Friday 29 March 2013

Ring Ouzel, Plymouth

I have finally caught up with a bit of a bogey bird for me (the last ring ouzel I saw was 10 (!) years ago on Dartmoor), and it was in a complete surprise of a place, Ford Park Cemetery in the centre of Plymouth.

 Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzel

It was quite nervous and flighty as ring ouzels are but it did give some nice if brief views at times and it was very nice to finally see one after such a long time despite searching for them on Dartmoor and along the South Devon Coast in the Autumn. It has been around for a couple of days now which is also unusual but with the weather being unseasonally cold with a biting Easterly wind I guess it has decided to stay around where it has found a decent food source until the weather improves.

Also seen in the Cemetery were a raven being mobbed by a pair of carrion crows, a pair of siskins, 2 wheatears (my first of the year), a flyover little egret, a kestrel and a sparrowhawk.

I also had a walk around Blaxton Meadow by the River Plym where I saw 3 little ringed plovers, my first in Devon and a bird I haven't seen for quite a few years now as well. They were feeding on the flooded meadow, rapidly shaking a foot in the watery mud to stir up food in the biting cold weather. There has been quite a fall of little ringed plovers in Devon over the past few days along with ring ouzels, no doubt due to the strong East wind.

Also seen along the River Plym were a common sandpiper, a male pintail, a male and 3 female red breasted mergansers, a marsh tit, 2 little grebes, at least 2 greenshank and 5 Canada geese. Surprise bird was an avocet feeding along the shoreline as the tide came in, my first on the Plym, along with a pair of gadwall, again a new bird for me on the Plym.

Wood anemone were flowering in the woodland at Saltram and I managed to find a small fly feeding inside one despite the cold temperatures, a shame there are not more insects around as the chiffchaffs, swallows and sand martins that have arrived in the UK are struggling in the cold weather.

 Wood Anemone
Fly sp. feeding in a Wood Anemone Flower

Thursday 28 March 2013

Spotted Redshank at Ernesettle Creek and 4 Lifers in Luxor, Egypt

A quick walk along Ernesettle Creek on the 16th March before our holiday to Egypt to try and see the long staying lesser yellowlegs but I was out of luck. As compensation I managed an excellent view of a spotted redshank, my first Plymouth sighting, along with a few greenshank and a pair of red breasted mergansers. A few redshank were around too but I couldn't make it a four shank day like I did last March on a visit to Kingsmill Lake in Cornwall.

 Spotted Redshank
Red Breasted Merganser pair

Driving up to Heathrow on the 17th March and I saw a pair of roe deer, stock doves, and a red kite at the M3/A303 junction. It was cold and grey with snow on the ground in places, a complete contrast to Luxor which was hot and sunny!

Luxor was amazing as usual with some fantastic sight seeing in perfect weather and I managed some great birds too with 4 lifers - Senegal thick knee, little bittern, blue cheeked bee-eater and clamorous reed warbler.

Clamorous Reed Warbler

Frustrating birds number 1 were the pair of trumpeter finches that were feeding around my feet in the Valley of The Kings - unfortunately there are no cameras allowed in the Valley so I was unable to get any photos of what were incredibly tame and very beautiful birds. Frustrating birds number 2 were 3 small flocks of sandgrouse which flew across the road on a trip across the desert to the temple at Abydos - the minibus driver was hurtling along at almost jet engine take off speed and I only managed brief views but they were the first sandgrouse species I have ever seen.

I had 2 trips to the Maritime Jolie Ville Hotel complex on Kings Island, about 5 minutes away by taxi from the Isis Hotel where we were staying. The first trip started off well but after an hour the wind picked up and a dust storm arrived, a fine yellow talc like dust which hampered visibility and forced the birds in to cover. The second trip was much better weatherwise and I met a chap called Gary, aka The Biking Birder, who provided a second set of eyes for bird spotting and was very pleasent company too.

