Sunday 31 December 2017

Swans and Stints at the Years End

After a crappy couple of weeks at work including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I felt in need of a Christmas treat and decided a visit to the WWT reserve at Slimbridge was in order. I had a look at the train times and prices and almost changed my mind - £78 return for the train ticket plus taxis and entrance fee on top! After I had gotten over the shock I had a look on the Tickety Split website and managed to whittle down the cost of the train fare to £38.50 travelling on exactly the same trains but having to buy 3 separate tickets - Plymouth to Taunton return, Taunton to Bristol return and Bristol to Cam and Dursley return - how utterly ridiculous.

The journey to Slimbridge went seamlessly with no hitches and I arrived at the ticket office at Slimbridge at 10:30am. It was a cloudy and breezy day with occasional sunny spells but it wasn't too cold and I decided to start off at the Rushy Pen where I immediately found a few Bewick's swans loafing around including 2 juveniles.

Bewick's Swans, Rushy Pen

Onwards towards the Holden Tower and from the hides the Tack Piece was well flooded and covered in birds - wigeon, teal, pintail, shoveler, mallard, mute swan, Bewick's swan, curlew, lapwing, golden plover, redshank, tufted duck, dunlin, Canada goose, greylag goose and shelduck all busily feeding away until a peregrine dashed in like a rocket putting everything up. Eventually the birds resettled and I managed to find 7 ruff, 16 white fronted geese and 2 little stints amongst the flocks with a distant view of a common crane feeding in fields behind a hedge - I was very pleased to see the little stints after missing out in the autumn and it was strange to see them in December but there have often been wintering birds at Slimbridge in recent years (I saw 2 birds here in January 2015).

Ruff with Redshank, Lapwing and Shelduck, Tack Piece

Little Stints with Curlew




Greylag Goose with White Fronted Goose

Greylag Geese with White Fronted Goose

Greylag Geese with White Fronted Goose

Greylag Goose with White Fronted Goose

White Fronted Goose

White Fronted Goose

Greylag Geese with White Fronted Goose

Greylag Geese with White Fronted Goose

A look from the South Finger hides and Zeiss Hide added 2 buzzards overhead, 7 snipe roosting amongst the large number of lapwings and golden plovers out in the fields and a feeding flock of barnacle geese out on The Dumbles to the days list along with a pair of brown rats looking very well fed as they scavenged below the bird feeders in the bushes.

Before catching my taxi back to Cam and Dursley railway station I had a final look at the birds on the Rushy Pen before leaving and I enjoyed watching the Bewick's swans feeding and demonstrating with each including a ringed male bird that is 17 years old called By Brook.

Lapwing, Rushy Pen

Bewick's Swan


Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan and Coot

Bewick's Swans

Bewick's Swans

Bewick's Swan



By Brook the Bewick's Swan

By Brook - WWT Data Screen

Unfortunately the return journey wasn't so smooth with my train from Cam and Dursley to Bristol being delayed. Annoyingly I watched the train I was meant to catch from Bristol to Plymouth whizz through Cam and Dursley station on its way to Bristol with my late train eventually arriving behind it instead of before it. I then had an hours wait at Bristol for the next train to Plymouth, most annoying as I could have spent another hour at Slimbridge but never mind, it had still been a great day out and my final year list total is now an impressive 208.

Monday 25 December 2017

Happy Christmas!

It's Christmas time again, where has this year gone? Not my favourite time of year either I must confess.

Our Christmas Tree 

Another year older (unfortunately), another year wiser (not) - 2017 has certainly been another challenging year professionally and personally but again Mother Nature has been a constant prescence and has soothed my soul and eased my way through difficult times.

Plenty of bird highlights this year :- Baird's sandpiper at Marazion and red breasted flycatcher at Rame were the only life ticks for me but glossy ibis, green winged teal, desert wheatear, Eastern black redstart, great white egret, lesser scaup, Bonaparte's gull, roseate tern, Caspian gull, cattle egret, white winged black tern, surf scoter, hawfinch, waxwing, wryneck, great grey shrike and red necked phalarope amongst others made up a good range of scarce and rare birds.

