Friday, 24 March 2017

Local Birding - Velvet Scoter and Willow Tit

With another week off work to use up my leave allocation for the year ending March 2017 and with no plans to go away due to ongoing family health issues it was time to catch up with general chores and to do a bit of local birding.

Sunday 19th March and it was off to the River Exe for the day on the train and bus on a cool and cloudy day. On arriving at Dawlish railway station I had around 30 minutes to wait for the bus to Exminster and so I had a quick scan offshore from the seafront and picked up a few good bird sightings :- a female eider close in, 3 adult kittiwakes, a few gannets, at least 4 summer plumaged great crested grebes and around 40 common scoter offshore, strung out in a loose group and busily diving and occassionally flying off due to the attentions of herring gulls when they surfaced.

 Black Swan with cygnet, Dawlish

Black Swan with Cygnet

On arriving at Exminster Marshes I had a pleasent wander around but despite checking out all the pools and ditches and scanning through the good numbers of wigeon and teal still present I couldn't find any of the recently reported garganey although I did find 2 pairs of tufted duck and 4 male and a female pintail. Also seen were shelduck, shoveler, mallard, moorhen, Canada geese, mute swan and cormorant with waders represented by lapwings, 2 curlew, 2 oystercatcher, a common sandpiper, 3 green sandpiper and 3 little ringed plover. A pair of stonechat, a kestrel, a singing and 2 non singing chiffchaffs, reed buntings and long tailed tits were the landbird highlights.

I caught the bus back to Dawlish and with 20 minutes spare before the train to Plymouth arrived I scanned offshore again, this time from the station platform, and quickly picked up 4 scoter close to the beach which I was very pleased to find were actually velvet scoters. They gave some very nice views between dives with occassional flashes of white wing patches, an immature male with black plumage and no white eye patch and 3 females or immatures, notably browner toned plumage and with no pale face patches.

Female/Immature Velvet Scoter, Dawlish

Immature Male Velvet Scoter, Dawlish

I also found the common scoter flock again, this time much more further out and tightly packed, and I picked up the female eider again quite close in and with an immature male for company. An immature male common scoter was feeding alone close to the beach and I picked up at least 11 great crested grebes across the Bay, all in summer plumage except for 1 bird. Six Sandwich tern flying together towards Teignmouth were a very welcome sight of Spring on another grey and claggy and cool day. Needless to say I caught a later train home than originally planned as I was having such a good time!

Tuesday 21st and we headed off to Bude to sort out the caravan which is currently in storage on a site near the Tamar Lakes. It was cool and breezey with occassional heavy showers and we started off with a walk at Lower Tamar Lake where at least 4 sand martin were buzzing over the water in the less than spring like conditions while on the Lake were a Canada goose, 2 coot, 2 great crested grebe, 3 male and a female tufted duck, 2 male and a female mallard, 3 moorhen and a female goosander.

I arrived at the bird hide to find the bird feeders were empty and the feeders further along the path past the hide were no longer there so I had to scan through the thick undergrowth for birds but I did find long tailed, great and blue tits, 2 mistle thrush, a singing chiffchaff, a bullfinch and (finally!) at least 2 treecreepers which gave some very good views despite being constantly on the move.

I headed back to the car park where there were some stocked up bird feeders in the trees and I managed to eventually find a willow tit, my target bird, busily feeding low down in the vegetation along a nearby hedgerow. A marsh tit was present on the feeders and as the marsh tit moved away from the feeders along the hedgerow the willow tit ignored it. The willow tit eventually moved off too and was lost from sight but later I heard it give a wood warbler like peu-peu-peu call.

Willow Tit, Lower Tamar Lake - record shot

Also seen on the feeders were house sparrows, a coal tit, goldfinch, chaffinch and greenfinch and a surprise were 2 tawny owls calling in the nearby trees despite the bright sunshine.

