Friday, 30 November 2012


I've been out & about quite a lot since my last post, with the highlight coming yesterday when I found 3 Waxwings on Dawlish Warren. However, first things first.....a few other moments of note.

On Tuesday 20th there was a strong onshore wind so I went over to Budleigh Salterton for an hour. The sea was pretty rough & I was still getting wet despite cowering in the corner of the shelter, but it was well worth the effort as I found a first winter Little Gull. It was with several Black-headed Gulls just offshore near the Lime Kiln car park and I watched it on and off for about 50 minutes. Little Gull is UK first for me, so I was very happy!

On Sunday 25th I decided to head to Bowling Green Marsh for the afternoon, but only got as far as Darts Farm as the River Clyst had broken it's banks. It was an amazing sight. I visited the Darts Farm hide for the first time, which looked out over water, which I'm sure wouldn't normally be there. At least I managed to have a good view of 2 male Bramblings on the feeders.
    The Clyst flood plain does its job
A soggy hide
On Tuesday 27th there was a Devon Birdwatching & Preservation Society meeting on Woodbury Common. There were quite a few of us for this one, so it was a shame that we found very few birds. I managed to see a total of 13, with the best being a Buzzard & a Goldcrest! David branched out into a spot of fungus identification when he found some Yellow Brain, a bright yellow parasitic fungus.
David & the Yellow Brain fungus
Some of us went on to Budleigh Salterton for the afternoon where we added a few more species to the day list, although nothing exciting. The cricket pitch & scrapes were under water & the path beside the Otter had been partially washed away in places.
Anyone for cricket?
The access road to the White Bridge was still flooded & the White Bridge itself had been damaged by an enormous tree that seemed to have come down river in the flood.
The White Bridge v a big tree!
As we were about to leave I checked Devon Birds News to find that there were Waxwings in Exmouth by the Community College. I headed straight over there to see if I could find them before it got dark. There were 4 or 5 people there looking, including Ian who had followed me from Budleigh. We didn't see them, although one of the other chaps saw a small flock fly over. It appeared that they had gone to roost in the college grounds, so I decided to return in the morning.

I got up early on Wednesday, but for some reason faffed about rather than heading straight to the college. I was kicking myself for the rest of the day as the Waxwings had left just before I arrived. I spent the rest of the day trudging around Exmouth & Littleham in the hope of locating them, which I didn't.

And so to yesterday (29th). I decided to head over to Dawlish Warren to see the Black-necked Grebe that had been on the main pond for a few days. Driving across the Clyst flood plain I would never have known that it had been under water a few days before. At Dawlish Warren I headed straight for the pond. At first I only found 3 Little Grebes, but after about half an hour the Black-necked Grebe appeared and gave brilliant views. It was really nice of it to be so obliging!

Black-necked Grebe
I had a look off the coast but only found a raft of Common Scoter, so returned to the pond for another look at the grebe. I decided to have a walk around the back of the the pond before lunch, and I was really glad I did when 3 'trilling' birds flew in from the golf course over my head. I had a moment of panic as I put the scope down & got the bins up....and there they were, 3 Waxwings sitting in a tree! They dropped down into the bushes & started feeding on the berries. To say I was pleased would be a gross understatement. I posted the sighting on Birdguides & e-mailed the Dawlish Warren website. A few people started appearing fairly quickly & I soon discovered why. It was only the second ever sighting of Waxwings on the reserve & the first time they have ever been seen to land!  I had managed a few very bad record shots as proof, but then luckily they hung around all afternoon and were joined by another 2. A flock of 20 were also seen flying over heading for Exmouth. I'd love to have taken the fantastic shot at the top of the page, but it was actually taken by Chris Grady who who kindly sent me the photo ( (Thanks Chris!).

Waxwings settled in the big bush on the left & went down to drink at the puddles

(I'm still having Blogger problems, hence the variously sized photos & wonky labels!)

Monday, 19 November 2012

A birding smorgasbord

I've been out and about quite a bit over the last few days...

