Weather: Overcast and cloudy at first, heavy rain at times, brightening up later. Very warm on last day.
Little Grebe; Cormorant; Grey Heron; Mute Swan; Greylag Goose; Shelduck; Canada Goose; Mallard; Wigeon; Gadwall; Teal; Tufted Duck; Red Kite; Buzzard; Kestrel; Red-legged Partridge; Pheasant; Moorhen; Stone Curlew; Avocet; Oystercatcher; Black-tailed Godwit; Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Great Black-backed Gull; Common Tern; Sandwich Tern; Woodpigeon; Feral Pigeon; Swift; Great Spotted Woodpecker (H); Green Woodpecker (H); Swallow; Sand Martin; Yellow
Wagtail; Pied Wagtail; Wren; Dunnock; Robin; Blackbird; Song Thrush; Mistle Thrush; Reed Warbler (H); Sedge Warbler (H); Blackcap; Chiffchaff (H); Blue Tit; Great Tit; Coal Tit; Long-tailed Tit; Nuthatch (H); Starling; Magpie; Jackdaw; Carrion Crow; Rook; Chaffinch; Goldfinch; Greenfinch; Yellowhammer (H); Corn Bunting. AND Great Bustard.
Plus (at the HCT): African Fish Eagle; Bald Eagle; Bateleur Eagle; Brahminy Kite; Brown Wood Owl; Golden Eagle; Harris/Bay-Winged Hawk; Little Owl; Long-eared Owl; Peacock; Steller's Sea Eagle; Striped Owl; Tawny Eagle; Tawny Owl; Ural Owl; White Headed Vulture; White-faced Whistling Tree Duck; White-tailed Sea Eagle.
Plus: Fallow Deer; Sika deer; Brown Hare; Rabbit. Dead Foxes; Badger.
Plus: Green-veined White; Holly Blue butterflies; Large Red Damselfly; 4-spotted Chaser Dragonfly.
Plus: Bluebells; Cuckoo Pint; Early Purple Orchid; Wild Garlic.
Salisbury; Salisbury Plain; RSPB Garston Wood; RSPB Winterbourne Downs; Hawk Conservancy Trust; Brownsea Island. And the A338. Several times.
It was decided, many moons ago, to visit Salisbury Plain to try and see the Great Bustard Project in action. So, together with my friend Shan, we decided to visit in late May.
Shan organised the visit to the GBP and very kindly made arrangements for us to stay with her brother John and his wife, Barbara, who were based in Salisbury itself.
So, on the morning of the 23rd I travelled down to Salisbury, via Liverpool Street and Waterloo, arriving after a 3 hour trouble-free journey, to be met by Shan at the station, just after midday.
We immediately drove down to an area within Salisbury Plain as we had a 2pm appointment to see the Great Bustards. I can't tell you where, it's a secret! It rained at first and we were worried that we wouldn't see anything, let alone the Bustards. But just before 2pm the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Someone must like us. And, just then, our man turned up in his Great Bustard Project land-rover to pick us up and drive us to the Hide. On the way we spotted a Yellow Wagtail and a few Corn Buntings.
We arrived at the Hide and made ourselves comfortable. I immediately spotted a Red-legged Partridge atop a haystack in the distance and then one of the other people with us spotted 2 Great Bustards in the far field, out to the right. One of them was displaying with wings up and out, as they do. We then spotted a pair of Stone Curlews on one of the chalk tracks directly in front of us. They were about three to four hundred yards away but gave great views through the scope. If that wasn't brilliant enough we also spotted at least 2 chicks around the nest. Fantastic! Then another 2 Bustards popped their heads up. Our man said that they were all young males and proceeded to give us the history of the project. I won't go on about it here - if you are interested in visiting go here: http://greatbustard.org/. I recommend it.
It was a 90 minute visit, which ended all too soon and so we were reluctantly driven back to the visitor centre where I purchased a couple of bottles of Bustard Beer and a fridge magnet. I passed on the t-shirts.
