23 May, 2011


Is what I said upon looking at Devon Bird News this afternoon.

This post wasn't meant to start this way. I'd been working on the story of how I decided to go to Beesands - something possibly even of interest to you, my long-suffering readers - but then I see the photos of what showed up right after I left... Drat and double drat.

Getting back to where I was going to start...

I Had a Cunning Plan.

Where to go birding? Its an interesting question. You could go look for something someone else has found, look for something where you usually go, or think about weather, time of year and a multitude of other factors. How to decide? I'm not going to blather on about this much longer, my intent is merely to say that there is a rational, reasoned method to deciding where is likely to be good.

Sometimes I just throw that right out the window.

Ever tried seawatching on a blazingly sunny day with an offshore wind? {Madness.} From a beach? {Call the nice men in clean white coats.} The beach bit was new, part of a plan so cunning it could be a fox that-[[Get on with it!]] Ahem. Yes, so, yesterday I tried a 'different' tack on the off chance that a Certain Shearwater was hanging around Lyme Bay and hadn't just gone off back to where it is supposed to be. Start Bay had Gannets feeding right inshore, with more lingering offshore, and as the cliffs are a bit high and I'm not on Trinity House's Most Favoured List I gave Beesands a go.

Finding a bit with shelter, a little height and so on, I sat and stared. It very nearly paid off, too. Not the Cory's, ha ha, but I got so close to nailing a small and very nice-looking skua being blown along by the wind... A Balearic was less slippery [or, to put it another way, closer and noticed earlier], as were a few Manxies, 60-odd Gannets [passing south, as opposed to the lingering fishers]and the odd Kitt, Fulmar and auk. Two tern spp. zipped past close and north and eluded ID beyond sterna [very fast and very close] and a diver flew south, then one north [quite possibly the same one]. It was good practice in ID, if nothing else, enlivened by two good in/offs. Firstly a Grey Heron, which decided to start soaring as it got a look at how many gulls were around - it crossed the coast very high up. Secondly a Hobby, looking dark enough underneath to get me all worked up before I decided that, no it's tail just wasn't long enough for that and the jizz was all wrong too.

Then I spent a couple of hours watching the assorted Swifts, Swallows, House and Sand [3 of these, at least] Martins over the Ley. Great views, and especially of the Swifts, as I interrogated the swirling eddies of birds closely in case of a sneaky Red-rump or a Pallid. Again, good practice on the Swifts, if nothing else.
Swifts - bigger, faster, darker, noisier than Hirundines. Browner? Cute little chin patches? I see them every day that they're here - they nest right over there ::Points:: - but still never get views with such good light as I got at Beesands. Also assorted warblers and Gadwall quacklings, looking really cute....

I eventually moved on and tried Strete Gate, where a Sarnie had a fish and then I got lucky. Close in, catching a flatfish and then fending off two hungry young Cormorants - a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver. WOW. Plus more Gannets diving right close in. It was quite something earlier at Beesands, that - Gannets literally a stone's throw from the shore, with the sea and the sky and the sand. :D

There's not actually a lot else I can report. Birds getting on with breeding, no flyover kites for me, let alone storks.. I may find myself inflicting something more philosophical on you this week, to make up for it. Possibly involving Current Events [[But not involving superinjunctions. Well, except for [CENSORED], but that's hardly surprising is it, what with the stuff about the [CENSORED] and the big bucket of [CENSORED], never mind the [CENSORED], which is just wrong...]]

[[[Legal Notice.
The Backward Birder would like to apologise for the previous paragraph, and has given assurances that he will not even hint vaguely, let alone talk about [CENSORED] when he gets out of prison.]]]

Finally, despite my statement to the contrary, I have started a Work List. Don't panic, I'm still not going to inflict it on you.

I haven't got Chaffinch yet, for one thing.

15 May, 2011

Weekly Posting? Tut tut...

Well, my first full working week is done with and the next looms large on the horizon, so this will be a short one. I'm not going to do another Work List - it's a very different setup to Totnes - so you don't have to worry about reading this to find me jumping up and down about seeing a Chaffinch...

Couple of trips to report on; firstly an intended visit to Stover after odonata was aborted due to the weather. I went on to Yarner instead and was buried under a deluge of Pied Flies! It were dead great, like. [[I have no idea where that just came from..]] The trees were in full leaf, but Wood Warblers were still seen [with a little more work, admittedly] and though there always seemed to be someone arriving or leaving, it still managed to be pretty quiet.

