Thursday, 27 December 2012

Torbay & a Somerset Hawfinch

As I'd enjoyed my visit to Hope's Nose, on Saturday (22nd) I headed to Berry Head, the other side of Torbay, to see how it compared. When I arrived it was pouring with rain & blowing a hooley, it was supposed to be from the SE but seemed to vary quite a bit. I headed down past the quarry to sea-watch from the bottom of the cliff to get some shelter. The Fulmars really close on the cliff, I think it's the first time I've ever actually heard them. I saw a couple of Great Northern Divers, lots of Gannets, Razorbills & Guillemots, and a few Kittiwakes. I stayed for about an hour before trudging back up the hill with my head down against the wind & rain. Half way up I happened to glance up and saw a dorsal fin really close into the shore in the bay. It was fantastic to see, the first time I've seen anything like it in this country. The tip of the fin had been damaged & looked quite jagged. I saw it a few times before it disappeared. About 10 minutes later I saw 2 much further out, I don't know if one of them was the same individual as I didn't notice the tip of the fin. However, this time there were 2, a large one & a calf. The large one was gracefully breaking the surface of the water with its back & fin, but the small one kept making a splash, although I couldn't quite work out what it was doing. Having some fun maybe! I've since been told that they were probably Harbour Porpoises. They certainly made my day.

View back towards Torbay from the lower level at Berry Head
View West from Berry Head
I stopped at Brixham Harbour next & saw 2 Great Northern Divers just beyond the marina. Then on to Broadsands where I saw another Great Northern Diver, 6 Great Crested Grebes & a Black-necked Grebe.

I later checked Devon Bird News to see an entry by Mike Langman which mentioned a boat trip in Torbay on Sunday (23rd). So I got up at 5.45am to head back to Paignton Harbour for a 2 1/2 hr trip around the bay. There were only 4 of us, including Mike, and the organiser Nigel. The weather was pretty good, and the water was quite calm apart from the short time we spent beyond Berry Head, when it got a bit lumpy. We had some fantastic views of Great Northern Divers, Razorbills & Guillemots, and a glimpse of the Black-necked Grebe & more Harbour Porpoises. We also saw some Purple Sandpipers in the breakwater & 2 Peregrines. The others saw a Red-throated Diver, but I missed it. It was well worth £12 & I'll certainly booking on a few more trips in the future.

Our transport around the bay
Approaching Berry Head
After the trip I headed to Boradsands again to look for the 'Tristis type' Chiffchaff that had been seen there for a while. Luckily I met a local birder who had seen it regularly since its arrival & had heard it calling. He found it for me and the differences were quite marked. I guess officially I shouldn't count it on my list as I didn't hear it call, but I'm happy it was a Siberian Chiffchaff, so I'm going to!

At the end of the boat trip I'd asked Mike Langman if he could suggest somewhere locally that I could find a Woodcock. I was expecting him to send me off to a soggy woodland somewhere, but instead he suggested Morrison's in Paignton! He said to park in the small car park beside the fuel station & that when it got dark the Woodcocks fly from the direction of the Paignton Zoo Aviary over the car park in the direction of the school. I was about to give up and go home at 5 as it was dark, when I suddenly heard an odd whistling noise approaching rapidly, although unfortunately it was coming up Morrison's access road the other side of the street lights to where I was standing. I only had a brief glimpse of the bird as it went past the last street light & headed low over the petrol station, but between that, the noise & it taking the predicted route, I'm happy it was a Woodcock.

Morrison's in Paignton......Woodcock country!
That was the last of my 2012 Devon birding. On Christmas morning we headed to Reading to spend a couple of days with my sister, her family & my parents. Our route took us just 15 minutes away from Bruton in Somerset where a couple of Hawfinches have been seen for a week or so. It would have been rude not to try for them, so we diverted off the A303, allowing a maximum of 30 minutes at the churchyard. We didn't even need that long as I found a female at the top of a tree after about 15 mins. A Christmas Day tick!

Bruton Church & Hawfinch tree (the middle tall twiggy one!)
It's a shame there's no more access to the Queen Mother Reservoir near Windsor until 2013, a Buff-bellied Pipit would look nice on my list.

Year List now on 220 + 3

Friday, 21 December 2012

Bewick's Swans

I was planning to go Woodcock hunting this afternoon, but then just after lunch I checked Birdguides and found that there were 2 Bewick's Swans at Axmouth. Birdguides showed them as being opposite Axmouth Football Club, which I couldn't find at first, but as soon as I did the swans were easy. 

The Bewick's Swans are the right hand tiny white dots beyond the pool

My usual bad digiscoped shot
I then went to the Tower Hide on Black Hole Marsh until the light went. I had a good chat with a local birder in the hide, but didn't find any particularly interesting birds. I even checked the gulls!

