Wednesday 30 January 2019

Wintering Whimbrel at Wilcove, Torpoint

Wednesday January 30th was a cold but sunny morning with patches of hail on the ground and despite my late awakening I decided to take the bus across the River Tamar to visit Torpoint for a walk.

I arrived at Marine Drive in Torpoint at just after 11am to find the tide higher than I expected and the only waders noted were a few redshank and an oystercatcher. 2 great crested grebes were diving for fish out on the water along with a few cormorants and a small flock of Canada geese flew upriver. The overwintering brent geese which I had hoped to see were however showing very well close to shore, 4 pale bellied types that always kept together and 8 dark bellied types.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Brent Geese

I walked on to nearby Wilcove, noting on the walk there 2 mistle thrush and a curlew feeding on the school playing fields, a small flock of linnets, chaffinches and meadow pipits in a weedy stubble field, a chiffchaff in a small wood by the roadside and a few redwing with a song thrush and blackbirds in a cow field.

At Wilcove there was still a little mud on show on the incoming tide and I found a greenshank, a black tailed godwit, a turnstone, redshank, 2 common sandpipers and a whimbrel busily feeding. The whimbrel presumably is the same bird that overwintered here last year and was a strange sight on a cold January day.

Common Sandpiper

Also noted here at Wilcove were a kingfisher, wigeon, teal (no sign of last winters green winged teal amongst them), cormorants and a noisy flyover raven.

I walked back to Marine Drive where the brent geese were again showing very well close to the shore and a noisy chiffchaff showed very well in a nearby garden before  I caught the bus back to Plymouth - a nice local walk with some good sightings as January comes to an end

Friday 25 January 2019

Yellow Browed Warbler, Bowling Green Marsh, January 23rd 2019

A very cold but sunny and still morning saw me heading off to Topsham on the train to look for a yellow browed warbler that has been showing well here for a while. It was first reported on Twitter on January 6th but wasn't widely seen until January 10th and with it being particularly showy it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

I caught the first train out of Plymouth after 9am to save myself £11.40 on the ticket price (and to have a lie in!) and arrived at Topsham at just after 11am. I walked along the lane towards the hide scanning the hedgerow as I went and within a few minutes had found the yellow browed warbler feeding in the vegetation low to the ground on the roadside verge - result.

It showed very well, down to a few feet at times, and was very unconcerned by people walking past, certainly the best views ever I have had of one. However like my previous encounters with yellow browed warblers this one was just as active and mobile, always on the move and disappearing for short periods only to reappear elsewhere. I managed to get a couple of decentish record shots but there are far better photos on Twitter, some of which show the bird with a squinty right eye due to a tick which was apparent at times as it flitted through the undergrowth.

 Yellow-Browed Warbler

 Yellow-Browed Warbler 

Yellow-Browed Warbler 

The water levels at the Marsh were very high still and having missed high tide there were just a few curlew and redshank around along with lapwing, snipe and black-tailed godwits. A male gadwall, a male pintail, 6 male and 2 female tufted ducks and 2 shelduck were seen amongst the shoveler, wigeon, teal and mallard. The lone ruff was found sleeping on a small island too, having been spooked earlier by a male sparrowhawk skimming by which also spooked 2 feeding redwings.

 Lapwing and Ruff

Teal and Shoveler

Onwards to Goosemoor where an adult common gull and 2 greenshanks were seen along with a hunting female sparrowhawk and from the hide at Darts Farm a feeding flock of 50+ fieldfares were feeding in the fields with a few redwing and starling. Scanning around and I picked up a few meadow pipits and eventually 2 water pipits although the views were distant. The water pipits were quite feisty and often chased each other around but later I managed to see 3 feeding  together much closer to the hide with another bird feeding on it's own nearby.

I then caught the train to Dawlish Warren for a quick look off the sea wall in very flat calm conditions but the sky had clouded over and the light was poor. From the wall I picked up a few gannets flying around and diving for fish and 5 great crested grebes resting on the sea. 3 Brent geese flew past and landed on Langstone Rocks to feed and a few shag, cormorant and great black-backed gulls were also noted but there was no sign of the recent velvet scoter (although it was reported that afternoon).

And so not a bad day out and with a few mammal sightings too - 2 rabbits at Bowling Green Marsh with 2 grey squirrels in the nearby trees, a fox from the train at Topsham,  fallow deer from the train at Powderham, a grey seal poking its head out of the water at Dawlish Warren and 2 roe deer from the train at Totnes.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Hayle and Penzance Birding, January 17th 2019

I had the day free to myself on Thursday January 17th and with a favourable weather forecast I decided to visit Hayle and Penzance to do some birding. GWR had a train ticket sale on so I pre-booked cheap tickets for specific trains, something I don't usually do, but after a particularly exhausting 12 hour shift at work the day before when I had just a 15 minute break I was regretting my decision when the alarm clock sounded at 05:30hrs.

