The end of 2010:
The last time I posted the last bit of proper birding I had done was on the 12th, when I successfully saw the Glaucous Gull at Torry. The 28th saw my Dad and I travelling down to Edinburgh to take a flight to Bristol, and from their to Roadwater in Somerset, a place where my family has a cottage and that I visit several times a year. It was only a few days before the year would come to close, and for a long time I had been desperately wanting to get to 240 before the year was up. I was worried that I couldn't make this total in time, but when I noticed that a Green-winged Teal was around at Kinneil Lagoon in Forth (not very far from Edinburgh) I seized the opportunity of trying to get at least one more bird for the year and headed there on the way down. We arrived at 12:00 with just under an hour to spare before we had to get to Edinburgh Airport to check in. The Lagoon took a while to find, but with the help of a friendly local we were directed onto a small road and found it.
It wasn't exactly the most beautiful of places - a vast, bleak lagoon with the looming backdrop of Grangemouth Oil Refinery pumping out its pollution. There were loads of Teals on the lagoon, with one medium sized group being particularly close in. Unfortunately, this group did not contain a Green-winged Teal. We checked another group that wasn't too far out, but yet again there was no Green-winged Teal amongst them. A scan with the bins revealed a large group of Teals at distance, so the Swarovski was set up, and I proceeded to scan them. There were birds in the water, as well as birds on the waters edge. I thoroughly checked the birds in the water on 60x zoom, but none of them appeared to be Green-winged Teals. Whilst systematically scanning the mostly roosting birds on the water's edge, I thought I saw a Teal stretching with a vertical white stripe on the side of its breast. For a second I disregarded it and thought I was maybe just seeing things, but I couldnt help but retain interest in the bird. It was with 2 roosting Teals, and because it was roosting itself and nestled behind one them I couldn't anything apart from the back of its head. I kept on looking at it though, purely based on thinking that I had seen that one flash of a vertical stripe. I waited for it to move, but after several minutes of conferring with my Dad none of the birds had moved. Suddenly, after about 10 minutes, the roosting bird in front moved, to reveal a Teal with a vertical white stripe down its back - I had found the Green-winged Teal. I was delighted and proud of myself for having stuck on that bird, as I could have so easily just have disregarded it and never have found it. I was now getting views of roosting Green-winged Teal, my second sighting of this species ever, and they weren't at all bad views on 60x zoom. Whilst I watched it, I also noted other diagnostic feature such as the lack of the white scapular stripe which would be present on an ordinary Teal and a smaller patch of yellow towards the tail in comparison to other Teals. Of course, I would have much preferred views of the bird actually do something rather than roosting, and a majority of my views were of it roosting unfortunately. Only once did I get non-roosting views of it, when it woke up at one point and had a little waddle along the waters edge before going back to roost with another group of Teal. We left it at that, and I was very happy with having successfully twitched this bird - I had not expected I'd get one for the year!
239 wasn't enough for me though, and nor was just a twitch to see a Green-winged Teal; I needed to have a full's days birding before the year was up. My Dad and I agreed that we'd have a final birding day of the year in Somerset on New Year's Eve (31st). I managed to get Wi-Fi on the evening before this, and I checked birdguides to see if there was anything around in Somerset that I hadn't seen for the year. As I did so, I came across a report of a redhead Smew at Ashford Resrevoir, and when I read the details of this bird I also discovered 2 Green Sandpipers had been seen there. This came as quite a shock, as not only was it probably the commonest bird that I hadn't seen for the year, but it seemed like completely the wrong time of year for any of them to be around! I looked further into this sighting by going on the Somerset Birding website, and in doing so I discovered that several Green Sandpipers had been seen around Somerset that week, not just at Ashford Reservoir (see here: http://pub13.bravenet.com/forum/static/show.php?usernum=1065729998&frmid=14&cmd=show&cp=3) ! This meant that Ashford Reservoir would be our first port of call the next morning, after finding out that it was in an area that was en route to where we wanted to spend most of the day.
At 11:30 the next morning we arrived to find it partially frozen. It was very small - you could walk from one end to the next and back within a couple of minutes. Unfortunately the public can only walk on the periphery of the reservoir, and futhermore only on one side of the periphery, the rest of it is inaccessible to those without permission. This didn't make viewing through the optics difficult, but meant that I wasn't able to get any photos as the birds were too far away for that. We immediately came across a large raft of winter wildfowl, which included several different species of duck. Amongst the most common species (Wigeon, Mallard, Teal) I counted 6 Gadwalls, 2 Shoveler (drake and female) and 2 drake Pochards. There was also a maximum of 10 Little Grebes present, really astonishing considering the size of the reservoir, and a single Little Egret. Of course, the highlight was the redhead Smew. This was a lovely little duck (my second of the year), a midget amongst a whole array of comparatively huge duck species. It spent quite a lot of its time diving, and I lost it a few times due to the amount of ducks that it was swimming amongst. However, views were absolutely stunning through the Swarovski when it wasn't diving, the closest it came being about 65ft.