Year List now on 218

Hope's Nose

According to the weather app on my phone, there was due to be a strong onshore wind & rain yesterday. I decided to visit Hope's Nose in Torquay as I've only been there once before, on 3/3/02. All I can remember about that visit is that I went there with Mary and that she spent the entire visit lying on the grass due to a dodgy back!

When I arrived just before 10, it was lashing down and visibility was pretty bad, although it wasn't too windy.

View of Hope's Nose from the van when I arrived 
By the time I'd walked down to the end of the footpath, which was more like a stream, the rain had virtually stopped & the visibility quickly improved. There were 4 Great Northern Divers in the cove just West of the point, 2 of them were close in giving me an excellent view. There was also one Black-throated Diver, although that was a bit further out. There were plenty of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, and Gannets flying about, along with quite a few Common Scoter, Shags & Guillemots on the sea.  I only saw one Razorbill on the water although  quite a few auks flew past, which I think were probably Razorbills too.  A trawler heading towards Brixham was trailed by a mass of swirling gulls & Gannets,  quite a spectacle. There were no other birders, but a fisherman turned up and pointed where a Peregrine normally sits, and sure enough, when I checked, there was one exactly where he said. My favourite for the day though was a seal in the bay, which I happened upon in the scope whilst it was quite close & looking straight towards me.  Lovely! I guess it was probably a Grey Seal as they are apparently the most common in the SW.
The bay with the Great Northern Divers & seal
I stayed until just after 12, and although I hadn't found any new birds for the year, I had thoroughly enjoyed my morning.

Improved view from the van when I left

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

3 ducks ticked, 1 duck dipped (again)

It's happened again, I've got all behind....too busy birding & trying to get to grips with my new MacBook.

Since my last post I've been up on various bits of Woodbury Common looking for Woodcock & Jack Snipe without success, and had a second failed attempt for the Green-winged Teal at Portworthy Dam near Plymouth. We also went up to the Blackdown Hills and finished the last of the Devon Bird Atlas surveys. There were lots of birds about, although we didn't find anything unusual.

We then went up to Leicestershire to check on our canal boat Muriel, and whilst there I managed to find 2 new ducks for my Year List. The first was a Velvet Scoter at Swithland Reservoir, which is only a few miles from the boat. I was checking out little dots on the far side of the water with the scope when Simon pointed out a couple of ducks about 40 yards away, one of which was indeed one of the female Velvet Scoters that had been reported there for a few days. That was enough birding for Simon, so I dropped him off in Loughborogh & went to Rutland Water for the rest of the day. I'd never been in the actual reserve before, so I had a very pleasant afternoon exploring. I was pleased to find 4 female Smew on Lagoon 3, although they were quite a way off. 2 male & 2 female Red-crested Pochards were also a nice surprise, although I'd already seen a couple at Exminster Marsh a while back.

Lagoon 3 at Rutland Water
I stayed until the light started to go watching the gull roost (worrying!) & as I left the the hide a Barn Owl did a fly-by right in front of me. A lovely sight.

Back south, I spent a morning at Bowling Green Marsh which was heaving with birds. The Long-tailed Duck was still there, along with the usual suspects, including a beautiful flock of Avocets, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits, a few Bar-tailed Godwits, lots of Snipe & 2 Grey Plover.

Yesterday I had my first foray into Cornwall. I went straight to Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor, the lake reputed to be the legendary home of the Lady of the Lake where King Arthur was given the sword Excalibur. I must admit, it was a beautiful place, but more importantly it was small, making it fairly easy to locate the adult drake Lesser Scaup. There were only a few Tufties, Pochards & a pair of Goldeneye keeping it company.

Dozmary Pool
Next stop St John's Lake, which isn't actually a lake but part of the Tamar estuary. A Green-winged Teal had been reported there, probably the same one that had given me the slip at Portworthy Dam...twice. I spent the afternoon there, along with 3 other birders, but we couldn't find it in the muddy channels. In hindsight I should have gone there first when the tide was in, but it had been reported the day before in the afternoon, so I figured it was possible to find it on a low tide. I felt a bit better when I discovered that 2 of the other birders had dipped the Portworthy Teal twice as well.

St John's Lake
It had been a long way, but I drove home fairly happy as I'd at least seen one of my target birds putting my Year List on 217.  Back in Feb I mentioned that I'm in a Year List Race with a couple of friends. Well, for various reasons, there are really only 2 of us left in the running, and when I'd set out in the morning, Dom was also on 217. However, my happiness was short-lived as I arrived home to discover that Dom had been on a trip to Suffolk & added 4 birds. So, I'm now trailing by 4 birds, a gap that I'm going to be hard pushed to close.  I'll give it a good go though!

