Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Tuesday 30th December 2008

Exmouth bathed in sunshine!

Yes, we had wall to wall sunshine for the day, but looking over to the other side of the estuary and where the Haldon Hills should have been, it was seemingly foggy and cloudy! Apparently Exmouth is the sunniest and driest spot in Devon, and from some of the days we've had over recent years, it must be partially true. I remember working in Exeter some years ago. The children were small. I used to work in an office in central Exeter and there were days when it rained nearly all day. I'd return home to my family and find out from my good lady that she had been out sat in the garden with the children in warm sunshine practically all day! A look out from my conservatory very early afternoon produced the female Blackcap again, skulking around the hawthorn hedge, popping in and out of the large ivy clumps which have grown up what is left of the trees that the previous incumbents of our home deemed necessary to have felled to a height of 10 feet.
This afternoon I had to pop in to town. Once I had got the necessary shopping out of the way, I drove round to the Shelly Beach area, and walked round by the appartments, around the 'marina', and a little way along the seafront and back. The tide was right out, being a distant silver thread over towards Starcross and Cockwood. There were the usual hordes of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and dog-walkers swarming over the mudflats, the latter scattering any resting birds as soon as was humanly possible. Despite the human and canine mayhem, a few Little Egrets could be seen, along with the usual masses of panicking Oystercatchers and Curlews. Red-breasted Mergansers spent more time under water than above (who could blame them?) and even the gulls seemed jumpy. I found the female Black Redstart hopping around on the low walls of the appartment 'gardens' adjoining Shelly Beach. I'm glad this bird shows so well, she should provide me with a good year tick in a couple of days' time or so!
I moved on round to Mudbank Lane as the light started to fade and the sun had disappeared into the foggy mass the west side of the Exe estuary. A Kingfisher was seen flying over the mudflats close in to the railway line before plonking itself down on a muddy clump right on the edge of the stream which cuts through the mudbanks at low tide here. This stream is actually Withycombe Brook, which flows down through the 'village' of Withycombe, which although now being a part of Exmouth, many years ago used to be a separate entity to the town of Exmouth. Thank goodness, the Pintail had returned here too in numbers (at least 100). I then returned home to warm up.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Monday 29th December 2008

Another Trip to Wiltshire

Doing my dutiful son bit today, saw the whole family travelling up to west Wiltshire to visit my elderly parents for a 'Christmas get-together'. So we were up early this morning and soon on the way up the A303. It got colder the further north-east we journeyed. A coffee-stop was enjoyed at the garden centre on the edge of Yeovil, before carrying on into Wiltshire to pick up some groceries for my parents en route. Eventually we managed to get through the diaboliocal traffic which seems to abound nowadays, and we duly arrived at the village of Westwood. Whilst chatting to my father in the lounge, I suddenly realised there was a male Blackcap sat in a tree the other side of the road!
After a hearty dinner (probably resulting in a few more Xmas pounds added on!) I dropped my wife, daughter and mother off to hit the shops in Trowbridge, excusing myself and fighting the excessive traffic over to Westbury Ponds for some birding. This is not the tranquil spot that it sounds! The area is totally criss-crossed by busy railway lines, and the ponds are dotted around Westbury Station, a very busy place indeed. The area also suffers from that run-down look, with much waste ground, litter and general shabby feel. However, where there's muck there's birds, and a potter about the general area resulted in a few Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Duck and Canada Geese, a couple of Pochard, a Grey Heron, 3 juvenile Mute Swans and many Coot and Moorhen. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over as well. Look back at my blog entries and you will see that I saw a Great Northern Diver here, back in November! I then retraced my car miles back to Trowbridge and drew up in the car park by Asdas, just outside the Shires shopping centre. It was busy with sales-shoppers, and I started to cringe, that well known phenomenon that overtakes most males when faced with shops and shoppers! I got out of the car and was amazed to see a Kingfisher fly over the entrance to the shopping mall, just over the heads of all those shoppers! Well, if the bird could fly literally in the face of all that humanity, then so could I. I swiftly (no pun intended) met up with 'my ladies' and even joined them for a browse round Asdas, even if it was only to peruse the beer shelves!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Saturday 27th December 2008


I glanced out of the conservatory this morning and was pleased to see the female Blackcap again, in a tree in the garden to the rear of our house. The day was very cold with a south-easterly wind coming straight in off the sea. We drove over to Sidmouth this afternoon, where I braved the biting cold wind and popped into Connaught Gardens. These are situated at the top of the cliff to the immediate west of Sidmouth beach, and from here you can look directly down on to Chit Rocks, which are completely covered by high tide. Luckily, the tide was rising but hadn't completely covered them. The result was that I located 6 Purple Sandpipers feeding below, together with the usual sprinkling of Turnstones and Oystercatchers. There may have been more sandpipers, but their ability to remain undetected on seaweed covered rocks combined with my streaming eyes, made it hard to establish. I then walked into town and met my wife for a quick trundle round the shops. Later on we stopped for a cuppa as it was so cold, enough to fortify us for our walk back up to the car! On the way back, whilst striding along the seafront with the wind mercifully behind us, I spotted a Black Redstart, which promptly flew for the shelter on the town, presumably to find a nice warm roosting spot for the night.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Thursday 25th December 2008

Christmas Day

Season's greetings to everyone! I managed to get out for a swift walk up the road from my house this afternoon. Before I went out, a look in the back garden area produced a female Blackcap, the first I've had from the house this winter, and a small party of Long-tailed Tits, working their way through the trees. I walked up to Knappe Cross and found some more Long-tailed Tits accompanying several Great and Blue, and a couple of Coal Tits. A Wren lurked in some thick ivy, whilst a Great Spotted Woodpecker called behind the community building somewhere. Luckily, the sun had come out this afternoon, so there were a few more minutes of daylight today. I wandered up Gorse Lane, and found another female Blackcap in exactly the same spot as I had seen the male a few days earlier. This tiny area has to be the best spot around for catching up with this overwintering species! At the top of Marley Road, a couple of Buzzards flew low over my head, soon attracting the local Herring Gull populace! With the light starting to fade, I retraced my steps, having cracking views of a Nuthatch just a few feet above my head on an overhanging bough, at Knappe Cross.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Wednesday 24th December 2008

Christmas Eve

......but who would have believed it from the weather? Normally it's pouring down with rain over the festive period, usually accompanied by howling gales! Not today - it was positively balmy, there was no wind but it was grey and overcast. A day of bombing round doing those pre-Christmas chores eventually petered out and let me do some birding (especially as my wife was working until 6pm). I arrived at the seafront mid-afternoon and looked out over the sea from the area opposite the Pavilion. After managing to ignore the hordes of people and even more numerous dogs on the beach (the average person in Exmouth I'm absolutely convinced owns about 6 dogs!) I located a Slavonian Grebe fairly close in to Dawlish Warren beach, but some distance off our seafront. However, panning left (eastwards) I spotted a diver which promptly dived (as they do). I waited a while and was pleased to see, that on resurfacing, it was a Black-throated Diver. This bird was quite a bit closer than the grebe, and more importantly, was much closer to Exmouth, than the Warren! Out of the 3 regular species of divers occuring off British coasts, this one is the scarcest around these parts.
I moved round to one of my regular haunts, Shelly Beach, and had 4 Goldeneye offshore. The tide was coming right up, and waders were few and far between, most having moved off to their regular high tide roost at the Warren. A few Common Redshank and Oystercatcher remained, but were easily outnumbered by the usual masses of Dark-bellied Brent Geese. The usual female Black Redstart was again on the rooftop of Windward Court, one of the ostentatious gaudy-coloured appartment blocks that our local council deemed to be fitting in with the area (what a joke). Tell you what though, they are darned good perches for fly-catching Black Redstarts!
Finally I moved round to Mudbank Lane to coincide with the highest point of the tide. Here I found a really strange thing - only TWO Pintail could be located amongst the Brent Geese and Wigeon hordes. Where did they all go this afternoon? I walked up the riverside track towards Lympstone, but could not find any more. If anyone spots about 100 lost-looking Pintail could they please notify any Exmouth birder, we would like them back please!! Luckily, the Spotted Redshank was still present, and believe it or not, was the first bird I managed to put my bins on, after getting out of the car. Regrettably dog-walkers drove me insane again, but fortunately it was beginning to get dark by then.
Merry Christmas to anyone who is mad enough to read these ramblings!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Tuesday 23rd December 2008

Another dull day.

