Friday 24 January 2020

Burrator and a River Exe Boat Trip

Tuesday 21st January and we finally got to have our New Years walk around Burrator Reservoir on what was a sunny, calm and frosty morning. Considering the good weather it wasn't too busy and I managed to see some good birds on our walk

The reservoir was full with a trickle of water flowing over the dam and out on the water were a cormorant, 2 Canada geese, a white farmyard goose, mallards, 4 black-headed gulls and 3 male, 2 female mandarin ducks.

Mandarins, Burrator Reservoir

The woods held more interest with a marsh tit and a treecreeper seen along with the usual goldcrest, coal tit, nuthatch, great tit, blue tit, wren, siskin, robin and chaffinch. The highlights though were a brambling feeding on pine cone seeds high up in the trees amongst the chaffinches before it flew off out of sight and 2 singing crossbills unfortunately heard only as they sang out of sight in the tree tops. I did however get a brief flight view of a male crossbill as it flew over calling and I also heard another bird fly over but couldn't locate it.

Brambling (Honest!), Burrator

Wednesday 22nd January and it was time again to head up to Exmouth with Mavis for our annual River Exe cruise with Stuart Lines. The clear skies and sunshine from the day before had been replaced with dull and grey mist and a bit of drizzle, not ideal at all, but the boat trip was as good as ever and the mist did eventually clear a little allowing some good views of the birds in eerie and atmospheric conditions.

Waders were well represented with avocet, black-tailed godwit, knot, dunlin, oystercatcher, curlew, redshank, sanderling, snipe, greenshank, bar-tailed godwit, grey plover, lapwing, golden plover, turnstone and ringed plover all seen. Herbert the Slavonian grebe was in the usual place with a little grebe for company and great crested grebes were seen all along the river including a loose group of 12 birds. Wigeon, pintail, mallard, shelduck, teal and red-breasted merganser were also on show and a pair of black swans at Topsham Quay were very exotic looking on a murky and cold day in Devon.

 Avocets in the Mist, River Exe

 Shelduck, River Exe

 Sanderling, River Exe

Black-tailed Godwits and Black-headed Gulls, River Exe

After the boat trip we had out usual stop off at Bowling Green Marsh on the drive back to Plymouth and it still had large patches of the open water covered in ice. However out on the Marsh we found pintail, coot, wigeon, teal, mallard, shoveler and moorhen along with 2 male, 2 female pochard and a male scaup, my first sighting of one on the Marsh. A few curlew, a snipe and a few redshank were seen along with Canada geese and greylag geese while brent geese flew over between Darts Farm and the estuary in noisy flocks. A quick look off the River Clyst viewing platform on the incoming tide and we found 3 greenshank and a lone snipe looking a bit out of place on the mudflats amongst the usual waders.

 Shoveler, Bowling Green Marsh

Pintail, Bowling Green Marsh

There was no sign of the long-billed dowitcher on the marsh or on the estuary but a nice surprise was a female type marsh harrier which flew in to the marsh as the light began to fade and after circling over the reedbeds for a few minutes it disappeared into the reeds to presumably roost for the night.

Stock dove, chiffchaff, mistle thrush and long-tailed tit were all seen along the lane as well and as we began the drive home after a great day out we had seen 60 species of birds, not bad at all.

Monday 20 January 2020

Green and Blue Wings

Depending on my shift patterns I am occasionally able to save some money by purchasing a weekly pass instead of buying day tickets to get to and from work on the bus. This week has been one such week so in order to really get my moneys worth from the week pass I decided to get out and about locally on my days off, especially with the weather forecasted to be dry and sunny.

Wednesday 15th January was sunny but breezy and so I caught the bus over to Torpoint for a walk and a look around. I firstly walked out to nearby Wilcove where a male green-winged teal is again wintering (presumably the regular bird returning for another winter stay) and within a few minutes of arriving I found it busily feeding away with some teal along the waterline very close to the road. Unfortunately it was in total shade so the photos with my new Panasonic Lumix TZ80 camera were not that great despite it being so close but the scope views were amazing.

 Green-winged Teal with Teal, Wilcove

 Green-winged Teal with Teal

 Green-winged Teal with Teal

 Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Also seen were a noisy Whimbrel, a Greenshank, a Common Sandpiper and a Great Northern Diver along with Shelduck, Redshank, Curlew and Common Gull but with the tide receding the Green-Winged Teal disappeared from sight around the point and so I walked back to Torpoint for a look at St. John's Lake from Marine Drive.

The wind was very bracing in the exposed position of Marine Drive and the bright sunshine hampered viewing but I managed to find 4 Great Northern Divers, 4 Little Grebes, 12+Great Crested Grebes, 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls and a distant flock of around 40 Brent Geese consisting of both dark bellied and pale bellied varieties feeding out on the mudflats before it was time to head back home on the bus.

Friday 17th January was the last day of travel available on my weekly bus pass and as it was another sunny but breezy morning with occasional heavy showers I caught the bus out to Wembury, my first visit here since September last year.

It was high tide and with a strong onshore wind and so an Oystercatcher flock of around 40 birds was roosting in the stubble field with a few hardier birds attempting to roost along the beach with a Curlew and 3 Little Egrets. Offshore a Guillemot was seen flying east and 2 Brent Geese were seen flying west while a single Gannet was also seen and Fulmars were noted flying around The Mewstone.

2 Cirl Buntings were singing in the sunshine with 1 bird seen while Peregrine and Sparrowhawk were noted flying overhead.

The footpath as expected was a complete quagmire after all the rain we have been having recently and so with the tide receding I walked back along the beach, a much less riskier option knowing my propensity for slipping over in the mud, and along the beach with the flighty and mobile Meadow and Rock Pipits I found a nice Water Pipit, a smart looking bird strutting around with tail cocked and wings drooped as it chased off all comers to its patch of beach.

Also seen was a mobile and flighty female type Black Redstart feeding along the cliff and often hidden perched up in the overhanging vegetation where it was easily overlooked. It would occassionally launch itself up into the air to catch flies or drop down onto the beach to pounce on a fly but would always return to the bushes to skulk.

 Black Redstart, Wembury

 Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Also spread along the beach were small Portuguese-man-of-war, washed up after all the recent wind and rain and the first I have seen at Wembury.

Portuguese-man-of-war, Wembury

Saturday 18th January and with clear skies and no wind forecast it was time to finally revisit Mansands to look again for the wintering male Blue-winged Teal which is still present. I had a very brief view of it back in November last year and with it now moulting into adult male plumage I was keen to get a better look.

The journey to Mansands went smoothly - train to Newton Abbot, train to Paignton, bus to Brixham and walk to Mansands - and it was indeed a beautifully crisp and cold and frosty and foggy morning. The 2 mile walk to Mansands from Brixham was quite a slog though with a mahoosive uphill walk before the walk down to Mansands, not ideal for someone 50+ and so soon after Christmas, but a pair of Blackcap flitting about in gardens and a small flock of Skylark feeding in a stubble field helped to break up the climb.

The water level of the Ley at Mansands was much higher than it was back in November and walking over the stepping stones across the stream flowing over the beach resulted in slightly moist feet but I quickly settled into position on the hillside by the coastguard cottages overlooking the Ley to begin scanning around with my telescope. 2 pairs of Gadwall, 3 male and 2 female Tufted Duck, 3 male and 2 female Teal, Mallard, Coot and Moorhen were all easily seen and I also quickly found the Blue-winged Teal which showed well for around an hour, busily feeding and preening and looking quite smart in the bright sunshine.

It was quite shoveler-like with yellow legs noticeable as it dabbled and upended. The blue and green and white upper wing feathers were noted when it preened with the blue colouring being very outstanding in the sunshine and the green colouring being very irradescent.. The head had a dusky blue/grey colouring coming through and the white patch behind the bill was very noticeable.

 Blue-winged Teal, Mansands - record shot

 Blue-winged Teal 

Blue-winged Teal and Teal

A Cetti's warbler and a Green Woodpecker were both heard calling and off the beach 3 Great Crested Grebes were sleeping on the sea while a grey seal bobbed around off the rocks and a pod of around 10 common dolphins splashed around distantly offshore. A Chiffchaff and a female type Black Redstart showed very well around the cottages, catching flies buzzing about in the warming sunshine but with the Blue-winged Teal reverting to type and disappearing into the reeds I decided to head back to Brixham for a look around.

The walk back to Brixham was a less strenuous exercise and after a restorative pasty for lunch I walked out along the Breakwater for a scan around the Bay. An adult Mediterranean Gull was patrolling back and forth along the Breakwater and 12 Purple Sandpipers were roosting on the Jetty with Turnstones. Grey seals were hauled out on the pontoons in the Marina and fairly close to shore were a showy pod of around 20 common dolphins attracting the attentions of Gannets. Across the Bay were quite a few Guillemots and a single Razorbill and I also found 4 Great Northern Divers but only 1 of which was close enough for a good view. Shag, Cormorant, Kittiwake and Fulmar were also seen before it was time to head back to Plymouth with the journey home being smooth and uneventful again - another great day out and a nice end to a very birdy week.

