Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Family commitment

I haven't managed to update this blog for a little while due to a serious family commitment. Life has been manic since my return from Croatia on May 18! Just a little taster of my holiday - I managed to see 5 lifers whilst staying near Dubrovnik. These were Rock Partridge (more on these later), Sombre Tit, Alpine Chough, Pygmy Cormorant and Rock Nuthatch. The holiday was made even more interesting by taking trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina and into Montenegro! I hope to write a more fuller report on this trip soon and update my local birding reports which include a very obliging Ross's Gull and a not-so-obliging Whiskered Tern.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Psychic or what?

Early this afternoon, I visited Orcombe Point, the top birding spot within Exmouth parish. I go there a lot. It's brilliant for birds. OK, so this spring has been pretty crappy so far, by Orcombe standards. Just a handful of Wheatears, one Little Tern and one lone Common Redstart recorded by yours truly. But you have to keep grilling the place to get rewards. I ambled along towards the geoneedle ( it's a big pointy thing that locals like to pee up against). I bumped into Dave Hopkins who had seen very little. We chatted as birders do, about the birds we'd seen lately, or rather, what we'd not seen lately! I mentioned the paucity of good birds here, and cursed the fact that I'd yet to see Arctic Skua (indeed any bleddy skua this spring), Swift or House Martin in Exmouth this year. No sooner than I'd had a good cuss to Dave, when I picked out a bird moving with vigour off the point. It had a go at a Sandwich Tern revaling itself to be, yes you've guessed, an Arctic Skua! Shortly afterwards a Swift flew in/off providing me with my first in Exmouth this year. Dave jokingly remarked that perhaps I should have mentioned Roller or Bee-eater! On arrival home later this afternoon I picked out my first Exmouth House Martins of 2014 from my kitchen window, the latest arrival date I've ever recorded for this species around home. 8 birds though certainly gave me hope that the usual numbers have managed to get back!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Roseate Tern

I had a text from Matt just as I was leaving work today to say he had a Roseate Tern off the seafront, so I drove straight down there and after about 20 minutes' wait, I was lucky enough to pick the bird out as it did a a couple of feeding circuits, then seemed to head off east. By this time the rain was trying to come on a bit, so I headed for home!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Couldn't resist any longer!

After work, I just couldn't resist it any longer. I succumbed! I had to do it! Yes, I decided that with the weather set fair, and the continued presence of the bird, I just wanted to see it, and time allowed me to do just that. I finally gave in and drove up to Northam Burrows to see the Collared Pratincole! I arrived at 1730hrs, walked straight out to Greens 9/10 on the golf course and there it was. No hanging around for hours in inclement weather waiting for the bird to turn up for yours truly! It was such a beautiful bird, I watched it for over 2 hours - it was still present when I left, having only seen it fly a short distance. A dog ran past it - it didn't fly. A couple walked close past it - it didn't fly! That was when I realised that by inching forward slowly and with due regard to the other 4 birders present, we could approach the bird down to about 12 yards. Soon, I was getting 'scope-filling views and if you look at the Devon bird news webpage, you can see the type of photos that could be obtained! personally, I think the bird was so full of food, it was loathe to move very far, it certainly had loads of flies and grubs to feed on. Other birds included masses of Wheatears of both northern forms, singing Sedge Warblers and my first 'White' Wagtail of the year in with some Pied.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dartmoor yesterday

Yesterday I had to go to Dartmoor, so I combined the trip with a few hours' birding. The weather was fine and sunny to start with, but up on the very tops it was a bit cloudier at times, the wind got up and it was bleddy freezing! First stop was a profitable look-in at Yarner Wood. Here on the heathland I observed my first Tree Pipits of the year, one bird being watched down to 10 feet sat in a tree! Two Lesser Redpoll were also watched up on the heath. Next, on to the carpark pond, where three Mandarin were also added to the 2014 list. About 10 Siskin were coming to the feeders outside the hide, adding a splash of colour, and giving their very distinctive call, together with Nuthatch, Marsh, Coal, Blue and Gret Tits. Up the path past the visitor centre and I'm looking out for stuff all the way, when my attention was drawn to a 'Phyllosc' feeding and flitting about in the tree tops. This turned out to be my first Wood Warbler of the year, but it remained silent. Apparently this was the first returning bird seen back at Yarner this year! Shortly afterwards I heard a male Pied Flycatcher singing, and I was soon looking at this very smart bird. Another 4 birds were seen on my walk around. Next was a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which remained elusive. A Tawny Owl hooting deep in the woods was another Year tick. A Green Woodpecker was calling somewhere over in the valley. Time to move on. I stopped at Headland Warren Farm, which was starting to get over-run with bleddy grockles. There were dozens of people about, most seemed to be shouting at one another as loud as possible, whilst others were riding mountain bikes over everything. I understand that folk need exercise, and far from it for me to try and stop anyone trying to get fit, but something will have to be done soon to limit where these bikers ride, as they are slowly helping to erode away the topsoil and rocks of our impressive tors, not to mention the disturbance to wildlife and destruction of moorland plants. It does seem that they think they are entitled to take their bikes on every inch of ground available. Rant over! Wheatears were abundant, and believe it or not, were my first of the year, the latest I have ever seen this species! I then popped down to Challacombe Farm, but there seemed to be very little about, but there were an awful lot of people about, the area resembling Exeter High Street on a busy shooping day! At some stage of the day and in a quiet location, I managed to add Goshawk to my 2014 list 'somewhere on Dartmoor'. Later in the afternoon I caught up with the Snow Bunting at Dawlish Warren.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Busy time!

I have been ultra-busy with work, family and gardening commitments, so haven't had time to post on here. So, just a quick update of highlights over the past 3 weeks or so: Osprey from my back doorstep distantly over the Exe, Mar 28. Spoonbill at Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, Apr 7. Common Tern (3) from Mudbank Lane, Exmouth, Apr 8 Red Kite from my back doorstep, Apr 13. Other Year ticks have been: Willow Warbler, Swallow, Grey Partridge (in Wiltshire), Little Ringed Plover, House Martin, Lesser Whitethroat & Reed Warbler. Today I went round to Exminster Marshes where the usual Barnacle Goose was still present between the lane and the lagoon. A female Garganey was my first of the year, but was difficult to see in a channel near the canal carpark. The Lesser Whitethroat was still performing well along the railway path. I even managed to see my first Common Swift of the year slowly heading north into the wind about 200 feet up over the lagoon! This afternoon I strolled along from Mudbank Lane to West Lodge in Exmouth, and back, the highlight being my first Whimbrel of 2014. Best bird (and another Year tick) this afternoon though was a female Common Redstart up at Orcombe Point, showing down to 30 feet along the track to the camp field!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Another quick update

Due to being very busy lately, the old fingers have not been able to tap on the keyboard quite so much recently, so a very quick update of a mainly very quiet birding period! Finally caught up with some proper spring migrants. A visit to Bowling Green Marsh Monday lunchtime provided me with c.200 Sand Martins. Then Tuesday I managed to catch up with my second Glaucous Gull in Exmouth this year and finally set eyes on the stonking second-winter bird down on the Pierhead. I even managed to take some pics of it with my mobile phone the next day, such were the close views the bird afforded! Wednesday also provided me with my first Sandwich Terns of the year, 3 being seen distantly perched on the seaward side of a buoy (presumably trying to hide from yours truly, and not taking flight once in over the hour I had them in view!). Today was cold and windy and migrants were restricted to 3 Chiffchaffs.

