1st March. With a biting easterly wind blowing strongly all day it felt apt to head to Slimbridge to look for another visitor from the North. Once I had arrived I headed straight to the tundra pen to catch up with its free roaming inhabitant. Surely enough, the first winter Glaucous Gull was sitting amongst the pens' permanent inhabitants, seemingly oblivious to the many visitors passing by. The clouds were whizzing by quickly overhead making lighting conditions tricky, with dull flat light one minute and bright glary sunlight the next. I managed a few reasonable shots of my second white winged gull in a week before heading off to the rest of the reserve to see what was about. The southern edge of the reserve was quiet with only a sizeable flock of Wigeon and Teal but the Dumbles held a strong collection of wildfowl with Bewicks Swans, Barnacle, Canada, Greylag, White-Fronted, a single Brent and also 6 Bean Geese grazing right over the far side, unfortunately too distant to photograph. On the way back to the car half a dozen Redpoll were feeding on the Alder trees near the visitor centre but even though at times they were within 20 feet, the lighting was virtually impossible to get decent images.
6th March. A standard work day but as I'd managed to get in early all week, I had an hour or two free so stopped off at Northwick Wharf to again fail miserably on seeing the male Merlin that had been there all winter. Convincing myself that seeing it was just not going to happen for this winter I headed off towards Severn Beach and to the Orchard Pools. It was a pleasant yet frosty morning and I wandered around the area of the pools hoping to see sign of the reported Jack Snipe that had been seen on and off over the past week. As is often the case I didn't manage to see my primary target bird but after seeing several each of Teal, Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck, I located myself on a scrub land field, chock full of teasels and the obligatory numbers of Goldfinch to see if the other reported nicety was present. After a short while a high pitched call alerted me to one of two Firecrest flitting and feeding alongside a Goldcrest in full song. As usual with such small busy birds, getting decent images was a challenge in the open field but I managed to improve my existing Firecrest shots a little whilst slowly harvesting most of the teasels onto my fleece! I was covered in them but was rewarded with some lovely views of an elusive British bird!
10th March. A quick late afternoon trip down to Channel View in Cardiff and Hamadryad Park to hopefully get a life tick. I knew it was always going to be tricky but searching through numerous Black-Headed Gulls in various states of winter and summer plumages for a "different Gull" was a challenge to say the least. Eventually after 30 minutes of fruitless searching I asked another birder if he'd had some luck and sure enough, there was the winter plumaged Bonaparte's Gull sitting mid channel in the Taff! I stayed just over an hour managing a few reasonable efforts, despite the distance and also managed to see a Little Gull, Kingfisher and Chiffchaff whilst enjoying the late afternoon sun. It was interesting to note its feeding behaviour being quite similar to a Little Gull in picking small items from the water whilst the Black-Headed Gulls were more interested in the bread being thrown by walkers and the assembled birders! The size was noticeable too, appearing slightly smaller and daintier than the Black-Headed Gulls and the thin bill was also a good identification aide. What a great local Welsh tick!
15th March. I couldn't resist such a beautiful early spring morning so I headed off to Hendre Lake to have another look for the Bittern which I'd failed to see the day before. The conditions were perfect while I was there but the Bittern was true to form and playing hard to see. After doing several laps of the lake with only a Little Egret and a Kingfisher of any note I decided to head down to Cardiff Bay and have a look around. I went first to the wetlands reserve, failing to see any sign of the Lesser Scaup and then into Hamadryad Park where I quickly managed to locate the Little Gull amongst the massed Larus collection and managed a few flight shots before it headed off downstream. My first Sand Martin of the year flew strongly upstream which added to the Chiffchaff I'd heard singing earlier on the migrant front. There were soon many more birders than interesting gulls and we all looked for the Bonnie gull to no avail. I passed the time taking a few shots of Cormorant as they flew past, managing to catch a nice breeding plumaged adult bird. After my patience faded, I firstly had another look without any luck for the Scaup and then I headed off to the ice rink in search of the Slavonian Grebe which again came up blank. I did however catch up with the Little Gull again sat on the water right next to a full summer plumage Mediterranean Gull. My birding time was starting to run out and I healed back up to Channel View for one last look. Fortunately, between the birders on both sides of the river, we all managed to locate the Bonaparte's Gull which was sat mid channel and it then flew closer to us on our side which gave me the opportunity to get a few more shots as it swam back upstream. Another flypast from the Little Gull and it was then time to head off. I also had another dip on the Bittern after lunch but failed again on it! I also found out from a fisherman that I'd missed it by 5 minutes earlier that morning. Grrrr!
