Friday 23 February 2018

Cattle Egrets at South Huish Marsh

Things are a little bit strange at the moment following the death of my father-in -law but fortunately we have a pre-booked weeks annual leave from work which has made things a little easier. We had no real plans for the week except for a trip to Salcombe on February 21st for a visit to the gin school at the Salcombe Gin Distillery (a Christmas present from our friend Julie) and a nights stay at The Harbour Hotel. The gin school was great fun and we got to make 2 bottles of our own recipe gin, I wasn't keen on my effort but Davids was very tasty despite us both following exactly the same recipes! We also drank lots of gin which was very nice and after gin school enjoyed a few more alcoholic beverages and a meal in Salcombe before eventually passing out in our hotel room later that evening after a very enjoyable day.

The following day on the drive back home to Plymouth we stopped off at Hope Cove for a walk to Thurlestone and back. The coast path wasn't too muddy and it was dull and cloudy and breezy and cold but remained dry. We bumped into my mate Mavis out with her walking group which was a nice surprise and she had seen a black redstart along the cliffs but despite looking I didn't find it.

At South Huish Marsh there were 3 lapwing and 4 black tailed godwits amongst the teal, wigeon and mallard and a buzzard was perched on a fence post at the back of the marsh surveying the area. Onwards to South Milton Ley and a pair of stonechats were feeding along the cliff path while at Thurlestone Marsh (or what is left of it) 3 large bulls were being followed around by a little egret and 2 cattle egrets, but unfortunately distant views.

 New Info Board at South Huish Marsh

Wigeon in the Gloom

After lunch at The Village Pub in Thurlestone we walked back to Hope Cove and the egrets were still in the field with the bulls but at South Huish Marsh there were 5 cattle egrets roosting with 2 little egrets and showing very well, 2 of the birds were beginning to develop the colourings of summer plumage despite the dull and chilly conditions.

 Little and Cattle Egrets in the Gloom

 Little and Cattle Egrets

Little and Cattle Egrets

Also seen were 4 Mediterranean gulls amongst the small black headed gull flock, an adult bird in almost complete summer plumage and 3 adult birds in winter plumage and beginning to moult into summer plumage.

 Winter Adult Mediterranean Gull amongst Black Headed Gulls

Summer and Winter Adult Mediterranean Gull amongst Black Headed Gulls

And so a nice night away, copious alcohol and a good birding walk - just what I needed.

Monday 19 February 2018

Tundra Bean Goose, Braunton Marsh

Saturday 17th February and a sunny and surprisingly mild day saw me heading off to Braunton Marsh in North Devon to look for a tundra bean goose that has been seen there for a few days now. I needed to get out for the day to clear my head and think about all the things going on in life and the trip seemed like it would be a good distraction. I caught the train to Exeter and then the branch line train to Barnstaple, the last branch line in Devon and Cornwall that I have not travelled on before, and then the bus to Braunton.

The journey went smoothly and along the way I managed some good sightings - fulmars at Teignmouth, pintails on the River Exe and a fox near Totnes on the train to Exeter, and a dipper, goosanders and stock doves on the scenic train journey to Barnstaple.

Arriving off the bus at Braunton high street I walked out to the nearby marshes and the fields were very waterlogged with some of the roads flooded too and very busy with lots of cars and cyclists on the tiny country lanes. There were plenty of birds around in the fields and hedgerows - good numbers of linnets, chaffinches, stock doves, jackdaws and skylarks along with greenfinch, goldfinch, blue tit, great tit, starling, carrion crow and woodpigeon.

I eventually arrived at the Sandy Lane car park and quickly found the tundra bean goose feeding in the fields with 10 mute swans, unfortunately distant and with heat hazy views into the sunlight but good to see none the less, only my third tundra bean goose after 2 distant sightings of one at Slimbridge in 2008 and 2013.

It spent short periods feeding on the grass with the swans before settling down for longer periods on the ground to rest and preen when it was often obscured by grassy tussocks - its dark head and neck, dark bill with orange nail and orange legs were all seen well despite the less than ideal viewing conditions.

