Sunday 19 March 2023

Oriole Birding - Forest of Dean & Somerset Tour - Day 1 - 13th March 2023

I arrived at dusk in Great Ryburgh in Norfolk where I was due to pick up my minibus for my first tour for Oriole Birding.  The weather was already on the turn with a strengthening wind and the first few spots as I called it a night to the sound of a female Tawny Owl in the trees outside.  I left not long after 5.30 the following morning for my solo drive across country to collect two of the clients at Newport in Gwent.  Normally I would wax lyrical about all the birds I saw on the way but the weather and driving conditions were abysmal, the traffic challenging and the view outside somewhat impeded by the squally lashing rain and van-shaking wind!  I can safely say that I saw nowt bar the odd corvid and pigeon before reaching Monmouth where Buzzard, Peregrine, Raven and even Goosanders were quickly picked up.

With Claire and Jon safely acquired at Newport station it was an about turn to head back into the Forest of Dean and our digs at Speech House in the heart of the trees.  David, Margaret and Andy were already lounging leisurely awaiting our arrival and we were soon all refreshed and off out into the field.  The joy of the Forest of Dean is that many of the key sites are compressed into a small area and within just a few minutes we were pulling over to investigate Cannop Ponds from the southern stoneworks end.  It was spitting lightly but this was far better than the afternoon forecast so we chanced our luck and went for what turned out to be a very pleasant walk alongside this linear pond.

There was Wild Boar evidence everywhere we looked and every verge had been rotovated by porcine snouts. Mandarins were quickly found in all their gaudy glory and it was good to hear then calling which I had not heard in many years. The usual tits and finches were coming down to a photography stump and the Chaffinches looked positively resplendent in the brief sunny interlude while green and gold Siskins and blue triangular Nuthatches nipped into the feeders.

Chaffinch & Goldfinch



Siskin - Andy Buck

 Great Tit - Andy Buck

Robin  - Andy Buck

There were no Dippers on the slipway but both Grey and Pied Wagtails were seen along the edges. Further along we found three redhead Goosanders two of which were immature males with darkening heads and throats and an apricot wash on the flanks.  There were more Mandarins sat up in the trees from where they plopped off into the water in a very undignified manner.

imm male Goosander

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Mandarin - Andy Buck

Wood Spurge was just coming into flower and there were some very fine Lichens to study but no amount of scanning produced any Boar roaming the forest floor.

Will see if Bob V can help with any of these species...

Wood Spurge 

One particularly turned over area was attracting many small birds down to the turned soil to look for both insects and seeds and Robins, Wren, Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Tits, Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and even a pair of glowing Bullfinches were noted as we sheltered from a few more spots of rain.

Well boared and a Robin


Mistle Thrushes rattled from the tree tops and one was singing further off while a Treecreeper played hide and seek with us as is their want. Another brief bright spell and some Buzzards got up and a very brief female Goshawk circled once and was then out of sight. The upper lake held a couple of Wigeon, three Little Grebes, Cormorant and Mute Swan before the grey and wet returned once again, and smart Lesser Black-backed Gulls patrolled the ponds. 

near adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

I introduced the crew to the wonders of moth leaf mines on Bramble and Beech and the usual fly mine on Holly on the way back but the only actual insect seen was a solitary Episyrphus balteatus.  We returned to the bus pleased with having not got a soaking and actually managing to see a good selection of species to get the trip started.

Coptotriche marginea - Bramble

Stigmella aurella  - Bramble

Phyllonorycter maestingella - Beech

Phytomyza ilicis - Holly

Concrete Alligator was added to the reptile list

We pottered down into Parkend and parked up by the Lime and Yew tree circle but the rain had set in so we sat in the van and watched under trees and kept our ears open.  Frustratingly we could hear the Hawfinches (and Greenfinches) but could not see them and once the rain let up and we got out, they were of course nowhere to be seen.  Nuthatches were vocal all around and two Mistle Thrushes were mournfully serenading the wetness.

With another break in the weather I decided to give New Fancy View a go and we spent a slightly chilly but basically dry visit scanning the treetop from the valley below to the distant ridges for raptors.  There were a couple of Buzzards and a male Goshawk the glided across but I knew we could do better. Andy found a tree top bird that I thought would be a Goshawk but it turned out to be an immature female Peregrine which if anything looked very out of place.

Hawfinch called from somewhere down the slope and a pair of Bullfinches were stripping buds from a Hawthorns while Siskins bumbled back and forth.  It was quite gloomy in the encroaching drizzle as we got back down to the van but thankfully it was a just a short drive back to Speech House passing four Fallow Deer (but no pigs!) amongst the trees on the way. 

A fine dinner was had before an early night beckoned.

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