Birds seen at Kings Island included glossy ibis, spur winged plover, female marsh harrier, black winged kite, snipe, purple swamp hen, yellow wagtails ( of the Egyptian race pygmaea and Russian race beema), purple heron, olivaceous warbler, masked shrike, Nile Valley sunbird, lesser whitethroat and whiskered tern.

Birding from the Maritme Jollie Ville Hotel on Kings Island
Spur Winged Plover

Purple Swamphen - Egyptian madagascariensis race
Yellow Wagtail - beema race
 Purple Heron
 Olivaceous Warbler
Female Masked Shrike
Male Nile Valley Sunbird

Birds seen throughout the week included hoopoe (or Hod Hod birds as the Egyptians call them), black kite  (of the Egyptian aegyptius race), swallows ( of the Egyptian savignii race with red underparts along with a few more usual rustica), pied kingfisher, common bulbul, graceful prinia, hooded crow, little green bee-eater, striated heron, brown necked raven, pallid swift, palm dove and black winged stilts. More familiar birds included house sparrow, cormorant, green sandpiper, moorhen, grey heron, black headed gull, curlew and little egret.

 Hoopoe  - or Hod Hod Bird
Black kite - aegyptius race with yellow bill

Little Green Bee-eater - Egyptian cleopatra race

Little Green Bee-eater

Palm Dove

And so it was an excellent week - The Valley of the Kings was as exciting and interesting as ever and relatively quiet as fewer tourists are visiting Egypt at the moment following the Revolution. We had no problems what so ever while we were there other than the usual hassles from vendors even more desperate for trade than usual so now is an excellent time to visit with not too hot weather, amazing tombs and temples and fewer than usual people with some excellent birds too.

Friday 15 March 2013

Contrasting days at Wembury - 11th and 14th March 2013

A brief walk along the coast path at Wembury on the 11th March in a biting windchill factor of -4c and grey skies was a complete contrast to the sunny skies and gentle breeze on my walk on the 14th March, although it was still fairly cold.

Monday 11th and surprise birds were 2 Sandwich terns diving for fish off the main beach in the strong, cold wind, I bet they wish they had stayed in Africa a little longer! I think this is the earliest date I have ever seen Sandwich terns in this country. A skulking chiffchaff seen briefly in the bushes by the footpath may have been a Spring migrant too. Another surprise was my first moth of the year, a double striped pug on the outside window of the toliet block by the main beach.

The water pipit showed well but briefly feeding on the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe with rock and meadow pipts before it was disturbed by a beach walker, flying off and showing its white outer tail feathers. A winter plumaged dunlin and a winter plumaged bar tailed godwit fed on the sandy strip of beach near the sewage pipe with a pair of roosting Canada geese and a forlorn looking little egret on the rocks nearby. A green woodpecker was briefly seen flying over while waiting for the bus home and I was very glad to get back to Plymouth and out of the wind.

Thursday 14th and the sun was shining and the wind had dropped but it still felt cool. Work was being done on the sewage pipe and as a result I failed to find the water pipit amongst the mobile rock and meadow pipits and pied wagtails feeding along the beach. I did find a nice white wagtail and a grey wagtail though. 5 chiffchaffs were busily feeding along the beach, regularly leaping into the air to catch small flies. There were 2 bar tailed godwits today feeding on the sandy strip with 2 black headed gulls and an adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gull.

 Wembury beach looking gorgeous in the sunshine
Wembury Church

2 buzzards were displaying overhead and a female kestrel was mobbed by a pied wagtail as it flew along the beach. A female sparrowhawk made a breathtaking but unsuccessful chase after a male blackbird before flying off and out of sight. Along the walk I found a good count of 4 pairs of stonechats between the valley to the beach at Wembury and HMS Cambridge, along with a lone male, a large increase in numbers since the winter but maybe the birds were more noticeble in the good weather conditions.

