Friday 28 October 2022

Amazing Trip to Berry Head

With a night shift looming on Tuesday 25th October a quiet day was planned but with news of a Redpoll being seen at Saltram I went to have a quick look for it. Needless to say there was no sign of it but we had an enjoyable walk from Sainsbury's to Saltram House and back despite the half term crowds and we fortunately got back to the car before the forecasted rain arrived.

It was nice to see 5 redhead Goosander along the River Plym with numbers hopefully increasing as winter arrives.


A Grey Wagtail and 3 Little Grebe were also seen along the river, a Nuthatch showed well in the trees as it noisely called and a singing Chiffchaff was a surprise, no doubt confused by the continuing warm temperatures as the mild autumn continues.

I had planned to meet my ex-work friend Jan on Thursday 27th October but we switched days to the Friday instead and so I planned a birding day out on the Thursday instead. I had considered visiting Hayle to look for the 2 Lesser Yellowlegs being seen there but with negative news I looked for somewhere else to go. When news broke of a Pallid Swift at Berry Head late afternoon on the Wednesday my mind was made up with Berry Head already on my radar due to all the good sea birds still being seen there.

Besides the Pallid Swift being found there were around 500 (!) Great Shearwaters reported at Berry Head on Wednesday 26th October following overnight gales (while I was at work!) but with calmer conditions on the Thursday I wasn't sure if sea watching would be any good - how wrong was I!

It was breezy, mizzley and overcast when I arrived at the sea watching platform but it was incredibly mild and humid for the end of October with small flies noticeably buzzing about despite the lack of sunshine. The viewing platform was already busy with birders and no sooner had I set up my scope than Great Shearwaters were being called offshore. I managed to get on to about 10 of them but they were all distant and the views weren't the best in the gloomy light but I was very pleased to see them, my first in Devon and only my second sighting in the UK. They were very distinctive in flight and it was good to observe them and learn their jizz for future reference.

There were lots of birds swirling around offshore, mostly Gannets, Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls and Auks, but also seen were a Sooty Shearwater, a Manx Shearwater and 2 Balearic Shearwater making it a 4 Shearwater species day along with a few Arctic Skua and Mediterranean Gulls. 

Trawler off Berry Head

A female type Black Redstart was found on the cliff face behind the platform as the assembled birders regularly scanned overhead for a sighting of the Pallid Swift until eventually it was called to much whooping and excitement.

Black Redstart

It flew around overhead for about 20 seconds before disappearing over the cliff top (and I never saw it again) but it appeared pale like a washed out Swift with pale fringing noticeable as it banked around the cliff face. It's flight also seemed more jittery but all these features are a bit subjective and dependent on light, wind conditions and the birds mood and also maybe wishful thinking of the observer!

I had planned to head up to the cliff tops to have another look for the Pallid Swift but with expert seabird watcher Mark Darlaston arriving for a seawatch I decided to stay at the platform for more seawatching, a good decision as the Pallid Swift was only reseen once, distantly feeding over the sea, and the seawatching was fabulous!

2 more Great Shearwaters were seen, much better views than earlier but still unfortunately distant, and another Sooty Shearwater, 3 Manx Shearwater and 2 Balearic Shearwater were also noted. 3 Common Scoter were seen, two birds and a single bird all flying west, and 2 Common Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and breaching Tuna were also seen.

However it was the Skuas that stole the show and with Mark present it was very informative as he discussed plumage details and ID tips about the birds being seen offshore. Arctic Skuas were very numerous with some excellent views had as they harassed Kittiwakes, numbers were difficult to assess as birds milled around back and forth but a variety of ages and plumage types were seen. It was great to see 2 Great Skuas also, their numbers have crashed this year following a disastrous breeding season with many colonies being totally wiped out due to avian flu.

Best of all were at least 2 Pomarine Skuas, a juvenile bird and an absolute beast of a pale phased adult bird which was watched chasing a Kittiwake along with a pale phased adult Arctic Skua where the size diference was very noticeable. It had a very clearly demarcated breast band, a good ID feature, and just like the bird I saw from the ferry out of Roscoff a few years ago now.

