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WEATHER:  awful conditions for birding, driven rain practically all day, strong winds, poor light. Temp 9-11C

It was very much a day for ducks and ducks is wot we got!! Eleven species (twelve if you count Shelduck, ha!). It wasn't enjoyable birding really, but the alternative was to stay at the Guest House, watch TV or play silly indoor games.

We were joined by Guy Campbell, my local birding pal from Yeovil, he arrived at the guest house just before 8am as we were getting ready to leave. It was still fairly dark when we set off and it was raining. We set off for Cheddar but we made a detour onto to Tealham Moor just in case some silly birds were out in the dull, dark, wet morning! They weren't of course so we left having listed 3 species, Carrion Crow, Black-headed Gull and Magpie.

It was even worse at Cheddar the wind had picked up, driving the rain into our faces, we parked at the Axbridge car park and viewed the water from the pathway on the edge of the reservoir. We could not see the far side, the light was that bad, not one us wanted to walk to look for our target birds, the Great Northern Diver and the Red-crested Pochard. We saw Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Gadwall, Cormorant and a pair of Goosanders flew right past us before we left.

 We then drove up through Cheddar Gorge and over to Chew Valley Lake, our first port of call was the Stratford Hide where it was dry. Many birds were out on the water, we picked out hundreds of Coots and Tufted Ducks, with Pochard, Teal, Mallard and the odd Eurasian Wigeon. Mute Swans dotted the edges of the lake with one or two Great Egrets  whilst Great Crested grebes followed the duck flocks. We found several Goldeneye, mostly female but we failed to see any Pintail or the wintering Smew.

the flooded area in front of the Stratford Hide

The area immediately in front of the hide was underwater and reduced our chances greatly of seeing Water Pipit or Jack Snipe. On each side of the hide a cleared area of reeds was still visible and we counted 39 Common Snipe there, we also saw Chiffchaff, Blue and Long-tailed Tits on the fringe of the reed bed. but nothing more. On the way back to the car park we saw Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders with Great & Blue Tits and few Chaffinches. Driving along the lane we put up Redwings and Fieldfares along the hedgerow.

Next we parked at Heron's Green, we used the tail-gate of the bus as a shelter from the rain and the body of the bus as shelter from the wind, that worked OK. Common Gull, Great BB Gull were added to the gull list, we saw male Goldeneye and scanned purposely and thoroughly for the Smew that had been from this place yesterday. 

From Heron's Green we scooted over to Blagdon Lake where we made several stops looking for the American visitor, the RING-NECKED DUCK. We eventually found the correct place where this rare duck had been seen yesterday, but all we found was a lovely male Greater Scaup.

record shots of the female Ring-necked Duck

Fortunately for us we bumped into a local birder, Richard, who told that there were two Ring-necked Ducks present and the female of which was visible from where we were. He found it in a nano-second and we followed suite. What a gorgeous duck, females are generally dull and cryptically marked but this one stood out. Richard then told us where to find the male Ring-necked Duck, we drove there and eventually found it, not quite in the place where we were told to look. 

Hundreds of the common duck species were dotted the length and breadth of the lake but we didn't find anything else new. Guy pointed out a Sparrowhawk flying over the lake and we saw a few Buzzards on posts and Pheasants and Lesser BB Gulls in the fields.

We bought pasties for lunch in West Harptree and ate them sitting in the bus at Herriot's Bridge, back at Chew Valley Lake. We got out for a soaking to look for Pintail Ducks but failed to find one, we did add Shelduck to the list and Guy spotted a Grey Wagtail as we were clambering back into the bus.

Common Snipe, Mallards and Teal from the Stratford Hide

it took about 15 minutes to drive over to the Tanks at Barrow Gurney, these three small reservoirs of water have been the wintering home for a Long-tailed Duck for at least 3 years. My god it was wet and windy there, we stood by the bus with rain blowing into our faces and yet we stayed until the bird was in the bag, hats off to my group they all endured it.

Back at Chew Valley we visited Woodford Lodge for a warm up and a nice cuppa, Mike and Lorna endulged in a large piece of cake too!! 

more Snipe I'm afraid, the conditions were not conducive for photography

For our las hour we made two more attempts to see the Smew, firstly from the Morton Hide. A guy in there told us where the bird had been seen yesterday, we could hardly make out the area it was so far away. A quick stop Heron's Green was made to check out a bunch of white blobs on the distant shore, we could see that they were Egrets and assumed Cattle Egrets. We checked and found that we were correct, ten Cattle Egrets, an addition to our list. Then we drove round to the Stratford Hide for our second and last visit.

It was even worse that this morning, the rain was heavier, the wind stronger and the birds fewer. The light was fading fast and wasn't  even 4pm. Most of the Snipe had gone and the duck flocks were even further away, we didn;t stay long, I think by that tinme we all had had enough. So we headed back to base at 4:30pm and arrived 30 minutes later.

Hot shower, hot drink, dinner......ahhhhhhhhhh!