Sunday 22 January 2012

A smelly house, a spotted spotted sandpiper, a windy trip to Cornwall and a walk around Burrator - 15th - 22nd January 2012

The smell in the house worsened and after seeing sewage draining across the courtyard I checked the drain and it was blocked again - the smell wasn't all down to a dead mouse! We managed to get the drain unblocked at the front of the house but it was also blocked at the back of the house which had been caused by the neighbours, we didn't realise their drain emptied into our drain and it had been blocked by feminine hygiene products - nice! Still, it's now unblocked again and the smell has gone.

I was on an eight day stretch at work with Tuesday 17th off in the middle of the eight days and after doing chores I had a quick walk along the River Plym at Marsh Mills to see if I could see the spotted sandpiper wich had been reported as now having some spots showing. I soon found the bird and had excellent views as it fed along the shoreline as the tide headed out, it caught some large worms which it gobbled down quickly before carrying on feeding. It was feeding on the bank opposite where the Plympton sewage works discharges into the river and a common sandpiper fed nearby allowing comparisons. It did indeed have some spotting on its left vent although it was subtle and only obvious at certain angles but its legs were a bright yellow compared to the olive green of the common sandpiper. It was also smaller, daintier and lighter brown than the common and I watched it for a good half hour before heading off to Sainsburys to do some shopping.

Also seen were 3 greenshanks, 3 little egrets, at least 5 little grebes, a jay which flew across the river and a cormorant. While walking back to Sainsburys I stopped off to watch a small group of long tailed tits feeding in the bushes near the underpass and was surprised to find a skulking male reed bunting developing its summer plumage, a new bird for the me for the Plymouth area.

Saturday 21st and I headed off to Penzance on the 08:18 train, unfortunately a Sprinter train and not a proper First train but at least it wasn't a Crosscountry train!  There was a strong North Westerly wind and it turned out to be quite showery but I ended up having a good days birding despite the weather and my general grumpiness and tiredness after completing my eight day stretch.

First stop was the Jubilee Pool where I had good views of at least 22 flighty purple sandpipers feeding and roosting amongst the rocks. Also seen was a very smart winter plumaged Mediterranean gull, 5 mute swans, turnstone, curlew, oystercatcher and rock pipts. A grey seals head was seen bobbing up and down offshore before it dived out of sight.

Heading out to Marazion by bus and then by foot I flushed a snipe by the side of the road at Long Rock Pool where 2 mute swans, a lone male wigeon and some teal were seen and a Cettis warbler was heard singing. A caterpillar was seen heading across the road so I rescued it and took some snaps, not sure what species it is.

Unknown caterpillar species

At Marazion the marsh was quiet with a redwing, a grey heron, a little egret, a little grebe, a pair of stonechats and a pair of shoveler seen, and another Cettis warbler heard singing. Checking out the beach by the Red River for the reported water pipit was a bust due to the constant disturbance from dog walkers and the strong wind. A nice rainbow was seen though.

Red River mouth rainbow

Checking out the marsh for the last time before the walk back to Penzance provided a lucky view of a bittern in flight, seen for just a few seconds before it disappeared down into the reedbed, its feet very yellow.

Walking back to Penzance along the sea front was wet and windy but I did see a grey wagtail feeding amongst the rocks with pied wagtails and rock and meadow pipits. Ringed plover, dunlin and sanderling were attempting to roost along the beach but were constantly disturbed by dog walkers. Offshore I saw 4 eider, 3 female and an immature male - initially they were some way out but were eventually seen quite close to shore, busily diving with attendant gulls waiting to steal any food brought to the surface. There was no sign of the reported long tailed duck or little gull but I did manage a brief and distant view of a diver, probably a great northern, as it surfaced between the choppy waves before diving again. Best bird was a beautiful male black redstart feeding amongst the rocks and chasing off the pipits and wagtails that strayed too close to it - I rarely see males and it looked stunning in the strong sunlight.

St Michaels Mount with windsurfer

Due to the weather and my general tiredness and grumpiness I cut my day short and headed home on the 14:01 train, a proper First train and I enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and some Christmas cake.

Sunday 22nd and we headed off to Burrator Reservoir for a walk. It was very busy with runners and walkers but we had a good walk despite the gloomy skies. The water level was very high this time, almost to the point where it would overflow the dam, and as a result there was little of interest in the way of wildfowl other than 7 Canada Geese, 2 white feral geese, some mallards and a little grebe. 3 ravens flew overhead and I heard a mistle thrush, a great spotted woodpecker, siskins and a green woodpecker but I failed to see them. A lone adult great black backed gull was resting on a small island at the top end of the reservoir and goldcrests and coal tits were seen feeding in the bushes by the road side.

