Sunday, 8 January 2012

A British List Tick ! And it's only January 5th!

January 5th was an annual leave day for me and as David was working a twilight shift I decided today would be my first proper birdwatching day of the new year. The night before we had headed out to the cinema to see the new "Sherlock Holmes" film (which was very blokey but very good) and then a meal at The Marsh Mills Beefeater with a few drinks and the result was I had a crap nights sleep - a mixture of excitement, too much food and drink and rebounding off the back of my night shifts over new year.

Anyway, despite feeling crappy I hauled myself out of bed at 06:30 to head off to the station to catch a train to Dawlish Warren, arriving at The Warren at 09:00hrs and having travelled by a First Train and not Cross Country (Hooray!) The weather was very windy and overcast and drizzley but by the time I arrived at Dawlish Warren it had cleared up. However the wind remained very strong for the rest of the day, blowing from the North West with some mighty gusts during the course of the morning, almost blowing me over at times and blasting me with sand whipped up from the sand dunes.

As a result of the wind most birds were keeping tucked away. A female shoveler skulked in the reeds around the main pond while a pair of stonechats were being chased by an irrate robin in the bushes by the pond. The bird feeders near the visitors centre held greenfinches, chaffinches, blue and great tits and star bird of the morning, a nice female brambling which showed very well flashing off its white rump as it tried to get a go on the feeders. Brambling is a bird I have trouble connecting with in Devon so I was very pleased to stumble across this one.

The hide was a bust due to the tide being low and the strong wind blowing down the estuary straight in to the hide. There was, not surprisingly, no sign of the American wigeon in Shutterton Creek but I did see a few wigeon with brent geese and curlews. 12 skylarks fed on the shingle in front of the hide. A pair of red breasted mergansers were feeding in the choppy waters of the river.

Offshore at least 12 great crested grebes were seen feeding across the bay with a few razorbills and shags, all diving away and flying off for short distances.

I headed off on the bus to Exminster Marshes and with a hint of deja vu I was watching an owl within 10 minutes of arriving, this time a superb long eared owl roosting in a bush right by the RSPB car park and viewable down to a few meters. Its long ear tufts, beautiful patterened plumage including across its belly and its bright orange eyes were all noticeable. And so I had my first British life list tick for 2012 in the bag and following hot on the heels of short eared owl just over 3 weeks ago in the same place!

Long Eared Owl

Long Eared Owl

The owls at Exminster have caused some controversy over the last few weeks as they have been widely reported on the sightings websites resulting in disturbance by photographers so I wasn't sure if I would see it as the websites are no longer reporting any sightings of the birds. The long eared owl had at one point abandoned this roost site due to being disturbed by a photographer but luckily it had returned, it being quite a sheltered spot out of the strong winds of the day. I did have a brief scan for short eared owls but had no luck, not surprising in the strong winds.

Reports of the red breasted goose feeding amongst the brent geese flock on the marsh had me heading off towards the viewing platform but then with a lot of honking the geese all took off and flew downriver before I got anywhere near to having a look for it. A few brent geese had remained on the marsh with the Canada geese and I did find 3 greylag geese amongst them.

Compensation came in the form of a lovely glossy ibis which was feeding by the side of the road amongst the wigeon and coot and gave excellent views, the glossy plumage being especially noticeable when it caught the bright sunlight at the right angle.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

Other birds on the marsh included a pair of pintail, redwings, tufted ducks, a dunlin and lapwing.

I headed down to Turf Lock and scanned a small flock of brent geese for the red breasted goose with no luck but I did see an odd looking brent goose with a pale speckled head. On the river a flock of avocets were feeding along the waters edge with redshanks nearby.

Heading back to catch the return bus the glossy ibis and long eared owl were still showing well. Arriving back at Dawlish Warren I had 45 minutes before my train back to Plymouth so I had a quick sea watch from the lifeguard tower from where I found a smart male and 2 female eider and the female surf scoter, back for its 5th Winter. The scoter was seen briefly flying in towards the shore before landing where it began diving with a flick of its wings as it entered the water and without a leap.

And so I caught the train back to Plymouth and was in luck as it was a First train again and not a Cross Country train (Hooray!). And it had been an excellent day despite the wind and my generally feeling crappy and it was an excellent start to my birding year.

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