Wednesday 29 January 2014

Glossy Ibis at Aveton Gifford and Ring-Necked Duck at Burrator Reservoir, Devon

My original plan of an early start on the 17th January to catch the train to Hayle and then the bus to Marazion in Cornwall went out of the window when I saw the report of a glossy ibis at Aveton Gifford in Devon on the Devon Bird Sightings page. I am tired and arsey after the excesses of Christmas so a bus trip to Aveton Gifford seemed much more acceptable as it meant I could have a lie-in!

Waiting for the bus on Royal Parade in Plymouth I watched a pair of peregrines on the Guildhall Tower with one bird busily plucking some unfortunate bird and showering white feathers everywhere.

Arriving at Aveton Gifford and the glossy ibis was showing very well on South Efford Marsh - very exotic looking for Devon in January and reminding me of Gonzo from The Muppets. In certain lights it had a beautiful metallic, glossy sheen to its upperwings.

 Gonzo the Glossy Ibis
 Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis

I had a wet and muddy walk to the new hide overlooking the Marsh which has been built since my last visit in August. I scanned around for the reported water pipits but without any luck but I did get good views of 3 snipe, meadow pipits, a resplendent kingfisher flying past looking gorgeous in the strong sunlight, 3+ chiffchaffs, a pair of bullfinch and a goldcrest, while along the River Avon I saw a little grebe, a grey wagtail and a common sandpiper, and as I waited for the bus home a green sandpiper showed very well close to the road.

On the way home I got off the bus at Laira Bridge in Plymouth and walked to Blaxton Meadow and back. Jack snipe have again been reported in the area so I had a search for them in suitable habitat but with no luck. A search for treecreeper also drew a blank but there were plenty of goldcrest around and eventually I found a nice firecrest in a mixed flock of blue tit, great tit and goldcrest - I had some good views but it didn't stay still for a second and I soon lost sight of it amongst the vegetation. Also seen were 3 greenshank roosting on Blaxton Meadow at high tide and 9 wigeon roosting on the River, unusual for the Plym.

Sunday 19th and a dry and sunny day for a change so we went for a walk around Burrator Reservoir. Unfortunately the world and his dog had the same idea and it was packed with walkers, cyclists, dogs, joggers and children but at least the walk was relatively dry and relatively mud free. The water was flat clam as there was no wind and I eventually caught up with the long staying female ring-necked duck, diving regularly and skulking in the overhanging vegetation between dives on the opposite side of the Reservoir to me, distant and brief and obscured views but still nice to catch up with it at last. Also on the water were 3 redhead and a male goosander, a male teal and a little grebe but there was no sign of any mandarin ducks. At the North car park bird photographers had put down seed to attract birds and I had good views of blue, great and coal tits and nuthatch before heading home, experiencing total traffic chaos on the way back to the main road.

Thursday 16 January 2014

New Year Birding in Devon

A dry and bright day for a change on Thursday 9th January and so I headed off by bus to Slapton Ley for a walk. Arriving at Torcross and scanning across the Ley there was a large raft of wildfowl near the bird hide, mainly comprised of coot, gadwall and tufted ducks but checking through the birds I found a few goodies too. A lone black necked grebe was found and later a pair along with a very nice male and female scaup, 3 male and 2 female goldeneye with the males busily displaying, a few great crested grebes, pochard and shoveler, mallards and the strange looking male tufted duck x red crested pochard hybrid that has been around for a few years now.

Walking up to the Bridge between the Higher and Lower Ley there were 3 black necked grebes at the back of Ireland Bay, and from the Bridge a Cettis warbler was singing and gave a brief flight view and 2 water rails were heard squealing with 1 bird playing hide and seek amongst the waterside vegetation giving brief views only.