Friday, 14 March 2014

An Update

It's a little while since I found some time to tap out anything here, so I thought a quick update was required! I managed to catch up with the elusive Yellow-browed Warbler at Topsham Recreation Ground on March 7th, after about 5 attempts. The female Black Redstart was also seen again, lurking in one of the gardens. March 10th saw me round at Exminster Marshes for a brief but profitable lunchtime visit. First of all a female-type Marsh Harrier put in an appearance and another long-awaited Year tick came in the shape of a vocal Cetti's Warbler. The Barnacle Goose was still present. Last Wednesday I managed to see the Siberian Chiffchaff that Matt had found at Warren View, a very distinct 'subspecies'. I failed to hear it call though. Yesterday we had to visit relatives in Tavistock and a walk along the riverside path through the park was all we needed to catch up with Dipper for the year, an individual posing well on the Tavy along the usual stretch of river. The weather there was glorious with warm spring sunshine!

Monday, 3 March 2014

A trip to see my Mum!

Yep, we've all got 'em, mothers that is! Now my Mum is 84 and lives in wildest Wiltshire. So it was about time I paid her another visit, and early Sunday saw me and my long-suffering daughter eating up the miles, bombing up the M5 in my respectable motor. Having rounded up Bewick's Swan for the year in darkest (wettest?) Somerset we carried on as it just so happened that there was a stonking good bird available about 15 miles from Mum's home, so as I used to keep a Wiltshire list (being my home county) I simply just had to go and visit the Shire Valley. We pulled up in a muddy lane, donned wellies, coats and gloves (well, it is colder up there than in our mild storm-lashed part of the UK) and were promptly hailed by one of my old mates from a bygone era. It was some 30-odd years ago that we used to travel the length and breadth of the land for lifers with a small band of birders from Wessex and it was great to catch up with Ewan again yesterday! Shortly afterwards we were in position in the very muddy valley and after a brief wait, were getting mind-numbing views of the first-winter male Red-flanked Bluetail that has been in residence since early February! What a great bird to see. This one showed down to about 15 feet, perching on a stick and eating mealworms that some kind soul had obviously left for it, in the hope that it would have to hang around until 2018, therefore providing birders with a fantastic year tick for the forseeable future! This was my 4th Bluetail in the UK, and perhaps it's been a bit undervalued these past few years as it used to be an absolute Cosmic bird! My first on Fair Isle in 1984 was just about the best bird one could wish to encounter as it was a true rarity in those days and had most birders having orgasms when the species was mentioned! I saw another in Cornwall, the same day as a Chimney Swift! But the hardest I had to work for was the one at Berry Head in Devon, which eventually gave itself up after a 6-hour search. After the Shire Valley had thrown as much mud at us as possible, we popped up the road and added Corn Bunting to the 2014 list before going to visit my dear old Mum! Today, a lunchtime visit to Topsham Rec' provided me with my first Lesser Redpolls (3) of the year and a very obliging Common Sandpiper

Friday, 28 February 2014

Back out again, albeit during a lunch break!

Fed up with work, chores, weather, football results etc. (pass me a sharp kitchen knife!) I just had to get out at lunchtime today. I'm afraid it resulted in a dash and year tick instead of a prolonged studious walk, but I have been very fed up this week! I popped round to the road leading alongside Powderham Park next to the Exe estuary. I parked up, got out amd promptly wished I hadn't! It was bleddy freezing. A strong cold northerly blew down the estuary and it was spotting with rain all the time, despite the sun being out at times! The results of the recent devastating storms could be seen everywhere. Lots of jetsam on the road, still flooding in places, shoreline scoured away by gales and exceptional high tides and now it's cold as well! Roll on the spring........ A quick scan over the estuary where the River Kenn empties out under the road resulted in my first Spotted Redshank of the year. As it was low tide, the bird was feeding in the slight gully formed where the Kenn flows into the Exe. But great views were had. Nearby were two Greenshanks, plenty of Black-tailed Godwits and assorted common waders. Being quite an exposed spot, I quickly moved on (with the car heater cranked right up!). I made a quick stop at Exminster Marshes, where I scanned from the 'middle car park'. Two Little Gulls were seen dancing over the flashes just north of the large lagoon, an adult and a first-winter. I love these birds. They are elegant and dainty in flight, the pure ballet dancers of the avian world as they dip and skim the water's surface to feed! Luckily the floods have subsided here and it's now possible to get down station road and out to the canal bank again. Regrettably very little else of note was seen here, again due to the strong cold wind and exposure. I got back home this evening and was surprised to find that despite the colder weather today, local sightings included a Sandwich Tern off Dawlish Warren and a Sand Martin over Bowling Green Marsh! Maybe spring IS just round the corner........

Monday, 24 February 2014

The weekend

Being a busy sort of chap, posting on my blog has to wait until I can find the time, but here's what happened birdwise over the weekend, with tiny bits and pieces of birding squeezed in. Friday saw me squelching around Bystock Reserve on the outskirts of Exmouth. Luckily a pair of Canada Geese have returned to the main pond and provided me with an Exmouth year tick. Two Long-tailed Tits were seen and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Moorhen were heard. I got got caught in a very heavy shower (nothing new there then this year!), but a male Siskin put on a good show whilst I was waiting for the rain to abate. Saturday gave me only a brief window between family chores and attending football, so I popped down to Exmouth seafront, where I was lucky enough to add Slavonian Grebe to my Exmouth year list. 3 Great Northern Divers were on the sea, and another 11 moved south-south-west offshore. 2 Red-throated Divers were also seen just off the seafront. However Sunday gave me my best birding spell when I took myself down to the fantastic Orcombe Point and despite (or because of?) the very strong wind I had a very good couple of hours, adding some nice Exmouth year ticks to my 2014 local patch list! First of all I espied a nice flock of 70 Common Scoters (which regrettably kept on being disturbed by a goon windsurfing). I was aware that there were a lot of auks offshore and some oiled birds practically onshore. There has been a massive death toll of auks along our stretch of coast between Chesil beach (that's up there in that there foreign county of Dorset!) and Torbay and unfortunately there were several sickly-looking birds on my patch too! I couldn't find anything other than Razorbills and Guillemots, but one smaller bird which I lost in the pounding surf showed characteristics of Black Guillemot, however I could not get myself into a good viewing position to clinch ID. A Black-throated Diver, with 3 Red-throated, was a welcome addition to my Exmouth year list, as were the two high-flying Mute Swans that headed out to sea over Orcombe Point, but veered round towards Sandy Bay. At the same time a male Peregrine swept low over the bottom field at the point and was also the first I had managed to catch up with in Exmouth this year. Lots of Kittiwakes were also floating slowly past the point into the teeth of the near-gale. A final look, this time at Maer Rocks, provided me with my last Exmouth year tick of the afternoon, with 4 Purple Sandpipers braving the elements (as they invariably do) perched right on the outermost rocks Canute-like in their defiance.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Dodging between the showers

