Thursday 28 April 2022

Whimbrel on The Plym - Finally!

This year spring has been a little slow, it has been quite a dry spring as it has been for the last 2 years but the winds have not been very conducive for migrating birds. 

Saturday 23rd April and it was off to Saltram and The Plym for a walk starting from and returning to Marsh Mills. High tide wasn't  due until around 12:30pm but the water was quite high when I began my walk at around  9:00am with no mud at all on show along the Estuary. 

There was however a small patch of exposed mud near the gas pipe where 2 Oystercatchers, 5 Greenshank, a female Pintail, a Mute Swan and 8 Common Sandpipers were feeding with Herring Gulls, 12 Canada Geese and 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

The sluice gates appear to have been cleared at Blaxton Meadow and there was actually mud on display for a change. 34 Shelduck, 6 Little Egrets and Black-headed Gulls were seen here but the highlight were 3 Whimbrel, the first of the year here for me, and busily feeding away although unfortunately resolutely silent.

A look around Chelson Meadow also found me my first Wheatear of the year here, a female which was mobile and often elusive.


The usual Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were heard along with a Green Woodpecker and a Nuthatch and a total of 6 Swallows were seen overhead (3 east, 1 north and 2 around The Stables). 

A white Mallard at the duck pond was keeping an eye on around 7 very small and fluffy ducklings and 7 Moorhen and 6 male Mandarin Duck were also present. 

Mallard Duckling

On my return to Blaxton Meadow the female Pintail had moved here from the river and was showing well but the 3 Whimbrel had unfortunately moved on.


With a mild and cloudy night I had the moth lights on in the dining room window for a couple of hours before going to bed and managed to attract a few moths in - a Light Brown Apple Moth, 4 Double Striped Pug, a Shuttle Shaped Dart, a Monopsis obviella and a Common Marbled Carpet.

Sunday 24th April was a quiet day but we had our usual walk around Plymouth Hoe, something we haven't done for a few weeks now. It was a very nice surprise to find a lingering Purple Sandpiper on the rocks at high tide in the usual place below the Pier One Cafe, the latest date I have seen one here before.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper 

It was back to work post Covid on Monday 25th April, a long (and exhausting) day, and with Tuesday 26th April free I headed out for a gentle walk at Wembury. It was sunny but breezy with the continuing easterly wind blowing and it was another quiet day with the highlight being at least 26 Whimbrel along the beach - they were mobile, flighty and delightfully vocal but it was difficult to get an accurate count of them.

Also along the beach were 7 Oystercatcher, a pair of Mallard and 2 Shelduck. Offshore was quiet too with just 3 adult Gannet seen together heading east and the usual Fulmars wheeling around The Mewstone.

A large looking and very brown toned Peregrine, 2 Buzzard and a male Kestrel were noted overhead along with 2 Swallows swooping around over the wheatfield. The Red-legged Partridge residing in the wheatfield have increased in numbers again with 6 now present.

Orange-tip, Holly Blue, Peacock, Wall and Speckled Wood were flitting about and just 1 Common Lizard was found basking on the fences. Bees were buzzing about everywhere in the warm sunshine out of the wind but they were very fast and difficult to ID as usual.

Common Carder Bee

I felt knackered on arriving back home, this COVID malarkey sure leaves you feeling washed out. I'm glad I've had it and it's out of the way but it's been one nasty little beast. 

Friday 22 April 2022

A Wheatear at Wembury - Finally!

Friday 22nd April and with a free day to myself I decided to visit Wembury for a look about. It was sunny when I awoke but by the time I arrived at Wembury it had clouded over although by the time I left to return home the sun had reappeared.

It seemed to be very quiet again but things quickly brightened up when I finally found my first Wembury Wheatear of the year, a female along the beach which looked pretty tired as it stood on the rocks and presumably freshly arrived.

It was also good to finally see my first 8 Wembury Whimbrel of the year, mobile and flighty along the beach on the high tide and occasionally giving their lovely whistling calls. 

With easterly winds forecasted I packed my telescope into my ruck sack but it didn't seem too breezy offshore and I almost didn't get it out of my bag for a scan. I'm glad I did though as I managed to see my first Manx Shearwaters of the year, it was difficult to assess numbers though with birds moving around back and forth offshore in groups of up to 4. 

A few Gannets were moving around too along with a few distant Auk species (probably Guillemots) and a flock of around 30 Common Scoter flying west was a nice surprise. A flock of 12 dark looking waders flying east low over the water were too distant to call for sure but were likely to have been Bar-tailed Godwit. 

Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat were all singing away and the wheat field held 5 Red-legged Partridge and a Canada Goose. There were 28 Oystercatcher roosting on the rocks at The Point along with 2 male Mallard, 4 Little Egrets and 2 Shelduck. A single Swallow was seen flying east along the clifftop. 


