Sunday 27 August 2023

River Plym and Wembury Double Visits

Wembury - Probably my favourite place on Earth

On the ferry back to Plymouth from Santander on Thursday 17th August I started to feel unwell and this continued when I eventually arrived back at home. Anyway, it wasn't until Tuesday 22nd August that I finally felt well enough to venture outside, having missed out on Osprey and Spoonbill on the River Plym and Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Redshank at Wembury but never mind.

It was forecast to be a warm and sunny day on Tuesday 22nd August and indeed it was and so I headed out to the River Plym for a walk. It was high tide and out on Blaxton Meadow were 2 Whimbrel, my first on The Plym this year along with 2 Teal, also Plym year firsts. Also present were 12 Little Egret (plus another 2 along The Embankment), 4 Oystercatcher, 6 Greenshank, 4 juvenile Shelduck and a Common Sandpiper along with the usual Curlew, Redshank and Gulls.

A redhead Goosander roosting on the mud along the river by the Gas Pipe was a sign of the approaching autumn and a few eclipse plumaged Mandarin were also skulking in the overhanging branches nearby. A few Mandarin were at the duck pond too along with the usual female Red Crested Pochard.

I eventually found at least 3 Spotted Flycatchers feeding in a different area again, presumably the same birds but moving around the estate to make use of the best feeding areas. I also finally saw my first Plym Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year, having only heard them so far, and a Green Woodpecker was heard mockingly laughing at me for this fact!

A flyover Swift with the Swallows and House Martins was a nice late surprise and a Kestrel over was a good sighting too. A noisy quartet of soaring Buzzards eventually split off into pairs and drifted off their own ways.

A Roe Deer, a Jersey Tiger Moth, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Small Heath, Common Blue, 2 Small Copper and Common Darters were the non-avian highlights but I was glad to return home and get out of the sun although I had had an enjoyable but tiring time.

Wednesday 23rd August was a beautiful day, hot and sunny, but as I was still feeling less than 100% we headed up to Bude for the day. It wasn't too busy considering the weather but the majority of people present in Bude all appeared to be jam packed onto the beach.

We had an enjoyable day out with a Kingfisher and a very confiding Greenshank seen along the river right in the centre of Bude and a flighty juvenile Wheatear seen on the golf course but best of all were 2 Cattle Egret at Maer Lake with 31 Black-tailed Godwits, a Little Egret, Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins.



Cattle Egrets

Thursday 24th August was warm, humid, overcast and showery as I headed out to Wembury for a walk. I caught the 07:05hrs bus to avoid the dog emptiers and the walk wasn't too busy, the showery weather presumably keeping a lot of the Fidos indoors. The tide was heading in but the sea was flat calm and offshore the usual Gannets were seen along with 3 distant Sandwich Terns.

I scanned along the beach and initially only found the usual Oystercatchers but eventually the small waders present were picked out amongst the sea weed with the totals ending up at 28 Turnstone, 8 Ringed Plover, 6 Sanderling, 3 Dunlin and 2 Common Sandpiper. 2 Curlew and 2 Whimbrel were also seen but the best was a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit which flew in during a thundery shower, tried to sleep on the rocks despite looking very unsettled before giving up and flying off high to the west.

Black-tailed Godwit 

Black-tailed Godwit 



I scanned through the roosting Gulls and found 10 juvenile Mediterranean Gulls with 2 adults but they were restless and mobile and more birds were obviously present. A few juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present too but the highlight was a stonking juvenile Yellow-legged Gull hidden in plain sight amongst the birds and giving itself away with a very large and striking bill. A different bird to those I've seen recently and showing very well too and strange to see it begging at an adult Herring Gull which gave it very short shrift although it maintained its aggressive air towards any juvenile Herring Gulls that came too near.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

A juvenile Willow Warbler was flitting about in the pine trees with Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap and Whitethroats seemed to be everywhere too. At least 5 Wheatear were along the beach with 4 Yellow Wagtails - a single bird bizarrely feeding out on the rocks with Pied Wagtails before flying off high inland and a group of 3 birds which also did the same. Another bird was then seen feeding in the more usual setting of the horse field before it too flew off high west.


Yellow Wagtail

I headed out to the River Plym for a walk again on Friday 25th August, the previous day had seen an interesting spread of birds reported on the bird news pages but I wasn't expecting much. However I did see my first ever Plym Sedge Warbler and it was good to see a Knot on Blaxton Meadow as the tide came in but otherwise it was the usual fare.

I also headed out again to Wembury for a walk on Saturday 25th August. I caught the early bus and for a change I walked east along the clifftop path past the church, a route I often consider but rarely take. It was a good choice today though as I found a Spotted Flycatcher, a Sedge Warbler, a Willow Warbler, 2 juvenile Bullfinch, a Raven, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Whitethroats for my troubles.

Spotted Flycatcher


The beach was interesting too and suprisingly free of dog walkers until late morning. A Knot was a nice find and also present were 9 Ringed Plover, 9 Dunlin, 3 Sanderling, a Common Sandpiper, Oystercatchers, 2 Curlew, around 30 Turnstone and 2 Bar-tailed Godwit which eventually flew off west.




