Sunday 28 January 2024

Purple Sandpipers and a Wild Grebe Chase

On a walk around Plymouth Hoe on Sunday 21st January before Storm Isha arrived I finally found my first Purple Sandpipers of this winter season with 2 seen feeding together on the rocks below the Tinside SLC on the incoming tide.

Purple Sandpipers

They showed very nicely and allowed close approach but were rarely still for more than a second as they ran back and forth across the concrete slabs to avoid the waves. After watching them for a while I left them to it as the storm clouds began to roll in but I was very pleased to finally catch up with them here.

Purple Sandpiper 

Purple Sandpiper 

With a Grey Phalarope and a presumed Leach's Storm Petrel being seen in Plymouth Sound the next day after Storm Isha passed through I decided to have a look about on Tuesday 23rd January as Storm Jocelyn began to arrive. It was mild, murky, wet, misty and windy and a scan about failed to find any Phalaropes or Petrels as expected but off Tinside Pool a Great Northern Diver, at least 5 Guillemots and at least 8 Razorbill were seen. An adult Gannet was circling around over the water in the gloom and an Oystercatcher and 3 Canada Geese flew over heading towards The Tamar. The 2 Purple Sandpipers were again feeding on the rocks below the Surf Lifesaving Club but soon flew off, never to be seen again.

Guillemots, Plymouth Hoe

I headed off to Wembury on Wednesday 24th January for a walk, it was mild and clear with just a gentle breeze although it had clouded over by the time I headed home. The footpath was very muddy as expected but the cafe was surprisingly open and I had my first Chunk pasty of the year for my lunch.

It was quiet birdwise with the highlight being some good views of a Cetti's Warbler, it was feeding in the hedgerow alongside the footpath by the horse field which seemed a strange place to find it. It was good to find the Redshank was still present along the beach but there was no sign of the Water Pipit amongst all the flitty Rock and Meadow Pipits present. A few Redwings were seen flying about, no more than 2 together at any one time but certainly more than 2 were present, and just a single Turnstone was feeding out on the rocks where 4 adult Mediterranean Gulls were also roosting. Fulmars were wheeling around The Mewstone, a single Gannet was seen offshore and 2 Cirl Buntings were heard singing away in the sunshine.

Small-spotted Catshark Egg Cases, Wembury

Friday 26th January was a beautiful winters day, all still and mild with blue skies and sunshine, and with a Red-necked Grebe being found on The Plym I headed out to have a look for it. I caught the bus to Marsh Mills and walked down to Laira Bridge, it was low tide as I started my walk at around 12:30pm and I hoped that the Red-necked Grebe, if still present, would move upriver on the incoming tide. As expected I didn't see it, it had apparently been seen at Laira Bridge at around 1:30pm but was flushed downriver by a passing boat and didn't return. It could possibly be the same bird as the one being seen at nearby Torpoint (as the Red-necked Grebe flies) maybe it's returned there but never mind, I had an enjoyable walk anyway.

Snowdrops, Saltram

The usual birds were present with the highlights being singles of Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Raven, Grey Wagtail, Kestrel, Firecrest, Sparrowhawk, Coal Tit and Goldcrest, 4 Buzzards soaring together overhead, 48 Wigeon on Blaxton Meadow and the nearby river, 2 male and a female Stonechat on Chelson Meadow, 5 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets arguing together in the branches of a tree around a nesting hole and around 10 Siskins in the Alder trees by the Wet Wood. A Red Admiral and 2 Roe Deer also added some non-avian interest and variety.

Red Admiral, Saltram

The Red-necked Grebe may have been a no show for me on The Plym but on regularly scanning the river I did find the wintering Great Crested Grebe, a pair of Goosander, 5 Little Grebes and 3 Great Northern Divers all busily diving away out on the water. (And a Red-necked Grebe was reported as present at Torpoint on BirdGuides at 18:28hrs but no time was given for the actual sighting!)

With another fine day on Saturday 27th January I decided to revisit The Plym for a walk, this time starting and finishing at Laira Bridge. It was cooler and breezier than the previous day but still very pleasant. I had considered another visit to Torpoint but decided to try The Plym again, more in hope than expectation that the Red-necked Grebe might be present, needless to say it wasn't but I did enjoy my walk despite this.

