30 October, 2011

Duck Theathon

"I'm gonna git that thcwewy duck!"

Thus swore the Backward Birder in his best Elmer Fudd, before tooling up and heading back to the Exe....


So, this time I had a rucksack with folding stool, lunch, coffee, assorted bits and pieces of warm/waterproof clothing, camera [!] and so on. I was determined. I was prepared. I was ready to be there 'til dark if I had to in order to nail that pesky yank.

Naturally I picked it up inside 5 minutes.

No complaints. :)

I had a good look, cackled to myself [fortunately I was alone at the time..] and claiming to be being a good birder, I set about counting a few things - Brents, Wigeon, Barwits, and Knot [getting 108, 950, 27, and 30 respectively] I then poured a cup of coffee and went back to the yank - only to see it immediately take off and fly... dropping with smug inevitability into Shutterton Creek. About 10 minutes later, the first birders arrived....

To make matters worse, not long afterwards a nice couple and their loose bull terrier came strolling by and soon enough everything flushed - the waders and Brents made off upriver and the Wigeon all dropped down into the Creek. Oh well, we've read this story before, haven't we? In the mean time, the Slavonian Grebe showed well, coming nice and close and now most of the way into winter plumage. A Med Gull [adult] was in among the Black-'eads, too, but only one birder decided to stay on and wait. Other semi-notables included a smart Common Gull, 6 R-B Mergansers, and the desmarestii-type Shag* again.

Eventually the Wigeon tired of cowering in the Creek and began to reappear, some flying out to where they'd been before, but most just climbing up the banks. Finally, an hour and a quarter after it had gone, I picked the American Wigeon up again, pretty much exactly where it had been before. At least 4 others got on it, with the bird eventually coming to the front of the group and showing well [if a bit distantly]. I spent the next 45 minutes watching it and munching a little celebratory chocolate, then headed back. Result.

[[*This is not an entirely serious identification, I should hasten to add, as 1st year Shags with pale bills and tons of white on are not exactly uncommon around here - you see them every year.]]

29 October, 2011

Make That Double Dipper....


I gave the Dusky 2 1⁄2 hours this morning, but not a sniff of it. The wind had shifted and picked up, and if its still in the area its gone somewhere with more shelter and less access. Not unexpected, but still.... dips hurt. I did succeed in stalking and seeing various tacking Robins and Wrens in assorted hedges, which is good practice at least [[Yes, straws, clutched at]]. A few hardy souls, both new and familiar were also in on the collective misery, and, well, that's all I have to say.

So, time to head back, but perhaps there was a consolation - a nice drake American Wigeon has been hanging around with the Wigeon on the Exe. With the tide up and going down, a detour to Cockwood Crossing might provide a welcome Devon Tick?

Would it hell... A thousand or so Wigeon, ok not that close but with the Big Scope all I needed was line of sight. I got a tantalising glimpse, but they kept getting flushed [never saw by what, trains didn't seem to bother them, nor planes...] and as the tide went down, the dead zone of Shutterton Creek got bigger, and then half of them plonked down in it. The rest [557 - yes I counted them!] spread out nicely [at last] and showed the yank was not amongst them.. Rats. Then they too flushed into the Creek. After almost 2 1⁄2 hours [again..] in the cold I left, muttering about damming that damn creek.....

[[Edit: I also saw some nice birds, as you'd expect on the Exe, including R-B Mergansers showing quite well, and one of those very white Shags, plus Redshank and Curlew coming quite close, oh and the Brents were as gorgeous as ever. So not an entire loss, but still vexing. At Gore Lane a female GSW was quite nice if a little brief and the first 4 Fieldfare of the autumn {for me} went over.]]

For the Goddess of Birding Blesses Whom She Pleaseth and Punishes Whom She Pleaseth and She May Not Be Predicted.

28 October, 2011

Dedicated Patchworker or Filthy Twitcher?

A brief post before I collapse - hopefully I'll get back to it later.

