Friday 28 April 2023

Whimbrels and Whitethroats

My back pain continues to improve and it has been interesting and bizarre to follow it's evolution as it moves around to different areas and changes form and intensity. However just as it has started to dissipate along comes excruciating tooth pain resulting in a trip to an emergency dentist (£85, I can't get an NHS dentist) and a course of antibiotics and another spell of sickness from work. Fortunately the tooth, an old root canal treated tooth, is OK but there seems to be an area of infection in the jaw. Hopefully it will be treated successfully with the amoxycillin tablets I've been given.

Thursday 20th April was a beautiful day, all blue skies and sunshine but with a chilly Easterly breeze. I would have been in bed asleep after my second night shift but I had taken the night off sick due to my tooth pain and so I made the most of it and headed out to Saltram for a short walk with David. The tide was very low and I wasn't particularly feeling birdy due to the pain but it was nice to be out and about and it wasn't too busy. 

I kept an eye out overhead as Red Kites are on the move again but I drew a blank as expected although 2 Swallows and 2 Buzzard were noted. 2 Stock Dove and 2 very noisy Ring-necked Parakeets were also flying around and a Blackcap was heard singing away. Along the river a Common Sandpiper was flushed by a fisherman and I found my first Saltram Speckled Wood of the year flitting about by the viewing platform. 

Wednesday 26th April was cool, grey and claggy as I headed out by bus to Wembury for a walk. The weather conditions meant no sightings of any butterflies or reptiles and insect activity was pretty low but there was some good birding to be had to make up for it. 

There were at least 11 mobile and vocal Whimbrel along the beach on the high tide, always a delight to see and even more delightful to hear. A winter plumaged Grey Plover and a winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit were also present with 31 Oystercatcher, 3 Little Egret, 5 Mallard (4 males) and 5 Shelduck. 


A very nice surprise was a singing and songflighting Dartford Warbler at The Point, my first here since 2017 following The Beast from the East in 2018 and the National Trust subsequently clearing all the gorse in the area they frequented. The gorse has since grown back and this is where todays bird was seen, hopefully the gorse is not due to be cleared again any time soon. 

At least 6 Whitethroats were singing and songflighting and Chiffchaff and Blackcap were vocal too along with the Cettis Warbler in the valley to the beach which kept itself well hidden as usual. 

Cirl Buntings were also seen and heard, 2 Red-legged Partridge were feeding in the wheatfield, a lone adult Gannet was offshore with Fulmars and 4 Swallow flitted about overhead. 

Cirl Bunting

A Noon Fly posed nicely despite the chilly conditions and the Hairy-footed Flower Bees were buzzing around their burrows in the usual wall. 

Noon Fly

Hairy-footed Flower Bee

Tuesday 18 April 2023


Thursday 13th April was cool and showery as I headed out to Wembury for a walk but there were some decent spells of sunshine to be had as I negotiated the muddy coast path following the recent heavy rain. 

I managed to see just 1 butterfly, a Peacock, but the sunshine brought out 2 basking Adders, the first I've seen at Wembury for some time now. A single Common Lizard was also seen. 



It was very quiet on the bird front but I did see my first Wembury Swallows of the year with 2 birds flying low over the beach hawking for insects. The Cettis Warbler was also still singing away in the valley to the beach and I even managed a few decentish views of it as it skulked in the undergrowth.

Otherwise it was much the same on the birding front with 2 Shelduck roosting in the wheat field, 27 Oystercatchers roosting on the rocks, a flitty Willow Warbler in the bushes at The Point, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing away and 4 Cirl Buntings (3 males) the other highlights.

2 female Black Oil Beetles trundling along the footpath and a pair of Roe Deer resting out in the open on the hillside above the wheat field were also seen. 

Black Oil Beetle

Black Oil Beetle

Roe Deer

Saturday 15th April was sunny but cool in the breeze and we headed up to Roborough Down for a walk. It was quiet bird wise again with 2 Swallows and a Grey Heron ovehead and singing Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap of note. There were lots of Brimstone flitting about too but surprisingly no other butterflies were seen. 


Monday 17th April was forecasted to be a sunny day but on waking up in the morning it was grey and claggy. I still headed out to Wembury for a walk and there were a few brief spells of sunshine now and then but it was mostly cool and cloudy. 

Despite the overall lack of sun I did see a basking Common Lizard, my first Orange Tip and Holly Blue of the year and 2 Peacock along with Dock Bugs and Nursery Web Spiders. 

