The cold east wind was barely offset by the warm sun; the track from The Sperrings to the lake thus offered a brief respite. Our walk began with a small party of House Sparrow on the roofs, with Goldfinch close by, but at the lake the sun threw such a dazzle on the water that those ducks and geese present were reduced to inky silhouettes. An obliging Redwing offered us clear views down to 10m, the eye stripe of this fine bird being particularly bright and the rufous under wing patches were simply bursting up the breast. The lake held plenty of Black-headed Gulls, some fine Mute Swans, Canada Goose, the usual duck population, a solitary Little Egret and just as we were moving from the water’s edge, a pair of Gadwalls churning across the billows. Before leaving the path a Mistle Thrush and two Song Thrushes had been seen, closely followed by more Redwings who lifted from the pasture at our approach and were kept company by several Chaffinches. A stray Grey Wagtail flew over as we made our way along the back lanes, with two Buzzards sitting atop posts and flying off as we mustered for coffee. Further along, one field held a creeping carpet of Meadow Pipits and the alders close by had Treecreeper, Long-tailed and Coal Tit. A field on the corner of the lane held two Stonechats and a different carpet, this time of feeding Black-headed Gulls who suddenly exploded into flight. A large, so probably female, Sparrowhawk circled and then flew quickly away. Following the top track back towards the Common, another field contained plenty of Redwings but we could only find two Fieldfares among them plus another good count of Chaffinches. Dropping down towards the cars a Bullfinch called from the hedge and Nuthatch from the top of the beech trees. In the hedge, try as we might, we could only locate five House Sparrows – the noise was that of 20. As we took our leave of the other 28 walkers the tally was 48 for the day. Our thanks to John for leading. Nick and Annie Hawkridge
Thirteen of us drove to Saint-Dizier in the Champagne Region of north-east France to visit the Lac du Der, noted for its large number of migratory Cranes. The lake is a flood defence and the water level can vary considerably but it was very full after recent rains. The countryside to the west is flat, chalky, intensively cultivated and not much good for wildlife but the lake is very extensive, surrounded by mixed,mainly deciduous, woodland. The woods are worked for firewood and timber, with only a few ancient trees, but it creates a varied habitat. We self-catered in the daytime with supplies from the supermarket and ate in a local restaurant in the evening. Between meals we managed a bit of birding.The Cranes didn’t disappoint. We could see small groups feeding in the fields, all around the lake and flying in larger groups overhead. Towards late afternoon/early evening thousands fly in to roost on low islands in the lake. The sight of the incoming birds is reminiscent of the winter Starling roost on the levels! During the few days of our stay large groups of Cranes, sometimes circling to gain height, were seen in flight moving further north and east with one group of about 100 birds in a perfect V-formation. Great White Egrets, a rarity here not many years ago, were very common in the fields and around the lake. Grey Herons were numerous, Little Egret almost absent – just three were seen. A lone Spoonbill was feeding in a creek, dwarfed by a nearby Great White Egret. We saw two unexpected White Storks by a small pond in a field on the way back to the hotel and the following day we saw one on a nest in nearby Eclaron. The owner of the biggest house in the village had built a nesting platform for them on the roof but the birds had ignored this and chosen to build a 1.5m stack of sticks on the adjacent chimneys. The stork was soon joined by its mate carrying nesting material and they engaged in the activities that birds do when they really love each other. The lady whose house we obstructed to look at the birds told us they are year-round residents, not migrants. Other water birds: vast numbers of Coots, Great Crested Grebes and Pochard, with a few Red-crested Pochard among the flocks. Good numbers of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Teal, Pintail, Goosander, Shoveler, Mallard, Mute and Bewick’s Swans. Geese: Greylag, White-fronted and one Bean. Two or three Black-necked and Little Grebes were tracked down, plus some Wigeon and Shelduck. Smew should have been more numerous but we did eventually locate nine birds in one small lagoon, including some attractive white males. Waders included Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Ruff with some small, distant birds that could have been Dunlin or Little Stint, a few Snipe and a Common Sandpiper. Gulls: Yellow-legged, Common, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed. Also by the lake, we found plenty of Water Pipits with some good views of obliging specimens, Kingfishers and a couple of Reed Buntings. Raptors: White-tailed Eagle (three or four), several migrating Red Kites, Common Buzzards, Peregrine (at least three), one Marsh Harrier, and a Sparrowhawk above the park in Saint-Dizier. Marsh Harriers used to breed here but were lost when agriculture intensified, and they are a rare winter visitor.The woods were full of woodpeckers: Great Spotted, Middle Spotted, Green and Black. Great and Middle Spotted are hard to distinguish by sight (I find) as the views are often fleeting. Their calls, however, are distinctive, even to the novice. Tip: take an expert with you and they will tell you what you are looking at. We heard Black