35 Birds I'd Like to See in 2012.

Bean Goose
Ruddy Shelduck
Red-breasted Goose
Velvet Scoter
Green-winged Teal
Black Grouse
White-tailed Eagle
Honey Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard
Stone Curlew
Great Shearwater
Jack Snipe (21st Jan.)
Common Crane (7th Apr.)
Caspian Gull
Glaucous Gull
Roseate Tern
Long-eared Owl
Tawny Owl
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (26th Feb.)
Citrine Wagtail
Shore Lark (7th Apr.)
Water Pipit (29th Feb.)
Nightingale (6th May)
Icterine Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler
Crested Tit
Bearded Tit (19th Feb.)
Penduline Tit
Common / Mealy Redpoll
Red-backed Shrike

BUBO Lists.

BUBO Listing www.bubo.org


Turtle Doves.

Long time, no post... is what people who are gradually abandoning their blog usually say after a long time... with no posts. Well, that's not happening here; I've simply been cutting back over the birding down time to save a bit of money for my holidays. I did visit Pennington Marshes in Hampshire for Black-winged Stilts and a Night Heron, and saw a Little Tern at Upton Warren when I really wanted a Little Gull... but other than that I've been out of the game.

Tonight, temporarily, I returned for the annual pilgrimage to Boys Grave and the Nightjar. First though, a stop at Ruardean Hill Baptist Church to see the Turtle Doves currently loitering just down the track. Very obliging indeed. I heard them before I saw them, and then saw them well. Low in the trees, purring away. Very pleasing indeed.

Turtle Dove.At Boys Grave there were plenty of insects, and nearly as many Woodcock flypasts. Well... there were twelve. Some occured before it got dark and were in satisfying technicolour. A good show. The Nightjars were less obliging. A couple of distant flights offered good views of the male's white wing patches, and twice a bird perched on the thinner of the two dead trees allowing for a rather gloomy inspection of it's plumage.

Incidentally, the Boy needs a trim. I have no problem with the clearing at Boys Grave gradually disappearing, but whilst the place can still be used as a place to see Nightjars I think some effort should be made to keep the view across the clearing well... clear. If it were up to me, I'd have the trees that have grown up directly infront of the most commonly used viewpoint cut down.


Great White Egrets.

When Natural England announced in the week that a pair of Great White Egrets had bred on Shapwick Heath I decided that this would be the weekend I added the species to my year list.

But first... on Friday straight after work I dashed down to Uley Bury to check out a possible Marsh Warbler. The report came up mid-afternoon - singing from bushes at the south-west corner by the 'Richard White' seat. Given that there are a few Marsh Warblers in the country right now it didn't seem impossible. Plus it would be a lifer so a little bit of effort might prove very profitable. When I arrived at the seat the bird was not hard to locate. It was a windy evening but the bushes were out of the wind. So even though the song was very quiet I could hear it. Just under a minute later it stopped, only resuming for 5 seconds... 45 minutes later. I left after an hour with no sighting, but with a recording of the song which - ignoring the Chiffchaff - does sounds like a Reed Warbler. RECORDING HERE. Needless to say, when others visited the next morning there was no sign of the bird. File it - unresolved.

The view from the 'Richard White' seat. The warbler was singing from the bushes at the bottom of the 'v'.So whilst other Gloster Birders were drawing a blank at Uley Bury on Saturday morning I was making the pilgrimage to Shapwick Heath. There were a couple of important ticks - I mean stops to make - en route though. As it turned out I would have to make three stops, but I'll get to that.

First Stop

The Portbury Wharf Grey Partridges. The advice given on AVON BIRDS was great - clear and exact. The blog is excellent for birds in the area - one of the first places I look at if I'm planning a trip down. I did as I was told; walk past the portaloos, on for 100 yards, wait for a sighting in the field with the long grass - particularly the track through the middle. Within a few minutes two birds were feeding on the track and showing well. Grey Partridges may not be rare, but they're also not easy to stumble across. A nice tick.

