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/ .
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.