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

 

 

 

Murder in the Garden

Once again I find myself apologizing for my lack of recent posts. Family commitments and poor weather has meant I haven’t been out as much as I’d like, but there’s still been a few decent birds along the way. Firstly though I have to congratulate Queens Park Rangers FC on their return to the Barclay’s Premier League after beating Derby 1-0 in the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley on May 24th. It was my first visit to the new stadium and what an outing. Much ale was consumed before as well as after the match and by the end of the day I wouldn’t have known a Blue Tit from a Buzzard!

Anyway, on to things avian. Since the initial two I wrote about, the number of Rooks visiting our garden has been steadily increasing and they are now easily consuming two large fat balls and a fat-filled coconut shell every day. They must be watching the garden constantly, as I can replenish supplies first thing in the morning without a Rook in sight only to find the first arrivals in the garden before I’ve finished washing my hands in the kitchen! So far the record is 16 at one time and they are often joined by a couple of Jackdaws and a Magpie. There’s some more shots of these on the website.

Rook – Charter Alley, May 2014

Rook – Charter Alley, May 2014

Also in the garden, five Robins successfully fledged from a nest on an ivy clad wall, and just a few feet away on the same wall a pair of Blackbirds are feeding their young. It’s also a great excuse not to do any gardening in that area!

Robin – Charter Alley, May 2014

Regular readers will remember my slight disappointment when a reported Ringed Plover actually turned out to be a Little Ringed Plover, so I could hardly contain my excitement when the real thing turned up on a private site on Saturday 10th. Ringed Plovers are very scarce in this area with just a few records, and this was the first for several years. It was also a personal borough first so I was pleased to get some reasonable shots, even though I was facing into the sun.

Ringed Plover – Basingstoke and Deane, 10th May 2014

Again, there’s some more shots on the website.

Out and about on Sunday 11th I came across this lovely fox in Benyon’s Enclosure. I know they’re a pest to some but they’re undeniably beautiful. No real story but just a joy to see.

Red Fox – Benyon’s Enclosure, 11th May 2014

There’s no story to tell about this linnet either, but I was just pleased to lock focus on one of these colourful birds.

Linnet – Silchester, 11th May 2014

This Woodlark near Silchester (17th) was one of a family of five. Note the pale edges to the feathers which mark this out as a juvenile. Once the post breeding and juvenile moults are complete in the autumn, it’s impossible to age this species. Great to see they’re doing well in the area.

Woodlark (juv) – Silchester, 17th May 2014

I’m sure most readers are aware of the plight of the Turtle Dove as they cross the Mediterranean on migration. This spring the Maltese government issued hunting licenses to kill up to 11,000 of these birds between April 12th and 30th, yes 11,000 – staggering isn’t it, and this is just one of the species massacred there every spring. I for one will not be taking any holidays there as I wouldn’t want to give a penny to the Maltese economy.

Forty years ago, this now red-listed species was as visible in Britain as the ubiquitous wood pigeon is today, but the Turtle Dove’s decline has been so rapid that it has dropped by 93 per cent since 1970, and in most places where its gentle purr was once a familiar sound, it is now just a memory.

Like the call of the Cuckoo, the song of the Turtle Dove is one the most evocative sounds of the English summer, so I was thrilled to hear it again this year and delighted to get some decent views. For obvious reasons the location has to remain undisclosed.

Turtle Dove – Basingstoke and Deane, 18th May 2014

Cuckoos have actually been more apparent this year and I’ve seen and heard them in several places. I rattled off a number of shots of the bird below, but because of the distance I fully expected them all to be unusable, however one tolerated a heavy crop and I was actually quite pleased with it. After missing Cuckoo on the patch last year I thought my luck was in on 14th when one was calling very close to the back of the house, but alas I just wasn’t able to see it.

Cuckoo - Silchester, 24th May 2014

It’s also the time of year to make my annual trips for Nightjar and Woodcock. Being a bit of a coward I dragged Mrs S along to accompany me on the walk through the woods in the dark. For the first time I also took my camera along and despite it being almost dark obtained a few images, albeit almost silhouettes.

Nightjar – Mortimer West End, 31st May 2014 21:46  (ISO 25600)

Nightjar – Mortimer West End, 31st May 2014 21:46  (ISO 25600)

Monday (2nd June) was my son’s turn to volunteer for a creepy walk, this time to Sandford Woods near Wolverton which was very productive in last year’s Woodcock survey. I didn’t take my camera as both batteries were flat, but definitely missed an opportunity as we enjoyed several fly-pasts of roding birds starting at 21:19 when it was still fairly light. Next time I go there remind me to take some insect repellent!

So the year list for the borough is up to 120 and still with one or two good possibilities in the coming weeks. A very productive autumn will be essential to beat my 131 of 2011 though. 