Grey Partridges.At this point it was nearly 0830hrs. Something else it was nearly (already) was too hot, and by now I'd realised I'd forgotten to bring any suncream with me... or a hat.

Second Stop

Weston Sewage Treatment Works. The Great Reed Warbler was singing beautifully (8th day present) from it's adopted corner of one of the UV Pools. Fortunately close to the fence, the noise was unistakable. I was transported back to Scilly in May 2009... my only previous encounter. In misty conditions at Porth Hellick a bird sang and showed well along the edge of the reeds. Not only on the far side of the water, but also on the 'reed islands' closer to the hides. Today's bird was less cooperative. Not once did it pop up to the tops of the reeds, instead staying only a few inches above the water. Impossible to see from where I took this photo (which was as close as you could get):

The bird was concealed in the corner immediately above the middle fencepost.The only way to get a tick was to walk a little way to the right and look back into the edge of the reed bed (the area in shade). I did this twice, and both times viewed the bird. Always sat right on the waters edge. Big, gobby, brilliant. Without digiscoping - and I'm useless at that - a usable photograph was impossible. Still, I can assure you the bird is visible in this shot:

I'm not going to tell you where.By now I was two things, pleased that both the Partridges and the Warbler had played ball but worried that I was going to burn pretty badly on the open expanse of Shapwick Heath unless I got hold of some suncream pronto. Which brings me to my unscheduled third stop.

Third Stop

Did you know that, despite the blistering weather we've had all week, service stations, petrol station stores, small convenience shops, TESCO Express's... none are selling suncream? At least not where I was. Well you do now. You might call it unsurprising given the weeks of cold and wet weather we've had to endure, but I'd call it an unbelievable oversight.

To remedy the situation I had to take a detour into Bridgewater, and a rammed Morrison's... no a RAMMED Morrison's. Not only did the suncream cost me £5.00 that I would still have had I taken some from the gigantic stash at home, but it took an hour to get into the town, make my purchase, and get out. The middle of the day, airless, TOO HOT, traffic jammed from mouth to arse... Bridgewater was akin to hell. I also bought a bottle of water.

Poor bottle of water. By mid-afternoon it was like drinking bathwater.

So that's the story of my third stop. It has nothing to do with birds, and frankly the telling doesn't do the sheer frustration of the process any justice. I just had to put it on the record. What's the lesson? Plan everything.

Shapwick Heath

Plastered with suncream, I left Ashcott Corner and headed towards the bridge. Two Temminck's Stints had been on the partially drained lagoon for a few days in the week. They weren't reported on Friday so I was unsurprised to not report them today. On the lagoon instead, a pair of sleeping Garganey. A Bittern flew across the water landing, with some difficulty in the gusty conditions, amidst the reeds behind the scrape.

So the story is that a pair of Great White Egrets have bred. There was a steady stream of birders checking out the site, but I had expected to see more. Perhaps the heat kept them away. I'd already seen one Great White Egret - one of the parent birds (ringed) - fishing on the lagoon but missed the other attending the nest by only a few minutes. The wardens reckoned that food was being delivered to the nest every couple of hours. So I waited, and they were nearly right. 90 minutes later the unringed parent dropped in and flew out. The whole process took no more than a minute.

As it flew out. The unringed parent bird.In between parental visits a third Great White Egret (which I did not photograph) flew high past the nest site.

Egret Watch.Both the RSPB and Natural England have a presence. All very friendly - and clearly very happy to finally be open about the whole thing. Very happy to talk! One of the RSPB representatives asked me about the Great Reed Warbler at Weston, and had I been lucky enough to see the Cream-coloured Courser. I was delighted to say yes! As we talked a Hobby gave a splendid close fly past and a Cetti's Warbler showed reasonably well.

Whilst I waited for the parent birds to return to the nest I had a look in the small wood over the bridge heading towards the Meare Heath hide. I'd been told it was good for Spotted Flycatchers. No such luck, but lots and lots of other birds. Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Treecreepers (a family), Blackcaps, Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits. Common birds sure, but great to see such density.

