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

My Favourite Bird

Late March is all about chasing spring migrants and summer visitors when one is compiling a year list, and Saturday morning I caught up with two of the borough’s scarcest summer visitors.

First up was a visit to a private site in the hope of finding Little Ringed Plover. These small waders arrive from Africa in late March to breed on natural sites as well as a variety of man-made habitats.

I was lucky enough to connect with a pair in habitat which has somewhat diminished in the borough over the last year.

Little Ringed Plover – Basingstoke and Deane, 29th March 2014 (private site)

Little Ringed Plover – Basingstoke and Deane, 29th March 2014 (private site)

Another very scarce borough species and one I’ve not mentioned on this site before is the stunning and enigmatic Stone-curlew, sometimes referred to as the Eurasian Thick-knee. Overall it’s probably my favourite species and I take a great deal of interest in them which is why this year I’ve decided to break radio silence and share my sighting of this very special bird. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that every year a small but important number migrate from North Africa, Spain or southern France to spend the summer months within the 250 sq. miles that is Basingstoke and Deane district. Other birds pass through the area on the way to their breeding grounds in Wiltshire and Berkshire. The few birds that remain in the borough choose very isolated and remote locations, inaccessible by public road or public footpath, but in recent years one pair have adopted a slightly easier location to access – if you don’t know, please don’t ask! Anyway, a pair were present at this ‘usual’ spot on Saturday morning and was fittingly my 100th species in the borough this year. Stone-curlews are largely nocturnal and rarely show close, and in that respect this pair are no different from the others. This is a very heavily cropped image, which accounts for its size. 

Stone-curlew – Basingstoke and Deane, 29th March 2014

The best place in the country to see Stone-curlew safely is in the brecks at Weeting Heath in Norfolk, where the Norfolk Wildlife Trust has established visitor and viewing facilities. http://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/weeting-heath

I also popped in to Ewhurst on Saturday where singing Chiffchaffs had increased to five.

Chiffchaff – Ewhurst Park, 29th March 2014

On Sunday, I returned to the Little Ringed Plover site in the hope of finding some Sand Martins but a woman arrived and started throwing sticks in the water for her two dogs. This is something I’ve never seen here before as the site is strictly private and surrounded by barbed wire fencing. She walked the entire length of the site flushing everything off the water as she went. I eventually caught up with her and politely (!) explained that the site is private and that she was causing disturbance to birds and that it’s also very dangerous with disused shafts and quicksand. In a squeaky voice she replied ‘Oh I didn’t know, I didn’t disturb anything’. She seemed genuinely sorry but it still amazes me that people walk around with their eyes closed completely oblivious to their surroundings. Also, I watched her climb through the fence to get there! Needless to say, I didn’t see any Sand Martins and I didn’t see the Little Ringed Plovers either. I filed the image under ‘stupid bloody woman’!

Stupid bloody woman – 30th March 2014 - there’s another dog on the end of the long yellow leash.

The only highlight of the visit was this splendid Wheatear.

Wheatear – Basingstoke and Deane, 30th March 2014

Later on Sunday I visited another Stone-curlew site, much more remote and inaccessible than Saturday but where there was a slightly better chance of some improved shots. Although four were present during the week and definitely two on Saturday, they could not be found. Following on from last week’s Lapwings, another opportunity presented itself here, along with a number of Skylarks.

Lapwing – Basingstoke and Deane, 30th March 2014

Lapwing – Basingstoke and Deane, 30th March 2014

Skylark - Basingstoke and Deane, 30th March 2014

Skylark - Basingstoke and Deane, 30th March 2014

As it was Mothering Sunday I thought I’d better not get home too late, but I stopped en-route at Saturday’s Stone-curlew site to find that they too had disappeared. It’s actually not unusual for newly arrived birds to ‘vanish’ in this fashion as they search for suitable food supplies, but if previous years are anything to go by they’ll almost certainly be back.

So, with 100 species seen, I’ve now raised £371.25 for Cancer Research UK – many thanks to those who have sponsored me.

As I write, the first Willow Warblers are arriving in the borough and I’ll be hot on their heels! I’ll leave you with a couple of seasonal images.

