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Forest of Dean, 14 December 2013

I was pleased to have a group of seven birders in my company, we set off at the arranged time of 0800. There was lots of talk of Two barred Crossbills in the car so I thought it best to begin the day on the Serridge Ridge near Brierley. They had been showing here on occasion during the week with up to 17 present. Out of the blue on nearing the destination on the last big hill my car went into limp mode (dropping speed and power). I continued to Brierley where I had to make arrangements for assistance from the RAC. The group set off up the hill to the ridge with me catching up after making the call. As with the previous week Brambling were present in numbers among the Chaffinches in the beech mast. Coalt Tit were all vocal as they harvested the same bounty. A Treecreeper played hide and seek as it moved from trunk to trunk. Looking for the target birds we heard Common Crossbills and Nuthatches calling with lots of frustrating flyover parties of the former. These birds simply disappeared into the dense plantation. I had to head back to the car to meet the RAC to get a diagnosis.

Nothing came up as faulty on the car computer and re-starting it showed that the engine light was now not lighting up. No chance of pinpointing it this time. I started the car, drove to the garage and filled it to the brim just in case it was fuel related. Parking up I set off to join the group again who were making their way back to me, sadly the Two barred Crossbills never showed whilst we were present but appeared later in the day. Meanwhile I waited and heard Hawfinches calling so investigated where it came from. Two Crossbill flew out of the wood calling along with c40 more birds. This looked good…I walked slowly along the track and located 10 Hawfinch on the treetops. These birds were enjoying the scant sunshine on offer taking the chance to preen. The group eventually caught up with me and I spent the nest half hour trying to get the birds in scope view for all, one at a time various views were gained.

It soon transpired that there was a large flock and the birds were moving about in the canopy and across the track. I counted them as they crossed back, two flocks passed low over in a short space of time which made up a total of 47. At least 4 were still calling from the larches and skipping through the branches. A minimum of 51 Hawfinches! It was brilliant to see so many, perhaps an invasion year for this species as well as the Crossbills.

A pair of Raven cronked and crossed the track giving glimpses, a Marsh Tit called deep in the wood as it and a couple of Goldcrest showed near the car. On taking the advice of the RAC chap I decided to head straight home from this point. It meant ending the morning half an hour earlier than planned but with the lure of a Desert Wheatear at Severn Beach it seemed to go down well. The journey home went without any problem and the fault has not re-surfaced, on various advice seems to be the Air flow meter. It is not a great time of year to be bothering mechanics as things are closing down for Christmas, I will get it replaced. Thanks to the group for their patience and understanding on the day, I was not going to charge but appreciated the ‘cover the fuel’ gesture from everyone. I will be repeating this outing in January to give it another go.

Filed under: Trip Reports


at 10:27 pm

December 2013 blog and sightings

28 December 2013 Mistle Thrush singing it’s heart out on this fine day. Went for a morning stroll on an E Dorset heath in the sunshine. The southerly facing slope had seen the sun for a couple of hours and I had great views of a Dartford Warbler that stalked me whilst calling. It soon headed off after sussing me out but perched atop the gorse a number of times. Came back home via Salisbury and Bath, the rivers and streams were in full flood and had spilled onto the flood meadows, extensive flooding everywhere.

A short afternoon walk at home produced four Yellowhammer, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Buzzard and a female Kestel with a mouse meal.

27 December 2013 A late start due to partying, extreme storm and the dog keeping me up the night before at my Sister in laws house in Dorset. A late morning decision was made to go to Portland Harbour for the Brunnich’s Guillemot and to see what the stormy wave action was like in Chesil Cove. The harbour and Fleet was very busy with thousands of birds, many seeking shelter out of the wind others feeding on what the waves were stirring up. Soon after arrival we were watching the Brunnich’s Guillemot alongside a Common Guillemot for comparison. Having seen the former species in it’s more homely Arctic waters in Iceland, Norway and Russia it was an irrestible to ignore this one so far south. A few Shag were feeding in the same area. Looking out from another sheltered spot a Razorbill, a non-breeding plumaged Black Guillemot, Slavonian Grebe, 2 Black-throated Diver, 40 Red-breasted Merganser and Little Grebe were all on view.

