Thursday, 20 April 2017

River Exe Day Out

Wednesday 19th April and after a busy Easter weekend at work I needed to get out birding on what was a beautiful and sunny and warm day. I wasn't sure where to go and in the end decided to head to Exminster Marshes on the River Exe for a look around.

I arrived at Exminster Marsh at around 9:30 and decided to head along the back path rather than visit Powderham Marsh first, a decision that proved to be very fortuitous. As I walked along the path I heard blackcap, chiffchaff and reed warblers and sedge warblers and with a bit of patience I managed to get some decent views of them. The sedge warblers were easiest to see due to their occassional song flights whereas the reed warblers often kept low down in the reed bases and out of sight.

Reed Warbler, Exminster Marsh

Sedge Warbler, Exminster Marsh

I reached the picnic area and was checking out the corrugated sheets for grass snakes and slow worms when I flushed a large raptor out of the small trees which flew off onto the marsh. At first I thought it was a buzzard but quickly realised it was a short eared owl! I refound it sat on the grass out on the marsh with a most disgruntled look on its face before it flew back to the trees. It then flushed again and this time circled up high before drifting over the railway line towards Powderham Marsh and out of sight but it was a very nice find and my best views ever.

 Short Eared Owl, Exminster Marsh

 Short Eared Owl

 Short Eared Owl

Short Eared Owl

A few ducks were still present around the marsh - a pair of tufted duck, 3 male and a female shoveler, a male and 2 female pintail, teal, mallard and 2 male and 4 female wigeon were seen along with Canada geese, mute swan, coot, moorhen, displaying lapwings, 2 black tailed godwit and 2 pairs of display flighting oystercatchers.

Mute Swan

I carried on along the foot path and then joined the canal towpath where there seemed to be singing and song flighting sedge warblers in every bush. I also found a small dragonfly perched on the path side vegetation and was pleased to ID it as a female hairy dragonfly, a new species for me.

 Hairy Dragonfly, Exminster Marsh

  Hairy Dragonfly

 Hairy Dragonfly

I decided at the last minute to catch the foot ferry across the river to Topsham and to go and have a look around Bowling Green Marsh on the incoming tide. At the viewing platform over the River Clyst I bumped into my mates Mavis and Mike, a very pleasent surprise and good to see them out and about. They were heading off to the hide so after a quick look off the platform I went to join them - the light was harsh and hazy and the tide was not a very high tide so birds were distant and difficult to view but I did see bar tailed godwits, common gulls and redshanks along with 9 greenshank and a summer plumaged spotted redshank. It was a shame the views of the spotted redshank were not that great as they are such stunning birds in summer plumage.

I met Mavis and Mike at the hide but it was fairly quiet on Bowling Green Marsh with 3 whimbrel flying over and a roost of black tailed godwits being seen along with a pair of gadwall, a pair of pintail, teal, mallard, tufted duck and a few remaining wigeon. A very dark backed lesser black backed gull was roosting with the herring gulls which I called as a great black backed until I was corrected, I never have much luck with gills!

There was no sign of the 3 reported ruff with birders in the hide stating they had flown off towards Goosemoor earlier and so I walked over to the Goosemoor viewing platform to have a look for them. I eventually found them amongst the feeding black tailed godwit flock but again the views were distant and hazy and they were also quite nervous looking and a bit twitchy and flighty, unlike the godwits they were feeding with.

I had another quick look from the hide before saying goodbye to Mavis and Mike and heading back over the river to Exminster Marsh on the foot ferry. Things were much the same here but I added a large and brown toned female peregrine, a great spotted woodpecker, 4 house martins, small tortoiseshells and a female brimstone butterfly to the day list.

Hawthorn Blossom, Exminster

I caught the bus back to Starcross and while waiting for the train I watched 2 distant Sandwich terns fishing along the river where around 100 distant pale bellied brent geese were roosting on the water off Lympstone and 12 turnstones were roosting on the pontoons.

