For her birthday my Wife and I have just had a couple of nights away staying in Southsea. The main reason for choosing this area was to spend a day at the Historic Dockyard. Our hotel was a short walk from Southsea Castle so after an excellent cooked breakfast and although this wasn’t in any way shape or form a birdy trip it would have been rude not to check out the Purple Sandpipers. We struck lucky with the tide and had ten birds feeding in good view just below the Castle. I really need to sort out getting another camera. From here we followed the Millenium Trail alongside the sea to the museum. As expected there were a few Brent Geese on the Common along with many gulls. A boat trip around the harbour from the museum found more geese and gulls along with a few Cormorants. The Dockyard is superb, the Mary Rose alone being worth the entrance fee but a single day is just not long enough. After a bit of shopping at Gunwharf Quays and cocktails at Las Iguanas we headed back to Southsea keeping an out for somewhere to eat. There are many quirky places in the area and we struck lucky at Pie and Vinyl (http://www.pieandvinyl.co.uk/) where we had good food in an interesting setting. After another good breakfast it was back to the castle where again ten Sandpipers were seen. We then walked east along the front all the way to the entrance to Langstone harbour. Redshank, Turnstone, unlin and Curlew were noted along with many more Brent Geese. On the return trip we had tea and cakes at the Southsea Beach Cafe (www.southseabeachcafe.co.uk/) before heading off home.
On my drive into work this morning I had two Tawny Owls fly across the road as I drove into Wroughton. For work I went to Plymouth and on the way back into Bristol. This gave me the chance to drive past Barrow Tanks where using the height of the cab to my advantage I was able to scan the reservoir and managed to find the Long-tailed Duck that has been hanging around here for a while.
Today I went on an Indian cookery course near to Radstock. I left a few minutes earlier than needed so I could stop off at Box en-route to look for a Wiltshire Dipper. With it being a miserable morning and despite arriving just after the official sunrise time the light level was not good. With the limited time I had available I wasn’t hopeful of a positive outcome. Parking near to the recording studio I quietly approached the bridge over the river. As I looked over a Kingfisher flew from a perch right below the parapet. It was quickly followed by another bird which crossed over the river and disappeared under the overhanging vegetation. In the gloom I was not able to be sure that it was a Dipper. After a couple of minutes late a bird flew from the bank and away upstream under the bridge. A brief call confirmed that it was indeed a Dipper. I took the path upstream and arriving at the mill pond could hear a Dipper singing. I quickly found it perched on an overhanging branch and was able to watch it for a short while before it flew. I managed to find it again and watched as it entered the water a couple of times before moving away out of sight. Considering that on previous visits here I have spent a considerable time searching for both of these birds I certainly struck lucky. After the course I was going to drive across to Chew Valley Lake but it was pouring with rain so decided to give it a miss and headed straight home.
Heading out towards Oxford early this morning I had a great sighting of a Tawny Owl. It flew across the road ahead of me, landed on a roadside post and stayed as I drove past. Later on in Egham a couple of Parakeets weren’t as good to see as the three A380 aircraft departing Heathrow. I long day today but finishing at 15.00 left time for a run out to Blakehill where I hoped some Short-eared Owls would be showing well after the wash-out yesterday. Arriving at the car park a couple were just leaving. They had been watching for a couple of hours with no sightings. I had left work in sunshine but it had now clouded over and a cold wind whipped across the wide open space of the old airfield https://www.rafblakehillfarm.co.uk/. Apart from a Yaffling Green Woodpecker and a few distant corvids birds were hard to find. A scan over the site picked out six Roe Deer and a few groups of gulls passed overhead. I was joined by a couple of other hopefuls, one known Hi Alan and another who knew me from this blog. A little later a fourth person arrived but all we found between us was a fox. A good sized flock of Fieldfare flew over. I had intended leaving by four-fifteen but started playing the just another five minutes game. As it got darker a low flying bird raised my hopes but it turned out to be a Kestrel which was then joined by another. Another movement was picked up and landing on a distant post we were able to confirm it as a Shortie. Not quite what I had been hoping for in the way of a view but good to get two owls on the list in a day.