There were 2 Great Northern Divers still present below Laira Bridge along with 2 Mute Swan, a Kingfisher and a Common Sandpiper while upriver a Little Grebe and 2 pairs of Goosander were seen. The usual Waders, Wildfowl and Gulls were present out on the mudflats on the low tide along with at least 15 Cormorants including 1 with a very white streaked head. A Kestrel, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, 4 Bullfinch (3 males) and 9 Roe Deer were seen on Chelson Meadow with a Green Woodpecker heard yaffling away while around the Park a Jay, at least 6 Redwings and 2 Ring-necked Parakeets were also of note.


Candlesnuff Fungus 

And a/the Red-necked Grebe was reported at Torpoint again that day (no time given though) - don't you just love birds sometimes! 

My BirdTrack Year 2023

Sunday 21 January 2024

Out and About in the Cold

The cold and dry weather continues and so I am trying to make the most of it and get out and about as much as possible before the rain and wind returns as it undoubtedly will.

Monday 15th January was another beautiful day with frosty cold air, blue skies and no breeze as I headed off on the bus to Wembury. The tide was starting to ebb by the time I arrived and there was a lot of disturbance along the beach from dog walkers but I did find a Redshank, 18 Turnstone, a Curlew, 10 Little Egrets and the usual Oystercatchers despite this.



There was no sign of the Water Pipit along the beach but there were plenty of Rock Pipit present with at least 2 Meadow Pipit. A Chiffchaff was also seen here flitting about along the cliff edge.

A pair of Sparrowhawks were busily displaying away overhead and were a joy to watch and the flock of 40+ Stock Doves were again present in the fields above the sewage farm, only viewable when they frequently took to the air. A male Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Green Woodpecker and Redwings were seen in the woods above the valley to the beach and 2 male Cirl Buntings were seen along the coastpath with 1 of them busily singing away.

Cirl Bunting

A Razorbill close in off the main beach, 2 female Blackcaps (1 at The Point, 1 in village gardens), Fulmars around The Mewstone and Gannets offshore were the other highlights on what was a very enjoyable walk in the sunshine and fresh, cold air (and I didn't slip over in the mud this time!).

Tuesday 16th January was a similarly sunny, cold and still day and so I headed off to Torpoint again for a look about. The sun was again lovely to see but did hamper viewing from Marine Drive on the outgoing tide. I did eventually find the wintering Black-necked Grebe although it sadly remained distant and there were at least 19 Great Crested Grebes present too plus 3 Little Grebes but there was no sign of the Red-necked or Slavonian Grebes - looks like another visit is on the cards, preferably on a cloudy day!

A Great Northern Diver, a Greenshank, 3 adult Common Gulls and 8 Ringed Plover were also of note along with 2 Peregrines flying over in an aggressive, noisy interaction involving physical contact before they flew off in opposite directions.

I was pleased to see the pale-bellied Brent Geese on this visit, there were 17 present with a lone dark-bellied bird and they were feeding close in to the shore before being flushed off by dog walkers. A further 10 Brent Geese were roosting together on the opposite shore at the same time too, probably dark-bellied but too far away to assign to race.

Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Branta bernicla hrota and Branta bernicla bernicla

Dark and Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Two of the pale-bellied birds were sporting leg rings - a white L on red on the left leg and a black C on white on the right leg (LC) was a bird I saw here a year ago but a white 4 on red on the left leg and a black C on white on the right leg (4C) was a new bird for me. I never had any response from reporting the bird LC I saw last year but it seems to be from an Irish ringing scheme involving birds from Greenland and Canada, I'll report todays sightings and see if I get any details this time.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese -Branta bernicla hrota

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Three guesses what the weather was like on Thursday 18th January? - that's right, cold, clear and still! And with an invite from Mavis and her friends Kay and Sheila for a birdy day out at Slapton Ley I leapt at the chance to join them, we ended up having a really great day out on what was my first visit to Slapton in over a year.

I caught the bus out to Plympton for my pick up and had a quick look along the stream running through the town where I found 2 Dipper, one was a ringed bird and the same one that I saw this time last year. There was some singing and calling going on between them despite the below zero temperatures and they allowed some close views, presumably used to all the people and traffic passing by.

