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 (!).

Monday 13 October 2014

Burrator Reservoir and a trip to France

October 10th and a sunny morning and so we headed up to Dartmoor for a walk around Burrator Reservoir. With it being a Friday it was very quiet and much more pleasant than the chaos of a weekend visit. The biggest surprise was how low the water level was, I don't think I have ever seen it as low before. More trees have been cleared too and loggers were noisely chainsawing down more while we were there and as a result it all looked very different although still stunning.

Burrator Reservoir - normally this would all be under water!

A female mandarin duck was seen with mallards near the dam as I got out of the car and a kingfisher called as it flew low over the water, looking resplendent in the bright sunshine. The 2 white feral geese were still present along with a Muscovy duck and a Canada goose and at least 4 little grebes and 8 cormorants were seen busily diving for fish which must be much easier to catch in the shallower water. A surprise were 8 redhead goosander which flew in and landed on the water where they began to fish too. Returning to the car and a quick check of the ducks by the dam before heading off and I found a nice male mandarin duck with the mallards just as it flew up on to the rocks by the waters edge and disappeared from view.

A late juvenile swallow flew over the Reservoir heading south and 2 grey wagtails were feeding around the waters edge. A few red admiral and speckled wood were also flitting around along with a common darter and in the remaining woodland the usual small birds were seen - coal, blue, great and long tailed tits, siskins, chaffinches and robins.

Common Darter, Burrator Reservoir

That evening we headed off to Roscoff in France on the Amorique ferry from Plymouth for a short break. The crossing was pretty smooth but I didn't sleep particularly well (probably too much food and alcohol and excitement!). The weather the next day was perfect - warm, sunny and still - and we had a very pleasant day. Red admiral, large white and speckled wood were on the wing along with 2 common darter. The tide was out in Roscoff at 4 o'clock as we checked in to our hotel for the night and so we had a walk around the quay where I had good views of turnstone, redshank, little egret, oystercatcher, brent geese and a kingfisher. The best sighting was a very obliging hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on flowers at Morlaix which we watched for a while very close too, I guess the warm weather wasn't quite warm enough for it to be too skittish.

 Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Morlaix
 Hummingbird Hawkmoth
Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Incoming tide at Roscoff

The following morning and it was time to head back to Plymouth and we caught the 09:15 Pont Aven ferry back to Plymouth. The weather could not have been more different, it was cool and cloudy and breezey but at least it didn't rain. Finding a spot to sea watch was difficult due to the breeze and an excess of very excited French school kids. The vibrations from the ferry also hampered viewing along with my overall tiredness but I did manage some good sightings.

A few miles out after leaving the harbour and a brent goose was seen flying strongly West. A few gannets and great black backed gulls were noted before a skua caught my eye flying low over the sea away from the ferry. It had a very large white wing flash on its left upper wing primaries but smaller and less extensive on its right wing. At first I thought it was a great skua due to its quite measured, almost ponderous flight, apparent large size and white wing flashes but as I got on to it with my binoculars I was pleased to see it was a moulting adult pale phased Arctic/pomarine skua. It landed on the sea where it disappeared amongst the waves just as I caught a view of its dark cap and buffy coloured cheeks but I couldn't see any tail feather projections, not unusual in adult birds at this time of year. The flight manner was unlike the fast, agile style of Artic skua but may have been due to the wind and I think it was a pomarine skua which would be a new bird for me but I am not sure. In any event it was seen in French waters so wouldn't be a British life or year tick anyway!

During the whole crossing I saw small flocks of migrating meadow pipits flying south, up to 10 birds in a flock, and consistent with sightings of meadow pipits along the South Devon coast that morning. Mid channel and more gannets were seen along with 7 great skuas - most were a little distant but 2 were disturbed from the sea quite close to the ferry, giving good views as they flew away. As South Devon appeared in the distance a feeding flock of gannets close to the ferry gave some nice views and scanning the sea below the swirling flock I saw around 10 harbour porpoise flashing their fins briefly and 1 individual leaping out of the water like a dolphin.

There were a few trawlers out fishing although they were not very close to the ferry and I checked out the mass of birds flying around the back of the boats. There were plenty of great black backed and herring gulls and gannets but I couldn't pick out any skuas. I did however see 3 storm petrels and a Balearic shearwater amongst them and a brief view of a long winged, dark shearwater that may have been a sooty shearwater. Arriving in to Plymouth and a smart adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gull was feeding around a floating mass of seaweed in Plymouth Sound and finished off what had been a very enjoyable sea watching session.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Yellow Legged Gulls Spain.

After my trip to The Scillies the weather improved and it was warm and sunny. I managed to get out for a walk at Wembury on the 18th and the 21st September where the best sightings were a whinchat, 4 ringed plovers and 3 bar-tailed godwits along with clouded yellows and long winged coneheads. The weather was also good on a walk along the coastpath from Hope Cove to Thurlestone on the 20th September and the best sightings were 4 little stints feeding together with dunlin at South Huish Marsh, giving some nice views despite all the cars and people nearby.

