Friday 26 February 2021

Glaucous Gull Catch Up

Saturday 20th February was yet again a wet and windy day but I had to get out of the house for a walk and so I headed off to Plymouth Hoe again. It wasn't as wet as the previous days walk but was windier which made viewing difficult at times.

The Purple Sandpiper was again showing very well on the rocks below Rusty Anchor at West Hoe, easily overlooked as it fed on the rocks in the breaking waves of the high tide. 

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

There were 5 Turnstones feeding together on the rocks below the Pier One Cafe and off Duttons Cafe there were 2 Great Northern Divers bobbing around in the rough water with one bird very close in.

Great Northern Diver 

Great Northern Diver 

The Long-tailed Duck was again feeding in The Cattewater and was closer to shore this time but it soon flew off upriver before landing again and remaining distant and mobile, spending little time at the surface.

That evening I noticed a report on the sightings pages of a Glaucous Gull having been seen in The Sound that afternoon, I had been scanning through the Gulls present on my walk in the hope of finding a white-winger but with no luck and so I hoped it would be refound again in the following days. 

Tuesday 23rd February and I decided to visit Wembury for a walk on a grey and windy day with yet more strong winds but at least it was dry. The footpath was even more of a mud bath than usual and I ended up getting filthy but it was worth it as I found myself a 2nd winter(?) Glaucous Gull! Presumably it is the bird seen on Saturday in Plymouth Sound and possibly the bird seen at Stoke Point back in December, a very nice find and my first at Wembury, hopefully I will catch up with it in Plymouth sometime soon.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

I noticed it first as it flew down onto the rocks where it casually observed the world around it, a lovely pale and large looking bird that appeared to almost glow in the dull light. It was stood on its own and I had some great views looking down on it from the clifftop footpath but it was eventually flushed by a dog walker, flying off towards Plymouth and showing missing primary feathers on both wings as it went.

Glaucous Gull in full camouflage flight mode

A Bar-tailed Godwit was seen feeding out on the rocks nearby with Oystercatchers and at least 3 Curlews, and 2 Little Egrets and 2 male and a female Mallard were also noted. A single Meadow Pipit was found feeding on the rotting seaweed mass along the beach with Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Cirl Buntings were skittish and skulky in the stubble field and surrounding hedgerows and Skylarks were singing overhead. A Buzzard and a male Kestrel flew overhead and it was nice to see 4 Greenfinch singing and songflighting around the gardens of the village on the walk down to the beach.


Heading back to Plymouth and I decided to walk around the River Plym, starting off at Laira Bridge and walking up to Marsh Mills along The Ride before returning downriver along The Embankment.

The tide was high and a single Little Grebe was seen busily diving on the river just upstream from Laira Bridge. At Blaxton Meadow the water was flowing in through the sluice but the water level was very low and there were lots of gulls roosting out on the mud including 2 unringed adult Mediterranean Gulls with one in full summer plumage. 

Mediterranean Gull with Black Headed-gulls

Mediterranean Gulls with Black-headed Gulls 

Redshank, Curlew and a few Dunlin were roosting out on the mud too with Shelduck and a lone Canada Goose. An increase in adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls amongst the roosting Gulls was noticeable too. 

A pair of Goosander were resting on the water of the Plym near the sewage outlet and the only other birds of note were a small flock of roosting Turnstone with a single Dunlin at Blagdons Meadow.

Dunlin with Turnstones

Another wet and windy day on Wednesday 24th February and another Plymouth Hoe walk but there was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers this time. A Great Northern Diver was catching crabs close to shore and diving regularly to avoid the attentions of Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls as it tried to eat them at the surface. The Long-tailed Duck was again found out in The Cattewater but as usual was distant and mobile.

Thursday 25th February was for a change a dry and mostly sunny day with a light breeze and so I decided to visit a site on the outskirts of Plymouth for a walk. The footpath was a complete quagmire in places and I ended up with very wet and very muddy walking boots and trousers but it was worth it.

At the start of my walk I found 9 Cattle Egrets feeding in a field amongst a herd of cows along with a few Little Egrets. Lots of Pheasents were also seen in the fields along with a few Red-legged Partridges and on a flooded field by the river a lone male Teal was seen with Mallards and Shelduck. 

The main interest was overhead though with Ravens and Buzzards seen soaring on the thermals and calling. A Red Kite amongst them was a complete surprise and I watched it for some time as it continually circled around the same area until it drifted off out of sight.

