Today was a Northants Bird Club car trip to the Forest of Dean. In a cool wind and some wintry showers but also periods of strong sunshine, we enjoyed an excellent day of wildlife watching.
For my crew, we started with a three hour dawdle in the open forest near to Crabtree Hill. Lots of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins greeted us, and the Ravens were very busy chasing each other around. A Wild Boar trundled in to view but wouldn't allow a close approach and I think our best views were of it's hind-quarters!
Crossbills were audible straight-away and varying numbers flew over us as we walked across some clear-fell to approach the Crabtree ridge. The Crossbill sounds became noisier and we then found a monster flock of at least sixty birds which also attracted other finches including a couple each of Hawfinch and Brambling. The unmistakable sound of a singing Woodlark could be heard in the same area, and he eventually came in to view and fluttered above us in a typical song-flight. A Goshawk called from the depths of the forest and Mandarin Ducks were also audible but went unseen.
We began checking the Crossbill flock and it wasn't long before we located a resplendent male Two-barred Crossbill. This bird hung upside down in an effort to tackle some of the cones, and was regularly displaced by the Common Crossbills.
We eventually tore ourselves away from this avian bounty and checked the clear-fell again. Andrew Tyrrell located the sought-after Great Grey Shrike this time and we manoeuvred to obtain closer views. As we watched the shrike caught a Bumblebee attracted to a flowering willow, and it was consumed whole. Walking back to the car and an adult Peregrine appeared overhead, toying with the local Common Buzzards. And a couple of mature yew trees attracted five Hawfinches, the males in particular looking stunning in the spring sunshine.
In the meantime Bob Gill and his crew had started at New Fancy View with the main objective of seeing Goshawk. This spot is surely the most assured place in England to see this scarce and mysterious raptor, and they were well-rewarded with seven individuals on view! Plenty of Common Crossbills, Siskins etc were on show here too and they also found a basking Adder which showed well.
Our next venue was the New Fancy View site, but the wind had picked up and the sun was initially lost to view. However, patience paid off with an immature Goshawk displaying over a mature plantation opposite the viewpoint and several views of Sparrowhawk. The sun came out and we re-located the Adder and a Common Lizard. We left the car park here and were lucky to locate a singing Firecrest at the roadside. This bird kept to the holly but showed well as it fed on the woodland outskirts.
A brief stop at Cannop Ponds provided views of a female Goshawk directly over the road and a gaggle of Mandarin Ducks and a singing Marsh Tit.
Bob and crew decided to try the Crabtree Hill area and were rewarded with the shrike and Woodlark. We decided to drive to the edge of the forest to try some scanning from the popular Symonds Yat viewpoint with its stunning views over the River Wye. Up to three Peregrines kept us entertained and ridiculous numbers of Common Buzzards were harried by the local Ravens. Neil Hasdell pulled a surprise bird out of the bag (not literally) when he spotted a first year Little Gull flying strongly past the hillside wood opposite!
The river below attracted more Mandarin Ducks and a nearby nest-box housed a pair of industrious Nuthatch. A couple of Sparrowhawks enjoyed the strong blustery breeze and intermittent sunshine but the star was an awesome adult female Goshawk which was initially seen hunting and then later displaying in the afternoon sunshine. As she 'rowed' across the valley it was a display of pure power and confident beauty and it felt as if all wildlife simply stopped in their tracks and watched! Certainly we all did! This was a fitting finale to yet another fabulous day in this stunning Gloucestershire forest.
Eleanor in the meantime had to stay local and notched up two Ravens at Harrington Airfield plus a Wheatear and about eight Bramblings. A Barn Owl was hunting the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton first thing and a Wheatear was on the fields too.