How good it is to be away from home. I’m not sure I felt that way when we were waiting for some lunch outside a restaurant in Cemaes on the north west coast of the island of Anglesey and it was getting colder and colder, nor when it started to rain. However, when our lunch arrived, after a lengthy wait, the sun came out for the first time that day and we were able to enjoy our lunch and reflect on the splendid walk we had had that morning along the shingle ridge of Cemlyn Bay.
Cemlyn is recognised for its National Nature Reserve and as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, It is home to the rare spotted rock rose and renowned for its breeding colonies of the Sandwich, common and Arctic terns.
As well as the terns we saw a large colony of black-headed gulls, oystercatchers, barn swallows and sand martins, grey herons, little egrets, shelduck (with chicks), a tree pipit and a red breasted merganser.
I can’t say I saw any spotted rock rose but there was lots of wonderful flora including sea kale, bog yellowcress, sea campion, sea thrift and bird’s foot trefoil.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust website claims that ” Steart Marshes is the first of WWT’s working wetlands. It provides flood defence for local homes and businesses, showcases productive farmland and is home to a thriving nature reserve. The project proves we can fight climate change by working with nature.”
In line with government Covid-19 guidelines the hides are still closed but you get good views of the marshes from the walkways. However, we didn’t see much on the marshes but our visit was still very enjoyable as, with the sun on our backs and the sound of sky larks all around, we felt very positive (even though I failed to capture a couple of clear views of sky larks ascending).
There were a few treats though as we saw linnets, stonechat, reed warblers, reed buntings, a little grebe and a pair of yellow wagtails.
We had booked into Slimbridge for 11 a.m. but I couldn’t resist popping over to Stoke Park Estate (my local park) before we set off to see if I could see a pair of garden warblers and a yellow wagtail of which I had had reports.
There was a beautiful light and I spotted a reed bunting as soon as I arrived (hence slightly out of focus shot): a grey heron and a cormorant were much more obliging and stayed around until I had organised myself.
The heron then made my day by taking off and flying across the lake before me. The slideshow below is only a few of the many shots I captured.
I found (with help of other birders) the garden warblers on the island and managed a few poor shots.
I couldn’t find the yellow wagtail but was quite pleased with a mistle thrush and a whitethroat next to the lake.
Slimbridge proved a little disappointing as all the hides were closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, there were a few gallery points where we managed to see a surprising number of birds, including a sedge warbler, a common sandpiper and several avocets; we also had a close up view of the horrendous sight of a lesser black-backed gull predating a Greylag gosling (look away if your are squeamish as nature is not always pretty).
Inspired by my trip to the Forest of Dean with the travel company Naturetrek I felt I needed a return trip. We spent the morning at Nagshead. I must confess I saw nowhere near as many birds without a guide but we still had a splendid time.
We were greated by a pair of Greylag geese with three goslings at the Nursery Pond but I struggled to photograph them against the light.
Down at the lower pond we spent a good while watching a pair of pied flycatchers doing what flycatchers do. I wish we had had a telescope as they were a joy to watch. We could easily see the pair of Mandarin ducks but they too were difficult to photograph as the light was very bright. (Yes, photographers are always complaining about the light.)
Out of the blue we bumped in to some friends in the car park as we were about to leave and stayed and enjoyed sitting with them at the Nursery Pond over a coffee. Trips into the countryside and meeting friends: what more could you ask for?
Before heading home we stopped at Cannop Ponds and enjoyed seeing more Mandarin ducks and some tufted ducks. We also spent some time near a feeder where there were nuthatch, chaffinch, great tits, blue tits and (I believe) marsh tits.
What a splendid day! I had subscribed to my second ever guided bird watching trip (my first was in the Western Cape in South Africa – oh what memories) with the nature travel company Naturetrek. Not as exotic as the trip in South Africa but I was not at all disappointed.
Our guide, Oliver Smart, was superb. His audio skills were outstanding which led to lots of sightings. He was particularly adept at setting up his scope quickly and gave each of us a good opportunity to see a wide range of birds. This was particularly rewarding as many of the birds were quite distant and my 100-400 mm lens wasn’t always capable of getting a shot. At times I wish I had had my 200-600 lens but by the end of the day after 8 hours in the field I was glad I had not lugged that around with me.