Now the past few days have seen quite a few showers, some of them extremely heavy. In fact, you have to wait until the deluge stops before immediately donning wet-weather gear and sprinting (well, for us older folk, walking very fast!) to the relevant birding site. Tuesday I dashed out from Countess Wear and quickly made my way to the grandly titled 'Double Locks Wetlands' which amounts to a couple of small reedbeds, a hell of a lot of mud and a grass-fringed 'scrape' which is so 'shallow' that Mute Swans swim around on it and manage to upend to search for tasty morsels! Luckily it is also a reliable wintering site for Green Sandpipers and two made their presence known whilst I was there, providing me another Year tick! After checking out the Topsham site for Yellow-browed Warbler yesterday (one bird has been seen twice in about the last month here!) but seeing nothing else of note, today saw me taking my life in my hands (or should that be feet?) when I visited a known wintering site for Woodcock. Now let me just put you in the picture here. We've had the wettest winter since Adam and Eve met, as you've probably deduced from the media coverage (should that be saturation in more ways than one?) so the boggy wood I normally manage to connect with Woodcock every year has turned into the biggest swamp this side of the Somerset Levels! I floundered around, trying not to lose my wellies for a little while but it was almost impossible to see if any Woodcock flew up due to having to keep my eyes on the "ground". I startled two beautiful Roe Deer by my louding squelching and cursing, saw a pair of colourful Bullfinches and eventually saw a rusty-coloured silent bird lift off into the dense vegetation whilst trying to extract my left wellie from it's muddy bottomless pit! Mission accomplished, (wellies retained and Woodcock seen) I got back to my car just as the rain fell again. Just so sick of all this bleddy rain now - are we ever going to get a dry spell again?

Friday, 14 February 2014

National Gull Week!

It's been good in Exmouth this week for the family laridae! Having seen a first-winter Kumlien's, found an adult of the same (sub)species and just missed our second Glaucous Gull of the year this week, I received another call late afternoon from Matt, this time informing me he had an adult Little Gull down in Exmouth behind the station. The weather was a bit hairy, a wind blew straight across the estuary in the shape of a fierce gale and the car rocked as I sat in it! Luckily I had my best brown trousers on and all was safe and well! Actually I had superb views of this bird, the adults being one of my favourite gulls, even if it was in non-breeding plumage. It was very close in to the coach park behind the railway station and I didn't even need to get out of the car. It flew into the gale, keeping it more or less over the same patch of water as the bird dipped and skimmed the surface of the water as it fed, occasionally settling briefly on the sea itself. Beautiful! Pics of this little gem can be seen on Matt's blog. It was still there when I left. As we are experiencing another 'superstorm' at present it could in theory still be around somewhere in the vicinity tomorrow, especially at high tide. Then there was that rather strange adult gull I had brief views of on Tuesday at Mudbank Lane which appeared to be an adult Lesser Black-backed with seemingly pink legs - I shudder to think what it was! More gulls please.........

Monday, 10 February 2014

Kumlien Crazy

Yesterday I was just getting into my car early afternoon in order to have a look at the lower end of the Exe estuary when I had a call from Matt Knott, informing me he had an Iceland Gull on Shelly Bank, a large prominent sandbar off the Imperial Ground and Mudbank Lane in Exmouth. I dashed down to find the bird still in position. The bird was a typical first-winter Iceland Gull in all respects from the distance we were viewing apart from an all-dark bill, a feature of first-winter Kumliens Gull! The primary tips appeared to be all-white and fairly gleaming at that, in the bright sunshine. Matt tried to entice the bird closer by throwing a whole loaf of bread on to the estuary side (yes, he did actually break this up into bite-size pieces!). Many gulls came in from along behind the station, but the Iceland preferred to stick to its spot out on the sandbar. The Dawlish Warren boys managed to pick it out, but from a great distance away (over a mile!). Whilst getting into our cars to take refuge from a sharpish shower we both somehow managed to lose the bird! However the Warren boys were still on it and followed it out of the estuary and eastwards along the seafront, where a bit later on Matt relocated it feeding in with the mass of large gulls that have been stormdriven into the tideline surf over the past few days right by the lifeboat station. It was then photographed by Matt and when pics were published it was realised that in point of fact the bird also showed a greyish hooped wash to the outer webs of the primaries thus practically confirming that the bird was indeed a Kumlien's Gull! Now imagine my surprise when looking again for this bird along by the lifeboat station at lunchtime today I found another Kumlien's Gull, this time a cracking adult in near full-breeding plumage. This bird had more noticeable grey hooped outer webs to the primaries and was a very smart bird, being in practically full breeding plumage. It had a lovely white head and neck with hardly any grey flecking, a nice deep yellow iris to the eye and a subtle pale grey mantle and upper-wing surfaces! The paper for identifying adult winter Kumlien's Gull is to be found in Alula 1/2003 by Steve Howell and Bruce Mactavish based on hundreds of individuals studied in Newfoundland! Of course, wingtip pattern and eye colouration applies to adult Kumlien's in all plumages. Todays bird had a wing pattern closely referred to as pale-grey by said authors and the eye colour being a deep yellow was definitely on their scale of 3.0. Interesting to see that these authors also seem to relate the paler wing-tips in adults to the older birds studied, giving the impression that my bird was quite an old timer! I understand that a couple of other birders managed to get on to the bird later on in the afternoon, after I had returned to work.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Devon Flashback 4537

