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.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Dodging between the showers

Now the past few days have seen quite a few showers, some of them extremely heavy. In fact, you have to wait until the deluge stops before immediately donning wet-weather gear and sprinting (well, for us older folk, walking very fast!) to the relevant birding site. Tuesday I dashed out from Countess Wear and quickly made my way to the grandly titled 'Double Locks Wetlands' which amounts to a couple of small reedbeds, a hell of a lot of mud and a grass-fringed 'scrape' which is so 'shallow' that Mute Swans swim around on it and manage to upend to search for tasty morsels! Luckily it is also a reliable wintering site for Green Sandpipers and two made their presence known whilst I was there, providing me another Year tick! After checking out the Topsham site for Yellow-browed Warbler yesterday (one bird has been seen twice in about the last month here!) but seeing nothing else of note, today saw me taking my life in my hands (or should that be feet?) when I visited a known wintering site for Woodcock. Now let me just put you in the picture here. We've had the wettest winter since Adam and Eve met, as you've probably deduced from the media coverage (should that be saturation in more ways than one?) so the boggy wood I normally manage to connect with Woodcock every year has turned into the biggest swamp this side of the Somerset Levels! I floundered around, trying not to lose my wellies for a little while but it was almost impossible to see if any Woodcock flew up due to having to keep my eyes on the "ground". I startled two beautiful Roe Deer by my louding squelching and cursing, saw a pair of colourful Bullfinches and eventually saw a rusty-coloured silent bird lift off into the dense vegetation whilst trying to extract my left wellie from it's muddy bottomless pit! Mission accomplished, (wellies retained and Woodcock seen) I got back to my car just as the rain fell again. Just so sick of all this bleddy rain now - are we ever going to get a dry spell again?

Friday, 14 February 2014

National Gull Week!

It's been good in Exmouth this week for the family laridae! Having seen a first-winter Kumlien's, found an adult of the same (sub)species and just missed our second Glaucous Gull of the year this week, I received another call late afternoon from Matt, this time informing me he had an adult Little Gull down in Exmouth behind the station. The weather was a bit hairy, a wind blew straight across the estuary in the shape of a fierce gale and the car rocked as I sat in it! Luckily I had my best brown trousers on and all was safe and well! Actually I had superb views of this bird, the adults being one of my favourite gulls, even if it was in non-breeding plumage. It was very close in to the coach park behind the railway station and I didn't even need to get out of the car. It flew into the gale, keeping it more or less over the same patch of water as the bird dipped and skimmed the surface of the water as it fed, occasionally settling briefly on the sea itself. Beautiful! Pics of this little gem can be seen on Matt's blog. It was still there when I left. As we are experiencing another 'superstorm' at present it could in theory still be around somewhere in the vicinity tomorrow, especially at high tide. Then there was that rather strange adult gull I had brief views of on Tuesday at Mudbank Lane which appeared to be an adult Lesser Black-backed with seemingly pink legs - I shudder to think what it was! More gulls please.........