Saturday, 31 December 2016

January, Decades ago

Will try and post regularly on this blog sightings from previous years. Apologies for missing anything.

January 1967
Brief cold snap early in the month. A Whooper Swan was wintering on the River Avon where there was also a Spoonbill on 22nd. Over at Slapton Ley 6 Bewick's Swans flew over on 5th and a Snow Bunting was at Torcross on 14th. Offshore 2 Red-necked Grebes were in Start Bay on 22nd. Interesting that a single Chiffchaff at Slapton Ley on New Years Day was deemed noteworthy and an amazing record was a House Martin at Torcross on 30th. Surely a wintering bird as opposed to late, late departure or early, early  arrival. With the amount of airbourne insects around at the moment its not hard to imagine a hirundine able to withstand a winter like the present one in south Devon as long as it had somewhere warm to roost.

January 1977
An unseasonal seabird record was a Manx Shearwater off Prawle Point on 22nd, sadly 2 Puffins found dead during the month at Thurlestone. At Slapton Ley a Whooper Swan and a couple of Long-tailed Ducks were present all month with a Bittern on 22nd. The Surf Scoter found in December 1976 was now wintering on the Kingsbridge Estuary. Of interest concerning the Estuary was the high count of 29 Little Grebes , 32 Goldeneyes ( nowhere near that number now, usually single figures ) and a single Brent Goose deemed noteworthy ( now normally over 100 ). Also of interest a maximum count of 11 Chiffchaffs at Slapton ( cp 1 in January 1967 ).

January 1987
Cold snap nationally early January pushed some good birds into our area. Seabird movement off Prawle Point included 2 Great Skuas west on 1st and 16 Red-throated Divers east on 5th. A Bittern spent the month at Slapton where other highlight included 2 Bewick's Swans from 24th-31st and on the beach a high count of 174 Grey Plover on 31st and 2 Snow Buntings from 11th-31st. Gulls at Slapton ( always big numbers here when there are Easterly winds and prolonged cold weather ) included 2 Glaucous Gulls through the month and an Iceland Gull on 31st. A Glaucous Gull was also seen at Salcombe on 19th. The cold weather meant the Kingsbridge Estuary was a good place to go birding with 4 White-fronted Geese on 8th, an amazing 26 Scaup on 18th and a Smew on 24th. On West Charleton Marsh there were up to 11 Ruff between 18th-31st and 7 Water Pipits on 11th ( the latter used to regularly winter there in small numbers but very rarely seen on the marsh now ). Two other good records were 8 Bewick's Swans at Aveton Gifford from 17th-21st and the fist winter record for our area of a Yellow-browed Warbler in Kingsbridge by the entrance to what is now Tesco's. Found on the 8th it was last seen on 11th when temperatures dropped markedly.

January 1997
Another cold month for the UK so more interesting January records locally. 2 Bewick's Swans flew over West Charleton Marsh on 19th and on the estuary itself 6 Scaup were wintering and a Smew was present from 19th-20th. Additional Smew records came from Slapton with 3 on 17th and Beesands with 5 from 17th-26th. The best gull sightings were 3 Little Gulls off Beesands on 1st and a Glaucous Gull there on 13th. At Slapton 4 Firecrests were counted on the 4th and there was a brilliant Starling roost during the month with a peak of 225000 birds on 5th. Rarity of the month was the Little Bunting ringed at South Milton Ley on 27th and present into February.

January 2007
A fairly quiet month, Bitterns at Slapton and West Charleton Marsh on 1st, Balearic Shearwater off Prawle Point on 8th, Red Kite at West Charleton on 21st and Iceland Gulls on Kingsbridge Estuary from 14th and at Slapton Ley on 26th. A Barnacle Goose with Canadas at South Huish on 15th was very likely an escape. Grey Partridges were just about hanging on, but not for long, with 10 seen at Aveton Gifford on 10th.