We met up in the Forest at RSPB Nagshead at 9 a.m. The first section of our walk was down to the Lower Pond. En route we saw sparrowhawk, greylag goose, blackcaps, robins, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tit, chiffchaff, willow warbler and heard a great spotted woodpecker. At the pond we had frequent sightings of pied flycatcher, treecreepers and a mandarin duck on the pond.
We then followed the short circuit around the reserve where we added to the list nuthatch, chaffinch, buzzard, song thrush and mistle thrush. We had a glimpse of a pair of stock dove too. The great spotted woodpecker were all around but I didn’t manage to see one here.
At the end of the the circuit we stealthily made our way up to the Campbell hide. The hide was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions but we were able to stand beneath the hide and, because we had approached so quietly, we saw fallow deer, both male and female blackcaps, wren, chaffinch and treecreepers.
After Nagshead we made our way down the track and back to the village of Parkend. In the middle of an enclosure of yew trees we were looking for hawfinch. We did manage one sighting and could see it really well through Oliver’s scope. However I couldn’t manage a decent photograph as it was in deep shade.
We wandered down to a nearby stream in search of dippers. Overhead there was a buzzard and a sparrowhawk and we regularly saw jackdaws and house sparrows. At the stream we instantly saw a grey wagtail and could hear dippers beneath the bridge. Very soon the dippers emerged in search of food for (I presume) their young.
From Parkend we made our way to New Fancy View where we had our picnic lunch. During lunch we saw bullfinch.
There is a good gallery view at New Fancy View looking across the forest towards Cinderford. It’s a good place to look for goshawk and I did manage to see a speck in Oliver’s scope although it would have been more rewarding if it had come as close as the siskins which regularly flew overhead. We spent some time watching a common lizard basking in the sun.
From here we drove on a little to Woorgreens Nature Reserve. On our way to the lake we saw a great spotted woodpecker. At the lake there were Canada geese, Greylag geese and mute swans. I gather that here in winter it is a good place to see goosander.
Around the lake we saw linnet and coal tits.
The light was getting gloomy by this stage as we made our way up to Crabtree Hill (not much of an incline really). It is here that a great grey shrike has been through the winter but has now moved on. We had plenty to see though, with a solitary swallow, stonechat, linnet, a tree pipit, blackbird, song thrush, mistlethrush and a green woodpecker. At the very end we came across a wheatear which I saw very clearly in Oliver’s scope and regularly flitting about showing its white rump. However, my one photograph of it was so poor it has been condemned to the recycle bin.
We ended at 5 p.m. It was quite an exhausting day but extremely rewarding.
Not only would I like to thank Naturetrek and their outstanding guide Oliver Smart but my four fellow birders whose company was most congenial. I’m sure they will have seen many more birds than I did, but without them all I would have seen fewer.
How wonderful to breathe the countryside again. The hides at RSPB Ham Wall (on the Somerset Levels) were closed due to Covid-19 restrictions but we so enjoyed walking the pathways of the reserve and seeing some of our old favourites. Above all we loved listening to a whole variety of birds without the sound of motorways (or indeed any roads). As well as birds there were butterflies too with orange tips flitting here there and everywhere (and avoiding my camera), brimstones and peacocks.
After a period of dry weather it is now possible to visit Stoke Park without having to wear Wellington boots. This morning, in the sun, we spent a very pleasant hour chatting to people , seeing a few birds and hearing so many more.
The highlight was the sun on our backs without a bitterly chill wind. Nothing very special in the way of birds but reed buntings, lots of ducklings, moorhen chicks, dunnocks, chiffchaff, willow warblers, wrens, green finches, gold finches, robins, cormorants, buzzards, long-tailed tits, mute swans and blackcaps were enough to keep us entertained.
We spent a good hour again this afternoon in a local cemetery looking for a pied flycatcher. This time we were lucky and had views of it flitting from tree to tree for 10 minutes. Frustratingly I never had a clear view of it with my camera but I was quite happy to get a few shots.
I did, however, get clear shots of a wren and a jay.
The cemetery is a wonderful place for photographs and I look forward to returning with a wider angle lens than my 200-600 lens.
The common redstart was the incentive to wander over to Duchess Pond in the Stoke Park Estate (less than 500 metres from home) and we were lucky to see it again. There were lots of treats including our first swallows of the year, willow warblers, chiffchaffs, reed buntings, green finches, blackbirds, robins, a cormorant, 2 mute swans, Canada geese and dozens of ducklings of various sizes. I’m sure there were loads more to see but we were bitterly cold and the attraction of a coffee was too great to entice us to stay out any later.