 Tundra Bean Goose with Mute Swans - my "zoomed in" effort

Tundra Bean Goose - courtesy of DBWPS Website

While watching the goose I managed a few other good sightings - 3 chiffchaffs were flitting about in the hedgerow feeding on insects with a goldcrest, long tailed tits and a brief view of a firecrest; a Cettis warbler and a water rail were heard calling in the reeds along a ditch; a male kestrel regularly hovered overhead despite the attentions of mobbing jackdaws; 2 pairs of stonechats fed from the tops of sedges, seeming to tolerate each others close proximity; 20+ teal were spooked from a ditch and flew off across the fields; and a weasel dashed across the path, looking quite small and lacking a black tip to the tail.



Heading back to Plymouth and the train journey was again productive - more goosanders and stock doves from Barnstaple to Exeter, red breasted mergansers, brent geese, bar tailed godwits, teal, wigeon and greenshank along the River Exe, 6 avocets and a kingfisher along the River Teign and goosanders near Totnes - a nice day out and very restorative.

Saturday 17 February 2018

Sad Times

Things have been a bit fraught lately and so we had a quick walk around Stover on Friday 9th February to get out and about for a break before heading to The Brookside Café at Bovey Tracey for lunch. It was a sunny but cold and windy day and I had forgotten to take my camera with me, especially annoying as there were around 20 goosanders out on the lake and some of them were quite tame and gave some great close up views - bugger!

Also seen were a pair of bullfinches, a female great spotted woodpecker and a nuthatch on the bird feeders along with the more usual blue, great and coal tits and chaffinches but there was no sign of any marsh tits. A raven and siskins were seen and heard flying over and on the lake with the goosanders were a male tufted duck and 2 male and a female pochard.

Plans for further bird watching trips went out of the window after our trip to Stover due to the deteriorating health of my dear father-on-law and he very sadly passed away at 5am on Thursday 15th February while I was at work on a night shift - a very low time with the death of our friend Julies mum Maggie the evening before also adding to the sadness.

Friday 16th February and a bright and sunny but cold day saw us heading out for a drive and some fresh air to try and chase some blues away and we ended up at Marine Drive in Torpoint for a walk and a look around. The tide was very low and viewing the estuary was difficult into the sun but I did find a Sandwich tern, 1 of 2 that have been wintering in the area and my first February sighting of one. Also seen were a great northern diver, a little grebe, 4 great crested grebes and a Slavonian grebe (although they spent very little time at the surface between dives), 2 bar tailed godwits and a flock of 100+ dunlin feeding on the mudflats with redshank and curlew, a flyby adult common gull, 30+ wigeon and 4 brent geese - a nice selection of sightings and a good distraction (for me anyway) from events at home.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

An Excellent Day at Slapton and Beesands Ley

Wednesday 7th February and I was up and out early to catch the first bus of the day from Plymouth to Torcross at 07:25hrs on a very cold and clear and still morning. The buses are no longer double deckers which is a shame as the views of the South Hams countryside from the top deck were stunning but I guess that is progress for you.

Arriving at Torcross at 09:16hrs and I was at first undecided as to what to do - Beesands Ley or Slapton Ley first? In the end I plumped for Beesands Ley first (which turned out to be the right decision) and I headed off along the clifftop path as the tide was in and too high to walk along the beach.

Arriving at the Ley and I scanned around for my target bird, a male ring necked duck which has been present for a while now but which has at times been frequenting nearby Slapton Ley, and eventually I found it with a group of tufted ducks - it gave some nice views but was regularly diving although it looked very smart in the bright sunshine when it stayed on the surface long enough to appreciate it.

Ring Necked Duck, Beesands Ley

Ring Necked Duck

Ring Necked Duck

Ring Necked Duck

Also seen were 2 male and a female pochard, 3 male and 2 female gadwall, coot, mallard, moorhen, mute swan and Canada goose on the water, a Cetti's warbler flitting about in the reeds by the leyside and on the walk back to Slapton Ley across the cliff tops a firecrest feeding in the hedgerow was a nice surprise. Not so nice but not a surprise was my slipping over in the mud and getting a wet and muddy arse!

Slapton Ley appeared to be quiet on the wildfowl front, certainly much lower numbers than usual, but there were birds around - mallard, coot, moorhen, tufted duck, wigeon, pochard, gadwall, mute swan and Canada geese - and amongst them were at least 4 male and 3 female goldeneye along with 2 black necked grebes. The goldeneyes were mobile and regularly diving when they weren't displaying to each other with the males looking stunning in the sun light and the black necked grebes looked very smart too with bright red eyes.

Black Necked Grebe, Slapton Ley

Black Necked Grebe

No otters were seen but I did see 3 water rails, 2 together at the duck feeding platform and 1 from the bridge, Cetti's warblers were vocal with a few brief glimpses had as they disappeared into the undergrowth and 2 stock doves flew over the back of the Ley with some woodpigeons.

Black Headed Gulls, Slapton Ley

Black Headed Gulls

Black Headed Gull

Coot Feet

Sleeping Mallard

Preening Mallard

Preened Mallard

Preening Mallards

The clouds were beginning to roll in and so I decided to head home earlier than planned, catching the 14:00 bus back to Plymouth and having enjoyed a very pleasant day out birding.

Saturday 3 February 2018

River Exe Boat Trip and Wembury Water Pipit Revisited

Tuesday 30th January and a sunny but cold and frosty morning saw me travelling across Dartmoor towards Exmouth with Mavis and Mike for our regular birdwatching boat trip on the River Exe with Stuart Line Cruises. We headed off a little later than planned due to my bus from Plymouth to our rendezvous at Yelverton being delayed by 40 minutes by the ongoing nightmare roadworks around Derriford Hospital and the roads to Exmouth were busy too but the drive across Dartmoor was stunning. On arriving at Exmouth we didn't have time for a full cooked breakfast at The Docker café but the bacon and fried egg sandwiches we ordered instead were quick and very tasty before we boarded the boat for the start of the trip.

It was beginning to cloud over as we sailed offshore for a look around on a very low tide with extensive sand banks and rocks on show along with the usual birds - brent goose, common gull, curlew, shag, oystercatcher, carrion crow and a very smart adult Mediterranean gull developing a black hood. A grey seal briefly popped its head out of the water too to see what all the fuss was about as we sailed by.

Back in the estuary off Exmouth Quay a great northern diver showed very well close to the boat and at one point gave a brief mournful wail and red breasted mergansers were busily diving and displaying to each other. 

 Great Northern Diver, Exmouth Quay

 Male Red Breasted Merganser


Mist and murk and mizzle duly arrived as we sailed upriver with occasional heavier bursts of rain but it didn't dampen our spirits and we saw a good selection of birds despite the dull light - 2 male goldeneye together at Topsham Quay were very smart looking, Herbert the Slavonian grebe showed well off Cockwood and there were plenty of good views of black tailed godwit, avocet, dunlin, grey plover, redshank, turnstone, oystercatcher, bar tailed godwit, lapwing, curlew, golden plover and 3 greenshanks.

Male Goldeneye, Topsham Quay


Teal. wigeon, mallard and shelduck were also seen but a feeding flock of around 150 pintail on the water off Lympstone were a great if distant sight.

Pintails, Lympstone

A quick look off Exmouth Quay after disembarking the boat and there was no sign of the recently reported Bonaparte's gull which had been coming to bread despite a birder busily throwing Co-Op white slices out into the water but an immature male eider bobbing around in the river channel was a bonus.

Heading back towards Plymouth and we stopped off at Topsham Cemetery to look for hawfinches which have been seen here recently but it was getting late and it was dark and gloomy and mizzley and there was no sign of any but we did see goldcrest, coal tit, chaffinch, redwing and buzzard before we decided to call it a day and drove home.

Friday 2nd February and I decided to visit Wembury again to look for the water pipit that I had brief views of back on January 13th. It was dry and bright for a change but the footpath was still a complete quagmire although work is being done on the path by the horse fields to widen the path and lay down some hardcore. 

Wembury Footpath Work

I quickly found the water pipit feeding on the beach near the sewage pipe with rock pipits and meadow pipits but it was very active and mobile and flighty due to the continuous disturbance from dog walkers along the beach. It regularly flew off but I always managed to refind it and at times I had some nice views and even managed a few of my now infamous record shots.

 Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Also seen along the beach were 3+ chiffchaffs, 2 grey wagtails, pied wagtails, dunnocks, linnets, chaffinches and stonechats while a raven and buzzard were seen flying overhead and a pair of mallard and a curlew were on the rocks with the oystercatchers. At least 2 song thrush were busily singing away, a sign of spring to come, and 7 little egrets feeding amongst the cattle on the hillside did a good job initially of looking like cattle egrets before it was time to head home and prepare for a dreaded night shift at work.