Sunday, 5 November 2017

Scarce Herons

Well that's autumn just about done and dusted. Hard going with the lack of any notable east wind so not a vintage one. Might just be time for a big rare yet but not much time left, not quite all over but there are some people on the pitch.
Had a great morning out at Start Point last Monday ( October 30th ). seemed to have the whole place to myself, not another soul around. Vis mig was poor, best birds were 3 Bramblings and 5 Lesser Redpolls. Been a good autumn for Lesser Redpolls and not bad for Bramblings. Bullfinches also good but I have not seen any decent flocks of Chaffinches going over yet and I must be the only birder in the country to have missed out on Hawfinch so far. Also saw 3 Reed Buntings, one had ring bling and bearing in mind a bird was controlled at Portland this week that was ringed in Norway maybe this bird was a distance traveller to.
Had a good wander around Mattiscombe Beach. Loads of seaweed thrown up but could not find anything much apart from a Portuguese Man 'o War which is seemingly obligatory on every strandline at the moment. There is a bench above Mattiscombe dedicated to ' Naturalist and Ornithologist ' John Barlee. I believe he was a career naval man who spent some time at Dartmouth Royal Naval College. I have a book he wrote called 'Birds On The Wing'  published in 1947. I have wondered what he used to see at Start, probably saw nesting Red-backed Shrikes, plenty of Turtle Doves spring and autumn, possibly Corncrakes but never a Yellow-browed Warbler.
In the afternoon went down to Charleton Marsh for the first time in a while. Definatly changed to winter with some calling Water Rails and a good count of 50 Teals.

                 The right hand Reed Bunting was ringed and may have come a fair way.

       This boulder on Mattiscombe Beach is about 10' high and takes everthing the ocean throws at it.

                                                           Hello Janet, whoever you are.

View southwest from Mattiscombe. Distant headland is Prawle Point with the coastguard look out on top. Right hand side is Maelcombe House above the cliff and Hines Hill, East Prawle above the woods.

                             Photo of John Barlee, from his book ' Birds On The Wing '

On Friday I was back out at Start first light. Again the vis mig was disappointing with the exception of Brambling which reached double figures. Small numbers of birds going in all directions with little purpose. I think as Start is a headland with a prominent projection birds sometimes do this here as if they are not sure what their next bearing should be. On normal clifftops they seem to head and stay in one direction. Sometimes at Start they just keep going low over the car park and these are the best days. There was to be a big highlight and surprise however when at 07:30 I got onto a Spoonbill,  well offshore and high above the sea going north. Could have been so easy to miss that you wonder just how many birds like this go through unseen. Ignorance is bliss. I would be surprised if anyone has got Spoonbill onto the Start list before now but I know there have been similar records from Prawle Point before.

                       Chill time for a couple of Grey Seals on the Sleadon Rocks last Friday.

Went to Start first light this morning but it was windswept, grey, unwelcoming and had a feel of being devoid of birds so I headed for Slapton Ley to see if I could catch an early rising Bittern from the bridge. There was to be better than that though ! Firstly it was nice to see a big flock of around 10000 Starlings heading south behind the ringing hut. I got sight of them late and presumed they had left their roost in the reeds at Strete Gate or somewhere in the Gara Valley. Looking back up the Higher Ley a bird was flying south which looked like a Cormorant. Putting my bins on it I could see it was nothing less than a Glossy Ibis, brilliant. It even called a couple times which was new to me. Unfortunatly I could not age it as I followed it down towards Torcross. Like the Spoonbill, could have easily been missed. This is possibly only the second modern record for Slapton Ley, the last in October 1986. There is an old record of 2 shot here in 1837. In November 1981 as a teenager I had a Spoonbill fly over me whilist stood on Slapton Bridge. It was a special moment for me because it was the first rarity of sorts I had ever found myself. It might still be the only Slapton record. The status of Spoonbills on the 10k patch has never changed much. Perhaps not quite annual. Glossy Ibis, Little, Cattle and Great White Egrets were big rarities then. The latter have all gone from 'county megas' ( certainly for Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret and Cattle Egret ) to just  'patch gold ', if that. Who would have thought that by now Spoonbill would be by far the rarest of them all.
What was meant to be a quick look from the bridge turned into a longer stay as there was a good movement of Woodpigeons going on heading anything between south-southwest. by 09:45 6800 had gone through, the largest flock about 700. Finches were few but included 2 Bramblings and 11 Lesser Redpolls including a flock of seven. Also seen below the bridge a couple Kingfishers, Firecrest and a little Egret flew through. What a great few hours.

                                              It ain't over for Woodpigeons yet.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Woodpigeons......and more woodpigeons

Late October and early November is a great time, and for me THE time for watching the vis mig...visible migration. Any local spot on the cliffs will do and many inland possibly as well if it were ever tested. My favourite place for watching vis mig is Start Point, anywhere near the car park. An early start is essential, bit of cloud cover handy and no rain or to strong a wind.

Got out to Start before dawn yesterday. Beautiful to hear Redwings and Song Thrushes calling in the dark. Odd birds started to fly out of the cover in the twilight and eventually they totalled 108 Redwings and 47 Song Thrushes.  Sadly the vis mig never really got going, what birds there were flying in all directions. Highlights included around 3000 Woodpigeons, 40 Siskins, 15 Bullfinches, 12 Bramblings and 4 Reed Buntings. Elsewhere a Golden Plover called, a Merlin put in an appearance, 2 Firecrests were down at the light and 2 late Swallows passed through.
Female Reed Bunting by the car park yesterday. As well as their familiar call they can make some buzzing notes in flight which can catch you by surprise.   

