Along with many others on waking up to a bit of a winter wonderland (unless you were out on the road) we decided to change our plans for the day. We had intended to go for an early morning walk at Greenham Common and then to head into Newbury for a cooked breakfast and a bit of christmas shopping. We ended up with a wander round Morrisons and a circuit of the lake at Coate Water. There were a few people out at Coate but not as many as I had expected. We only saw one snowman, a wasted opportunity for the local kids. When ours were young we missed a chance to get out in the snow. The corner by the cafe (which was closed as usual when the weather is inclement, not much commitment by whoever runs it.) had a few people feeding the birds and there was a frenzy of Coot, Mallard and BH Gulls along with a hundred or so Feral Pigeons on the path. Of more interest were a group of Tufted Duck that were constantly diving. One 2W Common Gull was associating with them, maybe hoping to snatch an easy meal. Just before the causeway between the lakes a Kingfisher flashed past and on the partially frozen reserve lake was a large flock of Canada Geese. Carrying on a around the main lake we ventured out onto one of the fishing stands. From here I counted fifty-one Mute Swans and three Goosander, two male and one female. Also seen were a few large gulls and half-a-dozen Wigeon. Along the Hodson Road path along with a small flock of Great and Blue Tits was a single Goldcrest. That was about it for here. Back at home was the usual noisy flock of House Sparrows and a small charm of Goldfinches.
On Thursday Ian and Matt were heading out for a days birding but unfortunately I had a hospital appointment in the afternoon. However on Tuesday the hospital rearranged my appointment and I managed to book the day off work so was all set for my second birding trip in eight days. Thursday morning arrived along with the rain and wind but at least with a nice late 06.15 I got a good nights sleep. First stop was to be Chard reservoir, a new site for us all with a Red-necked Grebe the target bird. When we got there it was still raining hard and we prepared ourselves for a soaking. However on arriving at the Fishermans car park at the north end of the reservoir we were delighted to find the Grebe showing well just a hundred yards or so away. All we had to do was to open the car windows and enjoy watching the bird from the comfort of the car. A great start to the day a site that would have justified more time if the conditions had been better. A few birds were noted on the cross-country drive to Ashcott Corner on the Somerset Levels to get the list ticking over. Crossing Greylake there were large flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Starlings to be seen. Matt got a glimpse of a Kingfisher and the first of several Great White Egrets was seen. Arriving at Ashcott the weather which had started to improve turned wet again with the arrival of heavy drizzle. Gearing up in wet gear and wellies we set off along the South Drain towards Noahs Hide. The target bird here was a Ring-necked Duck which we knew would be hard to find amongst the many hundreds of wildfowl on the lake. Fortunately the majority were Wigeon giving us a better chance of finding the RND. Despite searching for the best part of an hour it couldn’t be found. With the sun now out and once we had enough of the loud whistling noise caused by the wind blowing through the hide and the group of, in age at least mature birders, who seemed to be competing to see who could make the most noise we left the hide and continued west along the reserve hoping to find three Whooper Swans that were supposedly around. After braving the wind along the drain it was a relief to turn onto the sheltered path that led to the Decoy Hide. Along here we were surprised to find a Damselfly and a Butterfly, obviously the small amount of heat generated by the December Sun. This was new territory for us and after a fair walk we finally saw the hide. It appeared to still be a way away so after checking out some more Tufted Ducks we decided not to carry on and to retrace our steps back to the car. Just before rejoining the South Drain we saw a Kingfisher and a Ringtail Hen Harrier. From here our next stop was to be Chew Valley Lake. We drove out over Tealham Moor and inevitably when Matt checked RBA the RND had been reported as being seen from the Decoy Hide about half-an-hour after we had been in the area. It was decided not to return and within the hour we were at Chew Valley. Conscious of the short time we had available a whistlestop tour of the Lake got us, amongst others, Blackwit, Little Stint, Water Rail, GBB Gull, Goosander, Goldeneye, Pintail, Shelduck and Several more GW Egrets. The main target bird here was Long-tailed Duck which we weren’t able to find. As is usually the way, today, some good pictures of it from yesterday were posted as were some of the RND. Final stop was to be Blagdon Lake, another new site for me where we had more luck with Ian soon finding the male Scaup. Almost of interest here was a very pale Buzzard a picture of which can be found here; http://www.blagdonlakebirds.com/. That was it for the day, Ian pointed the car in the direction of home via Bristol and another great day of birding was over with around seventy-five species noted.
