Thursday 26 February 2015

Penduline Tits at Darts Farm

A trip to Darts Farm at Topsham on February 26th with Sue from work to look at the binoculars at the RSPB shop and I had my fingers crossed that we would see the penduline tits that have been showing again here for the last few days...... and we were in luck!

Arriving at the hide and there was no sign of them although a birder present said they had been seen earlier that morning. However after a few minutes an arriving birder found 2 birds feeding on the bull rush heads close to the path near the hide. They were surprisingly difficult to see despite being only a few metres away, blending in well against the dark heads and pale stems. It was bright and breezey too and the heads were swaying back and forth with the birds often on the opposite side of the heads and out of sight. The bull rush seeds were blowing away in the wind as they ripped the heads apart to get at insects but the birds were so easy to overlook.

 Two Penduline Tits, Darts Farm

 Penduline Tit (reminding me of a male red backed shrike)

 Penduline Tit

Penduline Tit

Penduline Tit

I have been very fortunate to see them on only my second attempt as they have been quite mobile and difficult to pin down but when they have been seen they have given some great views, today being no exception. But where is the 3rd bird, they have usually been seen as a trio, maybe it was overlooked in the reed bed? Or are there 5 birds as some have suggested with these 2 being the other birds? Whatever, it was nice to see them and to see them so well (my only other sighting has been of a single, long staying, overwintering bird at Clennon Valley in Paignton a few years ago).

Also seen was a flyover black swan, around 20 black tailed godwits, 2 little egrets, teal, wigeon, curlew and a sparrowhawk and a bonus was having a Chunk pasty for lunch in the cafe.

Thursday 19 February 2015

First moth of 2015

A sunny Sunday 15th Feb. and a walk at Wembury was only marred by the crowds - well, it was sunny, a Sunday and the beginning of half term holiday hell. At least the cafe was open and I got to have a Chunk pasty for lunch.

I managed to see both the female type black redstart and common sandpiper along the beach but couldn't find either of the water pipits amongst the mobile and flighty rock- and meadow pipits.

Male Mallard, Wembury

Female Mallard, Wembury

I did get to see my first moth of the year though, a male pale brindled beauty, albeit a little faded. It was on the outside of the window of the mens toilet block and is a new species of moth for me.

 Male Pale Brindled Beauty (females are flightless)
Pale Brindled Beauty, Wembury

Tuesday 17th Feb. and the last day of my time off work was also sunny and bright. With a new pair of walking shoes to break in after my 7 year old pair split and leaked we headed off to Lopwell Dam for a walk. Highlights along the River Tavy were 4 avocets, 2 greenshank, 2 little grebes and a kingfisher. 2 mistle thrush flew over and ravens and buzzards were soaring over the woods, croaking and mewing respectively, with the ravens in tumbling flight sorties. Above the Dam were 5 muscovy ducks and another little grebe but with the cafe closed we headed to nearby Buckland Abbey for something to eat where I saw a few redwings in the trees and a flyover grey wagtail.

Greenshank and Mallards, River Tavy
After having such a nice time off work (ate too much, drank too much, slept a lot, saw some nice birds) it was back to the grindstone on the 18th Feb. However I then had the 19th to myself but my planned days birding went out of the window with a day of heavy rain forecasted. By 1pm the rain had stopped so I headed off to the River Plym for a look around, thinking that if the rain returned it wasn't too far away from home. The yellow browed warbler had been reported again yesterday in its usual place, a surprise as I had assumed it may have succumbed in the recent cold spell due to a lack of recent reports. As usual there was no sight or sound of it and as I was in no mood to play hide and seek today I walked over Laira Bridge and along The Ride to Saltram Park.
It was very muddy underfoot in the Park but my new walking shoes kept my feet nice and dry and despite it being half term it was very quiet due to the bad weather. The usual birds were seen in the Park including a jay, nuthatches, 2 mistle thrush, a male kestrel, a female sparrowhawk, 2 displaying stock doves and goldcrests. A flock of around 30 very wary redwings were perched in trees, flying down to the ground to feed with starlings before returning to the trees. They also occasionally flew to the nearby wood where they greedily snatched at ivy berries before flying back to the trees. Best bird though was a firecrest feeding in a loose mixed flock of blue, great, coal and long tailed tits. At first I had brief and frustrating views as it fed amongst the ivy and holly, constantly on the move, but after a patient wait I managed some great views despite the fading light as it fed in the top of a bare tree. 
Walking back over Laira Bridge to the yellow browed warbler spot and again there was no sight or sound of it as the rain began to fall but a nice kingfisher on the rocks by Blagdons Boatyard was a nice end to a wet and muddy but interesting walk.