We then headed off to the caravan site to sort out the caravan before heading off to Bude for an overnight stay at The Falcon Hotel which was very nice. The next morning on checking the Cornwall bird sightings website I saw that 2 spoonbills had been seen at nearby Maer Lake the previous day and so after breakfast we walked over to the Lake for a look. The water levels were very high and there was no sign of the spoonbills amongst the birds present but I did see teal, 3 juvenile mute swan, a male mallard, 10 moorhen, 3 adult lesser black backed gull, 4 black headed gull, herring gull, great black backed gull and 2 black tailed godwit (1 in summer plumage, 1 in winter plumage).

Black Tailed Godwit, Maer Lake

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yet More Cattle Egrets

Our annual March walk at Lopwell Dam on Thursday 16th was a brief affair on what was another grey and overcast day. The walk was short and quick and grabbed between first visiting father-in-law at Derriford Hospital and then visiting him on the way home at the nursing home in Woolwell that he had been transferred to.

I managed to see a few nice birds though :- a female goosander, a little grebe, a moorhen, mallards (including a few farmyard types), muscovy ducks and Canada geese above the Dam and a common sandpiper and 2 mute swan below the Dam ; a chiffchaff, a coalt tit, goldcrests and long tailed tits in the woods with a green woodpecker and a great spotted woodpecker heard ; cormorants, shelducks, little egrets, Canada geese and gulls along the estuary ; and 4 raven and a buzzard over the tree tops. There were as usual lots of daffodils in flower and lots of variably plumaged male pheasents with just 2 females amongst them.

Common Sandpiper

Friday 17th and we finally managed to get to Stoke Point for a walk. The day started off promisingly with sunshine and blue sky but it soon clouded over to the usual greyness and with a surprisingly strong and cool breeze. As we drove down the lane to the car park by the caravan park there was a large herd of cows in the roadside field with gulls, crows and 6 cattle egrets, 1 of which was in breeding plumage. The egrets were mobile and flighty amongst the tightly packed cows and viewing was difficult over the hedge but they were a nice find in what has been a mini influx of birds this winter.
Three Cattle Egret with Cows

Two Cattle Egret

One Cattle Egret

The walk was as enjoyable as always despite the breeze and the usual birds were seen :- a pair of peregrines along the cliffs, the female noticeably larger than the male ; 5 singing chiffchaffs were heard with 2 non singing birds also seen ; a displaying sparrowhawk over the woods ; a flyover raven and buzzard ; a male and 2 female cirl buntings ; stonechats galore with males singing ; a male mallard on a boggy patch by the footpath ; fulmars around the cliffs ; and meadow pipits, linnets and skylarks. No sign of any yellowhammers or Dartford warblers though.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Wembury, 14th March 2017

A quick walk along the coastpath at Wembury on another grey and claggy day before a last minute night shift and I was hoping to find my first wheatear of the year after quite a few recent reports of birds along the Devon and Cornwall coast. No luck with wheatear but there were certainly signs of spring in the air.

Sloe Blossom

A chiffchaff singing away in trees below the church was a good start with a second bird heard on the other side of the valley. Another bird briefly sang at Wembury Point and a very green looking individual was flitting about in the hedgerow by the HMS Cambridge footpath.

The toilet block actually had a moth in it which I caught and released outside - a Ni Moth, a rare migrant moth from North Africa and a new moth for me. I had originally ID'd it as an early moth but was beginning to have some doubts and then I received an e-mail from Matt Knott who pointed me in the right ID direction with ID then confirmed by Barry Henwood from the Devon Moth Group.

Ni Moth

The pair of Canada geese were again in the sheep field, the larger male keeping guard as the smaller female nibbled on the fresh grass shoots. Along the beach 6 little egrets, oystercatchers and a pair of mallard were seen on the outgoing tide. The usual pied wagtails and meadow- and rock pipits were feeding on the rotting seaweed along the shoreline and included a female grey wagtail and a male white wagtail but I couldn't find the water pipit or any littoralis rock pipits amongst them. A dead adult gannet on the beach was a sad sight although it looked like it had been somewhat staged.

Dead Gannet

Cirl buntings were very obvious along the walk, the birds were very flighty and mobile but I reckon there were at least 5 male and 3 female birds present.