I disturbed a female Sparrowhawk from a hedgerow and watched it flying off and a few minutes later I watched a female Goshawk briefly flying over, a much larger and robust looking bird than the Sparrowhawk. It flew over showing fluffed out white undertail coverts and giving a few gentle flaps of its wings and then gliding before it disappeared into the trees. A few minutes later a flock of  around 20 Woodpigeon scattered out of the trees and I watched the Goshawk flying off over the river and disappearing again into the woodland. Later I had another brief view of a female in the same area causing complete panic amongst the Jackdaws and Carrion Crows feeding in the fields as it buzzed through.

Sparrowhawks were also seen soaring high overhead with 4 together at one point, 2 males with 2 noticeably larger females, but I also saw 2 Goshawks distantly through my telescope, a male and a female displaying with Nightjar-like wing flapping before they drifted off. A Goshawk with fluffed out white undertail coverts was also seen flying over the treetops before briefly perching in a tree, again very distant and unfortunately against the skyline so difficult to pick out any detail. 

An interesting walk and one I shall hopefully be repeating again soon if weather conditions are right as I would love to get some better views of the Goshawks. 

Friday 19 February 2021

A Plymouth Long-tailed Duck!

Monday 15th February and things had certainly warmed up on the weather front with sunshine and mild temperatures for a change. I had planned to have a wander around Plymouth Hoe for a look about and with news breaking of a Long-tailed Duck in The Sound my mind was definently made up and I headed up to The Hoe as soon as I could after my morning appointment at the dentists.

The Long-tailed Duck was reported as being off Mount Batten Pier but a look around off Duttons cafe on The Hoe towards Mount Batten drew a blank. I tried to find out some more information about the sighting on social media but with no further news forthcoming I decided to head home and travel around to Mount Batten for a better look. However on the walk back home I then met up with local birder Russ who had found the bird and had posted the news and we headed back up to The Hoe together for another look, eventually finding the bird busily diving in The Cattewater - my first for Plymouth and the first sighting of one in Plymouth since 2004. Plymouth Hoe is certainly proving to be the place to bird at the moment!

It was a little distant and spent little time at the surface but I had some good scope views of it in between dives. 5 Turnstones were also seen feeding down on the rocky foreshore and a Raven flew over cronking and tumbling and closely followed by a silent and non-tumbling bird, presumably a pair. At least 3 Great Northern Divers were also seen bobbing around out on the water including one bird quite close in and having a bit of a nap

Long-tailed Duck - the dot to the left of the buoys! 

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

The following day was Shrove Tuesday and we had a quick walk around The Hoe again before having pancakes for tea at David's Mums house. The Long-tailed Duck was seen again in The Cattewater but was again a little distant and very actively diving. At least 2 Great Northern Divers were also seen and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser were picked up flying down The Plym and out into The Sound. An adult winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull flying around Mount Batten Pier looked very white in the sunshine and is the first one I've seen in Plymouth this year.

Great Northern Diver 

A Fly on the Wall! 

Thursday 18th February was sunny but cool and breezy and I met my mate Mavis for a bird walk around Saltram Park and along The Plym. It was incredibly busy with people in this half term week, quite uncomfortably disconcerting to us both, but we managed to get some peace and quiet in the woods above The Amphitheatre.

The tide was high and out on Blaxton Meadow the Grey Plover was still present along with 6 Greenshank and there were now 3 Bar-tailed Godwit amongst the Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher present. Common and Lesser-Black Backed Gulls were roosting amongst the Herring and Black-headed Gulls and were trying to avoid the antics of the Carrion Crows nearby. 

Bar-tailed Godwit with Curlews

Along the river 7 Goosander (4 males) and 4 Little Grebe were seen and roosting on the Embankment wall a large roost of Dunlin and Redshank with a few Turnstone were picked up with our scopes.

The woods and fields held the usual birds with a male Stonechat, a Goldcrest, a Jay, Stock Doves, Nuthatch and Ring-necked Parakeets the highlights.

The male Mandarin Ducks on the pond looked splendid as they displayed (and mated) with the females present but there was no sign of the female Red-crested Pochard. A preening Muscovy Duck looked splendid in the sunshine too. 

Muscovy Duck

A tame male Chaffinch was feeding on seed by the pondside but unfortunately had a right foot infected by Fringilla papilloma virus. 


