Friday 23 November 2018

Beesands Ley and Slapton Ley

Wednesday 21st November and after meeting Mavis at Yelverton we drove off for a days birding starting at Beesands Ley. It was a beautiful November day, cold and sunny with a gentle breeze after a frosty night, and we headed off with high hopes.

We walked down to the hide at Beesands Ley, hearing Cettis warbler and water rails and seeing a goldcrest feeding in the hedgerow with blue and great tits, and from the hide we watched a male and 2 female teal, 2 male, 2 female and an immature male shoveler, coot, a little grebe, 29 mute swans, moorhen, tufted duck, a cormorant and a female scaup that frustratingly kept its distance and spent a lot of time under the water or behind the island and out of view from the hide. A few of the female tufted ducks had quite large white blazes around their bills but the scaups more rounded head shape and lack of a hint of a tuft were all noticeable.

We walked round to the beach side of the Ley where the scaup was still being elusive but we added a greylag goose and a black swan to our day list which both flew in and landed on the water. A quick scan offshore revealed just a few gannets flying around and a pair of stonechats were seen flitting about in the hedgerow before we decided to move on to Slapton Ley.

We parked up at Torcross and walked along the Ley side towards the bridge as a few rain clouds rolled in and we had a few brief spells of rain and hail. Cettis warblers were calling and more stonechats were seen along with a female cirl bunting, a meadow pipit, a reed bunting and greenfinches.

On the Ley we scanned through the wildfowl and mid-Ley we picked out the male ring necked duck amongst the tufted ducks, presumably the bird that overwintered earlier in the year. Also seen were gadwall, wigeon and pochard along with coot, cormorant and mallard before we decided to head back along the beach to Torcross for lunch and scanning the sea along the way we picked out a few shag, a group of 8 female/immature common scoters close to the beach and a great northern diver flying across the bay before landing on the sea and being lost to view.

After a delicious lunch of fish and chips in the Start Bay Inn we drove along the Ley on the recently reopened road to the bridge where we parked up and walked along the back of the Ley to the quarry, seeing a goldcrest and a female blackcap as we began our walk and hearing water rails squealing in the reeds.

There were good numbers of wildfowl in Ireland Bay and scanning through we picked up more wigeon, tufted duck and pochard, teal, great crested grebes, at least 4 little grebes, the male ring necked duck and a female scaup, a different bird to the one seen at Beesands Ley with a smaller white blaze around the bill. Despite scanning we couldn't find the recently reported black necked grebe though.

At the quarry we picked up a feeding flock of small birds and amongst the long tailed, blue and great tits we found a chiffchaff, a male blackcap, a wren, a goldcrest and a very smart firecrest which gave some excellent views. A Jay, 2 ravens, a buzzard and 2 grey herons were also seen before it was time to head back to the car for the journey home but just before we left we were treated to a murmuration of starlings over the reedbed, only a small flock of around 500 birds but lovely to watch (and hear) and a great end to a great day out.




Monday 19 November 2018

Orcas in Iceland

Thursday 8th November and it was off to Ipswich on the train for a few days away visiting family before heading off to Iceland. The train journey up to Ipswich went smoothly with the highlight being at least 15 red kites seen between Westbury and Paddington but the only sighting of note while in Suffolk was a red legged partridge flying across the road as we drove  home from a visit to Lavenham.

Our trip to Iceland was arranged back in March this year, our friend Julie's niece Kizzy wanted to visit Iceland for her 30th birthday and we were asked if we would like to come along too. However after arranging the trip the Icelandic government decided to allow whaling again this summer but we had already agreed that we would not patronize a restaurant that served whale meat and had booked up a whale watching trip on Kizzy's birthday although I expected the trip to probably be cancelled due to bad weather and if it went ahead I wasn't expecting to see anything - how wrong I was!

Whaling is a very controversial issue and the resumption of whaling in Iceland has caused quite a furore but vetoing visiting Iceland is not the answer, naturalists need to visit Iceland and go whale watching and avoid whale meat selling restaurants to show the Icelandic government that more money can be raised by watching whales rather than killing them.

While the issue is not that simple it would appear that the majority of whale meat consumed in Iceland is minke whale meat and is eaten by tourists (up to 98%!) while fin whale meat is exported to Japan - so if tourists visiting Iceland stopped eating whale meat it would be a big step towards whaling in Iceland coming to an end.

Tourists - Look for this sign in Icelandic Restaurants!

We flew to Iceland on Monday 12th November and I was suffering with a cold which had started the night before but it didn't stop me enjoying my time away. Iceland is a beautiful country and having enjoyed my previous visit back in 2015 I was really looking forward to my visit this time and I wasn't to be disappointed. The weather was much better this time, it was mild and calm and dry with only a little snow on the mountain tops which made for a very pleasant trip but it was much more expensive this time too, I guess the Icelandic economy has bucked up again after the crash (and dare I mention it but Brexit has probably had an effect too).

We were based in Reykjavik and hired a van for the length of our stay which gave us a bit of flexibility and saved some money too. We did the Golden Circle Drive (Pingvellir, Geysir and Gulfoss) but spent the rest of the time in Reykjavik and while the others visited the Blue Lagoon one morning for a staggering £88 each we stayed behind and visited the Vesturbaejarlaug thermal pool in Reykjavik for the more reasonable sum of £6.50 each.

I was hoping to see a few birds during my stay and managed to see a total of 30 species which I was quite pleased about and the first birds I saw were ravens, starlings and a few distant gulls on the drive from the airport to our hotel before it got dark at around 5pm. The next morning with first light being around 9.45am we drove off on the Golden Circle Drive where I saw more ravens, mallards, a grey goose flying over and a single whopper swan.