Eventually it was time to head home and on the walk back out of the quarry I had a quick look around, finding a second female type Black Redstart, a Chiffchaff, a female Blackcap, a female Kestrel, a Peregrine and 2 very skulky juvenile Ring Ouzels feeding on berries before disappearing back into cover.

It was a fantastic day out and I was very pleased to have joined the Great Shearwater party after what has been a bumper year for them here in the South West. And I was very pleased to see my first UK Pallid Swift during an influx of them into the UK after seeing many of them over the years on my European travels (including in Izmir in Turkey a few weeks ago!). 

Monday 24 October 2022

A Dartmoor Walk

Sunday 23rd October was a total contrast with sunny skies and no breeze and so we headed up to Shipley Bridge on Dartmoor for a walk up to the Avon Dam and back. Unfortunately with it being a Sunday and a nice day it was very busy with walkers, not helped with it being half-term holiday time, but we managed to get a (free) parking space along the road and as we headed up the valley the crowds thinned somewhat and we ended up having a very pleasant walk. 

It was quite warm in the sunshine and a sounder of Pigs were very much enjoying snuffling away in the vegetation and having a snooze, oblivious to the people passing by. 

A very content Pig

Piggy Dreams

There were good numbers of Fieldfare flying around and occasionally perching up in the trees but only a few Redwing were seen along with a Song Thrush and the usual Blackbirds. 


The thrushes I really wanted to see were Ring Ouzels and with reports of over 20  being present the previous day I kept my eyes open for them and managed to see quite a few across the hillsides. However they were quite mobile and flighty and remained distant, maybe due to the number of people around, and I didn't take my scope out with me but I had some fairly decent views. The most I saw at any one time were 4 but there were obviously many more present on site. 

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzels

Water was flowing over the dam this time and a female type Black Redstart was flitting about on the dam wall and catching the flies buzzing around in the warm weather. 

Avon Dam

Black Redstart

A Kestrel and 2 Buzzards were seen overhead but the highlight was a ring-tail Hen Harrier hunting distantly over the hills, it flew along the ridge line flushing small birds (Meadow Pipits?) but was unsuccessful before flying across the valley and disappearing from view, only my second ever Devon Hen Harrier after my first here at the Avon Dam in 2001!

Sunday 23 October 2022

Wembury (Yet Again)

After our trip to Topsham on the Tuesday the weather took a turn for the worse with rain, gales and an Easterly wind which resulted in lots of birds on the move including quite a passage of Ring Ouzel. And of course I was working night shifts and missed it all!

There were birds on the move everywhere and along with the Ouzels there were reports on the Internet of good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfare passing overhead, a Merlin at Saltram, a Pallas's Warbler at Berry Head and a 4 Skua/ 4 Shearwater species seawatch at Berry Head, all while I was otherwise engaged. Never mind.

Saturday 22nd October was my first free day to get out birding but it very much felt like the party was over with grey skies, mild temperatures and a southerly breeze. I decided to head to Wembury again despite it being a Saturday and the beginning of Half-term Holiday Hell but I caught the 7am bus, arriving at Wembury at around 7:30 just as it was beginning to get light. I figured this way I would avoid some of the crowds but even at this early hour there was disturbance along the beach from walkers.

A Chiffchaff was heard in the gardens leading down to the beach and by the end of my walk I had seen at least 5 birds. Even better was a Cettis Warbler heard calling from cover in the valley to the beach, a brief call and it kept resolutely hidden but my first record for Wembury. I heard it again later on the walk back to the bus stop, this time it was quietly calling, almost like it was humming to itself and practising its lines but again it kept well hidden in the vegetation.

A Fox running across the top horse field by the stables was a nice sight, it's been years since I've seen a Fox at Wembury and this one was a very handsome and healthy looking individual indeed.

