Monday, 6 February 2012

Ducks, a shrike & an anti-aircraft gun!

I set off with the intention of looking for the Ring-necked Ducks at Chard Junction & the Great Grey Shrike in Smeatharpe, but as I had to go almost past Aylesbeare Common, it seemed rude not to stop off there first.
I was last at Aylesbeare Common on 28/12/2001 & I know that as I saw my first Dartford Warbler so it’s marked in my Collins guide. I was hoping to get one today so spent lots of time checking the tops of gorse bushes. I didn’t find one, but I did find at least 70 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing & a Mistle Thrush. I needed the Mistle Thrush for my Year List, so that was the first ‘tick’ with my nice new scope!
1st tick with the new scope on Aylesbeare Common

Then off to Chard Junction in Dorset.  I’d checked the maps of the area & the Birdguides info, so had a fair idea where I needed to be. I found the entrance to the track which is marked as a footpath on the map & parked up. It didn’t seem very promising as I walked past all of the quarry warning notices, I couldn’t even see any water. Then I walked up a small bank through a few newly planted trees & there it was, a body of water which I think was more of a pond than a lake. Straight away I spotted a lovely drake Ring-necked Duck, didn’t even need the scope, although it was a fantastic view with it. The second one then appeared as well.  Superb!!

Track up to East Lake

East Lake for a quick 'tick'

Then across to Upottery Airfield near Smeatharpe, back in Devon. It wasn't far, but it was a bit of a convoluted route & I could have done with a navigator. As I didn’t have one, I had to stop several times to figure out where I was.  It was at this airfield that Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, US 101st Airborne Division boarded Douglas C-47 transport planes to make their first combat jump into Normandy on 6th June 1944 as part of the D-Day invasion. Easy Company was the subject of the Band of Brothers mini-series & Upottery Airfield was used in the filming of the series in 2001. Now all that remains are the runways, a few dilapidated buildings & an anti-aircraft gun!

40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun
One of the Birdguides reports showed a grid reference, so I headed to the ‘road’ that runs along the Western edge of the airfield, which is actually a concrete surfaced track with intermittent vegetation! I parked up for a quick lunch whilst watching the surrounding bushes, then went to speak to a chap that was wandering around with a scope. He said he’d been looking for 2 hrs & was giving up to go home. I decided on a brew before starting on a search, planning to give it about 2 hrs. Considering that most of the country is under snow, it was actually quite mild, but I thought 2 hrs would probably be enough. I sat in the van with my tea & immediately heard a shout.....the chap had just found the shrike! I left my tea & legged it up the track to get a distant but good view.  Great!

Shrike bushes in the mid distance
I drank my tepid tea then set off across the field towards the old airfield buildings as the chap had said that a Little Owl sometimes perches there. Unfortunately there weren’t any owls, but I did find 2 Stock Dove which I needed for the list. A 4 Year-tick day! That puts me on 118.

Old airfield buildings & runway, but no Little Owl
It was still only about 2.45pm, so as there was still some light left I decided to have another go at Aylesbeare Common on my way home.  I had a long walk around the reserve, found quite a lot of birds including a Treecreeper & Goldcrest, but nothing new for the list. A bloke driving through the reserve said that there is only one pair of Dartford Warblers left on the reserve, the rest having been killed off by the harsh winter last year. Not surprising that I didn’t find one then.
As I waited to cross the road back to the van, a large vehicle with flashing amber lights was coming towards me. For some reason I assumed it was a Heavy Recovery vehicle. It was only when it nearly reached me that I realised it was a gritter spreading salt. There was nowhere to go, so I covered my bins & reversed up to the hedge hoping that my new scope would survive. The nice gritter driver must have spotted me cowering in the gloom & kindly stopped spreading until he had passed me. Phew!
I may not have found a Dartford Warbler but I’d had a pleasant walk & worked up a good appetite for the roast dinner that was underway when I got home. Perfect!

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