It was a bright, sunny morning with a fresh south-westerly breeze and a rising tide as Paul Gregory led a group of five out past the cliffs of Uphill onto the Bleadon Levels. The many singing hedgerow birds included plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, probably newly arrived. Out on the marsh, Shelduck and Redshanks were the most numerous species. We noted some Little Egrets (at least five at high tide) and compared leg colour and mantle differences on the larger gulls. As we strolled on to the Weston Sewage Works area we started collecting in the freshwater birds – a Dabchick here, Coots there, and in the end five more ducks including a smart male Shoveler and some lingering Tufted Ducks. Shorebirds were harder to come by, just a couple of Oystercatchers but no sign of the smaller waders we expected. We did have a fly-by Peregrine and a Kestrel, nice views of singing Willow Warblers, Reed Buntings, and a Green Woodpecker flying off. Skylarks added their voices to the chorus, and we were pleased to see a few Swallows which only started arriving in numbers this week. The geography is very interesting around here with Crook Peak behind us and Brean Down in front. We could also see Brent Knoll to the south and the Brecon Beacons stretching away in the distance in glorious sunshine. Thanks very much to Paul for his leadership and a total of 42 species on my list – and I probably missed a couple. This is an area well worth further visits. Jane Cumming
The morning started misty but by the time we were leaving the car park – in a part of Eastville Park unfamiliar to many, the sky was beginning to break up. Almost immediately we spotted an occupied Carrion Crow nest which, as it turned out, was the first of several. We headed down through the park towards the River Frome accompanied by the sound of a Chiffchaff and a Song Thrush melodiously serenading from the top of a tree. The river brought us a Grey Wagtail and a group of Long-tailed Tits together with the expected river birds. The lake was relatively quiet although a Mute Swan and a Canada Goose were observed on nests on the island. The highlight of the morning, however, came shortly after the coffee break when a Kingfisher dived and caught a fish directly in front of the leading part of the group. It then conveniently flew a few yards to another twig level with the rear of the group where it proceeded to adjust the position of the fish ready for swallowing, The latter part of the walk took us out of the park along some scrub and woodland behind houses at the edge of Fishponds and by now we were bathed in sunshine. Other notable species seen included Blackcap, Goldfinch, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit and a group of five Jays all giving chase to one another. All in all 34 walkers saw some 33 species. The accompaniment of birdsong throughout the morning and the appearance of several butterflies suggested that spring had truly arrived. Thanks to Rich for leading, and especially for taking us to places many of us had never walked before.
There were more Ravens than any other corvid during our walk today, with five seen at close range from our start point at New Fancy View. All the common tits called and displayed around us and our pulses quickened with distant views of raptors but most resolved into Buzzard. A Goshawk did appear after half an hour which was above my expectation given the brisk cold wind. A short drive to Speech House fields, parking beneath a fine stand of Oaks and finding that cameramen had laid bait on a fallen tree trunk to lure in birds – and thus offered us excellent views of Nuthatch, Blue, Great and Coal Tit. The fields – recently used as a marathon start point – were bare until a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew in; they stood immobile for many moments – that strong upright posture, the bold spotted breast, so characteristic of the species. A short walk down the woods looking for Hawfinch only gave us a further view of a dashing Goshawk and a single singing Chiffchaff. The roof of the Beechenhurst café supported two Pied Wagtails and we had our first sighting of Carrion Crow – patrolling the grounds looking for titbits. Back to the cars and on to Cannop Ponds for lunch, during which a pair of the local population of Mandarin Ducks paddled fairly close looking for handouts, the Coot displayed – their wings arched like the Sydney Opera house – and Mute Swan cleared up the leavings at the top of the spillway. As we walked around the ponds we added Grey Wagtail, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and Greylag Goose to the list and increased our count of Mandarin Duck to 12 (all in pairs). A modest bird list of 34 was seen by most of the 13 people who’d trusted the forecast, and included in that number two new walkers who were most warmly welcomed. (Thank you Nick for leading). Nick Hawkridge
A small but select group gathered in the car park of the RSPB Newport Wetlands reserve in the presence of singing Chiffchaff and Greenfinch. As we made our way to the reserve centre we had the strident anthem of multiple Wrens & Cetti’s Warblers. The forecast of wind and rain proved to be correct as our group headed to the foreshore and lighthouse. It appeared that most passerines were sheltering from the torrid elements while their braver compatriots Pochards, Coots, Tufted Ducks & Little Grebes could be seen riding out the rough waters of the pools. Amongst the Curlews on the shoreline a smaller curlew-like bird was discovered and identified as a Whimbrel. While we sheltered from the inclement weather Teal, Cormorant and Canadian Geese were seen from the hide as well as some unidentified passerines. There was a debate over the parentage of a possible hybrid duck. Was it a Scaup mixed with Tufted or Gadwall duck? We retreated to the visitor centre. On route we found a Goldcrest, Marsh Harrier and another Chiffchaff. Coffee and cakes were on the agenda as we watched small flocks of Greenfinch and Reed Bunting, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Little Grebe demonstrating how small it was, almost under our feet. As the precipitation ceased and the outlook improved the group headed to Goldcliff. The stars of the afternoon were a Spotted Redshank, unfortunately not in summer plumage, and an elegant Greenshank. The supporting cast included Wigeon, Redshank, Oystercatchers, Lapwings, Shelduck, and Shovelers. The chorus lines of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits were disturbed by a maundering Marsh Harrier, but practice was quickly resumed although the sound system seemed muffled probably due to the high winds. Thanks to Nick for leading this field trip in challenging conditions with nearly 50 species seen, identified & recorded.
On a mild and sunny day, 25 walkers set out across the Doynton farmland to take a northern route into the Golden Valley. The youngest of us by far was a journalist-in-training from UWE, tasked with interviewing us about our choice of an official UK bird between the suggested options of Robin, Wren or Kingfisher. I hope he wasn’t too bored!
Since I was last in this area, two of the quarries have filled up with water providing some interesting new habitat. It seems likely that breeding will be attempted by the pair of Greylags, two pairs of Dabchicks and two pairs of Coots that have taken up residence there – new birds for the site list, I’m sure. The older inhabitants, Raven and Peregrine, were both on station and showed nicely. If that Peregrine isn’t deaf it must have nerves of steel, as it completely ignored a large digger trundling around on the bank only about 20 yards above its perch. Familiarity breeds indifference?
Other birds of interest included a pair of Mistle Thrushes, so large and grey compared with the Song Thrush; at least four singing Chiffchaffs which were probably new arrivals; a Blackcap in close proximity to a fat-ball feeder who had probably wintered there; also Buzzard, Jay, Goldcrest and Meadow Pipit to add to the usual field and woodland species. Sadly, any Dipper on the river must have fled long before we all tramped over its bridge. It was a lovely early-spring morning, and thanks to Margaret for showing us some new footpaths through a beautiful rural landscape. Jane Cumming