Gull Fest Breaks the Record!

After last weekend finding my first ever district Cetti’s Warbler and equally my previous year list record for the borough, I was what some might say ‘Well up for it’ this weekend. It was raining on and off on Saturday morning, so I decided to do one of my ‘suck it and see’ jaunts around the borough. This took me around the Wootton st. Lawrence area, through Oakley and out towards Overton. I stopped on numerous occasions to scan farmland; perhaps a rare Wheatear would turn up – well they have before! What was evident is the number of Redwings and Fieldfares that had arrived in the borough, and I saw several decent gatherings on the ground as well as flying over. I love hearing the harsh chak-chak of the Fieldfare and the soft and quiet seeip of the Redwing overhead - classic winter sounds.

My plan was to aim for Whitchurch and return home via Ashley Warren, which is exactly what I did. The highlight of the morning was a large flock of around 215 Golden Plovers and 300 Lapwings at Berehill Farm, on the outskirts of Whitchurch. I often stop at this pig farm as it can be good for gulls in the winter, but there were none on Saturday.
 Golden Plovers - Berehill Farm, Whitchurch, 15th November 2014 

Golden Plovers - Berehill Farm, Whitchurch, 15th November 2014

I was out doing the rounds again on Sunday morning and this time my travels took me past the small group of gravel pits on the east side of Ramptons Lane at Mortimer West end; just inside the borough boundary and indeed the county border. This site sometimes has gulls, and as it’s very close to the road and can be clearly seen from the road, I usually just stop and look from the car. More often than not it’s usually just a few Mallards or Tufties on the water, but as I drove past on Sunday there were clearly a lot of gulls present so I stopped further along the road out of sight, and walked back along the footpath which runs along the edge, as inconspicuously as possible. So far so good, the birds carried on normally, with about half splashing about in the water and the rest preening on the bank. There were certainly in excess of 300 gulls in the gathering so I started to go through them using my ‘scope. As expected, the vast majority were Lesser Black-backed Gulls but one bird in the water with a completely white head caught my attention; it was an adult Yellow-legged Gull - my second in the borough this year. After washing, most of the gulls moved on to the bank, including the Yellow-legged, and the shot below gives a good comparison with the Herring Gull, just above to the right, and the Lesser Black-backed Gulls around it. Note the subtle difference in the mantle colour between the three species, and how clean and white the head of the Yellow-legged Gull is compared to the streaked head of the Lesser Black-backs.

I suppose I’d better make my usual excuses for the poor images; the birds were distant and it was misty - there; done!

Yellow-legged Gull - Ramptons Lane gravel pits, Mortimer West End, 16th November 2014

Okay, let’s carry on scanning the flock - LBB, LBB, LBB, Herring, LBB, LBB, LBB, LBB….hey, what’s that? pale colouring, small head with dainty beak, scalloped scapulars and mantle feathers……. Bingo!!! It was a juvenile Common Gull……….at last I’d finally found one of these borough scarcities!

This was species 132 in Basingstoke and Deane this year - my borough year-list record from 2011 was broken! This bird had not yet moulted any of its juvenile feathers, but a few birds along the row there was a classic first winter bird showing a decent amount of grey in the scapulars - I was chuffed, and to complete the collection there was a third in the gathering, this time an adult - quite the gull fest; excellent!

Common Gull (adult) - Ramptons Lane gravel pits, Mortimer West End, 16th November 2014

So, with all the target species in the bag and the record broken (I never thought I’d be saying that!) what am I going to do for the rest of the year? Further increase my borough year-list of course!

Thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

A Mathematician and an Arctic Explorer

How prophetic am I?…….erm excuse me, I said prophetic! At the end of my last post I mentioned the desire to add Cetti’s Warbler to my borough list and even said next week, perhaps! Well guess what, not one week, but exactly two weeks’ to the day I did exactly that….pleased or what! This was species number 131 in the borough this year and equals my previous record from 2011. In fact, strictly speaking it beats it, because in 2011 Quail was only heard, but this year all species to date have been seen well.

I had just listened to the 10 O’Clock news on the car radio on Sunday morning (9th) when I telephoned to obtain the necessary permission to enter a private site near Overton where I carry out a monthly wildfowl survey (WeBS) for the BTO. As I entered the gate and walked along the path towards the water, almost immediately I heard the explosive song of the Cetti’s Warbler in the distance – I couldn’t believe my ears! I was there to do a job of course so didn’t panic (much!) and went about my business in a calm and collected manner! The Cetti’s sang again about fifteen minutes later and by now I was much closer to it. There it was again, and now I was very close, but try as I might I just couldn’t see it. I stayed in the same spot for about ten minutes but it didn’t sing or call again; reluctantly I continued with my work.

