Tuesday 13 November 2012

Bonaparte's Gull at Dawlish Warren - third time lucky!

The Bonaparte's gull had been showing very well for a few days - posing for photos, doing a meet and greet, signing autographs - but unfortunately I was working. However I had the 11th November off and so again I caught the train to Dawlish Warren - luckily it only costs £6.70 return at weekends. It was a glorious Autumn day - a cold and frosty start, but warm and sunny and still later, and on arriving at 10:30 I headed off to the seawall to search for my target bird. After an hours searching the only gulls I had seen along the beach were 3 herring gulls loafing around in the hope of getting some food scraps from the day trippers and offshore I saw at least 4 great crested grebes with a female common scoter and a razorbill.

 Dawlish Warren
Dawlish Warren
Brent geese and wigeon were seen and heard feeding on the mudflats in the estuary and a pair of stonechats were flycatching from the bramble bushes. A watch and wait at the main pond failed to provide a sight or sound of the bearded tit but I did see 1 or maybe 2 chiffchaff, 2 little grebe, 2 mute swan, a jay, a great spotted woodpecker and a kestrel, and a water rail was heard squealing. A late migrant hawker dragonfly was also seen flying around the pond.

I headed back to the seawall and within a few minutes the Bonaparte's gull was located resting on one of the groynes in the distance and over the next hour it performed amazingly well, flying along the beach right up to the the life guard hut by the seawall before drifting back along the beach towards the estuary mouth. Quite a few birders were present with some getting right down to the surfline to get better views much to the annoyance of some, with claims of harrassement of the bird - I hate any harrassment of wildlife but it was a little odd and misplaced as the gull was totally unperturbed and was even attracted to within a few feet of some photographers who were throwing pieces of bread into the surf! The general public were also very interested as to what we were all looking at with someone thinking we were watching submarines offshore!

 "Harrassing" the Bonaparte's Gull !
 Bonaparte's Gull
 Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

It was a pretty little gull, like a cross between a little gull and a black headed gull with bubble gum pink legs, a black bill, a grey nape and a large black splodge behind the eye. It was smaller than the nearby black headed gulls and it was seen plunging in to the water where it caught and ate a little silver fish. It was quite aggressive at times towards the black headed gulls, crouching down and throwing its head back and calling. And I was very pleased to have finally seen it on my third trip to Dawlish Warren!

I also found a few shells on the beach while waiting for the gull to show and took a few photos to while away some time.

 Banded Wedge Shell
 Banded Wedge Shell
 Netted Dog Whelk
 Slipper Limpet
 Slipper Limpet
Banded Wedge Shell
Augur Shell 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Wildlife bits and bobs

Sunday 4th November and a very muddy clifftop footpath at Wembury meant a walk along the beach instead, something I only do about once a year. Walking along the beach gave me the oppurtunity to have a look through the shells washed up on the beach and I finally found a blue rayed limpet! The blue rays are only really visible when the shell is wet and at certain angles to the light but its a very pretty shell. I also found some black-footed limpet shells and Arctic- and spotted cowrie shells, not realising that there are different types of limpets and 2 types of cowrie until I bought the Collins complete guide to British coastal wildlife (as recommended on Skev's B.L.O.G) following my nephews visit in the Summer when my lack of knowledge on rockpool wildlife became apparent.

 Blue Rayed Limpet
 Blue Rayed Limpet
 Black Footed Limpet
Spotted Cowrie (left) and Arctic Cowrie (right)

It was quite breezey so bird wise it was quiet with 16 Canada geese feeding in the stubble field, a flyby raven being mobbed by 2 rook and 2 jackdaw showing size differentiation very well, 3+ cirl buntings in the sewage farm hedge and a kestrel. A hunt for parasol mushrooms to cook for tea drew a blank but I enjoyed my last Chunk pasty of the year as it was the last day the cafe will be open until Christmas week.

Monday 5th November and a walk around The Hoe and The Barbican was very productive with a good view of a grey seal just outside the Sutton Harbour lock gates, it looked very large but not as big or pale as the big male I saw there around a year ago.

