A warm sunny day greeted the 30 walkers for a gentle stroll around the reserve. The Lesser Whitethroats were singing in the bushes near the car park but remained out of sight. At the visitor centre, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, and Cetti’s Warblers were singing in the reeds. The Sand Martin box is still awaiting tenants but a Little Grebe was spotted on the pond. Making our way to the lighthouse we added Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler and a few Swallow, Swift and Sand Martin flew overhead. The hoped for Bearded Tits did not appear. At the estuary were the resident Shelduck, but a few added Curlew, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. In the reeds a brown bird rose and dropped and someone called Bittern. The very obliging bird flew another couple of times and allowed everyone a sighting. A Cuckoo could be heard in the distance and our only raptor for the day was a Buzzard. After a picnic lunch some headed to Goldcliff for the waders. Here we added Avocet, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Gadwall and Shoveler. Many of the species had young, including Pochard, Canada Geese, Shoveler, Mallard, Coot, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Coot. So we had ducklings, goslings and chicklets. We heard that ten Lapwing chicks had been fitted with radio receivers but only five were responding; someone was wading around in the lagoons trying to locate the missing ones while we were there. The weather also encouraged the butterflies and dragonflies to be on the wing. Our final bird total was 54 species but with no Bearded Tits. (Thanks to Margaret and Ray for leading the walk and to Gareth and Godfrey for helping identify the damselflies and dragonflies.) The Bulmers
Ham Wall is now one of those venues that can almost guarantee an interesting and varied day’s birding, especially in May. This spring has been topsy-turvy in many ways, but those who made the trip were not disappointed, despite some Ham Wall “regulars” being missing. Setting out along the railway path allowed us to sort out our warbler song ID, with Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s and Whitethroat all performing. We stopped to view the Great White Egret colony, visible from the path – extraordinary how quickly this has become an ordinary event! At the first viewing platform ducks and grebes were much in evidence, with the unusually large number of Pochard present this spring being particularly noticeable. One of the missing species at this stage was Hobby. Having arrived from Africa expecting a dragonfly bonanza, most of these birds had pushed on to their breeding grounds without staying long, because the mass emergence of their favourite prey had been delayed by poor weather. Moving on to the Avalon Hide, we added Reed Bunting, Marsh Harrier and Cuckoo, but only one very brief Bittern flight. There is always an element of luck in some of these sightings. On the way out we had searched hard for a reported male Garganey without success, but on the way back the bird was showing well exactly where we had been looking earlier! The return to the car park also proved eventful. First, a long Bittern flight was missed by most of the group who were all watching a Willow Warbler, but then, soon afterwards, another long flight was seen by all the group. This was followed by a Hobby close enough for everyone to see and then an obliging Kingfisher hunting in the rhyne north of the railway bridge. A special bird to finish an excellent morning in a special place and bring the species total to 51. (Many thanks to Giles for leading this joint field trip.) Giles Morris
On a fine early summer evening 23 members and guests were welcomed by Hannah Booth, the warden. The 120 hectare wood was bought by RSPB in the 1980s. Although a commercial woodland it had retained significant unmanaged areas with ancient oak (one pollarded oak is over 600 years old), hornbeam, wild cherry, and a glade of 150 year old field maple. The current strategy is to manage the habitat for Nightingale, by re-creating blocks of two to ten year old coppice, comprising 25% of the wood, and by creating pools for invertebrates as a food source. As we began our tour we heard the first of eleven Blackcap and nine Song Thrush. The evening chorus was joined by Robin, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, and then Wren and Blackbird. We inspected the coppice block that was new at last year’s visit; it had shown impressive growth and the brash hedging with bramble was impenetrable to the Muntjac deer that would destroy the new growth. A Willow Warbler sang, the only one of the visit, reflecting the low numbers this year. A Raven ‘cronked’ and further along we saw both Mistle Thrush and Great Spotted Woodpecker, two of the five species identified by sight rather than sound in the atmospheric woodland. We then heard a Marsh Tit call. Last year we had heard Nightingale on arrival in the car park, but reflecting this year’s reduced numbers (six singing males, 12 in 2017), it wasn’t until about 21:00 that one began to sing, as the Song Thrushes began to quieten. But it was worth the wait, the strong and varied song held us entranced for 40 minutes of continuous performance. We heard a second Nightingale on the way back to the car park, and also a Tawny Owl, our 21st species. Many thanks to Hannah Booth for leading the excellent tour, and to Nick Hawkridge for the list. Please see next item Gareth Roberts