This morning was another pre dawn visit. Not so many thrushes calling with the clearer skies. I set up north of the car park and the Woodpigeons soon started pouring through just after dawn. If you have ever witnessed birds pouring through like this morning then you will appreciate how hard it is to keep tabs on them, all the time listening out for other stuff. The commoner finches were in fairly short supply  though, also flying high  so many probably missed. I reckoned around 15000 Woodpigeons had passed by 08:00, headed south-southwest, many right over the car park others over the BBC field. The passage was then phenomenal for an hour , another 55000 through in that time, almost 1000per minute ! Some flocks must have mumbered around 5000 and been strung out over almost a mile.  Things started to quieten then and the movement was more inland, birds cutting across on a more direct line behind the BBC field towards Lannacombe / Prawle Point. By 10:15 the passage was starting to dry up and the total had reached an incredible 94000 birds. At this point I know some people are saying how the hell can you confidently say there were 94000 birds. Well you can't and it must be innacurate to a degree. All I can say is I have taken photos of odd flocks before, estimated the number in situ as you do and later accurately counted them on a screen at my leisure. It seems I always underestimate, sometimes considerably so another observer may have got a far higher total. All the same if the way I count the birds is consistant year on year, which I am confident it is, this is the biggest movement I have witnessed, I think my previous best is in the mid 30k's. Where are these birds from / going ? A source of much discussion. My personal opinion is that ringing has proved British Woodpigeons to be highly sedentary. Surely these late autumn birds are from Fenno-Scandia on their way to France and Iberia. Whatever goes on it's a great spectacle to witness on a local headland.
As suggested, in comparison the rest of the vis mig was unspectacular. Low numbers of Goldfinches and Chaffinches. Highlights did include 66 Starlings, 22 Siskins, 8 Greenfinches ( not always easy to pick out on vis mig watches, I don't know why ), 21 Bullfinches ( sometimes completely missing right through the autumn - any double figure count is excellent ) and a Reed Bunting. No Hawfinches yet for me in what seems to be a record breaking year for them but I did think a small flock got through, could not clinch them but there is plenty of time yet this autumn to see some. The hedgerows etc were fairly quiet. 12 Redwings, 5 Song Thrushes, the first 5 Fieldfares of the autumn, Blackcap, 7 Goldcrests and 2 Firecrests in the farm. Saw a Merlin which I think is probably the same female that has been around for a few days, a Golden Plover called pre dawn and a Great Spotted Woodpecker passed through.

Photo of a few hundred Woodpigeons passing overhead. Either that or some mould inside my camera lens

                         Backside of a Fieldfare atop a rock on the way to the light

Rough bit of filming from this morning here

For anyone interested in vis mig this website is superb. I would urge people to add their own counts to it. Information very lacking for the south-west.




Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Brian arrives, big seas and a fake sibe.

 The weekend was really one big blow. Storm Brian arrived and as predicted produced a gale. Either side the winds stayed strong, from the west and made birding hard. This all put the kibosh on any vis mig. A saving grace with Start is that at least the road between the car park and the light is fairly sheltered. The tamarisks may be blown to hell and no birds are in because its a westerly but its a bit of hope. As it was last Friday a couple each of Fire and Goldcrests were in the tamarisk, the former may have been remnants from the previous sundays influx. Up at the farm there were another 7 Firecrest along with a couple Redwings, 4 Chiffchaffs and a flyover Lessser Redpoll.  Headed down to Beesands Ley for the October WeBS count. It is too top heavy with Mute Swans and Canada Geese for my liking. 17 Gadwalls and 23 Coots were counted.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Foggy mornings, hot afternoons and a noonday red sun

Boards on the window, mail by the door,
What would anybody leave so quickly for ?
Ophelia, Where have you gone ?

Some lyrics to a great song by my favourite Band......The Band, a bit before my time but great music is timeless. Very apt today for the Irish, not so much perhaps for us now as some had suggested last week, but more of that later.
Birding wise I have been really going for it the last few days, had some highlights as well. Started off last Friday but an early morning vis mig watch at Start was euchered by thick fog. Walked down to the light and there was a nice little fall of around 20 Blackcaps and 6 Goldcrests. Waited patiently for anything rarer to emerge from the tamarisks but nothing came. Gave Mike Langman a ring to see if there was anything doing at Berry Head, he said a Sooty Shearwater was heading my way, should be 30-35minutes. Kept an eye on the Blackcaps and at 25 minutes looked out to sea and the Sooty was roaring past, a new record time for Berry Head to Start. Must be an average speed in the mid 30's MPH. A pleasant afternoon stroll around Hallsands got me a Kingfisher and a handful of Chiffs.
Next day, same routine but this time the vis mig was on. A Woodlark was almost the first bird over. In the next 90 minutes headed south were 95 Swallows, 720 Linnets and 640 Goldfinches amongst other things. This time of year something is usually happening with the vis mig and it is sometimes the best birding available when things are quiet and in a bit of a static birding rut. Good hearing is handy and if you learn the calls of about 10 species you should be able to put a name to 95% of what goes over within reason. You also have to be good at getting out early. Usually all over within 2 hours of sunrise.
Onto yesterday which in the 10k will now forever be known as Firecrest Sunday. The vis mig was again dominated by Linnets ( 690 ) and Goldfinches (650).  Firecrests were being reported at Berry Head so I made my way down to the light and on arrival the tamarisks were full of noisy Firecrest, at least 20, probably double that. Also 10 Blackcaps and a load of chiffchaffs of various colours and the first Black Redstart of the autumn was in the compound. By the end of the day I had logged at least 33 Firecrests. Nearby 60 plus were seen at Soar and 40 plus at Prawle. I would think the heaviest passage of these beautiful birds ever through the area.
A Chiffchaff in the lighthouse tamarisks. Beautiful birds but overshadowed and outnumbered yesterday by the Firecrests, the bird below was at Start Farm.

Days like yesterday make up for the inevitable quiet ones and have to be cherished. Flogging local patches is hard going more often than not !