With the warm weather there were a few insects feeding on the Ivy flowers including 2 Ivy Bees, Wasps and Hoverflies and I kicked up 2 Rush Veneers from the grass at The Point.

Rush Veneer

Ivy Bee

Glass-winged Hoverfly

The stiff southerly breeze was kicking up some nice waves onto the beach and out on the rocks were 3 Little Egret, 2 Curlew, a Grey Heron, a 3rd winter Lesser Black-backed Gull and Oystercatchers. There were Mediterranean Gulls flying around and feeding offshore with a few roosting on the rocks, all winter plumaged adults except for a 1st winter bird which was sadly oiled across its chest.

I had hoped for a bit of movement offshore but it seemed very quiet, however with a bit of scanning about I managed to see a few interesting birds. There were plenty of Shags around, either sat on the sea in small groups or flying back and forth offshore. Gannets were noticeable too but sadly a juvenile bird sat on the sea close to shore looked like it was suffering with avian flu. 3 groups of Auks flew west (7,3 and 1), probably Guillemots, with a Guillemot sat preening on the sea between the beach and The Mewstone showing very well. 

Wembury Cattle

A strange sighting was of a juvenile Peregrine offshore stooping at a small black and white bird sat on the sea, probably an Auk. The Peregrine would flush the bird off the water making it fly for a short distance but it didn't manage to catch it. I watched it do this for a few minutes before it gave up and flew off but I would have thought an Auk would just dive underwater to escape the Peregrines attentions rather than risk getting caught by flying. 

A Shelduck flew west along with a Great Northern Diver but the highlight (and biggest frustration) was a Commic Tern flying west too, distant in the poor early morning light and most likely a Common Tern - I'm really not good with distant Terns!

A pair of Cirl Buntings, a Song Thrush, a Goldcrest, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a female Kestrel getting constantly hassled by Carrion Crows as it tried to hunt, Stonechats and 4 Greenfinch were also of note along my walk before I headed home just as the rain arrived, an enjoyable morning with some good sightings but feeling a little bit like I'd missed the main event. 

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Wembury Again and a Goosey Day Out on The Exe

Another Saturday (15th October), another visit to Wembury, not the best day for a visit as it's usually busy at the weekends but with grey skies, a strong breeze and mizzle showers it was relatively quiet on the people front. The breeze unfortunately hampered the birding somewhat with the bushes being a bit blown out but I managed to see a Song Thrush, a pair of Blackcap, a singing Cirl Bunting and a Goldcrest along with the usual Stonechats, Goldfinch and Robins. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard in The Pines at The Point and a Raven and a Kestrel were noted overhead. 

It was choppy offshore and Gannets were moving west into the wind. It was nice to see a few juveniles and immatures amongst them after the ravages of avian flu this summer although the corpse of an adult bird was sadly seen washed up on the beach. 

The tide was high and roosting out on the rocks were around 60 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew, a Whimbrel, a Common Sandpiper and 8 Little Egret and amongst the Gulls were an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and 9 Mediterranean Gulls (3 adults, 3 1st winters and 3 2nd winters).

Unsurprisingly there were no butterflies on the wing but I did kick up a Rush Veneer from the grass and there were still a few Ivy Bees feeding on Ivy flowers that were tucked away out of the wind. 

Ivy Bee

Ivy Bee

I had a pasty for my lunch, probably my last of the year here as the cafe on the beach winds down its opening times for the winter, and then headed home for a quiet afternoon to prepare myself for the daunting prospect of working 2 long days in a row beginning the next morning. 

Tuesday 18th October was grey but mild and dry and I met up with Mavis for a birdy day out. We had planned to go to the Avon Dam to look for Ring Ousel but there have been no reports of them from there so far this month (although there are apparently lots of berries available this year) and so we switched plans and headed off to Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham instead. It did rain a little as we travelled along the A38 but then it cleared up and remained dry for the rest of the day and the sun even appeared from behind the clouds for short periods and when it did it was pleasently warm. 

