Monday 22 December 2014

American Wigeon, Newquay, Cornwall

I haven't been out properly birding since my visit to Dawlish Warren on November 24th! And so with finally a free day on December 20th I was very keen to get out and about  - but where to go? With the pre-Christmas birding doldrums well and truly here there has not been a lot reported and as I would still like to try and add a few more species to my year list I decided to head to the Gannel Estuary in Newquay to have a look for the 2 female American wigeon being reported there.

I wasn't sure what to expect but after reading the excellent Cream Tea Birders blog my mind was made up and off I headed on the train. I had to change at Par for the branch line to Newquay and it was a very scenic journey although the train really chugged along quite slowly. A bit of a circuitous walk from the railway station at Newquay to the Estuary saw me arrive at the car park overlooking the mudflats at 10:30. I found the wigeon flock immediately, only around 60+ birds, but they were on the opposite side of the river and mostly tucked out of sight in the river channel due to it being low tide.

I headed back to the head of the estuary and crossed over a footbridge and managed to get into a better position to view the birds. A quick scan with my telescope and I immediately picked out 1 of the birds, a very well marked individual,  but it promptly tucked its head under its wing and went to sleep! It woke up briefly and flapped its wings showing its diagnostic bright white armpits (or rather wingpits) before going back to sleep. A dog walker then came too close to the birds and they all took off, circling around the estuary, and the white axilliaries were again very noticeable as it flew overhead. The flock soon settled back on the mudflats and I managed to find the second bird amongst them, not as well marked as the first bird I saw but still quite distinctive.

American Wigeon (upper centre)

 American Wigeon (left)

American Wigeon (upper centre)
American Wigeons (upper right and upper left)
I spent some time watching the wigeons despite them being regularly disturbed by dog walkers and I enjoyed listening to the whistling calls of the Eurasian wigeon. Also seen were plenty of gulls loafing around and bathing (herring, black headed, great black backed and lesser black backed) and I managed to find a smart adult Mediterranean gull amongst them. A kingfisher also flew downriver and 2 greenshank were feeding along the narrow river channel near the footbridge.

I headed back to the railway station, watching a little egret catching fish in the boating lake along the way, and while waiting for the train I had a quick look offshore, seeing a lone fulmar and gulls. And so I had had a pleasent few hours despite the gloomy conditions and occasional spits of rain, and it had been very interesting getting to grips with my first female American wigeons.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Hawfinch in Germany

Our annual pilgrimage to the Christmas markets in Germany began with a drive to Heathrow Airport on Saturday 29th November. From the car I managed to see a red kite near Stonehenge, a covey of around 10 red legged partridge feeding in a field close to the road and 2 roe deer. Unfortunately I also saw the usual dead mammals (fox, badger, rabbit) and dead pheasents along the side of the road.

Arriving in Hamburg and it was very cold and grey but at least it was dry and it stayed that way for most of the trip. The Christmas markets were very good and as usual we ate and drank far too much. Best bird in Hamburg was a grey wagtail around the hotel buildings one morning. Coot, mallard, tufted duck, common-, black headed- and herring gull, blackbird, house sparrow, cormorant and carrion crow were also seen around the city centre.

Common Gulls (1 with a leg ring), Hamburg

A day trip by train to nearby Celle and I saw lots of buzzards flying over the fields as we sped by, the few I saw close to the train were definitely common buzzards and not rough legged. Groups of roe deer were feeding in the fields and I had a brief and distant view of what looked like a great white egret feeding along a water filled ditch but I couldn't be sure. A walk around the park in Celle and I found the star birds of the trip, around 6 hawfinch feeding in the tree tops near the castle in the same area where I saw them on my trip 4 years ago. They were very flighty and mobile and kept high up in the trees but I had some nice views despite the very grey and dull light.

