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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Wednesday
Apr042012

March.

During which time I did many things not involving birds. During which time I tried to be good. During which time I conserved petrol ahead of this weekends Easter bank holiday trip to North Yorkshire. During which time I shall be visiting Blacktoft Sands, Filey Brigg, Bempton Cliffs / Flamborough Head and Spurn. During which time I hope to go bird crazy.

But... March.

Only one trip of any note. I conceived of a round trip. Gloucester, Saul, Slimbridge, Keynsham (for a Great Grey Shrike), Lydney (for a Cattle Egret), Gloucester. As it turned out I didn't make it to Lydney due to the closure of the Severn Bridge and some spectacularly obliging Short-eared Owls at Aust. Hunting the Warth at 1600hrs - by almost an hour the earliest I'd ever seen them active.

The Great Grey Shrike - a moderate stayer - was supposed to be straightforward but did not show. It was seen at 0630hrs that morning, but as it turned out, seen for the last time. Likewise the Cattle Egret at Lydney was not seen that day. Still... played for and missed. Will I get to 214 (thus beating 2010's 213) birds this year if I can't get those two? Not sure.

The day wasn't a dead loss though. In the morning I saw my first Chiffchaff of the year at a foggy Saul Warth (a couple of flyover Lesser Redpolls also of interest). At Slimbridge there were three Avocets from the Zeiss Hide - although Kingfisher and Water Rail both failed to show where expected.

A calling Rook at the WWT.Woodpigeons... courting.After dipping the Shrike I spent a brilliant afternoon at Aust Warth watching the Owls - bagging the areas first Little Ringed Plover of the year into the bargain. It seemed very settled on the Northwick Warth flash and was still present the following morning.

Little Ringed Plover.

The right spot, but not a Great Grey Shrike. Not even a bird.There were three Owls hunting at Aust Warth between 1600hrs and 1830hrs. I missed the start of their display becuase I was still on Northwick Warth trying (in vain) to photograph a Water Pipit. The Owls were as obliging as I'd ever seen them. At one point, all three were sat on raised branches - presumably digesting - and all in silhouette. Quite a site. It was so good I came back the following evening for an encore.

Short-eared Owls.A trip to Cleeve Hill on 31st March produced - you will be unsurprised to hear - no Ring Ouzels. I spent two hours scouting all the likely spots up there to no avail. They've been seen up there, so I'm not mad. Having said that, over the last two years I have now clocked up 29 hours on Cleeve Hill (at the right time of year) without seeing a Ring Ouzel. I'm beginning to think a sighting up there now will be as disappointing as it would be exciting. After all, 29 hours without even a sniff is quite some feat. How much higher can I push the figure? Anyway, in order to see a Ring Ouzel last year I had to decamp to Bredon Hill. Since I've no chance of seeing one on Cleeve (although I will keep trying), I may have to do the same thing again this year. Although maybe I'll get lucky this weekend in North Yorkshire. The trip to Cleeve wasn't a dead loss. There were lots of stunning Stonechats and Yellowhammers and a Red Kite cruised low over the radio masts car park.

Finally, on a run around the Witcombe area yesterday I saw my first Swallows of the year - feeding over the reservoirs.

For the record, I am now on 134 birds for the year. This time in 2010 I was on 126. My lack of activity in March has told. At the start of the month I was 30 birds up on 2010.

Still, if I can have a good weekend up North then I will be motivated to push on. It feels like a chore, trying to see birds for the list at this time of year. Much of the easy stuff is taken care of and you have to trail all over the county to pick stuff up... and in my case, for whatever reason... I haven't been picking stuff up when I've made the effort. (No Kingfisher, no Water Rail).

There's plenty of time though. And plenty of birds to see (except, of course, Ring Ouzel).

(I didn't go for the Bonaparte's Gull at Newnham. That's gonna come back to haunt me...)

Friday
Mar022012

I'm Not Going Birding This Weekend.

I'm absolutely not. As far as I'm concerned I'm going well this year - 130 birds by the end of February. But still, I'm having nightmares thinking about the birds I still have to see - at least, the ones that play on my mind. I like listing them. Ticking them all seems like a daunting prospect, but it's also reassuring to have the list in one public place.

