Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Friday 13th February 2009

Unlucky For Some?

Yes, Friday 13th! Not a very good day normally for yours truly. Now, I'm not unduly superstitious, but I have had my share of really bad luck on this date over the years. Like when I was a child. I cycled with some mates to the local town (one of them needed a haircut!), completely forgetting that I had to go to my aunt's for tea as I my mother was off somewhere with my younger brother! Well, we got delayed and it had got dark when we returned to our bikes. No lights meant a hairy ride back up to our village, with cars zooming past just millimetres away, (but don't tell my Mum!!). I was still at junior school at the time, so you can imagine it was a bit scary. Luckily cars were not so frequent on our country roads then as they are now. Unluckily I was late getting to my aunt's and I got torn off a strip for it too!
Then a couple of years ago - Friday 13th again - I was chauferring my parents around for a few days whilst they were spending a few days down here in East Devon, when we decided to stop for lunch at a cafe in Honiton. I duly proceded to consume a hearty plateful of ham, eggs, chips and peas. I eventually arrived home late afternoon to hear of a Stone Curlew on the Axe Estuary near Seaton. As I had never seen one in Devon before, I went for it! I got reasonable views of it before it disappeared, never to be seen again. So, where the's bad luck associated with Friday 13th, I hear you asking yourself? Well, that evening I was very very ill! I had obviously had a very dodgy meal in that Honiton cafe. (Subsequent tests by the good doctor revealed I had succombed to severe food-poisoning!). So I paid for more Stone Curlew! I managed to lose a stone and a half over the next 10 days - not a recommended way of losing weight!
So, what of today? I first trundled down to Mudbank Lane, where due to the high tide, a large number of wildfowl were present, in fact the first large gathering of wildfowl for some time. Hordes of Wigeon were present, a little way out from the railway line, as were quite a few Shelduck and a very vocal lone Dark-bellied Brent Goose. Scanning through, the flock I discovered a drake Common Teal and a female Shoveler lurking within the masses. However, there was nothing else of note to be found at this site.
Later on, I trudged across from Knowle Hill, across the edge of Budleigh golf course and back into my patch, just east of Straight Point and Sandy Bay caravan park. On the sea here I found a small party of 7 Great Crested Grebes and a Red-throated Diver. A single adult Gannet passed offshore. I looked down on to the landslip and spotted a Fox, curled up asleep below me! However, I didn't see anything else of interest. I then trudged back to the car.

Thursday 12th February 2009

Another Patch Yeartick

A quiet stroll along the cycle track at Mudbank Lane was the order of the day, or should I say lunchtime! The usual scene greeted me as I alighted from the car - several Shelduck, lots of Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatchers and a few each of Grey Plover, Dunlin, Little Egrets and of course, a multitude of gulls. I wandered along as far as West Lodge, where upon I found another local patch yeartick in the form of a Common Snipe, resting on the edge of the reedy pool. This pool always looks like it could produce something interesting, but I have yet to see anything unusual here. I think that the disturbance from the adjoining cycle track probably has something to do with it, but there again, on quiet days like today (hence Common Snipe) I'm sure if I keep plugging it, other birds will appear. It has the potential of being a nice little (with the emphasis on little) reserve. If it was screened off from the cycle track and a walkway put in along the side to a viewing screen............I'm getting carried away here!
I had a look out over the estuary from adjacent to West Lodge and was pleased to find a Great Crested Grebe and a female Goldeneye offshore. A Green Woodpecker called from the trees behind me. I then found a tiny group of 7 Knot shuffling around out on the tideline.
Having another look at the Common Snipe, I returned to the car, and thence work.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Wednesday 11th March 2009