Duck Bug

Nursery Web Spider

A Grey Seal was seen poking it's nose out of the water just offshore but out on The Mewstone a Grey Seal was hauled out on the rocks, the first time I have seen one here. 

With my back continuing to be painful I haven't been able to take my scope out birding with me but I wished I'd had it with me today as a distant Auk out on the water remained unidentified although it was most likely a Guillemot. 3 distant waders heading east offshore remained unidentified too, 1 appeared paler and smaller than the other 2, possibly Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel? 

There were however 5 Whimbrel feeding out on the rocks at low tide and it was very lovely to hear their whistling calls, they were very twitchy though and when a nearby Carrion Crow spooked them they all flew off west. It was also nice to see 8 Swallows arriving in off the sea but they didn't  hang around for very long before heading off inland. 

Chiffchaff and Blackcap were seen and heard and 2 Willow Warbler showed well as they quietly sang to themselves while flitting about in the Sloe blossoms. A male Whitethroat was also seen amongst the flowers, it too was quietly singing away to itself but it was surprisingly skulky. To round off the warbler action the Cettis Warbler was again singing away in the valley to the beach. 


Sunday 9 April 2023

Black-winged Stilt!

I have tried to see Black-winged Stilts in the UK on quite a few occasions now but my efforts have always ended in a big fat dip. I've seen many before on my foreign travels but never one in the UK and it remains at the top of my bogey bird list. The most painful dip was The Plym bird in 2006 which spent a few days there while I was away on holiday in Ghana, I was watching Black-winged Stilts from my hotel balcony in Ghana while it was present on The Plym but on my return to the UK I went out to have a look for it the following day only to find out it had relocated to South Huish Marsh! 

However there has been a bit of an influx of Black-winged Stilts into the UK this week with birds also appearing in Ireland and with up to 8 (!) birds present in Cornwall my excitement and stress levels rose in equal measure. Would this finally be the year I achieve my Holy Grail?

Thursday 6th April  (Maundy Thursday) was all blue skies and sunshine but with a chilly breeze and with a Black-winged Stilt being reported at Maer Lake in Bude we decided to go for a look. It had been found on Tuesday 4th April feeding along the river right in the centre of Bude opposite The Carriers Arms where it gave amazing views despite all the hustle and bustle of people and traffic very nearby. However the views at Maer Lake would be much more distant. 

We had planned to visit Bude last week on my annual leave from work but the weather was so crappy we gave it a miss which was quite fortuitous as the Stilt wasn't present last week! With it now being the Easter holidays we expected it to be very busy too but it actually wasn't too bad and we had a good day out. 

On arriving at Maer Lake there were plenty of Sand Martins buzzing around over the water and amongst them were a few Swallows. A Willow Warbler and a Cettis Warbler were heard, I think this is the first time I have heard a Cettis here as they continue their presumed population expansion. 

Maer Lake, Bude

The water level was very high and there was very little mud on show but out on the water were Teal, Mallard, Moorhen, a Coot and 4 Shelduck. A lone Black-headed Gull was loafing around with 4 Herring Gulls and 2 Pied Wagtails were having an aerial spat

Eventually I found the Black-winged Stilt feeding at the back of the Lake where it often disappeared amongst the waterside vegetation but it gave some cracking scope views, a totally incongruous looking bird with ridiculously long, bright pink legs and a long, needle-like bill.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt

The light wasn't great for viewing the Stilt so we headed into Bude for some lunch and a look around but before heading back to Plymouth we had another look in the much better late afternoon light and watched it for a while as it continued to feed along the back of the Lake although again it often disappeared amongst the vegetation.

Black-winged Stilt 

Black-winged Stilt

And so finally I have seen a Black-winged Stilt in the UK, one turning up on The Plym (again) would be very nice though!

And more seriously, there has been quite an influx of "Mediterranean" birds so far this Spring, notably Alpine Swifts and now Black-winged Stilts. Maybe just a coincidence, maybe due to certain weather conditions at migration time or maybe climate change and global warming? With regard to the Stilts there is quite a severe and ongoing drought in Spain so possibly these are birds venturing further north to find suitable breeding habitat. Whatever the case it will be interesting to see how things play out for the rest of this year and in the future.

Black-winged Stilt, Bude Canal, 4/4/23 (Photo courtesy of CBWPS website, taken by Gavin Williams). 

