Having posted yesterday that I wasn’t doing much birding at the moment it was typical that today an opportunity to go out arose. The day started with another Barn Owl sighting early this morning, this one a little further along the A4361 between Beckhampton and Devizes. Having finished at a reasonable time I decided to head out to the Water Park for a look at the Black-necked Grebe that has been on lake 65 for a few days. To get there I parked near to Ashton Keynes and walked along the Thames Path. I hadn’t been walking for very long when a flash of blue heralded the appearance of a Kingfisher. Fortunately, rather than disappearing from sight it perched on an overhanging branch and as I watched it dived into the water and emerged with a fish. wonderful to see. A Great Spot Woodpecker called from the trees and a brief glimpse was had as it flew away. Several Wrens were seen as I walked along the river along with various tits and finches. At lake 41 a white blob on the far back turned out to be a Little Egret rather than the hoped for Great White. I then spent a few minutes scanning 57 for the Scaup with no joy. Crossing the Thames on small footbridge I arrived at lake 65. There were a couple of birders here and one of them kindly let me look at the Grebe in his scope. I then found it myself and watched for a few minutes as it continually dived and resurfaced in almost the same spot. Then it was back to 57 to try again for the Scaup. Along with a couple of others I scanned with no success. Goldeneye and Pochard were the best we found. The it was back along the Thames to the car. A quick look-in at 28, 29 and 30 turned up a female Goosander but no Smew. A drive by Twitchers added Lapwing and Shoveler to the list of just over thirty species before I headed home.
With a longish walk at the Water Park planned for today I was a little disappointed to see that it was foggy when I got up. However by the time I set off it had started to clear. My first stop was at North Meadow outside Cricklade. on the flooded fields here were a few Lapwing and gulls and little else. From here I made a quick check of the scrape from Twitchers, just in case the Great White Egret was around. It wasn’t. I then went to look for the Smew and I found two Redheads on 28 along with a pair of Goosander. Then it was off to Waterhay for my walk along the Thames Path to the Reed Hide. A Common Gull was standing on its own in one of the fields and a flock of Redwings were in the trees of the car park. On 68a/b were eight Goldeneye. I cut through the hedge by lake 59 where four male and two female Bullfinches were seen. Small birds were in short supply with few seen overall. As I neared the Thames I could hear Curlew and found a flock of seventeen on the flooded fields across the river. Also here were two Blackwits, two Redshank and a Green Sandpiper. Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker were heard but not seen around here. Reaching the hides a scan along 74 found large numbers of Shoveler and Wigeon along with a few Tufties and Teal and a couple of Goldeneye. Not much was seen from the Reed Hide but Cetti’s and Water Rail were heard. Heading back alongside 68a/b a raft of around two hundred and twenty Pochard was a nice find. A flock of Lapwing flew up from the scrape as did three male Pintail. After returning to the car I decided to look in at Eysey on the way home. I stopped along Friday Hams Lane to check out another flock of Lapwing and got a flyby Kingfisher as a bonus. The water at Eysey was almost empty but a scan of the trees found a Buzzard. As I watched it flew and all of a sudden a Peregrine appeared and started to mob it. Eventually the Buzzard flew off and the Peregrine then disappeared over the trees. Nearing home I headed in towards Swindon to try for the Dipper that has been seen around the Eldene / Park South area. Parking in Shaftesbury Avenue I walked across to the small rubbish strewn stream. To be honest i didn’t think there was much chance of seeing it but as I approached the culvert where the Dorcan Way passes over the stream I saw it bobbing away on the edge of the water. As I watched it walked in and submerged. When it surfaced it stayed for a few seconds before flying along the culvert and out of sight. Certainly an interesting place for it to be and thanks and congratulations to the finder. All in all a good day out with three year and seven county ticks.
I am still struggling to get my birding year going, in the words of my wife “I am just not feeling it at the moment”. However there have been a few moments over the last week. The first was a Barn Owl riskily hunting the verge alongside the A350 at Lacock early on Friday morning. A perilous thing to do as shown by the sighting of a dead one alongside the A421 near to Bicester on Wednesday. Saturday morning found me in Savernake Forest after a bit of shopping in Marlborough. I recently read somewhere that Blue Tit numbers were well down, not in Savernake they weren’t as it seemed that every other bird seen was one. A Grey Heron at Thornhill pond was a surprise, I don’t think I have seen one on the ground in the forest before. ALso of interest was the number of Bullfinches seen, at least a dozen were noted. I have noticed elsewhere that they to seem to be around in good numbers this winter. For Sunday, somewhat rashly I had volunteered to drive a minibus full of members of the Delta Reds Netball Team (including my wife I should add) to Wembley to watch England in the Quad Series. After dropping them off I headed for the WWT centre at Barnes to pass the time until I needed to pick them up. A worthwhile visit with good views of two Bittern and a Caspian Gull which was a lifer for me. Several Snipe and Pintail were noted but the Water Pipit couldn’t be found. Yesterday afternoon I took the dog for a walk along the Railway Path. A good few birds around with another three Bullfinches being the best. This afternoon a walk with the dog in the Hackpen area got me up to one hundred species for the year. My slowest century for a good few years. The fact that eighty-six of these have been in Wiltshire shows how little travelling I have done so far. Still it was a good bird that got me there, a Tree Sparrow. Two more Bullfinches were seen but better than that three Greenfinches also. I have now seen a grand total of five this year. A good few Raptors about with Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrels seen in various numbers. I have noticed over the last few mornings the increasing number of Song Thrushes singing, a sign that Spring is not that far away maybe. All being well the plan is for a few hours at the Water Park tomorrow so hopefully a good day-list will be had.