Male Blackbird

A nice male dotted border was found on the outside window of the toilet block at the main beach and a nice sight was my first butterfly of the year, a small tortoiseshell, which flew off as I disturbed it from the footpath in front of me.

Male Dotted Border
The weather still looks to be unsettled and cold for the next few days but spring is certainly on its way with a small patch of sloe blossom seen on the 11th in the hedgerow near the National Trust car park hut hinting at what is to come.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Ring Necked Duck at Par - 7th March 2013

Despite the dire weather forecast I headed off to St Austell on the train but on arrival it was cold, wet and misty and I was beginning to regret my decision. I headed off to nearby Porthpean which was further away than I thought, a good 5 mile round trip made longer by getting lost a few times, but good for getting rid of some of my post Christmas lard. Eventually I arrived at the clifftop overlooking Porthpean Beach and I found an old lookout tower overlooking the sea and set up my telescope but visibility was pretty poor. I scanned for the red necked grebes and velvet scoter that have recently been reported from here but with no luck. I did see a few adult gannets offshore in the mist, a winter plumaged razorbill and around 60 common scoters.Fulmars were prospecting the cliffs and resting on the sea along with a few shags. I also saw a distant diver, probably a red throated, before it was lost from sight in the gloom and waves.

On the walk from St Austell to Porthpean I saw 2 blackcaps, brief views as they flew between bushes in gardens giving their distinctive "chack" calls and in Porthpean I heard 3 male blackcaps singing, a quiet, subdued sub-song and strange to hear in the mist and rain. Whether these are newly arrived migrants or over wintering birds is difficult to tell. I also found 20+ redwings feeding in a field on the outskirts of St Austell, presumably migrants heading back North and East.

Heading back to Plymouth on the train I decided to stop off at Par, walking from the train station to nearby Par Beach Pool where a male ring necked duck has been overwintering. On arriving at the Pool I soon found the ring necked duck diving regularly at the back of the Pool and spending very little time on the surface in the 45 minutes I spent watching it. I have now seen 4 individual ring necked ducks this year, it will be interesting to see if they return next winter as often happens with displaced North American wildfowl.

Male Ring Necked Duck

Also seen were 5 male and 4 female shovelers with 3 birds (male and 2 females) being very tame and giving good views, a pair of tufted ducks, a grey heron and the usual wildfowl - coot, moorhen, mallard, mute swan and Canada goose.

 Male Shoveler
Upending Mallards

Around 20 adult lesser black backed gulls were resting and preening on the Pool amongst the herring and black headed gulls, presumably migrant birds returning to the UK. Further migrant activity were 2 sand martins flitting over the water and nearby reed beds, an unexpected but very welcome sight after what has seemed to be a long and cold winter - unfortunately the weather is due to turn very cold again with snow and frost so I doubt they will survive for very long.

 First Winter Black Headed Gull
 Adult Lesser Black Backed Gull
Lesser Black Backed Gulls - 3 adults with 3rd Summer bird?

Heading back to the railway station and the rain was slowly starting to ease but I was glad to get home after a dull and wet day out. I had had some nice sightings to compensate for getting so soggy and I had visited 2 places I have never been to before so it had been quite an interesting day despite the weather.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

River Exe - 2nd March 2013

I decided to end my birding week as I started it with a trip to Topsham on the River Exe. It was a cold and grey day again with poor light but at least it was dry.

Arriving by train in Topsham and I wandered down to the Passge House Inn to look for the recently reported waxwings but with no luck. Heading along to The Quay I checked the River at a very high tide for the long staying long tailed duck but again with no luck and I didn't find it off The Goatwalk either.

