Thursday, 31 May 2012

Silly Billies

Yesterday I went over to Exminster Marsh for  a few hours in the afternoon. I was hoping to see the Pectoral Sandpiper that had visited the day before, but unfortunately it didn't put in an appearance. However, there was an impressive selection of birds sporting an interesting assortment of large beaks!
Glossy Ibis
Grey Heron
Other birds included a Hobby, Cetti's, Reed & Sedge Warblers, a few Swifts, the usual selection of ducks & 2 Barnacle Geese!

I also got my first ever Hairy Dragonfly.
Hairy Dragonfly
There were also loads of small blue Damselflies along the back path, but I'm still working on those as I'm a bit of a beginner. I'm not sure if the photos actually show clearly enough the identifying features, but I've just downloaded a new Birdguides app so I'll try & figure them out....

Possibly a female Azure Damselfly...
& male Azure Damselfly?

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


I haven't done much birding recently as we were enjoying a long weekend with friends Elizabeth & Alistair. We had a lovely 8 mile walk on Dartmoor on Monday, starting at Bennett's Cross. I took the bins (of course) but the best I found were a couple of Tree Pipits & a Redpoll. I also found a damselfly which I think is a female Beautiful Demoiselle - a new one for me.
Fantastic views looking North across the moor
Beautiful Damselfly (I think!)
Elizabeth & Alistair headed back to Northants yesterday, so I went to explore the RSPB & Devon Wildlife Trust reserves at Venn Ottery. I've never been before & was impressed by the views walking into the RSPB reserve (photo at the top of the post). As I walked down the hill I had nice views of Tree Pipits & could hear plenty of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs & Yellowhammers. I could also hear singing which I didn't recognise, but as I couldn't find the source I have no idea what it was. Oh for an expert!

As far as other wildlife goes, I only saw a Red Admiral & a White of some sort which I didn't manage to get close enough to ID.

Red Admiral
I walked down to the DWT reserve which can only be accessed from the RSPB one. There was no map & no obvious path. I didn't get far as there was a boggy section blocking any route across. It was an interesting habitat, although there wasn't very much in the way of wildlife.

Venn Ottery DWT Reserve
Heath Spotted Orchid
Small Pearl-bordered first
I also saw a very washed out Peacock butterfly, a few Speckled Woods, and a small blue damselfly that I can't identify from a bad photo. I saw plenty of Yellowhammers, Willow Warblers & Chiffchaffs and  realised at one stage that I was being watched through the vegetation.....
Having a sneaky peak
A very pleasant afternoon in the sun!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Super, Smashing, Great!

Yesterday I decided it was time to go for another rarity. The Cream-coloured Courser was tempting, but it was bit far (Herefordshire somewhere) & I had one on the Scillies back in 2004. So, I headed off to Weston-super-Mare for the Great Reed Warbler, which I’ve only seen in Spain before.

It was at the sewage works, which was actually quite picturesque as sewage works go! 
The view from the sewage works banking
When I arrived at about 10.00 there were a few people there, which was handy as I wasn't sure where to go. As I was putting up my tripod the bird flew between 2 areas of reeds, but I had my hands full so didn't get my bins on it. It certainly looked big! It was silent for a while, but then started singing, & boy is it loud! At least the pressure was off as I'd seen it, but I really wanted a better look. 
The Great Reed Warbler was singing near the left hand bushes
Most people left, so for a while there were just 2 of us & it turned out that the other chap was from Exmouth as well! Then a few more people arrived including 2 very casual chaps who arrived and immediately lay down on the bank for a snooze! A couple of chaps saw the warbler climb a reed, but I missed it. It was quite windy, so it was mainly staying low & out of sight. I was in no hurry, which was just as well! At about 11.30 it reappeared & I had a reasonable view, all be it a bit obscured through the reeds. At least I could see it singing. I decided to give it until 12.00 to see if I could get an even better view. At 11.58 it flew out of the tall reeds & was fully visible on the short green reeds in the middle of the channel before flying further down the channel & disappearing. So did I.

