Sunday, 24 January 2016

Red Crested Pochard at Slapton Ley

With 3 days off together I had big plans to make the most of it including a birdwatching boat trip on the River Exe with my mates Mavis and Mike - however the boat trip has had to be rescheduled to March as Mike is unwell and I have had a stinking cold which has scuppered my energy levels and original plans.

Thursday 21st and I needed some fresh air and so I had a quick bus trip out to Laira Bridge over the River Plym to have a look for the black necked grebe I saw last week. The tide was high and it was a grey and gloomy day but I found the grebe quickly enough although it was further out from the bridge than last week and the views were not so good in the poor light. A grey wagtail and a curlew also flew over the bridge and I found a pair of blackcaps feeding in the ivy bushes on the wasteground at Friary Mill on the walk home.

Friday 22nd was bright and sunny but windy and despite the heavy overnight rain and recent wet weather we decided to head off to Stoke Point for a walk, a bit of a mistake as the path was a complete quagmire and we spent most of the time looking downwards to keep ourselves upright and as mud free as possible. Despite feeling shitty I managed the whole walk which I was pleased about and we had a nice lunch at The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo.

New for the year was a raven flying over looking very tatty with worn tail and wing feathering but a kestrel, a female sparrowhawk and a buzzard flying over looked much smarter. I checked out all the stonechats feeding in the gorse bushes but couldn't find any Dartford warblers. A flock of around 50 linnets feeding in a stubble field were the first for the year along with meadow pipits feeding on the grassy cliff tops and I also saw a goldcrest, chaffinches and bullfinches in the woods near the caravan park.

Despite the recent freezing weather a bumble bee, a bloody nose beetle and dung flies on the cow pats were also seen in the mild but blustery conditions.

Saturday 23rd and with rain forecast for the afternoon we headed off to Slapton Ley in the morning for a quick walk. As we arrived at Torcross I could see a male and female goldeneye and 2 male red crested pochard from the car quite close to the road and I managed to get some nice views of them amongst the tufted duck and coot. Scanning through the duck flock and I found 2 pairs of pochard along with the strange looking male tufted duck x red crested pochard hybrid that has been around for a few years now.

2 Male Red Crested Pochard with Mallard

Male Tufted Duck x Red Crested Pochard Hybrid (top left)

Tufted Duck/Red Crested Pochard Hybrid

Tufted Duck/Red Crested Pochard Hybrid

Walking along the Ley towards the bridge and a flock of 4 female and 3 male goldeneye were displaying together before dispersing across the Ley (the goldeneye were very mobile and flighty around the Ley and this was the highest number of birds I saw together).

Pair of Goldeneye

Pair of Goldeneye

From the bridge a chiffchaff with a silver leg ring showed well while 2 Cettis warblers and a water rail were heard calling. 2 guys with massive camera lenses made me chuckle as they were getting excited about a bird feeding in the reeds, thinking it was a kingfisher, but it turned out to be a blue tit, neither of them having any binoculars with them.

Heading back to Torcross and a scan of a large flock of ducks at the back of Ireland Bay and I found 2 black necked grebes amongst the tufted duck, coot and gadwall along with 3 little grebes - distant views as the grebes constantly dived in the increasingly gloomy conditions.

Black Headed Gull in almost Summer Plumage

Lunch at the Seabreeze café was delicious and just as we left the café it started to rain and so we headed off home but my year list is now on a very respectable 112.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Heaven in Hayle

Saturday 16th January and a very cold but sunny day saw me heading off to Hayle on the train for a bit of serious birding. Arriving in Hayle at around 10am and I headed off straight away to the Carnsew Pool. A few minutes of scanning and I found the recently reported red necked grebe, only my 6th ever sighting of one and a beautiful bird that gave some great views although it spent very little time at the surface.

Red Necked Grebe, Hayle

Red Necked Grebe

Scanning around and I also found a very smart and confiding razorbill along with 4 little grebes while a kingfisher flew low over the water and a grey wagtail fed around a nearby puddle.

Razorbill, Hayle

Walking around the Pool towards the estuary and a smart and confiding guillemot was feeding on the river along with a great northern diver which dived just as I got onto it and despite watching and looking I couldn't refind it. An adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gull flew over looking quite ghostly in the bright sunshine and a greenshank noisily flew off from a roost of oystercatchers by the riverside.

Guillemot, Hayle

At Ryans Field a few lapwing and 20 golden plover were roosting but most of the waders were now feeding on the estuary as the tide began to ebb away - dunlin, ringed plover, curlew, grey plover, oystercatcher, redshank, turnstone and a bar tailed godwit were all seen.  Shelduck, teal and wigeon were also showing well along with a pair of goosander and a female red breasted merganser which was associating with them and allowing some nice comparisons with the female goosander.