The 07:02hr train left on time and the journey to Hayle was uneventful but mostly because I slept all the way from St.Germans to Camborne (!) and on arriving at Hayle I headed off to Copperhouse Creek first as this is where the wintering spoonbill is most often reported from of late. It was cold and sunny and breezy but there was no sign of the spoonbill on the low tide although there were 2 little grebe in the harbour, a kingfisher along the quayside and some linnets flying over.

Female Wigeon, Copperhouse Creek

Onwards to the Carnsew Pool where 7 little grebe, 10 grey plover, a dunlin and finally the spoonbill were all noted along with wigeon, cormorant and redshank.

 Spoonbill, Carnsew Pool

Spoonbill, Carnsew Pool

Moving on along the estuary to the causeway bridge and there were lapwing, teal, wigeon and around 80 golden plover roosting out on the mudflats close to the road. The roosting gulls were unfortunately much further away downriver and near to the opposite side of the estuary at Lelant so I had no opportunity to scan through them for the recently reported Caspian gulls or yellow-legged gulls. The only other bird of note was a flyby kingfisher and  so I decided to leave earlier than planned and walked to St.Erth railway station to catch the bus to Long Rock.

 Teal and Lapwing, Hayle Estuary

Teal and Wigeon, Hayle Estuary

Lapwing, Hayle Estuary

After getting off the bus at Long Rock by The Mexico Inn I walked back to Long Rock Pool where 6 tufted duck and 3 teal were noted and it was quiet too at Marazion Marsh where the best of it were 3 chiffchaffs feeding together along the railway line hedgerow. The walk along the coast path to Penzance was also quiet with the highlight being 2 adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gulls sat on the sea amongst a flock of black headed gulls.

A quick look at the rocks by the bus station was black redstart-less and so after grabbing a pasty from Rowes (very tasty) I walked on to the Jubilee Pool where there was a small roost of waders on the high tide - 4 oystercatcher, 11+ purple sandpipers, dunlin, ringed plover, turnstone and sanderling. Having dipped on black redstart by the bus station it was nice to find a smart male black redstart feeding along the beach here before it flew over to the small park on the other side of the coast road.

 Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling, Jubilee Pool

Purple Sandpiper and Ringed Plovers, Jubilee Pool

Offshore there were 3 immature male and an adult male eider with shags and cormorants and 2 distant great northern divers. I also picked up a smaller diver swimming east across the bay, snorkelling as it went before I lost sight of it in the choppy waters. Unfortunately it was distant but it appeared to lack a pale flank patch and appeared small billed/headed but it was too far out to call - a black throated diver or more likely the elusive Pacifuc diver but who knows?

It was soon time to head back to the station to catch the train home and along the way there were quite a few turnstones running around the harbour car park looking for scraps of food and a beautiful cormorant drying its wings on the quayside that unfortunately had green plastic netting caught around its head and bill.

 Cormorant, Penzance Harbour

Cormorant, Penzance Harbour

The train journey home was uneventful too and again I slept most of the way (from Camborne to Saltash) but it had been a very enjoyable day out.

Monday 14 January 2019

New Years Birding in Devon

I worked a long day on Monday 7th January and then had the rest of the week off as annual leave, ideal after having survived another Christmas and New Year, and with the kids back to school, perfect for getting out to do some New Years birding especially considering the dry and settled weather.

And so Wednesday 9th January kicked things off with a surprise trip to Topsham, unexpected but with David wanting to have a look around the antiques centre and then visit a friend on Dartmoor on the return journey back to Plymouth I wasn't going to turn it down. It was cold and still and sunny when David dropped me off at Bowling Green Marsh and I started off with a quick look from the first viewing screen at Goosemoor where a greenshank was feeding very close in with a redshank as the tide was receding and a water rail gave some nice if shaded views as it fed out in the open before scuttling back into the reeds.

Water Rail, Goosemoor

Onwards to the hide where the water levels on the marsh were very high and shoveler, teal, mallard and tufted duck were all seen along with a female pochard, 2 pairs of gadwall and a pair of pintail plus moorhen, snipe and lapwing.

Pintail, Bowling Green Marsh

Moving on to the viewing platform and in the field by the path were a feeding flock of wigeon and black-tailed godwits (one of which had plastic bling on its legs) and amongst them were 2 greylag geese, snipe, lapwing, teal and a nice ruff. A female bullfinch, a very tame robin and a male blackbird were feeding in the hedgerow and a stock dove flew overhead displaying while a buzzard watched the goings on from a fence post.