Brown Hare and wild? daffodils – Ewhurst Park, 29th March 2014

Spring Lambs – Old Burghclere, 30th March 2014

Barry Stalker

Blackthorn Winter

March is a month of transition as we pass into summer. Many of our winter visitors are still present in good numbers and our summer visitors and passage migrants are just starting to arrive - although I struggled to find any over the weekend! The glorious weather of a week ago has been replaced by much colder conditions, which for March is a fairly consistent pattern, reminding us that we can’t quite pack away our coats just yet – Country folk call it the blackthorn winter, as this cold snap often coincides with the flowering of the blackthorn.

Here’s the news……..

Around 25 Fieldfare flew over the garden on Thursday morning (20th) and later the same morning 12 Golden Plover were flying circuits over fields south of the A339 near Wootton StLawrence – possibly part of the much larger flock that was present earlier in the year.

Again, I had targets for the weekend but only one worked out. Decent numbers of Sand Martin had been reported from several sites in Hampshire during the latter part of last week, but on Saturday (22nd), despite visiting most of the significant bodies of water the borough has to offer, I drew a blank. Indeed, everywhere was quiet on Saturday. Pairs of Reed Bunting and Stock Dove were the highlight of a visit to The Vyne, which had also lost the Redshanks that were present for the previous two weekends. Ewhurst had little of interest on the water but singing Chiffchaffs had increased to three.

Chiffchaff – Ewhurst Park, 22nd March 2014

Still on the subject of Ewhurst, work has started on what I’m told will be a new boat-house at the northern end of the lake. I have an uneasy feeling about this development and feel certain that no good will come of it, especially if motor boats are employed.

Later on Saturday, an hour or so on the downs didn’t produce the hoped for Wheatear but a Raven and a small flock of Linnets provided a photo opportunity.

Raven – North Wessex Downs, 22nd March 2014

Linnet (female) – North Wessex Downs, 22nd March 2014

I had limited time on Sunday morning but returned to the downs in the afternoon where at last I year ticked a passage migrant. At least seven Wheatear were on a newly ploughed area together with a few pairs of Lapwing and twenty six Golden Plover. Unfortunately the plovers took flight and landed some distance away, but the Lapwings and Wheatears remained. There’s a couple more shots of the Lapwings on the website – a much underrated bird and one that is becoming increasingly scarce.

Lapwing – North Wessex Downs, 23rd March 2014

Wheatear (female) – North Wessex Downs, 23rd March 2014 (record shot)

Wheatear (male) – North Wessex Downs, 23rd March 2014 (record shot)

A fairly uneventful week I’m afraid but you can’t win them all!

Barry Stalker

Audacious Targets

I actually started this post over a week ago but spending so much time in the field has meant little time for writing. Added to that was a lack of decent images to embellish what has actually been a pretty productive couple of weeks.

I made an audacious list of five species to target over the weekend of 8/9th: Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Firecrest, Redshank, Cetti’s Warbler and Bittern – quite a tall order considering that two of them would be borough firsts for me!

A very early morning visit to Sandford Woods proved fruitless for Lesser Spot on Saturday (8th) but the day improved in the south of the borough with a cracking singing Firecrest. It was almost a year since my last visit to this site but I found this bird in almost exactly the same place, despite there having been a lot of tree clearance in the area. There was no photo opportunity with this little bird as it remained fairly high and never stopped moving, but an important year-tick nevertheless. Following HOS guidelines, the location of breeding Firecrests has to remain undisclosed. Whilst watching the Firecrest I heard a familiar but infrequent (borough) call overhead as five or possibly six Lesser Redpoll landed high above me in the tall larch. This time I managed a couple of shots which as you can see from the poor quality are very heavily cropped. So with two ticks I was on schedule even if one of them wasn’t directly targeted!

