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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  • 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…

    La Gomera, Canary Islands

    La Gomera, Canary Islands

    La Gomera, Canary Islands

    Don’t be fooled by how cheap the crossing from Los Cristianos appears to be. A big sign in the ferry terminal advertises a ticket from 11.50€. That’s what desde means in my Spanish dictionary. Anyhow I wasn’t too discombobulated to be charged 27€ for a return journey: the extra 4€ were clearly down to some disqualification from the basic fare. At my age, marital status and ethnicity I’m used to that.

    Little did I know quite how much the true cost would be. Meanwhile more…