19th March. A frustrating day! With the lovely weather forecast to continue, I'd booked the day off work and planned a full day birding. I headed east on the M4 but soon found myself in thick fog which on arrival at Severn Beach didn't show any signs of shifting. I had a look around the Orchard Pools for the reported Jack Snipe and Firecrest but saw nothing more exciting than a flock of 100 Meadow Pipits and a single Grey Heron. I then headed up to Slimbridge and to try and see the American Wigeon again. There was one flock of around 60 Wigeon but with the poor visibility I couldn't locate the American visitor amongst them. A pair of Kingfishers were performing some courtship feeding outside their nest burrow from the Kingfisher Hide but a little distant for a decent photograph. It was now past 11 and I'd still not clicked the shutter! I then jumped in the car and headed over to Cirencester where I finally saw the sun as the car ascended into the Cotswolds. Pulling into a lay-by opposite Tescos on the A419 (I go to all the glamour locations!), there were another few cars complete with birders and optics. Fortunately between us we soon managed to locate the Great Grey Shrike which had been present for a few months, feeding on a set aside field. Once located the bird was easy to re-find with its uber-Stonechat like perching at the highest points of the vegetation around the field. Even though the bird didn't come that close, the views were wonderful and with the warm sun, blue skies and a Shrike to watch it felt almost Mediterranean! A female Kestrel gave some good views as it hunted the same field and a Sparrowhawk and Buzzard flew over at distance. Having finally managed to get a few images, I had my lunch watching the Shrike at a distance before headed back to Ashleworth Ham for another long shot, trying to find a Jack Snipe. Several had been reported a couple of days earlier but after a scan of the reserve, I'd only managed to see a few score of Shoveler, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Teal. Confirming to myself that spotting a Jack Snipe is a seriously difficult task, I pointed the car south and headed to the New Fancy viewpoint in the Forest of Dean. I firstly stopped off at Boy's Grave, hoping for a second Great Grey Shrike of the day but the bird had been flushed by a dog half an hour earlier. I moved to New Fancy and to the raptor viewpoint. On ascending the path, an Adder was basking in the sun and I managed to get some nice pictures. I stayed at the viewpoint for some time, scanning for a Goshawk and keeping an eye out for Crossbill but only managed to see a single Buzzard. A text came through saying that 3 Garganey had been seen in Cardiff and that was enough for me to jump in the car and head home, hoping for a second lifetime view. I eventually managed to locate Lamby Reen and wandered down alongside the water. Nearing the sea wall I met another birder who informed me that the birds had been flushed by another dog walker half an hour before. Well, at least I'd learned where Lamby Reen was!
22nd March. After peeking out the curtains and seeing a beautiful morning, I headed down to Cardiff Bay for an hours birding before the family woke up. I hoped to catch the Lesser Scaup from the wetlands reserve before it got spooked by too many daytime visitors. Looking directly into the low sun I took a record shot of what I thought was the Lesser Scaup only fifty yeards away. I stopped to review it on the screen and confirmed that it was the bird, I moved further down the boardwalk for an improved view. In those 30 seconds the bird vanished and I was unable to relocate it again, being left with the twenty or so Tufted Duck, two pairs of Teal, Mallards and Mute Swans. I then headed over to Hamadryad Park and had a look through the gulls but only saw Black-Headed, Common, Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, not managing to locate any of the scarcer recent visitors. Several singing Reed Buntings and six Sand Martins added to the variety before I headed back to the wetlands reserve for another scan for the Lesser Scaup but only a snapshot of a flying Mallard was worthy of being posted to the site!
