Monday 29 March 2021

River Plym Walks

A year of living with COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions has passed and what a year it has been. I have missed being able to travel further afield for my birdwatching trips but exploring local sites and enjoying their wildlife has been fascinating to say the least, there is so much to see so close to home and I am very lucky to live where I do. And one of the local sites I have visited more regularly than usual is the River Plym and Saltram Park, an amazing area with plenty of wildlife interest and only a 30 minute walk from my front door and yet somewhere I always used to overlook when planning a day out.

I have finally joined the modern age and have signed up to Birdtrack, a BTO app for recording bird sightings (and mammals and dragonflies) and this has inspired me to try and see 100 species of birds in 2021 around Saltram Park and the adjacent River Plym Estuary. And with this goal on mind I headed out for my usual walk on Wednesday 24th March with a few birds in mind to add to my year list.

It was cloudy when I left the house but it soon brightened up and became a very warm day indeed, too warm to be wearing my winter coat but at least I had remembered to bring a hat with me this time.

It was relatively quiet bird wise but I did manage to add Starling, Mute Swan, Sparrowhawk and Shag to my River Plym and Saltram 2021 list. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Crossbills found the previous day.

A pair of Mandarin, a female Goosander, a singing Chiffchaff, 26 Turnstone and 2 Rook were the only other birds of note with a Rabbit, a Brown Rat and 15 Roe Deer being the mammalian highlights. A flyby Small Tortoiseshell was also noted.

Mandarin Ducks

Thursday 25th March and I decided to head out to the River Plym again for a walk on another sunny but cooler day. A Black Redstart had been found the previous day and as expected there was no sign of it on todays visit but I did add Blackcap to my 2021 list with a male heard singing and later a male seen having a good old preen in a blossom laden Sloe Bush. 

3 Greenshank, a female Goosander, 8 Oystercatcher, 3 Curlew and a Common Sandpiper were seen along the River on the low tide with Canada Geese, a Grey Heron, 4 Little Egret, Common Gull, Redshank and a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull also noted. 

The woods and Park held the usual birds - Stock Dove, Ring-necked Parakeet, Skylark, Rook, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, etc. - and it was good to see 2 Peacock, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Small White. Lots of Bees and flies were buzzing around in the warm sunshine too. 



Back to work on Saturday 27th March but only a short shift (07:30 to 14:00) and after finally leaving at 14:30 I stopped off at Marsh Mills on the way home to have a quick look at the high tide roost on Blaxton Meadow. I only had my little travel binoculars with me but soon found 2 of the 3 Black-tailed Godwits reported from yesterday, a summer plumaged bird and a winter plumaged bird which were regularly disturbed by the usual mischevious Carrion Crows and squabbling Oystercatchers (7) and Shelducks (25) also present. A Greenshank, 5 Little Egret, a pair of Mandarin, Redshanks and 3 Stock Dove were also seen and a Chiffchaff was heard in the hour I was there before I headed home for a nice cup of tea.

Wednesday 24 March 2021

More Holiday-less Holiday

My Annual Leave continues and local wildlife watching remains the order of the day. At least the weather is settled with dry and mostly cloudy skies and cool nights. And keeping local is actually quite interesting as I continue to explore sites and habitats close to home that I would ordinarily overlook.

Friday 19th March and we drove out to Endsleigh Nursery at Milton Abbot to collect a Greengage tree for the allotment, hopefully this one will take as the previous 2 trees we have bought have both died. On the way home we stopped off at the Dartmoor Bakery at Yelverton for a take away coffee and a Jaffa Dartmoor Swirl before having a walk at Cadover Bridge. It was grey and cold in a strong North Easterly breeze and there was no sign of the Sand Martin or Fieldfare reported from earlier that morning with the highlight of the walk being a pair of Goosander on the river. 

Blackaton Cross, Cadover Bridge

Saturday 20th March and I headed off for my usual River Plym and Saltram walk. It was another grey day but there was very little breeze for a change and I had a very enjoyable walk.

As I arrived at the lookout the Blaxton Meadow roost on the low high tide was disturbed by 2 female runners along the sea wall (despite the No Entry signage) and I watched 15 Curlew, 6 Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Canada Geese and Gulls all disappear off down river.

No Entry

Read The Sign - No Entry! 

