Monday 30 January 2023

A 5 Grebe Day Out

With another cold, sunny and still day on Tuesday 24th January we headed up to Burrator Reservoir for a walk. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was stunning but again there were very few birds around with a pair of Bullfinch, 5 Cormorant, the regular White Goose and a Goldcrest the best of the sightings and Siskin, a Green Woodpecker and a Great Spotted Woodpecker heard. 

Burrator Reservoir - still a good flow of water over the dam

Wednesday 25th January was a total contrast, cold again but overcast with occasional mizzle and I headed out to Torpoint to meet Mavis for a birdwatching morning off Marine Drive.

While waiting for Mavis to arrive I picked up 2 Great Northern Divers out on the water quite close to shore with the birds occasionally calling to each other, the first time I have heard this. The tide was high but beginning to ebb and the Divers eventually moved further out as the water dropped but they were present during the whole of our visit and a third bird was also seen. 

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver 

Mavis duly arrived and we headed up to the lookout Tower and set up our scopes to begin our birding in earnest. The light was very dull and it was very cold but the morning just flew by as we watched the birds appear out on the exposed mudflats as the tide headed out. 

It was misty and murky but eventually we found distant Great Crested Grebes asleep out on the water and amongst them were a Black-necked Grebe, a Red-necked Grebe and 2 Slavonian Grebes. As the mist cleared and the tide dropped the Grebes came closer and gave some great views but the Slavonian Grebes just disappeared, never to be seen again. There were also 6 Little Grebes present and so providing me with my first ever 5 Grebe day and the views of both the Black-necked Grebe and Red-necked Grebe were fantastic with the bright red eye of the Black-necked Grebe especially stunning when viewed through a scope. 

A good selection of waders were seen and with the usual Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Turnstone were 6 Ringed Plover, a Greenshank, around 30 Avocet, around 20 Grey Plover and 6 Black-tailed Godwit. 

Ringed Plover

There were 2 smart looking winter plumaged adult Mediterranean Gulls out on the mudflats amongst the Common, Herring, Black-headed and Great Black-backed Gulls present and Little Egrets and Grey Herons were also seen. 

Shelduck and Wigeon were noted along with 2 flighty male Red-breasted Merganser. Also seen was a flock of 19 Brent Geese consisting of 17 Dark-bellied birds and 2 Pale-bellied birds with one of the Pale-bellied birds bearing leg rings which seem to be part of an Irish ringing scheme of birds from Canada (details awaited). 

Pale- and Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Ringed Pale-bellied Brent Goose - white L on red on left leg, black C on white on right leg (Record Shot) 

The 2 Pale-bellied birds kept together and were frequently involved in aggressive interactions with the 17 Dark-bellied birds which was interesting to observe. 2 of the Dark-bellied birds eventually flew off upriver and later the remaining 15 Dark-bellied birds flew off downriver leaving the 2 Pale-bellied birds feeding out amongst the exposed sea weed on their own. 

We ended up staying at Torpoint for over 5 hours but eventually the cold began to get to us and it was time to head off home to warm up. It had been a great day out though with some cracking birds and so close to home too. 

With news of a male Black Redstart being found along the beach at Wembury we headed out there for a walk on Friday 27th January. It was another cold and overcast day but the footpath wasn't quite the mudfest it was on my last visit. 

The Black Redstart was eventually found feeding around the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe but it was flitty and mobile and regularly disappeared from view. A pair of Stonechat were present too and regularly chased it off which didn't help with trying to view it. A Chiffchaff was also seen here along with the usual Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail but I didn't find the Water Pipit this time. 

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

A Turnstone was also feeding on the seaweed mass and was much more confiding and also present along the beach were a Curlew, 2 Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Mallard, a 3rd winter Lesser Black-backed Gull and 8 Mediterranean Gull (4 adults, 2 1st winter and 2 2nd winter). One of the 1st winter Mediterranean Gulls was ringed on its left leg, a green ring with white characters but it was too distant to read without my scope. 



A Green Woodpecker was heard yaffling and a Song Thrush was heard singing and other highlights included 3 Long-tailed Tit, a Kestrel and another Chiffchaff near the main beach. 

A quick walk only but nice to see a male Black Redstart for a change instead of the female types I usually see. 

And so January is nearly done, the month seems to have gone on for ever but I've had some fantastic birding and my year list stands at a very healthy 123. And with work continuing to provide an increasing amount of anxiety and stress in my life I now can't wait for the spring to arrive to provide some much needed wildlife distractions. 

Monday 23 January 2023

River Exe Cruise

Friday 20th January was a cracking winters day with blue skies, no wind, white and crunchy underfoot pavements and misty breath inducing temperatures, just perfect for a Stuart Line Cruise along the River Exe with my mate Mavis.

