Tuesday 29 January 2013

River Plym Walk, 29th January2013

A wet and windy day but I decided to make the most of my day off work and headed off to the River Plym to look again for the reported Jack snipe and snipe. I walked from Laira Bridge to Marsh Mills via Saltram Park and then from Marsh Mills to Blagdons Meadow before heading home and I failed again to see any snipe, Jack or common.

I had a good search around the flooded woodland area in Saltram Park but with no luck. I did see a grey wagtail and a juvenile moorhen while in the nearby trees were good numbers of active goldcrests with long tailed and blue tits and a bedraggled treecreeper. 2 jays flew over along with a male kestrel while in the grassy fields 2 mistle thrush and 10 redwing were feeding with some starlings.

Mistle Thrush in Saltram Park

Blaxton Meadow was flooded and I had good views of a male pintail (rare on the Plym) with the male and 2 female wigeon (also quite uncommon on the Plym) along with a good count of 41 shelduck.

Male Pintail on Blaxton Meadow

On the river I found a little grebe and a male and 2 female red breasted mergansers while 3 cormorants were trying to dry their wings on the mudflats in the rain, 1 of which was in full summer plumage.

The only other indication that Spring is on its way were snowdrops and violets seen in flower.

Violet Sp.

Very glad to get home and in to the dry but it had been quite a productive walk despite the wind and rain.

Monday 28 January 2013

Waxwings - at last !

This Winter has seen a large influx of waxwings to the UK - and I have failed to see any!

After getting home from my River Exe boat trip I checked the Devon Bird News Website to see what was around to help me decide what to do the following day (Saturday 26th) as the weather forecast was good and I had a free day. There were reports of waxwings at Heathfield near Stover in Devon so I headed off on the bus on a sunny and calm morning to the Drumbridge roundabout on the A38 from where I could walk to Stover Country Park and the Teigngrace turn-off where the waxwings were sighted.

I started off by having a wander around Stover Country Park, somewhere I have never visited before. It is quite an interesting habitat and I managed some good bird sightings but it was very busy with cyclists, joggers and walkers, a visit on a weekday and early morning would be much better. Despite this I did get some good views of a red head goosander on the main lake amongst the tufted duck and pochard along with 2 great crested grebes (1 in summer plumage), coot, moorhen, mallard, 2 mute swan and 5 cormorants (1 in full summer plumage). I counted 10 snipe roosting in the reeds but there must have been many more out of sight.

Redhead Goosander on Stover Lake

The woodlands held 3 great spotted woodpeckers, 1 of which was seen drumming on a tree stump, nuthatch, jay and coal, blue, long tailed and great tits with at least 2 marsh tits. A feeding flock of around 20 siskins gave good views and a crossbill was heard calling overhead (but not seen).

I headed off towards Heathfield and the Teigngrace turn-off and eventually found my target birds, 8 lovely waxwings perched in a tree by the side of the A38 opposite the tile factory. They were very confiding, giving great views as they sat preening and pooing in the tree for long periods before flying across to the central reservation to gulp down hawthorn berries before flying back to the top of the tree. Occassionally they would fly down to the ground at the bottom of the embankment and out of sight, presumably to have a drink of water, before flying back up in to the tree. It wasn't the best place to view them as the traffic thundered past on the A38 but the birds seemed unperturbed and I watched them for a good hour before I had to head back to the roundabout to catch the bus back to Plymouth. And I had finally seen some waxwings in a year where they have been seen everywhere but where I have been!

 Waxwing in bushes on the central reservation of the A38 in Devon
 Waxwing enjoying the Hawthorn Berries

Sunday 27 January 2013

Some Gems amongst the Dips

I have been out and about quite a bit over the last week, making the most of my time off and the dry weather. I have seen some good wildlife but have missed a few things too but overall it has been pretty good.