 Male Goosander, Hayle

Female Goosander, Male Goosander and Female Red Breasted Merganser, Hayle

Scanning through the large roost of gulls and I found a nice adult kittiwake preening amongst the herring, lesser black backed, greater black backed and black headed gulls, which was a bit of a surprise. I would have liked to have spent more time going through the gulls but time was against me and so I scanned around and eventually found the long staying juvenile spoonbill roosting with little egrets on the saltings. It was fast asleep but had a quite distinctive profile compared with the egrets and just as I got my scope on it it flew off downriver but at least I saw its pinky spoon shaped bill, black wing tips and outstretched neck in flight before it landed on the estuary wall and went back to sleep!

I had hoped to have a look for the yellow browed warbler being seen behind the hide at Ryans Field but decided to have another look at the red necked grebe instead as my time at Hayle was running out. I had some lovely views of the grebe again as it preened on the water, being joined by the razorbill for a while, and it was nice to get some good views of a great northern diver regularly diving nearby.

Razorbill and Red Necked Grebe

Razorbill and Red Necked Grebe

Unfortunately it was time to catch the train down to Penzance, I had thought of just staying at Hayle as the birding was so good (quite heavenly in fact) but I stuck to my plan and arrived at Penzance at around 1pm, seeing the long staying and resident male eider amongst the gull flock close to the sea wall as the train pulled in to the station.

I headed off to the sea wall by the bus station for a quick scan around and found the male eider busily displaying to adult great black backed gulls, much to their amusement and/or fascination, and while watching the eider a large and milky coffee coloured juvenile glaucous gull flew up from the water before settling again further out where I had some nice scope views, a very nice find. A Slavonian grebe was just offshore from the Long Rock carpark, distant views only and my fifth grebe species in 3 days, but 2 great northern divers were much closer in and a male common scoter flew over towards Mousehole.

I headed off to the Jubille Pool where 20+ purple sandpipers gave some nice views with turnstone and ringed plovers while offshore a grey seal popped its head up out of the water and a pair of razorbill were busily diving.

Purple Sandpiper, Penzance

Turnstone, Newlyn

I carried on along the coast path towards Newlyn and on to Sandy Cove (misnamed as not very sandy!) where the regular wintering Pacific diver has mostly been seen but there was no sign of it (it was reported off Marazion that day, the usual place I would normally have visited!). I did see a female type black redstart on the rocky shore and a few great northern divers on the flat calm sea but amongst a large feeding flock of gulls around a trawler I found another juvenile glaucous gull - this one was paler and with worn tail feathers compared to the Penzance bird - but it quickly flew off towards Mousehole and out of sight. I later found another bird resting on the water but it drifted off towards Mousehole and out of sight again, another pale bird compared to the Penzance bird but possibly the bird I had seen in flight earlier?

Another look at the purple sandpipers on the walk back to Penzance was a delight as usual, such characterful and handsome birds, and another look off the sea wall by the bus station and the milky coffee coloured glaucous gull was still loafing around along with the horny but confused male eider. A female blackcap skulking in the nearby bushes finished off an amazing days birding as I headed off to catch the train home - no Pacific diver again (as usual) but some fantastic birds anyway.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Three Grebe Day on The River Plym

Thursday 14th January and a sunny day with a bracingly cold wind and I decided to head off to Wembury for a walk, my first walk there for 2016. I expected it to be muddy and indeed it was, more so than on my pre-Christmas visit, but I managed to navigate the path again without incident.

A few gannets were distantly offshore and fulmars were prospecting the cliffs of The Mewstone. A pair of bullfinch were in the valley to the beach, the male looking stunning in the bright sunlight. 3 song thrush were heard singing strongly with a fourth bird seen and a kestrel and buzzard were seen flying over.

There was a good count of 57 oystercatchers feeding in the stubble field and occasionally they were being harassed by nearby carrion crows when they found food. A further 17 oystercatcher were roosting at The Point giving a good count of 74 oystercatchers in total. 3 curlew and 8 little egrets were also roosting along the beach with the oystercatchers.

Shag, Wembury Point

The seaweed mass near the sewage pipe was much diminished from my previous visit but as I approached I disturbed a common sandpiper feeding on it and it flew off low over the water towards The Point. Scanning around and I quickly found a water pipit feeding on the seaweed mass, presumably the bird I saw before Christmas  - again it was very aggressive towards any rock pipits that dared to venture near to it, constantly chasing them off. A female type black redstart was feeding along the nearby cliffs but was very unobtrusive and quite elusive at times.

