30 January, 2011

Oh no...

You know, there are times when you experience such acute embarrassment that you just want to vanish into a handily adjacent parallel dimension. One such event happened to me today, but more of that later.

Yesterday, when not staring out the window wondering how they hell they all knew which weekend it was, I took a stroll around a rather, er, cold Mamhead with the folks and Tilda Swindog. If it hadn't been for a ridiculously cool Treeeecreeeper near the Obelix there wouldn't have been much of a bird report at all [not entirely surprising]. Treeeecreeeeper was a Star, though, "Mad barking dogs? What mad barking dogs?" etc... It wasn't an entirely solo effort, though as we did have a couple of very nice sightings before the 'creeper; Roe Deer. Oh, but Tilly was over the moon. She really likes deer. When two does ran across the track behind us, only a very well-placed and snaggy tree stump saved my Mum and I from getting high-speed extendo-lead to the backs of our legs [That lead goes through vegetation like a strimmer..]. Then a buck was just stood behind a tree, cool as you like, about 50' from us. My Dad's getting very good at dog-wrangling..

Today a proper Day Out on't Moor! Well, a proper day out around Fernworthy anyway! Not as much ice as last year [at one point there was a glacier on the road, I kid ye not; park 2km short and walk...], though the ground was nicely frozen. Just a little ice in the shadow of the dam, though lots of nice natural ice sculptures around. A day of blue skies and warm sun, with a light but toothy wind; glorious! As well as the traditional circuit of the reservoir we also took a wander through the trees; much quieter :) There are some wonderful trees at Fernworthy; its a big wood, so it really deserves to have them - proper mature conifers of a lot more than one species, thankyou very much - look along the valleys for the best ones. There's also some nice archaeology there, if you're interested [[And on the subject, next Sunday afternoon on C4 is apparently when Time Team is showing their dig at Tottiford - yes that's why it was drained last year - should be interesting! ]]. Fernworthy rocks. Especially in winter.

We went by most of my favourite bits and were rewarded handsomely with crippling views of Crossbills! Special thanks to the 2 adult males, female and two fresh juveniles which came halfway down a conifer to pose for us on the short bare stubby branches. They just sat there, looking around now and then.. I couldn't believe my eyes. Close enough to see all the details of bill morphology with bins... The other Fernworthy specials were less obliging, with a single flyover Redpoll [in the company of a single Siskin, which was a nice comparison] and Siskins mostly staying up high or flying over [and not singing]. Even the Goldcrests were feeling shy. I'm not bothered; those Crossbills [at least 20 in small groups] more than made up for it. We also met two more Roe Deer, but Tilly was staring the other way and missed them! Poor thing, about 10 seconds after they vanished she must have caught their scent as her head snapped 'round and she was frantically looking in a "What did I miss?!?!??" way..

Having finished the loop early, we kept going past the car park and had coffee in the hide, hoping maybe a nice Goosander might fly in. No such luck. 5 Herrings, 6 BHG, singles of Tufty, Coot, Grey Heron and Cormorant, plus 5 Teal lurking in the far side tussocks were all that was on offer. The sound of someone approaching sent Atilly into Hun mode [she thinks everywhere she gets fed is home, the mad thing], so I went out to apologise, only to discover it was [Famous Devon Birder]. Oh the shame...

Mostly it was a very nice day indeed.

28 January, 2011

Dogged Persistence

Or perhaps that should be blind stubbornness had me making another attempt to Find That Gull today, with again no joy. At one point a neat 100 Herring Gulls on the pontoon was nice [41 adult to 59 immature], as was a 1w LBB looking small dark and nervous among the throng. Moving to Princess Pier, I had a promising start with a Red-throated Diver flying into the Bay from the north and heading towards Broadsands, but though the view of big waves lit by beams of sunlight was very spectacular, there wasn't much doing bird-wise. Only 8 GC Grebes on the impressively rolling swell [white water could be seen breaking a good ten feet above the roof of the blockhouse at Berry Head, so nobody fishing there today..] and a marked reduction in non-Herring Gulls, with only 30 or so BHGs and no Med or Commons. Most of the Black 'eads were standing around gloomily on Torre Abbey [water] Meadow, accompanied by some equally brassed-off looking Herrings and no less than 30 Jackdaw. Torre Abbey is a good spot for Jackdaw, but even for there that's a good number.

I had a more thorough look for Blackstart around Rock Walk [or whatever it is the council calls it now] and failed, though I did discover there were actually 2 male Blackcaps, which was interesting [and may explain the absence of Blackstarts. {Well, that or my incompetence..}] and makes a full 10 wintering on my Patch. Also of note was the 1w Razorbill fishing in the inner Harbour - dodging the Geebs and Herrings to do so! There are a fair few small fish hanging around in there, but having all those hungry eyes watching you, just ready to attack means that must have been one hungry or hardcore auk.

27 January, 2011

Good Snow

It stayed up in the air, where it can't cause trouble...

Today I went back to have a look for That Gull. Unsurprisingly, despite hours of searching I couldn't find the little git. 'Gull sp.' it is, then. ::Mutter mutter::

I did see lots of gulls, some of which were very nice indeed! Well, two were lovely and one was probably very good too, though as for the rest.. Oh dear, shall I just get on with it? Having mentioned the probable Y-l with the dark alula, there were promptly three, yes three Herrings on the pontoon showing the same thing. ::Mutters Ancient Devonian Swear-words:: The proper one was there too, and later popped up at Torre Abbey, messing around in the surf as the tide dropped and looking better and better. :) There was no sign of crazy-legs crane gull or the big dark one, either.

Some idea of the gull cycling that goes on on that little pontoon; first look had 37 Herrings and a Geeb, plus Y-l. I moved around to the next side and there were 51 gulls. After my next move 67. After I had a look from Haldon Pier and came back there were 70 gulls including now 2 Geebs and the ratio of adult to immature Herrings had gone from 40:60 to 70:30 The highest count of Herrings in the Harbour as a whole I got was 120, when something put them all up; how much throughput there is from surrounding areas I can't begin to guess, but I doubt it's zero. GBB minimum count was 11, btw - there's usually a few around, but rarely the numbers you get at Brixham or near their colonies.

