The ancient woodland of the Forest of Dean made a welcome start to March as 22 BOC members joined a walk with chair Ed Drewitt, starting off around the RSPB’s Nagshead reserve. Blackbirds were all over the woodland, scattering as we approached them along the footpaths – many were probably migrants getting ready for their journeys northeast back to Scandinavia. The songs of Coal Tits, Blue Tits, and Great Tits rang throughout the woods, while the drumming call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker entertained us all. Nuthatches, with their Morse-code style calls were relatively easily to find, while the mouse-like Treecreeper took a little more time, but was spotted nonetheless. Siskins were often evident, especially close to the car park where some were in the trees, and others were chasing each other and singing simultaneously. After an hour and a half walk, we drove to the New Fancy Viewpoint – but the low cloud and cool temperatures made little opportunity for Goshawks to display. However, most of the group did see a very distant Goshawk, though for many it was difficult to identify as it drifted in and out of sight. Moving on to Speech House, we checked the nearby playing field for thrushes – it was busy with various Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, and at least three Mistle Thrushes. What was even more surprising was another field nearby contained more Song Thrushes than Redwings! We came to the conclusion these must have been migrants, fattening themselves up on earthworms. Two Stock Doves were perched in an oak tree, and some of the group watched a Magpie feeding on the wound of a sheep (the sheep was completely oblivious!). Back at the car park, some extra bird food laid out by some members attracted dozens of Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal, Tits, a Pied Wagtail, at least two Nuthatches, and Blackbirds. Before we moved on a Treecreeper flew into a tree nearby. Our final stop was Cannop Ponds – by now the cloud was breaking, and in glorious sunshine we enjoyed seeing over 20 Mandarin Ducks at close view. Meanwhile, the weedy lake was full of Moorhens, at least four Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks (including a hybrid), Coots, Mallards, and domestic ducks. Behind us in the Alder trees some Long-tailed Tits passed by, and some spotted a Goldcrest and a Grey Wagtail. To complete the day, a Raven flew right in front of us before coming down to the lake bank and then perching in a tree. Two others were soaring in the distance. Finishing just before 1pm, some of the group relaxed with their lunch at Cannop Ponds before visiting some other smaller sites, some spotted at least three displaying Goshawks at New Fancy View (one chasing off a pair), while others caught sight of one or two Twite at Aust on their way home. Ed Drewitt
This was a three degrees, cold and dry, easterly breeze morning walk and 18 cheery and enthusiastic members got off on a rapid ramble along the top edge of Sheepcombe Brake, picking up Chaffinch, Dunnock, Blackbird and Blue Tit on the way. Passing The Fox Inn, in the centre of Old Down, we saw a further six species, including Green Woodpecker and Robin, we then took to a steep path down though the wood, where Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin and Bullfinch were noted on the way. At Lower Hazel we saw Mallard, Buzzard and Herring Gull as we climbed up onto Stroud Common, with Alveston just across the valley. After a refreshment stop on the common we took again to Sheepcombe Brake on a different but equally steep path and then to a small road leading to Tockington. There we adding to the list a Song Thrush, Moorhen, Sparrow Hawk, Raven and Redwing, after which came the long climb back to the cars. With a reasonably good list of 32 birds plus a grey squirrel and no mud on our boots we were all as, or more, cheerful than when we started. Thanks to David Tombs for leading.
It was a glorious spring morning and 26 Tuesday walkers set off out of Bridgeyate towards Siston Common and Webbs Heath. Nine species of birds were recorded around the housing estate including Herring Gull, Collared Dove, Dunnock and Starling. As we walked along the Dramway path and down to the stream, a Bullfinch was calling from the hedgerow. A Song Thrush was singing loudly high in the trees but we could not spot him. We walked up a long hill and into Warmley forest and saw twenty Magpies sitting on the hilltop grass and we tried to decide whether it was the males or females displaying. There were magnificent old oak trees silhouetted against the bright blue sky together with alder trees which were a beautiful purple colour from bursting buds. Two Jays darted back and forth from tree to scrub while three Buzzards circled overhead. There were small groups of Long-tailed Tits flying from ash tree to ash tree accompanied by Blue Tits and Great Tits. Chaffinches, Robin, and Dunnocks were seen in the hedgerows and two House Sparrows were performing upside down together on a tree, maybe looking for insects or a complicated mating ritual! The wistful sound of a Goldcrest was heard and it was seen hopping high in an oak tree. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard drumming on opposite sides of the valley .We passed a small lake and saw a male and female Mallard Duck sitting contently on the bank in the sun. We recorded 29 species of birds. Thank you to David Body for leading this really beautiful walk through woodlands, hills, valleys and streams.
