On my way home from work yesterday I had a look at Wroughton Reservoir guessing that there may be more birds here than usual as it stays clear of ice longer than other local waters. I was right as there were over eighty Tufties and more than thirty Gadwall along with Mallard, Coot, gulls and just four Little Grebe. Later on in the afternoon I took the dog for a walk at Coate Water. I was expecting most of the lake to be frozen but what was a surprise was that the water level on the main lake is very low. I assume it has been drained down for some maintenance work to be carried out. There was one good area of clear water and this had a lot of birds on it. There was a good mix of ducks, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted, Teal and Pochard. plenty of Coot, a few Moorhens on the margins, thirty-six Mute Swans, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant made up the rest. The water on both sides of the causeway was frozen apart from a small patch from which two swans were trying to climb out onto the ice from. From here I could hear but not see Teal so decided to walk along to the far hide. From here I could see that almost all of this lake was also iced over with one small open area to the left and a larger one along the far bank. The first had around fifty Coot and a few Wigeon whilst the one along the far edge was full of Teal. I estimated well in excess of three hundred.There were also a handful of Herons. Today after a bit of a lie-in and breakfast in bed the wife, myself and the dog headed off for Bradford-On-Avon for a walk along the canal. We had a quick look at the Mill Pond at Box hoping for a Dipper but with no luck. At Bradford we set off along the canal which was well frozen in places. Have to say that living on a canal boat seemed even less appealing in these conditions. As we were walking a Kingfisher came through the trees from the river and landed in a tree just across the canal giving us great views. We stopped at the Avoncliff Aqueduct to eat our lunch, it was quite noisy due to some major tracklaying work on the railway but this gave an additional point of interest. We walked all the way to the road bridge near to Freshford, admiring some lovely canalside properties on the way. Here we turned back and retraced our steps to Avoncliff where we dropped down to the riverside path before returning to Bradford. By now we were hungry so went to Poppies Tea Rooms where, as we had muddy boots, we sat outside and enjoyed a great cream tea. Then it was a quick wander around the town before walking back to the car and heading home. Other than the Kingfisher the best bird was an overflying Raven, other than that it was a mix of tits, Robins, Wrens and finches.
I have been hoping to get to the Water Park after work all week but have been finishing a little too late to make it worthwhile. With no chance of going at the weekend I was determined to make it over there this afternoon. However it was almost a quarter-past two before I finished so normally wouldn’t have bothered. But as several Smew having been reported over the last couple of days I decided that a short visit was better than nothing. On the way there a good number of Lapwings were seen near to the Leigh crossroads. A look on 28 and 28a found just the regular ducks and a Snipe that flushed as I walked along, but I had a result on 29 with three redhead Smew showing well. After watching them for a few minutes I chose to miss going to 30 so I could look in at Twitchers. ( I later found out a male was on 30!). 74 turned up my first Goldeneye and Shelduck of the year and a real bonus was a Great Black-backed Gull, a bird I somehow managed to miss in Wiltshire last year. The new pits along WIckwater Lane had four more Shelguck and the aptly named Pochard Lake had a good few Red-crested Pochard on it.
Another trip to Worthing today and another fifteen minutes birding on the pier. I am a bit restricted on these occasions as I only carry a pair of travel binoculars with me in the lorry. As on my last visit the tide was out again but this time I didn’t manage to find any Turnstones on the beach around the pier. An Oystercatcher was a new species for me here (also a year tick) as was a Great-crested Grebe on the sea. Other than these it was the standard fare of pigeons, corvids and gulls. Additional interest was provided by an older gentleman who was, barefooted and in swimming trunks, picking his way across the stones to the sea. All year swimming I do not get to be honest but all credit to him. The strange thing was that when he reached the sea he immersed himself for about thirty seconds before getting out and heading back up the beach. It seemed a lot of effort for little reward. On the way back along the coast road I came off the A27 at the Farlington junction and a slow drive back up the slip road got me three waders on the mud, Curlew, Blackwit and Redshank. Also here were many gulls and a handful of Little Egrets. Back in Swindon I stopped off a Liden Lagoon where I failed to add Goosander, Pochard or Common Gull to my list for the year. Plenty of birds around although mainly a mix of gulls and the commoner waterfowl. Singles of Cormorant and Heron were the best birds seen.
Driving back from Coventry this morning it was again frustrating (third time this month) having to pass through Stow and not being able to stop to check out the Blue Rock Thrush. After work I had another look along the B4005 Wharf Road. I found three Little Egrets feeding amongst a flock of gulls in a wet field but again no sign of any Cattle Egrets. I did notice that there were no animals in any of the roadside fields so it would be interesting to try and find where they have been moved to. I then headed for Barbury Castle where a half-hour or so at Finch Corner turned up lots of Chaffinches , Blue and Great Tits but nothing rarer. It was enjoyable watching them coming out to the feed I had put out. Only problem here is the amount of passing traffic, mainly cyclists and joggers as whenever they pass all of the birds disappear into the bushes and don’t return in numbers for a few minutes. Heading home from here I saw a flock of around a couple of hundred Lapwing lazily wheeling around over Hodson.