It was 3 years to the day that we last did this trip due to COVID and we were both very much looking forward to it. 

While waiting for Mavis to pick me up at Plympton for the drive to Exmouth I had a look for Dippers along the Tory Brook and found 2 very confiding birds, a singing male and a ringed female in close attendance. They showed very well, presumably due to being used to the constant traffic and pedestrians passing nearby and I think the ringed bird is part of a private study being undertaken by students at Plymouth University and therefore not in the public realm with regards to any information about it.

Dippers, Plympton

Ringed Dipper, Plympton

The drive to Exmouth went smoothly and as we parked the car at the quayside a big surprise was a Sandwich Tern flying by and diving for fish, presumably the bird that has been roosting regularly at nearby Dawlish Warren since before Christmas. 

We enjoyed a cooked breakfast at the cafe on the quay, no longer The Dockers and now called The Mariners with new staff, and then boarded the boat to begin the cruise at 11:30am.

Exmouth from the boat

Topsham from the boat

River Exe

We saw the usual birds although numbers seemed lower than usual and we saw only 1 Lapwing and no Golden Plover but it was likely a lot of birds were on nearby Exminster Marshes. 

There were 3 Eider off Dawlish Warren as we began the cruise, a female with 2 immature males, but on our return there was no sign of them. The Sandwich Tern was never seen again but we eventually found 1 of the 2 wintering Spoonbills and it gave some lovely views as it preened along the waterline near Topsham.




A Great Northern Diver showed well off Starcross on both legs of the cruise and we also had good views of Great Crested Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Shag, Cormorant, Brent Goose, Canada Goose and the regular Snow Goose.

Great Northern Diver

Avocet, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Greenshank, Turnstone and Black-tailed Godwit were all seen along with 41 distant Knot out on the mudflats and a very smart looking Spotted Redshank at Topsham Quay.




Spotted Redshank

Other highlights were 1 or possibly 2 Kingfisher, a Grey Seal hauled out on a pontoon, a Pied Wagtail almost landing on Mavis as it flew onto the deck of the boat, 2 pairs of Pintail out on the estuary and a Common Seal hauled out on the sand but all too soon the tide was in and we were back at Exmouth after another enjoyable birding cruise.

Common Seal

River Exe

Saturday 21 January 2023

Wembury Walk

Tuesday 17th January was dry and cold with a frosty start and so I bit the bullet and wrapped up warm to go for a walk at Wembury in the hope that the frosty weather might have frozen the mudfest that is the path. Unfortunately it hadn't made any difference to the path, it was as horrendous as expected and my new walking shoes were well and truly christened but it wasn't too bad, I have seen it worse.

I checked out the garden in the village where I saw the Fieldfare and Redwing before Christmas, there were still apples on the trees and on the ground and a few Blackbirds were feeding on them but there were no other Thrushes present. A Chiffchaff was flitting about on the grass looking for insects but a surprise was a juvenile Moorhen lurking in the undergrowth before disappearing into cover, only my second ever Wembury sighting of one.

It was quiet offshore with a few adult Gannets noted and a Fulmar seen flying around The Mewstone. Mediterranean Gulls were also feeding offshore and resting along the beach, I counted a maximum of 21 birds, 16 adults along with 5 1st winter birds, but more were undoubtedly present.

The tide was heading in and amongst the roosting Oystercatchers were 3 Curlew, 2 Little Egret and 25 Mallard (13 male, 10 female and 2 farmyard type males) but the highlight was a smart looking Grey Plover, my first here for a few years now.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover

I spent some time looking for the Water Pipit on the seaweed mass near the sewage pipe, eventually I found it amongst the flitty and mobile Rock and Meadow Pipits present and it gave some nice views, appearing less nervous than previously, possibly due to the cold weather. It was certainly more arsey than before, regularly chasing off any other Pipits nearby.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

The Pheasants were being blasted to death on the hillside above the wheatfield with a mini shoot going on which spooked the birds along the beach at frequent intervals. There was unfortunately no sign of any Cirl Buntings either but that isn't unusual at this time of year. 

I had another look for the Moorhen on the walk back to the bus stop but there was no sign of it, however I did find a female Blackcap feeding on fat balls in another garden nearby, and just before I got on the bus to head home a male Sparrowhawk buzzed through on full hunting mode, a nice end to my muddy walk. 

Thursday 19 January 2023


Monday 16th January was forecast to be a mostly dry day and with the trains actually running, useful tide times and reports of interesting Gull sightings I decided to have my usual New Year's big day out at Penzance and Hayle.

It was a mostly sunny day with occasional heavy showers and it was pleasently cool too and I arrived off the train at Penzance at just after 9am. I had a quick look off the seawall at the bus station and picked up a male and an immature male Eider along with 27 Common Scoter and a Grey Seal which  brought a large fish it had caught to the surface only to have it promptly stolen by a passing adult Great Black-backed Gull!