Apart from Quail, my own self-inflicted year-listing rules do not allow species to be heard only and not seen, but as I walked I was sort of changing the rules to also accept Cetti’s – the song is so distinctive that it can’t really be confused with anything else. Just a flash of chestnut would do, or a quick flick of its unique tail, anything to claim a sighting of this locally rare skulking species! Luck was on my side however, as about fifteen minutes later it sang again, close-by, and this time I was able to pin it down for the crucial sighting and even some images – It was exactly 10:45 and I was over the moon!

Here are the images, not great I’m afraid as I was always facing into the sun, but do you know what, I really don’t care!

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014 (heavier crop of above)

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014 

Despite there being suitable habitat in the borough, Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) is rare locally – a bit of a mystery really because a few miles up the road and into Berkshire they can be found relatively easily in exactly the same type of habitat. Anyway, I was thrilled with my find; the day before I was bemoaning to Mrs S that my luck had ran out and I wasn’t going to add to my list this year!

Cetti’s Warbler is named after the Italian mathematician and naturalist Francesco Cetti (1726-1778), and was first recorded in Great Britain in 1961, strangely enough in Hampshire.

A typical WeBS count at this site would take around 30 minutes but I left the site at 11:55, one hour fifty minutes after arriving - a Remembrance Sunday to remember!

Sunday actually started very damp and misty, but as you can see below, it soon burnt off to leave a lovely sunny autumn day.

Grey Heron – Overton, 9th November 2014

Okay, wind the clock back and I’ve been out twitching again! The previous Friday (Halloween), I left work early and travelled down to the HWT reserve at Blashford Lakes near Ringwood, to try my luck for the Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) which had roosted there the previous evening and once or twice before. After a horrendous journey I arrived about 3:15 pm to find the hides on Ibsley Water absolutely packed! I set my ‘scope up at the back of the hide and like everyone else scanned the gull flock which was gradually increasing by the minute. Eventually the bird was found and the cry went up at 16:39 exactly – the second successful twitch in a week, a UK lifer and of course an excellent Hampshire tick. It was actually quite difficult to keep track of it amongst the hundreds of gulls coming in to roost, but once the hide had cleared (about 17:00) I finally got a seat and for the first time (and last!) tried some ‘phone-scoping – the results were so poor that I’m not going to use them here! Luckily others fared better with their efforts and I’m very grateful to be given permission to use one here – many thanks Mark. The Franklin’s is the small black-headed gull, sitting low in the water roughly in the centre of the image.

Franklin’s Gull – Ibsley Water, Blashford, 31st October 2014 (photo courtesy Mark Leitch, digi-scoped 16:50hrs) 

Franklin’s Gull breeds in the northern USA and central-west Canada. It migrates through Central America and winters off the west coast of southern Mexico, Central America and South America. It is a rare vagrant to Europe. The bird was named after the British explorer Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), who led an 1823 Arctic expedition when the first specimen of the species was ‘collected’. This was Hampshire’s second Franklin’s, the first being way back in 1970 – with that timescale, I doubt I’ll be around for the next!

That’s enough twitching for one week, so back to the local stuff.

I was asked the other day why Ewhurst hasn’t featured in any recent posts, and it’s basically because it’s been dead! I’m still of course making regular visits but there’s just nothing to report. Take Saturday (8th) for example; apart from a couple of hundred Mallards, which are mostly released anyway, there wasn’t one wild bird on the lake – ridiculous for a body of water of this size. There would usually be Cormorants at this time of year as well, but surprise surprise, there wasn’t a single one to be seen……….

The site has been ruined by disturbance I’m afraid. For most of this year the new boat-house at the north of the lake has been under construction (and very smart it is) and we’re now into the shooting season once again. If anything decent does turn up it won’t be around for long – a great shame because with a conservation minded owner it could be excellent; as it once was in fact! 

Boat House – Ewhurst Park, 8th November 2014

So with around seven weeks of the year to go it’s full steam ahead to try and break my year list record and take even more money off those who have sponsored me! All proceeds to Cancer Research UK.

Barry stalker

In memory of Air Gunner, Sergeant Clifford Neil Stalker, killed in action over northern France, 5th July 1944, aged 31 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haven Can Wait!

I was hoping to report that I have at least equalled my year list record but unfortunately nothing has changed since my last post and my borough year list has grinded to a halt on 130 – over a month since my last year tick!