Good numbers of butterflies were seen along with 3 lifers - chalkhill blue, swallowtail and Lulworth skipper - with heath fritillary, grayling, small blue, clouded yellow and dark green fritillary also being butterfly highlights. Moths again were poorly represented due to very few moth box sessions but a Ni moth at Wembury was a highlight and I had a great morning at a charity moth event on Dartmoor with my mate Mavis.

Plenty of cetacean sightings this year around the Devon and Cornwall coast - common dolphin and harbour porpoise - but the undoubted highlight was the hump backed whale at Slapton beach, a surreal experience and again a lifer for me.

Foreign trips provided some great wildlife sightings, notably Singapore for birds and Hong Kong for cetaceans with some lovely views of the pink, Indo Pacific humpback dolphins. I even managed a pelagic trip off Brixham which was a great experience and I had a fantastic ferry crossing from Roscoff to Plymouth with some great sea bird and cetacean sightings following overnight strong winds and heavy rain.

And so to 2018? I will be getting myself a Swarovski telescope at last, my little Nikon travel scope is great but limited and its time to upgrade to something more powerful and versatile (if a little larger and heavier). More butterfly trips are planned along with more pelagic trips and next year I think I will concentrate less on a year list and more on scarce and rare birds. Lets hope it's a good one - Happy New Year!

Sunday 24 December 2017

Dawlish Warren, Saturday December 23rd 2017

With a wildlife feeding frenzy having occured off Dawlish Warren on Friday 22nd December while I was having a particularly shite day at work I decided I needed some recovery time and so headed out to have a look around the next day. I felt knackered and cranky and it was dark and murky and mizzly on leaving the house but the train journey went smoothly and by the time I arrived at The Warren it was clear and dry but cloudy.

I walked over to the sea wall for a scan to be met with a sea full of birds - great northern divers, razorbills, great crested grebes, red throated divers, shags, gannets and gulls everywhere! The birds were mobile and active, diving and flying around and resting on the sea and difficult to count but there must have been 300+ gannets and 90+ great crested grebes present and I counted 7 red throated divers together with more also being present.

Onwards to The Bight and along the way a male cirl bunting was singing in a tree and a pair of bullfinch were feeding in the bushes, the male looking particularly stunning in the bright sunshine which had burst out from behind the clouds and raised the temperature to a very spring like level.

Male Cirl Bunting

In The Bight the usual birds were roosting at high tide - redshank, curlew, oystercatcher, dunlin, turnstone, knot, grey plover, bar tailed godwit, wigeon, shelduck, brent goose, cormorant and gulls - while offshore at the estuary mouth were 3 great northern divers busily diving and bringing crabs up to the surface to munch on.

Brent Geese on The Golf Course

Back towards the main pond and a birding group had found a firecrest in the bushes which gave some brief views before flying off out of sight and on the main pond a pair of mallard, a pair of shoveler, a little grebe and a moorhen were found along with a Jack snipe in the same spot I saw one back in March this year, presumably the same returning bird and still extremely difficult to find amongst the reeds and easily overlooked.

Male Shoveler

 Dawlish Warren - Main Pond

 Jack Snipe in the Reeds

Jack Snipe - Zoomed In

Back to the sea wall and the birds had moved further out offshore but there was still plenty of birds to see including guillemots and a distant dark skua species which barrelled into a group of feeding gannets and which I annoyingly lost sight of as I switched from binoculars to telescope (both Arctic and pomarine were reported that morning). Common dolphins were also seen, a little distant but showing well at the surface as they slowly moved south, and I also had 2 brief views of a harbour porpoise.

Onwards to Dawlish along the coast path and while waiting for the train I scanned the sea from the railway platform and had some close and good views of both great northern- and red throated divers along with a few kittiwakes. More common dolphins were also seen, some quite close to the beach and all swimming around quite languidly.