I had a brief look around at the Jubilee Pool and found 5 sleeping Purple Sandpiper on the rocks and a slightly oiled Guillemot having a preen out on the water before I headed onwards towards Newlyn Harbour.

Newlyn Harbour Rainbow 

I had already made my plans to visit Newlyn before news of an Azorean Gull being found there broke the previous day and as a result there were quite a few birders mooching about the harbour when I arrived. Needless to say I didn't see the Azorean Gull and I just missed a 1st winter Iceland Gull but I did get some distant views of a huge 1st winter Glaucous Gull and better views of a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull circling around the harbour along with an adult Kittiwake.

The usual Turnstones were feeding around the quayside, as tame as always and constantly chittering and bickering amongst themselves, and I counted at least 47 of them. 

Turnstone, Newlyn


I eventually had to wander back towards Penzance, finding 2 female type Black Redstarts catching flies amongst the boulders on Tolcarne Beach along the way. There were now 17 Purple Sandpipers roosting at Jubilee Pool when I had a quick look and a male Black Redstart was feeding on nearby roofs. And on another look off the sea wall at the bus station I found yet another female type Black Redstart amongst the rocks.

Black Redstart, Penzance

Black Redstart

I caught the train to St.Erth for the next part of my birding day, walking down to the causeway bridge for a quick look at the Hayle Estuary before heading onwards to Lelant Saltings. From the bridge on the dropping tide there were the usual waders and wildfowl present with around 400 Golden Plover and around 300 Lapwing roosting out on the mudflats, a wonderful sight and sound. 

Teal, Hayle Estuary

A male and 2 female Goosander were fishing in the river channel, one of the females caught a small flat fish and was constantly chased by the other 2 birds as it struggled to swallow it, eventually it managed to get it down but it looked a little uncomfortable afterwards.

From Lelant Saltings train station I had a scan of the Gulls out on the mudflats but they were downriver of the station and it looked like there would be closer views from Lelant Station so I decided to head on to there. I tried to take a short cut through the Lelant Football Club grounds but had to retrace my steps although it was quite productive with a Woodcock flushed from the undergrowth as I walked through the grounds.

From Lelant train station the views of the Gulls weren't that great so after a quick scan I returned to Lelant Saltings and set my scope up there for a look.

There were lots of roosting Gulls present, mostly adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and I began the task of working my way through them. Herring, Black-headed, Common and Great Black-backed Gulls were all present and a couple of the adult Herring Gulls were very dark backed and presumably of the argentatus race.

With various unusual Gull species being reported from the Hayle Estuary it really was like looking for a needle in a haystack but I eventually found an adult Mediterranean Gull which lifted my spirits. I then found at least 3 adult Yellow-legged Gulls with 2 birds showing very well as they postured and displayed to each other with parallel walking and calling noted before they both sat down and went to sleep!

I also found an adult Caspian Gull which woke up and called at a presumed second adult bird which flew overhead before both birds went to sleep also!

I kept an eye on the Caspian Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the mass of birds and hoped they would wake up at some point for a better look at them but with some idiot walking along the foreshore all the Gulls took off and flew further downriver and I lost sight of all of them in the flying melee. 

With the light fading and my train back to Plymouth due I had one last scan through the Gulls and eventually found the adult Ring-billed Gull asleep amongst the Common Gulls, distant views but showing its distinctive bill when it woke briefly for a quick preen, a nice end to an 11 species of Gull birding day out. 

Tuesday 17 January 2023

River Plym Walk

So far the weather in 2023 has been mostly vile with what seems to have been constant strong winds and heavy rain and this combined with work, train strikes and life stuff has meant very little birding time.

After the excitement of the Little Gull off Plymouth Hoe on New Year's Day I have kept my eyes open on our regular Plymouth Hoe walks for any other wind-blown strays but it has been very quiet with just a single Kittiwake the highlight. There has been no sign of any Purple Sandpipers either and the Turnstones seemed to have disappeared also.

Sunday 15th January was windy again with heavy showers but after working 2 night shifts I wanted to get out for a walk and so headed out to the River Plym and Saltram. I started my walk at Marsh Mills and checked out all the Alder trees in the area for Redpoll which have been increasingly reported here but there was no sign of any although a mobile and vocal flock of around 20 Siskin did show very nicely.

I carried on to the viewing platform overlooking the high tide on Blaxton Meadow but it was evil there in the cold and strong breeze and so I headed over to the hide where it was more sheltered. The Meadow held the usual birds and it was good to see the Grey Plover was still in residence amongst the usual waders. Common Gull numbers had dropped since my last visit but 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls were found amongst the Gulls along with an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. Snipe were hunkered down in the long grass but were being flushed out by the usual mischievous Carrion Crows, I counted a maximum of 14 birds but more were present as per other birders on site.