Getting back to an account of sorts.. It was overcast, cold, trying to snow now and again, and the wind was very lazy. Just nice for standing around staring at gulls and stuff on the sea. I did try to vary it with looking for the Blackstart that often winters around Rock Walk, but only found a Blackcap! Other gulls of interest were about 200 BHGs; split between sitting in a bunch by Princess Pier, sitting on the rocks at Corbyn's [when the tide had dropped] and messing about at Livermead. The group by the Pier was easily the best as they had with them a superb adult Med Gull! :D Very nearly in full s/pl, it really put the brown 'eads to shame. Further out, a clump of 32 Common Gulls were nice to see, and briefly on Torre Abbey beach late on was a cracking adult LBB showing characteristics of intermedius. I say briefly as a frickin' dog walker detoured to be sure to flush it and the other gulls well out into the Bay... [[Yup, yet more Ancient Devonian Swear-words were uttered...]] I had been hoping for a Little Gull frolicking above the surf, but only got 9 surfers and 3 punt-surfers instead.. Oh well, it was more a hope than an expectation.

More enjoyment came after counting the Commons from the lee of the ticket booth; a lone Mallard had been swimming up and down beside Princess Pier and Gardens and I was looking down at it when suddenly up popped a frickin' Black-necked Grebe - right next to the Pier and maybe 20' from my astonished eyes! It proceeded to fish it's way along the Pier side, at one point catching a small flatfish, with me only stopping watching when I saw what else was close by.. Great Northern. [[Could this be what flew into the Bay yesterday?]] After legging it along Princess Pier to get closer, I plonked down on one of the nice benches, feet up on the rail drinking it in as it preened and gradually drifted further out. The diver was an immature [2nd or 3rd winter], holding up one of those very pale bills that annoy the Irish.. ;) [[To be honest, I don't pay super levels of attention to GND bills - if they're nice and daggery that'll usually do - and without [{In}Famous Irish Birder]'s recent comments and blog entries I'd have probably let it slide altogether as natural variation..]] [[Isn't the internet a wonderful thing?]]

Also on the sea were 17 GC Grebe and 2 Slavonian [these sat quite close in, with a single GC], plus 2 adult Razorbill on the sea and 2 1w preening inside the outer Harbour, as well as the usual plethora of Shags and Cormorants. Three Turnstone and three Rockit were around the Harbour [the former circling an angler, hoping for bait] and 4 Oyks around Corbyn's Head. The rugby pitch had 61 Redwing and a Mistle Thrush, with the newly-scrubbed 'ponds' having 37 assorted Mallard and a handful of Moorhen.

Swinging past the Downs, I was a little surprised to see 35 GC Grebe riding the big swell off Blackball - normally with weather coming onshore there's nowt there.

PYL: 85

26 January, 2011

Resuming Regular Service

By talking a load of stuff and nonsense, blathering on about rubbish and generally doing my utmost to make you fall asleep on your keyboards...

Yes, it's gull time!


Oh, but I had some fun with them today and no mistake. A little scene-setting / background, perhaps? Torquay Harbour is no Backwater; there's not a dense mass of hundreds of large and lumpy larids to sort through at scope range with a hidden countdown to the next flush keeping you under pressure.. The pontoon that's been set up for them [and they are the only things that use it] may have as few as a half dozen gulls, or at most couple of score, which isn't much at all, really. What it does have is a surprising turnover and the ability to be viewed from 3 sides [useful as they always try to hide or point at you and there's usually glare too]. Mostly you get a motley assortment of Herrings and a Geeb or two [plus Shags, Moorhens, Pied Wags and the odd Cormorant for company]. LBBs pop in now and again, as does the odd brave BHG. Yellow-leg is possible, but I've never seen a Common or Med there.[[::Engage Ahab Mode:: One day I will find a Caspian.]]

If you want lots of gulls, wander over to Torre Abbey Sands, where either on the sea wall at high tide or on the rocks at low tide you'll find three figures fairly reliably. Nip over Corbyn's Head and at Livermead you have a shot at Med Gull [plus possibly Little Gull if it's rough, though you can get very wet if the tide's right up...]. Keep going and the rocks at Hollicombe have even more, though not so easy to see close up, keep going again and you'll be in Paignton and serve you right. ;) The Harbour gulls have the advantage of being somewhere you can interrogate them thoroughly, without range, angle and dog walkers spoiling the fun.

The vast and infinite variety of manky 1w Herring Gulls [and 2w too, for that matter] never ceases to amaze, and it's very easy to dismiss everything you see as such. Also pretty accurate, of course. :) There's always at least one that catches the eye and demands a closer look, even if it's just to go "Oh yes, what nice tertials you have, but just look at the rest of you.." Today there were no less than 4 interesting 1w gulls to wander back and forth around the Harbour for. One was one of those big dark argentatus-type birds that caused some interest online a little while back - probably the same bird has been present on and off since last year. Another was the YL candidate with the dark alula [they stick out], still looking good but not perfect.
Now we get to the fun ones; first up was the stiltiest gull I ever have seen! [[Yes, even more than the Infamous Gull Sp. of 2010...]] My word what long legs it had, and a nice Caspian structure generally, what a pity the plumage didn't live up to that promise... It had nice tertials and was pale enough underneath [just about] but oh the coverts, argh the neck, not a single grey replacement above and not a white enough head by any stretch. Definitely some gene-flow at work, but no more than a funny Herring.

Finally, we have one of the rarer occurrences, an actual Whisky Tango.* A dinky thing with the shape of an Iceland Gull; very white head with black bill, a boa of blotchy grey, very pale beneath, very brown coverts [Caspian coverts] with a few replacements of all-grey feathers among lesser and median [these a darker grey than the Herrings - Yellow-leg grey it looked like, maybe even a tad darker, but not as far as LBB], 'black and white' mantle and scaps [near white feathers with dark markings], dark deltas on u/t coverts, Yellow-leg type tail band and uppertail, surprisingly pale underwing with undersides of primaries 'paler than they should be', primaries dark with a pale fringe and legs pink. Neither folded primary nor leg colour stood out from the surrounding Herrings, but everything else did!

[[*From Whisky Tango Foxtrot {India Tango}, to give it the full term. Ie: "What the fuck is that!??!??"]]

The little sod made me seriously consider running home and bringing the Big Scope down, but of course that would have been futile, as it duly flew off. I went after it but it'd headed out into the Bay, so I had a look at said sea, saw 3 GC Grebes and 2 Razorbills, plus a large diver sp. flying in towards Broadsands from the north. Then a Buzzard made the mistake of flying over the Harbour; everything went up to have a go [Buzzards usually make that mistake only once - this was a 1w]. The Buzzard exited stage left, pursued by bear ;) I went back to the pontoon and the Mystery Gull (TM) was back, still in the middle and next to a different gull [[Did I mention it was hiding behind the big dark bugger before, so I had to go around then wait for it to move? No? I got a good look in the end...]]. It only stayed a couple of minutes before once more flying off and I got nothing new on it.

To change the subject a little, I had a look off Blackball late afternoon and despite the howling Nor'easterly I managed to pick out a single GC Grebe on the sea. I'm a little chuffed with that. Even better was the group of 9 [yes 9] Fulmar 7 of which were sat together on the sea and two more flying around over them. Just goes to show that you never can tell what you'll see when you look at the sea.

