January - March 2004


Thursday January 1

Great start to the new year. In morning visited Cheddar reservoir – found great northern diver after about 40 mins of searching – diving frequently. Also 3 goosander. On the way a merlin few high and fast over Cleeve. In late afternoon visted Westhay. 5 Bewick’s swans among mutes, 2 stonechats near car park. Heard chiffchaffs. At dusk watched thousands of starlings flying in to roost. Heard water rails, Cetti’s warblers and watched a hunting barn owl in front of the starlings. Finally, a bittern flew up briefly from the reed beds. On the first day of the year, saw 4 species that took until November last year! 46 species today.

Friday 2 January

Visit to Battery Point, Portishead at high tide revealed nothing but lots of fishermen. Quickly visited Hand Farm, Clevedon and saw 4 tree sparrows. Then to Channel View Farm, Kingston Seymour where I had quite good views of a short-eared owl.

Saturday 3 January

Trip to Devon with Michael Pocock. Left Flax at 06.15h, in dark with snow falling outside. First stop was Prawle Point, where we arrived at 09.00h. The day was grey and drizzly, despite a forecast for good conditions. At Prawle we saw a little egret, shag, gannets, razorbills, but the highlights were large flocks of yellowhammers and about 20 cirl buntings, my second sighting in the UK.


Next stop was Slapton Ley, where birders were searching for a Penduline tit seen on each of the last two days. We stayed for 30 mins in the drizzle, but today was the only day over the last 3 and the next that it was not sighted. We saw several snipe, a ruddy duck, and a female common scoter offshore. (Late Jan – I’m now starting to wonder if it was a common scoter – a surf scoter was reported in the area soon after, and I’m sure this bird had 2 cheek patches!).

We then drove to Clennon Valley, next to Torbay leisure centre at Paignton. On the edge of football fields are some small ponds and scrub, where a dusky warbler has wintered. We saw some water rails, 3+ chiffchaffs, and had nice views of the DUSKY WARBLER, my first ever. The pictures below show the pale legs (left), and the strong supercillium and eye stripe (right). The bird was much more skulking than the chiffchaffs, and called frequently, a brief , sometimes repeated ‘chk’ It was sooty brown ,and lacked any hint of green seen in the chiffchaffs.


Next stop was Goodrington bay for some seawatching – we saw a black-throated diver, 3 red-throated divers, 20+ great crested grebes, 2 black-necked grebes and a guillemot.

Just before dusk we arrived at Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, and saw little egret, spoonbill (below), brent geese, 2 red-breasted mergansers, black-tailed godwits and the glossy ibis.


Sunday 4 January

A quick trip to the Somerset levels, late afternoon. Looked for firecrest at Ham Wall, but missed it by minutes. Then visited starling roost at Westhay with family and Wilsons, and saw many thousands of starlings landing close to the car park, filling trees and making the reed beds black.

Monday 5 January

Last blast for local birds before work.  Great day – located several local rarities. Started at Chew, where 2 smew, including a splendid drake in Heron’s Green Bay. Also Egyptian goose at Herriot’s Pool. Next stop was Ashcott Corner on the levels, where 30-40 mins perseverance produced good views of 2 firecrests, my second sighting ever. Also here was an overhead peregrine, tree creeper, 3 redpoll, while over the road at Meare Heath I saw siskins, golden plover overhead,  and 3 water pipits in flight. I then located an elusive whooper swan on Aller Moor (below), before moving to Catcott to enjoy masses of lapwings, wigeon and golden plover (below). Final stop was Westhay, and I was rewarded with finding the yellow-browed warbler in sallows near the shed hide at 15.15h, 4 brambling, many redpolls, a bittern over the reed bed, and a jack snipe in flight. Also thousands of starlings again, settling in a different area each night.


Saturday 10 January

Drove to Rogerstone, Monmouthshire in morning looking for a waxwing that has been present for a week – not there today. Stopped at Severn Beach on return to see a black redstart (below), but drove past a northern grey shrike at Chittening Warth!