A dipper was seen feeding in a stream entering the reservoir, the first I have seen here but in an area I haven't visited before, having jumped over a locked gate and following a gravel path down to a weir and pumping house tucked away out of sight.

I had been asked by 2 birders if I had seen any crossbills at the start of the walk which I hadn't but as we approached the end of our walk I heard a bird singing which I recognised from a recording played on an I-phone while on a birdwatching holiday in Scotland. It was the song of a crossbill and it was singing away out of sight in a stand of conifer trees by the roadside. I searched the tree tops and eventually managed partial views of at least 2 bright red males and 3 green female/juveniles devouring cones, a great end to a pleasent walk and with my year list now on 102.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Sticky toffee pudding walk

The mouse in the house seems to have died as there is a terrible smell in the house especially when the heating comes on. It seems to have died under the floorboards by the heating pipes in the hall and we have no way of getting to it. It has happened before and eventually the smell will go but it doesn't half smell in the meantime.

Monday 9th and we headed over to the outlaws house on The Barbican to drive them down to Newquay airport for their flight to Gatwick and on the walk over I saw a chiffchaff feeding in a tree by The Three Crowns pub.

Driving back from the airport we cut across Bodmin Moor passing Dozmary Pool and Siblyback Reservoir to see if there were any goose eggs for sale at a small farm where we have picked them up (cheaply) before but we were out of luck. Bird wise I saw a small flock of fieldfares flying overhead.

Tuesday 10th and we had a quick walk along the coastpath at Wembury, my first visit there for a while. 3 adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gulls were feeding amongst the rocks at low tide, looking ghostly white in the strong sunlight. 2 adult lesser black backed gulls were roosting on the rocks amongst the usual herring, great black backed and black headed gulls. A flighty flock of cirl buntings were flitting about in the HMS Cambridge hedgerow, 2 males were seen together and at least 5 females. A cormorant in summer plumage was seen flying out to The Mewstone with a beak full of nesting material. Rock and meadow pipits and pied wagtails fed along the beach but I couln't find a water pipit amongst them although there were a lot of walkers along the beach due to the muddy path and the tide was low.

Wednesday 11th and we headed out to Stoke Point for a walk, something we haven't done for ages. It was a beautiful sunny day and the coast path was stunning in the sunlight. 2 ravens flew over honking and 2 buzzards soared overhead mewing while a male kestrel perched on some telegraph wires. The woodland part of the walk provided a sighting of a noisey nuthatch in the treetops and a coal tit was seen on the peanut feeders by The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo along with blue and great tits and chaffinches and greenfinches. With the tide low a greenshank was feeding on the mudflats with a redshank and 2 little egrets. We had lunch in The Ship Inn and really enjoyed a large slab of sticky toffee pudding which was delicious.

The view from Stoke Point

And so back to work on the Thursday for a busy run of shifts with not much opportunity for birdwatching but my year list now stands at 90 species, all seen in Devon, so I am doing quite well.

Monday 9 January 2012

Slapton Ley 6th January 2012

Another days leave with David off work today too so we headed out to Slapton Ley for a walk. A fish and chips lunch in The Start Bay Inn was delicious and the birding wasn't bad either. The wind had dropped and the sun was shining so it was a very pleasent walk.

There was no sign of any divers or the velvet scoter that have been reported recently but there was a smart Slavonian grebe diving in the surf right on the beach, its red eye very striking in the bright sunlight. Also seen were razorbills dotted around the bay and all busily diving and I found a guillemot amongst them.

The Ley had very few ducks on it -  a few tufted duck and mallard with a single male pochard and a single male goldeneye. I guess the mild winter has kept wildfowl numbers down. Amongst the gulls bathing on the Ley I found a smart adult Mediterranean gull in winter plumage and also a first winter bird along with an adult lesser black backed gull and an adult kittiwake.

Cettis warblers were heard calling, at least 3 birds, but they were not seen. A chiffchaff showed well feeding in the reeds at the bridge. A pair of stonechats were seen from the path alongside the Ley.

The weather turned for the worst as we were leaving with cloudy skies and mizzle arriving. We stopped off at Aveton Gifford on the way home but it was getting dark and the tide was in so we were unable to get down the riverside road but I could just make out the juvenile Bewicks swan amongst the mute swan flock down the river along with an escaped black swan.