Monday, 10 December 2012

A mixed bag

I'm playing catch up again after a week of varied birding activities.  This is also my first post on my lovely new MacBook. I've never used one before so I'm trying to figure out how to use it as I go.

I started off on Tuesday 4th with a twitch to Portworthy near Plymouth in search of a Green-winged Teal. A chap that I'd met a few days earlier at Dawlish Warren had been trying to find it for a while without success. As there was a small area of water out of view, I stayed for a couple of hours just in case it appeared, which it didn't.
Portworthy Dam, viewed from Fernhill Cross. 
I decided to explore Burrator Reservoir whilst I was in the vicinity. The scenery on approach was impressive, I loved the mossy lanes, and found a car park that was alive with birds including a pair of Nuthatches, numerous Coal Tits & Marsh Tits. Views of the reservoir itself were restricted by trees, but I did see 6 female & 2 male Goosanders.

Mossy lanes
An obliging digiscoping is gradually improving!
On Wednesday 5th I went along to the last DBWPS meeting of the year at Escot. We had a nice walk, although didn't find anything particularly interesting. Twenty four of us then indulged in an early Christmas dinner.

There's a Bullfinch in there somewhere...
I spent the afternoon of Thursday 6th getting very cold in Ide near Exeter trying to find a Hawfinch. I'm not sure if I was in the right place, but there were certainly lots of seed-laden trees to watch. No Hawfinch, but I did find a rather nice flock of 8 Bullfinch & a large flock of Redwing.

Friday was our penultimate trip to the Blackdown Hills for a Devon Bird Atlas survey. In the first Tetrad we had 19 species, which amazingly didn't include Wood Pigeon, but we did see 3 Nuthatches, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers & a Treecreeper.

The second Tetrad contains quite a large area of orchards, so we were inundated by Fieldfares. It was difficult to count as the flocks kept moving about. I suspect that our 105 is a gross under-estimate. We had some fantastic views of them perched in the tops of the trees in the sunlight...  even Simon was impressed!

Simon in action
We had lunch on the hoof as we headed to Steart in Somerset in search of the Temminck's Stint. I was a bit confused by the directions on Birdguides but luckily a couple of chaps turned up who knew where to go, so we followed them. We then met a couple on their way back from seeing the Stint who gave us some extra directions, including the fact that it was the only bird in the field! It was quite a long walk which was very boggy in places. As soon as we climbed up onto the sea wall the wind hit us. It was blowing a hooley. There were 2 chaps scouring the flooded field who hadn't found the bird, but with the extra directions we'd been given, we found it straight away. In fact Simon spotted it first! (I'll make a birder of him yet!). It was really quite close, but the wind made it really difficult to watch & almost impossible for me to digiscope. I managed the usual 'record shot'.

Simon stops the scope blowing over. The Stint was in the front channel
Temminck's Stint, another UK first for me (and Simon!)
I then spent Saturday (8th) afternoon up on Bicton Common unsuccessfully searching for Jack Snipe & Woodcock.  Simon joined me for another attempt on Sunday (9th) on Aylesbeare Common. The birds were very few & far between, but it's a lovely place for a walk. I'm determined to at least find a Woodcock before the end of the year.

Year List now on 214.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Fudge Duck

Yesterday (Sunday) I should have been researching laptops as mine has died & I need a new one. However, a Ferruginous Duck was reported as being on the floods at Hay Moor in Somerset, giving me the perfect excuse to put off my technical headache for another day. It was just over an hour away & I didn't set off until about 11, but at least the directions were quite good. In fact I'd been there before in the Spring looking for, & failing to find, a White Stork.

I went straight to New Road and drove south from the A361 towards North Curry, until I could go no further.

The end of the line....
I joined forces with a very nice chap from Taunton, who had a 400+ UK Life List. It's always nice to bump into an expert! There were quite a few sight-seers at the blockage so we walked up the hill a little way to get a view across the hedges. Iinitially the light was pretty awful and we couldn't find a single duck anywhere on the vast area of flooding.Then we found a fairly large flock of Tufted Ducks and by walking back to the road closure & looking through a gateway we had quite a good view of them. It only took a few seconds to find the nice drake Ferruginous Duck among them. I tried a spot of Digiscoping, but I still haven't got the hang of it. Still, at least I can prove I saw it!

Record shot of the Ferruginous (aka Fudge) Duck
I had planned to do a bit of exploring in the area, but as it started raining I just ate lunch & then headed home wearing a big grin!

Year List now on 213