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!

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