Over the years I've explored the Midlands mainly, and slightly further afield to the likes of Shropshire and Northants, Leicestershire and parts of Derbyshire, but an area that had started to attract me was Gloucestershire, in particular the Forest Of Dean.
SatNav reckoned the drive would be only just over an hour to reach the outskirts of the forest, so when the Easter break arrived, and it wasn't raining (or snowing either, of late!) I woke at 5am and headed south west, to an area called Parkend. I had a number of targets for the day. Hawfinches and goshawks being the main ones, though admittedly both unlikely, and also perhaps a glimpse of a wild boar.
The latter had certainly been busy, with almost every area of unfenced grass being dug up and turned over. Looks messy, but it seems to provide the birds with far easier feeding grounds, and the large numbers of blackbirds, robins and song thrushes around proved the point.
Despite my efforts, visiting several "hot spots" for hawfinches, the best I managed was a brief call from one high in the canopy, before it vanished, and in the end, I ditched the idea of looking for a goshawk. I've heard that the views from New Fancy View Point are distant, to say the least, with 2 different people telling me that they've seen them from there, but the goshawks are specks in the distance, miles away. The best I could muster was a buzzard in a tree.
A spot possible for finding hawfinch, although a local had informed me that they're "thin on the ground" at the moment, is RSPB Nagshead. My SatNav has the reserves within its Points Of Interest database, so finding the site was easy, though I have to admit that the Lower Hide was a disappointment. Who made it? The Normans? The "windows" are so narrow it was a job seeing out with my bins, let alone getting a lens through. Even if hawfinches do turn up there over the coming months, I can't see how I can get a shot other than a record one, unless the bird perches on the window ledge!
The day was turning into "one of those" when I clocked something rather large, poking around in some bushes beside the road. A wild boar! I was far too close to get anything decent with the camera - in fact I could barely squeeze just its head into the frame.
Completely unfazed by passing traffic, it continued snuffling through the vegetation, climbing up an embankment and off into the distance.
With the increased numbers of visitors, and most sites becoming crowded, I headed home, vowing to return again. Which I did, only a couple of days later, after reading that garganey had been seen on a couple of the lakes in the area.
I've seen these small ducks before, but always at a huge distance. They had been seen on two lakes, Woorgreens and Cannop Ponds. I had planned to get up early and head over to Woorgreens, but I awoke to cloud and decided it'd be better to wait for news before setting out. Wise move, as they'd gone from Woorgreens, but the Cannop ones were still present.
Unsure of where to go at Cannop Ponds, I spotted a couple in camo with cameras, and was just starting to ask them when I realised it was Clive & Jill. Nothing like great eye sight for you! We walked along the edge of the lake to where they'd seen them earlier in the day, only to find the garganey had moved to a smaller pond, and were feeding amongst cut-back reeds.
Not the most attractive surroundings, but pretty close, and by far the best views I've ever had.
There were 3 drakes and a single female. And they were busy feeding continuously in the pond, up-ending all the time, making timing the shot crucial, to avoid a headless duck.
With flat light from the clouds above, the pics were never going to win any prizes, but I was just pleased to have caught up with them. My attention switched momentarily from them to a few mandarin ducks which landed in the main pond behind. Such colourful, vibrant ducks.
And so plentiful, as I scanned the rest of the lake - maybe as many as 30 either on the water or sat under nearby trees.
Before leaving I saw a red kite soaring high overhead, being mobbed by the gulls. But the garganey seemed content in this smaller pond, and with time ticking on, I chose to head off. I fancied a bit of a mystery tour drive towards a place called Guiting Power, where an osprey had been seen earlier that week.
Having sold the Scooby recently, the twisty lanes reminded me of the fun that car used to provide, though to be fair, the Yeti handles very well and is genuinely amusing to drive down such roads. Hasn't quite got the same acceleration or noise, sadly. But perhaps the sound of a flat four roaring and the exhaust backfiring isn't the best thing to have when trying to find easily startled wildlife. And that's what I found. Rounding a corner, I spotted a pair of feathery bundles perched on an old gnarled tree. Little owls!
They seemed pleased to see me, as the local ones do. Unlike the local ones, these didn't move when I parked the car up and had to then reverse a bit when I found a branch obscuring my view.
The rest of the drive involved avoiding snow drifts, tractors and resisting the charms of Cotswolds' pubs, before finding my way back on to a main road, and heading home.