Published: 22 March 2024

Reading RSPB Group Activities

Our speaker on 12 March was Jonathan Forgham who gave a talk rejoicing in the title: “A Bird Walk to Hel.” This wasn’t about his worst ever day’s bird-watching but an account of a walk along the Hel peninsula, a very narrow strip of land in Poland separating the Bay of Gdansk from the Baltic sea.

Jonathan is a life-long birder and naturalist who has worked on nature projects in his home area of Hertfordshire, including the local Millenium Wood, and who leads wildlife tours in Norfolk, the Camargue, Portugal and Sri Lanka. His interest in Sri Lanka led him to establish a charity which has funded a school for Sri Lankan teenagers and proceeds from his lectures as well as regular charity walks help to keep the project going.

The 22 mile long sand bar peninsula lies between Gdansk Bay and the Baltic and is heavily forested, providing an exciting range of birds in all seasons. The winter months attract large flocks of Bewick and Whooper swans, Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye, Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common and Velvet Scoters and even an American Black Scoter. The beaches play host to overwintering Snow Buntings.

In spring, migrants crossing the Baltic make landfall on the peninsula and many stay to breed in the coniferous woodland. Great Spotted, Middle Spotted and Black Woodpeckers breed, as well as Redstarts, and Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. Many birds once common in the UK are still found in large numbers in Poland, including Tree Sparrows, Whinchats, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes and Hawfinches. A note of caution to the unwary birder: the abundant Wild Boar in the area should be treated with respect especially in the breeding season when females with young can be somewhat aggressive if approached too closely.

On Sunday 17th March, a month later than originally planned, 13 of us went on our first minibus trip of the year to Blashford Lakes in Hampshire. We drove through rain and heavy mist but by the time we arrived the rain had stopped and we even had some pleasant sunny intervals. We checked the lakes near the visitor centre and saw a selection of ducks mostly Tufted Ducks and Wigeon, but we did find a few Shoveler and Pochard amongst them. A visit to the woodland hide, which has a range of bird feeders, turned out to be the highlight of the day with lots of Siskins, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches present. After lunch we visited the large lake over the road and managed to find some Goldeneye which we all eventually saw despite the fact that they kept diving. This lake also held a large number of Pintail and we enjoyed excellent views of this very smart looking duck. We recorded about 50 species of bird and a couple of voles under the feeders.

On Tuesday 19th March nine of us met at Paices Wood near Aldermaston for a walk round the fishing lakes and wood. A Woodlark had been recorded there two weeks ago, so we walked round the open area where it was heard but there was no sign of it. Numerous Chiffchaffs were singing which showed spring was on the way although it did not feel like it in the drizzle. In the woods Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were singing and a Mistle Thrush was seen briefly. Blue, Great and Long-tailed tits were about and the woods were carpeted in primroses. Towards the end of the walk we did get very good views of a Treecreeper flitting from tree to tree and carrying food which might have meant it had a nest nearby. A Sparrowhawk flew over the woods, the alarm calls of the smaller birds alerted us to it. A fairly quiet walk where we recorded 21 bird species.

In a change to our original programme, on 9 April Mike Coker will give a talk on using project management in nature conservation and on 14 May our AGM will be followed by a talk from Martin Randall, RSPB Operations Director for Central and Eastern England. The indoor season ends on 11 June with a talk by Dr. Peter Gasson on Australian Wildlife.

On 16 April there will be a walk through Bowdown Woods near Greenham Common and on 21 April there will be a minibus trip to RSPB Pulborough Brooks. May outdoor trips will include a dawn chorus walk at Clayfield Copse on 5 May and a walk on Hook Common on 21 May looking for heathland birds. In June there will be two evening walks to look for Nightjars and Woodcock, one on 14 June to Padworth Common and one on 25 June to Bramshill.

All indoor meetings are held in Pangbourne Village Hall starting at 8pm. Visitors are very welcome. There is an entrance fee of £5 for non-members, juniors half price. New members are always welcome with annual membership set at a modest £15 (£10 for juniors).

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Photo: Pintail by Marilyn Hockey