Chew Valley on Fire in the Fog

At the beginning of the month my Avon list raced on to 200 (so many milestones!) with two “great” birds, i.e. an egret and a diver. Both had been at Chew Valley Lake for several days and, being large as well as great, should have been easy to spot.

The drive down from Dundry Hill hinted at possible difficulties. Spread below me, a mist blanketed the landscape, as far as the Mendips. It didn’t bode well despite looking stunning.

My first stop at Woodford Lodge was right by the reservoir but you’d never have guessed any water was nearby. Clearly there was no chance of seeing anything on that water, so I motored farther west to Blagdon, where the same story unfolded.

That took me to the dam, where woodland at least produced some passerines and I also flushed a snipe from a marshy margin. Perhaps the local tawny owl was confused by the weather because one hooted at the bizarre time of ten past one. The mist was burning off though and I retraced my route, but to Herriotts and maybe the great white egret.

Well, a big white bird can’t be hard to see and it wasn’t, even at a distance. It was stood halfway towards Stratford Bay, then took off and flew much closer and, if any confirmation were needed, the long yellow bill was just that. After a coffee break the views were even better as the egret fished in a channel near the road. Being new for Avon meant it was new for Chew but also new for Chew was a greenfinch.

What? Species number 137? A greenfinch? I’ve blogged about its absence from my site list and the species is the last of the weird such blockers. Even so, I only heard it call and couldn’t locate it!

The next stop — Heron’s Green, appropriately — gave me a 4-heron day. Little egret and grey heron are ever present; from the layby a group of birders were on to a lurking bittern. It was clear enough through their scopes but I was buggered if I could relocate it in mine. It took fully 15 minutes before getting to grips with the scale of the thing and finding it crouching like some rail. Anyway, that converted a heard-only record into something more satisfying.

Back at Woodford, the great northern diver eventually showed for my 200th Avon species. Naturally it too went on the Chew list and as the light faded, along came my fourth new bird for the site. A flock of goldfinches surrounded a darker streaked individual with a tiny bill. It was hard to pick out anything else but redpoll seemed far more likely than siskin or linnet, especially with it perched up a tree.

I opted for a tentative redpoll. The evening news on the Avon birding website reported two redpolls round Woodford during the day, so I felt vindicated and converted the record into a kosher sighting.

Four additions in one day for a site that is far and away my leader in such matters. I don’t think that’s going to happen again.

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