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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 14:29   #1
Jasonbirder
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My mental Day! Somerset, Devon, Sussex and Essex in one go!

Saturday 24th July

As ever an early start beckoned! We were away from my house by 4:30am and heading south – both to pick up a friend and to ensure that one of my companions for the day secured his first lifer of the trip!

Magna Carta Lane – Wraysbury

Nestled in amongst the gravel pits of the Colne valley is this little area of unimproved meadow, mature trees and large gardens on the outskirts of Wraysbury village. Its distance from the M25 (2 minutes!) makes it my favorite site for one of our most colourful introduced species! Sure enough no sooner had we got out the car than a loud screeching creek-creek announced the presence of at least one Ring-necked parakeet. Never a subtle bird, we quickly located an individual perched atop a large Horse Chestnut tree. Bright tropical-green with a long tail, red-pink bill and dark neck band they are a stunning looking bird – you southerners are lucky to have `em! It was quickly joined by another individual which flew in – in flight its angled wings, long tail and direct flight action making it almost as distinctive as when perched! With a big day ahead of us we left as soon as these two birds flew off out of sight.

Barrow Gurney Reservoirs, Somerset

After a drive down the M4 & M5 much interrupted by holiday traffic we pulled into the Fishermans car park at Barrow Gurney Reservoir – just on the south side of Bristol. We climbed the high grassy bank of the reservoir known as “No2 Tank” and set up our scopes to scan. Not the most scenic of reservoirs – it’s a genuine concrete bowl rather than anything more naturalized – however there were shingle banks which looked promising for waders and plenty of waterbirds on the tank – so not all looked lost! A large flock of tatty looking Aythya ducks in eclipse plumage in the middle of the reservoir looked promising but carefully checking revealed only the presence of Tufted Duck and Pochard – watching them as they preened showed that some of them had moulted out practically all of their primary feathers – so they won`t be flying off in a hurry! A single Cormorant was fishing, no doubt pleased with a diet of tasty trout and there was also a party of about half a dozen Great-crested Grebes loafing in the deep water near the inflow. Tucked up under the far bank and silhouetted was another large group of diving duck so we set off round the reservoir to obtain better views. Our approach flushed 4 Common Sandpipers who quickly announced their presence with their loud piping calls – they had been feeding along the shingle waterline and sounded irritated by the interruption – their stiff-winged “whirring” flight action and bold white wingbar makes them instantly recognizable in flight and when they landed their clean grey and white appearance and constantly “bobbing” tail make them impossible to mistake! A couple of juvenile Pied Wagtails were also feeding along the shingle. Once closer we stopped again to check out a large party of Aythya ducks sheltering against the bank – no doubt their near flightlessness was making them extra wary! Whilst Tufted Duck and Pochard predominated, we also noticed 4 Little Grebes feeding, still looking smart with a rusty chestnut head and a tiny yellow “teardrop” at the base of the bill. Careful scanning finally resulted in us picking up our target bird, the drake Ring-necked Duck loafing and preening amongst its European cousins! Despite its faded plumage and grey flanks its distinctively peaked headshape, boldly patterned bill with a two white stripes (one at the base – one just before the tip), yellow eye and whitish spur at the front of its flanks made it readily identifiable. It was quite mobile within the flock, swimming up and down and preening vigorously but eventually it settled, tucked its head under its wing and went back to sleep!

Kennard Moor, Somerset

After an unplanned detour around Glastonbury`s one-way system, we eventually found ourselves at Kennard Moor – and after traversing what must surely be the narrowest road ever (perhaps access was one of the reasons news was withheld for so long?) we pulled up at the roadside and joined the other birders and photographers already watching the long-staying Woodchat Shrike. Perched atop a small hawthorn tree in typical shrike fashion we were quickly able to obtain excellent views. Chunky, long-tailed and with a hefty bill its profile was distinctive, almost clean white beneath, black above with 2 bold white scapular patches and a rusty-chestnut head it was instantly recognizable as a Woodchat! Somewhat unusually for a 1st year bird, there was no hint of barring beneath, nor any white at the base of the primaries – though I think both were a function of worn plumage. It happily spent all of its time perched openly on the tops and sides of prominent Hawthorns – though an excursion to the other side of the field where it perched on fenceposts resulted in angry mobbing by a couple of Chats! Closer inspection of them as they flew round and chased the Shrike revealed them to be paler, more subtly marked and with a prominent supercilium – Whinchats rather than the expected Stonechats. After enjoying the bird in the warm sunshine we managed to turn the car round in the narrow lane and fter avoiding an enormous tractor made our way back up to the main road.

Exminster

After exchanging a couple of text messages with BF`s own Andrew about the presence (or lack !) of Roseates at Dawlish Warren we headed into Exminster – hopefully another lifer loomed for one of my companions!

