Friday, 24 February 2012

South Devon Bus Trip - 23rd February 2012

I've had quite a bit of time off over the last few weeks due to loads of night shifts which I hadn't requested and a few days annual leave and now it is coming to an end as I am back on night shifts tonight and then back to normal day shifts. I've managed to do lots of birding in my time off and as it was cloudy, mild (15c) and misty but dry I decided to head out towards Slapton Ley on the bus to do some final birding.

I caught the bus to Aveton Gifford and had an hour to head off down the tidal road to look for the juvenile Bewicks swan that is overwintering there before catching the next bus to Slapton Ley. The tide was out and the Bewicks swan was typically right at the end of the tidal road and so it was a brisk, 10 minute walk to where it was roosting on the mudflats on the opposite side of the river with some mute swans. Its smaller size was obvious and it had a white body with a grey toned neck but its head was tucked under its wings. Eventually it woke up and headed into the water to feed but it stayed on the opposite side of the river while the mute swans all crossed over to where I was stood. It was quite vocal at times, calling while lifting its head up and down and the yellow on the bill has increased since I saw it back in December last year.

Bewicks swan (left) and mute swan (right)

Bewicks and Mute Swan

Juvenile Bewicks Swan

Also seen were 2 little egrets, 2 common sandpipers, a little grebe and 2 Egyptian geese with 6 very small, fluffy, black and white goslings, looking very out of place on a misty February day.

As I was walking back to the bus stop I disturbed a green sandpiper from the mudflats by the road bridge, it flew away silently before disappearing into the nearby marshy field. I was surprised it was silent as it flew off as I always remember them as being quite noisey when disturbed when I used to see them regularly in my youth back in Ipswich. It is only the second time I have seen green sandpiper here, having seen one bird flying off as I went past on the bus a few years ago.

Arriving at Torcross I met up with David as he had decided to join me and we walked over to Beesands Ley so I could have a look for some smew which have been reported from here for a few days now.I checked out the Ley and visited the bird hide for the first time but there was no sign of any smew. I did see the strange male tufted duck/red crested pochard hybrid which has been knocking about in the area for a few years now - it looks like a male tufted duck but has a very natty looking gingery red tufty crest like a male red crested pochard. Also seen were 2 male and a female teal, shoveler, pochard, gadwall, tufted duck, coot, moorhen and mallard while water rails were squealing in the reeds and lesser black backed gulls bathed on the Ley amongst the usual herring, black headed and great black backed gulls.

Offshore I found a great northern diver quite close in to the beach and busy munching away on crabs it brought to the surface. Later I found it further offshore with a second bird, and I watched one bird snorkeling while the second bird dived underwater. A distant diver was seen flying East offshore, it appeared quite pale looking and was probably a red throated diver.

We had lunch in The Cricket Arms at Beesands which was very good, it looks very much like it is a part of the group that includes The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo as it has a similar decor and menu.

Heading back to Torcross I had a quick final look at the Ley again and disturbed a redhead smew from the reeds right in front of me, it flew across the Ley and landed right out in the middle of the Ley where it was joined by a second bird, giving great views. There have been up to 5 smew reported but there were only 3 reported on Tuesday and now it looks like there are just 2 left. I used my binocular doubler but again it reminded me I need to get myself a scope. It did help in getting some good views but the light transmission is not very good especially in the mist and murk of the day, the views through the binoculars without the doubler were much sharper and brighter.

We walked over the beach back to Torcross, stopping off to look at the outlet where Slapton Ley drains out of a man made channel under the cliffs, across the beach and in to the sea, only the second time I have been to see it. We picked some daffodils flowering in the ruins of the Cove Hotel which smell and look great and then headed home, having had a very enjoyable day. And in the last 4 days I have seen all 3 sawbills - red breasted merganser on the River Exe on Monday, goosander at Loe Pool on Tuesday and smew today at Beesands, not bad going.

Feral ducks at Torcross

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