First Fires

All of a sudden the lovely autumn sunshine of September has disappeared and been replaced by more seasonal weather. We had our first frost on Sunday 5th, albeit a light one, and since then the wind and rain has been with us most days. For me, the gardening year has thankfully almost drawn to a close, apart from the chore of regular leaf clearing, and in our house the first fires of autumn have been lit. I try to leave this annual ceremony until the end of the month, but usually succumb earlier when our cats take up residence by the hearth on cold wet October afternoons! As much as I mourn the passing of summer I love this time of year!

Of course, with all this inclement weather swirling around the country there’s a good chance of some decent birds turning up and I need just two more species to secure my best ever year list total in the borough. Common Gull is the only target species left pencilled on my list and after that it’s all down to pure luck. Will we get a Waxwing invasion? Will I stumble on a Hawfinch roost? Will a Merlin take up residence on the downs? Will the borough finally get a rarer grebe? Will I even find a Common Gull!?

Anything can happen and probably will, to cap off what has already been an outstanding year birding Basingstoke and Deane.

Here’s the news…………

The light frost on the morning of Saturday 5th only lasted briefly but the residue dew and bright sunlight made for some good photo opportunities, especially with the many cobwebs on show. This one was on Silchester Common.

Silchester, 5th October 2014

This female/first winter Reed Bunting also made an appearance on the common; not a species I regularly see here.

Reed Bunting – Silchester, 5th October 2014

Later on the same morning, a pair of Egyptian geese flew east across Rampton’s Lane gravel pits, Mortimer West End.

Egyptian Geese – Mortimer West End, 5th October 2014

A Green-winged Teal was reported from Old Basing on the evening of 7th but not relocated the next day – this is the sort of unexpected year tick required to break my record!

Stonechats seem to have definitely recovered locally as yet another turned up on Saturday 11th, this time on Tadley Common.

Stonechat (female type) - Tadley Common, 11th October 2014

Wildfowl numbers are steadily increasing in the borough with The Vyne watermeadows holding 37 Wigeon, 23 Gadwall and 5 Shoveler on the morning of 11th. A peregrine also made a brief appearance, circling overhead before drifting off north; a first for me at this site.

Also on 11th, a Chiffchaff was singing in a neighbours garden and we had our first Marsh Tit of the autumn on garden feeders.

The WeBS season is in full swing and I was out and about around Overton on the morning of Sunday 12th. Nothing outstanding to report, but a Little Egret was on the source of the Test at Lower Ashe Farm and was in company with a Cormorant - also a personal site first.

That’s me up to date again I think.

As ever, thanks for reading

Barry Stalker

 

 

Improving picture

I didn’t expect to be apologizing for a bout of pen paralysis at this time of year and my lack of recent posts isn’t because I haven’t seen anything - it’s my dire performance behind the lens that is to blame as quite frankly I’ve had nothing much to show.

As I managed to add another year tick last week, which I’ll get to later, I thought I’d better pen something whilst we’re still (just) in September and reluctantly include some of the naff images.

Autumn is all about movement as migration gets in to full swing. Visits to the coast can be particularly rewarding at this time of year as anything can turn up, but this can equally apply locally and we’ve already had two Wrynecks in the borough this year, including one at the Mill Field which is now a near annual site for this species. Both local birds proved to be short stayers as the dry clear nights have been perfect for migration - I know everyone loves an Indian summer, but for birders a little rain at this time of year is very desirable as it forces the migrating birds to the ground. 

Despite the lack of decent images, this autumn has actually been one of the best I can remember locally, with numerous sightings of Redstart, Stonechat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Whinchat, Meadow Pipit and Common Sandpiper. A Hobby flew south over our house on 13th, which was the first patch tick for some time, and a Spotted Flycatcher was at the Mill Field on 18th.

Here are a few images…..

Wheatear and Whinchat – near Silchester, 6th September 2014

Tree Pipit – Mill Field LNR, 6th September 2014

Stonechat (female/1w) - silchester, 14th September 2014

Spotted Flycatcher – Mill Field LNR, 18th September 2014

Sunday 21st proved a great day for Stonechats with four being present together on some waste ground near Silchester. 