Barnacle Goose, Great Grey Shrike, Garganey, Great White Egret, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Surf Scoter (it'll come back in the winter), Eider, Skuas, Purple Sandpiper, Water Rail, Whooper Swan, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting, Firecrest, Brambling, Willow Tit, Sanderling, Little Owl, Barn Owl, Marsh Harrier and Hen Harrier.

Speaking of Harriers, I'm going up to North Yorkshire in early April and hope to stop off at Blacktoft Sands RSPB (site of last years Marsh Sandpiper). I'll definitely, and easily, get Marsh Harrier there. Maybe Hen Harrier, too. I'll also visit Filey Brigg, Scarborough and Bempton Cliffs.

I'm still not going birding this weekend.

Wednesday
Feb292012

Water Pipit.

February the 29th. A gift day - if you can ignore the fact that salaried employees are effectively working for free. I couldn't ignore this, so in an act of minor rebellion I booked the day off (slap-bang in the middle of the week) so at least I wouldn't be working. Instead I would be wasting a precious day's holiday. That is...I would if the birds didn't show up...

Fortunately, they did.

Northwick Warth

I thought I knew the space between the two Severn Crossings like the back of my hand, but it turns out I'd not been looking very closely. Aust Warth is as it always has been, but the New Passage end of Northwick Warth is slowly being converted into a wetland - Pilning Wetland. There is a sign on the second sentry box as you approach the area from the north. I should've taken a photograph of it, really. Land 'behind' the Severn Way has clearly been readied to flood, and Northwick Warth itself has space for several pools to form. 

Pilning Wetland on Northwick Warth.The day ahead would be sunny, but the sea fog was pretty stubborn. The above photograph was taken around 1000hrs. This is the area where my most wanted, my craved... the elusive Water Pipit, has been seen fairly regularly so far this year.

Just to the right a female Merlin surveyed the scene.

Merlin. Perhaps the same bird I saw last week?It's a poorly digiscoped image, but since I'd parked at Aust Warth and walked down I decided to leave the camera in the car. It's a bit of a trek, and I certainly didn't expect to actually see a Water Pipit. When one of the (I presume) local birders passed by, he remarked that someone he knew had been down five times without success. So what chance would I have?

As it turned out, pretty good! The focus of my attention was the more distant of the two pools in the first photograph, and the ground immediately to the north of it (towards the camera). I set up my scope a respectful distance away and waited.

Skylarks, mostly. Then a large flock of Wagtails - mostly Pied but I couple I decided were definitely White. Then as if from nowhere c.20 pipits descended from the white sky, momentarily flocked a little like Starlings do and then began to feed amongst the short grass. I knew that if there were no Water Pipits in this group then I would not see one today. I set about them. Mipit, Mipit, Mipit, Wipit! Two, in fact. Two Water Pipits. There may have been three, but at no point did I count that many in one field of view or movement of my telescope. I always say this, but you just know when you see a rare / bogey bird. Both had dark legs, quite pale wing bars, cleanly-streaked underparts, a well-marked supercilium... but most importantly that pale browny appearance so characteristic of all Water Pipit photographs I've ever seen. They were spot on, and really did stand out when grouped together with Meadow Pipits.

I think back to the only time I've possibly seen a Water Pipit - 13th November 2010 - just down the shore at Severn Beach. A 'questionable' pipit poked out of the grass for a few seconds. I thought it might've been a Water Pipit, but wasn't confident enough to call it. Now I've definitely seen one, and I'm still none-the-wiser about what I saw that day!

I didn't have the camera with me, so no photographs of any of the Water Pipits. As it happens they were certainly close enough to show up well in a photograph. I tried a bit of digiscoping, but it was a disaster even as they sat on a fence - practically begging to be recorded.

The Pipits and the Wagtails moved off together when a couple of dog walkers crossed paths directly behind me. Annoying, but I'd had a great view and would get another (perhaps even better) fifteen minutes later when they all returned. I wonder if they will stick around long enough for us to glimpse them in something approaching their summer plumage? That would be fantastic.

