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.