Great Reed Warbler spotting
It was a lovely sunny day, so I thought I'd make the most of it. Although I've been to Shapwick Heath a few times  now, I've always started at the East end & never gone beyond the Noah's Hide junction. I decided this was a good afternoon to go a bit further. When I got to the junction there was a Landrover, some chairs, scopes & an enthusiastic man from Natural England. It turned out that they had just announced that Great White Egrets have bred on the reserve & according to the  chap, the male Egret was due to come in to feed the youngster in about 10 minutes! I waited with baited breath, & waited, & waited & made use of the chairs, & waited some more. Luckily I was in no hurry! About 1 1/2 hrs later, in he came, dropped down into the reeds for about a minute & then flew off again. Great!! The wait had been very pleasant & we did see a Bittern fly in then start booming which was rather nice. 
The nest is near the middle tree behind the reeds
The watch point
Dropping into the nest by the twiggy tree
I then walked off to the Decoy Hide, which was quite a way. There was an impressive fly-by of 7 helicopters of various types. It would probably have been better though if it hadn't flown right over the reserve.
The 7th wasn't flying in the formation
 I didn't see many birds, but I had a lovely walk & saw a few other beasties.
Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser
Brimstone butterfly

Horrible huge beetle (about 1 1/2 inches)...a Devils Coach-horse maybe?
It had been a fab day. Year List now on 189 + 2

Monday, 21 May 2012

An Atlas Survey & an Absent Stork

Yesterday we headed back up to the Blackdown Hills to finish Round 2 of the surveys for the Devon Bird Atlas. The forecast had been for a cloudy day with 20% chance of rain. Well at least we stayed dry, but it was much colder than expected.

I was a bit of a numpty & forgot to pack the stopwatch & clipboard. Luckily Simon had taken his sketch pad along so we had some paper & we made do with my watch. We parked up for the first Tetrad and walked for an hour through fields & some lovely bluebell woods. We saw 18 species during the hour, the only ones showing any evidence of breeding being a Blue Tit with a fledgling & a possible breeding pair of Blackcaps. We then collected an extra 5 species on the way back to the van.

The woods were blue!
On to the last Tetrad where we parked up at Dunkeswell Abbey. Again we walked for the hour, through the churchyard, fields & along a tree lined lane. We saw evidence of breeding Jackdaws at the church where they’d built an impressive nest in the bell tower, actually under the bell & around the clapper! 

The church beside the ruin of Dunkeswell Abbey
A Jackdaw nest, I hope no one rings the bell!
The only other evidence of breeding were again Blue Tits, who were nesting in the hole in a tree branch. We had 21 species during the hour & 4 extra on the way back to the van. One of those was definitely the ‘Bird of the Day’, a lovely Spotted Flycatcher in a garden.

As Simon was recording the bird list in his sketch book.......

That's me as we walked through the woods!
Simon had a nice bonus when we got to the van. There was a chap there with a very rare old BSA Hurricane which was produced for the American market in the 70's & this one had been re-imported. 
Simon in his element talking old bikes.
It was still early so I talked Simon into a going a bit further North on a White Stork hunt. It was on Birdguides having been seen from the A 361 at West Lyng late morning, so we started there. There was an enormous amount of flood water still in the valley, even though it had been receding. There wasn't much of a view from the road, so whoever found it did well. We went down a side road to get closer and ended up chatting to Bill & Con, 2 very nice North Devon birders. There was another chap there as well & they all decided to follow us as I had the best map & details from the web! 

We found lots of very smelly water, loads of Little Egrets & herons, & an Egyptian Goose, but no Stork. 
The River Tone & what should be fields beyond.
We then went round to Charlton where it's been most often, but again, no sign. We waited until about 5.30 in case it came in to roost, but it didn't. We heard third hand that it was apparently there during the afternoon, but if it was it must have been using a Clingon cloaking device.

Simon at home on a canal bridge overlooking the flooded fields
Not a Stork to be seen.....

At least I got a Life Tick today.......
We took our Triumph Rocket 3 for a ride to Barnstaple & saw.....

....the Olympic Torch!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Challacombe Down

Yesterday's Devon Birdwatching & Preservation Society meeting was at Challacombe Down, which is just North of Widecombe in the Moor, Dartmoor. The grid reference shown as the starting point was in the middle of nowhere, so I was quite pleased when I got near to find Ian, the day's leader, confirming that I was in the right place and that everyone was just up the road parked behind the bushes! Sounded very suspicious!

There were 11 of us, including several people I hadn't seen before joining us from other DBWPS branches. It was an amazing morning. We took nearly 3 hours to walk less than a mile! We walked along a footpath in front of Challacombe Cottages & back along the road & saw 34 species. The first bird of the day was a Hobby that flew slowly over the car park as we were getting ready. A Redpoll made a very brief appearance & was followed swiftly by a beautiful male Redstart. We then had a pair of Garden Warblers, one carrying nesting material. They provided lots of excellent views, circling around us through the bushes & trees. We even had a brief wing-quivering display.