This afternoon I had a walk along the railway path to Chiseldon Firs, then through Lower Upham to the Ridgeway, along to Liddington Castle and home. Overall it was pretty poor for birds with many parts of the route almost birdless apart from overflying pigeons and corvids. Highlight along the Railway Path was a group of four Bullfinches and on the higher ground a couple of Stonechats were the best. A couple of flocks of winter thrushes bumped up the quantity a bit as did fourteen Meadow Pipits on the ridge near to the Castle. Two Buzzards and a Kestrel were the only Raptors noted and no Owls were flying about. In five miles of walking over two hours of walking the species total was a paltry twenty-six.
Having been frustrated by not being able to get to the seafront at Southsea on my last two work visits I finally managed it today. I had finished my delivery before nine this morning so decided to go and see if I could stop near to the seafront. I took a chance and parked nearto the mini go;f course and walked across to the Castle. THere was a nice flock of Brent Geese on the grass and on arriving at the front the first bird I saw was a Rock Pipit. The tide was a little way out but I soon managed to find a couple of Purple Sandpipers. I wasn’t far from the Pyramid building where a Black Redstart has been seen recently but wasn’t sure that I had time to search for it. A couple of birders were walking across from the building and a quick enquiry found that they hadn’t been able to find it. So decision made I headed back to the truck and away to sample the joys of Waterlooville. Back in Swindon I drove home via the B4005 from the M4 to Wroughton were some Cattle Egrets were seen on Thursday. As was the case yesterday there was unfortunately no sign of them.
Whilst I was driving to see the Cattle Egrets today I was thinking how much birding (along with most things in life) has changed with the influence of social media. Not so many years ago the spreading of information on unusual birds was quite a slow process. Somebody saw something then when they got home or to a phonebox (remember them) the information got passed on. Sometimes it took days for things to get around. When mobiles came in things speeded up a bit but it all depended on being able to make and receive calls. I remember workplaces not being so keen on personal calls in work time. Now with Twitter, Facebook et al this information is passed around almost instantaneously. Many times it is sent out as the bird is being watched and then like sheep everyone heads off to see whatever it is. Obviously I am as guilty as the next person for this. But the question is; Is it a good thing? It certainly is if you are a lister, number collecting just got so much easier. You just look on the internet see whats around, plan a route and go see them. Surely though this has taken a lot of the enjoyment out of the hobby. Wherever you go you pretty well know what you are going to find. Going to Keyhaven tomorrow well you can see what has been around for the last few days. Not much! then have a look for somewhere that has got better birds. Want Ring-billed Gull, go to Blashford. Want Lesser Yellowlegs then Lychett Bay is the place for you and so on. Obviously birds aren’t quite the same as aircraft, they don’t have schedules or set routes and they do inconveniently do their own thing sometimes but you can see what I am getting at. The anticipation of wondering what will be seen when you go out has been replaced by the anxiety of will it still be there when I arrive? Of course you already know the answer to that as you have been checking reports on your phone throughout the journey. Then when you arrive there is often very little skill required to find the bird as you know exactly where to go from all the reports from other birders. Obviously this isn’t the way that all birders go about things but it seems to be more of the norm now. Yesterday I had a day out just going where the fancy took me. I didn’t find anything special, but saw some great birds in some lovely places and in many ways it was a lot more satisfying than a three hundred mile chase to see a Lesser Spotted Whatsit at wherever it was. That said I was quite happy, thanks to Twitter to have seen the Waxwings in Highworth last week and the Cattle Egrets today.
With the weather today being pretty rubbish I had decided to have a day catching up with stuff at home. I was in the middle of making bread when I got a Grapevine text reporting two Cattle Egrets at Heddington which is a couple of miles from Calne. It also said they had been there for a couple of weeks. However I decided to go as soon as the bread came out of the oven. This area is another that i don’t know very well, I have been to Heddington once, a few years ago for Sunday Dinner at the Ivy pub. It was a wet drive down via AVebury and the only birds of any interest seen were a dozen or so Red-legged Partridges in a field alongside the A361.Fortunately Heddington is a small place and the Egrets were seen straight away in a field of sheep behind the Ivy Pub. I watched them for a couple of minutes from the car and then moved onto the village car park. A short walk from the car got me a lot closer and again I watched them for a couple of minutes. Not long but long enough to get quite wet. They were busily feeding and took no notice of me. Annoyingly there were close and I could have got a good photo if I had a camera. A little later on I had a call from the repair people quoting over a hundred and eighty pounds for the repair of said camera. Definitely not worthwhile so maybe will be looking for a new one sometime soon. With the amount of Cattle Egrets in the country at the moment I am sure that there will be more to see locally but it was nice to get them in the book this early in the year.