OK, its lovely having all this dry weather at this time of year, but the skies are so boringly dull. Another day of motionless thick dark grey cloud and very mild again. This afternoon I popped down to Mudbank Lane and took another look over the Exe estuary. I was a little luckier today however, as not only was the Greenshank still present close in to the railway line, but the Spotted Redshank was with it again! The assembled masses of birds as usual were present in the following order of numbers:
Wigeon, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Pintail, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.
To this can be added a few Mallard, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Cormorant and Grey Plover.
I then moved round to the Shelly Beach area again, where I located the female Black Redstart, today snapping up insects from the rooftop of Windward Court. The usual Red-breasted Merganser were supplemented by 4 Goldeneyes (seemingly 2 pairs). A few Knot, Grey Plover and Dunlin flew over the estuary heading for the high tide roost at the back of Dawlish Warren.
I finished off up at Orcombe Point, having parked as usual at Foxholes Hill estate. However, I found nothing much here apart from a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches.

Monday 22nd December 2008

Touring Round Exmouth

A strange day for the time of year - very mild, dry and windless! I paid swift visits to Mudbank Lane, then the Shelly Beach area of Exmouth late morning. The lone Greenshank was still present at the former site, amongst the hordes of waterfowl and waders, and the female Black Redstart was still around the dinghies on Shelly Beach, behind the sailing club main building. This time the redstart was perched on the mast of one of the boats and I approached her to within 5 metres - if only I could take photographs! Regrettably this is something that 1) I cannot afford and 2) suffer awfully from camera shake. This latter problem always means that another member of my family has to take the holiday snaps, as all mine turn out blurred! My children are probably the best photographers in my family. Still, with the advent of digital cameras, I have managed a couple of passable shots, so there's hope for the old chap yet!
This afternoon, I did a walk from my house to cover the 'top end' of town. Just 300 metres from my house I quickly found a cracking calling Nuthatch and a little later some Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper, all at Knappe Cross. I crossed the busy Dinan Way and crept slowly up Gorse Lane. Here I was fortunate enough to find a male Blackcap in the same stretch of hedgerow that I normally find one or two in winter. I carried on up and quickly had a look around Bystock Wood. An uncanny lack of birds here though. Strange, because normally there are more Nuthatches and Treecreepers, woodpeckers and on the rare occasion, a Firecrest! I quickly retraced my steps and was pleased to see a Green Woodpecker flying across the fields at the top end of Marley Road. I got home as the light started to fade early due to it being an unbelievably dull afternoon and being the shortest day of the year!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Friday 19th December 2008

A High Tide at Topsham

Today I visited the reserve at Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, timing my trip to coincide with a very high tide! There was a little sun early on, but it clouded over. There was a slight south-west breeze, but mercifully again it stayed dry. I first spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying over the reserve, calling. Two Greylag Geese were close in to the fence, and regarded me with their usual farmyard-goose-like stare! Settling in to the hide, I found myself looking out at a large mass of waders on the far-edge of the pool, tightly-packed together for the duration of the high tide roost. 5 Pochard were diving on the main pool and 10 Pintail were dotted about the marsh. Large numbers of Wigeon and Teal were scattered all over the marsh. I could only find 6 Golden Plover amongst the larger numbers of Lapwing though. Right, time to count all those Avocets! I was pleased to find there were 355 of them, obviously showing off for the benefit of the RSPB who run the reserve! 6 Common Snipe were lurking around the sedge clumps near the hide.
I wandered out of the hide and strolled down to the viewing platform, seeing the obligatory flock of Long-tailed Tits on the way. When I reached the platform I realised that the tide WAS high! There wasn't a single speck of mud to be seen. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out from Riversmeet Wood. A couple of Little Grebes were diving in the Clyst just off the platform, whilst a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers were busy diving for food a little further downstream. A distant Buzzard was circling over the Exton area. I left the spot and headed back along the lane. As I approached the 'log layby' a Common Chiffchaff flitted around the hedgerow, and a female Stonechat was perched on a convenient hedgetop. I then returned to the car.

Thursday 18th December 2008

Mudbank Lane & Shelly Beach

A lunchtime visit back to Exmouth took in both these excellent locations. It was cloudy with a north-westerly breeze and fairly mild. I arrived first at Mudbank Lane adjacent to the railway line and alongside the eastern edge of the Exe estuary. As usual, there were hundreds of birds present including nice numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Wigeon and Pintail. A few Little Egrets were feeding on the mud, with lots of gulls loafing around. Scurrying amongst all these were Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Common Redshank and a single Greenshank, the latter being close in to the railway line. Curlew were dotted about, and the usual House Sparrow flock were as ever, noisy in the hedgerow!
I then moved round to Camperdown Terrace, parked the car and wandered around the new appartment blocks, skirting along the edge of Shelly Beach, and then the marina. The female Black Redstart was still present, lurking amongst the dinghies on the top of Shelly Beach, behind the Exe sailing club. Again, the male was nowhere to be seen over the other side of the marina. This bird is very elusive, only ever briefly showing on the rooftops. It must spend a lot of time in hidden gardens, grovelling around for insects down low. Red-breasted Mergansers were again showing themselves in the channel and I counted 30 Ringed Plover on a nearby exposed sandbar whilst the usual Rock Pipit was hopping around the walls of the appartment table-cloth-sized gardens! All good things come to an end eventually, and it was soon time to zip back to work!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Wednesday 17th December 2008

A Typical Lunchtime Visit

A standard visit to Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham at lunchtime today threw up plenty of birds, but no surprises. It was sunny and clear but not cold. I parked at the top of the lane as usual, then pottered down the lane and along to the hide. I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker as I approached the hide, and a small party of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the copse surrounding the hide. Settling myself down I scanned over the reserve. As usual there were loads of Wigeon and Teal feeding across the meadow. A Little Grebe was on the main pool, whilst 2 Greylag Geese were in the Canada flock. Only 3 Pintail could be found and 5 Common Snipe. There plenty of Lapwings there but only 10 Golden Plover. 4 Pochard were diving on the main pool. A Buzzard and a Kestrel were also seen from the hide.

Leaving the hide I ambled along the lane, seeing a Common Chiffchaff in the laneside hedge, and turned left through the old iron gates and tried to keep out of the mud along the track to the viewing platform. Several Goldfinches were present as usual. Suddenly I realised a Kingfisher was flying towards me. However it was flying slowly, with little flaps of its wings - most unusual. It flew leisurely across the field and dropped in to Riversmeet wood in no hurry at all and seemingly without a care in the world! It had passed within 5 feet of me before veering off across the field. From the platform itself there were the usual Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Common Redshank and Grey Plover.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Tuesday 16th December 2008

Couldn't resist it.

I do love to watch Black Redstarts! They are always perky in their movements and I love seeing those orange tail-feathers when they dart out to take a fly or other hapless insect. Therefore I was down in the Exmouth marina (docks) area again early this afternoon to check that the overwintering birds were still there. My luck was in. Firstly I found the first-winter female again by the Exe sailing club. She drew attention to herself by doing just what I described above. Yes, she flicked up to snap up a fly from the ground amongst the dinghies on the edge of Shelly Beach and behind the club main building, showing those gorgeous orange tail-feathers! I watched her as she took cover under a dinghy, resting on the axle of the trailer supporting the craft. This bird chose to remain mainly hidden underneath the multitude of boats on the beach.
The second bird was also still present, a male in winter plumage. This time, after diligent searching I found him on the roofs of some flats bordering Victoria Road adjacent to the marina basin. This one sat up on the ridgetiles as bold as brass. The only time this one moved was when a gormless Herring Gull chose to sit on that particular rooftop. Excellent news then, both birds are still present and are highly likely to remain until the new year, providing yours truly with another good yeartick!
Supporting birds today were the usual Dark-bellied Brent Geese in droves, some very obliging Red-breasted Merganser, a couple of Little Egrets and Grey Herons, and Oystercatchers, Curlew and Common Redshank. Regrettably the tide was right out and many dogwalkers were parading their pooches all over the sand/mudbanks so that they could poop everywhere, scaring off most of the birdlife. I sometimes wonder why most of these birds return to winter on the Exe estuary. They are always getting flushed off the minute the tide starts to drop.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Monday 15th November 2008

5 Minutes' Birding!

Yep, that's all I had time for today. I carried this out whilst I was on a quick visit to Exmouth seafront. Best bird was a Red-throated Diver in winter plumage, some 200 yards offshore. So that makes 4 out of 5 of the world's divers this week! With Great Northern, Pacific and Black-throated on Saturday that makes it only White-billed to complete the set. Somehow I can't see me achieving this though, there have only been a couple of records of the latter in Devon, and they've only been seen by a couple of observers!
It was a beautiful sunny day, but cold again for down here in Devon. A distant small group of scoter were unidentifiable, but were probably Common. Lots of Dark-bellied Brent Geese were bombing around the edges of the bay and a few Red-breasted Merganser were diving for food just off Dawlish Warren. The tide was just starting to recede rapidly and many Oystercatcher were flying out of the estuary in eagerness to be the first to probe those newly uncovered sandbars.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Saturday 13th December 2008

World Lifer!