With apologies to Matt's birding exmouth Blog, I felt I just had to do this.........Twas on a dull but dry workday in Bath on 24 November 1981, when I got a call from my mate on my office 'phone. (We didn't have mobile phones, Birdguides or any other such modern technology in those dark ages!). "kin hell Terry, there's a Hudwit at Countess Wear near Exeter, and I'm going for it now. Be down my house in 15 minutes if you're interested". At this stage I was knocked out of my seat by the news, but luckily my (younger) brain leapt into action and I approached my very understanding boss. "What bird is it now Terry?". I need the rest of the day off, says I, hopefully. "Go on then, you'll only be as miserable as s*** for the rest of the day if you don't go, and anyway you've more than enough hours clocked up", says he, music to my ears. Soon, I'm bombing down the road to my mate's house and I screech to a halt as he says "Hop in then". We climb into his Audi and get to the motorway in pretty good time. As we're racing southwards, he politely informs me that he's had "a few problems" with a leaking radiator. Having kittens, I tell him "Why didn't you tell me earlier, we could have used my car, seeing there's only the two of us anyway". As we raced through Somerset, we had got south of Taunton when clouds of steam started to come out from under the bonnet and the temperature gauge went off the scale as we duly pulled up on to the hard shoulder. "Bleddy hell", says I, "I thought Audis were supposed to be reliable cars?". My mate climbs out without a care in the world, opens the boot and produces the biggest plastic water container you have ever seen, takes off the radiator cap to the most enormous hiss of steam and starts pouring water in. After what seemed like about 3 hours, but was probably only about 2 minutes I hear "There, that should do it!" and shortly afterwards we are tearing down the rest of the motorway at about 100mph! I don't remember how we parked in the little car park by the canal at Countess Wear as there were many other birders there, but I reckon we got there quicker than a lot of folk did that day! We ran down the road towards the beautiful sewage works, but luckily stopped after only about a couple of hundred yards. Into the small crowd we waded and soon someone put us on to the bird. Wow, we had done it! The bird was in a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and prone to fly off down the estuary apparently at a moment's notice! Luckily it had no such intentions the whole time we were there and we enjoyed good views of it on the far bank of the river, and it even raised its wings to display its dark underwing coverts a few times as well! This was the second record for the UK, but is presumed to be the same bird as the first record, of a bird seen earlier in the autumn at Blacktoft Sands in South Yorks (Humberside). The bird we had nearly broken our necks to see hung around until mid January the next year, and presumably what was the same bird was then relocated at Blacktoft from 26 April to 6 May 1983, giving everyone else plenty of time to see it!

Friday, 31 January 2014

I did it!

Yes I managed to see at least one new Year tick every day in January, and all but one were in Devon! Yesterday I was lucky enough to see Lesser Scaup and today, well, today it simply poured down with rain (just for a change!). Just the sort of weather to go out birding. Optics get wet and smeary on the lens, clothes get saturated, feet get covered in mud and the cold damp gets into your very bones! Oh, and it was blowing a hoolie. Just the sort of weather you need when you just desire that one new Year tick to achieve your objective.. Now before you set a mental picture of yours truly slumping around in driving rain, mud up to the waist, bins lens filling up with gallons of water with not a bleddy bird in sight, perhaps I should enlighten you. I drove up to Darts Farm at lunchtime and driving down the track to the fishing pools and bird 'hide' I was aware that there were lots of Chaffinches on the feeders suspended from the trackside trees and in the adjacent 'field'. I stopped in the middle of the track, trained my bins and was lucky enough to get on to a female Brambling for a few seconds before the whole flock got up and flew over to the other side of the field. The car heater was on, the rain was on beating the other side of the car and I hadn't even been hit by a solitary raindrop! Elated and relieved at the same time. Happy to have achieved my goal. Relieved I don't have to dash anywhere to find another Year tick if I don't feel like it. Just to celebrate, I drove on down to the pools, donned my wet weather gear and optics and took shelter under the 'hide' (really it's a blind with a roof). A large flock of Brent Geese were feeding just in front of the hide and Wigeon, Teal, Black-tailed Godwits and Curlews were all busy feeding in the vicinity. A few Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches were 'sheltering' in the nearby bushes and a Chiffchaff made a welcome appearance about 10feet from my position! So what now? I'm going to enjoy the rest of my year's birding, particularly working my local patch (Exmouth Civil Parish) and pottering off to enjoy any good birds that happen to turn up around the Exe estuary. Of course if something mindblowing turns up elsewhere in Devon and the surrounding counties then I will have to go, especially if it's a Lifer!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Smug! (but how long for?)

Having set myself a target on December 31st last year to try my utmost to get at least one new Year tick every day in January, I have succeeded up to now! Peregrine was added on Monday, Marsh Tit on Tuesday, and today I found myself up at Venn Ottery Common where it seems that Jack Snipe and Woodcock have been making appearances for all-comers. Now, I didn't have the foggiest idea which part of the common to search for these birds, so I just wandered vaguely round hoping that I would come across something interesting. I hadn't gone far when I saw a Jack Snipe - object achieved! But I was less lucky with Woodcock, I couldn't find any anywhere! But that will keep for another day. I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and also a Buzzard mewing, but it wasn't until I was heading back to the car that I obtained my second Year tick of the day when a Crossbill conveniently flew over calling, but it was too quick for me to see whether it was a male or female, my views confined to a silhouette disappearing into the distance! Only two days to go and that will be that. I'm going to go out and enjoy my birding at a more leisurely pace, and cover my local patch more in February. (Well, that's the plan anyway!).

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Rain and gales

Just for a change today we had some more rain! Accompanying this was a ferocious wind (must remember to lay off the baked beans!). It rained for practically the whole morning which nowadays comes as no surprise, but the wind was bad all day. This afternoon this changed to severe heavy showers with very strong winds. Late afternoon saw me champing at the bit wanting to get out birding. So, I drove down to Orcombe Point in order to see if the wind had driven any seabirds into the bay. Answer - No! As I arrived a massive spell of heavy rain came down (what passes I think on the TV weather forecast as a 'shower'! I stayed in the car, doing my best to scan the waters with rain pouring down the windows. Eventually the 'shower' passed and I kitted up and marched swiftly out to the point. There was precious little movement out to sea, just a handful of Gannets touring up and down. I picked out 2 Red-throated Divers sat on the sea. A little later my hopes were rewarded with a fly-past Fulmar, my first for the year, and thus keeping up my quest for at least one year tick a day in January! I scanned to the west and realised there was another huge deluge on the way, so I briskly walked back to the car, spotting a Coal Tit in the hedgerow as I passed. I made it back to the car, packed my kit away and had hardly gone a few hundred yards when the heavens emptied again.........

Saturday, 25 January 2014

An hour's birding.......