As I walked back towards the car park and Ham Wall, the ringed parent bird seemed to be enjoying a moment of quiet lagoon.So the Egrets had fed their young. I was exhausted and ready to go. I needed to get more water and I needed to sit down. On the plus side the suncream had staved off any ill effects of the Sun. I'm typing this on Sunday morning, and am not burnt.

Before the trip back up the M5 I walked across the road to the first viewing platform at Ham Wall. Can't come all this way and not pop into Ham Wall. Turned out it was worth it. Bitterns were still booming (albeit only a few), more Hobby flypasts, a distant view of one of the Great White Egrets, two Cuckoo's calling (one flying across the water in both directions) and a Marsh Harrier. There was no shade, but at least I could sit on a bench and watch the action.


Cream-coloured Courser.

Full and embarrassing disclosure. On Sunday evening I had no idea what a Cream-coloured Courser was. On Monday morning, when the news broke on Twitter, I presumed it was a butterfly and went back to whatever it was I was doing. Work. Yes, I was doing work at work.

Of course it wasn't long before the penny dropped. A seriouspropermegabird was in Herefordshire, and I was at work. Hmmm.

I ducked out of a Monday evening twitch for reasons which - as I type this entry, images of the bird seared into my retinas - now seem idiotic. I won't elabourate. Needless to say on Monday evening the net (well, the important, birdy part of the net) was awash with Cream-coloured Courser porn. It soon became impossible not to go. So I did. After the traditional, interminable, pre-twitch day at work in Cheltenham I was on the road at 1700hrs.

One hour and 40 minutes later, after encounters with slow moving cars, slow moving delivery vans, slow moving articulated lorries, slow moving articulated lorries with trailers, very slow moving tractors and an impossibly slow moving JCB, I arrived at Kington Golf Club. The course sits on top of Bradnor Hill. The single track road up was something of an obstacle course. Relaxed birders going one way, frantic, nervous birders going the other and not nearly enough passing places. Still, plenty of people looking pleased meant the bird was still present, and still showing well.

I parked as close as I could to the 'No Cars Beyond This Point' sign (really, go as far up as you can... your feet will thank you) and began the walk up to the 8th fairway. A beautiful location. I actually marvelled. Warm, sunny, soft blue sky with a stunning panoramic view. I probably saw Wales.

Bradnor Hill and surrounds.The disadvantage of coming in the evening is that the margin for error is small. The advantage is that on a day like today the light is terrific. This meant the Cream-coloured Courser - feeding without inhibition on the fairway - looked a billion dollars. For me, this is Waxwing beautiful. If it could talk, it would hypnotise in a delicious foreign tongue. You watch this bird, and you're somewhere else.

Cream-coloured Courser. Yes you read that right. CREAM-COLOURED COURSER.Perhaps 30 birders were present, holding a respectful distance from the bird. Everyone was relaxed. Once again, this probably had a lot to do with the bird's compliant behaviour, but still this is not to be underestimated. Makes the world of difference. It was a joy to be up there.

Fan club.I watched it for nearly 45 minutes. I took lots of photos, offered scope views to anyone who didn't have one and boggled at the views when I had them.

Stunning plumage.The black and white v-shape on the back of it's head (and grey crown) was so striking.

Feeding.There were lots of sheep.You don't need to see any of these, but I simply HAVE to show them.I was reminded of the Dotterel I sat with on Cleeve Hill in the pouring rain. Same clockwork movement over the ground, but never really going anywhere. Same feeding motion. Extraordinarily upright though, and fond of ducking down for little apparent reason. It also walked along with it's head cocked or turned to 45 degrees (some people remarked that it looked a little comical. I can see that). It was watching for food, but also watching us. Not that it cared.

I see you.I had to drive back, so my notes about other birds are restricted to "lots of Meadow Pipits, lots of Skylarks and one singing Cuckoo."

