Friday 27 November 2020

River Plym and Wembury Walks

Sunday 22nd November was forecasted to be an overcast day and with a high tide at around 10:30 I decided to take my usual lockdown River Plym and Saltram walk. However within half an hour of arriving on site a fine mizzle descended which became progressively heavier and after 3 hours I was quite damp and so gave up and headed home but I had an enjoyable walk anyway.

Mushrooms in the Mist (Sulphur Tuft, Hypholoma fasciculare?), Saltram

Blaxton Meadow was flooded on the high tide and out on the marsh were the usual Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Redshank with Shelduck and Black-headed, Herring, Common and Great Black-backed Gulls. 7 Greenshank and 16 Wigeon (10 males) were also noted amongst them. 

Out on the river in the murky conditions I found a Little Grebe, 4 Goosander (1 male) and a Great Northern Diver which dived as paddle boarders and a jet skier approached and was never refound.

Some shelter from the drizzle was afforded by the trees in Saltram Park and I was pleased to find a nice Firecrest in the trees above The Folly plus a few Goldcrest, a male Blackcap, a Jay, 5 Ring-necked Parakeets, 3 Stock Dove, an immature male Kestrel, 3 Redwing and a Nuthatch along with the usual common birds. 

Ring-necked Parakeet


A Common Sandpiper showed very well along the river at Marsh Mills with a flyover Grey Wagtail heard calling but there was no sign of any Dippers on a quick scan around although not surprising given the high tide. 

Common Sandpiper

My Swarovski binoculars have been returned from their servicing in Austria and I picked them up from the  London Camera Exchange in Plymouth on November 26th, just 16 days after handing them in and returned much earlier than expected. And they are fantastic, if it wasn't for the scratches on some of the metalwork I would swear they are a new pair and not mine! The armouring has been replaced and I have a new strap too and they look and feel amazing, very pleased with the service from Swarovski and London Camera Exchange - and it hasn't cost me a penny, just wonderful, and I'm very glad to have them back. 

Friday 27th November was another gloomy day but I wanted to get out with my newly serviced binoculars and so I decided to revisit Wembury. It was chilly in the wind with increasing cloud cover as the day wore on but it was another enjoyable walk. 

On arriving I picked up a small falcon flying overhead and heading out to sea. Initially I thought it was a Kestrel but on getting my newly serviced binoculars on it I realised it was in fact a female/juvenile Merlin. It continued to fly out to sea before dropping down low to the water and veering off towards Stoke Point until I eventually lost sight of it. 

The Water Pipit was still present along the beach, busily feeding on the mass of seaweed near the sewage pipe with Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits and being generally arsey as usual with any birds that came too close to it. 

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit 

Water Pipit

While watching the Pipits two small waders flew along the beach and landed on the rocks and at first I thought they were Turnstones but I was very pleased to see they were in fact Purple Sandpipers, my first at Wembury for quite a few years now. 

Purple Sandpipers 

Purple Sandpiper 

Purple Sandpiper 

Purple Sandpiper

Cirl Buntings were mobile and flighty along the footpath with males occasionally singing despite the cold weather and Stonechat were obvious too. 

Along the beach a Curlew, 2 pairs of Mallard, a Little Egret and Oystercatchers were seen while offshore a few Gannets were noted along with small numbers of distant Auks flying east. 

Herring Gull

A Great Spotted Woodpecker, a male Bullfinch, a Goldcrest, a Song Thrush, 2 male Pheasent, a male Kestrel and a Buzzard were also seen before I headed home to warm up - a great walk as always and lovely to have my binoculars back. 

Saturday 21 November 2020

Local Lockdown Wildlife

Lockdown 2.0 (or Locky D as the youngsters are calling it) continues although it is not as restrictive as lockdown was earlier in the year. However work continues to get increasingly busier, difficult and stressful, the weather remains mostly wet, windy and mild and life ticks along in this weird "on hold" state and it is all, quite frankly, tediously boring.

With mild temperatures and no rain forecast overnight on November 9th and 17th I decided to put out the moth box in the back yard. Previous trapping at this time of year has produced next to no moths and these 2 sessions were no exception with a single Light Brown Apple Moth in the trap on the morning of the 10th and nothing on the 18th. There may have been no moths in the trap on the morning of the 18th but a bonus for getting up early on my day off to check the trap was seeing and hearing a small flock of around 10 Redwing flying low overhead heading west. 

With the lockdown restricting travelling I decided it was time to get my Swarovski binoculars serviced. I have had them for 17 years and they have had a hard life with me although optically they are as amazing as the first day I got them. I purchased them from London Camera Exchange in Plymouth in 2003 and they are now dealing with all the arrangements for me as they get shipped off to Austria for their servicing but they are likely to be gone for 5 weeks!!! 2 weeks have nearly passed already but I can not wait for their return, I really am missing them.

A walk around The Barbican and Plymouth Hoe on Tuesday 17th November was pleasant despite the grey skies and occasional drizzle. The highlight of the walk was an adult Mediterranean Gull resting on a buoy out on the water of Sutton Harbour, a ringed bird but too distant to read the letters/numbers on the white plastic leg ring with my travel Leica binoculars while my Swarovski binoculars are away for servicing.

