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)

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