Glaucous Gull, Blue Anchor

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.

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  • 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…

    Iberian Green Woodpecker



    I have another armchair tick. On Leap Year day in 2004 I took a stroll through Casa de Campo in Madrid and logged the birds.

    Somewhere I recorded a green woodpecker. I didn’t remark on it at the time but it has lately become remarkable. Last September, version 3.5 of the IOU world list split Iberian green woodpecker into its own species, Picus sharpei. So, in 2004 I wouldn’t have noticed more…

    Water World

    Mrs & Mr Gadwall

    Coming to a Flood near You

    A fine time to go birding is Christmas Day. Away from the excess and hypocrisy to celebrate in my own way. And where better than the Somerset Levels? Especially as they’d flooded, and evidence of that surrounded me on the way from Glastonbury to Meare. Indeed the road itself had clearly been inundated.

    Wet weather from the beginning of the year was repeating itself. Was this more…

    Barbary Partridges, Tenerife

    I had to run out of luck eventually. I had eight lifers out of… seven attempted, and all the Tenerife endemics. Now I was on for spectacled warbler and Barbary partridge at golf courses just along the coast from Los Cristianos. The jury is out on whether the partridges found their own way to the Canaries or are introduced but, like our members of the family, they’re a kosher tick.

    On the way a pond at Las Chafiras was worth a stop, where spoonbills were the stars. It also boasted more…

    Tenerife Raptors


    Kestrel, El Fraile, Tenerife

    One constant on the island was to keep watching the kestrels. They were not just numerous at Las Grimonas but all over. They also did everything: they soared like sparrowhawks; they perched; they caught insects like hobbies; they flew in small parties; they called. In fact about the only behaviour I didn’t see was hovering.

    At El Fraile the day after, this pictured bird did its cactus-sitting thing – another new one on me. It was in a patch of scrub outside an immigrant town from Spain’s boom years and presumably more…

    Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach

    Desert Wheatear

    Desert Wheatear, Worthing © Ron Knight

    News of this came through more than a week ago. Being at work meant an agonising two days of hoping it wouldn’t fly on. I’d also booked to go to Bournemouth on the weekend, so had to decide whether to detour north first.

    A bit of a no-brainer really. The chance of a lifer just ten miles away trumps everything, so more…

    Canary Islands Pigeons

    From Icod el Alto, Tenerife

    From Icod el Alto, Tenerife

    My second day with the car took me to Las Grimonas viewpoint, across the other side of Tenerife. This meant an early start for two reasons: first, the roads past Adeje were slower, and beyond Santiago del Teide, twisty; I also understood that my targets were only active until the sun shone on their cliff face. I needn’t have worried about the latter. Late November, the sun doesn’t rise far enough to get on that steep slope.

    It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Described as more…

    Las Lajas, Tenerife

    Las Lajas, Mount Teide, Tenerife

    Tenerife’s Game with Barcelona cancelled due to Fog

    So the time came when only a car would unlock my remaining Canary Island targets. Any old junk on wheels would do and that’s what I got – a Tata. So long as it went up hills I didn’t care and the first hill on the itinerary was Mount Teide itself. Not right to the top. Only the cable car does that but a climb of 7,000 feet up one flank was necessary for Las Lajas picnic site.

    This is renowned for the endemic more…

    Black-throated Diver, Chew Valley

    To acclimatise back to chillier conditions from my trip to Tenerife, I also treated the day after my flight as holiday. Isn’t there always so much to do on one’s return anyway? Even so I was clear by early afternoon although, compared with the almost tropical abrupt sunset at 6.30, an evening gloom was already spreading.

    Reports of a black-throated diver had scrolled through Twitter for a week and I’d been willing the bird to stay. Now was my chance and I was on the 20-minute journey to Woodford Lodge. Here, a lone photographer stood and quickened my pulse.

    “Oh yes, it has been close,” he said. “I’ve lost track of it but more…