Right then, I've already been through the Big White Book of Gull-induced Braindeath, but there's always a second try..

25 January, 2011

Orange Mud and Snowy Queries.

I'll skip the 'Oh dear I left it a while again' apology and get on with it, shall I? Much of the weekend was spent hunched over the 'puter, as shall be told later. When not staring at a screen and cursing search engine designers and website updaters, I went on a couple of east side trips with the folks. Yarner was lovely again, with more Treeecreeeper goodness and another meeting with what might have been the same group of Siskin and Redpoll [though with more Siskin this time] near the mine. The Three Reservoirs had some nice birds too, and were for once not that busy [I guess we caught them at a good time on a good day - the car park was pretty full when we arrived]. 7 redhead Goosander and a dozen Cormorant [all carbo] were on Kennick; Trenchford and the starting-to-refill Tottiford were quiet. The woods held some nice tit and 'crest bands, but star birds were the 8 very showy Crossbills near Kennick :D They were feeding in a couple of larches [there are some left, it seems..] and were only the third good look my parents have ever had [not counting flyovers and red and green blobs in distant conifer tops]. An even split of males and females, they were joined for a couple of minutes by of all things a female GSW - which landed next to them and started banging away at the larch cones herself! I've never seen a woodpecker go at cones before, though as they'll visit seed feeders, I suppose there's no reason they wouldn't.

Yesterday I bashed the Patch and finally managed to be behind the Palace when the LTT band was moving through. It still took a bit of work, [dodging speeding cars, mostly] but I was eventually rewarded with a Nuthatch :) Just to ice the cake, a couple of Bullfinches then chose to fly into a nearby treetop. Brilliant. After more diligent job-search-related business [which only caused me to bang my head against a wall a couple of times..] I had a look at the Harbour, where a couple of Rockits and at least 7 Purple Sands were among the boulders [I don't think that it's going to be possible to properly count them - at least without disturbing them - now that the pretty new blue boulders are covered in weed. There are too many places to hide; I think even using a kayak wouldn't get them all.] A calm Bay gave at least 3 GC and 2 BN Grebes in the north part of the Bay, plus a brief glimpse of the LT Duck off Preston [the distinctive colour and silhouette combination make it pickable at a very long distance if you don't have waves in the way {{Yes, a big 'if'}}]. No good gulls, of course.

This morning I went over to Cockington [having waited since last week for the mud to dry out a bit] [you get some impressive mud there, proper Devonshire Red stuff too, a lot of it] [[I'll get on with it now..]]. This is the south-western end of my Patch, somewhere I've been going to since I was teeny tiny small, it's full of history and memories. Also still full of brambles [in the borders and engulfing the apple trees..] and now breeze blocks - as they build all over the back of the Court - and less a lovely mature Lime Tree [another victim of the pogrom]. Hmm. Still, there are woods and ponds and proper fields - the only real farmland on my Patch.

I was hoping for a Coot on a pond, but got 49 Mallard [including assorted, er, assortments..] and 11 Moorhen instead. A Treeeeecreeeeper showed very nicely near the Gamekeeper's Cottage, and a couple of good sized groups of thrushes [mostly Redwing] included 5 Mistle [4 in one small field] but only a couple of Fieldfare. A crop field being strip-grazed held 50-odd mixed buntings, pipits, larks, wagtails and thrushes - viewed in sections as they were disturbed by the farmer moving the electric fence. Not a Patch Yeartick but very welcome were three Bullfinches in a thicket and then a surprise male on the hedge by the Lodge car park. Finally, this afternoon there were 56 GC Grebe and 3 Razorbill off Blackball.

Right then, to what I've been doing when not searching for gainful employment [[or should that be 'Being rejected by..']], looking for, or even at birds and so on. Yes, I'm talking about that goose...

'Known S x B hybrid, with Barnacles on The Fleet, first seen at Lodmoor' was what I had to go on. I've assumed that my Elders and Betters are right and it's the same bird, so all that remains is the question I have to ask; "How do we know it's a hybrid when it looks like a 1w?" There's a very simple answer, of course. The literature says that Snow Geese adopt an adult or near-adult head and body plumage from early November, finishing by February, with bare parts pinking up more slowly - sometimes staying partly dark through into 2w. So if it showed up in say, November, looking like it does now, then case closed, guilty as charged. Maybe it did. Maybe it's been there for years. Or maybe not - if it only arrived this month, or if it arrived earlier and was darker than it is now then how can you rule out a 1w?

So I went a' searching. Lodmoor's RSPB, with a sightings page and everything - surely a nice 'hybrid' would be mentioned.. Nope. Dorset Birds have changed their sightings site to a shiny new blog format which is very nice but has nothing before the 1st of January and no mention of any Snow x Barnacle hybrids. Dorset's mighty bloggers noted the Barnacle flock, but no mention of any tricky hybrids nor did any appear in any of the group shots posted. Looking for a nice hybrid that matched the Curry bird closely enough to say 'yes, they can look that similar so it's not safe to call as pure' would be perhaps an easier route? Yeah, right... Every one of them [mostly American, it has to be said] was definitely odd, with clear plumage and structural abnormalities easily visible to the quality of views I had at Curry Moor. The only productive thing I found was a record shot of [if I remember rightly] a 'juvenile' in Norfolk on 22/1/2002 - this being a white morph it's hard to tell how adult the head and body are, especially from a not great photo, but the bare parts are still dusky.

If I was properly hardcore I'd be back up there with a net cannon to get some DNA [ok, maybe not] - or at least get another look and maybe see something I missed [or maybe even see some more pink.. ;) ]. Being between careers and with the price of petrol, spending possibly several days haring around trying to find it again [You know it won't be where I left it..] isn't a viable option, and as it's been dismissed, nobody's going to find it for me [[Aww, diddums.. I hear you cry]]. It's funny, really. I went there all hopeful, got very negative upon first sight, did research and realised I was wrong, then got told no I wasn't...

What next? Well, I suppose I could do what I should have done from the start; do as I'm told and junk it without question. Or I could say "All the evidence I have points to it being a 1w blue morph Lesser Snow Goose - the only opposing evidence is hearsay*." and then go on with the logical progression. After all, I had to go digging around in Cramp et al to find out about 1w moult timings and why should I assume everyone else has? A seemingly adult Snow Goose with dark bits makes you instantly think hybrid and once someone says so, it sticks.**

[[*Namely: {Famous Somerset Birder} said {Famous Dorset Birder} said it was a known hybrid Snow x Barnacle]]
[[**I know I'm going to look like even more of an idiot than normal if this thing turns up on the Exe next winter looking just the same as it does now, but what the hell...]]