I managed to sleep until eight this morning which was fairly reasonable. Having decided to stay fairly local I left home at nine heading for an area of the county that I haven’t birded before. En-route I checked out the Wide Water at Chilton Foliat. Not much here, a few Mallard, Gadwall and Coot along with a single Little Grebe. My destination was Buttermere, a small village which is pretty well the most easterly point of the county. It is also apparently, the highest village in Wiltshire. I think that it could also be the muddiest as well. The surrounding roads were plastered and the bridleway that was the start of my walk was even worse. I started with a quick look inside St James Church which is one of the smallest in the county. Heading off along the bridleway the first birds seen were a small flock of Redwings. Next were the first of many Red Kites, over the whole walk there were a dozen or more. Next a pair of Ravens flew over cronking loudly. These were closely followed by a Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard, again the first of many. The path followed the edge of the woodland which seemed almost birdless. A Nuthatch was the only bird I heard. One of the reasons I chose this area is that it is close to Combe Wood which is a known site for Hawfinch. I have visited it once and did see one, quite frustrating as the edge of the Wood is right on the county border. It is also very close to the Tripoint where Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire meet. The path took me right to the border where I turned and headed back into Wiltshire. Up to now there had been horses and cattle, from here there were sheep. Some loud calling heralded the arrival of an Unkindness of five Ravens. they were then joined by a sixth, possibly the most I have seen together locally. Also in view at the same time were four Kites and three Buzzards. Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay were heard and the bright red of a male Bullfinch caught my eye. As the path turned back toward the village four Jays flew out of a tree ahead of me. The path them passed through the grounds of Ballyach House. Passing the Stables and then the paddocks I came across a flock of Fieldfare and Starlings. The path then entered the Woods as it dropped back down to the first bridleway. From here I headed off towards Little Bedwyn and Stype Wood. I only had a short walk here but managed to find Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, two more Bullfinches and a Goldcrest. Heading back through Bedwyn and then Chisbury I arrived at Froxfield. Around the water here were Snipe, two Green Sandpipers, six Lapwing and three Little Egrets.I got the scope out to look at the Snipe and eventually, with some difficulty managed to find seventeen. Many were deep in cover and very hard to see. No Jack Snipe found though. I then moved along to the Kennet near to Knighton where the best bird was a Water Rail that flushed from the bank as I crossed the bridge. Final stop was a look over the lake at Ramsbury Manor, amongst the Canada Geese and Mallard were a few Tufties and a Black-necked Swan. Driving home cross-country I managed to add Hare to the mammal list of Roe Deer, Rabbit and Squirrel. Also seen on the drive were several more Kites and Buzzards, loads of Redwing and Fieldfare and four more Bullfinches. Bird total for the day was forty-seven. I intend to have a few more days like this, there are still many local parts of the County to be explored.
Yesterday morning saw me heading north on the Fosse Way in what didn’t appear to great conditions for seeing owls. It was either foggy or a light drizzle for most of the time. But surprisingly I managed three Tawny Owls spread between Cirencester and Wellesbourne. One was sat in a roadside tree and the other two flew across the carriageway ahead of me. I have now seen four Tawny Owls this year. Last year I saw none. This morning started well with a Roe Deer seen near to Waitrose on my way into work. Today my run was to Poole and Southsea so a cross-country route on a moonlit night was hopefully going to be productive. Wrong!!. All I saw were a few small mammals, mice or shrews and a large rat. Early morning Barn Owls seem to have disappeared recently. Heading into and out of Poole was frustrating as there are good views of the harbour but obviously of little use when it is dark. At Southsea there is nowhere for me to park so nothing there, all I managed were a group of nine Little Grebe and a few Brent Geese in the water alongside the M275. After work I needed to go into Swindon to put my camera in for repair. As I don’t like paying for parking I know a few places that I can park for an hour for free. One of these is near the Railway Village and I was parked there form half-two until just before three. When I got home I saw a Tweet reporting a couple of Waxwings in that area at three twenty-five. To be fair i was head down in a hurry but annoying all the same. Tomorrow and Thursday are my days off this week and as often seems to be the way recently these are coinciding with two days of not so good weather. My original plan for tomorrow was a trip into Gloucestershire for the Richards Pipit at Arlingham and then possibly a look-in at Slimbridge. Not sure if I will bother with that now. May just have a lie-in and then do some more local birding. Staying in bed is not always easy as the body-clock is used to sleep by eight pm and then up before three but hopefully a couple of beers, some cheese and a whisky will do the trick.