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.

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