Monday 22 January 2018

Gull Fest in Cornwall

Saturday 20th January and it was time for my usual New Years trip down to Penzance in Cornwall for a days birding. I was awake at 5am and so decided to get up and catch the 6:28 train instead of the 8:18 train as originally planned - the train fare would be the same and it would give me more time birding.

Arriving in Penzance on a Crosscountry train (smelly as per usual but with excellent conductors as always) and it was just getting light on a grey and claggy morning. I had a quick look off the sea wall by the railway station but couldn't find anything more than a few gannets offshore in the gloom and so I headed off to the Jubilee Pool just as the infamous Westcountry mizzle-drizzle arrived and which stuck around all morning.

From the promenade by the pool there were 26 purple sandpipers roosting on the rocks at high tide with the turnstones while offshore were 5 great northern divers, a few guillemots and 2 grey seals poking their heads out of the water.

Purple Sandpipers, Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Purple Sandpiper, Jubilee Pool

Onwards towards Newlyn and a brent goose just off the beach with 3 juvenile mute swans was a surprise.

Brent Goose, Wherrytown Beach, Penzance

Arriving at Newlyn fish quay and I immediately found a first winter glaucous gull roosting on the roof with herring gulls, very pale and almost glowing like a beacon in the gloomy light. Part of the fish quay was closed off for building work but by the time I had walked around the outside of the buildings to get a better look at it it had flown off! A nice compensation was an adult Iceland gull bobbing around on the water amongst the boats before flying up onto the fish quay roof and eventually I refound the glaucous gull roosting on the roof of another nearby building - the first time I have seen both species together in the UK.

Adult Iceland Gull, Newlyn

1st Winter Glaucous Gull, Newlyn

Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls, Newlyn

Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

The usual turnstones were running around the quayside and out on the harbour water were a few shag and a razorbill.

Turnstone, Newlyn

Razorbill, Newlyn

I had a scan from the harbour wall and picked up a few more gannets flying around offshore and 4 kittiwakes (2 adult and 2 juveniles) resting on the water. A trawler dropped anchor close to the harbour entrance and attracted a melee of gulls including what at first I thought was another first winter glaucous gull, being a digestive biscuit brown colour with pale wing tips and having a black tipped pink bill but the bill was weedy and it was quite small looking against the nearby herring gulls - a presumed herring x glaucous hybrid. Later I refound it on the fish quay roof with the glaucous gull where it looked tiny in comparison.

Herring x Glaucous Gull?

Walking back towards the train station and I had planned to have a quick look around Morrhab Gardens where firecrests and yellow browed warblers have been reported but I mistakenly ended up in nearby Penlee Park instead which was firecrest and warbler free but I did see a few redwings, a coal tit, a nuthatch and a party of long tailed tits.

Back at the railway station and I had a quick look offshore again from the sea wall where I picked up a few gannet, some distant auks and great northern divers offshore and the resident male eider diving at the harbour entrance. I also picked up a juvenile white winged gull flying west offshore heading towards Newlyn, a paler bird then the hybrid seen earlier and with pale wing tips but looking small and not quite right and so presumably another hybrid bird.

I caught the train to St.Erth and walked down to the causeway overlooking the Hayle Estuary where the weather worsened and it became very windy and showery, the conditions not helped by being out on the exposed estuary. There were masses of gulls roosting on the mudflats on the low tide and I picked out herring, black headed, lesser black backed and great black backed gulls but nothing more unusual.

There were plenty of waders and ducks around - lapwing, golden plover, dunlin, redshank, bar tailed godwit, a lone black tailed godwit, curlew, a greenshank, oystercatcher, grey plover, ringed plover, wigeon, shelduck, teal and a redhead goosander - and rock pipits were flitting about on the rocks below the bridge.

