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!

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