Better yet, I can stop going on about this on my blog and write something that's actually interesting for other people to read!

But why start now? ;)

PYL: 84

21 January, 2011

The Wild Goose Chase?

Apologies for the delay - I didn't mean to leave it so long before posting again [[and no, I wasn't just waiting until I'd done something worthy of a humourous blog title, as opposed to 'Yet More Patch Bashing'...]].

Monday through to Thursday saw the Patch being Bashed in a mighty and vigourous fashion. I tried to cover a lot of ground while keeping an eye on Blackball and the berry bushes. It's been good exercise, and not without results here and there.

Monday was chiefly notable, with the aid of hindsight, as being the last day the male Brambling visited the garden. That I know of. Having been caught out already by this bird seemingly going off with half the Chaffinches before sneaking back [ie. becoming more mobile in the area now that the ground's less frozen].

Tuesday had a good Yellow-leg candidate [1w as almost always] on the Harbour pontoon, Purple Sands on the granite boulders, a 1w Razorbill right in the Harbour mouth [it was preening and I naturally worried about oiling, it being right below me, but couldn't see any on it] and 2 BN Grebe and a large diver sp. [probably GN] out in the Bay.

Wednesday saw me walk down to the bottom of my Patch - Paignton Pier. No good gulls to report, but a couple of very welcome groups out to sea! On the way down I was amazed to see 6 Little Grebe together off Corbyn's Head. I've never seen Little Grebes on the sea and never on my Patch either! The nearest habitat for them is either Clennon Ponds, the Dart or the Teign; I suppose they must have been very thoroughly flushed... By the time I was headed back north I'd seen 3 BN Grebe, 16 GC Grebe, the male C Scoter and 14 Razorbill, plus 17 Turnstone [15 of those at Preston]. Looking out from Preston I got another surprise as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphin were coming in from the east and angling towards Broadsands! I counted 7 for sure [including a calf] and there could easily have been twice that number. Brilliant!

Thursday was a day of bashing the posh bits and getting stares from lots of rich old people. I'm always very cheery and ready with a grin and have not had the police called on me. Yet. ;) I managed to get two Patch Yearticks - Green and GS Woodpeckers, and both on sight. The GSW was a showy male, sitting in a bare tree and kicking for almost 5 minutes at quite close range. Very nice.

Today I went up to Curry Moor in zumerzet, having heard tell of a Lesser Snow Goose and wanting to see one that might actually not be an escaped hybrid thingy like the two dinky ones that winter on the Exe..... I arrived to freezing mist [having left the freezing fog around the border] and then had a nice yomp along the Tone to where the Snow Goose and its Barnacley friends had been seen on Thursday and still were. [[If I'd gone straight there then a) they'd have been somewhere else and b) I'd have been unable to park there anyway. These being The Rules.]] It was a nice healthy walk, with those nice gates you have to climb over even when you open them, but enlivened by Stonechats, winter thrushes [no Duskies, of course..] and a tarty Reed Bunting on a withy stem. :)

Finding the right place, the geese had lots of friends with them; Canadas and Mutes of course, but also Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing and 14 Dunlin. Said Snow Goose was present [[I was expecting it to have gone - the blog title was always going to be what it is]], albeit at the back, but through the Big Scope I got a good look at it. I'd decided to forfeit any pretense at competence in front of the local birders present and taken Duivendijk along - this turned out to be a good thing as the bird was not the nice clean adult I was expecting!

Size compared to the Barnacles was right for Lesser Snow, as was structure [bill size, shape and grinning patch were right] and most of the plumage, but a few bits were troublesome; it had dark spots on the neck, especially the back of its neck; it had a noticeable brownish tinge to its main body feathers; it had dusky legs [though not black]; and it had a mostly dusky bill [though with some pink]. I shamelessly dug Duivendijk out and discovered that all the 'off' plumage features were right for a 1w. The ID Guide also said having white-fringed black tertials ruled out a hybrid [it had them]. Getting home, I've checked The Font of All Wisdom [that'll be BWPi] and it shows that not only is the amount of white variable [video of Blue morphs show birds with much less than the Curry Moor bird], but also that bare parts start dusky in juveniles and go pink over the first winter and sometimes into the first summer, with near-adult plumage being obtained over the first winter also.

Case closed? Maybe not. This evening, it's been suggested on SOS that the bird may be a 'known hybrid Snow x Barnacle', come up from Dorset with a flock of Barnacles that were on The Fleet until recently. I've not seen any photos of this bird, so can't speculate, but I've not seen any pictures of Snow x Barnacle hybrids online that looked like the Curry Bird. Time will tell. Maybe.

Ducks, geese, frickin' gulls... Why can't they just behave?

Anyway, after a much warmer walk back in the now bright sunshine, I went to have a look for the Cranes, but despite having carefully written-down gen, I managed to not find them... Drat.
On to West Sedgemoor for a late lunch. Not been there before; it's dinky! 8 spaces in the car park... What it lacked in space it made up for in birds, though. As soon as I'd switched off the engine a Nuthatch dropped down in front of my car, and there were plenty more in the way of woodland birds coming to the array of feeders. Time was pressing - well, my grumbling stomach was - so I didn't fully explore and decided to forgo the hide in hope of getting my scope on all the ducks and waders the blurb promised..

I found a bench with a view over the moor and, with only Wigeon and Teal [two big blocks] and Lapwing [everywhere] in sight, I set up the scope with the intent to primarily scan for raptors. After finding 4 Buzzards on 4 posts I scanned past a fifth.. wait a minute, that looks odd! Back to it and I realise its got a lot out the back for a Buzz... Zooming in and giving it a hard going-over I see it's a ringtail! Whole time I was there, this gorgeous Hen Harrier sat on it's post; sometimes doing impressive head gymnastics looking at the ground below it, sometimes preening, sometimes just sitting there. Wow. Gets better. Looking right to the far side of the moor, I see a big white thing beside a ditch - one of the bigger ones with built up brambly banks. Hmm, a Mute Swan? Oh no, its a Great White Egret! :D Talk about long-range birding...

All in all a very interesting day.

[[Edit: No less than 6 GWEs around Ham Wall today! I was watching the West Sedgemoor bird from about 1400 to 1415, and it moved out of sight; I never saw it fly. {Doesn't mean it didn't, of course} Seven Great Whites in somerset? Could be...]]

16 January, 2011

Even More Seawatching...

Is this blog getting boring or what? All I do is go down to the Nose and stare at passing auks....

For a little variety, today I sat in a slightly different spot, as the wind had some more south in it. Wow. I also counted passage for 5 whole hours! Amazing. I even remembered both my clickers. Stunning.