I had been looking forward to today for some considerable time. I was to drive down to Cornwall to pick up my daughter from University and bring her home for Christmas! Not only that, I was also going to do some birding in west Cornwall during the morning, giving my daughter time to do her packing and clearing things up. I first had to get there though, and when I left home shortly after 6am things didn't look too good. We had experienced torrential rain all night and it was still pouring down as I drove away up the road. I reached the A376 and things were diabolical! If you don't know the stretch of this road between Exmouth and the M5 junction let me describe it. The road leaves town up a gradual incline, then drops down the other side to the Saddlers Arms at Lympstone. The road in fact is a series of inclines and dips all the way to the A3052 junction at Clyst St Mary. Well you can imagine what was at the bottom of each dip, can't you? That's right, a torrent of muddy water pouring across the road. Every dip had its attendant police car, council vehicle or (in one particulary awful spot at Exton) fire engine. In places it was easily a foot deep. Nothing for it but to engage second gear, keep to the middle of the road and the revs up. I churned through several places like this, and eventually got to the motorway having avoided abandoned vehicles in several spots! Phew! Luckily, there was no more flooding, but there was a lot of surface water and spray for the rest of the journey. I kept the radio on my local BBC station for the Devon part of the journey hoping to get updates on the state of the roads, and of course, I didn't hear any mention of the roads or weather until I was the other side of Launceston in Cornwall! Then I found out that the A376 I'd travelled earlier was shut due to the floodwater I'd driven through.
By then, the rain had stopped and I only had a few very brief light showers for the rest of the journey. I arrived at Newlyn at 8:15 and duly started to scan Mounts Bay. The sun came up and I only endured a few very brief, very light showers for the rest of the morning. I spent some time at Newlyn, having seen a Water Rail scurry down the lane in front of me on extracting myself from the car! I then popped round to Penzance seafront, stopping by the Jubilee Pool, moved east to Long Rock for another scan, and finally my last stop at Marazion where I enjoyed sunshine, stunning views of St Michael's Mount and a minced pie! I was lucky enough to see the following around Mounts Bay:
Pacific Diver - I had reasonable views of this bird mid morning and later again distant views from Long Rock. This was a new bird for me, a species I had never seen anywhere before. The bird, an adult, like most of the other divers in the bay, was very flighty, and dived frequently, often surfacing a long way from where it had dived!
Great Northern Diver - At least a dozen were dotted about the bay, some fairly close, some distant. The situation was complicated by most of the birds bombing around the bay!
Black-throated Diver - As with the above species, difficult to assess the total number, but at least 5 were scattered round the bay. I had very close views of one just off Penzance harbour, and another close in to the Jubilee Pool on the seafront.
Black-necked Grebe - One was very close in to the rocks by the Jubilee Pool, Penzance.
Great Crested Grebe - A winter-plumaged bird was right in Newlyn harbour.
Mediterranean Gull - Good views of an adult touring around at Newlyn.
Water Pipit - One on the beach at Marazion was my first of this species in Cornwall!
Stonechat - a pair were also present on the edge of the beach/dunes at Marazion.
With the morning fast ticking on, it was time to leave Mounts Bay and head for Helston, where I tried for the first-winter Ring-billed Gull at the boating lake on the southern edge of town. I spent an hour here, chucking out loads of bread which I had been saving up all week! I got the required response from the birds present, but obviously the Ring-billed Gull was sick of bread, as it did not put in an appearance. A bit disappointing, but you can't get them all. There were lots of Herring and Black-headed Gulls, Moorhen and Coot there, several Mallard (some of dubious parentage!) and some very obliging Tufted Duck which fed off the bread right by my feet. A Sparrowhawk flew over a couple of times, a Grey Wagtail zipped around the edge of the lake with some Pied and a couple of Long-tailed Tits brightened up the procedings.
It was soon time to leave and I popped over to Falmouth to pick up my daughter from the Tremough campus of Exeter University. We had lunch nearby, then drove back during the afternoon. On the way back we saw lots of Lapwing at Goss Moor, a flock of c.100 Golden Plover over Bodmin Moor, 3 Common Snipe flying over the A30 near Launceston and a few roadside Buzzards.
All in all, a good day despite the appalling weather to start with, a world lifer, lots of good back-up birds and seeing my daughter again!

Friday 12th December 2008

A Quick Look

Only a quick look at the Exe estuary from Mudbank Lane, Exmouth mid-morning. The usual hordes of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Wigeon were present, with good numbers of Pintail. A couple of Little Egrets were braving the cold breeze, pretending to be in the Med! A lone Grey Heron was stood neck and head extended downwards just inches from the water waiting for a small fish to swim by! Redshank were noisy as usual, but the Grey Plovers were quiet. A lone Greenshank was the closest wader, up to its belly in water in the stream running out through the mudbanks left exposed by the low tide. Shelduck added a forther splash of colour to the scene. Also "out there" on the mud, mainly distant were plenty of Dunlin, Curlew and Oystercatcher. As I've mentioned before on a previous posting, House Sparrows are still fairly numerous here and a noisy bunch were flitting about the nearby hedgerow. Sadly time precluded me from having a longer look.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Thursday 11th December 2008

Another trip to Sidmouth

This morning, after visiting our local garden centre for a cake and a coffee, we decided to go over to Sidmouth again. We parked outside Connaught Gardens and wandered in and viewed over the sea and rocks below the cliff. Cormorants and Shags were seen on the sea, but I could not find any divers. Closer inspection of Chit Rocks below showed there to be several Oystercatchers and Turnstones feeding on them, as the tide lapped the sides and was gradually beginning to cover them. In amongst these birds were a couple of Purple Sandpipers, always difficult to pick out as they merge beautifully with the seaweed-covered rocks they stand on! Scanning over them I realised there were a couple more sandpipers which seemed to appear out of the seaweed! And another............and yet another................gosh, there's another one. In the end I found that there were 8 of them, all blending in nicely with their surroundings! Today the weather was calm and the sea was flat calm, therefore making them a bit easier to spot, but this species always seem to defy the seas whatever the weather, seeming to be able to pick the exact piece of rock which is NOT going to be inundated by a large wave. They stick to their rock, limpet-like, in the face of waves which seem to threaten to wash them away! I never tire of watching them. Later we looked for Black Redstarts on the large thatched houses that we usually find them on, but worryingly, we could not find any again. A look round the shops was followed by a snack in one of the local cafes. Then we ambled back up to the car mid afternoon, but didn't see anything else of interest birdwise.

Wednesday 10th December 2008

Doctors and hospitals

Following on from my unplanned Torville and Dean wannabee show on Monday, I took myself off to the doctor's this morning, as my shoulder was in considerable pain. Having examined my shoulder, the doctor referred me straight to the hospital for X-rays. I drove there right away, and within 5 minutes was seen by the radiographer! (Who says the NHS scheme doesn't work any more?) The upshot was that I hadn't broken any shoulder bones, but heavy internal bruising was making arm movement almost impossible. The one good thing to come of all this was a little slip of paper signing me off work for a week!
Again, I took myself off for some therapeutic birding around the Shelly Beach area of Exmouth this afternoon. I had good close views of a Pale-bellied Brent Goose amongst the Dark-bellied birds on Shelly Beach itself, and a good number of Ringed Plover were seen on a sandbar just offshore, amongst much the same stuff as I saw yesterday. The marina basin area produced the obligatory Black Redstart again flitting about the rooftops of the new appartment blocks. I then succumbed to my aching shoulder and drove home, picking up my son again from college on the way.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Tuesday 9th December 2008

Spotted Redshank

Yes, today I spotted a Spotted Redshank. This one was in its usual Exmouth haunt, that is to say close in to the railway line at Mudbank Lane. The tide was some way in and the bird was stood in an inch or two of water on the tideline, roosting with its bill flat on its mantle. A Greenshank was stood beside it doing exactly the same thing! Loads of Brent Geese and Wigeon, and a good scattering of Pintail were also close in, the Brents and Wigeon being their usual noisy selves. I had taken myself down for another hour's therapeutic birding, as I was suffering from my injuries incurred yesterday, following my Torville & Dean turn on the black ice! It soon decided to throw it down with another cold heavy shower, so I dived into the car as well as my shoulder would let me, and drove round to the back of the station to view the bay there. Through rain splattered windows I saw more Redshank, some Dunlin and some hardy Grey Plover and Turnstones, trying their best to ignore the rain. Shelduck and Mallard brightened up the scene.
Next stop as the rain eased was the Shelly Beach area, where I saw lots of Ringed Plover amongst the same species of birds I had seen earlier, together with a few Little Egrets pretending they were on the edge of the Med! I had another quick view of a Black Redstart near the marina basin, before another heavy cold squall came along. By this time I was in considerable pain from my injured shoulder, so I headed off to pick my son and his girlfriend up from college.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Monday 8th December 2008

