Another trip to Aberdare and Mountain Ash today, this time with a bit more snow. As usual I stopped off by the river at Aberdare to look for the Dippers. Reaching the footbridge over the river I heard a Dipper calling and within seconds both of the birds flew fast and low under the bridge. I got them in the binoculars just as the first one landed in the water, disappearing under the surface. This is something I have not seen before. The other bird alighted on a rock and then entered the water in the more usual way. These birds are very confiding unlike others I have seen, maybe with a footpath running alongside the river they are more used to people as they are quite happy being watched at close quarters. After a couple of minutes they flew a little further upstream and started feeding again. They were constantly dipping their heads under the surface and appeared to be finding plenty of food. A lot of other avian activity here with eight other species seen. Then it was onto Mountain Ash where, after my delivery I was unable to stay for my break as another vehicle was due to arrive. On my way back to Swindon I noted a good number of gulls in the area around the tip just before Junction 15. Unfortunately a hard area to bird due to limited access. I took the long route home via Barbury Castle where a Mipit and a Stonechat were posing on adjacent fence posts and there were a couple of flocks of Fieldfare.
Work today was a trip to Aberdare where I had my first snow of the season (only a dusting though). A quick stop at river got me almost point blank views of the two resident Dippers. After work I needed to go to Marlborough to put in my Christmas meat order at http://www.sumblerbrosbutchers.co.uk/. I then visited a couple of other shops in the High Street before heading home via a couple of birding spots. The sewage works had four Grey and around a dozen Pied Wagtails along with a couple of Mipits. At Axford another Grey Wagtail, a Goldcrest and a couple of Great Spots. The drive back having seven Red Kites drifting around near to the Ramsbury Brewery, several coveys of Red-legged Partridges and three good sized flocks of Fieldfare.
Some days on my way to, and at work I see very little in the way of wildlife, today I just seemed to attract all sorts. On my drive into work at half two this morning I had two foxes run across the road a little way ahead of the car and a Roe Deer step out of the roadside vegetation causing me to brake sharply to avoid contact. In the lorry heading up the Fosse Way just outside of Moreton-in-the Marsh a Barn Owl appeared swooping low across the road. Not close enough to need to get on the brakes but I did hit the cancel button on the cruise control. . On my return journey a flock of Fieldfare flew low across the road giving me a very close view of one individual. Finally a Goldfinch suddenly appeared directly in front of me, unfortunately despite it taking evasive action there was a surprisingly load bag as it was hit by the roof spoiler adding one more to the road casualty total.
On Thurday work took me to Poole with a drive alongside the harbour although not much use at six in the morning at this time of year. On the way back to Swindon, good views of the lake at Blashford but nowhere to stop for a look. Then coming out of Salisbury many gulls to be seen at the Old Sarum pig farmbut again nowhere to stop. Saturday was a trip to Plymouth. Headng into the city along the water again it was dark and heading out later on the other side of the road there is nowhere to pull-in. On the long haul along the A38 and M5 it was Buzzard time with around thirty birds seen. Back home a late afternoon dog walk at Barbury Castle got a couple each of Kestrel and Stonechat but no sign of any Short-eared Owls. Today we went down to Christchurch to visit my son. After a nice breakfast at the Hiker Cafe we had a walk at Hengistbury Head. Not proper birding but managed a decent although small list. The sea was quiet with a small raft of Common Scoter, a Great Crested Grebe and a few Cormorants. Waders seen in the harbour were Curlew, Redshank and Blackwit. on the journey home a roadside Great White Egret at Sopley was a nice sighting. I managed a short stop at the Tern Hide at blashford and managed to find a Yellow-legged Gull and was put onto the Pink-footed Goose by a local birder. Unfortunately there was no sign of either of the regular Water Pipits. While I was in the hide my wife gave the dog a short walk, during this she was moaned at by two birders who informed her that dogs are not allowed at Blashford. At the entrance to the main site there are no dogs allowed signs, however on the Tern Hide side of the road there are no signs either at the entrance or in the car park. A look on the website confirms no dogs are allowed so maybe they need to put another couple of signs up to let people know. I have e-mailed Blashford Lakes to clarify the situation.