Hawfinch, Celle

Hawfinch, Celle

Hawfinch, Celle

Travelling by train to Berlin on December 3rd and I saw more buzzards and roe deer. I had a brief and distant view of a herd of around 50 large white swans spread out across a grassy field, presumably whooper, but I didn't get a view of any beak colour.

Berlin was very interesting and with a much better atmosphere than I felt on my trip in 2008. The Christmas markets were much improved too and again we ate and drank too much. There were lots of hooded crows around especially at dusk when groups were flying in to the small parks with jackdaws to roost in the tree tops. It was odd to see hooded crows in Berlin and carrion crows in Hamburg.The two cities are only around 300kms apart but there is obviously a line of demarcation somewhere between the 2 cities and the 2 species, a situation echoed in the UK with hooded crows in Scotland and carrion crows in England.

Hooded Crows, Berlin

A short toed treecreeper was seen creeping around the brick work of a ruined church in the city centre, looking most bizarre and eventually  being chased off by a great tit. A sparrowhawk was also seen flying low over trees at dusk, Berlin has quite a significant population of goshawks which can be quite confiding but it was definently a sparrowhawk that I saw due to its small size.

Black Headed Gull, Berlin

And so we had a great trip as usual, Germany is a really nice country to visit and the Christmas markets are always very fun and festive. I managed to see around 30 species of bird without even trying, not bad when visiting 2 of the largest cities in Germany on a non-birding holiday. We also managed to see our fifth and final Egyptian temple rescued from flooding by the construction of the Aswan Dam - the Kalabsha Gate. Unfortunately it is currently being poorly displayed in an enclosed space in a museum of surreal art but will be moved to a new wing of the Pergamon museum in the centre of Berlin in a few years time.

 Kalabsha Gate, Berlin

Nefertiti, Egyptian Museum, Berlin - a sneaky photo!

Amazing lobby of the Radisson Hotel, Berlin as seen from our room!

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Hoopoe at Dawlish Warren, 24th November 2014

On my day tour in Norfolk on the 14th November we chatted about birds and on being asked what bird I would most like to see in the UK, I replied with hoopoe (Carl's was Siberian rubythroat). And in a bizarre twist of fate a hoopoe was found at Dawlish Warren the next day (15th)!

Hoopoe in Egypt 2013 - the view I was hoping for at Dawlish Warren in 2014

I wasn't expecting it to hang around but it was still being reported on the 22nd November and so on the 24th, my first free day to go and look for it, I headed off on the train to Dawlish Warren. It was a beautiful cold and sunny morning with a heavy frost, the first of the winter, and everywhere was looking white, not the best weather for a warmth loving bird to survive the night.

Having seen a flyover merlin from the train near South Brent I arrived at The Warren and had a look around the Buffer Zone where the hoopoe has been most often reported but with no luck. A look along the beach for the randomly reported Bonapartes gull also drew a blank so I headed off to the hide to view the high tide roost. The usual waders were on view - curlew, oystercatcher, grey plover, dunlin, knot, redshank and bar tailed godwit - along with shelduck, brent goose, wigeon and a lone redhead red breasted merganser. 2 water pipits were feeding in the saltmarsh by the hide with skylarks and rock pipits and gave some very nice views before being flushed by a birder walking past.

A snipe was flushed from a boggy area in Greenland Lake and a great spotted woodpecker was heard in the wood but it was out of bounds due to flood defence works and the area being cordoned off. A male bullfinch flew over, looking very bright in the strong sunlight, while offshore 2 great crested grebe and a lone common scoter were all I found in the flat calm conditions

I  then concentrated on the Buffer Zone again but with no luck and so I headed off to wander around the village where the hoopoe seems to spend most of its time in the gardens and out of sight. Again I was out of luck despite wandering around the quiet grassy areas of the caravan park. I decided to have a look from the railway platform overlooking the golfcourse and Buffer Zone but wasn't very hopeful, enjoying the sight of a red admiral flying around in the sunshine. However after a few minutes of scanning around I saw the distinctive black and white winged floppy flight of a hoopoe as it flew from the golf course to the construction site area, a brief and distant view and one I almost couldn't believe I was seeing. I headed off to the area where it landed but couldn't find it although a passing birder had seen it on the ground briefly before it flew off again.