The patch continues to be dire but I very unexpectedly added Kingfisher (13th) at Pamber End, on a stream no more than two feet wide. The patch list currently stands at 71, in stark contrast to the 89 at the same time last year.

Donations and pledges for the Sponsored Birdwatch in aid of Cancer Research UK now total £482.00 excluding any gift aid – many thanks to those who have sponsored me.

And finally………this was taken in the garden this very evening – for once I’m up to date!

Hedgehog – Charter Alley, 3rd June 2014

As always, thanks for reading. I shall now resume my search of Basingstoke and Deane churchyards and similar places for Spotted Flycatcher which are proving hard to find this year! 

Barry Stalker

 

Singing in the Rain

The weekend of 26/27th was a washout in both weather and birding, so there’s little to report and definitely no year-ticks! Prior to that I added Common Sandpiper on 23rd.

This gorgeous Blackbird sings constantly from a perch in our garden and was the only photo opportunity over a very wet weekend. As a songster, the Blackbird is hard to beat I think and this one was quite happy to sing in the rain.

Blackbird – Charter Alley, 25th April 2014

Since my last post I made my first sojourn of the year out of the borough; but don’t panic, it was only into neighbouring Berkshire. A white Stork had been found just across the border on 24th April but then disappeared. I didn’t get a chance to go that day, but it (or another?) was re-found on Thursday 1st at Swallowfield – agonisingly close to the Hampshire border and of course Basingstoke and Deane District! In truth I wasn’t going to bother, but as it was so close and a Berkshire first I talked myself into it. I parked at sheepridge Court Farm and walked to some elevated chalk mounds where I had distant ‘scope views of this magnificent bird across fields, but I could see others much closer and decided to join them. It was well worth the walk as well, even if I did get home a lot later than I had promised Mrs S…….

White Stork – Swallowfield (Berkshire), 1st May 2014

White Stork – Swallowfield (Berkshire), 1st May 2014

After the disappointment of the previous weekend, I was determined to do better over the three day Bank Holiday break and had a list of targets. First call was in the far west of the borough to a site which has been reliable for Tree Pipit in recent years. I not going to name the site as Tree Pipits are becoming increasingly scarce in the borough and the least disturbance they suffer the better. There were two singing males present.

Tree Pipit – Basingstoke and Deane, 3rd May 2014

Tree Pipit – Basingstoke and Deane, 3rd May 2014

Later in the morning there were two singing Sedge Warblers at The Vyne – another important year-tick gained but no images on this occasion as I couldn’t   get a clear shot of either of them. I expected Reed Warbler here as well but didn’t see or hear any during the short time I was there. I was also unsuccessful with Lesser Whitethroat at Hartley Wespall during the morning.

Mrs S and I had lunch at The Vine, Hannington on Saturday and whilst in the garden I heard my first Cuckoo of the year; not ticked of course!

So day one of the Bank Holiday weekend finished with two of my seven targets in the bag.

I should have mentioned that the weather was lovely on Saturday, and the fine weather was with us again on Sunday when I headed off to Silchester Common first thing. Parking at Impstone Road, I was almost immediately greeted by a singing Garden Warbler. This bird sang from dense cover which is typical for this species, but I eventually managed a partly obscured record shot. Another Cuckoo was also distantly heard.

Garden Warbler – Silchester, 4th May 2014

Nearby, two Common Whitethroat proved much easier to photograph.

Common Whitethroat – Silchester, 4th May 2014

Common Whitethroat – Silchester, 4th May 2014

As it was still early, I headed off to the downs near Kingsclere in the hope of finding a Whinchat or some other passage migrant, but the highlight of a quiet trip was two Brown Hare that were tearing around after each other. This gave me the chance of some action shots which I gratefully accepted.

Brown Hare – North Wessex Downs, 4th May 2014

Into Monday and again the conditions were lovely. After hearing the Cuckoo on Saturday I returned to Hannington and parked in the recreation ground car park. Hannington has always been good for Cuckoo and they are often seen and heard around the village; much like they used to be in Charter Alley :-(

I was in luck! After about fifteen minutes one started calling from somewhere near the church and the call became more and more frequent and audible until it flew across the football pitch and landed distantly on the east side of the village, still calling – a great start to the day!

Driving away from the village and just outside, I was surprised to see this female Wheatear flying along in front of me as I drove before landing in a road-side tree. I took this image through an open car window.

Wheatear (fem) – Hannington, 5th May 2014

The Hannington area continued to reward me, this time with a cracking singing Lesser Whitethroat along the road towards Cannon Heath. Although very pleased, I don’t feel a tick is complete without some sort of image, but Lesser Whitethroats are a skulking species and my efforts went unrewarded. Still, it was a relief to tick this species after dipping at the usually reliable Hartley Wespall.