Singles of Speckled Wood, Holly Blue and Orange-Tip were seen despite the lack of sunshine and 4 Common Lizard were trying to bask on the wooden fences. 3 Rabbits were seen in a garden while walking down to the beach and a single St.Marks Fly was found resting on some gorse blossom before flying off. 

Common Lizard

Yellow-legged Mining Bee

Yellow-legged Mining Bee

It finally feels like spring is now properly underway! 

Thursday 21 April 2022

Post COVID walks

After 24 hours of feeling awful and a further 24 hours of feeling rough I finally felt much, much better, just tired and a bit nasally congested. I self-isolated and stayed at home for 5 days even though there is no longer a legal requirement to do so but by Tuesday 19th April I was feeling fine and was starting to crawl up the walls and so I decided to do my usual lock down River Plym and Saltram walk. I was up and out early at 07:30, much earlier than I usually am, but I figured there would be fewer people around then and I would be back home before the Easter school holiday crowds arrived. I had my mask with me and crossed over roads to avoid passing close to other pedestrians and I had a very enjoyable walk although I had to stop frequently for a short rest and I felt knackered by the time I eventually got back home at around Midday.

It was a cool start but became pleasantly warm and I managed to see my first Green-veined White of the year along with a few Speckled Wood and a Peacock.

Green Veined White

It was the high tide and on Blaxton Lake (Meadow) were a few waders trying to roost on the little areas of uncovered ground - 6 Redshank, 5 Greenshank, 4 Dunlin and a Curlew. A Mute Swan looked right at home out on the water and also present were 21 Shelduck, 6 Canada Geese, 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 25 variously aged Black-headed Gulls in various plumage states and a Grey Heron. The highlight was a female Pintail busily feeding with a pair of Mallard, present for a few days now and my third Plym sighting of one. It stayed distant and spent most of its time with its head underwater but it was nice to see all the same.


A Willow Warbler was quietly singing in trees near the Wet Wood before flying off and it was good to see 3 Swallows around the duck pond with a further 4 seen flying purposefully up along the Plym. Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Skylark were all heard singing away and a pair of Linnet and a pair of Bullfinch were also seen.


Wednesday 20th April and I was feeling so much more better again and so we drove up to Roborough Down for a walk, keeping well away from any other people out and about on the Down. It was a sunny but breezy day although the wind eventually eased and it became quite warm in the sunshine. It was sad to see huge swathes of the Down turned into blackened stumps following probable arson fires a few weeks ago but there was still plenty of wildlife to see.

Brimstones were flitting about everywhere and also seen were a Red Admiral, 2 Peacock and a few White species, probably Green Veined. I had my Emperor Moth lure with me and managed to attract at least 2 males to it, one of which showed very well. Bizarrely a Wall was attracted to the lure as well before eventually dashing off and out of sight.

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth

An Adder was a nice sighting, beautifully coloured as it slithered through the blackened vegetation and the first one David has ever seen before.



Bird sightings included a songflighting Whitethroat, a male Wheatear, singing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, 4 Swallows over heading north, Stonechats and Linnets.

I felt fine again on Thursday 21st April and with the sun shining we headed off to Yarner Wood for a walk. David dropped me off while he went garden supply shopping at nearby Trago Mills and I had a 2 hour wander about, keeping away from the few people I met while on my walk.

It has been 3 years since I last visited Yarner Wood, primarily due to COVID lock downs but a lack of public transport and the demise of breeding Wood Warblers here have meant I visit other sites for Dartmoor woodland birds instead. However it does remain a brilliant place to see Pied Flycatchers and on my visit I saw and heard quite a few males singing and checking out the nest boxes along with just a single female. 

Pied Flycatcher

No Wood Warblers as expected but I didn't see or hear any Redstarts either and a look for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drew a blank too. A Tree Pipit showed very well on the heathland doing its songflighting thing while Willow Warblers cascaded in the shrubbery and Siskins and Redpolls flew overhead. 

A big surprise was a Goshawk flying over, a monster of a bird so presumably female and a very distinctive looking bird indeed. A Swallow swooped in to give it some hassle and it looked miniscule beside the Goshawk but it did make the Goshawk flinch and drop down over the treetops and out of sight. 

Brimstone were flitting about everywhere and a Speckled Wood and a Green Veined White were also seen along with at least 2 Green Tiger Beetles. 


Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Long-tailed Tit, a Coal Tit, a pair of Stonechat and at least 8 Buzzards were also seen before my time was up and David arrived back at the car park for the ride back to Plymouth but it has been a very enjoyable walk. 