Sunday 11 January

Quick visit to Chittening Wharf at lunchtime – eventually had distant views of the northern grey shrike in flight (3rd ever), but for most of the time it was skulking in scrub. Female blackcap in garden.

Friday 16 January

Battery Point, Portishead at lunchtime for high tide at 14.00h with Michael Pocock. Saw 3 roosting purple sandpipers, and heard a rock pipit.

Saturday 17 January

Spent the afternoon in the hide at Catcott, enjoying the view in winter sunshine. Highlights were a female/ immature merlin, one ruff, ca. 30 black-tailed godwits and 2 stock doves.


Sunday 18 January

Chew Valley lake in afternoon – several goosander and pintail, and water pipit digiscoped from Stratford hide, giving my best ever views.


Saturday 24 January

Did RSPB garden bird watch: photographed some garden birds with new Nikkor 300mm f2.8 AF lens - amazing.


In the afternoon took the lens to Chew to photograph gulls at Heron’s Green Bay. Little about, except for the usual Egyptian goose. Below – top row black-headed gull, first winter. Below – common gulls – second winter and adult.


Sunday 25 January

Early morning visit to Severn Beach – shore lark seen there yesterday. No luck today, but did see first green woodpecker of the year, and a water pipit. Took Dave Clarke to the Somerset Levels. He is now very ill, and indeed this was his last birdwatching trip - he died during the following week. At Catcott, saw a nice ringtail hen harrier, and a greylag goose. Five Bewick’s swans at Tealham Moor, possible merlin at Ham Wall, and a male merlin over the M5 near Clevedon on the way back.  Male blackcap in garden for most of last week.

Thursday 29 January

Took day off and went to Slimbridge – glorious sunny day after snow flurries yesterday. Given the run around by the geese – got to South Finger from Holden to be told that the Tundra Bean Goose was present, only for the geese to fly to Holden 3 minutes later! At Holden in the afternoon had good views of the tundra bean goose. Only a small amount of orange on the bill, and much more sculpted on the wing feathers compared with the white fronts. Head shape also very different – neck thick, and head bulbous.


ca. 700 white-fronted geese present.


 Also took some flight shots of Canada geese, Bewick’s swans, wigeon, buzzard, and photos of teal and robin, and an Aytha hybrid..


In the late afternoon light, a splendid water rail showed in front of the open hide near the Holden tower.


February 2004

Sunday 1 February

Severn Beach in afternoon – expecting strong winds, but winds relatively weak and rain persistent. Saw 10+ turnstones, a black redstart, and a distant flock of gulls which were probably kittiwakes. Little at Avonmouth square pond except some shoveler, gadwall and a little grebe. When the rain stopped I visited Barrow no. 3 and watched gull roost, but saw nothing unusual. A few goldeneye here.

Saturday 7 – Sunday 8 February

Two visits to Slimbridge – on Saturday took girls and saw little other than a nice great-spotted woodpecker on nuts at South Finger. On my own on Sunday – lots of good birds, but poor views: lots of golden plover and dunlin, tundra bean goose, 3 peregrine sightings, 12 ravens, hen harrier, short-eared owl. Went on a guided walk at 11.00h to find the LAPLAND BUNTING, which had been seen on every previous walk. Spent about an hour looking for it – just about to leave when someone spotted it – got rather poor views, but noted some features and distinctive silhouette. Landed briefly on ground where I briefly saw face pattern, but bird was very mobile and difficult to observe.

Sunday 15 February

In morning photographed dunnock in garden.


Chew Valley lake, afternoon. Few birders at Stratford, and water very calm – huge gull roost present. Found one adult Mediterranean gull, and one very dark lesser black-backed gull that showed characteristics of the Baltic gull L. fuscus fuscus. Bird had jet black wings and very small mirror on outermost primary only. Also an escaped bar-headed goose and a redhead smew present. Photographed winter male reed bunting and female goldeneye.