Another day without sleep today - I'm a masochist, I know... But before that... Wednesday saw me in town doing Things That Needed To Be Done, so I took the chance to bash the Harbour gulls - 36 Herring, 1 GBB, 1 BHG, plus 2 Shags, a Moorhen and 70+ Feral Pigs... None of the Herrings even looked slightly unusual, either.. :(

Ok, this morning I was at the Nose for sunrise, with a strange feeling of promise in the air [plus quite a chill] [and a very pretty sunrise]. 'Maybe a cute little warbler might be lurking? A Pallas' even, or a Radde's or Dusky?' Thus I thought. [[Those psychic powers need polishing, methinks...]] The whole accessible area I did check diligently, high and low, but only one warbler did I uncover, and that a male Blackcap, who showed me his vent. Uncouth bird, must be a german ;) Goldcrests and Bullfinches showed well [the latter with the aid of some fieldcraft - not bad after a night shift!] but the only bird of real note flew over low - another Woodlark! This time going north. Also a continued [and mostly too high to see] passage of finches, Skylarks and Mipits - with the odd group coming in low enough to count. Siskins were the most numerous seen, but Chaffs dominated the calls by a long way. Thrushes are starting to reappear too, Song and Blackbirds so far.

I got home and saw that, oooh yes, the adorable little Pied Wheatear was still up in Gloucestershire [or whatever its called these days.... Cuba, isn't it?]. I'd been eyeing it covetously since it was found and had planned a filthy twitch... BUT - Dusky in Exmouth! Darn news services, why couldn't they leave me in blissful ignorance??? Another Lifer, [one with history, too] and in Devon. BUT with a paucity of details, it might be like the last super warbler found there - seen and gone... What to do?

After brief agonising, I decided that a Wheatear on a roof beats a Warbler in a bush. [Boom boom]. Too frazzled for playing hide and seek with an apparently mobile and elusive [[oh, those words, see the terror they strike in a filthy twitcher's heart...]] warbler I went to Oldbury-on-Severn. Yep, chose a nice long drive on a busy motorway, plus navigating byways, having been up since mid-afternoon yesterday...

I'm still here. Ginormous M5 tailbacks survived, deranged drivers avoided, rest stop taken [[like the signs tell you to ;) ]], lanes successfully navigated, bird picked out before I even set foot off the Severn Way*... The Pied Wheatear is an utter star of a bird, much prettier than the photos suggest, the sunshine really brought out her best. Plus she knew exactly how a rarity should behave; poses, varied behaviour, and moving so each group could get a good angle. Five stars.

Kudos is also due to the Thornbury Yacht Club for freely allowing the [admittedly not vast] horde to wander over their property and stare at their roof.. :D

[[*Almost as good as the King Eider - which was; Get Out Of Car. Raise Bins. Tick.**]]

[[** I do the bird a disservice, as though finding it was easier than a very easy thing, he later came out of the water right in front of me {as I sat by the wall huddled out of the wind} and showed off the intricacies of plumage not visible at range. Very worthwhile and needed a few hours of getting cold to see.]]

Odds on the Dusky still being around tomorrow......?
[[Hopeless, really he is...............]]

23 October, 2011

Why Did The Skua Cross The Road?

To get to Berry Head!

Are you sitting down?


I'll say it again. 233.

That's how many skuas went by in a little over 8 hours of watching. I missed a few, too.

There's more...

88, yes, that's right, 88 of them were Pomarine.

I didn't even start watching 'til half nine.... I'd woken up early, looked out and thought "Nah, its all bright, I'll have another hour and just wander over...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" Bugger. [[The plan had always been to do a seawatch at Berry, as the Nose in a strong SE on a sunny weekend is not a good idea, really...]]

They came in pulses, mostly Bonxies and Arctics in the morning, then a wave of Poms, before Arctics numbers picked up again late on. At times it was mayhem - 15 skuas in sight at once, poor innocent Kittiwakes getting 5 on their tails [only one fatality that we saw, fortunately - that being a 1w. Kitt killed and eaten by Bonxies], Arctics robbing Kitts only to be Bonxied themselves... The totals in my notebook came out as 98 Bonxie, 88 Pom [[yup, saying it again! :) ]], 39 Arctic, and 8 'sp.', [including a quite Long-tailed - looking one, which was great on size and structure, but too warm on colour].