Fair play, it's a poor photo but it's a great memory for me. New years Eve into New Years Day 2006/7 was very stormy but had calmed down a little by the afternoon. I went down the bird hide at Charleton Marsh to blow away the cobwebs and it was quiet so I was about to head back home when there was an almighty flash of lightning and clap of thunder and the heavens opened. As I had no coat I had to stay put. In the corner of my eye a  big brown shape came out of the reeds and then back in. Was I imagining things, surely a Bittern ? Keeping a sharper eye out it eventually appeared in the front of the reeds below and left of the hide. It stayed there for the best part of an hour if I remember right. One time something spooked it and it stuck its neck up and I swear for a short time gently swayed in unison with the reeds. What a bird, not reported before 1st January or seen after and I cannot believe it was 10 years ago this Sunday. The photo was taken in poor light in heavy rain with a Nikon digiscoping camera hence the big image.
Thanks for reading this blog and I wish peace, health and happiness to everyone in 2017 and if you manage to avoid a hangover and get out birding on the first I hope you are as lucky as I was 10 years ago.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Diver hat-trick

Beautiful weather post Christmas, hope everyone had a good one. Been down the Kingsbridge Estuary a couple times but it was fairly quiet.  Highlights were 750+ Golden Plovers flying above fields west of Charleton Marsh on Boxing Day and the Slavonian Grebe still present off Charleton Point on 28th.
Today went out to Slapton Ley. A walk around Ireland Bay and onto the boardwalk did not produce much new, Little Grebes have gone up to at least 11. Had a look at the sea from the central car park. Looked empty at first except for the Red-throated Diver that has been around for a few weeks ( no Black-necked Grebe this time ). Had a good look farther out and picked up the Velvet Scoters but there are now 3 near the telemetry buoy that looks like a crashed sputnik. Scanning south picked up another Diver, this time with white flank patches, Black-throated ! Was thinking all I needed was a Great Northern for a hat-trick and the commonest one was letting me down when there it was closer in. Earlier on there were 3 Harbour Porpoises swimming south together.
Decided to look at the ley from Stokeley hide and bumped into Andrew and Richard who put me onto the male Scaup and Long-tailed Duck. Also at least 4 Goldeneyes present including a couple displaying males. A good trip out.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Start Bay and Slapton Ley

Looking across the north end of the Lower Ley towards the Hartshorn Plantation.
Just like last Sunday today has been beautiful. Lovely and still with early morning fog clearing by the early afternoon. With the Scoter bonanza elsewhere in South Devon, notably off Mansands just around the corner from Start Bay, I thought I would pop out for an hour late morning and have a look from the Memorial Car Park to check what was in Start Bay, as it was I stayed until dusk! Apart from the obliging Black-necked Grebe just offshore there seemed little about. I decided to check Ireland Bay and there were good numbers of Gadwalls, Wigeons, Tufted Ducks and Coots but no sign of recently seen Scaup or Long-tailed Duck. Best bird was a welcome female Pochard which highlights their decline. So far this winter the majority of wildfowl on the ley has been in Ireland Bay but I could see good numbers farther south towards Torcross and so headed there. Another quick look at the bay produced 2 Scoters way out and a small flock went south across my scope view closer in. There was a flash of white, clocking them with my bins they were a flock of 13 Common Scoters with a male Shoveler hanging on their coat tails. Also now present was a Great Northern Diver

Stokeley Bay Bird Hide.

From the Stokeley Bay hide there was a load more Wildfowl and in amongst them was a female Goosander and the Long-tailed Duck reported last week, maybe a young male but it was fairly distant and after 15 minutes it few north up the ley with a load of Tufted Ducks, something had spooked them all, maybe an Otter ?
Female Goosander, Stokeley Bay. More regular at Slapton these days, just about annual. Formerly only seen here during hard, cold winter spells                                                                                                                                                            .
Long-tailed Duck ( white headed bird in the centre )

