Monday 25 March 2019

More Dipping in Devon and Cornwall

I headed off to Slapton Ley on the bus on Friday 22nd March, catching the first bus of the day at 07:30 and arriving at Torcross at 09:15. I decided to visit Beesands Ley first, walking over the clifftops due to the high tide blocking the beach access and along the walk I saw a singing chiffchaff with a second bird also heard, a singing cirl bunting on a telegraph wire before it flew into the hedgerow and I heard an unseen singing blackcap.

Arriving at Beesands Ley and I began scanning the ducks out on the water, hoping to find the recently reported male scaup but there was no sign of it. I did find the wintering male ring-necked duck which gave some great views amongst the tufted ducks but with reeds in the way I couldn't get a decent photo as my camera kept focusing on the reeds and not on the ducks. Also seen were 2 male pochard, a male gadwall, a pair of teal, mallard, coot, moorhen, great crested grebe, mute swan, Canada goose, cormorant and a grey heron with Cetti's warblers heard and a raven flying over mobbing a buzzard.

A nice find along the footpath was my first oil beetle of the year, always a nice insect to see.

Oil Beetle

The tide had dropped enough for me to walk back to Slapton Ley along the beach and I headed to the Stokeley Bay hide near Torcross first as the male scaup has often been seen from here but again there was no sign of it. I returned to Torcross and then walked along the Ley to the bridge, scanning the ducks on the Ley for the scaup but there was still no sign of it - another dip (and it was reported the next day too!).

I did see reed buntings along the Ley side with Cetti's warblers heard calling while out on the water there were gadwall, coot, tufted duck, mallard, moorhen, cormorant and great crested grebes. A few common gulls and lesser black-backed gulls were amongst the herring gulls and great black- backed gulls and a few first summer black-headed gulls were hanging around the duck feeding area at Torcross.

 Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

It was quiet offshore too with a single gannet, a few shag and a flock of 22 sleeping great crested grebes being seen along with the usual gulls.

David and his Mum duly arrived and we had lunch in the Start Bay Inn before driving home and I slept all the way back to Plymouth after stuffing myself with fish and chips - a good day out but no scaup for me.

While at Slapton Ley I received a text from Plymouth birder Russ regarding a garganey found at Millbrook Lake just across the River Tamar from Plymouth and so the next day I thought I would go over for a look. And as expected and continuing the theme for the week there was no sign of it - my dipping streak continues! A blonde headed Egyptian goose, a flyover grey wagtail, 2 lesser black-backed gulls and a Mediterranean gull bathing amongst the herring gulls and black-headed gulls and a singing chiffchaff were all seen and heard though.

Egyptian Goose

Lesser Black-backed Gulls with Herring Gulls

Lesser Black-backed Gulls with Herring Gulls

Mediterranean Gull with Herring Gulls

Muscovy Duck x Mallard

Onwards to nearby Stone Farm along Radford Lane and I managed to get some nice views of the 7 overwintering cattle egrets amongst the cows along with a sickly looking little egret, a nice bonus after the garganey dip.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Friday 22 March 2019

Smew and Shorelark Dipping in Suffolk

Sunday 17th March and with a week's annual leave from work we headed off on the train to Suffolk for a few days away visiting family. The journey to Ipswich was uneventful and along the way we saw the usual red kites between Westbury and Paddington (but only brief and/or distant views) along with brent geese and red-breasted mergansers on the River Exe, a few roe deer and a lone muntjac deer in fields and a fly over great spotted woodpecker.

Monday 18th March and I had hoped to visit Bawdsey on the Suffolk coast where 4 shorelarks have been overwintering but with Mum having a chiropody appointment booked for the Wednesday at nearby Woodbridge plans were made to visit Bawdsey then instead. And so after visiting friends at Yoxford I managed to wangle an hour at nearby RSPB Minsmere and with Mum and David enjoying refreshments at the cafe I had a quick look around from the North Hide, the closest hide to the visitors centre and a good spot to look for the male and 2 female smew overwintering on the reserve. As expected there was no sign of the smew but I did get a distant view of a male marsh harrier over the reedbeds while smart looking summer plumaged Mediterranean gulls flew around calling and displaying amongst the black headed gulls. Also seen were avocets, 2 dunlin, a curlew, black-tailed godwits, a snipe, lapwings, a pair of wigeon, teal, shoveler and a little egret amongst the usual birds.

 Minsmere Scrape from the North Hide

Sizewell B from Minsmere

Tuesday 19th March and we visited the National Trust owned Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk for the day. Driving there and back through the Suffolk and Norfolk countryside revealed plenty of pheasants,  woodpigeons, stock doves, rooks, buzzards and red-legged partridges but the wildlife highlight was a large pike seen in the moat of the Hall.