The train journey home wasn't so great with delays and cancelled trains and I ended up waiting at Newton Abbot station for an hour and a half, if I had known I would have stayed longer at Dawlish but never mind, it had still been a lovely day out.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Surf Scoters at Porthpean, Cornwall

With a beautiful day forecast for Monday 18th December I decided to head down to Porthpean near St.Austell on the train and things were back to normal - the train was late and packed full. At least the weather was as forecast with blue sky and sunshine and not a hint of any breeze.

I have visited Portpean once before back in March 2013 on what was a mizzly and misty day and I failed to find the red necked grebe and surf scoter being reported from there, not helped by the poor visibility over the sea. I also got lost on the walk from St.Austell railway station to Porthpean but this time I was better prepared (thank you Google Maps!) and I duly arrived at Porthpean beach at 11:15 with no navigation issues. I was met with a calm flat sea and excellent visibility but the light was harsh and the suns position meant viewing the sea was very difficult and so I headed south along a very muddy coast path to a better vantage point where the sun was behind me and I began to scan across the water with my telescope.

Porthpean Beach, Cornwall

There were plenty of birds across the bay including a large number of noisy fulmars flying around and sat on the sea along with shag, cormorant and gulls (herring, common, black headed, lesser black backed and great black backed) and amongst them were 2 black necked grebe, a long tailed duck, 6 female common scoter, 10+ great northern diver and an immature male and a female surf scoter - result!

The great northern divers were mostly distant and constantly diving and therefore difficult to keep track of but the grebes and ducks were much closer in and easier to view despite constantly diving too. The surf scoters showed very well together, keeping seperate from the common scoters and regularly chasing off a black necked grebe which kept getting too close. The immature male had a noticeable pale eye, almost black plumage and a pale bill especially on the left side and with a hint of white nape feathering when preening, and it was good to compare the female surf scoter with the nearby common scoters - certainly the best surf scoter views I have ever had and nice to see 2 together.

Other birds of note were 2 buzzard and 2 raven overhead, a goldcrest in the coast path hedgerow, a grey heron being mobbed by gulls as it flew across the bay and a great spotted woodpecker flying between trees in the village gardens.

There was no sign of the reported red necked grebe (again) nor the reported black throated divers and pomarine skua but it had been a very enjoyable few hours away from the building Christmas frenzy.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Another Yellow Legged Gull at Dawlish, 13th December 2017

After Sundays aborted attempt I decided to head out to Dawlish Warren again on the train for a look around - and what a difference! All my trains ran on time, there were hardly any passengers on them and it still only cost me £7.60 return as I caught the 09:48 train, the first train out of Plymouth after 9am. The weather forecast wasn't great - cold, very breezy and showery - but I headed out anyway for a short walk and despite the odd heavy shower it wasn't too bad.

I alighted at Dawlish and after a quick look at the stream heading down to the beach where I saw a grey wagtail and a pair of black swans with 3 fluffy cygnets I walked off along the coast path to Dawlish Warren. Scanning the sea along the way I managed to find 3 male common scoter diving quite close in to the beach with at least 12 great crested grebes across the Bay and numerous gannets moving around further offshore.

Black Swan with Cygnets, Dawlish

From the lifeguard hut on the seawall at The Warren I managed to find a red throated diver offshore, a bird I hoped to see after my very brief view of one at The Warren back in October. It was a little distant and after a few minutes it dived and despite searching I couldn't refind it. At least 8 great crested grebes were also present but they were flighty and mobile at times, and gannets were still moving around offshore with a few quite close in.

I headed off along the dune ridge towards the hide but got caught in a heavy and blustery shower and so I remained on the ridge in the shelter of the dunes and viewed The Bight from there where brent geese, curlew, redshank, dunlin, a ringed plover, 2 knot, grey plover, oystercatcher, turnstone, shelduck, wigeon, a pair of mallard and a flyover greenshank were seen.

Rainbow over Dawlish Warren Golf Course

Heading back to the Main Pond and a female stonechat was feeding from the bramble tops despite the wind and on the pond a nice male shoveler with 3 females and a little grebe were noted.


