Sunday, 29 July 2012

Yeah, That WAS Good


I wasn't intending to watch the opening ceremony, but ended up staying up for it all. I always like the parade of athletes, but the often pretentious nonsense that goes on before.. well. And to be fair there was a bit of the latter, very much Danny's friends and his politics, oh dear. But the rest ranged from good to inspired and I have to say I thought it was a darn sight better than the last one. Especially the cauldron, which was sheer genius.

But enough of that.

Eventually getting up yesterday I gave up any plans of a day out and wandered about the Patch instead. Mostly very quiet, as you'd expect, with the fun coming from Hope's Nose [ah, what's new..]. The auks are all gone, as you'd expect, but a lone Fulmar was hanging around. A few Gannets were fishing offshore, but other than Shormorants the sea was the preserve of tossers on jetskis, powerboats, and yachties. My attention wandered [yeah, right] to the assorted gulls loafing around, especially when two idiots in a small boat flushed all of them from the Lead Stone. Fresh juveniles are pretty smart-looking gulls, it has to be said, and as well as a dozen Herrings, there were 4 GBBs and a Yellow-leg set up with 40-odd adults and scrawny immatures. The Yellow-leg was a really nice one too, but didn't fly over and pose, as a couple of Herrings did. Cute things, baby Herrings. When they keep their gobs shut, anyway..

Two juvenile Whitethroats were cute if noisy, but elsewhere I was mostly chasing butterflies.. [[Oh dear, oh dear...]] After a bit of kerfuffle a flighty Blue revealed itself to be.. Common. Better were my first two Marbled Whites at the Nose and a very confiding Six-spot Burnet moth, which was utterly unbothered by my peering at it. :) I also got a surprise - a dragonfly! Not what you'd expect at the bottom of the Nose.. More so, it was a small hawker lacking green bits on the thorax or yellow costa - a Migrant! [[It may be observed that a dragonfly right by the sea with no fresh water anywhere nearby would likely be a migrant - though not necessarily a Migrant... ;) ]]

Today, the big gribbly showers made things interesting, with me ending up wandering about Slapton. Despite the brisk wind, the sun [when it wasn't tipping down] was very warm and I was a bit disappointed to only see a female Common Blue damselfly and an unidentified [due to sheer speed] hawker spp. A magnificent Silver-washed Fritillary was much better, accompanied by several Red Admirals and a whole heap of assorted Whites. Among the gulls knocking around was a smart juvenile LBB and of interest among the ducks were 4 Pochard and two weird things which looked very much like drake MallardxPintail..!


EDIT: Forgot to mention the Swifts! I had a merry old time counting this evening, getting a max of 94 - which is pretty darn good - and with many of them down at low level I have little doubt more than 100 birds were present. :D

Friday, 27 July 2012

Kettles


Seems to be the thing right now, with the gulls doing it for things other than passing raptors, and me feeling like I'm in one.

Less whining, more birds.

Flying ants are the order of the day, with upwards of 250 Herring Gulls munching on them - making for quite a sight and sound. Biggest single one I counted was right out back, a good 150 gulls [plus a few corvids] and at least 8 juveniles in among them. I would give a nice exact count, but when the bastards are circling right overhead and more are arriving all the time while others are sloping off... Its an appreciable fraction of the Bay's [sizable] Herring population. It's interesting that the Geebs don't get involved, as its clearly such a good food source. I suppose with them being battered mobbed whenever they get near the Herring's nests, they just stick to the coast. They are more maritime than the very cosmopolitan Herrings - they'll come to the harbour area but that's pretty much it.

In the Garden, having let all the bushes run wild in an attempt to give the birds some decent top cover, we've seen what may be a link in that we're getting Goldfinches more regularly. They used to be a real rarity, mind. It could be they're just having a good year [or a bad one and are ranging further], but it might be the new terrain is more to their liking. Interesting. Still a lack of anything other than Sparrows, Greenfinches [these reduced] and the odd kamikaze Blue Tit...

