27 March 2010


I knew I wouldn't get another chance to see some birds this weekend, so I hauled myself out of bed and popped down to Witcombe Reservoirs early in the am.

A total of 27 species noted:

Pied Wagtail x2 (pic below), Mute Swan x12, Tufted Duck c.20, Great-crested Grebe x14, Herring Gull x7, Common Gull x1, Coots (of course!), Canada Geese, Oystercatcher x1, Mallards, Crows, Jackdaws, Woodpigeons, Pochard x1m, Buzzard x2 (pic below), Blackbirds, Magpies, Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs x3 (heard only), Great Tits, Greenfinch (heard only), Pheasant (heard only), Robin, Coal Tits, Cormorant x4, House Sparrows.

What made the trip worthwhile however, were my first Swallows of the year. A small group of 6 or 7 birds flew in from a southerly direction and spent 15 minutes in the area (over the water mostly).

23 March 2010

Glass half empty.

So this year. Which birds should I have seen by now that I haven't? Hmm?

I reckon Pink-footed Goose, Grey Partridge, Greenshank, Jack Snipe, Skylark, Wheatear, Stonechat, Brambling, REDPOLL

And which birds can I not expect to see, but would've liked to (or missed by a small margin)?:

Common Scoter, Purple Sandpiper, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Merlin, Little Ringed Plover, Mediterranean Gull, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Dipper, Firecrest


I've also worked out, by flicking through my Collins, that I have a UK list of 174. What my 'life list' is, I've no idea, as I only started listing in any serious fashion in 2009. I can remember which birds I've seen in my life in the UK so that total is accurate, but not abroad during holidays both as an adult and a child... and I suppose a proper life list should include that information.

21 March 2010


Great weather today, so I took a trip down to Somerset.

Ham Wall
The beginning of the day was the most thrilling by far. I arrived at 8.00am and shortly thereafter setup my scope at the first viewing platform. I had a look for the Firecrest en route, but didn't see or hear it.

Within 45 minutes I'd seen:

- FIVE Bitterns. Two pairs and a single bird flew in from different parts of the reserve and landed in the same patch of reeds. FIVE! I think that counts as overcrowded in Bittern circles... This was by far my best ever view of Bitterns in flight. I managed to get my scope on one bird as it flew close by. A truly glorious sight. An additional thrill was the sound of Bitterns booming all day.
- A female Marsh Harrier hunting. Again, I got my scope on it. Lit by the rising Sun it showed me just why it's my favourite bird. Spectacular. The light head like the helmet of a fighter pilot scouting the reeds for its target.
- Three Buzzards soaring high above. Through binoculars, when lit by the Sun, they were just delightful. Epic! I took a terrible photo:

Shortly after leaving the platform I encounted a Cetti's Warbler hopping through a nearby (five, six yards away) small tree in plain view. This was - by far - my best ever view of this elusive bird. Images from the Collins Bird Guide flew through my head and made themselves a perfect match for the bird flitting about obligingly infront of me. Fantastic! I saw three Cetti's during the day, but this was the only really good view. I must've had a clear view of it for nearly a minute.

Saw my first Chiffchaffs of the year, too. It seemed to be one tree, one Chiffchaff! Lovely to hear their song. Many birds afforded great views as they sang their hearts out.

Other birds of note at Ham Wall were Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings, Wigeon, Wren, Gadwall, Coot, Canada Geese, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Tufted Ducks, Pochard, Great Crested Grebe's (displaying), Mute Swans, Great Tits, a Grey Heron, Dunnocks, Teals, Cormorants, Mallards, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Little Egrets, Blue Tits, Robins, Woodpigeons, Crows, Jackdaws, Rooks, Shovelers, two Greylag Geese and sparing numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Probably some other common birds, too!

The three Glossy Ibis were seen on the reserve well before I arrived. Unfortunately I did not see them today. One for the future.

