Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Retro Marches

March is a month when you really can get everything from mini heatwaves to widespread blizzards via all other imaginable extremes of British weather. Birding wise it is not usually so unpredictable. In prolonged mild, benign weather the birding can get in the doldrums with most winter vistors gone and summer visitors still on their way. Early warm southerlies can produce early migrants and sometimes exotic species ( eg rare herons, Hoopoes etc ) and consistent easterly winds can bring surprises but it is very much the exception rather than the rule as can be seen below..........

March '67
Just a few good wintering birds remaining such as 3 Scaup at Slapton Ley and a Whooper Swan still on the River Avon. 2 Ruff were also at Aveton Gifford between 18th-23rd.

March '77
A young Whooper Swan was still at Slapton Ley where there were also up to 3 Marsh Harriers during the month, an Osprey on the 8th and a Glaucous Gull on the 28th. Elsewhere the wintering Surf Scoter was last seen on the Kingsbridge Estuary on the 7th and a Hoopoe was at Prawle Point from 11th-13th.

March '87
Very quiet month the best being a Bittern at Slapton most of the month with a Glaucous Gull there from the 8th.

March ' 97
Quiet again, Bittern at Slapton on 21st and a Long-eared Owl there on the 6th. The Little Bunting at South Milton remained all month.

March '07
Best bird was an adult Night Heron on Moorwell Pond, East Prawle on the 11th. An Iceland Gull was seen intermittanly on the Kingsbridge Estuary until the 8th and an adult Ring-billed Gull was at Thurlestone on the 24th.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Humpback of Start Bay

No doubt who the A-list superstar of the natural world has been locally these past few days. I have never seen so many people at Slapton for a wildlife event and I am old enough to remember Britains 5th ever Little Swift there in 1985, the halcyon days of twitching.  The Humpback Whale has enthralled many hundreds of people and maybe the majority have been inquisitive people from around the South Hams and beyond who would not neccesarily bother to go and look at whats around in the Natural World so that's great.  The manner in which I first saw it was slightly surreal. I was at work last Thursday afternoon and driving on the coast road from Dartmouth to Torcross when the Bluetooth told me I had a missed call. To take it safely I pulled into the memorial car park and sorted it out. I was parked by a photographer ( who turned out to be Robert Telford whose excellent photos went on the Devon Blog that night ) and like all birders could not resist a usual ' anything about ? ' question. Imagine my surprise when he said a whale had gone by earlier and greater surprise when the gentleman stood next to him called Matt then said ' there it is !'. Let me say at this point I know little about whales ( a bit more now its fair to say ) but knew a Minke had been reported the day before so thought this was probably the same. Matt had his doubts and thought maybe Humpback at one point but we were unsure ( it was a fair way off ), I definatly would not know even if it was closer. I knew a few people would be interested though and made some calls and headed back to work. As I work as a Lineman for Western Power, and as it was my day to be on stand-by for faults and as we were getting the back end of Storm Doris I could not get back out there that evening but got word that it was a Humpback Whale. I had no idea quite what a whale twitch would ensue and when I managed to go late on Friday afternoon I was amazed that there were a couple hundred people in the car park till dusk. The car park was full and leaving was like leaving a concert or football match. The evening was still, the sea calm and the Humpback showed superbly with a cast of many Porpoises and a few Dolphins.  It was magic to see all the kids looking on so enthusiastically and well done all the parents for getting them out there. Maybe a future Marine Biologists or Conservationists had the inspiration sparked into them right there. The only downside has been the awful press coverage in some quarters, all dome and gloom about the Whales health when it is perfectly healthy. The best comment on the whale I have heard was on that Thursday afternoon when somebody on seeing it said ' that's one more than I saw on The Rhode Island Whale Cruise last year '

                                       Dusk whale watching along Slapton Sands

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Winter's here

Very cold, gloomy morning with the temperatures brought right down by a fresh easterly wind. Wrapped up and went down the estuary early this morning deciding to go down the marsh and around the foreshore to Curlew Drive which meant shelter from the wind.
14 Chiffchaffs were still in the sewage works including the Siberian type. It is a hard place to photograph birds, especially as you are looking through a fenced gate and I have never heard any of the birds call this winter.I could hear a Blackcap chacking however and the Grey Wagtail is still there.

      The only photo of the putative tristis I've managed so far ! ( just below the rotating arm, slightly right of centre ). In reality its undertail coverts are white, its legs are very black though its bill a bit paler. It's a very grey and white bird, especially in todays light, so maybe has not come as far as a tristis. Guess it could be an individual whose provenance cannot be proven.

Not a lot on the marsh today though it was ironic given the above that a Chiffchaff half way down was calling readily. Spent an hour in the hide waiting for the tide to recede enough to get on the shore. Some Little Grebes and Mergansers gave good views as I waited. Scanning the estuary gave a great highlight in the shape of a second calendar year Little Gull watched flying around the Saltstone for a few minutes before disappearing up Frogmore Creek. Its amazing how tiny they look. A rare bird on the estuary, probably less than a dozen records.

     Red-breasted Mergansers and Little Grebes were showing well just outside the hide this morning.

In Charleton Bay a few Redwings came out off the Blackthorns and a Greenshank flew off. A curlew with some small aberrant paler markings on its nape was on the point, I first saw it last month. Despite the wind a Skylark rose and started to sing in defiance of winters late appearance, good on you mate. Towards Rowden Point around 250 Golden Plovers were flying around and on the water the wintering Slavonian Grebe was getting a free ride downstream on the tide. Things were then pretty quiet until I got near the small bay below Curlew Drive when I heard a Whimbrel call. One has been reported a few times this winter in Charleton Bay so not a great surprise. A couple minutes later it flew by proving itself not to be Hudsonian Whimbrel. If it had been it would have been bitter sweet finding one so soon after they had been downsized from being a full species !

     Looking North up the main channel of the estuary towards Kingsbridge from near CharletonPoint

Friday, 10 February 2017

Cold Easterly

Went to Slapton Ley this morning and it was raw with a fresh easterly coming right in off Start Bay. There was little on the sea, one Great Northern Diver off the Memorial Car Park and 10 Common Scoter and an unidentified diver flew south in about 30 minutes. The walk around to Ireland Bay was nice and sheltered but there was nothing tearing birdwise. A Greylag Goose was near the pillbox. Probably just about annual at Slapton but not a bird to quicken my pulse, bit better than a Canada Goose I guess. Elsewhere just 9 Little Grebes and 5 Goldeneyes including 3 males throwing their heads back in display, great birds. The walk along the boardwalk was quiet as it has been every time i've been lately, not even a Chiffchaff or 'crest this time just a Grey Wagtail and a handful of Redwings. I drove down to Torcross and walked a couple hundred metres up the line. Saw a male Scaup on the ley in front of the car park hide but little else. Few gulls around which is disappointing considering the easterly wind which sometimes brings a few in.

                                                        Greylag Geese by no means regular locally...yet.

After Slapton went around to Beesands. Started off by having a look at the sea from the village and it was great that a flock of about 50 Common Scoter were present. Flocks of these are hard to find in Start Bay these days. I have been a bit envious of the Scoter fest around the coast off Mansands. Perhaps they are 50 short, would have been great if the Surf Scoter came around, even just for one day. The ley still has a load of Mute Swans, I counted 66 today with 55 Canada Geese, great. There was just a lone Coot ( Coot are argumentative birds, this one will probably end up fighting itself ), 2 Shovelers and 2 Teals. The highlight were 3 Goldeneyes, a male and 2 females. From memory I have only seen a handful of Goldeneye here before so three is a very good record.

                      Mute Swans are loving something about Beesands Ley this winter, 66 counted today.