Last Thursday (15th) I went over to Exminster Marsh in the afternoon hoping for a Short-eared Owl or a Merlin. I didn't find either, but had an interesting time nevertheless, spending most of my time near Topsham Lock (or rather where Topsham Lock used to be). Of note:
  • A Whooper Swan was with several Mute swans at the back of the Marsh near the railway.
  • Several Cettis Warblers singing
  • The Starlings put on a great display, it was mesmerising to watch them swirling about. Several small groups took me by surprise, flying low over my head from behind to join the main flock. The 'whoosh' as they went over made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
  • Whilst scanning with the scope as it was getting dark, a Ring-tail Hen Harrier flew straight towards me low over the Marsh before dropping down out of site in the vegetation.
  • There was a commotion behind me as a male Sparrowhawk battled with a Starling on the opposite canal bank. The Sparrowhawk won, but not without a lot of effort & lots of squealing from the Starling.
On Friday morning I nipped down to the Lifeboat Station on Exmouth front. I didn't see much, but I did manage to get my first ever reasonable photo using my little 'point & shoot' camera down the scope. It was a Redwing that flew in from the sea & dropped down at the back of the beach. It must have been exhausted as it didn't even move when several dog walkers & a runner went by a few yards away.

Tired Redwing
Saturday (17th) was the Devon Birdwatching & Preservation Society trip to the Somerset Levels. A small group of us met at Westhay Moor & spent the morning wandering around the reserve. It was very quiet, although I did manage to put 35 species on my list and at least the weather was pleasant.

    Bird sculpture at Westhay

Just before lunch a Great White Egret flew in and as it landed a Harrier flew by behind it. Typical, no 'good' birds all morning, then two together. Only a couple of us saw the Harrier, and no one got a good enough look to identify it. Luckily a few minutes later a lovely male Marsh Harrier gave us good views as it glided low over the reeds on the opposite side of the reserve.

A blurry digiscoped Great White Egret
After lunch we relocated to Shapwick Heath, parking at the Avalon Marsh Visitor Centre and walking to the Decoy Hide. Again it was very quiet & I only managed to add another 7 species to the day list. A Smew was apparently seen from the hide on Sunday, did it turn up after we left or was it hiding?
A large Redwing flock liked the drain bank

And so to yesterday, and a trip to Birmingham. Simon wanted to go to the Classic Bike show at the NEC, so I went along to keep him company. Well as far as the entrance anyway, where I dropped him off and continued North another 10 miles or so to visit the Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve. Or to be more precise, the Drayton Bassett Pit where a White-rumped Sandpiper had been hanging about for a few days. I was glad I'd followed the Birdguides advice & worn my wellies as it was a 20 minute walk through deep mud to get to the pit. There were quite a few birders about and I was told where the sandpiper was, which unfortunately was at the back of the pit behind a mound of mud. It had disappeared from view just before I arrived.
 The White-rumped Sandpiper was hiding at the back..

There no other waders visible in the pit, so I got excited when one emerged from behind the hump, but unfortunately it was a Green Sandpiper. However, after about 40 minutes the White-rumped Sandpiper came back into view. Although it was a long way off, it was still possible to see all of its distinguishing features, including its white rump as it preened. After about 5 minutes I decided to try & digiscope a record shot, at which point it went back behind the hump. I waited until lunch time hoping it would come back out, but it was still hidden when I left.

The twitch..
The mud...
After lunch I dashed down to the Kingsbury Water Park to see if I could find a Willow Tit on the feeders. I didn't, but I did see a lovely male Goldeneye on the lake.
Year List now on 209.
(For some reason Blogger is no longer  giving me the option of enlarging my photos. I have no idea why)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Long-tailed Duck

It took me 4 attempts to find the Long-tailed Duck on the estuary. On Friday I visited Bowling Green Marsh in the hope of seeing it from the viewing platform or Goat Walk, but as there was no sign I returned on Saturday for another attempt. There were a few 'firsts' for me for the season from the hide, including Spotted Redshank, Knot & Golden Plover. From the Goat Walk there was a duck of the right shape & size repeatedly diving in the channel over towards Turf Lock. Unfortunately the light was going so it was impossible to pick out any plumage details. It was probably the Long-tailed Duck, but I wasn't happy to count it. At least it was a lovely evening.