Ok, enough with the comedy...

Auk passage averaged at 469/hour, but this doesn't tell the whole story as 1269 of them passed in the second hour! It was a huge pulse, with groups of 20's to 40's passing well outside the Ore Stone while groups of 10s to 20s were passing inside it - mayhem! There were more than 300 in one 2 and a half minute surge; very hard to count them accurately as the far groups were often partly hidden by waves and the near ones came through in a few seconds. It had started very quietly, with a weather forecast that just seemed to get worse and worse and not much moving after a brief early flurry I was wondering if I should have bothered bringing a flask. As it turned out, it was a very good move.

Kittiwakes averaged 110.2/hour and Gannets 35.6, with Fulmars at 7.6. All of these started slow, but kicked up in the afternoon [thankfully after the auk rush had abated] while after a 40 minute sea, the auks tailed off to a trickle by the time I stopped counting. Again Razorbills far outnumbered Guillemots, though there were more Guilles later on.

This wasn't a day just notable for tallying, though. 7 divers passed south; 4 Red-throated, 2 Black-throated and a Great Northern, with the immature Great Northern [or one just like it] still on the sea also. 6 Common Scoter, 7 Common Gulls, a Dunlin [just one, with a lot of wingbar showing, it made me look hard to be sure of it] and a GC Grebe also went by south. The Red-necked Grebe popped up late on - I thought I was leaving, but as it was fishing in Hope Cove I had to stay on and look at it for a bit - and the 1w Eider was in the lee of the Ore Stone. None of these crackers [ok, maybe not the scoters, which unlike all the divers went outside the Ore Stone] were able to eclipse the Star of The Show, however.

I must confess to a slight ulterior motive for all this auk-watching. Though primarily I've been in it for the seawatching, and the scientific curiosity [[yes, I know how unscientific this really is]], I have a Patch Yearlist to think of, and I've been quietly hoping for a Little something. Yes, the pun was very intentional. No, I'm not going to apologise; I think it's funny. Yes, really.
Anyway, at the carefully noted time of 1426 I got my reward - Little Auk. Yeeeehaaaa!!

Ahem. Yes, so, I'd been hoping for a Little Auk or Little Gull with all these sustained winds. The Puffin on Thursday was a real surprise [[*]] - they're very regular in spring, often sat on the sea by the Ore Stone [I think they stop off, look at the Ore Stone and go "Hmmm..", then look at all the Geebs and go "Ah."] - though with the huge numbers of auks around maybe not quite such a one? What I did expect was to have picked up a Balearic by now - they're off Gwennap, so why aren't they here?? One of birding's many mysteries.

It was a good day, even though the rain [which had looked so promisingly full of squally goodness] didn't really show up 'til I got home! There were bands of spotty rain and drizzle, and after about 1430 it started on a light rain that eventually picked up as I packed up [of course] but earlier it had started to get dangerously close to sunny. I was thinking about stopping at 2, but as I hadn't finished my coffee and as the 'Constant Friend' had been by [I almost always see something good on days when I see her] I decided I might as well make it a 5 hour count. So very glad I did! :D

[[Edit: I'd originally noted the absence of January records in the DBRs, but having now looked at my own records, there was one on the sea by the Ore Stone on 19/1/08, so not quite such an unprecedented sighting after all.**]]
[[[**Interestingly, that day in similar conditions I also watched for 5 hours and saw 9 Balearics pass, plus a Little Gull, all 3 divers and a couple of GC Grebes. I didn't take proper passage rate counts {amateur} but did note a moderate auk passage of primarily Guillemots.]]]


15 January, 2011

Lots of Counting

Due to my brainlessly forgetting to take a clicker along this morning. I'd managed to oversleep somewhat, grabbed the essentials in a rush and well, bugger. So it was timed counts to gauge passage at the Nose.

The wind had picked up a bit, things seemed to be moving a bit, too. Not that much, it turns out, but still not too bad - auks averaged 555 an hour, Gannets a mere 56 and Kittiwakes 168. I didn't need a timed count for the 2 Fulmar an hour going by..! A lone female Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers [including one sneaky one that came through high and dropped to join another flying into the Bay after they'd passed the Ore Stone] and a nice close Black-throated Diver were the only other southerly movers. A subadult Lesser Black-backed Gull flew past north - nice dark one, getting on for intermedius - and a Red-necked Grebe showed up on the sea by the Ore Stone. If you think that's strange [I certainly did - a Red-neck swimming around determinedly and diving in that sea?!?]; as I was going, there was a chap kitting up to do some swimming and diving himself. There wasn't anything on the local news, so I assume he was ok..

This afternoon I went for a spot of leg-stretching with the folks to Ideford Common, which proved to be quite eventful. We met a stag. Very close. Made Tilly's week.... Marsh Tits at the car park again. Lovely.

Yesterday afternoon, Torquay harbour had a 1w LBB and a Moorhen, plus usual reprobates. The Real Living Coast had a Turnstone as well as roosting Purple Sands, but the Bay was too choppy to pick out more than a Razorbill. After once more failing to find a Treeecreeeper in a long tour of the woody bits, the sea off Blackball had just the right height of chop, combined with low sun, to make counting let alone IDing birds very tricky. I got a mere 19 GC Grebes and 5 Razorbills, plus several hundred gulls resting well out, which were probably Kittiwake.

Edit: I've just realised I haven't actually said what the times I've been watching have been! Very remiss of me... 1005-1235
PYL: 70

13 January, 2011

Watching the Sea

Lots of looking at the sea these past three days, sometimes there were birds in the way.

Tuesday's sunny[ish] nor'westerlies kept me away from the Nose, instead bashing other bits of the Patch. I finally caught up with LBB - not one but two 1w birds sitting on the harbour pontoon with various dodgy-looking Herrings and Geebs. The tide was up and the Sandpipers Purple were roosting down the end of the Real Living Coast. Due to their position and not wanting to disturb them I only counted 6 - there were probably more. A somewhat choppy Tor Bay had 2 BN Grebes and singles of RT Diver, GC Grebe and what was probably a Slavonian. Late afternoon saw 138 GC Grebes with a RT Diver and 5+ Razorbill off Blackball.

The last two days I've been seawatching from the Nose in the mornings and looking off Blackball late afternoons - the same times on both days. With pretty much the same weather, including sustained WSW winds, I wondered what differences would there be?

Hope's Nose; Auks ~210/hr__Gannets 8/hr__Kittiwakes ~13/hr__6 Fulmar
+ Yellow-legged Gull [1w] + Common Gull [ad].
1w male Eider on sea near Lead Stone. ~370 Guillemots on Ore Stone first thing.