Next day saw another attempt this time succeed in getting me to Stover when there was some sunshine, and 7 species ensued. I failed on Downy Emerald [despite spending far too long staring at their pond] but did get to enjoy [and almost photo] a glorious pair of Broad-bodied Chasers ovipositing. Yes, the paparazzi setup rides again! [[Flee! Flee while you can...]]

Fun and games in the garden, with the nestbox Sparrows, the neighbours' eaves Sparrows and now the other nestbox Sparrows all trying to cohabit in confined airspace without killing each other. The morning's opening of hostilities are a very good alarm clock...

09 May, 2011

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are....

Glorious moment in the Garden this afternoon.

As you may have noticed, I don't talk about raptors much. This is due to the subhuman §€@&%($!±&@€ * who so assiduously persecute them. So, I find myself limited to obvious passing birds or vague references with no specific locations. I know it is highly unlikely anyone would want to bother urban Buzzards, for example, but it's good practice to keep the rules simple.

[[* Ancient Devonian swear-words that- ah, you know the drill.]]

Breaking said rules, a 1s female Sparrowhawk spent almost 6 minutes sat on the shed roof this afternoon. I'd call her a wandering non-breeder who'd noticed the Sparrows zipping back and forth to their nests... Stunning, crippling, ridiculous - all these are good descriptions of the view I got of her. :D The Sparrows all hid in the nest boxes and shut up - even the chicks stopped cheeping! It got very quiet and very still. Wow.

Right then, back to business.

Yesterday morning, after the fun and games at the Nose on Saturday, I decided to try a seawatch - it looked good and blowy-with-showers when I got up, but by the time I set off the sun had come out. It stayed out, the bastard. Still, the coffee was made and I'm nothing if not stubborn, so on I went, finding [Devon Birder] there already. The sun made things interesting, but it wasn't completely dead and as [Devon Birder] left, [Devon Birder] was arriving, so I always had someone to chat to. [[It has been suggested that all seawatching spots have chat-activated warning lights, so late-comers can know not to bother.. ;) ]]. Star bird was a s/pl Black Tern, which picked it's moment to head by north when [Devon Birder] had just packed up his scope. [Ouch] It was well out and moving fast, not that that was any consolation..

In the 2 1/2 hours I gave it, 38 Manxies and a single Balearic went by south along with 48 Kitts and 14 Fulmars. 20 Gannet went south and 2 north. [Like I said, it wasn't completely dead..]. I don't bother counting Guilles at this time of year [due to the colonies making counts of passage impossible], but I keep an eye on the passing auks [just in case] and picked out a single Razorbill flying south with 3 Guilles. The wind was in a lovely area just east of south, nice white horses on the sea - if there'd just been some nice squally showers to go with it I'm sure we would have hit the big time. Bladdy weather....

Getting home, I looked east at Bee-eater and west at Black-winged Stilts and thought; "Aaaarrrrrghhhh..." Some times you just don't have the energy - especially when they're not in Devon [[He says, having seen the 'Bee-eater at Start' thing and wailed quite pathetically just now...]]. I decided to be boring and go for a toddle with the Folks instead. [[Yawn.]] We went to A Wooded Valley**, where we got rained on. First it rained rain. Then it rained Wood Warblers. 7 of them. Crippling views, including Wood Warbler vs Great Big Caterpillar. Also Tree Pipit right overhead and Crossbills. Tilly saw some sheep and jumped in the water, [not quite at the same time, though I think she would have liked to combine the two if she could...] so she was happy. The sun shone, the wind blew, the trees were beautiful, did I mention all the Wood Warblers? :)

[[** I know they're not Schedule 1, but I think they deserve it, so no specific sites apart from Yarner.]]

PYL: 119

07 May, 2011

Fingers in Ears Time...

"Iiiiiiiiii'mmm Biirdin' in the raaiin, just biiiirdin' in the raaiiin, what a gloooorrious feeelin', Iiiii'm haappy agaaaiiin....."


Just be grateful it's type, that's all I'm saying.

So, first working week in new job complete, I'm alive and relatively undamaged, so 'tis time to bash the Patch. Poor thing, it's been months since it went so long without my tender ministrations, and you can see the damage! On IMD near the Nose, the council has helpfully strimmed the hedge right down, exposing the gap in the bank and some nice person has backed a van into said gap [you can see the marks very clearly] and flytipped half a ton of rubbish down the cliffside. @$&§@$^%§&£% * On a more pleasant note, the trees are very leafy now. This would come in handy.

[[* Ancient Devonian swear-words, which I'm not allowed to translate.]]

