Tuesday, 28 February 2017

More Local Birding - River Plym Walk and Lesser Scaup at Dozmary Pool

Saturday 25th February and my plan to catch the train to Hayle and Penzance for a days birding were changed yet again due to the weather - yesterday at Slapton it was dry and still and mild and sunny at times, today it was misty and breezey and cool and dull with rain forecast for the afternoon - and so I stayed local and caught the bus to Marsh Mills for a walk along the River Plym.

I started off by walking upriver from the Plympton road bridge at Marsh Mills, getting some nice views of 8 male and 5 female mandarin ducks with a mute swan and a pair of mallard right by the bridge. The mandarins were quite vocal and were displaying and jostling with each other and were also appreciative of bread being thrown into the water by 2 old ladies with a neurotic dog.

 Male Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

I had a search through the trees along the riverside for treecreepers but had no luck but I did find 3 mistle thrush, goldcrests and a few redwings eating ivy berries with some blackbirds along with the usual woodland birds. The river proved much more interesting with good views of a common sandpiper, a pair of grey wagtail, a kingfisher, a dipper and a pair of goosander.

 Common Sandpiper

 Common Sandpiper

Male Goosander

Heading back downriver and after walking under the A38 flyover I soon found a moorhen, a winter plumaged little grebe and a little egret and further downriver a pair of summer plumaged little grebes. Blaxton Meadow was empty due to the low tide but out on the estuary mudflats I found a male wigeon and 2 greenshanks with 6 adult common gulls and quite a few adult lesser black backed gulls amongst the roosting gull flock but I couldn't find any white wingers.

A look around the woods in Saltram Park again failed to provide any treecreeper sightings and I only found goldcrests and no firecrests before I headed back to Blaxton Meadow for a look as the tide (and birds) came in. It was nice to see the wintering flock of 100+ dunlin arrive to roost with redshanks, curlews and 3 greenshanks and the male wigeon also appeared with shelducks along with gulls and a little egret. 2 stock doves flew over and I found a male red breasted merganser on the river (my first of the winter on the Plym) before the weather started to deteriorate and I headed home, arriving just as the forecast rain began to fall.

 Wood Anenome

Snowdrops

Monday 27th February and the last day of my leave and again a grotty day of weather - windy, sunny spells, hail, rain and cold temperatures - and so we had a drive to Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor where I immediately picked out the wintering male lesser scaup with tufted ducks, 4 female pochard, a male and 2 female goldeneye, teal and 4 little grebe. The views of the lesser scaup weren't bad, the best I have had here at the Pool, but it spent little time at the surface as it continually dived and gradually moved further away along the shoreline and into the occassional bright spells of sunshine. I didn't stay long as it was bitterly cold in the wind, especially when the sun disappeared behind yet more rain clouds, and we drove back home via a quick look at Siblyback Reservoir which was looking much fuller now than back in September, Tamar View Garden Centre for lunch and another mugging at the tills in Waitrose.

 Male Lesser Scaup (left)

Lesser Scaup

 Lesser Scaup (left)

 Lesser Scaup (left) with Tufted Duck

Lesser Scaup (front left)

And so not a bad end to my week off work despite the less than ideal weather at times - desert wheatear, white fronted goose, lesser- and greater scaup, black necked grebe, water pipit, harbour porpoise, roe deer, grey seal and a humpback whale all within 50 miles of my home - not bad at all.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

More Devon Birding (and Whaling!) - Warren House and Slapton

Wednesday 22nd February and we headed off to Dartmoor for an overnight stay at the Two Bridges Hotel which was very nice with amazing food and a very restful and relaxed ambience. However the weather was a different matter with heavy fog on the high moor as we drove up to the hotel so there was no walking and birding for me. Storm Doris arrived overnight, Devon was on the edge of the storm so missed the worst of it, but Thursday 23rd was very windy although dry and with sunny spells and so after a very good cooked breakfast at the hotel we headed off to Warren House for a walk. I kept my eyes open for the wintering great grey shrike still being reported in the area but there was no sign of it in the strong winds, even in the more sheltered areas. I did see a green woodpecker which was new for the year with a second bird (or possibly the same mobile bird) seen later and 2 roe deer slinking off amongst the pine trees were a good find but that was about it. I did hear what I think was a flyover crossbill but I didn't see it and couldn't be sure in the wind and the background noise from the swaying pine trees.

