Sunday 24 February 2013

River Exe - 23rd February 2013

I decided to blitz the River Exe to try and catch up on some good birds that have been seen recently and despite a long and cold day and poor light I had a great time with some fantastic sightings.

Starting off at Starcross I walked along the road by the railway line to the crossing place across the tracks near the mouth of the River Kenn to look for the spotted redshank that has been wintering here. I searched the shoreline with my telescope as the tide was low but with no luck so I packed up the scope ready to return to Starcross village. One last scan with my binoculars before I headed off back across the railway track and there it was! By the time I had gotten my telescope out again it had flown along the shoreline and out of sight but at least I had a nice if brief flight view. Other birds seen from here were a few red breatsed mergansers on the river, and a greenshank, around 7 ringed plovers and small groups of bar-tailed godwits feeding on the mud.

Waiting for the bus at Starcross I noticed a small bird flitting through a hedge on the opposite side of the road and I had a scan with my binoculars, expecting it to be a goldcrest or wren but was pleasently surprised to see a very smart firecrest. It did it usual trick of showing well for a few seconds before disappearing into cover before reappearing nearby for a few seconds more. Very nice to see before it flew off into some gardens and out of sight.

Arriving by bus in Exminster I wandered around the Millbury Lane area along with various assorted birders looking for the overwintering rose coloured starling. 3 siskins flew over and at the end of the Lane 6 snipe were flushed form a boggy field  where redwings were also feeding. After staking out the allotments by the churchyard eventually the bird showed well preening in some trees with some starlings before flying off. It was looking a bit tatty as it moults from juvenile to adult plumage, with a very slight pinky flush to its buffy underparts and black feathering appearing on its head and upperwings. It also had a dark streaked vent area and its pale rump was noted when it flew off.

 Rose Coloured Starling with a Starling -  a distant shot with my new camera!
 Rose Coloured Starling
Rose Coloured Starling

I then headed off to Topsham and Darts Farm where the male American wigeon showed distantly amongst a feeding flock of wigeon, presumably the returning bird from last winter. A pair of reed buntings were on the bird feeders and around 20 fieldfares were feeding in a nearby grassy field with starlings. The nervous and flighty brent goose flock feeding in front of the hide held a pale bellied type and a bird with a white speckled head which I saw last year on Exminster Marsh.

Heading back to Topsham I found 2 water pipits feeding on the Marsh near the new footbridge across the river and walking along a ditch I flushed 2 snipe and a Jack snipe, a brief view as they flew off but the smaller size of the Jack snipe compared to the snipe was obvious and only my second ever Jack snipe sighting!
One of the Water Pipits on the Marsh near the new footbridge at Topsham

On arriving at the viewing platform by the River Clyst I soon found the curlew sandpiper that is overwintering here as it flew over the mudflats with some dunlin, showing its white square rump. I watched it for a while through the scope although it was distant, its larger build, longer, more curved bill and longer legs when compared to nearby dunlins were quite noticeable - it looked like the dunlins legs had sunk in to the mud when compared to the legs of the curlew sandpiper! It eventually flew off with the dunlin towards Exminster Marsh as the tide came in, showing its white square rump again - quite a strange sighting in February on the River Exe!

A quick look off The Goatwalk and waders were busily feeding - avocets, redshanks, dunlin, bar tailed godwits and a few black tailed godwits and 4 knot, but there was no sign of the long tailed duck.

 Avocet from The Goatwalk
 Bar-Tailed Godwits off The Goatwalk
 Bar-Tailed Godwits and a Knot off The Goatwalk
A quick look in the hide at Bowling Green Marsh and a spotted redshank flew in with some redshank to roost and I finally managed some nice scope views -  a perfect end to a great days birding!