Today I decided to get out and use the weather - once it stopped being overcast and windy, which took a while - to go chasing odonata again. Reasoning that a sustained burst of hot sunshine should help things get going, I went to Countess Wear and ambled slowly [too hot for anything else] down to the Old Sludge Beds and back. If you've read [Famous Devon Dragonflyer*]'s recent report and felt despondent, think again, as there are plenty of odonata to go around now! Not a huge variety of dragons - I got Emperors and Black-taileds, plus a surprise Southern Hawker - but a whole heap of damselflies. 7 species today, with the first Small Red-eyed being about - though fun to pick from the mass of Large Red-eyed. I found two White-legged Damselflies and two Banded Demoiselles [wow, huge numbers there.. ;) ] among the mass of Azure and Blue-tailed, too. Azure was most common, with Large Red-eyed narrowly beating Blue-tailed into third.

Birds of note were a couple of adult LBBs, which repeatedly tried diving for fish in the canal, to no success that I saw. Having done well with the insects, I decided to try to improve the birds by heading over to Matford - maybe there would be a nice Green Sand? No chance; circling the marsh to get views of all the bits of exposed mud through the thick greenery, I only found one wader... a Wood.  :D Worth getting hot under the collar for.. ;)




[[*Apologies for that one.]]

I'm Sorry! I'm Sorry! I'm Sorry!


I'll never blabble on about seawatching again, just please turn the heat down.....




Monday, 23 July 2012

And Now He's Singing!?!?!!


"Sun is shining in the sky
There ain't a cloud in sight
[FURTHER CONTENT CENSORED]


[[This blog has been edited by Order to protect Public Mental Health]]


Ahem.

Yes, well... It's true. And very very hot. Blech... Nope, no pleasing some people, is there? Certainly not those who have to work in factories full of great big 'ot machines, anyway. Ok, ok, stop whining..

Having gotten much stuff done on Friday, I went gallivanting off having fun on the weekend, instead! :) I got to a couple of places I really should have been to earlier, but have never previously gotten around to actually doing so.

Ye Gods and Little Fried Fishes, it really is hot.. Oh, work's going to be fun. [Stop moaning!]

Ahem, yes, right..
So, on Saturday I went over to Bystock Reserve - usually described as being near Exmouth, which it is, but it's off the Budleigh road. It was much much bigger and better than I expected! There's an actual car park now - not just the layby on the fishery road - which is on the Frying Pans road, if you know what I mean. The reservoir is very ornamental, with great big lilies, carp, and terrapins [tut]. Also still at least one Downy Emerald, though much harder to get a good look at than at Little Bradley, due to the size of the place. Its a very good reserve, with the big pond at the bottom, then heath with two smaller ponds and finally woods and a lovely flower meadow. Colour me impressed. The little ponds had a naughty male Keeled Skimmer, which as seems to be usual for this species posed just where I couldn't photo him easily... Small Red Damselflies were much more obliging, and I might even get a shot that works, we shall have to see.

Big boss Emperors patrolled all the water bodies, joined sporadically by Southern and Common Hawkers, while the usual commoner damselflies kept lower profiles [and I don't blame them!]. There were a lot of butterflies on the wing too, on this warm sunny day - high cloud built up later on, but did nothing to cool proceedings. I spent a lot of time wandering the woods looking for a better viws of a White Admiral, with no luck at all, but I did get somewhen I switched to the lovely meadow. Firstly a Marbled White came by - even I could recognise that one! - then, while I was following a Cinnabar Moth, I stumbled across a skipper! Trouble is, I'm not sure which one it was.. having consulted my Big White Tome Of All Knowledge, its either a Small Skipper or an Essex Skipper, but they're almost identical! I didn't know you have to crawl up to them and look at the underside of the antennae... Not that this one would have let me, but still. So, anyone who knows more about butterflies than me - ie. all of you - which one do you get at Bystock??