My final visit of the day was to Overton where Reed Warbler are an easier year tick, and for once I found one sitting out in the open.

Reed Warbler – Overton. 5th May 2014

As I walked back to the car I heard a familiar ‘screeching’ above, as four Swifts flew overhead - my first of the year and a great bonus tick.

So I managed seven ticks over the weekend and at 6th May I’m front of any previous year that I’ve listed in the borough:

6th May 2011 (111), 2012 (115), 2013 (110) and this year 116 – but I need more passage birds!

On the other hand, the patch has been woeful - boring in fact, and I haven’t added anything since 19th April. Highlights at Ewhurst over the weekend were a distant calling Cuckoo, somewhere near Pitt Hall Farm I think and a Tawny Owl calling on Sunday 4th at 11am.

The sighting page on the website is also proving a little disappointing with very few reports coming in. If you are local and are interested in reading what others have seen, please send me your sightings or if you’d prefer send them via Peter Hutchins who will pass them on.

Thanks for reading

Barry Stalker

Easter Ecstacy

The ‘silly Season’ that I wrote about in my last post came to an end on Good Friday – not because I had success, but after six trips up Beacon Hill I’d had enough! Also, the rest of my sites were being neglected so unless I get lucky or someone reports one locally that I can twitch, Ring Ouzel will not be on my list this year. My visits were not without reward however so here are a few shots from my six visits.

Red Kite – Beacon Hill, 10th April 2014

Skylark – Beacon Hill, 12th April 2014

Chiffchaff – Beacon Hill, 18th April 2014

Wheatear – Beacon Hill, 18th April 2014

So with Ring Ouzel off the menu and out of my system, it was time to start thinking about mopping up some of our more common summer visitors that were now beginning to arrive. It didn’t take long either, as I was greeted at Ewhurst Park by the familiar scratchy song of the Common Whitethroat.

Common Whitethroat – Ewhurst Park, 18th April 2014

It was whilst I was at Ewhurst that I received news of a Common Sandpiper at The Vyne, but two trips that day and another first thing on Saturday were unsuccessful. Looking back through my records for the last four years, I am fairly confident that I can claw this one back (famous last words!) as I usually see two or three in the district every year – fingers crossed! Anyway, thanks for the text Martin.

It was also a WeBS weekend, and as heavy rain was predicted for Sunday I headed off to Overton on Saturday instead. This Grey Wagtail seemed very agitated at one site and it quickly became evident why - a fledgling was sitting nearby and soon gave itself away with its calls – why do they do that? The parents’ need a unique call to tell the youngsters to be quiet, though thinking back it never worked for me!

Grey Wagtail (male) – Overton, 19th April 2014

Grey Wagtail fledgling – Overton, 19th April 2014

Breeding was evident at a number of sites over the weekend with several broods of Mallard, Coot and Moorhen being seen and others incubating eggs.

Mute Swan – Overton, 19th April 2014 (how’s that for an opportunist shot!)

Coot – Overton, 19th April 2014

Sunday actually started dry, so I headed off to Benyon’s Inclosure in the hope of picking up Garden Warbler and perhaps Cuckoo before the rain arrived. No luck with either of these but although not a year tick, I was very pleased with a bonus four Lesser Redpoll and absolutely delighted with the sighting of around twenty Common Crossbill; possibly a post-breeding flock. I first picked them up on the east side near the caravan park but they all always remained high in the trees and on this gloomy morning this was the best record shot I could obtain – I didn’t have a magic wand to entice them down to a puddle to photograph them from a couple of yards away…..

 

Common Crossbill (fem or juvenile?) – Benyon’s Inclosure, 20th April 2014

Later on Sunday I received news (thanks John) about a pair of Oystercatchers on a private site that I visit very regularly. I made two visits that day (thanks Mrs S) but had no joy. This one did hurt, as Oystercatchers are very scarce in the borough with few records. I got absolutely soaked and returned home thoroughly miserable, which was a shame after the crossbills. I consoled myself with some comfort food, and as it was Easter what better than a large chocolate egg, but it still didn’t do the trick – alcohol it was then!

I expected conditions to be wet on Sunday but was pleasantly surprised to find it dry and bright. We had visitors over Sunday night and we were off to football late morning, but I was tempted! Dare I suggest that I pop out again? I did a few chores then tentatively ventured the question – ‘Hhrrmm, I wonder if it would be worth checking out the Oystercatchers again?’ As usual I received a positive and encouraging response and a couple of minutes later I was in my birding garb and out of the door! I arrived at the site about 9 am and as expected really the birds weren’t there. I was thinking about heading home when around twenty past nine I heard a familiar call and two Oystercatchers flew in – I couldn’t believe my luck!

