Tuesday 26 February 2019

An Early Spring

Despite it being a Saturday, a gloriously warm and sunny day and Half Term Holiday Hell I decided to visit Wembury on February 23rd for a walk. It was unseasonally warm and unsurprisingly very busy and by the time I left to catch the bus back to Plymouth it was complete chaos with cars blocking the access roads and people everywhere.


There was no sign of any butterflies or moths despite the warm weather although I did rescue a large fox moth caterpillar off the footpath. There were however patches of blossom on the sloe bushes in the more sheltered spots and a few bumblebees were seen buzzing past too. My first common lizard baskng in the sun on a fence beam was also a nice find.

Fox Moth Caterpillar

Sloe Blossom

Common Lizard

It was quiet birdwise with the highlights being a female type black redstart flying over at Wembury Point and a brief view of a water pipit along the beach with rock pipits and a meadow pipit before it flew off never to return. Gannets were diving offshore and fulmars were prospecting the cliffs of The Mewstone, 2 curlews and 9 little egrets were roosting with the oystercatchers at The Point on the high tide and cirl buntings and stonechats were showing very well along the coast path.

Cirl Bunting

An odd sight was a training shoe on the beach covered in goose barnacles, unfortunately the barnacles were dead but were a good size showing how long the shoe must have been floating around on the seas.

Goose Barnacles on a shoe

A nice walk despite the crowds and disturbance and a welcome taste of things to come with proper spring not far off now.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

The 301st - Pallas's Warbler, Cornwall

Thursday 14th February and a beautifully sunny and bright and still morning saw us walking to Turnchapel via Laira Bridge before catching the ferry back to The Barbican from Mount Batten. It was mild but chilly out of the sun and despite forgetting both my binoculars and camera I did see a common sandpiper with a redshank roosting on a decaying barge in Pomphlett Creek on the high tide and a greenshank, redshank, common sandpiper and turnstones along the shore at Hooe Lake.

Friday 15th February was the first year anniversary of the death of my father-in-law and so we all assembled at the grave side in Ford Park Cemetery to lay flowers, plant bulbs and reflect before heading off for a meal at The Harbour restaurant on The Barbican.

It was bright and sunny and I had a quick wander off to look for a reported male black redstart and I quickly found it near the chapels, locating it more easily as it gave its anxiety call note. It stopped calling but showed very well in the bright sunshine and allowed very close views before moving off amongst the tombstones and out of sight.

 Black Redstart, Ford Park Cemetery

Black Redstart, Ford Park Cemetery

Black Redstart , Ford Park Cemetery

Sunday 17th February and we walked down to The Royal William Yard for coffee and cake on another bright and sunny day and on the walk back home I had a nice surprise with a calling yellow-browed warbler heard in trees along Cremyll Street near the Cremyll ferry slipway at Admirals Hard. It was very vocal and quite loud and at first I wasn't sure if it was a yellow-browed warbler or the squeaky swing in the children's playground nearby but as I approached the evergreen oak trees it quite clearly was a yellow-browed warbler. I couldn't find it amongst the leaves of the tree and it eventually fell silent but a very nice find indeed.

Monday 18th February and the last day of my week off work saw me heading off into the wilds of Cornwall again to look for a bird, this time a Pallas's warbler at a sewage farm at Coverack on The Lizard and somewhere I haven't visited before. After a bad night's sleep with weird dreams and thoughts and regular awakenings a 06:00hrs train to Redruth didn't feel like a good idea but once I was on my way it was ok and I managed to stay awake on the journey this time. While waiting for the bus to Helston from Redruth station a flyover peregrine was a nice surprise and while waiting for the bus to Coverack from Helston a grey wagtail feeding with 2 pied wagtails on a nearby bowling green was nice to watch.

I arrived at Coverack at around 9:45hrs and again it was a bright and sunny day and I headed off along the coast path to the sewage farm on the outskirts of the village. As expected the sewage farm was surrounded by a mass of overgrown vegetation and trees hampering viewing but there were plenty of birds flitting about and amongst the blue tits, wrens, robin's, great tits, chaffinches, long-tailed tits and blackbirds I did get a brief view of a firecrest and better views of a goldcrest and a chiffchaff.

There is a Pallas's Warbler in there somewhere! - Coverack Sewage Farm

I eventually found the Pallas's warbler feeding in the branches close to the footpath before it moved deeper into the trees and out of sight and as expected it did not stop moving for a second as it flitted through the branches. Good views were had though although it was mostly obscured by twigs and ivy leaves but I did get flashes of its yellow rump as if flew between branches. I watched it looking uphill and from below but did get a few brief views of its yellow central crown stripe at times and overall it was a very handsome and bright looking bird and my first lifer of the year.