Getting to the birds.. Juvenile Moorhens trying to walk on lilypads like Jacanas were hilarious.. ;) Juvenile Long-tailed Tits were adorable and a family of Bullfinches.. :D The Green Woodpeckers also seem to have done well. All in all it was a really good trip and I shall have to make the effort to get over there more often.

On my way back I stopped off at Exminster Marsh to see about a Scarce Chaser - but with the wind having picked up I had no joy. There were a fair few Blackwit hanging around, though. When they were all put up I got to count 180 of them!

Later I went back out to Ideford Common for the Nightjars. I normally go earlier in the year, but the weather's been against me. I was treated to a very nice displaying male, with plenty of churring, but no gratuitous extravaganza such as I experienced on my first visit there. It was nice, don't get me wrong, despite the constant noise from the A380 and the stream of fucking chinese lanterns going past...

Right then. Yesterday was a Moor day with the Folks. We went to Bellever and from there over to Powder Mills and back. Quiet on the bird front, as you'd expect, but plenty of Golden-ringed and Common Hawkers, plus Large Red Damsels, what looked like a Small Red [but again got away from me - what is it with these little gits?] and my first darter of the year - a Black! Never had Black before Common before.

Powder Mills is more than just interesting industrial archaeology, its a very nice little spot full stop. While there were hordes wandering Bellever, it was very quiet - aside from litterbug DofE kids following the Lich Way [sigh]. The buildings are in pretty good nick - not surprising, seeing as they were built to take unfortunate accidents and of course made of granite - with a few still in use, as a pottery and an adventure centre, I believe.

You do [if you don't park at the pottery] have to cross some interesting ground to get there, with even the prepared route of the Lich Way [Mk 2, as the original route has been moved to protect a bog full of rare plants] being home to some dodgy ground. This Father found out the hard way; he tried to follow Tilbury over a muddy bit and sank horribly.. We tried not to laugh. Too hard. :) At least it was fairly firm peat mud rather than a proper watery hole, so he was able to shake much of it off... LBD herself also found a proper mud hole, which she sank into like a little black hippo, but she was quite happy to dive into the Cherry Brook and wash it off.

We then went back over the road to Bellever and had a wander over to Kraps Ring, at the north end, where I met the first Horsefly of the year.. Fortunately it settled on my shirt, which is one of those fancy insect-repellent jobs. To my joy this did its job, as the Cleg not only failed to bite me, but flew off and didn't come back! Yes!

This afternoon, just before I started writing, a kettle of 49 adult and 5 juvenile Herring Gulls, plus a Crow and two Jackdaws, were feeding on flying ants just over there. ::Points:: Not seen Jackdaws doing that before. The Swifts seem to have already filled up by the time I noticed the activity. [They are still here]

Just checked and they're all gone - must have been the tail end of it.



Friday, 20 July 2012

Seawatching! IV - Straight To DVD


Run! Run while you can! Aaaarrrgh........


Ahem.

In the first part of my pointless blabble about seawatching, I went on about the why's and the where's. Now that the weather seems to be turning back to 'proper' summer [ie. rubbish for seawatching], I might as well carry on..

The kit you take is pretty much common sense; you're going to be sitting [or even standing] around for hours in the wind and rain, staring at birds which may well be going past a kilometre or more away.
So;
Optics - a scope is pretty much vital. This needs to be at least protected against the wet, ideally fully waterproof, with a good sun-shield - now a spray shield. I also keep a UV filter on the objective, which not only protects said objective from the salt and sand [yes, all sea spray has tiny sand grains in - beware!] but also makes it easier on the eye to look at the sea. How so? Glare, even on an overcast day, gives you 'tired eyes' [or rather, 'eye'] a UV filter makes a difference. The better the filter, the less light you lose. In areas with lots of sunshine, some people advocate using a plane-polarising filter, which seems like a good idea, but they cost a fortune...
Most seawatchers around here use a straight scope - many resting bins on the top as sighters [a nice idea, mine won't fit, though...] - as its easier on the neck and the eyepiece is less vulnerable to getting rained up. Eyepieces vary - there are fixed and zoom officianados. I prefer the latter unless visibility is in the tank - to me scanning at 25x then having 75x waiting if I get something distant [or close and gorgeous!] to ID seems a good idea. Many though, prefer a fix at somewhere from 30x to 40x. It does depend on the site; at Hope's Nose, if you want a big shear [ho ho...] you can ID, you'll need a lot of mag as they've never come closer than about a mile...
Bins too, where 10x has a notable advantage over 8x, and again make sure they're waterproof!
A tripod that can stand up to strong gusty winds is vital - heavy ones [with or without added weights] are not always [though again site specific] necessary, as if you set up properly braced and as low as you can, you're usually ok. Still, best to make sure your scope can take a tumble - mine has foam and duct tape padding, just in case!