But I'm jumping ahead a bit.. I arrived to find [Probably-Devon-But-I'm-Ashamed-To-Admit-I-Forgot-To-Ask Birder] already watching. We had 15 skuas in the first 45 minutes, and it went on from there - the star birds being a Sooty Shear and a ridiculously long-spooned Pom [I've never seen anything like it, either in person or in print!]. After a couple of hours he left, but early afternoon [Famous Devon Birder] arrived and stayed on until the light deteriorated. We had a lot of fun! :D Poms coming in very close, scattering the rafts of Kitts that built up in the lee of the Head before powering on. One even plonked down next to them [[I can just imagine the Kitts' terrified whispers; "It's right there..." "Don't fly! If you fly it has to chase! Just pretend to be driftwood..." "I told you we should have gone past Ireland, but no,no, 'There's always fewer skuas in the Channel', you said..."]]

There was also a fair passage of Gannets and Kittiwakes [I counted ~600 and ~800 in 4.5 hours respectively before I gave up under the weight of skuas!] with 120+ auks [mostly Razorbills], 7 C. Scoter, 7 Fulmar, 4 Common Gull, 2 LBBs, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Tern for colour.

The weather deserves a mention. It was sunny. A lot. There was a gunkyness to the distance [I suspect blown spray, myself] and oh the wind was blowing a hoolie - not so strong at first, but from a brisk to strong SSW it went to S then SSE and finally SE and got up to 'Yikes!'. [Famous Devon Birder] and I ended up huddled next to the cliff face to get out of the vicious gusts and regular dousings of seawater. In the distance, the waves were breaking up to 3/4 up the Ore Stone. That's impressive...

Landbird wise, a couple of Skylarks and alba Wagtailss flew over south as I arrived, and a Wheatear was clinging onto the Head around noon, otherwise all the standards [apart from the Crows and Jackdaws, which loved it] were hiding out of the wind!

What a day.

22 October, 2011

And Another One...

I decided to not set my alarm this morning and get up as and when - after about 33 hours without sleep I figured it was wise to let my body recover. Hmm... Waking up in the middle of the day is not something I've done for a while. Drat. Oh well, I'm sure I needed it.

Seeing that I'd made a very wise decision in not going to cornwall, I decided instead to give the Patch a mighty bash and see what fell out. I walked a big loop around the Torquay peninsula, giving most attention to the north side [the wind was brisk and southerly, so it seemed a good idea]. For the most part there were the usual suspects, with Bullfinches and surprise Siskins [in Upton Vale of all places] coming in for the podium places. No, not a sniff of the Yellow-brow at Hopes Nose. But of course.

The fun bit started on Babbacombe Downs, with a fly-by. It was a finchy sparrowy looking passerine with slighty greyish brown uppers and very white underparts - even the underwings, tips of the flight feathers were darker, giving a fringe but that was it. It flew past heading east at clifftop height. I have no idea what it was. Anyway, I figured it probably wasn't stopping any time soon, but just in case it was I'd give Sannox a look. 'Glen Sannox' is the name somebody with a deficient grasp of locale has given the little valley [come gully] leading down to Babbacombe Beach [[Home of a road with a 45° slope - it's fun to drive...]]. It annoys me, but I'm not going to rant about it. Any more than I just have. But it is also the site of a restored garden, which is a lovely little spot. Apart from the drunks, druggies, and 'characters' who are drawn there. If you're ever in the area, take a look. But I'd advise against trying to drive down to the beach, really I would ;)

Right then... So, I headed around the Theatre, following the twisty little path and keeping an eye out for, er, whatever it was. I didn't find it. But I did find another Firecrest. :D I spent 10 [yes, 10!] glorious minutes watching it work through the evergreen trees [I'm rubbish at trees]], viewing down to less than 10' at eye level, plus everything up to right overhead. It was brilliant! I was grinning so much that I think I unnerved several probably innocent lone passers-by. To think of all the grief that one on IMD caused me earlier in the year... Birding, eh?

Annnd finally - as the council have kindly given the gulls their pontoon back, I gave it a look. 23 Herrings, 2 Geebs and a BHG. Wow.

Hey Starbuck, fetch me my harpoon....

21 October, 2011

A Suweet Suweet Day.

