Friday, 17 February 2017

Bonaparte's Gull, River Exe

A visit from Mum and Sister Vik, work and continuing family health issues have meant little recent opportunities for birding.

Monday 6th February and a grey and drizzly day meant just a quick look at Burrator reservoir with Mum and Vik but it did provide a sighting of a jay, my first of the year. The water levels were higher than on our last visit but still not high enough for water to flow over the dam.

A walk around Plymouth Hoe with them on Tuesday 7th was bright and sunny and I found 2 great northern divers close in off Tinside Pool, my first for the winter.

Wednesday 8th and with a few free hours to ourselves after Mum and Vik had returned home we took a walk around Burrator reservoir on a sunny and still day. A muscovy duck, mallards, 2 white geese, Canada geese, a male teal, a little grebe and cormorants were seen on the water while the woods held siskins, coal tits, goldcrests, blue tits and great tits with marsh tits and nuthatches seen coming to peanuts put out by photographers at the car park.

 Feral Geese, Burrator Reservoir

Feral Geese, Burrator Reservoir

Wednesday 15th February and finally a day to myself and so I headed off to Dawlish Warren on the train despite the rain.The rain began to ease as I stepped off the train at the Warren and eventually the sun appeared and it became a pleasently mild day.

Offshore it was quiet with a male common scoter close in off Langstone Rock and a great northern diver close in off Warren Point busily munching away on crabs being the highlights. At least 15 variously plumaged great crested grebes were dotted around the Bay and there were 3 distant common scoters resting offshore and an adult Mediterranean gull developing a black hood was seen flying along the seawall.

From the hide at high tide there were hundreds of dunlin with 6 ringed plovers, a sanderling, grey plover, knot, redshank, oystercatcher, turnstone, curlew and bar tailed godwit. A male reed bunting, 2 skylark, linnets and rock pipits were feeding in the salt marsh and another Mediterranean gull flew past, this one with a much more extensive black hood than the bird seen from the seawall.

As usual there were bark bellied brent geese dotted around The Bight and in the estuary along with a small flock feeding on the golf course.

 Brent Geese, Dawlish Warren Golf Course

Brent Geese

On the main pond were a summer plumaged little grebe and a pair of shoveler along with a snipe sleeping amongst the waterside vegetation.

Shoveler and Little Grebe, Dawlish Warren

I then walked over to the nearby Cockwood Steps, somewhere I haven't visited before, and on the outgoing tide I soon found a Slavonian grebe, presumably Herbert the resident bird and looking a bit scruffy as it moults into summer plumage, but later I saw a second bird looking much smarter with a bright white neck. 2 Harbour seals were hauled out on the sand bank, some distance apart from each other and both a very pale colour. A female goldeneye, red breasted mergansers, 2 little grebes and a greenshank were also seen but there was no sign of the regular wintering Bonaparte's gull which has been most regularly reported from here this winter.

Harbour Seal from Cockwood Steps

I kept scanning the gulls resting on the mudflats and flying around but there was no sign of it although there were quite a few common gulls noted. A local birding couple then arrived and within a few minutes one of them found the adult winter Bonaparte's gull resting on the mud towards Shutterton Creek, a little distant but its bubble gum pink legs, black bill, black blob behind the eye and smaller size compared to nearby black headed gulls were all noticeable.

It flew down to the waters edge and then flew off down river when disturbed by a bait digger when its white underwings lacking any dark markings under the wing tips were noted but unfortunately it landed out of sight and I never refound it. I was very pleased to see it though and all thanks to the local birder finding it - apparently it is best looked for in the afternoon downriver from the steps on a outgoing low tide - and it helps to have a better telescope than mine!

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