Managed to get away from the domestic chores that were necessary this morning and spent some time down on the seafront and also looking over the Exe estuary from the Imperial Ground. Now, when I go down on the seafront and set up my 'scope I usually get two types of folk try to speak to me. The first is fairly polite and normally asks what ships I can see out in the bay. To these I politely point out that I haven't got the slightest interest in any ships unless the Titanic has moored out off Torbay or suchlike, but also point out that I am birding and tell them about the interesting species I have seen and ask them if they would like to see them through my 'scope! The response is usually quite good and people are genuinely interested. The second type is some bleddy moron who comes up and asks some crackpot (and totally unoriginal) question like 'Seen any good birds on the beach eh? Bet they're not wearing much. You know, the two-legged ones haw haw..'. I used to rudely tell them that all birds have got two legs, and then tell them to p*** off, but nowadays I just ignore them. Sometimes you get one or two other equally inane comments before they drift off, but most thankfully move on. Today I was spared any interuptions to my grilling the bay for birds, and was soon watching a Great Northern Diver close in. This kept diving and gradually drifted out to sea. A few more minutes and another diving bird popped up in almost the same place. This turned out to be my second Red-necked Grebe of the year and my first for my 2014 Exmouth list! As my eyes became more accustomed to the sea conditions I realised that two fairly distant ducks were indeed two Long-tailed Ducks, again new for my Exmouth list this year. The sun was shining on the sea and as it slowly moved round to the west, I had difficulty in picking much out due to the glare. This was the cue for me to move on, so I paid a very brief visit to the Imperial Ground and looked up the estuary to Shelly Bank, a large sand bar that was still above the tideline despite the tide having only turned an hour before. Amongst the many resting Curlew, Oystercatcher and Dunlin were about 35 Knot, my first for 2014.

Friday, 24 January 2014

More awful weather!

This has definitely got to be the wettest winter I have ever experienced in all my long years! It rained again all morning at times quite heavily. Not to be daunted though, I still went out in search of my daily Year tick. Actually it was quite good because I found two! Firstly I had fantastic views of some Siskins. If you want to get very close views of these birds and you don't get any visiting your garden, and also if you live in the Exeter area of Devon then visit Haldon Forest Park. I arrived in the rain and was soon watching these smashing little birds. I think they have to be one of my favourite finches. Drive up the A38 Haldon Hill and at the top turn left then right, passing under the A38 again. Follow the road along past the Chudleigh turn and just after this junction, Haldon Forest Park is there on the left at Bullers Hill. Drive in, park up (it's a paying car park here) and walk up to the other side of the toilet block. Just the other side of the path are some feeders and these were visited by several Siskins today! Nuthatches and Coal Tits are easy to see here as well. Not only that but the rain actually stopped! The second species new for 2014 were seen near Kenton, just down the road from Haldon. I found a nice covey of 9 Red-legged Partridges in the corner of a large field. Plans to venture out again late afternoon were scuppered by yet more nasty rain.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A wizard bird!

Bumbled off to check out the Yellow-browed Warbler site in Alphington today. I visited the nursing home (no, I'm not quite that old just yet!) but due to the very windy conditions the bird did not show. In fact I would imagine that the bird would only occasionally visit this site due to the sparse cover it afforded. Probably best on a sunny still day (no chance!). I spent a little time there in the car park, but realised I stood very little chance of seeing the bird. I zipped down to Exminster Marshes hoping to connect with a Year tick and thus keep up my record of at least one Year tick per day during January. I was expecting to see a Peregrine if anything to be honest, but none showed. Nick Potter appeared on the scene and after a brief word moved off down the lane. I scanned the marsh, with the usual birds being on show. A flock of 100 Golden Plover wheeled around in the sky. Likewise, five Common Snipe flew past. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called in the trees nearby. A male Stonechat perched on a fencepost no further than 10 feet away from where I was stood. I spotted a swift shape darting by. Yes, it was a male Merlin, and luckily Nick got on to the bird as well as he reappeared along the lane. With that scintillating 'wizard' Year tick obtained, it was time to get back to work!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Darts Farm

Off out at lunchtime again today to Darts Farm at Topsham. A Brambling had been seen and photographed (nice one Dave!) yesterday and as they are very thin on the ground due to the mild winter we're experiencing I decided to have a look for it. Of course there was no sign of it, but there were several finches present including Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet. I had my third Kingfisher of the week at the fishing ponds (appropriately!) and a pair of Stonechats performed nearby. A few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits whizzed around. Worst view was of some nutter walking a bleddy dog right up by the Brent Goose flock, getting them panicky so they couldn't feed. So where was the Year tick I hear you say? Well, I was lucky to get my first Mistle Thrush of the year up the back track. It's definitely getting more difficult as the month rolls on........

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Visited the Double Locks Wetlands between Exeter and Countess Wear today looking for Green Sandpipers. Two were seen on Sunday there, but today there was no sign whatsoever. In fact the whole area was almost birdless. Could there have been some sort of disturbance before I got there? Not having much to go on for back-up birds for my 'Year tick for the day', I was mighty relieved to find a cracking male Goosander on the adjacent River Exe, my first for this year! And that was about it. A few Teal dotted about and a Common Snipe was all. It then came on to rain as usual, so I left, not wishing to get saturated for the umpteenth time this year.......

Monday, 20 January 2014

Cattle Egret or not?

I am always a bit sceptical (is that how you spell it?) about some bird news items that get published on some of the bird news sites. Yesterday on Birdguides a Cattle Egret was reported somewhere on the Otter estuary. Now I don't have enough money to justify subscribing to various website news, so all I got was the headline. Thinking it would be a good Year tick I ventured down to said estuary very early afternoon and walked from White Bridge to Lime Kilns and back also viewing upstream from White Bridge as well. Of course there were no Cattle Egrets, but several Little Egrets on view. The news was not put out on any of the other websites covering Devon bird news. Could a casual observer made a genuine mistake? Was the bird present, but buggered off before anyone else could view it? Or did I look in the wrong place? Time will tell....... I didn't leave empty-handed however, catching up with Water Rail and Stonechat for the year and also getting another Kingfisher. But best of all was a chance meeting with my lovely wife, who just happened to be taking a stroll along Budleigh seafront at the time, and taking the trouble to give me a call to say she was indulging in an energetic sunny walk! Later on, I had my first Yellowhammer of the year at Withycombe Raleigh Common (trying saying that after a few beers!) and also getting my first Exmouth Fieldfares for 2014!