 Black-tailed Godwit with leg rings




The tide was quite low but from the platform I found 2 grey plover and a few avocets amongst the redshank, dunlin and black-tailed godwits, while from The Goatwalk avocets were more numerous and much closer allowing for better views.

Avocet from The Goatwalk, Topsham

From The Goatwalk a distant flock of around 200 golden plover were roosting on the mudflats along with a large group of brent geese, while from Topsham Quay 2 male and 3 female red-breasted mergansers were seen along with 2 black swans. However it was soon time to meet David for lunch and then head on up to Dartmoor - but not a bad couple of hours birding.

 Black Swan, Topsham Quay

 Black-headed Gull, Topsham Quay

Black-headed Gull, Topsham Quay 

Thursday 10th January and we drove to Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor for a walk on another cold but still and sunny morning.  Mallard, just 1 white farmyard goose, a grey heron, 4 cormorant and a black-headed gull were seen on the reservoir while the woods held good numbers of great tits and blue tits with coal tits, long-tailed tits, goldcrest, jays, nuthatch, a mistle thrush and 2 treecreepers also seen. Overhead 4 ravens were calling noisily while displaying and tumbling.

I could hear siskins calling in the trees and briefly heard a crossbill flying over but finally in the pine trees by Lowery Barn I managed go get some good views of siskins, coal tits and at least 6 crossbills feeding on the pine cones. The crossbills were easy to overlook and I only got on to them when the called, the views were difficult too as they were mostly obscured by branches and were feeding right at the top of the very tall trees but there were at least 3 male and 3 females present with 1 female giving some very good views and flashing off its very yellow rump as it fed on the pine cones.

Friday 11th January and I caught the early bus to Slapton Ley, alighting at Torcross at 9:15am after leaving Plymouth at 7:30am, and it again was cold and still but mostly cloudy with occasional sunny spells.

A Cetti's warbler gave some brief and obscured views in the undergrowth by the tank but 2 female reed buntings were much more showy. I found the male ring-necked duck amongst the tufted ducks but it was near the opposite shore so the views were a little distant but 2 male and 5 female goldeneye, 2 male and a female pochard and a black-backed grebe gave closer views along with coot, gadwall, mallard, great-crested grebe and cormorant.

 Black-headed Gulls, Torcross

Goldeneye, Slapton Ley

Out at sea gannets and kittiwakes were feeding with a few coming in close to shore including a smart juvenile kittiwake and auks were buzzing around offshore but too far out to confirm ID. A great northern diver was close to shore while a red-throated diver further out flew off towards Start Point, doing its occassional distinctive head lift as it went.

 Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull

I walked along the Ley and then along the path at the back of the Ley to the quarry and after a bit of a wait and a few brief and obscured views a firecrest finally gave itself up and showed very well along with goldcrests, long-tailed tits, a mistle thrush, a jay, 2 chiffchaffs and a male blackcap.

I then met up with David and we enjoyed lunch at The Start Bay Inn at Torcross before heading back to Plymouth - a very successful day out and with my year list now on a nice 100.

Sunday 6 January 2019

More of the Waxwing

Thursday 3rd January and with the waxwing still being seen in Central Park I decided to go and have another look at it, taking my own camera this time, but again the light wasn't very good with grey and claggy skies.

I walked through Ford Park Cemetery on the way to the park, seeing coal tit, song thrush, jay, nuthatch and goldcrest for the year list but there was no sign of any black redstarts. Onwards into Central Park and on arriving at the berry tree there was quite a group of birders watching the waxwing which again gave some amazingly close views. It allowed very close approach again but did not like any dogs that came too close, flying off into the top of a nearby tall tree before returning when the dog moved off.






Waxwing - my best shot, cropped and retouched

Having dipped on black redstart at Ford Park Cemetery I was very pleased the following day while having a cup of tea in the staff room at work to see a very smart male black redstart flitting about the rooftops - I have seen them here before over the years but usually female types so to see a male was very special.

Saturday 5th January was grey and cold and claggy again and with the day free I decided to catch the bus out to Wembury first and then have a walk along the River Plym on the way back home. On arrival at Wembury it was very quiet but by the time I left at 11:30 it was getting busy with walkers and families as the Christmas school holidays have still yet to finish.

Bird wise it was quiet too with the highlights being a male bullfinch, a flighty flock of around 15 cirl buntings feeding in the stubble field, 2 adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gulls roosting on the rocks at low tide, a few gannets offshore, fulmars circling along the cliffs of The Mewstone and a flyover raven.