We went for a walk along Chesil Beach and earned a meal and pint in the Cove Inn, the waves were just brilliant to watch from the seawall, shingle ridge or indoors in the pub next to the fire. On the way home we stopped for a walk on a heath and saw male and female Hen Harrier, a Merlin, 30 Linnet going to roost and a close Woodcock, a great end to the day.

Common (left) and Brunnich’s Guillemot

Common and Brunnich's Guillemot, Portland Harbour

Brunnich’s Guillemot

Brunnich's Guillemot, Portland Harbour, MJMcGill Brunnich's Guillemot, Portland Harbour, Dorset, MJMcGill

Chesil Beach taking a battering
Thousands of gulls were gathered.

Chesil Cove, 27 Dec 13

25 December 2013 A rapid walk out to the Severn at Hock Ditch helping to feed the sheep along the way was really an excuse for exrecise and sun worship. I did log 21 Little Egret in the fields at Fretherne and a Siskin.

24 December 2013 Headed to Frampton Townfield Lake and along the canal from Splatt to Fretherne bridge to look for divers, best was adult Kittiwake upriver toward Hock at 1107, Peregrine, 13 Shelduck and a Buzzard low over the waves. Seven swans (one cygnet and certainly not a-swimming) rose up from the far side of the estuary and dropped again, probably Bewick’s Swan. I heard later that a diver sp flew up five minutes before I got there! A long walk from Saul bridge to Castle bridge only gave me Yellowhammer and Kingfisher of note.

14 December 2013 A half day out to Forest of Dean, see trip reports.

12 December 2013 Another visit to the Forest of Dean via Walmore Common. The three Whooper Swans (pair with cygnet) were grazing adjacent to the flood along with a pair of Mute Swans with cygnet. I took my bike and cycled the tracks around Serridge Ridge but did not connect with any Crossbill flocks, plenty of Brambling. My plan was to drop in to my parents in Bristol to deliver a birthday card so I visited the Desert Wheatear at Severn Beach on the way.

Desert Wheatear, male on the seawall at Severn Beach.

Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach, 001, MJMcGill Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach, 002, MJMcGill Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach, MJMcGill

11 December 2013 My original plan of heading for the Forest of Dean changed when I opted to join Rich Baatesen for a trip to Northamptonshire to see a Hume’s Leaf Warbler. I had seen and heard them before but not for a while so was keen to re-familiarise myself with the species. We had plenty of great views and this little bird was in a good voice. We also saw a Marsh Tit among the commoner birds.

Hume’s Leaf Warbler

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Northants, 001, Hume's Leaf Warbler, Northants,

7 December 2013 A day in the Forest of Dean with an Anser group, see trip reports.

4 December 2013 I headed out for the Forest of Dean for the day but spoke to Graham Clarkson on the way. The result was to cave in and continue North to have a look at the Baikal Teal, spend the afternoon birding and stay over for a sociable night out. All very much went to plan. I arrived and was soon getting great views of the teal among Eurasian Teal and Wigeon. I enjoyed other birds around the marshes which included waders, Pink-footed Geese flocks, a Ross’s Goose, 2 Great White Egrets, Marsh Harrier and a Long-tailed Duck. I enjoyed catching up with Gra and his family too.

Long-tailed Duck, Junction Pool, Marshide RSPB

Long-tailed Duck, Junction pool, Marshside, MJMcGill

Baikal Teal, Crossen’s Outer Marsh, Lancashire

Baikal Teal, Crossen's outer marsh, Lancs, MJMcGill Baikal Teal, Crossen's outer marsh, Lancs, 002, MJMcGill Baikal Teal, Crossen's outer marsh, Lancs, MJMcGill 001

Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 9:06 pm

Forest of Dean, 7 December 2013

Crossbill, male, Serridge

Crossbill, Serridge ridge

The day started at Brierley in the Forest of Dean where we were greeted by plenty of calling birds. It was overcast but most crucially still so any movement was a bird and calls carried. We walked along with a tit flock with the usual suspects and were soon watching Brambling as they came out of the plantations to feed on the ridge. Many gave scope views before dropping to the ground. Siskin were seen throughout the morning, small flocks were regularly seen flying over along with a few Redpoll. A flock of c30 Crossbill flew through the plantation but were lost to view. I saw three Hawfinch flying along the ridge but they did not hang about. Eventually we located a party of up to five Crossbill feeding and enjoyed great views. Moving up and over the Serridge ridge we began a search of the larch plantation, Lewis Thomson was already on site and had been watching 7 Two-barred Crossbill, he kindly got us onto them, sadly they were obscured and eventually took flight but did call regularly whilst among us. A further 20+ Common Crossbill were in this area and we got more prolonged views as they fed. This party sent ‘helicopter’ seeds raning down on us as they prised cones open.

We left for a comfort stop and a coffee at Parkend passing c 40 Manadarin on Cannop Ponds before heading for Crabtree Hill. A party of c20 Lesser Redpoll feeding around the lake as well as Coot on it. Walking up the heath I located the Great Grey Shrike, it was festively settled on a christmas tree and busy hunting prey. We all had scope views but backed off, this to prevent interupting it, short winter days do not provide the birds with many opportunities for feasting. A smart bird to end the day with.

Filed under: Trip Reports


at 8:46 pm

West Hampshire and East Dorset, Heaths and Coast, 23 November 2013


Bar-tailed Godwit, Poole Harbour, Dorset, MJMcGill

Sanderling sunset, Sandbanks, Dorset, MJMcGill

Sanderling, Sandbanks, Dorset, MJMcGill

Six of us (Roberta, Jeanne, Ruth, Colin, Keith and myself) travelled down south with Bob and Neil making their own way and meeting up with us. Two Red Kite were seen on the way after we made a second stop (first at services) in the New Forest at Slufter’s Inclosure. There had been a Parrot Crossbill seen on and off during the week. Soon after arriving a flock of c12 Crossbill flew over and alighted in tree tops, they did not show for long but neither did they have a Parrot Crossbill with them. Searching the woods produced at least three Great spotted Woodpecker and more brief Crossbill views. Time up we headed to Keyhaven and enjoyed a variety of birds including the Brent Geese flocks, not so many as had been here of late and no sign of the Red-breasted Goose. This bird, I found out later, had moved to Pennington Marshes along with most of the Brent. It was sunny which helped as a cold breeze  was coming from the north. Turnstone, Little Egret and Rock Pipit were all very tame. In the marshes Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Shelduck were all seen.

We decided to head for Poole Harbour to try our luck at this rich birding site. Crossing via the Sandbanks ferry we managed to leave Roberta on shore (most went for a loo break when waiting for the ferry to arrive). It is not a problem as they are regular and a short hop. Whilst waiting we had a party of Sanderling and c6 Shag. I think I had a Slavonian Grebe but the huge outbound ferry caused it to dissapear. Re-united we park up and walked across the heath to view the harbour. A Dartford Warbler scolded us but only showed briefly for some, it continued to call but I think the cold breeze kept it low. The harbour was busy, plenty of Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Shelduck and Brent Geese, lots of waders and a few scarcer birds. Great Northern Diver and Eider were notable but we were all keen to see the visitor from North America…a juvenile Surf Scoter feeding with Goldeneye. Most of the group walked the shore whilst I moved the car to a pick-up point. I did see a female Dartford Warbler in flight when heading across the heath to meet them.

Back across on the ferry and we were enjoying an amazing sunset along the Sandbanks road. A flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling fed among the Black-headed Gulls until the tide fully flooded them out. Magic stuff, the cameras were all out to record the moment. A swift dash across town, I was glad I knew my way around Poole as we were soon enjoying a mega flock of Spoonbill at Holes Bay. A good end to the day.

A flock of 27 Spoonbill in Holes Bay, Poole
Just caught up with them at dusk, the sun had gone down.

Spoonbill flock, Holes Bay, Dorset

Filed under: Trip Reports


at 8:20 pm