I got off the train at Dawlish Warren for a quick 60 minute look around before catching the next train back to Plymouth but it was fairly quiet with just gulls and gannets offshore, a little grebe feeding a chick on the main pond with 2 reed warblers chuntering away in the reeds, a small copper butterfly flitting about and a lone green winged orchid beginning to go over being the highlights.

 Small Copper, Dawlish Warren

 Green Winged Orchid, Dawlish Warren

Green Winged Orchid, Dawlish Warren

Quite a day out with some very good sightings - it should keep me going for a few days!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Whimbrels, Whitethroat and a few Moths

Monday 10th April and a walk along the coast path between Thurlestone and Hope Cove with a look at South Huish Marsh along the way was very pleasent in the sunshine and not too busy with Easter holiday makers. A good selection of birds have been reported recently from South Huish Marsh - cattle egret, glaucous gull, Iceland gull, garganey, house martin - but I saw none of them! Annoyingly both the gulls and garganey were reported that afternoon but that is birdwatching for you.

I did see a good selection of birds on the marsh though - 2 shelduck, a male shoveler, 2 mute swan, teal, mallard, Canada geese, 2 swallow, 3 male and 2 female wheatear, a 1st summer Mediterranean gull, an adult summer black headed gull, a flyover raven, 2 buzzard and herring and great black backed gulls.

The toilet block at Thurlestone golf course had a few moths inside which were nice to see - 3 water carpet, an early thorn, a dotted border and 2 v pug.

 Water Carpet

Dotted Border

Thursday 13th April and it was off to Wembury for a walk on a mostly sunny morning. As I got off the bus a whimbrel flew over heading inland giving its lovely call, a good start to the walk. Again it wasn't too busy but it was high tide and disturbance by dog walkers on the beach at Wembury Point meant the 6 whimbrel I found trying to roost on the rocks were constantly on the move until the tide receeded and they could settle down further out on the reef. The roosting oystercatchers sat tight, I guess they are more used to humans, but 2 dunlin disturbed from the beach flew off east, never to be seen again. It was interesting to read an article in Devon Birds which had arrived in the post the previous day concerning the waders at Wembury over the years and the decrease in numbers reported and the increase in disturbance, something I have noticed too in the years that I have been birding at Wembury.




Cirl buntings were much more showy again on this visit with 3 males and a female seen and a male heard. No sign of the Dartford warbler in the new place but I did see a male whitethroat songflighting in the area and from experience the Wembury Dartford warblers do not tolerate whitethroats in their spot.

Chiffchaffs were seen and heard, 6 shelduck were together on the cliff tops at The Point, 9 male and a female mallard were along the beach, 2 swallows flew over, blackcaps were heard singing and a male white wagtail was singing and feeding on the rocks but otherwise it was fairly quiet.




White Wagtail

A lone speckled wood was seen along with a red admiral feeding on the sloe blossoms.

Red Admiral

Scorpion Fly

Heading home and I stopped off at Laira Bridge for a look at what has been done at Billacombe Railway "nature" reserve, owned by Plymouth City Council. As suspected the cycle path has been extended from the old railway bridge and through the nature reserve with a total loss of the habitat that was once there - so no more bee orchids, pyramidal orchids, southern marsh orchids, common lizard, slow worms, common blue or burnet companions, very sad. The path is not yet complete with the final stretch yet to be built but I guess that is the end of Billacombe Railway nature reserve - RIP.

Billacombe Railway "Nature" Reserve

I walked over to nearby Blagdons Meadow nature reserve where everything was fortunately as normal and I found some early purple orchids and cuckoo flowers in bloom along with a speckled wood butterfly. Out on the mudflats at low tide were a Canada goose, 6 little egret, shelducks and gulls. A brimstone moth was found on the wall by the lights in the nearby underpass and a chiffchaff flitted about in the hedgerow but remained silent.

