Sunday, 7 May 2017


Hello all,
I know it's a little while back, but on 21st April, I visited the wonderful WWT Slimbridge. Over the course of the day, 59 species were seen, including the wonderful trio of Black-winged Stilts!

We started off the day at the South Lake, as that was where the Black-winged Stilts had last been seen. They were immediately viewable, albeit at distance, on the wader scrape at the back. There were two males and a female; the adult males have a dark cap to their heads, whilst the females have a small, patchy patch of brown on the top of their head. There seemed to be a pair, and one distinctly miffed extra male. The pair later mated, when we saw them from the Hogarth Hide.

Avocets were remarkably abundant, with roughly 40 on site that day. There was also a pair of Oystercatchers on South Lake, along with the large Black-headed gull colony.

The Holden Tower also had excellent pickings. A large flock of a few hundred Black-tailed Godwits made for good viewing, whilst feeding alongside them was a marginally smaller but distinctly different Greenshank! A great find! A group of 11 Ruff also made for good birding, as they displayed the plethora of different plumages that Ruff can display. An all-black male was developing the plumes for which they get their name but there was also a splendid cream-headed male. Perched in the grass at the far bank was a Peregrine; how one of the guides found that, I will never know! Finally at the  Holden Tower was a possible Bar-tailed Godwit. It was a little hard to judge from 200 feet away, but it seemed to be a good candidate.

The Peng held a Common Sandpiper (I had forgotten just how small they were), as well as a calling Cetti's warbler, and a group of 4 flying Redshank.

Black-tailed Vs. Bar-tailed
  • Barwit has relatively short legs
  • Blackwit has black tail; Barwit has a barred tail (seen in flight)!
  • Barwit have a more distinct curve upwards to their bill
  • Blackwit has a paler orange wash in Summer plumage
  • That's about it...
That may have to remain as "the one that got away..."

After lunch, we had another look at the Black-winged Stilts, this time from the Hogarth Hide. The pair mated, just as a Kingfisher zipped in front of the hide. Two Cranes also flew over at this point, just to add to the action, and a Buzzard also caused a slight panic amongst the Corvids!

Day List: Mallard, Mute Swan, Coot, Moorhen, Greylag, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Blackbird, Blue tit, Robin, Starling, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Shelduck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Song Thrush, Whitethroat, Peregrine, Buzzard, Avocet, Black-headed gull, Lesser Black-backed gull, Great Black-backed gull, Herring gull, Lapwing, Crane (GCP), Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Blackcap, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, Sedge warbler, Cetti's warbler, Teal, Rook, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Kingfisher, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit (Pos.), Collared dove, Chiffchaff, Grey heron, Great tit, House sparrow, Wigeon, Swallow, House martin, Greenshank, Cormorant, Magpie, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Willow warbler. 59 SPECIES

Right at the entrance: A Feral Pigeon nest, complete with squab!
The somewhat photogenic Crested Screamers

A confiding Common Sandpiper
"The Audrey Hepburn of the bird world!"

BWS from 150 yards
Black-winged Stilt, complete with Greylag chicks!

Not sure if those legs are actually quite that artificial-looking in real life!

A nice one on which to end: a straightforward portrait.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

"Local Patch" Sightings 13/4/17

Hello all,
A twenty minute walk on a road alongside the local Golf Course produced a few birds...

A Willow Warbler showed fantastically well, which was my first WW of the year. There were also around 15 Chaffinches, as well as a group of 4 Long-Tailed tits, 4 Great tits and 3 Blue tit. Still I wait, however, for my first Wheatear of the year...

In the garden, there were 8 House Sparrow, 6 Starling (the numbers have improved since the AvonBirds post!) 5 Goldfinch and 4 Dunnocks, as well as quite a few Blackbirds, Blue tits, Great tits and Woodpigeons.

I recently purchased a pair of Vortex Viper HD 8X42 binoculars from the wonderful LCE at Chew, with some of my BigBang fair prize money; I am glad to say that they perform fantastically! There should be a review of these soon, once I have had the chance to use them more.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Ham Wall 25/3/17: Grass Snake, Glossy Ibises and Bitterns

Hello all,
After a busy few weeks (there will be a post to come about the BigBang Science Fair!), it was good to get outside at the wonderful RSPB Ham Wall in the Somerset Levels.