I arrived at 0800hrs, and left at 1000hrs. A triumphant two hours - made a fraction of a smidgen more triumphant by my first Green Woodpecker of the year in the field over the road from Aust Warth.

Portishead

With my mission accomplished only one hour into the working day I'd given it over to, I had to decide what to do next. I could've gone back up the M5 and made it into work for a half day. hehe. No chance. Not with the weather improving by the second. The mist had cleared from the bridges and it was warm enough to not need a coat.

I knew that Purple Sandpipers has been seen at Battery Point, Portishead. It's a long way from Gloucester, but certainly not from Aust Warth! It would be high tide by the time I arrived. This would - I reasoned - mean that any Sandpipers in the area would be forced up closer to the shore. It turned out I was correct in theory, but in practice I arrived to find four fisherman occupying the point to take advantage of the high tide.

Rats!

And a pair of Rock Pipits on the beach. I'll see Purple Sandpipers on Scilly in September, I'm sure.

Portishead Herring Gull.Blagdon Lake

By now it was after midday, sunny and warm. Blagdon Lake is quite a way from Aust Warth, let alone Gloucester, but it's not far from Portishead. ;-)

Blagdon Lake.I wanted to see the resident female Long-tailed Duck, and the more recently arrived drake Greater Scaup. The former was amazingly easy - preening and resting no more than 10m off the dam end of the lake. I couldn't believe my luck, a close encounter with a Long-tailed Duck. So brief were they, you'd be hard pressed to describe my previous encounters with Long-tailed Ducks (including this very bird) as encounters. They'd always been diving, and diving, and diving. They've always been in choppy waters. They've always been in the middle of choppy waters. Hard to pin down with bins and almost impossible to nail with a telescope. This afternoon however, it was as easy as watching a Mallard on a garden pond. Obviously, I took some photographs. Quite a few, actually. Actually, quite a few when I first saw it, and quite a few more just before I left when the light was a little better.

What's a definitely not gratuitous number? Four. Here's four of them:

Long-tailed Duck (female).I should think this as close as I'll ever get to the species.

In between sessions I went looking for the Greater Scaup. At first it wasn't at the dam end, so I walked a little way along the southern shore hoping to spot it. I didn't, but it was a very pleasant stroll in the still sunshine. Fortunately a kind elderly couple stopped as they drove past, introduced themselves as birders and as we chatted they said the Greater Scaup was now at the dam end. I don't know if I missed it originally, or if it was genuinely absent. Still, I eventually located the Greater Scaup maybe 150m off the dam. A fine specimen. They're my favourite duck, and I'd not seen one since the two males that graced WWT Slimbridge a year ago.

Amongst the diving ducks, Cormorants and gulls, there were also four Bewick Swans and a pair of Goosanders on the water.

Cormorant.Carrion Crows.You can't have it all, so I'll take the annoying anglers at Battery Point in exchange for the Water Pipits, Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup. Add in the Green Woodpecker and that's four more for my year list, and one more lifer.

Just over a year ago I had it in my head that I wouldn't ever see a Hen Harrier, a Jack Snipe, a Ring Ouzel, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker or a Water Pipit. I've now see all five and am very pleased about that. It's not all about the lifers, but they are very satisfying. I tick each one in my Collins and after many, many attempts, this mornings tick was probably the most satisying yet...

Sunday
Feb262012

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Suddenly birding is great again.

When I said that I wasn't going anywhere today, what I really meant was I wasn't going anywhere far. Twitter news of a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Highnam - along the ridge - was too good a chance to miss. So I went late afternoon.

I'm typically pessimistic, so marched into the woods expecting absolutely nothing. When I got to the ridge I watched three or four Goldcrests, two cronking Ravens, a party of Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper. Plenty of Buzzards were soaring over the treetops, some coming to rest in the upper branches. Then I heard the piping call - coming from a group of trees about 50 yards to the North. I set up my scope, and waited.

