January 2009

There's a flock of hawfinches around St Anne's Church, Oldland at present. At least 9 were seen yesterday. On the afternoon of 31st I saw 3 - a record shot in poor light below. The birds visit the churchyard to feed on yew berries. There was a peregrine on a lamp post next to the A38 near Barrow Tanks.


Although I didn't see it during daylight, the eagle owl was calling from the School of Biological Sciences on the evening of 30th.

At Chew Valley Lake on 25th I saw the drake red-breasted merganser with 6 goosander, a peregrine, 2 ravens and a juvenile marsh harrier.

A marsh tit at Backwell Down on 24th, and a raven over the Jubilee Stone. Bourton Combe ferns in the photo.

Bourton Combe

Two red kites at Twyford from the London train on 22nd.

The eagle owl turned up again on 21st after not being seen for about a month. It was roosting on a gargoyle on the School of Biological Sciences building. Rumours that it had been lured back to its owner were apparently wrong! The last photo was taken with a smaller aperture, and although the owl's eyes aren't as striking, the greater depth of field is more effective than in the preceding shot. Last 2 photos taken with a Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on a 50D, first with 100mm.

eagle owl

eagle owleagle owl

My wife found a road-killed woodcock on the pavement alongside the A370 through the centre of Flax Bourton on 19th. The bill is remarkable - the squared-off upper mandible slots into the flattened lower mandible precisely so that the bird can hold earthworms. The upper mandible is presumably used for probing (it is innervated and highly sensitive apparently) while the lower mandible is used for scooping. There are also serrations on the upper mandible and the tongue to hold worms. The bird was within about 20m of our garden.

woodcock bill

Click on the image below for photos of the short-eared owls of Aust Wharf.

short-eared owl

On the afternoon of 17th I visited the Somerset Levels via Cheddar reservoir. There was a ruddy duck and a black-necked grebe at Cheddar.

black-necked grebe

A peregrine and a few golden plover among thousands of lapwing at Greylake. I then visited Shapwick Heath, walking along the track from the west. I saw the great white egret in the reeds at the back of Noah's Lake, and 5 whooper swans (3 adults) flew in. A marsh harrier coasted across the reserve, and the starlings appeared to roost mainly in the Ham Wall area.

Four purple sandpipers and 2 rock pipits at Battery Point, Portishead on the early morning high tide, 14th.

A firecrest lurking in bramble bushes at Orchard Pools, Severnside on the afternoon of 11th, and a male merlin at Aust Wharf. No short-eared owls though. 65 lapwings in a field at Flax Bourton.

A trip to Wales on 10th allowed me to see a flock of 24 waxwings at Usk. Three goosander and 50+ siskins also present.

I was at Slimbridge on 9th - bird highlights were a group of 6 tundra bean geese and a peregrine. I wonder if the bean geese were the grey geese I saw fly though Chew on 21st December. Apparently they've been at Aure in Gloucestershire recently. The day started misty, but the sun soon burnt the mist off.

misty scene. Slimbridge

Much of the site was frozen over. About 150 Bewick's Swans were present on Rushy Pen, and they stayed there all day with few birds flying.

Bewick's swans

Bewick's swans

Bewick's swans

I wonder if the left-hand swan is the famous 'Crinkly' with the crooked neck. Canada geese were flighty.

Canada geese

A water rail fed around the bird feeders.

water rail

There were good opportunities to photograph common birds, including the jackdaw and female goldcrest below.



A pair of dippers at Willsbridge on the afternoon of 4th. I then stopped at Herriot's Bridge, Chew Valley Lake and saw some quality birds in murky, cold weather - 2 marsh harriers, a water rail and an adult ring-billed gull. At dusk a bittern appeared in the northern reed bed, and a barn owl flew over the B3114 near the Villice turn off on my way home.

It's great to watch two juvenile marsh harriers quartering the reed beds at Chew at present, giving some of the best views I've had of this species. One bird is shown in the first three images, photographed on 3rd. A kingfisher also present.

marsh harrier

marsh harrier

marsh harrier

The second bird is very similar, but has a secondary feather missing on its right wing, and has a white smudge on the breast. It was probably at Shapwick Heath before moving to Chew.

marsh harrier

marsh harrier

marsh harrier

A quick visit to Chew Valley Lake on the morning of 2nd. The redshank is still present on the Herriot's overflow. A marsh harrier flew past Stratford Hide, and a lesser redpoll was near the feeders. In the afternoon the sun came out after several days of greyness. In the late afternoon light, I tested the 50D at Backwell Lake. Photos of goosander (at least 6 present), robin, tufted duck and coot below. My initial impressions are very positive, with the definition improved over that of the 1D Mark IIn. The little egret was still present.






tufted duck


A walk around the Tyntesfield Estate on 1st. Birds included raven, nuthatch, and tree creeper.

Happy New Year and good birding for 2009! 2008 brought relatively few lifers for me  – king eider, Pallas’s warbler, great reed warbler, dark-eyed junco, snowy owl – all in the south west. And there was the dodgy falcated duck… Best of these was the king eider – although I had dismal views of the drab first-winter bird in poor conditions during February, the views in October of the bird in second-winter plumage were stunning, and soon afterwards the bird disappeared. The hospitality of the junco hosts was memorable also. A good supporting cast of birds included cattle and great white egrets in Somerset, breeding bitterns and a red-footed falcon on the Levels, black-necked stilt, firecrest, surf scoter, ring-necked duck, yellow-browed warbler, red-necked and grey phalaropes, 3 great grey shrikes and red-crested pochard. The Clevedon wryneck was another great bird, and I found another one on Wavering Down. 2008 was a bumper year for gulls, with many offering great photo opportunities – ring-billed, Franklin's, Iceland, Bonaparte’s all posed admirably. Local birding was great – Dartford warbler, barn owl in my village, and pectoral sandpiper, ferruginous duck, lesser scaup and waxwing within 3 miles of home. A family holiday in Scilly gave great views of Cory’s, great and sooty shearwaters, and memories of the trip to the remote Amazon of Brazil will stay with me throughout my life. 212 birds in Britain in 2008 was pretty decent by my standards. And of course there was the eagle owl opposite my workplace.

February 2009March 2009April 2009May 2009June 2009July 2009August 2009September 2009October 2009November 2009December 2009