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.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

West Charleton Marsh

Time has been at a bit of a premium recently with not much to spare. Did get over to South Milton Ley last Saturday morning with my son Rory to help out with a very successful mornings reed cutting. There was a great turn out including many non-birding locals so a special thanks to them.
Mid afternoon today I wandered down to Charleton Marsh. Was hoping to give the Chiffs in the sewage works a good look and there were at least 11. One looked very good for Siberian but the sun was making viewing difficult and then it started to hail so I left them for another day. A Moorhen on the circular filter bed was a first for me and a Grey Wagtail is still wintering in and around the compound.
Got to the hide and it was high tide in the bay. In the small Curlew roost towards Wareham Point were 6 Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Turnstones. A squally wind was picking up with an approaching shower so I shut the window, and concentrated on the marsh. A Bittern has been seen a few times since December. Too much to ask ? My luck was in and at 16:00 hrs it got up from the ditch near the sluice and flew across and landed in the middle of the reed bed. Typical Bittern sighting, brief and fortunate. This is the third I have been lucky enough to see on the marsh. As the rain stopped I headed back home just as a couple female Pintails flew in and a Cirl Bunting started singing. I gave the Chiffs another go but the light was bad and a Mistle Thrush flew out making its rattling call as if annoyed by me.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Mid-winter birding

It's halfway through January so for me that means it's half way through winter. The first wheatears could be here in 7 weeks, time flies.
I went to Beesands Ley yesterday to do the monthly Wetland Bird Survey ( WeBS count ) for the British Trust for Ornithology ( BTO ). The ley has been a shadow of its former self for waterfowl in recent years, one month I scored a flat zero, nothing on site, no more than a diesel rainbow coloured pool in an abandoned urban lorry park would have got. Things are not so bad these days and Mute Swans are currently mad for it. The 70 on site yesterday is probably a site record. Unfortunatly they are too lazy to see of the 48 Canada Geese they shared it with. Also present were 7 Teals, 2 Mallards, Gadwall, 2 Tufted Ducks and a Coot. The major highlight was a female Goosander ( perhaps the one from Slapton Ley last month ). I saw it catch a small fish so maybe there is life in the old ley yet.
This morning I had a good walk around the estuary doing the Charleton Marsh - Geese Quarries circuit. 11 Chiffchaffs and a Grey Wagtail were a good start in the sewage works but there did not appear to be any 'tristis' candidates. As the tide was high I had to kill an hour in the bird hide, no bad thing as a Bittern has been seen from here recently. Not today though. The scrape held 54 Wigeons, 51 Teals and a pair of Pintails. A Water Rail was calling and one showed beneath the bird feeders.

                                                            Water Rail, squealer of the Marsh.

Heading out onto the foreshore and towards Wareham Point there was a raw NNW wind. The mud, water and sky was monochrome. A small flock of roosting Curlews took off towards their feeding area and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits emerged from within. A loud 'ffissstt ' call announced the arrival of a Rock Pipit. Anonymous and unobtrusive, one or two turn up at this spot each winter, about as far inland as they usually prefer to go. Some Rock Pipits here could be Scandinavian in origin but unless they stayed into spring and started acquiring summer plumage we would not know. Anonymous and mysterious.

                              Rock Pipit, Charleton Bay. Like me it always wants to live near the sea.

Going around Wareham Point and into Frogmore Creek was welcome as it gave shelter from the wind. Out on the water were 7 Great Crested and 11 Little Grebes. 8 Red-breasted Mergansers did a fly-by and the Devon Air Ambulance did a fly-by overhead and landed at Salcombe. I hope whoever needed it is soon healthy and telling everyone who will listen about their helicopter ride. In an arable field across the creek near Halwell Farm was a flock of 92 Brent Geese. Adding these to the ones I had seen already meant there are at least 128 present this winter. A kingfisher whistled and landed on top of a distant channel marker. A blaze of colour on a grey, cold day.

Old pre World War Two cart tracks still visible in the soft Devon slate in Charleton Bay. Horse and carts would have come down to collect seaweed for fertiliser on the fields. Who knows, maybe Colonel George Montagu hitched a ride on one once but that's a story for another day !


Monday, 9 January 2017


Went around the estuary yesterday on the rising tide from Geese Quarries to Charleton Marsh. Same old same old, several hundred Wigeons in North Pool Bay then flightling out onto the main estuary, always a great sight and sound especially on such a still day. A few Lapwings in North Pool Bay as well, the day before I saw around 45 in the fields around the top of North Pool Farm so probably some of them. I was hoping to see the Bittern in Charleton Marsh but nothing doing, you need a bit of luck for them. There were at least 12 Chiffchaffs in the sewage works, numbers always rise sharply here in the new year for some reason. By now it was raining so I could not grill them for a wintering Siberian Chiff. A Yellow-browed would not go amiss either.
Seeing the forecast for today ( which they got spot on ) and having a day off work I thought I would give Slapton Ley a go and try for last weeks possible Lesser Scaup. My plan was to get to the bridge for first light, often a good time to see an elusive Bittern if one is around  (but not this time ),do Ireland Bay and check the sea whilst it was still dry and shelter in the Stokely Bay Hide when it rained as the light could then be quite good. I went around Ireland Bay to the boardwalk and there were still good numbers of waterfowl, the best being 13 Wigeons, 8 Shovelers, 127 Tufted Ducks and 12 Little Grebes at one time in a little tight flock. Only 4 Gadwalls and 3 Teals though. Lots of gulls dropping in and out, well over 500 Black-headed and 4 Mediterraneans. Getting back to the bridge I looked up the higher Ley and bingo, a Bittern flew up and then straight back in, very lucky for me and definetly one of my favourite birds. I waited another 20 minutes but nothing doing. It was now threatening to rain so I checked Start Bay out from the Memorial Car Park. No scoters but 2 Great Northern Divers together close in. The rain was getting heavy now so I headed for the Stokeley Bay Hide. Selected counts from here included another 14 Wigeons, 128 Gadwalls, 83 Tufted Ducks, 8 Pochards ( very welcome increase, however small ) and 7 Goldeneyes including 3 males ( displaying in the rain ). I saw a Scaup but it was an adult male Greater Scaup and distant with Tufted Ducks. A couple possible female scaup sp eventually came close enough in better light to prove themselves to be nothing more than Tufted pseudo Scaups. I'm sure the first winter male and his companion are still around and will give themselves up on a nice still day with good light.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Charleton 10k 2016 Birding Awards