Teal, Hayle Estuary

Teal, Hayle Estuary

I walked on to the Carnsew Pool where an adult Mediterranean gull was roosting with some black headed gulls and an adult kittiwake flew over the water but there was no sign of the resident spoonbill and so I walked around to Copperhouse Creek which was spoonbill-less too (but I did get a pasty from Philps for lunch along the way which was delicious). Back at the Carnsew Pool there was still no sign of the spoonbill and so I headed back to the causeway bridge where I eventually found it feeding along the main river channel and being buzzed at times by adult herring gulls. The golden plover flock of around 200 birds had disappeared but the lapwings were still present and very flighty and nervous and my plan to look for yellow legged gulls amongst the gull flocks went out of the window when a particularly heavy shower arrived and so I walked back to St.Erth to catch the train back to Plymouth. Annoyingly there was engineering work being done on the railway track between Plymouth and Exeter and so an amended timetable was in operation which I hadn't realised and just as I arrived at the station a nice GWR train was pulling out which I could have caught if I had known. And so I ended up catching the 15:01 train as planned but it was a little GWR skipper train and as we arrived in Truro the sky cleared and the sun shone brightly but it remained very windy - typical but it didn't detract from an excellent days birding with 8 gull species on the days list.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Red Crested Pochard at Burrator

Thursday 11th January and a bright and sunny but cold morning saw us heading out for a walk around Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor, something we have been trying to do for a few weeks now but have constantly been thwarted from doing because of the bad weather.

It was surprisingly quiet despite the good weather with very few people about and there were no photographers in the top car park so I failed to see any marsh tits but there were good numbers of coal tits around including a group of around 10 feeding together on the ground beneath some pine trees. Siskins were vocal and mobile and flighty in the tree tops and redwings were feeding in the leaf litter but the highlight were a pair of crossbills flying over, giving themselves away with their glipping calls.

The water level in the reservoir was high but it wasn't flowing over the dam and on the water were a male and 4 redhead goosanders, 2 white farmyard geese, a cormorant and a female red crested pochard with mallards, presumably the bird that has been eluding me on the River Plym for the past few months and which has also presumably been the bird that has been occassionally reported at Portworthy Dam near Lee Moor on Dartmoor.

 Red Crested Pochard, Burrator Reservoir

Red Crested Pochard

Red Crested Pochard

Plans for a long overdue walk at Wembury on Saturday 13th January were shelved due to yet more bad weather but Monday 15th was mostly bright and breezey and so I headed out on the bus for a quick walk. As expected the footpath was a treacherous quagmire and I spent a lot of time and energy watching my footing and not the birdlife but I managed to keep upright for a change and didn't get too muddy.

Highlights on the walk were 10+ cirl buntings in the sewage farm hedgerow which were very skulky and flighty, 3 chiffchaffs together feeding in the dead reeds at the base of the cliffs near the sewage pipe, a pair of kestrels, a 1st winter common gull feeding in the wheatfield stubble with black headed gulls, 2 adult lesser black backed gulls roosting on the rocks amongst the herring gulls and great black backed gulls, fulmars wheeling around the Mewstone cliffs and 2 male bullfinch feeding on bramble seeds.

Bullfinch, Wembury

Along the beach there were rock pipits, meadow pipits and pied wagtails feeding on the seaweed masses and I had a very brief view of a water pipit flying down to the rocks before then flying off out of sight, most frustrating but I will just have to visit again soon for another look.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Hawfinches in Exeter, Devon

Wednesday 10th January and I decided to head to Exwick Cemetery in Exeter to look for hawfinches which have been showing here for a couple of weeks following the eruption into the UK from The Continent last autumn. It was a bright and sunny but chilly day with little breeze and the train journey to Exeter went smoothly with views from the train of fulmars flying around the cliffs near Teignmouth and Herbert the Slavonian grebe off Cockwood on the River Exe.

I arrived at the cemetery just before 11am and wandering around I managed to find a pair of great spotted woodpeckers, goldcrests, greenfinch, chaffinch, long tailed tits and a male pheasent with a green woodpecker heard yaffling.

Eventually I managed to track down the hawfinches feeding in the tree tops at the top end of the cemetery, at least 3 birds but probably more as they were wary and mobile and difficult to keep track of amongst the branches of the trees. I watched them for around 90 minutes and at times had some great views of them as they fed on various seeds in the tree tops, very charismatic and distinctive looking birds and lovely to obseve here in Devon.

 Hawfinch - another "quality" record shot





I walked back to Exeter St.Davids train station and caught the train to Dawlish Warren for a quick loook around, bumping into  Warren Watcher Lee near the train station who informed me that a long tailed duck was showing well at the mouth of the Exe and so I decided to head off there first. I eventually found the bird diving close offshore along with 3 great northern divers, a presumed immature male bird with pink markings on its bill.