Back to work on the 7th January and a black redstart on the rooftops kept me amused and/or distracted during handover. Coming home after the late shift I noticed the big mass of ivy growing up the side of a building just across the road from my house had been totally cut down, a shame as it was the site of a large house sparrow roost at night. Getting home and watching some telly before bed I had a visitor in the front room, a small mouse which scurried around the skirting boards and occassionally stopped to have a quick wash before disappearing from sight. There has been a funny smell in the living room for the last few days and I suspected a mouse as we have had them in the house before. They like to set up camp by the central heating pipes under the floor boards and when the heating comes on you get a waft of mouse piss and poo as it gets heated up  - lovely!

Sunday 8 January 2012

A British List Tick ! And it's only January 5th!

January 5th was an annual leave day for me and as David was working a twilight shift I decided today would be my first proper birdwatching day of the new year. The night before we had headed out to the cinema to see the new "Sherlock Holmes" film (which was very blokey but very good) and then a meal at The Marsh Mills Beefeater with a few drinks and the result was I had a crap nights sleep - a mixture of excitement, too much food and drink and rebounding off the back of my night shifts over new year.

Anyway, despite feeling crappy I hauled myself out of bed at 06:30 to head off to the station to catch a train to Dawlish Warren, arriving at The Warren at 09:00hrs and having travelled by a First Train and not Cross Country (Hooray!) The weather was very windy and overcast and drizzley but by the time I arrived at Dawlish Warren it had cleared up. However the wind remained very strong for the rest of the day, blowing from the North West with some mighty gusts during the course of the morning, almost blowing me over at times and blasting me with sand whipped up from the sand dunes.

As a result of the wind most birds were keeping tucked away. A female shoveler skulked in the reeds around the main pond while a pair of stonechats were being chased by an irrate robin in the bushes by the pond. The bird feeders near the visitors centre held greenfinches, chaffinches, blue and great tits and star bird of the morning, a nice female brambling which showed very well flashing off its white rump as it tried to get a go on the feeders. Brambling is a bird I have trouble connecting with in Devon so I was very pleased to stumble across this one.

The hide was a bust due to the tide being low and the strong wind blowing down the estuary straight in to the hide. There was, not surprisingly, no sign of the American wigeon in Shutterton Creek but I did see a few wigeon with brent geese and curlews. 12 skylarks fed on the shingle in front of the hide. A pair of red breasted mergansers were feeding in the choppy waters of the river.

Offshore at least 12 great crested grebes were seen feeding across the bay with a few razorbills and shags, all diving away and flying off for short distances.

I headed off on the bus to Exminster Marshes and with a hint of deja vu I was watching an owl within 10 minutes of arriving, this time a superb long eared owl roosting in a bush right by the RSPB car park and viewable down to a few meters. Its long ear tufts, beautiful patterened plumage including across its belly and its bright orange eyes were all noticeable. And so I had my first British life list tick for 2012 in the bag and following hot on the heels of short eared owl just over 3 weeks ago in the same place!

Long Eared Owl

Long Eared Owl

The owls at Exminster have caused some controversy over the last few weeks as they have been widely reported on the sightings websites resulting in disturbance by photographers so I wasn't sure if I would see it as the websites are no longer reporting any sightings of the birds. The long eared owl had at one point abandoned this roost site due to being disturbed by a photographer but luckily it had returned, it being quite a sheltered spot out of the strong winds of the day. I did have a brief scan for short eared owls but had no luck, not surprising in the strong winds.

Reports of the red breasted goose feeding amongst the brent geese flock on the marsh had me heading off towards the viewing platform but then with a lot of honking the geese all took off and flew downriver before I got anywhere near to having a look for it. A few brent geese had remained on the marsh with the Canada geese and I did find 3 greylag geese amongst them.

Compensation came in the form of a lovely glossy ibis which was feeding by the side of the road amongst the wigeon and coot and gave excellent views, the glossy plumage being especially noticeable when it caught the bright sunlight at the right angle.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

Other birds on the marsh included a pair of pintail, redwings, tufted ducks, a dunlin and lapwing.

I headed down to Turf Lock and scanned a small flock of brent geese for the red breasted goose with no luck but I did see an odd looking brent goose with a pale speckled head. On the river a flock of avocets were feeding along the waters edge with redshanks nearby.

