Thursday 31 March 2022

Wembury, The Plym and a River Exe Spotted Crake

The weather remains sunny and dry with warm days and cool nights and an often strong and chilly Easterly breeze, perfect for my week off work but not so much for birding. 

It's been 2 years since we were first locked down due to COVID-19, the weather was very similar then as it is now, and I spent a lot of days wandering around Saltram and along The Plym in what seemed to be Groundhog Day with a promise in the air that didn't really deliver on the ground.

And so it was with a feeling of anticipation as I headed out to a Wembury for a walk on Friday 25th March, I was hoping for something exciting to appear but it was predictably all very much the same.

The stubble field had been ploughed and only a single female Cirl Bunting was found feeding amongst the furrowed ground. However the 2 Red-legged Partridge were still present along the hedgerow at the back of the field and had now been joined by a third bird.

Just one Black Oil Beetle was found along the footpath this time along with a few Bloody Nose Beetles but it was good to see a Red Admiral dashing past and a few Peacocks. I tried my Emperor Moth lure at The Point too but with no luck. A dead Slow Worm on the footpath at The Point was a sad sighting. 

21 Oystercatcher were roosting on the rocks at The Point and 3 Ravens were very vocal and showy as they displayed together overhead but the highlight was a Peregrine which swooped low along the beach before soaring around overhead in the breeze and showing very well.

Chiffchaff - 1 of 7 seen or heard at Wembury

Sloe Blossom, Wembury

Yellow-legged Mining Bee, Wembury

Saturday 26th March was another day of sun and after much dithering I decided to visit The Plym and Saltram for a walk. Again I had high hopes but it was again all the same although I had an enjoyable time anyway.

The highlight were my first Speckled Woods of the year with 2 seen in a prolonged aerial tussle before disappearing over the treetops.

Speckled Wood, Saltram

A Kingfisher, 11 Little Egrets, 4 Oystercatcher, 6 Curlew, 2 pairs of Stonechats, 3 Stock Dove and a Goldcrest were the best of the rest with a Green Woodpecker heard and a few Peacocks seen dashing about too before I headed home. 

A day of chores on Sunday 27th March was brightened up by the sight of my first garden Comma flitting about in the courtyard as I looked out of the kitchen window whilst washing up. Another day of chores on Monday 28th March was also brightened up by the sight of a beautifully coloured Holly Blue flitting about down at the allotment, my first of the year and my 7th species for 2022 before March is even out.

Tuesday 29th March was cooler and overcast and with a final free day to myself before my annual leave is over and I get back on the hamster wheel called work I had planned to take a walk at Wembury. However with a Spotted Crake being found on Exminster Marshes the evening before and reports of it still being present on the Tuesday morning I decided to go and try my luck with it. I caught the first train out of Plymouth after 9am to reduce the ticket cost and arrived at Starcross at around 10:30am. After a short bus ride to Exminster I walked out to where the Spotted Crake was showing to be met with a gaggle of birders with optics trained onto a sedgey island out on the Marsh. Luckily the Spotted Crake showed very quickly for me and I had some great views of it as it skulked in the vegetation or fed right out in the open, the best views I've ever had of this species.

Spotted Crake - my best effort

Spotted Crake (Photo courtesy of Chas, Devon Rares WhatsApp Group)

Also seen while watching the Spotted Crake were a female Marsh Harrier, a Water Rail and a sleeping Spoonbill along with Wigeon, Teal, Pintail and Shoveler. Also heard were Cettis Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Green Woodpecker. 

Sleepy Shovelers, Exminster Marsh

It was a little too twitchy for me so after enjoying my views I drifted off and headed back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to Starcross and then the train to Dawlish Warren, noting a Sandwich Tern, a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, 12 Brent Geese and a Greenshank from the railway platform at Starcross while waiting for the train. 

Curlew, Starcross

On arriving at Dawlish Warren I headed over to the sea wall and on a flat calm sea picked out 2 Gannets sat on the sea, a Cormorant with a very white speckled head and a distant Scoter which very much looked like the 1st winter male Velvet Scoter that has been wintering here. It was just off Langstone Rock and so I walked along the coast path and climbed up the Rock for a better look and then things took a dark turn.

I set my scope up to scan the sea just as a Wheatear flew past, I turned to look at it but it had disappeared but when I turned back to my scope it had disappeared too! Feeling nauseous and panicky, I peered over the cliff edge to the beach some 30ft below and saw my scope and tripod laying in the sand (fortunately the tide was out). OH SHIT! 