Sunday, 19 January 2014


Today dawned sunny and cloudless, and the early morning frost soon disppeared. After doing a couple of chores around Exmouth, we decided to go east to Seaton and the Axe estuary and have a walk there for a change. So we pulled up at the entrance to Seaton Marshes reserve and wandered round the area. After a Long-tailed Tit put in an appearance, I was soon on to my firstChiffchaff of the year, which performed in the small trees adjoining the pond next to the pleasant aspect of the local sewage works! There were plenty of birds around the Axe estuary and we spent a little time in the hide overlooking the river, but nothing unusual stood out. Interesting to see Little Grebes on the floodwater though, wouldn't have thought the water to be deep enough for them here, but there they were diving..... We meandered on down the valley to the seafront, and ate our sandwiches sat in the sunshine, something we've been unable to do so far this year! Unfortunately there were crowds of people about taking advantage of the fine weather, (I don't blame them!), but no birds of note were seen. Victuals consumed, we ambled back to the car, adding Kingfisher to my 2014 list on the way. It was sitting on fenceposts next to some drainage channels on the lower part of Seaton Marshes, and having picked it up distantly through the bins, we were able to get a little better views through my 'scope.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A walk from home

I don't get many birds in my garden nowadays. The local feline population seems to total about 50 mangy moggies at the moment. Short of shooting the darned things (something I would never contemplate, as I love all animals!) I am powerless to stop them entering my garden. Regrettably the damned things seem to like to crap on my lawn and I have seen which particular individuals do this. Luckily I keep a trowel and a flowerpot, and make sure the owners get their property back! The upshot of this plethora of felines means that most of the local bird population has been almost made extinct. I no longer feed the birds - all it does is lure the poor creatures in to their guaranteed deaths, as one of the cats will lie in wait, then pounce. One of the local families own at least 5 cats! Now who the hell needs 5 of the perishers! How can they afford them? Oh wait, of course, they feed off the local bird population........ However, despite this awful setback (I used to regulary get Bramblings and Siskins in my garden, and I've even had Black Redstart and Waxwings, now practically nothing), I only have to walk up the road about 250yards and I can can see such nice birds as Nuthatch & Treecreeper. After the torrential rain eased off a bit late afternoon today I duly wandered round my local area. I was soon seeing Great, Blue and Coal Tits and Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. Sometimes it's just nice to watch these commoner birds and today was no exception. After a while I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and shortly after, in Marley Road, I came across my first Blackcap of the year. This one was a female and was pecking at an apple still yet to fall from its tree! I was now in danger of loosing the light quickly, so I retraced my steps and also enjoyed the usual Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Last three days

Ever onwards with the Year list, without travelling miles! Wednesday produced my first Fieldfares for the year, a nice flock of upwards of 100 birds with a few Redwings present. Thursday was to start very well with a small fox seen crossing the road in my car headlights at the bottom of Spiders Lane, Exmouth, whilst on my way to work at about 7am. Later on, I popped over to Exminster Marshes for the first time this year. This was still largely flooded but there were thousands of birds present. New for 2014 were c.150 Golden Plover and a single Barnacle Goose in with the large Canada flock. The latter bird had not been reported for a very long time to the best of my knowledge! Today I finally connected with the Water Pipit at Topsham recreation ground, another Year tick. I also had nice views of my second Black Redstart of the year here as well. With the afternoon only producing a couple of light showers, and the light being pretty good I decided to head down to the estuary at the Imperial Ground, Exmouth late afternoon. A few days ago, a 'white-winged' large gull which was thought to be probably a Glaucous was found by Matt Knott. It was also seen mid-afternoon two days ago off of Lympstone. The weather was not good enough to look for the bird on subsequent days in between, so this was the first reasonable chance to go and look for the bird flying in to roost. Of course, I couldn't see the gull despite giving the estuary a good grilling from my position, but luckily, Matt phoned me to tell me he had it sat on a sandbar off the fish quay! I zipped round and was soon scoping the very large Glaucous Gull sat on Great Bull Hill, the large sandbar just north of the warren. It was thought to be a very white first-winter bird on the views we had. Excellent!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Short post - tired!

Being an old sod, I'm tired this evening, so just to say I kept up my 'at least one Year tick every day' for 2014, with a trip to a part of the East Devon Commons (ain't prepared to say where due to these birds taking one hell of a knock during the biting cold winter of a couple of years ago) and a male Dartford Warbler showed itself before diving into thick gorse! The other highlight was a double-rotored Chinook helicopter full of Her Majesty's finest troops (the Royal Marines) flying very low over the heath! At least I got the haircut I required, but at the expense of having to go and change my trousers...........

Monday, 13 January 2014

Dashing in and out of the rain

Yesterday, I went to Exeter, as my good lady needed to get some things from the shops. By the time we got home, lo and behold, it was absolutely chucking it down. Now, after having to get very wet moving the family's cars around so the first one up tomorrow could get out (we have 4 cars in our household!), I decided that I had better try and get my Year tick for the day. Luckily I only have to walk 200 yards from my house and I can connect with Nuthatch! So after 15 minutes in the pouring rain I hear one calling and then get a glimpse of it as it moves from one tree to another. Clever bird really - it clings to the trunk of the tree the other side from the lashing rain! Clever sod me - I go out and get absolutely bleddy soaked! Bird-brained or what? A bonus in the awful weather was a good view of a Treecreeper, my second one this year. This bird seemed oblivious of the heavy rain and continued working its way up the wet side of the trunk! Today it was a case of popping out lunchtime and trying for something different. I zipped round to Topsham Rec (OK, so officially it's called Topsham Recreation Ground, but that's far too much of a mouthful) hoping to connect with a Water Pipit that's been knocking about recently. I looked into the distance and realised it was going to absolutely piss down with rain in about 5 minutes time, so I quickly almost jogged around the perimeter of the grass alongside the River Exe. No sign of the pipit, but just before it did the usual thing and lashed it down I saw two Reed Buntings, another new bird for 2014. After a hasty look at my second Grey Wagtail of the year, I galloped back to the car, just as the rain became very intense. It seems like it's one dryish day followed by 4 or 5 wet ones now, so I quickly motored round to the excellent Bowling Green Marsh, and shut myself in the hide! The overwintering Long-tailed Duck was showing very closely in front of the hide (well, when it was not actually under water) and there seemed to be a large number of Shoveler present, especially for this site, and a nice array of very common species attended the feeders outside the hide. After it was time to get back to work, guess what - the bleddy sun came out - AARRGGHH!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

A beautiful day!