For the third time this week I was in Wales. Yesterday it was to Barry and Cardiff and today back to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. While I was at Barry I had hoped to drive along the Dock Road to see if the Diver was still around but unfortunately time was against me so it didn’t happen. Today it was a chance to see my regular Dippers again. However after the recent heavy rain the river was running high and fast and all of the regular spots that the Dipper frequents had been engulfed. Looking from the footbridge a movement caught my eye and there was the Dipper picking its way along a moss covered concrete slope on the waters edge. Occasionally it attempted to go into the fast-flowing water but each time pulled back. A Grey Wagtail briefly perched on an overhanging branch but nothing else was seen. At Mountain Ash I did my usual short walk along the river path but all of the rocks and muddy bays were gone. I reckon the water was around a foot higher than on Monday. A pair of Goosander were taking advantage of a small area of calmer water created where some vegetation had taken a hold and debris had caught in the branches. Apart from these the only other birds seen were Song Thrush, Bullfinch and Wren. Finishing work at a little past one I decided on a local twitch with a drive over to Eysey to see if the Great White Egret was still around. I stopped at the gate and a quick scan soon found the GWE in the company of a Little Egret giving a good size comparison. My timing was spot on as both birds took flight and landed out of sight under the front bank of the lake. With nothing else of interest here I headed out past the airbase at Fairford to check out Lake 125 for the 1W Scaup that has been hanging around with a flock of Tufted Duck. Here my timing wasn’t so good, as I arrived at the same time as a squall. The rain reduced visibility markedly and most of the birds disappeared amongst the waves created by the wind. It was a good fifteen minutes before it passed over, then the sun came out causing a large amount of glare from the now calmer water. It took a few minutes but eventually I found the bird and got a fairly decent view. So one Wiltshire and two UK year ticks for me. Whereas ticks are usually few and far between this end of the year, for me, having not been out much they keep on coming
An 02.45 start for work today and a run to Hounslow and Ruislip. An aeroplane fix while delivering at Hounslow with a stream of big airliners heading into Heathrow including several A380’s. At Ruislip there were many noisy Parakeets and not much else. Later on in the day the Wife and I went for a walk around Avebury. Not much about around the Stones, a few House Sparrows and plenty of Jackdaws. Wandered along to Manor Farm to see if there were any Tree Sparrows. There weren’t but there were a lot of Starlings. The small trees and many of the buildings were adorned with several hundred of them with many small flocks either arriving or heading off towards the downs. Just as I arrived home an old biplane flew over. It was a De Havilland Dragonfly that first flew in 1937. Eighty years old and it both looked and sounded beautiful.
Today it was a trip to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. Braving the heavy drizzle as usual I managed to visit a couple of stretches of the Afon Cynon. At Aberdare the Dipper wasn’t at its usual spot but a short walk upstream soon found it. Driving over the river bridge at Mountain Ash I could see four male and a female Goosander. A short walk here was worthwhile with two Dippers just across from the railway station, A Grey and two Pied Wagtails, and more Goosanders in the form of two females. A look-in at Wroughton Reservoir on my way home only gave Gadwall, Tufted, Mallard, Mute Swan, Moorhen and two Little Grebe.
The week started well at three a.m. on Monday morning when I went off on one of my favourite delivery runs to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. At Aberdare there is a nice river walk where I usually see a Dipper. This time before I arrived at the river bridge I could hear a Dipper singing. I approached slowly to avoid flushing and was rewarded by great views of the bird sat on a rock in the river singing and then feeding. The bird then flew, passing under the bridge and off downstream. As I moved onto the bridge to watch it a Kingfisher flew from a nearby perch. Later on along the river at Mountain Ash two Goosander were busily fishing and a Grey Wagtail was also seen. With it being a lovely sunny morning, having seen some good birds and with a first for a long time day of birding planned on Wednesday I headed back towards Swindon in good spirit. However just after crossing the Severn Bridge I received a phone call that changed it all. It was to tell me that a close family member had tragically died and I spent the rest of the journey deciding how I was going to break the news to my wife and children. Later on with my wife I was back on the motorway heading to London to see my chidren and mother. Tuesday was spent sorting the logistics of getting eight people across to Northern Ireland for a funeral on the coming Friday. I went to work on Wednesday and on Thursday it was a drive to Bristol airport for a flight to Belfast. Having previously been to family Catholic funerals I knew that attending one in Northern Ireland would be a very intense and challenging experience. Friday dawned bright and clear but with a cutting wind chilling all. After walking to the church, the service and then the walk to the top of the hill in the town we drove to the cemetery, on arrival several Hooded Crows flying overhead provided a welcome distraction from proceedings. Later on in the day the family headed for the nearby seaside town of Newcastle which nestles along a bay in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. Many happy memories of family walks here were brought back, with some of my best sightings of Black Guillemot amongst them. In hope I scanned the waters of the bay and was rewarded with fine views of a single bird fishing. Also in the bay were Common Scoter and Cormorant. Along the waters edge were many waders, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone and Curlew. This walk and these sightings were just what was needed at this time and will provide a happy memory of a very sad day. My Brother -in-law had always lived a slightly chaotic life with many of his journeys to and from England having been eventful, with oversleeping and last-minute dashes to the airport and it seemed his spirit was still with us on the journey home. A plane had made an emergency landing at Belfast during the afternoon causing many flight delays. On arrival at Bristol airport fog had descended and we were unable to land. The plane diverted to Exeter and after a wait and a coach transfer back to Bristol we finally arrived home at three in the morning.
This morning on my way back from Bournemouth I stopped for a break at a regular place on the road from Bulford to Tidworth. A few weeks ago I found a Yellow-browed Warbler here. A short walk alongside the beech trees was quiet but on returning to the lorry I found a flock of Chaffinches feeding amongst the leaf litter under the trees. Some careful searching turned up a smart maleBrambling amongst them along with four Jays.
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 the recent poor conditions so was getting out whenever it could.