Saturday 29 January 2022

River Plym Knot and a Return to Torpoint

With a day off on Sunday 23rd January we had a morning walk around Plymouth Hoe before the crowds descended on what was a grey and claggy and cold day. It was fairly quiet bird wise but I was very pleased to see a flock of 6 Turnstones with 3 Purple Sandpipers flying low over the water and out of sight past Tinside Pool, the highest count of Purple Sandpipers I've had this winter 

With a Knot having being reported on the River Plym I decided to have a look for it on the high tide on Monday 24th January before a duo of night shifts. It was grey and overcast and cool and Blaxton Meadow was covered in birds on the high tide as the water levels were somewhat lower than on my previous visit, hopefully the sluice gates are now unblocked and the water flow has improved.

The Knot was found roosting amongst a flock of Dunlin and Redshank, my first sighting of one for the Plym, and it eventually showed well before being spooked along with the other waders by a low flying Buzzard. Also of note here were Curlew, 12 Oystercatcher, 7 Greenshank, 26 Wigeon, a male Teal and the female Red-crested Pochard. 

Out on the River a male Red-breasted Merganser, a male and 4 female Goosander and a Little Grebe were seen along with 2 Turnstone on The Embankment wall and a Grey Wagtail and a Common Sandpiper at Marsh Mills. 

Little Egret, River Plym

A look at the wet wood was Water Rail free again but a Goldcrest was found near the sewage farm and a female Sparrowhawk cruising over the Sainsbury's car park was my first of the year.

Thursday 27th January and we drove out to Stoke Point for our usual coastal walk despite the grey and mizzley skies. As we approached Newton Ferrers the weather worsened and it was very murky and misty and with David's Omnipod pump throwing a wobbly we returned home for him to renew it before driving out to Saltram for a walk instead. 

It was high tide and I managed to see a few nice birds along our walk despite the occasional drizzly spells, the highlights being 3 female Goosander, a Grey Wagtail, 2 Mistle Thrush (1 singing), around 40 flitty Redwings feeding on Ivy berries, 4 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets and 7 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Friday 28th January and it was an early start on a frosty morning to catch the bus to Torpoint to meet Mavis, the first time we have met up for some time now. It was very cold and overcast and on the walk to Royal Parade a flock of around 30 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets were getting ready to leave their night time tree roost at Charles Cross Church. 

Ring-necked Parakeets, Charles Cross 

I met Mavis at Torpoint at around 9am and we were soon in position along Marine Drive with scopes at the ready to start our birding day although it was strange to hear the military band at nearby HMS Raleigh playing the theme tune from The Avenger movies interspersed with gun fire while we were birding! 

Out on the water we quickly picked up 2 male Red-breasted Merganser busily diving away along with Great Crested Grebes and 4 Little Grebes. Eventually we found the wintering Red-necked Grebe and enjoyed some lovely views of it and we also found the wintering Black-necked Grebe which was unfortunately a little more distant. A Great Northern Diver showed very nicely too and we also managed to see a male Pintail, a Grey Heron, a Ringed Plover, a Common Gull, a Rock Pipit and 3 Brent Geese (2 pale bellied and 1 dark bellied) along with the usual Estuary birds. 

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe 

Dark and Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Onwards to nearby Whacker Quay and with the tide now almost high we managed to find the 2 wintering Spoonbills on the opposite side of the river, an adult and juvenile which occasionally awoke for a brief preen before returning back to their slumbers. They were roosting amongst a small flock of around 40 Avocet which were restless and mobile but their fidgeting didn't seem to disturb the Spoonbills at all.

We sat on a bench along the footpath where some stocked up bird feeders were attracting an assortment of birds and we enjoyed some lovely close views of Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, a Nuthatch, Robins, Dunnocks and Chaffinches. A female Bullfinch was also seen briefly in flight and a few skulky Redwings were also seen feeding on Ivy berries before we headed back to Torpoint for the journey home after having had a very enjoyable mornings birding. 

Saturday 22 January 2022


Another Plymouth Hoe walk on Saturday 15th January was again Purple Sandpiper-less but there was some recompense with some nice views of Spearmint the female Grey Seal hauled out and having a snooze, totally oblivious to the people admiring her just a few feet away. She is a rescued and rehabilitated seal that has become too habituated to humans and I fear for her safety as eventually some dog-owner with dog shit for brains will probably end up letting their beloved but untrained pooch attack her as has happened elsewhere in the UK.