Stonechats (all four) – Silchester, 21st September 2014

These little birds were great company although a local Robin was less impressed with them and would chase them at every opportunity. With patience I got close enough to obtain some images that although not perfect were more like the desired standard.

Stonechat - Silchester, 21st September 2014

One of the four was most accommodating and very kindly sat on the same perch for some time, enabling a number of shots in different poses. At last, the picture quality had improved!

This is also the time of year when gull flocks start forming on local farmland and I’ve stopped to view several gatherings over the last few weeks’. The majority in these flocks are Lesser-black Backed gulls but one or two Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls are often amongst them as well. What I’m really after though is something more scarce, and on Tuesday 23rd I was lucky enough to find a Yellow-legged Gull with LBBs on farmland opposite Ewhurst Park, Ramsdell. I was actually on my way home from work when I stopped to view the flock, and after picking out this valuable year tick I returned about half an hour later with my camera hoping it was still there – it was, but the light was failing. This was my first borough Yellow-legged Gull since 2011 and only my second ever in the district – was I pleased….you bet!

The images are once again poor I’m afraid as there was a considerable distance between myself and the bird and the light was failing; excuses, excuses!

Yellow-legged Gull with Lesser-black Backed gulls - Ramsdell, 23rd September 2014

Sightings of Yellow-legged Gulls tend to increase during late summer and autumn when both adults and immature birds disperse after nesting. Great caution is required when identifying this species to make certain that it’s definitely a Yellow-legged Gull and not a Herring gull with yellow legs such as the Scandinavian race argentatus or even a hybrid! This bird certainly had the correct mantle colour, long yellow legs, thick bill and an almost unmarked white head – so far so good. I’m not an expert on the wing pattern of YLG but sent my images to a well respected Hampshire birder who agreed with my identification so I’m happy to claim it as a year tick. If any readers have further comments I’d be happy to receive them. A great pity I couldn’t get some closer shots as the bird was wearing a metal ring on its right leg. 

Yellow-legged Gull – Ramsdell, 23rd September 2014

Eventually the whole flock flew off to roost, possibly on gravel pits in the north of the borough or most probably into Berkshire.

Yellow-legged Gull – Ramsdell, 23rd September 2014

Little to report from last weekend – three Chiffchaffs were the highlight at Ewhurst Park which has been dire this year, and the first Wigeon have started to arrive back in the borough.

Wigeon (eclipse male) - The Vyne, 28th September 2014

Occasionally I get to train my lens on other wildlife such as this lovely Fallow Deer at the Mill Field LNR. I almost stepped on this deer when it stood up right in front of me. This image is un-cropped.

Fallow Deer – Mill Field LNR, 13th September 2014

And I couldn’t resist photographing this gorgeous fox near Silchester on 27th.

So I’m on the brink of equalling my year list record for the borough and with a quarter of the year still remaining! Confidence is high but it still won’t be easy….. watch this space!

Thanks for being patient!

Barry Stalker

It’s the Tick That Counts (2)

For only the second time in the history of this blog I’m posting without any images, but I want to keep up-to-date at this crucial time of year and also have news of a very special bird.

I planned visits to four or five sites during the course of Saturday morning (30th) but ended up staying at just one! The site in question is privately owned so regretfully has to remain undisclosed as I don’t want to jeopardize my own access. Anyway, it started fairly normally – a few Whitethroats and number of Linnets seemed the best on offer and later a juvenile Stonechat was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. I was thinking of moving on, but my attention was drawn to a small sallow which had a couple of birds flitting around the bottom which turned out to be Reed Buntings, but the view through my binoculars also picked up the movement of something else – it was a Wryneck!! I almost laughed audibly at this point as the next site I planned to visit was the Mill Field LNR at Old Basing – to look for this very species! The time was now 8:05; now comes the downside. At the expense of everything else I spent the next two hours’ trying to get some sort of image but just couldn’t. The bird was most elusive, as elusive as the Mill Field bird in 2011. It would appear very briefly, but by time I had raised my camera (which is bloody heavy) it would disappear – I have a number of shots of out of focus foliage! It could then take up to twenty minutes to appear again but I was determined to get an image; any image! Twice I gave up and started to walk away, only to once again see it fly across in front of me and out of view, and the process started again! A Saturday in August means football of course, and as we were at home to Sunderland (we won 1-0!) I had an appointment with a pre-match pint at the famous QPR home pub ‘The Crown and Sceptre’ in Shepherd’s Bush so really had to leave; the time was now 10:30 and I had last seen the bird at 10:15. I left feeling a bit dejected which on reflection was ridiculous – I’d just found a very scarce county species on my own patch and it was a first for the site, plus it was another excellent notch on the year list! Once again, It’s the tick that counts!