The planned walk was to watch winter thrushes and Blackcaps feasting on the masses of Sea Buckthorn berries in an area of the dunes at Berrow that gets very little attention from birdwatchers. Unfortunately, the snow fall early in the year heralded the arrival of thousands of birds, which subsequently devoured virtually every single berry. Our meeting point was the small car park along the coast road. Twelve members/non-members duly arrived 9 on a glorious spring morning, bright sunshine and crystal blue skies. However, they missed best birds which had already passed over while I was waiting for the attendees. The first was a fine Red Kite drifting northeast being mobbed by a couple of Crows, quickly followed by two Siskins and three Redpolls also heading north. These sightings buoyed my optimism for the meeting. A very pleasant walk however yielded very little. We all enjoyed excellent views of several Bullfinches and Linnets. Once on the beach, where the sea nearly looked blue, we had plenty of Sanderling and Dunlin dashing along the tide edge allowing a great comparison of these species. Two Shoveler flew past over the sea, these are unusual here. On such a lovely day, it’s sometimes just great to be outside enjoying the coastal fresh air. Thank you to all who attended and for Andrew Slade for leading.
On a chilly grey morning 22 birdwatchers met at The Perrings, Nailsea for a walk round Backwell Lake and the local countryside towards Chelvey Batch and Manor. Two Little Egrets were on the bank at the lake, one already with breeding plumes but the Goosander which are normally present during winter were absent. However, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and Gadwall were present with the usual Mallard, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Moorhens and Coot. A few Common Gulls were on the water with the Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. In the Alder trees we saw plenty of Goldfinches and two Siskins. At the bridge by the end of the lake we saw a Tree Creeper and some Redwings. Several lucky members of the group had seen Bullfinch and a female Blackcap in the trees by the AWT reserve. As we walked along Youngwood Lane we added more Redwing, a Song Thrush and Pied Wagtails in the fields with the horses. There were Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits along the hedgerows with Chaffinches, one of which was already calling in sub-song. Other highlights of the morning were a pair of Peregrines circling overhead, a Buzzard and a Kestrel hovering. Fieldfares were added to the list of winter thrushes. It was a rather muddy walk but very enjoyable. We saw the first Celandines and Violets of spring. In total 43 species of bird were seen. Thanks to John and Sue Prince for leading.
A Wild Goose Chase and Much More
A party of 17 departed Bristol in good order on the Friday morning, 13 in the minibus and four outriders travelling by car; destination – the comfortable Burleigh Hotel in Hunstanton. This was definitely a winter event with weather ranging from bracing to bleak – strong winds throughout and some brief flurries of snow on the second day. We did, fortunately, avoid rain. During the journey interesting spots from the minibus just south of Peterborough were Red Kites and our first Barn Owl. Arriving at Tottenhill Ponds early afternoon gave us three Smews and other waterfowl including a flock of Greylag Geese. From there we went to Roydon Common to enjoy good views of five Hen Harriers – four ringtails and a male. The day ended at Snettisham to see the evening spectacle of the Pink-footed Geese arriving to roost on The Wash – or so we thought. The geese had other ideas, having adopted a different roosting location. Ah well! Having settled into the Burleigh, morning walks on the beach offered some interesting birds including Fulmars and a Shag and gave an appetite for breakfast. On Saturday the main destination was the splendid RSPB Reserve at Titchwell with its well-stocked visitor centre, commodious hides and sea-viewing on the beach for the hardier. There were excellent views of Avocets and a Water Pipit amongst many others. Leaving Titchwell we visited Thornham Marshes, Burnham Overy, Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham (our one view of a White-fronted Goose), Wells Quay and Choseley Barns. We had further views of Barn Owl and Brown Hares on the way back to Hunstanton. Throughout the weekend skeins of geese were seen going to and fro but the Pink-footed Geese kept their distance, usually at a height. However, large numbers of Brent and Greylag Geese were much more approachable and on our last day we passed a grazing flock of Egyptian Geese.
Day three, Sunday, started with a visit to Cley which produced a Purple Sandpiper on one of the pools and sightings of Common Scoters and Red-throated Divers on the sea. After refreshments in the cosy Cley Visitors’ Centre we moved onto Salthouse Beach and found a flock of Snow Buntings and were struck by their effective camouflage – difficult to pick out on the shingle, having landed less than 20 yards away. Next it was the Hawk and Owl Trust’s reserve at Sculthorpe where there were several further views of a Barn Owl. We enjoyed a hide looking onto feeders which, apart from the usual visitors, attracted Marsh Tits, a Nuthatch, Bullfinches, Bramblings and a Water Rail. The last day started on Snettisham Beach in sunshine with a high tide pushing large numbers of waders in. Next was our third and final circuit of “The Wolferton Triangle” – three intersecting roads near the Sandringham estate -said to be a haunt of Golden Pheasant but we drew yet another blank*. However, a Muntjac was seen by some as compensation. Then it was on to Lynford Arboretum to see a Hawfinch, and finally to Thetford to see a Black-bellied Dipper in non-Dipper territory. This individual was a continental race vagrant, obviously an attention-seeker because not only did it pose patiently for a gaggle of snappers only 20 yards away but it had chosen to take up winter residence about 300 yards away from the headquarters of the BTO! Our final tally was 109 species.
Many thanks to Jane Cumming for her genial leadership and expert knowledge of the territory, and to drivers Alastair Fraser and Ken Carruthers.
