Thursday 21 November 2019

A "Long" Day Out

The weather remains rank with lots of wind and rain and especially so on my planned birding days out but with a favourable forecast for the 15th and 16th November I decided to drag myself off the settee and finally head off down to Sennen near Lands End in Cornwall to look for the first for the UK Paddyfield Pipit being seen there. I planned to go on Friday 15th but on heading off to bed the night before I switched plans and decided to go on the 16th instead. This turned out to be a kind of good call as the pipit, on nearly ending up in the jaws of a cat on the 14th, was never to be seen again - oh well, should have made the effort and gone sooner!

A Bluethroat found at Turf on 20th November piqued my interest but after being found it was never seen again and so I decided to travel up to Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham on the 21st with plans to divert to Turf should the Bluethroat reappear. It was a cold and breezy day with a strong south easterly wind and the Bluethroat wasn't refound but I had a good day out anyway.

I caught a late train (the 09:25 from Plymouth so saving myself £10 on the train ticket cost) and on arriving at Topsham at 11:10 and walking down the lane to the hide at Bowling Green Marsh I found 2 Firecrests feeding in the bushes with blue tits and great tits but they were very active and mobile and quickly moved off into the branches, never to be seen again. Long tailed tits were also heard nearby but I couldn't locate them amongst the trees and bushes.

The hide was jam packed with birders due to the high tide but despite standing at the back I easily found the Long-tailed duck diving out on the water despite it spending very little time at the surface.

Long-tailed Duck with Mute Swans

Long-tailed Duck

The long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher was also easily located too as it fed, preened and slept amongst the ducks before wandering off along the waters edge and out of sight.

Brent geese flew over between the estuary and Darts Farm with one landing on the Marsh to bathe and preen before rejoining the passing flocks.

Brent Geese

Pintail, shoveler, teal, wigeon and mallard were all noted along with a grey heron, a little egret, coot, moorhen and 2 mute swans but wader numbers were low despite the high tide with just a few dunlin, redshank, curlew, lapwing and black-tailed godwit seen.





Little Egret

A quick look off the nearby viewing platform and Brent geese were resting on the water with a small flock of around 50 avocets but with the tide still high I decided to head back towards Plymouth and stop off at Dawlish Warren along the way.

The sea was very rough at Dawlish Warren and the only birds I could find offshore were a few shag, herring gulls and a single adult kittiwake. A walk around the main pond revealed a female shoveler and in the woods a female sparrowhawk dashed past low over the trees where a chiffchaff was seen with a second bird heard. It was cold in the strong wind and so after an hour I called it a day and caught the train back to Plymouth having had an enjoyable day out.

Friday 15 November 2019

Blue-winged Teal, Mansands

Tuesday 12th November was breezy and sunny but cool and so we caught the ferry from The Barbican to Mount Batten for a walk to The Guardroom at Turnchapel for lunch.

No binoculars or camera with me which was annoying as a guillemot was fishing by the Sutton Harbour lock gates as we boarded the ferry and a pristine red admiral was sunning itself out of the wind on the metal frame of a door on the ferry pontoon, and on walking to Turnchapel a razorbill showed even better off the slipway at Mount Batten, diving close to the shore as it moved out towards The Hoe.

Wednesday 13th November was cloudy but dry and with rain forecast for later in the day we drove out to Mansands near Brixham for a walk around and a look for the recently reported blue-winged Teal.

I've never visited Mansands before, it was a bit of a faff getting there but it was worth it as it is very beautifully situated by the sea at the bottom of a steep valley. On reaching the pools down by the beach I scanned around but could only find 7 teal (3 male), 1 male gadwall, 2 coot, 3 mallard (2 male), a snipe, a pair of tufted duck and moorhens. Also seen were a grey wagtail feeding by the stream flowing across the beach to the sea, a pair of stonechat feeding from various bushes, a gannet flying east offshore and an adult lesser black-backed gull amongst the herring, black-headed and great black-backed gulls resting on the beach while Cettis warblers were heard calling from the poolside vegetation.

 Coot, Mansands

 Tufted Duck, Mansands

Tufted Duck, Mansands

I wandered up along the cliff footpath to the nearby cottages where a very skittish and mobile female type black redstart was flitting about on the roofs which I tried to get a good view of while always keeping an eye on the pools below for the blue-winged teal. Eventually I noticed a duck dabbling and up-ending out on the water which at first I thought was a female shoveler(!) but on getting a better view of it I realised it was the blue-winged teal. Unfortunately a very heavy rain shower duly arrived and the bird quickly disappeared back into the reeds never to be seen again but I was able to see hints of its blue wings, pale loral area and while upending its yellow legs and feet before it was lost from sight - a lifer for me and only my second lifer of the year.