The viewing platform overlooking the River Clyst drew a blank as the tide was so high but a pair of bullfinches and a pair of stock doves in the nearby hedges were nice to see. The hide at Bowling Green Marsh was packed full with standing room only at the back so views were very restricted. A large flock of waders were roosting at the back of The Marsh - avocets, dunlins, black tailed godwits, bar tailed godwits, lapwings, redshanks, curlews and a lone grey plover. The curlew sandpiper had been seen by some of the birders but the resticted views and the constant movement around the Marsh of the dunlins meant I dipped out on seeing it too. Other birds of note were a pair of pintail, a little grebe, 4 male and 2 female pochard and a male and 3 female shoveler.

 Lapwing at Bowling Green Marsh
 Male Shoveler at Bowling Green Marsh
Male Shoveler showing shovel shaped bill

I headed back to the viewing platform as the tide receded and the long tailed duck was eventually called feeding downriver with a male and 7 female goldeneyes, a little distant but nice to see. I checked out all the dunlins too but couldn't find the curlew sandpiper amongst them.

Heading off to Darts Farm I saw 3 flyover water pipits on the Marsh by the footbridge, flying over silently and showing very white underparts. At Darts Farm the male American wigeon showed amongst the feeding flock of wigeon, brief views as it showed its head above the other birds before continuing to feed and occassionally giving full views when gaps in the flock appeared. A lone black tailed godwit eventually flew off towards Bowling Green Marsh. 3 male and a female reed bunting were on the bird feeders by the hide and fieldfares were feeding in the nearby field.

Some Spring time colour on a very grey day

Walking back to Topsham I noticed some familiar shapes perched in the treetops near the Passage House Inn and was delighted to see they were 45 waxings trilling away and regularly flying into gardens behing the Inn to feed on cottoneaster berries. They had attracted quite a crowd of birders and non-birders and were lovely to watch but eventually I had to tear myself away and head off home, having had another excellent days birding.

Some of the 45 Waxwings by The Passage House Inn in Topsham

Sunday 3 March 2013

Ring Necked Ducks at Slapton Ley and other sightings

Wednesday 27th February and I headed off to Slapton Ley on the bus. It was cold and grey with a biting Easterly wind, not a good day to have left my hat at home but luckily my coat has a hood which I was very glad of as it was freezing! The light was pretty poor but I managed a few good sightings in the murk.

Arriving at Torcross I soon found the 3 black necked grebes resting and preening together close to the hide before they split off in to a pair and a single. One of the pair was developing summer plumage with a black neck and yellow face plumes contrasting nicely with the red eyes.

 Winter Plumaged Black Necked Grebe
Black Necked Grebe developing Summer Plumage

Mid Ley I found a very smart male scaup amongst the tufted ducks, presumably the immature male developing adult plumage I saw back in January.

 Male Greater Scaup with male Tufted Duck
Scaup and Tufted Duck

At the bridge end of the Ley I found a female scaup amongst the tufted duck and eventually the male and then the female ring necked ducks. The ring necks spent most of their time separate from each other but would occasionally associate together. A nearby birder called 2 bittern at the back of Ireland Bay but by the time I had moved to a place where I could see in to the Bay they had disappeared in to the reeds - never mind.

 Male Ring Necked Duck
Male Ring Necked Duck with male Tufted Ducks

Offshore from the car park around 100 common scoters were close in to the shore in a long strung out raft with small groups flying off East before landing again, the raft gradually moving East but giving some nice views of both males and females. Later at the Torcross end I saw a distant red throated diver preening on the sea as it appeared and disappeared amongst the wave troughs.

A Cettis warbler was briefly heard before deciding it was far too cold to waste energy on singing and on the Ley 5 male and 7 female goldeneyes were busily displaying for brief periods. Good numbers of pochard and coot were seen with a few wigeon in Ireland Bay. The bathing gulls on the Ley included a few lesser black backs and commons.

A surprise was a dead adder I nearly stepped on in a cleared area by the Leyside footpath, presumably disturbed from hibernation where the vegetation had recently been cleared. My instinct kicked in before I had time to think as I leapt backwards on spotting it before realising that no live adder would be out and about in the freezing temperature.