 Early Purple Orchid

Brimstone Moth

A quick walk again at Wembury on Saturday 15th April and on the high tide there were now  12 whimbrel trying to roost on the rocks at The Point and constantly being disturbed by walkers along the beach. Swallows were flitting about overhead with no more than 3 seen together at any one time and 1 seen flying in off the sea, 2 shelduck were flying around and then resting on the rocks, a grey heron flew over, 3 Sandwich tern flew west towards Plymouth Sound and 4 little egrets were roosting at The Point. Most frustrating though was what I think was a lesser whitethroat briefly singing in the sewage farm hedge, a brief whitethroat like warble followed by a distinctive cirl bunting like rattle. I could just make out the bird in the undergrowth before a jogger ran by and it disappeared into deeper cover but then I noticed a male cirl bunting sat in the top of the hedgerow - was it only a whitethroat quietly singing with the cirl bunting providing the second part of the duet? I don't think it was but I will never know for sure.


I also finally found a bloody nose beetle larva in the area where I saw the adult beetles last year constantly bonking - I haven't found any adults here so far this year and one larva seems a poor show for the continuous amorous activities that I witnessed last year.

Bloody Nose Beetle Larva

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Spring Time at Wembury and Rame Head

A gorgeous spring day on Wednesday 5th April and it was off to Wembury on the bus for a much needed wildlife walk after a very busy shift at work the previous day. I was hoping for a few migrants but other than singing chiffchaffs and blackcaps, 3 swallows flying in off the sea and heading inland and a lone whimbrel feeding on the rocks there was nothing else of note.

Butterflies were much more noticeable especially when compared to this time last year, there were good numbers of peacock and speckled wood along with 2 male orange tip, 2 holly blue and 2 green veined white.

 Speckled Wood, Wembury

 Peacock, Wembury

 Green Veined White, Wembury

Male Orange Tip, Wembury

Drinker Moth Caterpillar

A pair of shelduck and 4 male mallards were feeding the beach and a male sparrowhawk was displaying overhead. Cirl buntings were very elusive this time with just a brief view of a skulky male and birds heard calling and singing but not seen. There was no sign of the Dartford warbler either but I saw it on my last visit in an area that is very overgrown and difficult to view from the paths.

Friday 7th April and an even more gorgeous spring day and so I decided to head to Rame Head for a look around. I don't know why I don't visit Rame more often, it is only 65 pence more for the return bus ticket than it is for Wembury and the journey time is only 30 minutes longer (the service is also hourly, unlike Wembury). Another plus is the stunning view from the top deck of the bus as it travels along Whitsand Bay.

As I got off the bus at Whitsand Bay I immediately picked up 2 swallows flying overhead with a chiffchaff and a blackcap heard singing in the hedgerow nearby. A scan from the clifftop across the flat calm water revealed 2 distant auk species sat on the sea, a lone gannet flying around and 3 great northern divers snorkelling and diving quite close in to the beach. I also had the usual blink and you miss it views of 2 harbour porpoise moving west off Rame Head.

Walking to the chapel at Rame Head via the clifftop footpath and I saw a sand martin fly in off the sea along with more swallows (another 7 in total) and more chiffchaffs and blackcaps were heard singing. A male yellowhammer showed well, busily singing away but a little wary at times, and I eventually saw and heard at least another 3 males on the walk. From the Chapel I had some good views of a fulmar, a peregrine, a male kestrel, a pair of raven, stonechats, 5 skylarks flying over and linnets. A lone harbour porpoise was moving west offshore and 7 female fallow deer were running through the gorse bushes on the cliff edge.

 Male Yellowhammer, Rame Head

Stonechat, Rame Head

Fallow Deer, Rame Head

A very orange looking and skittish butterfly eventually settled long enough for me to confirm the ID of wall brown, my first of the year and a very handsome butterfly. I also saw a holly blue, a peacock and numerous speckled wood.

 Wall Brown, Rame Head

Wall Brown, Rame Head

Heading back to Whitsand Bay and the bus stop for the bus back to Plymouth and I had another scan across the Bay from the clifftops but there was no sign of the divers. 2 Sandwich tern were diving for fish close to shore while a large splash offshore gave away the position of a pod of at least 7 bottle nose dolphins feeding in the Bay before heading west past Rame Head. They were quite unobtrusive as they presumably hunted for fish and showed only briefly at the surface, with their position being given away by the attentions of herring gulls and the odd passing gannet above them. A fox sunning itself on the clifftop to the consternation of a nearby male pheasent was another surprise, my first of the year.