Watching Garden Warblers
A couple of Reed Buntings were using the pond
I then missed a pair of Spotted Flycatchers that were seen coming out of a hole in a wall, and another that had been seen on a fence, I was a bit miffed as it was a bird I haven't yet seen this year. I needn't have worried though as the place turned out to be alive with them. I have no idea how many there were, but there were lots! One pair were paying considerable interest to the spare tyre on the side of an abandoned horse box, maybe they were eyeing it up as a nest site. There were also several Pied Flycatchers, including a pair using a nest box.

We went back to the cars for lunch & whilst we were eating a Cuckoo flew by! Very nice! We then headed  onto Challacombe Down, some of us taking the high route whilst some took the low (there could be a song in there somewhere!).

Lovely views...and the weather wasn't bad either
On the top route we saw a few Wheatears & someone saw a Whinchat, although I missed it. We also saw a Tree Pipit parachute onto the top of a small tree. That was the first one I've ever seen, or should I say the first that I know I've seen. A Meadow Pipit also appeared which was handy for comparing the two. There isn't a lot of difference, although having them both there it was quite obvious which was which.

The splinter groups converge
We had fantastic views of a Cuckoo perching on the tops of small trees & a fence. Someone said that there's always a Tree Pipit in a particular dead tree, well nearly always....... I asked to be shown the tree anyway so I'd know where to look in the future, & blow me down if one didn't parachute down and land in it whilst we were all looking at it. It then gave us a great display, repeatedly climbing & parachuting down again onto various trees.

The Tree Pipit tree is just visible in the centre on the skyline
Some of the group headed back to the cars, and some of us carried on for a walk through the Soussons Down woods. We found several Siskins, heard & very briefly saw a Blackcap & Whitethroat, and saw another gorgeous male Redstart, but there wasn't much activity.
Heading back having added 11 species....
We were nearly back to the cars, walking parallel to a small stream that was largely hidden by bushes, when David mentioned that you'd have to be really lucky to spot a Dipper. About 10 seconds later a Dipper flew past! What's more, it then flew back the other way! A very nice bird to finish on. That made it 46 for the day, with 2 added to my Year List, making it 188 + 2

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


I've never seen a Woodchat Shrike in the UK, so couldn't resist a visit to Noss Mayo, which is on the coast just East of Plymouth, a place I hadn't even heard of until the Shrike turned up. It was well worth a visit as the scenery was spectacular. And so was the shrike! We parked in the NT Warren car park. An earlier report had shown the Shrike as sheltering from the wind in the hedge on the way down to the coastal path and it was soon apparent why.We were the only people there when we first arrived, but gradually a few more birders turned up. There was no sign of the Shrike in the hedge, so we spread out along the Coastal Path.
I think Simon was actually watching the yachts & Navy ships rather than looking for the Shrike!
We must have been there about an hour when one of the couples waved....they'd found it being very shrike-like & sitting on the top of a bush at the bottom of a gully. It was a fantastic looking bird. Unfortunately it was a bit far off for a decent photo, but at least I can prove I saw it!
At least you can see what it is!
It was sitting on the top of the little round bush in the bottom of the grassy dip
The best of the other birds were a Cirl Bunting & a very yellow Yelowhammer.

We headed off to walk around the Coastal Path to Noss Mayo. The weather was still windy & chilly, and despite the forecast of a dry day, every now & again there was a squall & we got rained on. It was a fantastic walk along the coast & up the Yealm estuary. I even managed to get a new butterfly, a Wall Brown.

Wall Brown
A beautiful spot to stop for tea.....
.....and for lunch
We didn't walk all the way into Noss Mayo but headed up a big hill and back across the fields & lanes to the van.

The view across the Yealm estuary made it worth the climb
We rather liked the sign ......
It would have been a fantastic visit even if I hadn't seen the Shrike, but it was even better as I had.

As we would be passing quite close to Yarner on the way home, it seemed rude not to drop in. I was really glad that we did. The pond was full of Mandarin Ducks, I then saw male & female Pied Flycatchers, & best of all, I found my first ever Wood Warbler. I could hear several of them, but as I've never seen one I actually had to see one. It must have taken me about 30 mins before I finally spotted one high above. I was really pleased to have seen it, but was even more impressed when I managed to get a shot, all be it a pretty poor one!

Mr & Mrs Mandarin
My first ever Wood Warbler
What a brilliant day! A Life tick (Wood Warbler), a UK tick (Woodchat Shrike), and 2 Year List ticks (Pied Flycatcher & Mandarin). That puts the Year List on 186.