Sorry for the lack of updates in the last month or so, I’ve just returned to Aberdeen having spent the last few weeks down in England on what was a well needed break from NE Scotland. The holiday started with a week in Herefordshire/Powys from 29th June-5th July. The two weeks following this were spent in Somerset and Norfolk respectively, but they will be accounted for later on.
Herefordshire has a reputation as being one of those counties in which productive birding is hard to come by, what with it being entirely landlocked and there being a lack of marshland habitats + areas of open water. I was there for a family holiday so very little serious birding was done. However, I happened to be conveniently placed within the county from a birding perspective as I was based in the heart of a densely wooded valley no more than 10 minutes drive from Hay on Wye and Hay Bluff – the latter being an extensive upland massif at the northern tip of the Black Mountains (see map below). The two aforementioned locations are just within the county of Powys and therefore are in Wales. However the eastern part of Hay Bluff is still within Herefordshire, and being based a few miles slightly south-east of Hay on Wye, where we were staying was technically just within England and Herefordshire, but virtually on the English-Welsh border.
Walking straight out from the cottage allowed for easy access to both deciduous and coniferous woodland, and a 15 minute walk took you up to the south-western end of Hay Bluff, this combination providing decent opportunites to encounter an array of woodland and upland species. The weather during my visit was largely rainy unfortunately, but a few sunnier days allowed us to get out and explore the surrounding countryside. The mixed habitat around the cottage saw me catching up with my first Ravens of the year, a seemingly widespread species in the area with 5 seen together on 30th June. Both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were similarly well represented in the area, as well as several Bullfinch and a healthy population of Buzzards and Skylarks. In the barn and around our cottage, both Swallow and House Martin were breeding.
5th July was the best day’s weather that we had had after a few days of rain, so I took a walk from the cottage to see what was about. The first thing I came across was a lovely female Redstart calling away in somes bushes by the roadside. I always find it thrilling when I watch Redstarts on their breeding grounds as they are such beautiful birds and one of my favourite passerine breeding species in the UK. It was quite skulky and when on show was flycatching so it occured to me that a nest must have been nearby, but I was unable to locate one. This Redstart was the stimulus for a rather productive and entetaining little spell of birding, as I soon found myself jamming in on a flock of 4 Common Crossbills heading east towards the nearby forest, shortly followed by a Golden Plover high NW and a couple of Jays. At this point the variety of breeding species in the area became clear to me, showing how tough birding counties such as Herefordshire can easily exceed expecations (need I mention the Cream Coloured Courser?). Some pics taken around the cottage are below.
Also on 5th July we took a trip to Hay Bluff itself, to the eastern end (so still within Herefordshire), where my expectations were exceeded even further. We didn’t climb the hill, instead keeping within the surrounding upland, where typical moorland was interspersed with a large expanse of fern and a small stream. The area was packed with Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, amongst which there was at least one Tree Pipit and several Lesser Redpolls. In the wider area we came across at least 3 Wheatears (2 ♂ and 1♀) and a beautiful pair of Whinchats amongst the ferns by the stream. Whinchat is not a species I see often (my first of the year), so it was fantastic to see this pair at very close quarters as they interacted with each other; unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me at this point. To round things off 2 Red Kites appeared as we left, including a juvenile bird which is pictured below. Great stuff.
My stay in this lovely part of Britain was an eye opener to the diverse array of breeding species that Herefordshire/Powys has to offer, especially considering that I was only casually birding and was on a family holiday. On 6th July the first part of my holiday was over as we left Herefordshire and travelled down to Somerset to spend a week there. Accounts of my time there, however, will be left until my next post.
Thanks for reading,