29th March. Another quick morning jaunt and with the hour going forward it was a struggle to get out of bed! I quickly stopped off at the Cardiff Bay wetlands reserve where there was no sign of the Lesser Scaup. I then headed west to Ogmore where I tried to find a Water Pipit seen regularly there over the winter. With the tide being fully up it was difficult to see where the bird may feed and I only suceeded in finding several Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. A pleastant surprise was an Iceland Gull which flew overhead towards the coast. Nice to finally be able to id the Gull after seeing my first earlier in the year! A male Stonechat perched and sung near where I had parked the car and allowed me a few snaps in the bright early morning sunshine. Also a Pied Wagtail perched briefly on a phone wire above my head and a couple of Sand Martins feeding over the river. After chatting to a fellow birder, I remembered that Ogmore beach often turned up a few nice things and wasn't disappointed when I located the Purple Sandpiper flock on the rocks near the car park. Cracking birds and wonderfully approachable, around twenty five were roosting with a few Turnstone allowing me to get within fifteen feet without being flustered. Another try for the Lesser Scaup on the way home which showed at the far edge of the reserve!
31st March. Having missed our usual late March Hampshire break I needed my fix and reading reports of good county birding, took a very last minute day off work to hopefully see a few of my bogey birds. After getting up at silly o'clock I arrived in the New Forest just after 7. The cloud clover hadn't lifted so ISO 800 was in order as I started rambling across the moorland paths in search of birds. I'd researched my target species the night before and was searching using my ears listening for a rich fluty sound of descending notes. I walked for an hour, seeing only a small herd of deer with two pure white females before I finally found what I'd heard on the computer the night before. Finally I managed to see my first British Wood Larks which were still difficult to pick out against the pale vegetation which was yet to start its spring growth. I watched 3 birds for around half an hour before heading back to the car with the beautiful song still filling my ears. Fortunately I found another two birds nearer the car which were oblivious of me and the dog walkers giving some great views, including song flight views showing the distinctively short tail. I really enjoyed watching this second pair and stayed for another half hour soaking in the sights and sounds of my biggest bogey bird whilst snapping away when the birds came closer from time to time. Eventually I headed back to the car park feeling very content and immediately noticed several "big finches" feeding at the top of the pine trees. Surely enough there were half a dozen Common Crossbill feeding on the pine cones, with one particularly brightly coloured individual allowing a few brief views and getting my second new species of the day before 9:30! A bunch of lads turned up soon after and started kicking a ball around which meant the birds and myself soon headed off so it was in the car and over to Blashford Lakes. Arriving at the Tern Hide produced my first pair of Little Ringed Plovers of the year along with a pair of Redshank. I soon relocated to the Woodland Hide to enjoy the show at the feeders. It wasn't long before there were good numbers of Siskin, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, a pair of Brambling and the usual brief appearances of Nuthatch, Greater Spotted Woodpecker and the other usual feeder suspects. The stars were of course were the Redpolls, with around 20 Lesser Redpoll visible at close range. Trying to spot "different" Redpolls was a challenge but after an hour or so, a thumping great bird appeared which was confirmed by the hide veterans as the female Greenland Redpoll. It was distinctly bigger than the Lesser Redpolls, probably around 30-40% with it dominating the feeder with aggressive behaviour towards the other "smaller" Redpolls and Siskins. 30 minutes or so later it reappeared and was immediately recognised by the Bob the warden who was in the hide at the time. I spotted a much paler Redpoll which was confirmed as a male Mealy Redpoll and allowed some nice pictures as it fed on the ground. Distinctly pale on the flanks, back and rump with a really bright crimson red head, it was the bird that I'd hoped to see and with the expertise in the hide to confirm it I was very happy to catch up with another notoriously difficult species to see and indentify. After the birds flew I felt the urge to quit whilst ahead and had a quick look in the other hides before heading back up the M27 to Titchfield Haven. I'd hoped to see the Jack Snipe that had been reported over the past week but didn't realise the reserve was shut on Mondays and Tuesdays. So after having a brief scan at the visible public areas, seeing a nice Little Egret on the pool and a pair of Wigeon on the sea, headed up to the canal path for a quick scan. It was worthwhile as I managed to spot a distant drake Garganey on the flooded field. I wondered if there was a way to get any closer to have a better look but the bird had flown by the time I realised there was no other paths off the canal path. I bumped into a few other birders along the way and also rediscovered the Garganey a few times relocating between the flooded field and reserve area. Trying to navigate a flooded path I flushed a female pheasant which in turn flushed a Sparrowhawk with what looked like a Moorhen kill - no time for a picture though. Eventually I gave up on photographing the Garganey but certainly was very impressed with a really productive days birding.