Wednesday 17 September 2014

Isles of Scilly Day Trip - September 15th 2014

I had planned to visit the Isles of Scilly on a day trip in August with my birthday money but changed plans and went to the caravan at Bude instead - just as well as the weather wasn't great and it would have been a rough sea crossing and there wasn't much reported birdwise.

And so at 04:45hrs on September 15th the alarm clock sounded and off I headed on the train to Penzance for the 09:15hrs crossing on the Scillonian III ferry to St.Marys. Leaving the harbour on time and the sun was shining between the gaps in the clouds but as the day progressed the cloud thickened and it remained grey and overcast. There was also a stiff Easterly breeze and so the sea was choppy but the crossing wasn't too rough and provided some fantastic sightings.

The Egyptian House, Penzance

We passed a small fishing boat not long after leaving the harbour and on scanning the water behind the boat there were a few gulls loafing around and I had a very brief view of a shearwater taking off from the water before flying off and out of sight across the front of the boat. It appeared long winged and uniformly brown and was probably a sooty shearwater but I couldn't be sure and I couldn't refind it. My attention was also distracted by a small bird fluttering over the waves which turned out to be a storm petrel which gave some nice views as it flew away from the boat. Not a bad start although a little frustrating.

Heading along the Cornish coast towards Lands End and birds were everywhere - gannets, Manx shearwaters, shags (including a very pale juvenile that looked very red throated diver-y from a distance), kittiwakes (adults in winter plumage with black smudges on their heads and 1 juvenile), 2 juvenile Commic terns (distant views), great black backed-, lesser black backed- and herring gulls and 2 probable Balearic shearwaters (distant views again). Another storm petrel was also seen close to the boat in its characteristic fluttering and dipping flight over the water but as we passed Lands End the seabird sightings dwindled and eventually stopped. However between Lands End and The Scillies I did see a flyover goldfinch and 4 pied wagtails heading towards The Scillies and a kestrel low over the waves heading towards Land End along with 2 red admirals.

I also had some cetacean sightings with the best being 2 harbour porpoise, an adult with a calf, which passed quite closely alongside the boat with the calf showing very well on surfacing as it raised its head quite high out of the water, presumably to watch the boat going by. I also had some brief fin views of some common dolphins and later some brief fin views of bottle nose dolphins (larger and with a blue hue to them) and while queueing for a cup of tea in the cafĂ© and looking out of the porthole I saw 2 common dolphins leaping out of the water and heading towards the boat before being lost from sight.

The Scillies were looking stunning as usual despite the grey skies and strong breeze. I had planned to visit Tresco as some good birds had been reported from there but with a greenish warbler having been reported on St.Marys the previous day I decided to stay on St.Marys - needless to say I didn't see the warbler!

Scillies Mega! (Telegraph pole ornament)

 The Scillonian III in St.Marys Harbour
St.Marys Harbour on a grey and breezey day

Birding was heavy going in the cool, overcast conditions and the strong Easterly. Highlights were a spotted flycatcher, 2 whitethroat, 2 willow warbler (1 seen and 1 heard singing), a kestrel hovering over the fields, a peregrine flying over with a small bird in its talons, swallows everywhere with 1 sand martin, wheatears everywhere with many being quite tame, Sandwich terns fishing offshore and a 1st winter Mediterranean gull flying by the ferry as we headed back to Penzance. A few speckled wood and red admirals were also flitting about in more sheltered spots.


After such an eventful ferry crossing from Penzance I was looking forward to the return crossing but the light was poor and the sea choppier and the only sea mammal I saw was a seal poking its snout out of the water as we left St.Marys harbour. Again there were very few seabird sightings between The Scillies and Lands End but as we approached the Cornish coast birds began to appear. A great skua was seen flying across the back of the boat before landing on the sea along with gannets, gulls and Manx shearwaters and as we neared Lands End 10 ringed plover flew over the boat heading out to sea. A raft of shearwaters was resting on the sea and as we sailed through them they all scattered and I picked out a Balearic shearwater - noticeably larger and paler brown than the very dark looking Manx and with dirty looking underparts compared to the white of Manx. As we sailed on we disturbed more rafts and feeding flocks of shearwaters and I found at least 2 more Balearics amongst the Manx with 1 bird seen very well alongside the boat as it flew past, being much bigger bodied than the Manx and with noticeably paler upperparts. A juvenile Commic tern was also seen and as we approached Penzance harbour I had a distant and brief flight view of a long winged, uniform brown looking shearwater again before it landed on the sea - the sooty shearwater again? Very frustrating!

