Monday 31 January 2011

River Exe Boat Trip 30th January

My annual boat trip on the River Exe from Exmouth to Topsham and back with Mavis and Mike on the Stuart Line Cruise Boat was a great way to end a great months birdwatching. The weather was perfect, clear sky and virtually no breeze but boy was it cold. A bacon buttie in the cafe by the docks set us up for the trip nicely.

A grey seal was seen poking its head out of the water just off Exmouth seafront as we picked up the tickets from the ticket office. A common seal was later seen from the boat hauled out on a sand bar, apparently it is a half blind female that has been around for a couple of years. Its eyes always look "cataracty" but seals eyes can have that funny look about them.

Bird wise it was an excellent trip, star birds being excellent views of 2 immature male and 4 female scaup, distant views of 1 slavonian grebe, excellent views of an immature male long tailed duck and excellent views of a redhead smew on the river at Topsham. All the usual waders and wildfowl were seen including 2 knot, avocets, black- and bar-tailed godwits, 1 female pintail, 3 coot, 1 great crested grebe, little grebe and brent geese.

Wigeon feeding in front of the hide at Bowling Green Marsh

After the cruise on the drive back to Plymouth we stopped off at Bowling Green Marsh to find it virtually frozen over. A small unfrozen patch held a male and female tufted duck amongst wigeon, gadwall, pochard, pintail, shoveler and teal. The bright light was perfect to admire the beauty of ducks plumage especially the male shovelers and pintail with the sound of the wigeon calling adding to the overall effect. 2 snipe were feeding along the waters edge. A fox was sunning itself along the hedgerow at the back of the marsh, making a brief unsuccessful foray after some nearby rabbits. An avocet flew in from the Clyst estuary,sleeping for around 5 minutes amongst the flock of ducks and waders surrounding the unfrozen water before flying back to the Clyst.
Mavis and Mike on the Clyst Estuary Viewing Platform

Avocet from the Viewing Platform
 A look from the viewing platform overlooking the Clyst estuary provided good views of more avocets, a grey plover and a greenshank amongst the usual godwits, redshanks, dunlin and curlews.The Goatwalk provided even closer views of avocets and black-tailed godwits and a grey wagtail. It was very warm standing in the sun out of the breeze, I could feel the sun burning my face.

An excellent day all round, good birds, good company, lovely weather and a great months birding! Total for the year now stands at 108.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

River Exe Hike 24th January

Today I caught the train from Plymouth to Starcross for my January walk along the Exe estuary, arriving in Starcross at 09:00hrs. A look at the small flooded field by the road just outside Starcross allowed good views of 1 greenshank, 3 common gulls, black tailed godwit, 1 mistle thrush and redwings along with wigeon, teal, mallard, redshank and curlew.

I then veered off to the small road that runs along the railway line past Powderham Park. A quick walk across the railway line to view the river provided a good view of a slavonian grebe preening, its neck looking quite dusky as I assume it starts to moult into summer plumage. I wonder if it is the resident bird that has been seen year round on the estuary for the last few years.

The park was full of fallow deer as usual. More greenshank were seen roosting by the side of a drainage channel but were too obscured to count exact numbers, on the return walk 4 were seen feeding on the mud on the river as the tide receeded. A female reed bunting called from the top of some reeds and 1 snipe was seen crouched amongst some rushes.

I usually walk to Powderham Church and then back to Starcross but this time I decided to carry on to Exminster Marshes as there have been quite a few interesting birds there recently. I have only ever walked up to the Turf Hotel before, many years ago now. The Marshes were full of birds, lots of wildfowl and waders roosting with the high tide. Best bird were the White-fronted geese feeding distantly on the marsh, the views were poor as the fed with heads down amongst the grass, occassionally raising their heads to scan around before returning to feed. The white blaze around the bill of an adult bird was noted. I only counted 7, there are reportedly 8 but with the restricted views I must have missed the 8th bird. These are my first Devon white fronts. No sign of the smew, hen harrier or bittern though as I headed back to Starcross.

A treecreeper was a nice find in some trees near Powderham Church on the return walk and avocets were seen flying down river to feed as the tide went out.