As parking was at a premium we ended up by the lookout point with its view over the Cam Brook valley. We admired the cloudless sky but mourned the lack of Swift and House Martin. As the party gathered (14), we then did see House Martin – six swirling around the houses, and someone had seen a Swift over the church. The song of Blackbird was with us throughout the day, as was the ‘crack jack’ of many Jackdaw, with Robin and Wren both singing lustily around their territories. The count of singing Blackcap ran to eleven, with Chiffchaff coming in at six. After we had crossed the main road and started down the valley, one of several Chaffinch was heard singing, a Song Thrush chimed in and a Mistle Thrush flew from the grass. We could hear the distant ‘yaffling’ of a Green Woodpecker, the ‘cronk’ of Raven, and in the woods the fast call of a Coal Tit. At the lake the obligatory pair of Mallard looked to us for a hand-out and a Grey Wagtail pair made dashes across the water collecting beakfuls of flies, then posting them into yellow gapes hidden within the greenery below the red safety buoy. Up on the cycle path the first and only Great Spotted Woodpecker chipped its call from nearby trees and a Nuthatch made a brief foray across the path, but not fast enough to be missed by our attentive team. We didn’t see our first Swallow until the farm alongside the canal, which also provided another Green Woodpecker and a single Greenfinch. As the heat built up, any shade and breeze was most welcome but we needed to cross and climb the wide open, and alas, barren orchid field. We did see two Long-tailed Tit and not long before the end a Jay cackled at us. The final bird count was 36 – (an addition of Goldfinch by the cars) and thanks to David for leading. Nick Hawkridge
I joined BOC only very recently. As I live in the local area to Eastville Park and Stoke Park, I chose this walk to venture out (rather early for me on a Sunday morning!) for my very first BOC walk. I was taken aback when Richard explained we wouldn’t finish till one o’clock but had a laugh by the end because it actually finished mid-afternoon – the time had just flown by. Significant interest began right at the meeting point at Snuff Mills car park by the trees where Blue Tits and Great Tits were using the nesting boxes above. Blackcaps, Wrens, Robins and Chiffchaffs were singing as we walked towards the tunnel to cross the M32. Out of these, the Blackcaps are the birds I was not much familiar with so I decided that my challenge for the walk would be to focus on the Blackcap: to see one in real close-up and to be able to identify its song. As we arrived on the other side of the motorway at the bottom of Purdown, Greenfinches were singing; the elongated “eeeeee” feature of their song helpfully reminds us of their colour, “greeeeeeen”, and therefore their name, so makes them easy to remember. By the Duchess ponds, the Canada geese, a pair of Moorhens with their six fluffy chicks and an Orange-tip butterfly were enjoying the glorious warm, sunny weather as much as we were. The aerial interest included a Buzzard (likened by one of the group to aeroplanes circling the skies at Heathrow), a pair of Swifts and a Heron. In the area with the Dew Pond, Richard hoped to spot Whitethroats. I learnt that Blackcaps like to remain inside bushes whereas Whitethroats prefer open scrub and often perch and sing on the top of the tallest bush. And furthermore that the warblers, apart from the Blackcap and Chiffchaff, are summer visitors from the African continent – I too originally arrived here one summer as a visitor from the African continent!
Soon the group split into two which is when I learnt a key lesson that on a bird walk you can’t see it all. I thought I would press ahead with the faster birders but if only I had stayed with those ambling far behind us I could have had my first ever view in real of a Blackcap. The amblers enjoyed a close-up view as it proudly sang its heart out. Oh well … We ascended the steep slope rising up from the Dew Pond and paused at the top to take in the views of Bristol and beyond, stretching out for miles before us. Then it was on through the woods which was where the Blackcaps decided the time had come to test me out on identifying them. The foliage was too thick to see them but I think I passed the test by correctly identifying their song three times in a row so I was thoroughly pleased and it helped me get over the disappointment of the missed visual sighting earlier. Deeper into the woods, we took time patiently gazing up at the Nuthatch nest which Richard pointed out to us. Nuthatches often use woodpecker nesting holes, they reduce the size of the entrance hole with mud, he explained, and we were finally rewarded with a sighting. A Long-tailed Tit was perched on a post during our walk up to the mobile phone mast and more were flitting in the bushes. Further along, still in the scrubby approach to the mast, we heard a Whitethroat singing clearly from inside a large bush.
As we descended back down the slopes to cross the motorway, lots of Greenfinches were heard but the highlight was spotting a Bullfinch. On the last leg of our walk through Eastville Park we paused at the Tawny Owl boxes installed on the island in the lake, but there was no visible activity. I was pleased to spot my first Grey Wagtail on the muddy areas of the river bank and then the flash of brilliant blue of my first Kingfisher darting down the river.
Thanks to Richard for his knowledgeable and friendly leadership of this walk, introducing me to the fascinating and abundant wildlife of my local area and the joys of taking part in a BOC walk. Reethah Desai