Army Ornithological Society Blog

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SPTA WEst

Those who did not make it to Scotland missed out on an exceptional birding AGM with all the key species seen.  Back on the Plain there are changes afoot.  Red Cards are becoming harder to obtain and now we have to print off the daily DRS if we visit off the public tracks.  I spent a lot of time in France in June and July watching the football and naturally visted areas for birds including the Carmargue and Crau as well as The Dombes Region.  I have only visited the Plain a few times since then as access has been limited at times.  My botany skills are improving though it tends to the English names that I remember.  There are plenty of butterflies about and I still have to look carefully to seperate Small and Essex Skippers.  The species of birds during these quiet months tends to be those that you would expect to find.  These include the grassland species of Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, Stonechat and Whinchat.  I have also been ringing which adds Redstart, Willow Warbler, Chiifchaff, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler plus other buntings and finches to a long list. The other day there was even a Wood Warbler and a male Monty's was hunting nearby.  I am now recording various types of wildlife that I find including mammals and insects on the ICG website.  There are changes planned for this as well.  The one constant is that the Plain is still a military training area and is untouched by modern farming.

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SPTA West

It has been 3 months since my last blog; where does the time go?  In that period I spent a week in Lesbos with an AOS trip that I organised and a week in Corsica with a Natutretrek trip; all endemics seen.  I also had a few days in Croatia with my son.  The Plain has been out of bounds at times as we get multi-national exercises taking part for weeks at a time.  I will admit I went twitching in Feb to see the Penduline Tit at Gloucester and Pallas's Warbler in Dorset.  I also attended a Naturetrek weekend in Norfolk for the guides and staff with Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting easily seen.  On the Plain in late winter there were a few Woodcock around as well as flocks of Golden Plover, Fieldfare and Redwing.  There were also plenty of Fairy Shrimp.  During our unsuccesful Hen Harrier surveys in February the Starling murmuration at Gore Cross COTEC site was fantastic and we were 2kms away.  There must have been around 1 million birds in the sky making dramatic patterns.  More recently the summer migrants have arrived with Cuckoo, Whinchat, Whitethroat taking up territories.  On the Centre in the hand (been ringing and deatils can be found on Wiltshire birds web site) I have had Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Nightingale to mention a few.  On the east I have watched Stone Curlew and twice now seen a male Montagu's Harrier.  On the west there is Stone Curlew and Redstart breeding as well as the usual suspects of Stonechat, Corn Bunting,  Linnet and of course owls.  My nest boves have had a mixed reception but they do require checking again now I can get out there.  At present there are still puddles with Toad tadpoles and orchids are starting to show.  There has been an explosion of butterflies hatching when the sun shines with Marsh Fritillary and Blues.  I hope to see you at the AGM in Scotland next month.

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SPTA West

I spent Christmas with a tour in Extremadura, Spain where I had great views of Spanish Imperial Eagle and at last added Penduline Tit to my list of birds seen.  I had promised my wife that I would accompany her to the Salisbury Athletics Club Christmas function on 9 Jan; she won England Athletics Coach of the Year in 2015.  I therefore spent the weekend before in Norfolk to start off my year list.  It was not until mid month that I was really back on the Plain.  I do not think it has been cold enough to push the birds down south.  There is little life about the area and Short-eared Owls still escape me though for the last 2 weeks certain areas have been out of bounds as a large exercise takes place.  On the Centre I did see a male Hen Harrier.  On the west by Fish Hook there were some Woodcock and Shipe.  Went to Carrymoor last week for Jack Snipe.  I also visted the Cotswold Water Park for Smew, Great Northern Diver and Red-crested Pochard.  Manadarin Duck are missing at Fonthill Lake.  What is going on this winter?  Back on the Plain it has been very wet and windy with the normal woodland birds plus corvids and pigeons about.  There have been a few Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Stonechat sightings.  There have been some reasonable numbers of Linnet, Goldfinch and Corn Bunting.  Yellowhammer flocks are in short supply as are Redwing!  There are plenty of Fieldfare often mixed with Starling but very few Redwing as is the case for Lapwing and Golden Plover.  I have spent more time visiting other sites in Wiltshire due to the restrictions and weather to see birds such as Siberian Chiffchaff at Wesbury Sewage Works.  I even managed to go ringing 2 mornings but both were cut short as the wind and rain picked up.  Next job when the weather improves is to finish sorting out, and putting up new, bird boxes.  Though a month has passed a Happy New Year to you all.

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SPTA West

After a very succesful trip to South Africa with a total of 380 species seen my next trip abroad was a week later.  I took a tour to the Oman with 208 species which included a Black Drongo in the desert on a farm as we looked for Sandgrouse.  In fact I found all 4 types of Sandgrouse and thanks to a tip a decent flock of Golden Grossbeak.  I have also been to Frampton Marsh and Slimbridge in December with lots of duck and geese.  More importantly I have been busy with SPTA West as I am now the Chairman of the Conservation Group so quite a few meetings to say hello to people.  I led a walk at the end of November around Fish Hook and saw 6 Woodcock.  There were also quite a few Coal Tit and Goldcrest besides the numerous corvids and pigeons.  There were also decent sixe flocks of Fiedfare with some Redwing mixed in.  Only 16 species were recorded.  In December however the wind was much stonger as we walked on the western edge by Bigbury Wood and Bishopstrow Down.  The wind was very strong and most birds kept their heads down.  There were however large flocks of Starling, Fieldfare and smaller flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet.  A female Great Spotted Woodpecker did not seem to mind the wind at Bigbury Wood.  Even in the deep gorse that provided shelter the only bird regularly heard was Blackbird.  At least 19 species were recorded that beat November's sorry tally.  The next day whilst on a survey at Bridge Site 3 a ringtail Hen Harrier flew right past heading west.  There was also a Barn Owl hunting as well as a Buzzard displaying.  The majority of birds were however corvids including 2 Raven.  At home there seems to be a paucity of birds though the Coal Tit is frequently seen besides the normal suspects.  Even the Starlin mumuration at Gore Cross is disappointing with numbers in thousands rather than tens of thousands.  There is even only small numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover.  We require some cold weather across the country and NW Europe!

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