And so it had been an exhausting day (I didn't get home until 22:45hrs) but it had been a great day out and one I will be doing again. The weather conditions had resulted in some poor birding on The Scillies but some fantastic sightings on the ferry crossings, the journey back being especially magical along the coast between Lands End and Penzance as the light began to fade and shearwaters were flying around all over the place. Life doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Another Wryneck - Dawlish Warren, September 14th

With a high tide on the River Exe at 11:00am-ish and reports of curlew sandpipers at Bowling Green Marsh and Dawlish Warren, I jumped on the train, deciding at the last minute to visit Dawlish Warren (it was Sunday and I imagined Bowling Green would be too busy so decided on the more varied and likely less crowded Warren instead).

Arriving at 10:30 I headed off to Warren Point and the wader roost along the beach as the tide reached its highest point. Scanning the flock of small waders I found a single turnstone amongst the dunlin, ringed plover and sanderling and so I headed off into the dunes to look for the wryneck that has been around for a few days now. Wandering through the vegetation I spooked 2 skylarks, 2 wheatears and eventually the wryneck which flew up and landed on top of a bramble bush where it gave great views before flying off - my second wryneck in 3 days! Also seen amongst the dunes were a smart whinchat, stonechats and linnets but as more birders arrived I headed back to the wader roost for another look.

 Wryneck, Dawlish Warren

The waders were still roosting and scanning through I eventually found a curlew sandpiper, probably my favourite wader, looking taller and with spangled, paler and greyer toned upperparts than the nearby dunlin. Just as I was getting my eye in on the bird and hoping it would show its head from under its wing some walkers along the beach flushed all the birds and I managed a nice view of its square white rump as it took to the air, losing sight of it amongst the flock. The birds eventually settled and I refound it and had some nice scope views as it fed along the sandy beach before the waders were disturbed again and I lost sight of it again.

Sanderlings along the beach, Dawlish Warren

I headed over to The Bight, expecting the waders to move here as the tide receded and eventually a few dunlin and ringed plover arrived. The tide continued to recede and the flock didn't appear until it was some way out - I scanned through the heat haze and found the curlew sandpiper again but it was distant and the views poor and then the flock took to the air and disappeared upriver. A quick scan around revealed a bar tailed godwit, a kingfisher flying along the waters edge and a little egret, along with oystercatchers, 6 mute swans, cormorants, wigeon and gulls but no further sign of the curlew sandpiper.

I unknowingly met The Exmouth Birder Sue - who did get to see the wryneck eventually - and I also met Dawlish Warren birder Lee who writes the daily Blog for the site and had a chat about the rings he has read on birds and their histories.

In Greenland Lake Autumn Ladies Tresses were in flower but most had gone over and apart from a female kestrel and a flock of 10 long tailed tits I didn't see much more in the way of birds. I did however see an emperor dragonfly, a southern hawker and 2 common darter along with small copper, speckled wood and a late meadow brown, and also a very smart looking rush veneer, before heading home on the train to Plymouth, having had a very enjoyable days birding.

 Autumn Ladies Tresses, Dawlish Warren
 Common Darter
 Southern Hawker
Rush Veneer

Saturday 13 September 2014

Wryneck at Wembury

Thursday 11th September and a day out to the beach at Cawsand didn't happen as the ferry wasn't running due to the continuing strong Easterly breeze and so we headed off to Jennycliff beach instead, catching the ferry to Mount Batten and walking along the coast path. I have never been to the beach at Jennycliff before, not the best or prettiest beach but with an amazing view across Plymouth Sound. The footpath down the cliff to the beach was closed following the bad winter weather but we snuck through a gap in the railings and made it down safely over the remains of the steps and pretty much had the beach to ourselves.