Monday 16 February

Quick visit to Chew late afternoon. Saw 2 adult Mediterranean gulls in roost from Herriot’s Pool.

Thursday 19-Sunday 22 February

Trip to Florida for a meeting (Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative) about how to stop bats being killed by wind turbines. Stayed at Singer Island, south of Juno Beach on the Atlantic coast. Saw little for two days while in the meeting, except for roseate spoonbills from the road in MacArthur State Park, and a palm warbler in Juno Beach. A group of about 4 manatees (including a youngster) also swam up the canal here, along a built-up stretch of water. On Saturday 21st I walked from the hotel to the MacArthur State Park, then back along the ocean front. Took the photos below with a Coolpix 995 and Eagle-eye optic zoom. Saw a snake, mockingbird, many turkey vultures. Some very tame sanderling frequented the beach. Also saw a royal tern offshore, and some approachable white ibises


 I spent some time looking at gulls.

American herring gull, worn first winter. How you could distinguish this from a European herring gull beats me.


 Laughing gull, adult winter.


 Ring-billed gull, first winter. The plumage is now quite worn. Notice in the flight picture the dark band on the secondaries, with a grey panel in front of it. Legs are often pinkish.


 Ring-billed gull, second winter. The bill and leg colours are not as vivid as in the adults. Legs are pale green.


 Ring-billed gull, adult. The individual on the left is more in summer plumage, without head streaks. The tertial crescent is virtually absent on the left hand bird. In most individuals it is of the size in the second winter bird above.


Florida list


Brown pelican                                   Laughing gull                                    Red-bellied woodpecker

Double-crested cormorant                Ring-billed gull                                 Eastern phoebe

Great egret                                         American herring gull                       American crow

Great blue heron                                Royal tern                                          Starling

White ibis                                          Turkey vulture                                   Palm warbler

Roseate spoonbill                              Osprey                                                 Mockingbird

Sanderling                                          Collared dove

Saturday 28th February

Chew Valley Lake – afternoon. Generally very quiet, perhaps because many wildfowl scared away by recent ruddy duck cull. Saw very little, but when I arrived at Herriot’s Pool I was told about a KUMLIEN’S GULL at Nunnery point. I rushed over to see it – a fine adult. Back looked very pale, but faint grey crescents apparent on primary tips. My first sighting of this race, after missing it twice at Chew last winter. Also heard a raven. Maybe 3 blackcaps (one male) in garden this morning.

Sunday 29th February

Forest of Dean in morning. New Fancy raptor viewpoint – about 10 sightings of  5-6 individual goshawks. Some birds in display flight, making undulating dives. Also sparrowhawk, raven, buzzards here. Brierley, opposite Esso garage- distant view of one hawfinch. Good views of two willow tits, my first for several years. Also a brambling amongst the chaffinches, and heard a nuthatch. A lady put seed down for the finches, and a sparrowhawk swooped down amongst them. Cannop Pond – Mandarins.

March 2004

Sunday 7th March

Chew Valley Lake in morning: relatively tame adult Mediterranean gull, Herriot’s Pool (came to bread). Same bird later at Heron’s Green Bay. Bittern flew into reed bed N of Herriot’s Bridge, and water rail feeding under feeder, Stratford. Also saw 3 jays, 3 reed buntings.


Wednesday 10 March

In morning drove to Portbury docks area to see the dusky warbler. Eventually found it flying towards me along the drainage ditch. It landed momentarily on a fence, then  flew into the evergreen hedge next to a warehouse where it skulked for over an hour. A very difficult bird to observe, but called quite frequently.

Saturday 13 March

Chew Valley Lake in morning – one first year little gull, also tufted x pochard  ‘lesser scaup’ type hybrid, greylag goose, herring gull first-year with downcurved bill.


Barrow Gurney reservoir late afternoon – 2 shoveler, ca. 8 white wagtails, ca. 20 ruddy duck but no unusual gulls to roost. Wagtails were on drained reservoir no. 1, which could be good for waders in a few weeks.