Male Cirl Bunting

There was no sign again of any Dartford warblers on a brief search of the usual spot and a couple of passing birders also commented on having not seen any for a while too, hopefully they are still around and have relocated to another area at the Point.

A nice walk was finished off with a common lizard trying to warm up on the wall by the bus stop in the weak sunshine trying to break through the clouds, my first of the year.

Common Lizard with Fly

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Cornish Gulling in the Mist

I finally managed to catch the train to Penzance for a days birding on Saturday 11th March and being a Saturday it only cost me £10.40 return. It was a grey and dull day and as the train passed through Hayle it was clear but on arriving in Penzance I was greeted by thick fog, I couldn't even see St. Michaels Mount! All thoughts of searching offshore for divers and sea ducks were abandoned and I decided to give Jubilee Pool a miss too and headed off along the coast path to Marazion.

Mounts Bay from Penzance Bus Station

A quick scan from the sea wall by the bus station failed to find any black redstarts but resting on the rocks on the low tide was a smart male eider, my first of the year.

Male Eider in the Gloom

I did have a few scans of the sea although visibility was very poor but I did pick up a few disorientated adult gannets close to the beach and 2 great northern divers together just about visible in the murk. A small flock of small waders flew along the beach before alighting in the surf, presumably sanderling but I could pick out no plumage detail on them in the fog. A sad sight was a dead harbour porpoise along the beach, tagged by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and with an injury to its eye or having been nibbled at by gulls or crows.

 Harbour Porpoise

Harbour Porpoise Teeth

It felt very mild and humid and on nearing Long Rock Pool I could see a line of birders scanning the Pool from the road and on a quick scan around I picked up a sand martin, my first proper spring migrant of the year. I headed up to the road to join the group and I eventually picked up 4 birds swooping around and chittering away but surprisingly easily overlooked in the murk. Even better though were lovely views of a 1st winter little gull flying back and forth over the water and dipping down to pick at small flies on the water surface, a lovely looking bird with red legs and smart black and white plumage. It eventually settled on the water and swam around snatching at flies, looking very monochrome on a very monochrome day.

 Little Gull, Long Rock Pool

 Little Gull

Little Gull

Also seen on the Pool were a pair of teal, a little grebe, 2 male tufted duck, moorhen, a pair of mute swan and lesser black backed gulls, while in the vegetation were long tailed tits, chiffchaffs and Cettis warblers. A brief look at nearby Marazion Marsh revealed a male gadwall, a male shoveler, 2 Canada geese, a little egret, teal, mallard, moorhen, a coot, 5 male and 9 female wigeon, a pair of stonechats, more Cettis warblers, grey herons on nests in the reeds and a brief view of a water rails backside disappearing into the vegetation.

Grey Heron, Marazion Marsh

I decided to cut my losses and caught the bus from Long Rock to St.Erth earlier than planned (£4 for a single ticket for a 4 mile journey!), hoping that it was going to be clear over the Hayle estuary as it was earlier when I passed through but unfortunately it was shrouded in mist too although not as thick as it had been in Penzance.

I scanned across the estuary on the low tide from the causeway bridge and quickly found the regular 1st winter Iceland gull roosting on the mudflats in the gull flock nearest to the bridge despite the poor visibility. It was quite unsettled, constantly getting up off the mud and changing position, probably not helped by the attentions of nearby immature herring gulls which kept hassling it including one bird which kept tugging at its tail feathers.

 Iceland Gull, Hayle Estuary

Iceland Gull - just about to get its tail pulled

I decided to walk to Hayle to buy some lunch and then walk back to the causeway bridge, hoping that the mist might clear a little. It did eventually lift when some rain showers arrived and the temperature noticeably dropped too and at last I could actually see the birds.

On the Carnsew Pool were 4 little grebe and a male red breasted merganser while on the mud were 12 grey plover and a lone 1st winter common gull. Variously plumaged Mediterranean gulls were mobile around the Pool and gave a few high pitched calls.