It was hard to drag myself away from the Courser. Why? I may never see one in Britain again. It was beautiful. The light made it look like a work of art. It is a work of art.

There were quite a few last looks through my telescope, and quite a few more last photographs (even though I knew I wasn't adding anything new). So I left, looking back only once at those still watching.

I mustn't linger here. If I do, I'll probably write a sonnet... so I'll finish with a simple message. If you are reading this, and you are a birder, and you can get to it in time, you have to see this bird. I'm thrilled to have it on my list and in my head, and dearly hope it sticks around so that anyone who wants to see it can.



The Little Tern and the Distant Skua.

I prioritised watching the start of the Olympic Torch Relay ahead of getting down to the river in good time for the rising tide this morning. High tide was a little after 0800hrs, which was approximately when a made it to Saul. The Sun never really shone. Low cloud dogged both sides of the channel (particularly the northern side).

It turned out I'd missed a Little Tern and a Black Tern. The Black Tern would be seen again from the Holden Tower as the tide fell, but not again from Saul. So I missed out on that one. The Little Tern was more obliging though, returning to sit on the sand with the Dunlin and Sanderling. The first time I've seen this species in Gloucestershire, let alone Saul. Another Saul first was to come at about 0915hrs. A dark phase Arctic Skua was reported heading upriver from Severn Beach half an hour earlier, and we observed it (distantly) heading north and inland over Frampton. Better views from Middle Point, I imagine.

Little Tern.The Tern and the Skua brought my total for the year to 187, one more than I saw in the whole of 2011. That's a good landmark.

The tide wasn't a particularly high one, so the wader flock was never forced off the mud. Plenty of smart summer Dunlins, a vast array of Sanderling (max count 35), Ringed Plovers, Curlew, six Turnstone, a Common Tern and a single Wheatear. A Buzzard was mobbed by gulls and a Hobby cruised over the wood. There were also a small number of Knot and Grey Plovers, but they were present only on the rising tide so I missed them.

Dunlin and Sanderling.At one point, and rather ominously, a pair of Avocets arrived to feed on the mud. Fears immediately surfaced for the fate of the three Avocet chicks at Slimbridge - were these the parents? Happily, it was quickly established that both parents and all three chicks were safe on the Bottom New Piece. On more than one occasion both Avocets and the Little Tern were in the same field of view. On none of those occasions did I manage to get the camera ready in time.

Avocet pair.

And again.There were three Common Terns on the Sailing Lake.

Before heading home I toured the hides at Slimbridge. Stints in the Kingfisher and Zeiss Hides included a) more than enough time to see both Avocet parents vigorously defending their chicks from opportunistic gulls and corvids and b) not enough time to chance across the elusive Wood Sandpiper. I did see a Short-eared Owl hunting over the Tack Piece before being chased off by a gang of Black-headed Gulls.


Red-necked Phalarope.

I took my birding equipment to work this morning, tempted by the possibility of taking the afternoon off if the female Red-necked Phalarope was still present at Slimbridge this morning. Unfortunately it wasn't, but fortunately it (or another bird, who knows) did show up at Coombe Hill Meadows early afternoon. With the weather closing in I was quite happy to wait until home time and then dash off. Still, the trip from the centre of Chelteham to the wharf was fraught with traffic lights stopping me at every available opportunity, slow drivers, incompetent drivers, potholes and one charging ambulance (okay I can't complain about the last one).

I waded into the Grundon hide shortly after 1740hrs only to be told that some gulls had chased the Phalarope off just a few minutes ago. Blast. I tweeted in frustration, but tweeted too soon. Four minutes later the Red-necked Phalarope was spotted in the middle distance, quietly feeding away from the gulls. Keeping a low profile. I tweeted again. Delight.

By now the weather had closed in. Fine, misty rain, low cloud... but through my telescope the bird shone. With that amount of red, how could it not? This was (I think) my fourth Red-necked Phalarope, but my best view yet. There is nothing like a Phalarope - especially a summer plumaged Red-necked.

Too distant to photograph.

The weather. Was poor.