Saturday's visit coincided with a binocular and telescope day; despite the small range of binoculars on show, I am pleased to say that there is a noticeable difference between the £200 RSPB binoculars and the RSPB HD binoculars (£400). The image is noticeably brighter and sharper, with very little colour fringing around the edges.
Anyway, without further ado, the birds and reptiles (!) on show were, without a doubt, the stars of the day...

The day was unseasonably warm, but the wind was distinctly chilly, especially in the Avalon hide, which seems to have been designed to be cold and blustery! Grumblings aside, Spring was definitely in the air, with a flock of 20+ House Martin and 10+ Sand Martin going over our heads at Viewing Platform 1. Chiffchaffs were calling pretty much all the way from the car park to the Viewing Platform, where there were also all of the common duck species: Wigeon (still here from Winter I suppose), Teal (Winter lingerers!), Mallard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler, with a few Gadwall and Pochard also there. Coots and Moorhens are easily overlooked, but seem to love making a cacophony of noise in their many scraps.

The Avalon hide, in all its blustery glory, was hugely productive. In the space of around 30 seconds, a Bittern made a short flight right in front of the hide, two Marsh Harriers flushed the ducks off the water in front of the hide, then the two Glossy Ibis raced overhead; all of this was too quick for anyone to photograph! In the midst of the action, two Great Crested Grebes were still trying to display and dance!

Once things had calmed down a bit, (and the Bittern had made another 3-second flight) we decided to head back to the car park for a spot of lunch. As always at Ham Wall, however, something distracted us. The two Glossy Ibis had landed at the first viewing platform, and were preening next to a splendid Great White Egret in breeding plumage. Needless to say, it made for an excellent photo that shows the scarcity-pulling power of Ham Wall!

After lunch, we decided to try the Loxtons area, where there had been the large Starling roost in the Winter. At the path leading to the  Loxtons trail by the first Viewing Platform, it was fortuitous to say the least that I had decided to try and track down a calling Cetti's Warbler, because it was in a nearby channel that I saw something swimming. A piece of litter? Well, it has a head and is swimming, so probably not, An eel? No, too long and too slender. A snake? Closer. A Grass Snake? Spot on. Sure enough, completely out of the blue, within a few metres of me was my fist wild reptile, a swimming, metre-long Grass Snake. A large crowd had soon developed,  with the excitement comparable to a national twitch! It had swum about ten metres in the channel, but by the time anyone else arrived, it was slithering up the bank! Fantastic!

The best from the Tor View area was a Little Grebe, which  seems to be able to go underwater, then surface 20 seconds later, but 40 metres away! A large species of water beetle was also seen mating in the car park pools.

I will leave you with some photos from the day!

These top three show the wonderful Grass Snake!

The ever-faithful Glossy Ibis

One of the many Marsh Harriers
Mating water beetkes

Great Crested Grebe


Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Fantastic Male Sparrowhawk!

Hello all,
This week saw some great birds in the garden, with long-tailed tits, chaffinches and the usual suspects in high numbers too. There was a more special visitor too, though...

A fantastic male Sparrowhawk flew across the garden, landed on a piece of decking before coming back to perch in the tree. That branch, however, is less brilliant!

 Once again, there have been Short-eared owls at Uphill, with three being seen throughout the week. They are large birds, with a wingspan of around a metre, which makes them Britain's largest common owl species. They favour areas of coastal scrub and are diurnal, but show best shortly before dusk. There are certainly better pictures elsewhere on the internet, but below are some of my efforts, one of which was digiscoped from about 100m!                      

This bottom one clearly isn't a short eared owl; it's Ed and me making an appearance on Winterwatch after they got in touch with us to enquire about the results for our coloured bird feeder experiment! Apparently, Chris loved the project! Our cameo can be seen on IPlayer, episode 4 at 42:00 mins in!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

2016 Birding Summary

2016 will remain in the memories of birders for time to come, after an incredible string of autumn vagrancies. In under a month, Siberian Accentor went from a bird never before seen in Britain, to nine records, and seen by every twitcher (it would seem) who lived on the East coast. Indeed, one bird drew in a crowd of 4000 over a week, but it wasn't only Siberian Accentors which hit the headlines. Earlier in the year, two  new species for Britain were recorded, with a Lammergeier seen in Wales and Devon, and a Dalmatian Pelican in Cornwall. A large influx of Pine Buntings went largely unnoticed along the South coast, and Britain's first breeding Little Gulls provided something other than vagrants causing a stir. However, how did I do in 2016?