….as in a quiet start to February after a quiet finish to January. On the return leg of a wet trip to Bournemouth today a good few birds were noted at the pig farm at Old Sarum. Several hundred Lapwing, plenty of gulls and a couple of Little Egrets were seen as I drove past. On a stop for a break near to Bulford I saw and heard several Skylarks displaying. Nearer to home and just before leaving the M4 an adjacent wet field held a skewer of Egrets. Obviously I wasn’t able to stop to confirm which sort. So on my home from work I headed along Wharf Road to see if I could find them. The field I had seen them in is not really visible from Wharf Road but fortunately they had moved and were in the field next to it. I was also lucky that there was a place to pull in. A quick count revealed twenty-two Little Egrets and unfortunately none of the Cattle variety. This is the largest gatheing of egrets I have seen in the Swindon area. It could be worth keeping an eye on the area in case something more interesting turns up. I stopped by Wroughton Reservoir as well and there were fewer birds than last time. Twenty-one Gadwall, four Tufted, five Little Grebe and a couple each of Mallard and Moorhen was all that was there.
Yesterday afternoon I took the dog for a walk along the railway path. There were a lot of birds around, mainly the commoner stuff with five Bullfinches being the highlight. Today I was going to do the same walk but at the last minute decided to drive up to Folly Farm and walk along towards the Ridgeway. In contrast to the walk yesterday it was very quiet on the bird front. In the first half-hour I only saw Buzzard, Red Kite, Robin, Blackbird and a few pigeons and corvids. I then turned back towards Liddington Hill and saw a covey of twelve Red-legged Partridge flying across the top field. A female Stonechat popped up on the fence and a couple of Wrens were flitting about. Another Partridge flew off from the grass and from the call it was another Red-legged. A bit further on it flushed again and flew off ahead off me. Further still and a movement caught my eye, expecting it to be the Partridge again I was pretty surprised when four Short-eared Owls flew up from the grass. Two headed in one direction and the others singly went different ways. I got reasonable views before they all disappeared from sight. A fabulous sighting. A small flock of fourteen Meadow Pipits were the only other birds seen.
I have been hoping to get to the Water Park after work all week but have been finishing a little too late to make it worthwhile. With no chance of going at the weekend I was determined to make it over there this afternoon. However it was almost a quarter-past two before I finished so normally wouldn’t have bothered. But as several Smew having been reported over the last couple of days I decided that a short visit was better than nothing. On the way there a good number of Lapwings were seen near to the Leigh crossroads. A look on 28 and 28a found just the regular ducks and a Snipe that flushed as I walked along, but I had a result on 29 with three redhead Smew showing well. After watching them for a few minutes I chose to miss going to 30 so I could look in at Twitchers. ( I later found out a male was on 30!). 74 turned up my first Goldeneye and Shelduck of the year and a real bonus was a Great Black-backed Gull, a bird I somehow managed to miss in Wiltshire last year. The new pits along WIckwater Lane had four more Shelguck and the aptly named Pochard Lake had a good few Red-crested Pochard on it.
Another trip to Worthing today and another fifteen minutes birding on the pier. I am a bit restricted on these occasions as I only carry a pair of travel binoculars with me in the lorry. As on my last visit the tide was out again but this time I didn’t manage to find any Turnstones on the beach around the pier. An Oystercatcher was a new species for me here (also a year tick) as was a Great-crested Grebe on the sea. Other than these it was the standard fare of pigeons, corvids and gulls. Additional interest was provided by an older gentleman who was, barefooted and in swimming trunks, picking his way across the stones to the sea. All year swimming I do not get to be honest but all credit to him. The strange thing was that when he reached the sea he immersed himself for about thirty seconds before getting out and heading back up the beach. It seemed a lot of effort for little reward. On the way back along the coast road I came off the A27 at the Farlington junction and a slow drive back up the slip road got me three waders on the mud, Curlew, Blackwit and Redshank. Also here were many gulls and a handful of Little Egrets. Back in Swindon I stopped off a Liden Lagoon where I failed to add Goosander, Pochard or Common Gull to my list for the year. Plenty of birds around although mainly a mix of gulls and the commoner waterfowl. Singles of Cormorant and Heron were the best birds seen.