I ran down off the rock like a bat out of hell and retrieved my scope, dreading what condition it would be in, but other than being muddy and sandy the scope was OK. The tripod was not so much with the locking lever attaching the scope to the head being ripped off. I was very lucky indeed with just a new tripod head to buy for my stupidity and bad luck. 

I think I hadn't locked one of the tripod legs properly when I had been setting up the scope and when I let go of it to look at the flyby Wheatear the leg collapsed and everything toppled off the cliff, it must have been the leg nearest the cliff edge otherwise it would have toppled the other way onto the ground. 

I felt dazed and sick but I set the scope up on the beach anyway despite the scope being unsecured in the tripod head and scanned the sea for the Scoter. The sea was flat calm and eventually I picked it up again and had some great scope views, a 1st winter male Velvet Scoter and very distinctive with a notably different head profile and diving style to Common Scoter. The white wing markings were difficult to see, occasionally a thin white line would be visible but when it flapped its wings they showed wonderfully. 

I also managed to find 2 very distant Harbour Porpoise moving out to sea, their fins briefly breaking the water surface in unison as they moved further offshore.

I wandered back towards The Warren and despite searching I never refound the Wheatear. A Green Woodpecker was yaffling away before flying off towards the village and around the Main Pond 2 Willow Warblers were singing away along with a Chiffchaff. On the Pond a female Mallard was overseeing 4 small ducklings, a pair of Little Grebes were trilling away and 5 Shoveler (3 males) were mostly snoozing. 

Shoveler, Dawlish Warren

A flyover Raven, a singing Stonechat, a pair of Collared Doves getting amorous, 2 Song Thrush, 2 nest-building Long-tailed Tits and 3 Linnet were the best of the rest and despite the overcast and leaden skies I found a Sand Crocus in flower before heading back to the station for the train journey home. 

Sand Crocus, Dawlish Warren

Quite the day out and a reminder to be more careful with my optics!

Friday 25 March 2022

A Trip to Cornwall

I had a walk at Wembury on Monday 21st March with my friend Sue, it was a sunny and warm day but fairly quiet on the wildlife front with the highlights being 2 Red-legged Partridge in the stubble field, 18 Oystercatcher along the beach and 11 Black Oil Beetles along the footpath including a mating pair.

Black Oil Beetle

Black Oil Beetle

Recent sightings of both a Twenty-Plume Moth and a Light Brown Apple Moth resting on the kitchen window at night have piqued my mothing interest for 2022 and so I decided to have the actinic lights on in the dining room window on the night of March 21st to see what I could attract. Disappointingly but not unexpectedly I only had a single Light Brown Apple Moth on the window the next morning and probably the same one found on the kitchen window previously, my courtyard garden is never very productive for moths in the spring but at least I know things will improve later in the year. 

Tuesday 22nd March and with the gorgeous spring weather continuing we headed up to Bude for an overnight stay. It was yet another sunny and warm day but with a continuing strong and chilly breeze as we wandered around the town and along the cliff tops. I had a quick look at Maer Lake while we were there, it was again quiet with the highlights being a Dunlin, a summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, a Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Wigeon and Teal.

Wednesday 23rd March and we drove from Bude to Padstow for another overnight stay and along the way I was dropped off at Walmsley Sanctuary near Wadebridge for a couple of hours while David visited antique shops and garden centres nearby. It was another warm and sunny day with the wind having eased greatly and I had a very enjoyable and productive visit. I've never visited this site before and for a first time visit it was pretty good.

As I arrived at the first hide 5 Cattle Egret flew up from amongst the cattle feeding in the nearby field, a total of 11 Cattle Egret were seen during my visit and they all eventually flocked together and returned to feed amongst the cattle just as I left.

Cattle Egrets

A total of 9 Glossy Ibis were seen as well and they also ended up flocking together to feed in the cattle field as I left. 

Glossy Ibis

I was fortunate to be at the reserve when a group of students were also visiting which meant that the tower hide was open and from here I had a great view of the whole site along with great views of 3 Garganey (2 males), a male Ring-necked Duck, 2 Little Grebe, 4 Greylag Geese, Black-tailed Godwit, a pair of Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and a female Sparrowhawk. 

Garganey - glad to catch up with some during quite an influx of them into the UK


Ring-necked Duck

From the first hide a Bittern also showed very well right out in the open before disappearing into the reeds, a very lucky sighting indeed. 