This was the best day of year weather-wise. Lovely sunshine all day and it didn't get dark enough to stop birding until after 5pm! It was a day when I finally connected with a lot of common species which have been keeping well-hidden in the atrocious weather we've been suffering from lately. A walk with my daughter along a very busy Mudbank Lane and Exe Trail produced thousands of birds this morning, yielding Redwing and Song Thrush for my Year list. This afternoon, I parked just off Douglas Avenue and walked down across a very muddy, soggy Maer Vale and up Gore Lane to the top fields of Orcombe. I nearly lost my wellies by Maer Farm, but soldiered on regardless in the warm sunshine! This little 'stroll' produced the following Year ticks: Great Spotted Woodpecker, Linnet, Skylark, Long-tailed Tit and finally, Greenfinch! Now I wanted to get down to the Shelly Beach area for last light, as yesterday Matt Knott had found a 'white-winged' gull which was probably a Glaucous Gull, but due to distance and fading light, could not come up with a firm ID. I duly arrived just after 4pm and for the next hour avidly scanned the gulls coming in to roost on and around Shelly Bank, right out in the middle of the Exe estuary. I did not see the gull, and nor did anyone else, looking from other spots. I did however add Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-tailed Godwit (100+ birds came in to roost on Shelly Bank before 5pm) and Ringed Plover to my Year list. Pride of place however went to the over-wintering Black Brant which flew in with the Brent flock from the Starcross direction, presumably to roost on the estuary, in the fading light! So a lovely day and some more common birds ticked off for 2014.

Friday, 10 January 2014

That's more like it!

A much better return for my lunch-hour's birding today! I pulled up at the seafront in calm conditions (remember what those were like?) and immediately scoped the sea area in the high tide. I soon picked up the long-staying Bonaparte's Gull very distant off Dawlish Warren. A great bird to get, even if it was a long way off. After scanning the bay for a little longer I picked up the 5 Velvet Scoter off Langstone Rock, which were even further away. Luckily, one of the birds decided to raise its wings and I caught the white wing-flash (just!). Great - 2 Year ticks in 10 minutes! Just off the mouth of the Exe estuary was a Great Northern Diver, and a bit further east, my first Red-throated Diver of 2014. After checking there was nothing else of note (just a solitary Gannet), I trundled round to Shelly Beach where again in the calm conditions and with the aid of my 'scope, I was able to pick up the long-staying Slavonian Grebe off Cockwood, again my first of this species this year. Noticing that there seemed to be more duck rafts round at Mudbank Lane than so far this year (again obviously due to calm conditions), I quickly popped in on my return journey towards work. That's better! Reasonable numbers of Wigeon had returned to the usual area, as had several Pintail and a few Teal, the latter two species being my first in Exmouth this year. Didn't have time for anything else and bombed back to work, but much better birding today.......

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Bystock Blues

No, it's not a rock festival, or a junior football team! It sums up my wander around my local nature reserve this lunchtime, at the top end of Exmouth. It was sunny for a reasonable part of the day today, but a tad colder. I decided to do a flying visit in my lunchtime. Parking up by the main pond, I noticed the usual small number of Mallards and one of the resident pair of Moorhens. A Buzzard drifted over. I walked on up the reserve, hoping to encounter several Year ticks, as the weather was fairly calm for a change. I reckoned that up to 15 new species for 2014 could be added at this location, but realistically expected a healthy number of six. No bleddy chance! I trudged round and ended up with a paltry 2 2014 ticks, namely Treecreeper and Jay! (For a similar look at life, see my post below, Hit and Miss). I also saw my first Goldcrest in Exmouth this year. I was expecting to also record Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Greenfinch. And can you believe it, the only species of thrush I've seen so far this year is Blackbird. No Song or Mistle Thrushes. No Redwings. No Fieldfares. Not a sign of any Siskins, Redpolls or Crossbills. Sometimes you just wonder where the hell these birds hide themselves.........

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Webbed feet and soaked clothes! (Oh, and I'm English!)

Yep, that pretty much sums me up at the moment! Went out again lunchtime in search of year ticks and ended up getting quite damp again. It definitely isn't nice getting one's work trousers soaked, then having to sit in them all afternoon on return to the old grindstone! I popped down to Exmouth, thought, 'Oh, it's only a few drizzle spits, I'll go and look at Shelly Beach'. Duh, wrong move! I get practically the furthest point and most exposed place away from the car, when the heavens open. Grrr - I'm getting mighty pissed off with this weather now. (I expect 99% of the British population are too by now!). To cap it all, there was bugger-all there, and my optics got thoroughly misted up, just as I realised that all my dry tissues were back in the car - I usually carry a load in one of my coat pockets, so I can at least keep my bins clear! Marched back to my car, chucked most of the soaked clothes in the back (not the trousers I hasten to add - I'm buggered if I'm going to drive round Exmouth in my kacks!), and zipped round to Mudbank Lane, where, lo and behold, the rain eased back quite a bit. I quickly kitted up again. No fun, putting on sodden coats, gloves, hats etc! I turned my attention to the estuary where the recently fallen tide revealed the first sand bank showing and on this were my only Year tick of the day - a few Sanderling. Now usually at Mudbank Lane, we have droves of Wigeon and Pintail showing nicely on the estuary, tight into the railway line. Because of this disgusting weather, they've all been storm-driven much further up the River Exe, (and some probably to Kingdom-come!). However a very smart drake Wigeon was swimming up and down (looking for the other 1500 birds that usually haunt this spot?) and provided me with my first one in Exmouth this year. Another Exmouth Year tick was also seen - a Grey Heron on the tideline, trying to ignore the weather, with that look that only a Heron can assume - the Stiff-upper lip attitude. 'We mustn't look at though we are in any discomfort -after all we're British'. Personally, I like to think of myself as English, after all, did you ever hear of any Welsh or Scots referring to themselves as being 'British'? I was born in ENGLAND, and as far back as I can trace, my family on both my parents' sides were all born in ENGLAND!!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


I popped over to Sandy Bay lunchtime today and bombed down through the horrendous caravan park and quickly found myself on the beach. I was greeted by the sad sight of an adult Guillemot sat on a rock just below the pathway looking very lethargic. I could have picked it up, but as the sun was shining and it was peaceful, I left it where it was, as it could just have been a very tired storm-driven bird. I don't really know anyone who could have taken it in and tried to nurse it back to full fitness anyway. However, I was lucky enough today to connect with the Black Redstart (Year tick) which was in its normal corner, where Matt Knott had seen it a couple of times over the last few days! I added the Guillemot and a sprightly Pied Wagtail to my Exmouth Year list while I was there. A quick sprint (LOL!) back up to the car, and I popped into Littleham churchyard, where I soon added one of the resident Green Woodpeckers to my 2014 list. If you want to definitely see this species, I can guarantee it here - I've NEVER failed to see at least one in this location! A fly-over Sparrowhawk was also a Year tick. Back at work, I heard that there was a Glossy Ibis down in the field next to the (flooded) cricket pitch at Budleigh Salterton. So, after finishing work I arrived at the site in the last few minutes of daylight and saw, not one, but TWO Glossy Ibis feeding in the flooded field. It took me until December 28th to connect with this species anywhere last year (including southern France and Italy), so I was extremely happy to see these two birds nice and early in 2014! Four Lapwing were also Year-ticked as I left in the fading light. What I would like to know though, is why are these Glossy Ibis's turning up in Britain in early January? There have been several records throughout the country (including Shetland) over the past couple of days, and of newly-arrived birds. In fact 5 were found as far north as the Faroe Islands yesterday! What's all that about..........?