The morning of Wednesday 18th November was wet and windy but by lunchtime it had dried up and so I had a walk over to Ford Park Cemetery for a look around. There was no sign of any Black Redstarts but there was a lot of noise and disturbance from the maintenance men strimming grass. I did find a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest along with the usual Blue, Great and Coal Tits and 2 Sparrowhawks were seen flying over together. A very tame and stunning looking male Pheasent showed very well around the bird feeders, where he came from is anyones guess as a small cemetery in the centre of Plymouth is an odd place to find one.

Pheasent, Ford Park Cemetery


Thursday 19th November was a beautiful day for a change, sunny skies with a cold and brisk north westerly wind which eased by lunchtime, and a much needed walk along the coast path at Wembury was very restorative indeed.

It was extremely busy due to the good weather and the birds along the beach were constantly disturbed by walkers on the outgoing tide but I quickly found a smart Water Pipit feeding on the mass of seaweed near the sewage pipe amongst the Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. I walked further along the coast path to get a closer view of it but as I set up my telescope an adult Great Black-backed Gull landed nearby and spooked all the Pipits and I lost sight of it.

Cirl Buntings and Stonechats showed very well along the footpath with the male Cirl Buntings heard singing regularly. A male Kestrel, a female Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard were seen overhead and a Chiffchaff was heard calling in the bushes but not seen. Only 15 Oystercatcher were seen roosting along the beach with 2 Curlew and a Little Egret and a lone and distant Gannet was seen offshore. A flock of around 200 Woodpigeon were seen flying inland, appearing to come in off the sea, and shortly after a flock of around 80 were seen flying west along the coast and possibly from the original flock.

Stonechat, Wembury


Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

On the return walk I decided to amble along the beach and spend some time looking for the Water Pipit amongst the feeding Pipits around the seaweed mass. The Pipits were very mobile and flighty but eventually I found the Water Pipit feeding at the base of the cliff, obscured views as it constantly fed amongst the stones and flotsam and jetsam before it was flushed by walkers. A short time later I refound it in the same spot, the views were still obscured before it was flushed again but it soon returned to the same spot and I finally managed some good views of it. It was, as usual for Water Pipits, quite arsey towards any Rock Pipits or Meadow Pipits that came too close and it was interesting to see it return regularly to the same stretch of beach to defend it from any interloping Pipits.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Pipit Food along the Beach

Pipit Food

The sheep field was covered with lots of yellow toadstools again, I think they are Golden Waxcap, and the last time I saw so many here was back in 2012 when we had a very wet autumn just like this year.

Golden Waxcap (Hygrocybe chlorophana) 

Pied Wagtail

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Lock Down (Again!)

And so Lock Down Part 2 has begun, initially for 4 weeks, and all my plans and holidays have gone out of the window yet again. I've managed to get vouchers or my money back for my trips to Germany, Czechia, Cornwall and Suffolk so that is something and as I have to remind myself I am healthy and still working which others are not in a position to say.

I had to attend Track and Trace for a (routine) COVID swab on Saturday 7th November, my 4th one and something I now have to do weekly for my job (and all negative so far). Afterwards we drove up to Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor for a walk. However it was absolutely packed with people when we arrived, the busiest I have ever seen it, and so we carried on up onto the Moor where it was quieter and had a quick 30 minute walk before the rain arrived (again). 

Fungus Sp., Dartmoor

Monday 9th November and I met my work colleague Sue and her dog Daisy at Saltram for (a Lock Down allowed) walk. It was grey and cloudy but mild although as I headed home later the rain duly arrived again.

We had an enjoyable walk and a catch up and along the way saw a few birds too. The woodland held the usual Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Wren, Goldfinch, etc, with a yaffling Green Woodpecker heard only and a Raven seen flying overhead cronking away.

The tide was coming in but it wasn't a very high tide and on Blaxton Meadow 3 Greenshank, a Grey Heron and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull were roosting with the usual Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Common, Black-headed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Along the River Plym at Marsh Mills 2 redhead Goosander busily diving for fish showed very well along with 2 Grey Wagtail, a Common Sandpiper, a Kingfisher, a pair of Mallard and a flyover Sparrowhawk.

Goosander, River Plym

I have also received some information back regarding 2 gulls with leg rings I saw at Wembury back in September this year. The first was a 2nd Calendar Year Great Black-backed Gull seen on 9/9/20 with a white plastic leg ring P04D and which was ringed at Portland, Dorset as a pullus on 27/6/19 and which was also seen in Dorset on 15/7/20.

GBBGull, Wembury, 9/9/20

The second was an adult Mediterranean Gull on 11/9/20 with a white plastic ring 3LKT and which was ringed as a pullus on 21/6/12 in The Netherlands. It had been seen at Wembury the year before on 17/9/19 and  had also been seen at Broadsands in Devon on 14/7/20 by local birder Bill Coulson (@billcoulson3).

Fascinating stuff and all made possible by ringing schemes, I must make more of an effort to read leg rings when I come across them (and gulls are big enough birds to read leg rings fairly easily). 