Sunday 14 March

Trip to Devon. First visited Dawlish Warren for high tide. Strong winds and heavy rain – only one other person in hide. Good numbers of waders – including ringed plover, dunlin (photo below), sanderling, knot (photo below), oystercatchers, grey plover, and bar-tailed godwits. Also about 50 brent geese still present, and  2 sandwich terns. Offshore in the rough sea I saw a slavonian grebe, one eider, and a scoter flock (50+). Some of the birds took flight, and I was able to identify 2 velvet scoter and 20 common scoter.


Next stop was Powderham deer park pond, where there were several greenshank, and an interesting duck. At first I thought this was the Exminster lesser scaup, but on closer examination, I think it is a male scaup (poor photo below). The black on the nail was quite noticeable, and the back pattern not right for lesser scaup. At Exminster, I had a brief view of the LESSER SCAUP on the drainage ditch, and also found a male green-winged teal.


 Finally visited Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham and saw the glossy ibis and an avocet.


Tuesday 16 March

Chew gull roost in evening: Keith Vinicombe found 1-2 ring-billed gull adults and 2 adult Mediterranean gulls. Unusual lesser black-backed gull on Herriot’s Pool with white square patches on each hand wing. Aythya hybrid with mouth growths back on Herriot’s Pool.

Friday 19 March

Stopped at Heron’s Green Bay, Chew to see about 10 sand martins, first of year. Radipole lake in afternoon, to see Franklin’s gull, but it had disappeared after apparently looking ill last night. Saw two Mediterranean gulls (adult and second summer, second summer below), and a first winter little gull (below).


Saturday 20 March

Leisurely trip around south and west sides of Chew Valley Lake in morning. Very windy and squally. Quiet – about 6 sand martins, 11 barnacle geese, Aythya hybrid (lesser scaup type), 1 raven and good views of ca. 100 ruddy duck. Photos of dabchick, ruddy duck and cormorants below.


Sunday 21 March

Weymouth with the family – I had some time to look for the FRANKLIN’S GULL again. Excellent views from 15.40h as it landed on the island outside the visitor centre.


Monday 22 March

Devon, to take wing biopsies from grey long eared bats with George Bemment and Mike Ingram, south of Brixham.


Ravens overhead at the site. Then visited Clennon valley ponds, because PENDULINE TIT male present. Calling a lot – high pitched ‘seooou’. Perched in a shrub, where I took the photos below. Then it landed in reedmace and sallows directly in front of me, but my camera was still downloading the earlier raw images! Ringed on right leg – probably the Slapton bird from January. I think I was the last person to see it!


Also saw sparrowhawk, sand martins, and a pair of ruddy shelduck (male left). Several chiffchaffs present, and had a brief view of the dusky warbler.


Finally stopped at Exminster marshes. Saw my first wheatear of the year, photographed a splendid male pheasant in the evening light, and had distant but convincing views of the lesser scaup on the main lagoon, from the canal towpath. Head shape and coarse vermiculation on back apparent.


Saturday 28 March

Walk up Avon Gorge with Euphrasian Natural History Society. Libby Houston showed us some rare plants, including some of the Bristol whitebeams, Bristol rock cress (below left), whitlow grass (below right), fingered sedge, and green hellebore.


Raven nesting in the gorge. Visited Barrow no. 3 tank at dusk – 2 Canada geese flew in.

Sunday 28 March

Took nephew Harry birdwatching at Chew in early afternoon – saw greylag goose (below), white fronted goose, displaying ruddy duck, many goldeneye, and a pair of common scoter. Later in afternoon visited Barrow tanks – 4 oystercatchers (tank 3), 2 male little ringed plover (tank 3 – drained) - photo below. Visited Chew for gull roost, but no unusual gulls present.


Tuesday 30 March

Cycled to work through Ashton Court – sunny and spring-like, easterly winds. Heard about 3 chiffchaffs, including one in our street. In evening visited Barrow tanks briefly – quiet except about 20 goldeneye. No gulls roosting now.