Saturday, 3 December 2016

A Melange of Christmas Shopping & Sneaky Ornithology



26th November - 3rd December 2016 

The last week has seen me based in a lovely cottage on Eastleigh Farm in Bishopstrow just south of Warminster in Wiltshire. The journey there on Saturday was at best interesting and unintentionally three times as long as expected and included more Red Kites that I care to imagine but we eventually arrived albeit without having spent the day in Bath Christmas Market and so had to wait till Sunday morning to explore our surroundings.

The barn...  we had the middle section
With all seven of us present and correct for Sunday morning we then spent the next two days delving into the Christmassy delights of the Bath & West Fair in Shepton Mallet and the main event in the historic centre of Bath. Gifts were bought and atmosphere imbibed but there are always birds and a simple Grey wagtail on a rooftop will get me through any day. There was time in Bath to visit the Abbey and although I am a very unreligious soul I always find these monuments to the belief of others to be calming and breathtaking at the same time. Bath Abbey was no exception...







Bath Abbey...

Tuesday saw us heading out east and onto Salisbury Plain where I took us on a distinctly off piste route across the rolling English Steppes and although there were, as expected, no signs of any Bustards, there were Stonechats dotted around along with a few Corn Buntings, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and soldiers, rocket launchers and tanks. Buzzards hopped around looking for worms and a couple of Kites were seen.
Lunch was taken at Avebury in the NT cafe where I had my own ‘wagtail on a roof’ moment but unlike the super rare Masked Wagtail residing at the other end of the earth in Haverford West mine seemed to be a pristine first winter White Wagtail which was pleasing in its own simple way.

White Wagtail

Old Mans Beard
Jackdaw pausing for breath from apple munching
Full of jacket spud we ambled around the magnificent stone circle. Perhaps I feel more spiritually attuned when I lay my hands on an ancient lichen encrusted monolith erected by a ancient people than I do when in a house of God but with the blue sky and long shadows accentuating the mood and the lack of almost any other people around I knew where I felt most comfortable. I only had a Pied Wagtail and my thoughts for company.





The lone walker - just happens to be my Dad





Pied Wagtail

On to Newbury to collect the Mini (long story relating to day one) before heading back through kitesville for base where the frost had not had a chance to vacate the grounds before the new one had started to form...

Wednesday was a Howard Grand Tour Special (including pack lunch) taking in some new birding sites for me with Chew Valley and Blagdon Lakes on the itinerary. In recent weeks nearly 30 Great White Egrets have been seen between these two closely situated sites and although we only saw seven and four at each site it was still a pleasure to watch these magnificent herons striding around in the shallows of these two very low reservoirs with Grey Herons and Little Egrets for company. 

Chew Valley from Herriots Bridge

Herons Green Bay

with herons...

...and photobombing Goosander that I did not notice

... and Mr Fox bogging Snipe having given up on duck

Green Mallard

Purple Mallard

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail
Goosanders, a host of athyas, Water Rails, Snipe and my favourite Grey Wagtails were seen on yet another gorgeous winters day.

We headed south into Cheddar Gorge, stopping for the ubiquitous photo, before having lunch in town watching Grey Wagtails and a Kingfisher on the mill pond. 


Kingfisher in Cheddar - not a special cheese shop offer
And this very hairy, very sluggish Common Wasp was attracted to some Green Chilli Jam on Dad's finger - it was -1c!

A visit to Wells Reclamation Yard was next just so that Mum and Dad could experience the wonderful weirdness of the place and if you are ever after anything just a little bit odd for the home or garden then have a look here. Anyone fancy an WWII Anti-aircraft Gun, a 4m high giant cockerel, a selection of vintage pillar boxes, some old polling station signs, a solid marble bath or a pair of studded medieval doors that appear to have come out of North African desert fort?
 
A smaller version....bargain!
South again via Glastonbury where the Tor looked superb in the low light and I almost mis-calculated in my attempt to get down to the Parrett Valley to have a look for the Cranes and the ten minutes I allocated only added Bullfinch and some Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits to the list before I hastened back up to RSPB Ham Wall for the main attraction.

Glastonbury Tor
We parked up on a perfectly still and clear evening and ambled down to beyond the first viewpoint (where a Great White Egret was unsurprisingly feeding!) and within an intense half an hour the whole Starling extravaganza had started and come to its noisy conclusion... 

A There's A Surprise Egret






It was once again a mesmerising sight with several hundred thousand Starlings swirling, whirling, twisting and plummeting like so much avian black snow into the reedbed in front of us. The sound intensified to the constant rushing of waves on a beach as did the smell which was certainly not something I was expecting... it reminded me of a giant budgie cage but did not detract from the experience!

Hope you enjoy this short three minute video...

No Bitterns were seen but three more Great Whites took the tally for the day to 15 and Water Rails kipped and squealed from the reeds while Robins, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Cetti’s Warblers kept us company along the pathside until the last of the fading light.



Mum and Dad headed for home on Thursday morning and I was absolutely exhausted and so we agreed on a lazy lounge day but not before I had taken myself out for a walk down the lane and into the surrounding woodland. It was bitterly cold and the frost was thick on everything creating some great patterns on the dead hogweed stems and still green brambles. 


I love the way the low sun & shadow make two perfect pyramids from the trees

All the farm horses had their winter rugs on







The woods were mixed Beech, Oak and Pine and I caught up with Nuthatch, Treecreeper, both Woodpeckers and the usual tits on my amble. Most of the plot had been sold off to individuals who had then set about ensuring that no one else ever set foot on their patch with panel fences, intimidatory signs and more barbed wire that I thought possible! The rest of the day was a bit blurry...

I was feeling a bit more with it on Friday and so we ventured down to various shopping emporiums around Exeter before ending up at Otterton Mill for an exploratory walk up the River Otter in search of the elusive Beavers.  It was a dull but calm afternoon and the light was appalling and I suspect that I needed to stay another hour to have a chance to seeing these well established residents and the helpful signage suggested as much.  The river had obviously undergone a huge surge in recent week with vegetation and debris in the neighbouring fields and stuck up in trees but it seems to have made no difference to the Beavers and there was plenty of signs of fresh tree removal and piles of chippings.

The River Otter albeit without Otters or Beavers but that tree on the left is Beaver felled!




To be honest even seeing these was quite something. Who would have thought that I could take an amble on a well walked riverside path in the southwest and find evidence all around for the presence of such a wondrous animal. I think that a special trip sometime in the early spring may well be in order.

There was actually plenty else to see with Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails zipping up and down, flocks of loafing Mallard and a Little Grebe lurking under an overhang and plenty of small bird action in the riverside trees with Siskins and Goldfinches in the Alders and Redwings and Song Thrushes in the undergrowth. Chiffchaffs were ‘hweet’ing from several spots but the best was yet to come as a ‘seeveet’ call from a Yellow-browed Warbler erupted from the Sallow right in front of me and it spent the next few minutes flitting around with some Goldcrests and a cool coloured Siberian Chiffie. Always nice to come away and find a good bird...

Poor pic but a YBW is still a wonderful bird to bump into...

And so ended the Christmas Shopping South West Extravaganza with only a very smooth run home this morning from Warminster to tax the grey matter...