And so onto the aforementioned Hurricane / Storm Ophelia. Looking at the always reliable Magic Seaweed wind charts, produced for surfers, it was never down as something that was going to hit us hard. ( Magic Seaweed by the way is based in Kingsbridge, great success ). Nonetheless it promised to be windy, perhaps enough for a good seawatch and too windy for vis mig or small passerines so I got to Start Light first light. I was soon joined by a visiting birder, Richard Thomas from Cambridge and at 09:33 he picked up the bird of the day, a Leach's Petrel in close heading south. Other birds seen before we gave up at 14:30 included 3 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Pomarine Skuas, 3 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua. A female Merlin frequently rounded the point harassing a flock of Linnets. In the tamarisk 4 Firecrests were present along with yesterdays Black Redstart flitting around the walls.
While Ophelia has not hurt us to badly she did leave a real memory. Mid morning the sun was a strange orange red colour thanks to all the atmospheric particle debris she drew up from the south be it dust or forest fire related particles. Sure was strange, a bit like the eclipse a few years ago. Whilst Ophelia kept her worst away from us a look at the Magicseaweed charts for the end of this week suggest we may be rockin' a bit more then, just like The Band.

Obviously the strange atmospherics this morning was a natural phenomenom with a scientific explanation. Likewise the tilt was nothing to do with End of Days Revelations, just bad photography.

Monday, 9 October 2017

When birding was Black and White

Thirty years ago to this day I saw a Black and White Warbler in the woods below Hines Hill at East Prawle. I cannot believe it was so long ago but I can remember it as if it was last week. A stunning bird, only a Snowy Owl would rival it for me as the best bird I have seen in the UK. It had been found by Norman Trigg the day before in a big westerly blow. About four people got it that evening, i tried but too late, I was one of the lucky viewers early the next morning. I lived in Kingsbridge then and got home late afternoon to find a message from my good friend Alan Doidge pinned to my front door with the details. Not even an answerphone indoors back then. The Warbler stayed for the best part of a week and was part of a great collection of rarities that graced Prawle in October 1987 which included Red-eyed Vireo, Black Kite, Little Bunting and a Desert Wheatear in Horseley Cove. This wheatear was the first Devon Record.
Enough of reminiscing though, its the present that counts. I have done a fair bit of birding the last few days but its been hard going. A couple vis mig watches at Start but only the usual early October suspects. I prefer vis migging towards the end of October and into November. Yesterday was beautiful at Start and there was an elusive Yellow-browed Warbler in the farm, just heard calling. Nowadays just reffered to as the first of the autumn, what an injustice to such a great and well travelled bird. Also in the farm was a Treecreeper, maybe the first i have seen in here. The biggest miss may have been what looked like a plain sandy coloured Dragonfly up the road from the farm. I saw it briefly and gave it a while as there had been sightings of a rare Vagrant Emperor on the Scillies and they looked pretty straightforward to me. It did not show again though. When i got home i saw there was one at Dawlish and this morning learnt a visiting birder at Start yesterday had brief glimpses of what he thought had to be one by the car park. What's hit is history, what's missed is mystery.
Had another go at Start this morning but again quiet, a female Merlin flying past the light was the highlight. The birding could be hard going for a while yet. Westerly dominated winds are all or nothing down here. Only seven American landbirds have occurred in the 10k patch, we need easterlies and birds coming down from the east coast to give us a reasonable shot of finding rares here, not on the cards yet but my favourite birding time in autumn is always the last two weeks of October so all is not lost.

Treecreeper, Start Farm. I got the magnifying glass, slide rule and calculator out and reckon its a Common Treecreeper. Would not be the first time i have been wrong. 

A beautiful Comma butterfly out in the beautiful sunshine yesterday.

Devil's Coach Horse, frequently seen scurrying across the lighthouse road and if you stop and look at them they like to make out like a Scorpion. They are actually a type of rove beetle and one supposedly ate the core of the apple that Eve threw away. Because of this if you kill one you are forgiven seven sins. I could never bring myself to step on one and besides it would take way more than one beetle to wash all my sins away.

The lighthouse garden with the old pig houses and wonderful tamarisks belts. Over the years it has had Hippolais Warblers, R-B Flys, Pallas's Warblers, tonnes and tonnes of exhausted migrants, possible Pallas's Gropper and unlimited potential. This morning i heard a single Chiffchaff calling somewhere in there.

This one is especially for my fellow vis miggers  Dan J and Steve Waite. Taken from near Start Point car park looking across Lyme Bay. The headland just poking out on the left is Scabbacombe Head. I reckon the white cliffs are Branscombe with Beer Head just to the right of them ? About 40 miles away ( or 3 hours travelling as the Pallid Harrier flies in a couple weeks hey fellas ! ). Don't think Salcombe Hill is visible Dan but stand to be corrected. I would have to walk further down towards the light to see it and then i am losing a lot of height and it mostly disappears. On a good day i can see Portland Bill.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Mipipitive count syndrome

Got out to Start about 06:45 this morning with low expectations and it felt unrare but it is the month of the vagrant so you never, ever know. I always get out for first light if I can simply to catch any visible migration that might be going on. If you are just looking for rares you may as well hang on if you want as they seldom seem to be around first thing. If you want to catch the vis mig it's essential you are there early. As soon as I got out of the car I could hear the odd Meadow Pipit going over, always a good sign. I headed along the coastpath towards Hallsands where I knew there would be a nice sheltered spot from the fresh southwest wind. Between 07:00 and 08:00 there was some outstanding movement. Meadow Pipits were going through fast and furious and I got a total of 1010. Other good counts were 470 Linnets and 310 Goldfinches. Also seen a low count of 6 alba Wagtails, Grey Wagtail, 17 Swallows and a Siskin. At 08:00 the movement stopped quite suddenly. As always the birds were headed into the wind, going south to southwest. I think this is the first four figure count I have anywhere before. Obviously counts are a little subjective, different observers could have way different counts from the same time and place if a comparison was made. I know when counting Woodpigeons moving through in late autumn from photos I have proved to myself I tend to underestimate. Add to that the rate the birds were coming through at times made it impossible to keep up with them and many were going by below cliff level then I know my counts are conservative. With species always going through in good numbers ( Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches etc ) I tend to ignore the ones, twos and threes and round numbers in flocks up or down to the nearest 10, works for me. Less numerous species eg Brambling later this month I get the exact number.
With this passage over I walked down the sheltered road to the light where a Blackcap was exiting the compound which was birdless. The farm held a handful of Chiffs and Goldcrests and the birds of the day, 2 Firecrests . Leaving Start a Wheatear had arrived in the car park.
I drove around to Hallsands checking the overgrown pond, the marshy valley etc but only Chiffs and Goldcrests. The more I go there the more I think Hallsands is a potential untapped goldmine re rare birds. It has had its moments , trouble is when Start is good you tend to stay there, when its quiet try Hallsands which by nature would then be quiet as well. Must try and break that habit sometime. Back on the beach there was a Grey Wagtail and a Wheatear. Good numbers of Red Admirals going through all day by the way.