And so I had seen my first UK hoopoe, not the views I had hoped for but a sighting none the less.

Hoopoe in Egypt 2012 - not the view I had at Dawlish Warren in 2014

Monday 24 November 2014

North Norfolk Birding and a Surprise Dusky Warbler

During my family visit to Suffolk I arranged a birding day in Norfolk with Carl Chapman who runs birding day tours with his company Wildlife Tours and Education. I arrived at Cromer railway station at just after 9 o'clock on Friday 14th November where Carl met me and off we headed west along the coast. It was just me on the tour but Carl was an excellent guide, very knowledgeable and easy going and very good company.

The weather forecast for the day was awful but it was dry on arrival at Salthouse near Cley. However it didn't last and within 20 minutes of leaving the car it bucketed down and did so for the next 3 hours. The forecast was for rain all day but by 1 o'clock it stopped and turned in to a pleasent afternoon. This obviously had an effect on the birds and birding but I did see some fantastic birds and had a great day anyway.

Starting at Salthouse we had a look for snow buntings but with the weather turning we had no luck. We headed off to Cley and birded from the car, getting some lovely close views of golden plover bathing in pools near the road. Looking for a black brant amongst the brent goose flock was unsuccessful but it was nice to see good numbers of juvenile brents in the flock. A short seawatch from a shelter on the beach at Cley gave some nice views of flyby red throated divers, it was interesting to see them lift their heads up occassionally as they flew by, something I haven't noticed before. There were plenty of gannets and gulls flying around and a few guillemots on the sea but in the rain and gloom we didn't find anything else so headed off towards Holkham.

We stopped in a layby overlooking the marshes at Holkham just as the rain cleared, disturbing 3 grey partridges feeding in the stubble. Another 6 were also found and gave some good views, it has been some time since I last saw grey partridge and I was very pleased to see them. A red legged partridge was also heard (another introduced bird!) along with a pure white pheasent (also introduced!). Pink footed geese were feeding in the stubble fields and flying around and gave some great views, my first close sightings ever, and very handsome birds to see.

Looking over the marsh and a few buzzards were perched on trees and fences, looking very bedraggled from the rain, and one distant bird had a very pale head and dark belly. A rough legged buzzard has been seen around the area for a while but with the distance and mist we weren't sure and it flew off without us seeing its tail pattern. There were quite a few pale common buzzards around which looked very rough legged buzzard-like in the gloom but all lacked the distinct white rump and dark tail band in flight.

Marsh harriers were noticeable and mobile over the marsh and we also picked up a distant short eared owl hunting over the marsh, my third owl species of my trip, and at one point it mobbed a passing by marsh harrier.

Marsh Harrier at Holkham

Heading on to Lady Anns Drive and Egyptian geese were seen in the roadside fields, looking a little more natural in the wilds of Norfolk rather than a London park but still exotic looking and out of place in the UK in November. We had even closer views of pink footed geese with 2 birds having neck rings - checking the details later revealed they were ringed on the same day in Iceland in 2000 (maybe related?). Amazing to think they were 14 years old and the thousands of miles they must have flown.

 Pink Footed Geese

 Pink Footed Geese

Pink Footed Geese

A walk around Holkham Pines and we heard a yellow browed warbler calling amongst a goldcrest and mixed tit flock but we couldn't find it amongst the trees. Offshore a smart great northern diver was close to shore and a few red throated divers flew past doing their characteristic head lift. Carl found the male surf scoter amongst the common scoter flock offshore but the views were distant and difficult in the choppy sea and gloom. It was asleep in the flock but its white nape patch was very noticeable and I had a brief head view just before it dived.

