Monday 28 December 2020

Sociable Plover, Bude

A Sociable Plover was found near Penzance back in November but due to work, weather and general life stuff I never managed to get to see it before it disappeared when a cold snap arrived.

I always suspected that it was still lurking around unseen in the wilds of Cornwall and so it proved to be when it was refound in Bude on Saturday 26th December. 

I was originally working a long day on Sunday 27th December but due to full staffing, empty beds and being over my hours I managed to negotiate the day off. David had the day free too and very kindly offered to drive me up to Bude for a look and so off we headed on a cold and breezy morning with sunny skies and occasional heavy showers.

On arriving in Bude we headed out towards the marsh but were thwarted by flooded footpaths until eventually we managed to get in to position overlooking the flooded fields where we quickly found the Sociable Plover amongst the Lapwings, Teal, Canada Geese, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws, Starlings, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.

Sociable Plover

Sociable Plover

Sociable Plover 

Sociable Plover

Sociable Plover

A very handsome looking bird, it was a little distant but I had some nice scope views of it with its pale eye stripe very noticeable. It looked like an oversized Dotterel crossed with a Grey Plover and behaving like a Lapwing as it pulled up worms from the sodden ground. At one point it flew off with a large worm in its beak as it tried to escape the attentions of nearby Gulls, I don't know if it swallowed the worm or dropped it but eventually it settled on the ground and the Gulls left it alone. At least it meant I was able to see its distinct wing patterning as it flew around but I wasn't able to get a record shot of it in flight.

Also seen were 2 Cattle Egret and a Black-tailed Godwit with a Cettis Warbler and a Chiffchaff heard calling. 

After an hour David's boredom threshold had well and truly been reached and so we headed to The Falcon Hotel for a warm up and a very tasty turkey roast dinner, my treat to David as a thank you for taking me to Bude. We then had a quick wander around the town before heading home after an enjoyable day out with a very nice life tick in the bag to end the year - a late but very nice Christmas present. 

Friday 25 December 2020

Christmas 2020

As 2020 begins to thankfully gasp its last breaths this crappy COVID year will soon draw to an end and what a year it has been. Christmas has finally effectively been cancelled after much shilly-shallying from the Government and the New Year is looking uncertain and bleak at the moment but despite the sad and restrictive year we have all endured I can be very thankful that my health and finances and of those I love are OK, much more than can be said for many people in the world at the moment.

Wildlife for me has been a God send this year, even more so than usual, and despite the stresses, strains, anxieties and fears it has kept me focused and kept me going. 

Birding has been great and I have recorded over 200 species in the UK this year (205 as of Christmas Day to be exact), something I rarely achieve and surprising with the lock down periods but more likely because of them as I have had to be inventive and explorative locally for my birding days out. 

One of the highlights has been exploring local sites that I would otherwise overlook in a normal year, my River Plym and Saltram walks and exploring Roborough Down and the Walkham Valley have provided sightings of a wealth of wildlife not far from my front door. 

Only 2 UK ticks this year - Little Bittern and Melodious Warbler ( but both seen before in Egypt and Spain respectively) - but there has been a good range of sightings of rare, scarce and uncommon birds (for me) with Ross's Gull, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ring-necked Duck, both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Woodchat Shrike, Yellow-browed Warbler, Tree Sparrow, Balearic Shearwater, Red-backed Shrike, Roseate Tern, Grey Phalarope, Iceland Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Black Guillemot the best of them. Maybe the Ridgway's Cackling Goose at Slimbridge will pass the plastic fantastic test too and provide a retrospective life tick. 

I had 2 great seawatching sessions at Berry Head which were informative and educational despite getting cold and wet in the wind and rain. A winter boat trip out of Penzance was great too and amazingly I saw a Hump Back Whale. Walks on Roborough Down were interesting including a long walk to Cadover Bridge with my mate Mavis where we saw Cuckoo, Dartford Warbler and Red Kite in glorious sunshine. And trips to Minsmere and Slimbridge were bird filled and comfortably familiar in unusual times. 

Butterflying was good too despite the lock down, 36 species seen with Adonis Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper resting on my hand the highlight on a trip to Fontmell Down. High-brown Fritillary, Essex Skipper, Brown and White-letter Hairstreak, Clouded Yellow and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary were runner-up highlights too. 

Mothing has been enjoyable too with the back yard yielding 9 of my 10 favourite garden moths (Old Lady was a no show) along with a Vestal and 2 Bloxworth Snout. Moth trapping in my Mums garden provided some interesting and new moths too including Box Tree Moth and Elephant Hawkmoth. 