Bleeding Oak Crust, Saltram Park

Mica Cap, Saltram Park

I had planned to walk further but I wasn't really in the zone and so headed home earlier than planned but it was nice to get out birding even for such a short time. 

Saturday 7 January 2023

New Year Laughter

New Year's Bank Holiday Monday was a beautiful day with blue skies and no breeze but unfortunately I was at work all day. I took a day of annual leave the following day (January 3rd) and it rained and blew a hoolie all day but it didn't matter as we finally had our Christmas Dinner Day - turkey, vegetables from the allotment and David's home made Christmas pudding which were all very tasty indeed. 

Wednesday 4th January was grey and breezy but dry and so we had our Boxing Day Walk Day and headed up to Dartmoor for a wander around Burrator Reservoir where at least it was relatively dry and not too muddy underfoot following all the recent heavy rain. 

The Reservoir was full to the brim with water gushing over the dam, something we haven't seen for quite some time now.

Burrator Reservoir Dam

The highlight of the walk was a male Crossbill singing away in the top of a tree despite the wind and overcast sky, a beautiful and mournful sound but very distinctive. It showed very well with its pale red rump almost glowing in the dull light and it was eventually joined by a female before both flew off over the trees.

Very little else was seen on the walk with a single female Siskin, a Goldcrest and 3 Long-tailed Tit found along with Coal Tit, Chaffinch and Robin while out on the water 5 Cormorant, Mallard, Herring Gull and the long staying white feral goose were seen.

Thursday 5th January and I finally got out for my first proper birding day of the New Year with a walk along The Plym and around Saltram. It was overcast and breezy with occasional mizzle but I managed to see 60 species of birds with a bit of effort, not a bad haul.

The Grey Plover was still present on Blaxton Meadow along with 5 Turnstone, 5 Greenshank and the usual waders. The 2 male Red-breasted Merganser were also still present out on the river with 7 Goosander (3 male, 4 female) while on the duck pond the female Red-crested Pochard was still present with 9 Mandarin Ducks (6 males).

Other highlights included a Kingfisher diving for fish in the ditch below the bird hide, a Mistle Thrush singing away at the top of a bare tree, 2 noisy Ravens flying over, a Peregrine causing complete panic amongst the Dunlin roosting on Blaxton Meadow as it unsuccessfully stooped amongst them and around 24 nervous and flitty Redwing feeding on Ivy berries amongst the trees. 

Friday 6th January was earmarked for a Wembury walk but the thought of negotiating the muddy footpath after all the recent rain really didn't appeal to me and with a Laughing Gull being found at Beesands Ley I decided to visit there instead. I caught the early bus out to Torcross, arriving at around 9:15am and walked along the cliiftop and beach to Beesands for a look about. 

Quite a few birders were present but there had been no sighting of the Gull although the presumed returning male Ring-necked Duck showed very well out on the Ley amongst the Tufted Ducks while Cettis Warblers and Water Rail were heard in the Leyside vegetation. 

After an hour with no sighting of the Gull I decided to head back to Slapton Ley for a look about instead, walking back along the beach and clifftop towards Torcross. I scanned across the sea from the cliff top footpath wending down to the village and found a female Common Scoter close in to the beach and set my scope up for a better look. I also scanned through the assorted Gulls roosting along the beach nearby through my scope and was very pleased to find the Laughing Gull amongst them - result! 

Laughing Gull, Slapton

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull with Black-headed Gull

Laughing Gull

I put out the news on the What's App group before walking along the Ley towards the roosting Gulls where I enjoyed some great views of the Laughing Gull before the birding hordes arrived, a smart looking bird and quite distinctive and my second ever sighting of one in the UK after my first in Brixham back in 2006.

Laughing Gull

Eventually the Gulls were disturbed by people on the beach and the Laughing Gull flew off towards Beesands along with most of the other Gulls but I was pleased to have caught up with it. 

I had a scan offshore and found a Great Northern Diver, a Guillemot, a few Gannet, 2 Red-throated Diver and a distant flock of around 40 Common Scoter while on a scan of Slapton Ley it was good to see 2 male and 3 female Goldeneye with one of the males busily displaying. 

Black-headed Gulls, Coot and Tufted Duck, Slapton Ley

I then met up with David at Torcross and we drove back to Beesands for some lunch at The Brittania Cafe and before driving back to Plymouth after finishing our meal the Laughing Gull was again seen flying up and down the beach and feeding on a dead fish amongst the pebbles as the forecasted rain duly arrived.

Laughing Gull, Beesands

A rainy Beesands Ley

A good start to the year and my second good Gull sighting of the year too, let's hope it continues!