Weather: dull and damp all day in Bristol but a lovely mild and sunny day in Portland so you know where you should have been. The day’s birding started with a quick twitch in Dorchester for a Rose-coloured Starling. Then on to Ferrybridge to join the rest of the group. Eighteen members made the trip including two new members. The tide was well out meaning the birds were a long way off so we stayed just long enough to see 60 plus Mediterranean Gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, Little and Black-necked Grebes, Raven, Skylark and Little Egret. Not many waders (a couple of Oystercatchers) and no geese. (Over 500 Mediterranean Gulls are reported roosting in Portland Harbour). A quick stop at Portland Castle: Cormorant and Shag, 50 plus Red-breasted Mergansers, and Kingfisher. At Portland Bill the mild conditions and flat sea looked unpromising but there was quite a bit out there: 20 plus Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemot, Gannet and a probable skua, but too far away to identify for certain. On the cliff below we saw a Rock Pipit and a group of Turnstone with three Purple Sandpipers. A short stop at Chesil Cove for Black Redstart and on to Sandsfoot for a Great Northern Diver, a group of nine synchronised-swimming Black-necked Grebes, more Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe with the backing track of a Song Thrush. The final, scheduled stop was at Radipole where we had several stunning views of Bearded Tits, Reed Bunting, a good mix of ducks and a male and female Marsh Harrier. An additional twitch at Upway for Cattle Egret produced three egret-like birds, but two fields away and mostly obscured by a thick hedge – Cattle Egret not confirmed but a pager alert reported a Cattle Egret at Litton Cheney. Well, why not? It’s sort of on the way home. Where could it be though? Probably near the man with the long lens camera. And there is was – a herd of cows with one Cattle Egret and one Little Egret as a handy comparison. A Grey Wagtail flyover completed the day. Total species for the day: 58. Thank you to Jane for leading and to all the drivers.
Twenty-five members gathered at the RSPB Ham Wall car park on a cold dry afternoon in the hope of a good showing of Starlings towards dusk. We headed along the track on the Shapwick/Meare Heath side first towards the Tower Hide as a Great White Egret flew past. From the hide a few saw a Water Rail and many heard it and a Marsh Harrier quartered the reed beds. Numerous Robins sang and a Reed Bunting was seen as we moved on. On the water Moorhen, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Pochard, Gadwall, Great Crested and Little Grebe were added to our list. Some of the group went to Noah’s Hide and most walked further on where four Whooper Swans were seen. Meare Heath Hide yielded a single Kingfisher flashing past and, from Noah’s Hide, the usual Cormorants and a Mink were seen. We moved back towards Ham Wall seeing Little Egrets on the way. As we started along the Ham Wall track a Tawny Owl was heard. Blue Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Siskin, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, a Jay and a Bittern were seen and on the pools we added Pintail to the list. A Kestrel, Snipe and a flock of 40 Linnet passed over as the sun stared to go down. We saw a huge number of Starlings streaming in to the reed beds at both the first and second watching points on the track, making a tremendous noise as they settled and shuttled between different parts of the reed beds to choose a spot for the night. On this occasion we were not treated to prolonged murmurations but it was nevertheless an impressive sight as tens of thousands of birds flowed into the reserve like rivers in the sky. A total of 55 species overall made for a worthwhile visit. (Many thanks to Mark for stepping in at the last moment to lead) Mark Watson
What a miserable start to the year! The morning was chilly and wet, and I doubt I would have bothered to turn out if I hadn’t been asked to lead at the last minute. However, 18 hardy souls braved the weather to join me on a search for interesting birds from various reasonably dry and comfortable hides. I believe this was the first time a winter visit to Slimbridge produced just a single Golden Plover and no White-fronted Geese at all (apparently 120 of them were feeding out of sight, two fields north of the reserve), but the Bewick’s Swans were showing well and we checked off the common duck species for our new year lists. We grilled a couple of Dunlins on Rushy Pen but couldn’t turn either of them into the Little Stint that was being reported regularly there. A few Snipe and a Redshank were some compensation. A group of nine or ten Common Cranes were a lovely sight but, of course, these birds were bred here in captivity so they don’t go on my list! The Zeiss Hide produced a Ruff or two, as well as the lone Golden Plover and plenty of Lapwings and Dunlins. We added more species at South Lake: Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, and Common Gull. I completed my day’s list with a few Fieldfares and a Reed Bunting, and retired to the pub for a good lunch, but some of the party persevered into the afternoon and Nick’s list got to 52 species, an excellent total under the circumstances. Thanks to all who joined me to carry on the Club’s New Year tradition of a Slimbridge start – and here’s hoping for better weather this time next year! (Jane, many thanks for stepping in as leader.) Jane Cumming