And so here we are, teetering on the verge of a Tier 4 lock down in the New Year if not a total lock down but I will soon be getting the COVID vaccine at work as the NHS looks set to be having a rocky start to 2021.

Hopefully though 2021 will be as bird and nature filled as this year has been and things surely can only get better. 

Happy New Year! 


Thursday 24 December 2020

A Wild Goose Chase (Of Sorts)

Having missed out on seeing Tundra Bean Geese on our trip to Suffolk and on my visit to Slimbridge I decided to give myself a pre-Christmas treat on Tuesday 22nd December and took a trip to Burnham On-Sea in Somerset where a Tundra Bean Goose has appeared with 2 juvenile Russian White-fronted Geese at a local park.

On arriving at Apex Park in Burnham I walked down to the lake and there they were, standing around on the concrete slipway in the company of 6 Greylag Geese.

Russian White-fronted, Tundra Bean and Greylag Geese

Tundra Bean Goose

Russian White-fronted Goose

Incredibly tame and approachable down to a few feet as they came to feed on bread and grain being thrown to them by passers by, I spent a very enjoyable hour watching them in what was a rather plastic fantastic type moment.

Tundra Bean Goose

Tundra Bean Goose 

Tundra Bean Goose 

Tundra Bean Goose 

Tundra Bean Goose 

Presumably they are wild birds that have become lost from their parent flock and have adopted the feral Greylag Geese as their new cohort, learning their feral ways and lack of fear of humans but an absolute delight to see so close to.

Tundra Bean Goose 

Russian White-fronted Goose

Tundra Bean Goose 

Tundra Bean Goose 

Tundra Bean and Russian White-fronted Geese 

Russian White-fronted and Greylag Goose

They arrived at the beginning of November, much earlier than the influx of both Tundra Bean Geese and Russian White-fronted Geese into the UK at the end of November and it will be interesting to see what happens to them in the spring - will they migrate back east or over summer here and if they migrate will they return next winter? Or are they just plastic fantastic? 

Tundra Bean Goose 

Having seen the geese so well and so easily I decided to head back towards Plymouth and stop off at Exwick for another torture session with the elusive and skulky Dusky Warbler still present by the River Exe. I didn't see the bird although I did have a very brief view of a small warbler flicking its wings deep down in the undergrowth and appearing to have a long and distinct eye stripe before it disappeared never to be seen again. At least 3 Chiffchaffs showed better in the tangled branches including a pale looking Siberian type along with Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits.

2 Little Grebes, 2 Moorhen, a Grey Wagtail, 3 Stock Dove, a Redwing and 5 Canada Geese were also noted but the highlight was a Dipper flying downstream low over the water of a very swollen River Exe.

A nice trip despite being Dusky Warbler-less again and with Brent Geese seen along the River Exe at Starcross a five goose day out as well.

Sunday 20 December 2020

A Christmas Trip to Slimbridge

I had originally planned to visit Slimbridge at the beginning of the year to see the wintering Bewick's Swans but never managed to get there before they departed on their migration back to Siberia in February.

With the Swans returning to Slimbridge in November I planned to visit then but COVID and lock down came along and pretty much put paid to that. However a brief window of opportunity presented itself and so I took it and headed off for a visit on Saturday 19th December.

Slimbridge is in Tier 2, the same as Plymouth, and it has taken measures to be as COVID secure as much as possible. The hides have limited access and masks must be worn inside them which I found irritating as my glasses and optics kept steaming up but that is just how it is. There is also Avian Flu about, not an issue for people but dangerous to the birds and so there were detergent foot mats dotted about to sanitise peoples footwear as they wandered around the collection and the wild areas.

It was a "Meet Santa" Christmas weekend in the restaurant which meant no cup of tea and cake for me and the site was overrun with families with young kids but they mostly kept away from the wild areas. As annoying as it was it is obviously an important income stream for the WWT in what must have been a tough financial year for them. It was also interesting to see that a lot of work has been done and is being done to the site to develop and enhance the bird collection with new buildings including a large aviary being constructed ready for the coming spring. 

I started my visit at The Peng Observatory where I immediately found a few Bewick's Swans resting and feeding out on the lake including 3 juvenile birds. One of the adult birds was sporting a leg ring and a satellite tracking neck collar as part of the ongoing study to try and prevent their population declining even further. 

Onwards to the Zeiss hide where assorted and distant geese were feeding out on the marshes and so I walked down to the Kingfisher Hide for a closer view. A small and dark looking goose feeding amongst the Canada Geese flock caused some excitement but with better views it looked like a Canada x Barnacle Goose hybrid. More interesting was the Russian White-fronted Goose flock feeding in a stubble field close to the hide with some Greylag Geese before they flew off out onto the marsh but it was nice to get some close views of them for a change.