View of the Exe from the platform at BGM

                                                                     The Exe Estuary from the Goat Walk

I then spent the whole of Sunday across the estuary at Exminster Marsh. I checked the estuary from the path between the Exeter Ship Canal & the Estuary, which I hadn't even realised was there before. It was a bit overgrown & slippery, but it did give a much better view of the estuary than from the main canal path. I was at Turf Lock checking the estuary until the light started to go, when I walked back to the car park to be told that the duck had been in the lock channel behind me at Turf. Doh! I had a quick look at the Whooper Swan on the marsh & I dashed back to Turf Lock but the duck was nowhere to be seen.

So, back to Exminster again on Monday morning in the rain. I walked straight to Turf Lock to check the estuary, and after about 15 minutes the Long-tailed Duck finally showed itself out in the channel near red buoy 22. It was quite a way off but I had a good view as it wasn't diving. It stayed for about 10 minutes before disappearing out of sight behind a mud bank as it headed towards BGM.

                                               The Exe Estuary from Turf Lock, the Long-tailed Duck is out there...
Year List now on 208.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Two ticks & a DBWPS trip

On Sunday, after spending my 3rd morning in Mudbank Lane looking for the Scaup, I checked Birdguides to find that it was at at Bowling Green Marsh. I jumped in the van  and headed straight over there. At first the hide was full due to an RSPB event, but I managed to get a distant & not very satisfactory view of the Scaup. I went for a wander up to the platform & Goatwalk before returning to the hide to find it nice and quiet with just one birder sketching a wigeon. I found a duck which I thought was the Scaup over the far side of the pond & the other chap agreed. He turned out to be very knowledgeable & helpful, and when the Scaup obligingly swam up the channel towards the hide he pointed out the features that distinguish if form a Tufted Duck, including the small patch of grey on its back that identified it as a 1st winter male.

The Scaup swam up the channel towards the hide giving us an excellent view
On Monday I went in search of Seaton's Cattle Egret which had just reappeared on Birdguides after not being mentioned for a while. I parked at the cemetery at Black Hole Marsh & walked to Colyford Common LNR where it had been reported, wishing I'd worn wellies. From the hide I saw a couple of egrets in a cow field by the A3052, and although they were a long way off and partly obscured by vegetation, I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the Cattle Egret's distinctive yellow bill. I walked around to the road and had a better, but still not great, view from the platform of the Colyford Tramway.
It 's the minute white spot above the far right fence post!
I had the Canon with me so at least you can see what it is.
The Egret then walked behind the hedge so I continued along the road hoping for a better view. The bird was nowhere to be seen, but I did bump into Karen of  'Wild Wings & Wanderings' ( I've been enjoying her blog for ages, so it was really nice to actually meet her. The Cattle Egret was out of view for ages but then reappeared, flying across the field with a Little Egret to mix with the cows. Karen got much better photos by digiscoping than I could manage with the Canon & she gave me a quick lesson. I gave it a try but I obviously need to practice as I couldn't even get the Egret in the view screen!
Synchronised nibbling
Karen in action...
Yesterday there was a DBWPS meeting at Roadford Lake, which is West of Dartmoor & not far from Cornwall. It's actually a large reservoir, the only non-acidic 'mud-bottomed' reservoir in Devon, or at least it was when my 'Where to Watch Birds' book was written. I'd never been before so it was nice to explore somewhere new. We met at the dam car park but then drove to the reserve area at the  North end of the reservoir. We started off in the hide near the Southweek Viaduct. There was virtually no 'edge' due to very high water levels, so the only waders we found were 2 Snipe, along with a couple of Wigeon, Tufted Ducks & Great Crested Grebes. We then walked to Toft where we found 3 female Goldneye, my first of the season, as were the Fieldfares which flew over in several large flocks. We found another female Goldeneye on our way back across the viaduct. After lunch it started to rain so we just had a short walk in the woods South of the hide where we added Lesser Redpoll & Siskin to the list. That took my total for the day to 42 species, although unfortunately despite our best efforts, that didn't include a Willow Tit.
View from the dam end....the reserve area is at the other end.
View across the Southweek inlet (DBWPS hide just visible on the water's edge)