The weather continued to improve and we headed off to a nearby saltmarsh where I had a brief flight view of a female/juvenile merlin, my 4th of the year. 3 hen harriers were flying around as the sun began to set, a ringtail and 2 very smart males, and brent- and pink footed geese flew over calling as they headed off to roost, a perfect end to a brilliant day.

Having missed out on seeing snow buntings I managed to persuade David to drive out to Landguard Point in Suffolk on Sunday 16th to have a look for 2 reported birds. I was out of luck but ended up seeing a dusky warbler instead which had been found that morning, I hadn't known about it being there when we left home so it was quite a pleasent surprise and a new bird for me. It was typically elusive but gave some nice but brief views, not surprising considering the amassed birders chasing it around the bramble patches it was frequenting - I really hate twitches, I want to see birds the same as any birder but I don't agree with harassing birds to get a view. I stayed in one place at a slightly elevated spot and managed some decent views as the bird flew around, flitted about and called in the large bramble patches, most birders were missing it as they ran from place to place to try and see it.

Dusky Warbler, Landguard Point - photo courtesy of Felixstowe Birding Website

Finally, a black stork was seen at the nearby Trimley Marshes that day and so the following day we went for a walk there to have a look for it but with no luck - it had moved on to north Suffolk - but I did see 2 muntjac deer and a fox and I heard another yellow browed warbler calling amongst a goldcrest and tit flock but again couldn't get a sighting.

A male Feathered Thorn - a new moth for me, found by a night light at my nephews boarding school in Suffolk but with a damaged wing from getting wet

And so it had been a very good trip to East Anglia  with some great bird sightings, a British life tick and a yearlist now on 211 species. And I would really like to do a whole weekend birding tour of North Norfolk, maybe next year.........

Saturday 22 November 2014

Plastic Year Ticking in London

A sunny but breezey walk at Bellever on Dartmoor on Sunday 9th November was relatively bird free with a flyover siskin, redpoll and great spotted woodpecker being the highlights. I thought I heard a crossbill flying over twice but couldn't be sure over the noise of the breeze and David yapping.

I did find some yellow stagshorn amongst the conifer tree plantation,  a very pretty fungus that grows on coniferous wood.

 Yellow Stagshorn

Yellow Stagshorn

On the way back to Plymouth we stopped off for a very tasty cream tea at the Two Bridges Hotel. In the car park were a few feral geese with one bird having angelwing. I had never heard of this condition until I began following an excellent blog about the birds of Kensington Gardens in London, written by Ralph Hancock. I have never knowingly seen it before but may have just not noticed it before, it occurs in young birds fed on a very rich diet and is common in wildfowl, especially those fed on bread in parks. The condition occurs at a certain point in their growth, causing the wing joint to turn outwards and rendering the bird flightless.

Feral Goose with Angelwing

With a trip to Suffolk to see family on November 12th I decided to stop off in London on the train journey to Ipswich to have a wander around Kensington Gardens, having been inspired by Ralphs blog.The journey up was very pleasent and I managed to see a kingfisher and 2 greenshank along the River Exe, 2 roe deer and around 20 red kites in the sunny conditions. Most of the kites were distant but a few were very close to the train as we sped by and were my first "plastic" birds of the day, having been reintoduced to England through a captive breeding programme. I also saw plenty of pheasents in the countryside, another introduced bird.

Arriving at The Serpentine in the Park I quickly found my first target birds - 4 male red crested pochards roosting under branches with pochards and only occasionally waking up to have a squabble with each other before going back to sleep.

Red Crested Pochard with Pochard on The Serpentine

Also seen were tufted duck, 2 pairs of shoveler, great crested grebe, common gull and grey heron, all giving amazing close views due to being quite used to the disturbance from people using the Park.

I could hear my second target bird squawking in a tree nearby and eventually found it hidden amongst the leaves - a smart ring necked parakeet looking a little out of place in London in November. I saw and heard quite a few more birds as I walked around the Park as they investigated holes in trees and chased each other around calling noisely.

