Thursday 30 March 2023

Alpine Swifts!

I hadn't planned to do much on Monday 27th March after our trip to London but with probably the best weather of the week forecasted and the Alpine Swifts seen coming in to roost again at the tower of St.Michaels Church in Teignmouth the previous evening I decided to go and have a look.

I caught a lunchtime train to Dawlish Warren for a walk about before catching a train to Teignmouth to stake out the tower in the hope that the birds would duly arrive again to roost for the night. 

I arrived at Dawlish Warren at around 1:30pm and it was breezy but pleasant in the occasional sunny spells. The tide was heading out but a scan offshore didn't reveal very much in the strong onshore breeze with a summer plumaged Great Crested Grebe and a distant Sandwich Tern being the highlights. 

I walked out a short way along the dune ridge, scanning the tree covered ridge above Dawlish Warren village where the Alpine Swifts have often been seen feeding but there was no sign of them although 8 Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were noted. 

Turnstone, Curlew and Oystercatcher were seen feeding in the estuary on the dropping tide along with a lone Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Cormorants and Great Black-backed Gulls. Another Dark-bellied Brent Goose was feeding on the golf course, unfazed by golfers playing nearby. 

The sunny spells meant that the Sand Crocus flowers were open, I always forget just how tiny they are. A sad sight was the remains of a Gannet in the marram grass, presumably a victim of Avian flu. 

Sand Crocus

Gannet Skull

I spent quite a bit of time around the Main Pond which was quite sheltered from the breeze and managed some good views of 2 Collared Dove berating an inquisitive Magpie, a singing male Cirl Bunting, at least 3 Chiffchaff with 2 heard quietly singing, 2 Skylark, Linnets, Greenfinchs and 2 male Stonechat. 

On the pond a Little Grebe was heard trilling away but kept itself well hidden while 2 pairs of Shoveler and 2 male and a female Teal showed well when flushed out of the reeds by a low flying military helicopter. 


A Mucky Male Mallard

Grey Heron

I caught the 5pm train to Teignmouth from Dawlish Warren and joined the expectant birders already assembled around the church tower which was just across the road from the railway station. There had been no sightings of the Alpine Swifts and indeed there had been no reports of them all day on the sightings pages but we all remained hopeful. Eventually the shout went up as 2 Alpine Swifts came hurtling across the skies at just before 6pm, they circled around overhead briefly before disappearing into the tower to roost where unfortunately they were out of sight. A few minutes later a single bird re-emerged and flew around the tower a few times before re-entering the tower and it did this twice more but with the light fading and the clouds gathering that was it for the evening and I left to catch the train back to Plymouth. Such amazing birds, so fast and powerful, and I was very pleased at having finally seen my first UK Alpine Swifts.

St.Michaels Church, Teignmouth

Alpine Swift, 27/3/23 - Photo courtesy of Richard Moore South West Wildlife on Twitter (@ironfists67)

Tuesday 28 March 2023

A Trip to London

My back is slowly improving and now that I am on annual leave from work I'm hoping it will continue to do so but I was a bit apprehensive as we boarded the train to London on Thursday 23rd March for a few days away as it is still quite uncomfortable especially when sitting down. It was a long journey too, over 4 hours following a diversion via Honiton due to engineering works but at least the wildlife kept me distracted as we passed through the English countryside with views of at least 10 Red Kite soaring in the wind, a flock of around 100 Fieldfare flying over, a few Greylag Geese hidden amongst flocks of Canada Geese feeding in the fields and a few skulky Roe Deer in the hedgetows being the highlights. I had a look for Alpine Swifts over Dawlish Warren as we passed through on the train, no luck as expected but they were being seen in the area at the time we were travelling past.

London was London, busy, expensive and hectic, but we had an enjoyable time. We visited The Postal Musueum and had a ride on the now defunct mail tube train (more interesting and fun than it sounds), visited the Sir John Soames museum and managed to get onto the tour of the upper rooms (only 8 people a day get to do this!) and visited The London Silver Vault where we admired the fantastic silverware on display which was all for sale. We also saw The Mousetrap at The St.Martins Theatre which was different and visited The British Museum where I sought out the information boards for items that specifically related to The British Empire and which provided a much more balanced and less wokey view of events than current dialogue would suggest.

