Thursday, 6 February 2014

Plymouth Birding

The weather continues to be awful with gales and rain and flooding and transport disruption although it is quite mild. As a result my plans to visit the Penzance area keep getting postponed and so I decided to do some local birding instead.

A Siberian chiffchaff has been showing at the University of Plymouth, having been found by The Weekend Biologist no less, it is frequenting an area of grass and shrubs along North Hill, right by the bus stops and main road. And so on the 30th January I had a quick look for it while heading in to the city centre to do some shopping and after a few minutes wait I found 3 chiffchaffs flitting about in the mahonia bushes and trees with a possible 4th bird also present. They were very active and mobile and frustratingly silent with one being a brown-grey and buffy coloured bird with green tinges to the wings only, presumably the Siberian type. I have to be honest, if I had found the birds I would have put them down as just chiffchaffs although there have been some recordings of the Siberian chiffchaff singing and it has quite a distinctive song.

February 2nd and the sun was shining so I decided to have another look at the chiffchaffs and as soon as I arrived at the site I found them busily feeding amongst the mahonia bushes again, this time there were definitely only 3 birds present, all frustratingly silent again. One had noticeably all over greener tones compared to the brown-buffness of the presumed Siberian type but the third bird was intermediate with black legs and yellow feet but again I would have passed them all off as just chiffchaffs. A magpie duly arrived and spooked the birds and they flew away, never to be seen again.

I then headed off to Ernesettle Creek, having not visited there since the lesser yellowlegs disappeared back in March last year. The tide was heading out and I found 2 greenshanks with redshanks feeding on the mud as soon as I arrived. Walking towards the railway bridge I found a third greenshank feeding with a redshank before being joined by a very confiding spotted redshank. The 3 birds fed together in small pools as the tide receded allowing good comparisons and with some of the best views of a spotted redshank I have ever had.

Spotted Redshank, Ernesettle Creek

A kingfisher was perched on the girders over the water underneath the railway bridge and out on the Tamar estuary 14 avocets and 16 black-tailed godwits were feeding on the Devon side with a great crested grebe seen flying upriver. I had hoped to maybe find the 3 overwintering spoonbills feeding somewhere on the estuary but there was no sign of them, they seem to be preferring the Lynher estuary this year.

February 4th and with bright sunshine but a poor weather forecast for later in the day I decided to head up the River Plym to look for goosanders which had been reported a few days previously. I got off the bus at Marsh Mills and walked to Plymbridge via Riverside caravan park, a route on the opposite side of the River to the cycle path and one I have not taken before. It was very muddy and wet and I kept a look out for treecreepers in the woodlands without any luck. I did however find goosanders, a very smart male with a female and further upriver a lone female, the male looking very resplendent in the sunshine and giving some very close and confiding views. Also seen were a grey wagtail and a kingfisher along with 7 male and 5 female Manadarin ducks, the males of which were calling and displaying. One of the males had a silver ring on its right leg, maybe the bird I saw on the River Plym last year.

 Goosanders, River Plym
 Redhead Goosander
Male Goosander

Mandarin Ducks, River Plym

Walking from Plymbridge to Cann Quarry viaduct I kept an eye out for treecreepers but again drew a blank. Arriving at the viaduct the bird feeders were empty but somebody had put out some seed on the nearby stone table and I managed to finally get some good views of a marsh tit, possibly 2, as they swooped down to the seed with coal, blue and great tits and surprisingly a flock of 11 long tailed tits. A kingfisher was seen flying across the small pond at the base of the quarry and later a bird was seen flying upriver low over the water before banking up over the trees towards the quarry pond, presumably the same bird. It has certainly been a kingfisher fest of late with various sightings in various places, always a nice bird to see though. A noisy peregrine was heard calling on the quarry face but I failed to see it.

Heading back to Plymouth via Saltram Park and 4 male and a female wigeon were feeding on a flooded Blaxton Meadow with shelducks. A greenshank was feeding along the River with redshanks, curlews and 7 oystercatchers, and 2 female red breasted mergansers were feeding in the river channel. I had a scan through the bathing gull flock but could only find 5 adult lesser black backed gulls and a few common gulls including a badly oiled bird amongst the herring, black backed and great black backed gulls.

Again I had a hunt for treecreeper in Saltram Woods as the wind began to pick up and the skies began to darken and was just about to give up and head home when I finally found a bird with a flock of great, coal and blue tits. Treecreepers always seem hard to find if I try to look for them, I have much more luck just stumbling across them instead, but I was very pleased to finally see one for the year list. It was nice to see (and smell) the first flowering violets of the year too and also some jelly ear fungus growing on a rotten tree branch on the woodland floor.

Jelly Ear Fungus

I decided to call it a day as the rain clouds rolled in with the gusty wind and headed off along the River towards Laira Bridge and the bus home. A small flock of large gulls were bathing in the river just downriver from the Rowing Club and I stopped to have a quick scan through them despite the worsening weather. I was very glad I did as I found a very nice 1st winter white winger gull amongst them, a distant view in poor light, a shame I had left my telescope at home this time. It flew a little nearer before being spooked by a fisherman in a canoe when it flew off downriver over Laira Bridge and out of sight. I originally called it as a glaucous gull, mainly because of its size and it being obviously larger than nearby herring gulls. I reported it on the Devon Bird Blog as a glaucous which prompted some debate and the consensus was it was an Iceland - what a boob! Looking back it didn't have the mean look of a glaucous, having a rounder head shape, the bill colouring and pattern was off and it had the attenuated rear end of an Iceland although it was certainly a large bird. With the gales there have been quite a few sightings of both glaucous and Iceland gulls across Devon and Cornwall, including Wembury, so it was nice to finally catch up with one. Interestingly a 1st winter glaucous gull was seen in the morning on Drakes Island in Plymouth Sound so I guess I put 2 and 2 together and made 5!

 1st Winter Iceland Gull, River Plym
1st Winter Iceland Gull

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