Oystercatchers – Basingstoke and Deane, 21st April 2014

Needless to say I was ecstatic! This reinforces what I often say about local birding - I could easily travel to the coast and see bucket loads of Oystercatchers, but they’re scarce inland so seeing one locally makes it really special. They flew off east at 10:47 and I returned home a very happy man with a borough first and year-tick 108 in the bag. 

Recent patch ticks have been Sparrowhawk and Common Whitethroat (18th) at Ewhurst, House Martin (19th) Ewhurst Park floods and Green Woodpecker (19th) at Monk Sherborne.

And finally, I think everyone knows that members of the corvid family have a high degree of intelligence, and I’ve recently been witnessing this first-hand. A pair of Rooks are visiting the garden that are obviously feeding young and have learnt a technique for collecting food from the fat balls I hang out – this requires teamwork. They arrive as a pair, one bird jumps onto the top of the feeder and pecks away at the balls but does not attempt to feed. The second bird stands on the ground collecting the fragments, again not attempting to feed and when its beak is full both birds depart together to presumably feed the young. This process is being repeated over and over; interesting to watch but it costs a small fortune in fat balls!

Rook – Charter Alley, 21st April 2014

Rook – Charter Alley, 21st April 2014

Barry Stalker

 

Silly Season

Saturday heralded the start of the ‘silly season’ again, when I expect to make the very enjoyable (not) walk up Beacon Hill Highclere several times in search of Ring Ouzel. The weather first thing on Saturday was actually okay but I made the wrong decision by leaving Beacon Hill till later and headed off to The Vyne. Anyway, I arrived at Beacon Hill just as the weather started to close in – great! One year I walked to the top and found a Ring Ouzel within five minutes; how I prayed it would be the same today, but of course it wasn’t! I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean when I say the rain was that very fine ‘wet’ rain, but it didn’t stop the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits from singing above me. Neither did it put-off the dog walkers, which as usual, for the most part completely ignored the large sign on the way in by letting their brutes run wild. Of course, they were well prepared with the obligatory plastic bag, which for one ‘gentleman’ must have been one of those bags-for-life, as his delightful cur defecated on the path as he sauntered past apparently un-noticing – I’m sure he’s refereed at QPR! I can’t quite make up my mind whether these people are plain ignorant, illiterate or just don’t care – the latter I suspect with maybe a hint of the other two.

Invisible sign – Beacon Hill, Burghclere, 5th April 2014

After a full circuit of the hill I returned to the car, and you’ll be pleased to know I wasn’t empty handed with my first Willow Warbler of the year firmly etched in my rather damp note book.

That was about if for Saturday apart from some evening news that a Yellow Wagtail and a Ringed Plover were seen on floods opposite Ashe Park earlier in the day – both would be year ticks and the latter a borough first for me.  

This was obviously my first visit of Sunday morning and I soon picked up the Ringed Plover through my ‘scope, although it was still very distant; the Yellow Wagtail had unfortunately moved on. Shortly after I was joined by Peter Hutchins who was on his way to the gym (?) and as we chatted a Swallow passed overhead which was my first of the year; Peter left shortly after to go and punish himself. A pair of Mute Swan landed on the floods followed a little later by a Grey Heron. It had started to rain, but two birds had arrived and were skimming the water – they were Sand Martins and another year tick! This was the best image I could manage in increasingly wet conditions.

Sand Martin (1 of 2) - Ashe Park floods, 6th April 2014

Now came the disappointment. The plover had flown much closer to the road and it was clearly not a Ringed Plover but in fact a Little Ringed Plover. I reproached myself for being ‘taken in’ by this bird which I put down to not being diligent enough due to it being originally called as a Ringed, but also because the legs at distance seemed very orange for Little; the head pattern not being discernable. It flew around a bit more and although a wing bar was present it was not as bold as it would be on a common. I’m just glad I put it right before I left as I would have been thoroughly depressed if I’d learnt it later as I’m usually ultra careful. I started this paragraph by saying it was a disappointment, well Little ringed Plovers are never a disappointment and are a very scarce bird in the borough, only not quite as scarce as Ringed Plover. The bird eventually flew close enough for a record shot.  Little Ringed Plover – Ashe Park floods, 6th April 2014

Later in the morning, six Swallows were over nearby Lower Ashe Farm and a single over Ivy Lane sewage treatment works.

I headed for home but stopped to view farmland near Wootton St. Lawrence and was delighted to find a decent number of Golden Plover in the field directly west of the stone masons on the A339 Basingstoke to Newbury road. My highest count was 81 birds, many moulting into summer plumage.

Golden Plover – Wootton St. Lawrence, 6th April 2014

Golden Plover – Wootton St. Lawrence, 6th April 2014

That’s about it for the news, but additional images have been added to the website as well as a new section for local sightings. A diary of borough events and guided walks has also been added - please take a look. Some of the guided walks sound great and I might even tag along on one or two myself.

As ever, thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker