Sunday, 17 March 2013

DBWPS West Charleton Marsh

Yesterday I went along to the the DWPS meeting at West Charleton Marsh on the Kingsbridge Estuary. The weather forecast was for rain, which may explain the smallest turnout I've seen at a meeting.....there were seven of us! I gave Libby a lift, and at first we thought we may have the wrong date or site as it was quite a while before anyone else arrived. Jonathan was due to be the leader but as he couldn't make it David took on the role. We started walking down to the marsh just after 10am and one of the predicted 'showers' started shortly after. It was actually more of a monsoon & we tried for the Guinness record of how many people you can get under a small brolly & managed four. There were at least 6 or 7 Chiffchaffs at the sewage works on the way to the marsh, but not much else. We decided to leg it to the hide & hope for an improvement in the weather. We did get a few rain-free minutes on our way during which we found Meadow Pipit & Stonechat, but were glad that we arrived just before it absolutely chucked it down.
The hardy/foolish/soggy birders during a brief dry spell
View across the marsh from the hide during the downpour 
Sheltering in the hide.
The hide is 'double aspect', overlooking both the marsh & the Kinsbridge Estuary, although we only opened the windows one side at a time in order to keep down the draught. We'd seen a lovely male Cirl Bunting in front of the hide as we went in, but unfortunately it didn't reappear. We did see quite a lot though, including Pintail, Shoveler, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit & Snipe on the marsh side, and Red-breasted Merganser, Brent Geese, Curlew, Great-crested Grebe & lots of Shelduck on the estuary side.

We headed back to the cars during a break in the rain just after 12, and found a Water Rail lurking in the channel just below the hide on the way.
At least there was some blue sky by now
Most of us had on wellies, but Libby & Annabelle were wearing walking boots. On the way back they decided to try the track in case it was less soggy than the field we'd crossed on the way in. It was OK most of the way....
Libby (left) & Annabelle...(this is what happens to Annabelle if husband John hasn't been out & reccied the route!)
We stopped at the sewage works again on the way passed. There were still loads of Chiffchaffs over the back, although it was difficult to get an accurate count as they were permanently on the move. Libby spotted an odd Chiffchaff just inside the gate which could have been a Siberian Chiffchaff, but without a song or a photo it's impossible to say for sure.
In the sewage works....we go to the nicest places!
The rain started again just before we got back to the cars so we were a bit damp as we drove on to Beesands for lunch. There were now 8 of us as we were joined by Annabelle's husband John, who'd left us to the birds at West Charleton & gone off Geocashing.  An extra spotter is always welcome, even if birding under sufferance!

Last year we found Black Redstart & Wheatear from the hide at Beesands, but no such luck this year. There was however a rather nice Great Northern Diver just off the shore.

Slapton Ley was our last stop for the day, a place I've never birded before. I had my exercise for the day chasing a plastic bag up the road after the wind whipped it out of the van. I caught mine & turned around to see 2 orange carrier bags coming at me up the road having been whipped out of one of the other cars. I'd have made a useless goal keeper as they both got passed me, although I did manage to catch up with one of them further up the road.

We were hoping to find the two Ring-necked Ducks that have been there for a while, but failed to find them in amongst the Tufties. However there were at least 3 Goldeneye, which are always nice to see.

Slapton Ley hide
Ring-necked duck hunting
Offshore were 2 Great Northern Divers, 3 Common Scoters  & a few Gannets out in the distance
Look at that lovely sky now!
We had a last ditch attempt to find the Ring-necked Ducks from the bridge at the Eastern end of the Ley. Again we failed to find them, but finished on a real high when a beautiful Marsh Harrier gave us excellent views as it did a slow fly-by over our heads and off to the East.