Top end of Start Farm

Prime marshy habitat at Hallsands, criminally underwatched. This spot is only about 2km NW of Start Point lighthouse and less than 300 metres inland from Hallsands Beach.                                

Part of the overgrown pond behind Hallsands Beach. Noisy Cetti's Warbler in residence.

This Wheatear has found Hallsands to it's liking over the past few days.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Let the good times roll !

I suspect like me autumn is the favourite birding time of the year for most birders. Like many I have put a fair bit of time aside for looking for rares in the next four or five weeks. Right now as in many previous years I am full of optimism that this is the year I will find the mega and my little stake outs will rival St Agnes, Porthgwarra, Portland Bill , Flamborough, North Ronaldsay and Fair Isle. Every year I usually struggle to find anything much better than a Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest or Black Redstart and as the autumn closes I usually think why did I not just go somewhere else for a week. Time dulls the memory however and the optimism batteries are again charged to 100%
This morning I headed out to Start Point first light after a night of showers that were still going intermittently after dawn. It was not bad enough to write off some vis mig but little was going overhead, the best a couple of Siskins. The farm held about 4 Chiffchaffs and 10 Goldcrests with a lone Blackcap. The road down to the light was sheltered and on reaching the lighthouse compound the first bird I saw was a Firecrest. Although nothing else seemed to be present just by waiting 30 minutes 4 Blackcaps and a chiffchaff showed. Other birds seen at Start included Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Grey Wagtails, 60 Swallows and 5 House Martins.                                                                                                     
Kestrel overlooking the lighthouse gully.
I left Start and headed around the short distance to Hallsands. This is sheltered in winds with a westerly element when Start can be blown out and is full of potential. Today it was quiet, just a lone Wheatear on the beach and a Cetti's Warbler singing loudly from the overgrown pond behind the beach. It is a very atmospheric place when looking at the old village taken by the sea a hundred years ago in January 1917.


Over 170 people lived in the old Hallsands village at its peak. Many a good session must have been had in The London Inn which once brewed its own ale. I bet the lighthouse keepers stumbled their way back to the light on a frequent basis.
As a last throw of the dice I went to Beesands where a Yellow-browed Warbler ( no doubt the first of many locally this autumn ) was reported yesterday. It was predictably quiet for migrants and duck numbers ( exclusively Gadwall, Tufted Duck ) were down on a couple weeks ago. A nice sight was a flock of around 100 House Sparrows on the Village Green, not such a common sight as it should be. There were also a flock of 30 Starlings. I always assumed flocks this time of year would be made up of fairly local birds, would explain why they are not easy to find now. Speaking to Keith Grant who I bumped into at Slapton last week he told me he inadvertently trapped a Starling at Torcross recently which was a juvenile and it had been previously ringed, amazingly in Lithuania ! What a recovery.

Part of a seemingly healthy Beesands House Sparrow population. These can be good at drawing in scarcer visitors so worth keeping an eye on in the next few weeks.

Monday, 25 September 2017

American Landbirds in the 10k

'The Pepperpot' at mid-Soar. A 200 year old Admiralty Signalling Station originally built to keep an eye out for French ships. Must have been the odd Upland Sandpiper nearby sometime.            

Parasol Mushroom sp, Soar Warren

Whinchat, Soar Warren

Looking towards Start Point from Hallsands Beach

Portuguese Man 'O War, Strete Gate
I've been out birding a few times since the last post but not tearing up any trees regarding seeing anything rare. No falls, no scarce migrants and no major early morning visible migration. Plenty of nice walks and views all the same and the wildlife highlight probably a Portuguese Man 'o War on the strandline at Strete Gate.

It is of course that time of year when most birders are getting a bit twitchy about what rarities might turn up late September, through October and into early November. Certainly been some good birds in the SW including from North America Red-eyed Vireos on Scilly and in West Cornwall and a Yellow Warbler at Portland. The latter got me thinking about the handful of Yank passerines that have occurred locally in the 10k patch. Seven in total and none since 2001. We are long overdue another though it is a sad fact sightings in the SW as a whole have plummeted in recent years compared to the heady days of the 80's when Scilly in particular was an autumn birding Mecca, seemingly replaced now by the Northern Isles. The reasons behind this are complex and probably not proven beyond doubt. There is certainly less coverage on the Scillies in autumn now, some populations have noticeably decreased in America, the autumnal Atlantic jet streams have moved farther north and if ship assistance plays a role ( probably more saving birds well offshore than bringing them all the way ) there may be less marine traffic. I thought it would be nice to recap the few that have turned up.

The first American landbird found in the 10k patch was a Blackpoll Warbler found in the car park scrub at Prawle Point on 18th September, 1976. There was a mini invasion of 4-5 birds in Britain and Ireland in autumn 1976 and this may have been the precursor of these. It was also the first mainland record for Britain. It was seen until the 20th and then again on the 29th. Found by the late Dave Norman it was trapped and ringed by Alan Searle which was a relief to prove it was not a Bay-breasted or Pine Warbler....not so much literature available then and not so many birding trips to Canada and the USA. As an aside an ex work colleague of mine who lived at Beesands told me he picked up a couple twitchers one day who i'm sure had travelled some distance for this bird but had pranged their car on Bowcombe Bridge. He gave them a lift to Beesands, put them up for the night in the football club changing rooms and ran them out to Prawle the next morning. Great hospitality and I seem to recall from what he told me it must have been for this bird. Certainly before my time. Don't know what happened to the car.