Ten minutes later my naked eye spotted movement. Through my bins it was clearly the movement of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Through my telescope it was even more clearly the movement of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A male. The impossible odds of Highnam Woods finally, finally, beaten. Relief flooded through my system. Underwhelming yesterday was forgotten. Thirty seconds of good views - watching it search the bark for signs of food - before it moved out of sight. A great bird; another long overdue lifer.

In conclusion... LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER.

Saturday
Feb252012

Devon Plus Fog Again.

This isn't going to be the most descriptive entry. Today was a bit of a slog for relatively little reward. I'm not really inclined to write anything about it if I'm perfectly honest. Still, it was at least a leisurely slog. I kept to my new rules - don't pack too much in, and don't get distracted.

Anyway, I think the Surf Scoter has done it's bunk for the winter. Not of the Friday night bunk variety, either. It's not been seen for a week now - but that didn't stop me going to look for it.

Devon was foggy, and still, but the view from the top of Langstone Rock was pretty good. I could see as far out to sea as it would be worthwhile trying to identify a bird, there was no direct sunlight and flat water... if the Surf Scoter was there I would see it. But it wasn't.

Some Red-throated Divers had been seen earlier, but they had obviously cleared out by the time I arrived at Dawlish Warren. There were 15 Common Scoters, 4 or 5 Slavonian Grebes, one Black-necked Grebe and several Great Crested's. A couple of Rock Doves swept back and forth infront of me. I'd never been sure of my ground with Rock Doves until now - frightened of ticking a Feral Pigeon by mistake - but these were spot on. So I ticked them. Odd to consider that a lifer, but it's best to wait until you're sure.

I walked down towards Warren Point, but didn't go across to the hide. The tide was out so I scanned the scene. On the estuary I saw a Greenshank, loads of Red-breasted Mergansers, a few Grey Plovers and Redshank dotted about. I'd hoped to find some Sanderling on the beach, but did not. On the trail, a group of 20,000,000 Meadow Pipits were being trailed by a male Kestrel.

Meadow Pipit #3,156Dawlish was my second stop, though. It always is. At dawn I roll into Exminster Marshes in the hopes of seeing something fantastic but resigned to the fact I won't. Never really delivers for me, Exminster. Still, I live in hope. I marched up Station Road in hope, scanned all the pools in hope... in hope of seeing the Water Pipit. No sign, of course. No sign of the Brent Geese - so no Red-breasted Goose - and no sign of the American Wigeon (although my scans of the Wigeon flocks were not exactly thorough - having already got the bird on my 2012 list at Coombe Hill in January). It was high tide, so the marshes were well-stocked with waders. Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Dunlin, mostly.

Black-tailed Godwits. Nice and close.I did finally see my first Little Egrets of the year, though, and from Turf my first Slavonian Grebe and Red-breasted Mergansers of the year.

Proof, if proof were needed, of fog at Turf. There is no real colour in this image, but in the absence of any good photos today I thought this would do. Shows the wing bars nicely.Despite the thick morning fog, I went up to Labrador Bay. The Cirl Buntings were easy to find - in exactly the same hedgerow as they were in December. Once you know where to look, it doesn't matter that Labrador Bay is so prone to fog. I saw one female, and five males.

Cirl Bunting. Stunning even in thick fog.

The tree the Cirl Buntings were favouring.What else? Once the fog had cleared I scanned the estuary from Starcross. Pale and dark-bellied Brents, Bar-tailed Godwits and yet more Red-breasted Mergansers (I've never seen so many) were the highlights. I know there would've been Avocets on the other side nearer Topsham and Bowling Green Marsh, but neither location was on my itinerary and I could not make them out from where I was. Neither did I bother with the Yellow-browed Warbler at West Lodge (from Mudbank Lane). I wasn't 'doing' that side of the estuary, and was commited to returning to Exminster for another stab at that Water Pipit.

Needless to say, despite diligent scans of all the pools along Station Road... I didn't see it. Didn't even hear it. Had I seen it... well... this entry would have been better written, better constructed, double the length and three hundred times as enthusiastic.

I'm not going anywhere tomorrow.

(Year list on 125. This time last year it was 87. This time in 2010 it was 97.)