Friday 23 March 2018

A Plymouth Rarity - Again!

A "Mini" Beast from the East reared its head again on March 17th and the result was again something very rare here in Plymouth the next day - Snow!

Snow from my Bedroom Window - Again!

I was meant to be at work on March 18th but had to take the day off sick due to "gastric distress" so I managed to get a few photos of the snow from my window but the snow only fell here in Plymouth for around and hour and it very quickly melted away after. The rest of Devon was much more severely affected by the snow but it didn't seem to cause the large movement of birds that the bad weather caused earlier in the month - hopefully bird fatalities will be fewer too.

Monday 19th and despite me feeling very sore and delicate we took a drive up onto Dartmoor to see if there was any snow left lying around from the previous day only to find the road was cordoned off at Dousland. We very naughtily drove around the barrier as cars were driving down the road from the Moors but as we headed up the road it became increasingly snowy and icy and so we parked up and walked along the road to find huge snow drifts and abandoned cars - very impressive and the most snow I have ever seen on Dartmoor!

 Dartmoor Snow

Dartmoor Snow  -Digger to the Rescue!

 Dartmoor Snow

 Dartmoor Snow

Dartmoor Snow

No birds were seen apart from a flyover raven and 2 carrion crows although somebody was flying a drone and for a brief moment I thought it was a buzzard gliding over the hillside! Two Dartmoor ponies sheltering from the wind by the roadside were the only other signs of life in the Arctic conditions.

Dartmoor Ponies in the Snow

 Dartmoor Ponies

As we were admiring the snow and the views a digger arrived and began to clear the snow away from the road and people arrived to try and recover their abandoned vehicles but it was bitingly cold in a nasty wind and so we headed back to Yelverton to The Rock Hotel for some lunch and a warm up.

And so we have had snow here in Plymouth in March twice in 19 days - certainly some crazy weather. 

Sunday 18 March 2018

A Trip to St.Ives in Cornwall

Thursday 15th March and an early start saw us heading down to Penzance on the train with clear skies and sunshine all the way. Arriving in Penzance at just after 9am and I headed off towards Newlyn while David wandered around the town.

On the walk to Newlyn a quick look off Jubilee Pool and there were 50+ sanderling and 17 purple sandpipers roosting on the rocks with turnstones while a quick wander around Morab Gardens revealed 2 singing blackcaps and a singing chiffchaff.

Grey Squirrel, Morab Gardens, Penzance

Off Tolcarne Beach 2 winter plumaged bar tailed godwits were feeding on the sandy shoreline and a 1st winter Mediterranean gull was roosting on the rocks amongst the black headed gulls. At Newlyn Harbour the usual gulls were loafing about but I couldn't find any white wingers although there were a few adult lesser black backed gull amongst the usual herring gulls and great black backed gulls and the usual tame turnstones were pottering about the quayside.

 Bar-tailed Godwit, Tolcarne Beach, Penzance

Turnstone, Newlyn

I walked out to the end of the harbour wall and scanned offshore, picking up at least 4 grey seals poking their heads out of the water and a very smart looking 1st winter Iceland gull resting on the water while further out 3 great northern divers were resting together with a smaller diver species further out again but too distant to pick up any great detail.

 Iceland Gull, Newlyn

Iceland Gull

After meeting David at Wetherspoons for a quick beer we headed back to the train station and caught the train to Hayle but just as we alighted off the train it began to rain and so our walk along the estuary to St.Erth railway station was a wet affair with just wigeon, teal, grey plover and bar tailed godwit to show for our efforts - more annoyingly the rain had stopped by the time we arrived at the station! We caught the train to St.Ives and from the train I saw a redhead goosander along the estuary while enjoying the stunning views and on arriving at St.Ives the rain began to fall again.

After checking into the hotel we had a quick walk around St.Ives in the rain where more tame turnstones were running around the harbourside while just offshore I had some nice views of 2 winter plumaged red throated divers. Gannets were flying around offshore and diving for fish and I had a brief view of at least 2 common dolphins underneath them. Also seen were 3 Sandwich terns roosting on buoys and diving for fish before they all flew off towards Hayle.

 Herring Gull from the Hotel Window, St.Ives

 Turnstone, St.Ives

 Red Throated Diver, St.Ives

Rainbow View from the Hotel Window, St.Ives

The following day was glorious with sunshine and warm temperatures and wandering about St.Ives I watched at least 6 Sandwich terns flying around offshore with just a few gannets, the odd grey seal poking its head out of the water and just 1 red throated diver. The harbourside turnstones were fun to watch and they gave some great views and it was interesting to watch a carrion crow pick cockles out of the sand and smash them open by dropping them on the nearby concrete steps.

 Turnstone, St.Ives

 Grey Seal, St.Ives

 Cockle Smashing Carrion Crow, St.Ives

Red Throated Diver, St.Ives

We had lunch overlooking Porthminster Beach and it was lovely to watch Sandwich terns and gannets diving very close to shore while the red throated diver busily preened itself on the water before it was time to catch the train back to Plymouth - a great break away and needed after the recent stresses and strains.

Saturday 17 March 2018

Seasons Turn and Time Marches On

My dear father-in-laws funeral was held on Friday 9th March and it was a sad, solemn, poignant, humourous, emotional and reflective day with heavy rain making the grave side a treacherous quagmire and fraught with visions of elderly relatives slipping over and falling into the grave - but a grand send off for a lovely man, Rest In Peace Dear Dabber.

Very fortunately we had a weeks annual leave pre booked for the week after the funeral and so on Sunday 11th March we had a quick walk around Saltram before the forecasted rain arrived - unfortunately everybody else had the same idea and it was very busy, not helped by it being Mothers Day. Not much was seen on the walk and we got back to the car just as the rain began to fall but 3 greenshank on Blaxton Meadow on a low high tide with 100+ redshank, 2 curlew, shelduck and gulls were noted along with a male and 2 redhead goosander fishing near the railway bridge with 1 of the redheads just managing to swallow a large fish it caught and brought to the surface before it was mobbed by the other 2 (later 3 redheads were seen together preening on the mudflats with the male roosting on the water nearby).

 Goosander, River Plym

Goosander, River Plym

Tuesday 13th March and a beautiful spring day with sunshine, light winds and mild temperatures saw us heading off to Stoke Point for a walk, something we have wanted to do for a while but have been thwarted from doing due to weather, work and family stuff. While washing the dishes before we left the house for our walk I noticed an oil beetle in the bay tree outside, presumably tempted out by the mild weather and a new species for the back yard.

 Oil Beetle, Back Yard

Oil Beetle

The footpath at Stoke Point as expected was a complete and utter mud fest after all the recent heavy rain and we spent a lot of time looking down negotiating our footing and not at the scenery and wildlife but it was a lovely walk as usual none the less.

Stonechats, meadow pipits and skylarks were singing and songflighting, a peacock butterfly was sunning itself on a rock, a female kestrel was busy mobbing 4 noisy and displaying buzzards, 2 ravens flew over cronking and a large peregrine was sunning itself on a clifftop rock before flying off. I had a very brief view of a probable Dartford warbler flying over the gorse near to a pair of stonechat before diving into cover but the highlight was a male wheatear flying up to a fence post by the footpath before flying off never to be seen again - spring is definently here.

Peregrine, Stoke Point

Wheatear, Stoke Point

Wednesday 14th March and the weather was foul, a complete contrast to the previous day with wind and heavy rain. I decided to head over to Torpoint anyway for a walk to nearby Wilcove where a male green winged teal has been overwintering but which I haven't had the opportunity to look for until now (due to weather, tides, work and family stuff). It wasn't too bad when I left the house but by the time I arrived at Torpoint it was chucking it down with rain and after the 20 minute walk to Wilcove I was soaking wet. Luckily I quickly found the male green winged teal feeding out on the mudflats with some Eurasian teal, its white breast flashes being almost luminous in the gloomy conditions. After 20 minutes I had had enough with my optics and myself being thoroughly drenched through and just as I left a bonus whimbrel flew over calling before landing on the rocky foreshore. A quick look off Marine Drive at Torpoint before catching the ferry back to Plymouth gave a nice view of the wintering Sandwich tern flying around but I was very glad to get home and out of my wet clothes after a successful but soggy trip.

 Green Winged Teal, Wilcove - gloomy record shots

 Green Winged Teal

 Green Winged Teal

Green Winged Teal

And so time marches on, life goes on but not the same and spring is just around the corner.

Thursday 8 March 2018

4 Grebe Day at Slapton and Beesands Ley

A walk around Plymouth Hoe on Sunday 4th March and things were back to normal in the warm sunshine with the only reminder of the recent bad weather being the sad sight of a dead lapwing floating in the water on The Barbican. A more pleasent sight was a female type black redstart at Tinside Pool busily catching plenty of small flies that were buzzing around.

A Lapwing casualty after Storm Emma

Female type Black Redstart, Tinside Pool

After 2 particularly crappy long days at work on Monday 5th and Tuesday 6th March and the impending funeral of my father-in-law on Friday 9th March I really needed to get out for a bit of birding and with Wednesday 7th March being a particularly sunny but cold day we headed off to Beesands Ley for a walk.

