Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Sawbills on the River Plym

A few days off after our trip to North America to get over the jet lag before going back to work were much appreciated (jet lag is an absolute bitch!) and so a walk around Saltram Park on Monday 8th February in dry but very, very windy conditions helped to blow a few cobwebs away. As it was so windy there were very few people around and we had the cafe to ourselves for lunch which was most bizarre but at least we didn't have to get out of the way of the yummy mummies who usually power walk around the park with their massive baby buggies.

A male goosander with a little grebe gave some great views floating on the water - the little grebe was very skittish and frequently dived but the goosander was very unconcerned by our prescence on the nearby footpath - shame I had left my camera at home!

Further downriver off The Folly were 2 male and three female red breasted mergansers diving in the main river channel in very choppy conditions, more distant views than those of the goosander and possibly the same 5 birds I saw on the river on January 27th before my trip to New York.

A treecreeper feeding on the trees around the pond as we ate our lunch was a nice find and there were lots of mandarin ducks on the pond with the mallards and moorhens although most were tucked away in the pondside vegetation. It was interesting to see a male mandarin with a female giving short shrift to any male mallards that came too close despite being smaller and slighter than the mallards.

Tuesday 9th and a walk around Plymouth Hoe in much calmer conditions gave me some great views of a juvenile great northern diver eating crabs just off the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. It had the most amazing red coloured eyes in the bright sunlight but again I had left my camera at home! Another missed photographic opportunity was a large grey seal by the Sutton Harbour lock gates which was attracting the attentions of black headed gulls - the lock gates were being opened slowly to let a yacht out and maybe the fast flow of water contained fish for it to catch.

Sunday 14th and a day off to myself and so with dry and sunny but cold conditions I decided to have a proper birding walk along the River Plym after 4 busy but pleasent days back at work.

I caught the bus to Marsh Mills and began walking to Plym Bridge. It was very muddy underfoot from all the continuing heavy rain we keep receiving this winter and there were lots of people around emptying their dogs but I managed some good sightings.

Siskins were feeding unobtrusively in the alder tree tops with a few males also seen songflighting while amongst the coal, blue, great and long tailed tits I found at least 2 marsh tits. A kingfisher flew downstream calling but I didn't find any dippers although the river was swollen and murky from all the recent rain. A mistle thrush singing from a tree, a circling and mewing buzzard and drumming and calling great spotted woodpeckers were signs of spring along with a pair of ravens flying over busily cronking and tumbling with 1 bird flipping over onto its back at times.

Best birds were 2 male goosanders fishing together, 1 bird snorkelling behind the other as they paddled upstream near the Plympton road bridge. Again some good views, they seemed very unconcerned by my close prescence and it was interesting to watch all hell break loose between them when 1 bird caught a fish before it was eventually swallowed!

 Male Goosander - number1

Male Goosander - number 2

Heading downstream from Marsh Mills to Laira Bridge and the little grebe at Marsh Mills was still as skittish as it was on the 8th. A chiffchaff and a goldcrest gave some nice views feeding in the undergrowth near the sewage treatment works and a lone female wigeon feeding on Blaxton Meadow was a surprise. A greenshank and 4 little grebes were near the outlet by Sainsburys, the greenshank eventually flying over to the shoreline by Blaxton Meadow. A common sandpiper was a nice find feeding along the waterline as the tide receded.

 Greenshank and Black Headed Gull


 Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Walking up the steps through the woods near The Folly and I found a very nice firecrest in the same spot I have seen one for the past 2 years - this one was especially active though and the views were difficult as it hovered under leaves and ducked and dived around before disappearing from sight.


From The Ride I found 2 great crested grebes fishing together in the river channel on the outgoing tide - at first I thought there was just one bird as they were diving seperately but eventually I saw both birds together at the surface. There were also 4 pairs of red breasted mergansers, 3 pairs together and a pair further downriver - the 3 males together were busily displaying to the females who seemed intrigued if not that really interested. From Laira Bridge I saw 4 little grebes giving a days total of 9 altogether but unfortunately there was no sign of the recent  black necked grebe - however it had been a great days birding and even better it had been right on my doorstep.

Distant shot of Red Breasted Mergansers with Carrion Crow

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