Sunday, 18 December 2011

Finally - a life tick in Devon for 2011 !

I worked 4 night shifts, finishing on the Monday morning before attending a study day on the Tuesday and doing a late shift on the Wednesday so by Thursday (15th December) I was knackered to say the least. As a result I now have 2 lovely cold sores, one on my top lip right in the middle and a matching one on the lower lip - nice.

On the Thursday (15th) we headed out for a Christmas lunch at Greenway, a National Trust property which was once owned by Agatha Christie. On the way I saw a peregrine and a sparrowhawk from the car. Lunch was lovely, I had woodpigeon for my starter and duck for my main and it was delicious. We also had a mini-tour around the house after the meal which was very interesting. On getting home we headed out in the pouring rain to the Christmas market in Plymouth for drinks and food with our friend Julie, ending up with cocktails in The Treasury which was very nice but when I got home at just after 10pm I felt absolutely knackered.

Saturday (17th) I still felt knackered and as David had worked a night shift on Friday night we had a mini-walk around Saltram with tea and cake in the tea room to warm up as it was cold and showery at times, some of the showers being stinging hail. Bird wise I saw the long staying spotted sandpiper at the beginning of the walk, feeding on the mud as the tide headed out. On the return walk I didn't see it again but I did flush a common sandpiper feeding on the mud by the footpath. Also seen were 7 little grebes, 2 greenshanks, 1 kingfisher and little egrets along the river and nuthatch and redwings in Saltram Park.

Sunday (18th) and David was on a long day so I headed off for the day on the train to the River Exe. I have been given a days annual leave tomorrow which I didn't ask for but the weather forecast is pretty dire so I decided to make the most of today, ignoring all the jobs that need doing and enjoying myself instead.

The train to Dawlish Warren was a smelly Crosscountry train, I don't know why the toilets smell so much on these trains. Anyway, it got me to Dawlish Warren on time at 10:23 hrs and I had a good 3 hour wander around the reserve. The tide was high and the sea was flat calm and the sun was shining. On the sea a Slavonian grebe was close in to the shore off groyne 3 in the company of a great crested grebe, showing very well in the bright sunlight. Further out a second Slavonian grebe was found and another great crested grebe. Around 4 guillemots were seen but they were surprisingly mobile, flying off for short distances before diving again so numbers were difficult to assess accurately. Also seen was a cracking great northern diver quite close to shore, looking very smart in the strong sunlight as it busily ate crabs it brought up to the surface although one crab was stolen from it by a lurking juvenile herring gull. Flying around offshore and too far out for a good view were around 12 scoters, I couldn't make out any white wing flashes and 1 of them may have been the returning female surf scoter which has recently been seen again, now in its 5th winter.

The waders were roosting on the island in front of the hide at high tide - oystercatcher, knot, grey plover, turnstone, redshank and dunlin. Some of the oystercatchers were sporting various leg rings.

Oystercatchers in front of the hide at Dawlish Warren


Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatcher in front of the hide

Brent geese, shelduck and wigeon were also seen around the waters edge and 9 skylark were feeding on the shingle beach just in front of the hide. Out on the river a pair of red-breasted merganser were seen. I had no luck with the American wigeon that has been knocking around in Shutterton Creek for a while now but I wasn't surprised at not seeing it as it has been quite difficult to get views of.

A little grebe was on the main pond with 2 Canada geese and moorhens, and a water rail squealed from the reeds but wasn't seen. A green woodpecker yaffled as it flew over and a great spotted woodpecker was flitting through the trees around the pond.

I caught the bus to Exminster marshes as there have been reports of up to 4 short eared owls being seen on the marsh and within 5 minutes of getting off the bus I was watching one quartering over the marsh, a life tick for me. I watched it from the railway bridge on Station Road and the owl was flying around the marsh to the North towards the M5. It was occassionally mobbed by carrion crows and at times rested on the ground or on fence posts and it showed very well if a little distantly. It had a lovely buoyant flight very like a hen harrier or barn owl and its plumage was quite striking in the strong sunlight. It regularly stalled in the air, folding its wings back and plunging to the the ground but it didn't appear to catch anything. I was surprised to see it so soon on arriving as it was only 13:45hrs and quite sunny, I had been expecting to find them nearer to dusk but I was not going to complain as it meant I could leave earlier to get back to Plymouth. I tried getting closer views of the owl by walking across the marsh along the public footpaths but eventually my way was blocked by a big water ditch. A bonus was disturbing a water rail from the ditch which flew off before disappearing into the vegetation.

