Thursday, 29 January 2009

Sunday 25th January 2009


Had an hour to spare this afternoon, so I drove over to Douglas Avenue, parked up, and took the footpath down over Littleham Brook, through Maer Vale up to Maer Lane. It was fairly quiet birdwise, despite the mainly sunny afternoon. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling near the stream and a flock of over 50 Chaffinches was given a good grilling for Brambling, to no avail! I saw that there was a small flock of Pied Wagtails in the ploughed field at the bottom of Gore Lane again, so I waited to see if anything else presented itself, as the birds kept popping up from deep in some furrow! A few Meadow Pipits were also present. However, all was revealed when a male Sparrowhawk flew low over the field!
There were twice as many wagtails and pipits as I thought there were, and also emerging out of the furrows were a couple of Skylarks, my first on the local patch this year. I carried on round, recrossed Littleham Brook, and eventually arrived back at the car, without seeing anything else of note. It was then time to go and pick Julia up from work.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Saturday 24th January 2009


We had to go to Tavistock today to visit the father-in-law, who's just moved house. On arrival, we had time for a quick walk alongside the River Tavy before the visit, so off we went. It was a sunny, but cold day with a north-westerly breeze. After our walk, a couple of light showers passed through. There wasn't really much to see birdwise, until I spotted a Dipper stood on a small rock almost at water level. It suddenly plunged in to the river (about a foot deep here) and surfaced again with a tiny fish. It beat it against a rock and rubbed it up and down a couple of times before swallowing it! Abruptly, it plunged back into the water and again, surfaced with another tiny fish, which it gave the same treatment as the first. This occurred perhaps another 3 or 4 times before the bird just settled down to stand on the rock, blinking its white eyelids every so often. I have always been intrigued by dippers, since finding my first one as a small child on my local river in Wiltshire. I have watched them for hours over the years, finding them quite unique. I have watched them walking under water lots of times, always going upstream whilst submerged, the force of the water keeping the bird stuck to the bottom. They soon bob up again when they want to! The Tavistock bird was my first this year. At the end of our little walk, I noticed a pair of Goosander flying high over the town, following the course of the river downstream.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Friday 23rd January 2009

Some Nice Relaxing Birding

Exactly what I did early this afternoon! I parked up opposite Littleham church and wandered down Elm Road to the footpath that goes across the field to Green Farm. After the rain we've had, the ground was very squelchy underfoot. Good job I had my wellies on then! Today there was a cold north-westerly wind blowing, but for the most part it stayed sunny. A Raven was a nice surprise, stood alongside the brook which runs through the meadow. 2 Little Egrets were feeding in a field by the farm with lots of gulls - an unusual place to see them. Mind you they tend to be everywhere nowadays! I passed the farm and carried on down into Maer Vale, where a pair of hunting Sparrowhawks were seen on and off during the walk.
Eventually I reached the set-aside field which lies adjacent to the footpath connecting Maer Farm with Douglas Avenue. In here was my first Stock Dove of the year for my local patch. I crossed Littleham Brook by the ford - there's a tiny stone footbridge here thank goodness, and was soon watching a Common Chiffchaff feeding in a hedgerow within a few feet of me. This was also my first in Exmouth this year. Carrying on up the muddy track (seemingly slipping back 3 paces for every forward two I took!) I arrived in Maer Lane. On reaching Prattshayes Farm (some wonderful poetic farm names round these parts!) I noticed a few thrushes in the field next to the lane. Peering through a convenient gap in the hedge, I had stunning close views of 6 Fieldfares, 3 Mistle Thrushes and a solitary Redwing. The Fieldfare were my first on my local patch this year too!
I then followed the lane along into Littleham village and wandered around the churchyard. I sheltered from the cold wind, behind the walls there, and a few birds were doing the same, including a Green Woodpecker which was probing the ground for food amongst the tombstones and a couple of female Bullfinches which were sat in a low bush. I then pottered over the road to my car and left the area.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Thursday 22nd January 2009

One of those days!

Funny how sometimes you can have a torrid birding visit to a usually fruitful site, only to follow it up with a super visit to another place just down the road. My 2 visits today were alike as chalk and cheese! Firstly the boring bit - I visited Bystock Reserve and WRC (remember that?). Highlights were a Great Spotted Woodpecker heard on getting out of the car, and a little later a couple of Goldcrests. Yep, it was that exciting. However, later in the afternoon I popped down to Mudbank Lane in Exmouth and scanned over the estuary where the tide was right in. At first I thought my luck hadn't changed. Usually there are masses of Wigeon, Pintail and Dark-bellied Brent Geese to seen here. Today there was a single female Wigeon! Obviously something had disturbed the birds. Cursing the day I was having, I 'scoped a little farther out. A female Goldeneye was seen diving in the shallows over Cockle Sand. I was aware of a fair few gulls flying in to roost, coming down the estuary. Mindful of the fact that an Iceland Gull had been reported at this time yesterday, I decided to check the gulls flying in. Several of the gulls were flying in over the submerged Cockle Sand (entering my local patch boundary) and landing on a fairly distant protruding sandbar. I soon picked out an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, a patch yeartick, but this was quickly surpassed by the Iceland Gull flying in over Cockle Sand and landing next to the Lesser Black-back! This bird was an immature bird, I tend to lean towards a second-winter bird, as it was quite white, where a first-year tends to be a bit more biscuit-coloured. I quickly 'phoned the news out, and within 15 minutes was joined by 3 other birders, who I eventually managed to put on the gull. The bird was quickly becoming hidden by arriving gulls, however, luckily it had developed an uncanny knack of moving further away from the incoming gull rush and showing fairly well, even if it was quite distant. So, after a very lean day for birds, I was finally rewarded by persistance