Acrobatic skating championship

Today I took part unintentionally in the above competition! I left home in Exmouth where it was a bit cloudy and there was a dew on the car. 4 miles up the road I arrived at work at 7am. I opened the car door, took 3 paces and went absolutely flying! Black ice everywhere! I reckon I was horizontal about 4 feet off the ground for a nano-second. I crashed heavily on my side, ie my hip, my arm and my shoulder took the brunt of the fall. Now, as you all know, I'm not so young as what I used to be. There was a time when I would pick myself up, brush myself down and forget it. Not now though. It hurt! I lie there for a bit thinking 'Blimey, I hope no-one saw that - I feel such a prat', or words to that effect! As I was in pain I actually led there for quite some time. In pitch darkness. Lying on black ice which was cold. Feeling like a prat.
I eventually felt able to move and obviously feeling very sore, I checked to make sure nothing was broken. Luckily, there wasn't. I staggered into the office, where I checked myself for damage before anyone else should arrive. I had a scored arm which also carried a large lump. My shoulder and hip although unmarked had been heavily jarred and gave me the most pain. Eventually some colleagues arrived and promptly told me I looked ghastly. Now, those of you who know me probably think I look ghastly most of the time, but today they obviously realised I looked more ghastly than usual! Eventually again, someone in authority arrived and told me to go home. I had a few chores that I needed to get done, so this took me 3 hours to achieve. I was beginning to get bum-ache from sitting on my damaged side so I left for home.
After some taking it easy on the sofa and not being able to get comfy, I decided to take myself off for some therapeutic birding, reckoning that keeping myself moving was a better bet. I drove down to Shelly Beach and watched the birds as the tide got higher. I enthused over the Brent Geese, I took in the Red-breasted Mergansers. I watched small parties of Ringed Plover and Knot making the most of the last-remaining sandbanks. Turnstones called. Shelduck swam. Little Egrets waded around in the rising water. A Grey Heron ignored the rising tide. Oystercatchers and Grey Plover added to the spectacle, along with Dunlin and Curlew. When you're in pain, even the Cormorants and Shags look good! Redshank and what I presume was the local Exmouth nutter also put in appearances! The latter was wading through the icy-cold water carrying a mountain bike. Honest!
Further on I skirted the building site, where they are constructing even more unsightly appartment blocks, which folk with plenty of capital will buy for outrageous sums of money, then as has happened before, complain about there being "too many bleddy seagulls about - one gets woken up at first light" and "why do I have to draw my curtains back and see all those awful boats?". Yes this has happened and even got a mention in the weekly paper! Thank God for Black Redstarts. The first one was watched on some rooftops near the marina basin, until a Herring Gull decided that HE would like to sit on those ridge tiles. I carried on along to the seafront, but the sun was reflecting badly off the sea, and all I could make out were 2 Wigeon and a female Red-breasted Merganser.
By now, my side was killing me. I had to return slowly to the car. Luckily, as I approached the Exe sailing club, my attention was drawn to a small bird flycatching from the end of a flagpole. This turned out to be a first-winter female Black Redstart, a different bird to the one I had seen earlier. By now, in pain, tired and thirsty, I reached my car, fell in and drove home for refreshment. I hadn't been back more than two seconds, when my good lady arrived. I then had to recount my ice-skating finesse!
After sitting around consuming sandwiches (which had originally been made for work!) and a tasty cream cake (which hadn't!), I popped up to Bystock reserve up on the edge of the East Devon pebblebed heathland (more commonly referred to as the 'Commons'). Now if you look back at my blog, you will see I paid the reserve a visit a week or two back and saw nothing. Today I saw not much more, but did hear some other birds. There were ten Mallard on the big pond which is something of a novelty, there normally being 2 or 3! A Crossbill flew over calling which I managed to get on to with the bins, before it sped on over East Budleigh Common. A Buzzard was heard mewing in the distance and a Green Woodpecker was having a good laugh at my inability to see it. Several Grey Squirrels were chattering away to themselves and scampering up trees, trying to hide from me. But again, birds seemed to be scarce. I just could not get comfortable. My aching shoulder and hip gave me trouble, and worst of all it started to drizzle. So I gave up and headed for home.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Thursday 4th December 2008


It was a day of showers with a westerly wind, so I thought my best option lunchtime was to go to Bowling Green Marsh again so that if there was a shower, I could dive quickly into the shelter of the hide! This I duly did on a couple of occasions. Luckily there was a longish dry spell which enabled me to walk down to the viewing platform and back.There were plenty of birds on the marsh, but nothing unusual. Large numbers of Wigeon and Teal were present, with smaller numbers of Mallard, Shoveler and Shelduck, and single figure counts of Pintail and Pochard. 51 Golden Plover brightened up the area with about 150 Lapwing. There were plenty of Common Redshank dotted about the grassland feeding, and with them, over towards the oak trees, was a single Spotted Redshank, easily 'bird of the day'.
The wander down to the viewing platform and back produced several Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinches. The tide was a fair way up, so there were plenty of Avocets and Dunlin out on the mud, and several Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and a few Bar-tailed Godwits. A couple of Red-breasted Mergansers were diving for food down towards Exton station and a distant small group of Knot were feeding on the newly-exposed mud. Time, as usual at lunchtimes, sped by and a brisk walk back to the car was necessary!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Wednesday 3rd December 2008

Countess Wear

Over the years Countess Wear, former scene of totally chaotic traffic jams before the advent of the M5, has produced some good birds. First and foremost in my book is the Hudsonian Godwit which I saw over 26 years ago. Add Black-crowned Night Heron and such Devon rarities as Bearded Tit and Yellow-browed Warbler and you get a good idea what can turn up here. Regrettably there is a fair bit of car crime in the area, always a burden to local birders. So when I visit I NEVER park anywhere near the swing bridge! I walk the extra half mile or so and try to ignore the thunderous traffic as I head towards the birding spots. So lunchtime today saw me trudging along to the swing bridge and turning north to head up towards Exeter to the Riverside country park.
I had a look over the reedy pools from the 2 viewing screens first. An exhibitionist Water Rail was stood on some flattened reeds, calling to draw my attention to it. A cock Pheasant was seen nearby, also calling to attract attention. I eventually saw what I was looking for a little further along the cycle track. A female Scaup was present on the canal, my first this year. I managed to get within 20 metres of the bird which dived every so often. It has been here for at least 5 days now, and is a local rarity.
Having enjoyed the Scaup, I then pottered off in the other direction, that is to say, south, towards the smelly sewage works. Grey Heron, Little Egret and numerous Cormorants were seen, most of the latter sat on the large electricity pylons and wires, below the road bridge. 3 'brownhead' Goldeneyes were diving in the river as I approached the entrance gates. I followed the path down the western side of the compound, seeing a male Great Spotted Woodpecker only a few feet off the ground on a stunted dead tree, and heard another Water Rail calling. I reached the topmost corner of the old settling beds reserve and my attention was immediately drawn to some Chiffchaffs flitting around the bushes, busily feeding in the sunshine. There were Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits there too and a couple of Goldcrests. But the Chiffchaffs had my attention, as I followed them very slowly as they worked their way down in the direction of the motorway flyover. One of the 5 birds here was obviously the presumed 'Siberian' Chiffchaff which has been around here for a little while. It appeared quite drab and lacked olive in the upperparts. It had a buffy wash on the flanks. Its legs appeared jet black too, not like the Commons which vary through to browny-black. I watched the birds on and off for a few minutes, before realising I had to get back to work!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Monday 1st December 2008

Another visit to Bowling Green

As I was running late for lunch, I popped up to Bowling Green Marsh again today. It was quite cold, with frost still on the ground where the sun hadn't shone, and the main pool was three-quarters frozen over. I was greeted on getting out of the car by a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which always seems to be in these trees on the Bowling Green hill. I saw nothing of note until I got into the hide. Only dabbling ducks were present, there being no diving ducks, presumably because there was quite a lot of the pool iced over. I could only pick out a single (drake) Pintail amongst the hordes of Wigeon and Teal. A party of 4 Teal landed on what they thought was water, right in front of the hide, and promptly slid across the ice like budding Torville & Deans'! I think God must have listened to my prayers - there were only 5 geese present! These consisted of 3 Canadas and 2 Greylag. Common Snipe were bombing around looking for some unfrozen mud - I counted 5 in all.

