Friday 30 September 2016

Shrike Two! - Lesser Grey Shrike, Plymouth

After seeing the red backed shrike at Chelson Meadow in June of this year I wasn't expecting to see another shrike in Plymouth for some time but on checking the web pages on Monday 19th September before leaving work at 8pm (no internet access at home at the moment) I was surprised to see that a lesser grey shrike had been found at Jennycliff in Plymouth - what!!!!!

I was back at work the next morning and with shrikes often being one day wonders (as the red backed shrike was) I wasn't hopeful of seeing it but on checking the sightings pages at work that morning it had been seen again and so I managed to leave work a few minutes early at 15:15 and headed off to try and see it. The bus home was painfully slow and stopped at every bus stop between Derriford Hospital and North Hill but I managed to catch the 16:15 ferry from The Barbican to Mount Batten and headed off along the coast path towards Jennycliff.

I met some birders in the car park below the tower at Mountbatten who informed me that the shrike had just flown off from the bushes in front of them but carrying on along the coastpath towards Jennycliff I soon found the shrike perched on top of a bush being admired by a gaggle (?) of birders. It showed very well, occassionally swooping down to snatch crickets from the nearby vegetation before returning to the top of the bush. It was a very smart looking bird with some white speckling on its black forehead and very nice to watch before a flyover sparrowhawk spooked it and it flew off, never to be seen again.

 Lesser Grey Shrike, Jennycliff

 Lesser Grey Shrike, Jennycliff

  Lesser Grey Shrike, Jennycliff

Lesser Grey Shrike, Jennycliff

It was surprisingly still present on the Wednesday and again on the Thursday and so I had another look for it after work on the Thursday but with no luck. With Friday off work I headed over to Jennycliff again in the morning and eventually found the shrike being admired by another gaggle (?) of birders further along the coast path towards Jennycliff than on the 20th. It was preening on top of a bush before continuing to decimate the local cricket population and eventually moved further down the cliffside but I had gotten some much better and closer views than on my previous visit.

Lesser Grey Shrike, Jennycliff

Lesser Grey Shrike, Jennycliff

A lovely bird, interesting to watch, a very nice surprise so close to home and my 5th shrike species in Devon. Also a lifer for me and it wasn't too twitchy although as usual there were quite a few birders with massive telescopes and even larger camera lenses who had to get as close to the bird as possible.

Also seen on my 3 visits to Jennycliff were a kestrel, an adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gull, a noisy adult and a noisy juvenile Sandwich tern, 2 ravens, a singing chiffchaff, a swallow, red admirals and speckled woods. Best of all though was a firecrest feeding in a row of small pines near the Mountbatten pub, a nice surprise as it fed amongst the branches having given itself away by its calls.
 Firecrest, Mount Batten

 Firecrest, Mount Batten

Tuesday 27 September 2016

September Round Up

I took trips out to Wembury on September 13th and 15th and saw a nice selection of migrants on what were warm and sunny days. The highlight and surprise on the 13th was a great northern diver flying west offshore. It was flying quite high and at a distance and briefly with a cormorant and for a few seconds I was puzzled as to what it was. The highlight and less of a surprise on the 15th were 3 whinchats together in the sewage farm hedge - I usually see 1 bird every autumn so 3 together was unusual. A ringed plover and 2 bar tailed godwits with oystercatchers on the rocks at high tide, a juvenile wheatear along the beach, swallows overhead heading east, chiffchaffs calling in the bushes and a whitethroat at the Point were all notable and a clouded yellow butterfly flitting past briefly was only my 2nd of the year. Also on a brief stop at Blagdons Meadow on the way home on September 13th I eventually found a few Autumn ladies tresses amongst the grass but they were mostly gone over.

 Kestrel, Wembury

 Dark Bush Cricket, Wembury

 Small White, Wembury

 Shield Bug, Wembury

 Autumn Ladies Tresses, Blagdons Meadow

 Two of the Three Whinchats, Wembury

 'Shiny' Bug, Wembury

Bar-tailed Godwits with Oystercatchers, Wembury

A trip to the beach at Cawsands on the 14th on a hot and sunny day was a bonus with 3 Sandwich terns seen fishing offshore (2 adults and a juvenile) - they were very noisy with the adults calling over the juvenile when they caught a fish but also attracting the attentions of nearby herring and great black backed gulls. A brief view of a winter plumaged Mediterranean gull flying by was later improved with good views of a bird on the slipway at Cremyll as we waited for the ferry back to Plymouth.