Shapwick Heath
I moved across to Shapwick Heath. Amongst many of the birds listed ^above^ I encountered a second (in three days) Great White Egret! Amazing. Great views of this bird - perhaps better than from Ashleworth Ham on Friday morning.

After a long stint in the Noah Hide (not suited for scopes!) I finally laid eyes on the female Long-tailed Duck. It barely spent more than a few seconds above the surface before diving again. I watched it go about its business for fifteen minutes or so; a great lifer. Love to see a male, though.

Other birds seen at Shapwick Heath I didn't see over at Ham Wall were Black-tailed Godwits, three Redshank (one in full summer plumage - startlingly bright legs!), Long-tailed Tits, a sole (and elusive) Cattle Egret, many Goldeneye, a Pied Wagtail and some Lapwing.

The Godwits were particularly good. There were c.25 birds feeding in the same pool as the Great White Egret. At one point they all sprang into flight. As they flew in formation, twisting and banking, I got great views of their undersides and upper parts. Wonderful views, as if the Collins Field Guide had come to life. When feeding, they spent so much time with their rears in the air I was able to check to inspect their black tails individually. No Bar-tailed birds were present. Of course, the same process of elimination could've been applied to their bills. Their legs were mostly submerged.

At Greylake RSPB - early afternoon - I had hoped to see the two Spoonbills that had been there in the morning. As I arrived I had a splendid view of a Marsh Harrier playing havoc with the ducks and moving the (at least 15) Little Egrets to flight. I thought to myself - "Great!"

As it turned out, the Spoonbills had been showing well at the hide immediately before that (probably as I pulled into the car park), and the Marsh Harrier had spooked them - causing them to flee. I could not relocate them in the hour that followed. Curses.

Hinkley Point
Last stop... Hinkley Point. Tired now.

I parked at the Power Plant and walked out to the coastal path. A little further than I had expected! Thickening cloud had blotted out the sunshine by now, but I had still hoped to bag my first Wheatear of the year out here. As it turned out, I did not. That will certainly come soon, however. Suddenly they're being reported everywhere!

I knew that yesterday (and today at high tide - mid-morning) there had been one Velvet Scoter and a few Purple Sandpipers seen out here... however my visit was well beyond high tide and so I was not hopeful of landing the Purple Sandpipers (previous experience having taught me low tides are poor wader fare). The Scoter, well it would either be about, or it would not. A thorough scan of the beach, rocks and water proved me quite right re: the Purple Sandpipers, and neither was the Scoter present. This was 5.00pm and I'd been in the go since 7.00am - so I didn't walk all that far along the coast to be honest. I'd excuse myself a slip (although I'm pretty sure they weren't there)... and my thoughts were drifting towards the drive home. And food.

Just as I was about to leave I did get some reward and consolation... a nice female Scaup diving just offshore. I was particularly pleased with this, as I'd found and identified it all by myself. Very pleasing.

Velvet Scoters and Purple Sandpipers will just have to remain as pleasures yet to come. I'm disappointed to have missed them, but not worried. I can feel myself getting more and more proficient with each trip now. Very encouraging.

Hinkley also had three Oystercatchers, two Little Egrets, eleven Wigeon, many Herring Gulls, Rooks, Jackdaws, Crows, a Goldfinch, a Wren, Chiffchaffs... and lots and lots of Rabbits.

So all in all a pretty good day. I missed Glossy Ibis, Firecrest, Velvet Scoter and Purple Sandpiper... but bagged FIVE Bitterns, two Marsh Harriers, a Great White Egret, a Cattle Egret, a Long-tailed Duck and a female Scaup. Could be better; could be worse!

This photo taken on the beach before I took to the coastal path:

115 birds now.

19 March 2010

Great White Egret.

Upon hearing a Great White Egret had been seen at Ashleworth Ham on Wednesday my Spidey Sense began to tingle.