I’ve always loved Wrynecks, and I think it’s because as a young birdwatcher starting out, I can vividly remember reading about them (and other species) and thinking they only existed in books! I’ve seen dozens since but they still remain special.

Needless to say, I didn’t go anywhere else on Saturday but did unsuccessfully follow up on an earlier report of a ring-tail harrier near Ramsdell which could very well have been a Montagu’s – many thanks Dave/James for passing this information on.

I returned to the Wryneck site on Sunday morning but it appeared to have moved on. This time I did manage to visit some other sites, the highlights of the morning being singles of Tree pipit and Lesser Whitethroat at the Mill Field LNR and two Redshank at Rampton’s Lane gravel pits – a first for the site.

For locals: I have just learnt that the Borough Council are planning to turn Old Common in Basingstoke into football stadium and car park. The 8 acre site which has been open green space since the 13th century and will be lost under concrete! The area currently has a variety of habitats for wildlife including scrub, grassland and trees. The Public Consultation on the future of Old Common has started and every opinion counts! See the link below.

http://www.basingstoke.gov.uk/browse/leisure-and-culture/sports-clubs-and-centres/footballclubmove.htm

Thanks for reading and apologies for the lack of images!

Barry Stalker

 

 

 

It’s the Tick That Counts!

I said I needed a decent autumn if I am to beat my personal borough year-list record of 131 and it has started very decently indeed – three target species for August and three year ticks!

The Mill Field LNR at Old Basing has featured heavily in my outings since returning from holiday as this is a local hot-spot for passage migrants. It’s a great little reserve but does suffer terribly from irresponsible dog walkers; a subject I’m regularly whinging to Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council about!

Anyway, I got off to a great start with a cracking female type Redstart on 17th after dipping one a couple of days earlier. I had several decent but very brief views of this bird as it flitted in and out of dense scrub, calling occasionally, but I couldn’t capture any sort of image – luckily, it’s the tick that counts!

Not a tick, but very interesting all the same, was a group of six Egyptian Geese that were on the gravel pits off Rampton’s Lane, Mortimer West End on 21st. It has been a poor year in the borough for sightings of this species so it was very encouraging to see this group.

Egyptian Geese – Rampton’s Lane, Mortimer West End, 21st August 2014

Back to the Mill Field, and my luck was in again on the morning of 23rd when I found one or very possibly two first winter Whinchats. Again, very difficult to photograph, but this time I did at least manage a poor record shot.

Whinchat – Mill Field LNR, Old Basing. 23rd August 2014

So, two target species in the bag and one to go – Yellow Wagtail. Along with Redstart and Whinchat, this was another species I missed in the spring, so the pressure was on! There are no real hot-spots in the borough for Yellow Wagtail so it’s all down to pure luck – I do have a method though…………Yellow Wags are attracted to cattle, so anytime I see cows grazing in a field I stop to look. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some rather erratic driving over the last couple of weeks, so if you’ve been following a grey Freelander that’s suddenly braked violently and veered off the road near a herd of cows, chances are it was me so I take this opportunity to apologize!

Anyway, my method eventually paid on Sunday (24th) along the minor road between Hare Warren and Cole Henley. At first I only picked out a few Pied Wagtails before picking up on a single yellow, followed by another…..the final count was eight. Only a record shot again I’m afraid. 