I actually had Good Friday (April 7th) off this year for a change, the first time for many a year, although last year I was supposed to be working but spent it laying on the settee "dying" from COVID. It was a beautiful day with blue skies, sunshine and a gentle breeze and we headed out to Stoke Point for a walk with Julie and Matt. The walk was as wonderful as always and we had a very tasty lunch in The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo and I managed a few wildlife sightings along the way.

I saw my first Speckled Wood and Wall of the year along with Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell but they were all mobile and flitty in the sunshine. 



A singing Cirl Bunting, a pair of Stonechat, singing Chiffchaffs, 2 Kestrels, Linnets, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were also seen and there was lots of Sloe Blossom on display. A Swallow and 3 Sand Martin flew in off the sea and headed straight inland. 

Saturday 8th April was another beautiful day but with my Easter break over and 2 night shifts looming I decided to head out to Wembury for a morning walk. However a text came through with news of a male Gadwall on the River Plym and so I headed there instead. 

The Gadwall showed very nicely on the very flooded Blaxton Meadow, only my third sighting for The Plym after a male January 1997 and a pair March 2013, but with such high water levels there was very little else on show except for 2 Curlew, 8 Greenshank and Redshank. 

A small passage of Swallow and Sand Martin was noted heading north over Efford Fort and 3 Swallow were seen around the Duck Pond where the female Red-crested Pochard was back in residence.

A flyover Siskin, 2 flyover Linnet, an unseen Great Spotted Woodpecker "chipping" away, 2 singing male Blackcaps, 7 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls out on the mudflats amongst the other Gulls and 2 displaying Sparrowhawk were the other avian highlights. A male Brimstone, 4 Peacock and 2 Dark-edged Bee Fly were also noted and it was good to see a few Bluebells and Ramsons in flower too. 


Wednesday 5 April 2023

River Plym/Saltram v Wembury

I wasn't planning a River Plym/Saltram versus Wembury Birdtrack-off this year due to the planned works at Saltram and the destruction of some wonderful habitat to make way for the solar farm but with nothing happening there as yet I've decided to give it another go. I'm sure The Plym will win again although it may depend on when the works begin but I would at least like to get to 100 species of birds for Wembury this year.

I had always thought that Wembury would give me the best variety of birds and the highest species total over a year but it seems that The Plym is the better site in this regard and so I decided to visit each site over 2 days to compare what I saw. 

It was all beautiful blue skies when I got out of bed in the morning of Sunday 2nd April and so I headed out to the River Plym and Saltram for a walk despite it being low tide. Unfortunately the blue skies didn't last with the cloud cover steadily increasing over the course of the morning but at least it remained dry and I had an enjoyable walk.

Despite the low tide I did see 2 Greenshank, 3 Curlew, 5 Oystercatcher and Redshank along with 4 Grey Herons, 8 Little Egrets, 5 Goosander (2 males) and the usual Gulls. There was no sign of the female Red-crested Pochard on the duck pond but 17 Moorhen and a pair of Mandarin Duck were present. 

Chiffchaffs were yammering away and I had a brief view of a male Blackcap but a highlight were 4 Willow Warblers, 3 in the Wet Wood and 1 on Chelson Meadow which all showed very well and gave short, quiet snatches of their song. Another highlight were 2 Sand Martin which flew over heading west, quite high up and distant but very distinctive. 

I finally saw my first Peacock Butterfly of the year along with 3 Dark-edged Bee Fly in their usual spot, always a joy to see in the spring. 


Dark-edged Bee Fly

Monday 3rd April was grey and overcast when I got out of bed in the morning but I headed out to Wembury on the bus anyway and eventually the forecasted sunny spells arrived although it was cool in the strong easterly breeze.

As I walked down the hill from the bus stop towards the beach a Willow Warbler was quietly singing to itself in one of the gardens as it flitted about in a willow tree, eventually showing very nicely. Two more birds were seen, 1 at the back of the wheatfield and bizarrely 1 along the beach feeding on the rotten seaweed with a pair of Cirl Bunting, a female Wheatear, a White Wagtail and a pair of Stonechat!

Cirl Bunting

White Wagtail

It was quiet offshore but 2 adult Gannet were good to see and Fulmars were again wheeling around the cliff face of The Mewstone. Only 4 Oystercatcher and 3 Little Egret were seen along the beach although it was low tide and there were 2 1st calendar year Common Gulls sat out on the water amongst the Herring Gulls.

