Monday, 26 January 2015

Yellow Browed Warbler Hide and Seek, River Plym

A few hours free and a sunny day on the 23rd January and so I had another game of hide and seek with the yellow browed warbler near Blagdons Meadow by the River Plym which has been showing for a while now despite the rather frosty weather we are experiencing. The warbler hid, I seeked and  - I lost ! After 2 hours I gave up, having seen some very wary bullfinches in the bushes along with 2 ringed plovers, a common sandpiper and a very energetic little egret chasing after small fish in the nearby Creek.

The yellow browed warbler is frequenting a very difficult area to view, being right by a busy main road, a noisey cement works and a noisey boatyard and along a busy cycle/footpath, covered with some dense vegetation on hilly terrain and with no obvious vantage point to scan from. Being silent it is like looking for a needle in a haystack and it seems to be down to luck to see it.

January 24th and I had planned to travel down to Penzance to look for the reported Pacific diver but I felt too knackered and so headed off to Plymbridge Woods for a walk in the sunshine and crisp air. I got off the bus at Marsh Mills and walked to the Cann Quarry viaduct and back along the Riverside Caravan Park side of the River Plym. It was very muddy in places but I had a very pleasant walk although searching for treecreepers and goosanders drew a blank. Highlights were a flyover raven, at least 2 dippers along the River, 5 male and 4 female Mandarin ducks, a marsh tit feeding on seed at the bird feeding station at Cann Quarry and another seen in a mixed tit flock feeding in the trees, some showy nuthatches and a very smart looking male great spotted woodpecker feeding in a tree against a clear blue sky, looking stunning in the bright sunshine.

 Pair of Mandarin Ducks
 Dipping Dipper
Fungus sp. on Rotten Wood

Heading back home and I decided to have another hide and seek session with the yellow browed warbler, my third game with it and another game I lost - no sight or sound of it in the hour I searched for it. I did see a greenshank on the River at a very low tide and it was interesting to see a mass of smashed cockle shells along the footpath having been dropped on the hard concrete by carrion crows to smash them open.

 Cockle Graveyard, Blagdons Meadow
Smashed Cockles at Blagdons Meadow by the River Plym

I'm bored of playing hide and seek now - but maybe I'll give it one more chance?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Snow Bunting, River Exe

A snow bunting has been showing very well along the River Exe wall near Powderham and on my bird cruise on the 18th January we saw a group of birders with huge camera lenses trained on the rocky slope of the wall as we sailed by. The boat was too distant from the wall to see any birds but I did see a small and pale bird fly up to the wall top before flying back down to the rocks which may or may not have been the snow bunting.

Having dipped snow buntings in North Norfolk and Suffolk in November last year and having only seen snow buntings 3 times before I decided to make the most of a sunny day and headed off to have a look for it on Monday 19th January.

We parked up near Starcross yacht club, apparently the oldest in the UK, and walked to the new, monstrous looking cycle bridge over the railway line - a nice bridge but it really doesn't sit well in the landscape. A few birders were milling around on the river wall path towards Turf but there had not been any sighting of the bunting so we walked to Turf Lock, admiring brent geese, black tailed godwits, red breasted mergansers and lapwings along the way as well as watching  the efforts of 2 cormorants eventually swallowing large flat fish that they had caught.

Heading back to the bridge and I had resigned myself to yet another snow bunting dip when a couple arrived and said they had seen the bunting earlier that morning to the south of the bridge - and on heading south along the path towards the yacht club the snow bunting suddenly appeared a few feet away. It gave some great and very close views but was always moblie and active and a little wary at times. A beautiful bird and my first Devon sighting.

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)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

New Years Birding

A new year and a new year list to start - although this year I am not going to chase a big list.

A muddy walk at Wembury on 4th January was my first days birding of 2015 but it was very quiet with a few gannets offshore and fulmars around The Mewstone being the highlights along with 2 turnstones on the rocks as the tide came in, a rare sight at Wembury these days.

Monday 5th and a walk at Slapton Ley and Beesands Ley was very pleasent in the sunshine but again it was quiet birdwise. The tide was low and the footpath between Torcross and Beesands was very muddy so we walked along the beach where a great northern diver showed very close to the beach as it dived for food. Beesands Ley had quite a few gadwall amongst the coot, tufted duck and pochard but there were fewer ducks on Slapton Ley at the Torcross end. The Cricketers Arms at Beesands was closed as was the Start Bay Inn and Seabreeze cafe at Torcross and with The Boathouse cafe still closed after the fire we ended up at the pub in nearby Churchstow for lunch.

A trip to Newquay airport to drop off the Outlaws on the 6th and a surprise sight was a red legged partridge in the road near the airport along with quite a few pheasents including a few squashed on the road. From the airport car park I could here regular gun shots so I guess the pheasents and partridge were released birds for shooting.

A male black redstart hovering around the palm trees near the sundial in Plymouth city centre on the 7th was a nice surprise, its red tail a flash of colour on a very grey day.

Thursday 8th and I played hide and seek with a recently reported yellow browed warbler near Blagdons Meadow by the River Plym - I lost with neither sight nor sound of it in the 90 minutes I spent quietly searching for it. I did see 2 ringed plover and a common sandpiper along the Plym while a song thrush belted out its song in the sunshine. A flyover peregrine while walking along Plymouth Hoe rounded off the day and brought my year list up to 59, not a bad start.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Christmas Birding

Christmas 2014 duly arrived and the weather turned dry and clear and cold which at least meant some nice walks to burn off all the excesses of the season.

Prior to Christmas an adult ring billed gull was found on the boating lake at Goodrington in Torbay and so I headed off to have a look for it on the 23rd but I was out of luck. I did however have a nice walk along the coast from Goodrington to Broadsands, my first ever visit there, and I managed some very nice views of an occassionally noisey yellow browed warbler (my 4th of the year) that has been showing well in bushes by the car park for a while.

 Male Tufted Duck, Goodrington
 Male Mallard, Goodrington
 Female Mallard, Goodrington
Mallards, Goodrington

A walk around Burrator drew a blank for reported crossbills and the best birds on a walk around Stoke Point were around 100 golden plover feeding in fields and flying around calling, having been displaced by the frosty weather.

And so my original plan for 2014 was to look for new birds and birds I have only seen once or twice but it went out of the window when the year started so well with an excellent day out at Brixham where I saw white billed, great northern and black throated divers, red necked grebe, purple sandpiper and black guillemot, and so I decided to try and see 200 birds in England in the year instead. And I finished the year on 213 - not bad at all - although that total does include a great skua that I saw from the ferry between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, a ruddy shelduck (at best feral, at worst an escape), and less than ideal views of Arctic skua, barn owl, ring necked duck, bearded tit, Temminck's stint (a life tick), Ross's gull, hoopoe (a UK tick) and tree sparrow. I also had brief but good views of a dusky warbler (another life tick) but all in all it has been an amazing birding year although it has been exhausting at times.

 Who knows what 2015 birding will bring?