Sir John Soames Museum

Seti I Sarcopgahus detail, Sir John Soames Musueum

Our trip to London was built around a visit to The Beefeater Gin Distillery at Kennington, part of my prize from Thistle Hotels that I won last year but didn't have the time to redeem on our trip to London before Christmas, and it was a great experience that involved imbibing copious amounts of gin which always goes down well (and which did my back the power of good!). 

I did manage to sneak in a bit of birding time with a short visit to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens for a quick look about. I had a look for Little Owls but I don't have any real info on the best trees to look for them in anymore so I drew a blank as expected, probably not helped by it being a busy Saturday morning and quite breezy.

There were plenty of other birds to keep me occupied though and I had some good views of Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Greylag Goose, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant and Grey Heron on The Serpentine. There were also good numbers of Egyptian Geese and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the fenced off areas of the park which are being returfed following the damage caused by the Christmas Fair in December. A lone Black Swan was also seen feeding on The Round Pond with the Mute Swans. 

Tufted Duck


Greylag Geese

Greylag Goose

Ringed Greylag

Ringed Greylag

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose Close-up

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose - beautiful colours and patterns

Egyptian Geese 

Lesser Black-backed Gull 

Black Swan

Also of note were Ring-necked Parakeets screeching away in the trees, 2 Chiffchaffs heard quietly singing away and 2 Stock Dove seen checking out nesting holes.

All too soon our few days away were over and we caught the train back to Plymouth. On the journey the usual Red Kites and Roe Deer were seen along with the Snow Goose on Powderham Marsh near Exeter but unfortunately there was no sighting of Alpine Swift around Dawlish/Teignmouth despite their ongoing presence.

Wednesday 22 March 2023


I'm not sure what I've done or how I did it but I've done a number on my back and it's bloody painful. I remember getting a twinge when I sat down in the chair in the coffee shop last Thursday but I then walked around Plymouth Hoe with no problem. However that evening my back became more and more painful and I was very sore when I went to bed. The next morning it felt much better so I headed off to work, a decision I regretted when I arrived to start my shift as it was very painful again and by 1pm I had to head home and I spent the rest of the day propped up on the settee with loads of pillows.

I had planned a big birding day out on Saturday 18th March, an early bus out to Wembury with my telescope followed by a Plym walk in the afternoon but there was no way that this was going to happen now as I was in agony when I woke up that morning. Typically it was as forecasted, a beautiful day with warm and sunny weather and with a continuing arrival of Wheatears being reported on the sightings pages and by 11am I was crawling the walls and so I dosed myself up with painkillers, packed light (no scope) and caught a bus to Laira Bridge for a gentle walk along The Ride and around Saltram.

I took things very slowly and despite having to stop regularly for a sit down I managed to walk all the way to Marsh Mills to catch the bus home, guzzling more painkillers along the way. I had a very enjoyable walk although I often muttered expletives when twinges of intense pain came in sharp waves. 

It was worth it though as I saw my first Wheatears of the year, 3 very flitty males and a much more confiding female and they were an absolute joy to see.



A male Blackcap, a summer plumaged Great Crested Grebe, 2 Chiffchaff and 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls hinted at Spring too and there were Bees buzzing around everywhere but surprisingly I didn't see any butterflies.

Winter was represented by the lingering Grey Plover, 2 Greenshank, 2 male and 3 female Goosander, a lone female Wigeon, 100+ Dunlin and 3 Common Gulls (an adult and 2 2nd calendar year birds) but these sightings were all had with a plethora of spring time bird singing in the background. 


A Kingfisher was seen again in the Wet Wood which had much higher water levels than earlier in the year and it dived into the water before flying off and out of sight with what appeared to be a small fish in its bill. 

Other sightings of note were 3 female Stonechat, 4 Roe Deer, singing Skylarks and a yaffling Green Woodpecker heard only while on the duck pond there were 2 pairs of Mandarin Duck, 21 Moorhen and the seemingly now resident female Red-crested Pochard.