Looking East from the bridge
We could easily have aborted the trip first thing, but we were so glad that we hadn't as it turned out to be another great day....62 species on the list, some lovely weather (eventually!) & entertaining company!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A day on Dartmoor

Yesterday, Simon picked up the newest addition to his motorcycle collection from Okehampton, and while he drove the bike straight home, I went wandering on Dartmoor. It definitely was a wander, as I only managed 5 miles in 5 hours! I parked up at Meldon Reservoir car park & crossed the dam into a little bird hotspot with 2 Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Green Woodpecker, Raven, Crow, Robin, Chaffinch, 2 Marsh Tits and a male Goosander on the reservoir. I climbed up Langstone Hill towards Black Tor to the sound of singing Skylarks and, unfortunately, the hunt which was across the valley on the lower slopes of Yes Tor. We converged at Black Tor, but luckily they left it before I arrived.
Meldon Reservoir
Beautiful views & blue skies (some of the time!)
The weather was mainly lovely, with the occasional light shower. As I approached Black Tor the sky darkened & assuming it would be another short shower I stupidly didn't bother with my waterproof trousers. Consequently by the time I arrived at the Tor for lunch my trousers were soaked.

Approaching Black Tor
Whilst lunching, a fox ran passed the Tor in front of me, right across the route taken by the hunt about half an hour earlier. I'm sure I saw it making a rude gesture in their general direction....

Lunch spot, sheltering from the wind behind the Tor
The West Okement River flows through a deep valley west of the Tor down to the reservoir. There's no path down to it from the Tor, although a track follows the river a bit further down the valley. I'd seen a couple of walkers heading that way as I arrived, so rather than retracing my route I decided to yomp down to the track. Half way down I really regretted my decision when I had a moment of panic whilst standing on a rock surrounded by bog. It was the sound of running water underneath the vegetation & the occasional gaping hole in amongst the tussocks that worried me. I even moved my phone & camera into a higher pocket....just in case!
Bog ahead...
Bog behind....looking back up to Black Tor

I eventually managed to bog-hop to the track & it was well worth the effort. Not a bird in sight, but the valley was gorgeous.

West Okement River
Ancient trees line the valley

An impressive ecosystem on a tree
West Okement River
Back to Meldon Reservoir & a closer view of the male Goosander.

Far end of the reservoir, current home to 14 noisy Canada Geese

It had been a lovely walk & by the time I got back to the car park I'd seen 22 species.

(Marsh Tit, Chaffinch, Green Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Crow, Blackbird, Robin, Jackdaw, Mistle Thrush, Goosander, Canada Goose, Raven, Magpie, Skylark, Dunnock, Pheasant, Wren, Buzzard, Blue Tit, Goldcrest, Starling)

And a BMW R1150RT (Ed)

Friday, 8 March 2013


On Tuesday the inaugural field meeting of the Mid Devon Branch of the DBWPS was held at Eggesford Forest, which is on the A377 about 15 miles North of Crediton. In the absence of any other volunteers, Annabelle, a member of the East Devon Branch, had stepped up to the plate and offered to lead this first meeting. Five more of us from East Devon went along to give Annabelle some moral support, and we were joined by a further 14 birders, including George & Julia Harris the DBWPS Chairman & Assistant Recorder/ Data manager respectively. Annabelle had cleverly organised the best weather of the year so far; blue sky & sunshine!

George gave us an update on current DBWPS projects & we then headed off into the woods. We had seen Siskin & Nuthatch in the car park, and a slow wander then produced a further 18 species including Treecreeper, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit, Buzzard, Raven and several Goldcrest, which were the first I've heard singing this year. Being the first meeting it was also an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other, so as well as bird watching there was plenty of chatting going on.  All very pleasant!

A pleasant wander in the woods
We returned to the car park for lunch and had the luxury of picnic tables on which to eat our butties in the sunshine.