Monday 18 April 2022

Wembury and COVID

Thursday 14th April was grey and claggy but with a free day to myself I decided to take a walk at Wembury before my return to work the next day (Good Friday). Arriving at Wembury and the coast was totally shrouded in sea mist, I couldn't even see The Mewstone offshore, but as the morning progressed the mist cleared and it became a warm and sunny day. 

Visibility was poor as I started my walk towards The Point but Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing away in the gloom. Frustratingly I had a brief glimpse of a probable Willow Warbler feeding in the brambles, I only saw it briefly before it was gone but it didnt seem bright enough for a Willow Warbler, not helped perhaps by the poor light, and it did flick its tail in a Chiffchaff like manner. I also saw a probable Whimbrel flying over the rocks at low tide, again a brief view before it was lost in the mist and unfortunately it was silent as it flew away.

A Swallow was more confiding, it appeared to fly in off the sea as it just suddenly emerged from the mist, it headed off quickly inland but not before it did a few loops over the cliffside in what seemed to be excitement and relief at finally reaching land in the awful visibility.

With the mist clearing a pair of Sandwich Tern were found roosting on the rocks before flying off along the shoreline to dive for fish. I also had better views of 2 Red-legged Partridge in the wheatfield, in the mist they had looked like mounds of mud poking out from the germinating wheat leaves.

Stonechat, Cirl Bunting, Kestrel, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Raven, Shelduck and Oystercatcher were also seen and a Jay was heard squawking in the undergrowth in Churchwood Valley, my first of the year here. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Wheatears again.

Bloody- nose Beetle, Black Oil Beetle, Common Lizard, Peacock and 2 brief flyby White butterfly species were also seen and I also found what I believe to be a Yellow-legged Mining Bee. I have been trying to ID Bees when I'm out and about but I must confess to finding them very tricky to identify (although the yellow legs make it easier to ID than most). 

Common Lizard - abdomen closeup

Black Oil Beetle Love

Black Oil Beetle Closeup

Yellow Legged Mining Bee

Yellow Legged Mining Bee

While out walking I started to become very sneezey, it felt like hayfever which I usually only suffer from in July and August. My nose was itchy and irritated and I kept producing copious amounts of clear snot (yum!) but I felt OK in myself. Arriving home and with being back indoors the sneezing stopped and so I assumed it was indeed a type of hayfever I was suffering from but by the evening I felt odd and with work looming the next day I took an LFT test only to find the bloody thing was positive! Bollocks! 

I didnt feel too bad and I'm surprised I haven't caught it before now as I work in the main hospital in Plymouth and have looked after quite a few COVID positive patients, most of my colleagues have had it and I am now one of the last ones on my unit to contract it. 

I went to bed early but awoke in the night feeling dreadful, experiencing rigours, coughing, headache, joint pains and tachycardia and by morning I felt washed out and exhausted. 

I would assume I had picked up COVID before we headed off to Hull to see the Albatross although there was very little COVID awareness going on at the viewing platform at Bempton with birders elbowing their way in amongst the crowd and lots of non-birding families out for an Easter school holiday walk adding to the throng. I did try to keep myself on the periphery of the crowd and I hope I haven't infected others but I guess this is what living with COVID is going to be like. Maybe I did actually contract it at Bempton but I guess I'll never know for sure

A staff PCR test at the hospital on Friday 15th April confirmed the positive LFT test but it was no surprise to me as I felt awful, there was nothing good about Good Friday this year as I spent it on the sofa feeling like shite - restless, achey, agitated, nauseous, pyrexial and headachey, even my eyeballs ached! I eventually managed to fall asleep on the sofa at about 9pm for an hour and on waking up I surprisingly felt much better before heading up to bed for a remarkably restful nights sleep.

The next day I felt better again, very tired and full of cold but able to at least get of the sofa now and then. What a very weird little virus COVID is.

Friday 15 April 2022

Black-browed Albatross, RSPB Bempton Cliffs

Black-browed Albatross, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire

I've never been a twitcher, the few times I have indulged in the "sport" of twitching in the past have been stressful and have usually resulted in big fat dippy dips for my troubles. I'm also not a birder birder nor a sociable birder and twitches make me feel very uncomfortable, I generally find the whole experience unpleasant and so I now rarely twitch, preferring to poodle around enjoying birds in my own way and generally keeping to Devon and Cornwall. 

The last "twitch" I did was to Exmouth to look for the Northern Mockingbird, only around 60 miles away from Plymouth and true to form another dip. It wasn't a proper twitch though, the bird had been present at an undisclosed site in Exmouth for months but COVID lockdown meant no opportunity to go and see it although I know of a few naughty birders who did. With lockdown easing the exact site details for the bird were released (although many unofficially knew where it was) and the hordes descended but I kept away for a couple of weeks until the fuss died down only for the bird to depart to Sussex the night before I travelled to Exmouth on the train to see it. 

