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
Quail
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
Hoopoe
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (26th Feb.)
Citrine Wagtail
Woodlark
Shore Lark (7th Apr.)
Water Pipit (29th Feb.)
Nightingale (6th May)
Icterine Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler
Crested Tit
Bearded Tit (19th Feb.)
Penduline Tit
Chough
Common / Mealy Redpoll
Red-backed Shrike
Bee-eater

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Saturday
May262012

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.

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