Wednesday 21st January 2009

Orcombe and Maer Vale

Yes, that it the right spelling! I haven't got 2 left hands for typing! Maer Vale runs from the Maer on Exmouth seafront right the way up to Littleham village (which has now been swallowed up by the town of Exmouth). Maer Vale is a small tract of countryside flanking Exmouth on the east side, with a stream (Littleham Brook) running right down through the middle. I hope it never gets built on, as it is a haven for wildlife, albeit mainly common species! So an early afternoon trudge round from Orcombe Point, where I did a swift seawatch, up the coastpath to the High Land of Orcombe, then down through Gore Lane and into Maer Vale. 2 Red-throated Divers flew west off the point, and I got my first Exmouth Fulmar of the year. 2 Common Scoter were sat on the sea there, and two more flew past. I wandered up over the top fields, then down Gore Lane, where a flock of c. 60 Pied wagtails were feeding in a ploughed field, together with 4 or 5 Meadow Pipits. On reaching the stream in Maer Vale, I was lucky ehough to connect with my first 2 Mistle Thrushes of the year, anywhere. 28 Curlew were feeding in a grassy field, behind Foxholes Hill, and a Sparrowhawk flew low down the valley. On finally returning to the car, I was rewarded with another view of a Black-throated Diver, passing westwards towards Dawlish.
Yeartick: Mistle Thrush. Exmouth yearticks: Common Scoter, Fulmar, Meadow Pipit.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Tuesday 20th January 2009

Withycombe Raleigh Common

WRC as I call it (for obvious reasons!) is a tiny part of the important East Devon pebblebed heathland. Even more important as far as I'm concerned is the fact that part of it sits nicely within my local patch - namely Exmouth Civil Parish Boundary. It's not called pebblebed for fun. You can walk round it, and bruise a toe quite easily against a bleddy great pebble the size of a football if you don't look where you're going. When one is out birding here, one does tend to not look where one is walking. Hence yours truly has permanently bruised toes! Seriously though, it is a wonderful stretch of habitat, and contains a small selection of bird species which I would struggle to see on my patch otherwise. If you read this blog regularly you will see what WRC has to offer over the year. I'm not about to list all the species down here now!
To cut out my rambling, I will just say that I paid the area a visit at lunchtime today. It was sunny and quite springlike for the first time this year. We don't usually get much of a winter in these parts, so this season has been a bit of a shock to the system! However, today was one of our more normal January days weatherwise. A Blackbird, a Robin and a Great Tit were singing away, heralding the spring which won't hopefully be too far away. A Coal Tit was calling from a firtree. Then I heard the distinctive call of a Dartford Warbler, scolding me as I went past. Thank goodness, at least the cold spell hasn't decimated this species, which is always prone to very cold weather. A Raven flew over 'cronking' and shortly afterwards a Peregrine zoomed over the horizon heading towards the coast. (There is a fine distant view of the sea from up here!). All good things come to an end, and I had to retreat back to the office sooner than I would have liked.
Exmouth yearticks: Dartford Warbler (also a 2009 tick) and Peregrine.

Monday 19th January 2009

Back with the birding!

I do this every so often. Have a break from birding. So, the weekend passed with me spending some time with the family, especially as my wife had the whole weekend off. I got some chores done too. Saturday afternoon was spent following my other great love in life after my family and my birding - watching Exeter City FC! Ok so we only drew 0 - 0, but it was great to be back at the park, after our last 2 home games had been postponed due to an icy pitch. It was also good not to have it too cold to sit and watch the game. The last time I went I'm sure that when I got up from my seat, certain parts of my anatomy were left still frozen to the chair! I haven't missed a home game yet this season.
So today I popped quickly into town to do a couple of chores, then I zoomed round to the seafront and set up my telescope. I was lucky enough to see a Slavonian Grebe just offshore, which was an Exmouth yeartick. I love these little birds. Even in winter plumage they appear so clean and sharply marked. Whilst scanning around the bay, I soon found another Exmouth yeartick. This was a Great Northern Diver - an adult in winter plumage. Miraculously it stayed on the surface for quite some time, only diving occasionally and resurfacing not too far from where it had dived. Most of the diver family have an uncanny knack of getting lost from view. They dive, then pop up several hundred yards from where they disappeared, which can be frustrating when trying to put other birds on them! I had no such problems today - there was a nice obliging diver, and not another birder in sight.

