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!