Thursday 8 September 2022

Sea Bird Woes

A short walk around Saltram with David on Tuesday 6th September was fairly quiet with 2 Bar-tailed Godwit and 3 Black-tailed Godwit on Blaxton Meadow the highlight. Sadly a dead adult Gannet was also seen on the Meadow, presumably an avian flu victim having been washed in on the tide. 

Arriving home and a text came through from Pete regarding a Gannet off Laira Bridge, a rare bird on The Plym, and so I headed back out for a look. Unfortunately there was no sign of it but I did find a nice Sandwich Tern roosting with some Black-headed Gulls before it was flushed by a low flying helicopter passing over. 

Sandwich Tern with Black-headed Gulls

Arriving home again and another text came through with news that the Gannet was now present on the mudflats upriver near Blaxton Meadow, having been pushed upriver from Laira Bridge by the wind and incoming tide. I considered heading back out again but a heavy burst of rain put paid to that idea and I would assume it is a bird inflicted with avian flu so unlikely to still be alive for much longer, very sad. 

Wednesday 7th September and I decided to head out to Berry Head for a sea watch. The weather forecast had been very changeable for the previous few days and with showers and strong winds forecasted for today I was quite hopeful for some good birds especially with all the good sightings reported over recent days. However it wasn't quite as windy or showery as had been forecasted and the light was harsh but I had an enjoyable time anyway. 

The usual assorted crowd was present, all professional looking with umbrellas and cameras and chairs and including Pete from Plymouth (and I really should invest in a foldable chair for myself to stop my back aching so much with all that standing around!) .

I was quite slow at times with finding birds called out but I managed to get some good views of 4 Arctic Skuas and around 30 Balearic Shearwaters amongst the usual Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake, Mediterranean Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull. Extra interest was provided by views of a Sandwich Tern, a Common Tern, a Whimbrel and 6 Common Scoter along with a Harbour Porpoise and around 8 Common Dolphin.

The Arctic Skuas were mostly distant as they harried the feeding Kittiwakes but a pale phased bird showed quite well close in as it sat on the sea. However the Balearic Shearwaters showed much closer in as they moved south around the headland, either singly, in pairs or threes, and always a delight to see and looking very smart in the bright sunshine. 

(Annoyingly a Great Shearwater and a Long-tailed Skua were seen just after I left but that is sea watching for you! And I was very kindly given a lift back to Plymouth by Pete which saved me a longer journey home by bus and train and which was very much appreciated). 

Thursday 8th September was grey and windy and showery and so we headed out for a walk around Burrator Reservoir to see how low the water levels are after the heatwave and drought. The water level was indeed low but only a little more so than when we visited the reservoir back in October 2014 after a dry summer.

Burrator Reservoir - usually this would all be under water

We dodged showers as we walked around the Reservoir and out over the remaining water were Swallows, House Martins and a few Sand Martins hawking for insects including a leucistic Swallow which was very striking. It appeared to be all white but through my binoculars it was a mottled buffy colour with darker feathering around the face and breast.

Leucistic Swallow, Burrator

A redhead Goosander was roosting out on the exposed mud with Mallards and the resident white feral Goose. The Canada Goose flock was roosting further up the Reservoir and a surprise was a Shag resting on rocks with Cormorants.

Goosander, Burrator


Record shot of a Shag with 2 Cormorants

Crossbills were heard "glipping" in the conifer trees and eventually I caught sight of a female/juvenile flying between the tree tops. A Raven and a Jay were heard only and Devils Bit Scabious was flowering in boggy areas by the roadside.

Devils Bit Scabious

Arriving home and a text came through from Pete regarding 2 Gannets being present on the Plym and so I headed out for a look. I saw the immature bird out on the river off Blaxton Meadow from the bus as it headed to Marsh Mills and as I walked along the river path to the Meadow I found the adult also. Presumably both birds are suffering with avian flu, the immature bird certainly looked unwell, and while they are my first sightings for the River Plym it was a sorry sight to see. Sadly the corpse of the adult bird first seen on Blaxton Meadow on Tuesday was still present with the corpse of the live adult bird first found on Tuesday now lying out on the mudflats by the gas pipe sign.

Gannet, River Plym


A quick look at the Osprey tree drew a blank and a quick look at Blaxton Meadow revealed a Kingfisher dashing across the Meadow along with 4 Bar-tailed Godwit amongst the usual Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Greenshank but with dark clouds ominously scudding across the skies I headed home, getting on the bus just as the heavens opened.

On arriving back home the news was increasingly dominated by concerns over the health of the Queen and sadly it was finally announced that she had passed away - an end of an era, Rest In Peace Our Majesty. 

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