I had another quick look offshore from the lifeguard hut but I failed to refind the red throated diver again, however a nice purple sandpiper flying by was a nice compensation.

Walking back to Dawlish along the coast path and I picked up a red throated diver flying in towards the beach before it landed on the sea and promptly dived due to the attentions of an over inquisitive passing gannet. I did manage to refind it at the surface but it didn't hang around for long before it flew back off towards Torbay. 2 guillemots and a common scoter were also picked up flying towards Torbay, an adult Mediterranean gull was feeding offshore with some herring gulls and I had a brief view of a distant great northern diver flapping its wings on the water before it dived and was lost from sight.

A dark backed gull roosting on the jetty amongst herring gulls caught my eye as I arrived at Dawlish, it stood out amongst the other gulls and I managed a few record shots before the flock was disturbed by walkers. My initial thought was an argentatus type herring gull but its head was very white looking in the strong sunshine and I thought there was a hint of red orbital rings despite the distant views - yet another yellow legged gull to add to the years sightings!

 Yellow Legged Gull , Dawlish

Yellow Legged Gull, Dawlish

Yellow Legged Gull, Dawlish

While eating my chips for lunch from the railway platform at Dawlish I noticed a group of gannets were circling around quite close to shore and searching underneath them revealed a pod of at least 5 harbour porpoise - they were very close to the beach and moved even closer, at one point showing just off the jetty before they moved away, but a nice end to my short day out.

Sunday 10 December 2017

A Trip to Germany and a Cornish Hawfinch

Despite having just returned from the Far East it was time to head off again to Heathrow Airport on December 2nd for a short break to Cologne in Germany courtesy of free flights with British Airways using our Avios points. I really just felt like spending a few quiet days at home but once we were on our way I soon got into the spirit of things and had a good time away. The drive up to Heathrow was uneventful with golden plover, lapwing, fieldfare and redwing seen in the fields by the A303 along the way in the continuing cold weather but there was no sign of any red kites (although I did see 2 birds on the drive back home to Plymouth on our return on December 6th).

Cologne was as lovely as always, the Christmas Markets were great and we ate and drank too much and spent a fortune but it was worth it. There were patches of snow on the ground and on rooftops when we arrived at Dusseldorf Airport but it soon disappeared in the light mizzle which was a shame. Not much in the way of wildlife was seen as expected on a short and city based break but I did see some birds including buzzard, pheasant, grey heron, starling and kestrel on our train journeys to and from Dusseldorf Airport and to and from Aachen, while in Cologne I saw sparrowhawk, Canada goose, common gull and cormorant amongst others. The highlight were the ring necked parakeets which noisily roosted in trees by the Christmas Market near Heumarkt every night, there must have been around 50 birds present with a lot of bird poop underneath the trees on the pavement. Each morning they noisily congregated in trees near our hotel, making flying sorties overhead in small noisy groups before dispersing which was great to watch (and hear) - love them or loathe them, they certainly caught the attention of people passing by.

 Aachen Cathedral Mosaic

 Aachen Cathedral Mosaic

 Aachen Cathedral Mosaic

Aachen Cathedral Mosaic

With 2 very busy days at work on our return I really needed a proper wildlife fix on Sunday 10th December and so I headed off to Plymouth railway station to catch the train to Dawlish on a sunny but cold and blustery morning. I had been awake and out of bed early but dillied and dallied and missed the first train of the day at 08:40 which I soon regretted as on arrival at the station it was packed with travellers, trains were delayed and (stinky) Crosscountry trains weren't running due to a strike. With my 10:09 train being increasingly delayed on the notice board I realised I would miss the connection at Newton Abbot to Dawlish and decided to abandon the trip -  I wasn't expecting to get my money back for the ticket but it was refunded without question which I was very pleased about. I wasn't sure what to do instead but with a hawfinch being reported the previous day at the China Fleet Club near Saltash I decided to head out there on the bus for a look around.

On arrival at the Club some birders were peering into the trees but there had been no sighting of the hawfinch. I was at least able to get a bit more information from them about where it had been seen the previous day and I left them to their search and walked over to the nearby putting green area for a look around where I did manage to get the briefest view of a hawfinch flying off between the trees - not the views I was hoping for but at least I had seen it, and only my second UK sighting of one.