Chaffinch with infected foot

Friday 19th February was another wet and windy day, perfect for a Plymouth Hoe walk! It wasn't too bad though and it made a nice change to have a walk with only a few people around. I was hoping something exciting might have been blown into The Sound but there wasn't even a Gannet to be seen although I was pleased to find 2 Great Northern Divers in the choppy seas of The Cattewater. There was no sign of the recent Long-tailed Duck though. 

The Purple Sandpiper was found feeding on the rocks at Rusty Anchor, the first time I have seen it here, and it looked quite at home as the waves crashed against the shore. 

Purple Sandpiper

A female Blackbird was busily feeding on ivy berries close to the footpath and allowed some very close views before dashing off into cover. 


Walking home via The Barbican and a strange sight was of a Great Black-backed Gull appearing to attack a Feral Pigeon before drowning it and then eating it for its lunch while a second bird called noisily nearby. 

Great Black-backed Gull with Feral Pigeon

Great Black-backed Gull without Feral Pigeon

Sunday 14 February 2021

Gelid Plymouth

It's been a chilly week off work so far with a gelid Easterly wind cutting through you like a knife. Unusually cold for Plymouth in these days of climate change and a warming world and also unusual for the length of time it has been so cold, cold snaps generally come and go very quickly these days.

Thursday 11th February and I had arranged to meet my work colleague Sue and her dog Daisy for a walk around Saltram. It was grey and cold with that nasty wind blowing through but out of the wind it wasn't too bad. However it wasn't meant to be as Sue's car broke down on the drive to Saltram to meet me and so I ended up having a birdy walk on my own. 

The highlight were 5 Shoveler on a flooded Blaxton Meadow, a male and 4 female and my first for Plymouth. A female Teal was also my first for the Plym as it busily fed amongst the 16 Wigeon present (8 males).

Shoveler and Wigeon, Blaxton Meadow 

The duck-fest continued with the female Red-crested Pochard and 7 Mandarin Ducks (4 male) present on the duck pond along with assorted Mallards. A pair of Goosander were seen out on the River and Shelduck were seen feeding out on the mudflats.

Red-crested Pochard, Saltram Duck Pond

Mandarin Duck, Saltram Duck Pond

Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were also feeding out on the mud and 11 Lapwing flying over towards Dartmoor were also another first for the Plym.

A Raven, Stock Doves, Ring-necked Parakeets, 4 Little Grebe, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Gulls, Chaffinch and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were also noted.

I had arranged to meet my work colleague Monica in the afternoon for a walk around Plymouth Hoe and we had a good natter and catch up outside of the confines of the workplace. I took my camera and binoculars with me but the wind had strengthened and it was too strong and too gelid to look out for any birds this time.

Friday 12th February was another very cold and very windy day and a walk around Plymouth Hoe was very bracing to say the least. The tide was low and only a single Turnstone was seen down on the rocks while a Great Northern Diver was living up to its name in the choppy seas off Fisherman's Nose.

Great Northern Diver

With the low tide the walls of the Sutton Harbour lock gates were very exposed and amongst the Limpets and Barnacles on the walls were some large shells which I think are Pacific Oysters, an introduced species now beginning to expand its range and cause environmental problems. Originally brought to Cornish estuaries for aquaculture (human consumption), UK waters were considered to be too cold for them to successfully breed in the wild but guess what, they're not, and now they are found all along the South Coast of England. 

Pacific Oysters

Saturday 13th February was yet another grey and freezing cold day with a strong easterly wind but I headed off (relatively) early for the high tide roost at Blaxton Meadow on the River Plym, arriving on site at around 9am. The Meadow was flooded and bird packed with 6 Greenshank and a Bar-tailed Godwit found amongst the Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin and Oystercatcher but there was no sign of the reported Grey Plover although other birders on site had seen it earlier. Teal numbers had increased to 8 birds (1 male) and there were also 21 Wigeon (11 males) present along with Mallard and Shelduck and the Barnacle Goose was in amongst the Canada Goose flock.

Bar-tailed Godwit with Curlew

Bar-tailed Godwit with Curlew


Out on the river there were 8 Goosanders (4 male), 3 Red-breasted Mergansers (2 male) and 6 Little Grebe and eventually I found the Grey Plover feeding out on the mudflats, my first for Plymouth. 


Red-breasted Mergansers

Grey Plover

Grey Plover 



A Coot was a big surprise bobbing around on the river and looking quite unsettled, it came ashore onto the mudflats briefly before flying upriver and landing on the water again but it looked nervous and unhappy.


