Tuesday 7 February 2012

A wild (?) goose chase

A bright and cold day and with David doing a twilight shift I decided to head to the River Exe to try and see the red-breasted goose that has been spending the winter there. It has been reported with the brent geese on the fields at Turf for a while now and while I didn't see it on the boat trip on Saturday it was seen from the boat trip on the Sunday.

I caught the train (a nice First train) to Starcross and walked up to the viewing platform at Exminster Marsh and back and drew a blank, surprise, surprise. There were no geese in the fields around Turf but I did see brent geese on the nearby mudflats. On the walk back a large flock of around 400 brent geese landed on the mudflats at The Goatwalk, making a huge din and arriving from the direction of Darts Farm but after a while they all took off and returned back to the direction of Darts Farm, presumably the red-breasted goose was amongst them.

The mudflats at Turf

A red-breasted goose spent the winter on the Exe in 2009/10 and I saw it distantly and briefly in January 2010 but it was subsequently considered an escaped bird. Another or the same bird spent the winter of 2010/11 on the Exe with a second bird but I never saw either of them. And this year a first winter bird has appeared and so far I haven't seen it either. But is it a wild bird or is it an escape? Who knows.

I failed to find a treecreeper in the small wood near Powderham Park where I usually manage to see one but I did find a chiffchaff as a consolation and a smart male great spotted woodpecker. The fallow deer were showing well in Powderham Park where the grey herons were on their nests in the treetops.

Fallow deer in Powderham Park

At Exminster Marsh the usual ducks were seen including a few smart male pintail. A peregrine was perched on top of a pylon and caused havoc amongst the birds as it flew around on short sorties, putting up lapwings, starlings and around 100 golden plovers. 7 greylag geese were seen amongst the Canada geese and gadwall were following the coots around the small lake to try and steal some food from them. A Cettis warbler was heard singing and a female stonechat was seen on the fence posts by the path.

Unusual sight of the day were 3 foxes out in the open, 2 of them noisely fighting at times and looking like boxing mad March hares as they chased each other around the marsh. One of the foxes very kindly flushed a snipe for me as it ran across a boggy field.

One of the foxes on Exminster Marsh

I caught the train back to Dawlish Warren and spent some time sea-watching by the lifeguard hut. A distant red-throated diver was seen briefly between dives, showing a very black throated diver like pale flank patch. 3 Slavonian grebes were diving together close to shore before moving further out and the Bay was dotted with great crested grebes, some in summer plumage and some displaying to each other including those in winter plumage. Further out 5 female eiders were diving together before going to sleep and single gannets were diving offshore.

Best bird though was the long staying and returning female surf scoter which was in quite close to the sea wall, showing very well in the bright sunshine and probably the best view of it I have ever had. I used my Swarovski "doubler" on my binoculars, I am not a great fan of it and rarely use it but it was helpful today. However it has reminded me that I really must get my telescope sorted out as I would have had much clearer and easier and more comfortable views with a telescope. The diver, grebes and eiders would have been much easier to see as well.

And so I headed home on a nice First train again, having had a good day despite not seeing the red breasted goose and now more determined to get myself a telescope.

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