March 2008

Red kite just west of Slough seen on my way to Heathrow on 26th.

A walk up Bourton Combe on 23rd showed the local marsh tit population in good order, with at least 2 singing males and 3 birds in total. Also treecreeper, siskin, raven and a tawny owl calling in the afternoon.

Cheddar Reservoir continued to hold some nice birds on 22nd with this summer plumage black-necked grebe, and the moulting red-necked grebe now showing quite a red neck.

black-necked grebe

red-necked grebe

red-necked grebe

Biggest surprise was this first-winter Bonaparte's gull. Click on the photo below to see more images.

Boneparte's gull

Here's a first- winter black-headed gull for comparison.

black-headed gull

The lesser scaup moved to Barrow Tank no. 3 on 21st, only 5 minutes from home. It showed well, and I took the photos below. It has lost some primaries on the left wing, though the diagnostic wing pattern is still apparent. The head can look very green. Chiffchaffs now singing in Flax Bourton.

lesser scaup

lesser scaup

lesser scaup

lesser scaup

lesser scaup

On 16th the drake lesser scaup showed well from the top end hide at Blagdon Lake. It's presumably the same bird that was present at a similar time last year before moving to Cheddar Reservoir.

lesser scaup

Four goosander also here. At Chew Valley Lake an Aythya hybrid with a peak at the rear of the head looked very lesser scaup like, but had a greenish head and too much black on the nail of the bill. Also here in a chilling NE wind were many sand martins, a first-winter little gull. A barn owl hunted over the reeds at the back of Herriot's Pool.

A pair of stonechats still present in Flax Bourton on 11th.

First stop on a trip to south Devon was the sewage works at Countess Wear, where the adult drake falcated duck preened in sunshine showing off its long tertial feathers. This appears to be a returning wintering bird, and its arrival timing and elusive behaviour make it a potential candidate for a wild bird. Even if it isn’t, it’s an impressive sight. A stop at Starcross produced a greenshank, and the first of many red-breasted mergansers. Offshore from Dawlish I saw gannets, a guillemot, and 4 common scoter. At Dawlish Warren I found the long-staying first-winter female surf scoter off Langstone Rock. Also here were another common scoter, a great northern diver, a distant red-throated diver, 4 Slavonian grebes, and a flock of about 20 turnstones.  The Exe estuary above Dawlish Warren held dark-bellied brent geese (with the large flock still present at Starcross fields) and ringed plover. Final stop was Topsham, with black- and bar-tailed godwits, grey plover, green sandpiper, spotted redshank, greenshank, and fewer than 20 avocets. I couldn’t find the dowitcher here, but had to leave before high tide.

A meeting in Winfrith, Dorset on 4th was only a couple of miles from a nice bird, so I took the opportunity to see the PALLAS'S WARBLER in Oakers Wood. The bird is interesting because it appears to be a rare example of an overwintering individual, and because it calls fairly frequently, the call sounding not unlike a less penetrating version of a disyllabic yellow-browed warbler call. The warbler was very difficult to observe, and would be impossible to find without gen from others who had seen it (it has just been announced that the site is in fact private and access is now unavailable - ignorance can be bliss!). I had 3 brief sightings as the bird patrolled some dense holly understorey. When hovering, the bright rump patch was obvious. Also present were treecreeper, at least 2 firecrests, 3 crossbills and a raven. Just after dawn, a merlin flew over the A37 on the high ground west of Cerne Abbas.

Between visiting relatives in Somerset I caught up with the great white egret, 3 whooper swans and a white-fronted goose at Noah's Lake, Shapwick Heath on 2nd. Our local barn owl performed beautifully at about 17.30h in the evening, quartering around the old fuel depot and hovering while flying into the brisk westerly wind.

I spent the afternoon of 1st in the Forest of Dean. At least 5 goshawks were displaying from New Fancy viewpoint, with one pair talon grasping. I saw the great grey shrike at Boy's Grave, and 2 crossbill flew over.

great grey shrikegreat grey shrike

Other birds included 1-2 willow tits, several brambling and a raven at Brierley, and 3 mandarins at Cannop Ponds. I couldn't find any hawfinches at either Brierley or Parkend. On my return journey a short-eared owl eventually showed at Aust Wharf at 18.20h.

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