Being low is also advisable as an aid against the wind, keeping out of it is very important - a brolly can keep you dry, but not if its been blown into the sea!* Also, scope shake from the wind can be a right pain. Every site is different, and the wind will shift, so nothing more specific can I say.

As well as the handy bumbleshoot, waterproofs, including trousers and footwear, are a definite must [unless sunny seawatching, of course!]. You will get colder than you think - even in summer, rain will drop the temperature, there's windchill too, and sitting for hours makes you cold, so be prepared. Also don't forget your skin - rain and sun and seaspray will do you no favours. I always use sunscreen; the top Ambre Solaire** gives not only full UV protection but also has fancy things to protect your skin. In winter I mix it with some Norwegian Formula** hand goo to give extra protection to my hands and face. But I'm a vampire naturally pale and burn easily, so maybe you'll be fine? Or you could grow a big beard... ;)

Something to sit on also helps! Some sites have natural seating - there's a bit at Berry, for example - but even then, rocks are cold, hard and wet. Various foam things are available from outdoor shops and pack easily into a rucksack. Or you could take a folding chair, or a stool, or even one of the increasingly-popular chair bags - a rucksack with folding chair as part of the frame [from fishing tackle shops]. In your bag a flask of something hot is advisable - keeps your core temperature up - and rations won't hurt either. It has been mooted on more than one watch that someone taking a portable barbeque and plenty of scram would make a killing at many sites [though using anything that burns holes in the ground at a SSSI is illegal and I believe the fine is £20,000***. Food for thought..] One of those big ones on wheels - you'd need the cover - and a sign saying all sales will include a donation to charity?

Ok, back on track.


I think that's all the kit for starters.. If you get into counting what's passing - not recommended at first, on a good day you'll be amazed, just drink in the spectacle! - then tally counters are quite useful little things. Expensive ones from stationers, cheaper ones from farm stores. A camera will need water protection and to be set up for long range low light hand-held... It can be done, [Famous Devon Birder] has taken some wonderful shots at Berry Head, for example.

As to working out what's going past.. This is the really fun bit. Books help - the Black Book has some lovely plates - Killian Mullarney knows his stuff, after all! The pages on shearwaters and storm petrels, all shown together, are wonderful. A more specialist book is 'Flight ID of European Seabirds' by Blomdahl, Briefe and Holmstrom - a very good work with lots of advice for seawatchers as well as brilliant bird identification. The two 'world seabird' books I find to be a bit disappointing; one's plates are too dark, the other's too washed-out.

In the field, you will need practice! Its very different to anything else, with birds going past at different ranges and speeds, often coming in and out of sight for seconds at a time. the first time you go to a major site on a big day you will be overwhelmed! I advise persistence [[Didn't see that coming, did you? ;) ]] - at first just concentrate on watching the birds. Don't hope to ID everything, don't even bother trying to count! Get used to them, then work on the standards. Getting on and identifying your first Manxie may not sound fancy to some, but to me it was a big moment. Like all birding, once you become familiar with the 'ordinary jobs', their variation in both shape, plumage and flight action - because they do! - the extraordinary ones [if they show up] will start to stand out.