Ringed Plover

A juvenile Mediterranean Gull was present amongst the roosting Gulls and I also refound the juvenile Yellow-legged Gull from 2 days ago which seemed fascinated by a small pebble that it kept dropping into the water before diving down under the surface to retrieve it.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

A Clouded Yellow flew past all too quickly, a beautiful splash of bright yellow, and Swallows and House Martins were drifting over west and amongst them were 2 Sand Martins, my first at Wembury this year.

So two visits to my two favourite places, both proving to be very interesting as usual, and my bird-off between the two sites is pretty equal pegging at the moment. Who knows what's next?

Sunday 20 August 2023


Monday 14th August started off wet and windy, a typical August day in Devon at the moment, and I was up and out in my wet weather gear to catch the 07:05hrs bus to Wembury.

It was mizzly and breezy when I arrived at the main beach but at least I could see The Mewstone this time. The tide was heading out and along the beach the usual Gulls were hanging out but I didn't find a Yellow-legged Gull this time although a 2nd calendar year Mediterranean Gull and a few adult and juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present amongst the usual Black-headed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I set up my scope again at the bench along the tarmac path at Wembury Point and began scanning the sea. The visibility wasn't as good as it was on the 5th August but the sea wasn't as rough and initially there was very little to see except for the odd Gannet or two. However I eventually began to find birds passing west and over the course of my watch from 08:15 to 10:00hrs I saw countless Gannets, 100+ Manx Shearwaters, 50+ Kittiwakes including 2 juveniles, 3 Fulmars, 2 male and 2 female Common Scoters and best of all a Sooty Shearwater. Unfortunately it was a little further out than most of the other passing birds but its larger size, long wings, easier looking flight style and all dark plumage stood out amongst the Manx Shearwaters it was with. There was no hint of any pale underwings as it banked amongst the waves and it looked totally black against the water in the dull light and at distance. All too sadly it passed out of view all too quickly and again I don't think I took a breath as I followed its progress across the waves with my scope!

The Mewstone from my bench

The usual Oystercatchers were along the beach with 2 Curlew, a Whimbrel, 2 Little Egrets, a Grey Heron and 17 Mallard. Skulking in the bushes out of the grotty weather were Whitethroats, Cirl Buntings, Chiffchaffs and Stonechats but as the wind and mizzle cleared through and the sun appeared they became much more showy along with House Martins, a Coal Tit, a Kestrel and 5 Long-tailed Tits.

A few butterflies appeared too including a nice Wall Brown and along the stream there were 5 female Beautiful Demoiselles but just 2 males.

Wall Brown

Beautiful Demoiselle 

Tuesday 15th August was bright and sunny for a change and so we had a walk at Rame Head, enjoying the warmth and sunshine and fantastic views of the coastline. It was quiet on the bird front but there were Gannets offshore with the usual Gulls and overhead Swallows, House Martins and 3 Sand Martins were seen moving west and also perching up on the telegraph wires.

Autumn is here!

Wednesday 16th August was warm, sunny, humid and still, perfect for a sailing across The Bay of Biscay to Santander with Brittany Ferries and Orca. We set sail at 4pm and as we passed The Eddystone Lighthouse the wildlife began to appear - 1000's of Manx Shearwaters, 100's of Cory's Shearwaters, 100's of Great Shearwaters (but fewer than the Cory's) and a few Sooty Shearwaters all milling around and feeding in bait ball frenzys with Storm Petrels, Gannets, Fulmars, a Commic Tern, Common Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises and a Minke Whale. It was quite the spectacle and a very magical experience and all in sight of the South Devon coast too.

Great Shearwater 

Great Shearwater with a Manx

Great Shearwater 

Shearwater Raft

A Beautiful Vista of nothing but Sea!

The next morning it was an early start to begin watching the sea as we headed into Santander for a 12:15hrs arrival. Great and Cory's Shearwaters were still milling around and there were sightings of a Fin Whale, Striped Dolphins, Common Dolphins, a Basking Shark and a Sunfish for me. A surprise sighting were 4 Common Scoters flying low over the waves and a Whitethroat flying alongside the ferry with at least 2 Willlow Warblers which attempted to land on the ferry before giving up and carrying on towards Spain.

Dawn in The Bay of Biscay

A short stop in Santander was pleasant with 2 Swifts over the city and Yellow-legged Gulls around the harbour seen along with a Mediterranean Gull before we had to get back on board the ferry and head back to Plymouth. An hour delay meant an hour less whale watching but we set off again at 16:00hrs in perfect weather conditions and I stayed on deck until 20:00hrs. Again it was an interesting watch with Striped Dolphins seen and some very good sightings of Cuvier's Beaked Whales including a a female with a calf and also a possible Sowerby's Beaked Whale. A few Great and Cory's Shearwaters were also noted but all too soon the light began to fade and it was time to head down for dinner.