Sunday 20th and I headed off to Marsh Mills and the River Plym to look for a reported Jack snipe with 40+ snipe but I failed to see them. I think they may have been at the flooded woodland area in Saltram Park but I didn't have the time to walk there as I had to get home to write my essay for the course I did in London in November - never mind. I did see a lovely pair of siskins drinking from a puddle by the side of the footpath, very good views despite all the walkers, joggers and cyclists passing by. I also saw a common sandpiper, a male and 7 female red breasted mergansers and a male and 2 female wigeon (unusual for the Plym).

Surprise sight was a roe deer I disturbed from the vegetation on the small area of land bordered by the river and the railway line at Marsh Mills. I had found some poo which I thought were deer droppings just as it ran noisely out of the bushes, my first Plymouth roe deer.

Monday 21st and a brief and muddy walk along the path at Wembury didn't provide any unusual sightings of displaced birds from the Arctic weather further East in the UK. Song thrush were more noticeable, a flock of 100+ skylark in the fields above the car park at Wembury Point and 9 golden plover flying over the road near Down Thomas were the only indications of bird displacement. A lone dunlin and just 2 turnstones were roosting on the beach with the oystercatchers and a smart adult Mediterranean gull was feeding in the stubble field with black headed gulls. Despite a quick search I couldn't find the water pipit along the beach.

Thursday 24th and a walk along the coast at Stoke Point was cold and muddy but at least it was calm and sunny. Song thrush were again very noticeable along with meadow pipits. 2 raven flew over calling and tumbling and a lone female stonechat was seen. Offshore gannets were diving for fish and a small raft of auks was seen diving quite a way out, seeming to be mainly razorbills with a few guillemot. Male pheasents seemed to be eveywhere, no doubt from the nearby pheasent shoots.

Friday 25th and it was my annual Stuart Line boat trip on the River Exe with Mavis and Mike. The weather forecast was dire with rain and gales forecast as the cold spell starts to come to an end and I was worried the trip might have been cancelled but it wasn't too bad in the end. The drive from Yelverton to Ashburton over the Moors was beautiful in the snowy landscape but on getting on the boat at Exmouth it started to rain and was bitterly cold in the strong breeze. It did eventually stop raining and didn't start again until we were getting off the boat which was lucky.

From the boat in between wiping my watering eyes we saw some great birds. The female long tailed duck showed well along with red breated mergansers, 3 male and 9 female goldeneye, 4 great crested grebes, a little grebe and 4 Slavonian grebes. The usual waders were seen including 3 greenshank and lots of avocets but we dipped the spotted redshank which has been frequenting the River Kenn mouth at Powderham.

On the way home we stopped off at Bowling Green Marsh but the light was poor and it was wet and windy. However the Marsh was packed full of birds, the most I have ever seen here before. Wigeon, lapwing and black tailed godwits were everywhere and amongst them we found a lone bar tailed godwit, grey plover, redshank and dunlin. I checked all the dunlin groups I could, looking for the recently reported wintering curlew sandpiper but with no luck. Pochard, tufted duck, shoveler and teal were also seen along with a single grey heron and a single little egret. Arriving back home in Plymouth I was glad to get indoors in the warm and dry but it had been a very good day out.

 Wigeon and Black-tailed Godwit at Bowling Green Marsh
 Wigeon and Black tailed Godwit - one godwit has colour rings on its legs which I didn't notice at the time!
Grey Plover at Bowling Green Marsh

Sunday 20 January 2013

A trip to Penzance - 19th January 2013

Four years ago my coach trip with the Plymouth RSPB group to Slimbridge was cancelled due to snow and ice and  I ended up catching the train to Penzance for a days birding instead. And the same thing has happened again!

I arrived in Penzance at around 10:30, having seen a few redwing, a raven and a fox from the train, and it was very cold and grey with a strong and bitter South Easterly wind. A brief search for black redstart on the rocks by the bus station drew a blank but I did see a distant male eider out in the Bay in between the wave troughs.

Walking out to Jubilee Pool and I found just 2 purple sandpipers, very tame and confiding but way down on the usual numbers normally seen here. Offshore there was a distant flock of around 30 common scoters with a great northern diver, again not great views due to the distance and the choppy sea, the scoter flock seeming to be made up entirely of females.

