31 October 2010


In the absence of a photograph of the bird, the following diagram indicates todays view of a Dipper (year tick 206: lifer 219) at Ruskin Mill, near Nailsworth:

The action took place as follows... I came in from the left of the picture, stood near the wooden railing in the foreground and the Dipper was exactly where I've expertly pasted it onto my photograph. It wasn't an easy perch, as the bird only remained for a few seconds (long enough to allow me to get my bins on it) before flying off in the direction of the arrows - broadly over my left shoulder.

This is a bird not suited to flying. Yes, it has wings and a tail, but it's wing beat to progress through the air ratio must've been pretty high. Collins says "whirring beats", and I can't disagree with that.

I had a quick glimpse of another bird a short distance downstream from the Mill, but that was it. After dipping the Oxon bird recently, and having no success in the Forest when looking for this bird, I'm relieved to finally see it.

30 October 2010

Nothing Much About (ie. no Waxwings!).

A morning jaunt around Saul Warth, Frampton lakes and Slimbridge produced no Waxwings (current objects of my desire). I checked out every Berry tree I could find! The blighters will get this far sooner or later, right?

Saul produced a Treecreeper, two Kestrels, one Peregrine (seemingly enjoying flushing Curlews on the estuary) and large numbers of Long-tailed Tits. As I walked along the edge of the river, I came across five or six Skylarks engaged in mid air combat, and also competing (it seemed) in displays of their hovering prowess. More than once a bird was hovering at head height no more than fifteen yards infront of me. I could get my scope on them. Brilliant views! On the estuary only Gulls, Curlews and Shelducks.

I did see an apparently large Falcon being mobbed by both gulls and corvids as I made my way to the river past Saul's right-hand flash. I only had two views as whatever was going on was going on too close to the shore on lower ground, and thus out of view. Most likely it was a large female Peregrine - as my views were both in silhouette so the size might've been deceptive - and the bird's wings were quite pointed. Still, it provided some intrigue and had me rushing through mud to get another view before it flew off. Alas, by the time I got to the shore it had flown off.

The Frampton lakes held nothing out of the ordinary. Incidentally, there were people sailing on the Sailing Lake! This make checking out the present birds harder, and was unnacceptable! ;-)

I finished up at Slimbridge for a quick peek at the Rushy. The Whooper Swan was present, but the Pinkfoot (if it was there) was not visible.

25 October 2010

Absentee Update.

Category One (birds I should definitely see)

Dipper, Firecrest, Grasshopper Warbler, Grey Partridge, Guillemot, Jack Snipe, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, Ring Ouzel, Tawny Owl.

I have been able to lose Barn Owl, Brambling and Redpoll from this list. Hurrah!

Category Two (birds I narrowly missed, or could've made - could still in some cases - the effort for)

Arctic Skua, Bean Goose, Bearded Tit, Chough, Cirl Bunting, Common Scoter, Dotterel, Eider, Great Bustard, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Hoopoe, Leach's Storm Petrel, Purple Heron, Red-backed Shrike, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe, Waxwing, White-tailed Eagle, Woodlark, Wryneck.

None from here. :-(

Category Three (those that may be offered up by Lady Luck)

Black Kite, Caspian Gull, Citrine Wagtail, Corncrake, Glaucous Gull, Great Grey Shrike, Honey Buzzard, Icterine Warbler, Long-eared Owl, Melodious Warbler, Ortolan Bunting, Quail (I refuse to count it unless I see one), Red-rumped Swallow, Richard's Pipit, Roseate Tern, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, Stone Curlew, Water Pipit, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Woodchat Shrike.

Today I dropped Great Grey Shrike from this list! I shouldn't think any other category three birds will be coming off before the end of the year, though.

Awesome progress...

Great Grey Shrike.

I heard about it just after I got home from the Forest yesterday. Despite knowing full well that it would be dark by my arrival, I still went. Saw nothing, and caught the edge of a hailstorm.