Lesser Redpoll – Basingstoke and Deane, 8th March 2014

Lesser Redpoll – Basingstoke and Deane, 8th March 2014

Heading back towards home I stopped in Old Basing to follow up on the Bittern which had been reported around the Pyott’s Hill area during the week. I didn’t really expect to see it as they can be very elusive and much of the land around there is inaccessible. Eventually I wandered off along the Loddon towards the incinerator in search of my next target, which I’m reliably informed has been seen there within the last year or so – Cetti’s Warbler. Bittern and Cetti’s would have been borough ticks for me, but it wasn’t to be. It was a very pleasant walk though and I didn’t leave completely empty handed, ticking my first Reed Bunting of the year. Other highlights included two Green Sandpipers close to Blackland’s Farm, several deer and three species of butterfly including the first Brimstone of the year.

Roe Deer – off Pyott’s Hill Old Basing, 8th March 2014

Brimstone – off Pyott’s Hill Old Basing, 8th March 2014

Sunday 9th was another early start in search of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and this time my travels took me to Preston Oak Hills near Ellisfield. The habitat here is mainly ancient oak and hazel coppice but with some conifer planting as well. It’s superb habitat and alive with bird life at dawn. In the couple of hours I was there I saw five species of Tit, heard and saw Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, two Siskins, three Goldcrests and multiple Chaffinch and Robin. Song Thrushes were singing everywhere and a Tawny Owl called from deep in the wood. What I didn’t see or hear was Lesser Spot which was disappointing, but on the plus side I didn’t see any dog walkers either, which is always a bonus!

Still hungry for more ticks it was off to The Vyne where I immediately heard one of my initial target species – the Redshank. Three of them were on the floods in front of the hide and I spent a pleasant ten minutes watching them chase each other about, calling loudly. So, five species targeted, two found plus a bonus two – not a bad weekend!

I’ve also added to my Patch total as well, with Yellowhammer and Jay (9th) and Linnet and Mute Swan (13th).

Little to report from Saturday (15th) but on Sunday (16th) I once again joined Martin Pitt on one of his flush counts at The Vyne watermeadows. A water Rail was a great start followed by 57 Common Snipe and crucially at 07:52 the target bird – Jack Snipe! This was a text book Jack, taking off silently within a metre of us and landing just a short distance away. Although the views were only for a few seconds, the short bill, short tail and small wings with white trailing edge were clearly seen – a fantastic year tick and a borough first for me, thank you Martin!

Common Snipe – Vyne watermeadows, 16th March 2014

And the birding didn’t finish there, as I had my own WeBS to do around Overton. All pretty routine but  I flushed a Green Sandpiper which flew a couple of circuits before landing.

Green Sandpiper – Overton, 16th March 2014

Reed Bunting – Overton, 16th March 2014

So the current standings are:                                                                               Basingstoke and Deane year list = 97                                                                           Patch List = 60                                                                                                              Butterflies = 4 (Peacock, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma)

Thanks for reading

Barry Stalker

 

Stoat or Weasel?

So the Meteorological spring has begun has it? You could have fooled me, as once again, I write this entry with the rain lashing against the windows! This seems to be the pattern of late – one nice day followed by a week of unsettled weather. 

I made the most of Saturday (1st) though, and was out nice and early – I had to be, we had another of those infuriating early kick-offs at QPR. Anyway, my target was Willow Tit. I had already dipped this species last week so was determined to get one under my belt this weekend. I returned to the Dummer area to do a more extensive search. There were a lot of squirrels about on Saturday morning and I assumed it was another that was running towards me along a woodland track, but I was wrong – it was a stoat. How do you know it wasn’t a weasel? I hear you ask…..well for those who haven’t heard it before, and there can’t be many………..

Q. What’s the difference between a stoat and weasel?
A. A Weasel is weasily wecognised and a stoat is stoataly different

painful isn’t it!

Stoat (the black tail confirms!) – Dummer, 1st March 2014

The hoped for Willow Tit was eventually found, a pair in fact, as well as three pairs of Marsh Tit during the morning. Willow Tits are not great songsters but the male here was very vocal, which (for me) is really the only sure way of separating them from the very similar Marsh Tit. Although I only obtained a pretty poor record shot, the diagnostic (but not conclusive) pale wing panel is very evident in this picture, as is the lack of pale spot on the upper mandible.

Willow Tit – Dummer, 1st March 2014

If you want to see a great portrait of a Willow Tit, see Alan Lewis’ image on Going Birding, dated 16th February and taken just outside the district boundary.  http://www.goingbirding.co.uk/hants/show_photo.asp?photo_id=4596

That increases the district year-list to 92.