 Purple Sandpiper, Jubilee Pool
Purple Sandpiper

Walking along the sea front to Newlyn Harbour I failed to find any black redstarts but a nice adult Mediterranean gull flew along the shoreline, its black summer hood beginning to develop. A grey seal poked its head out of the water a few times quite close to shore and good numbers of turnstones were roosting along the beach in small loose flocks waiting for the tide to turn and go it.

I had excellent views of a great northern diver in Newlyn Harbour but there was no sign of the long staying black necked grebe which I had mistakenly thought would be a dead cert for the day (it was reported on the Cornish sightings webpage that evening too!).

 Great Northern Diver, Newlyn Harbour
 Great Northern Diver
Great Northern Diver

Heading back to the bus station at Penzance and I finally caught a good but too brief view of a beautiful male black redstart on the boulders along the shore before it flew off and out of sight. I then headed off on the bus to Marazion Marsh, seeing around 100 lapwings feeding in the fields by the roadside, no doubt refugees from the cold weather up country.

Staking out the reedbed at Marazion I failed to see any bitterns this year but I had good views of snipe feeding along the water line and flying around. A sparrowhawk caused chaos amongst them as it hunted over the reedbeds, it was even seen briefly hovering over a clump of reeds as snipe flew out in panic. 2 Cettis warblers were heard and a large flock of around 300 golden plovers were seen flying over in the distance. My pulse quickened briefly when I saw some large birds flapping in the reeds but they turned out to roosting grey herons. Teal also showed very well and despite the cold were busily calling and displaying in small groups.

 Snipe, Marazion Marsh
Male Teal, Marazion Marsh

Along the beach I found an adult common gull and an adult lesser black backed gull amongst the bathing gull flock but there was no sign of the recently reported glaucous gull. A lone dunlin and 5 ringed plover were also seen but were regularly disturbed by walkers along the beach.

Walking back to Penzance to catch the train home and I found a very confiding female black redstart amongst the boulders near the train station and then the male black redstart appeared, giving excellent views and a very nice end to a great day out.

Male Black Redstart, Penzance Railway Station

It is a shame the coach trip was cancelled, I was really looking forward to going and for £23 (transport AND entrance fee) it is a bargain, at least I will get my money back. Looking at doing it by myself by train and taxi it would cost up to £100!

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Brambling at Darts Farm, Topsham - 11th January 2013

My last day of leave before returning to the daily grind of work and I headed off to Topsham near Exeter by train. Arriving in Topsham I headed off to nearby Darts Farm to look for bramblings which have been showing well on some bird feeders in front of the hide.

I've never visited the hide at Darts Farm and was quite impressed, it looks out over a muddy scrape with some small ponds and trees surrounding it. Arriving at the hide a flock of around 300 Brent geese were feeding in a grassy field with some wigeon and 10 black-tailed godwit. Out on the mud were a shelduck, a redshank and some teal. Redwings and fieldfares were feeding in the fields, regularly flying up into the nearby hedges, and a jay was seen flying over.

The bird feeders were deserted due to the prescence of a mute swan underneath them but it eventually swam off and the small birds began to arrive. Amongst the chaffinch, greenfinch and goldfinch were 2 female and a male reed bunting and I eventually found my targets, 3 female and a cracking male brambling. The birds were all very flighty and the male brambling showed the best, giving some close views, and I managed a few rubbish photos. There has been a bit of aggro with photographers not staying in the hide and disturbing the birds and it seemed a bit unecessary as the birds were only a few feet away from the hide.