I wandered on to the viewing platform, seeing a couple of Goldcrests on the way. The usual suspects were out on the estuary - Avocets, Redshank, Little Egrets, Dunlin, Grey Plover and the like. Whilst I was on the platform, a Chiffchaff was feeding in a nearby tamarisk bush. After scanning the estuary for a bit longer, and picking out a Grey Seal stretched out on a distant mid-estuary mudbank, and checking the fields on the opposite side of the River Clyst, seeing a dog Fox, I ambled back up to the lane and started checking the bordering hedgerow. I had got about 100 yards along towards the 'log layby', when I noticed 3 more Common Chiffchaffs. On reaching the small pond by the railway arch, I had terrific views of a male Bullfinch. It was then time to get back to work.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Thursday 27th November 2008

Bowling Green Marsh

Just occasionally I like to vary my lunchtime from day to day. It was dry but cloudy, after a spell of light rain this morning, and fairly mild. I decided on the spur of the moment to visit Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, despite it being low tide. I arrived, parked up the top of Bowling Green Lane and ambled quietly down the road, taking note of some Long-tailed Tits feeding with a couple of Goldcrests, near the railway arch. They soon moved on, so I scanned over the wooden gates to the main pool. Most of the birds seemed to be on the south side of the pool, so I carried on to the hide. Wigeon numbers were fairly normal for the time of year, as were Teal and Shoveler. Amongst these were 5 Pintail and on the pool, two pairs of Pochard. A couple of Greylag Geese were with the tiny Canada flock. A Buzzard was noted in the distance. 3 Common Snipe were located amongst the grassy tussocks bordering the small pool nearest the hide. A couple of Jays carried acorns over the marsh.
After getting 'bum cramp', it was time to move on along the lane. Lots of small birds were present in the hedgerows. Several Redwing and Blackbirds showed themselves. More Long-tailed Tits called noisily accompanied by Great and Blue Tits, another Goldcrest and many Goldfinches. A Grey Heron was tucked in a corner. I ambled slowly down the track to the viewing platform to look over the River Clyst. The tide was right out, but Avocet, Redshank, Dunlin and Grey Plover were well spread out across the mudflats. A single Knot was seen. Little Egrets were dotted about the estuary. A couple of Red-breasted Mergansers were diving in the channel. 62 Dark-bellied Brent Geese were feeding in the field, adjacent to the viewing platform, along with a few Wigeon and Teal.
I then made my way back, studying the bushes closely along the track, as they were full of birds, including many Goldfinches, attracted to the alder trees, Greenfinches, more Long-tailed Tits, Redwings and a couple of Goldcrests, and, a Firecrest which flew into my field of view for a few moments. It soon dropped back down into cover, and try as I might, I couldn't see it again.
Making my way back along the lane I encountered a male Stonechat and another acorn-carrying Jay flew over. Then I returned to work. Another very pleasant lunchtime's birding!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wednesday 26th November 2008

Stick to the estuary?

At lunchtime today I decided a long-overdue look around Bystock Reserve was in order. Last February the place was dripping with birds, including large numbers of Siskins and Redpolls, and sizeable tit flocks with associated species like Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and even a couple of Firecrests. Oh dear! Today the place was like a morgue. I struggled to see a few Redwings and a couple of Goldcrests. The only finches I saw were one Chaffinch and two Goldfinches. Had the usual Buzzard sightings and I heard invisible Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. However that was it. Very disappointing. Maybe we will get some more birds when the winter has progressed a bit.
I was so jaded at the lack of avian delights, I soon took myself off to Mudbank Lane, where I knew I was going to see some birds! Sure enough, amongst the hoards of feathered friends I found a Spotted Redshank and a couple of Pale-bellied Brent Geese. A Greenshank was in the same creek as the 'spotshank'. Grey Plover were present in good numbers and quite a few Knot were visible. Phew! That's better. I then nipped back up to work, and found myself trying to keep up with a Peregrine which was flying over the main road heading in the same direction!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Tuesday 25th November 2008

Surf Scoter and Football

I had to pick up my wife from her dancing at the Pavilion on the seafront in Exmouth at lunchtime. I had time for a quick scan over the sea for 10 minutes or so. The cold north-easterly was not noticeable stood behind a seafront shelter, and the sun even warmed things up a tad! I soon obtained distant views of the female Surf Scoter again off Dawlish Warren. I also found a flock of 10 Common Scoter a lot nearer to Exmouth, but very close in to the Warren beach.
This evening it was off to my other great love (after my family and birding!) - Exeter City FC. We only managed a draw but deserved all 3 points against Rotherham, whose goalie pulled off a string of superb saves to deny us a win. It was a cold night, but I was well wrapped up and to be honest I have felt a lot colder sat in the Old Grandstand than what I was tonight! Still 7th position after getting promoted (at Wembley!) last season is not to be sneezed at!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Monday 24th November 2008

A quick look round the mouth of the Exe

I spent lunchtime in Exmouth today. Firstly I went to Mudbank Lane. It was quite cold with a north-easterly wind blowing, but thankfully dry. The tide was some way out, but was starting to come in a bit. There were the usual thousands of birds out on the estuary, with numerous Wigeon, Pintail, gulls and Dark-bellied Brent Geese. After scanning through the hordes for quite some time, I found 5 Pale-bellied Brent Geese amongst the wildfowl, out on the tideline. There were lots of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Dunlin and Redshank, interspersed with a few Grey Plover and Turnstone, and 2 each of Greenshank and Knot. In the fields behind the lane, a Grey Heron and 5 Little Egret stood in the lee of a hedge, sheltering from the cold wind. A good flock of House Sparrows were noisy from deep in the laneside hedgerow. We are lucky in that we still seem to have plenty of these little birds in our area. I know that they are fast disappearing from our cities and towns!
Next stop was the seafront, which was cold and exposed and mainly birdless! I noted a single Gannet out in the bay, but nothing much else. I always find that with the wind blowing off the land here, most of the birds are nowhere to be seen.
Just time for a quick trudge round the old docks area then (I still can't get used to calling it the marina - it sounds too posh and also reminds me of those awful cars that were churned out by British Leyland back in the 70's!). There were plenty of Dark-bellied Brent Geese off Shelley Beach and a few Red-breasted Merganser in the channel. A Rock Pipit was keeping low out of the cold wind and I suspect the wind was the reason I saw no sign of any Black Redstarts! I then headed back to work.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Saturday 22nd November 2008

Back to Wiltshire

I had to travel back to my roots in Wiltshire today, occasioned by my elderly parents. As you can see from my profile, I was born in Wiltshire, and I actually lived there for 28 years. However, I have a very small Wiltshire birding list - caused mainly by living in the extreme west of the county, most of my original birding trips being to such birding hotspots as Chew Valley Lake and the Somerset coast. I also had many birding contacts in the Bath and Bristol area, and in my early twitching days, used to travel with crews of birders from these haunts. I only had to walk less than a mile from my home and I would be in Somerset! Therefore I don't have many rarities on my Wiltshire list. Red-footed Falcon is about the rarest, and to that you can add Black-winged Stilt, Hoopoe, Dotterel, Bittern, Osprey and Great Grey Shrike, so as you can see it's not very impressive!

Come on Terry, stop whittering on, get to the point. As I mentioned, I was back in Wiltshire and luckily there was a Wiltshire tick waiting for me. I called in at Westbury Ponds, well actually Frogmore Pond to be precise, and there sat in the middle of the pond was an adult Great Northern Diver still moulting out of summer plumage. I would imagine that it was a sick bird. It was pretty inactive and didn't dive once the whole time I was there. In fact speaking to a local birder, I was told he had only seen it dive once in over three hours' viewing over the past few days! Still, it showed very well and it was a good bird to add to my county list. Strangely enough, while I was there I added another bird to my Wiltshire list. This was the Yellow-legged Gull which was seen paddling around with a few other gulls. So, a lucky double strike!

A bit later on in the day I had a quick stomp around my old childhood patch before dusk totally descended. This produced Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and Grey Wagtail, but nothing else of note.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Thursday 20th November 2008

Distant Surfer

No I don't mean there was someone on a surfboard right out in the bay! I had incredibly distant views of the female Surf Scoter again this afternoon from the seafront at Exmouth. It has such a distinctive head shape you can pick it out at considerable distance. It appeared to be with 4 Common Scoters. Of course, the sea was flat calm, otherwise it might have been a tad more difficult. I also had a couple of high-flying Gannets right out in the bay, but there was nothing else of note.