Other birds seen were wigeon, teal, mallard and shoveler, lapwing and curlew and a large flock of around 70 linnets. A large peregrine flew across the marsh putting up all the birds before it settled on a pylon for a preen, presumably a female based on its chunky build. Redwings were feeding on the berries in the hedgerows, including sloe berries, and a few fieldfare were seen with them although they were all very nervous and flighty. A pair of kestrels mobbed a buzzard.

I left at 15:30hrs to catch the bus to Exeter, having to tear myself away as the short eared owl continued to show well quartering over the marsh and I caught the train home to Plymouth (another smelly Crosscountry train) and I arrived home at 18:00hrs, tired and cold but I had had a good day with a life tick to boot.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Devon tick and a fungus walk

On the 6th December we headed off to Totnes for a bit of Christmas shopping and on the way I managed to persuade David to drive via Aveton Gifford so I could have a look for the juvenile Bewicks swan that had been reported there. Driving along the road by the river it was quickly found in amongst the mute swans, its dirty white plumage sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the white adult mute swans.

It was sleeping amongst the mute swans on the mud on the opposite side of the river, its head tucked under its wing so I couldn't see its bill but it was noticeably smaller. After a few minutes it woke up showing its yellow based pink and black bill and proceded to call noisely, bobbing its head and neck up and down before all the swans took to the water and swam off down river and out of sight.

I was very pleased to see it as it is my first Bewicks swan in Devon, I've only seen Bewicks swans at Slimbridge and once at Welney.

The 7th December I headed off to Wembury on the bus for a walk along the coast while David had his tooth sorted out at the dentists. The weather was cool and breezey and overcast with showers but it did brighten up. Bird wise it was quiet except for a song thrush singing away and a starling doing the same thing amongst a flock of around 20 feeding on the seaweed mass on the beach, it was in summer plumage with its blue based yellow bill and spangley summer plumage, most odd in December. 11 cirl buntings showed well as they bathed in the muddy puddles along the path near the HMS Cambridge wheat field, 4 male and 7 females. A goldcrest with very orange feet was seen feeding in the trees in a garden by the road leading down to the beach.

One notable feature of the walk was the amount of fungi growing in the fields and along the footpath, I don't know what the names of them are but some were quiet colourful and there was quite a variety. I guess the mild, wet Autumn has produced a good show as I don't remember seeing so many before and certainly not in December.

Fungus sp.

Fungus sp.

Fungus sp.

Fungus sp.

Fungus sp.
Fungus sp.

Fungus sp.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tallinn 1st - 4th December 2011

Tallinn was an interesting experience too, similar but different to Riga. It was still cold but again we had no snow and the Christmas markets were better than Riga but still not a patch on those in Germany.

The Old City of Tallinn

Bird wise it was much the same with only 20 species seen but with a few highlights. The same birds as seen in Riga were black-headed gull, herring gull, common gull, house sparrow, great tit, blue tit, feral pigeon, mallard, hooded crow and jackdaw, with again some being of the Nordic type with pale collars.

Mallards in the sunshine feeding on the shore of the Baltic Sea

A trip to the seaplane museum just outside the old city was interesting with some good bird sightings. On the sea a pair of swans caused some excitement as I hoped they were Bewicks but they turned out to be plain old mute swans. Cormorants were seen flying over the waves and drying their wings on buoys. Also on the sea were small groups of goldeneye, some close to shore and all adult males except for 1 female and 1 immature male developing its white cheek patches. Further out were small groups of long tailed ducks, both males and females. A male and female goosander were also seen. All the ducks were attended by herring gulls, no doubt waiting to try and grab any food the ducks brought to the surface. A patch of weedy wasteground near the museum held a small flock of around 10 tree sparrows feeding amongst the dead vegetation and a goldfinch was seen perched in a nearby tree while great tits fed in the branches. Blackbirds were seen feeding on berries in some shrubbery.