I managed to get a few more brief views of the bird as it moved through the trees before just seeming to disappear and before I had to leave I managed my best views as it called for some time in the trees right above my head before moving off again - a very smart and characterful bird but no chance of any photographs by me so a few below from the CBWPS Website.

Pallas's Warbler - Courtesy of Linton Proctor, CBWPS Website 

Pallas's  Warbler - Courtesy of Dougy Wright, CBWPS Website 

Pallas's  Warbler - Courtesy of David Collins, CBWPS Website

I had a brief look offshore while waiting for the bus back to Helston and picked up a few gannets, shags and cormorants along with a female eider, a distant great northern diver and a very distant group of 5 probable black- throated divers snorkelling and diving together but too far out to call.

I had an hour in Helston before the bus back to Redruth so walked down to the boating lake for a quick look around. A ring-billed gull had been reported a few days previously but as I scanned through the herring and black-headed gulls I could only find an adult lesser black-backed gull and 8 Mediterranean gull amongst them (7 adults moulting into summer plumage and a 1st winter bird moulting into 1st summer plumage).

I also found the long-staying male ferruginous duck feeding out on the lake with tufted ducks, a presumed feral bird but nice to see and looking very smart in the sunshine.

 Ferruginous Duck, Helston

Ferruginous Duck, Helston

 Ferruginous  Duck, Helston

Tufted Duck, Helston

Back to Redruth by bus for the train back to Plymouth and it had been a very successful and enjoyable day and on arriving back home and checking my notes I realised that the Pallas's warbler was my 301st British bird - unbeknown to me I had finally hit the 300 mark with Pomarine skua at Penzance before Christmas!

Thursday 14 February 2019

A Great Day Out at Slimbridge

With a week of annual leave and no real plans we decided to pay my sister and brother-in-law a visit in Bristol via a trip to Slimbridge on February 12th.

We left Plymouth later than planned and got caught up in a few traffic snarls along the way but we arrived at Slimbridge just before midday on a mild and mostly sunny day before David carried on to nearby Gloucester for a look around antique shops while I enjoyed some Slimbridge birding.

I started off in the Martin Smith hide where a Jack snipe has occasionally been showing well for a while now and sure enough it was there but all I could see of it was a brown and cream blob hunkered down in the green grass. Fortunately other birds were showing very well - Bewick's swans, white-fronted geese, 2 buzarrds, golden plover, lapwing, black-tailed godwit, ruff, dunlin, redshank, curlew, wigeon, teal, shoveler, shelduck, pintail, greylag geese, mallard and tufted duck with 2 common cranes seen flying over.

Jack Snipe


I carried on along the path towards the Holden Tower, visiting the Robbie Garnett hide and Stephen Kirk hide along the way where I managed to get much better views of the Bewick's swans, white-fronted geese and ruff out on the flooded Tack Piece field.

Bewick's Swans with Pintail and Wigeon

Bewick's Swan with Teal

Ruff with Lapwing


There were 6 juvenile Bewick's swans amongst the adults and there was much calling and displaying going in the mild and sunny conditions as the birds begin to prepare for their migration back to Siberia.

From the Holden Tower in a surprisingly strong and biting wind there were 7 common cranes feeding out on the saltmarsh including 1 juvenile bird along with Canada and barnacle geese. A few skylark were also noted along with 2 oystercatcher and a pair of peregrines buzzing around and perching on fence posts or mounds of vegetation on the ground.

Barnacle Geese

I moved to the side of the hide overlooking the Tack Piece where I was sheltered from the worst of the wind and watched 1 of the peregrines cause complete chaos amongst the waders as it unsuccessfully chased a golden plover before moving on. A lone fieldfare feeding close to the hide was a surprise and I picked up a small flock of linnet feeding in the grass but they were too distant and flighty and mobile to pick out a twite amongst them which has been seen here recently.


The lapwing, dunlin and golden plover on the Tack Piece continued to be nervous and flighty and I picked up a small falcon flying high overhead before landing in the top of a tree - a female merlin, my first sighting of one at Slimbridge. It sat in the tree top scanning around before launching into flight and dropping down low to the ground in a fast flapping flight interspersed with wings tucked in, putting up the waders, linnets, starlings and skylarks feeding out amongst the grass as it rocketed across the field. Unfortunately I lost track of it amongst the melee and I never refound it and despite the distant views it was a nice surprise to see.