Ten of us stayed on for an afternoon session and headed back up into the woods via a different path. From the edge of the woods a large flock of birds, possibly plovers of some sort, were seen in the distance, although they'd vanished by the time I managed to get the scope up. A farm track that had been too muddy for Annabelle to recce on her previous visits had dried out & we were all game for a bit of exploring, so we walked east across the open farmland.
Leaving the woods....note the blue sky!
We were enjoying a pleasant walk in the sunshine, seeing Stock Dove,  Collared Dove, Starling & House Sparrow, when we came across 'The Spot'. We were at the edge of a field that dropped steeply to a boggy stream, and suddenly it was all go! It was the sort of place where you could take a deckchair & stay all day to see what turns up. In that little corner we had three stunning male & a female Yellowhammer, a gorgeous Grey Wagtail (which turned it into the 'The Yellow Spot'!), Pied Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Bullfinch,  Sparrow, Chaffinch, and Starlings, which were looking amazing in the sunshine. Meanwhile a Skylark was singing in the distance, the first I had heard this year. Blackcap & Stonechat were also seen, but I managed to miss them.
More blue sky....
Lovely views
The Yellow Spot
We finally dragged ourselves away & headed down the valley to the forest, adding Redwing to the list. I missed Fieldfare and another Grey Wagtail, which apparently had a particularly dark head.

Heading back to the forest
It really had been an excellent day, with the afternoon session far exceeding expectations & adding 15 species for the day (although I only saw 12 of them). So well done to Annabelle who organised the meeting, including the fabulous weather! The Mid-Devon birders were a friendly & interesting bunch so I'll be going along to more of their meetings if they're within striking distance.

Myself, Annabelle & Libby decided to round off the day with a visit to Exminster in search of the Rose-coloured Starling. Unfortunately, I think we were a bit late in the day, as even the Common Starlings disappeared shortly after we arrived.

Annabelle & Libby Rose-coloured Starling hunting

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

5 hours in a car park!

On Saturday I went to the DBWPS meeting at Broadsands, Paignton. It was gloomy with a strong & very cold wind, but at least it didn't rain. We met in the car park, and stayed there for most of the day! There are actually three car parks, only one of which is actually in use. The other two are closed to cars & are bordered by lots of bushes & trees with a narrow pond in between them. This all makes for a nice habitat for any birds passing through, or looking for a nice spot to over-winter.

Unfortunately it was actually really quiet, possibly due to the wind which was keeping everything down. The only birds I saw in the smaller closed car park was a Goldcrest & a couple of Greenfinch. Onto the larger closed car park where there was a Grey Wagtail & a Rock Pipit on the boggy patch in front of the beach huts & quite a few Cirl Buntings on the seeds that are regularly put down for them. The highlight of the day came as we were watching the Cirls when a Firecrest put in a brief appearance. Unfortunately only two of us saw it, despite staking out the corner of the car park for quite a while. Whilst most of us were up the adjoining footpath checking out the back of the hedge, David caught a brief glimpse of it as it left that hedge & flew into the mass of brambles on the south side of the car park. We waited there for ages but unfortunately it didn't re-appear.

Cirl Bunting & Firecrest stake out
We had a quick look at the sea whilst trying to shelter from the wind. There were a few Common Scoter & Great Crested Grebes which were visible occasionally between the waves, and several Fulmars, but that was about it. We then had a wander up a farm track towards Elberry Cove, but that was pretty quiet as well.

After lunch we had another go at finding the Firecrest. There was a lot of activity in the bushes with quite a few Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits & a Chiffchaf, and a Sparrowhawk flew low across the car park & along the pond looking for a snack. There seemed to be more Cirl Buntings than in the morning & they were now joined by several Reed Buntings. We tried to count the Cirls but they were very jumpy making an accurate count impossible, although there were at least 10. We explored the paths out the back of the car park, where a Blackcap & Bullfinch were seen, although I missed them both.

Action! I think that was the Bullfinch flying off!
Eventually we gave up on the Firecrest & left at about 3.30pm, by which time our numbers had dwindled from the original 16 to a hard core of 7. Maybe '5 hrs in a car park' is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much! Still, we enjoyed ourselves!