Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dartmoor yesterday

Yesterday I had to go to Dartmoor, so I combined the trip with a few hours' birding. The weather was fine and sunny to start with, but up on the very tops it was a bit cloudier at times, the wind got up and it was bleddy freezing! First stop was a profitable look-in at Yarner Wood. Here on the heathland I observed my first Tree Pipits of the year, one bird being watched down to 10 feet sat in a tree! Two Lesser Redpoll were also watched up on the heath. Next, on to the carpark pond, where three Mandarin were also added to the 2014 list. About 10 Siskin were coming to the feeders outside the hide, adding a splash of colour, and giving their very distinctive call, together with Nuthatch, Marsh, Coal, Blue and Gret Tits. Up the path past the visitor centre and I'm looking out for stuff all the way, when my attention was drawn to a 'Phyllosc' feeding and flitting about in the tree tops. This turned out to be my first Wood Warbler of the year, but it remained silent. Apparently this was the first returning bird seen back at Yarner this year! Shortly afterwards I heard a male Pied Flycatcher singing, and I was soon looking at this very smart bird. Another 4 birds were seen on my walk around. Next was a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which remained elusive. A Tawny Owl hooting deep in the woods was another Year tick. A Green Woodpecker was calling somewhere over in the valley. Time to move on. I stopped at Headland Warren Farm, which was starting to get over-run with bleddy grockles. There were dozens of people about, most seemed to be shouting at one another as loud as possible, whilst others were riding mountain bikes over everything. I understand that folk need exercise, and far from it for me to try and stop anyone trying to get fit, but something will have to be done soon to limit where these bikers ride, as they are slowly helping to erode away the topsoil and rocks of our impressive tors, not to mention the disturbance to wildlife and destruction of moorland plants. It does seem that they think they are entitled to take their bikes on every inch of ground available. Rant over! Wheatears were abundant, and believe it or not, were my first of the year, the latest I have ever seen this species! I then popped down to Challacombe Farm, but there seemed to be very little about, but there were an awful lot of people about, the area resembling Exeter High Street on a busy shooping day! At some stage of the day and in a quiet location, I managed to add Goshawk to my 2014 list 'somewhere on Dartmoor'. Later in the afternoon I caught up with the Snow Bunting at Dawlish Warren.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Busy time!

I have been ultra-busy with work, family and gardening commitments, so haven't had time to post on here. So, just a quick update of highlights over the past 3 weeks or so: Osprey from my back doorstep distantly over the Exe, Mar 28. Spoonbill at Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, Apr 7. Common Tern (3) from Mudbank Lane, Exmouth, Apr 8 Red Kite from my back doorstep, Apr 13. Other Year ticks have been: Willow Warbler, Swallow, Grey Partridge (in Wiltshire), Little Ringed Plover, House Martin, Lesser Whitethroat & Reed Warbler. Today I went round to Exminster Marshes where the usual Barnacle Goose was still present between the lane and the lagoon. A female Garganey was my first of the year, but was difficult to see in a channel near the canal carpark. The Lesser Whitethroat was still performing well along the railway path. I even managed to see my first Common Swift of the year slowly heading north into the wind about 200 feet up over the lagoon! This afternoon I strolled along from Mudbank Lane to West Lodge in Exmouth, and back, the highlight being my first Whimbrel of 2014. Best bird (and another Year tick) this afternoon though was a female Common Redstart up at Orcombe Point, showing down to 30 feet along the track to the camp field!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Another quick update

Due to being very busy lately, the old fingers have not been able to tap on the keyboard quite so much recently, so a very quick update of a mainly very quiet birding period! Finally caught up with some proper spring migrants. A visit to Bowling Green Marsh Monday lunchtime provided me with c.200 Sand Martins. Then Tuesday I managed to catch up with my second Glaucous Gull in Exmouth this year and finally set eyes on the stonking second-winter bird down on the Pierhead. I even managed to take some pics of it with my mobile phone the next day, such were the close views the bird afforded! Wednesday also provided me with my first Sandwich Terns of the year, 3 being seen distantly perched on the seaward side of a buoy (presumably trying to hide from yours truly, and not taking flight once in over the hour I had them in view!). Today was cold and windy and migrants were restricted to 3 Chiffchaffs.

Friday, 14 March 2014

An Update

It's a little while since I found some time to tap out anything here, so I thought a quick update was required! I managed to catch up with the elusive Yellow-browed Warbler at Topsham Recreation Ground on March 7th, after about 5 attempts. The female Black Redstart was also seen again, lurking in one of the gardens. March 10th saw me round at Exminster Marshes for a brief but profitable lunchtime visit. First of all a female-type Marsh Harrier put in an appearance and another long-awaited Year tick came in the shape of a vocal Cetti's Warbler. The Barnacle Goose was still present. Last Wednesday I managed to see the Siberian Chiffchaff that Matt had found at Warren View, a very distinct 'subspecies'. I failed to hear it call though. Yesterday we had to visit relatives in Tavistock and a walk along the riverside path through the park was all we needed to catch up with Dipper for the year, an individual posing well on the Tavy along the usual stretch of river. The weather there was glorious with warm spring sunshine!

Monday, 3 March 2014

A trip to see my Mum!

