Category Archives: General Stuff

Catching Up

As I work in the food supply chain and my wife and daughter both work in schools life is carrying on almost as normal for our household.  I count myself as being very lucky spending most days out delivering to our shops all over the Midlands, the South and also the South of Wales. In fact, at the moment, due to the lack of traffic driving is way more pleasurable than usual. I count myself as beinWith a bit of planning for where I take my statutory breaks I can one day be watching Dippers on a Welsh river and the next scanning the sea somewhere along the South Coast. There are also the not so interesting days when I am plodding up the M5 to Birmingham or enduring the screeching Parakeets of West London. Also on my usually around 02:30 drive to work I get to see a good amount of wildlife including Barn and Tawny Owls along with plenty of mammals. Both Liddington Hill and Coate Water along with some good mixed habitat around Chiseldon are within easy walking distance of home giving me the opportunity of some varied bird walks. Last week was particularly good with Dipper and Purple Sandpiper added to the year-list along with Oystercatcher and Little ringed Plover in Wiltshire when I managed to take a driving break at the Cotswold Water Park. The previous week got me Sanderling and this week Sandwich Tern. The last few days have also added Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and Swallow to the notebook on local walks. A flyover Redshank was a nice surprise near to Liddington at the weekend. We also get regular low-flying Red kites over the garden while Skylarks can be heard displaying over the nearby farmland.

Coate Water.

The Downs.

Others.

Lousy Phone Pictures from the work sightings.

A Quiet Period

With loads to do at home and being busy at work there hasn’t been much birding done over the last couple of weeks. I did manage an Owl drive on one of the rare dry evenings recently. It was quite successful with three Barn Owls seen and two Tawny. I tried again for a Little Owl but no sight or sound of it. I have also had some Barn Owl sightings either on my way into work or whilst driving. First thing yesterday morning I went to the Water Park and had good views of the Cattle Egret alonside a Little Egretat Ashton Keynes but had no luck with the Pink-footed Goose  but did get a good soaking for my troubles. Later on the Goose was refound at Eysey.

Hunt the Hoopoe

With my sister over and a couple of days off I went up to my mums in London. On Thursday we fancied a trip to the coast and picked on Calshot at the mouth of Southampton Water. The location was chosen so we could go for the fairly long-staying Hoopoe at Badminston. We arrived onsite at a little past nine and with no-one else around started to scan the horse paddock that it has been frequenting. A few Pied Wagtails and Linnets but no Hoopoe. Some other birders appeared and it transpired that we had missed the Hoopoe by about fifteen minutes when it flew off after showing well from first light. We had a bit of a wander but there was no sign of it. Our plan was to have breakfast at Calshot so we headed off for that planning to return later on. After a nice breakfast in the cafe at the activity centre we had a stroll around the spit. It was sunny but the wind was pretty strong. Birdwise we found Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Ringed Plover Brent Geese, Shelduck and plenty of gulls.

We couldn’t find anything of interest on a pretty rough sea. A Wooden Owl was enjoying the view out to sea and a photo I took of a Tug was photo bombed by a Brent Goose.

Back at Badminston there was still no sign of the Hoopoe despite several people looking for it. With my mum with us we didn’t want to hang around so drove down to Lepe and then back to Calshot for a drink and cake before a final look for the Hoopoe before heading home. We got nice cake but no Hoopoe. Checking on Hampshire Birding it hasn’t been reported since Thursday morning so we were pretty unlucky in missing it by just a few minutes. Possibly with the wind swinging around to the noth-west it had decided it was time to head for warmer climes. After a good journey home my sister and I had a wander over to Osterly Park to look for a Little Owl. Another miss unfortunately but plenty of Parakeets were flying around and there was a very nice sunset.

In Devon for Dennis

Before Christmas we booked a four day break booked at Dawlish Warren and it just happened to coincide with Storm Dennis. We travelled down on Friday morning planning to go to Mansands and Broadsands for a couple of short walks and some birding. Having left home a little later than intended we arrived at Mansands late morning. Having descended the steep slippery track to the coast I spent some time looking for the Blue-winged Teal while my wife sat and enjoyed the sight and sound of the sea. Although the wind hadn’t yet picked up strength it was still quite impressive. After a while, with no sign of the Teal I joined her for a walk before returning for another fruitless Teal hunt. Having decided to give up on it we then spent a pleasant twenty minutes or so in the hide enjoying the good number of birds using the well-stocked feeding station. Along with the many Blue and Great Tits there were also a couple of Coal Tits and a pair of Bullfinches.