Yellow Wagtail – Cole Henley, 24th August 2014

Last week came the sad news that yet another colleague has been diagnosed with a form of cancer. I and all his work friends wish him every success with his treatment. This type of news is becoming all too regular so please don’t forget that I’m listing on behalf of Cancer Research UK this year and it’s not too late to sponsor me! Details on the website www.birdingbasingstokeanddeane.co.uk

 

Many thanks to those that have already donated or made a pledge.

Barry Stalker

 

First Excursion

Just a very quick post with the (little) news from the weekend.

I’m pleased to say that with the holiday out of the way I’m once again at large in the borough and on the trail of autumn year ticks; who needs all those fancy continental birds anyway! Do please say hello if you see me - although I know that’s very unlikely because birders in this part of the world are more rare than the rarest of rare birds!

Saturday was my first local birding excursion since my return from France and I was delighted to see that autumn migrants are already starting to pass through. I found this female type Wheatear on waste-ground near Silchester. 

Wheatear – Silchester, 9th August 2014

The Wheatear wasn’t the only migrant (or perhaps in this case immigrant) in the area on Saturday morning. Two clouded Yellow butterflies were making the most of the fine weather nearby. I was really pleased to see these as they were my first in the UK for some time - there were loads in France though.

Clouded Yellow – Silchester, 9th September 2014

Blackcaps have long ceased singing, but their hard ‘teck-teck’ calls are a familiar sound in the autumn. Most Blackcaps migrate, to winter in Spain, Portugal or north Africa, but an increasing number are now remaining in the UK throughout the winter. This juvenile at The Vyne on Saturday was part of a family group.

Blackcap (juv) – The Vyne, 9th August 2014

That’s about it I’m afraid; not very exciting was it! Things will hopefully improve over the coming weeks as we head into the critical part of the year.

Thanks for taking the time to read

Barry Stalker

 

 

Une Carte Postale de la France

Bonjour!

For once I actually have a genuine reason for my lack of recent posts – I’ve been on holiday on the continent. We stayed in a lovely farm gite roughly mid-way between Lucon and Fontenay-Le-Comte in the Department Vendee of the Pays de la Loire region in central west France – believe me, it’s a birding paradise!

What’s this got to do with Basingstoke and Deane you might ask – well nothing really, but we did pass close to the town of Alencon in Normandy, which is of course twinned with Basingstoke; I just thought readers would find it interesting.

Firstly though, and especially as Mrs S will probably read this, it was NOT a birding holiday – I must make that quite clear! Because it was NOT a birding holiday I didn’t take my ‘scope which I instantly regretted, but I did take my binoculars, and of course, everyone wants holiday snaps so my best camera was required!

Without actually birding (this being a non birding holiday) I notched up 73 species – not that impressive I hear you say, but when the list includes Turtle Dove, Black-winged Stilt, Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier, Cattle Egret, Red-backed Shrike, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Serin, 3 species of harrier, Black Redstart, Black Kite, Purple Heron, Stone-curlew and Sacred Ibis, you will understand that the list is quite impressive!

I say quite impressive in a UK context as most of the species in the list are very common in this area of France. Turtle Doves are everywhere! For example, when you see a bird sitting on telegraph wires, it’s almost certainly a Turtle Dove; they really are that common. The question I suppose, is what are we doing wrong here? We all know the plight of these birds on migration and of course we’re much further north, but when you see such a healthy population you realize that  farming practices and land management in the UK must be a significant factor in their decline.

Turtle Dove – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Around our gite, their gentle purring could be heard everywhere and this was normally the first sound one heard in the morning. However, on some mornings their song was drowned out by the beautiful fluting whistle or jay-like calls of the Golden Oriole. Five or six were always present, though very elusive at times and  often heard but not seen. I was pleased to get any kind of image and in the end I was very happy with my efforts.

Golden Oriole – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Golden Oriole – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Golden Oriole singing! – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Red-backed Shrikes were also very common and there were at least four pairs local to the gite. One family group seemed particularly happy among the vast fields of sunflowers, but occasionally came close to the edge. They were a complete joy to watch in the little time I had on my non-birding holiday…………

Red-backed Shrike (male) – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Red-backed Shrike (adult male and juv) – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014

Red-backed Shrike (juv) – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Red-backed Shrike (juv) – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Cattle Egrets were also abundant and flocks of over 25 in one field was not uncommon. Again, these images were taken within yards of the house.