Yes, it does sound like some hippy-fest does it not? However, Bystock Reserve, at the top end of Exmouth parish, is apart from being laid-back and incredibly peaceful (grab some flowers man!), a truly marvellous little reserve. It has a little lake, with some very large Coy Carp, surrounded by pines, a number of tiny ponds, (good for frogspawn and dragonflies), a large grass meadow (ideal for butterflies), a bog, a deciduous wood, and can be very wet underfoot, hence the raised boardwalks and steps in places! I decided to pay it another visit lunchtime.
A swift look at the small lake produced a single drake Mallard, an inauspicious start! I bumped into Glenn Vernall, and had a quick chat about what he'd seen. We disussed the paucity of Siskins in the area this winter, but Glenn indicated he'd had one fly over calling earlier. A Green Woodpecker flew past us, calling. I carried on up the path and Glenn left towards his scooter. About 2 minutes later, I had a Siskin fly over calling! This was a patch year tick. I strolled on up to the top end of the reserve, into the deciduous wood. I was soon watching a vocal Nuthatch, in a beech tree above me. A few common species were also seen including 3 tit family members. After getting taken in by the peace and solitude of the place, I soon realised that my daydreaming had made the time march on - got to race back to the car! On the way back down through the reserve, I heard a Raven calling and saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker near the lake. And so, having experienced an hour's worth of "good vibes" it was time to return to work.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Monday 9th February 2009

And I thought it rained enough yesterday!

.........but it was truly awful today. There was a cold easterly wind blowing, and it poured with heavy rain on and off all day. Now, as well as hating being cooped up all day indoors, I also have to get away from work at lunchtimes, otherwise I would go insane! There was only one place to go lunchtime today, given the weather - the hide at Bowling Green Marsh! It was that sort of weather. Anywhere else in Britain if there was a bitter cold wind blowing from the east, and precipitation was great, it would SNOW like the blazes. Not here around the Exe! Yes, we get bitter cold wind, but the salty sea air makes sure that what would cover the country with a thick blanket of snow only falls as RAIN here! This makes it doubly unpleasant. Cold wind and heavy rain - roll on the spring! As I was passing Darts Farm a Sparrowhawk dashed across the road in front of me. I duly arrived at Bowling Green Marsh and kitted up, making the hide my first port of call. The wind was doing its best to blow big spots of rain through the slats into the hide. I had to position one of the benches a little way back from the "windows", set up my 'scope on its tripod and view as best I could. There were a large number of ducks present - Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler all tried their best to make the day seem a little more colourful. Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank walked across the grass, probing in the very wet ground for food. On the main pool, a Little Grebe, 6 Pochard and a female Goldeneye were diving for their food. A few Dark-bellied Brent Geese were seen. I then decided to brave the elements, as the heavy rain had abated somewhat, leaving just a steady veil of rain. I wandered down to the viewing platform. Here were the obligatory Grey Plover, Curlew and Dunlin. This was more exposed than I would have wished for, so I quickly moved on round to the Goat Walk to view the upper Exe estuary. It was a little more sheltered here from the easterly wind and rain, and plenty of Avocets were feeding right in front of me. I then retraced my steps, seeing a nice flock of House Sparrows in the laneside hedgerow opposite Riversmeet. They may be dwindling in numbers but there always seems to be a regularly little flock here. I got back to the car, quite wet and starting to feel a bit on the chilly side, so headed back to work to warm up!

Sunday 8th February 2009

Out in the Rain

I don't know about you, but I don't like being cooped up indoors for too long! So, when it decided to drizzle/rain lightly all day today, by the afternoon I was champing at the bit to get outside! I zipped down to Mudbank Lane where the tide was gradually rising. I managed to keep my optics fairly dry, but there wasn't a lot to be seen, the resident Greenshank being the highlight. There was acold south-westerly breeze blowing, so the drizzle was catching me in the face! I decided to have a walk around Maer Vale, so I drove up to Douglas Avenue, parked the car and wandered down the footpath to Maer Farm, seeing a few Long-tailed Tits on the way. Here there was a little more in the way of shelter from the rain. I had a Great Spotted Woodpecker by the side of Littleham Brook, in a dead elm, and a small party of Chaffinches brightened up the scenery, especially the males which are now showing bright breeding plumage! However, there no Brambling amongst them, a species I have not caught up with yet this year in Exmouth. I wandered up Maer Lane, then cut down through, recrossing the brook, slithering and sliding in the mud! A Jay flew over, again adding a splash of colour. By now the rain was getting a little more persistent, and I was getting a little damper and colder. Luckily it was time to go and pick up my good lady from work, so I arrived back at Douglas Avenue, packed my (damp) kit in the car, and arrived in good time.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Friday 6th February 2009

Another grey day!

