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


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