 Feral Pigeon, Oxburgh Hall

Pike, Oxburgh Hall

Wednesday 20th March and after visiting The Walled Garden where a brimstone butterfly flitted past in the sunshine we headed off to Bawdsey for me to have a look for the shorelarks. I was hopeful but had noted the previous night that there was an almost full moon in clear skies and a gentle westerly breeze and it felt like the right conditions for birds to migrate across the North Sea. And unfortunately there was no sign of the shorelarks along the beach (although they had been seen on both the Monday and Tuesday), presumably they had decided to up and leave as I had suspected.

I did manage to see a few good birds though - plenty of mobile and vocal reed buntings in the reeds and stubble fields, songflighting skylarks, chiffchaff and Cetti's warbler both heard, pochard, tufted duck, little grebe and gadwall on the freshwater pools and a smart male wheatear on the rocky shore. A seal also briefly popped its head out of the water close to shore but never reappeared.

We headed off to Woodbridge for Mums appointment and while waiting for Mum I had a short walk along the nearby River Deben where on the exposed mudflats I had some good views of redshanks, black-tailed godwits, teal, wigeon, curlew and oystercatchers while a water rail squealed in the reeds and a green woodpecker yaffled away in some nearby fields

 Redshank, River Deben

Black-tailed Godwit, River Deben

Thursday 21st March and it was time to head back to Plymouth on the train and along the journey I saw more red kites but again mostly brief and/or distant views and despite my 2 major dips it had been a very enjoyable trip away (and as a footnote the shorelarks were seen again on March 25th !! and the smew were seen on March 21st!!).

Thursday 7 March 2019

An Early House Martin

Wednesday 27th February and the continuing unseasonal warm and sunny weather saw us head off for a walk at Lopwell Dam near Plymouth. We stopped off first at the allotment at Pennycomequick to pick some parsnips for tea and while digging them up a small tortoiseshell flew past, my first butterfly of the year. On arrival at the car park at Lopwell Dam a brimstone also flew over and on the walk I saw a few more dark butterflies whizz past but they were too quick and/or distant to confidentally ID.

The tide was beginning to recede and along the estuary 5 little grebes and a great crested grebe were seen along with curlew, redshank, shelduck, around 100 dunlin in a tight flock, little egrets, 2 common sandpipers and Canada geese.

A stock dove was cooing in the woodland while overhead at least 5 ravens were displaying and cronking with at least 5 displaying and mewing buzzards and while enjoying tea and cake on the terrace at the cafe by the dam a great spotted woodpecker was heard drumming and a grey wagtail fed along the waters edge with a pied wagtail.

There were plenty of pheasants in the fields and while driving along the road down towards the dam a single red legged partridge ran across the road. On the return journey 2 red legged partridge were seen feeding together along the verge but all are unfortunately targets for shooting parties held in the area.

Saturday 2nd March and it was time for my annual River Exe boat trip with Mavis, cancelled from last month due to the snow and ice and rescheduled for today. It was mild and sunny on arriving in Exmouth but with wind and rain forecasted for later in the day and after enjoying breakfast at The Dockers cafe we set sail along the estuary.

The usual birds were seen - curlew, redshank, dunlin, sanderling, black-tailed godwit, turnstone, bar-tailed godwit, oystercatcher, golden plover, avocet, grey plover and greenshank representing the waders and wigeon, pintail, mallard, shelduck, red-breasted merganser and teal representing the ducks with 3 immature male eiders also seen resting on the sandbanks. Herbert the Slavonian grebe showed very well in winter plumage off Cockwood and a few great crested grebes were seen along the river. Common, lesser and great black backed, herring and black headed gulls, little egrets, brent geese, cormorants and shags were also noted.

 Cormorant with Eiders, River Exe

Avocets, River Exe

 Brent Geese, River Exe

Brent Geese, River Exe

After the cruise we drove to Darts Farm at Topsham for a walk around Goosemoor to Bowling Green Marsh in increasingly cloudy skies. From the hide at Bowling Green there were plenty of ducks out on the very wet marsh where water levels were still very high - tufted duck, shoveler, teal, wigeon, pintail, shelduck, wigeon and mallard were all seen along with snipe, coot, moorhen and 3 greylag geese while redshank, curlew, black-tailed godwit, a lapwing, a knot, an avocet, dunlin and a greenshank were all seen in the high tide roost.

Shovelers, Bowling Green Marsh

Curlew, Goosemoor

With the recent warm weather summer migrants have been trickling in and I managed to pick up 2 sand martins hawking insects over the tree tops at the back of the marsh, distant views but great to see and I think my earliest ever. A third bird joined them but looked different and as it twisted and turned over the trees it showed a nice white rump and black upper parts, a house martin no less and definently my earliest ever in the UK, an unexpected but nice surprise. We watched them for a while although they remained distant and mobile before they headed towards the hide and then off towards the river never to be seen again - a nice end to a good day and just before the forecasted rain arrived.