This morning I had a quick look over the Exe estuary from Mudbank Lane. Again, there was nothing unusual, but large numbers of wildfowl were close in to the railway line. Several hundred of each of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Wigeon were continually calling, the former 'barking' and the latter 'whistling'! Scattered amongst these were about 100 Pintail - these ducks are so smart, they always seem to be in immaculate plumage! A Green Woodpecker was calling from some trees a little further along the lane towards Lower Halsdon Farm. This is now owned by the National Trust. After the last owner died a few years back he decided to leave it to the trust, rather than let some disgusting developer get hold of it and build hundreds of houses all across the estuary-side fields. In my book, the guy should be awarded a posthumous knighthood!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Wednesday 19th November 2008


Still suffering from a bad back, and taking my chiropracter's advice, I visited Sidmouth today and did some walking around the town and seafront area, also managing to hobble round Connaught Gardens. These small council-owned gardens sit right on the top of the cliff, at the western end of Sidmouth's main beach. They are well-tended and in spring and summer are a blaze of colour, thanks to wonderful planting of beautiful flowering plants. The gardens are also well-known to local birders for producing views of Purple Sandpipers and Black Redstarts! I called in this morning but the tide was right up and there were none of the former species on view. I also drew a blank with regard to the latter. These tend to frequent the thatched roofs of the large houses immediately east of the gardens. What was apparent though was a huge gathering of Herring Gulls across the bay, presumably enticed in to a very large fish shoal. These remained out there all day. The gardens are in a bit of a precarious position, being sited at the top of the red sandstone cliffs. To the east and west of the town a lot of cliff erosion is taking place and regular falls of tons of cliff occur. Spectacularly, to the west of Connaught Gardens is a house right on top of the cliff heading up towards Peak Hill. It has already lost some of its garden down the cliff, and one wonders just how long the place will still be standing! I would imagine that it cost the owners many thousands of pounds a few years ago. I would also imagine that it is practically worthless now, as the eroding cliff gets ever closer............
I walked round the town with my lovely wife, and we took lunch in one of our favourite cafes - wonderful! Mid afternoon, and I was back along the western end of the beach to check Chit Rocks, which thanks to the receding tide were now starting to become visible. A few Oystercatchers and Turnstones were feeding on them, and thanks to diligent searching, a Purple Sandpiper was found fairly close in to the path. These little beggars are a so-and-so to find. They are small, dumpy, the colour of seaweed-covered rocks and stick like limpets to said rocks, always seeming to know just where to stand to avoid being swept away by the next crashing wave! There are usually around 6 of them on these rocks, but I could only find the single one today.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Tuesday 18th November 2008

The Workplace

It's amazing what you can see at work, and also travelling to and from the place of toil. I always start early (usually before 7am), so as it's quiet I can catch up with mundane paperwork and also keep a beady eye open for any birdlife outside the office. I've already posted about the late House Martins I always seem to see in November. But back to this morning which dawned nice and bright and early. A small flock of distant Canada Geese flew over the adjacent farmland. A flock of 14 Fieldfare could be heard calling in flight as they ventured over the nearby playing fields. A few Curlew flew inland from the adjoining Exe estuary. Then, just before the incoming rush of workers, a couple of Long-tailed Tits busied themsleves in a small tree just below my top floor window.
Although suffering from a bad back (sitting for long periods is the worst thing you can do), I decided to walk the 4 miles home this afternoon. More Fieldfares and a few Redwings were seen first, as well as Blackbirds, Song and Mistle Thrushes. I walked up Stony Lane to Conigar Cross. I had just passed over the junction, when a bird flushed from the laneside ditch right in front of me. Expecting it to be a Pheasant, about one second later I saw that it was much much smaller, and then in the next nanosecond I realised it was a Woodcock! Dumpy build, with dead-leaves camouflage-colour, a long snipe-like bill held slightly downwards, and totally silent, it was only my second one this year! A bit further on a Great Spotted Woodpecker attracted my attention by calling and flying over the lane, while I was focusing on an overhead Goldfinch. Then, just round the corner, a Green Woodpecker was heard calling at the same time as I spotted a Buzzard, also calling from the top of a very tall telegraph pole. This bird was a right exhibitionist. It launched itself off the pole and proceeded to fly up and down over the lane, calling constantly. By now the light was beginning to fade. I had to navigate myself safely down the side of a busy road for 400 yards. No birds could be given attention while doing so. I eventually passed on to a safe pavement and pottered quietly back home to be greeted by my son, who gave me all the latest football news ahead of tonight's FA Cup replays!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Saturday 15th November 2008

The Same Bird?

I had the chance to have a wander along the seafront at Exmouth and around the Orcombe Point area this afternoon. It was a very mild day with a slight north-westerly breeze. I scanned over the beach and noted the usual masses of gulls, and large number of Shags out across the bay. I was aware that a female Surf Scoter had been seen the previous day from Dawlish Warren. Mindful of this, I was carefully 'scoping the sea area to the east of the Warren beach when I found the bird in question, some 200 yards or so off the beach. This was quite a chunky dark seaduck and it was alone on this particular patch of saltwater. There were no other scoter in sight. This was my second sighting of this species this year. Indeed it could be the same bird, albeit ten and a half months later! A female Surf Scoter was in practically the same position back in January when I saw it. Surely it's the same bird returning? Hopefully it will hang around into next year, and I can go and year-tick it again! This species is becoming annual in its occurrences around the mouth of the Exe estuary - especially in the October to March period. I remember seeing my first 'Surfer' many many years ago. Strangely enough this bird, an adult drake, was also off Dawlish Warren. I had travelled down from my then Wiltshire home to see it. It was quite a rarity in those days! I recall that it was a freezing cold day in late January. It was only really possible to see the bird from the top of Langstone Rock, giving birders the necessary height to scan over the rafts of distant scoter. Of course it was real brass monkey weather up there with the wind tearing in from the sea. The bird didn't really show well until we had all been perched up there for several hours, by which time we had turned blue with the cold. I remember staggering back down to the car in order to try and warm up, having lost the feeling in my arms, legs and other unmentionable extremities!

Anyway, back to the present, and after eyeing the scoter for a while, I carried on up to Orcombe Point, where a large Peregrine flew low over me twice slowly, the second time being so low I could have almost touched it with my tripod! Only one Gannet was visible out at sea. There were several large ships moored out on the horizon. The light was now getting a little dimmer and passerines seemed to have gone to roost early, save for a Goldcrest, still foraging for insects in an old apple tree. Of course, when I had literally reached the farthest point from the car, I had a call from my good lady telling me to get back into town to pick her and my daughter (who has come up from uni' in Cornwall for a few days) up from a bout of intense retail therapy. Still, I had taken my own spell of therapy, enjoying both the Surf Scoter and the Peregrine views.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Wednesday 12th November 2008

To tick or not to tick?

The continued presence of the drake Hooded Merganser at Radipole Lake had been tormenting me for some time. I hadn't seen this species before anywhere. It was a world lifer. Could the Radipole bird be a genuine wild bird? I wouldn't like to say either way! It has certainly turned up in a westerly location, always a good sign for a genuine American vagrant. When it turned up in the late spring, it was a grotty little grey and brown duck! Now it has moulted in to stunning near-adulthood and certainly is a superb bird. Well, I was unable to resist any longer, and decided to get up even earlier than usual, and drive along the coast to see it. I was up at 4.45am, and duly arrived at Radipole visitor centre at 7am. There wasn't too much traffic on the way over, but the coast road was closed between Swyre and Abbotsbury. I decided to go the main road way to the Dorchester by-pass and take the Weymouth road from there. Massive queues of traffic heading out of Weymouth, all the way to Dorchester (ie. coming in the opposite direction), gave me a mental reminder that I should not return this way later!

Anyway, I parked the car by the (closed) visitor centre, and started scanning the water nearby. There was no sign of the bird, so I wandered slowly down to the Gurkha restaurant and scanned the area down to Westham bridge. It wasn't there either! OK, so it was only 7.15 and I had a couple of hours to find the bird. At 7.20 I was back up by the visitor centre, and lo and behold there was the drake Hooded Merganser steaming out from under the branches out on to open water. It performed beautifully and even bobbed it's head a few times in mock-display. Apparently in the wilds of North America this species has hybridised regularly with Goldeneye, so a bit of head-shaking towards a couple of female Tufted Ducks was perfectly acceptable! They just drove it off anyway. No American posers allowed in posh Dorset then! It drifted back under some low branches the other side of the footbridge in common with its native habits across the pond. I reckon this is where the bird was when I first arrived, well-hidden in some dark corner under the trees. The outrageous crest on the rear of the bird's head had to be seen to be believed. It looked some enormous powder puff. And yet the bill was thin, long and delicate. The eyes were outstanding, looking like a couple of colourful beads, deep yellow irises with black pupils. The reddy-brown (orangey) body was finely vermiculated with brown.

I decided to have a stroll round the reserve while I was there. Apart from two people with dogs on leads, and a young female red-faced jogger, I saw no-one. Bliss! There were several duck species present, but there did not seem to be half the number of birds there that I used to see, when I visited the place regularly from my Wiltshire home some 25-30 years ago! Mind you, there wasn't a horrendous noisy main road running down the western flank of the reserve in those days. Regrettably all you could hear the whole time I was there was thunderous traffic. How sad that this awful state of affairs should spoil my happy memories of how things used to be! I seem to remember being towards the western side of the lake back in February 1980, when I was watching a Pied-billed Grebe. It was so quiet back then. I see some new houses have been built alongside the road too, another thorny issue...........

