Friday, 24 March 2017

Local Birding - Velvet Scoter and Willow Tit

With another week off work to use up my leave allocation for the year ending March 2017 and with no plans to go away due to ongoing family health issues it was time to catch up with general chores and to do a bit of local birding.

Sunday 19th March and it was off to the River Exe for the day on the train and bus on a cool and cloudy day. On arriving at Dawlish railway station I had around 30 minutes to wait for the bus to Exminster and so I had a quick scan offshore from the seafront and picked up a few good bird sightings :- a female eider close in, 3 adult kittiwakes, a few gannets, at least 4 summer plumaged great crested grebes and around 40 common scoter offshore, strung out in a loose group and busily diving and occassionally flying off due to the attentions of herring gulls when they surfaced.

 Black Swan with cygnet, Dawlish

Black Swan with Cygnet

On arriving at Exminster Marshes I had a pleasent wander around but despite checking out all the pools and ditches and scanning through the good numbers of wigeon and teal still present I couldn't find any of the recently reported garganey although I did find 2 pairs of tufted duck and 4 male and a female pintail. Also seen were shelduck, shoveler, mallard, moorhen, Canada geese, mute swan and cormorant with waders represented by lapwings, 2 curlew, 2 oystercatcher, a common sandpiper, 3 green sandpiper and 3 little ringed plover. A pair of stonechat, a kestrel, a singing and 2 non singing chiffchaffs, reed buntings and long tailed tits were the landbird highlights.

I caught the bus back to Dawlish and with 20 minutes spare before the train to Plymouth arrived I scanned offshore again, this time from the station platform, and quickly picked up 4 scoter close to the beach which I was very pleased to find were actually velvet scoters. They gave some very nice views between dives with occassional flashes of white wing patches, an immature male with black plumage and no white eye patch and 3 females or immatures, notably browner toned plumage and with no pale face patches.

Female/Immature Velvet Scoter, Dawlish

Immature Male Velvet Scoter, Dawlish

I also found the common scoter flock again, this time much more further out and tightly packed, and I picked up the female eider again quite close in and with an immature male for company. An immature male common scoter was feeding alone close to the beach and I picked up at least 11 great crested grebes across the Bay, all in summer plumage except for 1 bird. Six Sandwich tern flying together towards Teignmouth were a very welcome sight of Spring on another grey and claggy and cool day. Needless to say I caught a later train home than originally planned as I was having such a good time!

Tuesday 21st and we headed off to Bude to sort out the caravan which is currently in storage on a site near the Tamar Lakes. It was cool and breezey with occassional heavy showers and we started off with a walk at Lower Tamar Lake where at least 4 sand martin were buzzing over the water in the less than spring like conditions while on the Lake were a Canada goose, 2 coot, 2 great crested grebe, 3 male and a female tufted duck, 2 male and a female mallard, 3 moorhen and a female goosander.

I arrived at the bird hide to find the bird feeders were empty and the feeders further along the path past the hide were no longer there so I had to scan through the thick undergrowth for birds but I did find long tailed, great and blue tits, 2 mistle thrush, a singing chiffchaff, a bullfinch and (finally!) at least 2 treecreepers which gave some very good views despite being constantly on the move.

I headed back to the car park where there were some stocked up bird feeders in the trees and I managed to eventually find a willow tit, my target bird, busily feeding low down in the vegetation along a nearby hedgerow. A marsh tit was present on the feeders and as the marsh tit moved away from the feeders along the hedgerow the willow tit ignored it. The willow tit eventually moved off too and was lost from sight but later I heard it give a wood warbler like peu-peu-peu call.

Willow Tit, Lower Tamar Lake - record shot

Also seen on the feeders were house sparrows, a coal tit, goldfinch, chaffinch and greenfinch and a surprise were 2 tawny owls calling in the nearby trees despite the bright sunshine.

We then headed off to the caravan site to sort out the caravan before heading off to Bude for an overnight stay at The Falcon Hotel which was very nice. The next morning on checking the Cornwall bird sightings website I saw that 2 spoonbills had been seen at nearby Maer Lake the previous day and so after breakfast we walked over to the Lake for a look. The water levels were very high and there was no sign of the spoonbills amongst the birds present but I did see teal, 3 juvenile mute swan, a male mallard, 10 moorhen, 3 adult lesser black backed gull, 4 black headed gull, herring gull, great black backed gull and 2 black tailed godwit (1 in summer plumage, 1 in winter plumage).

Black Tailed Godwit, Maer Lake

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yet More Cattle Egrets

Our annual March walk at Lopwell Dam on Thursday 16th was a brief affair on what was another grey and overcast day. The walk was short and quick and grabbed between first visiting father-in-law at Derriford Hospital and then visiting him on the way home at the nursing home in Woolwell that he had been transferred to.

I managed to see a few nice birds though :- a female goosander, a little grebe, a moorhen, mallards (including a few farmyard types), muscovy ducks and Canada geese above the Dam and a common sandpiper and 2 mute swan below the Dam ; a chiffchaff, a coalt tit, goldcrests and long tailed tits in the woods with a green woodpecker and a great spotted woodpecker heard ; cormorants, shelducks, little egrets, Canada geese and gulls along the estuary ; and 4 raven and a buzzard over the tree tops. There were as usual lots of daffodils in flower and lots of variably plumaged male pheasents with just 2 females amongst them.

Common Sandpiper

Friday 17th and we finally managed to get to Stoke Point for a walk. The day started off promisingly with sunshine and blue sky but it soon clouded over to the usual greyness and with a surprisingly strong and cool breeze. As we drove down the lane to the car park by the caravan park there was a large herd of cows in the roadside field with gulls, crows and 6 cattle egrets, 1 of which was in breeding plumage. The egrets were mobile and flighty amongst the tightly packed cows and viewing was difficult over the hedge but they were a nice find in what has been a mini influx of birds this winter.
Three Cattle Egret with Cows

Two Cattle Egret

One Cattle Egret

The walk was as enjoyable as always despite the breeze and the usual birds were seen :- a pair of peregrines along the cliffs, the female noticeably larger than the male ; 5 singing chiffchaffs were heard with 2 non singing birds also seen ; a displaying sparrowhawk over the woods ; a flyover raven and buzzard ; a male and 2 female cirl buntings ; stonechats galore with males singing ; a male mallard on a boggy patch by the footpath ; fulmars around the cliffs ; and meadow pipits, linnets and skylarks. No sign of any yellowhammers or Dartford warblers though.