With plenty of good local sites to visit we don’t normally travel far for our birding but today we had decided to go to the Dunkerque and Calais areas. Again we set off in the dark and arrived at the docks in Dunkerque in good time. I am a fan of industrial landscapes so there was plenty for me to see and enjoy. Several areas were mentioned in our birding sites book ad we visited three of them. The main one being the canal that links the main dock area to the see where we hoped to find plenty of both divers and grebes. We didn’t getting just Great Crested and Little Grebe and no divers. There were several Red-breasted Merganser and a lot of gulls with five species seen. On one of the beaches along with some WW2 bunkers were Sanderling and Grey Plover and on the sea impressive numbers of Great crested Grebes. At the very least there were over four hundred including one raft of over a hundred birds. At the western docks we found a single Black-necked Grebe, and a good number of Curlew and Oystercatchers before, despite being alongside a public road, being moved on by the police.
Our next stop was Grand Fort-philippe where we had hoped to get some waders but found only gulls. It was then to the reserve at Platier d’Oye where again it was quiet but we did tot up thirty-eight species which included Spoonbill, several hundred Lapwing, Golden Plover, Snipe,Redshank, Cetti’s and on the sea from the beach, Common Scoter, Gannet, a couple of Red-throated Divers. Snow Bunting had been one of our target birds today but again we had no joy.
During the day we had a report of a Black Winged Kite seen in Picardie the previous day and we worked out that it had been seen fairly close to where we had been by a couple of birders that we had been speaking to at Les Renclotures. They had been parked at the other end of the site to us and we guessed had seen it on their way back to the car-park which was pretty annoying. So obviously that was where we would be heading on Friday morning.
Just home from a four night with three days of birding visit to my sister in Picardie. After the seemingly incessant rain of late we struck lucky with the weather. The extremely high pressure (a three hundred year record of 1049.7mb at Heathrow on Tuesday) giving us cold but calm days with a mix of sun, cloud and murk. Each day we set of before dawn starting with a visit to the local boulangerie to collect our breakfasts which consisted of a mix of croissants, pain au raisin and pain au chocolat. On Wednesday we started on the cliffs at Ault where we found Fulmars already preparing to nest. On the sea we counted around one hundred Red-throated Divers along with plenty of Merganser, Gannet and Common Scoter. Next was the Hable D’ault where both of the days target birds were to be looked for. These were Richard’s Pipit of which three had been reported and a single Ferruginous Duck. Despite spending a lot of time searching we didn’t find either but a Water Pipit was some consolation. It was pretty quiet here overall and we only managed twenty-nine species. You may notice in one of the pictures a number of decoy waterfowl. Almost all of the areas we visit are hunted over but the wildlife seems to be able to co-exist with the hunters. The hunters have a lot of power over local policy and often it is only the hunting that has saved the area from the developers. Obviously this is an emotive subject but maybe it is a price worth paying for them to remain intact.
With the tide well out a stop at Cap Hornu was poor for birds but I got to see a local celebrity. A Wild Boar that has made itself at home in a horse field just inland from the beach. It has been here several weeks and appears completely at ease with the many people who come to see it.
We ended the day at Les Renclotures, an area of Salt Marsh and Reed Beds situated between St Valery and Le Crotoy. Again it was pretty quiet but some good birds seen including Bearded Tit, four Marsh and one Hen Harrier, White Stork, Great White and Little Egret along with at least fifty-three Cattle Egret.