The next bird was found in the same place, a Red-eyed Vireo found by John Nicholls on 27th September, 1981, remaining into the next day. I think this was also a first mainland record and only about the fifth or sixth for Britain ( I stand to be corrected on any of this ). Like the Blackpoll Warbler, identification then was not so straight forward as now and other Vireos had to be eliminated. Many Monarch butterflies were around at the same time, presumably also from North America. I was birding in 1981 but knew few other birders and I don't think there was even a phone in my house. I can remember reading about a ' Red-eyed Vireoux ! ' in the local paper and went out to Prawle but it was long gone. I would get another chance however !

October 1987 was a great month for rarities at Prawle, worth a post of its own. My personal all time favourite bird I have seen locally was found in the woods below Hines Hill by Norman Trigg on 8th October, an amazing Black and White Warbler. It was blowing a howler that day and Norman had persevered all day and after seeing little went into the shelter of the woods. He found the bird moving through with a flock of  Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests and the rest was history. He got a good description and selflessly legged it the not inconsiderable distance ( about a mile ) back to his car, drove back up the village and got the news out. Three or four lucky people saw it that evening, I had to wait until the next day and what a bird. Lots of people from far away were there and it stayed until 15th, a whole week. Incredibly it was not a first for Devon, an unusual record of one in Tavistock in March 1978 preceding it. The extra weekend visitors produced rumours and claims of all sorts, some seemingly Jackanory and some pretty certain for eg an elusive Swainson's Thrush that got away from some observers. One definite was another Red-eyed Vireo found in Pigs Nose Valley ( Merivale Lane to locals ) by Pat Mayer on the 11th staying until 17th.

The next bird was the first and still the only one to be found away from the Prawle area. Again a first British mainland record it was a Bobolink found on the Warren at Soar by Alan Doidge on 17th September 1991. It stayed until 21st giving great views to hundreds of grateful visiting birders, the farmer kindly opened a field up for additional parking. I remember Alan telling me it was so quiet at Soar that day that he was going swiftly back to his car taking a short cut and found the Bobolink, you never know !

October 1995 produced the biggest mega in modern times for the 10k patch. On the afternoon of 18th Britain and Irelands second ever Chesnut-sided Warbler was found by a visiting birder , looking for Cirl Buntings, in the lane by Prawle Point car park. The only previous British record was on Fetlar, Shetland in October 1985. In the mid 90's I was lucky enough to live and work for a couple years on the Scillies. I vividly remember I was birding on Bryher that day when a birder next to me looked at his pager and said anyone know where Prawle Point is, yes and why I replied. The answer was that someone had found a type of American Wood-Warbler there and was asking if there was anyone nearby who could help with the id. Soon it came back on the pager as a Chesnut-sided Warbler and panic ensued amongst the premier league twitchers there. It was seen by about 20 people that evening, hundreds were there the next morning but it had disappeared. None have occurred since.

The last record to date was another Bobolink in the fields at Langerstone Point, Prawle from 9th-16th, October 2001, another Pat Mayer find and like Alan's bird very popular. Unbeleivably 16 years ago, about time for another yank, we can all dream !

On You Tube someone recently pointed me in the direction of an old television programme called Twitchers filmed on the Scillies in October 1995. It's very tongue in cheek and does use quite a bit of producers license but it shows a clip of twitchers at the airport trying to get a flight off for the Prawle Chesnut-sided Warbler and you may notice famous Devon birder Bob Bailey at 24 minutes in. Fast forward to 51 minutes 54 seconds and yours truly is standing on a hedge ( blue fishing smock and rucksack ) looking at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I  can safely say this was filmed before they invented Doritos ! You can find it here

Tuesday, 29 August 2017


Its been a scorchio few days and I've had some enjoyable mornings around the coast over the Bank Holiday weekend looking for southbound trans-Saharan migrants. Late August can be the best time for numbers, the key being to get out early, first light,  and get home before the bumper crowds arrive, a mantra I followed in the days below. There have been good numbers of some species, perhaps surprising given the settled high pressure dominating. Such conditions often produce birdless days when anything is a bonus. Last Thursday (24/8 ) I went to Start Point. There were good numbers of phyllosc warblers namely 43 Chiffchaffs and 31 Willow Warblers. The highlights were a flyover Green Sandpiper ( not a first here, i'm certain I have had one at Start before ), a fly through Hobby trying to do a fly by killing of a hirundine, ( Swallows must love these guys keeping them company all the way to Africa ), and a Grasshopper Warbler showing briefly but well in the bracken below the lighthouse road. Other birds included 12 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Tree Pipits, Whinchat, 5 Wheatears, Sedge Warbler, 7 Whitethroats, 4 Blackcaps and 4 Spotted Flycatchers. An adult Little Grebe was on a pond in a private area I have permission to look at. I reckon they have bred here for the third year running which is nice.

The 25th saw me at Soar Car Park from where I went and checked out The Warren before going around to Starehole Valley and back via East Soar Farm. There was another quirky wader record, this time a Greenshank over The Warren. Otherwise the highlight was 26 Tree Pipits. Birds elsewhere included 16 Yellow Wagtails, Sedge Warbler, 5 Whitethroats, 5 Blackcaps, 20 Chiffchaffs, 4 Willow Warblers and 4 Spotted Flycatchers. Bit of a fright by the dipping pond where I heard a pfhisss and looked for the source to see an Adder moving behind me almost touching the heel of my boot. I must have nearly stood on it.

On 27th I was back at Start Point. Highlights were a late high flying Swift and a Lesser Whitethroat. Other migrants present were 10 Tree Pipits, 23 Yellow Wagtails, 6 White Wagtails, 5 Wheatears, 20 Blackcaps, 23 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers and 2 Spotted Flycatchers.

To round the Bank Holiday weekend  went to Bolberry Down yesterday morning. The Old Portlight has been redeveloped and the work almost finished. Personally I think they have done a good job and it will blend in well, this day and age some awful looking places are being built so well done all involved. As for the birds I saw 3 Tree Pipits, 10 Yellow Wagtails, Redstart, 11 Whitethroats, 12 Blackcaps and 2 Spotted Flycatchers.

All in all I was surprised at the reasonable number of Chiffs going through given the high pressure. Bodes well that they have had a good breeding season. Tree Pipits have shown up well to. Yellow Wagtails have been easy to find though not in the numbers seen in east Devon. Whinchats and Redstarts seem to get fewer on migration every autumn and no Pied Flycatchers seen. Always amazing to think of the journeys these small birds undertake. The Yellow Wagtails following the hooves of Farmer Ansell's Red Devon bulls at Start now may well be walking behind an elephant in Mali at the end of next month.

Start light from the south side of the spine. You can find better photos of this view taken in the 1880's. I will try not to upload any phone shots again.
Redstart, Bolberry Down

Spotted Flycatcher, Bolberry Down

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Big Shear Fest

The blog has been in hibernation for a little while. Not given up on it, just nothing to write about for a while. Once the spring migration is finished that is generally it for me, a close season until it kicks off again in the autumn ( ie birders autumn ). Back in May whenever I had a bit of time to get out the weather was naff etc etc so no birding for a while.
Things changed on Friday though. I had a day off work and the weather was going to be bad. Thought I would amble out to Start when I woke up and have a seawatch until the predicted heavy rain arrived. Things were so organized it took me 20 minutes to find my waterproofs and I reached the tip of Start Point, bottom of the lighthouse compound at about 08:15. I put the scope up, looked through it and there were 3 Manx Shearwaters heading my way with a huge towering Cory's Shearwater behind looking like a World War 2 bomber with accompanying fighter planes. What a start !. I gave Mike Langman a shout just as I picked another up. He was not too impressed, he had been with others at Berry Head for much longer and had seen 50 plus and a good number of Great Shearwaters. That leaked on my fireworks !
The next 5 and a bit hours were tremendous. I soon picked up my first Great Shearwater and it seemed like everytime I scanned the sea I would pick up a large Shearwater or two. Unfortunatly few were close, definatly scope jobs instead of bins and a few had to go down as either or. They were mostly on a line much farther out than the majority of the considerable number of passing Manxies. By 13:00 the rain was threatening and shelter was nowhere to be had. I retreated back up to the lighthouse road but the skies eventually poured with rain and at 13:30 I left, soaked but happy.
My final totals were 82 Cory's and 21 Great Shearwaters. Back on the lighthouse road I bumped into Douglas Stannard, we must have been watching yards apart unaware of each others presence. He had noted similar numbers of Greats and Cory's to me but in addition saw Great Skua, Sooty Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater. I had seen an Arctic Skua. Shows how birds can get missed ( especially by me ).
Elsewhere on the 10k patch a friend of mine, Paul Roberts on holiday in Torcross had 27 Cory's and 3 Greats from there, a superb record though they must have drifted a fair way back out to sea by the time they reached the Point as none were close in. I got a text to Pat Mayer who managed to get to Prawle Point late morning and up until 15:00 saw 50+ Cory's but only 3 Greats.
These numbers are way behind Berry Head but I think that is explained with hours of observation and numbers of observers. It is interesting however that the ratio there was roughly 2 Cory's to each Great and Start was more 4:1. With few Greats seen at Torcross and Prawle do a big percentage move like skuas and head farther out channel once they round Berry Head ? Food for thought.
Big shearwater passages have been recorded at Prawle Point in the past, the largest for Cory's being 199 on 30/7/08 and 280 on 20/7/2005. For Greats 39 passed Prawle on 17/8/1999 and 35 seen at Start Point on 5/8/1999. There was a massive movement of 320 Great Shearwaters through Berry Head on 23/9/1999 but no record locally for that day so presumably no one was watching else there would have been a big count.
All in all a great morning. When the birding stars align and these big local birding events happen it always seems to be on week day when I am busy working so I felt lucky and priveliged to have been able to witness it. Happy days !

I think every blog post needs a photo, promise I will improve

Monday, 1 May 2017

Montagu's Harrier

With a fresh easterly blowing and grey skies with rain in the air I set out for Slapton Ley yesterday morning thinking there was a chance of big numbers of hirundines and Swifts over the ley with some skuas and terns passing offshore.......there was nothing. The forecast rain soon arrived and I left.
In the afternoon it started to clear and the wind was now a moderate to fresh South-east. Good conditions for Thurlestone Bay, especially for arriving waders though perhaps they prefer clearer skies ( to guarantee an easier sea crossing ? ). I got to Bob's Car Park around 14:15 where Mike Passman ( ) had been ensconsed for about an hour. He had seen a couple of Arctic Skuas and 7 Eider before my arrival so there was some promise.
Spent a couple of hours gazing out in the bay and birds flying south included 62 Manx Shearwaters, 25 Common Scoters, 2 Whimbrels, a dark-phase Arctic Skua and 2 Great Skuas. There was a major highlight however. At 15:20 Mike picked up a very distant 'skua' out beyond Warren Point and swiftly changed his mind to raptor. With few buoys etc on the sea he could not give me much direction and I could not find it and by now he could see it was a harrier. Thankfully it was coming closer into the bay and proved to be a superb female Montagu's Harrier ! It flew across the bay and landed in a distant field in from Beacon Point. Thankfully it was flying strongly and not getting hassled by any gulls. One autumn from Bolt Tail I watched a tired Marsh Harrier arrive in Thurlestone Bay in a strong easterly getting chased by gulls and it really struggled to make landfall. It could not be seen once it landed in the field and we do not know how long it stayed there, or if it soon departed.
Always humbling to remember the distances these birds cover and the difficulties they overcome on migration as this twitter account confirms.

Recently I wrote about the link between Cattle Egrets and Colonel George Montagu, well here is the ultimate one, a bird named after you ! The good Colonel of course spent his last years ( 1798-1815 ) living in Kingsbridge and is credited with confirming that the 'Ash-coloured Falcon' was different to the Hen Harrier and developed from a 'ringtail' plumage. No doubt a few pairs bred around the 10k patch back then. Here's to you George, maverick soldier and cutting edge birder.

