Friday 26 April 2013

Great White Egret at Exminster Marsh

The slow cold Spring continues and as a result a trip to Bude on the 19th April with the Outlaws to put the caravan awning up for the Summer drew a complete blank for any moths in the toilet blocks, the first time this has ever happened. I did see a couple of small tortoiseshell butterflies and my first house martins of the year amongst the swallows and sand martins along with a male blackcap and 2 singing chiffchaffs.

A trip to Beesands and Slapton Ley on the 20th and I saw my first whitethroat of the year along with a singing sedge warbler and 5 Sandwich terns offshore. Chiffchaffs were singing and swallows were overhead but no other Summer migrant birds were seen.

I had the moth box out in the back yard on the 21st April and for the first time ever in the 3 years I have been using the trap in the back yard I had no moths! However a few nights later on the 24th April I had 3 moths - a double striped pug, a Light Brown Apple Moth and a first for the garden, a Herald, this time alive and not dead and dessicated in a spiders web like my first encounter with one 2 years ago.
 Herald Moth
Double Striped Pug

I headed off to Exminster Marsh on the 24th April and it turned out to be a sunny and warm day, very pleasant. I was hoping to see lesser whitethroat and yellow wagtail which had been reported recently from here but I was out of luck. However I had a very nice consolation in a very nice Great White Egret which had unbeknown to me appeared earlier that morning. Scanning across the Marsh I had seen what I thought was a little egret but on checking it out through binoculars it lifted up its head showing its yellow bill and long snake-like neck, only my second ever UK great white egret sighting. It was a little distant and obscured at times by sedges but I managed some good views including a brief flight view after being disturbed by an RSPB warden walking across the Marsh on what looked like some kind of survey.

 Distant Great White Egret
Still distant Great White Egret

Another nice bird was a female Marsh Harrier which quartered over the Marsh putting up teal and a snipe tucked out of sight amongst the sedges before it heading off towards Topsham. A hobby was another nice bonus bird of prey, in dashing agile flight overhead catching insects and also swooping low across the Marsh.

Sedge and reed warblers were seen singing away along with Cettis warblers, blackcap, chiffchaff, willow warbler and whitethroat. Another bonus bird was a grasshopper warbler briefly reeling from bushes by the car park but I failed to see it. A redpoll in trees by the car park was a nice sight too with a second bird heard nearby and whimbrel were also  heard calling over the estuary. A flyby peacock butterfly was my first of the year and cuckoo flowers were in bloom.

 Grey Heron
Male Reed Bunting

April 25th and I had a ride to Clifton near Bristol as David was on a study day so I headed off by bus, train and taxi to Slimbridge for the day, the first time I have visited Slimbridge outside of the Winter months. It was strange to see and hear warblers singing around the reserve (blackcap, chiffchaff, reed warbler, sedge warbler and Cettis warbler) and I saw 2 male whitethroats and best of all, a lesser whitethroat, especially pleasing after missing seeing or hearing one yesterday at Exminster Marsh.

 Sedge Warbler
Male Blackcap

6 male and a female wigeon were still hanging around with teal, gadwall, tufted duck,mallard and shoveler also on show. A kingfisher showed well perched on a tree busily preening itself near its nest hole . A redpoll was feeding on the bird feeders with reed buntings and goldfinches and a flock of around 30 black tailed godwits, some in Summer plumage, were mobile around the reserve. Another strange sight were 6 avocets, my first Slimbridge sighting, but not so strange as a pair bred here last year.

 Male Shoveler
 Female Shoveler with a Common Sandpiper
 Male Gadwall
Summer plumaged Black tailed Godwit


Male Reed Bunting
Best bird of the day were the Arctic terns hawking over the pools, 14 on a pool near the Holden Tower and around 30 over the South Lake. They had been present for a few days and I was hoping they would stay around long enough for my visit and luckily some did. They were very elegant birds as they swooped over the lakes picking off insects from the waters surface with graceful and agile flight and some with very long tail streamers. On the ground their short red legs and all red bill were noticeable and the nearby black headed gulls were aggressive at times towards them, both in flight and when resting on the ground. Absolutely beautiful birds to watch and my first Arctic terns since a trip to Shetland five years ago!

 Arctic Terns over the South Lake
 Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

A water vole was a good sighting, it looked massive as it fed at the waters edge, maybe a pregnant female? They have been reintroduced to Slimbridge and seem to be doing well here. An owl midge trapped in one of the hides was also a nice find.

Water Vole
Owl Midge

To finish off a great day out 2 whimbrel flew over the reserve calling as I left and despite not seeing any of the cranes from the reintoduction program that have been nest building on the reserve it had been a very enjoyable day.

Pair of Smew from The Slimbridge Collection
Ruff from The Slimbridge Collection


Monday 15 April 2013

A Very Sad Puffin at Wembury

It was cold, grey, misty and breezy on a walk around Burrator Reservoir yesterday and 100+ swallows with a 100+ sand martins were flying low over the water in a desperate hunt for insects. The only other signs of Spring were a briefly singing chiffchaff and some wild daffodils flowering by the roadside. Resident birds were however busily singing away with song thrush, nuthatch, goldcrest, coal tit and a mistle thrush heard while siskins were songflighting overhead. A cormorant and a grey heron flew over and a pair of marsh tits were feeding in trees near the car park.