Back to the Martin Smith hide where the Jack snipe was still mostly hidden amongst the grass although 5 common snipe were much more showy. The Jack snipe would occassionally wake up and show its head and bill very well before doing a few bounces and settling back down to sleep with its bill tucked under its wings. Eventually it was spooked by a moorhen passing by and it moved off amongst the grass bobbing away before it was totally lost from view - not quite the views I had hoped for but nice to see none the less.

The peregrines continued to buzz over the Tack Piece putting up the feeding birds although they didn't appear to catch anything but it was time to move on to the Rushy Pen for the feeding session with the WWT warden. I had planned to visit the In-Focus shop overlooking the Rushy Pen to have a look at the telescopes but it had closed by the time I got there so I enjoyed watching the birds on the Rushy Pen instead, watching the Bewick's swans flying in to feed on the grain including a second winter bird still  unusually showing patches of pink on its yellow and black bill.


Bewick's Swans

Bewick's Swans 

Bewick's Swans 

Bewick's Swans 

Bewick's Swan with Mallard

David duly arrived to pick me up and we drove back to Bristol to spend the night at my sister Vik's and brother-in-law Nik's and the next morning at breakfast it was fun to watch the antics of 2 very chunky looking grey squirrels stuffing their faces on my sisters bird feeders along with nuthatch, robin, great spotted woodpecker, coal, blue, great and long-tailed tits, blackbird and magpie.

After spending the morning in Clifton admiring the suspension bridge across the Avon Gorge while visiting the nearby observatory with its camera obscura it was time to drive back to Plymouth but it had been a very enjoyable trip away - Slimbridge is always a great days birding and it was lovely to catch up with Vik and Nik.

Friday 8 February 2019

River Plym Walk

Wednesday February 6th and I decided to stay local and take a walk along the River Plym, firstly a return walk from Marsh Mills to Plym Bridge and then a return walk from Marsh Mills to Saltram Park.

It was mild and sunny after the recent cold snap and with all the snow/sleet/rain we have had the footpaths especially from Marsh Mills to Plym Bridge were a complete mudfest but it was a very enjoyable walk.

I checked the river from the bridge as I alighted off the bus at Marsh Mills and was pleased to find a dipper busily feeding along the river bank - this one had no leg rings so a different bird to the one I saw here last year. Heading upriver along the footpath I also found a smart common sandpiper feeding and a grey wagtail busily preening in the sunshine.

Common Sandpiper

The trees held siskins, coal tits, blue tits, nuthatch, great tits, long tailed tits and goldfinch but I failed to find any marsh tits while along the river I had brief views of 1 or possibly 2 kingfishers but better views of 6 male and a female mallard and 5 male and 6 female mandarin ducks.

Mandarin Ducks

Mandarin Ducks

Back to Marsh Mills and the walk downriver to Saltram was a little less muddy and on the low tide out on the estuary were 3 greenshank, redshank, curlew, around 60 dunlin, 2 adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gulls amongst the common, black headed, herring, lesser black backed and great black backed gulls. 3 male and 5 female goosander, a pair of red breasted mergansers and 3 male and 4 female wigeon.

The wigeon were sleeping by the waters edge and had probably been disturbed from Blaxton Meadow by a birder out on the wall path despite the No Entry signs and barriers in place but after he left they were back feeding on the Meadow. Viewing the top end of the estuary is now difficult and I hope that a better viewing area can be provided in the future but it is no excuse to go out on the wall and disturb the birds especially as they are now using the Meadow more and more.

 Blaxton Meadow

Saltram Park was full of birds too with both green and great spotted woodpeckers and stock doves heard and 2 mistle thrush, 3 skylark, Canada geese, rook, a jay and 3 ring necked parakeets (1 blue) all seen. I tried to look for snipe and Jack snipe in the usual place but it was extremely wet and boggy and without my wellington boots there was no way I could access the area.

Snowdrops and violets were in flower and new signage by The National Trust hints at the possibility of pearl bordered fritillaries maybe being found here in the future.



New National Trust Signage

Pearl-bordered Fritillary Close-up

I walked back to Marsh Mills to buy some lunch from Sainsburys and then caught the bus for the short ride home and it had been a very enjoyable if muddy walk - and I am always amazed at the wildlife that can be found just a short distance from my house.