 Water Pipit, Wembury Point

 Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Heading home and I stopped off at Laira Bridge over The River Plym where a black necked grebe has been reported for the past few days but at first all I could find were 3 little grebes. However as I scanned around as the tide receded I eventually found the black necked grebe and it gave some nice views despite rarely spending long at the surface. As I watched the grebes a great northern diver drifted downriver, spooking the grebes into flight when it dived underneath them. Scanning upriver and I also found a great crested grebe, the first time I have seen one on The Plym.

Black Necked Grebe with Little Grebe, River Plym

 Black Necked Grebe

 Black Necked Grebe

Great Northern Diver, River Plym

Also seen were 2 greenshank, a very beautiful kingfisher, looking resplendent in the sunlight, 4 little egrets and a flyover grey wagtail before it was time to head home to catch up on chores.

Kingfisher, River Plym


And so a 3 grebe day on the River Plym - my first black necked grebe, my first great crested grebe and 3 little grebes - and only my second ever sighting of a black necked grebe in the Plymouth area. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

New Year in Devon - Glossy Ibis and Cattle Egret

A few days of annual leave after the Christmas and New Years Frenzy was just right for winding down after all the festivities and a chance to get out birding properly with kids back to school and adults back at work.

Monday 4th and on a walk to the allotment to pick some veggies for dinner a male blackcap was feeding in the ivy by the small pond behind the aquarium, a brief view before it disappeared into cover but a nice find.

Tuesday 5th and we headed off to Burrator for a walk on a sunny but breezey day. With all the recent rain the reservoir was full and overflowing the dam and the ground saturated and boggy but at least the walk around the reservoir on the road was easy going and dry and mud free. A male goosander, a cormorant, 2 little grebe, 2 Muscovy duck and 3 white feral geese were on the water with the mallards and a treecreeper circling up a moss covered pine tree was a nice find. A photographer at the top car park was tempting birds close to his lens with some seeds and nuts and amongst the coal, blue and great tits were a few marsh tits and nuthatches. 2 roe deer feeding out in the open close to the road were a surprise and totally unfazed by the cars and people passing by.

Roe Deer, Burrator Reservoir

Wednesday 6th and it was off to see the new Star Wars film (very good) but before heading off to Vue a quick walk around Plymouth Hoe in the sunshine and flat calm conditions revealed the little grebe still on Sutton Harbour, a distant great northern diver in Jennycliff Bay and a brief view of the black redstart at Rusty Anchor.

Oystercatcher, Rusty Anchor

Thursday 7th and a walk from Thurlestone village to South Huish Marsh and back was very invigorating in the sunshine and strong winds with rough seas and waves crashing onto the shore. Thurlestone Marsh continues to be trashed as it is converted into arable land but South Huish Marsh was totally flooded, the first time I have seen it like this. Searching through the birds and I had a brief view of an orange head before it disappeared in the sedges and presumably belonging to the long staying ruddy shelduck. My other target bird was much more accomodating, a juvenile glossy ibis feeding amongst the flooded grass and looking stunning in the strong sunlight with beautiful green and purple irridescent feathers but a face only an ibis could love.

 Glossy Ibis and Teal, South Huish Marsh

 Glossy Ibis, Black Headed Gull and Teal, South Huish Marsh

Friday 8th and it was off to Topsham on the train, £9.90 for a single after 09:00 but a staggering £17.30 before 09:00! I arrived at the hide at Bowling Green Marsh just after 11:00 to find the Marsh too was well flooded and covered in wildfowl - mostly wigeon, teal, mallard and Canada geese but amongst them I found gadwall, shoveler, pintail, 2 male pochard, a pair of tufted duck, a coot and greylag geese. The tide was low so the only waders on show were lapwing and curlew with a flyover greenshank and redshank. Unfortunately I couldn't find the wintering American wigeon amongst the wigeon flock but it was reported as being present that day - never mind.

 Pair of Wigeon, Bowling Green Marsh

Male Wigeon, Bowling Green Marsh

Walking to the viewing platform and a large flock of brent geese were feeding in the grassy field by the path giving some great views, the first time I have seen them here. From the platform a spotted redshank showed very well with redshank, grey plover and dunlin also seen. A large flock of avocets were seen downriver but they were distant and a few distant red breasted mergansers were diving in the river. A large flock of black tailed godwit were resting out on the mudflats, again distant views, and 2 adult common gulls were feeding amongst the black headed gulls.