Ian and I had a day of birding marked on the calendar for Thursday with a lets see what’s about sort of plan. A flock of Parrot Crossbills in Berkshire was the obvious choice so 07.00 on a bright crisp morning found me yet again heading east on the M4. This time I had the pleasure of being in the left-hand seat. With plenty of Red Kites seen along the way and with managing to avoid heavy traffic the Sat-Nav got us to the Kings Ride in Camberley in good time. Not as grand as it sounds this leads onto a lovely area of heathland on the Berkshire / Surrey border. Being next to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there was the almost constant sound of gunfire. Along with the many aircraft overhead and the distant drone of traffic it wasn’t the most peaceful of sites. Using directions from the Berkshire birds site www.berksbirds.co.uk we headed of onto the heath. As we hesitated at a crossway a couple of local dog-walkers who had somehow worked out where were headed pointed us in the right direction. We soon arrived at the small group of Scots Pines that the Parrot Crossbills have been favouring to be told by other birders that the flock was in the area. It wasn’t long the distinct calls heralded the arrival of the flock. The birds split up, disappearing deep into three of the pines before eventually, briefly coming into view, perched high up in view against the clear blue sky. In the sunshine the bright orange / red males were striking and obvious, the females a little harder to see, sometimes a branch jumping about deep in the tree was the only indication the birds were there. When a bird did decide to stay in full view for a while showing off the massive beak and solid build. It was easy to see the cones being ripped open by the powerful beak and on occasions a whole cone was removed from the tree and the bird stripped it whilst holding it in its claw. Eventually the whole flock, almost as one flew up and headed off to the east, we counted twenty birds so it may be that there were three or four Common Crossbills amongst the Parrots. It was now time to try and find a Dartford Warbler which had already been heard. After a few minutes of following small tracks through the Heather and Gorse we managed a couple of Stonechats, some Wrens and finally a brief glimpse of a Dartford. We then disturbed two Roe Deer before getting a better but still brief flight view of low flying Dartford. Agreeing it was time to head back to the car we had views of Jay and Great Spot Woodpecker. An appearing out of nowhere flock of birds were quickly identified by Ian as Woodlark, we counted eighteen in all, a real bonus. A celebratory sausage sandwich and hot drink were next. These were had at the excellent cafe at Blackbushe Airport were we both enjoyed some time watching planes. Next stop was a small; wooded area at Hartley Wintney where Hawfinch had been seen the previous day. A short walk got us Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and frustratingly a heard only Hawfinch. With no other obvious local sites to visit we agreed that heading to Old Sarum on the outskirts of Salisbury and then onto Salisbury Plain would be a good plan. There were a good number of Gulls at Old Sarum and getting out of the car we started to scan, Starting from the left the third gull in was a smart adult Yellow-legged, Ian who had started from the right quickly got on it and then soon found another. Both gave good views. Further scanning found one more. Apart from four species of gull we also had Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Starling and Mallard here. We then headed to the Plain accessing it from Netheravon. A few Fieldfare were on the airfield and a small group of small birds that flew up from the roadside were Chaffinches with a single Brambling amongst them. Weather Hill Firs was our first stop with Brambling being our hoped for bird. Coal Tit and Siskin were heard as we got out of the car. Wandering into the trees we soon found a small flock of birds dropping down to the ground, moving closer we managed to pick out a few Brambling amongst the Chaffinches. Then a Sparrowhawk shot through sending all the small birds into the hedgerow. After watching for a few more minutes it was time to move on. With the car not being ideal for many of the tracks on the east side we drove over to Upavon from where we would access the central perimeter road at Casterley Vedette. As we drove up the lane a large flock of pigeons took to the air, typically there was a car behind us so we couldn’t stop. Once we were able to let the other car passed we stopped and were lucky enough to pick up a Ringtail Hen Harrier low over the fields. We watched it until it dropped out of sight over the ridge. We then drove west along to the track and as we were heading into the sun viewing was quite difficult. So at Redhorn we turned and retraced our path. Not much seen, mainly Starlings with a lot of small flock presumably heading to roost, also a couple o Kestrels and Corn Buntings. By now the light was fading fast so it was time to head for home. Despite driving the lanes and a look in at Barbury Castle no Owls were seen. We ended the day with around fifty species which included one lifer, one UK year tick and two Wiltshire Year ticks. Thanks as usual to Ian for chauffeuring me around.
An American Horned Lark was found at Staines Reservoir last Friday and being unable to visit at the weekend I kept my fingers crossed that it would hang around for a few days as a visit to my Mums was planned for Tuesday afternoon / Wednesday. Fortunately I had finished work in good time and 13.00 saw me heading east on the M4. On arrival I was lucky enough to park in the layby by the gate at the western end, I hadn’t fancied leaving the car on the verge and don’t like leaving a loaded car at the less than salubrious car park at the eastern end. A quick walk up the slope found several birders strung out along the fence scoping the western bank of the North Basin. The Lark was apparently a fair distance away feeding in the vegetation. Despite several people calling out markers as to its location I couldn’t find it. Fortunately I was able to use another birders scope, this at least got me a sighting but still no real clue as to where the bird was. Moving along a few yards I had another try and eventually found it for myself It being an occasional glimpse of a head popping up from the grass. After a few more minutes it showed itself properly, emerging for a short time onto a bare patch of moss. The light was good so despite the distance the mainly white head markings were obvious. A shame it was so distant but was still worth the time spent. When it disappeared back into cover I had a wander along the causeway to check out the rest of the reservoir. Plenty of ducks were seen but I wasn’t able to get onto a Black-necked Grebe. With the temperature dropping and the light fading I decided to call it a day and to head off ahead of the inevitable heavy traffic. In the end I was lucky as the bird hasn’t been seen since.