Watching with a crowd can be very helpful and also overwhelming, frustrating and, well,  a bit intimidating, but sitting next to someone who knows their stuff and [as is almost always the case] is happy to help you, will teach you a lot very quickly. The tricky business of calling directions is a subject for a post on its own - its the edge of the sword of solo vs group. Groups see more, but then there's getting on what someone's seen or getting them on what you've seen. At least on your own you don't know what you just missed [until you get home and see 'Fea's Petrel at...']. There's a lot that isn't in the books, that you might work out on your own, but that someone like [Famous Devon Birder] can impart merely by example. [[Or by teasing you with Pom Skuas...]]

Finally [stop cheering!], I think its a very worthwhile form of birding. It is to me a very pure one, as you are in no way disturbing the birds doing what they do naturally - all those 'contact calls' are actually the birds going "Oh shit it's a human!", after all - behaving as normally as is possible [trawlers - though I suppose its the same as following feeding megafauna?]. Also you can seawatch whatever the weather, unlike almost anything else. Yes, you might not see much, but just today I saw a flock of about 25 Common Scoter go past north from Babbacombe Downs. I say about as I only had bins on me and they were well out. And counting Scoters, especially Commons, is a fun pastime in itself. Encourages patience. Also a Gannet south and at least 4 juvie Herring Gulls flapping about.

Where was I? Oh yes.. Seawatching. Its fun. Try it, you might even like it.




And there is an albatross out there... ;)





[[*I've lost 3 so far...]]
[[**Shameless product placement - but they both are fragrance free and don't stain, unlike say Soltan! :(  Yes, I name and shame as well as plug!]]
[[*** Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 incorporated into the CROW Act - something like 'reckless or deliberate damage, disturbance, or destruction of a SSSI'. I've yet to catch someone in the act with a barbeque at Hope's Nose, but if I do the look on their faces will be amusing; "How much?!?"]]

Monday, 16 July 2012

Seawatching! III - 'Always Read The Small Print' OR 'Fire Your Agents'


Kidding!

No seawatching nonsense this time, worry not.

Instead this weekend, with it actually not raining and almost being warm on occasion, I took a couple of wanders inland. Land, land, it seems so odd to not be looking at water...

Anyways, on Saturday it was Mamhead on the Haldon Ridge, which was nice and everything looked all green and healthy. Well, what hadn't been blown away, that is. Birds were reassuringly quiet, with a Tripit being upstaged only by a Willow Warbler rapidly acquiring a billful of insects - good that it still had surviving young to feed, though the lateness would suggest they come after a previous failure.

Yesterday, Fernworthy was also very green - the plants sheltered from the wind were clearly enjoying themselves. We kept away from the reservoir - the north shore is verging on the submerged and you really need wellies now if not waders - instead wandering some of the vast tracts of the plantation. I've burbled on before about Fernworthy and it's trees - this is not some dreary monoculture by any measure, with plenty of deciduous near the water and an impressive array of needle jobs, especially in the valleys. And Fernworthy has valleys, oh yes, with some proper full-size conifers such as you won't see outside of serious collections.

Birdwise, there was a surprise - not one Crossbill! I can't remember the last time I didn't even hear one there.. Odd. We were treated to lovely views of an adult Green Woodpecker feeding a juvenile and Coal Tits and Chaffinches in particular seem to have done well. Briefly popping outside the enclosure, a hawker dragonfly sp. was probably a Common, but in the brisk wind it stayed too low and skulky in gorse to get a good look at it. At a more sheltered spot back inside, Wall, Meadow Brown and a lovely Ringlet butterflies were more obliging. Well, the Ringlet was great but the Walls kept doing that annoying sitting edge-on routine..

We also found a fair few deer slots. Not all Roe, either, with a very fresh set measuring a hefty 7cm in length. While very crisp, the slots weren't super-fresh though - as a certain LBD didn't go utterly ballistic [She really likes deer - they smell good and run much faster than sheep...] - probably earlier in the morning. Changing tack to plants again, the Foxgloves are really at their peak up there, filling every open space, but the Bilberries are well behind. The grasses also are flowering for all their worth, making for a gorgeous display of rippling silver in the wind.

