Starting in fog and ending in rain, sunny during the walk – excellent. The crowd of 21 (welcome to new walker Simon) gathered at the trees in Moor Lane to listen to the song of a male Blackcap (totally hidden), the rapid ‘cherteach, cherteach’ of a Coal Tit and the call of a distant Willow Warbler. A perching Buzzard resolved into a female Pheasant and the quack of Mallard revealed their position under the hedge. A true Buzzard posed for us as we climbed the slope, showing a strong dark necklace and many Greenfinch wheezed and sang us up the hill. Another Buzzard then flew past and we were delighted to see ‘Blondie’ (nearly all white underwing) one of the regulars in the valley (Not Blondie – one of a pair centred on Norton’s Village, both very pale – RJP). A collection of four Bullfinches showed well, with the males’ chest colour even discernible in the poor light. Linnet, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest were all found after the turn along Clevedon Lane, but alas the feeders in the garden opposite didn’t give us any Siskin as they had in previous years. We heard and finally saw our first Chaffinch of the day, near the turn across the Walton Moor and close to a group of five Pied Wagtails. The path was good and we found the first of five Reed Buntings; the splendidly marked male, singing strongly and the female answering with her own quiet whistle. Two distant Lapwing were seen, and a Skylark in song flight. Plenty of Buzzard action was visible across Walton Down including one very aggressive individual seeking to keep the park to itself. Within the trees on the Down we heard Nuthatch calling and the yaffle of a Green Woodpecker, then more Goldcrest and Coal Tit. A Treecreeper came to join the foraging throng – clearly old oak is rich with food at present. Back down towards the village and wondering if we’d see any Swallows or House Martins (alas not) we extended our list to 41 with the addition of Great Spotted Woodpecker and a pair of popinjay Grey Wagtail. All was not finished however, for as we were getting out of boots and into shoes, a Cetti’s Warbler called from the edge of the stream. Well done to Geoff for leading and arranging the weather so conveniently for us.
As we set off in the car it started to rain, turning to hail before it eased off. Quite a surprise, then, to find that 23 people had decided to defy the dire weather forecast and risk a soaking, but there they were, admiring a couple of newly-arrived Wheatears at the edge of the golf course. We moved round to the beach to discover that the neap tide wasn’t coming far enough up the sand to force the waders to roost, so we counted 72 Oystercatchers feeding along the tideline, checked out a couple of dozen Wigeon and Teal, then followed the muddy path round to the salt-marsh. As we topped the dyke a Short-eared Owl flew off in front of us, but to our delight it settled on a fence post and sat there for some time, watching us as we watched it back. Great start! We spent a while on the dyke, scanning the marsh, and unexpectedly picked up a Sandwich Tern above the moored yachts – in fact it was fishing over the little boating lake. A good sighting – Avon doesn’t get a lot of these. We worked round back to the coast path, registering Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat on the way, to watch the tern plunge-diving into the boating lake and coursing up and down over our heads. Off to the hilltop overlook to scan Bleadon Levels, where we counted 69 Mute Swans, 42 Shelducks and 106 Redshanks, but not much else on the marsh other than a scattering of Teal. Some nice raptors though – Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Best of all was the Merlin that one lucky observer photographed on the hilltop, but sadly the rest of us missed it. We returned along the hedgerows (various singing finches but no warblers) to the cliff where a female Black Redstart blended completely into the dark grey boulders until she moved. A Green Woodpecker called and flew off. There was still no rain, despite heavy skies and threatening clouds all around us. In fact it was a really enjoyable morning with some great birds – 42 species on my list. (Thanks to Jane for leading). Jane Cumming