Friday 16th January 2009

Orcombe Point

A wander around the Orcombe Point area early afternoon was reasonable for seabirds, but the strong south-south-west wind made sure that any small passerines kept below cover! I pulled up at Foxholes Hill, kitted up and was immediately treated to views of a female Sparrowhawk circling round in the wind, being mobbed by gulls. I ambled along to the point where I took shelter behind my usual hedge, set my 'scope up and started scanning the sea. A few Guillemots and Razorbills passed by. A Red-throated Diver was found sat on the sea, just out from the obelisk, and shortly afterwards I found another further out. Only one Gannet (an adult) was seen and 5 Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew swiftly past. I was aware of some alarm calls given by a couple of Blackbirds and a Robin. I took my eye from the 'scope, and put up my bins, just in time to see a male Sparrowhawk hunting low over the hedgerows (as if the wind wasn't enough to keep the small birds hidden from view!). I was being buffeted a bit by the wind, despite hiding behind the hedge, so I wandered up to the High Land of Orcombe to check the top fields. Big mistake! The only birds I saw were a cock Pheasant, and a small flock of Redwings, the latter seemingly squat and glued to the ground, in an effort to keep out of the wind! I returned back to the point and had another brief seawatch for a few minutes. This time I was rewarded by the Red-throated Divers being still present on the sea, and best of all, a Black-throated Diver, which flew past close in, into the teeth of the wind. Time was called by a solitary Kittiwake drifting by. I then had to pack up and leave.
Yeartick today: Black-throated Diver.
Exmouth yearticks in addition to the above diver were: Red-throated Diver, Sparrowhawk, Pheasant, Guillemot, Razorbill & Kittiwake.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Thursday 15th January 2009

Blowy Budleigh

A visit to Budleigh Salterton today, as the wind was strong and coming in from the south. The sea was quite rough, and on arrival, it was obvious that quite a lot of seabirds were passing south-west. A Fulmar passed by, as were lots of Razorbills and Guillemots. Small numbers of Kittiwakes were on the move too. The female Eider was still just off the River Otter mouth, as were a group of 25 Common Scoter. 2 Red-throated Divers were also watched passing south-west. After standing under the seafront shelter for quite a time, I was still having to cope with the wind blasting more or less straight at me, although the shelter did give me some form of protection. I decided it was the right moment to take a break from this onslaught and wander up alongside the Otter estuary. A couple of Little Egrets were seen, as were a couple of Common Redshank. A small group of Curlew were feeding on the cricket pitch. Luckily, with them was the overwintering Whimbrel! I wandered on up to White Bridge, then turned round and came back.
I was aware of lots of gulls, especially Black-headed, drifting slowly westwards fairly high over the estuary. I decided to stop and scan these for a while (to be honest I didn't fancy braving the elements on the seafront just yet!). Plenty of Black-headed, several Herring and a few Common Gulls drifted over. "Hang on, what's that?", I thought, noticing a flash of white wing-tips. Thorough scrutiny revealed an adult Mediterranean Gull gradually working its way west, sometimes briefly circling with the flock.
It disappeared into the distance towards the Exe and I disappeared back towards the seafront. The Whimbrel was still showing well on the cricket pitch as I passed. On reaching the seafront, there were still plenty of auks passing south-west, but after a few minutes of wind torture, I gave up and returned to the car.
Yearticks in order today: Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Whimbrel & Mediterranean Gull.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Wednesday 14th January 2009


It was a cloudy day with a few spits of drizzle now and then but over the lunchtime period, it wasn't too bad. It was a mild day with a southerly breeze. I decided to go and have another look at the Scaup at Countess Wear to put it on my 2009 yearlist. I parked up and strolled up the canal to the Double Locks pub. There on the water, just the other side of the frozen-up bit, was the female Scaup, still performing very well. Not much else was seen here, even though I looked through the screens at Riverside Country Park, viewing over the reedfringed scrapes.
On a whim, I decided to try and see the Hawfinch that has occasionally been seen at Ide! Now, me and Hawfinches have never got on very well. It took me about 15 attempts to connect with one when we first moved down to Devon all those years ago. I remember standing on a driveway in Doddiscombsleigh (try saying that when you've just come out of the Nobody Inn!), for hours waiting to see one. I also remember finding my first when I was a child, just down the lane from where I lived in Wiltshire - I only ever saw them once again in all my years of living there! In my twitching days, on a trip up to the north of the country, we would often pop into Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire (a proverbial Hawfinch Hotspot!) on the way back from a twitch and view a lot of empty trees! Speech House in the Forest of Dean in deepest Gloucestershire is supposed to be good for them. Nah, don't you believe it - I only ever saw them there once in about a dozen visits! Anyway, to cut a long Hawfinch story short, I arrived at the prescribed spot to the west of Ide, more in hope than anything. It didn't start out too good. A mechanical excavator was making a hell of a din on the hillside behind me, a group of noisy people all armed with axes and saws, trundled down over the fields talking at 40000 decibels and then a large, very noisy lorry crept slowly up the lane taking the half the hedgerow either side with it! I reached a point, and thought "That's it - I've had enough". I retraced my steps, and miraculously, it had all gone quiet. The lorry had gone - it was probably wedged in the lane further on up the road! The axesfolk had chopped off somewhere and the excavator had presumably stopped for lunch. I scanned the fields and hedgerows and the tops of all the trees. I nearly passed it by at first, a pale pinky-sandy blob sat partially obscured in a small ash tree. I got my 'scope on it, and realised it was the Hawfinch sat looking away from me. After several minutes, the bird decided to shift position slightly, turning its head and showing off its huge bill, and little neat black bib! Wow! My first one for several years. I watched it for several more minutes, then left it in what was presumably a short-lived peace!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Tuesday 13th January 2009

