Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ferruginous Duck at Slimbridge and Bonaparte's Gull at Exmouth

Saturday 17th January and my first proper birding day of the year saw me heading off to Slimbridge on the Plymouth RSPB groups coach trip, a bargain at £26 for transport and entry to the reserve but the down side is not getting there until 12pm and only having 5 hours there. However I still had a great day out and saw some good birds on a sunny, cold and crisp day.

A female ferruginous duck (of unknown origin) has been showing in the Asia pen in the collection and so I headed there first to have a look but drew a blank. I checked out the nearby South Lake where it is also sometimes seen but again there was no sign of it and so I headed off to the Tack Piece which was well flooded and absolutely covered with birds. Scanning through the wildfowl and waders I managed to find at least 3 ruff, 2 little stint (my first ever overwintering birds), a pink footed goose amongst the white fronted goose flock, Bewicks swans, a snipe and 5 of the reintoduced common cranes.

Common Crane, Slimbridge

I headed back to the Asia pen and immediately found the ferruginous duck sleeping at the back of the pen amongst some Baers pochards, a close relative of it. But what is its provinence? I guess it is unlikely to be a wild bird, at best feral, at worst an escape. I think it should be International law that all wildfowl in collections should be ringed with a prominent coloured plastic leg ring to identify them as individuals from collections but then birds born in the wild from any escaped birds would not have these rings. However it is only my second UK sighting, having seen my first one back in February 1985 in Suffolk during a very cold snap.

 Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck

Also seen during my visit were a very confiding water rail, 8 brown rats scavenging under the bird feeders, fieldfares and redwings in the fields, 2 peregrines and an adult lesser black backed gull on what had been a very cold but very enjoyable day.

 Brown Rats

 First Snowdrops of the Year

 Water Rail

 Bewick's Swans

 Bewick's Swans

 Bewick's Swan TUZ - Bianco, ringed at Slimbridge in 2000

Bianco the Bewick's Swan 

The next day and an early start for a trip with Mavis and Mike to the River Exe for a birdwatching cruise from Exmouth to Topsham and back. It was cold and crisp and sunny again and after a delicious cooked breakfast in the Dockers cafe we headed off on the boat.   On leaving Exmouth we headed out to sea a short way before turning and sailing upriver and as we passed Exmouth Quay a female type black redstart was feeding amongst the rocks on the beach. However my attention was drawn to a small gull flying around and dipping down to the water and on checking it out I realised it was the elusive adult Bonaparte's gull! Bubble gum pink legs, short black bill, small size, large black splodge behind the eye and just a thin black edge to its underwing wing tips - result!

The rest of the trip wasn't quite as exciting but we did see some great birds and with some great views. Highlights were the long staying resident Slavonian grebe near the wreck, a male goldeneye flying downriver, around 400+ avocets, lots of red breasted mergansers, a spotted redshank with greenshank at the outlet of the River Kenn and the resident harbour seal hauled out on a sand bar in the river.

After the trip we stopped off on the way back to Plymouth at Bowling Green Marsh for a quick look. It is the first time I have visited the new revamped hide, very nice but the glass in the windows is optically rubbish, you have to open the flaps to view the birds with binoculars due to the distortion, not so great if the weather is cold and wet and windy. Bird highlights were a very showy but distant water rail, a distant chiffchaff in the hedgerow with blue and great tits, 2 flyover ravens, a lone snipe, a very orangey/red looking fox, a flyover stock dove and some lovely views of lapwings looking resplendent in the sunshine.

Lapwing, Bowling Green Marsh

A quick walk along the new cycle path at Goosemoor before heading back to Plymouth and a spotted redshank showed very well in the fading light as it fed with redshanks and a greenshank, a nice end to another very cold but enjoyable and productive day.

 Spotted Redshank (left) with Redshanks

Spotted Redshank (Centre)

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