Thursday, 16 January 2014

New Year Birding in Devon

A dry and bright day for a change on Thursday 9th January and so I headed off by bus to Slapton Ley for a walk. Arriving at Torcross and scanning across the Ley there was a large raft of wildfowl near the bird hide, mainly comprised of coot, gadwall and tufted ducks but checking through the birds I found a few goodies too. A lone black necked grebe was found and later a pair along with a very nice male and female scaup, 3 male and 2 female goldeneye with the males busily displaying, a few great crested grebes, pochard and shoveler, mallards and the strange looking male tufted duck x red crested pochard hybrid that has been around for a few years now.

Walking up to the Bridge between the Higher and Lower Ley there were 3 black necked grebes at the back of Ireland Bay, and from the Bridge a Cettis warbler was singing and gave a brief flight view and 2 water rails were heard squealing with 1 bird playing hide and seek amongst the waterside vegetation giving brief views only.

Walking back to Torcross and the 3 black necked grebes were still in Ireland Bay and scanning the wildfowl raft again at Torcross there were 4 black necked grebes together - 4 mobile birds or 7 in total?  8 lesser black backed gulls were bathing on the Ley amongst the gull flock and were noticeably quite variable in size and upperwing colouring. It was also interesting to note quite a few female tufted ducks in the wildfowl raft doing scaup impressions with large white bill blazes.

Wigeon and a Moorhen feeding on weed at Slapton Ley

Checking out the sea and a great northern diver was feeding close to shore with a red throated diver further out. A male and 8 female common scoter were quite close in to shore before moving further out in to the Bay and a few mobile and constantly diving guillemots were also seen.

Friday 10th January and I had a quick and muddy walk along the coast at Wembury but it was very quite with a female sparrowhawk, a lone female cirl bunting skulking in a hedgerow and a pair of displaying raven being the highlights. The ravens were interesting to watch with one flying bird flipping over on to its back and croaking noisily. There were some further signs of Spring in the air with fulmars seen prospecting the cliffs of the Mewstone. With the recent rain and gales I was expecting the footpath to possibly have collapsed in places again but it was all ok with a new wooden walkway having been put in place in a particularly muddy patch.

New wooden walkway at Wembury
Oystercatchers at Wembury

Sunday 12th January and I had to take a days leave to make up my hours from Christmas and New Years and so I headed off by train to Dawlish Warren. The previous day was beautiful - sunny and calm - but the Sunday was windy and grey and dull, typical!  I walked along the footpath from Dawlish to Langstone Rock, dodging the waves and spray, and checking out the sea from the top of the Rock I found 4 velvet scoter close in, occasionally flashing their white wing patches as they flapped their wings. At rest on the water a white wing stripe could sometimes be seen but at times it was totally hidden. Further out a raft of around 30 common scoters were bobbing about like corks in the rough sea and 6 great crested grebes and a few guillemots were also found.

There was no sign of the Bonapartes gull that is hanging around the area again this Winter although it was reported that day. From the hide I had a nice view of the long staying resident Slavonian grebe busily diving with a little grebe along the shoreline as the tide came in. A guillemot was loafing about on the water looking a little moribund but maybe just enjoying being out of the wind and waves of the open sea. Brent geese were very mobile across the mudflats but I didn't find the Wintering Black Brant amongst them though again it was reported that day.

Heading back to the train station and the wind was picking up and the skies were getting darker and just as I got on the train to come home the heavens opened, very lucky indeed!

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