Today was the same as yesterday, grey and overcast. But the northerly wind was colder. I visited Mudbank Lane and the first birds I put my bins on were a Spotted Redshank and a Greenshank! They were feeding in the usual channel mouth just by the railway line. There plenty of the usual waders feeding out on the side of the waterline, with the tide nearly up to the side of the estuary. Also a few Pintail and Wigeon were evident today, whereas the large numbers usually encountered here in the earlier part of winter had moved on up the estuary to find fresher feeding grounds. I wandered along the track to West Lodge, seeing the usual Grey Herons and Little Egrets, and a pair of Buzzards sat on fenceposts. However, there was nothing unusual to be found. I turned round and ambled back again, a single Skylark flying over calling.
Later, I popped up to Bystock Reserve. There was a little ice on the surface of the lake in places, but most of the water was ice-free. A Cormorant was sitting on a partially-sunken log, an unusual species here. I walked up to the top end of the reserve, but the best birds I could find were a pair of Bullfinches and two Green Woodpeckers.

Thursday 5th February 2009

Lunchtime Walk

As my wife had the car today, I spent my lunchtime taking a walk down to Exton, where I had a good look from the station platform, then carried on along Riverside to the railway crossing. It was probably the dullest day imaginable, with low heavy grey cloud which was stationary due to there being no breeze. It was also coldish which added to the depressive feel to things. The tide was right up, so most of the waders seen were just passing over, so to speak. There were 6 Goldeneye dotted about the estuary (there may have been more, but I was restricted to binoculars-only birding today). I noticed in the distance, across the other side of the estuary that something had spooked the waders on Exminster Marshes, and subsequently some of those birds flew over to my side! There plenty of Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits, a few Dunlin and Redshank, and a nice flock of Golden Plover, which wheeled around a couple of times before settling back down again. I reached the railway crossing to be greeted by the call of a Green Woodpecker.
A few Oystercatcher and a couple of Turnstone had passed me whilst walking alongside the estuary, but the best wader was found when I returned to the station platform. Just south of the station, a small pebbly promontary sticks out into the estuary just a few metres. This is used as a high-tide roost by a very small number of waders and usually, a couple of Cormorants, and sometimes the odd Grey Heron or Little Egret. Today however, there was a Whimbrel there walking around! This was my second one this year. There is one overwintering (again) at Budleigh Salterton, and there have been reports of one from Dawlish Warren as well earlier in the year, so maybe this is the Warren bird. It eventually strolled slowly over the pebble ridge and didn't return, so it probably decided to rest there over the high tide. I then returned to work, passing a Grey Wagtail in damp fields alongside the railway line.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wednesday 4th February 2009

Slavonian Grebes

After yesterday's mini-glut of patch yearticks, today was a disappointment. I couldn't seem to connect with much at all! I first went to the seafront, where I saw very little. So I visited the Shelly Beach area and watched a few waders fly past, as it was high tide. There were the usual Oystercatchers, Curlews, Turnstone, Dunlin and Redshank, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, whilst I was scanning along by the gaudy appartment blocks, I found 3 Slavonian Grebes swimming along together close in to where I was standing. These continued to perform right in front me, and I enjoyed watching their diving and resurfacing, sometimes right alongside some of the small boats moored in the channel. I decided to have a quick look at Mudbank Lane before returning to work, but again, this threw up few birds.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Tuesday 3rd February 2009