 Female Reed Bunting
Male Brambling

Male Brambling
I headed back to Topsham and sat for a while in the hide at Bowling Green Marsh. A pair of pintail, a male and 2 female tufted duck, a male and 3 female shoveler, a male and 2 female gadwall and a little grebe were found amongst the wigeon, teal, lapwing and black-tailed godwits. A kestrel flew over causing complete panic but the birds soon settled again. At least 2 snipe were seen sleeping amongst the rushes.
The tide was fully out so a quick look from the nearby viewing platform gave some distant views of waders and a closer view of a lone grey plover. From the Goatwalk I soon found the long staying female long-tailed duck, busily preening in the water channel at low tide but a bit of a distant view in the murky mist and light. I had better views of waders though including avocets, bar-tailed godwits, dunlin and a lone turnstone, and red breasted mergansers were seen diving a little way down the river. 
I totalled up my bird list on getting home and had managed a count of 97 species for the year in my week off, just 3 short of my target of 100 but very pleasing none the less.


Sunday 13 January 2013

A great day at Slapton Ley, 9th January 2013

Having some annual leave from work after the Christmas and New Years holiday madness has been very nice and has given me the opportunity to get out birding on the days when it is not raining.

I headed off to Slapton Ley on the bus, arriving at Torcross at around 9:30am, and I headed straight to the new bird hide by the main car park. I haven't experienced the new hide before and while it is very nice it unfortunately does not have any opening windows. This gave a little distortion to viewing through the plastic windows with optical gear and detracts (for me) from the wildlife experience.

A quick search and I soon found my target bird, a female ring-necked duck, busily diving close to the hide with a small group of tufted duck. It gave some great views and is my first for Devon, having been present for some time now. Quite a few ring-necked ducks have been reported in the South West this Autumn/Winter so I don't know if this adds or detracts from the likelihood that they are wild birds.

Female Ring-Necked Duck

There were a lot of wildfowl on the Ley which was very nice to see, more than I have seen for a few years now and considered to be due to the wet Summer and the abundant growth of water vegetation. Amongst the coot and tufted duck I soon found the 2 Wintering black necked grebes looking very dapper and elegant amongst the ducks, like guests wearing evening wear at a beach barbecue! Also seen were at least 3 male and 5 female goldeneyes, the males displaying by throwing their heads back and the females holding their necks out low against the water. Other wildfowl included gadwall, mallard, pochard, great crested grebe, a male shoveler, 3 little grebes, mute swan and Canada geese. Amongst the gulls roosting and bathing on the Ley were a few adult lesser black backed gulls and an adult kittiwake which was unfortunately oiled on its underside.

 Male Pochard
Male Gadwall

The long staying resident female marsh harrier showed very well hunting along the Ley before flying across to the reedy bay opposite the hide where it put up at least 40 snipe that were roosting in the reeds. It was later seen hunting over the Higher Ley where it put up another 4 snipe.

A sea watch gave very good views of a close red throated diver, a more distant Slavonian grebe and an even more distant great northern diver along with a few gannets.

Staking out the bridge failed to provide a sighting of bittern or firecrest but 3 Cettis warblers were heard singing along with squealing water rails. I managed a brief view of a water rail running between clumps of reeds but the Cettis were keeping well out of sight. 2 goldcrests were busily feeding in the nearby trees.

I had a scan of the ducks in Ireland Bay and found a few wigeon and eventually a male scaup, looking like a first Winter male developing almost into male plumage, and it would have been impossible to pick it out without using my telescope. A pair of stonechat and  grey heron were also seen nearby.

Before heading home there was a large flock of gulls, including some kittiwakes, and gannets in a feeding frenzy offshore and searching across the sea there was a large flock of razorbills too, around 150 of them, and I managed to pick out at least 4 guillemot amongst them.

And so it had been an excellent day out and despite the bad light it had at least kept dry.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Wembury walk and another Lesser Yank

I headed off to Wembury on the bus on the 5th January and it was grey,cool and misty. I had heard that the footpath along the coast had experienced more collapses following yet more torrential rain and wanted to see the damage for myself. The path had indeed collapsed in 2 more places -  by the horse field and a large slip near the sewage pipe. Also where the route dips down along the coast the footpath has been quite badly eroded away too. The stream in the valley to the main beach has also experienced a lot of erosion and it will be interesting to see what effect if any it may have on wildlife come the Spring.