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
A day off today and on waking was undecided over where to go for a morning bird walk. My choice was between a walk from Axford up to the north-side of Savernake or the Water Park. My decision was made by the fact that I was running a little later than intended so I took the least traffic option which was to head south for Axford. Taking the back roads I spent a good part of the drive avoiding jaywalking Pheasants and stopping to check covey of Partridges in the fields, alas no Greys. At Axford I managed to park directly opposite the footpath and was soon heading for the river bridge. Straight away I was into the birds with Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches and a Blackbird along the path. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling and whilst looking for it I noticed a small flock of birds land in an Alder by the river. a quick look confirmed my thought that they would be Siskins. I watched them for a few minutes, checking carefully for Redpolls. None were found but there were a few Goldfinches amongst them. In all I reckon there were almost fifty birds in the two Alders. Every now and then the birds would as one fly, do a circuit and return. Following them on one of these flights I noticed a lone bird perched atop another tree. Getting the bins on it I was amazed to realise that it was a Hawfinch, a totally unexpected bonus. It stayed for just under a minute before flying across the river and out of sight. A star bird and a long awaited Wiltshire tick, my third of the year, not bad considering the small amount of birding I have done. For a brief moment I considered calling it a day as topping a Hawfinch was unlikely. However I carried on and soon added Goldcrest, Treecreeper and two Great Spots to the list. Moving on a Nuthatch was heard and then seen along with a couple of Redwing. Ascending to the edge of the trees a couple of Jays flew by calling loudly. Three Red Kites and a Buzzard were overhead. In Savernake there had been a large amount of tree felling and there were few birds around. Wrens were heard but not seen in the undergrowth and a couple of Robins were about. I completed a circuit and was heading back to the northern edge of the wood when a good sized flock of mainly Coal Tits appeared. As is often the case they were high up in the trees and I soon got a sore neck while watching them. The day just kept on giving as alerted by some calls I got onto a group of around a dozen Crossbills as they flew over and out of view. Then I heard the distinctive call of Bullfinch and found a lovely male. I wasn’t so lucky on hearing a Willow Tit as despite several minutes of looking it couldn’t be found. Time was moving on and I needed to be heading back to the car. On the walk back I added Raven and then along the river, Heron, Little Grebe and Grey Wagtail to bring the day total up to thirty-six. Not a great quantity but the quality was outstanding.
After several months with very little birding done a report of a Rock Thrush near to Abergavenny piqued my interest. It was reported on Thursday evening and I decided that if my work schedule was kind, and that it had stayed overnight I would head for the hills. I finished work at around 12.00 and it hadn’t been reported so a little disappointed i headed for home. Whilst eating my lunch I checked on Twitter and saw that it was indeed still around. A quick exit from the house saw me, at a bit past one heading west on the M4 hoping that I would be ahead of the inevitable Friday traffic chaos. Normally when I go to this area I route myself via Gloucester and the Forest of Dean to avoid paying for the Severn Crossing. Time did not allow for this luxury so I soon found myself paying out £6.50 for the privilege of entering Wales. I knew the area the Thrush was in from previous trips to Blorenge for Red Grouse so had no problem finding it. On arrival I managed to find a parking place and after getting my coat and scope heading off in the wind and light drizzle for the quarry. I soon found the right place and joined the row of birders already there. I found myself next to David another Wiltshire birder and was soon onto the bird. Despite the conditions it was showing well, managing to find some sheltered spots. I stayed for about half-an-hour, ever conscious of the time and the traffic on the return journey, knowing that I would receive a frosty reception from my wife if she got home from work before I was back. Fortunately the motorway was kind to me and I made it with ease in less than four hours for the whole trip. The following day I was going walking and decided to go from Hackpen Hill to Fyfield Down. For a change I took the binoculars and was rewarded with 30 species including Tree Sparrow, Golden Plover and Grey Partridge. My next opportunity to get out was on Sunday morning and I decided to head to the Shorncote area of the Water Park. I was really disappointed to find the area was quite neglected with poor views from the hides. The only plus was that the paths had been improved. However I understand from Ben at the Water Park that all being well things may well be improving in the not too distant future. Good news as this could be a great birding area. While I was in the hide I heard that a Ring-necked Duck had been found on Lake 74. This would be a Wiltshire first for me so off I went. Meeting up with Nigel and several other locals at Twitchers we scoured the visible areas of water with no luck. Despite this three passes by a female Marsh Harrier made the visit worthwhile. Just before leaving several skeins of Geese flew in, mainly Canada and Greylag but also the now regular group of fourteen Barnacle. Inevitably within minutes of arriving home the duck was found so I decided to head back. Unfortunately it was only visible from the hide at the northern end of the lake which is a good fifteen minute fast walk from the nearest parking. Still needs must and sweating a little I arrived at the hide where I managed a brief view of it before spending a frustrating few minutes trying, at a fair distance to get good views of a constantly diving duck. Eventually it settled in one spot and although still spending a good bit of time underwater did allow reasonable views. Great Spot and Jay were both seen on the walk back to the car finishing off a good day. Maybe, just maybe i am getting back into it.
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. Then 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.