A Very Cold Day

As it was cold with snow flurries, and a south-west wind, I decided to search for cold weather-movement birds today. This paid off as I parked up at Foxholes Hill, then strolled along to Orcombe Point and up the coastpath to High Land of Orcombe. Firstly though, I stopped at the point and did a seawatch. In half an hour I had logged 12 Red-throated, and single Black-throated and Great Northern Divers, a Great Crested Grebe (a patch yeartick) and 22 Common Scoter (some of which were sat on the sea). There were about 15 Song Thrushes around the point fields, a sure sign of cold weather-movement, then I found another patch yeartick in the form of a single Lapwing. Better things were to come though as I trudged up the path to the top fields. Last year in this one particular field, I was fortunate enough to add Lapland Bunting, Woodlark and Short-eared Owl to my Exmouth Lifelist. Today I found 75 Golden Plover in the same field, which strangely enough seem to be my first ever on the local patch! As if to make sure I had noticed them, they flew around a few times their lovely golden and brown plumage catching the light as they twisted and turned in flight. Marvellous! Just to add to the general scene, a feeding flock of 50 or so Curlew were present just down the lane. However, I was not done yet and a look in at Maer Farm revealed 4 Red-legged Partridge in the barnyard. These were my first in Exmouth this year, so I did well today for patch yearticks:
Great Crested Grebe, Lapwing, Golden Plover & Red-legged Partridge.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Monday 2nd February 2009

Local Patch Yeartick

Another cold day today, but with much more sunshine. Lunchtime saw me heading down to Shelly Beach. I did my usual march round the appartment blocks and watched the birds flying past as they left their high tide roosts and zoomed towards their feeding grounds being left exposed as the tide started to drop. Plenty of common waders flew by, the best being a small group of Knot. However, apart from a female Goldeneye, there was nothing of particular interest to note.
I decided to have a look at Mudbank lane, as more mud was becoming exposed , but duck would still be in close to the railway line, making viewing fairly simple. I first concentrated on the duck. A few Pintail and Wigeon were feeding just off the tideline, and 9 Common Teal were with them, not always an easy bird to connect with in Exmouth. My only Teal so far this year on my local patch had been a drake on a tiny tiny pond up at Bystock Reserve. However the best species were 4 (2 pairs) of Shoveler, a local patch yeartick, and one I didn't see at all last year in Exmouth! I then searched through the waders and gulls, but the only bird of note amongst these was the resident Greenshank. Unfortunately I then had to return to work!

Sunday 1st February 2009

Biting Cold Sidmouth

Julia and I travelled over to Sidmouth today, but found it very cold with a biting cold south-eaterly wind coming straight in off the sea. I dashed round Connaught gardens, which being on top of the cliff, were more exposed than usual! I peered down on to the sea with watering eyes, and found a pair of Common Scoters diving in the surf, below the cliff. I next got my telescope on one of the rock islands which have been placed there to break up heavy seas and save the seafront from huge batterings. There, stood on the leeward side were 2 Purple Sandpipers, my first of the year. They soon disappeared down between the rocks, obviously sheltering from the elements. I could not find anything else worth mentioning and my eyes were watering so much from the continual blast of very cold wind that I soon retreated back to the car.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Saturday 31st January 2009

Football and birding do go together!

I drove into Exeter this afternoon to see my team, City, play. There was plenty of banter as I had my son and his girlfriend with me. On arrival, I headed for my usual parking spot in Polsloe Road. We were getting kitted up with warm clothing, when I suddenly spotted a strange large bird flying towards us from the west. It appeared to be a raptor, but not just one of the multitude of Buzzards we normally encounter round these parts, this bird had a long thin tail! I rapidly reached into the car for my bins, focused, and confirmed my suspicions that the bird was a Red Kite! I have seen this bird a few times in Devon, including one a couple of years ago that flew low over my house! But I am always enthralled to watch these beautiful birds as they fly over, twisting their long, forked tails to add to stability of flight. This one flew at a height of about 100feet and passed slowly over us. Of course, I was jumping up and down with delight, oblivious to other footie fans walking past (and probably thinking I'd just escaped from the local institution). Nevertheless, I eventually calmed down and stopped embarrassing my son and his girlfriend (I even managed to try and get them to see the bird!). It eventually disappeared behind some rooftops. We then went on to the ground where, inspired by a Kite flypast, City won 2-1!