The bird wasn't reported at all this morning, but I took a half-day from work and was beside the heather enclosure by 1300hrs. One lap of the enclosure later the Great Grey Shrike (year tick 205) finally appeared, shuttling back and forth between the fencing and the top of the path leading down to the Washpool.

It didn't stay still, though - at all - and would not tolerate any approaches. As soon as it spotted me moving towards it (often more than c.100 yards) it flew. Thus, my photographs are little more than record shots.

I'm delighted to get this bird without too much of a drive. Very convenient! Indeed, who knows when the I'll next get both Great and Lesser Grey Shrike (Scilly, 9th Sept.) on my UK year list!

Also noted were three flocks of Fieldfare, each maybe 15 birds strong.

24 October 2010

Brambling & Lesser Redpoll.

Hot on the heels of one 'Lesser Lifer' (the Yellowlegs), came a second - long overdue in the form of two Lesser Redpolls (year tick 204; lifer 218) on the path between Kensley Lodge and Crabtree Hill in the Forest of Dean. They were feeding on conifers in a huge flock (c.100 birds) alongside at least four Brambling (year tick 203), c.10 Goldfinch, 6 Coal Tits, 1 Greenfinch, c.15 Chaffinches and zillions of Siskin. Digiscoped Brambling for the record:

Earlier two probable Hawfinch in flight from New Fancy View, one Raven cronking over Woorgreens Lake and approximately 10 Goldcrests just off the lake (two seen very well indeed low in foliage).

I also stopped at the Speech House log to have another crack at photography. Possibly maybe a little better. Probably not.

16 October 2010

Lesser Yellowlegs.

The obliging Lesser Yellowlegs (year tick 202: lifer 217) was a nice Saturday afternoon twitch. Port Meadow is an excellent spot... what with Farmoor and Otmoor I'm beginning to feel some envy towards the folk of Oxon! I tried to take some photos, although usable light (and I only mean usable, not any sort of good) lasted for about five minutes, during which I was scrabbling to decide what to do. Even though I'm not getting results yet (this was like, my fourth ever outing with it and an SLR - I'm still learning to balance the various settings good effect), when I get the chance I do love playing with this 500mm lens!

Also two Ruffs, three Little Stints, a few Dunlin and Redshank. Behold a Ruff:

14 October 2010

Barn Owl.

I drove out to Roel Gate straight after work earlier in the week. I pitched slightly off the crossroads at about 5.15pm, and remained until it was dark. It was almost dark before a Barn Owl (year tick 201) finally showed - 6.45pm. After more crows than you could shake a stick at, I caught in the corner of my eye something with a different flight. Softly, softly. Alas, as I turned around I lost it. All was not lost, however. Ten to fifteen mniutes later, as it got darker still, I was sat on the grass and looked up - only to see a Barn Owl glide overhead. Like a spectre.

Whilst I waited I chalked up 2 Buzzards, 1 Kestrel, 1 male Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Green Woodpecker, 1 male Stonechat, 2 Coal Tits, a flock of Long-tailed Tits and many Linnets and Meadow Pipits.

Will do this again, soon. Maybe I'll get a Barn Owl before it's too dark to fully appreciate it.

10 October 2010

Short-eared Owl @ Aust Warth

Took a chance on this today - after two consecutive days reports of one bird showing well. It did, albeit briefly and a little too late for really good photos. These three are the best I managed. I struggled with getting them sharp.

09 October 2010


I've never seen a Dipper. Fact. So I thought the one showing periodically in Witney would be a good target. Alas, a couple of hours watching the weir produced nothing more than a Grey Wagtail.

In the gloom (which persisted all day) I moved onto Otmoor. Count from three and a bit hours trudging around the reserve is as follows:

Red Kite 2
Hobby 2
Kestrel 1
Sparrowhawk 1
Greylag Geese c.64
Canada Goose c.49
Black-headed Gull - loads!
Coot (loads and loads)
Mute Swans 9
Snipe (a probable 5 in flight together)
Lapwing 5
Shoveler 3
Grey Heron 2
Tufted Duck 2
Little Egret 2
Teal / Wigeon (small numbers of both)
Stonechat 1
Reed Bunting 1
Blue Tit / Great Tit / Greenfinch / Coal Tit on the feeders
Green Woodpecker (heard only)
Meadow Pipits (heard but not seen)
House Martins and Swallows moving in places.
...and loads of Mallard and Crows.