You see, I've recently purchased the new Collins paperback and ticked in it the birds I've seen. I ticked Great White Egret (or 'Great Egret' as Collins has it) - but ticked it in error. This was only last week. Having never seen a Great White Egret in Gloucestershire I suspected it would be sometime before the opportunity to legitimise this tick would present itself.

So this bird HAD to be seen. Thursday at work was tortuous. I had to be in, but worried that it would not stick around into the Friday (when I had the morning booked off). Fortunately it did, and at 8am this morning I was happily viewing the bird. And what a splendid bird.

I was pleased to read on Paul Master's blog the history of the bird. Click on the link for details. Good stuff. Ringing proving its worth.

After a good time spent watching and enjoying the bird I still had a few hours before I had to get to work in Cheltenham. So I scooted over to Coombe Hill Meadows for the Dark-bellied Brent Goose (first Brent Goose for me!). I also knowingly identified a Stock Dove for the first time.

So basically, a morning with three lifers!


(also, Ashleworth Ham was crawling with Snipe!)

14 March 2010

Two out of three.

Today was the day I would - in theory - finally get onto the female Ring-necked Duck (first spotted at Slimbridge, but recently resident at Frampton Court Lake).

Despite a long day at the football yesterday, I was out of the house before 7.30am and aside Court Lake before 8.00am. A cloudless sky was both a blessing and a curse. Lovely to see some sun, but the view western shore of Court Lake of course faces into the Sun... rendering the ducks at best false colour and at worse silhouettes. No sign of the duck. But... I did notice a large increase in the number of singing Greenfinch.

By 9.45 I'd had enough. Despite checking the south end of the lake too, the Ring-necked Duck was, for now, elusive. I was beginning to think I'd left it too late.

Off to Slimbridge for the Greenland White-fronted Geese and the Pink-footed Goose. As is my wont, I contrived to not see the Pinkfoot, despite checking everywhere from each hide. Alas, on my return home this afternoon I learned it was there - somewhere - having remained on the reserve as (what seemed like) all of the European White-fronted Geese departed overnight.

The view from the Holden was very empty. But...away from the Greylags, up on the bank in the mid-distance were the Greenlands! Phew. Got some excellent views, and another piece of I.D. experience under my belt.

Alas, my photo doesn't really show the bright orange on the bills. But they were definitely a nice orange. It does at least show the bills aren't pinky.

I toured all the hides - clocking up (amongst others) Redshank, Lapwing, Wigeon, Shelduck, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lapwing, a Buzzard and a Little Egret.

But I wanted that Ring-necked Duck, so at about 1.00pm I headed back to Court Lake. Along the Western shore I was once again disappointed, but did note larger numbers of small ducks on the far side - of course viewable from the south edge. A little disheartened, I did some more thorough checking (finding a pair of Mandarin Duck in the process) and then went around the other side.

Before I got to the shore I ran into an obliging Buzzard perched in the trees:

I made my way through the trees to the edge of the lake.

It took no more than 30 seconds of scanning a group of Tufted Ducks (not visible from the other side) to locate todays target bird. Hoorah! Lovely views. It was no more than 25 yards away. Occasionally it dived, but mostly it preened.

Since I can't add the Greenland White-fronted Geese to my year list, and I missed the Pinkfoot (grrr....), I can only up my score by one to 106.

13 March 2010


On Friday evening I found out I could go and see Everton away at Birmingham. As much as I love birds, I love Everton a little more... so off I went (and after all that crowing about the Greenland White-fronted Geese during the working week!). Still, a 2-2 final score and a pretty poor display.

Will try the birds tomorrow. If they're still there.

11 March 2010

No spots.

I went off to Cox's Meadow in Cheltenham this morning in the hope of bagging the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I arrived on the scene at 7.30am, but only had until 8.30am - after which I would have to get to work near Montpellier.

The bottom line is I didn't see it; didn't even hear it drumming. I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming briefly, but that's no great shakes.

