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/ .
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.
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.
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.
One advantage of starting work in the early hours is that sometimes I am finished well before a normal persons lunchtime which at this time of year gives me a chance to enjoy a good bit of daylight. My original thought was to head over to the eastern side of the Water Park to spend some time at Lakes 132 and 125. Due to the high winds I decided against a walk at 132 but instead drove directly to 125. On arrival and as I had expected the lake looked more like the sea with the wind whipping up good sized waves and a lot of spray. All I could find were a few Coot and a couple of gulls. So what to do instead? I recalled that a couple of good gulls (Kumliens and Iceland) had been seen at a place called Yelford in Oxfordshire and knowing that it was to the west of the county decided that was the place to go. Although close to Brize Norton which I know this was a new area for me. The area is pretty flat interlaced with drainage ditches running through large fields many of which were waterlogged. Substantial hedgerow made viewing many of the fields difficult. The gulls were apparently frequenting wet fields to the west of the village and it wasn’t long before some were seen. After driving around for a few minutes I parked at the most promising looking field and settled down to see what would appear. To start there were just twenty or so gulls here, all LBB apart from a single Yellow-legged. Over the next half-hour or so many more arrived and I added Black- headed, Herring and Common to the tally. For the next couple of hours gulls came and went, many were feeding, others just sitting around and occasionally they would all fly up for no apparent reason. The wind seemed to be keeping most other birds away although several pairs of Collared Doves flew low over the field heading for a nearby farm. I was quite surprised at the amount of other birders around, at one point there were seven cars parked up. I spoke to a couple of locals who had regularly seen the gulls and heard that they had been seen during the morning. I had decided to leave at around a quarter to three but kept doing the five more minutes thing. However at about ten past three all of the gulls moved off. It was disappointing not to have seen either of the birds but I had had an enjoyable time. Still can’t see myself becoming a gull aficionado though.
Yesterday at work I had a site first of a Grey Wagtail wandering around in the vehicle wash area. On my way home I stopped off at Wroughton Reservoir which in poor conditions was pretty quiet with just six species seen. Barbury Castle wasn’t much better with another eleven species seen. This included a small flock of Corn Buntings around thirty Linnets and four Bullfinches. Today, in the vain hope that the wind had blown something good in I had a walk at Coate. Apart from one minor rarity, a male Red Crested Pochard it was down to the regulars to provide interest. Six male Goosander were the best on the Lake and at the busy feeders at the first hide were, Nuthatch, GS Woodpecker, a couple of Coal Tits and a high speed pass by a Sparrowhawk. Roll on my day off on Friday.