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!