The highlight was a close view of a Hobby sat in a tree. I tried to take a photo, but the poor light rendered the equipment next to useless!

I stopped at Farmoor on the way home, and promptly saw nothing of interest (save a Great-crested Grebe in flight - a rare sight) as the conditions and light got even worse. So, I tried to photograph the Pied Wagtails. Messed around with them differently in Photoshop, but to little avail.

Finally, I completely forgot to check Filchampstead (right next to the reservoir) for Grey Partridge. Would've been a year tick. Bah.

04 October 2010

Reflections on 200.

Naturally I am delighted to get 200 for the year. A lot of driving and a lot of patience has gone into that. Feels like a real milestone and one I hope to reach earlier next year.

Still, there are absentees from the list that really bother me, that make me question my skills at locating birds that are, I suspect, there. The most glaring example of this is Pied Flycatcher. I spent hours at Nagshead earlier in the year and didn't see one. Everyone else I went with, and met, did or had. I reckon I must looked straight through one or two...

Then there are the birds I just didn't run into - despite putting in lots of effort. Ring Ouzel, for example. I died several deaths hiking over Cleeve Common, got good advice where to go and saw nothing but Blackbirds. It was, to be honest, totally dispiriting. I think that - however you spin the 'win-some-lose-some' nature of birding, it's stupid I haven't yet got Pied Flycatcher or (preferably and) Ring Ouzel.

Must. Do. Better.

I have the enthusiasm and am developing a pretty good eye for a bird when get it in my bins or scope - or when I'm tracking a bird I've seen - but to be honest, lack an eagle eye for picking out the diamonds in the rough. Still, I know I'm more observant now than I was 18 months ago, so progress will continue I've no doubt. Additionally, having taken the time to learn it I am now familiar with bird topography, and thus am increasingly able to consider an individual in the field based on it's plumage, but more importantly pick out a rare bird should I come across one. I am also getting good at recognising the common bird song - my Garden Warbler this year was initially picked out by ear. So there's progress!

Anyway... I've listed below (in a more comprehensive format than before) birds that - for various reasons - I have not seen this year. The first category is birds I should definitely have seen, or consider myself unlucky and / or basically BLIND to have missed. The second are birds I came within a whisker of seeing, or could've made a trip to see and didn't. The flip side to that category is, of course, that I only have so much disposable income to blow on petrol and only have so much free time. The third category are birds that - IMHO - you just have to be lucky to run into, or to be within shooting (no pun intended) distance of a twitchable specimen.

Category One

Barn Owl, Brambling, Dipper, Firecrest, Grasshopper Warbler, Grey Partridge, Guillemot, Jack Snipe, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, Redpoll, Ring Ouzel, Tawny Owl.

That I haven't had so much as a glimpse of a Barn Owl this year is annoying, particularly as I spent (what I could consider) 'enough' time trooping around the Hawling triangle (and further west towards West Wood) to get lucky once. Similarly, I saw a few Grey Partridge out there last year, but no joy this (I suppose a visit to Otmoor would've got that, though).

Brambling, yeah I'm confident of snagging one or two before year's end. Same goes for Redpoll (considerable effort will be put into this bird). A few Dippers are showing up withing a reasonable distance of Gloucester now, so that should be okay. Dipping a Dipper is bad!

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Nightingale remain elusive despite a number of lengthy stakeouts. I recall a furiously cold morning staring at trees on Cox's Meadow in Cheltenham hoping a long-staying Lesser Spotted Woodpecker would show - all the while being hassled by curious and / or ill-mannered school children / dog walkers / joggers. It did not show.

Grasshopper Warbler. Boy can these things throw their voices... or at least, I assume that's what they're doing because it's the only explanation for one now being where it darn well should've been along Green Lane this summer! Seriously though, a bit of unidentified movement in thick thickets is as close as I've come to this prize.