As always, thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

 

Gandalf the Grey

There are three distinct lists that one could compile when planning a year-list for Basingstoke and Deane district. One list for species that will definitely be seen, like Blue Tit for instance. Another list for species that will probably be seen, maybe Tree Pipit falls into this category. and a third list for species that could possibly be seen but are by no means guaranteed, like Long-eared Owl. Then of course there are those species which have occurred in the borough previously but are certainly not expected and do not fall into any of the three categories – like White-tailed Eagle, or Arctic Tern, or Great White Egret or in fact Great Grey Shrike.

Great Grey Shrikes do turn up in the area from time to time but they’re certainly not regular and always unexpected. This is why I put in so much effort at White Hill, Kingsclere last weekend, and why year-ticking this one was still my main objective for this week, especially as it was reported again on Monday! The Met Office website was again forecasting rain for much of the week and into the weekend, but there was a weather window today (Wednesday (26th). Once shrikes set up a winter territory they’re usually pretty faithful to it, so I was confident of catching up with it at some point. I decided to try for a fourth time and took the afternoon off work. 

I arrived at White Hill just after 2pm and a quick scan of the hill leading up to the gallops was instantly rewarding! Camera in hand, I set off along the footpath and for the next two hours attempted to obtain some decent pictures – but what I hadn’t expected was rain – unbelievable!

The shrike was originally near the footpath on fence posts along the Wayfarer’s Walk, but was very mobile and was not always easy to relocate once it had flown out of sight.

Great Grey Shrike – White Hill Kingsclere, 26th February 2014

As can just be seen in the next image, the rain was falling quite heavily now, but as it had cost me several hours of my life (as well as an afternoon’s pay), I wasn’t giving up just yet!

Great Grey Shrike – in the rain!

The shower passed fairly quickly but it remained mostly cloudy and dull and not at all what I expected. Despite the weather, the images I obtained got steadily better over the next hour or so.

The bird remained elusive and would regularly disappear out of sight and then as if by magic appear again in front of me. It was indeed a magical bird – I even named it………Gandalf the Grey – yes I am mad!

Gandalf the Grey – White Hill Kingsclere, 26th February 2014 (all pictures)

A great bird to clock-up my 90th borough species this year – now back to those lists…………………..

Barry Stalker

Flushing Meadow

The run of poor weather has continued over the last couple of weeks although the odd day has been very nice. Saturday (15th) was a complete wash-out but the following day was beautiful. I postponed my own WeBS counts on 16th and joined fellow local birder Martin Pitt on one of his flush counts at The Vyne; I was hoping  for Jack Snipe which is regularly recorded there in the winter. Realistically the chances were slim as the water levels were still very high but it was worth a try. As expected, we were unsuccessful with jack but counted at least 60 Common Snipe which were my first of the year. I say ‘we’ but what I really mean is Martin, as I personally lost count very quickly as the snipe were taking off from everywhere! A few left high to the west, but most just flew low and landed on the other side of the watermeadows. I had my camera but there were no real photo opportunities. A very enjoyable morning and I even found a lens cap I’d lost there on a previous visit! Whilst on the subject of The Vyne, it is no longer possible to park in the main National Trust car park to access the public footpath across the grazing meadow to view the lake, without either being a member (which I am) or paying the entrance fee, and even then not before 10 am when the grounds open to the public. This is very irksome as I regularly view the lake before the public arrive, but will now have to walk through Morgaston Woods and back, taking considerably more time - future visits will be less frequent I think. 

News broke on Thursday (20th) that a Great Grey Shrike was present at White Hill near Kingsclere. I was then counting down the hours until I arrived at the site at 07:15 on Saturday. The game-keeper very kindly allowed me to wander into the private areas which I surveyed for the next three hours! I had no joy at all with the shrike but flushed three Short-eared Owls from rough ground alongside the gallops – a great consolation! I actually flushed them twice more as I walked west towards Ashley Warren before they flew back east and dropped down much lower on the hillside.