The footpath along the coast has been improved further with hard core having been put down to the memorial bench by the 2nd horse field but it has meant a lot of clearance has been done to the vegetation alongside the path, hopefully this won't affect the insect life found here too much.

Wembury Footpath

Another sad sight was a large grey seal corpse washed up at the top of the beach near the sewage pipe, it has been there a while by the look of it and looked quite eerie with its pale fur and empty eye sockets.

 Grey Seal Corpse

Grey Seal Corpse

I caught the bus back to Laira Bridge for my walk along the River Plym to Marsh Mills, expecting it to be very busy again but it was actually ok, much quieter than Wembury had been. It was low tide so I wasn't expecting good views of any waders but I did see a greenshank and a distant flock of around 100 dunlin along with curlew and redshank. Shelduck and mallard were also seen along with 7 little grebe, 2 male and 3 female goosander and 3 male and 3 female wigeon.

The woods in Saltram Park were devoid of any firecrests, stock doves and ring necked parakeets but I did see goldcrest, long-tailed tits, 2 mistle thrush, a great spotted woodpecker, Canada geese, a male pheasent, a chiffchaff and a sparrowhawk. There was no sign of any dipper or common sandpiper at Marsh Mills either and so I caught the bus back home where I was glad to get warmed up after a chilly but enjoyable walk.

Sunday 6th January and another grey and gloomy day but with the waxwing still showing well I decided to go and have another look at it. I started off in Ford Park Cemetery first where again there was no sign of any black redstarts but I did see a flyover male kestrel, 2 ravens and a female pheasant.


There were a few birders in the cemetery who had already been to look for the waxwing but there had been no sign of it so I wasn't sure if it would still be present. However on arriving at the cotoneaster tree it was sat there busily gobbling down red berries and again gave some lovely views. There has been the usual Twitter/Blog spats about getting too close to the bird but from my experience the bird has been quite unperturbed by the people watching it although it is definitely wary of any dogs that get too close - and anyway, why is it that birders with no binoculars or telescopes but with massive cameras have to get so close to the bird?

I watched it for a while and at times it gave a lovely trilling call as it scarfed down berries and constantly pooped - a very lovely looking bird indeed even in the gloomy light.



New Years Day Waxwing in Plymouth

Christmas is done and dusted for another year (thank goodness) and with New Years Day to myself I decided to actually go birding, something I've never really done before due to work, weather or hangover! There were no bus services but trains were running and so I decided to head off to Dawlish Warren for a walk.

It was cloudy on leaving Plymouth on a later train than I had originally planned but it was all clear skies and sunshine on arriving at Dawlish Warren. A quick look off the sea wall revealed a few distant gannets diving offshore with a few scattered great crested grebes dotted around the bay and a brief view of a red throated diver quite close in before it dived and disappeared.

Onwards into the reserve and the usual woodland species were found - chaffinch, greenfinch, long tailed tit, etc, - along with a nice chiffchaff calling in the tree tops before moving off. The water level at the main pond was very high but another birder had found a very nice snipe sleeping at the waters edge and easily overlooked.

The path along the dune ridge has suffered a lot of erosion due to recent storms and is currently fenced off and so access to the hide is now along the beach but with it being low tide I decided to give the hide a miss and scanned the estuary and the sea from the dunes instead. The estuary revealed a male red breasted merganser, a greenshank, brent geese, shelduck and a lone lapwing amongst the usual birds while offshore a female teal and a small flock of around 30 wigeon were an odd sight sat on the sea.

It started to get very busy with lots of walkers, dogs and children and so I decided to leave earlier than I had planned and head back to Plymouth, walking along the sea wall to Dawlish to catch the train home. The train journey back to Plymouth went as smoothly as the mornings journey - trains on time and virtually empty, if only they were always like this - and from the train I managed to see mallard, jackdaw, sparrowhawk and little grebe for my year list.

A waxwing had been found in Central Park in Plymouth the previous day and as it is only a 10 minute walk to the park from the railway station I decided to have a quick look for it on arriving back in Plymouth despite the fading light. I soon found the cotoneaster tree full of berries that the lone 1st winter bird was frequenting with a few birders below watching it including local birder Russ who had texted me the news on New Years Eve. It gave some very nice views, being very confiding and allowing very close approach, but the light was fading and photography was a little difficult, not helped by picking up David's camera that morning as I left the house rather than my more advanced camera.




I watched it for a short while before heading home, only my second ever waxwing in Plymouth, and on tallying up the days birds later that evening my day list was an ok 49, 1 short of my target of 50, but the waxwing had been a cracking bird to end the day.