Grey Seal (Spearmint)

Grey Seal

We first saw her in September last year on a boat trip to Cawsands when she was happily swimming around the ferry but despite her regularly being seen around the Plymouth Sound area we hadn't seen her again until now.

Monday 17th January and a gloriously cold and sunny winters day saw us finally having our Christmas walk around Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor. It was a beautiful walk with icy paths and stunning scenery in crystal clear air but unfortunately bird life was surprisingly a bit thin on the ground.

A Mistle Thrush and a Song Thrush were heard singing away in an X-Factor style sing off, the Mistle Thrush at the top of a pine tree and the Song Thrush in cover nearby. Out on the water there were 6 Cormorant, a Herring Gull, a Black-headed Gull, Mallards, around 10 Teal and the usual White Farmyard Goose along with 3 Grey Heron along the waters edge. A Buzzard soared overhead, 4 Siskin were feeding in the pine trees with Goldcrests and Blue, Great and Coal Tits, a Stock Dove flew over and 2 Green Woodpeckers were heard yaffling.

Wednesday 19th January was spent doing chores but with sunny skies and no breeze I had a quick walk around Plymouth Hoe in the afternoon to look again for the Purple Sandpipers. The tide was very low but heading in and The Hoe was busy with people enjoying the sunshine including a twat playing his ghetto blaster at full volume so I wasn't very hopeful. However just as I was about to head home I found a Purple Sandpiper on the rocks near Tinside amongst a group of 6 Turnstone and eventually it gave some very good and close views. Presumably it is one of the two birds that overwintered here last year and so is very used to being close to humans

Purple Sandpiper, Plymouth Hoe

Purple Sandpiper

Thursday 20th January and with a perfect day of weather forecast ( sunny, still and cold) and a free day to myself I decided to try and drag myself out of my ongoing malaise and have a good day out birding again. I ended up planning a River Exe day out before I went to bed on the Wednesday night with a train journey to Starcross and a walk to Exminster Marshes and back although again the early start on the Thursday morning nearly saw me turning off my alarm clock and returning to sleep. 

I arrived at Starcross at around 9am to begin my walk to Exminster and it was a beautiful day as forecasted with sunny spells, little breeze and a ground frost although the wind did pick up a little as the day went on. 

Fallow Deer showed well in Powderham Park along with 2 pairs of a Egyptian Geese who were calling and displaying to each other and flying up into the trees. At least 10 Grey Herons were also being noisey in the Heronry trees and a female Reed Bunting eventually showed well in the reeds by the side of the road. 

Fallow Deer, Powderham Park

Onwards towards Turf Locks and Brent Geese, Curlews, Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits were feeding out on the marshy fields while out on the river Avocets, Dunlin, Grey Plover and 4 Knot were found on the emerging mudflats. 

Brent Geese, Turf

Brent Geese


Exminster Marshes were full of birds and it looked and sounded amazing. Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Canada Geese were everywhere with Golden Plover wheeling overhead and Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the muddy areas before flying over to the Estuary. Mute Swan, Shelduck, Mallard, Moorhen, 5 Coot and 3 pairs of Tufted Duck were also seen. 

2 Marsh Harriers were regularly seen quartering over the Marsh and spooking all the birds but I did eventually find the Pink-footed Goose amongst the Canada Goose flock (my first in Devon) and a brief and distant view of the Glossy Ibis flying off when a Marsh Harrier flew too near. 

Pink-footed Goose, Exminster Marsh

Pink-footed Goose

A Great White Egret was a nice surprise feeding out on the Marsh and looking very large and very white in the bright sunshine although it was a little distant. 

Great White Egret, Exminster Marsh

I walked back to Starcross and headed under the railway line at Bishops Arch to scan across the river on what was now the low tide. Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebes were diving out in the river channel and I eventually found the 2 Black-necked Grebes as well although they spent very little time at the waters surface. 

Before heading back to the railway station I had a quick look at the field just north of the village which is often flooded and full of birds but the water level was low and only a few Wigeon and Curlew were seen. However a big surprise were 3 Red-legged Partridge spooked by a Carrion Crow from a patch of vegetation around the base of a tree and flying off into nearby fields. 

While waiting for the train back to Plymouth I had a good scan from the railway platform across the River Exe towards Exmouth to look for the juvenile Spoonbill and eventually I found it just as it disappeared along a gulley. Shortly afterwards the Gulls on the mudflats were spooked and flew up into the air along with the Spoonbill which settled out in the open and gave some nice views before it flew back into the gulley and out of sight again - distant views even with the scope but a very nice end to what had been a very good days birding, hopefully my current birding malaise will start to abate a little. 