Woodpeckers in several places but they were hard to see until on the last day we returned to a woodland patch for one more look and found one high up on a bare branch. It sat there long enough for us to pile out of the van to see it, hear it and take photos. Other notable woodland birds were Short-toed Treecreeper (distinguishable by its call), Hawfinch (seen but mainly heard), Marsh and Willow Tits, Nuthatch, Firecrest, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, a couple of Siskins and the expected common woodland species. The final addition for the trip was Grey Partridge in the fields by a French service station on the way back. The species tally was 92 during three and a bit days. Thanks to everyone who attended for good company and expert advice. A particular thanks to Ken and Lys for organising the trip and for their extensive recce beforehand. Alastair Fraser
Four BOC members gathered with me in the car park at Barrow Gurney reservoirs for the planned visit here. There was a threat of strong winds and rain coming in later and it was quite cold, with a southerly breeze, but dry. We proceeded to Tank Number 3, where we were able to watch a Common Sandpiper through telescopes, feeding on the concrete apron. We also saw some Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Teal, and a superb male Goldeneye. There were several Cormorants in summer plumage with the white patch on their flanks and also white on the head and necks – they looked splendid. A pair of adult Great Black-backed Gulls, and a candidate for an Adult Yellow-legged gull, were also present, along with some Little Grebes and Coots. Deciding not to walk all the way round number 3, and bearing in mind the impending weather, we moved to number 2 tank. Here it was less sheltered, with the wind a little stronger. There were some more duck here, and Cormorants. Discussion then took place on the identification of the various gulls that were roosting on the causeway between number 1 and 2 tanks, where we noted the difference between Common, Black-headed, and Lesser Black-backed gulls, mostly in winter or first winter plumage, but with at least one Black-headed Gull in its summer finery. A Raven flew over, briefly calling. We opted to take a short walk around No 1 reservoir, returning along the causeway with time (and weather) pressing. Two members opted to end their visit part way around, but the remaining members decided to press on, where there were more views and discussion relating to the gulls, and more views of Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Teal. We saw various gulls trying to rob a Dabchick of its fish every time it surfaced. A Grey Wagtail flew over. Then with light rain now falling, along with the wind not subsiding, we decided to end the visit and return to the car park and call it a day. Most of the members had not been to this site before, and planned to visit again in more favourable conditions(Many thanks to Chris for leading.) Chris Stone
Twenty people met on a bright cold morning with puddles frozen over and a brisk wind. First sighting were four/five Ravens flying over, with Pheasants dotted along the valley, and Mistle Thrush and Great and Blue Tit singing. Greenfinch and Robins were in the hedges and later Blackbirds, Chaffinch and Goldfinch were seen. Some at the back of the group had a very good view of a Sparrowhawk flying low over the fields. As we crossed the valley three Buzzards were seen and two Stonechats, followed by two Kestrels – one on a post plucking at some prey or other; a bird, a mouse? A Grey Heron also came by with its characteristic lazy flight wending its way across the valley floor. As we continued through Common Hill Wood first Goldcrest, then Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Bullfinch, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen or heard. On coming down off Walton Common we were delighted to find a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, a first for the year. Last, but by no mean least, House Sparrow were seen in the gardens just before the finish. A total of 39 species were seen or heard during this stimulating walk (Thanks to Geoff for leading). Geoff Harris.
It was a windless morning of light mistiness and thick cloud but there were 34 smiling faces to see John Prince present me with a delightful Owl trophy in commemoration of walk 1000 at Ashton Park, and of my starting the Tuesday Club way back in November 1994. Thank you, John and everyone. Today, walk number 1015, we headed to the south beach area noting a good gathering on the exposed mud of Shelduck, Redshank, Dunlin, and Ringed Plover, and then we walked along a small lane behind the village where there were Song Thrush, Wagtails, and Blue and Great Tits. After heading across some fields, to give some distance from the M4, we had a coffee break before taking the bridge over the motorway and onto the wonderful new Pilning Wetlands Nature Reserve, formally a military firing range. There, on the pools, we saw Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, more Dunlin, Shoveler, and one Little Egret before the small climb to the River Severn flood bank pathway. Between there and New Passage we saw a large flock of Teal resting on the pill and 150 Wigeon feeding on the grass. The river, an hour or so after high water, was so exceedingly calm it gave the appearance of being iced over and a passing Cormorant was mirrored as it flew under the M4 bridge. It was closely followed at a more leisurely pace by a Grey Heron. Thanks go to Nick Hawkridge for kindly noting the bird species totalling 51. (Thanks to David for leading) David Tombs