A trip to Tenby last year to see the residing Walrus wasn't really a proper twitch but at least it proved successful and while not really twitches the trips to Cumbria in June and August last year for butterflies were equally productive. I also managed to see the White-tailed Lapwing at Blacktoft in October last year but it wasn't a twitch as we were already visiting nearby York on a prearranged holiday.

However there was one bird present over the summer last year at RSPB Bempton Cliffs that really piqued my interest, a Black-browed Albatross, and I watched the bird sighting news and admired the hundreds of photos of it on social media channels with much envy. I had planned to visit Bempton during our trip to York but we didn't travel up to Yorkshire until the 27th September and the Albatross finally departed on its oceanic wanderings on the 25th September which is why I saw the White-tailed Lapwing instead, a very nice bonus bird but not the one I had really hoped to see.

Amazingly the Albatross returned to Bempton in March of this year and has been showing very well, social media channels are again full of images of it and again I am more than a little envious. Fortunately I had 5 days off in a row from work (10th to 14th April) and so I made plans for us to travel up to Bempton to see the bird and I kept my fingers crossed that it would still be present.

Our original plan was to stay in Bridlington, a 10 minute train ride from Bempton, but it looked a bit of a shabby place and so we ended up staying in Hull instead, an hours train journey away. The journey up to Hull by train on Sunday 10th April was very enjoyable and along the way I saw the usual Red Kites, Stock Doves and Roe Deer along with a pair of Goosanders on the River Exe north of Exeter.

I had an early start on Monday 11th April, catching the 06:39 train from Hull to Bempton, and I alighted at Bempton on time at 07:37 having seen 4 Grey Partridge, Roe Deer and numerous Hares along the journey. A brisk walk of around a mile and a half saw me arriving at the clifftops of RSPB Bempton Cliffs at about 08:10 with a few stops made along the way to admire Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers in the hedgerows. 

Tree Sparrow, Bempton

News on Birdguides stated that the Albatross was currently present on the cliffs and so I walked along the cliffpath to the Staple Newk viewing platform where a group of birders were silently pointing telescopes and cameras down the cliffs. I has a quick peek over their shoulders and there it was, around 20 metres away, sat on the cliff face in full view amongst the Gannets and sticking out like a sore thumb.

And there it sat for the next 3 hours, occassionally standing up to change position or to stretch its wings but mostly sitting there preening, sleeping or getting into a fracas with the nearby Gannets! 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Staple Newk Viewing Platform

Staple Newk Viewing Platform 

Staple Newk Viewing Platform 

Gannet, Staple Newk

Gannet, Staple Newk  - almost luminous green legs and toes

Legs and Toes close up

Gannet, Staple Newk  - collecting nest material

Gannet, Staple Newk

Despite the sunny skies I did get quiet chilled by the strong and cold wind blowing across such an exposed position and so as more and more visitors arrived to view the bird I headed off along the cliffpath for a walk to try and warm myself up. Getting out of the wind made all the difference and I was soon feeling much more comfortable and so I headed back to the viewing platform just as the Albatross flew off out to sea. I managed to refind it sat out on the water having a bathe before it flew back to the cliffs where it flew around for a short while giving an amazing aerial performance before settling on a different spot on the cliff face.



Staple Newk Viewing Platform from the south

Black-browed Albatross and Razorbill

Black-browed Albatross and Razorbills

David duly arrived and he managed to get some good views of the bird before it undertook another fly around but this time when it resettled on the cliff face it was out of view and so it was time to call it day and head back to the visitors centre for some lunch (and I had been watching it for over 5 hours!).

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross 

Black-browed Albatross and Herring Gull

Black-browed Albatross and Herring Gull

While eating lunch at least 6 Tree Sparrows entertained us as they "chupped" away in the bushes or on the roof of the cafe. After finishing our sandwiches we had a walk northwards along the cliff path, admiring the views from the cliffs and the swirling, noisy, smelly mass of seabirds present - Gannet, Puffin, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill.

Tree Sparrow, Bempton Visitor Centre

Bempton Cliffs

Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot




I also managed to see my first Swallow and Sand Martin of the year overhead along with a flyby Peregrine and offshore I found a lone Grey Seal and a distant pod of at least 6 Bottle-nosed Dolphin moving north before it was time to walk back to Bempton for the train journey back to Hull.

The next day was spent sightseeing around Hull and we headed back to Plymouth the day after that on Wednesday 13th April, the train journey again being very pleasant with more views of Red Kites and a surprise sighting of a Marsh Harrier (along the River Humber).

It had been a great trip away, much needed in these weird times of war and Covid and economic stress, and I didn't dip. The Black-browed Albatross was an amazing bird to see and observe but do I want to go on a twitch again anytime soon? Probably not.