Cattle Egret – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014

Cattle Egret – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

Hoopoes were also regular visitor to the farm, but try as I might I couldn’t get any sort of image – there was even one on the drive the morning we left. The approach to the farm was along a 2 km unmade track which served just two properties, and the final 400 metres were private.

Farm approach - near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

To the rear of the property was grazed marshland – home to Marsh Harriers, egrets, herons, Kingfishers, Lapwings and yet more Red-backed Shrikes! Both Red and Black Kites soared overhead and Barn Owls were regular evening visitors.

Marshland to rear of property - near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

This juvenile Cuckoo turned up on one of my now regular early morning walks – before anyone else was up of course!

Cuckoo (juv) – near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014.

I also found this juvenile Little Owl on one of my morning trips to the local boulangerie! Well, I couldn’t ignore it could I…………

Little Owl (juv) -near Mouzeuil Saint Martin, France 2014

Away from the gite and its excellent pool but within a few miles, one finds oneself on the Lucon-Fontenay prairie which means one thing………harriers! Driving to coastal towns such as Les Sable-d’Olonne or Le Tranche-sur-Mer or La Rochelle, one is forced to drive across these vast plains and we had numerous sightings of both Montagu’s and Hen Harriers from the car with Montagu’s being particularly common – occasionally I had to stop to stretch my legs……….

Montagu’s harrier (male) – near Lucon, France 2014 (heat haze a problem in this image)

Hen Harrier (juv) – near Le Langon, France 2014

Hen Harrier (juv) – near Le Langon, France 2014

The odd unscheduled stop to check the car over was also required when I saw this White Stork just outside Le Tranche-sur-Mer. The novelty soon wore off however as we saw dozens of them during our stay.

 White Stork – Le Tranche-sur-Mer, France 2014

See what I mean………..

White Stork – near Lucon, France 2014

I had built up some brownie points during the week so there was no objection to my stopping at the fabulous Reserve Naturelle National near Saint-Denis-Du-Payre. Unfortunately it was just about to close for lunch so I didn’t get long – the French take their lunches very seriously! The warden very kindly waived the 5 Euro entrance fee and I had about half an hour viewing from the various screens and the superb hide (possibly the best I’ve ever seen). The scrapes were teaming with bird life with literally dozens of Black-winged Stilts and Spoonbills. Several Sacred Ibis (feral in France) were also on show and yet more White Storks which readily adopt the artificial nesting platforms. A magnificent reserve which would require many hours to do it justice.

Black-winged Stilts – Reserve Naturelle National near Saint-Denis-Du-Payre, France 2014

White Stork – Reserve Naturelle National near Saint-Denis-Du-Payre, France 2014

So as you see, a lot of excellent birds can be seen on a non-birding holiday in this area of France – imagine what you could see if you actually spent some time birding! it’s an area I thoroughly recommend.

Now it’s back to the serious stuff – birding Basingstoke and Deane!

au revoir!

Barry Stalker

 

 

 

 

Demanding with Menaces

So another breeding season draws to a close; the energy has gone from the bird song and the dawn chorus is now more of a dawn whisper. I still hear the odd bird in song and still see a few carrying food, perhaps for second or even first broods if they failed earlier, but for many it’s a time to keep a low profile as they begin their annual moult. That’s not to say that there’s nothing interesting to see in the borough at the moment, such as the two recently fledged Woodlarks I found near Silchester on July 5th.

Woodlark (juv) - Silchester, 5th July 2014

Woodlarks seem to have had a good year in the borough as I’ve now seen several juveniles in different locations.

And the month got better…………..

Regular readers will remember my excitement when I found the Ringed Plover earlier in the spring, so imagine what it was like when I found six together on July 5th - two adults and four juveniles; a great bonus for early July. I’m told that family parties of Ringed Plover do not travel together so they must have bred locally - perhaps the first ever to breed in Basingstoke and Deane district? I’m not totally convinced however, as I’m sure I would have picked-up on a breeding pair. They were there the following day as well, but not the day after, which further fuels my suspicion that these were indeed early passage birds, even though most UK Ringed Plovers move very little distance at all, and those which bred inland would probably only move as far as the coast. Whatever the answer it was an incredible sight. 

