In these days of route planners and internet mapping, I'll bet that if you planned to travel from Shropshire to Hampshire, one County that wouldn't feature on your route would be Somerset!
Well, I was Hampshire bound with a talk to the local Alpine Garden Society group and with overnight hospitality planned, there was the chance of a little birding both ways! Somerset was given a go on the way down as two American Gulls (both potential lifers) had been recently reported to tempt me. It should be noted that the RAC route planner wouldn't normally send you this way and certainly doesn't include birds in the itinery!
First stop was Cheddar reservoir and access from the main South West shore car park. The best way I can describe this site is - well, picture a circular concrete bowl at least half a mile across sunk into the ground!! There weren't too many birds present but there were three year ticks waiting.....
How about the lifer 1st Winter Bonaparte's Gull, in with a flock of Black-heads and one of the first birds picked out! The sad news is the Gull flock were quite a way out and looking into the sun there was not a chance of a picture! Having got my eye in recently with a 1st Winter Little Gull, this bird was larger but still smaller than the Black heads and with much less black on the outer primaries than the Little un. It shared the very mobile habit however, rarely resting on the water unlike it's companions. Looking into the light, you got a real translucent effect to the wings.
Red-necked Grebe was a year tick, yet another Great Northern Diver on the far side and a small flock of Diving Ducks - I drove over to have a look!
I hate it when a session remains 'photoless' and despite views of the reservoir, I had nothing other than washed out attempts at the Red-necked Grebe! The South East shore changed all that - the group of Diving ducks turned out to be a group of Tufties including 6 Scaup, 3 males/females!! Another year tick too!
Just as in the Colemere flock - I just love these females - little stunners (particularly like the one caught up in the spray!)
Destination number two was Chew Valley lake, taking in the scenic Cheddar Gorge on the way and then, what was to turn into a lost cause - searching for the Franklin's Gull. Mind you, there were quite a few locals on the case too, suffering too - all sighing as to how unpredictable and mobile this particular Gull is! I gave it another hour or so from the two road viewing stations. A 1st Winter Little Gull was the only decent gull of note. Saw good numbers of wildfowl: Pintail, Teal, Tufted, Pochard, Shelduck and Shoveler. There was even a Cetti's off the causeway (heard but not seen!!) and not too many waders about but a Common Sandpiper was the first of the year!
Part two of this trip to Hampshire (the long way) will follow tommorow......