Sunday, 29 January 2012

Spotted Sandpiper hunting

This was my 4th attempt at a Spotted Sandpiper, in my 3rd county. After dipping twice on the Plym bird in Devon and once on the Chew Valley Lake bird in Somerset, I thought I’d give the Lyme Regis bird in Dorset a go.
End of The Cobb. Small spots on the right are Purple Sandpiper
At about 11am I started on The Cobb as that seems to be where it hangs out. The tide was quite high & on it’s way out.  There were a couple of birders on the end of The Cobb looking at the rocks, but unfortunately all they had were 11 Purple Sandpipers. I say unfortunately, but they were actually rather nice: I needed them for my Year List, they were quite close so we had great views & I’ve never seen more than 5 together before. I was hopeful that the Spotted Sandpiper was just having a snooze in the rocks somewhere & that it would pop up at any minute. It didn’t.

After about 45 mins, I decided to scan the rocks by the outfall of the River Lim, which is another place it’s been seen. It was a long way across the bay, but I could see birds moving on the rocks. They looked like they could be more Purple Sandpiper but I couldn’t be sure & was one of them bobbing?

Rocks near the River Lim outlet

I walked around to the rocks & had a good look from all angles. I found 4 Purple Sandpipers, but not the missing Spotted one. The other birders who had also walked around from The Cobb decided to go looking for Wood Lark near Seaton & the Ring-necked Ducks at Chard Junction. I decided to keep trying for a bit longer. 

View back down The Cobb
Back to The Cobb for another try. Still no luck, so I headed back to the car park where Simon (my patient husband) & Vera (our lovely Labrador) were waiting. Just as we were about to drive out, I got a text from Mary (my helpful birding friend in Switzerland) to say that the sandpiper had just that minute appeared on Birdguides, and was apparently on the shore near  The Cobb NOW.  I was 2 minutes away & hoofed it back round there, but not only was there no bird, there wasn’t even a birdwatcher. Very odd. Still, it was worth a bit more effort as it had been seen, so I gave it another half hour before going back to the car park for a much needed sandwich & mug of tea.

Now I had to decide whether to give up & go for the Ring-necked Duck half an hour away, or persevere with the sandpiper. I decided to have another quick look, once up The Cobb, once to the River Lim, then head North. The tide had now gone out quite a way so there was more shore to check. Nothing on The Cobb, not even a Purple sandpiper, so I headed back to the Lim. I bumped into the 2 birders from earlier....they had been at Chard Junction unable to find the ducks, saw that the Sandpiper had been seen via Birdguides & came back. They headed for The Cobb whilst I continued to the River where there were just a bunch of Ferral Pigeons.

The sandpiper was on the first of the narrow spits
 I scanned the spits of rock that had emerged further to the East & could see what looked like Purple Sandpiper scurrying about. I’d been put off trying for the duck so thought I’d take a look. I walked to the end of the promenade at East Beach & started scanning........I found 15 Purple Sandpipers, a Curlew & a couple of Oystercatchers. A couple of chaps arrived with a scope & I directed them to the Purple Sand. Then as I rescanned them for the umpteenth time I saw a much paler bird.....bobbing! The other chaps found it simultaneously....and we checked all the features. It was distant, but it definitely had yellow legs & the barring on the wings was definitely more limited than on a Common Sand, it had a nice short tail projection & a fairly distinctive eyestripe. I was getting a bit excited (understatement) & finding it difficult to hold the scope steady, so was quite pleased when a load more birders arrived with lots more decent optics & confirmed that it wasn’t all wishful thinking & I finally had a Spotted Sandpiper.  It’s amazing how about 10 birders appeared like magic....
At about 315pm I headed back to Simon & Vera in the car park with a huge grin on my face! I always enjoy birding even if I don’t find a ‘good’ bird, but it’s even better when I do!

Big Garden Birdwatch

Ours is actually a Little Garden Birdwatch. I did my hour yesterday afternoon & had a disappointing turnout. Sum total: Robin, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon & 12 House Sparrows.