Friday 24th February and with a whale having been reported off the beach at Slapton, first reported as a minke whale and then confirmed as a humpback whale, we headed off for a look. As we drove down the hill to the car parking area by the bridge I saw the whale blow and then roll into a dive very close to the beach, a most surreal sight in Devon in February and a new whale species for me!

We parked up and walked down to the beach and watched the whale from the memorial car park moving along the shoreline towards Blackpool Sands - large and dark with a noticeable blow and showing its tail flukes with white undersides at times when it dived. It often spent long periods underwater and trying to guess where it would resurface was fun and frustrating in equal measure. At times it only showed briefly at the surface with just a quick blow before sinking underwater without a roll but it was lovely to watch it amongst the large and appreciative crowd gathered on the beach.

Humpback Whale, Start Bay

 Humpback Whale

 Humpback Whale

 Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

I had to tear myself away, I could have stayed on the beach watching it all day, and so we walked along the Ley and over to Beesands for lunch. Along the way I had a few scans of The Ley, noting a female goosander, a female goldeneye and a female and 2 male scaup amongst the gadwall, tufted duck, mallard, pochard, coot and wigeon. It was interesting to see the wigeon following the coot and trying to grab at the weed the coot were bringing to the surface, a behaviour I have seen in gadwall but not in wigeon.

I also scanned offshore and a summer plumaged black necked grebe very close to the beach was a very nice sight in the bright sunlight although it spent little time at the surface and there were a few gannets diving for fish very close to the beach too along with an adult kittiwake.

Harbour porpoise were also noticeable offshore, giving their usual blink and you miss it surface rolls, but there must have been at least 10 individuals dotted around the Bay and at times the views were very good, especially from the clifftops between Torcross and Beesands on a flat calm sea.

I also saw my first butterfly of the year, a red admiral flying along the beach at Torcross, and a butterfly also briefly seen along the beach at Beesands was most likely a peacock but I couldn't be sure.

Mute Swan, Slapton Beach

Carrion Crow, Slapton Beach

After lunch at Beesands we walked back towards the car at Slapton bridge. I dropped David off at the Start Bay Inn at Torcross for a pint and headed off along the beach to the memorial car park to rejoin the crowds admiring the whale and again I had some good views before David met me and it was time to go home. An amazing day, quite surreal and reminding me of watching southern right whales just off the beach in Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background a few years ago now, an experience I didn't think I would emulate in South Devon.

 Humpback Whale

 Humpback Whale

 Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Devon Birding - Wembury and Thurlestone

A week off work but with no plans to go away due to continuing family health issues means local days out birding, starting with a trip on the bus to Wembury on Saturday February18th. I have neglected Wembury over recent months and so it was nice to be heading out for a visit on what was a sunny and very mild morning.

The highlight was a/the water pipit feeding on a large mass of seaweed by the sewage pipe with rock pipits and meadow pipits, again adopting a cocked tail and drooped wing attitude at times. The views were mostly brief as the birds were mobile and very flighty, not helped by continous disturbance from walkers along the beach on what was high tide.

A turnstone roosting on the sewage pipe with mallards and herring gulls was a nice find, turnstones are now scarce at Wembury in the winter, and there were at least 3 chiffchaffs feeding along the cliff base by the sewage pipe, looking very yellowy green in the sunlight and constantly flitting about and dipping their tails. Another chiffchaff was briefly seen in the pines by the horse stable, this individual was much browner toned but quickly disappeared in the undergrowth. Two red legged partidge were also a good find, barely annual for me at Wembury, but as quickly as I found them feeding in the field above the horse field they disappeared  into the hedgerow.

 Red Legged Partridge

Red Legged Partridge

Other birds included a pair of kestrel, 2 flyover ravens, a white and a pale female feral type mallard amongst the mallards, linnets and stonechats but despite a good scan around I didn't find any Dartford warblers at The Point although the area where I usually see them has been quite extensively cleared as part of the ongoing restoration work by the National Trust. Cirl buntings were much in evidence with a pair seen together and at least 2 single males with bouts of singing heard also.