With the tide being low we started off at the Clyst Viewing Platform to scan the waders feeding and roosting out on the exposed mudflats. The tide was heading in but we hadn't realised it was to be a low high tide and so the birds remained mostly distant. 

Amongst the Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit and Redshank we found a very nice juvenile Curlew Sandpiper busily feeding away. It was almost hidden in plain sight, easily lost amongst the feeding birds in the dull light but quite distinctive when picked up. A single Knot was a nice find too amongst the waders. 

We scanned across the River Exe towards Powderham where a large flock of wildfowl were present and in the gloom we picked out 5 Black Swan along with Wigeon, Pintail, Mute Swan and Brent Goose. Also from the platform Little Egret, Common Gull, Kingfisher, Mistle Thrush and a male Stonechat were seen with 2 Cettis Warblers and a Water Rail also heard. 

We walked back to the hide for the high tide but the waders didn't materialise to roost although a flock of Black-tailed Godwit were present and a flyover Greenshank was heard. There were plenty of Ducks present though with Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler and Shelduck all noted and there were also plenty of Geese too with a Barnacle Goose, Greylag Goose, Snow Goose and at least 3 Egyptian Goose present amongst the large flock of Canada Geese. 

Barnacle Goose - always in the company of a presumed Greylag/Canada Goose Hybrid

Greylag Goose with Canada Geese

Sleepy Snow Goose and Egyptian Geese

We walked back to The Goatwalk for a look around as the low high tide began to ebb and out on the mudflats on the opposite side of the river we picked out around 40 Golden Plover and around 15 Grey Plover amongst the usual waders and wildfowl. The sun appeared a few times while we were sitting here on a bench and it was beautifully warm out of the breeze. 

Onwards to Darts Farm for toilets and refreshments and on the drive back to Plymouth we totalled up our days sightings and had achieved a list of just over 50 species including 6 species of Geese, not a bad days birding at all. 

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Wembury and The Plym

After all the excitement of our trip to Turkey it's nice to be home and to catch up on local birding.

Saturday 8th October was warm, sunny and still, a perfect Autumnal day, and so I headed out to Wembury for a walk. The warm weather meant a few butterflies were flitting about with Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Small White seen along with a Clouded Yellow, a Large White and a Holly Blue. A Common Lizard was basking in the sunshine and I found my first Glow Worm Larva of the year on the footpath which I picked up and placed in the grass nearby for safety.

Speckled Wood

Glow Worm Larva

A single Gannet was seen offshore in the flat calm conditions and with it being low tide I only saw 7 Oystercatcher, a Curlew, 2 Little Egret and around 20 Mediterranean Gulls distantly out on the rocks.

Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were noticeable along the walk along with Cirl Buntings, Chiffchaffs and Stonechats. At least 8 Blackcap (5 males) were seen busily scoffing down blackberries and a nice surprise were 7 lingering Swallows, a group of 5 heading west and 2 hawking for insects back and forth along the beach.



A Goldcrest was found feeding in the pines at The Point but even better was a Firecrest feeding in the gardens by the road down to the beach, unfortunately a brief view only but a Wembury year first. A pair of Stock Dove feeding in the horse field were firsts for the year at Wembury too.

Sunday 9th October was cooler and cloudier and so I headed out to The Plym for a walk. I arrived early at around 8:30 just as the tide was heading out and on Blaxton Meadow there were 6 Bar-tailed Godwit, 10 Greenshank and a Shelduck with Curlew and Redshank.


A Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Grebe, a Grey Wagtail, 2 Kingfisher and a Mute Swan were out along the river but a surprise find was a Greylag Goose amongst the Canada Geese, apparently the first on the Plym since 1993!

Common Sandpiper

Greylag Goose

There were at least 15 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets in Saltram Park including a blue type and after a bit of patient searching I finally found my first for the year Plym Firecrests with 2 seen flitting through the foliage and a 3rd bird heard only. A single Teal was still present on the duck pond but there wasn't a single Mandarin Duck to be seen. 