Plenty of Chiffchaff were singing away along with a showy Blackcap. Cirl Buntings were regularly heard (and seen) too with at least 3 males present. A Kestrel, 2 Shelduck and 3 Buzzards were seen flying overhead and 2 Red-legged Partridge were skulking in the long grass of the HMS Cambridge wheatfield now that the other wheatfield has been ploughed over. The Cettis Warbler was again belting it out from deep cover in the valley to the beach, hopefully it will find a mate and nest this year.

I finally found my first Common Lizard of the year basking on a fence post and I also saw my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year although it was very flitty and mobile. 3 Peacocks were much better behaved and posed nicely for the camera along with a Dark-edged Bee Fly which are always a delight to watch.

Common Lizard

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell


And so how did the 2 visits compare? 48 species for The Plym and 41 for Wembury and bringing the year totals to 80 and 69 respectively. Things are ticking along very nicely.

Monday 3 April 2023

Alpine Swift Again

With a window of better weather forecasted for Thursday 30th March we headed off to Topsham on the train for the day. It was cool and breezy with some short, heavy showers and spells of sunshine and fortunately the heavy rain and gales didn't arrive until we literally arrived back at our front door at around 6pm.

On arriving in Topsham I started off with a look from the viewing platform at Goosemoor where the only birds on view were a Curlew and a Little Egret but a Cettis Warbler was belting out its song from deep in the brambles, a Chiffchaff yammered away from the tree tops and my first Willow Warbler of the year quietly sang to itself as it caught flies amongst the willow catkins.

From the hide at Bowling Green Marsh the most obvious birds on view were 2 juvenile Spoonbills, both fast asleep and standing on one leg with their bills tucked under their wings. Occasionally they woke up for a quick stretch and a preen before returning to their slumbers. 



A Mucky Goose, a presumed Barnacle x Bar-headed hybrid, was swimming around and getting the cold shoulder from the Canada Geese and 2 Greylag Geese present. 

Barnacle x Bar-headed Goose? 

Wigeon were whistling away and Teal, Shoveler, Pintail, Mallard, Shelduck, 3 Pochard and 5 Tufted Duck were noted along with 2 Little Grebe, 2 Coot and Moorhen.

A Willow Warbler showed well as it flitted about in the bushes in front of the hide but it remained resolutely silent. 

Willow Warbler

A quick look across the River Exe from Topsham Quay over towards Exminster Marshes revealed distant hirundines over the tree tops but they were too far away to properly ID. However after some lunch at The Lighter Inn we walked back to the train station via Bowling Green Marsh and there were now about 40 Sand Martins buzzing around over the water, a nice end to our day out.

Saturday 1st April duly arrived and it was quite a pleasant day with sunny spells (rare this week) but also some heavy showers. The previous day had been very wet and very windy but the Alpine Swifts were still being seen at their church tower roost in Teignmouth and so I decided to go for another look.

I caught the train to Teignmouth, arriving at around 3:30pm and already there was a gaggle of birders present around the tower. However there had been no sightings of the Alpine Swifts all day since 2 birds left the roost in the morning and there had been no reports of them anywhere else either.

St.Michaels Church Tower

I decided to firstly have a look offshore where around 12 Sandwich Terns were flying around or resting on buoys but they remained quite distant. A group of 4 male Common Scoter flew in from the west and landed on the sea but again were distant although 5 summer plumaged Great Crested Grebes were a little closer. 

Danish Scurvy Grass, Teignmouth Seafront

I regularly scanned across the River Teign towards the ridge at Shaldon where the Alpine Swifts have often been seen feeding but there was no sign of them but a Swallow flying in off the sea and heading inland was a nice sighting, my first of the year.

I headed back to the tower as time marched on and more birders had now arrived on site but there were still no sightings. A very heavy and prolonged rain shower arrived and everybody dashed under cover, it chucked it down for a good 10 minutes and was notably cooler after it had cleared over but still there was no sign of the birds. 

Teignmouth Rainbow

It was getting late, the birds usually appear around 6pm but by 6:30pm I had to slowly make my way back to the railway station for the 6:40pm train back to Plymouth. Fortunately the church tower is just across the road from the railway station and I stood outside the entrance of the station scanning the skies in the hope that the birds would appear at the last minute - and indeed 1 did! 

I watched it for a couple of minutes as it hawked around overhead, a much slower and languid looking flight than that of the 2 birds seen on Monday but still powerful and easy looking, it even flew right over my head! The train duly arrived (annoyingly on time!) and I had to dash to catch it but I was very pleased to have seen an Alpine Swift again and to have seen it so well if not for very long!