Friday 14 January 2022

Rainy Days before Sunshine

We finally had our Christmas Dinner Day on Thursday 6th January, the first day we had free after Christmas Day and the same date as our Christmas Dinner Day last year. It was a lovely dinner as always but with the next day being wet and windy our usual post dinner walk around Burrator Reservoir was shelved and we took a walk along the River Plym and Saltram instead. It was still a wet and windy walk but it was more sheltered amongst the trees and we stopped off at the cafe for tea and soup to warm up and dry off. 

A look for the Water Rail in the Wet Wood drew a blank but the female Red Crested Pochard and male Teal were both present on the duck pond. Later a pair of Teal were seen on Blaxton Meadow/Lake with 35 Wigeon.

Saturday 8th January was meant to be a proper birding day out but again the weather was horrendous with some very heavy periods of rain. I headed out anyway for a walk around Saltram and along The Plym as I really wanted to get out of the house and by the time I arrived back home after just 2 hours I was absolutely soaked through.

I had another stake out at the Wet Wood but again it was Water Rail-less and the Red Crested Pochard was seen on Blaxton Meadow/Lake with 34 Wigeon but there was no sign of the Teal. A Mistle Thrush and around 20 skulky Redwing feeding on Ivy berries were the only other sightings of note.

Grey Heron, Saltram

Tuesday 11th January was a dry day with sunny spells and I took a quick walk at Wembury while Christmas decorations were being taking down and put away at home. It may have been dry but the footpaths were a total mudfest and I was absolutely filthy by the time I arrived home. 

It was fairly quiet bird wise but I did spend a lot of time looking down at the ground as I tried to negotiate the mud along the path. Cirl Buntings showed well, the males looking very smart in the sunshine with 1 male heard singing briefly. There was no sign of the ringed Scandinavian Rock Pipit or Water Pipit along the beach but a smart Grey Wagtail showed very well. A Little Egret, a Curlew, Oystercatchers, Mallards and 2 1st winter Mediterranean Gulls were roosting out on the rocks and 20+ Fulmar were wheeling around The Mewstone. 

Wednesday 12th January was a total contrast with cloudless skies and sunshine, no breeze and a frosty start, a gorgeous winters day. I really wanted to get out for a proper day's birding and decided to visit Slapton Ley although with the early start in the morning I nearly turned the alarm clock off and went back to sleep. I'm glad I didn't as I had a very enjoyable day out indeed, well worth getting up and catching the bus in the dark. 

I alighted off the bus near the Memorial Car Park at around 9:15am and started off by looking for the wintering male Snow Bunting on the beach nearby. He was easily found and gave the usual very close views, a very beautiful and charismatic bird. 

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Onwards around the Ley towards the Quarry and Water Rails and Cettis Warblers were heard calling away while out on the water Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Coot and Great Crested Grebes were floating around with the Gulls. At the Quarry a Firecrest, a Chiffchaff, a Redwing and a Jay gave good views with the Firecrest somehow managing to swallow a massive caterpillar. 

I had another look at the Snow Bunting feeding along the beach as I walked down the Ley towards Torcross, again it showed very well before it was spooked by 2 quarrelling Rock Pipits and flew off up the beach and out of sight. A moribund adult Kittiwake on the beach was a sad sight, fortunately it passed away very quickly after I first saw it. 

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting


Along the Ley a few Stonechats were seen perched up on top of dead fennel twigs while out on the water were 2 male and 3 female Goldeneye. On arriving at Torcross I  had considered walking over to Beesands Ley but time was now too short and so I walked back to the Memorial Car Park instead. The Snow Bunting was still absent from the beach but a scan of the ducks in Ireland Bay from the road side with my scope eventually revealed the wintering female Lesser Scaup busily diving away amongst the Tufted Duck flock. The views were distant but once found its slightly smaller, sleeker looking build, distinctive but variable looking head shape, white beak blaze and noticeably paler, grey toned mantle compared to the female Tufted Ducks nearby was quite distinctive. 

Thursday 13th January and another fine day of sunshine, no breeze and an icy start was unfortunately a bit wasted on me as with my first night shift of 2022 looming large that evening I couldn't go far but I did take a walk around Plymouth Hoe in the lovely conditions to look for the wintering Purple Sandpipers. At least one has been regularly reported since I first saw them in November last year but they continue to elude me on my visits. Today was no different with no sightings again but 4 Turnstone were good to see and best of all of a female type Black Redstart was found around the buildings near Rusty Anchor. It typically appeared from nowhere, flitted about and showed very well and then just vanished into the ether - probably to the same place as the Purple Sandpiper! 