A careful check of the usual field was in order – most eyecatching was a huge kettle of House Martins swooping and swirling over the field catching insects – their constant chip-chip calls drowning everything else out. The field just goes to show what happens when a more natural farming style is adopted – the grain areas were full of scarlet-red poppies and the whole area was alive with insects – plenty of butterflies, most interesting to me were the large black and white chequered patterned, Marbled Whites – a new Butterfly species for me! The weedy areas were full of birds coming and going – no doubt to feed on seeds or the abundant insects – House Sparrows, Linnets and Goldfinches, all of which seemed to be commuting between here and the adjacent gardens. We drew a complete blank on Cirl Buntings though, so headed back up to the road to check the gardens and fields there. A gentle sip call from a roadside field caught our attention – but despite the birds insistent calling we were unable to spot it amongst the ground cover before it flew up and over our heads and disappeared into a bramble clump. Approaching the corner of the field it had flown to we again heard its repeated sip-sip call, walking along the line of the hedge we soon spotted our quarry, a juvenile Cirl Bunting perched in full view on top of a bramble shoot. Buff and heavily streaked with brown, it was a far cry from the boldy coloured adults we usually encounter here – but the boldly streaked headpattern ( a brown echo of its adult pattern) & colder plumage tones left us in no doubt about its identity. We watched as the bird called repeatedly before it flew up and away – disappearing behind private gardens on the other side of the road.

It was now decision time – did we stay around South Devon and make our way home at a leisurely pace or was it full speed ahead – over to Essex for the recently reported American Golden Plover? No contest really so off we headed hitting the A30 en route to the M25!

Weirwood Reservoir, Sussex

It was gone 6pm by the time we had navigated the roads down to Weirwood Reservoir, passing some very well appointed houses and cricket clubs deep in the heart of “Commuter country”. A group of birders could be seen from the car park, but on joining them we were informed that the Night Heron hadn`t showed for over an hour! This gave us plenty of time to appreciate the other birds in front of us – a couple of very showy Grey Herons perched high in trees on the island opposite, a couple of bright, white Little Egrets stood by the waters edge (it’s a few years now since the sight of a couple of Little Egrets would have sparked a twitch like this!) and even a couple of female Mandarin swimming elusively amongst the overhanging trees and vegetation. Delicate, with a beautiful grey-brown mottled plumage and a silky-grey head sporting a white base to the bill and white “spectacles”, whilst not as gaudy as the males they have a subtle beauty all of their own. After a little bit of socializing we were fortunate enough to spot the Night Heron clambering on to the exposed branches of the trees overhanging the lake. For the next ten minutes we were treated to the sight of it clambering awkwardly around – often almost overbalancing the spindly branches it grasped and frequently having to flap its wings to keep its balance. It was in an unusual plumage – transitional between juvenile and adult, although it sported two complete, lengthy white filoplumes, a bright crimson eye and bright yellow legs, its plumage was pale creamy-buff below and dark grey-brown above a drabber “shadow” of its adult pattern! All too soon it disappeared from view behind the Island – our cue to leave – 70 miles and the Dartford Tunnel separated us from our final bird of the day!

Old Hall Marshes RSPB, Essex

After a somewhat hair-raising drive down the final few miles from the A12 (move over Colin Mcrae!) we arrived at the Old Hall Marshes reserve (a new site for me too…), a little telephone negotiation en-route meant we were able to park in the reserve car park itself rather than more distantly at the Yacht Club….(believe me - you wouldn`t have wanted to say no to us after a 300 mile drive!). It was still a long way out along the Sea Wall to where the bird was present so we set off at a fast jog, conscious of the fact that as nocturnal feeders, the bird could fly off from its favoured pool at any moment as the light faded! The bubbling purr of a Turtle Dove offered a welcome excuse to stop and admire this bird and catch our breath! Apricot below, scalloped brown above and with a black neck-collar, it soon took flight revealing the bold white tail pattern as it flew. Mind you – a Sedge Warbler singing vigorously from pathside scrub didn`t stop our run as we puffed and panted along the Seawall. At last we reached a small group of birders scooping a muddy scrape and our exertions were rewarded with fantastic views of American Golden Plover! The views were superb in the weak evening light as it fed at close range along the edges of the pool. Whilst superficially similar to our Golden plover it differed in significant ways – being both slightly larger and longer-legged with the characteristic long exposed primaries of the “Lesser Golden Plover” group. It was a stunning looking bird in full summer plumage, solid black below – the black being much more extensive than in European Golden Plover – extending unbroken to the wings. The gold spangled plumage above was also darker, with more solid black spangles mixed in. As we settled down to enjoy it, we were treated to a sight of the diagnostic smokey-grey underwings as it stretched its wings above its head – sheer magic! In close attendance but wading and feeding in the deeper water of the pool itself was an slender, elegant, black and white Avocet with its long legs and diagnostic upturned bill. Around the vegetated edges of the pool were a single Common Sandpiper and a couple of darker looking Green Sandpipers olive green above, with only a ghostly faint speckling breaking up the colour. On the more exposed mud were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of moulting, adult male Ruff looking tatty as their winter feathers were breaking up the solidly black summer finery. Behind us distantly over the salt-marsh we could scope out a family party of four Marsh Harriers even at a distance their broad wings held in a “v” pattern and long tail was distinctive, closer inspection revealed 3 all dark chocolate females/young birds and a single grey and brown male. Our final treat of the day was a hunting Barn Owl wheeling and swooping over the long grass, occasionally dropping down in an attempt to catch its prey. At first glance it looked all pale, ghostly white – only closer investigation revealed its golden upperwings and mantle and dark eyes in its facial disk. We left it perched on a fence post surveying its surroundings. A fitting end to a superb day! Only the long drive back to Nottingham awaited me!
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 14:43   #2
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Blimey Jason, and here's me moaning about the drive back from Dawlish!