Yellow-legged Gull, Santander

The next morning was a lie in but I was up on deck at 09:00hrs as we headed in to Plymouth for an 11:00hrs docking. There were still good numbers of Manx, Cory's and Great Shearwaters milling around but fewer than on the outward journey and I only found 1 Sooty Shearwater and just 1 Storm Petrel this time. Common Dolphins were still milling about too but weren't very showy and a few Kittiwakes were picked up too.


Cory's and Great Shearwaters

Great Shearwater

A fantastic trip in perfect weather conditions and one that I haven't enjoyed for a few years now, I really should make the effort to do it again next year.

Monday 14 August 2023

Spotted Flycatcher and Storm Petrel

Monday 7th August was cool and overcast and so we headed out to Lopwell Dam for a walk. The high tide was beginning to recede as we arrived and along the river 4 Common Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail were seen along with 2 Mute Swans and the usual Canada Geese, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. An Osprey was seen flying over by a lucky birder but it eluded our eyes although we did see 5 Ravens, 2 Stock Doves, Swallows and House Martins overhead.

A Slow-worm, a Brimstone and a Jersey Tiger Moth were the other highlights of our visit before we headed home, having had a very enjoyable walk.


Jersey Tiger

Tuesday 8th August was breezy and mizzley and with a high tide on the River Plym and a forecast of better conditions by lunchtime I headed out on the bus to Marsh Mills to have a look at the high tide roost on Blaxton Meadow. The mizzle did eventually lift although it remained dull and damp and the high tide roost wasn't very exciting but I did see 10 Greenshank, 3 Common Sandpiper, 15 Shelduck (1 adult), 2 Oystercatcher and 13 Little Egret amongst the usual Curlew, Redshank, Canada Geese and Gulls.

There were good numbers of juvenile Gulls present especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls  but despite scanning around I didn't find either of the recently reported juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull

It was quiet around Saltram too but a bright yellow juvenile Willow Warbler was a delightful splash of colour in the gloom and thanks to local birder Martin I was able to find my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year with an adult seen feeding a fledgling although they were very mobile and more may have been present amongst the foliage.

There were 53 Mandarin Duck around the pond and the female Red-crested Pochard was present too, hidden in plain sight as it slept amongst the eclipsed plumaged Mallards.

Wednesday 9th August was overcast and misty again but it felt warm and humid and was forecasted to clear later in the day and so I headed out to Wembury for a walk. I caught the 10:05hrs bus and on arriving at Wembury Beach I couldnt even see The Mewstone! 

I wandered along the coast path to The Point and had a quick scan offshore and was very surprised and very pleased to find a Storm Petrel feeding close in to the beach. Despite the mist I had very good views of it as it flew back and forth, dipping at the water surface and occassionally landing on the sea, and I watched it for a good 20 minutes before the mist cleared and it headed out to sea.

Later I picked up 5 Petrels feeding in the slick being made by a fishing boat gutting fish on its way in to Plymouth, too distant views to get much on them but interesting to watch as they flew back and forth and avoided the Gulls also following the boat.

Also noted offshore and all heading west were 3 Common Scoter, 2 Sandwich Tern, a Manx Shearwater and a few Gannet and Fulmar.

At the high tide roost at The Point the usual Oystercatchers were joined by 2 Curlew, 2 Whimbrel and 4 Little Egrets and as the tide receded an adult winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull, 6 Ringed Plover, a Dunlin and a surprise Knot appeared.

The warm and eventually sunny conditions meant plenty of insect activity with the highlights being Bee-wolfs, Ornate Tailed Digger Wasps, Wall Browns, a Hornet Robberfly and a Furrow Bee species. The warmth also brought out 4 Common Lizards, 2 small juveniles and 2 adults, one of which had a damaged tail.


Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp

Wall Brown - very worn

Furrow Bee Sp.

Hornet Robberfly

Common Lizard

Our Herring Gull pair continue to visit the chimney stack in the early mornings, making lots of noise as they assert their claim on their nesting site before leaving for the winter. Sometimes their juvenile offspring, Birdy 2023, joins them but unfortunately he seems to have injured his left foot, hopefully he will be OK but it's not a good start for him.

Birdy 2023

I took another walk along The Plym on Friday 11th August, it was overcast and humid and the sun did eventually appear when it became quite warm. It was a low high tide and Blaxton Meadow wasn't flooded but there was a high count of 17 Little Egrets present along with a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull amongst the assorted roosting Gulls.

A Spotted Flycatcher showed very well, swooping down to the footpath to snatch flies off the ground.

Spotted Flycatcher 

Spotted Flycatcher 

Spotted Flycatcher 

Spotted Flycatcher

A Sparrowhawk spooked all the Swallows and House Martins as it soared over Chelson Meadow and there was a single Swift amongst them. A Kestrel, 3 Whitethroat and a juvenile Willow Warbler were also seen here along with a Roe Deer, a Small Copper and a Jay. 3 Common Darters were also seen, a male and a mating pair ovipositing in a small puddle, probably not a very good idea.

Common Darter

There were 15 Mandarin on the duck pond along with the female Red-crested Pochard and a further 12 Mandarin were seen along the river at Marsh Mills.


Red-crested Pochard