Apologies for the brevity, but I haven't been to bed yet... [[No, I'm not going for the Tanager; nice bird, oh yes, but elusive + vast hordes + narrow confines = I'll wait another 29 years...]]

Another week of work done and once again it was out for first light [how handy these dark mornings are.. ;) ] at the Nose, where a quick look before I had to take the li'l car to be serviced got a bit extended when a Yellow-browed Warbler started calling from a big chunk of bushes on the Lower Slope.... Nice to know I wasn't hallucinating last time. I gave it, well, a lot longer than I'd intended being there, trying to get eyes on the little bugger, but it wasn't playing ball. Tearing myself away and legging it up the hill [[Ouch... Doesn't get less steep]] I had to collapse in a wheezing heap by the gate go and spend the morning in Paignton while my car was in the garage. Where handily [Famous Devon Birder] had found another one the day before.

I toddled over to Clennon {{despite much temptation, not inside the Patch, despite me walking there - you've got to draw lines somewhere and it really is [Famous Devon Birder's] turf.}} and after a surprise point-blank pop-up encounter, the Yellow-brow proceeded to taunt me by hiding in a dense band of Willows and calling like there was no tomorrow. It then shut up and hid. After an hour and a half I had to be getting back, with the consolation of a couple of male Blackcaps [only other warblers on site - indeed no Chiffs for me anywhere, either] and some very vocal Water Rails on the bottom pond, plus a few Gadwall and Shoveler, 3 Little Grebes and both Grey Heron and Little Egret. A hawker sp. was on the wing by the Spring Pool [the Yellow-brow was lurking a bit further down, in the mangrove-like willows bordering the next pond], but it didn't show well enough to ID.

Getting home I had a quick bite then back to the Nose. No joy. A female Blackcap was the only warbler. Several LTT bands about, but not even a Goldcrest with them... Oh well. Other than the morning's excitement, it was very quiet - early on a few Mipits, alba Wags, and the commoner finches were moving, but no massive numbers. I felt like one of those days when you console yourself with the knowledge that all the empty hours buy the full ones.. and then; Suweet!

PYL: 82.5%

16 October, 2011

Never Mind That Eagle, How About a Canada Goose!

Now, "What madness is this?!?" I hear you cry. Ah, 'tis the Joy of Patch Listing. When a manky noisy should-all-be-shot Canada Goose gives you that spike of ecstasy... Ok, you're right about the madness.

I awoke before dawn this morning [not bad considering], looked out the window, saw clouds and so dragged up and got down to the Nose. This worked out nicely. There was a steady passage of southbound passerines, with the most numerous species being Goldfinches - unusual. The wind was lighter and in a more friendly direction than on Friday, but there still wasn't much going on in the bushes - clearly not murky enough [to the south, Berry Head looked promisingly mist-wreathed]. All the action was in the air, and as well as the expected Mipits, alba Wagtails, Green and Chaffinches, Siskins, Skylarks and Swallows there were a group of Redpoll [Patch Tick!] and a Woodlark! The lark came over nice and low, right overhead, not 5 minutes after I arrived. Brilliant! :D

Now... Enter The Goose. Flypast, low over the sea, honking away. Deary me... Also over the sea were an auk sp. [bins only, it was quite close] and 4 Gannets. Yeah, really stunning... I went over everything that could be gone over and then noticed a large amount of rain coming across the bay to say "hi', so decided it was a good time to go home and have some coffee... [[What a wimp...]]

This afternoon I wailed pathetically on seeing the news recognised the futility in chasing eagles flying away from me and took a wander around the top end of Cockington [defying the Apple Day crowds] in the hope of getting Stock Dove on the Patch Year List, but no dice. A Green Woodpecker showed well, though managed to hide its gender [impressive use of dangly branch]. Star sighting was a ridiculously confiding [for an odonate] female Common Darter, sat on a fence and allowing inspection down to a couple of feet. An overmature individual, she was very pretty indeed.

Yesterday was Day Out with the rellys - we took a wander around Fernworthy [wanting to protect our guests' ears from Tilly's enthusiasm as much as possible] [[Yes, futile - there's always something she can find to go bonkers at...]]. Crossbills were present in some numbers, mostly staying irritatingly distant and mobile, but eventually showing nicely. A lone Wheatear hung around the exposed hut circles near the car park, and a Migrant Hawker was patrolling below the dam, while the first Redwing of the autumn in the form of a flock of 23 went over westwards. A few hirundines were still passing - at least 2 of which were House Martins.