A mistake with train times meant I had to catch the bus to Dawlish Warren for a quick hour long walk. Offshore a flock of around 20 common scoter were seen distantly, taking flight when a great black backed gull flew low overhead. I couldn't see any white flashes of velvet scoter amongst them. No sign of the surf scoter either. 3 slavonian grebes were feeding looseley together just offshore allowing quite good views along with a great crested grebe. A huge feeding frenzy of gulls was noted out in the bay off Dawlish with a few gannets seen amongst them before they all dispersed after around 20 minutes.

The train back to Plymouth was uneventful, livened up by a good view of a fox sat in a field with magpies and carrion crows stood watching it, it was quite large, presumably a male, with a beautiful orangey coat.

Not a bad day but my feet were sore by the time I got home and the year total now stands at 103, I always like to see 100 species by the end of January so I'm doing very well this year.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Quiet weekend 22-23 January 2010

After working 4 night shifts a walk along the coast at Wembury in the bright sunshine on Saturday seemed a good idea to try and get back to a normal body clock of sleep at night and awake during the day. Unfortunately the footpath was a mud bath so little time was spent looking for birds as I was kept busy looking down to try and negotiate the mud and keep upright. It was also very busy with walkers, dog walkers and families enjoying the sun so only meadow pipit was added to the year list. And I didn't see any cirl buntings. It was nice to be out in the sun and the coffee and pasty from the cafe was lovely, the pasties are amazing.

Sunday was a quiet day with a walk around The Barbican and Plymouth Hoe. The coot that appeared with the cold weather before Christmas was still hanging around with the mute swans in Sutton Harbour and was joined by a little grebe, the first I have seen here in 24 years of living in Plymouth. Not much around The Hoe either, no great northern diver or Mediterranean gull. Med.gulls seem very scarce in the area this winter, I have only seen 1 so far, an adult just before Christmas. And the occasionally reported diver has been very elusive to me as well!

Sunday 16 January 2011

Winter Wildfowl and Wader Wonderland 15th January 2011

Today was my yearly trip to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire with the Plymouth RSPB Group. The group run the trip yearly and it is the cheapest and easiest way to get to Slimbridge for me although we only get around 5 hours there with a 7 hour return coach ride. The trip didn't run in 2010 as the 2009 trip in February was cancelled due to the snow and ice at the time and rearranged for Novemeber 2009 so I have really been looking forward to it. Unfortunately my mate Mavis could not make the trip this year.

Swan Lake at Slimbridge

I swear Slimbridge is the coldest place on earth, everytime I have been there it has been so cold but this trip was very mild and pleasent, I didn't feel cold at all. The sky was grey and overcast with occassional drizzle and the wind was quite strong at times but it was a great day.

There are loads of birds out there! View from the Kingfisher Hide
With the cold weather in December and all the recent rain the reserve was flooded and there were thousands of ducks, swans, geese, gulls and waders eveywhere on the flooded fields, an amazing and noisey spectacle.

I spent some time scouring the flocks of tufted duck but as usual dipped out and could not find the female lesser scaup nor the 2 immature male greater scaup amongst them.

Star bird of the day was a female marsh harrier that flew across the reserve causing complete panic amongst the feeding birds. Originally I thought a peregrine was around as the birds took to the air and then I saw what I assumed to be a buzzard before noting its creamy buff crown and plain brown plumage. I've never seen a marsh harrier at Slimbridge before and it showed really well for around 3 minutes before drifting off out of sight.

Bewick Swan with wildfowl

 The Bewicks swans were a joy as usual with quite a few juveniles around, they have not been having very successful breeding in the last few years as the warden explained in his commentary at the floodlight feeding so it was nice to see their dirty grey plumage amongst the crisp white plumage of the adults. Also showing well was a pink footed goose, the warden again explaining that it was a juvenile that appeared alone in September and hooked up with the only grey geese around at that time, the greylag geese. This has resulted in it becoming quite tame and it showed very well at the floodlight feeding, having been seen earlier feeding in the flooded fields with the greylag geese and not the white-fronted geese.

5 ruff were found in one of the flooded fields, 4 males and 1 female, the female being noticeably smaller than the males, almost half the size. A lone black-tailed godwit was found roosting amongst the ducks.

A group of barnacle geese were seen distantly feeding on the salt marsh. A suspected group of wild barnacle geese were seen earlier in the season when the cold snap started so presumably they had joined the group of feral birds and were amongst this group.

An excellent day with my year list total now 92. Looking forward to next years trip already!