Driving back from Coventry this morning it was again frustrating (third time this month) having to pass through Stow and not being able to stop to check out the Blue Rock Thrush. After work I had another look along the B4005 Wharf Road. I found three Little Egrets feeding amongst a flock of gulls in a wet field but again no sign of any Cattle Egrets. I did notice that there were no animals in any of the roadside fields so it would be interesting to try and find where they have been moved to. I then headed for Barbury Castle where a half-hour or so at Finch Corner turned up lots of Chaffinches , Blue and Great Tits but nothing rarer. It was enjoyable watching them coming out to the feed I had put out. Only problem here is the amount of passing traffic, mainly cyclists and joggers as whenever they pass all of the birds disappear into the bushes and don’t return in numbers for a few minutes. Heading home from here I saw a flock of around a couple of hundred Lapwing lazily wheeling around over Hodson.
With the weather today being pretty rubbish I had decided to have a day catching up with stuff at home. I was in the middle of making bread when I got a Grapevine text reporting two Cattle Egrets at Heddington which is a couple of miles from Calne. It also said they had been there for a couple of weeks. However I decided to go as soon as the bread came out of the oven. This area is another that i don’t know very well, I have been to Heddington once, a few years ago for Sunday Dinner at the Ivy pub. It was a wet drive down via AVebury and the only birds of any interest seen were a dozen or so Red-legged Partridges in a field alongside the A361.Fortunately Heddington is a small place and the Egrets were seen straight away in a field of sheep behind the Ivy Pub. I watched them for a couple of minutes from the car and then moved onto the village car park. A short walk from the car got me a lot closer and again I watched them for a couple of minutes. Not long but long enough to get quite wet. They were busily feeding and took no notice of me. Annoyingly there were close and I could have got a good photo if I had a camera. A little later on I had a call from the repair people quoting over a hundred and eighty pounds for the repair of said camera. Definitely not worthwhile so maybe will be looking for a new one sometime soon. With the amount of Cattle Egrets in the country at the moment I am sure that there will be more to see locally but it was nice to get them in the book this early in the year.
I managed to sleep until eight this morning which was fairly reasonable. Having decided to stay fairly local I left home at nine heading for an area of the county that I haven’t birded before. En-route I checked out the Wide Water at Chilton Foliat. Not much here, a few Mallard, Gadwall and Coot along with a single Little Grebe. My destination was Buttermere, a small village which is pretty well the most easterly point of the county. It is also apparently, the highest village in Wiltshire. I think that it could also be the muddiest as well. The surrounding roads were plastered and the bridleway that was the start of my walk was even worse. I started with a quick look inside St James Church which is one of the smallest in the county. Heading off along the bridleway the first birds seen were a small flock of Redwings. Next were the first of many Red Kites, over the whole walk there were a dozen or more. Next a pair of Ravens flew over cronking loudly. These were closely followed by a Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard, again the first of many. The path followed the edge of the woodland which seemed almost birdless. A Nuthatch was the only bird I heard. One of the reasons I chose this area is that it is close to Combe Wood which is a known site for Hawfinch. I have visited it once and did see one, quite frustrating as the edge of the Wood is right on the county border. It is also very close to the Tripoint where Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire meet. The path took me right to the border where I turned and headed back into Wiltshire. Up to now there had been horses and cattle, from here there were sheep. Some loud calling heralded the arrival of an Unkindness of five Ravens. they were then joined by a sixth, possibly the most I have seen together locally. Also in view at the same time were four Kites and three Buzzards. Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay were heard and the bright red of a male Bullfinch caught my eye. As the path turned back toward the village four Jays flew out of a tree ahead of me. The path them passed through the grounds of Ballyach House. Passing the Stables and then the paddocks I came across a flock of Fieldfare and Starlings. The path then entered the Woods as it dropped back down to the first bridleway. From here I headed off towards Little Bedwyn and Stype Wood. I only had a short walk here but managed to find Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, two more Bullfinches and a Goldcrest. Heading back through Bedwyn and then Chisbury I arrived at Froxfield. Around the water here were Snipe, two Green Sandpipers, six Lapwing and three Little Egrets.I got the scope out to look at the Snipe and eventually, with some difficulty managed to find seventeen. Many were deep in cover and very hard to see. No Jack Snipe found though. I then moved along to the Kennet near to Knighton where the best bird was a Water Rail that flushed from the bank as I crossed the bridge. Final stop was a look over the lake at Ramsbury Manor, amongst the Canada Geese and Mallard were a few Tufties and a Black-necked Swan. Driving home cross-country I managed to add Hare to the mammal list of Roe Deer, Rabbit and Squirrel. Also seen on the drive were several more Kites and Buzzards, loads of Redwing and Fieldfare and four more Bullfinches. Bird total for the day was forty-seven. I intend to have a few more days like this, there are still many local parts of the County to be explored.