Dipper, Plympton

The journey to Slapton was a bit tortuous along narrow country lanes due to the road at Modbury currently being closed but with some excellent driving from Kay we arrived at the bridge over the Ley to start our walk around Ireland Bay to the viewing screen and back. It was a beautiful day, cold in the breeze but warm in the sunshine, the sun was lovely to see and feel but viewing the birds out on the water was challenging. Despite this we still managed to get some good views and sightings of the waterfowl out on the Ley and also of the small birds feeding in the Leyside vegetation.

Slapton Ley

Out on the water we found the usual Tufted Ducks, Gadwalls, Coots, Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Wigeons and Mallards but amongst them were a male Pintail, 3 Teal (1 male), 3 Goldeneye (2 male) and the regular wintering male Ring-necked Duck. A Great White Egret was also briefly seen flying down the Ley before disappearing into the reeds, my first sighting of one at Slapton.

Tufted Ducks and a Black-headed Gull


Water Rails and Cetti's Warblers were heard calling and a Sparrowhawk, at least 2 Buzzards and numerous Redwings were seen overhead. At least 4 Chiffchaffs and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen alongside the Ley but Goldcrests and Firecrests were birds of the day, at least 6 Goldcrests and 3 Firecrests were seen and they just seemed to pop up everywhere along our walk.

Robin waiting to swoop down on our cheese scone crumbs (made by Mavis)

We had an enjoyable walk around Stoke Point on Friday 19th January, it was cold and still again and the scenery looked stunning in the sunshine. The paths weren't too muddy after the heavy morning frost and we had a nice lunch in The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo which has been taken over by Youngs Brewery but seems to be much the same at the moment with a very similar menu.

It was quiet birdwise but a swirling flock of around 150 Golden Plover overhead in fields near The Warren car park were a delight to watch in the fading sunshine on our walk back to the car. A hovering Kestrel, 3 pairs of Stonechats, flitty and skittish Redwings, a Greenshank along the estuary, a brief drumming heard from a Woodpecker in the woods and 3 Buzzards overhead were also of note along with 3 Mute Swans flying along the coast at Wembury before flying up the Yealm Estuary. The strangest sight considering the cold weather was a Red Admiral trying to warm itself up in the sunshine, my first butterfly of the year.

Red Admiral

It was milder, cloudier and breezier on Saturday 20th January and with Storm Isha on her way it will soon be wet again but the morning forecast didn't look too bad so I decided to get out birding one more time before the weather keeps me a prisoner indoors again. I headed over to Torpoint again, high tide was due at 12:45pm but it was a high low tide and on arriving at around 09:00am there was no mud on show and very little of the shore uncovered. The cloud cover meant viewing was much easier without looking into the glare of the sun and the light was very good but the stiff breeze and choppy water made conditions difficult in a different way. 

I scanned across the water but only found a Great Northern Diver, a Great Crested Grebe and 2 Little Grebes. A few Oystercatcher and Curlew were feeding along the shoreline while on the opposite shore distant Wigeon, Shelduck, Redshank and Turnstone were noted and 8 Avocet were seen flying upriver. Interestingly I found the mucky feral type Greylag Goose from my recent Plym visit feeding in a field with Canada Geese, distant scope views but definitely the same bird and indicating how mobile birds can be around the Plymouth area.

There were also 14 distant Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the opposite shore but I had much better views of 20 Brent Geese which flew in to feed close off Marine Drive, 18 were pale-bellied types which included the two ringed birds seen on Tuesday, 4C and LC. With them were a dark-bellied bird and also a bird that looked like an intermediate type.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Pale-bellied Brent Geese 



Pale- and Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Goose

Intermediate Type?

Intermediate Type? with Pale-bellied Type

There was still no sign of the Red-necked Grebe (it was reported as present yesterday along with 2 Black-necked Grebes) and so I called it a day and headed off home after an interesting morning's birding in what has been a very cold and birdy week.

Monday 15 January 2024

Still Cold but Golden!

Friday 12th January was cold and grey but with very little breeze and so I headed out to The Plym for a walk, starting at Laira Bridge and finishing at Marsh Mills.