We then headed for Broadsands  where we drove through to the hedgerow in the back car park. Straight away I saw a few birds feeding on the ground and a quick look revealed several Cirl Buntings along with House Sparrow, Dunnocks and Chaffinches. We watched them for several minutes before moving on. For some reason I couldn’t get a decent picture, the camera just didn’t want to focus properly. A walk up onto the headland gave reasonable views out to sea with a couple of Great Northern Divers the only decent sighting. Then it was tea and cake in the cafe followed by a walk along the beach.

The plan for Saturday was to get the train to Teignmouth, spend some time there and then walk back along the coast path to Dawlish Warren. With Storm Dennis living up to its forecast ferocity we set off for the station and after a ten minute journey along one of the most scenic and today dramatic lengths of railway we arrived in Teignmouth. Despite being fully waterproofed being outside wasn’t a great deal of fun so after a quick look at the sea ( a couple of GND and a Shag were noted) we set ourselves up in a cafe for an early lunch. Not knowing the coast path and being mindful of the conditions we decided to seek out some advice from some locals. This we did in the butchers while stocking up on sausages and bacon for Sunday breakfast. The considered opinion was that due to the wind direction and the state of the tide (going out) so after saying our goodbyes to my daughter and her boyfriend who were sensibly heading back on the train, we set off. Although pretty wild we had the wind on our backs so it wasn’t too bad. We made good progress along the coast until we reached the railway tunnel at Smugglers Lane Holcombe where we had to pass along a path under the railway. Unfortunately this was at the bottom of a steep road which was now a torrent of water. We had to climb up onto the lower rail of the fence and inch our way along to get through. A bit of a challenge but great fun. From here we carried on up to the main road before setting off cross country to pass over the first of two tunnels. This part was extremely wet, muddy and slippery with challenging steep ascents and descents. We did think that we could have stayed on the road and cut the whole section out. On the outskirts of Dawlish we briefly rejoined the main road before dropping back down to the coast. A Sparrowhawk which shot across the lane just ahead of us was an unexpected year tick. Finally arriving in the centre of Dawlish we struggled to find a cafe woth only one of about half-a-dozen actually open. They had no scones left so the much looked forward to cream tea had to be foregone. Some very nice cakes made up for it though. Putting our waterproofs back on we headed out into the deluge again for the final coastal section to the Warren. On arrival back at our Lodge it was a quick change and into the hot tub for a well deserved soak.

Sunday morning dawned grey, wet and windy but I dragged myself out for a walk to the Dawlish Warren Reserve where unsurprisingly I saw and heard very little before returning for breakfast. Then it was a local walk, some time in the amusements before having a very nice Sunday Dinner at the Mount Pleasant Inn where we had a window table that gave us fabulous views out across the estuary. amazingly the skies had cleared so we had a bonus post-dinner walk along the beach.

Monday was heading home day. The others had decided to visit Exeter but I wanted to do a bit of birding so and after driving back to Teignmouth to collect a couple of items we had purchased on Saturday I made my way along the coast road head for Bowling Green Marsh. A planned sop at Cockwood found twenty-seven Cattle Egrets feeding alongside the main road and on the playing fields at Starcross were quite a few Brent Geese, Curlew and Oystercatchers. Bowling Green Marsh was disappointingly quiet with just a small number of wildfowl on offer. A walk down to the river got me a handful of Avocet. From here it was a short visit to the fantastic Darts Farm (https://www.dartsfarm.co.uk/) before setting off for home.

First View of Salt Water in the UK This Year.

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t yet visited the coast in the UK this year. This is mainly because I have been busy at home and have also had a couple of short breaks across the Channel. Today was a “close but not quite there day” with a work visit to Cornwall where at Truro I was able to spend a few minutes checking out the city end of the Truro River. Unfortunately with a 450 mile round trip and some work to do I didn’t have time to do anymore than that. With the tide well out there were plenty of birds on the mud, mainly gulls but also a few Blackwit and Redshank both of which were UK year ticks for me.

A French Footnote

Today my sister went back to Les Renclotures and from the exact place  that we had been watching for it on Friday had great views of the Black-winged Kite. A little frustrating but pleased that she managed to catch up with it. She also saw Goldcrest, Firecrest and Treecreeper here, three species that we missed on all three days.BSK

After that she went to Le Hourdel which we were going to look in at but went to see the Wild Boar at Cap Hornu instead. Here she managed to find a flock of Snow Buntings which was another species that eluded us both on the previous days