Winter met summer with 2 Redwing seen and 2 Chiffchaff heard singing, both my first on my Plym walk for this year. A flyover Snipe, 2 male Bullfinch, a male Kestrel, a pair of Stonechat, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Green Woodpecker (1 seen, 1 heard) and 2 Mistle Thrush were all seen in the Park with 2 Treecreeper (eventually) showing well in the flooded wood the highlight.


Along the River a Greenshank, 3 Dunlin and a female Goosander were seen along with 5 Little Egret and 25 Redshank.



Cherry Plum Blossom - sepals reflexed, not spreading

Sunday 21st March and a look inside the back yard moth box on my first trapping session of the year revealed just one moth, a Common Quaker. 

Common Quaker

Later while on a walk around Plymouth Hoe dodging the crowds we found the Long-tailed Duck still present in The Cattewater, busily and distantly diving away amongst the buoys, but there was no sign of the Purple Sandpiper on the rocks.

Monday 22nd March and I headed out to Wembury for a walk in occasionally sunny skies. It was mild and still and very pleasant when the sun did shine from between the clouds and I had a very interesting walk.

The highlight were 2 smart looking male Wheatear flitting about at The Point. 4 Chiffchaff singing and 2 Peacock butterflies engaged in an aerial battle added to the spring feeling along with a male and 3 female Black Oil Beetles rescued off the main footpath and placed in nearby vegetation.



Black Oil Beetle - male

Black Oil Beetle - female

A female Kestrel and 5 Buzzards overhead, Fulmars around The Mewstone, the usual Stonechats and Goldfinches and around 5 male Cirl Buntings singing were also noted.

Cirl Bunting

2 Coal Tit in the village gardens and a 1st summer Common Gull roosting on the rocks with Herring Gulls were Wembury firsts for the year.

Common Gull with Herring Gull

The Bar-tailed Godwit was still present, roosting on the rocks with the Oystercatchers, and a Meadow Pipit was feeding on the seaweed mass along the beach with Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails. 

The Sloe Blossom was looking absolutely stunning along the footpath and a Ruby Tiger caterpillar was sunning itself in the grass. 

Sloe Blossom

Sloe Blossom - sepals spreading, not reflexed

Ruby Tiger caterpillar

Tuesday 23rd March and the last day of my annual leave was meant to be a cloudy day and so I planned to visit The Hoe before catching up on chores. It was indeed cloudy when I left the house but by the time I arrived at Rusty Anchor the sky cleared and the sun shone and as I hadn't brought out a hat with me I ended up with a bit of a sun kissed head by the time I arrived back home. 

At Rusty Anchor I was very pleased to find 2 Purple Sandpipers for a change, 1 busily feeding and 1 tucked up asleep. 

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

7 Turnstones and a Rock Pipit were also found on the rocks and a Raven flew overhead but the highlight was a Grey Seal, presumably a female based on size and face shape and which bobbed around in the water close to the sea wall, frequently diving for short periods and always returning to the surface at the same spot. 

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

 Grey Seal

Grey Seal

A quick look off Fisherman's Nose and the female Long-tailed Duck was found still busily diving away amongst the buoys in The Cattewater, distant as always but I had brought my scope with me this time and so I had some nice views of it for a change. 

Friday 19 March 2021

Yet Another Holiday-less Holiday!

Monday 15th March and yet again another period of annual leave from work begins during a Lock Down. However there seems to be light appearing at the end of what has been a very long and very dark tunnel as I have now had both my Pfizer COVID jabs, my weekly COVID swabs since October last year continue to be negative and the Nations road map out of Lock Down appears to be on track. 

Monday was a breezy but dry day with sunny spells and so I decided to do my usual River Plym and Saltram walk. The tide was ebbing and out on the mudflats were 5 Dunlin, 4 Greenshank, at least 10 Curlew, an Oystercatcher and Redshanks along with Common Gulls and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls amongst the roosting Gull flock. A pair of Goosander were also busily diving for fish near the rowing club.

Little Egret

The park held the usual stuff but the highlight was a Green Woodpecker seen flying into the top of a tree, it was so nice to actual see one instead of just hearing the usual mocking yaffling.

Green Woodpecker

Stock Dove, Goldcrest, Song Thrush, Skylark, Buzzard and Ring-necked Parakeets were also noted along with a Meadow Pipit in the cow field and the pair of Stonechat in the same spot as last week. 

There was no sign of the Red-crested Pochard on the duck pond but there were 7 pairs of Mandarin Duck and an unpaired male present. A very smart looking male Pheasant was feeding around the pond side on the seed and bread being put down by passers-by along with a very confiding Dunnock.