David duly arrived to pick me up and we carried on to Padstow for our overnight stay. After an enjoyable time in Padstow we headed out to nearby Trevose Head the next morning on yet another gorgeous day but with very harsh light and quite hazy sunshine although the coastal views were still stunning. 

During a walk around the headland I kept an eye out for Choughs and Wheatears but found neither. I did however get some good views of a pair of Black Redstart, at least 8 Corn Buntings, a male Kestrel and a very confiding Raven. 

Black Redstart

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting in silhouette





Offshore a few Gannets were seen along with a Fulmar, distant Auks (probably Guillemots), a winter plumaged Red-throated Diver flying east and doing its characteristic occasional head lifting as it went, Shags and a diving Sandwich Tern, my first of the year.

Eventually it was time to head back home to Plymouth but it had been a a very enjoyable and a very bird filled few days away and we had been very lucky with the weather. 

Monday 21 March 2022

Another Plym Dip

With a free day to myself on Sunday 20th March I had planned to head out for a day's birding somewhere. I considered visting the Exe, Hayle or the edge of Dartmoor but in the end I plumped for a walk around Saltram and along the River Plym.

With the solar farm development on Chelson Meadow very likely to start in July I should really make the most of any opportunities I have to go and visit there as once it has gone it's gone for good, and this partly swayed my decision of where to visit. A report of 3 Little Ringed Plover on Blaxton Meadow the evening before also had a bearing on my decision although I wasn't overly optimistic that they would still be present and so it proved to be. I often miss stuff found on the Plym at this time of year, I guess birds pass through quickly in the spring but this week I've now dipped Garganey and Little Ringed Plover, not a very successful week.

I did have another enjoyable walk though and despite the blue skies and sunshine it was quite cool in a strong breeze. I only managed to find a single Peacock Butterfly this time but there were quite a few Bumble Bees buzzing about. 

It was high tide when I arrived at Blaxton Meadow where due to the ongoing sluice blockage issues it was more of a lake than a meadow with very little uncovered ground for birds to roost on although 11 Curlew, 8 Redshank and 4 Oystercatcher were trying to along with Gulls, Shelduck and  quarrelsome Canada Geese. I've seen Little Ringed Plover on Blaxton Meadow in the spring before and they have stayed for more than one day but the lack of meadow not covered by water wasn't conducive to them hanging around this time. 

There are 5 sluices that regulate the water flow for Blaxton Meadow, only 1 is totally blocked but it seems that this is enough to cause such high water levels to be maintained on the meadow on the low tide. 

The high water level on the meadow also kept the Greenshank away with 7 of them roosting on a small piece of uncovered mud on the estuary near the gas pipe. Also along this stretch of river were 2 Common Sandpiper and in the river channel a female Goosander was busily diving. 

A Blackcap and 4 Chiffchaff were heard singing away along with Skylarks and a half-heartedly songflighting Meadow Pipit. Greenfinch were songflighting too and 2 Ravens were also calling and displaying overhead, presumably a pair. 


A total of 9 Roe Deer were seen including 2 that ran right in front of me when they were startled by a dog. 

Roe Deer

Stock Dove, Nuthatch, Ring-necked Parakeet, Coal Tit, Bullfinch and Jay were all seen in the Park while out on the river 49 Redshank, 4 Dunlin, a Mute Swan, 2 Little Egret, 2 adult Common Gull and 4 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls were also noted. There was no sign of the female Red-crested Pochard at the duck pond but there were 7 male and 4 female Mandarin Duck present. 

All in all another enjoyable walk despite the (expected) dipping. 

Sunday 20 March 2022

Spring on The Plym

Friday 18th March was yet another glorious day with sunshine and blue skies but with a continuing chilly breeze. I was up and out of the house by 8am and heading off to Saltram to meet up with other birders from the Friends of Saltrams Wildlife Group for a meeting to discuss the ongoing plans to build a solar farm on Chelson Meadow, the best piece of wildlife habitat on the whole of the Saltram Estate.

Chelson Meadow - soon to be no more

The meeting was with Alistair Macpherson, the Chief Executive of Plymouth Energy Community, the company developing the scheme, and while it was interesting and informative the overall feeling was that the scheme is going to go ahead anyway and it is now about getting as much mitigation in place to try and keep as much benefit to wildlife as possible as the development goes ahead.

It's all very sad, a beautiful piece of habitat in the heart of Plymouth is set to be destroyed and the loss of wildlife is tragic. Annoyingly the houses currently being built on the housing estate next to Chelson Meadow could quite easily accomodate more solar panels on their roofs than the solar farm will achieve and all without any habitat loss.