Colonel George Montagu, 1753-1815

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Retro Mays

Birding in April has been a bit of a non-event for me unfortunately. Whenever I have had a bit of time for birding the weather was not great. Seen a few nice birds ( Garganey, Cattle Egrets etc that have hung around ) but Start Point, my favourite migration watch point,  has been fairly blown out the few times I ventured out there. A Red Kite moving through early last Saturday morning was the best I've seen there. Portland Bill has had some good falls ( just 90 Kms across Lyme Bay ) so we have missed out a little so far this spring. All is not lost however and early May can witness big falls if all the necessary bits fall into place ( for Start Point light winds between SE-NE, not to strong to make it blown out, good cloud cover through the night with some overnight rain lessening to drizzle or nothing by dawn and conditions on the near continent conducive to encouraging the birds to set out in the first place). Time is running out though, once the first third of May has gone big arrivals of common passerine trans -Saharan migrants tend not to happen whatever the conditions, though a big rarity could arrive alone.

What could we expect in May ? Warm southerlies can produce overshooting rare european herons, raptors and terns through the month. Best month to find a major exotic like Bee-eater, especially late month, time will tell. Below is a flavour of what May has produced in the past.

May 1967

Nothing to great 50 years ago this month, Spoonbill on the Kingsbridge Estuary most of the month and a Montagu's Harrier at Prawle on the 30th.

May 1977

Strangest record a Whooper Swan , previously at Slapton in April and then on the Avon Estuary all month. Continuing a wintry theme a Long-tailed duck remained on Slapton Ley to the 15th. More spring like rarities were a  male Little Bittern at Slapton on the 14th, Honey Buzzard through there on 18th and a Savi's Warbler singing there from 14th-21st. Also a Savi's present at South Milton Ley ringed on the 10th and then remaining all month. Savi's Warblers started to turn up regularly at Slapton and South Milton Leys in the early 70's to early 80's. It was thought they would colonise but sadly it never happened and they reverted back to being a big rarity. One Hoopoe reported in the month at Slapton Ley on the 30th.

May 1987

Montagu's Harrier at Slapton Ley from 3rd-4th ( I seem to recall this female talon grappling with a Marsh Harrier in Ireland Bay one morning ), Blue-headed Wagtail at Soar on 5th, Purple Heron at Slapton Ley from 23rd-28th and around Prawle Point late month was a Quail and male Red-spotted Bluethroat on 25th and a Serin on 30th-31st.

May 1997

A Cory's Shearwater flew west off Prawle Point on the 4th. More typical spring rarities included Woodchat Shrike at Prawle from 5th-9th with a Red-backed Shrike and Serin there on the 18th, the same date that 2 Bee-eaters spent a couple of hours on power lines behind the main road through West Alvington ( I missed them by 5 minutes ! ). A Blue- headed Wagtail was at Bolberry Down on 22nd.

May 2007

Not a great month, a Glossy Ibis at Woodside Farm West Alvington first seen in April was still there on the first. Otherwise just a Blue-headed Wagtail at Slapton Ley on 9th and a Red-backed Shrike at Lincombe on the Kingsbridge Estuary on 23rd.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Rise of the Cattle Egret

Got out to try some serious birding for the first time in a while yesterday morning. Done so little birding so far this spring that the only migrants I had seen were Chiffchaffs and a Swallow inland at The Mounts on 30th. Went to Start Point first of all but it was windy and blown out so I soon left. I decided to head towards Chivlestone Cross on the way to East Prawle where 18 Cattle Egrets had been reported during the week. I soon found them in the field below the turbine. They had now gone up to 19, amazing. Watched them as they fed in an arable field quite wary of me though I was distant. After watching this record breaking count for Devon ( but unlikely to last as long as Bob Beamon's famous Long Jump Record ) I headed around to Beesands Ley. Mute Swan's and Canada Geese ruling the roost here, nearly 50 of each making it look like a zoo. Best of the low number of other wildfowl was a male Shoveler. A couple singing Willow Warblers were nice but the highlight was a singing Sedge Warbler by the hide, the first March record I have ever had. Next stop was Slapton. It would have been rude not to look for the whale but there was no sign. Went around Ireland Bay and of course most of the wildfowl has now left but a male Wigeon remained. Highlight of the Lepidoptera was a Brimstone in Ireland Bay Quarry. Stopped at Torcross on the way home where there were just 4 Sand Martins and a Swallow.

What about the Cattle Egrets then. As I was watching them one of those Birding coincidences dawned on me.The first British record of what was then called ' Buff-backed Heron' was obtained at South Allington in late October 1805. South Allington is really just a Country House, a Farm and a couple cottages and it is less than a kilometre from where I was watching this flock ! A man named Cornish shot the bird apparently having to have two go's at it. Perhaps he knew there would be a good reward and suffered some kind of assassin breakdown as the bird was said to be approachable so no excuse. The bird then found its way to that past giant of British ornithology, George Montagu who lived in Knowle House, Kingsbridge. He recorded it as the 'Little White Heron ' and announced the record in the Transactions of the Linnean Society. The specimen, an immature female, still resides in the Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire. It would be over 100 years before the next acceptable British Record in Norfolk in 1917 and over 180 years to the next Devon record. This was again in the local 10k patch in November 1986. The South West Water employees who worked at the Gerston Sewage Works on the Kingsbridge Estuary opposite Kingsbridge saw an Egret in a cattle field by the Works, realised it was unusual but thought it was a Little Egret ( itself still very rare then ). They contacted top TV birder of the day Tony Soper who only lived around the corner. He put the id right but it swiftly moved on. I just managed to catch up with it at nearby Easton Farm, only about 4 birders saw it so along with the long deceased Mr. Cornish we had a Devon blocker ! Since then of course things have really changed. I'm pretty sure there were no more 10k records until January 2007 when about 5 were around the Kingsbridge Estuary and winter 2008 saw even more with a brief flock of 8 one January morning near Easton ( these soon dispersed to other localities nearby ). It was thought these would be the harbingers of greater numbers ( like the Little Egret colonisation ) but it was a false dawn as records became more sporadic and scarcer thereafter. Perhaps this current ' invasion ' is the one that sees them ensconsed for good in our area. Good old Colonel Montagu would never believe it !