A small flock of hooded crows and jackdaws seen feeding in Kadriorg Park had a few rooks amongst them while a small flock of around 10 greenfinches were seen flying over the tree tops. While checking out the common gulls on Swan Lake in Kadriorg Park I noticed a single herring gull which had a streaked head and yellow legs and on checking the guide book it was of the omissus race found in the East Baltic. I had not really paid much attention to the herring gulls so maybe more of them were of this race. Certainly the herring gulls had darker grey upperparts than in the UK, being of the argentatus race of Northern Europe rather than the argenteus race of Western Europe.

Juvenile Common Gull in Kadriorg Park
And so we returned home to the UK on the 4th December, this time flying with Estonia Air and SAS via Stockholm, with herring gulls and hooded crows seen at Stockhom airport while we were in transit. The flights were ok again and we returned to Heathrow and not Gatwick which made it easier for us to get back to Plymouth.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A trip to Ipswich and The Baltics

I never got to Mansands due to work commitments and the desert wheatear finally moved on after a couple of days - never mind.

We headed up to Ipswich by train on the 25th November to spend a few days with Mum and Dad pre-Christmas. It was a beautiful clear sunny day which may have been why I saw over 20 red kites from the train between Westbury and London Paddington, the most I have ever see. Also seen were 9 greenshanks along the River Exe, a stock dove near Newton Abbot and fallow deer in Powderham Park. I kept a look out for partridges, especially from the train between London Liverpool Street and Ipswich but with no luck.

Mum was poorly with an upset stomach so when we got to her house we walked over to the nearby Tesco store to stretch our legs and found a decomposing corpse of a muntjac deer by the side of the A12.

I kept an eye open for partridges over the next couple of days as we travelled around Suffolk but had no luck again. I did see quite a few common gulls though, a gull I don't see that often here in Devon.

Monday 28th November and we headed off to Gatwick Airport for our Air Baltic flight to Riga in Latvia. We were a little apprehensive as Air Baltic are the Easyjet of The Baltic States and Gatwick is not our favourite airport but the airport and the flight were actually ok.

Riga was very nice, cold but with no snow. The Art Noveau architecture was excellent, the highlight of the trip. The Christmas markets were not so great, not a patch on those in Germany but we had a good time sightseeing and exploring. I had an upset stomach one night but David was fine, it didn't stop me doing anything but I did save some money by not eating or drinking much the next day. An interesting sight were lampreys and zander (pike perch) in the fish market part of the central market, the zander were alive in tanks of water and the lampreys were alive and gasping in crates on the benches, I have never seen either before and at least they were fresh if you wanted to eat them.

Art Noveau architecture

Art Noveau architecture

Bird wise I didn't see much as I had expected. A total of 12 species were seen - blue tit, great tit, house sparrow, hooded crow, black headed gull, common gull, herring gull, mallard, feral pigeon and jackdaw. Some of the jackdaws had the pale collars of the so called Nordic Jackdaw race. Also seen was a surprise shelduck which flew across the bridge over the main river as we walked over it, a brief view only as it dropped down to the water on the other side to where we were walking, the traffic prevented me from crossing over to have a better look. Best bird was a goshawk which flew over the tops of the buildings as we wandered around the city, a large, chunky, powerful bird with the typical hawk like flight and only the 3rd goshawk I have seen. They are supposed to be quite shy and wary birds but I know they are quite tame and common in the centre of Berlin although I never saw one when I was there, maybe they are less shy and wary in Riga too.

Hooded Crow - very common around the city and usually quite tame

So not a bad trip so far and on the 1st December we headed back to the airport for our flight to Tallinn in Estonia, again with Air Baltic and again not a bad flight.