Tuesday 24 December 2019

Christmas (again)

The end of 2019 looms large, the usual Christmas frenzy is ramping up as the "big day" approaches and I can't wait for it all to be over, for the world to get back to "normal" and the New Year to begin.

Christmas Tree, 2019

The weather remains shite with what seems to be constant wind and rain and especially so on my days off so I have had no birding days out but I did finally buy myself a new telescope on Wednesday 18th December - a second hand Swarovski ATS80 with a 25-50 wide angle zoom from South West Optics in Truro. It's a bit of a beast, larger than I expected (I was originally going to get the ATS65) but it is in excellent condition and I couldn't wait to get it out in the field for a try out.

Fortunately on Monday 23rd December the weather was dry and the sun was even shining intermittently and with some free time I headed off on the bus to Marsh Mills for a quick walk along the River Plym to the Saltram Folly and back to put my new telescope through its paces. And the telescope is great, I'm very pleased with it although I do feel a little self-conscious carrying it around. I'm not so keen on my tripod though and so it's back to the internet to try and source a better one to suit my needs.

My walk was interesting on the incoming tide and with my scope I had some great views of a great northern diver fishing just downriver from The Folly, the highest point upriver I have seen one on the Plym before. A pair of red-breasted mergansers, a great-crested grebe and 3 pairs of goosanders were also busily diving away with at least 5 little grebes and later 5 of the goosanders were roosting and preening out on the mud while a single male fished nearby.

Red-breasted Merganser, River Plym





On Blaxton Meadow a lone female wigeon was feeding as gulls, ducks and waders arrived to roost on the approaching high tide and amongst the dunlin, redshank, curlew, mallard, shelduck and oystercatcher were 5 greenshank, 5 snipe, an adult lesser black-backed gull and a few adult common gulls.

Near the Marsh Mills Bridge a common sandpiper showed very well feeding along the waters edge very close to the footpath.

Common Sandpiper

Ring-necked parakeets were heard noisily screeching in the trees in the park and I had a few brief flight views of them between the trees along with a single stock dove but there was no sign of the reported peregrine that had been buzzing the birds out on the estuary.

The wind began to pick up and with the clouds beginning to roll in I headed home for a warm up and a cup of tea but I was very pleased with my scopes performance and with no real free time now until the New Year I can't wait to get out to use it again.

And so as the year closes its time to look back at another busy and stressful year but one that has again been excellent for wildlife.

Birding hasn't been particularly successful with just 3 lifers for the year - Pallas's Warbler in Cornwall, Blue-winged Teal in Devon and White-winged Scoter in Scotland. Dips have been a feature of this year - rough-legged buzzard, shorelark, hoopoe, smew, turtle dove and red-backed shrike to name a few - but I have had some good sightings including surf scoter, long-billed dowitcher, great white egret, ring-necked duck, wryneck, yellow-browed warbler, cattle egret and waxwing.

Waxwing, Plymouth

Our trip to Madeira in July was fantastic, it is such a beautiful place, and a highlight amongst many others was a boat trip off Funchal where a sperm whale swam past our yacht as Cory's shearwaters and Bulwer's petrels flew past. Our day trip from Funchal to Porto Santo on the ferry was great too with Fea's type petrels being seen.

Cory's Shearwater, Madeira

Our holiday to Sicily was another great trip too with Egyptian vulture and booted eagle sightings being the highlights along with a range of butterflies.

Booted Eagle, Sicily

Butterflying has been interesting this year with black hairstreak being added to my UK list on a trip to Oxford in June - indeed I managed to see all 5 of the UK's hairstreak species in the year which was quite an achievement. I also added large blue to my UK list and managed sightings of high brown fritillary, clouded yellow and small pearl bordered fritillary too.

5 UK Hairstreaks 2019

Mothing has been very much on the back burner this year with just 2 nights of moth boxing in the back yard but I did catch 2 of my favourite moths - large ranunculus and marbled green. The highlight though was a thrift clearwing, a teeny tiny moth that I almost overlooked as a fly as it buzzed around the clifftop at Wembury Point.

Thrift Clearwing, Wembury Point

And so to 2020, what will it bring? More butterflying trips are planned for the summer but otherwise the year at the moment is wide open, fingers crossed for another year filled with wildlife alongside all the unwanted but usual trials and tribulations and stresses and strains.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Sunday 8 December 2019

A Four Scoter Day in Scotland, Snow in Sweden and Dipping (again) in Suffolk

Thursday 28th November and it was off on our travels again, starting with a flight from Exeter Airport to Edinburgh. We caught the train to Exeter from Plymouth and as we sped across the Exminster Marshes near Turf I looked longingly at the area where the bluethroat was recently seen and imagined it was still present, lurking in the reed lined ditch by the sea wall on what was a bright and still day. And later that day it was indeed refound and showed very well but has never been seen again (so far) - oh well.

