A bracing day in the Forest of Dean took me on my third shrike attempt, again the bird eluded me. However the morning was larch-tastic. Hundreds of siskins and redpolls, and dozens of coal tits, all feasted away in the robust larch crop. Only a few years ago, I would find several willow tit territories in this area, but as expected, there were none today; the species has vanished from the Dean as it is doing from most of the British countryside. Several common crossbills flew over.
13:30: Farmland near Hawling, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire (51.895891, -1.922045)
A drive into the Cotswolds produced my first skylarks of the year. In the kind of rare fallow area you used to see a lot more of, a stand of brambles, hawthorns and fallow grasses set-aside near the village of Hawling, I finally had excellent views of a male Great Grey Shrike hunting the hedge-line.
13:30: Pit 29, Cotswold Water Park, Gloucestershire (51.650271, -1.949189)
The duck luck continued with a smart female Smew on one of the water park’s many gravel pits. This entire area is far richer than you might expect. A ‘brownfield’ area ten kilometres in length around these pits has never been sprayed or tidied like most of the British countryside, so come spring you have cuckoos, nightingales, grasshopper warblers, garden warblers and many other birds still thriving here. In winter, wooded gravel pits have a peculiar draw for smew, perhaps because they resemble their wooded breeding grounds in Scandinavia, where they nest in tree cavities.