 Mediterranean Gull, Cremyll

 Mediterranean Gull, Cremyll

Mediterranean Gull, Cremyll

Sunday 18th and I headed off to Topsham for the day with the hope of getting some good views of ospreys with 7+ birds having been present recently. I wasn't disappointed with an excellent view of a bird soaring overhead at the viewing platform before drifting off towards Exminster while a second bird was fishing along the Exe near Riversmeet House - the only trouble was where to look first!

Also seen from the viewing platform were a Sandwich tern, a chiffchaff and a roving party of long tailed tits and from the hide at Bowling Green Marsh a common sandpiper was the highlight amongst the usual birds - black tailed godwit, teal, pintail, wigeon, redshank and curlew, etc.

A look from the screens overlooking Goosemoor and at least 25 noisy and mobile greenshanks were flying about while 5 juvenile ruff were much harder to see as they fed in the long grass before flying down to the mud to bathe and preen - 3 females and 2 larger males.

 Greenshank, Goosemoor

4 of the 5 Ruff at Goosemoor with Curlew

Mothing in the back yard hasn't been overly exciting with lots of wasps still being trapped (no more stings though), single large ranunculus and a very nice L-album wainscot, my first sighting in the back yard for 4 years.

L-Album Wainscot, Back Yard

Saturday 10 September 2016

The Wrong Sandpiper

September 8th and it was time to head off to Perranporth for our usual autumn trip. It was sunny but breezey and on arriving at The Watering Hole on the beach the black clouds rolled in and it began to rain! It soon passed and we were able to enjoy our cooked breakfasts outside overlooking the beach and with the sand between our toes as per usual.

Perranporth Beach - Gorgeous!

A great day out and with the sun not disappearing behind the clouds until we left for home at around 4pm and with some nice wildlife sightings as well.

A male stonechat, a hovering kestrel and rock pipits were seen along the cliffs while offshore a single fulmar and gannets were seen all heading south. The stream held the usual trout but there were more of them than I have ever seen before although most were a little on the small size.



Along the beach were the usual roosting gulls - herring, black headed and lesser black backed - but there was no sign of any Mediterraneans. A juvenile gull posed a few ID headaches - I think it is a pale and advanced juvenile LBBGull but it doesn't look quite right, I thought it might be a weedy YLGull with a weak bill but it doesn't look quite right for that either.

 Juvenile LBBG looking a bit YLGully




A lone dunlin was seen flying along the beach and later some walkers disturbed a small flock of waders hunkered down in the sand - I watched them fly away, noting 2 sanderlings and a ringed plover amongst the dunlins but they were soon gone and lost from sight.

A lovely day as usual despite the stiff breeze and getting mugged for £30+ at Waitrose on the way home!

September 9th and we headed off to Siblyback Reservoir for a walk on a grey and overcast and very windy day. The water levels in the reservoir were low, a shock after only having visited the reservoir in winter when it has been full to the brim. There was lots of muddy shore on show but despite searching I couldn't find the reported buff breasted sandpiper or pectoral sandpiper although I did see 2 very tame ringed plovers and a common sandpiper.

 Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover

We then headed off to the National Trust estate at Cotehele for lunch and a look around the gardens and orchards. The orchards were very interesting with the trees in the old orchard looking beautifully gnarled and lichened and the trees in the new orchard growing well and filling out. The windy weather was causing apples to fall off the trees and so we tasted a few that we watched fall to the ground and they were very tasty. 

Mistletoe on Apple Tree

A few red admirals and wasps were feeding on some of the rotten fruit on the ground and I also saw a small white feeding on flowers and a speckled wood, and around the pond were at least 2 male southern hawkers with a third male seen trapped in the roof of the barn in the new apple orchard.

 Red Admiral

 Southern Hawker - male

 Southern Hawker - male

Pond Reflections

 Small White

 Small White

 Small White

Small White

Heading home and the clouds were becoming increasingly dark and rain filled looking but it had been a nice day out despite being mugged for £30+ in Waitrose again on the way home!

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Sandpiper Deja vu

A walk around Stoke Point on September 1st after finishing night shifts was very pleasent in the warm, hazy sunshine and high cloud. No yellow wagtails but I did see 2 wheatear, stonechats, a male yellowhammer, cirl buntings, 2 kestrel, 2 buzzards, a raven, swallows, house martins and gannets.


No clouded yellows either but I did see small tortoiseshell, red admiral, painted lady, large white, common blue, holly blue, meadow brown, small white and speckled wood. A rose chafer was also seen buzzing around ivy flowers, looking resplendently metallic green in the sunshine, and it was nice to see Autumn squill growing on the usual footpath bankside in numbers I haven't seen before.

