Just one day after the glossy ibis, my Somerset list got back on level terms with Avon. Not only that, it contributed to my English list. Two juvenile glaucous gulls had been at this western extremity of the county for nearly a month, so it was time to go see. Especially as I’d only ever logged the species in Britain twice – at Peterhead and Arbroath, the latter seven years ago.
The Blue Anchor birds were reported as distant at sea and I parked the scope and scanned the one flock of gulls I could find out there. No joy. I didn’t know how white winged a juvenile would be, so I returned to the car to consult Collins.
I didn’t get that far. Something made me look up and there, ten metres overhead, was the palest winged gull you could want. Just drifting on the breeze, the bird filled my binoculars. Its black-tipped pinkish bill was clear and it even passed a herring gull for comparison. The glaucous shaded it as bigger.
That pushed the year list up to 125 (cf last year’s 114 at the same stage) on a day that hadn’t added anything else. I’d stopped at Holford Combe on the way down but it was much too early for incoming warblers or flycatchers. One stonechat was about it.
On Wednesday evening a climb up another combe, Goblin this time, only brought siskins and nuthatches. This valley is Avon‘s semi-equivalent to the bigger Quantocks examples. It’s also the county’s largest patch of woodland. Even so, one can work it in a couple of hours.
Look at the OS map for Bristol & Bath (number 172). It is of course dominated by Bristol but the only splashes of tree green cluster in the southwest corner. This is shameful and rather tips the concept of a Forest of Avon into the bucket of fanciful thinking. There’s a lot of that around these days.
I could have been excused of fanciful thinking by visiting Theale in Berkshire a couple of afternoons back. How is that a worthwhile site? After driving lanes south of the village, I had to settle on the one parking spot by a canal picnic area. This adjoined scrub and the lake.
OK, a willow warbler did show and, like everywhere, blackcaps and chiffchaffs were bountiful. A couple of mistle thrushes flew up and a green woodpecker. Still, it wasn’t worth 70 miles of motorway, when a jarring call caught my attention.
Was it? I listened.
Again. Unmistakable. A nightingale had to be just metres in front of me, in a tangle of brambles and bushes. It kept singing and I manoeuvred without success to catch a glimpse.
The song took on an eery harmonic quality. I’d not heard that before – very weird. It happened again. Wait…
There were two birds! Then a third started up from another direction. I was surrounded by nightingales.
In their jousting they began to show with cracking views of rather a plain bird but definitely a gorgeous rust brown tail. It was marvellous: Theale was actually fine; these birds had beaten my previous early sighting by eight days; the year list was moving again, to 128, as it happened, with additional muted sedge warbler and distant house martins. Perhaps a big English year is beckoning.