Wednesday 23 December 2015

Water Pipit at Wembury

With the Christmas frenzy almost reaching its climax I decided to head off to Wembury  on the bus for a bit of fresh air and relaxation. It was nice to see a bit of blue sky and sunshine in what has been a very grey, very wet, very windy and very warm December. The footpath was a muddy quagmire as I expected but I managed to navigate it successfully without incident (for a change!).

Birdwise it was quiet in the blustery conditions - a goldcrest in the bushes, a gannet offshore, a kestrel and a buzzard overhead and a curlew and grey heron along the beach with oystercatchers and mallards were the best of it until I got to the large seaweed mass near the sewage pipe and found a smart water pipit feeding amongst the rock- and meadow pipits. It was quite aggressive towards nearby rock pipits but was mostly tolerant towards nearby meadow pipits. It also had a full tail unlike one of the birds that was present here last winter.

 Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Male Pheasant

And so the year is nearly over again and I doubt I will get out birding now until after New Year due to work, Christmas and family things. But it has been quite a good year, I haven't chased after birds (although I did dip on Hudsonian whimbrel and serin) and I've seen 4 British lifers - Squacco heron, White winged black tern, Isabelline shrike and Caspian gull. My year list is on 185 but that does include barnacle goose, feral birds at Slimbridge, and an auk species, distant views at Prawle Point. I don't feel happy at ticking the barnacle geese but bizarrely I'm happy to tick Egyptian goose and Mandarin duck! And I had hoped to see both razorbill and guillemot at some point this year but bizarrely have missed out on both other than the distant flight views I had of an auk species at Prawle.

It has however been an excellent year for butterflies with fantastic butterfly days at Upton Towans, Cerne Abbas, Ashclyst Forest and Aish Tor - great views of some beautiful insects and utterly heavenly experiences.

And so to 2016 - what will it bring? I'm planning some more butterfly days to try and see some more new species and I really must get organised and go on an offshore seabird pelagic at some point in the autumn.

Monday 21 December 2015

Ring Necked Parakeet, Plymouth

With ring necked parakeet sightings appearing on the Devon Bird webpages recently I headed off to Ford Park Cemetery on Sunday 13th December to have a look around as up to 4 had been seen there and in nearby gardens.

A look around the Cemetery drew a blank but I did see at least 3 mistle thrush, 10+ redwing and a sparrowhawk soaring overhead. It was interesting to see and hear the coal tits feeding in the trees react to the sparrowhawk, giving a distinctive call note as they watched it fly over before returning to their foraging as it passed.

I decided to head off to the surrounding roads to have a look in the gardens and just as I was about to leave the Cemetery I heard the distinctive calling of a parakeet. Despite searching the trees I couldn't see it even though it continued to call but eventually I located it in the top of a bare tree, surprisingly well camoflagued against the sky despite its bright green plumage.

It eventually flew off but I relocated it nearby feeding on a bird feeder in a garden and I watched it for a while before I headed off home. A new bird for Devon for me and maybe the beginning of a feral population here in Plymouth, presumably they are birds which have dispersed from further east in the UK.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Yellow Browed Warbler - At Last!

A sunny but cool and breezey day on Wednesday 9th December and so I decided to visit Broadsands where some good birds are being reported. David dropped me off at the car park on the beach and went off to the shops for a couple of hours, giving me time for a good look around without interruption.

A quick look off the seawall and a few great crested grebe were dotted around the bay with a black necked grebe showing briefly close to the shore towards Elberry Head before diving out of sight. I walked off along the cliffpath towards Elberry Cove to get a better look at the black necked grebe and managed some decent views although it spent little time at the surface and was difficult to track between dives.

Walking further along the cliffpath and there were 4 more black necked grebes, 3 together which gave some nice views as they rested and preened at the surface for a while and a single bird which was constantly diving too.

Further scanning across Torbay with my telescope and I managed to find a great northern diver and a gannet along with shag, cormorant and gulls. A very distant small grebe looked good for Slavonian and I had a brief view of a diver which looked good for black throated but I couldn't refind it after it dived.

 Great Black Backed Gull trying to eat a tennis ball!

After 5 minutes it was still attempting to peck it open!

Heading to the back of the car park and I had a strong sense of deja vu as I scanned the bushes and trees for a reported yellow browed warbler - back on December 23rd last year I visited the same spot and had some good views of a wintering bird. I was in luck again today and had 2 brief and obscured views of the warbler as it constantly moved through the undergrowth before finally getting some amazing views as it fed amongst a clump of ivy less than 5 metres away - a smart looking bird in the bright sunshine.

I also managed to get some excellent views of at least 2 firecrests, a male with a bright orange crest and a presumed female with a yellower crown. Again they did not stay still for a second but I did manage to get 2 crappy record shots. 2 chiffchaffs were also flitting about with 1 bird snaffling down a large bluebottle type fly it caught (it was surprisingly warm in the sunshine when sheltered from the wind).  A male cirl bunting, a singing song thrush, goldfinch, goldcrest, long tailed tit, blue tit and great tit were also seen.

 Firecrest - record shot

Firecrest - another record shot

I managed a further brief view of the yellow browed warbler but that was it before David arrived to pick me up and we headed off to Totnes for some lunch - not a bad couple of hours birding away from the increasing frenzy of Christmas time. And I have finally seen a yellow browed warbler in 2015 in what has been a bumper year for them.