Around my local patch

Right folks, this is where I get all thrifty and economical. Having accomplished my usual early New Year blast at a yearlist, it's time to draw in the reins a little and concentrate on the local patch. My patch consists of the area within the Exmouth Civil Parish Boundary and offshore from there. I have large scale maps of my patch produced and do not count any bird that is seen outside the boundary, while I am stood within it! Therefore today was rather lucky. I zipped down to Shelly Beach at lunchtime, and after a bit of searching, found the bird I was looking for, on the far side of the estuary at Starcross. An adult Spoonbill was busy feeding on the shoreline, close in to the railway line. This was easily seen by telescope, the bird swinging its bill from side to side whilst feeding. I realised that the bird was very close to a man digging for fishing bait. How I wished I was in his shoes. The bird was literally just a few feet away from where he was digging, although he seemed oblivious to it! Now, whether the bait-digger coughed loudly, sneezed or broke wind I don't know, but something spooked the Spoonbill. It flew up slowly and headed across the estuary towards Mudbank Lane, on MY side of the Exe! It conveniently flew into my local patch recording area, but then disappeared behind a large appartment block which ahem......'blocked' my view! By the time I had rushed round to the other side I could not find the Spoonbill again, so whether it had doubled back or carried on up the east side of the estuary, I couldn't say. There were still plenty of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Red-breasted Mergansers about off Shelly, and the usual masses of Oystercatchers were being their usual noisy selves. Time was running out, so I headed back to work.
Later in the afternoon, I had a quick nip round Withycombe Raleigh Common, a nice little area of East Devon Pebblebed Heathland, conveniently placed just inside my local patch area! I had not gone very far, when a Raven flew over calling. I ambled down to the perimeter of my patch, and was delighted to find a flock of 87 Lesser Redpolls sat in a tree, just my side of the boundary. These birds have been very scarce this winter. Last winter, the trees seemed to be dripping with them! They didn't stay for long, but long enough for me to 'scope them. A bit further up the track and 4 Linnets landed in the heather by the side of me. They soon dispersed in different directions as a Buzzard lazily flapped across just a few feet above the ground! Finally a Jay flew over calling harshly as it went.
Today's yearticks: Spoonbill & Lesser Redpoll. And to that I added the following Local Patch yearticks:
Raven, Linnet, Buzzard & Jay.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Monday 12th January 2009

Gales and rain

A horrible day today, with the south-west gale still blowing, and rain and drizzle being blasted horizontally across the ground! I took myself up to Topsham Rec' at lunchtime, put on my wet-weather gear and ambled up the side of the Exe. A female Tufted Duck just off the Retreat was a Devon yeartick, and several Red-breasted Merganser were present on ther river too. A Common Sandpiper was seen again on the side of the river, presumably the same bird as I saw on January 7th. A male Stonechat put in an appearance in one of the adjoining gardens. I was wandering back down towards the play area, when a Water Pipit flew in and landed on the side of the river. This was my first this year. It didn't linger, and took off towards Exminster Marshes. By now I was getting rather damp, and the realisation of a damp patch forming by my left elbow, decided me on making a swift exit from the site, and taking shelter in the hide at Bowling Green Marsh!
On arrival, there seemed to be very little about of interest. The usual flock of Wigeon were supplemented by Mallard, Pintail, Teal and Shoveler. 8 Greylag Geese were seen to the right of the hide, but that was about it.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Sunday 11th January 2009

A Sad Day

I wasn't very happy today. I had to take my daughter back to University at Falmouth in Cornwall. I'd got used to having her around home again and brightening up the place even more! I dropped Julia off at work, then picked up my mate Tom and returned home. Eventually Rebecca was ready to leave. The 3 of us drove down to Falmouth, seeing a Raven near Okehampton, the only notable bird sighting on the journey down. It was cloudy and breezy, but at least it stayed dry. I pulled the car over at Fraddon for a much-wanted cup of coffee, then carried on to Penryn. We all unpacked Rebecca's kit into her flat and I made the usual sad goodbyes'. Always one to look on the cheerful side of life, I then put myself into full birding mode!
With the wind picking up somewhat, we drove on to Helston, where we stopped by the boating lake. There were the usual bread-throwing members of the public there, and of course, the wildfowl and gulls were going mad, fighting over that next juicy crust! Coot, Tufted Ducks and Mallard were in turmoil, and clusters of noisy gulls fought each other for food. Amongst this mad throng, we picked out a first-winter Ring-billed Gull, my first for a couple of years or so. Eventually the bread-throwers disappeared and things settled down. This resulted in the Ring-billed loitering on the path by the side of the lake. This gave super views and was a new bird for Tom. Next, we made the short hop over to the delights of the local sewage works! A few Chiffchaffs were foraging around in the bottom of the perimeter hedge, along with some tits, including several Long-tailed. A 'Siberian' Chiffchaff was glimpsed between the settling beds and the perimeter fence, but with the high wind, most of the Chiffs' were keeping low down. Whether this form of Chiffchaff will ever officially gain full-species status, is debatable! However, I seem to see this form on a fairly regular basis nowadays. It is quite distinctive, and has a different call to Common Chiffchaff.
With time ticking on, we decided to make our way to the Zennor area, to try and see our main target of the day. We found a convenient pull-in, hastily consumed some food (I was starving by then!), donned our birding gear and trudged up towards Sperris Quoit, the spot where the Snowy Owl has been seen most regularly. Regrettably, someone forgot to tell the owl to put in an appearance today, and we spent a fruitless time trudging over the moorland. No doubt, it will be seen again tomorrow! Luckily I had seen this species before, albeit 29 years ago, but it would have been a lifer for Tom. A Buzzard was seen sat on a rock, and 5 Common Snipe flew past, but that was it. Several other birders were also wandering aimlessly around, all to no avail. With the afternoon ticking on, we decided to cut our losses and head down to Marazion. We took the road over Trewey Common, where I spotted a female Merlin, which eventually settled on a fencepost. We arrived at Marazion, but the gale had got worse, and combined with the high tide, sent plumes of salt-spray over the seawall. There were loads of gulls feeding on the beach edge, picking up all those morsels pounded on to the beach by the weather. Lots of Sanderling were running around, doing the same. A quick look at the marsh produced nothing of note, but a distant Peregrine. With the conditions more suited to windfarming, we called it a day, and headed back up the A30.
With the light rapidly fading, I spotted a Barn Owl quartering the roadside fields at Zelah. I pulled over on to the grass verge as soon as I could, but Tom didn't get on to the bird, which was rather a pity. We then trundled back along the A30 to Exeter, and finally down the A376 to home.
Yearticks in order today: Tufted Duck, Ring-billed Gull, Siberian Chiffchaff, Merlin, Peregrine, Barn Owl.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Saturday 10th January 2009