 Ring Necked Parakeet

Ring Necked Parakeet

I saw a pair of birders intently watching the top of a tree and wandered over to find they were looking at target bird number 3, a male little owl, hidden amongst the leaves. I probably would have struggled to find it on my own so was very glad that I met them and they very kindly walked me to another nearby tree to show me a female tawny owl, target bird 4, roosting in the tree top. I have never seen tawny owl so well, I have only seen them flying amongst the leaves of trees and never perched. I have only heard them this year so it was nice to see one for my year list and again I probably would have struggled to find it without the help of the 2 birders.

 Little Owl

 Little Owl

 Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl

A quick walk around the Round Pond and I found target bird 5, a pair of Egyptian geese with 5 goslings. There had been 8 goslings but I only saw 5, I assumed the missing 3 had been predated but a few days later all 8 were seen together so I don't know where the missing 3 were hiding on my visit.

 Egyptian Goose

 Egyptian Goose with 3 Goslings

Egyptian Goose

And so within 1 hour I had seen 4 (or 4 and a half) year ticks, but the 4 year ticks were all "plastic" (introduced) birds ( little owl was introduced to the UK in the 1800's). However they gave some fantastic views in the bright sunshine and calm conditions and seemed quite at home and appeared to be thriving in the centre of London.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Two trips to Wembury

With 2 night shifts looming I headed off to Wembury on the bus on Sunday 2nd November for a quick walk. It was the last day of the half term holiday and very breezey but sunny so I expected it to be busy but it wasn't too bad.

With the strong breeze viewing birds was difficult and the highlights were a feeding flock of gannets offshore, a pair of stonechats and a female kestrel along the coastpath and a feeding flock of black headed gulls hovering over the surf as it crashed onto the beach, picking at items of food disturbed by the waves. The best though was a merlin flying low over the water along the beach before swooping up over the cliff by the wheatfield before it was lost from sight. I couldn't refind it but there were small groups of meadow pipits flying around the wheatfield in complete panic so it must have still been in the area. It was very fast, looking small and dark in the sunshine, and is my third merlin of the year and third for Wembury.

After getting through my night shifts I headed off to Wembury again by bus on Wednesday 5th November and the weather was a total contrast - sunny, cold and calm, although the breeze did pick up later and it soon warmed up. The sunshine and warmth coaxed out a few butterflys and I had some nice views of red admirals and at least 3 clouded yellows including an helice type. A common darter was also seen flying along the stream in the valley to the beach.

 A tatty Red Admiral basking in the sun
 Clouded Yellow
Clouded Yellow

Arriving at Wembury at 09:30 and walking down to the main beach I heard skylarks calling overhead and on looking up saw 3 lapwings heading West along with a flock of 200+ woodpigeon and at least 1 stock dove, also heading West - there has been quite a movement of woodpigeons across Devon in the last few days and over the course of the morning I must have seen 1500+ birds moving West. The largest group was this first group I saw with subsequent groups totalling 30-100 birds but by 13:00hrs the movement stopped. I managed to find another stock dove amongst a flock of woodpigeon and also saw a flock of 8 stock doves flying over on their own. A single stock dove was also flying around the pines at Wembury Point before being disturbed by a low flying helicopter.

It was low tide but along the beach were a few oystercatcher, 3+curlew, a little egret, mallards and gulls. A chiffchaff was feeding in reeds at the cliff base near the sewage pipe with another 2 seen at the horse stables. A pair of kestrels showed well with the male bird noisely mobbing a buzzard perched in the pine trees by the horse fields. 2 pairs of cirl buntings were seen with 1 male heard singing briefly, and later 2 males were seen singing at Wembury Point. A male great spotted woodpecker was also noisely knocking on the pine trees at Wembury Point and a coal tit was heard calling but not seen.