Plenty of the usual woodland species - in places a lot of them - with a very vocal Nuthatch and at least 3 GSWs notable. The reservoir was quiet, though, despite there being less disturbance than on my last few visits. A single Cormorant and a half dozen large gulls arriving late on being the sum total. A lot of deer were in the area, to Tilly's great interest, and we saw slots all over the place, including a good sized group of Red Deer, but no sightings [perhaps a good thing, as Tilda really likes them...].

Finally another Canada Goose, this time on the sign of the Ruptured Duck, where we had a very nice meal that evening [thus my self-congratulation at getting up so early the next day ;) ]. Said pub is not actually called the Ruptured Duck [[which is an in-joke so old nobody can actually remember why we call it that...]], though perhaps it should be, as Canadas are not proper wild geese, are they? Might as well have a Bar-head. A nice Brent would be much more appropriate. Still, they do good food and good beer, so a little leeway.

PYL: 82%

14 October, 2011

An Interesting Day

This is a quick interim post, hopefully tomorrow [or maybe Sunday..] I'll flesh it out more, so my apologies.

In from work this morning, I had the intention of getting over to Bowling Green for the high tide - seems to be getting to be a nice routine for me. Today I decided that yes, it had been clear enough early in the night then cloudy enough later on that with the SE [or so] wind there might be some migrants at Hopes Nose. So first up I stopped off there, creditably soon after sunrise, too!

Of course, the down side with a brisk SSE [which this really was] is that it blasts up everywhere except the North Side, which [as I'm always saying] you can't get at... It was not as dead as I'd feared, with a fair bit of passage going on - highlight being 2 groups of Siskin [Patch Year Tick!], but Bullfinches also featured along with Chaffs, Greenfinches, and Mipits. No lurking Bluetails that I could find, alas.

I pulled up at Bowling Green at 9:00 on the dot [after the usual fun drive] and no sooner had I plonked down in the hide than a Glossy Ibis did the same out among the waders! RESULT! :D It was ringed, too - metal on the right and a Darvik-type* on the left [off-white or very faded yellow] with 'JM10' [[Probably; the 1 was a little funny-looking and the bird never gave us a full on view]]. It stuck around for 20 minutes or so then flew off high to the east, disappointing more than a few who'd been called about it. A juvenile Spoonbill was more accommodating, even waking up and feeding now and again! Plenty of other waders about, including a Ruff, 3 Spotshank [2 juvs from the hide and later an ad. and a juv from the platform], 3 Golden Plover [looking gorgeous], 22 Greenshank, 2 Green Sand, and 42 Avocet.

[[*Ie. a big ring with letters/numbers on it. If that's not what 'darvik' means, please feel free to correct me..]]

Currently we have relatives visiting, and as I was heading over to Dart's Farm - just in case the Ibis went there - the Folks called to arrange a meet up with me for a look about and some lunch. This led to several of Devon's Finest [who shall remain nameless in thanks for their forbearance] meeting Tilly and her, er.. 'enthusiastic' approach to the great outdoors. Though the family party arrived after the waders had moved out, together we saw the Spoonbill [it preened for us for all of 5 seconds!], the Ruff, Spotshank, and the [now a bit distant] Avocet, so that wasn't at all bad. The Blackwits off the Goatwalk were their usual confiding selves, which was great, and a tricksy phyllosc with a tit band kept us amused for a few minutes [[it was a Chiff, almost certainly, but a silent and very mobile one so still fun to try to get on long enough to be sure! :) ]].

After fighting off the beer-hungry jaspers a pub lunch in Topsham, we went our separate ways - they on to Mamhead and Labrador [They reported heard-only Crossbills and unfortunately dipped the Cirls], me home to crash* after 24 hours without sleep....

[[*And home without crashing, which was good. I got 3 hours before having to be up for a Big Family Dinner, {which was a lot of fun, and there was cake. Result.}. I apologise again if the usually high {{ ::Cough cough:: }} standards of this blog have been compromised by this woeful misalignment of my priorities.]]