The usual birds were also noted - Lesser Black-backed, Greater Black-backed, Common, Herring and Black-headed Gulls, a Little Egret, Cormorant, Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Ring-necked Parakeets ( including a Blue one), Stock Dove, a Buzzard and a Moorhen - and I also found a single Roe Deer and some Violets in flower.


Thursday 11 February 2021

Holiday-less Holiday - Yet Again

After an awful week at work I was feeling totally frazzled to the point of being burnt out by the time I headed home at 8pm on Sunday 7th February. I was however very pleased that I now had a weeks leave to look forward to even though we had no plans due to the continuing lockdown.

Monday 8th February was sunny but bitterly cold in a biting Easterly wind as the east of the country was getting a deluge of heavy snow.

My Mums Garden in Suffolk, 8th February

I felt washed out but decided to head out to Wembury for a walk to try and clear my head and to see if any birds were on the move in the cold conditions. The footpaths were still very muddy but frozen over in places making it slightly easier to navigate them and there were fewer people around too. 

The only signs of birds on the move were a single Lapwing flying over and heading west and 2 Dunlin and 3 Bar-tailed Godwit along the beach with a Curlew and Oystercatchers (Lapwing is less than annual for me at Wembury, Dunlin are uncommon at Wembury outside of spring and autumn migration time and I have never seen Bar-tailed Godwit at Wembury in February before).



Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits

It was also unsurprisingly relatively quiet bird wise along the walk as birds were keeping themselves hunkered down out of the wind but I did see a female Blackcap, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, a Long-tailed Tit, Stonechat, a male Pheasant, a Little Egret out on the rocks and a few Gannets offshore. 

I also spent some time just sitting or standing out of the wind and looking out to sea while listening to the waves lapping the shore and feeling the sun on my face and it was very, very restorative to my battered psyche. A very tame Robin also kept me company as it hopped around my feet looking for any crumbs I may have dropped while I was eating my cereal bar, a gorgeous little bird that made me smile inside.

Tuesday 9th February and the biting East wind was still with us but now the skies were grey and overcast and there were occasional light snow flurries. We had a walk around Plymouth Hoe but it was very quiet with the highlight being 2 Lapwing flying over heading west. 

I kept an eye open for the Chough I saw a few days ago in the very slim hope of seeing it again but there was unsurprisingly no sign of it. However on checking the sightings news on the Internet when I arrived back home I was very pleased to see a Chough had been reported at nearby Noss Mayo just a few miles east of Plymouth, presumably my Plymouth Hoe bird. 

Chough, Noss Mayo (Photo courtesy of Devon Birds website)

Wednesday 10th February and I was feeling more like my usual self, it's amazing what some sleep, not going to work and some wildlife watching can do to me. I decided to walk to TR2 on the River Plym again for a look around in grey skies and freezing temperatures and with the continuing bitter easterly wind.

The tide was low and out on the river I found 2 Little Grebes and 2 Canada Geese with the usual Cormorants and Herring Gulls. 3 Grey Herons were fishing along the shoreline and Oystercatchers were feeding amongst the weed covered rocks.

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was roosting out on the water amongst the Herring Gulls and a Peregrine was seen briefly flying over as it unsuccessfully stooped at a very lucky Feral Pigeon.

Lesser Black-backed Gull with Herring Gulls

I carried on my walk towards Plymouth Hoe, noting a male Kestrel flying over the quarries at Cattedown and a distant flock of probable Golden Plovers wheeling over the cliffs at Staddiscombe along the way.

From Plymouth Hoe a few Gannets were seen flying around past The Breakwater and a female Sparrowhawk glided overhead. A Great Northern Diver was diving close to shore and the Purple Sandpiper was again feeding on the rocks below the Pier One cafe with 3 Turnstone and giving some lovely views.

Great Northern Diver

Purple Sandpiper with Turnstones

Purple Sandpiper 

Purple Sandpiper - I love their feet!

Purple Sandpiper 

The highlight though was a Red Kite flying over The Hoe being noisily mobbed by Herring Gulls, it was heading east and seen around 10 minutes later over the River Plym by local birder Pete - another excellent sighting for Plymouth Hoe!

Red Kite

And on a more sombre note there were some pom-poms hanging up on the railings overlooking the sea in memory of a young lady named Holly who sadly committed suicide 2 years ago, a reminder to look out for those around us in these continuing difficult times.

Holly's Pombombs

Holly's Story