Tuesday 18 February 2014

A Red Flanked Bluetail, Three Goshawks and a Hawfinch - 16th February 2014

With the pressures of work and the fact that it was also the WeBS weekend it was looking unlikely I would be able to travel too far on the weekend of the 15th and 16th but after a phone call from Jon Philpot one day and then John Friendship-Taylor on another I managed a bit of jiggling about at work and I sorted some adequate time off. My WeBS survey of Billing Gravel Pits was completed after work on Saturday despite the high winds and flooding which then freed me up on the Sunday. John Friendship-Taylor had mentioned that he really wanted to see the Red Flanked Bluetail that had been wowing the crowds near Marshfield in Gloucestershire so early in the morning Jon and Kirsty picked me up and we headed off, picking up JFT on the way. We had arrived on site by mid morning and as we got out of the car we were greeted by fellow Northants birder Neil McMahon who had brought a couple more county birders to see this cracking little bird too. We parked up and started to walk along the valley towards the area the bird was frequenting. One of the many good things about birding/twitching is it does tend to send you to some beautiful places that in the normal case of affairs you wouldn't find yourself in. This was no exception as we walked along a pastured valley with dry stone walls, a babbling brook and inquisitive sheep together with some amazing weather finally giving a break from the recent high winds and horizontal rain. Soon enough we saw the line of birders all facing towards a hedge and we waked round to join them, connecting with the Red Flanked Bluetail almost as soon as we got there! We waited for a while as it flew from bush to bush before it then settled down and preened for what seemed like an age before it then darted around once more going from bush to bush. We noticed that it did frequent an area down by the path where a few photographers had staked themselves out in wait, so after getting good views we headed down to join them. It became apparent that the trick was simply to wait here for the bird to come to you (the photographers had baited the area with mealworms!) and although you had to wait for half an hour or so between it's visits the views were incredible. We positioned ourselves and waited for the bird which seemed to fly into the nearby bush, grab a mealworm during a burst of shutters, and then fly to a another nearby bush to hide for a while before coming back and it continued this cycle all the time we were there giving some great views!

Red Flanked Bluetail, nr. Marshfield, Gloucestershire

Red Flanked Bluetail, nr. Marshfield, Gloucestershire

Red Flanked Bluetail, nr. Marshfield, Gloucestershire

Some other not so rare birds were also performing well in the area too with a pair of Grey Wagtails around the brook and farm building behind us and Common Buzzards and Ravens soaring over our heads making the most of the glorious weather.

Common Buzzard, nr. Marshfield, Gloucestershire

Raven, nr. Marshfield, Gloucestershire.
We finally tore our way away from the Bluetail as by now time was getting on and we wanted to have a look at the Forest of Dean before it got too late. We arrived in the forest by midday and heading straight to the New Fancy View watchpoint in the hope of displaying Goshawks. We couldn't have picked a better day for as the amazing blue skies and almost wind free conditions carried on from the morning. We set ourselves up on the decking and scanned the tops of the trees for soaring raptors.

The View From New Fancy Viewpoint, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

It wasn't long before another birder pointed out to the right and there we saw a Goshawk flying above the tree tops. I have to admit by now it was early afternoon and I wasn't really holding my breathe for us seeing one but it wasn't long before we saw another one which came even closer and then another two displaying further right. Unfortunately they were too distant for the SLR to pick up but John Friendship-Taylor quite amazingly managed to get a record shot of one by phonescoping!

Goshawk, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire - pic taken by John Friendship-Taylor
We then moved on and headed for the ponds for a wander round in the afternoon. Lots of Little Grebe were dotted around but still proved rather difficult to photograph as they kept diving everytime a lens was pointed in their direction and while the rest of the guys were paying attention to a group of Siskins I tried to get a shot of a Nuthatch that kept visiting the bird table near the car park.

Little Grebe, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Nuthatch, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

After a while a local birder arrived to see what we were looking at, we explained we were just enjoying taking some pics of the local birds but as we had a little daylight left we asked about some of the local specialities and he mentioned the local Hawfinch flock! Now living in Northants means you don't get to see Hawfinch very often so depsite the lateness of the day we decided to give it a go. We arrived at the area to be greeted with lots of Chaffinch, Blackbirds and Magpies but no Hawfinch. The local chap also arrived too to see how were getting on but there was no sign. A Greenfinch appearing at the top of one of the surrounding trees raised the blood pressure enough to cause a little excitement but soon it's identity was realised and the excitement fizzled back out. The local chap left and despite a thorough search we decided to have one last look round. As we walked away from the Yew trees we noticed a large bird had flown into the top of one of the tall trees and John Friendship-Taylor quickly got the scope on it to show a magnificent Hawfinch! We all got good scope views before it flew out of the tree and then high above our heads before heading deep into the forest behind us. Jon Philpot was quick on the trigger and he raised his camera as it did so and fired a burst of shots. We couldn't believe our eyes when we checked the results! It's only mid February and he had already probably just achieve the birding groups shot of the year! The pic is below. It was another fantastic day when we really did have luck on our side!

Hawfinch, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire - pic taken by Jon Philpot

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