If you count them there are 18 Cattle Egrets but the top bird between the two that are flying is actually 2 Egrets.

The 1805 record is the only definite time as far as I am aware of the local 10k patch adding a bird to the British list. The first accepted record of a Long-billed Dowitcher ( known then as Brown Snipe ) in Britain however was announced by George Montagu as being obtained somewhere on the Devon coastline one October around 1801. Could it have been in the 10k patch or does the vagueness mean it was taken somewhere Montagu was not familiar with making a nearby locality unlikely ?

EDIT. Thinking about it Colonel Montagu would have added a few others to the British list from around here I would have presumed eg Cirl Bunting. So maybe I should have stressed in a vagrant context only.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Retro April's, Hoopoes and lost Phoebe.

I've done next to no birding in March, but not all my fault. Time taken up with other more pressing things, and when I have had the chance the weather has put the mockers on it. Got down the road a few times for the Humpback Whale which has been amazing ( ). Great that so many people have seen it and I think it has turned a lot of people onto wanting to see more local wildlife and learn more about it, what a result.
No getting a birding fix means I will be tearing at the leash a little in the coming weeks to get out more and as can be seen below there is always hope in April of seeing some good birds ( not to mention good falls of commoner migrants ).

April, 1967

On the River Avon the long staying Whooper Swan was present until the 18th. A Hawfinch was present in West Charleton from 11th-16th and a Ring Ouzel was in Kingsbridge on the 27th ( whilist Ring Ouzels are not too rare in spring locally, they are almost exclusively coastal and inland records are unusual ). A Hoopoe was at Start Point on 28th.

April, 1977

Another long staying Whooper Swan, this time remaining at Slapton Ley through the month, more colourful was a Hoopoe here from 22nd-24th. Another was at Prawle Point on 24th and a Nightjar was at South Milton Ley from 25th into May. 

April 1987

A well watched Whiskered Tern was found along the tidal Road at Aveton Gifford on the 12th quickly moving to Thurlestone Marsh staying around the area until 15th. The next day it relocated to Slapton Ley where it stayed until the 17th. A male Garganey at Beesands Ley on 16th moved to Slapton Ley on 17th staying until 21st when it was joined by a female. Also at Slapton a Hoopoe from 19th-21st, another was at Prawle Point on 17th. Other highlights this month included a Montagu's Harrier at West Charleton Marsh on 13th, a roaming second calendar year Glaucous Gull seen at Slapton early month, Lannacombe on 15th and around Prawle from 19th-26th, 2 Black Guillemots at Start Point on 19th, a Nightingale at Prawle Point on 20th and a Subalpine Warbler at Start Point on 21st. The later are surprisingly extremely rare in the 10 km patch, off the top of my head just 3 records and this I think the last. Would have been a 'comfortable' Subalpine Warbler at the time but now the species has been split into three, I've no idea which one this bird was, ( Western Subalpine, Eastern Subalpine or Moltoni's ) Western would always be the most likely in spring but in birding anything is possible.

April 1997

Contra 10 years earlier a quiet month, only highlights 2 Bitterns at Slapton Ley early month, an Iceland Gull here on 5th, Garganey at Beesands Ley on 15th and 2 Blue-headed Wagtails at South Huish on 19th.

April 2007

Surprisingly just one highlight, a beautiful Glossy Ibis originally seen at Easton and then nearby at Woodcombe Farm, West Alvington from 22nd till the end of the month. Glossy Ibis still a very rare bird then and I think the first in the 10 k patch for over 20 years ( now pretty much annual ). Found at Woodcombe by the farmer, my good friend David Horton, he amazingly found another different bird ( a first calendar year bird ) in the same small muddy corner of his farm six months later, coincidence or what !

Going back 30 years to 1987, perhaps the biggest rarity ever in the patch just slipped through the net and I had a small part to play. I went to Slapton on the 19th where a Hoopoe had been by the Higher Ley and had good views. I went back out the next day and it had been seen by the Memorial Car Park but reported as last seen flying across the ley and landing on the other side. Access to this private part of the reserve by birders seemed to be tolerated by the Field Centre in those days and I went off in search and relocated it near the edge of the Hartshorn Plantation on America Road. That is where my small part ends. The next day some visiting birders ( I believe from South Wales ? ) looked for it but without success. They were good birders and did see something in the trees by the edge of the plantation that they could not id however ( I have to say this is from memory, if anyone can correct or enlarge on anything please do ) .  When they had access to the relevant books and checked against their notes they came up with Eastern Phoebe, a type of North American flycatcher never before seen in the Western Paleartic let alone UK. At this point that probably would never have been enough to get the record accepted as such by the relevant national committees but hope sprang eternal when an Eastern Phoebe was found about 120 Kms. northwest on Lundy Island on the 24th. It stayed into the following day allowing good views so excellent notes could be taken. Eventually the Lundy record was accepted and the Slapton bird sadly was not. The latter originally passed the British Birds Rarities Committee ( BBRC ) test and fell at the final hurdle , the British Ornithologist Union Records Committee judgement. That committee felt two birds were involved ( from ' slight' differences in the description though surely that could be just a difference of colour judgement by individuals ) and that the description of the call of the  Slapton Bird was wrong for Eastern Phoebe ( calls for most birds are notoriously difficult to translate to a written description - no call was mentioned for the Lundy bird ). All in all the ultimate one that got away ! ( see the BBRC and BOU write up here

What of local 10k April birding then, always hope of a Hoopoe on warm southerlies pretty much anywhere around the coast and occasionally inland and if lucky the same warm southerlies can bring rare Herons and other southern European rarities ( eg Black Kite ) to the local headlands. A twitchable Western Subalpine Warbler is long overdue on one of our migrant hot spots. Later in the month hopefully some good falls of migrants eg at Start Point with some easterly component in the wind , clear skies over the near continent and local overnight rain or drizzle clearing by dawn.  Southeast winds in Thurlestone Bay can produce superb wader passage through that area mid April onward. Plenty to look forward too, hope you see lots.       

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.