 Wigeon at Bowling Green Marsh
Spotted Redshank roosting with 2 Redshank at Bowling Green Marsh

Monday 18 February 2013

Green Winged Teal at St.Johns Ford, Cornwall - 17th February 2013

I caught the bus to HMS Raleigh in Torpoint in Cornwall with a plan to walk along the road to St.Johns Ford but as I set off I noticed a signpost for a public footpath which headed off beside the perimeter fence in the general direction I wanted to go so I took this more pleasent route instead. Luckily this footpath ended up near the sewage farm outlet where the wintering male green winged teal has been showing and after clambering through a small copse I ended up on a tarmac road by the Creek right by the outlet. However it wasn't until I left that I realised this tarmac road was the access road for the sewage farm and was a private road behind locked gates so I had to clamber back through the copse to get back but it did mean I had some good views of my target bird!

Scanning through the Eurasian teal, wigeon and shelduck I eventually found the green winged teal feeding in the creeks before it moved out to the main river channel to feed as the tide went out. Male Eurasian teal are very pretty birds but birds that are easily and regularly seen and a male green winged teal looks very like a Eurasian teal except it lacks the white scapular stripe and has a white vertical bar on its breast so even though it is a British life tick for me it wasn't hugely exciting. Nice to see though, none the less. I did see a male Eurasian teal without a white scapular stripe but also without the white breast bar, maybe a juvenile developing adult plmage?

Other birds seen included 2 snipe, a black tailed godwit, a dunlin, a second winter Mediterranean gull, 2 lesser black backed gulls and a little egret.

On the walk back to Torpoint I saw an adult Mediterranean gull and a small flock of around 20 turnstones feeding at Marine Drive before I caught the ferry back to Plymouth.

As the day was sunny and mild and very pleasent I decided to head off to Ernesettle Creek to look for the lesser yellowlegs and eventually I managed to find it feeding in its usual place just upriver from the slipway. It showed well at times but would disappear amongst the small creeks as it fed and was very wary of nearby redshanks which were quite aggressive towards it at times.

Also seen were up to 3 mobile greenshanks, a few common gulls and lots of teal. Looking across the River Tamar mudflats at the mouth of the Creek I managed to see a small flock of 18 avocets feeding along with 5 great crested grebes (1 in summer plumage), a pair of wigeon, a black tailed godwit and a little egret.

And so it had been a very pleasent and productive day and I didn't miss not having a camera with me too much!

Sunday 17 February 2013

Bittern, Bean Goose, Bewicks Swans and a Broken Camera - Slimbridge, 11th February 2013

Having been very disappointed at missing my trip to Slimbridge due to the bad weather David very kindly offered to drive me up to Slimbridge for the day. It was sunny and cold and frosty on leaving Plymouth but by the time we got to Slimbridge it was cold and grey and murky.

I headed off to The Holden Tower first to have a look for the 3 bean geese that have been found amongst the 200+white fronted geese but on arriving at the hide there were only around 20 white fronted geese feeding very distantly on the saltmarsh with the feral flock of barnacle geese. As I began to curse, the rest of the flock flew in as if on cue but they still remained very distant. I decided to cut my losses and after a quick count of 86 Bewicks swans roosting distantly on the saltmarsh (including 10 juveniles) I headed off to The Zeiss Hide. Walking through the collection gave some great views of smew, lesser scaup and ring necked duck along with a flyover flock of around 20 redpolls. A Ne-Ne (Hawaiian goose) took a dislike to me and had a go at my jeans much to my amusement and the "ooooo"-ing of the male eiders made me chuckle too.

Bewicks Swans roosting on the saltmarsh in the gloom

On reaching The Zeiss Hide I realised the goose flock was actually a little nearer than from The Holden Tower so I began to search through them for the elusive bean geese. They were still some distance away and the light was still poor but I finally found one amongst the feeding flock. Just as I was getting my eye in somebody in the hide shouted "Bittern!" and there right in front of me was a bittern moving through the sparse reeds. I have seen many bitterns over the years but always flight views, never on the ground, but this one showed amazingly well for around 10 minutes before disappearing into a thicker stand of reeds. It moved stealthily through the reeds and when it stood still it did appear to disappear against the vegetation. It hunted for aquatic morsels by extending its neck forwards while holding its bill just underwater and waiting, standing stock still, and it did catch something but it swallowed it before I could see what it was. Unsurprsingly when I then turned my attention back to the distant goose flock I couldn't refind the bean goose but the views of the bittern were more than compensation.