The highlight was a Little Egret that flew in across the field behind our house & over our neighbour's back garden. Half an hour later it flew back across our front garden. That's a new one for the garden list!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Axe Estuary

Yesterday (Friday) I attended my first Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society meeting. We met in the lay by near to the bridge by the harbour. There were about 20 people there & luckily they were a nice friendly bunch.

We started off with a spot of sea watching. It was fairly quiet, but there were a few Great-crested Grebe, a distant Red-throated Diver & equally distant Fulmar over by Seaton Hole. I particularly liked the Fulmar as I needed that for my Year List.

Next stop was the bridge where we had a rather nice view of a Kingfisher sitting on a pole in the sunshine. There were a few ducks & distant waders but nothing too exciting. Then off to Black Hole Marsh where there's a nice new car park beside the cemetery. I came to the marsh once before, back in October 2010 when I came for the Solitary Sandpiper. Since then there has been a lot of work done, with the addition of nice new paths & hides. We walked North and had a look at the new field study centre & hide before continuing on to the hide & viewing platform at Colyford Common. There are several pools, lots of marsh & grassland, as well as the estuary itself.

Colyford Common from the viewing platform
The group looking for an elusive Bullfinch

Sandwiches in the car park, then back to the Tower Hide which gives good views across the estuary. The estuary that was covered in gulls, deep joy! I was hoping for a Mediterranean Gull, and having been watching the blog of an Axe Estuary local, I knew there should be some about. So, time for some serious scanning. There were a few Lesser Back-backed Gulls which I needed for the Year List, so that spurred me on to inspect the masses of Black-headed Gulls in search of a Med.

Dave, one of the group experts found one! Great. I was sitting beside him at the time & got to have a look down his scope. Despite several attempts at following his directions, I just couldn't see it behind the 2 Herring Gulls.....I think there was a queue waiting for a look, so I'm sure I wasn't very popular, especially when the flock flew! Not a good start at my first meeting!

View from the Tower Hide. The Med Gull is out there somewhere!
I was determined not to give up, so kept scanning. Gull blindness was setting in when Alan said he thought he may have one. I homed in with Carl ( scope) & sure enough even I could see this one. It was coming into its Summer plumage so had a nice black head, its bill was much more orange than the Black-headed Gulls, & those primaries were just so white! Lovely! I definitely needed that one for the list. Luckily everyone got to have a good look at it in Carl, so hopefully I redeemed myself!

That was it for the meeting, but it was still fairly early so I thought I'd try out another site before heading home. I was going to head for Seaton Hole but then found that a few of the chaps were heading to Seaton Marsh, another section of the West bank of the Axe just South of the section we'd already done. I tagged along & got a few extra species for the day.

When we finished there, it wasn't quite dark so I paid another quick visit to the bridge & sea front, after all you just never know........

I enjoyed my day's birding. Its a great area to explore & it made a pleasant change not to be by myself. And the 3 Year List birds helped too!

Thursday, 26 January 2012


I wasn't planning to go birding today, but at about 2pm the sky was blue & the sun was shining, so it felt a shame to waste the afternoon. Went out to Bystock, a small Devon Wildlife Trust reserve that I have only visited once before. Despite its small size, it has a nice variety of habitats including heathland, grassland, woodland & a few small pools. It actually started to rain shortly after I arrived, but although it looked quite heavy the drops were actually 'floating' down & I didn't really get wet.

I walked up the Eastern edge of the reserve looking out across East Budleigh common, then stood for a while in the middle of the grass field  at the North of the reserve just scanning to see what I could find.  I had a great view of a 6 bullfinches, 4 male & 2 female. I don't remember ever having seen that number together before & it was quite impressive. I walked back around the Western side of the reserve looking down on the valley & then back up the middle to cross the boggy pools on the boardwalk. It started to get quite cold so headed back. I'd been there a couple of hours & managed to find 17 species:

Mallard, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Blue tit, Great tit, Coal tit, Long-tailed tit, Carrion crow, Wood pigeon, Robin, Stonechat, Buzzard, Goldcrest, Dunnock, Blackbird & heard a Wren!

I hadn't expected to find any new species for the Year List, & I didn't. However, it was a very pleasant couple of hours & I'll certainly be going back for more visits.

East Budleigh Common from Bystock Reserve
Bystock Reserve