Trip reports

Great Bustard Project in Wiltshire -

Great Bustard Project in Wiltshire -
Great Bustard - Source: Craig Watso

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What makes a good day for birdwatching?
a. Fine weather - we had that without a doubt. An almost cloudless sky, bright Spring sunshine and a comfortable temperature.
b. Good company - twenty three of us (I think) made our way to the meeting point in Wiltshire, most of us in plenty of time for our appointment with some bustards. What a pity we don't have the coach or minibus trips of old where we could relax, watch the beautiful countryside go by and enjoy the company of like-minded people. But then, I may never have seen the hobby which flew past my car window just outside Pewsey. Sadly, my navigator was doing her job, looking at the map, and missed this bird as it chased after who knows what.
c. And of course, the birds. In the car park we heard several birds such as chiffchaff, song thrush and willow warbler. We saw chaffinches, rooks, swallows, robins and the usual little birds. Wood pigeons were abundant. Will there ever come a day when we go into raptures when spotting one of these handsome birds? A distant red kite flew by and we were treated to the sight of a kestrel as it hovered over a field looking for elevensies.
The great Bustard group was set up in 1998 as a registered charity. Its' aim is to support this bird and re-establish it as a breeding species in Britain. The Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world and once roamed the open spaces of England. The last time it nested here was in 1832 and several attempts have been made over the last century to re-introduce this magnificent bird, but all in ended in failure. So let us hope that this time it will be a success.
The journey to the viewing site, somewhere on Salisbury plain, was a bumpy but cosy one as we were packed into landrovers. We were all glad when we reached the hide. I think it is true to say that most of us were surprised at how close the bustards were. There was some debate as to which were the decoys and which the real thing, but on close inspection we soon saw handsome males 'strutting their stuff' and some immature birds some way off.
We spent some time looking for the elusive and extremely well camouflaged stone curlews and one eagle eyed spotter finally located two. Even with a powerful scope it was difficult to see them.
After leaving the hide we were then taken to the visitor centre to learn more about the release program via an interesting video. We had the chance to purchase souvenirs and informative literature. After being driven back to the car park there was some discussion about where to go next. We ate our lunch and poured over maps. Someone suggested a trip to a nearby iron age fort to look for ring ouzels which had been seen there the day before. This sounded good, and as it was just before the M4 turn off, the navigators were confident of finding the place. There was no obvious parking area so we had to pull in on the verge. There was no obvious entrance to the site either.
One of the group suggested climbing over a rather high and rickety five bar gate. Now I have been on trips with this person before, where I have been close to being prosecuted for trespassing so I was a bit apprehensive. There was a sign near the gate warning us to beware of the bull and there were no signs telling us not to enter, so over the gate we went.
After a heart pumping climb to the top of a grassy hill, we arrived at the place where, it was thought, there would be a good chance of spotting the ouzels. Sadly they had been and gone. But what a place this was! A huge circular earth work with commanding views over the Wiltshire country side. Liddington Castle or hill fort is 909 feet high and is one of the earliest hill forts in Britain. It covers 3 hectares and was occupied from the 7th century BC.
The views were tremendous looking out over the beautiful rolling countryside. Red kites and buzzards flew below us and wheatears hopped around the stone walls. We were still hoping to see the ouzels but it was not to be.
The trip was a great success and if you want to experience it for yourselves, you can book a tour of the Great Bustard site by contacting the great Bustard Group on 01980 671466 or visit www.greatbustard.org.

Stella Wells