January 2011

30 January - 5 great white egrets (I missed the 6th bird) and 4 lesser redpolls at Ham Wall.

29 January - An uneventful Big Garden Birdwatch with 2 goldfinch being the highlight. 7 turnstone and 5 purple sandpipers at Battery Point, Portishead. The light was flat and the cold biting. In the photos, the pale-fringed coverts, tertials and scapulars suggest the turnstone is a juvenile. The bottom purple sandpiper is also a juvenile/first winter, with broad white fringes to the coverts and a more streaked throat than the presumed adult bird in the middle picture.


purple sandpiper

purple sandpiper

28 January - about 70 redwing on the playing fields around Flax Bourton Village Hall.

23 January - catching greater horseshoe bats in the Woodchester hibernacula. A nice cluster of > 40 bats present. Note the double-ringed bat from a focal matriline top middle.

greater horseshoe bats

The lesser horseshoe bat below left was hibernating in an unusual posture, exposing much of its body and an ear. It was so odd, we thought it had died, and were surprised to find it was in good shape. A typical hibernating lesser horseshoe bat is shown on the right.

lesser horseshoe batlesser horseshoe bat

The grafitti below was done in the 1950's by someone who became a wildlife cameraman in Canada. The bat is bottom right!

greater horseshoe bat

There were several tissue moths hibernating in the mines.

tissue moth

22 January - 2 siskin along the road to Bourton Combe. The bittern is still at Backwell Lake. Late afternoon it was in the reeds on the island. At dusk it flew to the northwest reedbed, where I watched it for 15 minutes or so, before it flew back to the island reedbed.

The redhead smew was at Cheddar Reservoir on the morning of 16th, with at least 4 red-crested pochard (the duck flock was repeatedly disturbed by boats). I thought I'd try and renew my annual permit at Chew again on the way back, so took a detour to Woodford Lodge. Last week the excuse at the restaurant (the tackle store is closed on weekends) was 'we need to see the membership number of a recognised ornithological/natural history society' (I'm a member of 4, but no idea what my membership numbers are). So today I took along last year's Bristol Naturalists' Society card (this year's hasn't arrived yet) to be greeted with 'we can't do permits at lunchtime - it's too busy'. Top rate service that. All was sorted rapidly the next day over the phone by calling the lodge directly. Nothing much in Bourton Combe in the rain during the afternoon, but a trip to Backwell Lake produced a motionless bittern as it got dark, in the same spot as last year, so almost certainly the same bird.

Dipped on some local birds on 15th - no purple sandpipers at Battery Point, Portishead at high tide because of fishermen close to their favourite roosting spot. No sign of the bittern at Backwell Lake at dusk either, only 3 male goosander (which flew of towards Barrow Tanks), 37 shoveler, a drake wigeon and a little egret.

Regent's Park, London on 10th and 11th. Feral birds included mandarin, red-crested pochard, Egyptian goose and ring-necked parakeet. The grey herons are starting to occupy their nests. I saw 12 red kites between Didcot and a few miles E of Reading from the train on 10th, 5 on 11th. The totals included one bird over Reading train station, and up to 5 around central Didcot.

Chew Valley Lake on the afternoon of 8th. Little egret, 5 adult Bewick's swans, drake red-breasted merganser, at least 5 goosander, 3 snipe, green sandpiper, grey plover, raven, kingfisher and this barn owl feeding around Heron's Green at dusk. The photos were taken at ISO 6400 and de-noised as much as possible with a layer mask and noise reduction on the background.

barn owl

barn owl

A couple of male winter moths attracted to our outside light on 5th.

winter moth

Lesser scaups are seen almost annually in the south-west nowadays, though I'd never seen a female in the UK before visiting Slimbridge on 4th. I couldn't find it on Rushy Pen at first, though a first-winter male greater scaup was present. So I went to Big Pen, where the lesser scaup appeared yesterday, and I initially thought I saw it today.

lesser scaup - adult female

Trouble is, there are 5 captive females (all adults) on Big Pen, and the bird above is one of them. It's an adult, with very grey flanks, and it had a ring on its left leg. The head is dark brown, the breast paler and there is a lot of grey in the flanks and even on the back. I went back to Rushy Pen, and the wild first-winter female lesser scaup fed feet from the window when I was in the Peng Observatory. Photos taken through the window with the 400mm lens hand-held in grotty light. The flanks are browner than those of the adult bird above, though the iris colour looks pretty similar to me.

lesser scaup - first winter female

lesser scaup - first winter female

lesser scaup - first winter female

There were few white-fronted geese around the visible parts of the reserve, though lots of Bewick's swans, and a female brambling at the Kingfisher Hide.

Female blackcap in the garden on 4th.

Waxwings were still around at the north end of Brynland Avenue, Horfield on 2nd. They were difficult to count, but when the flock took off together it seemed that about 50 birds were present. The birds perch on TV aerials and chimney pots before descending onto the rowan trees.


At least 2 red-crested pochard (male and female) still at Barrow filter tanks on 1st. Also a female ruddy duck and 2 goosander.

A happy new year to everyone. I ended 2010 on 214 species in Britain. Notable omissions were yellow-legged gull, yellow wagtail, Dartford warbler, both flycatchers, and tree sparrow. Eight lifers were black kite, Iberian chiffchaff, Mamora's warbler, white-tailed lapwing, gull-billed tern, green heron, solitary sandpiper, and American bittern (which I managed to get some of the few decent photos of). Best finds were lesser scaup at Chew and Lapland buntings at Clevedon. Local highlights were red-necked phalarope (Slimbridge), red-necked grebes (Cheddar), Savi's warbler, spoonbills, great grey shrike, great white egret and breeding little bittern (Somerset Levels), ferruginous ducks galore, ring-necked duck, cattle egret, grey phalaropes and a flock of 70 black terns (Chew), the glossy ibis at Avonmouth, and the Monmouth waxwings. Doorstop quality was provided by the Backwell Lake bittern, with Barrow tanks giving a drake smew, red-crested pochards and my favourite bird of the year - a shore lark. Further afield, good birds included an excellent day on the Exe seeing the returning surf scoter, and seeing snow buntings and long-tailed ducks off St Andrews. A holiday in Cornwall allowed me to see 4 shearwater species. I had work visits to Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Thailand, and a wonderful time in Boston in October, where the humpback whale sightings were memorable.

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