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.

No comments:

Post a Comment