Russian White-fronted Geese with Lapwing

A small adult male Peregrine was seen buzzing a larger female juvenile Peregrine resting on the ground out on The Dumbles and I found the distant flock of feeding Barnacle Geese out on the marsh too when news went out that the (Ridgway's) Cackling Goose had been found on The Tack Piece and so I headed there for a look.

From the new Estuary Tower (my first time there) the 3 birders already present quickly got me on to the bird feeding out amongst the (Greater) Canada Geese flock, a noticeably smaller and darker looking bird although a little distant. It's origins are unknown, it is unringed and is not a species commonly kept in collections but it should be wintering in California and not Gloucestershire if it is indeed a wild bird. I knew very little about the new Canada Goose taxonomy and so it has been a very informative bird too as well as an attractive one. 

Ridgway's Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

Ridgway's Cackling Goose

Ridgway's Cackling Goose

Ridgway's Cackling Goose

The Tack Piece was full of water and packed full of birds with Bewick's Swan, Russian White-fronted Geese, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Mallard, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Greylag Geese all seen. A few Ruff were noted too including a distinctive white headed bird. A Buzzard was noted feeding on a bird carcass on the ground and a Raven also flew over cronking. 


A group of 4 Common Cranes flew over and landed out on the saltmarsh to feed, 3 birds were sporting the coloured leg rings of birds released at Slimbridge but one bird was unringed and of unknown provenance. 

Common Cranes

Common Cranes

I had a final look at The Rushy Pen from The Peng Observatory before heading home and I enjoyed some time just watching the Bewick's Swans along with a Snipe and Pochard and Tufted Duck, a nice end to an enjoyable day's birding in these increasingly weird times as Christmas looks like it is about to be cancelled due to COVID. 

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's Swan

Thursday 17 December 2020

Local Wildlife

The weather remains very unsetttled with wind and rain interspersed with sunny and calm spells and this is hampering any birdwatching opportunities.

Wednesday 16th December was wet and windy in the morning but showery and calmer by lunchtime and so we took a walk around The Barbican and Plymouth Hoe. I hoped something interesting may have been blown inshore but there was nothing of note on our walk except for 5 Canada Geese resting with the Mute Swans on the shoreline of Sutton Harbour on the low tide. 

4 of the 5 Canada Geese, Sutton Harbour

Thursday 17th December was in contrast a glorious day, calm and sunny, but I had arranged to meet up with a few work colleagues for a socially distanced Christmas brunch in an outside cafe on The Hoe where we enjoyed our cooked breakfasts despite the divebombing and food stealing attentions of House Sparrows. 

House Sparrow - ready to pounce! 

Walking back into the city centre and a soaring Sparrowhawk over The Citadel created some drama as it dashed into a flock of Pigeons, taking one out and crashing into a nearby tree where the Pigeon managed to break free and fly off, hopefully to live to fight another day but more likely mortally wounded. 

After completing my chores in town I walked to Ford Park Cemetery for a look around, hoping to catch up with a Black Redstart but it was not meant to be again. I did see a Goldcrest with Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits along with 2 female Pheasent (Mrs Chonks) but there was no sign of the male. 

Pheasent, Ford Park Cemetery

Pre-Christmas Dipping

Friday 11th December was the last day of my annual leave time from work and so I decided to revisit the Penzance area again for a final day of holiday birding.

I started off at Hayle and walked around Copperhouse Creek on the low tide. A Ruff and a Curlew Sandpiper had been seen there the previous day but there was no sign of them on my walk but I did see a Kingfisher, a Greenshank, a Grey Plover and a Bar-tailed Godwit amongst the usual birds.

Onwards to the Carnsew Pool and a Great Northern Diver and 4 Little Grebe showed well along with 24 Grey Plover, 14 Dunlin and 2 Greenshank. A walk along the estuary towards St.Erth revealed another Kingfisher flying over the mudflats along with another Greenshank feeding in a small creek and there were 2 male Goosander fishing together in the river channel. The usual Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Wigeon, Teal and assorted Gulls were also seen. 

I carried on to Penzance to stake out the sea off the Jubilee Pool to look for the Pacific Diver reported the previous day and again it was a big fat dip. 4 Great Northern Diver showed well though and further offshore Kittiwake and Gannet were flying around. 

On the rocks the small waders were gathering to roost on the incoming tide and I had some nice views of Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and 2 Purple Sandpiper.



Turnstone and Sanderling

Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper

Another Kingfisher perched briefly on the rocks before flying off out of sight and on the nearby roofs a pair of Black Redstart were flitting around but were very elusive, disappearing for long periods of time before reappearing elsewhere. 