A Day in Geneva

My Mum is spending Christmas in the Jura region of France not that far from Geneva and the family decided the best way for her to get there was to fly and as she is eighty-six and partially sighted I found myself with the opportunity to accompany her on the flight which gave me the chance of a day sightseeing. We flew out on the Sunday afternoon and for the first time ever I used airbnb to find my accommodation. After a good flight over from Gatwick courtesy of Easyjet and a good nights sleep first light found me heading for the Lake Geneva via Lidl to pick up a Pain-au-Chocolat for breakfast. House Sparrow and Feral Pigeon were the first birds seen and then on the lake Goosander, Goldeneye and RC Pochard along with BH and YL Gulls. Walking along towards the City I soon added Tufted, Pochard and Great Crested and Little Grebe. There were good numbers of wildfowl but not in the numbers I had expected from looking at online reports. What was good though was how confiding the Goosander were. Unlike our local birds that move off quickly as soon as you get close these ones did the opposite and started to come closer. A Red-breasted Goose was a surprise but presumably not a wild bird. In all just twenty-two species were noted with only Crow and Blackbird added to the land bird list although to be honest I wasn’t looking that hard. Main disappointment was not finding any Ferruginous Ducks which was my target bird. However birds were only a small part of the day so most of it was spent just sightseeing and shopping. All in all a most enjoyable day was had despite no snow and many heavy bursts of rain. Another, as usual good flight with Easyjet I arrived home at half-ten all ready for Christmas.

Another New Site

On Monday I headed back up to visit my son in Shropshire. Having finished work at lunchtime I was going to have enough light left for a bit of birding. A Red-necked Grebe has been hanging around at the Venus Pools Nature Reserve. A look at the map showed that it wasn’t a great distance away from Wellington where my son lives so a no-brainer reallyas it would be a new site, a year-tick. After stopping at an excellent farm shop en-route I arrived at the reserve at a little gone three o’clock. With information from Twitter I knew that I needed to head for the Causeway and to view the adjacent fishing lake. I soon found the correct lake and with an elevated viewpoint I was able to see almost the whole of the lake. After a couple of minutes I realised that the Grebe was either nmot around or in the small area that was obscured by the bankside bushes. After walking down the hill I was able to see this area and it wasn’t long before the RNG was found.  Although not particularly close it was nice to see one on a calm lake rather than bobbing around between the waves somewhere out at sea. I had forgotten to charge the camera so it packed up after a single shot was taken which was a bit annoying.Having watched the Grebe for a few minutes and being conscious of the rapidly fading light I made my way to one of the hides from where it was possible to scan the actual reserve. There were good numbers of a variety of wildfowl to be seen along with Lapwing and at least forty Snipe. A little more time here would have been nice but I was happy with having seen the target bird.

The evening consisted of a couple of pints and an Indian. The next day was to be spent waiting for someone to come and collect a car which was be returned from lease. Despite several phone calls I couldn’t pin them down to a time so only able to get out for a breakfast. Typically they didn’t turn up until almost three which left no light for any stops on my drive back home.

Owls

I spend a fair amount of time driving at night and this year , compared to previous years have seen very few Owls. In Wiltshire the tally is just two Tawny with no Barn Owls at all. So on to this morning, I left Swindon in the rain at around four o’clock but by about half past, just before I got onto the Fosse Way at Cirencester it had stopped. Just before Bourton-on-the-Water I saw a Little Owl atop a road sign, only my second one this year. The Owl that is, not the road sign. A little later and now in Warwickshire a Barn Owl was seen perched on a hedgerow. Finally as I was stopped at the traffic lights at the Longbridge Interchange a movement caught my eye. It was another Barn Owl that had alighted on the fence of the field margin. Fortunately there was very little traffic about so I was able to sit for a couple of changes of the lights to watch as the Owl made a couple of unsuccessful forays into the long grass below the fence. A pretty good result and I have another trip along the Fosse tomorrow so hopefully a repeat performance although on a Monday morning it will be a lot busier. What I am wondering though is that if Owls in general have had a bad year as this is certainly the least I have seen for many years.

A Weekend Away Then Back to the Water Park

Last weekend we had a family get together with eleven of us meeting up in Eastbourne. Although not a great distance from home the South Coast between Newhaven and Rye is an area that other than a couple of work trips I have never visited. We were pleasantly surprised with Eastbourne which has a not so good reputation, especially for the younger person (although i am not that young myself ). We initially met up in the lovely village of Alfriston for a very good cream tea before heding to our hotel. There were no plans for birding and with limited knowledge of the area we did happen to hit on a good place for a walk on the Saturday. This was Cuckmere Haven. Despite there being a lot of people around we managed twenty-three species whilst here. Back home and it seemed a good time of year to restart the after work visits to the Water Park. Yestarday I managed seven Green Sandpipers and a single Common while today got an impressive twelve Green, two Common and two LRP along with eighteen Common Tern, loads of Sand Martins and a Hobby. Nothing amazing but still worth seeing.