It's the start of a new year and its time to put on the Gucci birding jackets and Luois Vuitton binocular cases to attend the inaugural Charleton 10k 2016 Birding Awards.
These awards have been decided by a committee of one and in future years this committee will be open to every conceivable type of bribery and corruption.

Birding Event of the Year.

Has to be the numbers of Yellow -browed Warblers which passed through in the autumn as written in a previous post http://charletonbirding.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/rise-of-yellow-browed-warbler_10.html
One day there were so many calling I thought I had tinnitus and when I got home and could not hear any in my garden I thought I had gone deaf.

Birding Non-Event of the Year

When the unprecedented numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers arrived on the east coast in the autumn we received a fair share of the onward movement. When good numbers of Bluetails and other Sibes ( White's Thrushes, Siberian Accentors etc ) similarly arrived we waited with baited breath but nothing came. The last two weeks of October into early November should have produced a mega sibe locally but nothing turned up better than a Pallas's Warbler.
Pallas's Warbler, Start Point, 24th October 2016 ( Michael Brooking )
Patch of the Year
Has to be the brilliant still relatively new Devon Wildlife Trust Reserve at South Efford Marsh. Some great birds this year especially in autumn. Highlights included a Great White Egret in March and in Autumn a couple Wrynecks, Pectoral Sandpiper and new to the 10k patch a superb adult Spotted Sandpiper. Add to this a Woodchat Shrike and a couple of Cattle Egrets and you have a great year.

Twitch of the Year
No doubt about this one, the obliging Desert Wheatear at Thurlestone which must have been seen by many hundreds of birders since it was first found in early November. Elusive at first when it eventually settled for a prolonged stay on Leasfoot Beach it drew a steady stream of admirers. As it has stayed into the new year it could be twitch of the year 2017 as well

Desert Wheatear, Leasfoot Beach, Thurlestone, 29th November 2016 ( Mike Langman )
Bird of the Year
This is the big one. Unless I've forgotten something there were only three main candidates.
3rd Place, The aforementioned Thurlestone Desert Wheatear. First found on his garage roof by Mike Passman late on the afternoon of 8th November, it then disappeared until he saw it again at home on 13th November. Eventually it settled down on Leasfoot Beach for a long stay  into 2017. Probably bird of the year in the 10k patch for most people but only 3rd place as there have been at least 2 previous local records.
2nd Place, a new bird for the 10k patch, a superb adult Spotted Sandpiper at South Efford Marsh from 6th to at least 14th August. Never easy to see and usually quite distant from the hide on South Efford it disappeared for long spells presumably going out on the Avon Estuary ( where it was originally seen on 6th by Rod Bone ). About the 12th record for Devon so one locally was overdue.
                                                Spotted Sandpiper, South Efford Marsh, August 2016 ( Barry Rankine )
2016 Bird of the Year

Prawle Point Seawatch

Seawatch from 7.05am till 11.50 in 4-5 going 6 , wind direction S/SSE/S to SW with rain, heavy at times, the highlight being a Black-Browed Albatross seen very close gliding majestically east at 8.15am.!(No signal from the Point so was unable to alert other seawatchers till returned to the village at 12.30)
Also 2 Cory's ,1 Sooty,16 Balearic Shearwaters. And 2 Arctic Skuas and 1 Bonxie. 3 Whimbrel, 27 Kittiwakes ,2 Common Scoter and 6 Fulmars made up the rest of the cast.
Posted August 19th at 7:35 pm by Tony Marchese in Scarce / Rare Birds & Passage Counts
The above is taken from the Devon Birds News Blog. It must be every British seawatchers dream to have a Black-browed Albatross glide by and that is exactly what happened to dedicated Prawle Point seawatcher Tony Marchese at 08:15 on 19th August, I would say more of a Supernova than a highlight, and as if 2 Cory's Shearwaters was not good enough ! There was a spate of Albatross sightings around UK waters around this time and it was thought at least 2 birds may have been involved. Tony's bird was the first in Devon for over 50 years, the only previous record being off Morte Pt., N. Devon on 25th April 1965. Would have taken a hell of a bird to beat this one so well done Tony and well deserved for all the times you spend getting drenched seawatching at Prawle when you don't see anything.
Unsung Heroes
Finally there should be an unsung hero award to be shared amongst the many people who gave up a lot of their time to produce the brilliant 182 page 2015 Devon Bird Report, especially the county recorders Julia Harris and Steve Waite. Thanks to Kevin Ryland for taking over from Steve going into 2017. All the section writers, checkers etc deserve gratitude from people like me who just pick it up off the floor when it arrives and read it. What a brilliant achievement for a group of volunteers to get together and somehow manage to get the report collated, edited and into our homes before the following year has ended, thank you and take a bow all of you.