And so two excellent walks along the coast in glorious weather and close to home - and I must remember to go to Rame Head more often.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Even more Cattle Egrets and the Wrong Gull on a trip to Cornwall

Sunday 2nd April and it was a gorgeous sunny Spring day and I had 2 choices - head east to the River Exe (for the 3rd week in a row) or west to Hayle and Penzance. I didn't relish the thought of a long train journey but in the end I decided on west anyway due to the lure of a near adult ring billed gull being reported at Hayle.

I arrived first at Penzance at around 11:15 and on a brief look offshore from the bus station I found the resident male eider close inshore along with a diving Sandwich tern, while further offshore a few gannets were flapping around.

Male Eider, Penzance - record shot into the sun

Another cetacean was washed up on the beach, this time a common dolphin and again tagged by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Apparently it has been a bad winter this year for dead porpoises and dolphins being washed up on Cornish beaches but I fortunately haven't come across any at Wembury this year.

Common Dolphin

The walk to Marazion was very warm in the sunshine, not helped by my wearing my winter coat, but I eventually arrived at Long Rock Pool where 2 male tufted duck were seen along with moorhen, a pair of mallard and bathing herring, lesser black backed and great black backed gulls.

Marazion Marsh had more going on with a willow warbler heard singing along with chiffchaffs and Cettis warblers, 2 little egrets, a little grebe, 2 male reed buntings, teal, mallard, moorhen, 2 Canada geese, a greylag goose and a nice singing male stonechat.

Male Stonechat, Marazion

Grey herons were sitting on nests or fishing around the marsh with birds regularly chasing each other around. One nest in the top of the reeds held some small fledglings, I counted 3 small heads but a photographer with a massive camera lens said there were in fact 4 but 1 was being picked on by the other 3 and was looking in a bad way.

Grey Heron with Teal, Marazion

I caught the bus from Long Rock to St.Erth and walked down to the causeway bridge overlooking the Hayle estuary and the tide was right out. Unfortunately the gulls were bathing and resting on the mudflats further downriver than usual and viewing was difficult in the harsh light and heat haze and despite searching I couldn't find the ring billed gull nor the 2 reported Iceland gulls. However I did find a bonus gull, a very smart adult little gull, which flew in over the bridge and headed downriver before flying back over to Ryans Field where it fed over the water for a few minutes and then headed off inland. Its red legs, black underwing and light grey upperwings fringed with white were very noticeable although it had not developed the black hood of summer plumage ( a 1st winter bird has also been reported on the bird sightings pages).

 Little Gull, Ryans Field

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

Little Gull - Crop Shot

While scanning through the gulls I picked up a sleeping spoonbill, it awoke briefly and showed a pale yellowish bill so was not the usual resident bird. A short time later I picked up a spoonbill high overhead which soared around for a while before landing in the river channel to feed, being the resident bird with a yellow tipped black bill and a few black feathers in the wing tips.


Other birds of note were 1 greenshank, 5 winter plumaged bar tailed godwit, 2 summer plumaged black tailed godwit, good numbers still of wigeon, a few teal, oystercatcher, redshank and curlew.


A nice surprise were 6 cattle egret on Ryans field, starting to show the buffy crowns of breeding plumage. They appeared quite nervous and unsettled, moving around the field to feed and mostly staying close together and represent my first UK cattle egret sighting outside of Devon!

 Cattle Egret - 5 of the 6

Cattle Egret - 5 of the 6

So not a bad day out although I missed a few birds reported on the day - great skua, hobby, swallow, black throated diver and sand martin at Marazion and the ring billed gull at Hayle - but I had enjoyed my sightings with a bonus view of a faded but intact painted lady butterfly on the grass verge by the causeway bridge at Hayle.