Ah, the Joy of the Moor.

Right then, back to work. Happy happy times for us all....




Friday, 13 July 2012

Seawatching! II - The Sequel


In which I do not go prattling on about seawatching but instead recount how I've actually gotten off my arse and done some.

Shock!

Horror!


Trying to predict the weather when you can't trust the liars Met Office... Well, there are assorted weather websites, which sometimes agree, but never give you exactly what you want. The tried and tested 'Just look out the sodding window' method seems the most reliable, it has to be said. Oh well.

I need to edit more when I've not slept since yesterday.

But to finally get to it... Patches of blue sky had me not rushing out this morning, finally turning up at Hope's Nose and getting set for an horrifically late 0950. Yes, that's two frickin' hours later than it could have been. More, and I mean a lot more blue sky had me packing up at 1420. Between the two I didn't do too badly and even got rained on!

My very first sweep netted an impressive 124 Manxies - visions of 2000+ started running through my mind, I admit - then a superb dark morph Arctic Skua came and had a look at the Ore Stone, to the consternation of assorted auks and gulls. All this before 1000, now where's the big shear??
Naturally things then went downhill. Hour one gave 295 Manx past south, but after 5 1/2 hours the final score was 385 south plus 77 north. Yeah.

Very stop-start passage, with odd numbers and odd birds. Star birds were two Ruff - Patch Tick! - which came by at 1135, their white v's showing up nicely as they motored straight on across the bay. Another dark morph Arctic Skua came south, this one a real beast of a bird; if I'd only seen it side-on I'd have called it a Pom, it was huge! Lack of double flashes and the characteristic Arctic wing structure told the truth about it, though. No Puffins or Black Guillemots [ ;) ] and it seemed no Balearics, either, but then 4 came along in 5 minutes after midday. Weird.

First independent juvenile gull of the year was a Yellow-leg, beating a Herring by about 40 minutes. Reading that back, it seems much less funny than I found it at the time. [Yes, I did chide the Herring on it's tardiness, pointing out how far the Yellow-legged Gull had flown while it was sitting about on someone's roof.. Dear, oh dear...]. A pair of Common Scoter put in an appearance and that's about it. A mighty total of 95 Gannets, split 2:1 in favour of going south and an even more impressive 33 Kittiwakes [no juvs] - they 10:1 the same way round things out. Three whole Fulmars finish up the passage.

On shore there was some excitement as a Turnstone showed up, albeit very briefly before heading bay-wards. Not in b/p and I didn't get a good enough look to see if it was a juv. What definitely was a juv. was the adorable little Rockit which kept me company the whole time I was there... so cute!


Time for a few cliches..
Better than I expected. Should have got there earlier. Its a funny old game. You never know what will fly past.

There were some stretches of absolutely bugger all, when I found myself looking at some very pretty but annoyingly distant yachts [Speaking of, did you see that one that did the Wight race? 'Eleonora' - hell of a name for one hell of a boat... ::Drools shamelessly:: ]. No, no more cliches. I'll save that for the next one!



[[Run while you can...]]




[*This is the sequel, after all]

Monday, 9 July 2012

Seawatching!


Apologies for the delay, but we have been experiencing a few technical issues here...

So I threatened to rant on about said I'd burble on the subject of seawatching, seeing as it seems this is all the birding anyone's going to be doing for a while..

::Waves at the jet stream::  Hi there.

Ahem.

Why am I / was I not out there? Work. Saturday I got back feeling pretty wrecked and just couldn't summon the energy. To go sit on my arse. Yeah, well... ::Looks suitably embarrassed::
Yesterday I went for a wander around Yarner, which was mostly an exercise in listening to birds, as you might expect. I did see an interesting butterfly - big and dark if not black, high up in the canopy by the car park - I don't know if you get White Admirals there, but if you do I think it probably was one.. :)  Star bird I actually got eyes on was a juvenile Goldcrest - adorable!