7 common sandpipers flew off from the shoreline when we arrived, heading towards Mount Batten and later 4 came back to feed amongst the rocks. 2 kingfishers flew low over the water towards Bovisand and along the beach a grey wagtail was feeding amongst the Alba wagtails. A chiffchaff was singing in the cliffside undergrowth, sounding very mournful at this time of year, and robins were vocal and showy too.

Lime Speck Pug, Back Yard

Friday 12th September and with a night shift looming I headed off to Wembury for a walk and with recent sightings of wrynecks along the coast of Devon and Cornwall I kept a look out for this elusive bird. It was cloudy and breezey but eventually cleared up and was pleasantly sunny and warm despite the Easterly breeze. As I headed down the valley to the beach a flock of hirundines was hawking over the main beach - 100+ swallows, 20 +house martins and 3+sand martins. At one point they flew low over the sea, looking like storm petrels, with a few birds dipping in to the water.

A look in the horse field by the riding stables and amongst the Alba wagtails and meadow pipits I found a yellow wagtail just as it took to the air, flying off to perch on the barbed wire fence at the back of the field before flying off East. A flock of feeding goldfinch and linnet had a few greenfinch amongst them and at one point everything took to the air and flew around and I found another yellow wagtail which also flew off East and out of sight.

Heading off along the coast path and 2 bar tailed godwit were roosting with oystercatchers at Wembury Point along with 3 little egrets. Gannets were diving offshore with large splashes and a few fulmar drifted by. A pair of cirl buntings, a wheatear in the lower horse field and a singing chiffchaff were also seen along with 4 clouded yellows, small copper, red admiral, speckled wood, common blue, a comma and small- and large whites. The toilet block had a flounced rustic and 2 small blood veins inside which I caught and released outside.

 Small Blood Vein, Wembury
 Faded Clouded Yellow, Wembury Point
 Small Copper, Wembury
Common Darter ? , Wembury

I bumped in to Plymouth birder Russ and another birder near the riding stables and we had a chat about what's around, commenting that it felt like a wryneck day before heading off in opposite directions. I then wandered along the path up the valley from the main beach and flushed a small bird from the footpath in front of me and as I caught a glimpse of it I realised it was a wryneck! It flew off into a clump of sallows where it amazingly sat and preened for a while out in the open before a wretched female blackcap appeared and chased it off in to deeper cover! I waited around for a while but it didn't reappear and so when David arrived shortly after we headed off to have a pasty and coffee on the beach, enjoying the September sunshine before heading home. Not a bad day with my 3rd UK wryneck sighting - all having been at Wembury and mainly a case of good luck, right place at the right time - and only spoilt by having to do a night shift that night.

 Wryneck, Wembury
 Wryneck, Wembury
Wryneck, Wembury

Monday 8 September 2014

Autumn Migrants

Some decent weather and 3 days off in a row so after leaving work early on September 4th I headed off on the bus to Wembury for a walk. It was hot, sunny and still but I didn't get to Wembury until 5pm and I only had an hour and a half there due to the usual rubbish bus times.

I had hoped to find some yellow wagtails as there have been many sightings along the South Devon coast but I had no luck, seeing plenty of Alba wagtails and a single juvenile grey wagtail instead. The gull flock was still present but with limited time I didn't pay much attention to them. A green woodpecker was feeding in the horse field above the stables before flying off silently and a clouded yellow flitted by and just as I was about to head back to the bus stop for the journey home a large, pale looking raptor overhead caught my eye. Expecting to see a pale buzzard I was shocked and pleasently surprised to find it was an osprey, circling high overhead before drifting off towards the mouth of the River Yealm and spooking all the gulls roosting along the shoreline below the cliffs.