This morning I had an 09:00 finish at work for a hospital appointment. When I go to the hospital the weather was overcast and damp. When I left it was much improved so as planned I headed Park Corner Quarry near to Daglinworth in Gloucestershire to try for the Great Grey Shrike that has been there for a few days. I saw one here several years ago and could just about remember the way. I had been heading into cloud most of the way and as I turned off of the main road the heavens opened which wasn’t particularly promising. However the rain soon stopped and coming out of the woods I saw several cars parked on the verge. The sun was breaking through as I got out of the car but the Shrike was not showing. Apparently it had been before the rain arrived. Fortunately it soon reappeared, first with a fleeting glimpse as it flew across the back of the scrub before it showed well moving from bush to fence and back again. We were looking straight into the sun which made photography a bit awkward. After showing well for several minutes the bird suddenly flew up and headed off high to the south before going out of site behind the trees. The it was off to the Water Park and Lake 16 for the Black-necked Grebe which was soon found out in the middle of the lake. Distant and diving frequently but giving good views. Now being on ninety-nine species for the year I headed to Lake 44 for an easy year-tick of Red-crested Pochard bringing me up to One Hundred. Goosander was a CWP year-tick but despite locating a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits I could not find the Firecrest that has been seen around here. Heading homewardsI made a quick stop at Twitchers but there was no sign of the Marsh Harrier.
On Sunday myself Ian and Matt spent a day birding in our home county of Wiltshire. As Wiltshire being an inland county it is not one that features anywhere near the top of any birders list of places to visit. However days like this highlight that with a bit of effort a great day can be had. The day started, in the dark at around a quarter past seven with my birding partners arriving at my house during a very heavy shower. It soon passed and we headed off. First stop was the River Kennet at Chilton Foliat. En-route we had a roadside Barn Owl. The Kennet was pretty quiet with just a few common species put on the list. Froxfield was very wet so again not much seen. Some time spent in Savernake was very productive with the target species of Willow Tit seen well. Best of the rest here were Siskin and Redpoll along with a Woodcock that was Ian flushed but only Matt saw. We had hoped for Hawfinch but had no luck. A quick diversion to the edge of the Downs near to Avebury added Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Redwing, Fieldfare, Sparrowhawk and a flock of at least three hundred Golden Plover. We then started to head south and a wetland site got us another target bird, Jack Snipe along with Common Snipe, Reed Bunting and a bonus Peregrine. The plan from here was to go to Westbury sewage works for a Sibe Chiffchaff but seeing reports of a Caspian Gull alongside the A36 at East Clyffe made us change our minds. Arriving at the layby overlooking the Wylye valley we started to scan the fairly large and scattered gull flock. It was made harder by having to look through trees for many of the birds. With mainly LBB and Black-headed in the flock it reasonably easy to find three Yellow-legged but the Caspian was eluding us. Eventually Ian found what he thought was it and after a frustrating few minutes of trying to get a clear view the identity was confirmed. A nice Wiltshire tick for me. Also here were at least fifteen Little Egrets. A quick stop in the next layby which overlooks the Langford Lake reserve got us the long-staying Ruddy Shelduck. Then it was a drive along the A303 past Stonehenge to Salisbury Plain. Here we found a flock of nine Great Bustards which were a life-tick for Matt. Along one track we put up our second Peregrine of the day before we set ourselves up at a good viewpoint and started to scan. Matt soon found a hunting Short-eared Owl, the first of two seen. A Sparrowhawk shot low across the grass putting up a few small birds. Unfortunately we didn’t see a Hen Harrier which was a shame and looking on the Wiltshire sightings page we later found that we had passed within a mile of a White Stork which although one of the introduced birds would have been nice to see. Despite not going near to the Water Park we racked up a respectable day total of sixty-nine species. Just a single Coot would have got us onto seventy!
