Wednesday 8 February 2023


February is finally here, I have never known January to seem so long, it seems to have gone on forever! 

However January has seen some great birding and to finish the month off we had a quick walk around Plymouth Hoe on Monday 30th January. It was milder than of late with long sunny spells and it ended up being very productive with the elusive wintering Purple Sandpiper finally giving itself up at Rusty Anchor as it fed and preened unobtrusively amongst the seaweed covered rocks. I've been looking for it on our Plymouth Hoe walks ever since I saw it back in November and this is the first sighting I've had since then.

Purple Sandpiper

Even better was finding a female type Black Redstart also at Rusty Anchor, it was feeding around the buildings and gardens and is my first sighting of it here this winter after reading numerous reports of its presence. It was mobile and elusive, one minute it was there and showing very well and then it would just vanish into thin air. At certain angles it appeared to show a small area of white in its wings so possibly an immature male bird (or possibly just a trick of the light). 

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

An Oystercatcher, 2 Turnstone, 2 Meadow Pipit, a Rock Pipit and a Common Gull were the other highlights of the walk before it was back home to carry on with the usual chores. 

The Purple Sandpiper was still present at Rusty Anchor on another quick Plymouth Hoe walk on Wednesday 1st February but there was no sign of the Black Redstart this time. And on another Plymouth Hoe walk on Saturday 4th February it was both Purple Sandpiper and Black Redstart free but it was good to see a distant Great Northern Diver out by Drakes Island and a surprise find was a Common Sandpiper feeding on the rocks by the old diving boards. 

Common Sandpiper, Plymouth Hoe

With a week's annual leave off work and with no real plans (other than sleeping!) I hoped to get out and about to do some birding. Things started well with Monday 6th February being a beautiful winters morning with a blue sky and a heavy frost as I headed off to Marsh Mills for a walk around Saltram with work friend Sue. I arrived off the bus at around 07:30 and took a slow birding walk up to the car park at Saltram House to meet Sue and her dog Daisy at 08:45. 

It was cold and still and the tide was just beginning to drop as I scanned across Blaxton Meadow, noting the regular Grey Plover, 14 Oystercatcher, 7 Snipe and 5 Greenshank amongst the usual Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew and Oystercatcher. A Redshank with very white and unmarked underparts looked very Spotted Redshanky, possibly the bird reported as such on the Internet sightings pages before Christmas. The wintering flock of Wigeon were also feeding in the frozen white grass and were barely visible above the tops of the vegetation but 8 birds out on the river were more easily seen. 

Snowdrops, Saltram

Also along the river were a Grey Wagtail, a Common Sandpiper, 2 male Red-breasted Merganser, 7 Goosander (2 males) and 2 Little Grebe with a noisy Dipper seen flying downriver under the railway bridge. 

The female Red-crested Pochard was on the duck pond with 9 Mandarin (5 males) and 20 Moorhen and a Stock Dove flew overhead. 

I met up with Sue as planned and we put the world to rights on our walk as we always do while Daisy pretty much ignored us as usual before we headed off to Stonehouse to catch the ferry across to Mount Edgecumbe for another walk and some lunch. It was warm in the sunshine on our walk when out of the chilly breeze and a quick look at the duck pond was Gadwall-less but a Red Admiral dashing past in the sunshine was a nice bonus, my first butterfly of the year. 

Tuesday 7th February was the same weather-wise with blue skies and a heavy frost as I caught the 07:00 bus to Wembury for a walk. The tide was high but beginning to ebb and along the main beach and feeding in the surf were a small flock of Black-headed Gulls including a bird with limited black colouring in its primaries. 

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gulls

Black-headed Gull

Out at The Point the usual birds were roosting with a Turnstone still present and surprisingly a Whimbrel with 3 Curlew,  Oystercatchers and 5 Little Egret. 

Whimbrel with Oystercatchers

The Water Pipit was feeding on the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe and showed very well along with a Grey Wagtail, a pair of Stonechat and 4 Chiffchaff, one of which was very pale and brown toned compared to the yellowy green tones of the other 3 in the strong sunlight. There was no sign of the male Black Redstart though. Also there were no Mediterranean Gulls either. 

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Around 10 Cirl Buntings were feeding in the Stubble field, there were at least 5 males present and they looked very smart in the sunshine. A Firecrest was a nice find in a village garden on the walk back to the bus stop but it was a brief view only before it disappeared into cover and while waiting for the bus back to Plymouth a pair of Collared Doves were displaying and calling. 

Cirl Bunting

I stepped off the bus at Laira Bridge for the second part of my birding day out with a walk along The Plym and around Saltram. The tide was low and out on the mudflats were the usual Gulls and Waders with 2 pairs of Goosander diving for fish in the narrow channel of water. 

A Firecrest feeding in the undergrowth by The Amphitheatre was a nice find, it showed very well before moving off although it didn't stay still for a second. A Chiffchaff feeding in the Evergreen Oaks along The Ride was much more skulky but 2 male Bullfinch having a bathe nearby were surprisingly much more confiding. A male Stonechat feeding out in the cow fields was a year first for Saltram but there was no sign of the Water Rail in the Wet Wood. A sighting  of 11 Roe Deer finished off my walk very nicely though. 

Roe Deer

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