Blackbird, Blaxton Meadow

The tide was ebbing when I arrived at Laira Bridge and things started off well with the wintering Great Crested Grebe found diving for fish in the small creek by Blagdons Boatyard. Out on the river 2 Shag and a pair of Goosander were also diving away and later another 2 female Goosanders were seen together out on the water.

Great Crested Grebe and Dunlin

Chelson Meadow was quiet with a silent Green Woodpecker flying away the highlight, no Stonechats were seen and sadly the site is due to be cleared in the next few weeks to make way for the new solar farm.

There was no sign of the Water Rail in the Wet Wood but I did find a male Treecreeper which I picked up initially when I heard it sing - it's good to know that my ears are still working well!


The mucky Greylag Goose first seen last Autumn was present again amongst the large flock of Canada Geese in the cattle fields. Redwings were quite showy for a change around the Park, small flocks were seen flying over and also flitting about in the trees eating Ivy berries. A Firecrest, a Chiffchaff and 2 Goldcrest were found in the bushes near the sewage farm but there was no sign of any Siskins in the Alders here.

Mucky Greylag Goose

A Common Sandpiper, 4 Snipe, 4 Common Gull, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Nuthatch and 4 Roe Deer were also of note and it was nice to hear 3 Song Thrush singing away in the gloom, Spring is not so far away, and I was pleased to finish the day on 58 species of birds.

Common Sandpiper, Marsh Mills

I had considered torturing myself some more on Saturday 13th January by revisiting the Hayle estuary to have a look at the Gulls again but the tides weren't great so I planned a visit to Wembury instead. However with news of a Golden Oriole of all things being found in Penzance I made plans to go and look for it.

It was another cold, grey and windless day as I headed down to Penzance on the train and on arriving at around 09:30hrs I walked around a mile to the nearby hamlet of Gulval where the Golden Oriole was being seen. I knew it was still present from checking BirdGuides on the train journey down and at Gulval there were Birders and Toggers milling around and they reported that the bird had been showing well. Very luckily within 5 minutes of arriving I saw it perched up in a bare tree where it gave some great views before flying off, a splash of liquid colour on a cold and claggy day and a bizarre sight in Cornwall in January!

Golden Oriole

Golden Oriole

It was feeding on Myrtle berries and I think the entire population of Cornwalls Myrtle bushes are present in the gardens at Gulval, they were everywhere and full of berries! A game of Cat and Mouse ensued as it fed on the berries in the gardens, viewing was difficult and I was very aware of pointing my binoculars into people's privacy. It would appear briefly in one garden resulting in a mass movement of the birders present towards it only for it to promptly disappear again and then reappear somewhere else.

While searching for the Oriole and waiting around for it to show I saw a few other birds - 2 male Blackcap and a male Sparrowhawk were year firsts and a Goldcrest, a Grey Wagtail, 2 Jay, a Buzzard, Redwings, a Song Thrush, Collared Doves, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chaffinch were also seen and I thought I heard a Dipper along the fast flowing stream running down through the gardens.

I eventually managed a brief view of the Oriole again in the tree where I first saw it but it was flushed by a passing bus. However it then reappeared shortly afterwards in the back garden of one of the residents who very kindly allowed access into her garden and I had some great views of it before it flew off again.

Golden Oriole 

Golden Oriole 

Golden Oriole 

Golden Oriole 

I finished off with more close views of it back in the original tree but after 2 hours of hanging about in the cold and with numbers of birders present steadily increasing it was time for me to try and warm up and move on and so I headed back to Penzance.

I had considered revisiting the Bonaparte's Gulls still present at nearby Marazion but decided to head to the Hayle estuary for a look about instead. I caught the train to St.Erth and walked down to the causeway bridge but the tide was well out on what was a very low low tide and the mass of Gulls roosting out on the mudflats were distant and tightly packed together. I had a scan through the Herring, Great Black-backed, Black-headed, Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls present and managed to find a 2nd winter and 4 adult Mediterranean Gulls and 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls amongst them but it was hard going.