Also noted were a Speckled Wood basking in the occasional sunny spells, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth busily feeding on Buddlea flowers and 6 Roe Deer hunkered down in the long grass before it was unfortunately time to head home to catch up on chores before my return to work the next day. 

Sunday 9 October 2022

Turkey - Part II - Izmir

Friday 30th September was David's birthday, we had an enjoyable day sightseeing around Istanbul with David and Julie enjoying a lovely lunch and cocktails at The Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul while Matt and I struggled to keep our alimentary canals in check. That evening we caught the sleeper train to Izmir, quite a bit of fun and actually involving a good night's sleep on the train. The following morning we enjoyed the Turkish countryside passing by from the train window and I added Collared Dove, Magpie, Larks (Crested?) and Wheatear Sp. to my holiday bird list.

We arrived in Izmir 2 hours later than scheduled at around 12:30 but it didn't really matter and we settled into The Swissotel Buyuk Efes Hotel quite nicely, a lovely 5 star hotel with a fabulous swimming pool and lovely gardens right in the centre of Izmir and not far from the sea.


Izmir Agora

We all started to feel better as we began the more relaxed second part of out trip away. The hotel was very nice and suitably soothing after the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, Matts lower gastric distress eventually abated (although mine then restarted!) and Izmir was delightfully laid back, relaxed and quite untouristy.

The usual birds were seen - Hooded Crow, Jackdaw, Yellow-legged Gull, House Sparrow, Black-headed Gull, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mediterranean Gull and Common Myna - with Ring-necked Parakeet, Greenfinch, Common Sandpiper and Spotted Flycatcher also making appearances.

Jackdaw (Corvus.m.soemmerringii)

Jackdaw (Corvus.m.soemmerringii)

Black-headed Gulls

Mediterranean Gull

Black-headed and Mediterranean Gull

Black-headed and Mediterranean Gull 

Black-headed Gulls 

Common Myna

Common Myna

Ring-necked Parakeet

The Agora in Izmir was an interesting place to visit and I finally caught up with some proper (but flitty and mobile) butterfly sightings there - a Painted Lady, Whites, Mallow Skippers and Blues. I also found a Long-tailed Blue in the Futurpark not far from our hotel, very flitty but finally settling long enough for a photo, and there were quite a few Red-veined Darters dashing around the boating lake in the park too. 

Eastern Bath White

Eastern Bath White

White Sp.

White Sp.

Mallow Skipper

Long-tailed Blue

Red-veined Darter

A day trip by train to nearby Ephesus was enjoyable despite the heat and I added Buzzard, Jay and a Great Grey Shrike to my bird list, the Shrike was unfortunately only seen briefly as we whizzed by on the train. 



There were lots of butterflies flying about at Ephesus as I had hoped but in the heat they were flitty and mobile although at least 3 species of Blues were seen along with Mallow Skippers, Whites, Meadow Browns and a brief flyby Swallowtail.

Meadow Brown

 Blue Sp. 

Blue Sp. 

Back in Izmir a surprise find were 3 Pygmy Cormorant on a flooded out building site encircled by tall reeds close to our hotel, they showed very nicely perched up and busily preening along with a single Coot out on the water.

Pygmy Cormorants

Pygmy Cormorants

Even better was a Dalmatian Pelican soaring over the sea as we enjoyed a coffee on the Konak Pier in Izmir, it looked huge despite being distant as it circled around overhead before appearing to land on the sea and out of sight.

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican 

Dalmatian Pelican 

 Dalmatian Pelican 

Dalmatian Pelican 

Dalmatian Pelican 

All too soon the holiday was over and it was time to head back to Plymouth, Izmir had been a surprisingly delightful place to visit due to its untouristy air and I managed to get some great wildlife sightings there too. It was nice to go away on a holiday without any COVID restrictions too, no masks, no testing, no scanning of passes, and to actually feel relaxed too for a change. Unfortunately it's back to work and an uncertain winter ahead for the NHS with COVID here in Plymouth beginning to make its presence felt again.