I was sore when I arrived back home but by the evening my back felt much, much better although when I got out of bed the next morning it was very painful again and I had to call in sick for work. It was just as painful on Monday morning and so I had to call in sick again but I did manage a gentle walk around Plymouth Hoe in the rain where a Chiffchaff was flitting about in a pine tree by the Lions Den and 8 Turnstone were feeding together on the exposed beach on Sutton Harbour by Miller and Carter.

Tuesday 21st March was sunny but cool and breezy and with an influx of Alpine Swifts into the UK occurring including 4 (!)  being seen around Teignmouth in Devon I had considered going to have a look for them but with my back still giving me jip I had to pass and so I headed out to Wembury for a gentle walk instead. Even this was a bit ambitious with the hills and uneven and muddy paths creating havoc with my back and I was very sore when I arrived back home but I had a pleasant walk anyway.

A female Bullfinch and a male Linnet were Wembury year firsts and at least 4 Chiffchaffs were seen. A Meadow Pipit was with the Rock Pipits along the beach along with the Scandinavian Rock Pipit but even better was a summer plumaged Water Pipit which flew off never to be seen again after just a very brief view. 

The Cettis Warbler called twice but from deep cover in the valley to the beach which has been cleared of vegetation in places and the footpath has also been improved with hard core. The wheatfield has also been ploughed and sadly the grassy margin of the field alongside the footpath has also been ploughed over too, presumably the EU grants to keep areas untouched for wildlife have not been continued by the shit show of our current UK government. 

I kept an eye out for Oil Beetles and Common Lizards but with no luck but I did see 2 Small White butterflies which was quite a surprise. 

Small White

Saturday 18 March 2023


Things are still feeling very flat at the moment, there has been very little excitement on the birding front with sightings seeming very static and work has been an absolute nightmare since I returned from my weeks annual leave in the middle of February. 

I haven't felt like getting out much but I've had a few walks around Plymouth Hoe. I never refound the Black Guillemot I saw on March 6th and there has been no sign of any Purple Sandpipers either but I did find a female type Black Redstart again at Rusty Anchor on Saturday 11th March although it quickly disappeared when disturbed by a dog. 

Black Redstart, Rusty Anchor

The Little Grebe was also still present on Sutton Harbour on the 11th March, looking very smart having moulted into summer plumage, and a Chiffchaff was singing away in the trees outside Miller and Carter despite the grey skies and cold temperature. 

Little Grebe, Sutton Harbour

I had another Plymouth Hoe walk on Thursday 16th March which started well but quickly became a very wet affair when the forecasted heavy rain arrived but it was quite a productive walk despite the weather.

There was no sign of the Little Grebe on Sutton Harbour this time, not unusual as it often disappears but maybe it has finally moved on now that spring has arrived. 

An Eider had been reported in The Cattewater the previous day and I had a look for it from Duttons Cafe but with no luck. The rain had started to fall by the time I arrived at Rusty Anchor and so I abandoned my walk and headed into the city centre but while having a coffee in a cafe I checked the sightings pages and saw a report of a male Common Scoter having been seen in The Cattewater that morning and so I decided to go back for another look despite the rain. 

It was wet, misty and gloomy but I did eventually find a dark blob asleep out on the water amongst the buoys in The Cattewater and so I caught the ferry across to Mount Batten Pier for a closer look.

From Mount Batten the sleeping blob eventually awoke and revealed itself to be a male Common Scoter, my first for Plymouth. Unfortunately a large yacht then passed by and spooked it and it flew off upriver and was lost from sight but it was a nice sighting on a grotty day and something different for a change. 

Saturday 11 March 2023

Black Guillemot

I was at work on a Long Day shift on Sunday 5th March when news came through on the sightings pages of a Black Guillemot being seen off Plymouth Hoe and so the next morning I headed out for a look. 

It was grey and cold again and very still with a calm sea and no breeze and I had a look for Purple Sandpipers on the exposed rocks on the low tide along my walk but with no luck although I did see 3 Turnstones.

The Black Guillemot had been seen that morning off Duttons Cafe but there was no sign of it when I arrived despite regular scanning across the water. I carried on walking towards Tinside Pool, regularly scanning the sea along the way, and eventually I found it close to the shore just off Rusty Anchor where I finally managed to get some very nice views of it as it constantly dived for food.