Cetti's Warblers were as usual, everywhere, and a couple provided stunning views. A Chiffchaff was more fleeting though. I returned to the bridge by the visitor centre to find that the "hoodie" had drifted some way up the channel and had returned to hiding amongst the vegetation and low branches. Indeed, it was even having a quick forty winks, whilst I watched it. A little while later, it decided to do a bit of diving a bit nearer the bridge again, so I had great views of it once again. Having to be at Budleigh Salterton back in Devon by 11.30, I left the bird to it, again having drifted back under the branches. This just gave me enough time to pop over to Ferrybridge for a scan over the eastern end of the Fleet, and take a much-needed cuppa from my flask.
Here there was a massive flock of Brent Geese of all different types. About 1500 geese in all, mainly being adult and several juvenile birds of the Dark-bellied form. However, I counted at least 15 Pale-bellied in amongst them and, star of the goose-fest, a single Black Brant! I hadn't seen one in Dorset before, but my last one, in December last year, had been on the Kingsbridge Estuary in my home county of Devon. A cracking bird and so different from the Dark-bellied form! Also there stood in a little group, were at least 12 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 of which were adults, the rest being made up of juvenile/first winter and second-winter birds. Some goon with a dog came up on my left flank, marched over and read a sign which said to the effect "Please do not exercise your dog here due to feeding birds", then proceded to wade through the mud with his pooch and let it run amok! All the birds took flight and flew around in a blind panic. I immediately left in disgust, otherwise I would have been in trouble with the local constabulary for assault! I took the coast road as far as Portesham then cut up to the A35 through Little and Long Bredy's, and made my way back to East Devon.
This afternoon I had a look over the seafront at Exmouth, but save from 20 Common Scoters and a few Gannets, there was little to fire the enthusiasm. Still, I was happy with my trip this morning, and glad to have caught up with a possible lifer!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Tuesday 11th November 2008

A Lunchtime Stroll

A day of heavy showers, so I had to pick my time for a lunchtime stroll from work on the side of the Exe estuary. I dashed out straight after a heavy shower and found myself down at Exton station in next to no time! I was indulging in 'dude birding' as it was binoculars only as I was without my 'scope. Hence I saw nothing very exciting, but there were plenty of birds on the estuary, though about eighty per cent of them were a long way out. There were lots of Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Grey Plover and Dunlin fairly close in, but the Avocets were just 'white blobs with dark bits' over towards Exminster Marshes. A few Black-tailed Godwits were present too. A Buzzard was soaring in the cold wind over the other side of the estuary, whilst a Little Egret flew in and landed on 'my' side of the Exe. It immediately hunched up and pointed its bill into the wind! Not too many wildfowl were present though. A few Red-breasted Mergansers were in the channel, and a small clump of Mallard had batoned down the hatches in the wind. A couple of Brent Geese flew up the other side of the river. All of a sudden there was another sharp heavy shower. I dived into the shelter on the station platform, whilst the wind and rain whistled around me. Strange thing though today was the total lack of trains - perhaps they were out on strike or something. The nature of the single track line means that trains go south to Exmouth, then 'reverse' back up to Topsham, where the next train waits on the double track. This normally means there is a train thundering by every few minutes, but not today!
So it was a fairly quiet shelter on the platform today. Once the shower had passed, I had one more good scan over the estuary, then set out back to work. However, this was not before I had spotted a party of six Knot feeding with the Bar-tailed Godwit flock - small, dumpy, hunched up, neckless, chunky, call them what you will, they are always a pleasure to see! A Grey Heron was stood out on the tideline, also hunched up against the weather. A Kestrel was hovering alongside the railway track as I left the estuary-side. I luckily got back to work before the next shower came up.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Friday 7th November 2008

A Quiet Corner of Somerset

This afternoon I had to drive up to Wiltshire in order to pick up my elderly parents and bring them down to East Devon tomorrow to stay for a holiday. I had a little time before it got dark, so I stopped at Bruton to see if I could find the Hawfinches that were seen the previous two days. I parked up and walked along Mill Lane to Lower Backway. I scanned the prescribed trees, wandered round the immediate area for a while and didn't see any Hawfinches!What did amaze me though, was the sheer number of small birds that were to be seen. I suppose they were attracted to the cover provided by the trees and bushes alongside the tiny River Brue. I soon realised there were lots of tits in the vicinity. Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits were present, with the latter two species providing the closest views. The Long-tails were obliging enough to hang around a couple of bushes just ten feet from where I was stood, whilst the Coal Tits actually inspected a plant-covered wall for insects only six feet away! A couple of Goldcrests were busy feeding across the road as well. The ash trees which acted as suitable perches for Hawfinches yesterday did the same for some Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches today. A Buzzard passed low overhead at one point, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker called briefly. Blackbirds were busy chasing each other around the ivy-covered trunks and a couple of Pied Wagtails put in an appearance. Collared Doves vied with the Wood Pigeons in making their presence felt, whilst Jackdaws were noisy on surrounding rooftops. Star of the show though was a female Blackcap which materialised out of the greenery just before I left the quiet backwater that is Bruton.
I carried on my journey towards Wiltshire and with a few minutes remaining of half-light, I quickly scanned Orchardleigh Lake, an old stomping ground of mine from some forty years ago! A couple of Great Crested Grebes were the highlights here, but apart from the usual Pochard and Tufted Ducks, which I could just about make out in the dimming vestiges of light, there seemed to be nothing else of note here. I carried on to the Wiltshire village and found my parents in good health and ready for their break in Devon!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Thursday 6th November 2008

Local Specialities

Living in East Devon, we are blessed with having a few species nesting locally which are uncommon or just plain rare elsewhere in the country. Dartford Warbler springs to mind. They are literally common on the commons, and can be found in good numbers on the East Devon heathlands. They even nest within the Exmouth Civil Parish Boundary, so I get to see them like most folk in other parts of the country see Yellowhammers or Treecreepers. But perhaps the most localised of all is a bird whose main breeding stronghold is in our fair county. Yes, I'm talking about the Cirl Bunting. The males in breeding plumage are absolutely stunning, and even at this time of year set the pulse racing. Now most local birders hereabouts would have year-ticked Cirl Bunting back in the first two weeks of January. Not me however, I tend to be a bit slow when it comes round to yearlisting. So, when I realised I hadn't seen any this year yet, I thought I had better make a special trip and make sure I saw some. I usually catch up with the birds on the west side of the Exe estuary, or in the South Hams when I am twitching a county rarity in those parts. Not this year though! I haven't had occasion to travel down to the south of the county and, well, I just hadn't made the effort to see them locally.
Therefore I popped round to the village of Exminster at lunchtime and meandered up and down the edges of some fields which are well-known to locals as being a good bet for connecting with the species. Eventually I came across a small finch flock numbering some 35 birds. Goldfinch and Chaffinch made up most of the numbers, but a couple of Reed Buntings were present and sure enough, there were the Cirl Buntings! There 6 birds in all, consisting of 3 of each sex. They flew into a hedge which had all it's leaves turned to an autumnal yellow in colour. Once I got the telescope on them, they were easy to see. I enjoyed these for about 30 minutes whilst a pair of Stonechats did their level best to impress me by perching closely on convenient stalks of weed. Mission accomplished. I must not leave it so long next year to make my acquaintance with these lovely birds!
I popped briefly into Bowling Green Marsh hide on the return journey just to see if there were any different birds to yesterday. Wigeon numbers were up on yesterday and there was a pair of Gadwall on the back edge of the main pool, while 3 Pochard were new in as well. The Little Grebe was still present. I bumped into Ron Lewis from Bath who had caught the train down for a day's birding, definitely a well-known birder from my distant past, and one I hadn't seen for over 20 years! He was quick to inform me he'd seen a Firecrest earlier along by the viewing platform, so that will be something to look for over the next few days.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Wednesday 5th November 2008

Off with a bang!

OK, a nice early start to today's diary has me keying in this at 7.30hrs. Yesterday I managed to find a couple of minutes to look skywards at work, and this produced at least one House Martin still hawking insects above the buildings. I suspect there were more, but I just didn't have the time to look! A quick look over the seafront at Exmouth during a much-reduced lunchtime period gave me tantalising distant views of a very small duck, which was all-dark. Trouble was, it was just too far out to identify, even with my trusty telescope. But, it was very small, especially in size comparison with the nearby Shags. One that got away.............

Back to today, and I was driving to work at 6.40 when one of the numerous local Buzzards nearly flew into my windscreen in the growing light. Mid morning, staring out of the office window (wishing I was out there), and a House Martin is wheeling around down towards the edge of the Exe estuary, so they still haven't gone south yet.