We watched it on and off during our stay, but were primarily looking for Green Sandpipers. After a meticulous check of the actual Reservoir, it seemed there were none around, until suddenly we heard a call, the diagnostic, trisyllabic whistling notes of a Green Sand. It did this a few times, then stopped. We headed back towards the front of the reservoir, and as we waited it started again, far louder this time. We both looked round to see 1 Green Sandpiper shooting across the reservoir, its white rump flashing vividly and completely revealing its identity, calling as it went. Instead of landing, it flew at speed away from the Reservoir and quickly out of sight. It felt pretty strange; on the 31st December I had seen a Green Sand - a year tick that I was almost sure had eluded me, and at more or less the wrong time of year to see one! It must have been the hard weather conditions that had brought this bird in. I was elated, as I had made 240 species for the year, and I left Ashford Reservoir feeling that it was well worth the visit, especially with the addition of the Smew!
The rest of the day was much more laid back. We spent it at Shapwick Heath, a vast area of marshland adjacent to the very similar Ham Wall RSPB. Both of them together are arguably the best places to go birdwatching in Somerset. We had no particular aims, and were just curious to know what had been around, although I was aware a Great Grey Shrike had been seen here. We headed towards the main hide (Noah's Hide), and on the way spotted a large flock of finches in the woodland areas nearby. This proved to be rather entertaining, as we managed to count a total of 50 Siskins and 20 Lesser Redpolls - with good views obtained of both species as they filled the woodlands with their cacophonous calls. There were also plenty of tit species around, most notably 25 Long-tailed Tits that I attempted to photograph - I quickly discovered that they were just that bit too mobile for any decent shots! Furthermore, there was also a stunning male Bullfinch and a Treecreeper here. As we approached the hide, we warned not to go in there as someone had... put it this way... defecated inside it! As you can imagine, that immediately put us off going in there, so we had to find an alternative way of viewing the lake. We luckily managed to find a clearing in the reeds and thus were able to view a majority of the lake. Most of the ducks on the lake were Tufted Ducks and Wigeons, but there was a few Teals amongst them as well, and a female Goldeneye. I was very pleasantly surprised however, when I found 3 Bewick's Swans amongst a group of Mute Swans. Bewick's Swan was a species that in March 2010 had been a major bogey bird for me, until I finally managed to see one at the Ythan Estuary. The sighting of these 3 meant that this was my first ever of any proper amount of Bewick's Swans in a place where they actually winter! It was lovely to watch these birds, clearly much smaller than the Mutes, all swimming with one another. I watched them for about 10 minutes, and then we decided we'd have a go for the Great Grey Shrike that had been around, having been told that it was around by a birder who had just seen it. What a way to round off the year this would have been, but despite walking and checking the exact area of alders that the man said he had seen it in, we couldn't find it. The sun was starting to set, and we had other dedications for the rest of the day, so we went away very happy with our day in the end. It had been an absolutely sensational year, with the initial target for the year (200), as a result of that day, having been beaten by a total of 40 species - the year thus came to a close, and I ended it on 240 species.
The Start of 2011:
Unfortunately the new year has seen very little birding so far due to me being busy. I've decided that this year I will be holding two different year lists - one for the whole of the UK, and the other just for Scotland. The latter my Dad and I will do, whilst the UK list will be for online purposes. Due to the lack of birding so far, the yearlist isn't at all high. However, some useful birds for the year have been seen already. The fact that I was at the cottage in the heart of the Somerset countryside during the New Year meant that I saw quite a few birds that might otherwise take a while to see. The first species I saw for the year was certainly unusual - two Ravens from the cottage window (I opened it so I could their coarse croaking). A pleasant walk around the area on New Year's Day saw me catching up with some of the usual suspects - the common Pigeons, Crows, Finches (including Siskin), Tits, Buzzard and the seemingly abundant Pheasants of the area. Amongst this expected lot though were some slightly more interesting birds. Early on the walk, the diagnostic call of a Great-spotted Woodpecker was heard, and I looked up one to see one flying in the archetypal undulating fashion that these woodpeckers do. Not long afterwards I was glad to flush 2 Jays from some trees, a species that normally takes me a while to get in Aberdeenshire. These weren't the only other welcome surprises, as the local river has a resident Dipper that I managed to see towards the end of the walk, a Grey Heron was sighted (only my second I have ever seen in the area), I chanced upon a possy of 15 Long-tailed Tits, and the main highlight, a Nuthatch. Nuthatches are non-existent in North-East Scotland, so it is always a delight to see them when I'm down in England as I don't ever see them when I'm at home (the first record of Nuthatch for NE Scotland happened to be last year). This particular bird was quite high up in a tree, so I didn't get the best views, but I am very glad that I have caught up with this lovely species so early in the year.
Glaucous Gull, Torry, Aberdeen (8/1/11)
Showing off that all white appearance...
After spending some looking at this fine creature, we headed to Girdleness and thus managed to pick up the common birds of the area - Eider, Great Black-backed Gull, Cormorant and Shag, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Common Gull, Guillemot and so forth... Most notable of all year ticks here, although pretty easy and a resident of the area, were 20 Purple Sandpipers from Greyhope Bay. There wasn't much time before I had to get back home, but I was still keen to pick up on some freshwater species, so I decided it was best to head to the nearby Loriston Loch. Here, species such as Kestrel, Mallard, Mute Swan, Wigeon and Rook were seen and added to the year list. That was all I had time for though, so I am currently on 53 species for the year... As I said, not overly impressive, but bare in mind I'm still yet to have a full birding day! When I do next have a full day's birding, I will make sure I post about it in here!
Thanks for reading,