Yellow-legged Gull amongst Herring and Common Gulls

The male Green-winged Teal was again sleeping amongst the Eurasian Teal along the waters edge just downriver from the bridge and a male Goosander was fishing in the river channel nearby. There was a notable drop in Lapwing numbers from last week's visit with just 3 present but Redshank, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Curlew, 2 Greenshank and 3 Oystercatchers showed well. There was no sign of the Spoonbill but 4 Little Grebe were seen on the Carnsew Pool with a single bird on the river nearby where a flock of 7 redhead Goosander were also busily diving for fish.

Green-winged Teal with Eurasian Teal

Razorbill bill from a sadly deceased bird at The Carnsew Pool

I caught the train back to Plymouth from the station in Hayle, I was glad to get back in the warm after a chilly days birding but seeing a Golden Oriole, only my second sighting of one in the UK, certainly warmed my soul.

Thursday 11 January 2024

A Cold Snap

The cold weather continues and it looks like it may stick around for a while, hopefully it might move a few more birds south and west after what has been a very mild winter so far and one that has also been low in winter bird numbers.

I wasn't feeling great on Monday 8th January but I wanted to make the most of the cold and sunny weather so we took a gentle walk around Saltram. It was a low high tide and the water levels on Blaxton Meadow weren't very high but the usual waders were coming in to roost although I didn't stop to count them.

The highlight was a Great Northern Diver out on the river off the Rowing Club building and busily munching away on crabs it was bringing to the surface. A pair of Goosander, 2 Mute Swan and a Common Sandpiper were also present along the river while in the Park a lone Redwing feeding on Ivy berries, a very smart male Bullfinch and at least 4 Ring-necked Parakeets were the highlights.

It was cold and grey on Tuesday 9th January as I headed out to Wembury for a walk, there was a strong easterly breeze and snow flurries in the air and it felt very gelid indeed. I still wasn't feeling great but it was nice to be out and about and the cold conditions kept my mind off of my ailments. I had hoped the below freezing temperatures overnight might have frozen the footpaths and indeed they were icy but it was still a complete mudfest and I even slipped over and fell on my ass, something I haven't done for a long time now.

A Chilly Wembury

Frozen Twigs

I had hoped for some cold weather movements on the bird front but other than a flock of 11 Lapwing flying over heading west and a Redshank along the beach there wasn't much evidence of movement going on.



Redshank and Turnstone

Redshank, Oystercatcher and Turnstone


I easily found the Water Pipit along the beach although it was very flitty and flighty and easily lost amongst the numerous Rock and Meadow Pipits. They were all frantically searching for food on the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe in the bitingly cold wind and were quite tetchy with each other and showing lots of aggressive posturing.

Water Pipit

A flock of around 40 Stock Dove was an interesting find as they occassionally took to the air from the fields above the sewage farm before settling back down out of sight. I'm not sure if this high count is due to the cold weather as I saw Stock Doves in this area at the end of last year but not in such numbers. Also of note were a Kestrel over being mobbed by Carrion Crows, a flock of around 10 Skylark feeding in the wheatfield stubble, around 14 Turnstones along the beach, Gannets passing by offshore and a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a village garden.

Blonde Ray? Egg Case

Wednesday 10th January was yet again another cold day with a biting easterly wind but it was mostly sunny as I headed out to Torpoint for a look about. There have been reports of all 5 Grebes being present here recently but it was not to be for me as I only found 3 Little Grebe and 8 Great Crested Grebe out on the water.

The conditions were a bit challenging in the wind again and as lovely as it was to see the sun it was difficult viewing the birds while looking into it. It was also a high low tide, I arrived at low tide but it was almost in again just over 2 hours later and so I packed up early and headed home - I'll have to visit again another day.

Despite this I has an enjoyable time with the highlights being a Great Northern Diver, 11 Knot, around 40 Avocet, 27 Grey Plover and unusually a male Tufted Duck. The usual waders and wildfowl were present too and I had good views of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin (one of which was in full summer plumage!), Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Wigeon and Shelduck. I also picked up a distant group of 18 Brent Geese out on the mudflats, eventually 4 flew in closer and were dark-bellied types although pale-bellied types have also been seen here recently. 

Dunlin, Knot and Bar-Tailed Godwits

Dark-bellied Brent Geese