It was now just before 4pm and so we decided to visit RSPB Garston Wood. The bad weather returned and again became overcast and rainy, but we had already seen the worst of the day's weather and were also sheltered by the trees. At the wood we were met by a breathtaking carpet of bluebells. Fallow deer were about but very skittish.
There were lots of easy paths that criss-crossed the wood and, although there were not many birds about, it was a very nice walk around the area and well worth another, longer visit.
Just after six we made our way back to Shan's brother's house. They were on holiday in Israel and weren't due back until the middle of the night. A quick brush-up and change and we were back out for dinner. A pub lunch followed by a couple of beers in the George and Dragon. It was an early night.
The next day we found the weather had deteriorated but decided to visit RSPB Winterbourne Downs. The reserve is still a working farm and some of the land is being kept in arable production for the benefit of farmland birds. We had a few problems finding it on the map, driving nearly the entire length of the A338 and didn't get there until just before midday. Although the rain had stopped it was still cloudy and was actually quite cold in the wind. Unfortunately, we didn't see very much other than a pair of Red-legged Partridge and a pair of Brown Hares. We did hear a Yellowhammer as well. But not much else. Maybe we chose the wrong day.
Back at the house I finally met our hosts. Shan and I then decided to try and visit the nearby Hawk Conservancy Trust. We found it with not too much trouble (!). We had a quick walk around, seeing lots of raptors and then sat down in the arena to watch a display. Unfortunately, the wind picked up fiercely endangering not only the birds but the humans too, with branches falling all around us, forcing us to go under cover to see the rest of the display. Once inside we were shown a cute Little Owl and a Brown Wood Owl. A little later the weather relented and we went outside for one final bird. A lovely Bald Eagle was brought in. It was held on a very heavily gloved arm by those that wished to. I just took the photos. Shan immediately leapt up and volunteered.
When that finished we continued our walkabout again, whilst waiting for the Red Kite feeding time. This was disappointing as only one Kite turned up and only then for 5 minutes. It was mostly Crows and Grey Herons. Damn this weather!
We headed for home and had a very nice home-cooked meal. Barbara had even managed to get some Carrot Cake for me! Definitely a 5-star stay! I even sampled some of John's homebrew. It was so good I even had further samples later on.
The next day was much better, bird-wise as well as weather-wise. We had planned to spend the day down on Brownsea Island. We found Poole easily enough and even managed to avoid the channel ferry to France. Sacre Bleu! But we did find that we had to pay for tickets for the island ferry, entrance fee to the Island itself, as we weren't National Trust members and even had to pay £2 to get into the Hides.
But despite all the expense we had a brilliant day. From the Hides we saw dozens and dozens of Shelduck; a lone male Teal (3 more turned up later); 4 Avocets; lots of Oystercatchers; 11 Barwits; nesting Common and Sandwich Terns and BHGs with chicks. Swifts and Swallows were screaming overhead. On the walks around the trails and forest we heard Reed and Sedge Warblers; Chiffchaff and both Green and GS Woodpeckers. We met a couple who had seen a Nuthatch exiting a nest. I heard it but didn't quite manage to spot it. We saw Coal Tits on the feeders and a few Sika deer. But, disappointingly, we failed to see any Red Squirrels.
During lunch, in the hot sunshine, we were entertained by a displaying Peacock. Being a Saturday and a Bank Holiday there were a fair few people about, with lots of children. The walk around the forest produced a 4-Spotted Chaser dragonfly and lots of Large Red Damselflies.
We caught the last but one ferry back to the mainland and drove back home. Well, not quite straight home, we had problems finding the house again. We were getting to be very experienced on the A338.
Dinner at the Wheatsheaf followed by some more homebrew and bed not too long after.
Up early next morning to travel home, arriving just after 1.30pm. A top trip with the Bustards the stars!