Male Cirl Bunting

A walk at Grenofen on Sunday 19th February was a total contrast with grey and leaden skies and damp but mild air and despite searching the trees I couldn't find any treecreepers. I did get some nice views of siskins, goldcrests, coal tits, a nuthatch and a grey wagtail and I heard but didn't see any marsh tits.

Monday 20th and we headed off to Thurlestone for a walk, parking in the village and walking along the coast to Hope Cove and back. It was cloudy with sunny periods but became windy and overcast as the morning wore on but we had a pleasent walk and the footpath wasn't too muddy.

The first winter male desert wheatear is still residing on Thurlestone Beach and I had some nice views but the light was very dull and the bird quite mobile along the beach. At times I could hear it quietly singing away, a pleasent warbling song, and it is beginning to moult into smart adult summer plumage.

 Male Desert Wheatear

 Desert Wheatear

 Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

At South Huish Marsh I soon found the 2 white fronted geese present for a few days now, busily feeding with Canada geese quite close to the road and giving some nice views.

 White Fronted Geese with Canada Geese

White Fronted Geese

A little egret, a coot, a male shoveler, a grey heron, lapwing, snipe, wigeon, teal, moorhen and mallard were also seen on the marsh along with meadow pipits and a male stonechat before we walked to Hope Cove for lunch. On the walk back to Thurlestone there was no sign of any geese on the marsh but the desert wheatear was still showing well along Thurlestone Beach but with the wind strength continuing to increase it was time to head off back to Plymouth.

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!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

American Wigeon at Kingsmill Lake

Friday 3rd February and my plans for a days birding went right out of the window due to stormy weather - wind and rain galore! There was a brief respite from the rain around lunchtime so I had a walk around Plymouth Hoe to see if anything had been blown in by the gales but I could only find an adult gannet circling around The Cattewater and an adult Mediterranean gull developing a black hood amongst the usual black headed gulls, herring gulls, great black backed gulls and a few common gulls.

The morning of Saturday 4th February was a complete contrast - sunny and still - and things started well with a peregrine seen preening on the roof of the Civic Centre as I waited on Royal Parade for the bus to Saltash. As we drove over the Tamar Bridge my heart sank a little as the River Tamar was shrouded in mist but it quickly began to clear as I walked to the bird hide at the China Fleet Club. I could hear wigeon whistling in the mist as I entered the hide and as I scanned across the creek in the lifting mist I quickly found the male American wigeon first found on Christmas Day last year - distant but good scope views before it disappeared in a creek to feed with wigeon and with only the occassional head view above the vegetation.

American Wigeon (male) with Wigeon

It was high tide and at one point a lot of the roosting birds were spooked by something and  took to the air and shortly after the birds resettled I found the American wigeon on its own on the water, a bit nearer than previously but still a little distant. Again it disappeared amongst the waterside vegetation to preen before I lost sight of it again and that was the last I saw of it.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Other birds seen from the hide included 2 great crested grebes, around 100 avocet, 2 greenshank, an adult lesser black backed gull, around 20 snipe, redshank, curlew, lapwing, around 200 dunlin, black tailed godwit, shelduck and teal.

Beautiful views when the mist cleared

Beautiful Reflection

In the woods amongst the coal, blue, great and long tailed tits was a goldcrest and overhead a raven cronked noisely, and on the golf course lake a pair of tufted duck were with Canada geese, moorhens and mallards along with a very pale buzzard perched on a waterside sign.

Pale Buzzard

Not a bad couple of hours birding before the clouds rolled in and the heavy rain (and hail) returned.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Little Gull at Slapton Ley

Wednesday 1st February and an early start to catch the 7:30 bus to Torcross for a birding walk at Slapton Ley on a grey and breezey morning with the occassional sunny spell.  I was feeling knackered after working 2 long days in a row and I am not sleeping particularly well at the moment, I have no trouble getting to sleep but can't stay asleep, I wake up in the early hours and just can not drop off again. I had thought about catching the 9:00 bus instead and trying to sleep in longer but as usual I was awake early anyway and with rain forecast for the afternoon I headed off on the early bus as originally planned.