After a busy week just gone and another one ahead I was looking forward to my one day off with the intention of a morning birding and family stuff in the afternoon. Well the weather put paid to that plan. Maybe I am getting soft but getting out in the field did not appeal when I looked out at the rain first thing. I had hoped to try for the Gloucestershire Richards Pipit but ended up with an almost token hour at the Water Park. As there aren’t many places that you can bird from the car I did have to get wet. A look at 16 found no sign of the GN Diver so I moved onto Twitchers. A large number of ducks here, mainly Wigeon and Teal along with good numbers of Pochard and Tufted. I managed to find a couple each of Goldeneye and Pintail amongst them, the latter being a Wiltshire year tick. My final stop was at Lake 9 which is one that I should check out more often. Plenty of ducks again with quite a few Red Crested Pochard and a couple more Goldeneye. Roll on next weekend when a whole day out is planned.
So the last few days have been a bit of a mix. Working on Sunday with another visit to Gosport. The tide was right in this time which meant fewer birds than on my last visit. Just a couple of Merganser in the harbour and around sixty Brent Geese on the boating lake. I was keeping up with the CWP Ring Necked Duck saga on Twitter and wondering if I would have time to get to look for it when I got back to Swindon. However with it being reported on lake 87 which is a bit of a walk decided not to bother. Arriving home I saw it was back on 31 which I would probably have had time to get to. Never mind, hopefully it will hang around a while longer. On Monday I finished work early as I was heading up to London to see my Mum. I had intended going to Cow Down to look for the Shrike but with the strong wind and heavy showers decided instead to try for the Parrot Crossbills at Wishmoor Bottom. They haven’t been so reliable as of late and with limited time I wasn’t that hopeful but worth a try. Arriving at around half-one and almost immediately had a Dartford Warbler fly across the path so a good start. A couple of Stonechats were around, one a male gave a couple of display flights. Having initially been on my own I was joined by another birder who had come over from Israel via Fuerteventura where he had seen the Dwarf Bittern. He had flown into Stansted the previous day, seen the Crossbills, gone to Dorset for the Stilt Sandpiper and stopped again to try for better pictures of the Crossbills before getting a late night flight back home. Impressive stuff. By a quarter past three the birds hadn’t shown and I needed to get off to drive into London before the traffic build up. Despite not getting the Crossbills on the year-list it was still a worthwhile stop with more good views of the Dartford Warblers, at least four birds being seen. This morning I awoke to the sound of planes heading for Heathrow and Parakeets screeching over the house. I’ll take the aircraft noise anytime.Amongst other things we had a walk in Bushey Park where I added Eygptian Goose to my year-list. We then went to eat at a Belgian themed gastropub in Twickenham. Having driven past it many times it was nice to finally visit. We weren’t disappointed, a flavoursome Flemish Beef stew cooked with Belgian Beer washed down with a pint of Twickenham Brewery Naked Ladies Bitter certainly hit the spot http://brouge.co.uk/ , http://twickenham-fine-ales.co.uk/ .
As is the way in January year ticks are available all over. Today I was in Gosport and seen on a short walk around Walpole Lake and down to Haslar Lake were eleven Brent Geese and four Red-breasted Merganser. Also seen were three Little Grebe, a few Redshank and plenty of gulls. A little later heading into Portsmouth on the M275 with the tide being out there were several Curlew on the mud along with some other waders that I wasn’t able to identify. It’s not always easy or desirable to spend too much time looking at fifty miles plus per hour. Finally on the way back to Swindon I saw my first Red Kites of the year. Surprising that it has taken this long but a combination of being in the wrong area or rubbish weather is the reason.
Another day at work at another trip to the Welsh Valleys. After delivering at Aberdare I stopped by the road bridge in the town and found my first Dipper of 2018. Then it was off to my usual spot where I had two more Dippers, one each of Kingfisher and Heron and eight Goosander. A little later on my regular walk along the river at Mountain Ash got one each of Dipper and Goosander. And just for a change it was sunny. An afternoon walk from home with the dog got me a flock of Fieldfare which was my fiftieth species for Wiltshire this year.
As usual an early start today and a trip to Portchester and Basingstoke. Instead of going on the M4 and A34 I chose to head go via Marlborough and Andover to hopefully see some Owls. It didn’t take long with a Barn Owl flying across the road just south of Chiseldon. No others seen and as it was still dark when I left Portchester the only birds seen on the edge of Portsmouth Harbour were some Mute Swans. Needing to have a break between Newbury and Swindon I avoided the M4 again and stopped in the layby to the west of Chilton Foliat where there is a footpath leading through some woodland and across a bridge over the River Kennet. It turned out to be a good choice with three flyover Hawfinches, a small flock of Siskins and my first Song Thrush of the year. Also seen were Little Egret, Redwing, Great Spot and various tits. On my way home in the car I went to Barbury Castle but nothing of great interest was seen.
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.