Hoping to beat the rain first thing yesterday morning I headed out to Barbury Castle to have another look for the Snow Bunting along the Ridgeway. Just before I arrived the rain started so I decided to abort the walk, I just didn’t fancy another windswept soak. Must be getting softer with ageing. So this morning a first- light look out of the bedroom window confirmed that, as forecast it was clear skies and soon to be some sunshine. I got up and headed out noting that although clear it was still rather windy. Arriving the racecourse end of Barbury I realised that I had left my big coat at home, fortunately I keep an assortment of clothes in the car so was still able to dress suitably for the conditions. Heading east along the Ridgeway I soon encountered birds which to be honest was unexpected considering the strong biting wind. A large flock of corvids was in the field to the south of the path and several of the small trees contained good numbers of small birds. A scan with the scope found Yellowhammer, Linnet, Chaffinch and Corn Bunting. There being at least a hundred of the latter. As I moved towards them they took to the air and flew off towards the Castle. Skylarks were singing and a small flock of Stock Doves were feeding alongside the path. Another large flock of small birds flew up from the stubble field and alighted in the trees behind me. A good look and they all appeared to be Linnets, around three hundred was my estimate. They took to the air again heading back to the field. A cat and mouse game then started as I tried to get close without putting them up. They were hard to find in the stubble and were very flighty but eventually they settle onto a field of grass where I was able to confirm that they were all Linnets. Another scan of the stubble a bit further along found another mixed flock, mainly Yellowhammer and Chaffinch with a few Corn Buntings interspersed, eventually despite cold fingers and watering eyes I picked out a Snow Bunting. Frustratingly it kept disappearing amongst the stubble but I got reasonable views before the scattered flock took to the air when I got a good flash of white before it went from view. The flock flew away of the ridge of the hill so happy and cold I walked back to the car, it was a lot pleasanter with the wind behind me.
On Sunday a Snow Bunting was seen along the Ridgeway not far from Barbury Castle. As this would be a county tick for me I was keen to try to find it. As with last week a busy work schedule meant that I wasn’t able to get out there until this afternoon. The last few days have been cold, sunny and relatively calm, typically today was not so pleasant with a cold wind and some light drizzle. A birding friend was looking on Monday and had told me that the flock of finches that the bunting had been with was in a stubble field a few minutes walk from the car park at Hackpen Hill. Heading along the Ridgeway the first birds encountered were a large mixed corvid flock. A couple of Wrens were squabbling in the hedgerow and a small flock of Stock Doves flew from the stubble. With no sign of the flock I reached the end of the stubble field not that far from Barbury Castle Turning into the wind I started to retrace my steps. A cronking sound heralded the arrival of three Ravens, two of which alighted in the field for a short time before flying off. A few Skylarks also flew up but still no finches. I stopped the scan the field again finding a Hare that was hunkered down low. Something unseen startled it and as it ran off across the field it put up a flock of finches. With the light being so poor it was hard to pick out much detail but I identified Chaffinches and Linnets. Most of the flock landed back on the ground with others heading for the top of some trees. Then again they went up, this time all ending up in the trees. This was repeated a couple more times before they all headed off towards Barbury, most frustrating. There was no point chasing them so I headed back to the car. A return visit will be made. From here I visited a nearby site where I got a consolation tick of Tree Sparrow. We are very lucky to have good numbers of these in the area thanks to the hard work put in by Matt Prior and his team. Also seen were a few Greenfinches, a bird that is getting harder and harder to find nowadays. On the drive home Red Kite, Buzzard and Stonechat were added to the list for the afternoon.
With a walk with the dog planned for this morning my wife suggested that we went to Keynes Country Park and who was I to argue. When we got there the park closed sign was out so we drove to South Cerney and parked at the recreation ground. From here we walked to Shorncote and the onto the back of the Country Park. Along the stream at Shorncote were a single Chiffchaff, two and three Wrens. A Water Rail was squealing in the distance. Since I last came this way they have diverted the path so it was further than I remembered to reach Lake 31. We passed the northern end of 88 and 87. On the grass south of 88 were six geese, two each of Canada, Egyptian and Greylag. From the map I worked out that they were sitting in Wiltshire making the Egyptian a 2018 county tick. Reaching 31 I started to check out the duck flock in the vain hope that the RND had returned. As I was doing this my wife said what is that flying over? I looked up and realised that it was a Great White Egret and that it was being closely followed by a another, this is the first time that I have seen two together at CWP. We circumnavigated 31 and then headed back to Shorncote and then to the car at South Cerney. Back at Shorncote a flock of Goldfinches, five Lapwing and two Reed Buntings were added to the list. We headed home via Driffield and Harnhill where with no time to search ourselves I was hoping to find someone watchimg the Great Bustard but nobody was around.