Sea Duck

In my quest to make sure I see at least one year tick every day for as long as possible, I wandered up the road to Knappe Cross this morning. Having seen the first-winter male Blackcap again from my kitchen window earlier, I carried on up to Dinan Way, crossed the busy road, and strolled quietly up Gorse Lane to the top. I then retraced my steps. I heard the usual Nuthatch at Knappe Cross and saw a splendid male Bullfinch in Gorse Lane. On arrival back at Knappe Cross I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker in flight, then on cue, I watched a Treecreeper spiralling up a large oak tree right outside the community centre, my wished-for year tick!
This afternoon I had to take my wife and daughter over to Budleigh Salterton. I made a point of heading for the River Otter mouth, and scanned the sea. 15 Common Scoter and the female Eider were still present, just offshore. 5 Razorbill flew west. However, again there was absolutely no sign of the Long-tailed Duck. With the wind blowing straight in off the sea, it was deathly cold and my eyes were watering very badly. I thought 'Blow this, I'm going back into town and meet my wife' (always a good option!). However, I had to park up the road near the Steamer Steps, so I decided one last look at the sea wouldn't go amiss. By this time I had warmed up a little in the car! I sat on a convenient bench and scanned the sea several times. A further 3 Razorbill were seen sat on the sea but that was about it. Right, time to go. One last look along to the east...........hell, what's that? A seaduck flying along just offshore towards me. As it got closer, I thought 'No, it can't be?'. But it was! Yes, the female Long-tailed Duck flew westwards and made yours truly a very happy bunny by plonking down on the sea, just a hundred metres west off the Steamer Steps. She dived a couple of times, surfacing a good distance from where she'd originally dived. Thanking Lady Luck, I quit my cold perch and wandered into town to find my wife and daughter.
Yearticks in order of appearance: Treecreeper, Razorbill, Long-tailed Duck.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Friday 9th January 2009

Dawlish Warren

Today I paid an early afternoon trip to Dawlish Warren. There was a cold south-easterly breeze blowing and it was mainly sunny, although there was more cloud building up the longer I stayed there. A scoter was seen offshore, but was constantly diving, and due to distance was unidentifiable. I met Exeter birder Dave Hopkins there who had just seen 2 scoter together close in to Langstone Rock. After a bit of a natter, I wandered off towards the rock. Every so often I would stop and peruse the sea. This eventually paid off with views of a Great Northern Diver flying east past the rock. I located the 2 scoter, feeding and diving together. One was the long-staying female Surf Scoter - the other was a male Velvet Scoter! After a good grilling of the 2 scoter, I ambled back into the teeth of the cold wind back towards the warren. I met Dave again, and also Topsham birder Dave Stone. We discussed the 3 scoter, and after much viewing and discussion came to the (rather obvious as it happened) decision that the first scoter I had seen was a female Common! So, there were only 3 scoter off the warren, and each one was a different species! I leaned on the seawall, while the 2 Daves departed in different directions. I soon found a Slavonian Grebe riding the waves looking towards Exmouth. 5 gannets were seen distantly offshore.
Fed up with looking into the cold wind and my eyes watering, I exited the warren, and driving back up the road towards Cockwood, decided to stop by the railway line adjacent to 'Cockwood Wreck'. Here you require nerves of steel, and here I met Dave Hopkins again! You have to cross the busy London-Penzance railway line, and stand on the wooden platform right on the side of the track, with trains thundering past just a couple of feet away!! A good constitution and brown trousers are always a plus here. We scanned the dropping tide on the estuary and although we searched diligently, the best bird we could find was a Greenshank. 'I'm off up to Kenton to look for Brambling' says Dave. I says ' Think I'll tag along if that's OK'. So we nips up to Chiverstone Farm near Kenton and amble down the lane towards the farm. 4 Red-legged Partridge flew up from the field adjacent to our cars. A little further on and we spot a large finch flock. On closer inspection, we reckon about 200 Chaffinches and at least 15 Brambling make up this flock! Dave then headed off towards Exminster Marshes and I left for home.
Yearticks today in order of appearance:
Great Northern Diver, Velvet Scoter, Slavonian Grebe, Brambling.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Thursday 8th January 2009