 Short-eared Owl – White Hill Kingsclere, 22nd February 2014

There was actually a lot of bird-life around that morning and the fine weather made it very spring-like. Good numbers of Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Skylark and Yellowhammer were all enjoying the sunshine, and many in fine voice.

Yellowhammer - White Hill Kingsclere, 22nd February 2014

I saw and spoke to three other birders that morning and all were disappointed not to see the shrike, so you’ll understand my surprise when a short while later I read on Going Birding that it had been showing well near the Wayfarer’s Walk!

Never one to give up, I was back on Sunday morning when the weather was very different. I sat in the car in the lay-by at White Hill scanning the area for about an hour before braving the ferocious wind and heavy showers – again no joy.

I didn’t return home completely empty handed however, as a large flock of corvids were joined by three Herring Gulls in fields opposite Ewhurst Park, Ramsdell - a district and patch tick! 

Herring Gull – Ramsdell, 23rd February 2014

Late in the afternoon on Sunday the weather brightened up and the wind dropped a little, so I couldn’t resist another crack at the shrike – same outcome unfortunately! Hopefully it will be around during the week, as a decent year-list relies on picking up any scarcities like this.

Marsh Tit was added to the list on Saturday, when I failed at my first attempt at Willow Tit – here we go again!

I have made further updates to the website with the first site guide now published as well as a systematic list of the borough’s birds, and of course more images – please take a look.

That’s about it I think – thank you for reading.

Barry Stalker

Dopping Duel

After the wettest January on record, February actually started dry and sunny…… but it didn’t last of course! Birding time was limited on Saturday 1st as there was an irritating 12:15 kick-off at QPR, so it was up and out early. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been taking regular detours through Wootton St Lawrence in the hope of finding Grey Partridge, but so far had been unsuccessful. I decided to spend the couple of hours I had in search of this species and tried my luck around the Pack Lane area of Oakley. This also proved fruitless and with time running out I headed towards home through Wootton St Lawrence. I was almost back to the A339 when I stopped to view two dark shapes in a field - Bingo! I quickly grabbed the camera from the car but it was too late, as the pair took flight just as I was setting it up. I fired off a few shots anyway and this was the only one which was anywhere near in focus. 

Grey Partridge – Wootton St Lawrence, 1st February 2014 (definitely a record shot!)

Sunday (2nd) continued dry and bright and I was delighted to find the two Goosander back on Ewhurst Lake; hopefully they’ll become regular there. It’s presumably the same pair of Stonechat that I saw late last year which have taken up residence along Lloyd’s Lane Ramsdell, and are now a regular sight along the fence line as well as around the newly planted area inside Ewhurst Park. Also on 2nd, fifteen Red Kites roosted at the usual site near Bramley. Back to work and a Peregrine was chasing Feral Pigeons around Basing View, Basingstoke on Monday 3rd.

The heavy rain and gales returned during the week and it was particularly bad on Thursday/Friday and into Saturday morning, but thankfully the worst had passed through by dawn and the day started dry and bright. I arrived at a private site to find two male and a female Shelduck amongst the assembled wildfowl.

Shelduck (2 male, 1 fem) – Basingstoke and Deane, 8th February 2014

Everything looks perfectly civilized in the picture above, but one of the males was obviously paired with the female and would tolerate no approach from the second male (seen above stretching its wings). The paired male obviously felt threatened by the second male and constantly attacked it, holding its head under the water. These attacks were similar in aggression to the Woodlarks of a few weeks’ ago.

This aggression continued for some time, which benefited me as the birds occasionally flew close enough for some action shots. 

Eventually the second male had had enough and flew off, leaving the aggressor looking very pleased with himself and no doubt boasting to his mate!

Shelduck (m/f), 8th February 2014

Large numbers of Shelduck arrive in the UK during the autumn so it’s probable that these are wintering birds and not resident breeders. Shelduck are collectively known as ‘dopping’ - don’t ask me why!

Later in the morning a pair of Raven were displaying over woodland near Silchester. I watched the tumbling and very vocal display for about ten minutes, and like the earlier Shelduck they came quite close. Ravens pair for life and are amongst the earliest species to breed in Britain, with many incubating eggs by the end of February. This was district year tick 84 and a real pleasure to watch.