 Blue-winged Teal, Mansands - photo courtesy of Paul Albrechtsen @mansandsbirder on Twitter

Blue-winged Teal - photo courtesy of Bill Coulson @billcoulson3 on Twitter

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Wet and Windy Birding

Since my visit to Bowling Green Marsh the weather has been pretty crap especially on my days off so I have been unable to get out birding but with a hoopoe being reported at Dawlish Warren on Wednesday 30th October I decided to go and have a look for it the next day despite the rain and murk.

David dropped me off at Dawlish Warren before heading to Toby's at Exminster with a plan to meet up later at The Anchor Inn at Cockwood for lunch. It had been cloudy but dry in Plymouth when we left but it was mizzley and misty at The Warren and after wandering around for an hour and getting soaked through there was as expected no sign of the hoopoe, not helped by lots of disturbance from workmen clearing vegetation around the car park area. A pair of hunting sparrowhawks, some nervous looking linnets and a moorhen by the main pond were the only birds seen but I did see a hoopoe - a stuffed bird in a case with a great spotted cuckoo when I looked through the window of the visitors centre!

I began the walk to Cockwood and while walking along the bridleway opposite the Dawlish Sands Holiday Park I found a feeding party of small birds flitting through the hedgerow - blue tits, long tailed tits, 2 firecrest and a yellow browed warbler. Unfortunately my glasses were very rain splashed and I had put my binoculars away in their case under my coat so the views of the yellow browed warbler were brief and difficult amongst the leaves. It appeared quite pale and washed out and later I heard it calling and it sounded a little off but I never got a decent view of it before it fell silent and disappeared. The firecrests were equally frustrating too with brief and obscured views but it was nice to find them all on such a wet and miserable day.

Saturday 2nd November was another day off with an horrendous weather forecast for strong winds and heavy rain and so I decided to kit up in my waterproofs and head out anyway, this time travelling to Berry Head for a look offshore. The journey by train and bus was uneventful and I arrived in Brixham at 08:30hrs for the walk to the quarry at Berry Head.

It was very wet and very windy but down in the quarry it was quite sheltered from the worst of the wind although there was no such let up from the rain. On the walk down to the waters edge I disturbed a pair of peregrines sheltering on the quarry face, the male being noticeably smaller than the female as it flew away calling but the female did return to perch on the rock face.


As I reached the waters edge I had a quick scan offshore in very misty conditions and picked up a single gannet flying around and had a brief view of a harbour porpoise fin breaking the waters surface. After a few minutes the mist began to clear and I picked up a few more gannets and also a few kittiwakes flying towards shore and with them was an Arctic skua, flying low over the water before landing on the sea. It appeared uniformly dark in the poor light and at distance but as I moved position to get a better vantage point for viewing it amongst the swell and to wipe the rain off my glasses I lost sight of it as it presumably flew off.

More gannets appeared and I picked up a distant great skua heading towards shore before it changed tack and headed back out to sea, flying shearwater style into the wind as it moved off west and out of sight.

Guillemots and fulmars were also seen flying around along with a red throated diver flying into Torbay. Later a red throated diver was seen flying west and later again one was seen flying into Torbay again but I have a feeling that the sightings were all of the same bird. The surprise sighting though was a female/immature marsh harrier battling against the wind as it flew low over the sea towards the shore. It made very little progress and occassionally flew up high before returning down to the water as it drifted across the bay towards Hope Nose where I lost sight if it.

Eventually harbour porpoises showed very well close to the rocks and attracted the attentions of gannets which soared over them with occassional dives into the sea, there were at least 3 harbour porpoise present as they moved back and forth offshore giving some very nice if brief views at the surface.



A red admiral was seen flitting about despite the rain but with my feet beginning to get wet and cold it was time to start the journey home and on the walk back to Brixham I had a brief view of a firecrest in the woods feeding with goldcrests. A pasty for lunch was very welcome as turnstones scuttled around the quayside of Brixham harbour and the journey back to Plymouth was uneventful too although I was glad to get out of my waterproof gear when I got home - and my new waterproof gloves had at least kept my hands warm and dry this time.