Sunday 15 February 2015

Penduline Tit-less Darts Farm, Friday February 13th 2015

With 3 (+?) penduline tits wintering in the Topsham area I thought it about time to go and have a look for them. They have been mobile and erratically sighted at Exminster Marsh, Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham Rec.and Darts Farm with the latter site being the easiest and most reliable place to see them. They had been showing well at Darts Farm in the last few days and so I was quite hopeful but the days date should have been a clue - Friday 13th - and on arriving at the hide at 12:30 I was informed that they had flown off at about 11am - bugger! History would suggest that they wouldn' t return again that day and indeed they didn't - never mind, I'll have to try again.

I did manage to see a few nice birds though. A distant kingfisher was my first of the year and a pair of stonechat,  a chiffchaff, an immature male reed bunting and a water rail kept me occupied as I scanned across the reeds and bull rushes where the penduline tits usually feed. A lone brent goose flew over and a shelduck and male shoveler were feeding on the water with teal, wigeon and mallard. 4 black tailed godwit flew around the fields with curlews and a meadow pipit fed in the grass right in front of the hide.

Water Rail, Darts Farm

After lunch at the Darts Farm cafe I walked over to Bowling Green Marsh, seeing a male sparrowhawk hunting low over the drainage channels criss-crossing the fields. It flew slowly, occasionally stalling and dropping to the ground and sometimes briefly hovering. It flushed a snipe which quickly flew off and away, presumably what it was hunting for - I've seen a sparrowhawk hunting snipe in this way before at Marazion Marsh in Cornwall.

At Bowling Green Marsh the usual birds were on display at a low tide. There were more shovelers than on my last visit in January and also a few pintails. 10 greylag geese and a grey heron were also seen and a flyover peregrine spooked all the birds as it passed by. 2 water rails were feeding in the grassy field by the footpath leading up to the viewing platform and in the fading light I found 3 avocets feeding amongst the redshank, dunlin and grey plover on the mudflats.

Strangest bird was what appeared to be a gadwall x wigeon hybrid feeding on the Marsh  - it upended in the water like a gadwall but had a blue-grey bill, male wigeon-like scapulars, a white vent area and a very schizophrenic appearance, looking wigeon like at times but then very gadwall like. Maybe it was an aberrant juvenile male wigeon? I took a few poor photos in the fading light but it would be interesting to get a better view of the bird in brighter conditions.

 Wigeon x Gadwall?, Bowling Green Marsh

Gadwall x Wigeon?

Wigeon x Gadwall?

Friday 13 February 2015

Devon Birding

With some time off work and some cold, dry weather we have been out and about in Devon enjoying some walks and lunches (and some birds too!).

Thursday 5th Feb and a dull grey and cold walk from Wembury beach to Wembury Point was extremely muddy along the coastpath and so we walked back to the car along the beach as it was a very low tide, avoiding the mud bath that was the footpath. 2 adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gulls were flying up and down the shoreline, dipping down to the water to snatch at food and looking ghostly white in the dull light, and an adut lesser black backed gull was roosting on the rocks amongst the more usual gulls. A common sandpiper was feding on the sandy piece of beach near the sewage pipe and amongst the rock and meadow pipits feeding on the seaweed mass on the beach were a smart water pipit and a female type black redstart. The water pipit was quite aggressive towards nearby rock pipits but seemed to tolerate nearby meadow pipits. A grey wagtail along the stream running across the main beach was a splash of lemon yellow colour in the gloom.

