I headed off to Slapton Ley on the bus, arriving at Torcross at around 9:30am, and I headed straight to the new bird hide by the main car park. I haven't experienced the new hide before and while it is very nice it unfortunately does not have any opening windows. This gave a little distortion to viewing through the plastic windows with optical gear and detracts (for me) from the wildlife experience.
A quick search and I soon found my target bird, a female ring-necked duck, busily diving close to the hide with a small group of tufted duck. It gave some great views and is my first for Devon, having been present for some time now. Quite a few ring-necked ducks have been reported in the South West this Autumn/Winter so I don't know if this adds or detracts from the likelihood that they are wild birds.
Female Ring-Necked Duck
There were a lot of wildfowl on the Ley which was very nice to see, more than I have seen for a few years now and considered to be due to the wet Summer and the abundant growth of water vegetation. Amongst the coot and tufted duck I soon found the 2 Wintering black necked grebes looking very dapper and elegant amongst the ducks, like guests wearing evening wear at a beach barbecue! Also seen were at least 3 male and 5 female goldeneyes, the males displaying by throwing their heads back and the females holding their necks out low against the water. Other wildfowl included gadwall, mallard, pochard, great crested grebe, a male shoveler, 3 little grebes, mute swan and Canada geese. Amongst the gulls roosting and bathing on the Ley were a few adult lesser black backed gulls and an adult kittiwake which was unfortunately oiled on its underside.
The long staying resident female marsh harrier showed very well hunting along the Ley before flying across to the reedy bay opposite the hide where it put up at least 40 snipe that were roosting in the reeds. It was later seen hunting over the Higher Ley where it put up another 4 snipe.
A sea watch gave very good views of a close red throated diver, a more distant Slavonian grebe and an even more distant great northern diver along with a few gannets.
Staking out the bridge failed to provide a sighting of bittern or firecrest but 3 Cettis warblers were heard singing along with squealing water rails. I managed a brief view of a water rail running between clumps of reeds but the Cettis were keeping well out of sight. 2 goldcrests were busily feeding in the nearby trees.
I had a scan of the ducks in Ireland Bay and found a few wigeon and eventually a male scaup, looking like a first Winter male developing almost into male plumage, and it would have been impossible to pick it out without using my telescope. A pair of stonechat and grey heron were also seen nearby.
Before heading home there was a large flock of gulls, including some kittiwakes, and gannets in a feeding frenzy offshore and searching across the sea there was a large flock of razorbills too, around 150 of them, and I managed to pick out at least 4 guillemot amongst them.
And so it had been an excellent day out and despite the bad light it had at least kept dry.