It has been a frustrating week as I have not been finishing work until late afternoon most days which did not allow me time to get out to the Water Park to catch up with the “showing well” Ring necked Duck. Finally, today after having had good views of Dippers in Wales and also getting my first Raven of the year I finally managed to finish early. So it was straight to to Keynes Country Park to check out Lake 31. Despite a thorough check of the one hundred plus Tufties and Pochard of the RND there was no sign. A most enjoyable walk though as it brought back happy memories of many visits here with my kids when they were young. A couple of other birders had done 32 with the same result so I headed over to 29 / 30. As I got out of my car another arrived and I was extremely surprised to see that it was Lee Evans who was on the same mission as I. Together we scanned the lakes finding the Red-headed Smew and a couple of Goosander but again no sign of the target bird. Lee was going on to Shorncote for the Sibe Chiff but I decided to check out a few other lakes for the duck. After a fruitless trek around five more sites I arrived back at 31. A couple of Gloster Birders were also here and they informed me that the Chiffchaff along with its common cousins had been showing well. Obviously I had made the wrong choice. Another scan of the lake came up with nothing so it was time to head off for home. A pleasant afternoon but disappointing overall.
Today I managed to combine some birding and family time. The offer of Sunday lunch persuaded my wife and daughter that a walk along the Severn Way at Arlingham would make a good day out. Arriving at around ten we donned wellies and headed off on the Hare Walk, one of four circular trails that start and finish at the Red Lion pub http://www.redlionarlingham.co.uk/ . The wellies were certainly needed as the fields surrounding the village and the Severn Way itself were wet and muddy. Redwing, Song Thrush and Green Woodpecker were amongst the birds seen before we reached the river. A small group of birders marked the spot were the Richards Pipit was and I was soon enjoying good views of my first lifer for 2018. Daughter and Wife both ticked it as well. Also seen here were a couple of Stonechats. Then it was on with the walk stopping for an occasional scan of the gulls on the mudbanks in the river. When the tide is out it is hard to believe that the grass we were walking on can be covered in water. Other than the final field being inches deep in a mix of slurry and water the walk was very enjoyable. We arrived back at the car just in time for our one o’clock table for Sunday lunch. The pub felt really welcoming and my first chore was to choose between the four local ales on offer. Next was which to have of the three meats on offer. Myself and my daughter had beef and the wife chose pork so a bit of sharing around went on. After polishing of an excellent plate of food we still just had room for dessert, I went for the crumble which was also excellent. So yet another hostelry on my highly recommended list.
On the way home we stopped off at the excellent Gloucester services on the M5 between junctions 12 and 11A. http://www.gloucesterservices.com/ which has a really good farm shop. Being really full helped here as we managed to leave without buying anything despite the mass of tempting products.
So another day off coincided with another extremely wet day. Originally I had intended to do a bit of a road trip, possibly to Nottinghamshire for a Spotted Sandpiper. However my potential partner in crime couldn’t make it so not fancying a long drive on my own I went instead to the Water Park. As a Smew has finally turned up it was to be my main target. Arriving at first light I was pleased to find it on Lake 28 associating with a small group of Tufted Duck. Interestingly a Red-head Smew was in Oxfordshire until the 22nd and this one was first reported on the 25th. The same bird maybe. Also here were a pair of Goosander. I then walked through the old Cotswold Community site to Lake 87 but apart from a flock of Lapwing there was nothing else worth mentioning. From here I headed to Cleveland Lakes where my plan was to walk the Thames Path to the Reed hides, returning alongside Lake 68. Passage along the Thames Path involved as much wading as walking, in some places it almost breached my wellies. It was pretty quiet birdwise, the rain keeping most small birds out of sight. Kingfisher was the highlight and a Great Spot and a couple of small groups of Bullfinches being the best of the rest. A Curlew was heard but not seen. The path to the Reed hide was also submerged in places. On arrival at the main hide it was pretty quiet but soon after they started shooting, I understand in the area around 28. As the guns started mant hundreds of wildfowl took to the air, wheeling around in many large flocks. Many of them, mainly Wigeon and Teal, settled on the water in front of the hide where they swam noisily around, never completely settling. From the other hide where you look over the end of 74 there were also many hundreds of ducks. Mainly Wigeon but also over a hundred Pintail along with many Tufted, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal, Gadwall and a few Goldeneye. The walk back along the side of 68 gave smaller numbers of the same with another Woodpecker and more Bullfinches. From here I headed home with a quick stop just outside Cricklade to scan North Meadow. Four Little Egret and a few gulls and Mute Swans were all that was seen. In all I managed forty-eight species which wasn’t too shabby considering the conditions. For tomorrow a trip into Gloucestershire to look for the Richards Pipit is planned.
After work I headed off for my first visit of the year to the Water Park. Just had a short walk at Cleveland Lakes and a few minutes at Twitchers. Other than around 400 Lapwing the Cleveland area was pretty quiet with very few birds on the water and other than a couple of heard only Cetti’s even fewer on the land. A bit more going on at Twitchers with good numbers of Wigeon and Teal, a flock of sixty-eight Pochard and eight Goldeneye.