Mute Swan, Brixham Harbour

Saturday 11 January 2020

Bramblings at Burrator and Ring-necked Duck at Beesands

Thursday 9th January and plans for a walk around Burrator Reservoir were abandoned on our drive there when heavy rain arrived but after a detour to Tamar View Nurseries and Waitrose at Saltash the sky had cleared and so we continued on our way. However within 5 minutes of starting our walk around the reservoir the rain returned and so we finally gave up and headed home but not before I had heard a tawny owl calling and better still found at least 3 Bramblings in a mobile and flighty flock of 100+ chaffinches flitting about in the beech trees near the main dam. The views weren't great in the dull light and rain and the birds stayed in the tree tops but eventually I managed to get a decent view of a smart male bird lower down in the trees before it flew off.

Friday 10th January and it was time for my weekly workout with my telescope and tripod, this time with a visit to Beesands Ley and Slapton Ley. I caught the 07:30 bus from Plymouth and on arriving at Torcross at 09:20 I began my walk to Beesands Ley, walking across the beach on the ebbing tide. On arriving at the Ley I quickly found the wintering male Ring-necked Duck which was the busily diving away amongst the tufted ducks and presumably the returning bird from last year. It was a little distant tucked away in the corner of the Ley but it looked very smart in the bright sunshine.

 Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

I also found a lone male wigeon, a little grebe, 2 pairs of gadwall, a sleeping great-crested grebe and 5 snipe roosting amongst the reeds with water rails also heard squealing but as it was fairly quiet bird wise I decided to head back along the beach to begin my walk at Slapton Ley.

Scanning around from Torcross and I soon picked out the wintering black-necked grebe diving close to the shore with its red eyes really standing out in the bright sunshine. Pochard were diving amongst the tufted ducks and I also picked out 4 male and 3 female goldeneye with the males energetically displaying to the females.

Along the Ley a female stonechat was seen perched up on the dead vegetation and I had good views of a Cettis Warbler singing away in a bush and sporting a silver leg ring.  At the bridge a chiffchaff and a goldcrest were seen and water rails were again heard squealing away while out amongst the gulls bathing and roosting on the water I picked out an adult kittiwake before it flew off out to sea.

2 ravens were also seen noisely mobbing a buzzard and 2 gannets were picked up flying around offshore before David and his mum arrived to meet me for lunch in the Start Bay Inn - a nice mornings walk with some good birds seen on a beautiful sunny and calm January day.

Sunday 5 January 2020

New Year Listing begins

Friday 3rd January was to be my first birding day out of the year but I switched plans and had a quiet day at home instead which I spent cleaning, tidying, sorting and organising after all the Christmas shenanigans, a shame as it turned out to be a lovely sunny day but with a chilly breeze. We did have a walk though around The Barbican and Plymouth Hoe and I did see the adult Mediterranean gull again amongst the black-headed gulls on Sutton Harbour but there was no sign of any great northern divers off The Hoe.

Saturday 4th January and it was finally time to get out on my first proper birding day of the year. I caught the train to Penzance, arriving at 09:40hrs on a mostly sunny day with a cool breeze and occasional and annoying mizzle showers complete with rainbows. I had my new telescope with me to put it through its paces and it was fantastic and especially so when scanning through the gulls roosting out on the estuary at Hayle but it is a heavy beast to lug around, well not so much heavy but awkward, chunky and cumbersome and by the time I returned home at the end of the day I felt like I had had a bit of a workout. Nevertheless it was well worth carrying it around as it enabled me to get some great views of the birds and has really opened up a new level for my birding.

On arrival in Penzance I firstly had a quick scan from the sea wall by the bus station but could only find a distant male eider out in the bay as a very tame turnstone ran along the wall towards me presumably in the hope of getting some food scraps.



I began my walk towards Newlyn and on a quick look around the rocks by the Jubilee Pool I failed to find any purple sandpipers. Off Tolcarne beach I picked up a distant female common scoter offshore and on reaching Newlyn Harbour I quickly found my first target bird of the day, a beautiful white winger in the form of a 1st winter Iceland gull floating around on the water.

 Iceland Gull - amazingly close views

 Iceland Gull

 Iceland Gull

 Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Also seen were 3 Great Northern Divers which also gave great close views along with a more distant male and immature male eider while off the harbour wall another Great Northern Diver was seen along with a large grey seal swimming by.