 Sand Wasp on Sea Holly at Thurlestone
 Green Carpet at Wembury
 Whinchat at Wembury
 Female Long Winged Conehead, Wembury
Common Darter, Wembury

And on September 22nd we headed off on the train to Heathrow Airport for our flight to Madrid in Spain for Davids sumptuous 52nd birthday holiday extravaganza. The journey was delayed due to a jumper in front of a train and it was a bit tight but we caught our flight which was actually late taking off anyway. On the journey up to Heathrow I managed to see a kingfisher and the resident Slavonian grebe along the River Exe, a few distant views of red kites around the Reading area and a flock of around 20 common cranes in a field near Taunton, presumably part of the Great Crane Project release programme.

And so to Spain. Madrid was as lovely as ever although the weather this time was a lot more varied with rain, cloud and wind as well as hot and sunny days. Birding in Madrid was limited but pied flycatchers and monk parakeets were very noticeable in the parks, being noisy and relatively confiding at times.

 Monk Parakeet, Madrid
Pied Flycatcher, Madrid

A day trip to nearby Segovia on the 24th was very interesting despite my tooth ache which at times was totally distracting. The Roman aqueduct was very impressive and I saw some good birds too with the biggest surprise being 2 choughs flying around the Alczar. Other highlights were red kites, black redstarts and cattle egrets and at least it distracted me from my painful tooth. I also had good views of 4 vultures, 1 was an adult griffon vulture and the other 3 were all black and I ignorantly assumed they were juvenile griffon vultures. Later when checking my bird book I realised they were actually 3 rare black vultures and a life tick for me.

 Roman Aqueduct at Segovia
 The Alcazar at Segovia
 Male Black Redstart, Segovia
Chough, The Alcazar at Segovia
Chough, Segovia

 Griffon Vulture, Segovia

 Black Vulture, Segovia

Heading down to Cadiz by train on the 26th and I managed frustrating views of birds of prey - eagles, buzzards, vultures, falcons, kites and harriers - with a probable short toed eagle and a probable black shouldered kite being seen as we whizzed across the countryside at 150+mph. Nearing Cadiz the train travelled slower and I saw a nice hovering osprey over some salt flats along with black winged stilts and greater flamingos.

Cadiz was lovely too and it was nice to actually stay in the old city for a few days to explore after our first 3 hour day trip in 2011. Monk parakeets were again noticeable due to being so noisy and confiding. The rocky shore had roosting whimbrel, ringed plover, sanderling and turnstone at high tide while offshore Sandwich terns and gannets were seen - it was great to sit on the breakfast terrace of the hotel and watch juvenile gannets dive for fish (mostly unsuccessfully) quite close in to shore. Best of all though were the gulls - black headed, Mediterranean, lesser black backed and yellow legged - which provided me with hours of distraction and enjoyment. The yellow legged gulls were ridicously tame at times, much as herring gulls can be in Plymouth, and I was able to fully appreciate a range of different ages and plumages. I have seen adults and juvenile yellow legged gulls before but have never paid much attention to non-adult birds, a shame as I have spent the summer looking for juveniles here in Devon and Cornwall! I was surprised at how variable the juvenile birds were in size as well as plumage and while sitting on the decking around the hotel swimming pool I was kept absorbed by the birds coming down to drink and bathe in the pool just a few meters away.

 Geranium Bronze, Cadiz
Speckled Wood?, Cadiz

Cadiz Beach

2nd Cal.Yr. Yellow Legged Gull

Juv. YLG

Juv. YLG

Juv. YLG

2nd Cal. Yr. YLG

Juv. YLG with pale eye

Adult LBBG

Adult YLG - With red orbital ring

Juv. YLG

Moving on to Seville on the 29th and birding slowed again but I did manage to see ring necked parakeets along with monk parakeets, spotted flycatcher and blackcap. A day trip to Cordoba on Davids birthday on the 30th provided a bit more variety with kingfisher, Cettis warbler and common sandpiper along the river and a few red rumped swallows overhead.

 Long tailed Blue, Cordoba
Lizard sp., Cordoba

The Alcazar Gardens in Cordoba - stunning

The Mesquita, Cordoba

 Alcazar Gardens, Seville
 The Alcazar, Seville
Bee sp., Seville

The train journey from Seville to Madrid on the 3rd October was very nice as we travelled in first class, enjoying food and drinks in a comfortable carriage as we sped along. I managed to see 3 hoopoes flying off as we sped past along with more frustrating views of raptors and a hare cowering by the trackside underneath a road bridge. Our last day in Madrid was quiet but we did see some small bats flying over the water at the Temple of Debod when it as lit up at night and the next morning it was time to head off to the airport and the flight back to the UK.

The Temple Of Debod by night, Madrid

The Temple of Debod

Heading back to Plymouth by train and I managed some better views of red kites including one bird which flew low over the train carriage as we came to a halt at Reading station and I again saw the Slavonian grebe on the River Exe but there was no sign of any common cranes this time.

And so it had been a great holiday despite my tooth problems. I didn't do any real birding but managed to see around 60 species with quality not quantity being the order of the day. And it was great to see so many yellow legged gulls and so well, a great help for me to try and finally find one here in the UK.