Guillemot? lol. I'm a bit stuck on this one. Scilly produced the odd Razorbill, but how I'll feel to finish a year list without Guillemot on it I don't know.

Category Two

Arctic Skua, Bean Goose, Bearded Tit, Chough, Cirl Bunting, Common Scoter, Dotterel, Eider, Great Bustard, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Hoopoe, Leach's Storm Petrel, Purple Heron, Red-backed Shrike, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe, Waxwing, White-tailed Eagle, Woodlark, Wryneck.

I could've made trips to coastline to see birds such as Arctic Skua, Chough, Cirl Bunting, Common Scoter and Leach's Storm Petrel. I could've gone up to Scotland to get White-tailed and Golden Eagle, or to Dungeness to see the Purple Herons, or more recently to Cheddar for the Red-breasted Merganser (etc..., etc...). I didn't, but as I said that's a victim of my budget.

I'm still hopeful of a Waxwing or two showing up before the end of the year. My sole effort to see a Red-backed Shrike ended in failure (inevitable given the cursory effort I had to put in) at Land's End the week before last. I should never have missed Woodlark during the ill-fated trip to Suffolk for the Lesser Kestrel.

I'd love to go and see the Great Bustard on Salisbury Plain. I'd count them as a tick with glee, btw.

And the less said about my Wryneck blank on Scilly the better. I'd previously had Merlin down as the bird I'll probably never see short of running one over. Now, Wryneck holds that distinction.

Category Three

Black Kite, Caspian Gull, Citrine Wagtail, Corncrake, Glaucous Gull, Great Grey Shrike, Honey Buzzard, Icterine Warbler, Long-eared Owl, Melodious Warbler, Ortolan Bunting, Quail (I refuse to count it unless I see one), Red-rumped Swallow, Richard's Pipit, Roseate Tern, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, Stone Curlew, Water Pipit, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Woodchat Shrike.

Of these, I'm disappointed I didn't get Citrine Wagtail, Ortolan Bunting, Icterine Warbler and maybe even Wilson's Storm Petrel on Scilly. The others require the rub of the green, as every one (save Red-rumped Swallow, Great Grey and Woodchat Shrike would be lifers). It'll take many years to get them all. But that's the fun!

Still... that's not to say I haven't had the rub of the green elsewhere! The highlights of the 200 were:

• Fantastic views of Bitterns (FIVE at once at Ham Wall). I've never seen so many Bitterns at once, and would wager it'll be some time before I do again. To get one in my scope and watch as it flew was magical.
Tree Sparrows at Hawling. A bird that was high on my wanted list.
Black Redstart at Sharpness. A very showy bird.
Willow Tit at Highnam. My first solo ID of this species.
Scaup and Smew at Cotswold Water Park. Both first for me, but Smew was a long-held ambition. I'd still go a long distance to see a male Smew, and suspect that will always be the case.
Ring-necked Duck all to myself in a far corner of Court Lake. It was long-gone from Slimbridge, and was showing periodically on Court Lake. After much effort (isn't it great when effort is rewarded?) I tracked it down on the far side in a small inlet. Just me and the duck. Fantastic.
• The two Greenland White-fronted Geese at Slimbridge.
• My first solo ID of a female Scaup on the sea. This may not sound like much, but I was - and remain - chuffed with it.
• The Pallid Swift at Kessingland. Not really adequate compensation for dipping the Lesser Kestrel, but a great bird none-the-less. The same trip bought my my first ever Dartford Warblers.
• Running into an extremely late Short-eared Owl at Hawling. I thought I'd probably left it too late to get one, and so my trip was very much a shot in the dark.
• The drake Garganey at Saul.
• The Osprey at Witcombe Reservoirs. Easily the best bird I've ever seen there. It arrived one evening, and to my shame I'd not checked the net to see if any birds had turned up in the county that day. Thus I didn't find out about it until 11pm (thanks for some great photos on The Gloster Birder), and had to get up before sunrise to see it the next morning. Even then, I only just saw it as it flew off within a couple of minutes of my arrival.
• Getting down to Slimbridge on the one summer evening the Spotted Crake was showing... and showing well. A blisteringly beautiful bird.
• Being on the second (older) viewing platform off Green Lane just as a Spoonbill flew past heading north (mobbed by Gulls).
• Going for a Red-footed Falcon at Wiltsone Reservoir, and getting great views despite terrible conditions.
• It's a pleasure to be so close to Boys Grave, and the Nightjars. Any trip there is a treat. They come so close. Insect repellent a must, though!
• A great view of the male Little Bittern at Ham Wall.
• It took two attempts to see the Gull-billed Tern at Exmouth / Bowling Green Marsh, but I did. Although the views were distant the behaviour was great.
• Great views of a Merlin on the ground at Slimbridge.
• Again at Slimbridge, the time when at least 20 Curlew Sandpipers turned up on the mud off Middle Point hide. Amazing.
• All the birds I saw on Scilly count as a highlight! But... the Lesser Grey Shrike was the clear winner. Not only was it a wonderful bird, but it hung around for a few days and gave exquisite views.