Blackball; 63 GC Grebe__8 Razorbill___~240 Kittiwake + RN Grebe*

Hope's Nose; Auks ~301/hr__Gannets ~25/hr__Kittiwakes ~33/hr__8 Fulmar
+ Puffin [very distant] + 3 C Scoter + 5 GC Grebe [N] + 2 GND [subadult on sea, 1w S].
1w male Eider flew in from N, then on sea near Ore Stone. ~300 Guillemots on Ore Stone first thing, also Grey Seal hauled out on peninsula! Feeding frenzy of large gulls for about 25 minutes, close in to the Nose.

Blackball; 78 GC Grebe__5 Razorbill__~360 Kittiwake

[[On Monday, the average auk passage rate projected from timed counts was ~1230/hr]]

Interesting if not mind-blowing, it's clear that there was a lot of passage going on further offshore than the the drizzle let me see, judging by the figures [Famous Devon Birder] got from Berry Head today at a similar time. I blame the tanker! There were 4 distinct lines of auk passage noticeable; far out [not always visible due to rain / drizzle etc], outside the Ore Stone ['usual line'], around the Ore Stone [including 'to the Ore Stone' for Guilles, which I didn't count] and just outside the Lead Stone [used almost exclusively by young Razorbills]. Most of the passage was small groups, but there was the occasional rush of bigger groups, including a few of 40 and more; all of these were in the outer two lines.

*This was a bugger, as I picked it up from the Downs, feeding very close in to Babbacombe beach - around the outer buoys. You don't get them in so close often, and as it was nice and calm I went hightailing it down the cliff path to get a good look. After many a slip and skid I was 3/4 of the way down when I heard shouting and laughing... Yes, a family had decided to go onto the beach and start throwing stones into the sea. Just having fun, [[they weren't throwing stones at the grebe or anything!]] I can't blame them - just one of those annoying things. The grebe naturally skedaddled. Drat and double drat, muttered the Backward Birder as he trudged back up....

Unfortunately I have Things To Do Which Cannot Be Avoided tomorrow morning, so I can't extend my little study to a third day. Oh well.

PYL: 68

10 January, 2011

Deja-vu. Also, the Importance of Lunch.

Lunch is important, especially when you're up on't Moor. Finding the right place to have it is usually a matter of balancing competing factors. Can you sit down without getting wet / smelly / bitten / prickled / harassed? Can you all sit down? Can you see anything when you do? Are you in / out of the sun / rain and / or the wind? Can Tilbury Dog see... well, almost anything that moves? Or find something to jump into / get tangled up in? We had fun answering these questions yesterday.

The idea was to go to Princetown and follow the tramways, on account of the Moor being a trifle soggy. Unfortunately, a large sheet of black ice on the Ponsworthy road just after the bit where the Great Grey Shrike had been put paid to that. Fortunately, it was the car in front which found the ice and pirouetted back down the granite-lined lane... One careful turn later, being unwilling to risk more minor roads or make a huge detour, we bailed out at Cold East Cross and had a wander around the vicinity instead. The sun shone and though the wind was a bit cold it was very pleasant going. The very wet moor had flash-frozen, giving unusual conditions underfoot - a bit like blancmange with a crunchy crust...

Running out of not-too-busy moor, and unwilling to brave the hordes further off, we moved to Venford reservoir mid-afternoon and were treated to 3 redhead Goosander swimming around on the mirror-smooth water. Bird-wise there were the usual winter moorland bits and pieces, notable was a very dark Buzzard hunting around Seven Lords' Lands and the first Fieldfare I've seen this year [which alarmed and flew off...].

Important Business this morning precluded birding and the continuing sunshine deterred me from a full-on seawatch, so I instead bashed the Patch; taking in Waxwing site [no dice] and the Downs [for sheltering seabirds in the strong wind] en route to the Nose [to see if the Eider [Devon Birder] got the day before was still around...]. There were 94 GC Grebe, 1 RT Diver, at least 15 Razorbill and 60 Kittiwake on the sea off Blackball, with a Fulmar and a dozen Gannets overhead. Getting to the Nose the wind was at an impressive level, and even with the little scope I saw a pretty impressive stream of auks passing. I went right down the The Wall and huddled in it's lee to do a timed count [the wind vying with TCCT's chainsaws as backing track!]. 305 in 10 minutes is a lot, if not apocalyptic, but about 150 of those were in the first 2 minutes and at 5 minutes the rain arrived like a frickin' express train...

Most of the auks appeared to be Razorbills, but with only the little scope and in the wind and rain I'm not going to even guess at a ratio. Kittiwake and Gannets were also passing south, as did a RT Diver, and the smart w/pl adult GND was still on the sea between the Lead and Ore Stones, seemingly unfussed by the weather. Realising I was definitely going to get soggy again, I figured I'd better check thoroughly for this Eider, and I eventually found it - a 1w male, I reckon - in the more sheltered water of Hope Cove with a score of Razorbills. Despite getting even wetter than on Friday, I was cheerful all the way home. [[Mad, mad I tell you...]]

PYL: 64

08 January, 2011

Showers and Surprises

I had Something To Do on Friday, but I couldn't resist being slightly naughty and taking a scenic route to get there. A very scenic route..

Started by pulling up at Preston sea front, to see if I could be extremely naughty and scope the Eider off Broadsands / Berry Head from there [thus making them a very bent-ruled Patch Year Tick]. I failed, but it was well worth the go, as the male Common Scoter was really close in and showing cripplingly well.. :D Two Slavonian Grebes were off Hollicombe, and a Black-necked Grebe and Mrs. Long-tailed Duck were off Paignton. A couple of Turnstones were a Patch Year Tick, and the sight of no less than 52 Oyks huddled on the cliff from the high tide was a pleasing one [the number, not so much the huddling].

Then I went on to Berry Head, where I could find no Blackstarts. I did find three rather smug-looking Eider, close in near the blockhouse. I also found [Famous Devon Birder], who had almost suffered clicker combustion due to vast numbers of auks streaming by! I caught the tail end of this monumental passage, which was still impressive, despite being a tiny fraction of what went before [about 5800 in an hour, I think it was...]. Unfortunately, I also caught a whole heap of rain. I was not prepared for this, due to the weather forecast lying through it's shiny white teeth [Grr..]. I got extremely soggy, but didn't let that stop me taking a quick half hour or so at the sea before I had to go and behave.