Walking back to Torcross and the 3 black necked grebes were still in Ireland Bay and scanning the wildfowl raft again at Torcross there were 4 black necked grebes together - 4 mobile birds or 7 in total?  8 lesser black backed gulls were bathing on the Ley amongst the gull flock and were noticeably quite variable in size and upperwing colouring. It was also interesting to note quite a few female tufted ducks in the wildfowl raft doing scaup impressions with large white bill blazes.

Wigeon and a Moorhen feeding on weed at Slapton Ley

Checking out the sea and a great northern diver was feeding close to shore with a red throated diver further out. A male and 8 female common scoter were quite close in to shore before moving further out in to the Bay and a few mobile and constantly diving guillemots were also seen.

Friday 10th January and I had a quick and muddy walk along the coast at Wembury but it was very quite with a female sparrowhawk, a lone female cirl bunting skulking in a hedgerow and a pair of displaying raven being the highlights. The ravens were interesting to watch with one flying bird flipping over on to its back and croaking noisily. There were some further signs of Spring in the air with fulmars seen prospecting the cliffs of the Mewstone. With the recent rain and gales I was expecting the footpath to possibly have collapsed in places again but it was all ok with a new wooden walkway having been put in place in a particularly muddy patch.

New wooden walkway at Wembury
Oystercatchers at Wembury

Sunday 12th January and I had to take a days leave to make up my hours from Christmas and New Years and so I headed off by train to Dawlish Warren. The previous day was beautiful - sunny and calm - but the Sunday was windy and grey and dull, typical!  I walked along the footpath from Dawlish to Langstone Rock, dodging the waves and spray, and checking out the sea from the top of the Rock I found 4 velvet scoter close in, occasionally flashing their white wing patches as they flapped their wings. At rest on the water a white wing stripe could sometimes be seen but at times it was totally hidden. Further out a raft of around 30 common scoters were bobbing about like corks in the rough sea and 6 great crested grebes and a few guillemots were also found.

There was no sign of the Bonapartes gull that is hanging around the area again this Winter although it was reported that day. From the hide I had a nice view of the long staying resident Slavonian grebe busily diving with a little grebe along the shoreline as the tide came in. A guillemot was loafing about on the water looking a little moribund but maybe just enjoying being out of the wind and waves of the open sea. Brent geese were very mobile across the mudflats but I didn't find the Wintering Black Brant amongst them though again it was reported that day.

Heading back to the train station and the wind was picking up and the skies were getting darker and just as I got on the train to come home the heavens opened, very lucky indeed!

Monday 6 January 2014

White Billed Diver in Brixham, Devon - Part 2

January 4th was my first free day of 2014 to go out birding and with a break in the heavy rain and gales we are currently experiencing I decided to head off to Brixham again as the white billed diver is still showing very well.

 I caught the train and bus this time and took my telescope with me and spent around 5 very happy hours wandering around the harbour enjoying the great birds on view.

The white billed diver was a lot more distant and elusive than on my last visit, probably due to birders hiring out boats in the harbour and chasing after the birds and causing unnecessary disturbance. At one point it was spooked by a shag which surfaced very close to it, raising itself out of the water with wings open and paddling at the surface with its feet, either aggression or display.

 White billed Diver - more distant than on the 28th December
White Billed Diver

The great northern divers again showed very well, they seemed to be everywhere again and were very mobile on the water and in the air, estimates from other birders watching the area indicate up to 80 birds are present in the Bay area. 3 black throated divers were seen, a lone adult and the pale juvenile and adult associating together. A female/juvenile type long tailed duck flew along the Breakwater and across the Bay and a female eider was diving close to the beach near the Breakwater. Purple sandpipers were feeding on the seaweed covered rocks along the Breakwater or on the derelict pier building, being very confiding but also very mobile.

 Great Northern Diver
Great Northern Diver

A red necked grebe was seen right out in the Bay before moving closer to shore, passing the Harbour mouth as it headed towards Broadsands, and a second bird gave amazing close views in the Harbour and definitely a different bird with much more yellow on its bill.