 Robin - very noticeable along the walk at Wembury and quite tame at times
Robin, Wembury

With pomarine skuas being reported from Berry Head on the 5th November I thought about taking a trip there on the 6th but the weather was a complete contrast to the 5th with very wet and very windy weather forecast - probably good for sea watching but it is a bit late in the autumn and I was feeling knackered so I gave it a miss and went for a walk around Plymouth Hoe instead. Just 17 mute swans were around Sutton Harbour, usually the numbers are approaching 30, but 2 little grebes were busily diving for food amongst the boats. A few shags and gulls (black headed, great black backed and herring) were seen in the wind and mist and rain but the biggest surprise was a brown rat which ran across the path in front of me near Fishermans Nose.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Ring Ouzels in The Mist and a Lesser Yellowlegs in Cornwall

Thursday 30th October and we headed off to Shipley Bridge for a walk up to the Avon Dam where there have been recent reports of ring ouzels. It was half term but a grey and cloudy day so it wasn't as busy as I expected but walking up to the Avon Dam and it became very moist and misty and dull, not great for birding, but in the gloom I did see a goldcrest amongst a feeding flock of blue tits and long tailed tits, and a nice pair of bullfinches.

A distinct call heard in the mist had me quickly searching around and I managed to just about see a ring ouzel flying in to a hawthorn bush before 3 flew out of it and off in to the mist - not great views but a year tick none the less (number 199). Walking further up the valley and the distinct call was heard again and 6 ring ouzels were seen flying up over the bracken before landing in a tree on the hillside. Eventually 2 birds flew down towards the footpath, a male and a juvenile, giving some nice views as they fed on hawthorn haws before flying back up the hillside. The birds were very mobile and flighty and vocal and joined by a few redwings and blackbirds, the most I saw at any one time were 6 but there must have been more than this present with at least 2 juveniles. Lovely birds and the most I have seen together despite the poor visibility although annoyingly the weather cleared by the time we got back to the car. 

Ring Ouzel, Avon Dam - photo courtesy of Devon Birds Website ( I forgot my camera!)

Saturday 1st November and I headed off to Hayle in Cornwall on the train (half the price on a Saturday compared to a week day ticket). The viaduct at Hayle is being closed for maintenance work on the 8th to 23rd November and travelling arrangements will be a lot more complicated with trains stopping and starting at Truro and so it seemed a good day to go and have a look for the recently reported lesser yellowlegs. It arrived after my visit on the 16th October (when I saw the whooper swan), having arrived after the remnants of Hurricane Gonzales swept across the Atlantic on the 20th.

It has been showing on Copperhouse Creek in Hayle, somewhere I haven't visited for ages as I usually visit the Carnsew Pool, Ryans Field and the Hayle Estuary when I go birding here. I soon found it on the incoming tide feeding with a redshank but by the time I had got my telescope set up it had flown off! I soon refound it feeding with a group of around 20 redshanks when it was surprisingly easy to lose sight of despite its smaller size, more delicate and tapered build and obviously yellow legs - my third lesser yellowlegs and year tick number 200. I had some nice scope views but with the distance and light my photos weren't that great.

 Lesser Yellowlegs (centre), Copperhouse Creek
 Lesser Yellowlegs (left)
 Lesser Yellowlegs (upper right)
 Lesser Yellowlegs (upper middle)
Lesser Yellowlegs (right)

With the tide coming in and rain forecasted for later in the day I headed off to Penzance on the train for a look around. I walked out along the seawall path which has now reopened to have a look around the Sainsburys area for the rose coloured starling but drew a blank despite it being seen daily since my visit on the 16th. I had a scan offshore in the strengthening wind and there were large numbers of gannets diving for fish, mostly adults and with a few birds quite close to shore. A few kittiwakes were also seen with herring and great black backed gulls and a Sandwich tern. A nice surprise was a male eider, presumably the male that over wintered last year, and a female common scoter with both birds close to shore and enjoying the more sheltered waters provided by the harbour quay.