We may be in a climate crisis but we are also in an ecological crisis too, destroying habitat to generate green energy is really not the way to go and surely there is a better site for this scheme to go ahead on. 


The meeting lasted about an hour and when it was finished I had a wander around the Estate and along the Plym, enjoying the sunshine and the wildlife on view including a good count of 11 Roe Deer. 

Roe Deer

The sunshine again brought out the butterflies and I managed to see at least 5 Peacock, 3 Comma and 3 Small Tortoiseshell. 




A Dark-edged Bee Fly was a first for the year too as it fed on Primrose flowers. 

Dark-edged Bee Fly

It was lovely to hear at least 6 Chiffchaffs singing away along with my first 2 Blackcaps of the year. A yaffling Green Woodpecker and a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker were heard only but a pair of Bullfinch, a singing Goldcrest, a songflighting Greenfinch, at least 4 Stock Doves and at least 5 Ring-necked Parakeets were seen. A Peregrine flying over was presumably one of the birds from the nearby nest site at Plymbridge Woods. 

Along the Plym an aggressive Mute Swan chased off another pair which took flight and disappeared off downriver. A Kingfisher was also seen flying downriver on the dropping tide and a smart looking summer plumaged Shag was busily diving for food out on the water. A lone female Goosander and a lone male Mandarin Duck were also noted along with the usual Mallard, Shelduck, Canada Geese and Cormorant. 

Mute Swan

The mudflats were relatively quiet but I did find 3 Greenshank, 2 Dunlin and a Curlew along with around 20 Redshank and 20 Turnstone while amongst the Gulls present (H, BH and GBB) were 5 Common Gulls (4 adults and 1 2nd calendar year bird) and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. 

An enjoyable walk despite the ongoing depressing situation regarding Chelson Meadow, at least spring is on its way and let's see where the solar farm application leads. 

Friday 18 March 2022

Spring is Coming!

It's been a weird winter, mostly mild and wet and windy and this has been reflected in the birding, but now we are into March, the promise of Spring is in the air and I can't wait for it to finally arrive. 

Thursday 10th March started off cool and grey but I headed out to Wembury for a walk anyway to look for signs of spring. As the morning wore on the skies eventually cleared and it became pleasantly warm in the sunshine and signs of spring there were.

I managed 2 brief views of a flyby butterfly, probably a Small Tortoiseshell, but a singing Chiffchaff at Wembury Point and 3 Common Lizards basking in the sun were much more obliging.

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

The tide was high but with the strong onshore wind it was relatively quiet along the beach with just 4 Little Egret, 5 Mallard (3 male) and Oystercatchers trying to roost. Rock Pipits were feeding on the seaweed mass with some looking very Scandinavian-like with hints of pinky washed breasts, blue tinged heads, minimally streaked bellys and bold supercilliums.

Overhead 5 Buzzards were displaying and calling including a very pale looking bird along with a hovering male Kestrel and 2 Raven carrying beakfuls of sheep's wool. 

A Cirl Bunting was heard singing and I had some nice views of 4 birds (2 males) feeding together in the stubble field. A Song Thrush and 2 Coal Tit in the wood behind the stables were firsts for Wembury this year and 2 male Bullfinches showed well in the valley to the beach before flying off into the village gardens.

Cirl Bunting

I had some distant views of probable Sparrowhawks soaring and I thought I heard a Tawny Owl "tu-wu-ing" near the church but I couldn't be sure. I also had a brief and distant view of a probable Great Crested Grebe flying west before it disappeared around the Point, all very frustrating as they would all have been a Wembury year ticks but there is always another day!

After working a long day and then 2 night shifts I was a little cream crackered when I settled down on the settee to watch TV on the afternoon of Tuesday 15th March but when news of 3 male Garganey present on the Plym Estuary along with a female came through I decided to head out for a look. I was on site at 5pm, within 30 minutes of getting the news, and as expected I unfortunately failed to find them in the fading light. I did however get a distant view of a Great Crested Grebe, my first for the Plym this year, plus views of a female Goosander, 5 Greenshank, a Redwing and a Lesser Black-backed Gull along with the usual birds.

It was all blue skies and sunshine on waking up on the morning of Thursday 17th March and despite a cool start it soon became a pleasantly warm day even in a somewhat chilly breeze.

