Saturday, 12 March 2011

Saturday 12th March - An Exe-cellent days birding- shame about the trains !

A beautiful Spring day today so I caught the train to Topsham. Unfortunately it was CrossCountry, not my favourite company as the seats are so tightly packed together but at least it got me to Exeter on time. A half hour wait for my connection to Topsham passed pleasently with a cup of coffee and I arrived at Topsham at around 10:00am, so far so good on the train front. I have recently bought a new automatic camera, a Panasonic Lumix TZ8, so wanted to have a good try out with it today.

I had a look in the small copse at the top of Bowling Marsh Lane (as per Daves Diary of the 9th March)  in the hope of seeing some bramblings, a bird I have trouble connecting with here in Devon. No luck with any bramblings but I did see a male blackcap, a male bullfinch, a jay and a singing chiffchaff amongst quite a few trees and shrubs covered in Spring blossom.

Reaching the hide overlooking Bowling Green Marsh a birder was calling out directions to see the female smew as it flew across the back of the pool and I managed a good view of it for a minute or so before it disappeared into the reeds! The light wasn't great for viewing either but at least I have finally caught up with it again after the Exe cruise back in January. The birder also put me onto a superb adult spoonbill at the waters edge in front of the hide before it flew across the pool to roost amongst some shelduck after having a good preen. At least it showed well as spoonbills are infamous for always being asleep! The birder in question turned out to be Dave of Daves Diary fame, I've met him a couple of times before but the last time was nearly 3 years ago now.

An awake spoonbill !

Also seen on the marsh were a female pintail, 2 little grebe, a little egret and the usual waders and wildfowl with the black- tailed godwits looking very smart in developing summer plumage. 3 stock doves were found by Dave perched on the railway bridge and a chiffchaff was seen hovering and flycatching amongst the blossom in trees along the lane. A male wheatear was a lovely sight feeding in the grass amongst the wigeon, I think this is the earliest I have ever seen a wheatear.

The smew was refound and was watched preening out on the bank amongst the roosting redshank but due to some tussocks of grass only its head could be seen at times. The light was better as it preened in front of a tussock of sedges and the head colour was a beautiful red/orange colour contrasting with the white underchin. Shame I couldn't see the whole bird.

A walk to the Clyst viewing platform gave great views of a spotted redshank which at one time was feeding with a greenshank and a redshank allowing excellent comparisons.  A total of 3 greenshanks were seen. A pair of red breasted mergansers were seen out on the Exe. Avocets were feeding out in the receding water and bar- and black- tailed godwits flew over from the roost on the marsh.

Spotted Redshank

A walk back to the hide saw the smew showing well again diving at the back of the pool although the light was still not good for viewing and the spoonbill feeding along the waters edge where it was seen to catch and swallow a small silver fish. I decided not to catch the 12:35 train which would take me directly to Dawlish Warren as planned but stayed watching the smew and spoonbill, catching the 13:05 train instead. I knew I would have to change trains at Exeter but didn't know the connection times. Big mistake! I spent half an hour waiting at Exeter only to catch the 13:35 train from Topsham! I could have stayed half an hour longer at Topsham bird watching instead of waiting at Exeter station!

Anyway I reached  Dawlish Warren at 14:15 and headed off to the woods near the visitor centre to search for bramblings, it was a while ago a female was reported around here and I failed to find any again. Compensation was a good view of a  singing chiffchaff  flitting through the catkins. No sign of black redstart either and it was too early to find any sand crocus growing in the now fenced off area.

Offshore 2 summer plumage great crested grebes were seen along with a distant female and a closer immature male eider. 40+common scoter were very mobile offshore, flying low before landing with much splash and disappearing amongst the waves before flying off again. Best birds were 3 Sandwich tern diving for fish offshore, it must be a shock to arrive here in Devon from Africa in March to dive into the cold water of the English Channel!

A half hearted walk out towards Warren Point to look for Daves short eared owl from yesterday was unsurprisingly unsuccessful. 2 skylarks singing away were a nice compensation, such a beautiful sound of Spring. 6 Brent Geese were feeding on the golf course unconcerned by the golfers walking by and more were seen flying along the coast to the rocks at Langstone to feed.

Brent Goose on the golf course

The train from Dawlish Warren to Newton Abbot was only made up of 2 carriages and was absolutely bombed with people clutching Primark bags and I arrived 5 minutes late into Newton Abbot. I got on my sixth and final train of the day to head back to Plymouth only for the points to fail resulting in an hours wait at the station. I also had to get off the First train I was on to a, you've guessed it , a Cross Country train as the First train was cancelled but it wasn't too bad. The journey back to Plymouth was brightened up by a brief view of 2 male and 2 redhead goosander on the River Dart as we came in to Totnes and I arrived back in Plymouth at 18:15, tired but having had an Exe-cellent day. Camera wasn't to bad either but I need more practice with it and the adapter I bought to fit on my binoculars is too small for the lens of the Panasonic so I'll have to see if I can get a bigger one to fit the lens.

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