Right then. Seawatching... Its not the weirdest form of birding. I challenge anyone to beat larophilia on that account. Especially those true devotees who hang around rubbish dumps. But seawatching still isn't for those of a sane delicate disposition - sitting or indeed standing around for hours in the wind and rain is a test of stamina, dedication, and the immune system..
So why do it? Well, the trite but true answer is of course The Birds. Sea birds in the definitive, who come to land only to breed and then usually at night. Or on islands on the other side of the world. You can see them only by seawatching or getting on a boat, and I've always been a believer in letting the birds come to you if at all possible.

Seriously, watching a seabird passage is one of the great experiences of birding. The first time you see Manx Shearwaters going past at anything like close range, you will be moved. The way they fly, sailing the sky; watch the sailing at the Olympics and imagine that in three dimensions, sped up like you wouldn't believe. Grace, agility, speed, and all that into a howling gale. Then just wait 'til you see a Sooty.. :D  You can see seabirds from pelagics, but then the weather is calm [or calmish..] and while you can get amazingly close views [albeit going up and down and often round and round], they're after the chum at best, or just passing casually. You don't get to see what they are really capable of.

EDIT: Having since been given Flood & Fisher and seen some actual pelagic footage, I wish to moderate my position on pelagics. I still believe the stable scopeable viewing platform of land to be beneficial, though.

Living in the vicinity of a seawatching hotspot is quite helpful for a seawatcher. Really, though, you only need the sea. There's always something out there. This may be a few Herring Gulls and the odd Shag, but still something.. Location and weather. The two go together. Like blogging and bad rhymes.
Get to the sea, find a bit that sticks out, preferably near to deeper water, that will give some shelter when nasty weather rolls in. This means looking at maps, thinking about what happens when one of those frontal systems* passes through. Which way will the wind blow, where will the birds go, [[will he ever stop that rhyming nonsense..]]. You can get very technical, tracking complex frontal systems, or you can keep it very simple; if the wind is blowing and doing so in the onshore half of the compass, and if there is restricted visibility, you will be in business. Or if a storm's just gone by, for that matter. Or not - if the sun is shining and the sea is calm, you might not get many shearwaters, but there's always a chance of a cetacean?

I am lucky, living where I do, having a headland on my frickin' Patch. It may not be Porthgwarra, but Hope's Nose isn't too shabby and is certainly the only thing I've got on the Backwater. [[Ok, censored too, but apart from them..]] The classic seawatching spot needs three things; 1 somewhere birds are going to be - be it a migration route or [ideally] a feeding ground - from there passing weather systems can move the birds into; 2 a catchment area - say a bay - where birds are trapped against the coast and have to funnel out past; 3 a headland to get you out to where the birds are passing.

On a macro scale, south Devon has the Western Approaches and the Channel for one and two [as does the whole south coast]. On a smaller scale, Lyme Bay quite neatly combines the two, it for example being recently discovered to be a major feeding ground for Balearic Shearwaters. For three, well there are plenty of headlands sticking out of the coast - old hard rocks - after the Nose you have Berry Head, Sharkham Point, Scabbacombe Head, Froward Point, Start Point, Peartree Point, Prawle Point, and Bolt Head. The more famous, the better they are to watch from.