Sunday 6 December 2015

Caspian Gull in Suffolk

Wet, warm and windy weather of late has precluded any real birding with the only thing of note being my first 2 little grebes of the winter on Sutton Harbour on November 19th along with 7 mute swans - the RSPCA had caught and relocated the mute swans in the harbour in the spring due to concerns about pollution and lack of natural food availability but it looks like they are slowly migrating back.

November 22nd was a pleasent contrast - cold, clear and calm - but my planned trip to Wembury for a walk went out of the window when I realised that there are no buses to Wembury on Sundays since Stagecoach took over from First Bus. Instead I caught the train to Dawlish Warren and had a very enjoyable wander around. It was low tide when I arrived so I concentrated on the sea and land instead of the estuary and as the day progressed it became pleasently warm - it was still a surprise though to see a swallow flying along the beach towards Exmouth, my second latest sighting ever.

On a flat calm sea I managed distant and heat hazy views of a great northern diver and a red throated diver with much better views of 2 female goldeneye with 2 female red breasted mergansers closer to shore. A flock of around 20 common scoter were flighty and mobile around the bay and a flock of around 30 teal roosting on the sea was a surprise. 2 great crested grebes were also seen and I eventually found another red throated diver close to shore, this one was a juvenile with a duskier head and neck than the adult I had seen earlier and with a buffy coloured throat patch.

It was quieter on land with 2 chiffchaffs in the trees around the main pond, water rails heard squealing in the waterside reeds, a pair of stonechat, a great spotted woodpecker and a female reed bunting being the highlights.

On checking the bird sightings in the evening on November 26th and a yellow browed warbler was reported in Beaumont Park, right on my doorstep, but unfortunately the next morning I was due to head off early on the train to Suffolk to visit my parents. I had a quick walk around the park before heading off to the railway station but didn't find it although I did find 2 coal tits, 2 goldcrests, long tailed tits, a flyover grey wagtail and a calling nuthatch, my first in the park.

The train journey to London was uneventful although 30 minutes late into Paddington and I had some brief and distant views of red kites between Westbury and London on what was another grey and windy day.

The following day and my Mum had to work and so we had the use of her car for the day. I wasn't sure where to head too, my plan to visit Minsmere was ditched when I realised I had left my membership card and free visitors pass at home and I wasn't going to pay £16 for the 2 of us to get in. A red necked grebe at Alton Water, not far from Mums house, was an option but I eventually decided to head to Ampton near Bury St.Edmunds instead to look for tree sparrows that are frequently reported in the winter on the Suffolk BINS website. I wasn't sure where to look for the tree sparrows and searching the internet for more information gave few clues but it seemed that the birds were mostly seen on bird feeders in the village gardens. Google Maps highlighted the few houses with gardens in the village and so I was able to narrow down my search area. I also found some reports of yellow legged gulls and Caspian gulls at a nearby pig farm and so decided to include a visit there on my walk.

David dropped me off in the village before heading off to look around the antique shops at Risby, giving me around 2 hours to explore the area by myself. It was a grey and windy day but dry and I wandered off checking out all the gardens for any sign of tree sparrows. Eventually I found an isolated row of cottages surrounded by trees and hedges and there they were, a flock of around 50 tree sparrows, noisey but skulking in the vegetation and regularly flying around - very nice to see as I rarely see them and have never seen them here in Devon.

 Tree Sparrow

 Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrows

Also seen with them were blue tits, great tits, chaffinch, goldfinch, a male yellowhammer, redpoll and at least 3 bramblings, while in the nearby fields there were lots of pheasents and red legged partridges.

Male Brambling

I then headed off towards the pig farm, walking along the road in a flat and open landscape. Nearing the farm and I could see lots of large gulls roosting amongst the pigs but I made the mistake of stopping to scan them with my binoculars and they all took to the air. Fortunately they quickly settled again but further away and so I headed to a small wood by the road where I would be less obvious and this time the gulls didn't take flight again as I stopped to look at them. Scanning through them and I instantly found what I was looking for - a smart 1st winter Caspian gull, its white head and underparts standing out like a beacon amongst the herring, lesser black backed and black headed gulls and a life tick for me too.

1st Winter Caspian Gull - top right

As I watched it a nearby shooting party began blasting pheasents and red legged partridges out of the sky and all the gulls took to the air again. I watched the Caspian gull fly off and noted its white rump and black tail band before it landed again nearer to where I was standing. I then had some good views of it before a tractor came rattling along the road putting up all the gulls again and off it flew, never to be seen again, but I was very pleased to have seen it.

 1st Winter Caspian Gull - top left

 Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull

After all the gull and sparrow and finch excitement the rest of the trip was uneventful and so it was off to Cologne for a few days on Monday 30th to eat and drink too much on the Christmas markets. Birdwise it was quiet but I did see collared dove, woodpigeon, feral pigeon, magpie, carrion crow, greenfinch, blackbird, starling, blue tit, black headed gull, fieldfare and ring necked parakeet from the hotel room window, not bad for the centre of Cologne. I also saw buzzard, mute swan, Canada goose, coot and jackdaw on our train journeys and arriving back in the UK on Saturday 5th December I saw a single ring necked parakeet flying over the M4 on the drive back to Plymouth, a nice end to a busy week away.

 Cologne Christmas Market

 Aachen Cathedral

Aachen Cathedral