I gather your car has a rather high mileage reading?
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 14:46   #3
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Don`t worry about my car - German Engineering at its best 1 year old and 45,000 on the clock!
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 14:57   #4
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You were lucky the Water Board Warden did not see you at Barrow Gurney Reservoir. He made me leave the reservoir last year when I was looking for the Spotted Sandpiper as I did not have a permit. He would not take my word that I was going on to Chew Valley where I would buy a day permit which covered all 3 reservoirs. By chance when I did get to Chew he was actually in the office when I bought my permit but he studiously ignored my comments. This year I bought an annual permit in January but as yet I have not met this most officious Warden again.
Whilst the 2 reservoirs are only about 6 or 7 miles apart it is much quicker for me to go direct to Barrow Gurney rather than via Chew.
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 15:50   #5
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What a day Jason,

The american golden plover must of been a great site along to with the night heron.
Sounds as though it was a superb day. I bet you must of slep well into Sunday afternoon.

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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 15:55   #6
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blimey Jase

i remember when i used to (be able to) do that!

I always thought u were one pitta short of a succesful trip - now i know!!!

keep it up

Tim
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 15:58   #7
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mental if you ask me Jase. But if you enjoyed it then good stuff.
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 17:03   #8
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Impressive stuff, I have yet to see the Barrow Gurney duck but no worries there unless someone shoots it! I also had a Marbled White at Exminster as a lifer not long ago!
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 17:11   #9
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"fantastic views of American Golden Plover!.... Whilst superficially similar to our Golden plover it differed in significant ways – being both slightly larger and longer-legged with the characteristic long exposed primaries of the “Lesser Golden Plover” group"

Jason, I presume you meant to write smaller rather than larger than 'our' Golden Plover?

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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 17:25   #10
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I know that American Golden Plovers are supposed to be smaller than Golden Plovers (hence the old name "Lesser Golden Plover) but I just write what I see - it certainly looked larger - probably a function of longer legs, longer neck and more attenuated rear end!
I never try to make my notes fit the book!
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 17:57   #11
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Jason,

Fair enough. I agree with your reasoning there. I think the proportionately heavy looking bill of AMGP can contribute to the illusion of a larger bird when it's being viewed in isolation.

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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 23:05   #12
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A nice little ride out in the countryside there Jason .... Some nice sights as well.
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Old Tuesday 27th July 2004, 00:17   #13
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A really nice report and I enjoyed reading your disciptions of what YOU saw, never mind the book.

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Old Wednesday 28th July 2004, 16:43   #14
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Wow - what a day. Makes our trip to Norfolk with nightjars & honey buzzards pale into insignificance - Oh, I don't know though! Missed the pectoral sandpiper at Titchwell though I suspect it was just under my nose.
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Old Wednesday 28th July 2004, 17:19   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasonbirder
Don`t worry about my car - German Engineering at its best 1 year old and 45,000 on the clock!
*Envy* Mine's 16 years old, a (pretty decent, it has to be said) example of Japanese engineering and has 99,400-ish miles on the clock! Devon to Essex and birding also, in one day? That is some going...I moan about the 10 miles or so from Southapton to Titchfield Haven!

A Woodchat Shrike? More envy! Nice one.
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Old Wednesday 28th July 2004, 20:22   #16
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Hey Jason,
Just think how much further you could have got if you'd set off early early....
Make yourself a note to try harder next time.
SE
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Old Wednesday 28th July 2004, 22:52   #17
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Hey Jason,
Just think how much further you could have got if you'd set off early early....
Make yourself a note to try harder next time.
SE
Yeah, bit of a part-timer isn't he?
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Old Thursday 29th July 2004, 08:25   #18
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Sorry for being such a slacker - i`ll make sure i`m up earlier on Sunday - and i`ll drink my Red Bull (it gives you wings )
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Old Thursday 29th July 2004, 09:01   #19
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Originally Posted by Jasonbirder
Saturday 24th July

and even a couple of female Mandarin swimming elusively amongst the overhanging trees and vegetation. Delicate, with a beautiful grey-brown mottled plumage and a silky-grey head sporting a white base to the bill and white “spectacles”, whilst not as gaudy as the males they have a subtle beauty all of their own.
I've seen Mandarin as well, though I was completely and utterly shocked to see them, because I'd only gone to the lake to have a walk-round. I didn't have any binoculars, but they were still beautiful. There were 3 or 4 pairs. If you're wondering, the lake was in Loughton, in The Stubbles. From the entrance, you walk down the grassy area and go into the woods at the bottom, though slightly to the left. The lake should be in front of you.
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