Grey Seal

A feathered ranunculus was found on a wall near a light on the wall of the National Marime Aquarium while on Sutton Harbour itself a little grebe was diving for fish and 26 mute swans were being fed on scraps of bread along with herring and black headed gulls.

Feathered Ranunculus
 Little Grebe
Black-headed Gull

Surprise bird was a guillemot which allowed very close views as it snorkelled for fish before diving underwater, it was very strange to see it "flying" underwater chasing after fish. It looked a little moribund and it appeared to have some damage on its left wing joint but was able to use the wing while underwater, it was also seen preening when it was quite aggressive towards a juvenile herring gull that was paying a bit too much interest.

 Guillemot - with some damage on its left wing "elbow"
 Guillemot snorkelling for fish

Saturday 3 November 2012

River Exe Double Dip - Twice!

Sunday 28th October and I headed off to the River Exe. My carefully dovetailed bus/train/walk schedule went right out of the window as I had written the bus times down incorrectly and so on getting off the train at Dawlish I walked along the seafront to Dawlish Warren to look for the recently reported Bonaparte's gull (a life tick) but I was out of luck and dipped it. I did get a good view of a very nice great northern diver quite close in to the beach as it drifted West along the coast and distantly offshore a flock of around 40 common scoters were floating around amongst the waves.

Great Northern Diver

Three late swallows flew over heading East, a lone sanderling fed along the beach and a very noisey and showy green woodpecker was feeding on the grassy area by the main pond. A red admiral was still on the wing and a common seal was sleeping in the water quite close to the shore - its head looked like a piece of floating plastic until it raised itself out of the water, yawned and then went back to sleep!

I then headed off on the bus to Exminster Marsh to look for the recently reported whooper swan (a Devon tick) but again I dipped it. I only had an hour at the Marsh which was just enough time to walk to the viewing platform and back and I managed to see a male blackcap, redwings, a male stonechat and 2 greylag geese amongst the Canadas. A water rail squealed in the reeds and the whistling of the returning wigeon was delightful to hear.

Surprise birds were a pair of red crested pochard feeding on the reservoir, having been reported the previous day on Bowling Green Marsh. But are the real or are they plastic? There has been quite marked migration of birds from the East over the past few days and Autumn is the best time for wild birds to appear - or are they feral birds from the Cotswold Water Park colony, not far from Devon as the red crested pochard flies? Or are they wildfowl collection escapees? Who knows? I have only ever seen red crested pochard once before, a wary female on the River Plym in October 2008 with mallards, but I chose not to add it to my British list. Can I tick these two birds?

Saturday 3rd November and further reports of the Bonaparte's gull at Dawlish Warren and 2 adult and 2 juvenile whooper swans at Exminster Marsh tempted me back to the River Exe for another go. And again I dipped both!

Dawlish Warren provided some excitement with the pinging call of a bearded tit (a male first reported a few days ago) heard from the reeds at the main pond but despite watching and waiting I couldn't see it. It was lovely to hear it, a sound I used to hear regularly when I was growing up in Suffolk and cutting my birdwatching teeth but it has been a while since I last saw or heard one and this is my first Devon record.

A water rail was also heard from the reeds but not seen and 2 little grebes were skulking around the reed edges. A jay and a great spotted woodpecker were seen flying over.

Offshore gannets were spectacularly diving for fish quite close to the beach, creating quite a large splash. A great crested grebe, 2 razorbills, 6 female red breasted mergansers, a great northern diver and a red throated diver were also seen.

I headed off by bus to Exminster Marsh where despite checking all the mute swans I failed to find the whoopers. A sparrowhawk was on the hunt along the lane hedgerows where redwings and long tailed tits were seen. A small flock of around 20 golden plovers flew over calling and there were more lapwings on the Marsh than when I visited last week. A male shoveler was roosting among the teal and wigeon on the Marsh and gadwall were seen feeding on the reservoir but there was no sign of the red crested pochards. A red admiral was on the wing despite the chilly weather.

And so I had double dipped twice but I did get a (half) Devon tick and a potential life tick out of my 2 trips and I had had a good time with some good sightings.