Cattle Egret

At lunchtime today, I nipped round to Exminster Marshes, and wandered along the new trail behind the Swans Nest pub. It was overcast, dull and coldish with a slight north-easterly breeze, with some of the ice now thawing out a bit. My mission was to try and see the Cattle Egrets that were reported from the viewing platform at the end of the trail yesterday. I eventually reached the spot, having to follow several kinks in the trail which seemed to be manufactured to take you the longest possible way round the edge of each field across Powderham Marshes (ie. 3 sides of each one!). As there was practically no birdlife to be seen, I failed to see the point of this. My highlights were a few Mute Swans and a couple of Curlews. Why they should be called Powderham Marshes is also a big puzzle as they are nowhere near Powderham! In fact they are closer to Exminster than anywhere. Oh well! On reaching the platform, I scanned the whole area and saw.........nothing! Feeling somewhat cheated (I had trudged out 1200m to view this after all!), I scoped back towards the lagoon and the end of Swans Nest Lane before leaving. It was then that I spotted this white speck sat on a fence the other side of the lagoon. On focusing my scope and my eye as well as I could, I definitely knew it was a small, white egret. The longer I looked at it, the more I thought it was one of the Cattle Egrets. Not wishing to yeartick such distant views, I trudged back to the car and drove down to the end of Swans Nest Lane, turned the car round and pulled up in the pull-in by the scrapes at the end. There, in all its glory was the Cattle Egret sat on the fence. Just to make sure it was going to be yearticked, it conveniently flew up and landed a lot closer to me! It received rather an unpleasant welcome from 3 Grey Herons, but stood its ground. With there being no other birds around to be seen, and no sign of the reported second bird, I drove off, had a brief fruitless look out over the Exe estuary from Exton station and returned to work.
Later this afternoon, with the last vestiges of light fading, I paid a brief visit to Orcombe Point in Exmouth. There was nothing to be seen of note, apart from my first Gannet of the year, an adult.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Wednesday 7th January 2009

Even Colder!

It was even colder today - large amounts of the slow-moving rivers around the area had frozen over and waders were forced to forage for food in fields. It was grey and overcast with an easterly breeze blowing just to add to the general gloom. I popped up to Trews Weir in Exeter at lunchtime. Several Mallard and Teal were frequenting the river below the weir, which was unfrozen due to the rapid movement of water. Crossing the suspension bridge to the west side, I noted several Common Redshank looking for food. A drake Shoveler was bombing around. Walking alongside the ditches which were ice-free in parts, revealed c. 20 Common Snipe and another yeartick in the form of a Jack Snipe. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew from a nearby tree. I met Exeter birder Brian Heasman who kindly told me about another yeartick downstream. I drove down to Countess Wear and parked near the swing bridge. A few paces up on to the roadbridge, and I was watching a couple of 'brownhead' Goosanders on the river. On the way back to work, I stopped briefly at Topsham recreation ground where a Common Sandpiper was foraging around some debris on the riverbank top for food.
A late afternoon visit to the Shelly Beach area of Exmouth produced 2 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, a Bar-tailed Godwit (the latter being a local patch yeartick), several Red-breasted Mergansers, a few Grey Plover, a good number of Knot (105 to be precise!) and 20 Sanderlings. The female Black Redstart was seen again around the appartment blocks.
Yearticks today in order of appearance:
Jack Snipe, Goosander, Common Sandpiper, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Sanderling & Knot.
The Common Sandpiper was my 100th species this year!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Tuesday 6th January 2009

Still freezing!

Another bitter cold day, with a biting cold easterly breeze. At lunchtime, I popped down to Budleigh Salterton, as a few seaduck had been reported off the mouth of the River Otter. I parked on the seafront, and wandered up to the war memorial to gain some height advantage. I scanned through my 'scope and soon found a raft of c.50 Common Scoter bobbing about on the waves. I could find no sign of any Long-tailed Ducks, one of which had been reported yesterday. A distant diver sp. flew west, probably a Red-throated but I could not be sure. Scanning closer in and getting colder by the minute, I found a Great Crested Grebe. Shortly afterwards I moved my attention to the sea right at the river's exit. Here was a female Eider, showing very well. By now I was chilled to the marrow, and worse still my eyes were beginning to water badly. I strode down to Lime Kilns car park, and walked briskly up the Otter estuary to the first viewing -platform. There were several Common Snipe feeding on the cricket pitch, and a couple of Dunlin. 4 Common Redshank were seen on the estuary, together with a further 2 Dunlin. The next field up produced a Black-tailed Godwit and a Curlew. There were plenty of gulls on the estuary, but nothing unusual.
Warmed up a little from my fast walking, I decided to brave the exposed seafront again. I wandered back along the main path and stopped in the white-painted shelter. This time a 'scope scan found 3 Red-throated Divers flying west together. After noting a Common Chiffchaff briefly by the toilet block, I realised that I had better 'pay a visit' myself. Bleddy cold weather! Ambling back to the car, I saw 4 Ringed Plover on the beach, and a pair of Buzzard were flying together over the seafront itself.
After work, I visited Hayes Barton and Yettington to search the fields before the light faded completely. I eventually came across a covey of 5 Red-legged Partridges on the eastern outskirts of the last-named location.
Yearticks today in order of appearance:
Common Scoter, Great Crested Grebe, Eider, Red-throated Diver, Common Chiffchaff & Red-legged Partridge.
Needless to say, Exeter City's game this evening was called off due to the still-frozen pitch!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Monday 5th January 2009