Bittern hunting in the reeds

 Bittern hunting with neck outstretched and bill just underwater

The usual birds showed very well around the reserve - pintail, gadwall, pochard, tufted duck, teal, wigeon, shoveler, mallard, 2 trilling and summer plumaged little grebes, black tailed godwit, lapwing, golden plover, dunlin, redshank, 1 little egret, a male reed bunting, 2 snipe and a very smart male bullfinch.

Camouflaged Snipe

A very dark backed gull had my heart racing briefly as I thought it may have been a yellow legged gull until it waded out of the water and showed very pink legs. 2 lesser black backed gulls were also seen being very vocal and aggressive with a pair of herring gulls.

Dark backed Herring Gull

Disaster struck however on entering The Martin Smith hide. I dropped a glove on the floor and put my camera down on the ledge (with zoom fully extended) to pick the glove up. The camera slid off the ledge, crashing to the floor. It seemed to be ok but the lens has been damaged and now it won't extend at all and so I will have to buy a new one! I have had no luck with cameras in the last 6 months, having lost one and now writing off another one. I blame the hide - it was dark, the ledge has a slight slope on it and everybodys elbows rubbing on the ledge have polished it smooth and made it slippery. It is the same hide I damaged my binocular doubler lens in when it rolled off the ledge too. Note to self - avoid The Martin Smith Hide!

It had been a cold but great day but knackering my camera did put a bit of a crimp on things - maybe I should look at insuring my cameras against accidents!

Saturday 9 February 2013

River Tamar Boat Trip, 9th February 2013

Today I headed off to Saltash for my annual River Tamar boat trip organised by Tamar Wildlife. Before meeting my mate Mavis at the Quayside I had my usual quick look in the small copse by the Tamar Bridge, hoping to see a blackcap, but today I was out of luck. The copse has been cleared of a lot of the scrubby understorey and paths have been put in through the trees but despite this there were quite a few birds around and I had great views of goldcrests and a female great spotted woodpecker along with lots of chaffinch, a song thrush, wren, robin, dunnock, blackbird, woodpigeon, magpie, goldfinch and blue, great and long tailed tits.

With the undergrowth cleared away I had a clear unobstructed view of the estuary and on checking out the River Tavy mouth in the distance I found a spoonbill busily feeding with 4 little egrets, a distant view but easily identified due to its feeding manner and size and build when seen alongside the egrets.

The boat first headed off down river to view another 2 spoonbills that had been seen by the crew before arriving at Saltash and we had good views as they fed at the waters edge just North of Devonport Dockyard.


Heading back upriver towards Weir Quay and Cargreen we saw the usual birds - great crested grebe, Canada goose, little egret, curlew, redshank, black tailed godwit, avocet, mallard, teal. wigeon, cormorant, shelduck, lapwing and grey heron. Amongst the herring, black headed and great black backed gulls we found a very smart adult Mediterranean gull developing its black summer plumaged head and a common gull. 3 common sandpipers were seen, 1 at Weir Quay and 2 near to the spoonbills at Devonport Dockyard. A pair of red breasted mergansers were seen flying upriver and a raven flew over croaking. The spoonbill I had seen from the Saltash copse was seen feeding in the mouth of the River Tavy but distantly. A good find was a spotted redshank in the usual place just North of Cargreen, it flew along the shoreline showing its white oval rump, and on the way back downriver it was busily feeding in the water amongst a small flock of avocet as they all upended in the water.


We then headed up the River Lynher, adding 5 little grebes, a lone greenshank and 2 flyover buzzards to the days list of birds. Best bird of the trip and a complete surprise was a merlin, first seen briefly by Bruce the tour guide before reappearing and perching in a tree top for a good 5 minutes before flying off and out of sight. Unfortunately it was a little distant and silhouetted against the grey sky but very good to see nonetheless.

Distant view of a Merlin

And so it had been an excellent trip as always, not too cold for a change and capped off by excellent flight views of the 3 spoonbills together as they flew over the boat and up the River Lynher to roost, 2 adults and a juvenile. I can't wait for next years trip!