Lunchtime today was taken rather late, but I zipped up the road to Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham. Parking the car at the top of the lane, I ambled quietly down and watched a large tit flock moving through the trees. A couple of Goldcrests were with this flock, but I couldn't find anything more interesting. Still, I had super views of Long-tailed Tits, some being only a few feet away. Arriving at the hide along the lane, I had time to sit there for twenty minutes or so and peruse the birds in front of me. The Canada Goose flock was not excessive thank goodness, so a few more wildfowl could feed undisturbed. The flock contained three semi-feral Greylag Geese. A Little Grebe was diving out on the main pool, and a nice flock of 67 Lapwing were dozing poolside! One Common Snipe was showing right out in the open. I wonder how many more were out there hidden behind vegetation clumps! I strolled along to the viewing platform that looks out over the River Clyst. From here I saw a large number of Avocets feeding on the mud exposed by the receding tide (about 150+), a solitary Grey Plover right under the platform, a Greenshank which flew downriver with lots of Redshank and a group of Red-breasted Merganser diving in the channel. All too soon it was time to get back to the car, so I retraced my steps along the lane, seeing a male Stonechat in the "log layby" and wondered just how many Blackbirds there were in the area. An overnight fall must have occurred - they were everywhere! I checked them all in case anything rarer was lurking, but to no avail. Up to 4 Jays were flying backwards and forwards over the area as well.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Monday 3rd November 2008

Late House Martins

I was walking out from my office near the east side of the Exe estuary today, when I noticed a House Martin wheeling around feeding on late insects. I came to a halt and watched the rooftops for a few minutes, and realised there were four of them! I must admit that although we have endured cold north-easterly winds for the past few days, I wasn't at all surprised. I have had them in this locality in November for the last few years, the latest being about 24th November! There are a lot of large buildings on my complex, and I would imagine that these give off a fair amount of heat, thus attracting what insect life is left around. (Some of my colleagues would argue that the amount of bull---t emanating from these buildings would probably draw in the entire insect population of the northern hemisphere!). Still, they were a pleasure to see, and I reckon they could hang around for a little while longer.
Although working for the whole day, I was lucky to hear a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers back in Exmouth this afternoon too. We seem to have a healthy population of Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers in our area, and I have very occasionally seen their smaller cousin, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, within a couple of hundred yards of my house. Other notable species seen from my house or garden include White Stork, Red Kite, Little Egret, Waxwings, Black Redstart, Hobby and Peregrine, so it pays to keep looking out, even though I live in Exmouth's suburbia. I now keep a list of bird species seen within Exmouth Parish Boundary, and this year I have added Stone Curlew, Cattle Egret, Short-eared Owl and Lapland Bunting to that list amongst others, so one can only imagine what else will turn up!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Friday 31st October 2008

Black Redstart 1 Spoonbill 0

News was of a juvenile Spoonbill during the morning at Dawlish Warren. Now, I have learnt that it is quite easy to 'scope some of the larger birds at the 'back' of the Warren (ie the estuary side), by driving to the Shelley beach area of Exmouth and looking out from the gaudy new apartment blocks. Indeed I used this ploy last year to see 3 Spoonbills which were lingering in the same area of the Warren. One simply sets up scope and tripod, and looks out over the mouth of the Exe estuary. Better still, I used this method to view the Caspian Tern (only the second record for Devon) a couple of years ago or so. Rather than drive all round the estuary (a journey of some 17 miles and 45 + minutes!), it's far quicker to bomb down to Exmouth and use the trusty telescope. The Caspian Tern only hung around for a couple of hours or so, before flying off never to be seen again! This bird was easily seen from Exmouth as it stood head and shoulders over the rest of the assembled terns. So there I was at lunchtime today, perched above Shelley Beach looking for the Spoonbill. Regrettably someone forgot to tell it that it should hang about until yours truly arrived! I was left looking at lots of bait-diggers, fishermen and dogwalkers swarming over the mudflats as if the tide was out for the last time ever. This has to be the biggest threat to wildlife now, as the population grows larger and more folk seem discontented with only owning one dog. They have to have 3 or more nowadays. Needless to say all these pooches need exercise and where better to take them than the mudflats at low tide. Of course all the feeding birdlife gets driven off. They feel they don't have to bother clearing up after their animals as the tide will do it for them. I just pity those poor bathers off Exmouth seafront when the tide is running out. I hope they swim with their mouths firmly closed! Anyway the point is Sammy Spoonbill had cleared off before I got there. Luckily all was not lost as I found a Black Redstart frequenting the sailing club area. I actually got to within 15 feet of this bird and had cracking views of it moving around the boats. One of these birds seems to occur here most winters, so it was good to see one back again this autumn. Masses of Brent Geese and Wigeon were performing well, as were the obligatory Little Egrets. A few Red-breasted Merganser were also diving for food there. So although there was a cold north-easterly blowing, the sun was shining and as long as you stood out of the wind, it was quite pleasant.

Wednesday 29th October 2008

Cold and windy

I had a quick stomp around Orcombe Point, Exmouth at lunchtime today. It was cold despite the westerly wind blowing, and small birds were keeping hidden to a large extent. I left the car at Foxholes Hill as usual and a Coal Tit flew into a small fir tree by the car. I wandered out slowly to the point, checking the bushes and hedgerows on the way. Three Curlew flew over heading towards the top fields. There were a great many crows feeding in the fields around the point, including quite a few Rooks, a bird which doesn't always make its presence felt in this area. A large commotion occurred when a Raven flew low through the assembled throngs! I had a quick scan over the sea, which to a large extent was pretty calm. There were 6 Common Scoters (3 of each sex) a little way out from the western end of Sandy Bay beach. I walked up to the top cliffs, but it was quite exposed up here, and I quickly decided to return back down to the point, with time running out as well. 4 more Curlew headed over towards the top fields. A Goldcrest and a few Long-tailed Tits were moving quickly through the bushes below the campfield, but nothing else of note was seen. I plodded back to the car and returned to the dubious delights of the office!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Monday October 27th 2008

A Trip to West Cornwall

We were down in Cornwall visiting our daughter at the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus at Falmouth for a couple of days. I thought I'd take the opportunity to drive over to the Sennen area and try to see the presumed Azorean Yellow-legged Gull that has been frequenting the Sennen Cove area. The weather was sunny but a cold north-westerly was blowing, so hat and gloves were required. Still it was a bright morning and the Isles of Scilly were visible in the distance, bringing back memories of when I used to visit the islands regularly over 20 years ago.
I hadn't managed to get any news on the gull for a couple of days, so thought I would give the Sunny Corner Lane area a grilling, that being the last location of any reported sightings. I noticed that there were lots of gulls down on the Cowloe on arrival mid morning, a rocky islet down in the cove, about a mile distant. I thought I'd give the immediate area a good look over, before popping down the road to the cove to try my luck there. I managed to park in a newish tiny cul-de-sac along the lane, kitted up and started scanning. A handful of immature gulls were flying around low overhead. I scanned the first -a first-winter argenteus Herring Gull, however my eyes nearly popped out when I got my bins on the second bird - a dark individual a bit reminiscent of an American Herring Gull! It was the Azorean Gull! I watched it wheeling around on and off for a good 45 minutes, sometimes dropping down below the clifftop houses, and reappearing some few hundred yards further on. Raven and Buzzard gave superb views as well, but small passerines were keeping low in the cold wind! A phone-call to my wife to confirm that I'd luckily jammed in on the bird, then it was off to the car. I drove back to the main road, then turned towards Lands End. I quickly stopped again when I realised the bird was in a roadside field just to the south of Sunny Corner Lane!
I had further good views of the bird, then with time fast running out, I decided that I would try for the Yellow-browed Warbler at Porthcurno on the way back to Falmouth. I listened to Birdline on my mobile, and picked up on the news that it was to be found in scrub to the south of the toilet block! Hoping that the wind was blowing away from the block, I parked up the car and started scanning and trying to listen for the bird. I did a slow circuit of the bushy area, and after several false alarms with 'crests and Chiffchaffs, I eventually got brief views of the bird as it moved quickly through with a tit flock. Time had run out, and I was keen to meet up with my daughter again, so I zipped back to Falmouth as fast as the traffic would allow. This turned out to be like the trip over - pretty slow. It now seems like the roads in West Cornwall are as slow as everywhere else in Britain. You get in a line of moving vehicles and crawl along behind someone who delights in pottering along at about 20mph! Of course, being half-term week probably added to the misery. Heavy prolonged showers now broke out, so I was pleased to have got my birding done in the sunshine! Despite keeping my eyes peeled I saw nothing else of interest during the afternoon, spent pottering around Falmouth.
I was just pleased that I had located the Azorean Gull, a world lifer for me, and who knows, one day it may get officially split as a separate species before I die!!