Back to Work

Yes, after two enforced weeks off from work (our place operates a bit like a college), it was back to reality today. It is still bitter cold out. Work yes, but the birding (or should I say yearlisting) didn't stop. Lunchtime saw me at the top of Deepway Lane in Exminster village, where I trudged round the setaside fields for ages looking for the reported Woodlarks. Cor blimey, it was cold! The cold breeze seemed to cut through you like a knife. Luckily there were a few common birds providing yearticks for yours truly to take my mind off the weather. A pair of Stonechats were probably the most noteworthy, but a dash-past male Sparrowhawk was an exhilarating sight. After seeing only 3 Skylarks and NO Woodlarks I gave up and returned to the car. I coasted down Deepway Lane, but stopped at all the gateways to check the fields on the way down. At the second gate, I had just extricated myself from the old Nissan, when some familiar flutey calls made me look up. Yes, Woodlarks! They flew low over the lane (and my head) and dropped into the field adjacent to the gateway, where I was able to get a better look at them. Phew!
After work, I again made the most of the extending minutes of daylight and wandered briefly round Bystock reserve on the edge of Exmouth's northern fringe. Luckily, I saw a drake Common Teal there (a bird I didn't see within the parish boundary last year!) and another yeartick in the form of an explosively vocal Marsh Tit.
Today's yearticks were in order of appearance:
Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Skylark, Sparrowhawk, Raven, Woodlark and Marsh Tit.

Sunday 4th January 2009

What Waxwings?

Firstly, the adult male Blackcap showed well again out the back of our house, just before 10am. Following a report of an alledged 6 Waxwings at Ide yesterday, Julia and I decided we would combine a trip to the garden centre at Cowley near Exeter with a bit of birding. We covered the area in and around Ide to start with, we couldn't even find a berry bush, yet alone a Waxwing! Just north-west of Ide we located a yeartick - Pheasant. In fact there were several in the area. Waxwingless, we headed on to Dunchideock, where we enjoyed good 'scope views of the resident Little Owl, opposite the village hall, another good yeartick. We pulled over for our picnic lunch on the edge of Ide again, taken in the car due to the freezing conditions outside! Whilst eating lunch, the birds came to us. A Grey Heron flew up from a weedy field. Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers showed themselves in trees around the car, and a Bullfinch provided another yeartick. A couple of Buzzards were seen very close, from the car.
We then trundled over to Bernaville Nurseries at Cowley and warmed up a bit. Later we headed towards home, but decided to stop at Topsham. We headed down to the antiques centre on the quay, where Mrs Smith headed inside, whilst I spent a very cold half hour watching the gulls flying down river to roost. Little Egret, Grey Heron, Avocet and Wigeon were present, and after checking through about 750 fly-past gulls, I spotted my first Lesser Black-backed Gull of 2009, an adult. After that I soon took shelter in the Antiques Centre!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Saturday 3rd January 2009

A Quick Look

Another cold day, but sunny here in Exmouth. However there seemed to be a fog bank out at sea and in Torbay. Not much time for birding today, as I was going to watch my beloved Exeter City FC this afternoon - more on that later! The adult male Blackcap put in an appearance out the back of our home again. I had to run an errand in town this morning so I drove down with my wife and son. Now, in January I always try to get at least one yeartick a day. It keeps the list going and the interest up! I thought a quick 20 minute look at the seafront might provide the yeartick. However, we hadn't even reached town, when on travelling down Hulham Road, I spotted a small group of Redwings flying over! Yes, they were conveniently a yeartick that I hadn't connected with yet. I eventually pulled up on the seafront anyway, and although the tide was in, there seemed to be very few birds actually "out there". A couple of Red-breasted Mergansers posed as 'grebes' for a while, but when turning side-on instead of showing me their 'bums', they were caught out! I was scanning with my 'scope when I realised that I was looking distantly at the long-staying female Surf Scoter! This species although rare, has turned up in our area now for some years running. Today it provided me with the rarest yeartick I've had so far.
OK, on to the footie, or should I say, the lack of it. I drove in to Exeter with my son and his girlfriend, extricated myself from the car, only to told by a passing fan that the game had been called off due to an icy pitch! This is something that very rarely happens down here in mild old Devon. We are supposed to be playing a home game again on Tuesday night, but I reckon that could be in doubt too, looking at the projected weather forecast!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Friday 2nd January 2009

More Laidback Yearlisting!