Male Stonechat, Wembury

Robin, Wembury

Saturday 7th Feb and we had a drive up to Dartmoor for a walk and to have a look at the snow. There was snow around especially on the high moor, it was sparse and patchy but the most snow I have seen in Devon for many years. The sun was shining in Plymouth but it had clouded over on arriving at Warren House Inn. Our plan had been to walk around Soussons so I could have a look for the wintering great grey shrike but on getting out of the car the wind felt like an evil dagger, it was bitterly cold, and so we gave up and went to the Inn instead for some lunch! We then decided to have a walk at nearby Bellever Forest where it was a little more sheltered from the wind. A male crossbill was singing from a tree top not far from the car park, the first time I have heard one singing in the field - I have seen it on Springwatch and heard it on the internet only - and it gave some nice views before flying off. Walking further in to the forest and I heard 2 more singing males, 1 seen in a tree top and a second bird heard only. A female then flew over calling and the 2 males took off after her before they all flew out of sight.

 Bellever Tor, Dartmoor

 Warren House, Dartmoor

 Male Crossbill, Bellever

 Male Crossbill

Male Crossbill

Monday 9th Feb and it was a gloriously sunny and still day and after a cold start soon became a pleasently warm day. We headed off for a walk at Stoke Point and it was stunningly beautiful along the coast path as we walked from Stoke Point to The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo and back. A grey seal was seen swimming in the crystal clear sea, spooking a shag on the surface and my first butterfly of the year, a peacock, flew past in the warm sunshine. I checked out all the stonechats feeding from the gorse covered cliff sides but couldn't find any Dartford warblers. I had given up on finding one but as we headed back to the car as the sun was starting to drop from the sky I found a lone female type stonechat on top of a gorse bush with a small bird skulking below in the bush. The stonechat was quite wary and flew down the slope away from me in stages and each time it flew off it was joined by the skulking bird, a very smart male Dartford warbler, brief flight views only but very nice to find.

Greenshank, Noss Mayo

Tuesday 10th Feb and we took a walk at Stover, only my second visit here. It was grey and cold again and the lake was half covered in thin ice. A male and 3 redhead goosanders were roosting on the clear water with a great crested grebe, 2 pairs of pochard, 2 pairs of mandarin ducks and 2 adult lesser black backed gulls. A snipe flew up from the waterside before disappearing from sight and a pair of mute swans were hidden in the reeds. From the aerial walkway birds were feeding on seeds and peanuts including a marsh tit, nuthatches and 3 bullfinches.

 Male Goosander, Stover

 Marsh Tit, Stover

 Male Bullfinch, Stover

 Juvenile Herring Gull on ice, Stover

Adult Lesser Black Backed Gull on ice, Stover

I had received a comment from local birder Graham Watson about my report on the DBWPS website for my trip to Wembury on the 5th regarding the water pipit I had seen. Graham has been seeing a tailess water pipit along the beach but the bird I saw had a tail as I had noted its white outer tail feathers when it flew around the seaweed mass. Intrigued I decided to have another look for it on Weds 11th Feb on yet another cold and grey day. The footpath was much less muddy and arriving at the seaweed mass on a high tide I soon found the water pipit amongst the rock and meadow pipits, complete with a tail. However on scanning through the birds I found a second water pipit with no tail so there are indeed 2 birds present, the first time I have seen more than 1 bird at Wembury. The black redstart was also seen, Graham had seen a bird with a leg ring which I hadn't noticed but this bird did indeed have a ring on its right leg, I must have missed it on my previous visit. The common sandpiper was also feeding on the seaweed mass and I found a long dead cetacean nearby, my first along the beach here for some time, probably a harbour porpoise but maybe a common dolphin -  whatever it was it was very smelly!

 Water Pipit (with tail feathers), Wembury

 Water Pipit with tail feathers ( white outer tail feather showing)

Tailess Water Pipit with Meadow Pipit

 Tailess Water Pipit with Rock Pipit

 Female type Black Redstart

 Dead Porpoise/Dolphin sp., Wembury Beach

Male Bullfinch, Wembury

And so a busy few days but with some very good sightings despite the generally cold and grey weather.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

River Tamar Boat Trip

Sunday February 1st and it was time for my annual birding boat trip along the River Tamar and River Lynher, this year with Mike for company as well as Mavis. It was a beautiful day, very cold and sunny but with a biting wind and topped off with lovely views of a snow covered Dartmoor in the distance.