Spotted Redshank, River Clyst Viewing Platform

Daffodils, Topsham Goatwalk

After meeting David and having lunch in The Lighter Inn we walked over to Darts Farm. The light was fading and it was difficult to scan through the large finch flock feeding in the stubble as they were very mobile and flighty, not helped by the attentions of a male sparrowhawk. I eventually found a juvenile reed bunting and a female brambling amongst the chaffinch, greenfinch and goldfinch before they were lost amongst the moving flock. A few redwing and fieldfare were very skulky in the trees before flying off and a great spotted woodpecker was equally evasive, maybe due to the ongoing prescence of the sparrowhawk.

The highlight though was a cattle egret feeding in the field in front of the hide with little egrets, presumably one of the birds I saw at Teigngrace in November last year, and a nice end to a good day out.

Cattle Egret between Little Egrets, Darts Farm

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Plymouth Birding

I worked a night shift on New Years Eve and my plan for New Years Day was to have a quick walk around Plymouth Hoe in the afternoon after a few hours sleep. However the weather was wet and windy when I woke up so I stayed in and vegged in front of the telly instead.

January 2nd and the weather forecast was for more rain later in the day and so I headed off in the morning for a walk. It was very breezey and with the overnight rain I hoped for something interesting having been blown in with the bad weather.

Starting at Sutton Harbour and I quickly refound the little grebe from a few days ago but there was no sign of the razorbill. 12 mute swans were still present including the 3 juveniles which are becoming increasingly whiter as time goes by. The highlight was a cormorant trying to swallow a massive fish it had caught - it eventually managed to get it down but looked most uncomfortable as it rested on a pontoon.

 Cormorant with a large fish (?Grey Mullet)

Cormorant with fish  - it did eventually manage to swallow it!

No sign of kingfisher or guillemot at the lock gates but off The Elphinstone I found a smart great northern diver which drifted off into The Cattewater as it frequently dived, occassionally being spooked by an over enthusiastic black headed gull buzzing it overhead. Another great northern diver was off Tinside Pool with another one found off Rusty Anchor. An adult gannet circling over The Cattewater before heading off back in to The Sound was a surprise, I've never seen one so close to shore in Plymouth before.

 Great Northern Diver in The Cattewater

Great Northern Diver off Rusty Anchor

I had a quick search of the wasteground at Rusty Anchor and found a very smart female type black redstart which was very active and mobile and eventually flew off in to some gardens. I even managed to get a good photo despite it not staying still for more than a few seconds.

Black Redstart at Rusty Anchor

The weather by this point was starting to deteriorate and so it was time to head off home but I was pleased with the birds I had seen although I did feel sorry for the cormorant which must have had the most horrendous indigestion from swallowing such a huge fish!

 Great Black Backed Gull with dead juvenile Shag

Juvenile Herring Gull

Friday, 1 January 2016

Razorbill and Guillemot

Christmas 2015 was enjoyable with time spent with family including my sister and brother-in-law for the first Christmas in 12 years and my first ever Christmas with my 12 year old nephew - also the first Christmas with my mum for 10 years.

Boxing day and a walk along the River Plym from Chelson Meadow to The Beefeater at Marsh Mills and back was grey and windy but mild and dry if a little muddy underfoot. I forgot my binoculars but managed to see 3 greenshanks roosting on Blaxton Meadow at high tide with curlew, oystercatcher, redshank and shelduck. A jay was heard squawking and a noisy mistle thrush flew over. A nice surprise was a kingfisher calling in a tree overhanging the River between the A38 flyover and the Plympton Bridge before it flew off downstream.

A walk around Plymouth Hoe on the 27th and this time I remembered my binoculars. 11 turnstone were feeding on the gravel beach in Sutton Harbour near The China House and there were 12 mute swans including 3 juveniles. A kingfisher was on the rocks near the lock gates before noisely flying off and a smart winter plumaged adult Mediterranean gull flew across The Cattewater to Mountbatten. 3 ravens flying over The Citadel spooked all the roosting gulls and pigeons and were mobbed by carrion crows before flying off towards Devils Point.

The highlight was a guillemot resting on the sea in The Cattewater before flying off in to The Sound and thereby removing "auk species" from my year list.

December 28th and another walk around Sutton Harbour could only find 6 turnstones and there was no sign of the kingfisher today. A guillemot was resting on the sea near the lock gates but the best bird was a razorbill which gave amazingly close views as it regularly dived for fish close to the quayside and giving some fantastic underwater views. Wish I had taken my camera!

And despite my thinking I wouldn't see either guillemot or razorbill before the years end I ended up seeing both on my doorstep and taking my year list total to a pleasing 186 species.

And so to 2016 - what will it bring? Happy New Year everybody!