Raven at Geysir

Stroker at Geysir

Gulfoss Waterfall

Gulfoss Waterfall

Wednesday 14th November was Kizzy's birthday and before our whale watching trip at 1pm we had a wander around Reykjavik and visited Lake Tjornin in the city centre where there was a good selection of wildfowl including the very lovely Crinkly, a whopper swan with a deformed neck that we first saw here in 2015.

Crinkly at Lake Tjornin


Crinkly with Whopper Swans

Crinkly and Whopper Swans with Greylag Geese

Other birds seen here at the Lake were a lone pink footed goose (the same one we saw here in 2015?), greylag geese, wigeon, mallard, tufted duck, red breasted merganser, black headed gull, common gull and a single adult glaucous gull.

A nearby square with areas of grass and a few trees held a few starlings, feral pigeons, blackbirds and redwing (Icelandic race corburni) which were all quite tame along with 3 redpoll species which were much more skittish and quickly flew off (presumably the islandica race or possibly the rostrata race from Greenland).



We then boarded our whale watching boat Andrea operated by Special Tours and headed out to sea as the skies darkened with clouds. It did stay dry apart from a brief spell of drizzle and the sun did reappear a few times but it was cold in the gentle wind with a bit of swell on the sea. I wasn't expecting to see any whales or dolphins but the scenery was stunning and there were plenty of birds around to keep me occupied - Iceland, glaucous, common, great black backed and black headed gulls, kittiwake, a single gannet, razorbills, guillemots, eiders, a great northern diver and surprisingly a few sooty shearwaters (I had seen on the Special Tours sightings pages that sooty shearwaters were being seen but it was very strange to actually see them in November in Iceland).

Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

I was enjoying the birds when a shout went up that a minke whale had been spotted and I managed to get a few good but brief views as it passed by the boat before disappearing and I was pleased that the others also managed to see it too. A short time later another shout went out but this time it was for orca which had been spotted ahead of us and we managed to get some wonderful views of 3 orcas (a male, a female and a calf) as they swam around the boat.

Killer Whales

Killer Whale

Killer Whales

Killer Whales 

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

Killer Whale 

It was soon time to leave them be and head back to the harbour and on the cruise back we were joined by a pod of white beaked dolphins, around 10 of them, which came in to bow ride and play in the boats wake before moving away and which were being trailed by at least 3 sooty shearwaters. They were surprisingly large and chunky looking and a new species for me and again the others all managed to see them too - a fantastic end to a very exciting and productive trip and not what I was expecting at all.

White Beaked Dolphin

White Beaked Dolphin with Guillemots

Thursday 15th November and we had the day to ourselves while the others went to the Blue Lagoon so we spent it around Reykjavik and on a walk around the harbour and waterfront I added purple sandpiper, black guillemot, a single adult herring gull and shag to the trip list.



Purple Sandpipers

Black Guillemot - juvenile

Black Guillemot - adult

Unfortunately the large upwellings of water that I had observed along the waterfront back in 2015 were no longer present and so there were no congregations of feeding gulls to scan through but I did get a few decent views of Iceland and glaucous gulls fairly close to shore.

Iceland Gull

Glaucous Gull with Iceland Gull

Glaucous Gull with crab pinched from a Eider

We revisited Tjornin Lake on our walk to the Vesturbaejarlaug thermal pool where Crinkly was still present along with his/her mate in tow and giving grief to any other whopper swans that came to close.

Crinkly with Mate



Juvenile Whopper Swan

Pink Footed Goose with Mallard

Pink Footed Goose 

Friday 16th November and it was time to fly back to the UK and a last look along the waterfront before our drive to the airport added a cormorant to the trip list while on the drive to the airport I managed to see a few whopper swans on small lakes by the roadside and looking a little more naturalistic than they did on Lake Tjornin.

And so the trip was a great success. No Northern Lights this time but a fantastic whale watching trip more than made up for it (for me anyway) and we were very lucky with the weather too. The light was pretty poor though for photography and my little automatic camera struggled in the low light levels resulting in some grainy looking snaps.

And go to Iceland - go whale watching and support the local people running the trips, don't eat in any restaurants with whale meat on the menus and show the Icelandic government that there is a viable economic alternative to whaling - tourists are sustaining the minke whale hunt and it needs to stop.

Raven, Reykjavik

Bee Eater Mural, Reykjavik

Sun Voyager, Reykjavik

Reykjavik Waterfront

Tourists - Don't Eat Whales!!!!

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Wembury Water Pipit

Monday 29th October was another beautiful autumnal day and after considering taking a trip to Stithians Reservoir in Cornwall to look for a Temmincks stint I decided to keep it local and caught the bus out to Wembury instead.

It was a chilly start but soon warmed up with clear skies, sunshine and a lack of any wind and again there were a few butterflies on the wing - single clouded yellow and small copper along with red admirals and small whites.

 Small White

Red Admiral

Along the beach on the high tide were a little egret, oystercatchers and mallards but the highlights were 3 dunlin and a lone turnstone and a very flighty water pipit feeding on the seaweed mass near the sewage pipe. The water pipit was quite pale looking in the strong sunlight but it was very skittish and mobile and unusually was quite often chased off by nearby rock pipits, a surprise as they are usually the dominant pipit on my previous observations of them at Wembury.

 Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Other birds seen were 2 flyover ravens, a patrolling female kestrel, 2 soaring buzzards, a chiffchaff feeding in the hedge at The Point with a second bird heard calling in gardens from the road down to the beach, stonechats, a pair of cirl buntings in the sewage farm hedge with the male singing briefly and a female pheasant which survived last weeks shooting party.


A very pleasant walk as always , not too busy with people for a change and some nice sightings.