Selected counts for the ley included 120 Gadwalls, 47 Wigeons, 5 Shovelers, 160 Tufted Ducks, 3 Goldeneyes ( 2 males ), 9 Little Grebes and I would estimate between 400-500 Coots. Single female Pochard were in Ireland Bay and Stokeley Bay as mentioned highlighting their decline. As the light was so good I had another check of the bay. The 2 distant scoter took off and they were Velvets landing further north towards Strete Gate. A Red-throated Diver  and another Great Northern were also present. The day had gone well so I had a look from Slapton Bridge to end the day. No Bittern or Great White Egret but plenty of vocal Water rails and a Kingfisher looking for supper.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Geese Quarries - Charleton Marsh

It was a stunning morning here today. Very still with early morning fog dispersing apart from over the Kingsbridge Estuary. Very different to yesterdays rain. I headed out for one of my favourite winter walks, up the fields behind West Charleton, past the beacon and down to the estuary foreshore below Geese Quarries in Frogmore Creek. The little fog that was left was soon clearing and I was not alone. A big fishing competition meant a few anglers were scattered around. I was mad on fishing when I was younger. It used to be a big treat when I was in my early teens to take a day trip, once a month maybe, with my father to the Barbican in Plymouth where we would go fishing for big Conger and Ling on the charter boats going out and fishing the East Rutts near the Eddystone. Looking back I think this was where a small interest in birds got bigger with the other anglers telling me where the Manx Shearwaters used to go in winter, I could not believe it was south America ! There are a lot of parallels between fishing and birding, some days that should be good are rubbish and vice-versa and often the more you try the less you see  or catch. In view of the fact I know one angler who started fishing at midnight they have to shade the slighty greater anorak award. Also, lets be honest nothing coming out of that estuary is going to taste like fillet steak. To their great credit, with flounders at least, every effort is made to put the fish back in a healthy state, even the ones taken for weighing so fair play to our angling friends.

As for the birds, there were plenty of them as well on the low tide. Loads of whistling Wigeons  and in North Pool Bay about 50 Pintail. Walking towards Wareham Point a few Great Crested and Little Grebes along with 11 Red-breasted Mergansers were keeping up with me on the water heading out towards the main estuary channel. Flocks of Wigeon went overhead as the tide started to cover North Pool Bay. Looking towards Charleton Point from Wareham Point the pristine viewing conditions allowed one of last weeks Slavonian Grebes to be seen and then the highlight of the morning, a Long-tailed Duck behind it, presumably the birdseen a couple weeks ago. Looked quite white so maybe a male but it was a long way off. Could not find the main flock of Brent Geese but the 14 I saw included a family party with 4 young. Spent an hour in the bird hide and it was great to see a skulking Water Rail in the channel below, another called further up the marsh. 20 Teal were on the scrape with an unexpected Green Sandpiper. Although a handful winter on the Avon most years, I cannot recall seeing any here in mid winter before.
Looking towards Halwell Point and back of Wareham Point from below Creekside House

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Slapton, Beesands and Start Bay

Yesterday I got out to Slapton Bridge for first light, if a Bittern is around they often seem to fly over the bridge at dawn or dusk, after an hour I realised it probably was not going to happen and went over to the Memorial Car Park and looked out into Start Bay encouraged by recent reports of various seaducks elsewhere. There were excellent numbers of Guillemots, probably several hundred scattered around with a small number of Razorbills. I was also pleased to see 3 or 4 Harbour Porpoises in different spots. The best birds were single Red-throated Diver and a fairly close Black-necked Grebe. The only Scoters I saw was a flock of about 50 very distant flying north, sadly with no Velvets amongst them.
Had a look at the wildfowl in Ireland bay which included 74 Gadwall, 8 Shovelers, 26 Wigeons, 3 Teals and 82 Tufted Ducks . Also 9 Little Grebes and 191 Coots. There was also a healthy number of gulls in Ireland Bay but nothing better than a Med Gull. Additional smaller numbers of wildfowl were at Torcross later but the ley in between these spots seemed devoid of birdlife apart from the usual raft of around 200 Coots. Along the boardwalk could only find a couple collybita Chiffchaffs, no Siberian. I'd had a good look around but maybe not good enough with Velvet Scoters and Red-necked Grebe missed by me on the sea and Scaup and Long-tailed Duck on the ley, you have to hold something back for next time !
Next went around for a look at Beesands Ley which has been pretty poor for a while now. Yesterday was no exception, just a poor mans Abbotsbury with 41 Mute Swans, 5 Canada Geese and 3 Mallards. Worth going around though to watch the 500 or so Gannets in a feeding flock a few kilometres offshore. Plumes of water going up like an old distant naval battle was taking place.
My birding was done and then it dawned on me I had not seen a single Pochard, what is happening to them ?