Our time in Edinburgh was great with cold, sunny and still weather and following flight cancellations and rearrangements by Flybe we ended up flying to Edinburgh a day earlier than originally planned which meant I had an opportunity to visit nearby Musselburgh for a birding day on Friday 29th November before friends Julie and Matt arrived in Edinburgh to join us for our stay there.

I caught the train to Musselburgh, just a 10 minute journey away and only costing £3.40 return. It was a beautiful winters day with blue skies, a little breeze and with a chill in the air and I was full of anticipation for seeing some good birds. The train station in Musselburgh was quite a distance away from the waterfront but after 30 minutes walking and a slight detour due to my usual crap map reading skills I arrived at the mouth of the River Esk where a small flock of wigeon were feeding on the grass and goldeneye were diving close in to the sea wall.

I had packed my tripod and telescope which came in very handy as there were rafts of ducks out on the water but there were some closer to shore and I had some nice views of velvet scoters, eiders and red breasted mergansers along with the goldeneyes.


 Goldeneye - female and male

 Goldeneye - male


 Velvet Scoter - male

 Velvet Scoter 

Velvet Scoter - female

Other birds noted were at least 2 distant Slavonian grebes diving constantly, 2 purple sandpipers feeding on a seaweed covered sewage pipe before it was covered by the rising tide, a black tailed godwit disturbed from the freshwater lagoons by an errant dog along with flocks of teal and lapwing, a female reed bunting sounding quite yellow wagtail like as it called from bushes by the path and a distant flock of 18 long tailed ducks bobbing around on the water. Also seen were greylag geese, Canada geese, turnstone, redshank, curlew, common gull, bar-tailed godwit and mallard.


I met quite a few local birders along the path and all were chatty and informative but none had seen the reported male white winged scoter or male surf scoter that morning but eventually I came across a group of local birders intently looking through their telescopes and who had found the white winged scoter while conducting a WEBS-like bird count census. It was very distant and diving amongst a flock of eider and velvet scoter and I would not have found it without their help but I managed some decent views through my telescope and better views through their higher end optics, with the larger white eye flash and different bill shape and colouring of the white winged scoter being noticeable compared to the nearby velvet scoters before it was lost from sight amongst the flock of diving birds.

The birders eventually completed their survey and moved off leaving a lone lady birder behind who very fortunately found the male surf scoter in the same area as the white winged scoter, again very distant but the white nape patch and white forehead patch were very noticeable. She described it as looking like it had bits missing compared to the nearby velvet scoters which I thought was a very good way of describing it in the bright light and at distance.

To complete the scoter set I found a small flock of around 20 common scoter out on the water before they flew off upriver towards Edinburgh, again distant but good to see - and so a four species of scoter day with the white winged scoter being my third UK lifer of the year even though the views were rather distant.

Sunday December 1st and it was time to travel onwards with a flight from Edinburgh to Stockholm in Sweden, a 3 night, 2 day visit with the main purpose of our trip being to visit the Vasa musueum showcasing the Vasa warship which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, was preserved in the mud of the sea floor and was then raised to the surface in 1961. Over 98% of it is original and it was absolutely fascinating to see it for real, looking like something out of a Pirates of the Caribbean film and housed in a very interesting and informative musueum.

The Vasa

Being city based and with limited time (and day light) there was little birding opportunity but I did manage to see 21 species, all common and familiar UK birds but nice to see anyway in the cold and snow of beautiful Stockholm - hooded crow, magpie, jackdaw, jay, mallard, tufted duck, goosander, goldeneye, coot, blackbird, goldfinch, house sparrow, blue tit, great tit, feral pigeon, grey heron, mute swan, cormorant, herring gull, common gull and black headed gull.



Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow

Common Gull

Common Gull

Herring Gull


Stockholm from the Hotel Room

Stockholm from the Hotel Room

Stockholm Chrustmas Lights

Stockholm Christmas Lights

Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm

Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm 

Wednesday 4th December saw us flying back to Heathrow in the UK and catching the train to Suffolk to visit my family for a few days and on Thursday 5th December we drove out to Bawdsey Quay with my mum to have a look for a reported rough legged buzzard. Unfortunately when we arrived at the Quay it was very foggy but it eventually cleared, however there was no sign of the rough legged buzzard although I did find a very distant buzzard like bird perched in a tree with a pale looking head but way too far off to call. Eventually it was time to leave to visit nearby Sutton Hoo but before we left I did find 4 avocets and 5 brent geese along the nearby River Deben and a muntjac deer running across some fields. And so another Suffolk dip at Bawdsey (after dipping the shorelarks back in March of this year) and as expected it was seen again 2 days later on the 7th December but never mind.

Sutton Hoo

And so it was a great trip away, tiring with all the travelling and too much food and drink, but as we sat on the train from London back to Plymouth on Saturday 7th December I reflected on what had been a very enjoyable time away as I watched red kites circling overhead. Now all I have to do is survive the approaching Christmas!