 Coast path slip by the Horse field
 Large coast path slip near the Sewage Pipe
Erosion along the stream in the Valley to the Beach

The path was very wet and muddy and I was filthy by the time I caught the bus home but it was quite a productive walk. Best bird was the water pipit seen feeding amongst the rocks at Wembury Point at high tide, it was watched alongside rock pipits and was much more tolerant of them than when I saw it before Christmas, presumably due to the very small area of beach available at high tide. Oystercatchers were roosting at The Point with 3 curlew and only 3 turnstone - the number of  Wintering turnstones at Wembury have really dropped since last Winter, a worrying trend, and also mirrored in the total lack of purple sandpipers on Plymouth Hoe for the last few Winters.

Signs of Spring were a male sparrowhawk circling high overhead and fulmars prospecting the cliffs past the Church and around The Mewstone. Three-cornered leek was also in flower.

Cirl buntings were feeding in the stubble field but were quite nervous and flighty, I managed to count 7 males and 6 females but there were more than this number present. A female kestrel showed well perched in a tree near the path and 2 buzzards were mobbed by carrion crows. A razorbill showed well close to the shore but spent very little time on the surface between dives. 2 chiffchaffs were flycatching around the landslip by the sewage pipe.

 Male and female Cirl Buntings
Male Cirl Bunting
Female Kestrel

A grey seal was seen close to shore and was very interested in a dog walking along the beach, keeping an eye on it and following it along the beach before disappearing from sight under the waves at Wembury Point.

Grey Seal

Monday 7th January and after dropping off the Outlaws at Newquay airport for their flight to Gatwick we headed home via Bodmin Moor. I had a twenty minute birding opportunity at Dozmary Pool and soon found the male Lesser Scaup diving at the back of the Pool with tufted duck, pochard and 2 female goldeneye. The light was appalling and it was around 4pm but with my telescope I had reasonable views although it spent very little time on the surface between dives. The white flanks of the male tufted ducks were very noticeable despite the poor light but the lesser scaups flanks appeared quite dull grey and it also seemed slightly smaller and more elegant looking. It is presumably the returning bird that I first saw in 2010 and I have yet to actual get a decent view of it! Maybe next year if the bird returns again!

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Lesser Yellowlegs at Ernesettle Creek, 4th January 2013

Christmas and New Years 2012 has been and gone and as predicted I finished the year on 182 species, not bad and my second ever highest total, the highest being 190 in 2010.

A wet and windy walk around Plymouth Hoe on Boxing Day had me cursing as I had left my binoculars at home and a Slavonian grebe was diving close to the shore with a shag before flying off towards the River Tamar.

A further wet and windy walk around Burrator reservoir on the 28th December wasn't too productive either but at least I had my binoculars with me this time. 2 ravens flew over and at least 2 marsh tits were seen feeding in a mixed tit flock but there were no goosanders, probably due to the very high water level  (water was flowing over the dam, the first time I have seen this for quite some time now) and the fact it was Midday and too early for them to come in to roost.

 Burrator Reservoir Dam
Muscovy x mallard? hybrid duck at Burrator

My first day in the New Year for a birding trip was the 4th January and I headed off to Ernesettle Creek in Plymouth to have a look for the lesser yellowlegs that is still being seen there. On arrival there were quite a few birders around looking for it, a chatty and pleasant bunch, and I was quickly pointed on to it feeding in its usual place upriver from the slipway. It was feeding with 2 greenshanks and a few redshanks and gave some good views despite the dull and flat light.

Other birds of note on the Creek were at least 30 black tailed godwits feeding on the mudflats and 2 adult common gulls roosting amongst the gulls. There was no sign of any recently reported spotted redshanks though.

Heading down the Creek to the River Tamar and a nice surprise was a flock of around 60 avocets feeding along the waterline, my first Plymouth avocets. Also on the River were quite a few great crested grebes and a male and 2 female/brownhead red breasted mergansers.

Avocets on the River Tamar from Ernesettle Creek

All in all not a bad start to the Year list!