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

It spent very little time at the surface and gradually drifted east back towards Duttons Cafe before flying back to Rusty Anchor to start again, flashing its white wing patches in flight as it skimmed low over the water. It also regularly flapped its wings at the surface between dives, the white wing patches again giving its position away.

I enjoyed much better views of the Black Guillemot this time than I did of the bird I saw in May last year off Drakes Island and maybe this is that same bird? Whatever the case, it was very nice to see an uncommon Devon bird again and so close to home. 

I had another look for it on Thursday 9th March but there was no sign of it, nor were there any Purple Sandpipers or Black Redstarts. I did however see a single Turnstone at Rusty Anchor and a low flyover adult Lesser Black-backed Gull seemed to cause some consternation amongst the Black-headed Gulls present on the water. 

I also had a look around Sutton Harbour where the summer plumaged Little Grebe was still present along with 4 Canada Geese, 21 Mute Swan, 3 male and a female Mallard and 5 Turnstone. 

Friday 10th March was cold and grey as we headed out to Burrator Reservoir for a walk. The weather has finally changed with some wet and windy conditions here in Devon but for a lot of the UK there has been heavy snow and freezing overnight temperatures. It was certainly cold on our walk with the car temperature gauge reading 3°c when we arrived at the reservoir but the walk was enjoyable, fresh and invigorating. 

Despite the cold I managed a few nice sightings with 7+ Crossbill being the highlight, they were busily feeding on cones in the tree tops before flying down to the reservoir edge for a drink, they were vocal and flitty and there were at least 3 males present with at least 4 females. 


Other highlights were a smart looking adult Lesser Black-backed Gull roosting amongst the Herring Gulls on the line of buoys across the reservoir near the road dam, a Mistle Thrush feeding in a field with around 15 Redwing, a further 2 Mistle Thrush feeding together on the other dam, a Green Woodpecker heard yaffling, a Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming and 4 Ravens flying over and displaying together. 

The water level had dropped since our last visit and there was no water going over the dam this time but there was plenty of water flowing into the reservoir following the recent heavy rain and with more rain forecasted it will probably be flowing over the dam again very soon. 

Sunday 5 March 2023

Deja Vu Wembury Walk

It was cold, overcast and still as I headed out to Wembury for a walk on Saturday 4th March. These weather conditions are pretty much what we have experienced for a while now as the UK continues to be stuck under the influence of a high pressure syetem with the resulting dry, cold, still and mostly cloudy conditions making birding feel very static. As a result it was again a Deja Vu walk at Wembury with the usual birds seen but again it was an interesting walk none the less. Unfortunately with it being a dry day and a Saturday it was very busy with walkers and dogs but it didnt spoil my visit too much despite the regular disturbance. 

The walk started off well with a Firecrest seen feeding in gardens on the walk down to the beach in almost the same spot I saw one earlier in the year. It really has been a Firecrest year so far with quite a few sightings already uploaded on to Birdtrack, I've certainly seen more this year than I usually do but whether that's because I am doing more "slow" birding than usual where I'm taking more time to just watch and wait or whether there are genuinely more around this winter I don't know.

The hedgerow at the back of the wheat field  had been flailed since my last visit, God knows why, but there were 2 Red-legged Partridge feeding along the field edge, my first here for the year.

It was low tide but a high low tide and out on the rocks were 2 Little Egrets, a Curlew, Oystercatchers and 3 pairs of Mallards. Surprisingly there were no small Gulls present, only Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Offshore 3 adult Gannets were seen while Fulmars wheeled around The Mewstone or rested on the ledges. I had a brief view of 6 distant Common Scoters flying east before they disappeared past Stoke Point and later from the bus stop I had even more distant views of 10 flying west.

Along the beach there were 2 pairs of Stonechat, a Grey Wagtail and a Chiffchaff with the usual Pied Wagtails, Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits and I was pleased to refind the Scandinavian Rock Pipit chasing off all other Rock Pipits from the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe. There was unfortunately no sign of the wintering Warer Pipit, I had hoped it would stay around into the spring so I could admire its moult into summer plumage but never mind.

