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! 

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