 Osprey, Wembury

 Osprey, Wembury
 Common Blue, Wembury
Red Admiral, Wembury

Friday 5th and we headed off to Perranporth for our yearly trip. It was warm with hazy sunshine and we had a lovely day, enjoying a breakfast at The Watering Hole with the sand between our toes.There were quite a few trout in the stream and with the water level being low they were easy to see as they congregated in the deeper and shadier parts. The flat calm sea was devoid of birds except gulls but fulmars were patrolling the cliffs with one bird seen inland flying over the boating lake! Swallows, 2 ravens, 2 stonechats, 2 wheatears and rock pipits were also seen along with a hummingbird hawkmoth buzzing around the rocks on the clifftops before whizzing away.

 Trout, Perranporth
"Hold on to Your Butt" indeed, Sign at Perranporth Beach

I was feeling knackered on returning home but headed off to Ford Park Cemetery for a moth and bat night, having missed 3 local moth nights recently ( at Saltram, Mount Edgecumbe and Plymbridge Woods). It was interesting hearing about the history of the Cemetery and about bats in general, and walking around I saw a pipistrelle bat and "heard" them on the bat detectors. The mothtraps had ruby tiger, large yellow underwing, orange swift, brimstone moth and either common or gallium carpets in them but there were too many people and children crowding around and as I was tired I headed off home. It also wasn't quite the same without the late John Randall who used to help out at the moth traps, his knowledge and friendly manner being sadly missed.

Saturday 6th and we headed off to Hope Cove for a walk and I finally got to see yellow wagtails with mobile and flighty birds seen in the clifftop fields and including 2 very yellow males. At the bridge at South Milton Ley a whinchat and a whitethroat were seen with a second whinchat perched on the fence near the toilet block by the cafe. South Huish Marsh had a ringed plover, 8 dunlin, a black tailed godwit and a superb wood sandpiper which showed very well despite the nearby cars and people. 2 wheatears, at least 3 sandmartins, 2 1st winter Mediterranean gulls, clouded yellows and a hummingbird hawkmoth were also seen but there were no moths again in the toilet block at Thurlestone golf club.

 Wood Sandpiper in hazy light, South Huish Marsh
 Wood Sandpiper, South Huish Marsh
 Wood Sandpiper, South Huish Marsh
Swallows and Sand Martins at South Huish

Sunday 7th and I headed off to Hayle on the train. The weather was warm and breezey but the tides weren't great and the bus and train times were pretty crap so a trip to Hayle seemed the best compromise. It also meant I got to have a lie in after a pleasant night out enjoying food and drinks at The Dock in Plymouth with Julie and Matt.

Arriving at the bridge at the top of the estuary and the tide was well out. Across the mudflats were loads of gulls - great- and lesser black backed, herring and black headed along with a 2nd winter Mediterranean gull. I spent some time searching through them as I continue to get my head around gull ID but couldn't find anything unusual. Wigeon and teal were feeding, all in eclipse plumage except for a male teal which was almost back in more usual plumage.

I headed off to The Carnsew Pool where there were finally some small waders on show and scanning through the ringed plover and dunlin I had great scope views of a little stint, one of my target birds for the day. Also seen were 2 adult winter plumaged-, a 2nd winter- (with a green plastic leg ring on the right leg) and a 1st winter Mediterranean gull, and a kingfisher flew low over the water towards Ryans Field.

Heading back to the bridge and the tide came in surprisingly quickly. Amongst the curlew, redshank and oystercatchers were a black tailed godwit, at least 3 bar tailed godwit and at least 6 greenshanks being pushed towards the bridge on the incoming tide. A ringed plover and 4 small waders flew upriver and landed in the saltmarsh on the opposite side of the river with 1 of the small waders appearing to have a square white rump but the light was poor and I couldn't get any plumage detail. Eventually they flew across the river towards me before flying over to Ryans Field and it was indeed a curlew sandpiper - slightly larger, square white rump and greyer toned upperparts than the dunlins - and my other target bird of the day. Not great views, hopefully I will catch up with more on the River Exe next week. I tried to find it on Ryans Field amongst the roosting waders but it was tucked away out of sight but I did find a nice male ruff, and the kingfisher from earlier perched on a mud clod by the water.