Heading home and the train was delayed due to a technical fault and it was also busy with lots of families heading home after spending half term in Cornwall but at least I arrived home before the rain did.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Semipalmated Sandpiper?

Checking the bird sightings page on Sunday (19th) and news of a semipalmated sandpiper on the River Plym had me missing lunch to leave work early on the 20th to go and have a look for it. I checked Birdguides on arriving home and it had been reported that afternoon and so I caught the bus out to Blagdons boatyard to be met with an assortment of birders with telescopes and cameras and news that the bird had flown upriver 5 minutes earlier - bugger!

There were a few familiar faces in the crowd but it made me realise again how much I hate twitches and so I headed upriver to Blagdons Meadow for a better view of the River where a birder was intently watching the shoreline. A group of birders were heading towards him and as I approached I heard and then saw a ringed plover with a smaller wader heading off downriver - double bugger!

I walked back down to the Boatyard where the bird was roosting with 2 ringed plover and 2 turnstone. It was partly hidden amongst the rocks and only occassionally did it show its head from under its wing but eventually it woke up and ran around before totally disappearing amongst the rocks as the light faded and the rain began to fall.

It was very stint like, appearing quite grey but more rufous when the sun shone through the clouds, and it lacked the white v marks on its back of a little stint. But was it a semipalmated sandpiper? With the poor light, distance and my basic telescope I couldn't make out much plumage detail but I listened intently to the nearby birders with big telescopes as they argued it was a semipalmated and not a western sandpiper. I bowed to their superior knowledge and optics but there was no mention of its webbed feet, something I could not see with my basic telescope, but photos eventually emerged of unwebbed feet indicating it was indeed a little stint and not a semipalmated sandpiper. Never mind, I have seen semipalmated sandpiper at Minsmere in Suffolk in 1986 but I have never seen a little stint in Plymouth! It just goes to show that there is nowt as strange as birding (and nowt as strange as birders!).

The Controversial Little Stint, River Plym - photo courtesy of Devon Birds Website

After all the excitement it was off to Bude for the day with the Outlaws on the 22nd to help put the caravan away for the winter. It was cool and cloudy and breezey but we cracked on and got the jobs done, giving me time for a quick look at nearby Maer Lake. There were 10 lapwings and 2 black tailed godwits around the Lake with curlew, teal, wigeon, mallard, moorhen, a Canada goose and a little egret. The birds were a little twitchy, especially the lapwing and curlew and eventually I saw the cause, a very smart juvenile/female merlin which flew over with a small bird in its talons before it swooped in to a hedgerow and out of sight to eat its catch. The only other bird of note was a hovering kestrel and the toilet blocks at the caravan site held 2 plume moths and a dead lunar underwing.

Dead Lunar Underwing, Bude

And I have got my repaired camera back, luckily it only cost £20 but I must start being more careful with my photographic equipment.

Monday 20 October 2014

Grey Phalarope

After a crappy early shift at work on Saturday 18th I settled down on the sofa with a cup of tea and some chocolate biscuits to enjoy some mindless TV. I decided to have a quick look at the Devon Birds sightings page on the internet where there were two nice photos of a grey phalarope - even nicer was that they were taken here in Plymouth that lunchtime and so I grabbed my stuff and dashed off to go and have a look for it.