Friday 30th January 2009

Not much better today!

I paid 2 visits to Mudbank Lane today, once during lunchtime and again a quick trip there after work. Again, there was a cold south-easterly wind blowing and it was very very dull and overcast. Only 2 Dark-bellied Brent Geese were present and the only duck present were a few Shelduck. In the distance towards the Imperial Ground, there were over 100 Knot feeding on the mudflats, not a bad number for Exmouth! A Grey Wagtail was again present in the channel through the mud the other side of the railway line. The later visit revealed a Spotted Redshank and the resident Greenshank in the channel.

Thursday 29th January 2009

Cold and Windy!

I visited Orcombe Point today, but immediately thought it a daft thing to do, as I arrived and found the wind howling in very cold from the south-east, straight off the sea. Now, out on the point I usually seawatch from behind some clifftop bushes which give me some protection when the wind is coming anywhere from the west. Easterlies mean a darned good buffeting, and trying to hold on to your tripod and telescope! Such was the weather today, I soon retreated back to the car. A Red-throated Diver passing south-west was the highlight. What did seem rather funny was a party of 10 Long-tailed Tits passing through the bushes by my side, right in the teeth of the strong wind. The bushes were being blown all over the place, so as you can see the smallest bird in the UK (if you remove its tail!) is very resilient!
I soon found myself down at Mudbank Lane where it seemed a bit calmer. However there wasn't much to be seen here, save the resident Greenshank again. It was one of those days you just have to put down to experience!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Wednesday 28th January 2009

Another Local Patch Yeartick

A fairly mild day with a southerly breeze and plenty of sunshine. I popped back into Exmouth at lunchtime and wandered round the Shelly Beach area, but there wasn't much to be seen save for a couple of Goldeneye just offshore. So I popped round to Mudbank lane, where I set up my 'scope and had a look over the railway line. A Greenshank was present as usual in the channel through the mudflats. 7 Knot were seen a little farther out. I was just about to head back to work, when I thought I'd better check out the gulls in front of me. Luckily I did, because I was soon looking at an adult Mediterranean Gull in winter plumage. It was loafing on the mudflats with a group of about 100 Black-headed and a couple of Common Gulls. This was my first on the local patch this year, and took my patch yearlist up to 101 species.
After work I popped up to Bystock reserve and had a quick zoom round before it got dark. I heard a Green Woodpecker calling near the top end of the reserve, and later had a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying over near the lake. However I saw nothing else of note until I got back to the car, where a Marsh Tit flew into the trees by the car, and started calling loudly (presumably to make sure I had seen it!).

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Monday 26th January 2009

Working the Local Patch

I popped down to the Shelly beach area of Exmouth again at lunchtime, after a fruitless look at Mudbank Lane. The tide was out, but there was plenty to see. Just off the beach in a channel between the beach and a raised musselbed was a Little Grebe, a local patch yeartick. 5 Goldeneye were also just offshore together with the usual Red-breasted Mergansers. In the distance across the other side of the estuary I could see the Spoonbill again, at Starcross. A cold northerly wind was blowing down the estuary, but a little sunshine now and then brightened things up a bit.
Later on I paid a visit to Withycombe Raleigh Common, where I had very close views of one of the local Buzzards and the sun was shining continuously until it set. With the sun going down, a few birds dropped into the area to roost. A few Linnets were watched flying in. Best of all though was a female Crossbill, which flew over calling, before dropping in to Bystock Reserve, albeit some distance from where I was standing on WRC. Five minutes later a pair of Yellowhammers dropped into the gorse and heather, also calling as they approached. The latter were my first of the year anywhere!