Black-necked Grebe off the Memorial Car Park

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Curlew Drive - Charleton Marsh

Living in West Charleton I count myself as extremely fortunate to live in a place where I can walk to a great birding location like West Charleton Marsh in under 5 minutes and then out on to the main Kingsbridge Estuary if I wish and the tide allows. In truth I do not check it out as much as I should, spring and autumn I head for the coast and if I get some time in the winter often neglect it for Slapton. This winter I am going to make an early New Year resolution and try to make time to spend a bit more time there. There are a couple of estuary walks I stick to in the winter one,  which I did today, is Curlew Drive to Charleton Marsh ( obviously it could be the other way around ). I walked down Curlew Drive and onto the foreshore just as the tide had receded enough for me to walk around towards Charleton Point and on to the marsh. A kingfisher was busy flying around and posing on the boats. This route was fairly sheltered from the cold fresh ESE wind. There was pretty normal winter fayre on view eg 73 Brent Geese, 290 Wigeons, 3 Pintails, 5 Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of hundred Golden Plovers in Widegates. The light was very changeable, one minute pristine and the next a scope full of sun glare off the mudflats. Out in the channel there was no Surf Scoter as was found 40 years ago this month, just 4 Great Crested Grebes, 4 Little Grebes and the highlight of the morning a couple of Slavonian Grebes swimming together.

Fallen Tree, probably a victim of the heavy rain a fortnight ago

Charleton Bay was busy with a couple hundred Dunlins and a dozen or so Grey Plover. Also a lone Bar-tailed Godwit. Got into the hide and checked the log book to see a Bittern had been seen a few days previously. I stayed for the best part of an hour hoping but nothing more than a Greenshank and another Pintail. As always a pleasant walk with plenty to see.                  

The route I walked today. Takes about 3 hours if you are birding. A scope is very handy as a lot of birds are distant. Probably best not to attempt for about 3 hours either side of high tide. Usually ample parking at the bottom of Marsh Lane.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Desert Wheatear

This morning I went and had a good look at the long staying Thurlestone Desert Wheatear having previously seen it only fleetingly a couple of weeks ago. I went down to Leasfoot Beach where it has taken up residence and immediately found it. Despite the cold, drizzly weather it was showing very well. It did look a little damp and bedraggled, not quite as pristine in appearance as shown in the many superb photos published on the Devon Birds site and elsewhere. Its right wing appeared to be drooping slightly. It seemed to coexist amically with the resident Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails. There must be plenty of food on the beach for these birds as they search the beached seaweed for inverterbrates. A nice male Black Redstart was also showing well. Offshore was quiet except for a lone Great Northern Diver.
On the way home I stopped of at the slip road for the South West Water pumping station on Embankment Road in Kingsbridge. This is a great little spot for setting up a scope and checking the top part of the estuary. It can be especially good in autumn on the rising tide for waders as they seek the last bits of mud before the tide claims them. It was quiet this morning but one highlight was an adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose amongst a flock of 23 Dark-bellied Brents near Gerston Sewage Works. There was some antagonistic behaviour so perhaps it was not welcomed by its commoner cousins. Pale -bellied Brent Geese are unusual on the Kingsbridge Estuary in winter.

Desert Wheatear records in the Charleton 10k patch.