It had been seen from Mountbatten Pier but I was feeling mingey and didn't want to spend the £3 ferry fee and so had a look for the phalarope from Fishermans Nose on Plymouth Hoe which looks over towards Mountbatten Pier. As expected there was no sign of the bird but as the tide was high and it was windy and choppy I had a walk along Plymouth Hoe to see if it had moved closer in, checking all the floating clumps of seaweed, but with no luck. I headed back to Fishermans Nose and could see 4 birders out on Mountbatten Pier intently looking at something with their telescopes and so I coughed up the ferry fee and headed off to have a look. Arriving at the Pier and the grey phalarope was busily feeding in the swell close to the seaward side of the Pier giving some excellent views - well worth £3!. It fed constantly, occasionally being spooked by black headed gulls flying too close overhead when it would fly off for a short distance. At times it plunged down in to the water to snatch at prey but mostly picked at the surface - a very beautiful bird and only my second sighting of one since my first on Plymouth Hoe in 2009. And in my rush I had left my camera at home, well Davids camera as mine is currently being repaired as I have damaged the retractable lens shutters, very annoying as it was so close!

Grey Phalarope - photo courtesy of the Devon Birds Website

Thursday 16 October 2014

Rose Coloured Starling and Whooper Swans

A grey, misty, dull, mild and breezey day and so I headed off to Penzance in Cornwall by train with 3 target birds to see for my year list. Arriving in Penzance at 10:15am and I headed off towards Marazion by foot, taking the road route rather than the seawall path as one of my target birds has been showing around the Sainsburys/Morrisons/B&Q car parks along this road. Just as well as the seawall path is closed in places due to repair work being done following the winter storms earlier in the year.

I had a scan around the area for target bird number one, a rose-coloured starling, that has been showing in the area recently. I had a good look at any starling that flew over or perched on a lamp post but with no luck and so I headed off towards Long Rock Pool at Marazion to look for target bird number two, a garganey, which had been showing here for the past few days. Unfortunately it was also a no-show but I did see 3 little grebes, 11 moorhen, 1 coot, 1 cormorant and a lesser black backed gull bathing amongst the herring and black headed gulls. I had a look around Marazion Marsh in case it had moved to there but with no luck again, seeing 3 juv/female teal, 1 little grebe, 5 little egrets, 1 snipe, 1 grey wagtail and a flyover great spotted woodpecker. It was quite a surprise to see how low the water levels were at Marazion Marsh after a very dry September.

Deciding the garganey was a bust I headed off back to Sainsburys for another go at the rose-coloured starling, again checking out all the starlings flying around. It looked like it was going to be a bust too but I eventually saw a large flock of starlings perched on wires by the road opposite B&Q  and scanning through them I eventually found the rose-coloured starling amongst them, sticking out like a sore thumb with its pale, buffy plumage compared to the dark starlings. I tried to get closer views but the birds all took off and the rosy starling disappeared off towards Penzance. A few minutes later it returned and gave some nice views for around 20 minutes as it dozed perched on the wires amongst the starlings before they all took off and headed off towards Marazion.

 Awful photo of Rose Coloured Starling (centre) with Starlings
Rose Coloured Starling (right)

I then jumped on the bus to St.Erth before walking down to the Hayle Estuary where target bird number 3 were showing, 6 beautiful whooper swans which arrived here 2 days ago. I had some really nice views as they fed, preened and slept on the mud flats although they seemed a little nervy and didn't rest for any long periods. I had seen them distantly from the train earlier on my journey to Penzance, they seemed nervy then and I had expected them to maybe have left by the time I returned and so I was very pleased to see them still present.

 Whooper Swans, Hayle
 Whooper Swans
Five (+1)(Whooper) Swans a Swimming

I also had some good views of 3 grey plover, 4 ringed plover, 2 turnstone, 1 oystercatcher, 2 greenshanks, 3 bar tailed godwits, 3 lapwing, curlew and dunlin. 8 Sandwich terns were diving for fish on The Carnsew Pool, 2 were juveniles and as usual very noisey. Mediterranean gulls were very much in evidence, maybe 50+ birds, I have never seen so many together before and in a range of plumages. The adults in winter plumage were especially stunning in flight despite the gloomy light. 6 redwings flying over were a hint of winter yet to come.

Heading home before the showers arrived and I felt exhausted but very pleased to have seen 2 of my target birds, with my year list now on 197 birds (!).