 Great Northern Diver - amazingly close views

Great Northern Diver

There was no sign of my second target bird, a black guillemot, and so I walked further along the coast towards Sandy Cove where it has occasionally been seen from but there was no sign of it on arriving as I scanned across the sea. No firecrest, black redstart or water rail were seen either but I did find a female bullfinch, a jay and a redwing to add to the new year list.

I wandered back to Newlyn Harbour where the Iceland gull was still sat out on the water and giving some lovely views before it flew off for a bathe off Tolcarne beach and then a preen on the roof of the fish market. It looked quite small and slight sat on the water but looked more chunky and robust in flight. Still no sign of the black guillemot but on chatting to a local birder he informed me it had just been seen off Sandy Cove and so I walked back there where I quickly found it out on the water having a preen before it continued diving for food - my first for Cornwall and a nice bird to see indeed.

 Black Guillemot - not so close views

Black Guillemot

It was soon time to head back to Penzance to catch the train to St.Erth and along the way I finally managed to find 4 purple sandpipers on the rocks at the Jubilee Pool.

Purple Sandpiper, Jubilee Pool

On arriving at St.Erth after a short train ride I walked down to the Hayle estuary where there were plenty of birds out on the mudflats and amongst the usual birds were a single greenshank and only 1 first winter Mediterranean gull. A quick look at the Carnsew Pool on the walk to Hayle railway station and I quickly found target bird number three for the day, a nice Slavonian grebe and good to finally see one for this years list other than Herbert the resident bird on the River Exe.

Sunday 5th January and I decided to have a quick walk along the River Plym on the high tide for a look around, taking my telescope with me again despite my achey forearms. It was cloudy and cool but remained dry and I had another interesting walk. I had my camera with me but had left the memory card at home so no photos other than just one crappy one saved on the cameras internal memory of a male winter moth on the wall of the underpass near Sainsburys (one of two present).

Winter Moth

On the incoming tide 2 male and 3 female goosanders were preening and roosting out on the mud with a female goldeneye, I think my first sighting of one on the Plym. The great northern diver was still present just off The Folly along with the great crested grebe and at least 5 little grebes while 6 male and 4 female wigeon were feeding by the sluice gates before flying onto Blaxton Meadow to feed.

Redshank, oystercatcher, dunlin and 5 greenshank were roosting along the railway embankment with grey herons and little egrets and there were a few shelduck roosting out on the water amongst the assorted gulls.

I had a walk along the path behind The Folly and eventually found a very smart firecrest feeding in the bushes with 2 goldcrest and a coal tit while at least 3 skittish redwings were feasting on ivy berries with a song thrush and blackbirds.

At Marsh Mills a common sandpiper, a grey wagtail and 2 male and 2 female Mandarin ducks were found before it was time to head back home on the bus and I was relieved to find that using the straps supplied with the telescope stay on case made for an easier and more comfortable experience carrying the telescope around than on my previous days outing.

Friday 3 January 2020

Another New Year

Since my River Plym walk on December 23rd I haven't managed to get out birding with my new telescope as expected but I have had a few interesting sightings.

Friday 27th December was our Christmas dinner day and on the walk down to the allotment at Cattedown to pick some vegetables for our meal I found an adult Mediterranean Gull amongst the black-headed gulls milling about on Sutton Harbour along with a little grebe and 2 Canada geese. A song thrush and a robin were feeding around the allotment while 2 woodpigeon were busily snaffling the Brussel sprout leaves and a grey wagtail and a Jay flew overhead.

Saturday 28th December and we took a walk around Burrator Reservoir to try and shift some of our Christmas excesses. It was very busy with walkers and cyclists and it was sad to see a fox hunt galloping across the hillside with a pack of dogs but I did see a marsh tit, a very pale plumaged buzzard, the resident white goose with mallards, a few flyover siskin and a brief view of around 10 crossbills "glipping" over the fir trees before they disappeared from sight.

My first bird of 2020 was a robin, well actually 3 robins, all busily singing away in the dark at 07:00hrs on Wednesday 1st January  as I stood outside my front door waiting for a taxi to take me to work for the day.

Thursday 2nd January and we took a trip over to Mount Edgecumbe with David's Mum for some lunch and a walk. The highlight was a gannet circling over the mouth of the River Tamar with assorted gulls and on closer inspection I picked up 1 or possibly 2 Harbour Porpoise surfacing occasionally beneath them, my first porpoise sightings in Plymouth Sound and a nice surprise to start to the New Year.

And so 2020 begins, what will it bring? Here's to another good wildlife filled year.