Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Another wild duck (?) hunt - Exminster Marshes 14th March 2012

Cold, dull, misty, grey and windy but a day off and with David working a late I caught the train to Starcross and then the bus to Exminster Marshes to have a hunt for the long staying American wigeon that was first seen back in October at Dawlish Warren.

Numbers of wigeon on the Marsh have dropped recently so it has been easier to find the American wigeon in the last few days, also helped by its preference for an area near to the access road, and after scanning the flock of wigeon feeding on the grass bank by a drainage ditch in the above mentioned area I eventually found it. It was hard to keep track of it as it fed amongst the wigeon, it would occasionally raise its head giving its position away but then it would disappear and then reappear in a different position within the flock. Eventually the flock was spooked and flew onto the water in the drainage ditch where it showed much better but it was still easy to loose amongst the other birds. Its green glossed head and cream rather than ginger forehead were quite noticeable despite the poor light and I managed some very poor record shots. But again, is it a wild bird? I am never keen on vagrant ducks due to their questionable provenance but this bird does appear to be the real thing, having been found along with a heap of other North American vagrants following the gales we had last September.

Male American wigeon briefly showing its head 

American wigeon - upper left quarter

American wigeon - centre

The usual birds were also on show - shoveler, teal, mallard, gadwall, coot, moorhen, Canada goose, grey heron, little egret and cormorant. Other birds seen on the Marsh included 3 golden plover amongst a large flock of roosting curlew, 2 black-tailed godwit, 7 male and 2 female pintail and 2 kestrel. Cettis warblers were heard singing, at least 2 birds and a very sad looking Brent goose was feeding alone in the fields between Exminster and Powderham Marshes.

The resident Slavonian grebe was preening itself at the Turf Lock giving excellent views but looking quite tatty as it moults in to summer plumage, its red eye was very noticeable with whispey gingery ear tufts developing. A male red breasted merganser was diving close to the river embankment nearby and a further 4 males with 5 females were seen from the railway station at Starcross.

Tatty Slavonian grebe

Male Red breasted Merganser

Walking back to Starcross I had a look for treecreeper in the small wood at Powderham without any luck (again) but I did see a coal tit and I heard a green woodpecker. A bar-headed goose was feeding with the Canada geese in Powderham Park and the fallow deer were showing well. A greenshank was feeding along the river edge with redshanks as the tide receded.

I caught the train back to Dawlish Warren for an hours sea watching but the sea was choppy and it was still cold and windy and dull. I managed to find a winter plumaged razorbill and 7 great crested grebes, all but 1 in summer plumage and 2 seen displaying to each other. A Slavonian grebe in winter plumage showed briefly between dives and a moulting Slavonian/black necked grebe was seen further out but too distantly in the poor light to confirm identity. At least 9 common scoters were also busily diving in a loose group, there may have been up to 11 altogether but they were too active and mobile and distant to confirm the exact number, counting them not helped by the attentions of a juvenile herring gull that kept harassing them as they surfaced from their dives.  All of these birds would have been much easier to see and more enjoyable if I had a telescope - the binocular booster is just not good enough especially in the low light levels - I must get myself a telescope and soon!

And so I caught the train home after an hours watching and I was glad to get out of the wind and in to the warm carriage. On the way home I saw a black rabbit feeding in a field with normal coloured rabbits and what I think were 2 stag Sika deer feeding in a field near Plymouth - I think there is a population of Sika deer at Plymbridge Woods near Plymouth and it was not far from this area that I saw the 2 stags with their large antlers and dark fur. So all in all not a bad day.

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