A Chiffchaff gave itself away by calling in trees near the railway station in Penzance as I returned to St.Erth for another look at the Hayle Estuary. The tide was quite high by this time and so I walked over towards Lelant Station to scan through the Gulls amassing to roost in the saltings. 

Amongst the mostly Herring, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a few Common, Great Black-backed and Mediterranean Gulls and at least 2 very smart looking adult Yellow-legged Gulls with Daz white heads glowing in the shaded sunlight. 

Yellow-legged Gull with Lesser Black-backed Gulls

A Knot was roosting in the saltings too along with 3 Bar-tailed Godwit and Redshanks and out on the water there were 3 redhead Goosander roosting amongst the Gulls. I also thought I had a brief view of the reported adult Ring-billed Gull amongst the throng of Gulls on the saltings but couldn't be sure, quickly loosing sight of it as the Gulls moved around and despite searching I couldn't refind it. I also failed to find the reported adult Iceland Gull and the 2 1st Winter Caspian Gulls before I had to head home but an enjoyable day out was had despite it being a very dippy day.

Monday 14th December was wet and windy on awakening but as the skies cleared I decided to visit Exwick in Exeter where a Dusky Warbler had been found. The bird was frequenting a stand of trees alongside the River Exe but had to be viewed from the opposite side of the River due to a lack of public access. 

A few Birders were already present but the news wasn't positive and after 3 hours of watching, waiting and listening it wasn't positive for me either! A few times I thought I heard the "tac" call of a Dusky Warbler but it was faint and difficult to hear with all the ambient traffic noise and I think it may only have been a case of wishful thinking. 

It was nice to be out though with COVID Christmas meltdown building and chatting to the Birders present was interesting and informative. 

A few birds were seen as well - 3 Little Grebe, a Kingfisher, a Grey Wagtail, Mallard and Cormorant along the River, a Chiffchaff with Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits in the trees and a Sparrowhawk and a few Redwing flying over. 

Very dippy days out indeed, I hope it doesn't continue! 

Thursday 10 December 2020

A Day in Torbay

Wednesday 9th December and I needed to get out for a day's birding as the frenzy of a weird, COVID-19 Christmas continues to build and so I decided to head out to Broadsands in Torbay for a look around.

It was a very cold and very still day with increasing cloud cover and eventually rain but the sea state out in the Bay was flat calm and mirror like when I arrived at Broadsands.

Scanning offshore and immediately I picked up a Great Northern Diver very close to the beach and further out there were 2 pods of Common Dolphins splashing about, totalling around 20 individuals and showing very well in the flat calm seas.

Great Northern Diver

Common Dolphins

Walking around the coast path towards Elberry Cove and the Common Dolphins continued to show well before moving off to the other side of the Bay where they remained throughout my visit. The Great Northern Diver also moved off towards Brixham Harbour where it was joined by at least 2 more birds with another bird picked up out in the Bay.

Gannets, Fulmars and Guillemots were noted around the Bay along with Herring, Great Black-backed, Common and Black-headed Gulls. A Peregrine flew low over the water across the Bay towards the cliffs at Goodrington and later it flew overhead towards Brixham being mobbed by a Raven.

At the back of the car park at Broadsands the usual Cirl Buntings were feeding on seed with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, House Sparrow and a Yellowhammer but they were mobile and flighty. In the surrounding trees a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Chiffchaff (one tailess), a female Bullfinch and Long-tailed Tits were also seen. 

A lone Redshank looked a bit out of place along the sandy beach as the tide came in. 


I walked along the coast path to Goodrington and scanned across the flat water from the higher vantage point afforded by the cliffs and picked up a flock of 8 female Common Scoter which showed very well along with a Great Crested Grebe. At least 6 Red-throated Divers were picked up too including 3 resting together on the surface. A distant Diver looked good for a Black-throated, it showed a white flank patch on the right side but not on the left side and did look good plumage wise but too far out to call and eventually lost from sight.

I had better luck with a Long-tailed Duck which I picked up preening out on the water in the company of a Red-throated Diver before it moved off, a dark headed female bird, and later I picked up a much paler headed female which flew across the Bay before splashing down to join the Common Scoter flock.

Long-tailed Duck (left) with Common Scoter (honest!) 

Little and Large in flat calm seas

Another Chiffchaff was found in the trees surrounding the boating lake at Goodrington while out on the water the very confiding first winter male Scaup showed ridiculously well amongst the Tufted Ducks, regularly diving and surfacing with a face full of mud, a nice end to the day. 



Scaup with Tufted Duck

Muddy faced Scaup