The weatherman promised us clouds and gales, as seventeen birders went over to Wales. You could write a poem about it, but I’m not going to. It was an all-day trip; lagoons, reed beds and foreshore in the morning, lunch near the RSPB centre, then along to the ponds and hides at Goldcliff in the afternoon. A goodly total of 57 species of birds was recorded, mostly what you’d expect to see, so I’ll just mention a few of the highlights. At Goldcliff we counted more than 30 Avocet. A member of the stilt family, and although a proper ‘wader’, they have webbed feet and swim readily, often ‘up-ending’ to feed. In the early 20th century they ceased breeding on the east coast, due mainly to land reclamation. But during WW2, access to the beaches was restricted and the birds returned. There are now over 1500 breeding pairs and are considered to be one of the most successful conservation and protection projects. A Peregrine was seen sitting on a post near one of the hides. When they attack a flying bird, typically a pigeon, they ‘stoop’ at an estimated 180mph and break the prey’s neck or back. In a successful attack, the prey knows nothing about it. On the incoming tide we saw a Cormorant, Latin name Phalacrocorax carbo. Its common name is also derived from Latin, short for Corvus marinus, the sea crow. A most apt name don’t you think? But did you know they are members of the pelican family? A Ringed Plover was spotted at Goldcliff, and another bird attracted a lot of attention and discussion until it was finally decided it was a Little Ringed Plover. They were seldom seen in the UK before WW2, but the advent of sand and gravel pits has provided good nesting environments. When given the Latin name Charadrius dubius, it was thought by French naturalist Pierre Sonneret, in 1776, to be simply a variant of the common Ringed Plover. Hence the ‘dubius’. Two passage migrants, a Greenshank and a Spotted Redshank, were a delight to see. Cetti’s Warblers were seen and heard and Chiffchaffs were calling everywhere. We were all a little dismayed to see so much woodland had been chopped down at the east end of the lagoons – the underlying ash deposits have been cited as the reason. Not a cold day, but windy and overcast, and I think enjoyed by everyone. (Thanks to Ray and Margaret for leading).
Ray and Margaret Bulmer
It’s quite unusual for the first bird spotted on a Tuesday walk to be a Peregrine – apart from, maybe, one that starts at the Peregrine viewing spot on the Downs! However, being on the leader’s patch has many advantages and so, while boots were still being donned and latecomers arriving, a Peregrine on Stapleton Church had many pairs of binoculars trained on it and, for any members lacking the required faith, a splendid close up photograph was taken by Vera. And the next spot was a Sparrowhawk! A somewhat unexpected sun shone upon 32 members for much of this walk around the park, past the lakes and then along part of the Frome Walkway. There was plenty of birdsong from, among others, Song Thrush, Great Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Greenfinch but Wrens seemed to be outsinging them all – double figures of this species singing were noted. Magpies were in profusion and 45 Carrion Crows counted. More Sparrowhawks and three Buzzards were spotted to add to our raptor count. Some but not all caught sight of a Kingfisher and most a Grey Wagtail. Goldcrest were heard in a Yew tree – by those with excellent hearing – and there was much pondering about sightings in this tree as Firecrest have been observed in the park. However, after more research after the walk, it was decided that two Goldcrest had been seen. 38 species was the total, and the return of the Chiffchaff, several seen and heard, was a real reminder of spring. Many thanks to Richard for leading us. Nancy Barrett
These lakes are a two hour drive from the Bristol area but the birding was, and usually is, well worth the journey. Ten participants began at the Tern Hide on Ibsley Water where we picked out Egyptian Goose, Scaup, Goldeneye and Goosander amongst the commoner freshwater ducks all of which were represented here. An Oystercatcher, a couple of Redshanks and plenty of Lapwings indulging in a bit of spring display flighting were the only waders. We were delighted to locate a Water Pipit and compare it with a couple of nearby Meadow Pipits. We moved on to the Woodland Hide where dozens of finches were on the feeders, including Greenfinch, a few Siskins joined by a single Redpoll and three very attractive Bramblings, the males coming into spring plumage. On to the Ivy South Hide for deeper water and more diving ducks, and our first Teal. A Green Woodpecker called and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming. We finished the morning with a visit to the Ivy North Hide overlooking a small reed bed, which held Cetti’s Warbler and Reed Buntings, then lunched at picnic tables behind the visitors’ centre. In the afternoon we worked the edge of the stream up towards Mockbeggar Lake, finding Goldcrests, a rather elusive Firecrest and two Treecreepers. A Kingfisher was seen several times by some and not at all by others in the party! We walked the 600 metre path up to the Lapwing Hide for a different view of Ibsley Water and greater numbers of ducks, counting 13 Goosanders and enjoying the mild spring air and the sunshine. Having covered all of the Blashford Lakes, we finished the day a couple of miles upriver on the Hampshire Avon where we picked out a White-fronted Goose in a flock of Greylags and an impressive 24 Egyptian Geese (mainly in pairs) feeding in riverside fields. Many thanks to Robert for leading an excellent day and finding a total of 65 species.