PYL: 81.5%

09 October, 2011

Sea Watching

Note the significant space, there.

What to do, what to do? Strong wind and gunky stuff had been forecast and seemed to be on the cards, at least out of t' Moor's lee, anyway. The tides were feeling intransigent. I toyed with going up on't Moor anyway - it'd be nice and empty of all but howling wind and sideways rain up there, after all - but I just wasn't in the mood. Standard default applies. I went to Prawle.

Upon climbing up to the Point, I got a shock, I can tell you. I can't remember the last time I turned up to find someone else there seawatching. It was a long long time ago... [Three Devon Birders] had had a few good birds before I could drag myself on site, including all 3 flavours of Diver. Having been told it had pretty much died, the first bird I got onto was a very nice light morph Arctic Skua. Sadly, this was not quite the omen I hoped it was. It got sunnier and sunnier and my companions departed for places with birds, that could be seen.

I, having a flask of coffee and being fond of taking the Persistence bit a long long way, stayed put. The sun eventually went away and it got all gungy - it looked pretty good - but the hoped for passage never materialised. Drat. Not all drat, though. Yet another Hobby flew past [[How many is that this year now??!?]] and a female Merlin went for one of the Rockits that had been hanging around looking cute - judging by how seriously she was chasing it, and how only one was evident afterwards, I fear the Rockit got it. [[Sorry]] Star bird came by when it was still quite sunny - indeed the sun shining through the famous white bits was how I picked it up; a juvenile Sabine's Gull passed west at 1146. Took a bit of work though, as the same sun meant a long wait until it was in a position to definitely rule out juv. Kitt [though the structure and flight action looked very good, its always best to be careful as there are some odd Kitts out there]. Fortunately it eventually flew into some nice light and showed itself off, though by this time it was too far around for sustained enjoyment. It also met up with a small group of Kittiwakes, including a juvenile, and the two briefly flying side by side was a lovely few seconds. :D

5 Bonxies, 2 Arctics, 2 mid-sized skua spp. and a small skua sp. [only range prevented that last from being called a Long-tail; it looked really good]*, 7 Balearics and a single Manxie, 114 auks [mostly Razorbills], 35 Kittiwakes [5 of which were juveniles], and a light passage of Gannets may not seem that bad at first glance, but this is over more than 6 hours. Oh boy it was very very dead for long periods. Just the odd small group of auks to try to id. This was a fair challenge, its true. Also passing vessels to look at, most notably Runway 06 which went steaming by west before later heading back towards portsmouth...

[[*Who says you never get skuas at Prawle? ;) ]]

What do you do when all you're watching is the sea? I like to play Name That Ship, though some of the puns people paint on the backs of their yachts.... Urgh. I also just like to sit there, watching the waves, being sheltered from the elements, feeling the headland vibrating. Soothing, that's what it is.

I came home via Slapton - the wind blasting over the Ley had the gull roost mostly tucked into Ireland Bay [I gave them a quick grill but saw nothing more notable than LBBs], with any ducks further in still. Her Ladyship was in the process of flying off as I arrived, but a Cetti's called from near the Higher Ley, so that was good. .

08 October, 2011

I'm On Fiiiiiiiiiire........

First of all, I'd like to apologise for that title, really I would. That blimmin' chorus line's been running through my head all afternoon, though.

So, I went back to the Nose to see if I could pin that YBW down. Getting up was always going to be an issue [its so much easier to just not go to bed....] and so I was not down at the crack of dawn. Also its been a sunny [ish] Saturday, so there were always going to be more bods about. I gave it a good bash, ending up not getting home for lunch until mid afternoon, so I can't say I didn't put the effort in.