Year list total now on 207.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lesser Yellowlegs

I went on an excursion to Ernesettle in Plymouth yesterday in search of the Lesser Yellowlegs. The sky darkened, a rainbow appeared, and by the time I'd made it down to the water's edge, the heavens opened. I wasn't sure if I was in the right place, but the tide was on its was out so I started scanning the mud from under my little collapsible brolly, which unfortunately lived up to its description & collapsed. The rain stopped as soon as I was wet, but at least my optics were still dry.

Looking East along Ernesettle Creek
There were plenty of Redshanks, a few Greenshanks & a couple of Curlews. I'd been looking for a while & was peering  into the distance inspecting at a load of red legs, when suddenly a pair of yellow legs walked through the middle of them. They were so far away that I couldn't see much else of the birds, but those legs were unmistakable....even by me! It wandered about for a few minutes before vanishing into a channel, reappearing briefly and then vanishing behind a hump. The worst view ever, but I was happy!

A birding couple then arrived, followed swiftly by another chap, Tom, with his camera. Unfortunately the Yellowlegs didn't pop out again, so we moved further east along the bank in the hope of a better view. We could see further into the channel, but only saw Redshanks so headed back almost to the slipway again. And there it was! Directly opposite & much closer than before! This time I could see all of its features, including its white rump & barred tail. Unfortunately I only had my little Lumix 'point & shoot' camera with me.

It was on the bank behind the spot ( a yellow wheelie bin!) in the rear channel 
Here it is... photo taken by Tom Whiley (thanks Tom!)
I left Ernesettle & headed a bit further up the estuary to explore Lopwell. I didn't find many birds, but it was very pretty.

South from Lopwell dam 
Crossing the river involved a walk across the slippery causeway
The 'reservoir' is more of a marsh! 
On Thursday we'd had an interesting encounter whilst out walking along the cliffs just East of Exmouth. A large bird suddenly swooped down and landed on the cliff edge about 20 feet away. It was wearing a bell & a few minutes later an American lady arrived wearing a big glove. It was apparently a young Red-tailed Hawk out learning its trade.
Out 'walking' the hawk.
Year List now on 205

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Back home

We're back in Exmouth after spending a very enjoyable couple of months cruising the canals of the Midlands & Wales. Since arriving home on Sunday I've been out & about a couple of times with the scope & bins. On Monday I visited Exminster Marsh where I managed to find the 2 Red-crested Pochards. I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the large central lagoon, despite the fact that there was some noisy work being done right next to it.

Lovely views across to the Exe
On Tuesday I decided to try & find the Bonaparte's Gull at Dawlish Warren. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to recognise it, even if I managed to find it. I met another lady birder from Plymouth on the sea wall & as she'd seen several before I stuck with her to improve my chances. We'd walked half way to Langstone Rock & found a Med Gull in with the few Black-headed Gulls when we heard that the Bonaparte's had been seen near the groynes about 10 minutes earlier. We headed back that way and stopped at the lifeguard's hut. We'd been checking the few Black-headed Gulls for a while when I came upon the Bonaparte's sitting by itself on the water. It was actually very easy to differentiate from the Black-headed Gulls, being smaller & neater with a nice little black bill. There was a group of chaps looking for the gull a bit further along the front. We tried to attract their attention but as they didn't look our way I did my good deed for the day & dashed round to let them know we'd found it. We all managed to have a really good look before it flew off towards the estuary.
The Bonaparte's Gull is out there.....
I'm currently defrosting having spent 2 hours on the estuary this morning in search of the Scaup that's apparently been hanging about there for a while. I saw my first Pintails of the season & developed Wigeon-blindness...but no Scaup.

Year List now on 204.