Ravens displaying – Silchester area, 8th February 2014

Raven – Silchester area, 8th February 2014

Ewhurst was still very quiet and there was no sign of the Goosanders, but two Pochard flew in as I was about to leave.

Pochard (males) - Ewhurst Park, 8th February 2014

Despite the recent miserable weather, many birds are starting to sing as the days lengthen. This Coot at Black Dam on Sunday morning is already preparing for the new season.

Coot – Black Dam Ponds, 9th February 2014

A Green Sandpiper was the highlight of a walk around Sherfield-on-Loddon. Also in the area were two Grey Heron and a Little Egret. Passerines included a decent sized flock of Siskin in trees along the river but no Redpolls unfortunately.  

Siskin (fem/1st winter male) – Sherfield-on-Loddon, 9th February 2014

Finally it was back to Ewhurst which was still dead, but at least the two resident Stonechat didn’t let me down and the male came close enough to have its portrait taken.

Stonechat (male) – Ewhurst Park, 9th February 2014

The list of sponsors for this year’s Sponsored Birdwatch is slowly growing and with the year-list currently on 84 I’ve raised £308.80 for Cancer Research UK. I would love to get to £1000.00 – PLEASE sponsor me if you can! Details at www.birdingbasingstokeanddeane.co.uk

Barry Stalker

 

 

Close Encounter with a Great White!

Once again, I’m writing my account with the wind howling and the rain lashing the window panes – oh for a spell of cold dry weather or even snow!

This weekend was all about the quality of ‘tick’ and not the quantity. On Friday, news broke that a Great White Egret that had been found on the outskirts of Whitchurch.  As I was working I had to make a decision – do I go for it now or wait until Saturday morning? The bird had been reported as being regular over a few days so I decided to wait. I arrived at the site around 9 am the next day and was soon joined by two Andover birders. A little Egret was in the reported field and six cormorants flew over, but there was no sign of the target bird. About 10 O’Clock the two Andover birders left for refreshments, leaving the vigil to me. Earlier, a passer-by told me that the egret seemed to spend most of its time in company with a Grey Heron, and at 10:10 one flew in! The passer-by was right, because at 10:14 the egret flew east across the A34 and alighted on top of a tall pine near Fulling Mill. At this time, a resident came out of his house, presumably curious to find out why someone was hanging around outside with a camera and a telephoto lens – once again, with my name not a good idea! Anyway, I explained the reason for my presence and he very kindly invited me into his garden which afforded much better views of the meadow.

Great White Egret – Whitchurch, 25th January 2014

Great White Egret – Whitchurch, 25th January 2014

Great White Egret – Whitchurch, 25th January 2014

This represents the first record of this species in the borough – a great find by Lucy Geary. There’s a few more pictures on the website.

After a couple of texts, my planned visit to the downs on Sunday was rearranged to the Saturday due to the impending weather – my target was Hen Harrier. The estate owner very kindly allows me to drive off-road to an area on the downs which is a reliable site for this species, and although I had to wait an hour, a ring-tail turned up late in the afternoon. It spent around twenty minutes hunting over rough ground before going to roost. Such a great bird to watch and (try) to photograph, and especially from the comfort of the car – I even listened to the football whilst watching it!

Hen Harrier – North Wessex Downs, 25th January 2014

Hen Harrier – North Wessex Downs, 25th January 2014

Today was of course the RSPB ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ which was a good excuse to stay indoors out of the rain. Numbers were definitely down on previous years but a respectable sixteen species were recorded during the ‘watch with a total of 42 birds.

Busy feeders during ‘The Big Garden Birdwatch’ – Charter Alley, 26th January 2014

Here’s the list:

Chaffinch 5, Blackbird 3, Blue Tit 6, Robin 2, Starling 4, Long-tailed Tit 1, Great Tit 3, House Sparrow 4, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 3, Wood Pigeon 3, Coal Tit 1, Nuthatch 1, Collared Dove 2 and Greenfinch 2.

We actually had both male and female GSW but not at the same time. The single Long-tailed Tit was interesting and was the first of the winter.

So at close of play, the district year-list stands at 79 and the Patch List at 49.

Barry Stalker