All in all a good couple of days in lovely autumn weather and with my year list now on 191.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Ruddy Shelduck at Bude

With 3 days off together the plan was to head down to the caravan at Bude for a few days but Friday 29th August was cool, cloudy and breezey and so I headed off to Wembury on the bus for a walk before the drive to Bude.

The sun did actually shine a little but by the time David came to pick me up and we had had a pasty for lunch it began to rain. It was fairly quiet bird wise and there was no sign of any yellow wagtails which I had hoped to see but highlights were:- a turnstone (first of the Autumn here), 17 oystercatcher and 2 ringed plover along the beach ; the flock of gulls were still roosting along the beach and feeding in the stubble field but I didn't pay a lot of attention to them although there were more adult lesser black backed gulls amongst the flock and a nice 1st Winter Mediterranean gull (first of the year here); and in the hedgerow by the sewage farm were a female cirl bunting with 3 fledglings.

Scanning offshore and I managed to pick out a few Manx shearwater passing by, distant views with the birds upperparts looking surprisingly dark or light depending on the sunshine. I counted at least 20 in 10 minutes of scanning with the birds all heading West in 1's or 2's. A few gannets and fulmars were also seen but I did pick up what looked like a large shearwater heading West as a rain squall came in, a distant view of a brown looking bird as it banked up from the wave troughs with a languid flick of the wings before corkscrewing back down with another languid flick of the wings. It did this 4 times before I lost sight of it behind The Mewstone, its flight manner totally distinct from the jittery nervousness of the Manx shearwaters but as to what it was, who knows?

 Dark Bush Cricket (female), Wembury
 Common Lizard, Wembury
Long Winged Conehead, Wembury

Arriving home to pack the car up for the trip to Bude and a nice find was a hummingbird hawkmoth buzzing around the front garden before zooming off towards the park, the first in the garden for a few years now.

Bude was wet and windy when we finally arrived at the caravan and only 2 adult gannets were seen on a brief look from the clifftops. The water level at Maer Lake was much higher but with some nice muddy areas around the edges. Gulls were busy bathing and preening and hunkering down in the wind and drizzle and mist, and one bird caught my eye, with dark upperparts, a white rump and a neat black tail band in flight and a pale head but what species was it? It was very lesser black backed gull like and the bill did not appear particularly heavy but in the poor light and conditions and distance I could not be sure before it flew off, never to return. Maybe a pale first winter lesser black backed gull or maybe a yellow legged gull or maybe a herring gull? I am beginning to have nightmares about gulls!



The weather did improve the following day but the gull never returned. I did visit Maer Lake a few times each day and saw maximum totals of 5 black tailed godwits, 14 dunlin, 6 redshank, 1 common sandpiper, 15 curlew and 1 peachy washed juvenile knot. Numbers fluctuated on each visit, either birds were leaving and arriving, tucked out of sight or moving between Bude Marshes and Maer Lake. A smart looking adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gull was also a nice find amongst the roosting black headed gulls.

Offshore a few gannets and fulmars were seen and a turnstone was seen along the river near the main beach. The most unusual sighting was a female ruddy shelduck which had been reported recently but not for a few days before our visit. It flew over as I walked up to the clifftops early on Saturday morning, landing in a stubble field and feeding amongst a large flock of Canada geese. Ruddy shelducks often appear in Cornwall at this time of year and are assumed to be from the feral population that moult in The Netherlands but no-one knows for sure.

 Ruddy Shelduck (female)
Ruddy Shelduck

Grey Heron, Bude

Mullett, Bude

I had hoped for some different moths in the moth trap as I have never used the trap at the caravan at this time of year before but with the recent cool and wet weather I was a bit disappointed with only 12 species being caught. Common wainscot was the most numerous moth but flounced rustic, Acleris laterana, Pandemis cerasana and pebble prominent were good to see.

 Acleris laterana, Bude
Barred Fruit-tree Tortrix (Pandemis cerasana), Bude

I have also had the trap out out in the back yard with slightly more varied catches including my first old lady of the year and a good total of 9 Vines rustic.

 Vines Rustic, Back Yard
Old Lady, Back Yard