A Day In The Forest
The Forest of Dean has been very popular of late and for good reason. Hawfinches, a Great Grey Shrike (or two?), Crossbills (including infrequent sightings of a Two-Barred Crossbill), Wild Boar, Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers and Goshawks are all up for grabs. It would be a rather special day if all were seen in one visit! That didn't happen to me before you think I hit the jackpot. No, my most recent visit was a very relaxed affair with no real targets in mind though any of the above would obviously be nice.
The drive there was as straight forward as usual although the road verges adjacent to the River Severn were very busy with parked cars and an awful lot of people, present to see the Severn Bore. Not something that has ever really appealed personally but judging by the number of people present it is clearly a crowd puller for spectators as well as surfers.
Once arriving in the forest, we started off with a quick visit to New Fancy View. The skies weren't as blue as forecast and during the time we were there no Goshawks were seen. The viewing platform was rammed and being scope-less we opted to move on and have a look in at Parkend. Again, rammed. A birding group were present and stood in the clearing by the favoured Yew trees so the chance of Hawfinches on the deck was slim to none. I did have a possible sighting at the far end but it wasn't conclusive. Hopefully the visiting birders had more luck. We decided to make a loop of things and that took us to Cannop Ponds next. The feeding station was as busy as ever but was already being staked out by a photographer so we parked up in the main car park and walked around the upper pond.
During previous visits here, one bird that I've repeatedly failed to get a photo of is the Mandarin. Cannop Ponds has a seemingly resident population though I've always found them to be very skittish. The drakes are absolutely stunning birds with almost every colour of the rainbow represented in their plumage. For once there were a few pairs close in on the upper pond though I was not expecting them to stay close given past experiences. True to form, as soon as I got set up and ready, they moved off. A bit of patience though and they soon settled and came back towards the lake edge. I got some 'ok' shots but knew I could do better. A bit further along the bank a group of mallards, coots and a handful of mandarins were feeding on some discarded bread. I moved along and got low down and managed to get some much better images. I really wanted to get super low but that simply wasn't possible given the height of the bank and depth of the water. Some chest waders would've been ideal but beggers can't be choosers and I walked away very happy with what I'd shot. Below are a few of my favourites.
The walk around the rest of the lake was very pleasant, helped by some very warm spring sunshine. The feeding station was still a hive of activity and by now there was room to pull the car up alongside and shoot from the comfort of the passenger window. My soft spot for Nuthatches hasn't waned and I was delighted to have plenty of opportunities to shoot these nippy little birds as they flew in and raided the peanuts. Other visitors to the feeding station included Blue, Coal, Great and Marsh Tits, Robins, Dunnocks, a male Reed Bunting, a Blackbird and a few Chaffinches. The Nuthatches stole the show though and posed nicely if albeit very briefly!
Despite being more than happy to stay put, time was getting on and we still had to complete our loop with a walk around Crabtree Hill. By now the sun was beating down and I knew I'd regret wearing my coat but that didn't detract from a great 90 minutes or so. The heath area looked ideal for Adders but we didn't find any though a Common Lizard was a nice surprise. As we neared the higher ground I noticed a gentleman across the scrub and out of curiosity had a better look with my bins. He was taking a photo of something and at first I thought he was shooting at the ground. I then noticed the Great Grey Shrike perched just in front of him. From here it looked like it was showing stupidly well so we made our way to that area. The shrike wasn't as close as I thought but was still close enough for some fabulous views. I couldn't however get a decent shot due to the heat haze coming up off the scrub. I didn't mind though as it was a real privilege to have such amazing views of a spectacular bird. After 20 minutes or so it undulated away and alighted at the top of a Birch tree. Incredibly, we were able to stand right underneath it and it didn't flinch. It really was close and looked fantastic against a deep blue sky. A real treat and a great way to end a superb day!
Keywords: Birding, Birds, Cannop Ponds, Crabtree Hill, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, Great Grey Shrike, Mandarin, Nuthatch, Photography, Wildlife
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