Sunday 9 January 2011

River Plym Sunday 9th January

Very local birding today with a walk from my house along the River Plym to Saltram House and back, another walk that is not too muddy.

The female eider was showing well  in the Cattewater but no sign of a great northern diver. A common sandpiper called as it flew low over the water. 5 little grebes were busy diving between the small boats.

A female black redstart was flycatching around the top of a nearby gas container.

5 more little grebes were found on the River Plym past Laira Bridge. 2 greenshanks were a nice find and 1 male and 4 female red breasted mergansers were busy diving for fish, spending little time on the surface.

A cup of tea and a slice of cake at the tea shop at Saltram House was a welcome break with long tailed tits and a nuthatch noted in the nearby trees.

A stop on the way back at the allotment at Teats Hill to dig up root vegetables for a stew for tea was brightened up by a flock of 50+ greenfinches circling overhead, presumably to come in to roost in the dimming light. Greenfinch seem to be a little scarce of late presumably due to trichomonosis infection so a flock this size was a pleasing sight.

A stop in the China House pub for a Crabbies on ice before heading home ended off a pleasant day. Back to reality tomorrow, working a late shift with no birding now until Friday at the earliest. Total for the year now 76 species.

Burrator Reservoir Saturday 8th January

More local birding today, with a walk around Burrator reservoir. With all the wet weather of recent days a walk on the tarmac roads around Burrator seemed the best option to avoid the mud.

The water level at the reservoir was surprisingly low with quite a bit of shoreline exposed, more reminiscent of August than January. Apparently it has been a dry December despite the snow and ice and last year was a drier year than usual.

There was a good selection of wildfowl on the water today, probably due to the recent cold snap as often when I have been birding here there is very little to be seen.

8 goosanders were showing well, the 2 males looking resplendent in the sunlight with the green head plumage looking iridescent in the strong light. Also on show were a male and female tufted duck, 7 male and 6 female teal, 3 little grebes, a Canada goose following walkers along the waters edge looking for scraps, numerous mallard, more than I have seen here before and a female goldeneye, the first I have seen here. 3 cormorants were drying their wings on the shoreline, 1 with the white head speckling of summer plumage.

A goldcrest showed well in conifers by the roadside and a nuthatch was a nice find in the branches of a tree. Around 20 coal tit were feeding amongst the leaf litter in a loose group with a few great tit, but were very flighty. I have never seen them feeding in a group this size on the ground.

Despite the sunshine it was a chilly walk with a biting cold wind and it was nice to get back in the car for the journey home especially as the hordes were descending for their afternoon constitutional.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Penzance Friday 7th January 2011

My first post and a train trip down to Penzance was the order of the day considering the poor weather forecast and the recent bird sightings in the Penzance area.

Arriving in Penzance at 11:20ish the sun was shining! It was very windy though and the sea had quite a swell on it. A quick look at the rocks by the bus station yielded good views of 2 female/immature black redstarts along with a grey wagtail and bar-tailed godwit and dunlin feeding on the exposed sand along the beach. 2 immature male eiders were busy preening just offshore.

A quick bus ride to the Trennere roundabout on the A30 to look for the reported waxwing was a bust, I never have much luck seeing waxwings, missing them more times than I see them.

A brisk walk from the roundabout to the Jubilee Pool provided excellent views of around 17 purple sandpipers chittering away and feeding on the rocks. The 2 eiders were now preening offshore from the pool and a great crested grebe was found bobbing up and down between the waves. An oiled guillemot on the rocks trying to preen itself was a sorry sight.

Another bus ride to Marazion was rewarded with excellent views of 2 bitterns flying over the reed bed. I have never had any luck seeing bitterns at Marazion over the years. The nearest I have got to seeing one was last year, "should have been here half an hour ago" I was informed by 3 birders on arriving at the viewpoint along the road overlooking the marsh. Well, this time I was in luck! Also seen was a nice kingfisher that has survived the recent freezing weather.

The sea was too rough to pick out any divers so the Pacific diver wasn't found. Never mind, maybe I'll try again later this month when the weather forecast is better.

Walking back to Penzance along the beach provided good views of sanderlings and ringed plovers and 2 common gulls amongst the black heads roosting on the sea.

Back to Plymouth on the 16:00 train and I had had a really good day. Year list total 60 birds.