The prospect of the Somerset Levels starling roost attracted 37 members to Ashcott Corner on a dry but overcast afternoon. We first walked down the track to the viewing platform at Ham Wall and soon encountered over a dozen passerines in the willows, alders and surrounding scrub including Reed Bunting and Chiffchaff. Two lucky members also had a good view of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. There was a good variety of water birds on the lagoons and islands including Pochard, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Little and Great Crested Grebe. A Great White Egret flew over the reed bed and a female Marsh Harrier was seen perched in a small willow tree. Both Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler were heard. We then walked along the Meare Heath track hopefully to view the Starling roost. At first several small flocks flew in the direction of Ham Wall and we wondered whether the roost was to relocate that evening out of our view. Suddenly the first of several enormous flocks of thousands of birds filled the sky directly in front of us and we were then treated to a spectacular display as they cascaded into the reeds. The display was enhanced by the sight of a Hen Harrier in the middle of one of the flocks.
At least 23 members appeared in the car park (or later!). As we assembled a Peregrine rushed over us all, heading for a large flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover. We were soon on our way to the Holden Tower, some stopping at hides en route. It took some time to sift through all the birds on view of geese, ducks and waders.Some White-fronted Geese were ‘hiding’ amongst a Greylag flock. Canada Geese and Bewick’s Swans were scattered over the Tack Piece with a mix of Shelduck, Mallard, Pintail, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler, as well as about 50 Black-tailed Godwits, a mass of Dunlins, Lapwing and Golden Plover. A few Ruff and Redshank were also spotted. Eagle eyes picked out some Skylarks and Linnet. Two Peregrines were finishing off some prey out on the edge of the Dumbles where there was the usual flock of Barnacle Geese (and more Canadas) as well as more Dunlins and Golden Plovers. The waders and ducks were frequently rushing about in flocks – no doubt flushed by the Peregrines. Buzzards were about too but sitting quietly and giving good views. As we walked to the other hides the usual tits etc., were noted and also Snipe, Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Little and Great Crested Grebe and a full winged Manadarin Duck! (Sadly no Bittern.) In all 61 species were seen during a splendid morning’s walk in fine weather.
The benign forecast swelled our numbers this week to 27 who all made the climb out of the White Horse car park towards Winterbourne. Jackdaws aplenty along this stretch of road, and on the Whiteshill cricket pavilion. We struck across country at Pye Corner where one keen eye spotted a circling Sparrowhawk, at a height over the distant tree line. Along a short stretch of road we also had a handful of Robins singing their hearts out to proclaim and define their winter territories. Woodpigeon was the most common species among the Alms-houses and Bungalows and the allotments proved uninspiring. Where were all the birds? Our stop for coffee and entertainment improved the tally with Carrion Crow, Pied Wagtail, Greenfinches, and then Goldfinches. From the back of the school we crossed into the Bradley Brook Nature Reserve on whose border a small flock of migrating Skylarks were mixing and matching with some family groups of Swallows. Late-departing House Martins followed them closely, all on the same heading – South East. The local power lines proved irresistible to a parcel of Linnets, gathering and re-gathering in a noisy twitter of pink blushed colouring. The Monks Pool Reserve, fascinating remnants of Middle Ages fish farming, showed evidence of recent use by the trails through the duckweed, but no live waterfowl! Back towards home, through the 13th/14th century churchyard and past the Tithe barn heading towards the rail track where Kestrel appeared over the graveyard and Pied Wagtail on the barn. The footbridge by Brooks farm had the final birds of the day with Grey Wagtail beneath the bridge and a pair of Buzzards circling above. A total of 29, which is pretty good for this time of year. Thanks to David for leading (and entertaining!) us on this interesting walk.
Nick and Annie Hawkridge
A very wet morning, but ten of us walked up the path to the top of the Down enjoying Ravens and Jackdaws performing aerial acrobatics and a distant Peregrine. Then a male Kestrel flew over.The mud flats held a Little Egret, a Grey Heron, a Cormorant, lots of Shelducks and a few Mallards and Teal. A couple of Curlews and Oystercatchers were also seen. In spite of the steady drizzle the Wheatears and Stonechats (at least two of each), were giving good views and we heard Chiff-Chaff ‘wheeting’ and Blackcap ‘tacking’. We stopped to admire Centaury and Yellow Wort in flower and there were Goldfinches, Linnets, Swallows and House Martins about as well as Long-tailed Tits. A bright yellowish-warbler seen by some of the party could have been a Wood Warbler or a young Willow Warbler. Everyone’s bins were very steamed up! Finally on the way back we saw a Sparrowhawk which flew off the top of the Down towards the car park.In spite of the damp, an enjoyable walk – no rarities but plenty of good birds. 35 species in all.
Sue & John Prince
Nine members met with Jane, our leader for the day, at Ferrybridge car park at 9.30 on a very blustery day with lots of white horses out to sea. High tide coincided with our arrival and the only birds to be seen were a juvenile Herring Gull, a Black-headed Gull and a diminutive wader which appeared to walk under the BHG; it was of course a Little Stint. Jane briefly outlined the plan for the day and we were off to Portland Bill. Sheltering behind the Obelisk we sea-watched for the best part of an hour. A steady straggle of Gannets was flying down channel into the wind. Two Balearic Shearwaters were picked up but it was doubtful if we all saw both in the rough seas. Otherwise a single auk, various gulls, and some Shags and Cormorants was a poor total for an hour’s watching. We walked along the East Cliff seeing Rock Pipits, a lone Turnstone and several Wheatear. The short grass held small groups of finches – Green and Goldfinches, Linnets, Wagtails (Pied and/or White) Starlings and gulls. We walked up through the cabins area to look at the Obs Quarry. A very obliging Whitethroat sat up in the open but other birds were not so keen. The walk back behind the Pulpit Pub produced a Skylark and some Meadow Pipits, but it was too windy for most species to be in the open.
We drove up to Southwell to check the top fields and were initially serenaded by a noisy group of House Sparrows. Further on we saw two or three Kestrels desperately trying to hover in the little shelter provided by the 8 stunted trees. The wild bird food planted area had only a few finches but the wind was exhilarating with even the resident horses seeking shelter. The pager having alerted us to two Grey Phalaropes at Chesil Cove, we managed to park and were eventually well rewarded by sightings of both birds – not at all easy in the heaving swell and broken waves. The sun was shining strongly as we sat on the seawall seats to eat our lunch and watch the Phalaropes. A lone Razorbill put in a brief appearance to join the small group of BHGs. A memorable lunch stop. Back to Ferrybridge with the tide now well out and lots of mud. Apart from 2 heavy rain showers ( the only ones of the day ) Jane was counting Ringed Plover, was it 86 or 87? Elsewhere was a Little Egret with its plumes blown all over the place, Dunlin, Turnstone, Starlings and a few gulls. In the distance the telescopes picked up Mediterranean Gull and Oystercatcher, Sandwich Terns flew over, identified by call, but otherwise it was very quiet.
We moved on to Radipole RSPB Centre for news of birds in and around Weymouth. Lodmoor appeared to be devoid of birds according to the Centre’s log, so we checked the view from the Centre with 2 Little Stints, a single Snipe and Sand Martin plus the usual fresh water species including the Hooded Merganser of doubtful origin. We stopped at the Tennis Courts car park for a very obliging Arctic Tern. At the end of the day we had seen a reported 53 species between us which considering the weather was quite satisfying. Strangely we failed to see any of the reported Skuas but they will have to wait for another day. Many thank, Jane, for showing us the best of Portland.