Later, as I was finally drying out, I saw that the male Brambling was still about. :)

This morning, with some half-decent weather [overnight, at least] I gave Hope's Nose a go. I didn't get long before the sun started shining and passage died right away, though I did see some interesting birds and it was definitely worth the trip. First thing was a passage of auks - more than 90% Razorbills and not connected to the Ore Stone colony - an early rate of about 800/hour [on timed counts] died off quite quickly though. Star bird came in from Lyme Bay, however, [a little south of east] and turned north - a Pom Skua! :D A light morph bird, by the darkness of the underwing it was probably an adult, but it was too far out for spoons to show if it had them [{Famous Devon Birder} had had two spooned w/pl adults past Berry the day before, it could be this was one of them staying in the area?]. It came in high, but eventually dropped low to the sea as it motored on up the coast out of sight. Brilliant.

Other notable birds included a Redshank and a Knot past south [the latter with a small group of Razorbills?!?], 3 Red-throated and a Great Northern Diver [the GND on the sea, the RTs past south] and two dark-bellied Brent Geese which flew south 5 minutes before the Pom arrived. Less good was a Hughes helicopter, which flushed the 260+ Guillemot colony on the Ore Stone by flying incredibly low - less than 50' - seemingly filming the inshore lifeboat. Nice place to do it, chaps....

In the afternoon it was a stroll around Yarner with the folks. As I've burbled on before, I really like Yarner. As we arrived we passed [Devon Birder], who was leaving to look for the SEOs reported at Warren Point [ouch]. He said it was pretty quiet and he hadn't seen a single woodpecker... At that point I was quite glad I'm only after Patch Year Ticks this year, I have to say.

We headed for the hide first, stopping a little short to watch a big tit band [including Marsh Tits and a Nuthatch, with a quickly-vanishing GSW {you know it had to happen - Irishman's law}]. Just as we were moving on I noticed a group of small finches hanging onto catkins in a smallish Birch on the down-slope side of the track... Siskin! I called my parents [towed on by the ever-eager Tilly] back, then looked more closely at the Siskin and realised to my delight that some of them were Redpoll! :D They were very cool, happy to feed away while we watched them, I tried to explain the differences between Lesser, Mealy, Coue's and Hornemann's [these were all Lesser, of course], and Tilly tried to wrap her extendo-lead around as many bits of Holly as she could find... We eventually left the 5 Siskin and 4 Redpoll still happily shredding catkins and went on.

The rest of the afternoon was mostly wandering around the tracks, extracting Tilbury from various bits of greenery [I think there were a few deer around, as she was even more nutty than usual], and seeing a few more tit bands, plus Woodpigs and so on. Near where we saw the Bullfinches last time I heard a few calling, but we didn't get another show. A short while later we did get a flyover, though; one I really wasn't expecting. Flying straight towards us, just over the canopy, was a falcon shaped like a Peregrine but much too small and the wrong colours - a frickin' male Merlin!! Right over us and on towards Haytor Vale it went - wow! Last thing to report was another visit to the hide on the way back - lots of activity, with Blue, Great, Coal, Marsh and Long-tailed Tits in that order of numbers [interesting, as usually Coal are the most numerous]. No Nuthatches, let alone GSWs, but the tits put on quite a show by themselves.

Brambling continues on the shed roof with his Chaffinch friends, but two more days without a single winter thrush.

I'm still grinning about those Redpoll. [And the Merlin, and the Pom, and the drake Scoter.. But I've not seen Redpoll that well for years, especially not so close and so relaxed.]

PYL: 63

06 January, 2011


Enough of that posting every day nonsense, it just spoils you.. ;)

These last two days I've been birding in the rain. What? You think I'd cower inside 'til it goes away? Fah! Fah, I say.


I've also had diligent jobseeking to perform, which does tend to get in the way of the birding [with or without rain]. Though not as much as jobhaving, of course. Tuesday morning I had to be in town, so took the chance to give the Harbour and Bay bits of the Patch a good going-over. The tide being well out meant that there were gulls aplenty, quaking in fear of the bashing they would get... I didn't even find a frickin' LBB. Drat. I did find 2 Little Egrets and 3 Grey Herons on the rocks around Corbyn's Head - a very nice tally indeed. Even more surprising was a Raven, picking at something amidst the weed; we get them overhead a lot, but rarely see them land [except on Hope's Nose, but that's another story..]. The afternoon was spent on the phone, so neatly scuppering my plan to re-find the Waxwings. Double drat.

Wednesday saw Patch-bashing around more Things To Be Done. In the morning the overdue Waxwing check drew the expected blank, though a male and female Blackcap were a nice find. Off Blackball, 54 GC Grebe, at least 6 RT Diver and a probable BT Diver, plus 8 Razorbill and 2 Kittiwake made getting rather soggy worth it. In the afternoon I gave the Harbour yet another go, still no gull joy, but I did at last find some Purple Sands! :D With a good swell sending spray flying, at least 11 of the little darlings were looking gorgeous as the sun came out.. ::Sigh::

Today I left the Patch for the first time this year and had a meander around the Exe. Bowling Green had the female Smew, plus Snipe, Avocets, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Lapwing, plenty of Wigeon etc. A Brambling was with the Chaffs and Dunnocks in the lane. It was pretty good, but I didn't tarry too long, as I had other fish to fry.

Exminster was the main aim. I arrived and climbed the bridge for a viewpoint to look for the group of White-fronts [it's been an age since I last saw them in Devon]. They were way off the the north near the Exminster footbridge, with [Devon Birder] looking at them. The rain fell, it was a bit nippy, we had a chat about Smew and the Dark Art of seawatching, while the White-fronts resolutely stayed with the Canadas [[including one with a white head, btw]] far, far away. Then [Devon Birder] arrived and asked if we'd seen the Hen Harrier and wasn't it amazing. [[Yeah, another of those long pauses over with very quickly..]] Triple drat! Apparently said ringtail had been harried by corvids from near the lagoon up to near the M5 bridge; he'd been looking for a reported possible Scaup on the lagoon when it flew through his scope field! Jammy bugger. We went different ways - me in the direction of the canal. Well, you never know, right?

Failing to find the harrier, I had lunch by the Topsham Lock, which gave me a nice view of the south end of the Retreat [albeit into the wind..]. Although there were Avocets feeding, other waders to look at, and a Grey Heron having a spat with a couple of Mute Swans [Mr. Swan took objection to the heron and got pecked for his trouble] I ended up going through the gulls... I found a Common Gull. Woo. On a brighter note, the Spotshank the Terrible Two found the other day put in an appearance; it was lurking in the channel west of the Retreat, where it couldn't be seen from the Topsham side [sneaky thing]. Star bird was a Little Grebe that came right up to and into the lock entrance - so close I was looking right down on it. :)

Then I went down the canal to the lagoon, looking for the other Smew [yes, both still present, as while I was watching the female at Bowling Green, the one I think might be a 1w male was being watched by [Devon Birder] on the canal!] and this possible Scaup. No sign of Smew, but a sleeping duck with a very Scaup-y head shape was on the lagoon.. Hmm, thought I, looking at it. It doesn't look beamy enough for a Scaup, and is very brown on the flanks [wouldn't a 1w female be at least a little mottled by now?], but that head shape is nice. So I wait. And wait. Eventually it moves and is indeed a female Tufty. [[How many drats is that now?]] Time marches on, and I haven't even mentioned all the Wigeon and Lapwing and Blackwits, the Pochard on the lagoon and the Pintail and Shoveler on the marsh.