 Red Necked Grebe - my first in Devon
 Red Necked Grebe
Red Necked Grebe

2 black guillemots were seen in the Harbour, one giving amazing close views as it dived amongst the yachts in the marina right by the harbour side path,  it could be seen underwater searching for food amongst the seaweed and rocks.

 Black Guillemot in The Marina
 Black Guillemot - check out those red legs
Black Guillemot at the Harbour Mouth

I had a look for a recently reported Iceland gull without any luck although it was reported that day but I did find a few adult Winter plumaged kittiwakes along with common gulls amongst the herring, black headed and great black backs.

Grey Seal from The Breakwater

And so it had been a great days birding with some good sightings including my 4th red necked grebe sighting ever and my first for Devon, a good start to the year.

Sunday 5 January 2014

White Billed Diver at Brixham, Devon

After my trip to Topsham and as 2013 drew to a close I did very little wildlife watching mainly due to the appalling weather but also due to work, Christmas stuff and a general lack of any wildlife sightings being reported - most probably a lack of reported sightings due to work, the appalling weather and Christmas stuff!

Highlights were:- a peregrine flying over Charles Cross church and spooking all the gulls and pigeons as I walked home from a Christmas shopping trip in Plymouth on the 19th; what I thought was a kingfisher calling on a very windy walk around Sutton Harbour on the 19th as I was watching 2 little grebes; a brief view of a kingfisher flying low over the water before disappearing from view amongst the yachts at Sutton Harbour on the 24th, my first sighting here; and a common sandpiper and a greenshank on a sunny but muddy walk along the River Plym on the 26th.

With some good counts of divers in Torbay recently a very lucky birder found a white billed diver at Brixham on Christmas Day and I managed to persuade David to drive me there on the 28th for a look. Within a few minutes of arriving at the Quayside I saw the bird along with quite a crowd of birders and it showed very well and very close in the sunshine and flat sea, a very beautiful bird indeed.

There were lots of turnstones around the harbour side, very tame as they scavenged scraps of food dropped by messy humans, and both myself and David chuckled as the mass of birders with their huge telescopes and huge camera lenses scurried around the harbour side too chasing the diver between dives despite it being only around 15 metres away! Some even had camouflaged coverings on the legs of their tripods (WTF!) and there was a palpable air of excitement and tension as they all desperately tried to get closer to the bird despite their huge optical equipment. I managed to get a few decent snaps on my little lumix point and press camera so why they had to chase after the bird I don't know.

 White Billed Diver - a Devon tick
White Billed Diver

Looking around the harbour and the Bay there were great northern divers everywhere with some giving great close up views and amongst them were at least 4 black throated divers including an adult and juvenile bird together, the juvenile being quite pale looking and very red throated diver looking on first impressions.

 Black Throated Diver
 Black Throated Divers
Black Throated Diver - a pale looking juvenile just about to dive

Razorbills, guillemots, purple sandpipers and shags were a supporting cast and a juvenile black guillemot gave some great views at the harbour mouth despite spending very little time at the waters surface.

 A very tame juvenile Shag
Black Guillemot - a Devon tick

The following day (29th) and we had a quick walk around Burrator reservoir where I saw 2 male and 4 female goosander, around 10 teal, 3 male and 2 female Mandarin ducks (my first sightings here) and 16 Canada geese, but I failed to see the recently reported elusive female ring necked duck.

And so 2013 came to an end with my UK year list standing at 213 (or 211 if I disallow the brief flight view of the wryneck at Ford Park Cemetery and what may not have been 100% hooded crows in Scotland), easily surpassing my 200 species target for the year and the first time I have achieved this. It has taken quite a lot of effort and hard work to achieve this but it has been fun too.

And so on to 2014 and I am hoping that it will be as good a year as 2013 has been - I am hoping to concentrate on seeing new British birds for my British list and those scarce or uncommon birds that I have only seen in the UK on a few occasions before. Fingers crossed!