So Chris and I had a 3 day weekend this week and had decided to spend the Friday on a rescheduled trip to WWT Slimbridge. Yet another overnight snowfall on Thursday* put paid to that plan, so instead we had a lovely relaxed day nearer to home, albeit with a lack of birding. It was just lovely to spend a chilled out day together ahead of a busier weekend.
Whilst I’ve been on 2 HOS walks this year, Chris has only come to the Red Kite walk, so I was actually really surprised when he agreed to accompany my Mum and I on a walk from Shatterford in the New Forest. Honestly, I’m convinced it was only because Chris didn’t want me to spot anything I’d not seen already without him seeing it too. Again, Chris and I brought the average age of the group down quite considerably, but I am still warmed every time I go on a group by how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to share their time and knowledge with others. I also quite like how excited other birders often are by having young, enthusiastic birders with them. Its really lovely to feel so welcomed.
The walk started brilliantly, with Goldcrest feeding in a pine by the car park which also had Treecreeper having breakfast on the trunk of the same tree. There must have been at least 6 Goldcrest which was lovely to see and some were even feeding on the ground, which no one in the group had seen before. Seeing such tiny birds on the ground right out in the open didn’t seem right as my mental image of Goldcrest is a tiny fluff-ball hiding amongst foliage and seeming altogether more shy and reclusive. A fantastic start to a lovely day. The walk continued with success- pairs of Crossbill (another of my Top 10) collecting nesting material and taking it up high in the pines for construction was gorgeous to watch, with one particular pair showing really well and deciding to have a pine cone snack for all to see on the only leaf free branch. My favourite moment of the morning was watching Mr Crossbill scoffing the seeds from a pine cone so greedily that he lost his grip and dropped the cone. I love slightly comical birding moments.
Once the Crossbills had given up putting on a show, we headed off for the main attraction of the walk- Great Grey Shrike. This bird is regularly reported in the area and had been seen the day before, so we set off towards its most recent haunt. Within seconds of arriving, the walk leader had spotted the Shrike high atop a distant shrub, surveying his surroundings and looking alert. Success. I never thought tracking down a bird would be so easy, but he was so far away I don’t think I’d ever have spotted him was it not for the more experienced birders there too. At this point Chris was seeming quite disheartened so telling him at this point that this was another of my Top 10 crossed off felt pretty mean, especially considering someone else had pointed it out to me. More Goldcrest appeared, bobbing along a pine hedge and again feeding on the ground- the cold must be leading them to desperate measures!
The walk later threw up a load more winter visitors and woodland species, with Siskin, Redwing, and Mistle Thrush all seen before lunch. Chris had his birding moment of the day after lunch, when he spotted a lovely male Stonechat by himself, which I think he was pretty smug about. Although he didn’t say it, I could tell he felt excited for spotting something that the other birders hadn’t spied first. Adding Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and this time a pair of Stonechat before returning to the car rounded of a great day out in the forest. The residual snow and cold weather made for a bleak day on the moorland areas, but really highlighted just how beautiful the New Forest really is and reminded me how much I love spending my time outside when I can. Going back to the office on Monday morning was a bit of a come down after a wonderful day out and about.
*Note to self: next time I want snowfall, plan a trip to Slimbridge. The two seem to correlate at the moment!