We had been discussing a visit to the Great Bustard Project on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire for over a year and finally the day dawned.
We were in the car park for our rendezvous in a village near the project, with plenty of time to spare. We were joined by a party of four from Southampton and it was soon time to climb into the land rover to be ferried to the viewing hide. A large area has been set aside for the birds with predator fencing and large areas of the compound ploughed up to provide lekking sites for the bustard and nesting areas for stone curlew.
There are several decoys planted in the area to entice the returning birds into the protected pen, and two had taken the bait. A male from last year and a female from a previous year had paired up. We watched as they strutted about pecking at insects and seeds in the long grass.
Our guide advised that the Russian Government had committed to sending ten hatchlings annually for ten years to aid the project and they were now in year 7. Unfortunately there are only believed to be 8 birds on site (of which we saw 2) and many of the young fledglings bred on the Plain have fallen to predation by foxes. It is believed that the breeding birds are successful parents and that the young survive to about 8 months, so it must be quite challenging to maintain positivity when the long-term outcome appears to be inevitable .
Although we had primarily come to see the great bustard, the opportunity to find a stone curlew presented us with a far greater challenge, as you will know these cryptic birds settle on the ground and become part of the landscape. They can only be seen when they move. Luckily for Malcolm, he happened to be looking in the right place at the right time – no skill there then! – just joking it was actually an excellent spot and we (and the other four visitors) were extremely greateful.
We had good views through the telescope when the heat haze cleared and the bird stood up and moved about but when it settled down we stood no chance. A great bird to see
As we moved around the site we also saw buzzard, magpie, rook, stonechat and corn bunting.
At the end of the trip there was time to buy a momento or join the Great Bustard Group, even some Great Bustard Ale from the local brewery.
The visit lasted about two hours, and we had time to call in at Stonehenge before we returned home.