*P.S. We discovered later that, just as they were preparing to leave for Bristol, the lucky members in the car had close views of two Golden Pheasants!
Elm Farm at Burnett, run by Philippa and John is under a stewardship scheme, so plenty of areas are left uncut and some areas are seeded for wildlife. With the rain after snow it was wet underfoot and the standing water in some fields developed quite well during our walk! Ten walkers were undeterred by the showers and pleased with our haul of 28 species. Several large flocks of mixed Fieldfare and Redwing were seen throughout but only the occasional Starling. Chaffinches were plentiful but we didn’t find any Brambling among them. We only identified one Yellowhammer for sure and some flocks of possible Linnet. A big party of Raven – some doing the tumble – came over, while another was being harassed by a Sparrowhawk who then confirmed his ID, going into a steep dive toward us, flashing across the path and away into a copse of ash trees. Down by the pond where the Owl and Kestrel boxes are, a lone Grey Heron stood – quite still – but looking very thin. Nothing else stirred although there was a hint of brown at the entrance to the Kestrel box – a nest prospector or, more likely, a foul weather refugee. The hoped for Woodcock didn’t materialise, and the Mistle Thrush was missing from his usual spot, although we did hear one singing from the woods. A Treecreeper was located and shown to most of us. Back at the farm, the feeder was playing host to many Blue and Great Tits, Gold and Green Finches and the boss of them all – House Sparrow. Thanks to Roger for leading this lovely walk and to Philippa for coming round with us and sharing her knowledge.
Thirty one people met at Portbury for one lap around the reserve on a bright and cold morning. As we started, a Grey Heron flew over and a Robin ticked from the bushes. At a bird feeder those rare birds House Sparrows shared the food with Blue and Great Tits. At the top of Wharf Lane the Little Owl showed well, eyes closed against the bright sun. From the middle hide, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and Pochard were abundant and careful scrutiny revealed three Snipe at the waters edge of the island. It is a rare day indeed, even in summer, when you can stand on the sea bank and feel comfortable. The temperature was close to freezing but a total absence of wind and bright sun made our coffee break very pleasant as we watched Redshank, Shelduck and Dunlin on the estuary mud. On our way back through the fields, Bullfinch were seen and from where our cars were parked we observed Redwing worming in the adjacent field and two Buzzard soared to complete a very satisfactory total of 43 species.
Being retired and a Tuesday birder, it’s not often that I venture forth for a grown-up day at the weekend. As Nigel Milbourne, patch specialist, was leading I made a special effort to attend. I wasn’t disappointed and am sure the others in the group weren’t either. Nigel was confident we would see 50 species during the morning’s walk. BL is a haven for Tufted Duck, Coot, Wigeon and Pochard and these were seen aplenty. The strong SW wind had cleared most of the gulls from the dam wall but we did manage to ID the 5 most common species on our trip round. Five species of Thrush were also seen – nice that Fieldfare and Redwing were in the same oak tree to allow comparison and a pair of Mistle Thrushes stood to attention on the meadow to display their chest markings. We had a detailed lesson (six scopes being utilised) on the identification of Lesser Scaup, which stayed more or less in the same area for our education – poor light levels and distance made the upper mandible ‘Black Nail tip’ hard to distinguish. (Nigel later showed us a full size reproduction to round off the class). Black-necked Grebe showed surprisingly well for such a small bird in the choppy water conditions, although its cousin the Little Grebe was far less accommodating. The Great Crested Grebes we saw had no breeding plumage head gear visible. Two pairs of Goldeneye were found but the courting display previously seen wasn’t repeated. A wisp of 40 Snipe were flushed from the lake margins with an attendant Grey Heron plus the singular sound of a female Teal making her exit. Our final species was seen from the dam end of the lake looking into Butcombe Bay, a fine pair of Goosander. Nine damp birders finished with a count of 51 species. Thanks to Nigel for leading this most enlightening morning’s birding.
28 people set off on a very calm day. It was a shame that it was a low tide with no hope of seeing the Purple Sandpipers, but at the start a Grey Wagtail was seen just over the sea wall, with Goldfinch in a nearby tree. Walking along the front to the lake we saw Mallard, four or five Pochards, female Tufted Duck and numerous Moorhen and Mute Swan. Pied Wagtails milled about on the edge of the lake and on the shore Meadow Pipits were swirling around and two Linnets and a Curlew were spotted on the mud. We made a quick stop at Battery Point and then on through East Wood which was very quiet with only the occasional Blue and Great Tit, although some of the group at the rear saw Long-tailed Tit as well.
At Portishead Pier we all had very good views of the male Black Redstart, which was a first sighting for at least five people. There was a large flock of at least 400/500 Dunlins together with Redshank and Shelduck scattered on the mud. We made our way along the dock side to the swimming pool, where Goldcrest were seen flitting from tree to tree, and then back to the coast and along to the Sailing Club where six Turnstones were very busy feeding on the seaweed. A total of 34 species seen.