Friday 21 December 2012

Black Necked Grebe at Dawlish Warren - 21st December 2012

The Mayan calendar was suggesting that today would be the end of the world - so I thought if I am to meet my maker today I might as well be doing something I enjoy when I meet him (or her)!

I headed off on the train to Dawlish Warren spending only £6.70 for return ticket, such a bargain, and despite some delays and packed trains full of people heading home for Christmas carrying loads of presents, I arrived at Dawlish Warren at around 11am. It was bright and sunny but it was only a brief reprieve from the rain and gales we have been experiencing this week and which are set to return again tomorrow.

I checked out the main pond first where a black necked grebe has been reported recently but there was nothing showing on a very overflowing pond so I headed off to the bird hide as it was high tide. Amongst the grey plover, dunlin and oystercatcher flock in front of the hide I managed to find 4 knot, a sanderling and a bar tailed godwit. A few curlew and redshank were also seen and a small flock of turnstone were flying around the mussel dredger and other boats in the estuary.

Brent geese, wigeon and shelduck were feeding in The Bight by the hide along with a lone female teal. Cormorants were drying their wings on the shingle spit and 7 skylark were feeding along the shoreline in front of the hide.

 Brent Geese in The Bight
 Brent Geese

4 great crested grebes, red breasted mergansers and a male goldeneye were feeding around the wreck in the estuary and I thought I had a brief view of a Slavonian grebe too but I failed to relocate it. A nice find was a kingfisher flying low over the water by the railway embankment, having been disturbed by a passing train. Another nice find was a water rail which suddenly appeared from the saltmarsh vegetation in front of the hide before quickly disappearing from view.

I headed back to the main pond and found 4 little grebes, 1 in semi-summer plumage, and eventually the black necked grebe appeared giving amazingly close views. It was difficult to get a clear view of it on the water due to the flooded paths around the pond and the surrounding vegetation but eventually it showed very well, down to a few metres, and appeared very unconcerned by my closeness as it frequently dived for food.

 A very tame Black Necked Grebe - with very red eyes
 Black Necked Grebe
 Black Necked Grebe
Back of the head view of the Black Necked Grebe

I also heard water rails squealing around the pond while a great spotted- and a green woodpecker were seen flying overhead. A pair of stonechats were feeding on the flooded grassy area by the visitors hide and a feeding party of long tailed tits moved through the bushes.

The sea was flat calm and I managed to find around 6 great crested grebes and a red throated diver while an adult gannet flew West. There was no sign of the occassionally reported Bonapartes gull and the only other sea birds of note were fulmars prospecting the cliffs between Dawlish and Teignmouth as I went by on the train.

Heading home and the sky had clouded over but it had been a very pleasent few hours away from the Christmas madness currently enveloping people. The black necked grebe had given brilliant views and brings my year list up to 182, a total unlikely to be increased before the year end due to work and Christmas commitments.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Water Pipit at Wembury, 13th December 2012

A grey and cold day with a brisk, cold South Easterly wind and I headed off to Wembury to see the damage to the cliff top footpath after all the recent rain and flooding, today being the first chance I had had to visit Wembury.

The footpath had collapsed in three places by the wheat field - 2 of the collapses are relatively small and have been fenced off but the third collapse is quite large and has resulted in the fencing and the footpath being moved back in to the wheat field. Unfortunately the new fencing lacks the cross supports of the old fencing which is where I regularly saw common lizards basking in the sunshine.

 Cliff path collapse at Wembury resulting in the foot path being moved inland
Smaller cliff path collapse at Wembury

Also of note is the intentional removal of a small hedgerow by the small wheat field in the old HMS Cambridge site, I don't know why it has been removed as it was a good spot to see cirl buntings, whitethroats and stonechats.

Hedgerow removed by HMS Cambridge wheat field

Despite the cold weather I found a slightly moribund fox moth caterpillar slowly trundling across the footpath which I picked up and placed in some vegetation by the side of the path in case it got squashed by less observant walkers, but with the cold weather I saw only 3 walkers along the whole walk.

Fox Moth Caterpillar

Gulls were roosting on the rocks as the tide receded and amongst the usual herring, black headed and great black backed gulls were 2 Mediterranean gulls ( an adult Winter and a second Winter) and a very smart looking adult lesser black backed gull.

Lesser Black Backed Gull

Oystercatchers were very noisy and mobile as were curlews, and a redshank was found feeding on a sandy piece of beach amongst the rocks. Mallards were evident amongst the rocks but were difficult to count as they moved around, appearing and disappearing, but there were at least 40 plus.

A lapwing flew in from the East and landed in the wheat field where rooks, jackdaws and herring gulls were feeding. It searched for food for around 5 minutes before being hassled by a rook when it flew off North inland and out of sight. 8 skylark flew up from the stubble calling before landing again and disappearing from view and at least 4 pairs of cirl buntings fed amongst the stubble by the sewage farm hedge.


A water pipit has been reported from the beach by the sewage pipe recently and after a bit of searching it eventually gave some very good views. It was very aggressive towards any rock pipits that entered what appeared to be its small feeding territory, chasing them off and showing its white outer tail feathers in flight. It seemed more tolerant of nearby meadow pipits and pied wagtails but would eventually chase them off too.

Water Pipit
Water Pipit

 Water Pipit
Water Pipit

A green woodpecker was also seen feeding along the beach before flying off calling, a bizarre sight and unexpected, and a grey wagtail was heard flying over calling. A pair of kestrels hovered over the fields at Wembury Point and a raven flew over croaking noisily. A pheasent was also heard and offshore gannets were flying East, mostly adults but with a few dark plumaged immatures.