                                                                     3 Goldeneyes may be a record count for Beesands.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Blowin' in the Wind

Drove out to the Memorial Car Park along Torcross Line on Friday morning for a lazy seawatch. It was a near gale force SSE wind, seen it a lot worse but it was near high tide and from the car you were pretty much eye level with the sea. Felt a bit like being on the Roscoff ferry what with the car rocking which made seeing things hard. In truth there did not seem to be a lot moving, good numbers of Kittiwkes and a few Fulmars well out, quite a few auks closer in, all heading south. I abandoned the car park and headed home when the rain got torrential.
By the afternoon the weather had improved a little and I ventured down to Charleton Marsh. The Grey Wagtail was still in the sewage works and now 14 Chiffchaffs including the probable Siberian. Tried to photograph it but no luck. If its not on the filter bed its furthur away at the back of the compound but I reckon it will stay a while yet. Spent an hour and a bit in the hide. 77 Wigeons, 7 Teals and 6 Pintails were on the scrape. On the estuary a couple Greenshank, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and 200 Dunlins were the highlights. Anyone wanting to get a good view of a Water Rail should head for the hide, if you wait a while there is one that invariably shows well below the feeders. Some reed cutting will be taking place on the marsh on Tuesday, work means I can't do my share but I hope the weather is good for the people who go.
The weather today could not be more of a contrast. I went to Slapton, still on a Scaup hunt. Did the Ireland Bay walk where there are still good numbers of wildfowl along with 18 Little Grebes and an adult Mediterranean Gull. Highlight was a male Scaup just off the pillbox.

                                                       Male Scaup in Ireland Bay, off the Pillbox

Then tried the Stokeley Hide. Again good numbers of wildfowl including 20 Pochards which is encouraging. Also another Scaup, a distant female north of the hide. Nothing amazing seen but a nice trip out and good that Slapton Ley is having a reasonable winter, its had some poor ones recently with hardly any birds wintering. Hope this is the new norm but I won't bet on it.

                          View of the day, looking south over the Lower Ley towards Torcross and Start Point.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Retro Febs

February is usually pretty quiet for us. Sometimes produces the worst weather of the winter but spring is getting ever closer, ( very rarely an early Wheatear or even Hoopoe can turn up in late February ). Storm force gales or cold weather movements can make things interesting but usually a quiet month.

February '67.

Very quiet, only highlights the wintering Whooper Swan on the River Avon and a Hen Harrier at East Soar on the 18th, the same day  22 Goldeneyes were at Slapton Ley.

February '77.

Another quiet one. The wintering Surf Scoter on the Kingsbridge Estuary the best bird. A Whooper Swan was at Slapton all month and there were 3 Long-tailed Ducks there on 5th.

February '87.

A Bittern was seen at Slapton on 22nd and a Smew was present from 8th - 12th. On the beach 2 Snow Buntings remained from January. Elsewhere 7 Bewick's Swans remained at Aveton Gifford from the previous month and on the Kingsbridge Estuary Scaup were down to 12 from their January peak of 26. Water Pipits used to be a familiar sight on Charleton Marsh and 4 or 5 were seen through the month.

February '97.

The big rarity was the Little Bunting that remained at South Milton Ley all month having been ringed there in January. The other main rarity of the month was a Taiga Bean Goose at Beesands Ley from 23rd-25th. Also at Beesands at least one Smew remained from January and an adult Iceland Gull showed on the 15th ( maybe the same bird at Slapton on 20th ).  Elsewhere 6 Scaup were on the Kingsbridge Estuary and unseasonal Great Skuas were seen off Prawle Point on 19th with a dead bird found at Thurlestone on 26th and nearby an oiled individual at South Milton on 28th.

February '07.

Extremly quiet, just a Red-necked Grebe in Start Bay and an Iceland Gull seen intermittently through the month on the Kingsbridge Estuary.

What of this February ? The strongest winds so far this winter are forecast and could mix things up a little this coming weekend if they arrive. It would be great if a few Waxwings ( which have got as near as Buckfastleigh and Plymstock so far this winter ) turned up and hung around but it will not help if the weather gets mild.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Rain stopped play

Went to Slapton Ley this morning, that mystery Scaup should still be around. Plenty of birds on the ley at Torcross, north off Stokeley and in Ireland Bay. Managed to do a count for Torcross and Stokeley, parked in the Memorial Car Park to count the birds in Ireland Bay Saga style from the car but the rain came in too heavy. Selected counts included 11 Wigeons, 164 Gadwalls, 12 Teals, 6 Shovelers, 176 Tufted Ducks, 16 Pochards ( a welcome continued albeit small increase ), 7 Goldeneyes, 7 Great Crested Grebes and 311 Coots. Obviously a complete count should yield a good few more. Offshore a Black-necked Grebe off Torcross was maybe the bird that has been seen off the Memorial Car Park recently. Around 100 Gannets were feeding just south off this car park closer to shore than I have ever seen a number like this fishing before. No sign of any Scaup anywhere.