Thursday 5 November 2020

Pre-Lock-Down Dipping

My year list currently stands at 199, quite an achievement for me in any year but a surprise this year considering the COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for some of it.

Wednesday 4th November was a glorious day with clear blue skies, no breeze, sunshine and an early morning frost and I wanted to have a good day out as we start another 4 week lock down tomorrow. And I also wanted to try and reach the magic 200 for my year list before the lock down starts. 

I decided to visit the River Exe, starting at Exmouth to look for an American Wigeon amongst the Eurasian Wigeon flock. The tide was just starting to ebb and out on the water and close to the path was a mass of birds - Wigeon, Brent Geese, Pintail, Mallard, Shelduck, Teal and Mute Swan - but try as I might I couldn't find the American Wigeon amongst them. As the tide receded the birds began moving out to the mudflats and flying upriver to feed and eventually it was time to call it a day and head on to Dawlish Warren.

Brent Geese and Wigeon, Exmouth

It was much quieter at Dawlish Warren on arriving there than it had been on my last visit during Half Term Holiday Hell and with the tide low I concentrated my efforts in the bushes and woodland to look for a reported Yellow-browed Warbler. Needless to say I didn't see or hear it but it was pleasant wandering around in the warm sunshine.

6 Swallow flying east were a surprise while at least 4 Chiffchaff feeding in the bushes were not so much. A pair of Shoveler, a Little Grebe, Moorhen and a feral male Mallard with a female were on the Main Pond and a Water Rail was heard squealing with another bird seen briefly dashing across a gap in the reeds, my first Water Rail sighting of the year after hearing them just about everywhere this year.

Male Shoveler, Dawlish Warren

A Goldcrest, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Stonechat and Goldfinch were also seen with flyover Shelduck, Cormorant, Meadow Pipit and a few Woodpigeon.

A nice day out despite the double dip and a year list still on 199 before a 4 week lock down in November but there's still time yet - just got to get through the next couple of weeks as life goes back to eat, sleep, work, limited birding and repeat, such fun.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Grey Phalarope Part II

Tuesday 3rd November was a calmer and colder day with occasional showers and I decided to see if the Grey Phalarope was still present off Plymouth Hoe. It had shown well the previous day but with the better weather conditions I wasn't sure if it would still be around.

I arrived at Tinside Pool but couldn't find the bird on a quick scan around. However I eventually found it feeding on the sea at the nearby Wet Wok restaurant and so I walked over to there for a better and closer view. It showed very well as it busily fed amongst the floating leaves and flotsam and was very much appreciated by a growing number of birders who arrived to see it. 

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope 

Grey Phalarope 

Grey Phalarope 

Grey Phalarope 

Grey Phalarope 

Eventually it moved along the harbourside before flying off a short distance and resettling on the sea. Unfortunately I took my eye off it briefly and then couldn't refind it and despite scanning around it never reappeared before I had to leave but I was very pleased to have seen it again and in much better conditions than on Sunday.

Also seen were a very smart looking flyby adult Mediterranean Gull in winter plumage, a distant Great Northern Diver off Drakes Island, 7 Turnstone on the rocks and 2 Portuguese Man O'War floating around amongst the flotsam in the harbour.

Portuguese Man O'War

I decided to walk up to the Plymouth University Campus on the way home to have a look for Firecrest which have still been showing in the trees where I saw them back in October and shortly after arriving I found one busily feeding in the Yews. Viewing was difficult amongst the branches and eventually it moved off deeper into the foliage but it was nice to see at least one bird was still present.

Sunday 1 November 2020

Grey Phalarope, Plymouth Hoe

Wednesday 28th October was very windy with sunny spells and heavy showers and a day of "life admin" (as the youngsters call it) was broken up by a walk to Plymouth Hoe to look for any storm driven birds and especially Grey Phalarope. It was sunny when I left home but by the time I arrived at The Hoe the heavens opened with torrential rain and hail while lightning and the loudest thunder I have ever heard raged overhead. The upshot was I got absolutely drenched through and the only bird of note I saw was a Turnstone!

Fast forward to Sunday November 1st and after more days of wet and windy weather and sightings of Grey Phalaropes in Cornwall I took another walk up to The Hoe for a look around. It was windy and misty and mizzley and I got soaked through but this time I found a Grey Phalarope for my troubles!

It was feeding around floating masses of seaweed and flotsam, one of which contained a Portuguese Man-o-War, but it was mobile and flighty, disappearing from view at times and then suddenly reappearing elsewhere.

I first found it just as I was about to leave and walk home and at first I thought it was a plastic water bottle bobbing around in the swell until I got my binoculars on it. I then realised I had left my camera and phone at home and so after a few minutes of watching it I dashed home to get them and to put out the news. Fortunately it was still in the same place when I returned and local birders Russ and Dan had arrived on site too. I then had some lovely views of the bird and managed to get a few decentish shots (for me) in less than ideal conditions.

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope

A lovely bird and my third ever and all have been in Plymouth Sound but this is the first one I have found myself.