This afternoon I went for a walk from Folly Farm up to the Ridgeway. Other than a few corvids, Wood Pigeon and a flock of Starlings the first part of the walk was totally devoid of birds. Climbing up towards the Ridgeway I finally started to find some avian interest. A long hedgerow provided Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Blackbird and Bullfinch. Cresting a small rise I disturbed some game birds with several each of Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge flying noisily away. I also disturbed two Roe Deer. A little further on some more Partridge but this time they were Greys. Joining the track that climbs up from Lower Upham I came across a good-sized mixed flock of Great Tits, Chaffinch and Yellowhammer. Joining the Ridgeway Blue Tit and Grey Squirrel were added. As I descended back down the hill the number of birds dropped back down to almost zero with a couple of Dunnock and Wren in the hedge and a single Red Kite seen back near the farm. Twenty-one species were noted in all.
Yesterday myself and Ian spent the day at Portland and Weymouth. At 05.30 in a cold and murky Wiltshire it was hard to believe that the forecast of a fine sunny day with moderate winds could be right. We arrived at Sandsfoot Castle just before sunrise and conditions were indeed looking good. With the harbour to the lee side of the island the water was like a mirror and birds were easy to find. Shag, Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser and various gulls were soon found quickly followed by Great Crested, and Black-necked Grebe, three of the latter being seen. A check of the Fleet from the bridge and the visitor centre got us our first Great Northern Diver. The tide was right out but there were very few waders. After easily finding the Black Redstart at Chesil Cove a Sausage Bap fortified us for the rest of the morning. Portland Castle next where we found nine more BNG and two more GND. Then the Obs where after a quick chat with Martin Cade we wandered down to the Bill. Here the wind was stronger and the sea rougher with the occasional burst of spray almost reaching us. Eight Purple Sandpipers were on the Pulpit Rock and out to sea were fair numbers of Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills along with Gannets, Fulmars, Cormorants and Shag. After seawatching for a while we moved on soon finding some more Purple Sandpipers and a handful of Turnstone. There was a large flock of gulls noisily feeding offshore and a thorough check found single Little and Iceland amongst them. Back to the Obs and no sign of the Little Owl in the quarry and Firecrest was heard but not seen in the garden. A Peacock butterfly was an unexpected January sighting. Church Ope Cove next to Pennsylvania Castle (a new site for me) was next where we soon found the Long-tailed Tit flock which had Goldcrest, Firecrest and best of all Yellow-browed Warbler tagging along. It was hard on the neck finding them in the top of the trees but a good result. Then it was off island to Radipole where a Water Rail showed well. Several Med gulls were loafing around as were many Snipe. A few Cetti’s were heard but the Hooded Merganser wasn’t found. Preston beach to check out the bay was next were after some long-distance scanning a Slavonian Grebe was found along with another GND. Our target bird here was Red-necked Grebe which Ian eventually found completing the full set of Grebes in a day, a first for me. It was spending a lot of time underwater but did give good views. Final stop was Lodmoor. Having dispensed with jackets in the pleasant sunshine with sunset rapidly approaching they were back on as the afternoon got noticeably colder. Lodmoor as usual didn’t disappoint with Little Stint, Ruff, Kingfisher and Marsh Harrier seen along with many more Snipe. Disappointingly we didn’t find the hoped for Scaup and Water Pipit. Darkness was fast approaching as we left for home with a day total of eighty-four species with a good twenty-eight added to the year-list.
For the first time this year I managed to get out to do some proper birding. After my 09.00 appointment at the hospital I headed of to Gloucester for my first try for the Plock Court Penduline Tit. Pulling into the car park I could see four people watching the reedbed. Quickly changing into wellies I headed over and within a couple of minutes had great views of the bird feeding on the Bullrushes. Also seen was a male Stonechat. I stayed for around fifteen minutes and was joined by fellow Swindon birder Jon who was stopping in on his way to Slimbridge. My initial plan was to see how long it took to see the Penduline and then decide whether to go onto Slimbridge or to head back home via the Water Park. Having seen the bird straightaway I had plenty of time for Slimbridge. I had tweeted the sighting and got a call from Ian who was doing the same places but in reverse order. He was soon leaving Slimbridge and informed me that there was a Whooper Swan on Court Lake Frampton. Being just off route I popped in there on the way. There were several Swans on the lake but all but one were soon confirmed to be Mutes. The one which I hoped was the Whooper was asleep with its head buried into its back. So it was a waiting game to see if it would oblige me and wake up. Whilst waiting I had an interesting chat with the local Mole catcher who was setting traps in the field alongside the lake, something I have heard about but not previously seen. Eventually the Swam woke and I confirmed that it was the Whooper. Ian timed it better than me, he arrived just as the bird started to swim again. Having been single-mindedly looking for the swan I missed out on a Kingfisher and female Blackcap but did get my first Little Egret of the year. Arriving at Slimbridge I started at the Rushy Hide where the best bird was a Spotted Redshank roosting amongst a group of Redshank and Ruff. The Little Stints that had been here earlier had gone but while searching for them I picked out a couple of Snipe. Moving on to the Holden Tower I managed five species of geese including the long-staying Red-breasted which was feeding with the Barnacle Geese on the Dumbles. Spectacular numbers of birds here with amongst others many hundreds of Wigeon, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Needing to be home in good time I didn’t go to any other hides leaving with around forty species in the notebook.