I hope you appreciate these shots as well, because they took a great deal of patience as well as lying uncomfortably on the ground for a long period! The juveniles were actually far more cautious than the adults, but they eventually came close enough for some usable snaps.

Ringed Plovers – Basingstoke and Deane, 5th July 2014

Ringed Plover (juv) - Basingstoke and Deane, 5th July 2014

Ringed Plover (juv) - Basingstoke and Deane, 5th July 2014

Over the same weekend I was pleased to see that our small population of Dartford Warblers are still hanging on.

Dartford Warbler – Pamber Heath, 6th July 2014

It’s all been happening in the garden as well. Rook numbers have dropped but we’re now getting a family of Magpies visiting regularly. The two juveniles have obviously been watching the tits and are now quite adept at hanging from the feeders; mum and dad watch on reprovingly.

Magpie (juv) – Charter Alley, 6th July 2014  ’Look at me Mum!’

The Wood pigeons under our bedroom window have hatched and whatever you think of this species, and even I’d concede there’s too many of them, the youngsters are undeniably cute. Wood Pigeons have been recorded breeding in every month of the year!

Wood Pigeon – Charter Alley, 6th July 2014  ’Err, did somebody mention lunch?’

A family of Blackbirds are regular visitors but I don’t think these particular birds fledged in our garden. They certainly have good appetites and keep mum and dad very busy. Just look at this one demanding with menaces!

Blackbird (juv) – Charter Alley,12th July 2014

Also ’demanding with menaces’ are our hedgehogs which are emerging earlier and earlier in the evening. I’m now convinced that they have indeed adopted the box in the garden and can actually smell the cat food when I put it out! I think this one looks a little like a werewolf – just look at the teeth! Pity this Wood Pigeon got in the way though. 

Werewolf – Charter Alley, 12th July 2014

Gorgeous creatures and we feel very privileged to have them.

And get this – I actually scored a patch tick on the evening of 12th July! I was passing the time of day with a neighbour in the lane outside our house, when we heard a loud, shrill and persistent hek-ek-ek overhead. We looked up to see not one, but two Peregrines head over the house and across farmland to the south. From the views I had I couldn’t tell if they were adults or juveniles, but what I do know is that it was a fantastic (and a first) garden tick!

Sunday (13th) was a WeBS day, and early in my journey to Overton I spotted this Red Kite on the outskirts of Ramsdell. Unusually, this one allowed me to open the car window and stick my lens out.

Red Kite – Ramsdell, 13th July 2014

but not for long……………………….

Red Kite – Ramsdell, 13th July 2014

As expected at this time of year, the WeBS counts were pretty uninspiring. At one site, a number of Gadwall had already lost their flight feathers and frantically tried to run across the water as I walked along the bank. Many mallards were also in eclipse plumage.

What I did find interesting was the number of swifts in the Overton area – by far my highest count of the year with upwards of 25 screaming birds in the sky at any one time.

Swifts – Overton, 13th July 2014

Swifts – Overton, 13th July 2014

I think that brings me up to date.

Thanks again for reading.

Barry Stalker

 

Flushed with Success

Last week’s Corn Bunting gave me some hope that there just might be some extra year ticks to pick up before the autumn, so I was out doing the rounds nice and early on Saturday. I was pleased to see a Barn Owl sitting outside this nest box which has been used successfully in the past though I don’t know if it was used this year.

Barn Owl – Basingstoke and Deane, 28th June 2014

Late last week I found out that a pair of Peregrines had successfully bred in the borough and had raised two young. I visited the site on Saturday morning and had great views of the two youngsters exercising their wings with both adults in attendance. Fantastic news that this species is breeding locally.