Arriving at Torcross at around 9:20 and I had a quick scan around, noting year ticks in gadwall and great crested grebe amongst the tufted duck and coot flocks on the water. An immature male scaup was a nice find, also new for the year, it was busily preening before diving and despite searching I never refound it. However as I scanned around looking for it I immediately picked up a large adult gull with a Daz white head and mid-grey upperwings amongst the herring, common, lesser black backed and great black backed gulls - a very smart adult yellow legged gull, my second in a week! I often find this with my birding, I see a new or uncommon or scarce bird and then very soon after see another.

It really stood out amongst the gull flock, its white head almost gleaming and with grey upperwings coloured between the paler herring gulls and darker lesser black backed gulls nearby. Bill chunkier and very bright yellow with a bright red spot compared to gulls nearby, bright yellow legs seen when it leapt up off the water as it bathed and limited white in its wing tips when it eventually flew off - cue some more crappy photos!

 Yellow Legged Gull (top), Lesser Black Backed Gull (middle), Herring Gull (bottom)

 Yellow Legged Gull (top)

 Yellow Legged Gull (upper right)

 Yellow Legged Gull

 Yellow Legged Gull - upper right

 Yellow Legged Gull- upper left

 Yellow Legged Gull taking off

 Yellow Legged Gull with Herring Gulls

 Yellow Legged Gull - upper right

 Yellow Legged Gull - flashing its yellow legs

 Yellow Legged Gull behind a Lesser Black Backed Gull

Yellow Legged Gull - wingtips

After the yellow legged gull flew off I had another scan around for the elusive scaup but still couldn't find it and just as I was about to start my walk towards the Upper Ley a small gull flying towards the duck feeding area caught my eye. I thought it was an immature juvenile kittiwake as it had a dark black W across its upperwings but as it got nearer its small size was apparent - a 1st winter little gull!

It spashed down amongst the black headed gulls and mallards just a few metres away and had a bathe and a preen for a few minutes before flying off - amazing views of the worlds smallest gull and well worth my early start ( and I had also already seen the worlds largest gull, the great black backed gull).

 1st Winter Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull

 Little Gull with Black Headed Gull

Little Gull with Black Headed Gull

I eventually started my walk towards the bridge between the Upper and Lower Leys and along the way saw a pair of stonechat, a meadow pipit, a small flock of around 6 long tailed tits and a Cettis warbler which showed very well in the reeds as it gave a wren like alarm call before disappearing.

Mid Ley and I eventually found 2 adult male and a female scaup amongst a small group of tufted duck and pochard, the female was definently a greater scaup as there have been reports of a potential female lesser scaup present on the Ley.

 Female Scaup

 Female Scaup

Male Scaup

Male Scaup

Coot and Scaup

From the Memorial car park I quickly found the wintering black necked grebe very close to the beach on a choppy sea along with a great northern diver, both year ticks, and there were quite a few gannets flying around, some very close in and flying along the beach.

 Black Necked Grebe

Great Northern Diver

In Ireland Bay I found 4 male and 3 female goldeneye amongst the duck flock, the 4th male being unpaired and busily displaying to the paired females without any success. 12 little grebes and a male teal were also seen but best of all was a female marsh harrier soaring over the reeds before heading off down the Ley.

From the bridge a firecrest gave some excellent views as it bathed in the water and then
preened in the willows before flying off and at least 3 water rails were squealing in the reed beds but I couldn't catch sight of one.

David duly arrived in the car and after parking up at the bridge we walked to Torcross for some lunch. I had another scan offshore from the memorial car park where there were now 2 great northern divers close to shore with a guillemot further out but there was no sign of the black necked grebe. A brief view of a dark fin very close to the beach was a surprise and as I scanned around I picked out at least 3 harbour porpoise in the breakers, the closest to shore I have ever seen porpoises before.

At Torcross a grey seal poked its head out of the breakers, again very close to the beach, and after some lunch in the pub we walked back to the bridge as the rain began to fall, noting the 2 male scaup again mid Ley and a group of around 30 gannets diving for fish off the memorial car park very near to the beach - obviously there was some very good fishing close to shore today.

And so an excellent day out - the birding Gods really smiled on me and I guess I was in the right place at the right time for some very good sightings.