Monday, 17 March 2014

Awesome times in the Forest of Dean!

Yesterday once again I was off with the West Midland Bird Club, this time on our annual spring jaunt to the Forest of Dean where we normally hope to partake of such delights as Goshawk, Mandarin Duck, Hawfinch and Peregrine among others. With fine weather forecast for the day we were feeling optimistic about our chances!

Our first stop was at Serridge Ridge near Brierley where we were on the lookout for Two-barred Crossbill. A slow walk along the ridge alas revealed none, but we did see some other nice species - lots of Coal Tits, Treecreepers, Nuthatch and a lone female Common Crossbill. It didn't help that the sun was coming directly at us through the Larches that were the Two-barreds' preferred haunt, so we were constantly being dazzled! The sun was good news for butterflies though, I saw several Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock butterfly here.

Larches along the ridge.

Next we were off to New Fancy View in search of Goshawks, and possibly Adders too with which we'd had a memorable encounter a few years ago. On the walk up the hill, it wasn't long before we spotted some people crouched down scrutinising the grass and leaf litter by the fence. Twas not an Adder, but a beautiful little Common Lizard, sunning itself and scuttling around at the base of the fence! I stayed and watched for a good while, and a second Lizard appeared too - brilliant!

Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara).
Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara).
Then just a few metres ahead - there was an Adder too!

Adder (Vipera berus).
The viewing platform at the top of the hill was pretty rammed by the time I got there, mostly with West Midland birders - so I decided to take it easy on the other side of the hill with a couple of other bird clubbers.

One of the downsides of travelling as part of a large group!
We got smashing views of a pair of Peregrines flying right overhead! Buzzards abounded but Goshawks seemed very hard to come by....however our attention was soon diverted by a colourful spectacle nearby. A male and female Common Crossbill and a male Brambling had been spotted in the Scots' Pine right in front of the viewing platform, so after finding a good spot on the platform we enjoyed amazing views of these bright characters foraging in the sunlit pines, for a good while! As my only previous views of Common Crossbill had been the female an hour or so earlier, and a distant flying speck elsewhere on an earlier occasion, I was super chuffed to see the Crossbills at such close range and in such good light. And the Brambling was practically in his summer plumage - his black head was only very lightly frosted! I tried getting some photos of them, but they were very mobile and constantly disappearing behind the pine needles, so my attempts were rather pitiful.

After a quick lunch break at Beechenhurst Lodge (where I added Brimstone to my butterfly list for the day), the next stop was Cannop Ponds, where normally we see Mandarins and Marsh Tits aplenty, however I think that today the good weather did not work in our favour - there were loads of people there (including some idiots letting their dog swim in the lake) and it seemed that the disturbance had probably been too much for the normally shy and retiring Mandarins. A few intrepid members of our group did manage to spot a few but they didn't stick around for long. At least I found another butterfly species, a Comma sunning itself in some brambles.

Rather bird-free Cannop Ponds.
Our final destination was a last-minute decision on the part of Ray, our esteemed group leader! Normally our last stop is Symonds Yat to see the Peregrines, but seeing as we'd already had super views of the speedy falcons at New Fancy View, it was decided we would check out Crabtree Hill, where the possibilities included Two-barred Crossbill, Hawfinch and Great Grey Shrike. This was exciting news indeed for me, as I'd been secretly hoping all week that we might be able to have a look for the Great Grey Shrike which had been in the area for some time! I'd only seen one once before, also in the Forest of Dean, a few years ago now and for some reason when I get a whiff of shrike, I can get a bit, er, irrational and obsessive. Well they are super-cool! In my haste to hot-foot it up the hill, I missed a Firecrest in the car park though - dammit! However all was forgotten when we reached the clear-felled area where the shrike had been loitering:

Nothing like some heathland in the sunshine!
Regular readers may know I particularly enjoy anything vaguely resembling a heath! Several birders already up there soon got us onto the shrike and I watched him for the rest of the time we had there :o) This was about the best photo I managed, I think it's a passable record shot at least:

The Butcher Bird! Digiscoped record shot.
He was quite mobile and kept flying around to perch in different spots, giving us a chance to observe some cool behaviour. On one occasion he flew up quite high then hovered for maybe 10 seconds or so! On another he dropped to the ground then returned with something long and thin, either a big caterpillar or a small lizard, it was difficult to tell at that distance. We also saw him being mobbed by Blue Tits. I did a few drawings of varying quality:

Great Grey Shrike sketches.
Great Grey Shrike sketches. Top left is my favourite!

I love how round and soft they can look when perched, in contrast to their fearsome habits and reputation! And I like the different shapes the shrike makes and the different angles of its tail with its body when it's balancing on top of a thin twig in the wind.

Even though I'd somehow managed to miss a good number of our initial target species, our encounters with lizards, snakes, crossbills and shrikes made this probably my favourite day in the Forest of Dean so far!

No comments:

Post a Comment