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.


  1. Love the look of that lighthouse garden! Enjoying reading about the good stuff that has turned up before as well - good motivation to get out and have a look. Dan

  2. Hello Dan, would love to live in that lighthouse cottage, seawatching from the front room, migrants out of the other window. Long drive if you run out of milk though. Guess you will be out vis migging this weekend, good luck if you are.


  3. Don't forget the ear plugs if you move in Perry - for the fog horns that seem to be constantly beeping in good birding days!

  4. It was going well this morning Mike. A couple came out of the cottage and looked like they had had a sleepless night, nice relaxing break ! I'm sure it sometimes brings birds in when the light is completely shrouded by fog, an audio guide to land for some birds that are in trouble over the water. When you come to stay i'm putting you up in the top right room with the blocked window and you have to stay there until I've checked the tamarisks first in the morning !

  5. Great write-up Perry.....brings it all back. The main group of Tamarisks seem to have thickened up a lot since I was last there...can't be bad. Still one of my favourite birding places ever...always that feeling of excitement and potential when you walk down the Lighthouse Road ! John Hopkins

    1. Hello John, trust you are well. Thanks for the kind words and good to hear from you. The tamarisks have thickened up, they were alive with Firecrests yesterday. Heard this morning that the main light is being done away with next month and replaced with something smaller ( like a navigation light at harbour entrances I guess ). Have to wait and see if it changes things, will still be a great spot I think.