5 Roe Deer were resting under a tree in the cow fields, the first time I have seen them here, a nice male with antlers and 4 females.

Roe Deer

There were flowers beginning to show all around the park with Sloe Blossom, Alexanders and Wood Anemones all noted along with the usual Daffodils, Primroses and Violets.

Sloe Blossom


Wood Anemone

White Poplar Catkins

Tuesday 16th March and we decided to head out to Stoke Point for a walk, something we only did once last year. It was a dry day with increasing cloud cover but it was as fantastic as always with the usual stunning views and interesting wildlife.

Chiffchaff and Blackcap were both heard singing away and a brief and flitty Peacock butterfly was a nice sight. Two Green Woodpeckers were heard with one seen in flight and a Marsh Tit showed well in the usual woodland area near the village of Noss Mayo. A male Kestrel, 2 Raven, Stonechats, Cirl Buntings, Yellowhammers, a Gannet, a Red-legged Partridge and Pheasants were all seen as well.


Cirl Bunting


There was as expected no sign of the recent Chough even though I checked out all the corvids I saw,  possibly it's still around in the area although with 3 patrolling Peregrines seen on the walk it may have moved on or may have ended up as a tasty meal.


A really enjoyable day out, unfortunately no lunch again in The Ship Inn for us but sandwiches, crisps and a glass of wine were just as tasty sat on a bench in the community orchard of Noss Mayo. And I felt so much happier that evening watching TV on the sofa after having done something normal for a change.

Wednesday 17th March was forecasted to be a warm and sunny day and so I headed out to the outskirts of Plymouth again to have another look for Goshawks. It was cooler and breezier and cloudier than expected but I had a successful walk and it was far less muddy than my previous visit. 

I had a brief and distant view of a Goshawk flying over the trees as I negotiated the country lanes and muddy footpaths towards my raised vantage point overlooking the valley and shortly after setting up my telescope at my watch point a pair of Goshawk circled overhead before drifting off with the noticeably smaller male having a half hearted skirmish with a Buzzard soaring nearby. 

Over the next couple of hours as I scanned over the treetops of the valley I had some distant scope views of 1 or 2 displaying Goshawks along with Buzzards, Ravens and Sparrowhawks. 2 Peregrines were also noted. 

Stock Doves, a Common Sandpiper, 4 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Marsh Tit, Pheasants, Red-legged Partridge and Skylarks were also noted on the walk along with 2 Peacock butterflies. 

While watching a Red-legged Partridge feeding in a field as I neared the end of my walk the calls of Rooks overhead made me look up and amongst the crows and panicked Woodpigeon flying around I picked up a juvenile Goshawk flying through them, a distinctive looking bird with buff toned underparts and looking very Honey Buzzard-ish with an elongated looking head. It all to soon drifted off and out of sight but a very nice end to my walk. 

Red-legged Partridge

Thursday 18th March and a sunny but cool day saw me heading off to Wembury to meet Mavis for a walk. It wasn't too busy with people despite the good weather and the footpath was much less muddy than of late and we had an enjoyable walk.

The Bar-tailed Godwit was still present feeding on a sandy stretch of the beach with Oystercatchers and a 1st Winter/Summer Mediterranean Gull. At least 2 Curlew were out on the rocks with 2 Little Egret and a pair of Mallard were tucked down amongst the seaweed having a snooze.

Mediterranean Gull

Offshore a few Gannet were seen and on The Mewstone Fulmar were resting on the cliffs with Cormorant and Shag resting along the shoreline.

Stonechat, Cirl Bunting, Goldfinch, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Pheasant and 2 Long-tailed Tit were seen along the footpath along with 2 Canada Geese resting in the stubble field. A Chiffchaff was heard singing and 2 Buzzards were seen soaring overhead.

It was good to see my first Common Lizard of the year along with an Oil Beetle although not so nice to see 2 more Oil Beetles squashed on the footpath.

Common Lizard

Oil Beetle

Monday 15 March 2021

March Doldrums

Mid-march is here and it's that weird time when winter birds depart and summer birds are yet to arrive and things are expectantly stagnant. 

Sunday 7th March and a morning walk around Plmouth Hoe before the crowds arrived was Purple Sandpiper-less but the female Long-tailed Duck was still present in The Cattewater, distant and active as usual.