Two of the previous five records of Desert Wheatear in Devon have occurred locally, ( one could argue three of the previous six as you will see ).
The first for Devon was found in Horseley Cove east of Prawle Point on 26th October 1987. It remained until 30th October. It had been ringed at Languard, Suffolk where it had been present earlier in the month from 20th-24th so made pretty good time getting to south Devon. October 1987 was an amazing month for rarities around Prawle with Black Kite, Red-eyed Vireo, Black and White Warbler and Little Bunting also recorded.
Devons second record was a very obliging bird around the small car park near the bird hide at Beesands on 25th-26th October 1997. The following month what was said in the 1997 Devon Bird Report to be probably the same bird was seen in fields near Prawle Point on 29th-30th November. It is of course virtually impossible to say with certainty whether these two birds were the same or not. 1997 was however a record breaking year for this species nationally with almost 20 seen across the country.
The arrival time of the Thurlestone bird in early November is classic for Desert Wheatear. Birds have been found elsewhere in the country in January before and were most certainly newly discovered wintering birds. It would be great if the Desert Wheatear on Leasfoot Beach remains into the new year.



Thursday, 1 December 2016

Yesteryears News

Personally, i'm not big into nostalgia but thought it would be interesting to see what had been seen locally in previous Decembers. It always seems to be a quiet month for me with not a lot of birding done. Often bad weather, maybe a little burned out by doing to much birding in the autumn plus its always busy doing other things in the lead up to Christmas. In mild years its pretty slow going anyhow, most of the wintering birds have arrived and it usually needs a prolonged cold snap ( if we get one its usually occurs in January or February anyhow ) or viscious Atlantic depressions arriving to stir things up.
The following information has been gathered from the annual Devon Reports, I will try to make it a habit of this blog to include only records accepted by the county or national rarities comittees. There is a good chance I fail to include some good records simply by missing them in the reports.

December 1966.

Already 5 months since the England football team won anything. The best birds were a wintering Whooper Swan on the Avon, and 2 Serins were seen at Slapton Ley. The 200 Coots present on the Kingsbridge Estuary were a normal occurance there until better methods of sewage treatment were introduced. 50 years ago it would have been easy to go out and see Grey Partridges. Like all birders I would love to see the population levels of some species  return to what they used to be, especially Canada Geese which would have been difficult to find.

December 1976

Star bird was a Surf Scoter found by Vic and Sylvia Tucker on the Kingsbridge Estuary on the 27th. Another good record from here were 6 White-fronted Geese going over on the 24th. Elsewhere 2 Whooper Swans at Slapton during the month and a Marsh Harrier at Aveton Gifford on 15th. 6 Gadwall at Slapton Ley would have been a reasonable count then.

December 1986

 High pressure dominated and the only birding highlights were at Slapton with 2 Snow Buntings on the beach, a Bittern on the 14th and a Glaucous Gull at the end of the month.

December 1996

In 1986, when I predicted to anyone who would listen that the December 1996 WeBS counts would produce 41 Little Egrets on the Kingsbridge Estuary, 7 on the Avon Estuary and 4 around Thurlestone they said for sure. What an amazing colonisation, the Collared Dove of my generation. Rarities were 2 Whooper Swans at South Milton on the 8th, 2 Bewick's Swans on the Kingsbridge Estuary on the 29th, a Pink-footed Goose at South Huish from 23rd-25th, 4 Little Auks past Prawle Point on 4th and a Hawfinch at Beesands on the 8th.

December 2006

Fairly tempestuous month which brought some good seabirds to the county. Locally 2 Leach's Petrels were seen flying west off Prawle Point on 4th where there were also unseasonal Great Skuas on 24th and 27th and a Sandwich Tern on the later date. Another Leach's was in Thurlestone Bay on 5th. A Garden Warbler stayed in the reserve at Prawle into the new year.

December 2016

As birds movements at all times , especially winter are reliant on the weather, they can be equally difficult and hit and miss to predict. It has started cold and east winds look set to increase at the end of the weekend. By the end of the month this will produce more wildfowl and maybe even some genuine wild geese somewhere along with more winter thrushes. Waxwings looked a good bet back in the autumn to spread our way but they need to finish of the berries further north for us to have any hope. Prolonged easterlies from now on should bring numbers of gulls into Start Bay with a chance of Little Gull at least.