The small wood under the Tamer Bridge had a pair of bullfinches along with the usual species but again no blackcaps or redwings, I haven't seen them here since the wood was tidied up a couple of years ago.

We boarded the boat at Saltash and headed up the Tamar. It was very quiet birdwise, presumably due to the recent mild autumn and the days cold weather, with a greenshank, 5 black tailed godwit, 3 great crested grebe, 5 flyover stock doves and a redwing feeding on ivy berries in trees along the shoreline being the best sightings. 2 foxes together along the foreshore was a nice surprise. On reaching the point of the river past Weirquay where the boat could go no further due to the low tide we finally found around 150 avocets resting in a flock along the water line - usually we see them much lower down the river. They gave some lovely views in the sunshine and a common sandpiper was also found nearby while we were watching them.

 Avocets, River Tamar



We headed back down the Tamar to Saltash before sailing up the Lynher, seeing around 30 dunlin flying past and 2 little grebes diving for fish as we entered the river mouth. The tide had come in quite a way by this time and passing Rat Island we found the 3 wintering spoonbills doing what spoonbills always do - sleep with their bills tucked under their wings! The views were a little distant and the birds surprisingly difficult to pick out against the pebbles in the bright sunlight.

 Spoonbills, Rat Island, River Lynher

3 Roosting Spoonbills

Also seen along the Lynher were 5 red breasted mergansers (2 males, 3 females), at least 3 great crested grebes, a small flock of around 50 avocets flying upriver and out of sight, lots of shelducks, 2 jays flying amongst the trees along the foreshore and another 2 foxes basking in the sunshine in a grassy field overlooking the river.

Arriving back at Saltash and I was glad to be heading off home to warm up after a very cold but very enjoyable trip.

Pacific Diver-less Penzance

Back in 2009 a Pacific diver appeared in Mounts Bay at Penzance and I was very fortunate to catch up with it at the Carnsew Pool in nearby Hayle where I had some great views. It (or another bird) has reappeared every year since in Mounts Bay but it has usually been distant and irregularly sighted. However this winter it has been much more reliably sighted and so I decided to have a look for it despite the less than ideal conditions - very cold, very windy, heavy rain and hail showers. I was feeling tired and lousey with a cold too but I headed off on the train on January 29th to have a look for it anyway.

Arriving at Penzance and I walked to the Jubilee Pool, seeing a very confiding female eider in the harbour along the way. At the Pool I soon found 3 very tame purple sandpipers with turnstones and I saw a male eider flew across the Bay, landing close to the harbour mouth. Gannets were diving offshore and I had a very distant view of a great northern diver and an even more distant view of a black throated/Pacific diver but it was too far out to get any real detail on it.

 Female Eider

 Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper


Heading back to the railway station I found a very forlorn looking chiffchaff feeding in the bushes at the bus station in the cold conditions. There was no sign of any black redstarts amongst the rocks and I still had very poor views of the 2 divers in the choppy seas so I headed off on the bus to Marazion Marsh.

Scanning the marsh and a pair of hybrid Canada/greylag geese were being harrassed by a pair of mute swans and 3 snipe flew over the reeds before disappearing from sight. A flock of around 20 teal flew up from cover just as a hail storm blustered in and a bittern joined them, showing well as it flew away and disappeared in the reeds on the other side of the railway line.

Canada x Greylag Geese

Walking back to Penzance along the sea wall and a great northern diver showed well close to the beach along with a 1st winter/1st summer Mediterranean gull and a grey seal. Along the beach were 9 ringed plover and 16 sanderling although they were regularly flushed by dog walkers. The 2 divers seen earlier unfortunately remained resolutely distant.

And so I headed off home without a confirmed sighting of the Pacific diver but it had been a good day out despite the choppy seas and poor weather conditions and my general malaise.