Monday, 6 January 2014

More weather - or not?

It stopped raining sometime in the early hours. So today we had a change - severe gales, high spring tides and colossal showers which chucked down as much rain as all the other days, but in prolonged extremely heavy downpours! I took a break from work at lunchtime and covered a few Exmouth birding locations in the car. It was impossible to go for a walk - after 5 minutes of sun, it would be pissing down again! I stopped by the Exe estuary at the back of the station and quickly added (and not before time either) Great Crested Grebe to my Year list. Next stop - the seafront, where my car was buffeted about by the wind. Added Gannet to my Exmouth Year list, but failed to see much else in very choppy brown seas! Popped up to Foxholes Hill, where I thought my lovely car was going to be blown over! I Year-ticked Kestrel (again, at long last) and quickly moved on down to Mudbank Lane, where it was just a tiddly bit less lively. I looked across Warren View football pitches where there were many feeding gulls. Amongst them I picked up my best bird of the day, and another Year tick - a perfect winter-plumaged adult Mediterranean Gull! Mudbank itself just produced more driving rain, so keeping a close eye on the time, I decided I'd better get back to work!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Weather - or not?

Dunno about you, but I'm getting really pissed off with our lovely English weather! So far this year I have endured rainfall enough to fill up Coniston Water several times over, I've frozen to total numbness, I've been blown across to Budleigh Salterton without wings and I've been pelted with hailstones the size of marbles. And it's only January 5th! Today was the norm I'm afraid - rain, rain and more rain, which got harder as the day progressed. Now, during January I try to get out every day and see at least one Year Tick, ie, a species new to me for 2014. Not to be deterred I decided to kit up and head out into the deluge this afternoon, as I had family commitments this morning. I popped up to Bystock Reserve and got bleddy soaked! I added Moorhen to my 2014 Exmouth list (a pair on the main pond) and quickly followed this with Coal Tit. However, I was determined to get at least one 'proper' year tick, despite constantly having to wipe my bins clear and push the raindrops from my eyelashes! A female Pheasant ran across the boardwalk in front of me and tried to 'hide' behind a 6-inch piece of weed! Objective achieved! Another female and a cock Pheasant soon joined in the fun, and tried to remain camouflaged. No, it's no good mate, you're a cock Pheasant and so bleddy colourful you stand out like a jester in a group of nuns! I trudged on round the reserve, nearly leaving my wellies in 2 feet of gooey mud, but I failed to see anything else new for the year, but did feel rather embarrassed to disturb a Buzzard from it's sheltered tree and made it fly a short distance in the atrocious conditions. I then gave up and headed home........

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Birding - Hit and miss

Now I regularly read Matt Knott's 'birdingexmouth' blog as I live in this excellent birding locality. Reading Matt's blog last night alerted me to a Black Redstart at Sandy Bay, so I duly wandered down to the spot this morning. I picked up a few 2014 'Exmouth ticks' including Razorbill, Buzzard and Grey Wagtail. However, despite giving the spot a good grilling, there was absolutely no sign of the Black Redstart! In fact, I KNOW that the bird was not on the beach at all! Imagine my consternation, when on logging on to Matt's Blog this evening, I find that he managed to photograph the bird again this afternoon! AARRGGHH!! And that's birding for you - so hit and miss sometimes you question your sanity. I will try for the bird again and definitely in the afternoon, but looking at tomorrow's horrendous forecast, it won't be for a few days.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2014 - so far!

January 1st produced probably the worst weather I can remember for this particular date. It was a wash-out from start to finish. I always start the year's birding in a very relaxed manner, usually going for a walk along the seafront with my wife, noting a few birds as I go and stopping for a cup of coffee in one of the seafront cafes. All very gentile and cosy! Well, we got to the cafe as usual, but parked as near as possible and I did a seawatch from one of the seafront shelters. Despite the birds being blown away to Kingdom-come, I was pleased to pick up a very close Bonxie (Great Skua to be politically-correct) flying slowly along the tideline and over the beach, occasionally being harrassed by the local Herring Gulls. It drifted eastwards and out of sight. I gave up trying to do any birding by lunchtime. I ended up with a paltry 25 species, my worst ever January 1st total. January 2nd was a much nicer day, with sunshine and occasional showers. I couldn't resist going back down to Brixham today for another look at the bird-fest! I arrived late morning and promptly caught up with very close views of the White-billed Diver right below the car park. The supporting cast consisted of 30+ Great Northern and 5+ Black-throated Divers, lots of Gannets, a very obliging Red-necked Grebe, 2 Purple Sandpipers, a close-in Kittiwake, a Black-necked Grebe, 5 Common Scoter and a cracking Black Guillemot! I also managed to miss an Iceland Gull, but hey, let's not be too greedy. I moved on, called in at Decoy Lake, Newton Abbot and quickly located the drake Scaup in falling drizzle and, in the fading light, visited the Passage House Inn at Kingsteignton, where a Common Sandpiper performed right in front of the car park. Today was spent dodging heavy showers, thunderstorms and very strong winds. I popped down to Mudbank Lane in Exmouth where I added Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers to my year list, before driving up to Foxholes Hill. On my way, I was staggered to see idiots removing the police barriers which had sealed of the seafront to traffic, just so they could take their dogs to crap on the beach! No doubt, had these same idiots been washed away by the huge waves and the tidal surge, they would be the first numpties to expect the poor emergency services personnel to come and save them - I'm sorry but I just can't understand elements of the British population nowadays! Right, on to more pleasing things and I was soon watching a Great Northern Diver and 2 Eider fly past Orcombe and Foxholes Hill. A pair of Bullfinches were my first of the year. Another heavy shower had me scurrying fast back to the car! This afternoon I decided to visit Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham in order to see the long-staying Long-tailed Duck there. This I soon added to my 2014 year list, being very prominent on the flooded main pool. A handful of other colourful waterfowl species consisted of Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, a lone drake Pintail, 3 Pochard, drake Tufted Duck, Canada and Greylag Geese and 2 escaped Bar-headed Geese! A lone Avocet was swimming on the main pool and a Common Snipe was seen. I wandered along the newly-opened Exe Trail to the new bridge over the River Clyst, but only added Buzzard to my year list. But all in all, a pleasant day's birding.