December 2008

Nine goosander, including 5 drakes on Backwell Lake, 31st. Little egret and little grebe also present.

A very tame redshank at Chew Valley Lake on 30th, feeding around the overflow on Herriot's Pool.



Two short-eared owls at Aust Wharf in the late afternoon, though they weren't easy to photograph in poor light.

short-eared owl

More Christmas birds - I tracked two waxwings down in Briar Close, Nailsea during the early morning of 27th close to where they had been found the previous day. There aren't many ornamental Sorbus berries around for them this year, so I doubt we'll get the numbers seen in 2005. Nonetheless, these birds are always great to see. One adult and one first-winter were present - photos of the first-winter below, taken with the 50D and 100-400mm zoom, the last one against a burgundy garage door.




Fine weather for the Boxing Day walk over the Flax Bourton fields to the Old Barn at Wraxall - birds included a flock of 70 skylarks, kingfisher (first I've seen in the area) and 2 stonechats.

White Christmas - the lure of the juvenile SNOWY OWL at Zennor in Cornwall was too great, and on 23rd I set off to see a bird I'd always wanted to see. After standing on a remote and windswept tor until 10.30h, with no news of the bird, we thought we were out of luck. A flock of a couple of hundred golden plover moved around the adjacent fields. Then news broke of the owl being found - it was a trek from our vantage point over boggy moorland, but eventually we joined about 20 people watching the bird. The owl itself was magnificent, though its behaviour was boring - it sat in grass about 300m distant often with its eyes shut, occasionally pulling at what seemed like a prey item. I wonder whether this bird hunts at night (snowy owls are reputedly diurnal) - it seems to spend the days not doing much! When we were there, observers behaved in an exemplary manner, with no-one spooking the bird. A record shot below. This is the first bird photographed with my new 50D, which promptly packed up on me with a failed battery at Helston - lucky I had my trusty 1D Mark IIn in reserve. The only other bird of note in the area was a Dartford warbler heard calling.

snowy owl

At Marazion we saw slavonian grebe, common scoter, red-breasted merganser, a little gull and a water pipit. Photographic highlight of the day was the first-winter ring-billed gull at Helston boating lake however. I'd seen a second winter here almost to the day 5 years ago. Today's bird was even tamer, and readily took bread and sat a couple of metres from us. Photographs can be accessed by clicking on the image below. The grey, murky conditions created good bokeh, with a nice complimentary background to the gull, and meant that the whites retained detail.

ring-billed gull

Got the DNA sequence data for a feather from the weird herring gull at Chew on (19th). My conclusion regarding identification is outlined here.

Eagle owl not in its usual roosting tree on Woodland Road on 22nd - present last week.

Birds at Chew on the morning of 21st included a marsh harrier, raven, goosander and a sparrowhawk. Six grey geese flew through, but I was unable to identify them. From the tail pattern, I would reckon white-fronts or bean geese.

A stoat along the Flax Bourton cycle track on 16th.

I started at Chew Valley Lake on the morning of 14th, and took a few photos in the mist.

Herriot's Pool

Herriot's Pool

Then it was up to Charterhouse on the Mendips, where my third great grey shrike of the year perched up and hovered at Ubley Warren Nature Reserve.

great grey shrike

A flock of about 80 skylarks and 7 bullfinches in Flax Bourton on 11th. Looks like the cold weather is causing birds to move to low lying areas at present. A touch of excitement on the frosty morning of 10th while walking the dog! On the Flax Bourton cycle path just west of Station Road, a Dartford warbler flew from near the railway cutting and over the track at 08.10h. It landed in a patch on nettles and herbs at the base of a telegraph pole, where it foraged while repeatedly cocking its tail. It then flew in typically feeble style into the hedgerow along the road. I got within about 3m of the bird, and could even say the very fine white outer tail feathers in flight.

I visited Chew Valley Lake on the morning of 7th. No sign of yesterday's velvet scoters, but a female red-crested pochard in Heron's Green Bay was good compensation. Also a male stonechat at the back of Heron's Green Pool. Photos of a pied wagtail and chaffinch in the winter sunshine below.

pied wagtail

pied wagtail


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