Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Rame Head

October malaise post holiday has kicked in with a vengeance, not helped by a general lack of birds around at the moment. October is always my least favourite month of the year and I hate it when the clocks go back - it also means the "joys" of Christmas aren't too far away as well.

Anyway, I managed to get off my butt on October11th and had a quick walk along the River Plym to look again for the elusive and erratically reported female red crested pochard but with no luck. A female mandarin duck with mallards was some conciliation along with a noisy flyover ring necked parakeet and I had nice views of a kingfisher and 3 little grebes along with the usual fare (curlew, oystercatcher, little egret, Canada goose, shelduck, etc.).

October 16th and with hurricane Ophelia arriving overnight it was a sunny but very windy morning as I caught the bus to Rame Head for a walk. Walking along the sheltered cliff path to the chapel from the bus stop at Polharn and I was pleased to see a very vocal and mobile firecrest in the bushes with at least 3 more birds heard in what has been a bit of a recent influx of birds. A hunting female sparrowhawk, 2 stonechats, a red admiral, speckled woods, a small copper and 4 fallow deer were also seen.

 Red Admiral

Fallow Deer 

The walk up to the chapel was very blowy and as I hunkered down out of the wind by the doorway I scanned the sea to find the usual gannets milling around and diving for fish in rough seas. A few kittiwakes were picked up along with herring gulls, great black back gulls and a lesser black back gull along with a distant great skua heading east which I lost track of as it must have landed on the sea. It was interesting to watch the skua flying into the wind in shearwater style, flying low over the waves, banking up and then back down to the water.

A big surpise was a swift species flying into the wind but losing the battle as it was blown inland and out of sight, first seen high offshore and looking a very pale brown in the bright sunshine but swift or pallid swift? I' ve never seen an October swift before nor pallid swift in the UK but it was too distant and brief a view to confirm either way - it certainly looked exhausted as it was blown along by the strong wind.

 Violet Sp.

 Ponies, Rame Head

Pony, Rame Head

An early finish at 13:30hrs from work on October 17th meant a free afternoon and so we drove out to Buckland Abbey for a walk around the grounds and gardens. It was gloomy and misty but mild and on our walk I managed to see a flyover raven, jays collecting acorns, mistle thrush feeding in the fields and goldcrests flitting about in the bushes. A surprise was a red legged partridge which flew over my head and landed in the chicken coup before disappearing into the vegetation.

With news of a red-breasted flycatcher being found at Rame Church on the 17th I decided to head out there again for a look on October 18th. It was grey and gloomy again and still mild but the sea was flat calm unlike my visit on Monday during the storms. Arriving at the church and 2 birders were present and both had seen the flycatcher so I was pleased to find it was still present. However after 30 minutes of searching the small group of trees near the church where the bird was supposedly present there was no sign of it and I was beginning to feel like a dip was coming. There were plenty of small birds flitting around amongst the still leafy trees - blue tit, robin, goldcrest, chiffchaff, blackcap, wren, great tit, long tailed tit, chaffinch, goldfinch, coal tit and firecrest - and they were all very mobile and active and flighty and difficult to keep track of. I had a very brief view of what I think was a yellow browed warbler before it disappeared amongst the leaves but the views of the firecrests were excellent despite their constant movements, there must have been around 10 birds present. Eventually I managed to find the flycatcher, a brief but good view before it was chased off by a chiffchaff and lost to sight but at least I had seen it. I managed a few more brief but good sightings before it eventually gave itself up and showed very well, even allowing me to take a few of my usual quality record shots. A lovely little bird, very charismatic and handsome looking and a British tick for me.

 Red-Breasted Flycatcher

Red-Breasted Flycatcher

 Red-Breasted Flycatcher

Red-Breasted Flycatcher

 Red-Breasted Flycatcher

 Red-Breasted Flycatcher

Red-Breasted Flycatcher

With more birders arriving to see the bird I decided to walk off down to the coastguard lookout, seeing a painted lady sunning itself in the weak sunshine, meadow pipits and skylarks calling overhead, a flyover swallow and a group of around 10 cirl buntings feeding in a stubble field. From the coastguard station a brief scan around offshore picked up a few gannets and shags and herring gulls before I headed back to the church for another look for the flycatcher. More birders had arrived and it was beginning to feel uncomfortably twitchy and so after getting a few more brief but good views of the flycatcher along with red admirals, speckled woods, a male black redstart briefly on the roof of a nearby house and a male yellowhammer in a nearby hedge I decided it was time to leave and head off home.

Painted Lady

Monday, 9 October 2017

Sea Watch Fest on the Pont Aven Ferry

Friday 6th October was fine and sunny, a beautiful autumn day and surprisingly warm by lunchtime, and so I headed off to Wembury for a quick walk. Despite the promise of something unusual present in the air I saw the usual suspects for the time of year but enjoyed the walk anyway. Highlights were an adult winter Mediterranean gull amongst the gull roost on the rocks, 7+ mobile and flighty little egrets along the shore on the outgoing tide, 3 juvenile swallows over the horse stables before heading off west, a juvenile wheatear feeding in the horse field, chiffchaffs including a singing bird, cirl buntings including a singing bird, a hunting female sparrowhawk and at least 2 curlew on the rocks amongst the oystercatchers. Best of all was a flock of around 20 common scoter flying west distantly offshore, my first Wembury sighting.