This morning I dropped my wife off at work, returned home, had a leisurely breakfast, then nipped down to Shelly beach in Exmouth. It was sunny but there was a cold north-east wind. I had the Red-necked Grebe again, fairly close in, and managed to put local Exeter birder Dave Stone on to the bird. A Rook flew over providing ME with a yeartick! I then hunted for the female Black Redstart around the gaudy new appartment blocks. Grovelling around in a tiny area of sparse bushes was my first Song Thrush of the year. I met Doug Cullen from Otterton, who had also come over for the grebe. After a while, I decided to wander off round to the seafront. I was ambling along the path by the seawall, when a wet, bedraggled little bird hopped on to the seawall just by my elbow! The female Black Redstart! She had obviously decided that all those hordes of people out for Christmas/New Year strolls around HER Shelly beach was too much. She had been out on the rocks at the west end of Exmouth seafront and had endured a little saltspray in the process! Well Miss Black Redstart saw me and promptly dived into the gardens of the flats on the seafront that are Moreton Crescent. If you know me then you will sympathise with her actions. A quick look late morning at Mudbank Lane yielded the Spotted Redshank, another bird I had missed yesterday.
This afternoon, after a quick snack and picking up Mrs Smith from work, I drove my wife, my son and his girlfriend in to Exeter to go sales shopping. Me - I headed in the opposite direction towards good birding areas! I visited Matford Pools, which luckily were only partially iced over. Here I added another half dozen yearticks before I moved round the corner to Countess Wear and the Riverside Country Park, alongside the Exeter Canal. Best bird here was a Water Rail. Finally I turned up at Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, where I knew I could get a few more yearticks. The tide was out, so not a good time to visit, but I got a few more birds here and there, by also looking over the Clyst Estuary from the viewing platform.
Here are the birds I saw today that were new for 2009 in order:
Rook, Song Thrush, Black Redstart, Turnstone, Spotted Redshank, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Buzzard, Teal, Stock Dove, Shoveler, Common Snipe, Coot, Fieldfare, Water Rail, Canada Goose, Lapwing, Moorhen, Jay, Pochard, Little Grebe, Avocet, Meadow Pipit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and Greylag Goose.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Thursday 1st January 2009

Yearlisting at snail pace!

Gone are the days when I used to get up long before first light and arrive at some far-flung spot just to start my new yearlist with a bang. Years ago, it was the normal practise for me to go to bed early on New Year's Eve, ready to spring out of bed at some ungodly hour, to start yearlisting at a torturous pace. Previous New Year's Day listing has produced such gems as Little Bustard (was it really 21 years ago!), Red-breasted Goose (even further back in time!), Bufflehead and Dusky Warbler (both seen at first light in Devon!). Several January 1st's have seen me crack at least 90 species on that day alone! This morning, following a leisurely breakfast in bed, I finally emerged from my cocoon at 1100hrs, having got to bed about 20 to 2 earlier.
I spent most of my undressed hours peering somewhat hazily out of the windows, adding a few first yearticks to my notepad! First bird of the year was a Starling! This was closely followed by Goldfinch, Great Tit, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Goldcrest in that order. Before managing to find my clothes, I had cracking views of a first-winter male Blackcap out the back of my house. Eventually I wandered up the road and found myself up at Knappe Cross, this area producing a few Long-tailed Tits, and a Nuthatch. Further on, at Gorse Lane I saw another Blackcap, an adult male, and at the top of Marley Road, I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Arriving back at Knappe Cross, I had very close views of a Green Woodpecker. With dinner not being ready until 1pm, I drifted down to Mudbank Lane just as the tide was dropping. The highlight here was the usual Greenshank, and a cracking male Kingfisher, sat on the usual low wall exposed by the dropping tide. After a sumptious dinner of roast beef, I eventually found myself at Shelly Beach. Here, the Red-necked Grebe performed superbly again, in the channel, just off the beach at low tide.
So here in order of appearance were my yearticks for today:
Starling, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Blackcap, Wood Pigeon, Blue Tit, Nuthatch, Greenfinch, Robin, Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Green Woodpecker, Grey Heron, Shelduck, Wigeon, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Pintail, Mallard, Common Redshank, Common Gull, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Kingfisher, Greenshank, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Pipit, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Cormorant, Goldeneye, Grey Wagtail, Red-breasted Merganser, Mute Swan, Red-necked Grebe and Shag.
49 species in all.

Wednesday 31st December 2008

End of the Year

Well 2008 turned out to be a good year for yours truly. I found 2 really good birds on my local patch here within the parish boundary of Exmouth, namely Stone Curlew and Rough-legged Buzzard. I had at least 4 World Lifers, Pacific Diver in Cornwall, and Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Lark and Short-toed Treecreeper in northern France. I also had 2 pending lifers - Azorean Yellow-legged Gull (a possible future 'split') and Hooded Merganser (if it isn't wild, where the devil did it come from, given that it was in diabolical first-summer plumage when it arrived after late spring westerly gales and driving rain?). Other great birds this year included Devon's first King Eider, an obliging Little Crake at Exminster Marshes back in April, followed by an equally obliging American Golden Plover at the same location and the first 'mainland Devon' record of Semipalmated Sandpiper at Dawlish Warren! I certainly hope that 2009 is as good in birding terms.
Today I popped around a couple of Exmouth's birding hotspots. I visited Mudbank Lane late morning and was rewarded with the usual Greenshank and hosts of wildfowl and waders. A Grey Wagtail put in an appearance to add another splash of colour. I then zipped round to Shelly Beach and wandered round the area including the marina and the western end of the seafront. I was more than pleased to locate a Red-necked Grebe, just off Shelly Beach late afternoon. This was my second bird of this species I'd connected with this year - let's hope it's still there tomorrow! A couple of female Goldeneye were present in the same low-tide channel. Late evening saw me partaking of a few drinks to see in the New Year!
Happy New Year!