seen or heard. A Heron on the far bank of the canal didn’t move as we passed, intent on it’s quest for food. A couple of small flocks of Blue and Great Tits moved past and a number of Goldfinches were feeding high up. A Jay flew off ahead of us and a Water Rail squealed from a patch of reeds. Crofton Lock House was passed and we noticed it had no road access. An internet search later on revealed that it is off grid and its power is provided by wind and sun and it has its own water supply, not from the canal I hope. At Crofton Lock there is a smallholding with several pigs which possibly were Berkshires. On reaching Wilton Water we were at the summit of the canal and opposite to the Beam Engines. We had brought drinks and cakes with us so sat by the lock to enjoy them. A scan of Wilton Water found a good few more birds than were here the other day adding another five species to the tally. Around thirty Gadwall, many Mallards and Canada Geese, fourteen Little Grebes and a few Coot and Moorhens. Then it was time to retrace our steps back to the car. The Heron was still around but this time on our bank and it moved along three times as we approached before crossing back to the far bank. In all the walk was a gentle although sometimes muddy four miles.