No moths in the toilet block but plenty of butterflies were on the wing - red admirals, large whites, speckled woods, small coppers and 2 very smart looking clouded yellow. There were 5 common lizards and a dark bush cricket also making the most of the warm sunshine as they basked on the wooden fences.

 Clouded Yellow

Dark Bush Cricket

In the evening we enjoyed a meal at The Dock with Julie and Matt before boarding the Amorique ferry to Roscoff in France for our usual yearly short break away. The crossing was very calm and still but I didn't sleep that well, probably due to too much food and alcohol before going to bed, and on arriving in Roscoff in the early morning it was dull and grey. The sun did eventually appear and it was pleasently warm before the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in but it did at least remain dry. We broke from tradition and instead of visiting Morlaix we caught the ferry across to the Ile de Batz from Roscoff, a 10 minute trip and something we haven't done before. The Ile was very beautiful, peaceful and quiet and with a feel of the Isles of Scilly but without the crowds. We eventually found a cafe that was open where we had a beer and then had a walk up to the lighthouse on the highest point of the island at just 44 metres above sea level before we caught the ferry back to Roscoff for an over night stay at the Hotel des Arcades.

The usual birds were seen along the shore from Roscoff and from the ferry - a kingfisher, 4 brent geese, Sandwich terns, a lone Mediterranean gull amongst the black headed gulls, little egrets, 4 greenshank, turnstones, shags, grey herons, great black backed gulls, curlews and herring gulls with a few gannets noted distantly offshore. The highlight though was a female marsh harrier battling against the wind on the Ile de Batz as viewed from the lighthouse in what has been a very marsh harrier year.


Ile de Batz Lighthouse

Too much food and alcohol made for another poor nights sleep again and on leaving the hotel at 8am to catch the ferry back to Plymouth it was dark, still, mizzly and misty and there had been lots of rain overnight with large puddles present in the car park that were not there the previous day.

It was still misty and mizzly as we set sail at 9:15am on the Pont Aven ferry but the sea was flat and calm and I wasn't sure how successful my wildlife watching was going to be. I needn't have worried though as I had my best Roscoff to Plymouth ferry trip ever - the previous days strong winds and the overnight rain had made for some interesting conditions.

As we left port I picked up 2 adult winter Mediterranean gulls flying by in the gloom looking even more ghostly white than usual and as we passed by the last rocky outcrops offshore a few gannets drifted past. I then picked up 2 shearwaters heading west across the front of the ferry and was pleased to see they were Balearic - I ran across to the other side of the ferry where I picked up one of the birds as it continued west before it was lost to the mist and I was very pleased to have seen them considering the poor weather conditions. Shortly after 4 guillemots flew past with more gannets followed by a razorbill and then I picked up another shearwater heading west which I was delighted to find was a sooty shearwater and which was closely followed by another Balearic shearwater allowing good comparison especially in relation to size. 2 more single Balearic shearwaters were picked up heading west with more gannets and then the mist finally cleared and the mizzle stopped and the visibility improved as we headed on into the English Channel.

Another sooty shearwater was picked up heading west and gave some great views as it passed across the front of the ferry and eventually I picked up 3 great skuas, 2 sat on the sea together and a third bird flying around nearby before settling on the sea as well. I decided it was time to get a cup of tea and a cake so headed down to the cafe but quickly realised my mistake as I looked out of the cafe windows to see more great skuas flying around and a large raft of gannets sat on the sea which included a Manx shearwater and a great shearwater - bugger! I quickly headed back up on deck where more great skuas were flying around with gannets and I soon picked up a pod of common dolphins splashing around and leaping out of the water before moving off away from the ferry. Another raft of gannets on the sea included yet another sooty shearwater and I picked up another less showy pod of common dolphins before it quietened down and I finally got to have my tea and cake in the cafe - however I had to quickly wolf it down when I noticed a storm petrel fluttering over the water right in front of the ferry and so I headed back up on deck as quickly as possible.

Yet more great skuas and gannets were seen and I managed to find more storm petrels including a flock of around 10 birds together in front of the boat. A Manx shearwater was seen flying north and more guillemots and razorbills were seen flying past. Fulmars and kittiwakes were also noted along with more pods of common dolphins, there seemed to be small pods everywhere and they were very showy, coming in to the front of the ferry to bow ride - I must have seen 300+ common dolphins in total.

 Common Dolphin splashes 

 Common Dolphins

Gannet and Common Dolphin

Gannets, great skuas, fulmars, herring gulls, guillemots, great black back gulls and common dolphins continued to be seen right up to the Eddystone Lighthouse and as the ferry sailed across The Sound to Millbay Docks a pair of common scoters were near Drakes Island before flying off out to sea, my first sighting in Plymouth Sound and a nice end to the journey.