Sunday 27 November 2016

Desert Wheatear - Thurlestone, Devon

Back in November 2011 a desert wheatear spent a few days at Mansands in South Devon and I didn't get to see it - Mansands is a pain to get to with no public transport options and although David offered to take me on the Sunday when it was present I declined as I wasn't in the mood to put up with a load of twitchers.

And so the recent news of a desert wheatear at Thurlestone piqued my interest although initially sightings proved to be erratic and it was quite elusive before finally giving itself up and showing daily on Thurlestone beach. Work, weather and transport issues meant I wasn't able to get out to see it until November 25th but I wasn't disappointed as I got some amazing views of the bird.

I headed off to Kingsbridge on the early bus at 07:25 hrs and it was a little fraught - it left Plymouth late, the traffic was horrendous and the driver was extremely nervous and hesitant and we ended up arriving in Kingsbridge 15 minutes late resulting in me only just catching the connecting bus to Hope Cove.

Arriving at Hope Cove and the sun was shining but there was a bitingly cold wind as I headed off along the clifftops towards Thurlestone, seeing a female sparrowhawk and a raven along the way. A quick look at South Huish Marsh turned up a pair of wigeon amongst the teal and mallard before I continued on my way, deciding to walk along the beach instead of the cliff path. This was a foolish mistake as I had to clamber across rocks which resulted in me slipping, falling over and getting wet feet and a very bruised finger - I never learn.

Eventually arriving at the beach I found a birder-photographer laying down on the sand and pointing a massive camera at something and a quick scan found the desert wheatear quietly feeding very close by on the sand, a life tick for me ( my 7th of the year).

Desert Wheatear - Ridiculously Close

I found a small piece of rock to sit on at the top of the beach and sat quietly to watch the bird which at times came within a few feet of me and for the next 2 hours was totally absorbed by it - a very beautiful and charismatic bird indeed as it swooped low across the beach or high up into the air to chase after insects or poked around in the sand.

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear - beautiful buffy orange plumage tones

Desert Wheatear - buffy off-white rump with black tail end

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear - looking gorgeous

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear - wishing it was at home in Africa

A few gannets, 3 common scoter flying east and a small flock of wigeon resting on the sea with a few teal were also seen during quick scans offshore during the short periods the wheatear would disappear from sight but eventually it was time to leave for the walk back to Hope Cove.

It was difficult to tear myself away as I could have watched the desert wheatear all day, the views were amazing as it was so tame and unfazed by the birders nearby watching it.

Desert Wheatear - better view of rump and tail

Desert Wheatear - looking very pale in this light

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Another quick look at South Huish Marsh on the walk back added a lapwing, a redshank and 2 dunlin to the days bird list along with a white farmyard goose amongst the Canada geese, a grey heron, a little egret and a pair of stonechat. 

I then met David at Hope Cove for a warm up and some lunch in The Cove cafe before the drive home to Plymouth via a quick look around Kingsbridge - what a very enjoyable day out indeed.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Another Spoonbill - Dawlish Warren, Devon

Since my trip to Hayle on October 30th to see the Franklin's gull I haven't done any real wildlife watching - work, weather, other commitments and a general feeling of pissed-offness and can't-be-arsed-ness have prevented me from getting out. Father-in-law is now at a rehab unit following his surgery for his broken leg but doesn't seem to be getting anywhere fast and mother-in-law goes in for a hip replacement in the next week so God only knows what we are going to do with the pair of them! A stinking cold hasn't helped matters either and moving the caravan from the camp site at Bude to a nearby storage site was quite frankly a disaster on a wet and cold and muddy day with the caravan wheel falling off on the journey (I kid you not!) and David leaving his trolley jack by the roadside (a 21st birthday present many years ago). At least sister-in-law is doing well following her stem cell transplant and is now at home recovering, early days but things are going well and at least going to work is no longer as difficult for me now that she is no longer a patient there.

I had been tempted to return to Hayle as there had been quite a few good birds found there with all those birder eyes looking for the Franklin's gull - another spoonbill, black redstart, pink footed goose, cattle egret, green winged teal and American golden plover - but even these goodies couldn't tempt me off the settee.

But with the day off to myself on Sunday 20th November and a sunny but cold day following overnight gales and rain I decided to head off to Dawlish Warren for the day, only £7.40 return on the train, a complete bargain. I really didn't fancy going but forced myself to and I was glad I did as it was an enjoyable day out and good for my blue mood.

At Langstone Rock a mass of gulls were feeding in the surf and along the beach on starfish and mussels washed up by the overnight gales - I had a good scan through the herring and black headed gulls for the elusive Bonaparte's gull which has returned again for the winter but with no luck although I did find a smart adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gull and a few great black backed gulls amongst the throng.

Herring Gull - looking like it's about to yak up after swallowing a large starfish

Heading off to The Bight on the high tide and a flock of common scoter were strung out on the water offshore, around 150 birds and all busily diving for food. A great northern diver and 2 great crested grebes were also seen and I had a distant and heat hazy view of what I think was a long tailed duck flying low over the waves before splashing down amongst the scoters and being lost from sight.

In The Bight were the usual waders roosting on the high tide - curlew, oystercatcher, grey plover, knot, dunlin, ringed plover, turnstone and sanderling - along with shelduck, wigeon, cormorant, shag and brent geese. A female goldeneye, red breasted mergansers and a great crested grebe were also busily diving along the river.

 Brent Geese in The Bight

Brent Goose

A nice surprise was an immature spoonbill roosting amongst the cormorants and shags - my 5th sighting of the year but only my 2nd for Dawlish Warren. As usual it stayed resolutely asleep, occasional waking for a 5 second preen before returning to its one legged slumbers.

 Sleeping Spoonbill - between the shags and cormorants on the left and gulls on the right

Sleeping Spoonbill - above the flapping mute swan

Walking back along the coast to the train station at Dawlish  I had a quick look at the black swans along the river and was surprised to see 3 very small cygnets with 3 adults.

Black Swan with cygnets - Dawlish

And so a nice day out and mildly restorative, I really hope my mood lifts soon.