On the drive to Beesands I was surprised to see patches of snow still lying on the ground along hedgerows out of the sun but there were no redwings or fieldfares or lapwings or golden plovers to be seen in the fields.

From the hide at Beesands Ley I quickly found the reported red necked grebe busily preening out on the water, good but a little distant views of my least familiar grebe species.

Red Necked Grebe, Beesands Ley

Red Necked Grebe

Red Necked Grebe

Red Necked Grebe - courtesy of Thurlestone Bay Birds website

I also picked up the male ring necked duck amongst the tufted ducks and eventually the male scaup along with a little grebe, 2 great crested grebes, a pair of gadwall and at least 2 female and 8 male pochard.

Canada Geese, Pochard and Tufted Duck, Beesands Ley

Ring Necked Duck

Scaup with Tufted Duck

Scaup, Tufted Duck and Ring Necked Duck

Tufted Duck and Scaup

Tufted Duck, Scaup and Ring Necked Duck

Tufted Duck, Scaup and Pochard

Ring Necked Duck, Tufted Duck, Scaup and Pochard

Following Storm Emma last week there had been a lot of damage to the beach path at Beesands with The Brittania cafe having been badly trashed and with the tide being high we walked over the clifftop footpath to Torcross to find the path and WW2 bunker above Torcross had disappeared onto the beach. The Slapton Line (the road from Torcross to Strete) was also closed due to debris and damage with the road having almost been washed away from the Slapton turn towards Strete.

A quick look at the Ley from Torcross and I found a black necked grebe busily diving close to the bird hide but by the time I had negotiated the mud and debris in the car park and found the bird hide closed due to damage the grebe had moved further away. I managed to get a record shot of it, noticing its very red eye again in the bright sunshine. I then found a second black necked grebe nearby, at first glance I thought it was a female smew before realising it was a grebe. It was very black and white and smart looking compared to the first bird and I thought it might have been a Slavonian grebe but on closer inspection it was indeed another black necked grebe before it dived and was lost from sight.

Black Necked Grebe, Slapton Ley

We had lunch in The Start Bay Inn where I watched gannets flying by from the pub window while enjoying my fish and chips before we walked back to Beesands along the beach on the low tide. A quick look at the Ley again before driving home and the red necked grebe and scaup were still on show but there was no sign of the ring necked duck.

Photo of the 2017 Slapton Humpback Whale on the Start Bay Inn menu

A very restorative day and needed before the sadness to come on Friday.

Saturday 3 March 2018

A Plymouth Rarity

Storm Emma arrived in Devon from the south on March 1st and duly slammed into The Beast from the East, a large high pressure system over Europe bringing Siberian conditions to the UK, and the result was something very rare here in Plymouth - snow!

Snow from my Bedroom window!

The conditions were pretty awful although it was much worse in the rest of Devon and it meant some impressive cold weather movement of birds.

Beaumont Park in the snow

We headed up to Plymouth Hoe in the afternoon as the snow began to arrive and it was gelid - freezing cold, a biting easterly wind that felt evil and snow mizzle that swirled around in vicious bursts. We didn't stay out for long but on the walk I managed to find 2 redwing, 11fieldfare, 1 song thrush, a lapwing, 5 meadow pipit and 7 golden plover (my first Plymouth sighting) and all unusual fare for Plymouth Hoe in March (I even had redwings and a lapwing flying over the house).

 Herring Gull hunkering down on The Barbican

Herring Gull

The following day we headed back for another look and the conditions were not much better with the snow mizzle being more snow dust in nature but there were more birds around than the previous day all desperately trying to find food in the awful conditions. Redwings and fieldfares were very mobile all around The Hoe with numbers difficult to assess due to their constant movement with 5 skylark and 10 linnet also seen along with a few meadow pipits. Lapwings and golden plovers were also flying around and trying to feed on the frozen grassy areas with most looking in a bit of a bad way, especially the golden plovers. One bird looked very poorly which broke my heart as I was unable to do anything for it - the weather may have produced some interesting birding but the reality is deadly serious and often fatal for the birds themselves, a situation mirrored across Devon.

 Fieldfare, Plymouth Hoe


 Redwing, Plymouth Hoe


 Lapwing, Plymouth Hoe

 Golden Plover, Plymouth Hoe

Golden Plover

 Golden Plover

 Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Saturday 3rd March and overnight rain had cleared all the snow and ice in Plymouth although it remains cold and the only reminder of the bad weather was a lone lapwing feeding on the grass near Derriford Hospital as I caught the bus home after my night shift - hopefully the improving weather will enable some of the displaced birds to have a chance of survival.