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!