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

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