In overcast skies and mist, but with the sun trying to break through, some of the 19 of us applied our first sun cream of the year. The car park was surrounded by calling Chiffchaff, Greenfinch and Goldfinch and Wren. On the bird feeders at the Centre we were rewarded with many and both sexes of Reed Bunting, Mallard cleaning up and Coot and Moorhen chugging across the lake towards the Sand Martin house-home-shelter. Walking on, one of the many Cetti’s Warblers heard throughout the day, called from a bramble patch and took flight affording us a brief but rewarding view. Also in flight, a splendid pair of Mute Swans, who wheeled and landed at the first lagoon, much to the distress of the Canada Geese already there, although the Tufted Ducks and Pochard paid no heed. The first ‘Ping Ping’ of Bearded Tit was heard but no sighting was made until we’d been to the river, seen a distant Curlew, many Shelduck and probably Dunlin. Only three people (‘laggards’ who were not desperate for coffee and were far behind!) managed to see Bearded Tit one of which, unusually, left the reeds to fly behind and round the watchers before going back under cover. Sand Martins were admired as we moved on towards the hide. The overlooked lake gave us Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, and Little Grebe. On the way back for lunch, sharp eyes caught the movement of a single Red-legged Partridge skulking along the hedge, and we heard and then saw Green Woodpecker.
At Goldcliff we visited all the hides and screens. The first gave distant views of Avocet with, a bit closer, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing and a pair of Little Ringed Plover at the edge of stones – so well camouflaged. Moving further up the lake and into a better position to see the top end we were suddenly rewarded by a fantastic aerial display of Avocet, 80 plus birds wheeling and calling – superb. A Sparrowhawk put in an appearance, flushing the Avocets again and most of the other waders – Redshank and Godwit. At the last hide, around the far side of the lake, we found two Greenshanks, stalking and feeding in the shallows with two pairs of Pintail feeding alongside many Teal and Wigeon. A final hunt found a Bar-headed Goose with a large number of Canada Geese and a Starling in full headlong flight being chased by a slate backed Merlin.
The promise of a mildish spring morning enticed 31 walkers to enjoy the area around Hambrook. We waited for the Dipper to show at Bradley Brook and just as folks had given up it duly arrived and gave everyone time to admire it. When most had moved on, two Kingfishers were spotted sitting on a branch before flying off. Heading towards Moorend Chiffchaff and Blackcap were added, with Blue Tits and Jackdaws on the way towards Winterbourne Down and Winterbourne. All the birds were in fine voice with Robin, Great Tit, Wren, Dunnock, and House Sparrow added into the mix. By the time we reached Bradley Brook and Monks Pool Nature reserve we had added Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch, Buzzard, Kestrel, Goldfinch, Jay, Skylark, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker. 62 Jackdaws were seen and generally in pairs. Mallard were enjoying the Bradley Brook and overhead were Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. This walk was lovely and not diminished by the mud or the tricky stiles where Margaret G did a very good acrobatic performance of a near back flip before being caught by two of the men. As we neared the end of the walk three Canada Geese flew over the pub, making a total of 31 species for the morning. We were surprised not to see any Grey Wagtail on the Brook but as were walking back home a pair flew up river.
Just over 35 people met at Nagshead RSPB reserve and just as Ed was introducing the morning a Hawfinch flew over ‘ticking’. During the morning’s walk around the woodland Nuthatches dominated the birdsong along with Blue Tits, a few Great Tits, and Coal Tits. A Chiffchaff was singing by the meadow while Redwings sat at the top of the oak trees. Towards the end of the walk the group had good views of Treecreeper and Goldcrest, and earlier a Stock Dove flew past. A single Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard ‘drumming’ while various Siskins called as they flew overhead. We moved on mid-morning to New Fancy View, and before the rain and hail set in we had distant views of at least two Goshawks above the horizon along with a Buzzard. Closer by two Ravens were displaying, and in a nearby pine tree a pair of Crossbills were feeding – the male was bright red-orange. As we headed back to the cars a flock of 13 flew over ‘chipping’ away. We finished off before lunch at Cannop Ponds where our first Swallow of the year was flying over the water. Nearby Tufted Ducks, Coots, Little Grebe, Cormorant, and Mandarin Ducks were feeding. A pair of Grey Wagtails were down by the stream, and a tame Raven came down by the ponds. Nuthatches also dominated the soundscape and we finished off the walk around 12.30pm in glorious sunshine.
Getting across the A420 outside the Griffin Inn is always a challenge, particularly when trying to identify the Wagtail on the house tops opposite! However, the Collared Dove and Magpie offered no such contest, as we entered the housing estate en route for the Dramway. Some Lesser Black-backed Gulls fought the wind and Woodpigeon were blown out of the trees but the Wrens, calling like mad from bush tops, seemed not to be affected by its strength, each bird on its storm tossed twig, riding like a true acrobat – no pause or halt in that fulsome noise. Not far along the track we heard the first of three Chiffchaffs singing. Close by were Bullfinch, the female contentedly eating thorn buds while her two suitors called and fluttered showing themselves off with scarcely any heed paid of our close observation. The freshly cleared path around the common was possibly too raw to attract much bird life, apart of course from the Great Tits, with the ringing song of ‘Teacher Teacher’, and the high ‘Tszee Tszee’ of the Blue Tit. Spring is most definitely here, well- close! We found a pair each of Moorhen and Mallard on the pond hard by Siston Brook, and up the hill were more Bullfinch; again courting was in full swing. Flying across us was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, putting in nearly as brief an appearance as two pairs of Long-Tailed Tits – heard more than seen, even allowing for 22 people all trying to see them at once. The Dunnock all perching at a much higher level than normal, were singing and fluttering – urgency of the season? At last, hostelry bound with a total of 27 species, we saw the Raven some had heard earlier and a final Buzzard, circling lazily for height.
Out at the stewardship scheme acreages of Elm Farm, we walked in the bracing NE wind under a full grey/white sky with plenty of birdlife. From the car park we had splendid views and heard the wheezing call of Greenfinch and there was an addition of five more of these brightly feathered birds, some setting off on circular sprint chases above us. An early Buzzard was seen flopping down into pasture, while along the path to the feeding area where seed is provided during the winter, our group of 29 walkers saw Yellowhammers grouped with Chaffinch and Greenfinch, we counted six calling and singing. Our first sightings of migrating Fieldfare and Redwing occurred at this point – a mixed flock of 27. We caught sight of some more at the bottom of the hill, this time mixed with Starling (a flock of 41).
The Barn Owl boxes we saw round the patch did not appear to be occupied, as was the case with the Kestrel box down by the River Chew. The climb up the hill towards the wood, from which echoed the ‘yaffle’ of Green Woodpecker and the ‘chip chip’ of Great Spotted Woodpecker, drained us of all the energy we’d conserved going downhill! We stopped for a breather and, turning to admire the view, caught sight of a Grey Heron stalking along the back of the pool. Along the path the tiny tracks (slots) of Muntjac were identified, and this miniature deer was seen disappearing into the woods. We too descended to the woods, with hope (vain as it happened) of finding Woodcock. As we climbed towards the farm a Brown Hare was disturbed, which shot away across the fields. Our final bird tally was 32.