Heading back to catch the return bus the glossy ibis and long eared owl were still showing well. Arriving back at Dawlish Warren I had 45 minutes before my train back to Plymouth so I had a quick sea watch from the lifeguard tower from where I found a smart male and 2 female eider and the female surf scoter, back for its 5th Winter. The scoter was seen briefly flying in towards the shore before landing where it began diving with a flick of its wings as it entered the water and without a leap.

And so I caught the train back to Plymouth and was in luck as it was a First train again and not a Cross Country train (Hooray!). And it had been an excellent day despite the wind and my generally feeling crappy and it was an excellent start to my birding year.

Thursday 5 January 2012

River Plym wander and a new moth - 4th January 2012

I had a few hours free in the morning so I had a wander along the River Plym between Marsh Mills and Blaxton Meadow.

The spotted sandpiper showed really well near the railway bridge, busily feeding along the waters edge in the company of a grey wagtail. On the walk back it showed even better in the same area, eventually flying up to the road bridge at Marsh Mills. Its legs were still a pale yellow colour but were not as bright as they were back in September, maybe due to the dull light. I managed to get a few poor photos of it as it rested along the waters edge.

Spotted Sandpiper

Also seen were a common sandpiper, 4 greenshanks, some very mobile little grebes with 4 being seen together and with probably another 3 individuals, a small flock of around 20 linnets feeding amongst the weeds on Blaxton Meadow and a pair of adult great black backed gulls feeding on a large dead fish on the mudflats.

A sign of Spring were some flowering snowdrops underneath the trees.


Walking back to the bus stop I half heartedly checked out the lights in the underpass at Marsh Mills and found 2 male Winter moths, a new moth species for me and my first moths of the year.

Male Winter Moth

Male Winter Moth

 So not a bad couple of hours nature watching and a nice start to the New Year.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Christmas and New Year 2011

After my trip to the Exe on the 18th December things quietened down on the nature front as I got caught up in Christmas - work, food, drink, walks and get togethers, the usual Christmas things.

I did have a walk around Saltram and the River Plym with my friend Sue from work but I didn't see much except a good count of 5 greenshanks roosting on Blaxton Meadow at high tide and a white Muscovy duck by the road bridge at Marsh Mills. There was no sign of the spotted sandpiper though.

Another walk on Boxing Day with our friend Julie was more productive and with a nice bottle of wine half way through the walk at The Beefeater at Marsh Mills. Still no sign of the spotted sandpiper but I did see a common sandpiper. Also seen were a greenshank, an adult common and an adult lesser black backed gull amongst the gulls roosting on the mudflats, 7 little grebes and a nice male and female red breasted merganser feeding in the river near The Folly at low tide. Also seen was an immature male tufted duck which was a nice find although there had been a report of an immature male scaup on the Plym a few days previously - it was definently a tuftie and not a scaup that I saw which was a shame as scaup would be a tick for my Plymouth list.

And so 2011 has come to an end. A total of 170 species of birds were seen which is less than the 190 last year and 178 the year before but over the 150 target I set myself. Only 3 new birds for my British list were seen - Iberian chiffchaff at Rame in May, buff breasted sandpiper at Hayle in September and short eared owl at Exminster in December. Other bird highlights were lesser scaup, glossy ibis and spotted sandpiper with 3 new birds for my Devon list - white fronted goose, Bewicks swan and short eared owl. My Wembury list also advanced by 3 - great northern diver, great spotted woodpecker and brent goose.

Mammal highlights were the fox cubs at Tyntesfield in May and grey seal on The Barbican in November. Best mammals though were cetaceans - bottle nosed dolphins at Wembury in February, harbour porpoise at Berry Head in May, common dolphins at Bude in July, common and striped dolphins at Gibraltar in October and common dolphins on the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth in October.

Mothing was a lot of fun and more interesting as my knowledge and experience grows. The highlight was a vestal at Wembury in October but the year was full of new and some quite stunning moths. Butterflying was also good but no sightings of clouded yellows this year. A marbled white at Wembury was the only sighting of this species but a tick for Wembury. Green hairstreak was also a tick for Wembury with some excellent views.

Autumn ladies tresses at Blaxton Meadow were the plant highlight although I failed to find bee orchids at this site. Autumn squill at Stoke Point was also a good find.

Insect highlights were a green tiger beetle at Wembury and sexton beetles at Bude and Wembury.

And so to 2012 - what will it bring? Hopefully more birds for my British list !