Yep, we've all got 'em, mothers that is! Now my Mum is 84 and lives in wildest Wiltshire. So it was about time I paid her another visit, and early Sunday saw me and my long-suffering daughter eating up the miles, bombing up the M5 in my respectable motor. Having rounded up Bewick's Swan for the year in darkest (wettest?) Somerset we carried on as it just so happened that there was a stonking good bird available about 15 miles from Mum's home, so as I used to keep a Wiltshire list (being my home county) I simply just had to go and visit the Shire Valley. We pulled up in a muddy lane, donned wellies, coats and gloves (well, it is colder up there than in our mild storm-lashed part of the UK) and were promptly hailed by one of my old mates from a bygone era. It was some 30-odd years ago that we used to travel the length and breadth of the land for lifers with a small band of birders from Wessex and it was great to catch up with Ewan again yesterday! Shortly afterwards we were in position in the very muddy valley and after a brief wait, were getting mind-numbing views of the first-winter male Red-flanked Bluetail that has been in residence since early February! What a great bird to see. This one showed down to about 15 feet, perching on a stick and eating mealworms that some kind soul had obviously left for it, in the hope that it would have to hang around until 2018, therefore providing birders with a fantastic year tick for the forseeable future! This was my 4th Bluetail in the UK, and perhaps it's been a bit undervalued these past few years as it used to be an absolute Cosmic bird! My first on Fair Isle in 1984 was just about the best bird one could wish to encounter as it was a true rarity in those days and had most birders having orgasms when the species was mentioned! I saw another in Cornwall, the same day as a Chimney Swift! But the hardest I had to work for was the one at Berry Head in Devon, which eventually gave itself up after a 6-hour search. After the Shire Valley had thrown as much mud at us as possible, we popped up the road and added Corn Bunting to the 2014 list before going to visit my dear old Mum! Today, a lunchtime visit to Topsham Rec' provided me with my first Lesser Redpolls (3) of the year and a very obliging Common Sandpiper

Friday, 28 February 2014

Back out again, albeit during a lunch break!

Fed up with work, chores, weather, football results etc. (pass me a sharp kitchen knife!) I just had to get out at lunchtime today. I'm afraid it resulted in a dash and year tick instead of a prolonged studious walk, but I have been very fed up this week! I popped round to the road leading alongside Powderham Park next to the Exe estuary. I parked up, got out amd promptly wished I hadn't! It was bleddy freezing. A strong cold northerly blew down the estuary and it was spotting with rain all the time, despite the sun being out at times! The results of the recent devastating storms could be seen everywhere. Lots of jetsam on the road, still flooding in places, shoreline scoured away by gales and exceptional high tides and now it's cold as well! Roll on the spring........ A quick scan over the estuary where the River Kenn empties out under the road resulted in my first Spotted Redshank of the year. As it was low tide, the bird was feeding in the slight gully formed where the Kenn flows into the Exe. But great views were had. Nearby were two Greenshanks, plenty of Black-tailed Godwits and assorted common waders. Being quite an exposed spot, I quickly moved on (with the car heater cranked right up!). I made a quick stop at Exminster Marshes, where I scanned from the 'middle car park'. Two Little Gulls were seen dancing over the flashes just north of the large lagoon, an adult and a first-winter. I love these birds. They are elegant and dainty in flight, the pure ballet dancers of the avian world as they dip and skim the water's surface to feed! Luckily the floods have subsided here and it's now possible to get down station road and out to the canal bank again. Regrettably very little else of note was seen here, again due to the strong cold wind and exposure. I got back home this evening and was surprised to find that despite the colder weather today, local sightings included a Sandwich Tern off Dawlish Warren and a Sand Martin over Bowling Green Marsh! Maybe spring IS just round the corner........

Monday, 24 February 2014

The weekend

Being a busy sort of chap, posting on my blog has to wait until I can find the time, but here's what happened birdwise over the weekend, with tiny bits and pieces of birding squeezed in. Friday saw me squelching around Bystock Reserve on the outskirts of Exmouth. Luckily a pair of Canada Geese have returned to the main pond and provided me with an Exmouth year tick. Two Long-tailed Tits were seen and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Moorhen were heard. I got got caught in a very heavy shower (nothing new there then this year!), but a male Siskin put on a good show whilst I was waiting for the rain to abate. Saturday gave me only a brief window between family chores and attending football, so I popped down to Exmouth seafront, where I was lucky enough to add Slavonian Grebe to my Exmouth year list. 3 Great Northern Divers were on the sea, and another 11 moved south-south-west offshore. 2 Red-throated Divers were also seen just off the seafront. However Sunday gave me my best birding spell when I took myself down to the fantastic Orcombe Point and despite (or because of?) the very strong wind I had a very good couple of hours, adding some nice Exmouth year ticks to my 2014 local patch list! First of all I espied a nice flock of 70 Common Scoters (which regrettably kept on being disturbed by a goon windsurfing). I was aware that there were a lot of auks offshore and some oiled birds practically onshore. There has been a massive death toll of auks along our stretch of coast between Chesil beach (that's up there in that there foreign county of Dorset!) and Torbay and unfortunately there were several sickly-looking birds on my patch too! I couldn't find anything other than Razorbills and Guillemots, but one smaller bird which I lost in the pounding surf showed characteristics of Black Guillemot, however I could not get myself into a good viewing position to clinch ID. A Black-throated Diver, with 3 Red-throated, was a welcome addition to my Exmouth year list, as were the two high-flying Mute Swans that headed out to sea over Orcombe Point, but veered round towards Sandy Bay. At the same time a male Peregrine swept low over the bottom field at the point and was also the first I had managed to catch up with in Exmouth this year. Lots of Kittiwakes were also floating slowly past the point into the teeth of the near-gale. A final look, this time at Maer Rocks, provided me with my last Exmouth year tick of the afternoon, with 4 Purple Sandpipers braving the elements (as they invariably do) perched right on the outermost rocks Canute-like in their defiance.