Back at the main pond a female shoveler, a little grebe and 2 snipe were showing well but there was no sign of the recent Jack snipe although water levels were much higher than on my visit in December.



A quick look offshore from the lifeguard hut and a red throated diver was busily diving quite close in while further offshore great crested grebes were spread across the bay and a distant auk species was seen resting amongst the waves.

Heading back to Plymouth and the trains ran smoothly again and it had been a very enjoyable day out indeed.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

River Plym Walks

Sunday 7th January and a sunny and bright morning saw me heading out to Marsh Mills for a walk along the River Plym and around Saltram Park despite the frost and bitingly cold north easterly wind.

Along the upper reaches of the Plym a grey wagtail, a kingfisher, a common sandpiper and 3+ little grebes were seen while on Blaxton Meadow on the high tide there were 3 greenshank, 2 common gull, 2 lesser black backed gulls and 13 wigeon amongst the usual mallard, redshank, curlew, dunlin, shelduck, herring gulls, black headed gulls and great black backed gulls.

Saltram Park was fairly quiet with a displaying stock dove, a jay, a chiffchaff, a mistle thrush, a redwing, a fieldfare (my first sighting of one at Saltram) and 2 goldcrest all seen but I failed to find any firecrest and a yaffling green woodpecker remained hidden from sight.

I had another look for the lesser whitethroat at West Hoe Park on the way home but had no luck again and there was no sign of any great northern divers offshore.

Tuesday 9th January and a grey and dull morning saw us heading out to Marsh Mills for another walk along the Plym and around Saltram Park in still but cold conditions.

Blaxton Meadow held the usual birds again on the high tide but this time I could only find a single greenshank and the wigeon flock had grown by 1 to 14. The highlight was a black tailed godwit roosting amongst the curlew, an infrequent sight on the River Plym for me. Scanning down river and 5 goosander (1 male, 4 redheads) and 5 red breasted merganser (3 male, 2 redheads) were found out on the water, the male mergansers busily displaying to the redheads between dives and the goosanders frequently diving to avoid the attentions of marauding herring gulls.

 Blaxton Meadow - high tide roost

Violet, Saltram

Redwings were more noticeable in the Park as they flew between trees with blackbirds and a song thrush and while enjoying lunch in the cafe (courtesy of a gift card given to me by my sister for my birthday last year) we watched the antics of the displaying mandarin ducks on the pond with at least 10 males and 6 females being present along with moorhens and mallards.

Mandarins, Saltram

Thursday 4 January 2018

A New Years Day Lesser Whitethroat, Plymouth

We were both off work for the years end and so New years Eve passed, New Years Day duly arrived and 2018 began. New Years Day was bright but breezy and so we had a quick walk around Plymouth Hoe along with most of the rest of Plymouth but it was good to be out and about and not to be rained upon.

A great northern diver was a nice find busily diving off the Sutton Harbour lock gates and showing very well in the bright sunshine. Onwards around The Hoe and a lone turnstone flew along the shore and goldfinches twittered in the bare trees. At West Hoe Park I met up with local birder Pete who was looking for the wintering lesser whitethroat being reported and after 5 minutes he found it feeding in a tamarisk bush on the cliff face. I managed some good but brief views of it as it was constantly on the move and often obscured by vegetation before it flew up into a pine tree and disappeared from view - a presumed Eastern race bird and a strange sight on January 1st in Plymouth!

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

January 3rd saw me heading up to West Hoe Park again for another look for the lesser whitethroat but it was sunny and showery and vey windy and I failed to find it. A skulking song thrush and a male blackcap were nice finds though and just offshore a great northern diver was feeding quite close in to the shore and a kingfisher dashed past heading towards The Barbican.

A great northern diver was again off the harbour lock gates and another 3 were fishing together in The Cattewater off Turnchapel so at least 5 birds present in The Sound following the strong overnight winds.

Great Northern Diver

I had a quick look around Beaumont Park on the way home but despite finding a mixed tit flock feeding in the trees I couldn't find the wintering firecrest with them. However the next day while enjoying a hot chocolate at Costa Coffee the male black redstart I first saw before Christmas was again feeding in the palm trees opposite, a splash of energy and colour on a grey and windy day.