Thursday 11th March and another Plymouth Hoe walk was Long-tailed Duck-less in choppy seas but the Purple Sandpiper showed well along with 6 Turnstones at Rusty Anchor.

Purple Sandpiper

Friday 12th March was showery and breezy but despite the low tide I headed out to Saltram and the River Plym for a walk. It was a very low tide but out on the water and mudflats of the Plym I found an unringed adult winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull amongst the Herring, Black-headed and Great Black-backed Gulls present along with a notable increase in Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A Greenshank, a redhead Goosander, a Curlew and a few Redshank were also seen.

The female Red-crested Pochard was back on the duck pond along with 22 Mandarin Duck (12 males, 10 females) and assorted Feral Ducks and Moorhens.

Red-crested Pochard

Mandarin Duck

The usual birds were seen in Saltram Park  - Stock Dove, Goldcrest, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Greenfinch, Nuthatch, Kestrel, Peregrine, Ring-necked Parakeet and Pheasant the best - but the highlight was a Reed Bunting found and pointed out to me by local birders Pete and Ian and only my second Plymouth sighting of one. 

It was good to see the pair of Stonechat again and showing very well by the main footpath heading down from the house to the beach. The female was absent during the very cold spell we had recently so it was good to see her back with the male, presuming it is indeed the same female. 

Stonechat - male

Stonechat - female

Sunday 14th March was Mothers Day and with it being a dry and mostly sunny day I decided to avoid the crowds and potter about the house doing chores with just a short trip out to Sainsburys to break the day up.  However on returning home from shopping I checked out the sightings pages to see a report of a Sandwich Tern in The Cattewater and so after quickly eating my lunch I headed down to Duttons Cafe on The Hoe for a look. Needless to say there was no sign of it but the female Long-tailed Duck was still present, distant and mobile and rarely at the surface for very long as usual.

Spring is beginning to arrive! 

Friday 5 March 2021

Grey Days

Thursday 4th March was a grey and claggy day with hardly any breeze and as we needed to revisit Tesco at Roborough we decided to visit nearby Roborough Down for a walk beforehand.

The walk along the Leat was enjoyable and interesting as always and as we chatted away putting the world to rights we saw songflighting Skylarks and Greenfinchs, at least 3 male Yellowhammer half heartedly singing and Stonechats perched up on the gorse.

Yellowhammer - a dash of colour on a dull day

With spring beginnig to appear on the horizon my Amaryllis bulbs are starting to bloom as the days get longer, I now have 12 bulbs in total of which 4 are now in flower and looking very colourful and beautiful. 

Amaryllis Flowers

With the Glaucous Gull still being reported around The Mewstone at Wembury I decided to have another look for it on Friday 5th March. It was another grey day, cool in a strong north-easterly breeze but at least it was dry and the footpath wasn't quite as muddy as on my previous visits.

I easily found the Glaucous Gull roosting out on The Mewstone, it's all white plumage was glowing in the gloom like a beacon. It eventually took off and flew towards me, flying past me along the cliffs at The Point before settling on the sea. A small fishing boat then sailed past attracting gulls in its wake and the Glaucous Gull went to join them before returning back to The Mewstone. It was the same bird that I saw on February 23rd with primary feathers noticeably missing on both wing tips when in flight.

Glaucous Gull roosting on The Mewstone

Glaucous Gull on the sea

It was a 6 Gull species day in total - an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was roosting with Herring Gulls in the horse field above the stables, a winter plumaged Black-headed Gull flew past east, a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull was seen feeding on the sea near the sewage pipe and Great Black-backed Gulls were noted including 2 adults feeding on the decomposing corpse of a small cetacean along the beach.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull

Great Black-backed Gulls

Dead Cetacean (Harbour Porpoise?) along the beach

A very confiding female type Black Redstart was a nice find feeding on the seaweed mass along the beach with a Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails.

Black Redstart 

Black Redstart 

Black Redstart 
Black Redstart 

Other birds of note were a Bar-tailed Godwit and 4 Curlew roosting with 25+Oystercatcher on the rocks at The Point, Gannets offshore moving east, Fulmars around The Mewstone, a male Kestrel and 2 Buzzards over, a male Stonechat along the beach, 2 Ravens over, a female Pheasant in the valley to the beach and songflighting Greenfinch.

Grey (and great) days out but there certainly is a sense of spring in the air, I wish it would hurry up and get here!