With a dry night and a minimum temperature of 10c forecast I decided to get the moth trap out for the first time this year and this morning I had 2 moths, a plume moth sp. and a very nice Early grey. I also saw a large moth in a crack in the wall by the dining room window, I think it may have been an Oak Beauty but it disappeared into the crack and out of sight before I could catch it, I'm hoping it wasn't being dragged in to the crack by a spider.

Early Grey

I headed off to Wembury on the bus later in the morning, it was grey and breezy but quite warm, the wheatfield along the coast path was actually steaming at one point when the sun apperaed for a brief period. Unfortunately there were no moths in the toilet block but I am not sure if the lighting is working at present as the cafe is closed. I did however see 2 oil beetles with 1 busily digging a hole in the wet soil ready to lay eggs.

 Oil Beetle
Burrowing Oil Beetle

2 ladies from the Devon Wildlife Trust were surveying the beach looking for washed up seabirds from the current pollution incident affecting The English Channel and unfortunately there were at least 24 dead guillemots along the shoreline. Some had been half eaten and one of the ladies suspected they had been eaten by foxes scavenging along the beach. The pollutant is thought to be an obscure chemical used as a fuel additive which coats the birds feathers and destroys the waterproofing so the birds look bedraggled but not oiled. The birds being picked up were sticky, leaving a residue on the gloves of the ladies picking up the dead birds.

Some of the Dead Guillemots along Wembury Beach

At Wembury Point a live guillemot was seen desperately trying to preen the substance off its feathers before heading back out to sea where it eventually drowned from cold and waterlogging as it tried to keep afloat in the heavy waves. Very sad.

"Oiled" Guillemot at Wembury Point looking bedraggled

Even sadder was my first Wembury sighting of a puffin, unfortunately dead along the shoreline amongst the guillemots.

Dead Puffin on Wembury Beach

On a lighter note at least 6 chiffchaffs were singing, 2 male blackcaps were skulking silently in the vegetation (new arrivals?) and 2 willow warblers were bathing in the stream in the valley to the beach. Single swallows were seen flying overhead with 2 together at Wembury Point and a male stonechat and a male cirl bunting were seen singing.

Along the beach the clump of sea cabbage was growing and at Wembury Point some violet sps. were flowering along the clifftop path.

 Sea Cabbage
Violet sp. at Wembury Point

Saturday 13 April 2013

Lesser Scaup at Siblyback Lake - Close Up Views At Last!

With grey and very cold weather the only signs of Spring on a walk at Lopwell Dam near Plymouth on April 4th were a cowslip flowering amongst some primroses and plenty of daffodils including some that looked good for wild daffodils.

Wild Daffodils?

Bird wise a male red breasted merganser, 2 greenshank, 2 black tailed godwits and around 20 teal were feeding along the river while a marsh tit was heard calling in the woodland.

Sunday 7th April and a very cold and grey walk at Wembury was pretty quiet due to the biting cold wind. Best birds were 5 very forlorn and hungry looking chiffchaffs feeding on the seaweed masses along the beach with a pair of stonechats. An unusual sighting were 11 male and 3 female blackbirds feeding together on the beach with rock pipits and a pied wagtail. The only other birds of note were a pair of cirl buntings. The cafe is currently closed too, the lease holders have not renewed the lease from The National Trust, so there was no pasty and coffee at the end of the walk to help warm me up.

 Male Cirl Bunting
Male Cirl Bunting

Friday 12th April and a sunny but breezy day made a nice change and it was much milder too. A trip out to Siblyback Lake near Liskeard in Cornwall was a first for me, the Lake is very picturesque and very easy to walk around with a small bird hide tucked away in a quiet arm of the Lake away from the watersports. My target bird was easily found, the male Lesser Scaup that has been moving around the area over the winter, presumably the same bird that has been seen every winter for the past couple of years. I saw it back in January on Dozmary Pool and dipped it in February when it had moved to Siblyback from Colliford Lake but today it showed ridiculously close to the shore of the Lake busily diving with a small group of male and female tufted ducks. The purple sheen to its head and the peak at the back of the head were very noticeable and it gave the best views I have ever had of the bird since I first saw it in 2010.

 Male Lesser Scaup with female Tufted Duck
 Male Lesser Scaup with Tufted Ducks
Male Lesser Scaup with a pair of Tufted Duck

The other target bird of the day was a red necked grebe that has been frequenting the Lake and I eventually found it on the opposite side of the Lake (typical!) busily diving for food with a great crested grebe. It was too distant to see the yellow base to the bill but in certain angles the neck did appear to have a russet colour as it moults in to summer plumage. It is only the 4th red necked grebe I have seen so I was very pleased to catch up with it.

Spring was certainly in the air with my first swallows of the year flying over the water and along the shore sides with a few sand martins. A common sandpiper was disturbed from the waters edge and a willow warbler sang quiet, brief snatches of song in a small patch of hawthorns but I couldn't catch a glimpse of it. So all in all not a bad day and hopefully the start of Spring proper, maybe I can get the moth box out in the back yard soon!