I caught the bus out to Wembury to meet up with Mavis for a walk and we were hopeful of catching up with our first Wheatear of the year but we were out of luck although we did see a good selection of wildlife.

Wembury Church

Comma, Peacock and 3 Small Tortoiseshell were all seen basking in the sunshine along with 3 Common Lizards, a Bloody Nose Beetle and 6 Black Oil Beetles.



Small Tortoiseshell

Common Lizard

Black Oil Beetle

Cirl Buntings showed very well in the stubble field, at least 3 males and 2 females, with the males looking stunning in the bright sunshine. 

Cirl Bunting (Photo courtesy of Mavis) 

Overhead a pair of Kestrel, a pair of Sparrowhawk, 8 Buzzards and 2 Ravens were noted while along the footpath Stonechats and Linnets were seen. 2 Chiffchaffs were heard singing too. 

All in all a very lovely springtime walk along the coast, it's finally feeling like winters grip is very much loosened.

Thursday 10 March 2022

A Plymouth Brambling

It was a cold and frosty but sunny start to the day on Saturday 5th March and as I needed to get some keys cut at the Marsh Mills Sainsbury's I decided to take a River Plym walk.

Blaxton Meadow

I arrived at Blaxton Meadow for the high tide at around 8:30am to find the water level very high as there are ongoing problems with the sluices. As a result most of the Redshanks and all of the Dunlins were roosting on the Embankment instead of the Meadow but a few Redshank were present with 7 Greenshank, 5 Oystercatcher, 27 Curlew and a Snipe. Just 3 pairs of Wigeon now remain with the others presumably having departed East. 

A very smart looking summer plumaged Mediterranean Gull was picked out amongst the Black-headed Gulls, a regular wintering bird that I have failed to find on any of my visits until now and identifiable by its red leg ring from a Polish ringing scheme. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and 6 Common Gulls (1 first winter and 5 adults) were also noted.

Mediterranean Gull

Around Saltram a Treecreeper, a male Bullfinch, a male Stonechat and a Goldcrest were the highlights with both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers heard only. Skylarks were singing away over Chelson Meadow and the usual Ring-necked Parakeets were noisely flying around.


A pair of Goosander, a Common Sandpiper, 7 Mandarin Duck, a Grey Wagtail, a Redwing, 2 Mute Swans and 9 Roe Deer were the best of the rest on an enjoyable and tentatively spring like day.

Tuesday 8th March was cold and grey but after 2 very gruelling long days at work I needed a bit of a wildlife fix and so we took a walk around Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor. It was a lovely walk despite the dull skies and for a change there were very few people about which was very nice.

The highlight was a Marsh Tit around the top car park, it kept flying towards us from the nearby trees and hovering briefly in front of us before returning to the trees. I've seen photographers putting out nuts and seeds in the car park in the past to attract birds including Marsh Tits close to their cars and so presumably it's a bird habituated to being fed by humans.

Siskins were vocal and flighty in the trees and 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Ravens, a Goldcrest and a male Stonechat were also noted while out on the water there were 3 Great Crested Grebes, a Little Grebe, Mallards, 2 Canada Geese, the white Feral Goose and 5 Cormorant.

A few Gulls were roosting on the chain near the main dam - a couple of Herring Gulls, a Great Black-backed Gull, 3 dark backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls (intermedius) and a paler backed (graellsii) bird which looked very Yellow-legged Gull-like.

Great Black-backed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed (graellsii) Gulls

Lesser Black-backed (graellsii) and Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull (graellsii)

Lesser Black-backed Gull (intermedius) 

On arriving back home after enjoying a Dartmoor Swirl and a coffee from the Dartmoor Bakery at Yelverton along the way I checked out the Twitter news to find the Brambling reported the previous day at Saltram was still present and so we headed right back out again for a look for it.

It had been seen with the Chaffinches around the duck pond and after a bit of a wait and much scanning around I eventually found it perched up in a tree, a very smart looking bird and my first in the Plymouth area.

Brambling, Saltram



It was very flighty and mobile, not helped by all the people walking by, but eventually it came down to the ground to feed on the crumbs dropped by people feeding the ducks and I managed to get some good views of it.

Brambling and Chaffinch

Brambling and Chaffinch

Brambling and Chaffinch


The female Red-crested Pochard was still present on the duck pond and also noted on a short walk to Sainsbury's and back were a female Goosander on the river, a flyover Mistle Thrush and 3 Little Egrets masquarading as Cattle Egrets in a field of cattle out on the estate.