Saturday and Sunday morning (25/26th) were spent driving around the borough scanning farmland for gull flocks in the hope of finding a Common Gull amongst them; the previous weekend was much the same. Needless to say I had no luck and actually became rather bored – It didn’t do my carbon footprint much good either! My travels took me to the extremities of the district and once or twice I accidentally strayed into neighbouring boroughs, including Hart District, where I took the opportunity of catching up with Hampshire’s only free-roaming Rhea; yes, free-roaming Rhea! Nicknamed Chris, this Rhea is an escape (obviously!) and now roams the countryside to the south of Odiham, being regularly seen in the Four Lanes End area.

I found it very easily and had a little chuckle to myself that I could find a Rhea in Hampshire more easily than finding a Common Gull!

Rheas are related to ostriches and emus and are normally found on the open plains of South America, but Chris looks perfectly content here.

Chris Rhea – Odiham, 26th October 2014

Well worth going to see if you’re in the area.

By late morning on Sunday I was in need of a fix, and as it wasn’t going to be the much needed borough tick I’d hoped for, what better than a Hampshire life tick as compensation? I don’t have a great Hampshire list but add to it when I can - regular readers will know that I make a habit of dipping Hampshire rarities! Anyway, the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm, so I invited Mrs S out for a spot of lunch……she didn’t know at this stage that it would be in the cafeteria at Titchfield Haven NNR! Her suspicions were aroused however when I loaded my camera into the boot and suggested she wore wellington boots!

A female/1st winter Siberian Stonechat had been found on the reserve the previous weekend and seemed settled, but my priority of course was Basingstoke and Deane so I decided to let my visit to the Haven wait until I had some free time – this sort of procrastination has cost me dearly in the past! Siberian Stonechats (in this case assumed Saxicola maurus - I’m no expert on the various forms!) are rare but regular visitors to the UK but this was the first ‘twitchable’ bird in Hampshire.

Being only forty minutes from home we arrived about 12:30 and duly paid the entrance fee; apparently some weren’t bothering…

I made a brief stop outside the gift shop to photograph this lovely Turnstone which was sat on the harbour wall opposite, before focusing my attention on our continental visitor.

Turnstone – Titchfield Harbour, 26th October 2014

We set off for the Meadow Hide on the east side of the reserve and several passers-by on the board-walk told us that the bird was still showing well – it was getting exciting! So exciting in fact that my pace had quickened to such an extent that I’d left Mrs S behind! The hide was fairly busy but as the bird had been present for a week, much of the foot traffic had probably already passed through, so after a short time we secured a seat at the window overlooking the area favoured by our celebrity vagrant. Several Common or ‘ordinary’ (as some people called them), Stonechats were posing along the fence line outside the hide, but the ‘Sibe’ was much more elusive. It wasn’t associating with the other Stonechats at all and stayed towards the back of the meadow, often concealed, but regularly coming out in the open affording decent ‘scope views. Every time it showed, great panic ensued within the hide as people tried to ‘get onto it’. 

We spent about two hours watching it but it never came any closer and photographic opportunities were few and far between. One fellow birder said to me tongue-in-cheek ’With that lens you could reach through the window and hit it on the head!’ The reality was that I certainly could not - see for yourself in this un-cropped image. 

Siberian Stonechat – Titchfield Haven NNR, 26th October 2014

With heavy cropping these were about the best images I could get – there are much better examples on Going Birding and elsewhere on the Surfbirds site. The tail pattern and unmarked rump are diagnostic but you can also clearly see that this bird is much paler than its cousins from Europe.

Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus?) – Titchfield Haven NNR – 26th October 2014

This flight shot clearly shows the unmarked rump, which on Common or European Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus/rubicola) would be streaked or spotted.

The ‘ordinary’ Stonechats, as I was hearing more and more, obviously felt left out and made sure we paid due attention to them by sitting close outside the hide, despite the bustle emanating from within. If only our eastern friend had behaved like this!

Common or ‘ordinary’ Stonechat (male) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 26th October 2014

Common Stonechat (female type) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 26th October2014

It was now around mid-afternoon and as lunch was part of the deal I thought we’d better head back! Luckily they serve snacks all day and we even sat outside on the terrace – perfect!

So for once a successful twitch and it was great to re-acquaint myself with Titchfield which was a regular haunt of mine before I got wrapped up in all this borough stuff! As we walked backed to the car yet another Cetti’s Warbler burst into song, a species you can take for granted here and one I’d love on my Basingstoke and Deane list…… next week……… perhaps…

Barry stalker

 

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