Very dead Adder!

Thursday 28th February and we headed off to the National Trust house and gardens at Knightshayes near Tiverton. On the drive up along the A38 we saw a dead otter by the roadside near Buckfastleigh. Maybe it was an escape from the nearby Otter Park or maybe a wild animal from the nearby River Dart but either way sad to see.

Knightshayes was very interesting with 2 ravens, 2 buzzards and siskins flying overhead calling, singing and displaying. A pair of sparrowhawks were also displaying with the smaller male doing an undulating display flight over the tree tops while the female soared in direct flight.

Male Blackbird at Knightshayes

On the drive home just as we reached Marsh Mills at Plymouth a red kite was seen soaring high overhead heading in a North Easterly direction - well, it may have been a black kite as it was so high overhead but more likely a red considering the time of year and recent reports of red kites in Devon and Cornwall.

Friday 1st March and I headed off for a short walk at Ernesettle Creek to clear my head after a few too many drinks the night before. The lesser yellowlegs was nowhere to be seen from the slipway where I usually see it so I headed off to the Creek mouth where a pair of red breasted mergansers and 6 great crested grebes ( 3 in summer plumage) were seen on the River Tamar. 8 black tailed godwits were feeding on the mudflats before flying off to join 26 birds feeding in Kingsmill Lake on the Cornish side of the river.

Ernesettle Creek from the bus stop

Heading back to the slipway and movement in the bushes by the footpath turned out to be a very smart firecrest doing its usual trick of showing very well for a few seconds before disappearing in amongst the branches before reappearing again, they do not stay still for a second!

The lesser yellowlegs eventually showed very well upriver form the slipway, preening at the waters edge and feeding on the mudflats. When it found a worm it would run down to the waters edge to wash it before eating it, running the gauntlet of the nearby gulls - I guess muddy worms do not taste good! Redshank numbers along the Creek have dropped and there were fewer gulls around too but teal numbers seen much the same. Only 2 greenshanks were seen and a lone little egret while a green woodpecker was heard yaffling in the nearby woods.

Little Egret with a Greenshank at Ernesettle Creek

It has been very nice having the lesser yellowlegs overwintering here in Plymouth, last winter we had the spotted sandpiper wintering on the River Plym and it has been nice to be able to regularly visit somewhere close to home to see a rare bird and some good supporting birds too for 2 winters running.

Friday 1 March 2013

Ring Necked Duck at Colliford Lake and other sightings

A week off work and a chance to potter about and do some birding!

Sunday 24th February and we headed off to Wembury for a walk. It was the last day of School Holiday Hell - sorry, half term - but despite this and the dry and sunny but cold weather, it was relatively quiet. The cafe was open and we had our first Chunk pasties of the year  - yum!

Bird wise it was quiet with the best birds being a smart summer plumaged great crested grebe with 3 winter plumaged Slavonian grebes at Wembury Point. Two of the Slavonian grebes were close together with the third bird keeping some distance away and I wonder if these are the same birds I have seen at this time of year at Wembury for the last few years on their migration back East.

Monday 25th and a walk around Tavistock provided me with a sighting of my first dipper of the year feeding along the River Tavy by the town centre. On the way home we stopped off at Grenofen Woods and walked along the Drakes cycle trail and the new Gem Bridge which was quite impressive as it crossed the river valley. I saw a few woodland birds including a treecreeper, a great spotted woodpecker and 3 flyover ravens.

Tuesday 26th and a trip to Cornwall with a stop at Colliford Lake to look for the male lesser scaup but I was out of luck, it wasn't on the nearby Dozmary Pool either so was probably at the also nearby Siblyback Lake, showing how mobile wildfowl can be in this area. I did see a female ring necked duck, my second one of the year, which was a surprise, it has usually been seen on Siblyback Lake! A male and 5 female goldeneye and a flyover flock of around 30 golden plovers were the only other birds of note.