I was bit gutted to miss out on Hawfinch in the Forest of Dean last Sunday. However, I had a day's holiday carried forward from last year and it was a case of use it or lose it, so I booked today off and decided to have another stab at this elusive bird. I thought I might as well make a day of it, so I came up with a return journey that would take in a couple of other decent locations.
It was an early start. I wanted to get on the road at 6:30am and I somehow managed it, despite being a bit bleary-eyed when I awoke. I had a good run down the M5, though I was a little concerned by the patchy fog that I encountered on the way. It was still a little misty when I arrived at Brierley at about 7:40am, but the sun was beginning to poke through and fortunately I was able to see alright.
I didn't have to wait too long to track down a Hawfinch [year tick 141!]. There were a few up in the canopy, possibly up to half a dozen. At one point I had one not twenty feet from me on the deck, but the Chaffinches and Bramblings that they were associating with were very flighty and getting a picture was difficult. In the end, I managed a half decent shot of one in the trees.
I left Brierley at about 9:30am, but not before I'd bagged a picture of a Great Spotted Woodpecker that was having a whale of a time drumming in the trees to my right.
Next stop was Cutsdean, but not for either a lifer, nor a year tick. A Great Grey Shrike has been in this area for a week or so and having bagged my first one in Devon in February, but not having been able to get a decent view of it, I was determined to do better this time.
The first bird of note was a Red-Legged Partridge [year tick 142!], which I was alerted to by its unusual call. Having solved this birding mystery, I returned to the matter in hand. It only took a few minutes to track down the Great Grey Shrike, but in the time it took me to dash back to the car and fetch the scope, the thing had vanished.
There was a moment's panic, then it returned to its perch, where it sat happily for the next fifteen minutes whilst I gorged myself on its beauty. A really excellent looking bird. I have to confess, I did get a bit emotional!
I also had a number of Yellowhammers in this area.
On returning to the car, I heard a rustling in the grass next to me. It was a lizard. Then I saw another. I understand that this is what shrikes like to eat, so no wonder the little beauty had decided to make this reptile-rich area its temporary home.
Next stop, the Clent hills [well done, Kay!]. I was keen to see what this area was like and the added attraction of a possible passing Ring Ouzel was too much to resist. I had a pleasant walk, encountering some Jays, Nuthatches and a mouse, but on the whole, there wasn't much to see. I decided to move on and as I was way ahead of schedule, I thought a trip to my somewhat neglected local patch, Bittell Reservoirs, would be a fitting end to the day and might bring me a warbler or two.
As soon as I arrived, I had a Grey Wagtail and a pair of Ravens [can't get away from them at the moment!] , but this was nothing compared to what happened as I made my way up the path to the upper reservoir. Firstly, I noticed something fly to my right and I immediately suspected it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I was right! It took a further second or two to get onto it, but then it slowly made its way up the trunk of a tree just in front of me, allowing me to rattle off some good pictures.
Then another one, this time a female, appeared a little further down the path. Unfortunately, this one disappeared as I was getting the scope set up for some more photos. I couldn't believe it. I've seen three this year now. I wasn't even sure I'd see one at the beginning of the year.
The upper reservoir was full, so I didn't waste any time scanning it for waders. I heard either a Blackcap or Garden Warbler near the stile, but couldn't get onto it to confirm its identity. It was probably the former, but I wasn't sure. I was a bit disappointed, but I needn't have worried, because on arriving home, there was a male Blackcap in the garden. Only the second one this year! The perfect end to a perfect day.