I decided to walk on to the bird hide for a quick look as the tide was beginning to ebb with a plan to return to the putting green later for another look around. From the hide there was a nice selection of birds roosting on the saltmarsh - redshank, dunlin, curlew, black tailed godwit, lapwing and 7 avocets representing the waders, wigeon, shelduck and teal representing the ducks, lesser black backed and a great black backed gull amongst the herring and black headed gulls and a distant view of a nice glossy ibis roosting with little egrets on the river bank opposite the hide.

Glossy Ibis from the hide with Little Egrets (Honest!)

China Fleet Club Rainbow

Back to the putting green and there was no sign of the hawfinch and just as I was about to give up and go home I had a good flight view of one whizzing over the tree tops. It briefly landed in a tree before disappearing from sight but I was very pleased to get a better view. I decided to stay for a bit longer and I had a few more flight views as I walked around the area which were good but frustrating but eventually I found it feeding in trees with greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches where I managed to get some very good views despite the fading light - a very nice bird to see in what has been a bit of a hawfinch influx this autumn - and there may well have been more than one bird present.

 Hawfinch - record shot

Hawfinch - record shot

Hawfinch at China Fleet Club - courtesy of @ChrisBuckland6 Twitter

Other birds seen were goldcrest, 2 jays, a buzzard, long tailed tits, a little grebe with a female tufted duck on the lake with mallard and moorhen, a chiffchaff, a male bullfinch, redwings, song thrushes, blackbirds, robins and 3 mistle thrush.

And so not a bad day out despite the bumpy start.

Saturday 2 December 2017

Spoonbill, Yellow Legged Gull and Great White Egret at Hayle

Wednesday 29th November and despite still feeling crappy from jet lag and post holiday blues I caught the train down to Hayle for a days birding. It was cold with a biting north wind, sunny spells and occassional heavy showers when I arrived off the train at 9am and I headed off straight away to the Carnsew Pool where I quickly found the regular spoonbill, presumably the same juvenile bird that has been hanging around Hayle on and off for a couple of years now.

I walked onwards to the causeway bridge where a flock of around 400 golden plover were roosting on the mudflats, surprisingly my first of the year, but just as I set up my telescope to scan through them to look for the reported American golden plover amongst them they all took to the air and then circled around high overhead for around 20 minutes before resettling, a pattern they then followed throughout the morning, and despite looking through them each time they settled on the ground I failed to find their American cousin amongst them.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plovers and Lapwing

There were plenty of other birds to keep me occupied though - a greenshank. 14 turnstone, 21 bar tailed godwit, redshank, dunlin, lapwing, wigeon, greylag goose, oystercatcher, curlew and teal amongst others - and a brief dash past by a juvenile peregrine which spooked all the birds on the estuary may have been the continuing cause of the golden plover flocks nervousness.


I spent some time scanning through the bathing, preening and roosting gulls out on the mudflats but couldn't find the recently reported glaucous gull amongst the herring, black headed, lesser black backed and great black backed gulls present but I did find an adult Mediterranean gull in winter plumage and a very smart looking adult yellow legged gull with a Daz white head.

Yellow Legged Gull (Top Centre)

Yellow Legged Gull (Middle)

Yellow Legged Gull (Top right)

Yellow Legged Gull (Top)

Yellow Legged Gull (Left) with Lesser Black Back Gull (Centre) and Herring Gull (Right)

With the tide coming in I found the spoonbill roosting on Ryans Field where it gave some nice views and while watching the circling golden plover flock overhead in the hope they would also settle on Ryans Field I picked up a great white egret flying over heading east inland, my first Cornwall sighting of one and a complete surprise.



The golden plover flock eventually settled out of sight over on Lelant Saltings and with a heavy shower duly arriving I got soaked as I headed back to the railway station to catch the train back to Plymouth but it had been a very enjoyable morning despite the American golden plover dip.