I was out of the district for most of Saturday afternoon and evening, so I didn’t see that two Quail had been reported from Ladle Hill until early hours of Sunday morning -  needless to say I was up there first thing! Once I had passed through the last gate on the path up to the fort and was walking alongside a field of barley I heard the first of two calling birds. My own year-listing rules allow Quail to be heard only, as has hitherto always been the case in Hampshire………..but as I started the incline towards the hill, one bird on my right was calling constantly and was so audible that it was obviously close to the edge of the crops. I actually walked right up to it but still couldn’t see it even though it was literally feet away. I couldn’t resist seeing my first Hampshire Quail so I took a couple of steps into the barley and immediately the bird flew out, landing on the other side of the bridleway about fifty feet away – superb! I didn’t get my binoculars or camera onto it but I didn’t care, I had a great borough year tick and a Hampshire first! As I walked away it started to sing again and shortly after a second bird was also calling but further out in the crops beyond the hill fort.

The initial report of the Quail also mentioned that there were two Corn Buntings in the same area and as I approached the summit I could hear the jangling song of one bird which was in almost exactly the same location of the bird I photographed last Monday. I walked a good deal further but unfortunately couldn’t locate a second bird. Did I leave without taking a few more shots? Of course I didn’t!  

Corn Bunting – Ladle Hill, 29th June 2014 (all images)

My luck continued later on Sunday when two Hobbys were chasing each other about over Benyon’s Inclosure.

In the same area, this Common Buzzard drifted close enough for a decent shot. It’s carrying some sort of rodent and must have picked up some long grass in its talons when it made the kill.

Common Buzzard – Benyon’s Inclosure, 29th June 2014

Regular readers will know about my twitching adventures over the last few years, and basically how I try to avoid it! Occasionally though, a bird comes along that is just too good to ignore and one such bird is the short-toed Snake Eagle. This bird first turned up about a month ago in Dorset, before moving east through Hampshire where it was briefly seen, and then settling in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex. I could, as many did, have twitched it there, and did think about it, but my recent twitching history has not been good! Anyway, on Tuesday (1st July) the bird turned up at Pig Bush in the New Forest and it seemed settled. It was still there the following morning so I decided to make the trip down in the afternoon – guess what, it was seen flying away from the area late morning and wasn’t seen again – another successful dip! I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose after numerous dips in recent years, but this being the first ever mainland record of this species I will return if the opportunity arises. What does amaze me though, and I suppose there’s an element of sour-grapes here, is the number of people that can seemingly turn up on any given day and at any time; excluding those who are retired, the others are presumably independently rich, ‘throwing a sickie’ or on the dole!

Anyway, I didn’t return completely empty handed…………

Fallow Deer – Pig Bush New Forest, 2nd July 2014

So with half a year gone, it’s incredible to imagine that I’m probably going to struggle to see half a dozen more species in the borough before the end of the year. The autumn is certainly going to be busy and I’m looking forward to giving it everything to beat my previous personal best of 131.

Barry Stalker

 

 

 

Jangling Keys

The very next day after my last post, when I doubted whether I’d see anything new until the autumn, guess what happened – yes, a new species turned up, and not just a year tick but a borough tick as well!

Typically, I received the information whilst at work (thanks Peter) so had to wait a while before I could follow it up.

This is a species that I genuinely miss going to see every year at Martin/Toyd Down in Hampshire or on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire - the Corn Bunting.

I love Corn Buntings but sadly they’re very rare in the borough, with the odd bird turning up in winter finch flocks about the best you can usually hope for. But here was a singing male and I’m reliably informed that there hasn’t been a territorial bird locally for well over a decade. They’re not really that special to look at, many would call them a LBJ (although they’re not that small) but there’s something about them. Anyway, I made the trip up Ladle Hill on Monday evening praying it would still be there – I wasn’t disappointed!

Almost immediately I arrived, I saw a bird with its legs trailing, flying from the fence surrounding ladle Hill, out over the crops and back again before bursting into its famous jingling rattling song, often likened to a bunch of keys – superb!

Not much more I can say really so I’ll leave you with a few shots of this very special bird.

Corn Bunting (male) – Ladle Hill, 23rd June 2014 (all images)

 

Barry Stalker

 

 

Burning Bridges

My search for Spotted Flycatcher continued after my last post and I have to admit I started to get a little anxious about it. All my usual, and usually reliable locations had let me down so I started searching further afield; again without success. Then, out of the blue one did turn up on June 7th and right here in the village! It was after heavy over-night rain and the most horrendous thunderstorm in can remember in many a year. It was there the following day as well but unfortunately I haven’t seen it (or any others) since. This was the best of a poor batch of shots.