 Meadow Brown - mating pair

 Grass Veneer Sp.

Autumn Squill

I had the mothbox out in the backyard that night and the next morning had a nice selection of moths but no large ranunculus. There were 30+ large yellow underwings neurotically flapping around in the trap and disturbing everything else, the first big count for the backyard this year, along with 5 Vines rustic and lots of wasps. I had been very careful around the wasps as I am allergic to their stings but after putting the trap away and looking at the moths I had potted up I was stung on the left boob, a crafty wasp had climbed into my clothes and given me a nasty sting. I immediately took some anti-histamine and some brufen but it soon became red, swollen, itchy and very painful and has taken a few days now to improve but hasn't been as bad as the last time I was stung as a kid.

Sunday 4th September and we had a walk along the coastpath at Thurlestone on a overcast and breezey but warm day. The maintenance work at South Huish Marsh has been completed and the pools were nicely filled from the recent rain but they were also totally waderless. It was also good to see the footpath has been moved and no longer weaves around the hedge of the grassy field where the cliff collapsed a few years ago and now provides a much more easier and scenic path for walkers.

The field by the car park overlooking the marsh held the most interest with 2 wheatears and around 10 yellow wagtails feeding with pied/alba wagtails, linnets, starlings and meadow pipits. The yellow wagtails were very nervous and flighty and difficult to keep track off as they regularly flew around and disappeared amongst the tufty grass but I reckon there were at least 10 birds with 3 seen on the ground and 3 in the air at one point. A whitethroat, a chiffchaff, stonechats and a whinchat were also seen feeding along the barbed wire fence of a sheltered field edge.

 Yellow Wagtail with Starlings - record shot

 Yellow Wagtail - record shot

Whinchat - record shot

The toilet block at Thurlestone golf course actually had some moths inside - 7 snout, 2 double striped pugs, a square spot rustic, a small bloodvein and a Mullein wave - but unfortunately I had no pots with me so couldn't catch them to release outside.

 Mullein Wave

Small Bloodvein

Monday 5th September and a day to myself saw me heading off to Bowling Green Marsh again on a warm and humid and cloudy day, arriving at the hide and finding a seat this time at around 09:15hrs. The tide was high and I quickly found a spotted redshank roosting amongst the redshank, curlew, black tailed godwit and dunlin. Even better was spotting my target bird, an osprey, circling over the River Clyst before heading off up the Exe and out of view. A fellow birder found the long staying wood sandpiper feeding along the shoreline amongst a large roost of black headed gulls but it disappeared behind some vegetation and was never seen again. A green sandpiper also repeated last weeks views as it flew up from vegetation along the river channel in front of the hide where it had been feeding unobserved and disappearing off towards Goosemoor.

I headed off to the viewing platform to look for the osprey but the only bird on show at the high tide was a wheatear on the garden wall of Riversmeet House. I carried on to the Goatwalk and a brief scan found the osprey low over the water near Turf Locks, it vigourously shook itself in mid air before gaining height as it carried off a large fish it had just caught and which I had just missed seeing. It continued to gain height as it arched around before dropping down into trees at Turf and out of sight.

Black Tailed Godwits off The Goatwalk

Back at the hide and 2 yellow wagtails dropped in briefly before flying off again towards Exminster Marsh and I had some brief views of a curlew sandpiper amongst the roosting waders before birds began flying off towards the River Clyst on the receding tide. Heading back to the viewing platform and I found 2 curlew sandpipers feeding on the mudflats amongst the dunlins.

After a spot of lunch in Topsham I headed down to the recreation ground to look for yellow legged gulls with a juvenile having been seen there the previous day but I was out of luck (see for some great photos). While torturing myself scanning through variously aged herring, great black backed, lesser black backed and black headed gulls I found a winter plumaged Mediterranean gull, a kingfisher, a cormorant catching small eels, 2 flyover yellow wagtails and a common sandpiper preening on the pebbley shore. It was soon time to head off home on the train but it had been another Exe-cellent day out at Topsham and another 4 sandpiper day.

 Mediterranean Gull with Black Headed Gulls

Gulls at Topsham Rec.

That night I had the moth box out in the backyard again and in the morning I had a large ranunculus at last along with over 40 large yellow underwings, a copper underwing, a male four spotted footman and a willow beauty amongst others. Lots of wasps again but this time I didn't get stung!

 Four Spotted Footman - male

 Large Ranunculus

Large Ranunculus