Since my last post I’ve been slowly but steadily ticking off species around the borough.
We had our first Siskin of the year on our garden feeders on Saturday 4th and year ticked Bullfinch near Silchester on Sunday 5th. On the same day I received a text (thanks Peter) informing me that two Egyptian Geese were present at Lower Ashe Farm near Overton – a site first. I expect to see this species elsewhere during the year but was taking no chances, and as it was also one of my WeBS sites I gladly made the journey there. It’s not a great place for photography as the birds are too distant, so had to be content with ‘scope views. As I was in the area I also decided to walk the ‘Flashetts’ footpath in Overton which is a reliable wintering site for Water Rail – I wasn’t disappointed as there were two on show!
Water Rail – Flashetts, Overton, 5th January 2014 (record shot)
After a long Christmas holiday I returned to work on 6th, which depite being a bit of a shock had its benefits with year ticks of Feral Pigeon (6th) and Peregrine (9th) -amazing what you can see from the coffee room! Also on 9th, a Tawny Owl was sat on an over hanging bough along Lloyd’s Lane, Ramsdell whilst travelling home from the office.
The weather that first week back at work was pretty awful, so it was great to wake to clear blue skies on Saturday morning (11th). I set off to a site that regretfully has to remain undisclosed as it is private, and whilst there had one of those birding experiences that one never forgets. I could hear a Woodlark singing close by and was obviously keen to tick it off, but as I got closer I could see that there were in fact two Woodlark that seemed to be in a sort of Mexican stand-off. The next twenty minutes were absorbing.
Woodlarks – Basingstoke and Deane, 11th January 2014
Even at this early stage of the year I’m pretty sure these were two males in a territorial dispute, and they certainly weren’t taking any prisoners! There was much posturing followed by violent attacks which saw both birds locked together in the air as well as rolling over and over on the ground. Indeed, I didn’t realize just how violent these exchanges were until I examined the images I’d obtained.
As these ’bouts’ continued, I was able to move closer and closer as the birds were totally focused on their battle and took no notice of me whatsoever. This of course not only gave me what us birders call ‘crippling views’, but also afforded me a great photo opportunity. The following two images were taken just before I left and from the condition of their relative plumages, a winner is starting to emerge. Having said that the violence continued as I left.
I could have watched a lot longer but I have a year-list record to beat! A few more images are on the website www.birdingbasingstokeanddeane.co.uk
I visited Church Pond at Sherborne St John a week or so ago, but returned on Saturday in the hope of finding Mandarin Duck. Although they’re not always present, this little pond is pretty reliable for this species, and this time I wasn’t disappointed with two males and three females present.
Mandarin Duck – Sherborne St John, 11th January 2014
Not wanting to neglect my patch, it was off to Ewhurst where I was delighted to find four Pochard; three males and a female. I also added Bullfinch to the Patch List.
Pochard – Ewhurst Park, 11th January 2014 (two of the four)
Saturday’s weather was glorious and so mild for January that this peacock butterfly was tempted out on the wing.
Peacock – Ewhurst Park, 11th January 2014
Sunday (12th) started with a hard frost and was probably the coldest morning this winter. I decided to try my luck around the Wootton St Lawrence area. A few Lapwing were settled on the ground in one newly ploughed field, but my attention was drawn to a large flock of swirling birds that were rising and diving in formation above the field and looking very much like Starlings – they were of course Golden Plover, and one of the largest flocks I’ve seen in this area. Initially I estimated around two hundred, but examination of photographs suggested between 250 and 300.
Golden Plover – Wootton St Lawrence, 12th January 2014
Large flocks seemed the order of the day at Wootton St Lawrence, as a neighbouring field held a mixed gathering of Fieldfare and Redwing around 300 strong.
Redwing – Wootton St Lawrence, 12th January 2014
Another text had me scuttling off to Overton again, this time for Shelduck. Like the Egyptian Geese, this is another species that I’m likely to see elsewhere but with birding you never know. Anyway, a lovely male was still present when I arrived and is now safely in the bag – thanks again Peter.
The weather was turning unsettled again by late morning so I headed for home. Passing along Lloyd’s Lane, Ramsdell, my attention was drawn to a small bird flitting along the fence line – it was a female Stonechat and a patch tick! I stuck my lens out of the car window to obtain this image.
Stonechat (female) – Ramsdell. 12th January 2014
A few moments later I caught sight of another bird further along the fence – another Stonechat! This time a male.
Stonechat (male) - Ramsdell. 12th January 2014
That brings me up to date with the district list, which after twelve days stands at 69, and the Patch List at 45 – both ahead of last year’s figures for the same date.
The sponsored birdwatch has got off to a very slow start with just a handful of people making pledges. Just to make things absolutely clear, you’re not donating your money to me personally! It will be going to help fund vital research into treatments and cures for cancer - please donate if you can. Details at www.birdingbasingstokeanddeane.co.uk and click on the link. Alternatively e-mail me your pledge at I will remind you what and how to pay at the end of the year – a 5p per species donation will cost you around £6.50!!!!!