So there we go, a moan about my failures and near-misses, and the happy highlights of the year so far. I think - given luck and a fair wind (and in places a keener eye) - 215 isn't beyond me. We'll see...

Witcombe Monday.

I decided to do a full count at Witcombe this evening - only birds on, over or on the shore of the Reservoirs. Ever hopeful of a good bird at the location, I was again disappointed.

2 Little Grebes
9 Great Crested Grebes (incl. two juvenile birds - one constantly calling to it's parent)
1 Grey Wagtail
13 Pied Wagtails
13 Mallards
58 Coot
6 Tufted Duck (one with a very significant ('Scaup-esque') amount of white at the bill base)
2 Mute Swans
A large gang of Long-tailed Tits (c.20 birds?) around the abandoned cottage (4 Blue Tits also present)
17 Black-headed Gulls
c.25 Crows (counted in one sweep incl. flying birds)
c.100 Swallows. And when I say 100, it could've been half as many again. A vast flock (the biggest I've ever seen there) feeding like crazy over the water. I guess they're on their way out of the country for the winter...

03 October 2010


Having failed to hit 200 on Scilly, I was going to pounce on the next opportunity to tick birds. I've had a permit for Chew Valley Lake for six months now, but never got round to actually visiting. Shame on me. Still, the presence of Ferruginous Ducks and Black-necked Grebes meant that - in theory - I could get them both in the same day.

And so it was. Both birds were in amongst the enormous numbers of diving ducks congregating in Heron's Green Bay. I'm pleased with the pic of the Ferruginous Duck. The Grebe shot is lousy, but as the 200th bird for the year (the first time I've ever hit 200), I have to post it!

I started - in driving rain - on the roadside parking that separates Heron's Green Bay and Heron's Green Pool. Very difficult viewing conditions, and I saw neither bird in the throng. On the plus side, I'd never seen so many Little Grebes in one place before.

I moved to shelter, and as the weather improved I progressed to the Stratford and Moreton hides. Very good hides. Well hidden. Although the permit idea is a good one - only birders present - I never once got the impression I would have to produce my permit for anyone. Enforcement aside, and on the bird front, I was beginning to think I'd made the trip for nothing. Both hides offered good views of everything but. Running out of time, I ended up on the grass next to Moreton Cottage. It was here I saw both target birds. The smart Ferruginous Duck was first in my eyepiece (to my great relief), swiftly followed by the Grebe (scruffy in winter plumage). Hard to spot since they don't seem to spend much time on the surface! Only one of each located, but that was good enough for me. Take some photos, and in the calmer conditions have a good long look. The Ferruginous Duck was kind enough to flap it's wings revealing it's white belly.

Finally, I had a look around for the Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid, but drew a blank.

200 for the year now. Mission accomplished! The next task is to get to as high a number as I reasonably can. Anything from here on in is a bonus. One thing's for sure though... I'll be back to Chew.