29th. Highlights of the RSPB Garden Bird Watch were a male blackcap, goldcrest and redwing.
27th. A barn owl was lit briefly by street lights along the A38 near Barrow Tanks tonight.
22nd. In the morning I went to Oldbury Power Station to see 4 twite, but the views were....not very good. The birds were associating with 6 linnets some of the time, and were feeding in a maize and stubble field. First ones I've seen for some years. The fields contained a good variety of birds typical of arable habitats, including ca.30 yellowhammer, ca.10 reed bunting, ca.10 skylark and ca.30 stock doves. Two little egrets and at least 55 shoveler at Backwell Lake late afternoon. A tawny owl called close to our house at night.
A day out in Hampshire to see some dodgy ship-assisted birds. First we visited Torr Reservoir in Somerset at sunrise hoping to see the Richardson's cackling goose, but it wasn't there. The Canada goose flock is down to about 125, and the 3 barnacle geese were present. We drove to Calshot to see the male SPANISH SPARROW, a new bird for me in Britain and the eighth recorded here. The obliging Bruce invited us into his girlfriend's house to view the bird in return for a donation to charities. The photos were taken hand-held with a 500mm lens through a window!
Next stop was Hawkhill Inclosure for the first-winter male dark-eyed junco, which showed well though the light was grotty. The top photos show the wing and tail patterns, though that's the outermost right tail feather poking through the primaries in the top right picture.
Other birds here included 20+ vocal crossbills (male below), 30+ reed buntings, a few siskins and a lesser redpoll.
The heath south of Beaulieu Road station produced a Dartford warbler and a male merlin, and we glimpsed at least 2 hawfinches, a marsh tit and a tree creeper at Blackwater Arboretum.
15th. A whizz around the Levels - the wild common crane is still on Aller Moor with 33 reintroduced birds. A pair of peregrines attacking the duck flock at Greylake, and a water rail here too. Great white egret and about 30 lesser redpolls at Shapwick Heath. Photo below is a female teal at Greylake.
14th. Today's project was to photograph the Cheddar great northern diver now that it's had the fishing tackle removed from around its bill. This worked fine for a while.
and then the crazy bird captured a fisherman's bait and had to be landed and released again, yodeling as it struggled. If it carries on like this it deserves to be translocated.......
There was a sad end to the diver story: it became seriously injured by fishing tackle on 22nd, and was found dead attachedby fishing line to a great crested grebe on 24th.
12th. Male blackcap in the garden.
9th. Some good birds in Ashton Court on my cycle ride to work - marsh tit in the morning near Greville Smyth's Head and a little owl calling near Church Lodge at dusk.
8th. An excellent day's birding in Avon and Somerset. First stop was Chew Valley Lake. From Herriot's Bridge I saw 2 adult Bewick's swans, grey wagtail, and the spotted sandpiper, which still retains some specks on its belly.
From Stratford Hide I saw a Slavonian grebe, a male greater scaup, 5 common snipe and a jack snipe. One of the common snipe was photographed in the act of rhynchokinesis, flexing its upper mandible.
Next stop was Blagdon Lake: here I saw the long-tailed duck in Holt Bay, 4 pink-footed geese at Holt Farm, an adult yellow-legged gull on the island opposite the Lodge and a brown hare in the fields opposite Home Bay.
Final stop was Cheddar Reservoir: here was a confiding drake red-crested pochard, and the great northern diver that has fishing line tangled around its bill and throat. The diver looked in deep trouble, and swam close to the bank at one point - the full body shot is with the 500mm lens, uncropped horizontally and no extender. It was a great relief the following day to read the following message from Brian Roberts-Wray on the Somerset Ornithological Society sightings page 'But best of all the Great Northern Diver is no longer tangled up with fishing tackle. It was feeding close onshore at about 3.00 pm eating discarded anglers bait. It got so close that two anglers managed to get it in their landing net and carefully removed the fishing tackle which mercifully did not include a hook inside the mouth. But it was wound quite tightly round the bird's bill and neck making it hard for it to preen, and to open its bill wide enough for anything but the smallest fish. Hence its interest in discarded anglers' bait. The anglers provided it with several slightly larger fish, and when I saw it it appeared quite content - albeit it was still in close proximity to its rescuers / feeders.' Good on them.
7th. Some American vagrants locally - first-winter lesser yellowlegs on the Brue Estuary. The snow bunting at Burnham was described on the Somerset Ornithological Society web site as 'feeding unobtrusively' today, so much so, I must have walked right past it!
Ring-billed gull winter-plumage adult at Woodford Lodge, Chew Valley Lake. The bird can be very tame, and as the flight photo shows, has an injury to its left wing where the humerus meets the forearm. Perhaps the bird was one seen earlier in the winter and became injured, or maybe it arrived on the recent gales and got battered? Either way, it can fly well, and comes to bread. I wonder if it will settle and become a long-term attraction?
2nd. Slimbridge again. No views of the bittern for me today, though the female lesser scaup is still present. The Tack Piece is alive with birds - the brown sludge in the image below is part of a flock of 1600 golden plover.
I also took some photos of a pheasant, and male and female pochard in the winter light.
2011 ended with me seeing 214 species in Britain, the same number as in 2011. Most of my birding was relatively local and I saw only three birds that were new for me my British list: Oriental turtle dove, pallid harrier and sharp-tailed sandpiper. Of these, only the last was entirely new. Highlights were an amazing year at Chew Valley Lake: the now usual ferruginous and ring-necked ducks, Kumlien's gull, and an incredible range of waders including the sharp-tailed sandpiper (first at Blagdon), Temminck's stint, at least two pectoral sandpipers, semipalmated sandpiper, spotted sandpiper and 2 long-billed dowitchers (also first at Blagdon). A photogenic grey phalarope was at Blagdon Lake. Waxwings were still in Bristol during the cold start to 2011. Highlights on the Somerset Levels included 5 great white egrets together, a common crane, lesser yellowlegs, green-winged teal and ring-necked duck. The woodchat shrike was good to see at Yate Common, and a snow bunting was approachable near Kingston Seymour. Trips to the Mendips produced two male hen harriers while looking for the bird of the year - the juvenile male pallid harrier. Visits to Slimbridge allowed me to see the lesser scaup at the start and end of the year, a photogenic bittern, and red-necked phalarope, 2 ruddy shelduck and a spoonbill on one day in June. Good birds close to home were a grasshopper warbler in Flax Bourton, red-crested pochards at Barrow Tanks and the bittern again at Backwell Lake. Trips further afield produced a red-breasted goose at Topsham, the approachable drake blue-winged teal at Llanelli, and a fantastic pair of dotterel at Cwm Cadlan. Our field trip to Pembroke resulted in a student getting accidentally shot in the head by an air gun (all eventually ended well) and allowed me to visit Skomer on the return leg, with great views of puffins arriving at their nest burrows. Work trips overseas were to La Rochelle, Shanghai and Toronto, and we enjoyed family holidays in Cyprus and St Ives. Best finds were modest - perhaps the best being a shag at Clevedon. Notable absences for my 2011 list were merlin, dipper, water pipit, whinchat, bearded reedling and pied flycatcher. Annoying dips and just-misseds included the Oldbury pied wheatear, blue-winged teal at Chew, the showy Levels red-footed falcon, and a Pacific golden plover on the Hayle Estuary that I missed by 2 hours when on holiday. Happy birding for 2012!