In total, I recorded 155 species, but missed out on what would've been easy ticks, such as Bewick's Swan and White Fronted Goose by simply not visiting Slimbridge. However, there were some "lifers" (which are highlighted in bold) as well as a few notes about the more notable species!

Great tit, Blue tit, Coal tit, Starling, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, BH gull, Herring gull, LBB gull, GBB gull, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Jackdaw, GS Woodpecker, Rook, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Buzzard, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mallard, Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Dunnock, Jay, Long-Tailed tit, Goldcrest, Kestrel, Cormorant, Stock dove, Collared dove, Pied wagtail, Wren, Sparrowhawk, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Coot, Raven (Mendips), Tree Sparrow, Kittiwake (Sand Point), Guillemot, Dunlin, Turnstone, Shelduck, Curlew, Blackcap, Linnet, Siskin, Stonechat, Short eared owl (three in the Uphill area in early 2016), Grey wagtail, Rock pipit, Ringed plover, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Teal, Sanderling, Lapwing, Great White Egret (Axe estuary and Ham Wall), Wigeon, Merlin, Skylark, Dartford Warbler (Sand Bay-a possible pair, until the council cut back the bushes...), Water pipit, Mute Swan, Peregrine, Pheasant, Meadow pipit, Canada goose, Tufted duck, Greylag, Red Kite, Swallow, Chiffchaff, Redstart, Willow warbler, House Martin, Sand Martin, Bullfinch, Nuthatch, Common Scoter, Tree pipit, Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher, Garden warbler, Gropper (Sand Point), Ring Ouzel (Sand Point), Whimbrel, Yellowhammer, Chough (Lizard point and Land's End), Black Redstart (Land's End), Shag, Fulmar, Gannet, Red Throated diver, Iceland Gull (Marazion), Pacific Diver (Marazion), Great Northern Diver, Razorbill, Bar Tailed Godwit, Whitethroat, Mediterranean Gull. Manx Shearwater, Sandwich tern, Common tern, Little egret, Hudsonian Whimbrel (Perranuthnoe), Swift, Treecreeper, Puffin, Green Woodpecker, Spotted Flycatcher, Bearded tit (Ham Wall), Reed bunting, Bittern (Ham Wall), Water Rail, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Glossy Ibis (Ham Wall), Cetti's Warbler, Pochard, Garganey, Lesser Whitethroat, Great Crested Grebe, Gadwall, Shoveler, Marsh tit, Corn Bunting (Rowberrow), Ring-Necked Parakeet (St. James' Park), Pintail, Ruddy Duck, Egyptian Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Woodlark (found at a still undisclosed site in N. Somerset, due to the possibility of breeding), Roseate Tern (waterway near NOC-ending of river Solent), Eider (Keyhaven and Marine Lake), Storm Petrel (Solent), Black tailed godwit, Avocet, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Turtle Dove (New Forest), Wood warbler, Knot, Ruff, Kingfisher, Yellow browed warbler (Worlebury woods), Lesser Yellowlegs (Cheddar Reservoir), Mandarin, Scaup, Little Grebe.

2016 was my best total so far, in terms of species, and Yellow legged gull went down as "Probable."

However, not all has been good for birds in Britain this year...
A recent outbreak of bird flu (avian influenza) caused the closure of WWT Llanelli, and the situations on the uplands is dire. Despite the petition to ban driven grouse hunting putting pressure on Westminster for change, it seems unlikely to happen, mainly due to lack of motivation from MPs who support the ban, from both the government and opposition. The problem does not lie in the act of shooting grouse; there is no difference to other poultry raised and killed for food here (other than the lead!). The problem lies in the illegal activity which sustains the population of the soon-to-be-slaughtered birds, such as killing birds of prey,

Chris Packham's petition to "Introduce a moratorium on the hunting of critically declining wading birds" is gaining momentum, and I urge you to sign using the link below.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Lesser Yellowlegs #2

Hello all,
Here are a few more photos of the Cheddar Lesser Yellowlegs, but in much better light, and a photo of murmurating Starlings at Ham Wall...

 Note the difference in the bottom two images. The warm glow that can be added by increasing the temperature of the image adds to the atmosphere, and making for a traditional view, but it doesn't document the conditions. Beware photo editing!!