On my way home from work I stopped of by the Ridgeway near to the Wiltshire / Oxfordshire border to sit in the car eat my lunch and hopefully see a few birds. It can be a bit hit and miss in these places, one day loads of birds and the next day next to nothing. SO today it started well with a couple each of Red Kite and Buzzard along with a Kestrel. A couple of flocks of Starlings were flying in the distance. Seeing a few birds flying up and down from a puddle I parked the car and settled down to watch. Chaffinches, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings were the first birds seen. At one stage there were around twenty-five Corn Buntings scattered along the hedge. Then a couple of Reed Buntings appeared. The birds were flying between the hedgerow and a nearby weedy field with a few dropping down by the puddle to drink. Unfortunately a couple came along the Ridgeway with four dogs which caused all of the birds to fly off. I started to have a scan around whilst waiting for them to hopefully return and soon picked up a fairly large (several hundred flock of Starlings which was then joined by another. After a few minutes the small birds started to fly back into the hedgerow and I soon added House Sparrow and Great and Blue Tit to the list. Then a fifty plus flock of Linnets flew in calling loudly. Another scan of the hedge picked up a couple of Tree Sparrows, the first I have seen in this area. Some more people then came along the track and I decided that it was time to get myself off home.
For my first day of work this year the Whipsnade Black-throated Thrush was the go for bird. I had initially hoped to go on New Years Eve but it didn’t work out. A check of the local area came up with a long-staying Great Grey Shrike at Brogborough so I decided to give that a go at first light and then aim to be at the Zoo for opening time at 10:00 as betwen then and lunchtime seemed to be when the Thrush showed best. I was about fifteen minutes late leaving home and had a pretty slow journey. I haven@t had the pleasure of a Milton Keynes rush-hour for many a year. I arrived at the Shrike site all but an hour later than planned and despite constant scanning wasn’t able to find the bird. Not a great start. So off to Whipsnade and by now the traffic had eased so I made good time getting my ticket (for which I used Tesco Clubcard vouchers costing me the grand sum of £7.82) at 10:25. Then it was a quick walk to the Hullabaloo area where a small group of people had bins and cameras pointed at the birds favourite Berry Tree. A soon got onto the Thrush which was perched motionless in almost full view. When it is that easy I always have mixed feelings. That of relief but also that maybe a lifer deserves just a little more work to find. However the important thing was that the bird was there. After a couple of minutes it moved out of sight before appearing back into view allowing some good pictures to be taken. After a few minutes it flew to some bushes in a small enclosure and then just gave some obscured views before moving out of sight. I was tempted to stay longer but being happy with the views decided to head off.
I now had a choice, head back for another go at the Shrike or point the noise homewards with a stop off at Farmoor for the Scaup and Slavonian Grebe. Heart said Shrike but the head won with head west. I got to Farmoor in good time and sat in the car to eat my lunch before venturing out. A look at birdguides showed that the Shrike had been seen which was a little annoying. This was my first visit to Farmoor for quite a while, pretty sure I didn’t go at all last year. In contrast to my New Year visit to Staines this reservoir walk was going to be pretty blowy but fortunately still not cold. A circuit of the South basin F2 was my plan starting on the Causeway. Plenty of Mallard Coot and Tufties seen at the beginning with plenty of birds on the more sheltered F1. I found the Scaup, a female and a juvenile with some Tufted at the far end of the Causeway on this side and then the Slav Grebe which was in the sheltered water behind the boom in the NW corner of the larger water. Also here were a a group of eight Little Grebe. Four Goldeneye were also fairly close in at this end. Being so close allowed some reasonable pictures to be had which in the conditions I hadn’t been expecting. I spent a fair bit of time here just sitting on the low wall watching the Slav and the Little Grebes continually diving and reappearing. There were a few gulls loafing in the distance but to be honest I didn’t bother with them this time.
From here I carried on around adding a single windsurfer, Wigeon and Pochard to the list as well as Greylag and the flock of Feral Snow Geese. Mipit, Green and Great Spot Woodpeckers were heard and plenty of Pied Wagtails seen in what was a fairly low total of species noted.