A surprise find was a brief view of a very smart firecrest feeding in the hedgerow by the footpath. it showed very well for around 10 seconds before disappearing amongst the tangle of branches.

All in all it was a productive walk with the water pipit being new for the year and bringing my year list up to 181 , but after 3 hours out in the field I was freezing cold and was glad to head off home to warm up.

Saturday 8 December 2012

A trip to Germany and Italy, 27th November to 5th December 2012

Heading up to Heathrow airport by train on the 27th November and there was no sign of any whooper swan at Exminster Marsh this time but I did see at least 12 red kites between Westbury and London and 4 roe deer in a field somewhere in flooded Somerset.

Munich was cold and grey but on heading out on a day trip by train to nearby Ulm on the 29th November (to visit the worlds tallest church spire) the countryside increasingly turned white as snow began to fall. Birds seen from the train included grey heron, coot and kestrel but surprise birds were at least 2 great white egrets flying over, the large size and ponderous looking flight giving them away.

I wish I had one of these! - interesting painting on the wall of a Christmas market stall in Ulm

The only other birds of note were a nuthatch and a treecreeper feeding with a group of great tits in a park in Munich on the 30th November. Unfortunately I did not have my binoculars on me at the time and the treecreeper was silent so I not sure if it was a treecreeper or a short-toed treecreeper.

Heading off to Italy by train on the 1st December via The Bremmer Pass was initially a snowless journey until we climbed up into The Alps after leaving Innsbruck in Austria. Near Innsbruck I saw 3 large raptors, probably golden eagles, soaring high up in the mountains on the cloud line, brief and distant views only as they appeared and disappeared amongst the clouds, while a large flock of corvids nearby were doing the same with some birds being larger than others, maybe Alpine choughs with carrion crows?

Snowscape from the train to Italy
Heading down in to Italy and hooded crows appeared instead of carrion crows although I did see both species over the next few days. Some large gulls were seen flying over - herring, yellow legged or Caspian? They did not appear to be particularly dark backed in the bright sunshine.

Turin was very different to Munich, I had forgotten the quirky Italian ways such as not being able to buy a bus ticket on a bus and having to order and pay for a coffee in a cafe before presenting the receipt to somebody else to make it! The city was very interesting and would have warranted a much longer visit and The Egyptian Museum, the main purpose of our visit, was amazing.  Bird wise I saw a peregrine flying around The Mole Tower in the city centre and a pair of confiding but very active black redstarts.

 Falcon capstone in The Egyptian Museum, Turin
 Horus the hobby, The Egyptian Museum in Turin
The Egyptian Museum, Turin

The Mole Tower, Turin

Male Black Redstart, Turin

A day trip (by train) to the nearby ski resort of Sauze D'Oulx was very beautiful in the snow and interesting to visit as it prepared to open for the skiing season, being almost deserted. We had a very cold chair lift ride up in to the mountains where we had stunning views before enjoying a warming mulled wine and a pizza in a ski lodge. Birds seen included goldcrest, coal tit, bullfinch and mistle thrush along with finally good views of Italian sparrows, a race (or distinct species?) of house sparrow, the males with chestnut crowns and whiter cheeks than the usual house sparrows.

Male Italian Sparrow, Sauze D'Oulx

 Chair lift view at Sauze D'Oulx
Chair lift view, Sauze D'Oulx

Heading to Milan (by train again!) on the 4th December and I saw at least 4 great white egrets flying over, much briefer views than those in Germany as we sped through the countryside on the Frecciarossa fast train.

Milan provided good views of more Italian sparrows but no other new birds and was again a very interesting city, warranting a much longer visit than the 24 hours we spent there before having to fly back to the UK on the 5th December. The last birds I saw before taking off in the plane were 2 buzzards skirmishing together over the runway.

 Male Italian Sparrow, Milan

Male Italian Sparrow, Milan
And so it had been a great trip - Christmas markets, lots of snow, lots of train trips, too much food and drink, some great sightseeing especially The Egyptian Museum in Turin, and a few interesting bird sightings along the way. Now I just need a holiday to get over it!

Thursday 6 December 2012

Whooper Swan at Exminster Marsh - at last!

A very busy few weeks with work, a trip to Ipswich to see the parents and a week long study course at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London, so limited wildlife watching opportunities, but I have managed a few interesting sightings along the way.

Heading up to London by train on the 15th November I did my usual sitting by the window from Newton Abbot to Exeter to watch the Teign- and Exe Estuaries and the seafront in between, and on reaching Exminster Marshes I had a look out for the whooper swan that had been refound here recently. There were plenty of distant white swan blobs in the distance so I didn't hold out much hope of seeing it but as we passed the RSPB carpark and under the road bridge there it was, feeding with 4 mute swans close to the railway line. It raised its head up showing its yellow and black bill and then was gone from sight as we whizzed by in the train but I had finally seen it, a Devon tick!

Other sightings from the train included fallow deer at Powderham, 18 red kites between Swindon and London and 5 roe deer.

My time in Ipswich was spent catching up with family so I didn't get out birdwatching. The current waxwing influx across the country includes Ipswich which always seems to be something of a waxwing hotspot. There had been recent reports of a small flock of waxwings showing well at a car park in the town centre so I spent an hour staking out a rowan tree full of berries without any success but at least I got out of Christmas shopping for an hour!

Waxwing-less Rowan tree at a carpark in Ipswich!

My stay in London was very busy and the only birds of note were 2 Egyptian geese and ring-necked parakeets in Hyde Park.

Interesting (and tasty) noodle bar in London near The Royal Marsden Hospital