A quick summary;
Hope's Nose has an on-site in view auk colony, it's own built-in chumming when it rains hard, [and thus some very close storm petrels] and is better in a more westerly wind than Berry [sometimes]. However, it is dodgy to downright dangerous to access, being exposed and murderously slippery, and in a SE has maybe 2 or at most 3 spots with any shelter and a view. In a wind west of south, there are natural rock steps enabling a lot more to sit.
Berry Head is duly famous, is the best spot in Devon for big shears, and has trawlers coming in to Brixham to drag in all kinds of birds, from Sabine's to Great Shearwater. You do have to walk a way and the swirling wind will always threaten your brolly. Even then, it is the easiest spot on the coast.
Sharkham is close to Berry, being a little further in, but more exposed for watching - under-used, I've only been there once.
Scabbacombe is even more exposed, is better for fair-weather watching, but is placed to gives views of both the deep water off Berry and Start Bay to the south.
Froward Point is more tucked in again, but has a great view of Start Bay and boasts the only seawatching hides on the coast - two WWII searchlight positions.
Start Point is in an excellent spot - though apparently quite exposed to rough weather, but it is the property of Trinity House and so is off-limits unless you can get their permission.
Peartree Point is.. well, its pretty much wave-height, almost no shelter, but I did get a very close Cory's there once and it is public access with a car park close by. Also close seals in good weather.
Prawle Point is again duly famous, though a long twisty drive to get to and a case of hiding amongst the rocks. In fine weather its very good for cetaceans.
Bolt Head is further around and suffers from the tucked in syndrome. It is also a bit high, but if you're coming from the west its easier to get to. Again underwatched.

Further west - wind in the southern half? 'gwarra. Northern half? Pendeen. 'Nuff said.
To the east, Portland Bill has a big car park right there, with some shelter [the obelisk if you're hard core, the lighthouse if you're not] - there are rock steps on both sides to use and though you are low down, the position gives you a fair shot. Some birds, especially skuas, will just cut north of Portland altogether and can be seen skimming over the end of Chesil Beach...



Ok, that's 'Why The Hell Is He Writing This?!?'  Seawatching! part one. Part two will follow....



[*Reading synoptic charts - these days, finding synoptic charts - is one of the unsung arts of birding.]

Monday, 2 July 2012

Bright and Breezy. Well, Sort Of..


Weekend, no blogging, oops..

It's been pretty quiet, to tell the truth. I've been prowling around the Patch [having not done much of that for a while] seeing nowt to report about, really. The only bloggable stuff was on Friday.

Got in from work, it was all wet and windy. Nice strong gusty wind blowing manky rain - perfect! I grab a bite to eat, tool up and head for the Nose. When I get there there are white clouds around the horizon and blazing blue sky everywhere else! WTF!!??!!

Yes, the wind is still blowing, but the visibility is almost to Beer Head - not good. I say some very rude things about the Met Office - their parentage and general competence are called into some detailed question, among other things - but as I'm there I figure I'll still watch something, even if its only the auks on the Ore Stone.

The Goddess of Birding, She tests us. The clouds at least, came back. There were birds. Not many, mind.. In 5 hours [I had the big flask - as it seemed good and the weather liars forecasters agreed] there passed south 202 Gannets, 40 Manxies, 20 Kitts, and 12 Fulmars. A few of all went north.

So much for the standards. Odds and ends? A bit better. The [pretty much expected] Balearic, 2 Arctic Skuas, 13 C. Scoters, 2 Little Egrets, a Curlew, 4 Med Gulls and 4 Puffins went south, while a lone Common Tern went north. Not too shabby, I think. There was also the first fun gull of the season...

WARNING.
Those of a delicate disposition should stop reading now.

What can I say? Definitely a 2cy, certainly big and bulky. Catches the eye by its very pale head on the deck and all dark tail in flight. Yes, the tail coverts were heavily barred. Interested? I was. I've spent much time consulting the Big White Book of Sanity-Blasting Horror*, among others. Not a classic individual, but close enough to have me prowling around the rest of the weekend looking for it. No joy, of course - the big gulls are thin on the ground right now, what with all the breeding and so on. But worth looking out for, I think. As for an ID.. HAHAHAHAHA..... Yeah, but seriously, it didn't have the classic Glonk bill [though some don't, apparently] and thus could be - and probably therefore is - a most despicable Herring [[Ie. a bird of mixed genetics, like 99% of large gulls. Tell me I'm wrong.]]. But it might not be, so heads up..



[[*Malling Olsen & Larsson, naturally]]