Glossy Ibis, Weston STW

Where STW stands for sewage treatment works. An acronym that birders know well but is more lost on the general public. After all, the latter don’t flock to such places for their leisure whereas the former know them as honeypots. (Oh, and Weston is Weston-super-Mare.)

So the bird became my 193rd Avon species, which puts the county as numero uno British county above Somerset. I hadn’t realised that a red-legged partridge at Marshfield took me on to 191; only that by not counting it as a grey partridge (unlikely anyway), the year list wasn’t going anywhere. Then Chew Valley’s Iceland gull joined the list on Wednesday for 192.

Nice though this higher count is, it pales compared with only my second landmark in almost 20 years of birding. The first was a firecrest at Thompson Common in Norfolk more than ten years ago.

I found that bird; I wasn’t following someone else’s sighting. And it’s a rare species.

Likewise, the glossy ibis. I was at the STW entirely on a whim so when I saw the bird… well, first off, it obviously was a glossy ibis. Even asleep with head tucked well away, there’s no mistaking the bird. Even so, I thought, “This must be something else; someone would have reported it by now.”

My next impression was that it was a long-stayer and no longer worthy of mention. Then that it was an escape (from where?) It took that long to realise that I was possibly the first person in Avon to set eyes on the bird. And there’s the historical point: it’s apparently only the county’s sixth record.

The Twitterverse was suddenly alive with my tweet. It was a Big Thing.

Strange, for a day that had begun with a blank at Sand Point. One merlin had manifested itself. That takes me back to the first day of the month when a small dark falcon flew across Bedminster station. I had it as peregrine but it was too small, too dark. One of Bristol’s black pigeons? No pale rump, and no zigzag to its flight. I’m pretty sure this was my second urban merlin. That was a good start to the month.

It continues to be notable, not just for the ibis but for my earliest lesser whitethroat, by nine days, and again at the STW. (You can remember what that stands for now, can’t you?)

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    Sneyd Park Cottage, Bristol

    Sneyd Park Cottage

    The big month in March has rather fizzled into an attempt at a big year in 2014. For which on the 22nd, local visits to Leigh Woods and Marshfield netted treecreeper (my first since 2012 though!), marsh tit, linnet and a solitary corn bunting. Slimbridge, a week later, added three cranes, five avocets and a flock of black-tailed godwits. Then a late afternoon shift over the Severn in the Forest of Dean gave me mandarin duck and a brief flash of a goshawk.

    Which made 112 for the year. Could that be a platform for attacking my record of more…

    Orkney, 1998

    I made a solid start to my biggest month of May 1998 with 40 species at Upton Warren. Devil’s Spittleful, an interesting sandy heath by Kidderminster, added 8 more before a return to Upton boosted the total to 60 in the first week.

    However, Scotland unlocked the bulk of the species. Yup, I went on holiday. In Angus, Auchmithie alone was good for another 20, with great birds like more…

    England Month List

    Pennington Marsh, Hampshire

    Pennington Marsh, Hampshire

    How’s this big month going?

    Not well. I may have pooh-poohed my record effort of 135 in May 1998 but three weeks now have brought me a mere 94 species. It’s taken the aforementioned walk through Bristol and visits to the Severn Estuary, Chew, Ibsley, Pennington Marsh and the New Forest. I could complain that more…

    Blue Grosbeak, 2001

    On May 13 I added two more species to my Santa Clara county list on my first visit to the largest of its parks – Joseph D Grant. This nestles under the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in the county’s more arid north-east. Make no mistake: Hamilton is a mountain, higher than Cairn Gorm, but on the scale of California it’s still a baby. I wrote:

    “A short hike from the park entrance at about 1500 feet produced some 50 species more…

    Bristol Day List

    Clifton Suspension Bridge & Avon Gorge, Bristol

    Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

    I figured to kick off my big month with a solid foundation – to see how many species were possible on a walk through Bristol. The answer was 44, which surprised me.

    It was helped by a semi-surprising common sandpiper in the New Cut, then a jaw-dropping more…

    Flooded RSPB Greylake

    RSPB Greylake

    RSPB Greylake, Somerset Levels

    The oddest thing about this inundation of the reserve is that, restricted to the small car park, I picked up nearly 30 species in half an hour. Two previous visits to Greylake hadn’t yielded half as many, although 2012 did provide spotted crake.

    Can we infer that floods are good for birds? Buzzards were plentiful and I guess they’ll have plenty of carrion when (if!) more…

    Red-flanked Bluetail, Wiltshire

    Red-flanked Bluetail

    Red-flanked Bluetail, Stiffkey © Dave Curtis

    I’d like to say this was in Marshfield, as notified on BirdGuides, and hence in Avon. However, the river that runs through Shire Valley defines the boundary with Wiltshire and in the brief window between gouts of rain, this red-flanked bluetail stayed resolutely in the latter county. I exaggerate a little on the rain description; compared with recent downpours, yesterday was meek.

    The bird was reported five days ago, five working days so it’s been fingers crossed that it would stay into the weekend. more…

    Bedraggled Bedfordshire

    Stewartby Brick Works, Bedfordshire

    Stewartby Brick Works, Bedfordshire

    Another drive through copious rain, to get to Bedford this time. Why Bedford? Certainly not for its charms, as depressing a town as England boasts. The centre hosted more police presence than punters out enjoying a Friday night. Wetherspoons provided the only civilised drinking and all the curry houses occupied one tiny little ghetto. However, the Magna Tandoori, which I finally settled on, did a nagalicious naga. So that was OK in the end.

    No, Maulden Wood, to the south, was the draw. This is the last clawhold for more…