Driving out of the village on my way to work at half-two this morning there was a loud bang from the side of my car. I hadn’t seen anything so turned around to see what it had been. I found a dazed Pheasant in the road that must have flown into the car. Pretty weird. No Tawny Owl again but as I was heading along the M4 towards Londona Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of me. On the return journey I stopped for my break at Chilton Foliat where a walk down to the river added Red Kite and Green Woodpecker to my Wiltshire year list.This afternoon my wife and I took the dog for a walk at Barbury Castle. It was pretty busy with a lot of hikers, dog walkers, families and toggers who were there for the Short-eared Owls. It was nice to catch up with a couple of people that I hadn’t seen for a while. We walked up to the castle and around the adjoining field seeing just a few Starlings, a Mipit and a Kestrel. On the way back a large flock of Starlings came up from the grass as a Red Kite and an SEO drifted over them. In all three Owls were seen along with a Buzzard and several corvids. Red-legged Partridge were seen in the fields and a Stonechat along the fenceline. On Wroughton airfield a Peregrine was seen and a Tawny Owl heard. All in a pretty successful day.
Yesterday afternoon I had a wander around Coate Water. It was a miserable afternoon and there weren’t a great amount of birds around. On the main lake were the usual almost a hundred Mute Swans a few Canada Geese and a smallish gull roost. The only bird of note was a smart male Goosander. Unsurprisingly with the conditions there were only a couple of small land birds heard. There was a bit more from the first hide with plenty of Blue and Great Tits along with the bird of the day a Water Rail.
This morning I left for work at 02.30. It was raining quite hard so I didn’t slow down on approaching the fence that the Tawny Owl uses. I was pretty surprised to see it sat there and as I passed it flew off. Usually it just sits there and watches as I drive by.
Finishing work before midday I headed out t to the Water Park where over visits to Twitchers a couple of smaller lakes and Eysey I managed a respectable total of fifty-five species. A couple of Great White Egrets, the same of Green Sandpiper, five Curlew and seven Snipe were the highlights with a supporting cast of a hundred plus Pintai amongst the good numbers of ducks. Also of note was a GBB Gull and just over the county border in Gloucestershire fifty-three Golden Plover.
New year was spent with the family in London so birding was going to be limited to a walk in Osterley Park and hopefully a quick look in at Staines Reservoir on the way home. First bird of the year was not the expected Parakeet but a flyover LBB seen from the sofa bed in the conservatory. I managed to get out of the house for nine o’clock and had a pleasant walk in the Park before meeting up with the rest of the gang, three of whom were running in the New Years Day Park Run.
A total of thirty-four species seen here including Green and Great Spot Woodpeckers, Jay, Nuthatch, several Parakeets and a couple of Mandarin Ducks.
I managed to get away from my Mums house at around half-two which gave me time to look in at Staines Reservoir. With no wind at all the water was like a mill pond allowing some easy birding. There weren’t that many birds on the water and I soon picked out a distant group of six Black-necked Grebes. A good scan around found several Goldeneye and single Pintail and Pochard amongst the more numerous Tufted and Shoveler. As I was scanning I just caught the splash of a diving duck. Watching the area carefully I was extremely pleased when a Long-tailed Duck popped up out from under the water. No sooner seen that it was down again and this carried out for several minutes until finally it stayed on the surface for all of around thirty seconds allowing a reasonably good view. My luck was certainly in with this one. Heading back along the Causeway I was pleased to see that four of the Grebes had moved in fairly close allowing some reasonable pictures to be taken.
It was a bit of an up and down year for me with some bouts of lack of enthusiasm costing me a few trips out and several year / life ticks.
Year totals were
All countries 259.
Of these there were 7 UK life ticks, 3 Wiltshire life ticks and 17 in all countries.
Bird of the year was the hard-earned Ptarmigan in the deep snow, high up on Ben MacDui and the best Wiltshire bird the very unexpected Shore Lark at the Water Park.
Biggest disappointment was not finding a Little Owl in Wiltshire which caused me to miss out on seeing the five mainstream Owls in the county in a single year. However this didn’t detract from my first LEO sighting in the county for many years.
As always thanks to my fellow local birders for the company, the tip-offs and the benefit of your knowledge of local sites and species.