Edit: Forgot to mention that I've not seen a single winter thrush on my Patch since Tuesday, and no Bramblings either. Not to say they've all gone, of course..

PYL: 55

03 January, 2011

Waxwings on My Patch! Again!

It was a very odd kind of day today. Continuing with my diligent Patch-bashing, I tracked down the Goldfinches I'd seen in December, failed as usual to see Waxwings tucking into the tasty berries I'd earmarked, and was about to have a look at the sea when I got a shout [literally] from [Famous Devon Birder], who asked me if I'd seen the Waxwings at Homelands.

Sometimes a very long pause can pass by in a very short time.

After offering the due profuse thanks, I responsibly carried on and checked the sea diligently before walking over to have a look. No, really, I did. Ok, that might be a teeny bit inaccurate. I did go on to the first viewpoint and scan the sea. There was bugger all about. I took the time to go 'WTF..' to myself. After three slightly amazed sweeps I got 2 divers; a Red-throat and what looked like a Black-throat. No grebes. For some strange reason I decided against yomping down the cliff to pin the possible BT down. Instead I walked over to look for the Waxwings. I didn't run. I did walk quickly, mind.

There were no Waxwings in any of the trees on Westhill Road, nor St. Margaret's Avenue. This was because they were sitting on the fence by the school playing field! Three little Waxwings all in a row... :D My parents have never seen Waxwings, so after a quick call and a trip to grab my Big Scope, the four of us arrived back on site less than half an hour later. No Waxwings. They waited a lot longer than I expected [[especially with Tilly, who though she stands very nicely, doesn't approve of standing around when she can be charging around..]], but nope, the garrulous ones had buggered off. Rats.

Later I went back and had another look, but still no sign. I tried the other site, but nothing there either, then back to the Downs, and now there were 22 GC Grebe, 2 RT Divers [neither of which looked remotely like a BT] and a Razorbill - all well out. Hmm. On getting home from this trip, I discovered a 1w Rook, of all things, perched on my neighbour's chimney and making an awful attempt at cawing. It flew off over the Garden, and is the first one we've had here for several years. All in all, a very interesting day, notable also for the first sunshine we've had in aaaaaages.

PYL: 43

02 January, 2011

The Price of Yearlisting

Is chasing around after stuff. So it was that I was back bothering the grebes again this morning...

This time I lugged the Big Scope down the cliff to Blackball Rocks themselves - well, to a bit above them, as it was pretty choppy. It was also raining, the wind was onshore, and it was markedly colder than yesterday. Happy happy joy joy.

Naturally I got into my seawatching groove and an hour and a half of scanning and rescanning the spread of grebes and divers passed very quickly indeed. I would have stayed longer, but I had neglected to bring serious handwear and once the rain got through my gloves my fingers started to suffer. [[Whine whine, bleat bleat...]] As I'd given it a good look, I decided to head back.

To the birds; the grebes were in their usual formation of groups of 5 to 40 in an arc at roughly Petitor range, with odds and sods scattered around. I got to 139 GC Grebes, plus the RN Grebe [which was, as expected, a right little git; being finally nailed on wing pattern when it wingflapped while hiding among GCs!] and a Slavonian, which looked really odd with it's neck stretched up so it could see over the swell [all the grebes were like this - looking into the wind, naturally...]. Once I was sure it was a Slav and not a BN, I was suitably chuffed - like CScoter they're getting really scarce on my Patch, having until recently regularly wintered off Meadfoot.

I got even more chuffed soon after that, when I picked up a 2cy Black-throat hiding among the RT Divers :D [[And no, to those who may be wondering, this was not 'ID'd on flank patch alone' but on the full range]]. Trivia time; you might be vaguely interested to know that Black-throated Diver is actually more common on my Patch than Red-necked Grebe - though most of the former have been off Hope's Nose. At Blackball, RN is level-pegging at 3 each. There were at least 24 Red-throats, one of which seemed to be moulting into s/pl already, and a couple of which came in fairly close. 7 Razorbills, a Cormorant and assorted Shags made up the numbers on the sea, with 18 Gannet and a Fulmar overhead.

After lunch I headed back out to do the Waxwing check, found my first female Blackcap on Patch this winter, then gave the grebe-count another go. With better visibility [and a better angle] [plus possibly more birds present] the number was pushed up to 180. This is a site and Patch Record for me, beating the long-standing record of 157. Which is nice. Also nice were the 2 Brambling out the back, and the single Redwing still hanging on despite the Blackbirds' best efforts.

My Patch Yearlist now stands at 38.

01 January, 2011

New Year. New Plan.

2009 saw me chasing a Devon Yearlist, with all the associated stress. 2010 saw me resolutely not chasing a Devon Yearlist.. until halfway through December when I realised how far I'd got without trying and so thought 'Oh what the hell..'. 2011 will see me again not chasing a Devon Yearlist, but this time distracting myself with another. [[No Joe, not a British List, that'd be daft.]] This year I shall mostly be chasing a Patch Yearlist.

Why? It's something doable, and with the way tax and profiteering is hitting petrol prices, it's something much much more affordable.Walking around my Patch is also much healthier, of course, than driving here there and everywhere, but we all have to make sacrifices, don't we? ;) I'm not saying I'm abandoning other birding - Lifer Twitchy tart I remain [Within reason.. Ahem.] - and I will be going afield just because, but I'm intending to scale it back. [[Note that 'i' word there and keep it in a drawer for future reference..]]. Whether this will extend to giving up Berry Head for the Nose is something still under debate...

To that end I spent today wandering the Patch, though due to some very distracting gulls in the harbour I didn't get to the Nose. 29 might not seem much, but as my Patch is mostly made up of one of the most densely populated areas in Europe, it's not too bad. Though I managed to miss the RN Grebe [Famous Devon Birder] got off Babbacombe [[Ouch]], I did get the LT Duck and Common Scoter [The former always difficult and the latter are much less reliable in the northern half of the Bay than they were even 2 years ago - I blame SWW]. Only one Brambling on offer in the Garden, despite sustained Chaffinch numbers, with the single Redwing still avoiding the Blackbirds [Redwing numbers over all are continuing to fall slowly] and the two male Blackcaps carefully avoiding each other.