Black Redstart

Thursday 6 January 2022

A Four Grebe Day

Wednesday 5th January was a cold but sunny day and with a days annual leave from work and a morning to myself I decided to visit nearby Torpoint on the ebbing tide. It really was a beautiful day, frosty and still with sunny skies, and for the first time in ages I actually felt quite excited to be going out birding.

I arrived at Marine Drive at Torpoint at around 10:30am, 3 hours after high tide, and I set up my scope overlooking St.Johns Lake as the tide began to recede. It was lovely to see some sunshine and blue skies but it meant difficult viewing conditions at times looking over the water into the sun. I still had a cracking couple of hours birding though (and it was nice to finally meet and chat to Mike Passman from Thurlestone who writes the excellent Thurlestone Bay Bird Blog).

Looking out over the water and I picked up around 15 Great Crested Grebes and around 6 Little Grebes resting and preening or busily diving and amongst them were the recently reported Red-necked Grebe and Slavonian Grebe. The views weren't great with the Slavonian being distant and the Red-necked being into the sun but eventually the Red-necked moved into a closer and better position and gave some great views while the Slavonian unfortunately just disappeared. I kept a look out for the reported Black-necked Grebes too but with no luck and so had to contend with just a 4 Grebe day. 

A Great Northern Diver, a Kingfisher, a Whimbrel, 3 Mediterranean Gulls (2 adults and 1 first winter), 6 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, c.60 very twitchy and flighty Avocets and 6 Ringed Plover were also noted along with the usual Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Wigeon, Shelduck, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Canada Geese and Gulls. A Red Admiral flitting about despite the cold conditions was a surprise sighting and my first butterfly of the year. 

Avocets with Herring Gulls

3 hours just flew by before I headed home to get ready for my sister-in-law Mary's 70th Birthday celebrations but it had been a very enjoyable and restorative birding time. 

Wednesday 5 January 2022

New Year Birding

Christmas Day finally reached its orgasmic climax and thank goodness its all over for another year. I actually had the day off for a change, the first time since 2015, and we had a very lovely day spent with Julie and Matt who came round in the afternoon for dinner. However the fact that it was Christmas Day made very little difference to our overall enjoyment of the day and again I'm left wondering what all the over hyper-excitement of Christmas Day is really all about. 

The festive period weather was grey, wet and mild and along with work, family commitments, socialising and a continuing air of can't-be-arsed-ness I didn't do anything remotely wildlife related. 

The New Year duly arrived and I worked a long day on January 1st and on the walk into the hospital at 07:30am I heard Robin and Song Thrush singing away in the misty and mild darkness. Herring Gull and Feral Pigeon were also seen on brief looks out of the staff room window during the day. 

I had the day off on Sunday 2nd January but after the previous days busy shift I felt too tired to do much and so decided to have a quiet day instead and have a walk around Plymouth Hoe. It was grey and windy and within 5 minutes of leaving the house the heavens opened, curtailing our walk somewhat. There was no sign of the Purple Sandpiper on the rocks off The Hoe and the best bird was a Little Grebe on Sutton Harbour. A  Nuthatch and flowering Snowdrops were the highlights on a quick look around Beaumont Park before returning home.

After another exhausting long day shift on Bank Holiday Monday 3rd January I had planned to travel further afield for my first New Years birding day on Tuesday 4th but I was too knackered and so stayed local instead, taking a walk along the River Plym and around Saltram Park. The weather had changed and it was cold and windy with occasional sunny spells and at least it stayed dry for a change although it was very muddy underfoot following all the recent rain.

The usual birds were seen, a total of 50 species in all, with a smattering of highlights including the male Teal and female Red-crested Pochard on the duck pond, 7 Greenshank on a very flooded Blaxton Meadow (more like Blaxton Lake due to the sluice gates being blocked), a pair of Red-breasted Merganser and 2 male and 4 female Goosander out on the river and 2 Common Sandpiper, a Kingfisher and a Grey Wagtail at Marsh Mills. 


Red-crested Pochard

Black-headed Gulls

Black-headed Gull - summer plumaged in January

So 2022 begins, Omicron COVID is causing disruption everywhere and a critical incident has been called all over the NHS including at my Trust, mostly due to the high number of front line staff off sick with COVID. Hopefully things will improve very soon.