Some reasonable birds popped up during the hour to keep me amused in the cold:

Jay (2) - my first of the year. It always takes me too long to see a Jay.
Plenty of Robins, Woodpigeons, Common Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Crows and Jackdaws.
One small group of Long-tailed Tits, one male Blackcap, one Coal Tit, a few Redwings and one Mistle Thrush.
Best of all was a Kingfisher along the small river (I'm told it's the Chelt). I caught a flash of Kingfisher blue as I made my way along the river from the Old Bath Road and then watched it peel out of sight. Not a great view, but enough for a year tick!

105 birds now.

07 March 2010

It at first you don't succeed!

This entry refers to both the 6th (Saturday) and 7th (Sunday) of March. I was going to visit New Fancy, and then Frampton, for Goshawks and the Ring-necked Duck respectively. I blew them off (the RND for the third time, I think!) to bag a duck I was desperate to see. Friday evenings trawl of local birding websites revealed a number of Smew sightings at Cotswold Water Park (West). I'd never seen a Smew, and had contrived to dip them on countless occasions when others had (it felt like) wandered right into their paths.

I also hoped to see the male Scaup on pit 37.

fyi, I don't tend to recall bird numbers (I take more pleasure in watching than counting) - and other than in 'good / great bird' circumstances the pit numbers don't get noted. But for the record... I scoured pits 28, 28a, 29, 30, 35 and 37. Good access to these pits - unlike some others.

On the water I came across Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shelduck (very few), Shoveler, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard (about 20 in total), Goosander (only three on 37), Mallard, Goldeneye (at least 30 across my visit - best views I've ever had), Mute Swan, Cormorant, Coot ('millions' of them), Little Grebe (only one) and Wigeon. A good number of Canada Geese, too.

As I walked I also encountered:

One Raven
Blue Tits / Great Tits / Long-tailed Tits
Robins / Chaffinchs / Dunnocks / Blackbirds
Goldfinches / Greenfinches
Reed Buntings
Grey Heron / Little Egret
Two Buzzards
Black-headed Gulls / Herring Gulls / Common Gulls / Lesser Black-backed Gulls / Greater Black-backed Gulls
Green Woodpecker / Great Spotted Woodpecker
Pied and White Wagtails / two Green Sandpipers / Linnets (all on the way to Shorncote)

At the end of Saturday I tried pits 12 and 74 (the Gull pre-roost sites) for the Mediterranean Gull but failed to spot it.

So I went home without having (SOMEHOW!) seen a Smew. As I inspected the Gulls I commented upon this to some other birders who couldn't quite believe it. Alas, I had just been very unlucky.

When I returned home in the dark I was annoyed to note that the Smew and the Scaup had been there - as the CWP Birding Blog had records of them for the day. So I resolved to get up early on Sunday and try again. DESPERATE, I was... to see a Smew.

My luck turned on Sunday. I rolled up at pit 74 shortly after 9am - great weather - and after a quick scan (taking in more and more Goldeneye) I came across my quarry. One drake and two redhead Smew. Diving for breakfast. Although someway across the lake, my scope afforded me good views. You know that feeling when you finally spot a bogey bird? Elation followed by "Great bird!"? I got that.

Honestly... such relief.

I walked the course around the same pits as yesterday - but at a greater pace as I was really heading for pit 37 for the Scaup. Along the way I clocked up Great Tits, Blue Tits, Bullfinches, Reed Buntings, Song Thrush, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Goosander (six this time), Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Wigeon, Cormorant, Robins, Blackbird and some other 'regulars' I didn't note down.

As with the Smew, my luck was much better today and all I had to do was fix my scope on a group of Tufted Ducks on the Eastern section of pit 37 to reveal the Scaup along with them. RESULT!

So a long weekend, but I did get Smew and Scaup - both lifers.

If at first you don't succeed... try again. 103 birds for the year now!

03 March 2010


Replacement tripod secured before the weekend. Phew.

Retailer said he'd never seen anything like it! They just gave me a new unit.