The resident spoonbill gave some good views again as it busily fed along the waters edge. At one point it walked out of the water and onto the mud to do a very pinky coloured poo before returning to the water to recommence feeding, a behaviour I have seen before in a spoonbill along the River Lynher (and also a white billed diver at Hayle) - I guess you don't defecate where you eat as per the old adage - although the spoonbill had no trouble pooping over the roosting gulls as it flew over the estuary later.

 Spoonbill, Carnsew Pool

 Spoonbill

Spoonbill

Back at the causeway bridge on the incoming tide and as expected there was no sign of the Iceland gull but I did see a greenshank, wigeon, redshank, curlew, 12 bar tailed godwit, a ringed plover, a summer plumaged black tailed godwit, 2 adult and 3 1st winter common gulls, a male and 6 female teal, oystercatcher, a mute swan, grey heron and little egret. The male red breasted merganser seen earlier on the Pool appeared on the river close to the bridge along with the spoonbill out on the mudflats and a rock pipit fed along the causeway wall. Interestingly a few of the roosting gulls were seen to cough up pellets which were immediately investigated by nearby carrion crows.

 Little Egret

Curlew

I kept scanning through the gulls but could find nothing unusual amongst the great black back, lesser black back, herring and black heads but eventually the Iceland gull flew in and gave some great views with its ghostly pale plumage being very obvious amongst the other roosting gulls - and definently an Iceland gull!

 Iceland Gull

 Iceland Gull

 Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

And so a good day out with some nice views of a good range of birds despite the misty gloom.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Roe Deer at Burrator and Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Wembury

The crap weather continues whenever I have a day off and so getting out and about has been a little restricted. The March doldrums have also arrived where birds are starting to move and I start to get impatient for spring.

Wednesday 1st March and we had a quick walk around Burrator Reservoir on a grey, showery, cool and misty morning. The water level in the reservoir still wasn't high enough for it to flow over the dam but Mavis did send me a recent photo where it was doing so. Bird highlights were a jay, lots of showy goldcrests and singing and songflighting siskins but the best sighting were 3 roe deer - 2 feeding out in the open in a field by the road and 1 actually on the road trying to find a gap in the fence to get into the woodland.

 Roe Deer, Burrator

Roe Deer

Friday 3rd March and I headed out to Wembury on the bus on a wet, cool and windy morning but on arriving at Wembury the rain at least did stop and it stayed dry until I returned home. However the footpath was a total quagmire and I did slip and fall over once but for a change I didn't hurt myself nor get too dirty!

It was quiet bird wise but highlights were :- 4 pairs of stonechats between Wembury Beach and Wembury Point, 1 little egret, 1 female kestrel, 9 cirl buntings (1 male in the hedge by the wheatfield path and 3 male and 5 female in the hedge by the HMS Cambridge wheatfield), roosting oystercatchers along the beach at high tide, gannets and fulmars offshore, a grey wagtail feeding on the seaweed mass on the beach near the second horse field and 2 Canada geese in the sheep field.

I had a brief search for Dartford warblers again at Wembury Point but with no luck and a search through the mobile and flighty pipits feeding on the seaweed mass on the beach by the sewage pipe only initially turned up rock pipits and meadow pipits before I finally found the wintering water pipit, brief views only before it flew off down the beach and looking a bit scruffy and dishevelled compared to my previous sightings earlier in the year, possibly due to the wet and windy weather but maybe also due to commencement of moult into summer plumage.

I also found a littoralis or Scandanavian rock pipit amongst the more usual petrosus birds, showing a marked blue tone to the head, a buffy pink wash to the chest, white wing bars, a distinct white eye-ring and a distinct pale supercilium behind the eye. I managed to take a few rubbish photos which have toned down both the blue head colouring and pinky washed breast, both much more obvious in the flesh than in the photos.

 Scandinavian Rock Pipit, Wembury

 Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Arriving back home and my muddy and wet jeans went straight into the washing machine but it had been a pleasent few hours out of the house - just hurry up spring!