Since their arrival on Tuesday, Swift numbers have been building nicely; today they were joined by Swallows [presumably pausing on passage] and the first on-Patch House Martins. It was quite a flying display, slightly marred by the great big 'airy dog that objected noisily to me occupying my usual vantage point. Moving swiftly on, most of my patrol came up with nothing new or otherwise report-worthy until I had a look at the sea from the Nose. In between rain showers, 5 Sandwich Terns and a Bonxie went past south. Woo. As the showers turned into heavy rain, I took shelter under a handy Sycamore until the worst of it had passed, then worked my way homewards. Incidentally, do you know how hard it is to get on a Blackcap in a newly come into leaf Sweet Chestnut? Very blimmin' hard. Go look at one - the great bunches of leaves are ridiculous...

PYL: 118

03 May, 2011

Notification of Variance

There's going to be a bit of a change to my blog from now on, I'm afraid. Fewer posts, much less Patch-bashing - generally less interesting...

Yep, that's right, I got me a job!!!!


Today was my first day and as it's more factory-based fun [again, no names given as I'd like to keep it now that I've got it! ;) ] my birding time has been curtailed drastically. Oh well. [[This is the explanation of why I've suddenly been gallivanting off-Patch much more frequently of late - yes, it all becomes clear now..]] I didn't say anything before because, after 5 months on the scrap heap, I didn't quite believe it and wanted to actually turn up to make sure it wasn't all a dream...

Don't look like that, you all know how crazy I am already...

Yesterday, though, was a last bit of wandering. This time - in the face of contradictory and unpromising weather forecasts - with the Folks to Somewhere New. ::Gasp!:: Wimbleball 'Lake', over in zumerzet, was the setting for an afternoon's circuit, and after a rather unpromising start, it was pretty good. The Bluebells in particular were utterly stunning. Ridiculously thick carpets under Oak and Birch, they were worth the trip alone. Willow Tit, Wood Warbler, Cuckoo and a well 'ard Gyppo [it saw off 6 Canada Geese with two hisses and a stare, and was utterly unafraid of Tilly. That is one tough goose.] were the birding highlights on site, with 3 Goosander on the Exe and a Turtle Dove on a wire on the way back as a bonus! :)

Common Sands were dotted around the edge of the lake, [at least 5, probably 8 or more] mostly seeing us first and demonstrating their characteristic flight action. I heard what sounded very much like a Wood Sand, but it only called once and was on a stretch of shore hidden by trees [unsurprisingly!] so it got away. We caught a couple of showers, and met some loggers [yes, logging on a bank holiday on the frickin' perimeter path...] in the course of walking the 9 mile 'lakeside walk' in the afternoon, which certainly gave us some exercise. Wimbleball is in many ways a miniature Roadford [with fewer birds on the water - especially with the sailers and fishermen out], but the woods beside the water and the birds therein easily make up for it.

EDIT: 'Fewer posts and less of the Patch'.. Well, some stop-press Patch news from this evening; Swifts!! More or less in the middle of their usual spread of arrival dates [after last year's early surprise]. You know it's summer when the Swifts are back. :)

PYL: 116

01 May, 2011

Back To The Sea

Brisk to strong onshore winds with showers if not a full on [albeit weak] front coming in? Sounds like the Nose was the place to be, right?

Well, if weather forecasters were competent / not total liars, then yes.


There was one very short if quite sharp shower, plus a couple of spit-spots, but more chance of sun than real rain. The wind worked its way from just shy of NE to just shy of E, giving a nicely rough sea but very little in the way of shelter to watch it from. The Alcove was the best spot, but that gives you a very low viewpoint, and today mostly looking into the swell rather than the ideal across it. Oh well, you play the hand you're dealt and all that. I gave it nigh on 4 1/2 hours, with not a great deal in return; a light morph Arctic Skua went north, as did a very nice 1s Med Gull and a couple of Common Gulls. One definite and another probable Balearic Shear went south along with 2 Razorbills. The rest were splits - Manxies had 23S*/8N, Gannets 80S/16N, Kittiwakes 33S/25N, Fulmars 8S/5N. The Guillemot colony was bustling, with no two counts the same and at least 300 birds present. Also of note was a Whimbrel, flushed from the foreshore by a rockpooling family [yes, really!] which flew over to the Lead Stone and clung on with the gulls..

[*Probably a big undercount, as for most of their transit they were hidden by the swell and with the wind in their favour they were moving.]

Despite the relative lack of birds, I had fun. The sea was a sight, there were plenty of yachties and passing ships to watch, and the Manxies heading north came by nice and close. For that matter, so did some of the southbound ones; tacking onto the auk-stream going to the Ore Stone and then peeling off to pass behind it at the last moment - kept me on my toes. :)

PYL: 115