Scandinavian Rock Pipit 

Scandinavian Rock Pipit 

Grey Wagtail


A very decomposed corpse of a presumed Common Dolphin was found washed up on the beach which was being scavenged by Carrion Crows and a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls, nicer mammal sightings were a Grey Squirrel in the valley to the beach and 3 Rabbits in the horse field, an adult and 2 very small and very cute looking young.

Common Dolphin? 

Common Dolphin? - Teeth missing from jaw

I had my first Wembury Chunk pasty of the year from the cafe and very tasty it was too and before heading back to the bus stop I had a wander up Churchwood Valley where I was pleased to find a skulky Jay in the undergrowth, not a bird I often see here at Wembury.

All in all a very enjoyable walk but again with the feeling of Spring just lurking around the corner, I just wish it would hurry up!

First Sloe Blossom of the year

Thursday 2 March 2023

Deja Vu River Plym Walk

Despite Wednesday 1st March being the first day of meteorological Spring it was grey and cold as I headed out to The Plym for a morning walk on the incoming tide. I started at Marsh Mills and finished at Saltram House where I met David for lunch before we walked back to Sainsburys to do some shopping and then drove home. It really was a Deja Vu walk though with all the usuals seen but a very enjoyable walk none the less. 

I was very pleased to finally see my first Green Woodpecker of the year with a single bird flying over while another bird was heard yaffling nearby, I've heard them in various places so far this year but it was nice to finally see one.

The Duck Pond was a hive of activity with Mallards seen mating while the female Red-crested Pochard and 19 Mandarin Duck (11 males, 8 females) watched nearby and 17 Moorhens bickered and fought together.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard

Mandarin Duck and Red-crested Pochard 

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

I spent a bit of time sat on the bench in the Wet Wood again, there was as expected no sign of the Water Rail but I did have some nice views of a Treecreeper. At least 5 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets were flying around overhead while a Redwing skulked in the trees. A nice surprise were 2 Firecrest feeding in the Ivy covered trees, both were very active and mobile but one of them did show very well before disappearing off into cover.


Along the river there were 6 Goosander (1 male, 5 female) with another female seen fishing in the small pool of water by the sluice gates on Blaxton Meadow. A Common Sandpiper, 2 Grey Wagtail, a Little Grebe, a Mute Swan, 5 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and 2 Great Black-backed Gull were also seen and unusually there were 4 Snipe feeding on the mud by the gas pipe as the tide came in. 

It was a low high tide and Blaxton Meadow didn't flood but waders were still roosting there and amongst the Curlew, Redshank and Dunlin were 3 Oystercatcher, a Greenshank and the wintering Grey Plover. Also present were 48 Wigeon (23 males, 25 females) which is my highest count here this winter along with a Kingfisher and a Grey Heron.

It was quiet on Chelson Meadow but 8 Roe Deer were present out on the grassy hill and 5 Bullfinch (2 male, 3 female) were feeding in the Sloe bushes. 2 pairs of Rook were nest building in the nearby wood, there used to be a small Rookery here which disappeared when their nesting tree blew over a few years ago so it's nice to see them returning.

All in all a very interesting walk with some nice sightings but all a bit samey, hopefully things will start to change and birds will begin to move in the next few weeks as Spring marches on.

Wednesday 1 March 2023


March is here at last, Spring is in the air and Bees have been seen buzzing around in the back yard.

As February came to an end I had another night shift to work on Sunday 26th February and so had another pre-work walk around Plymouth Hoe. It was all sunshine and blue skies but with a chilly Easterly wind and as expected the Purple Sandpipers and Black Redstarts were not playing ball with no sign of either but there were 5 Turnstones feeding together below the Pier One Cafe on the dropping tide. Even better was a Grey Seal regularly surfacing out of the water by the rocks off Rusty Anchor, the first Grey Seal I've seen here for some time now.

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

A day trip to Exeter by train on Tuesday 28th February was pleasant in the continuing sunshine but chilly breeze, I kept an eye on the birds along the River Exe as we hurtled along but didn't see much although 2 Greylag Geese on Exminster Marshes were new for the year and there were still good numbers of Brent Geese present out on the mudflats. 

And so 2 months of the year have now gone by, bizarrely it seems to be dragging but passing by quickly at the same time and I am counting down the days until July.