Spotted Flycatcher – Charter Alley, 7th June 2014

I have of course been doing the usual rounds but I won’t bore you with the details - here’s a couple of random shots from earlier in the month.

Reed Bunting – Overton, 8th June 2014

Linnet – Silchester, 8th June 2014

There’s an outside chance of Quail in this area so I’ve spent a fair bit of time driving to suitable locations and listening as well as walking on the downs. Although I didn’t hear our smallest and only migratory game bird ‘wetting its lips’ my efforts didn’t go without reward and I obtained the following images by way of consolation.

Tree Pipit – North Wessex Downs, 14th June 2014

Tree Pipit – North Wessex Downs, 14th June 2014

Yellowhammer - North Wessex Downs, 14th June 2014

If you’re local, there’s a very pleasant walk along the footpath from Pyott’s Hill, Old Basing following the River Loddon towards Blackland’s Farm. The last couple of weekends I’ve been searching (in vain) for Cetti’s Warbler and as they’ve been seen in this area in the fairly recent past I decided to try my luck this morning (22nd).

About a mile east of Old Basing the footpath crosses the river and there’s also a ford for farm vehicles. It really is a lovely spot, or at least it usually is. This morning’s walk was marred a little by a group of mindless morons that had presumably been there the day before and strewn litter all over the place. Empty beer bottles, tins of ‘Special Brew’ cigarette packs, crisp packets, sandwich packaging etc, but worst of all they had attempted to burn down the bridge! A couple were coming in the opposite direction and we stopped and spent a few minutes discussing ‘How it wasn’t like this in my day’ – how right. They cleared up the mess and carried it all away in plastic carrier bags that had also be left behind – but why should they have to? There’s now a sizeable hole in the railway sleepers which form the footpath. I didn’t really have the right sort of camera to show the extent of the damage and had to stand a fair distance away – it’s worse than it looks in this image.

Burnt bridge over River Loddon – 22nd June 2014

Anyway, most of the dog walkers that use these paths have normally turned back by now, so once you’ve crossed the bridge it isn’t unusual to have the rest of the path to one’s self. Singing Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, several Common Whitethroat including juveniles, Red Kite, Buzzard, Kestrel, Mandarin Duck with chicks, Blackcap, and Skylark were some of the birds seen during my walk. It’s also great for butterflies. Here’s a few shots from my outing – note, they don’t include Cetti’s Warbler which was neither seen or heard.

Red Kite – River Loddon near Old Basing, 22nd June 2014

Chiffchaff- River Loddon, Old Basing, 22nd June 2014

Common Whitethroat (juv) - River Loddon near Old Basing, 22nd June 2014

Goldfinch – River Loddon near Old Basing, 22nd June 2014

In the garden the Blackbirds have fledged but we now have a Woodpigeon nesting just below one of the windows in a rambling rose. There are currently two eggs in what is actually a very nice nest, unlike the crude affair that I normally associate with this species.

It must have been a good year for tits again as we’re getting large numbers of both blue and great tit juveniles at the feeding station.

Blue Tit (juv) - Charter Alley, June 2014

Great Tit (juv) – Charter Alley, June 2014 

We also have two hedgehogs visiting so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that at some point we’ll have some youngsters in the garden. I put a hedgehog box in the garden several years ago and they always appear from that direction in the evening. I’m tempted to have a look but think I’ll leave well alone. We’re feeding them cat food at the moment which they enthusiastically gobble down! The garden is pretty wildlife friendly with plenty of cover for birds and some ‘wild’ areas which is great as I use it as an excuse not to garden! We never use pesticides or weed killers of any kind and strangely don’t suffer too much from slugs or snails…………. funny that.

I’m tempted to say that the blog is in summer recess but I still haven’t seen a Hobby yet, and as this will probably be my last year as a blogger I’ll try to report as much as I can. In reality though, I’m unlikely to add many more species until the autumn.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the fine weather.

Barry stalker