I found a few tit bands, but the only phylloscs with them were Chiffs. Only one Blackcap, too. But some nice Goldcrests, and best of all I got some really great prolonged and very close views of the Firecrest! :D

Ok, to the tale... After a big but YBW-less band on IMD, I worked my way down the Nose and back up again, with not a lot to show for it, bar a Grey Heron and 32 Oyks on the rocks, plus a flock of about 25 Common Scoter heading south. No Wheatears. As I got back to the Entrance Bushes, a tit band arrived from the North Side. Goldcrests, LTTs, Blue Tits, Great Tits, and a couple of Chiffs. As I was watching them from the lower gate I heard a Firecrest call, but it wasn't feeling showy - the Entrance Bushes are a bitch like that, unless the birds are right on the edge or in the tops you haven't a chance. At this point a group of civilians come up the slope. 'Great...' thinks I. Last lady asks me what I'm looking at, so I tell her about the group of birds and the Firecrest which - ah, there they all go. I'm smilingly philosophical about it. After they've gone on, I follow [I shut the frickin' gate properly. Mutter mutter...]. Reaching the top I see a couple of Blue Tits hanging around the bushes at the start of the footpath over the road. Worth a look... Just by the steps up to the path there's a little pine and in it is the Firecrest. It happily ignores me and feeds there for several minutes, moving on to another pine further on before heading into the Rich Peoples' gardens beyond. WOW.

I'm a happy birder.

[[Oh, I then went on to check a lot of other bits for the YBW and got no joy, though a Nuthatch by the Palace was nice. C'est la vie.]]

07 October, 2011

WARNING: This Post May Seriously Damage Your Health

Government Health Warning
This post contains something so sickeningly cute and adorable that it may cause serious mental damage / strokes / haemorrhaging from eyes, ears, and⁄or nose / scrofula / auto-optic destruction / compulsive vomiting / light nasal itching. For your own safety, you are advised not to read it.

Seriously. Stop right now.

Ok, you were warned....

So, back to the night shift at work. :) Its so much nicer only having to turn up 4 days a week, and thus having Fridays to do stuff in [even if, like today, it's mostly been dog-sitting]. Down side is the lack of a chance to get birds on the Work List [though I'm hopeful for a nice owl, maybe?], up side is being home first thing and so getting the chance to get some audiomig [or even vismig, ha ha ha...]. Thus it was that Tuesday morning I was able to add Linnet to my Garden List! :D

This morning, taking advantage of the longer nights, I was able to get home, have something to eat, grab the Big Scope and get down to the Nose for sunrise [well, it would have been sunrise if it wasn't cloudy...]. As last night started starry, I had a little [only a little with the wind] hope of some migrants.

I got a shock - I was the only one there! This just doesn't happen. I got nigh half an hour all to myself before the first fishermen came stomping down, and more than an hour before the first dog walker. What's going on?!? It was me and the Sheep of Doom, plus what I could find lurking in the bushes...

But before that, overhead passage! Swallows and a few House Martins were coming in/off from the SE [?], but a steady movement of passerines were heading south, mostly hidden in the cloud, but their calls came down nicely. Green, Gold, Bull, and Chaffinches, Linnets, Mipits, but best of all... at least 2 Crossbill! Patch Tick! Rather overdue, but as there's no coniferous woodland big enough to attract them here, fly-overs were always going to be the only way to get them and I'd never been lucky. The Top Dell was quiet [well, apart from Robins and Wrens and Great Tits, so not really that quiet], as was the South Side, the Upper Slope, the Upper Plateau, the North Side and most of the Lower Slope [aside from a well-marked Chiff, which was briefly interesting]. The wind was blowing up the Bottom Dell, so I turned my attention to the sea, getting a score or so of Gannets and the welcome Patch Year Tick of a female Goosander flying past south..

I was counting Oyks [23] from the path roughly between The Alcove and The Ledge when I noticed something small flying down along the water's edge - didn't look right for a Rockit. Holy Shit! Kingfisher!!!!!!!!! It was playing that 'fishin' in the surf' game they sometimes do at Dawlish and I got the scope on it - lovely male. Crippling views were had and I was a happy birder indeed - another Patch Tick! Eventually he moved on and so did I, to wonder what that white thing was on the rocks by Sandy Point... Oh deary me, it was a Grey Seal pup. All white fur and ickle fuzzy flippers, the pup was crashed out, fast asleep, on its back. Now and again it would wave a flipper, like a dog dreaming of chasing cats... Oh, the cuteness of this thing does not transfer to type, and you should be very very grateful. At one point it woke up, had a look around, then went back to sleep. If Hallmark could have photo'd that look, they'd achieve World Domination in a fortnight...

It was the Wheatears that saved me. Three of them. I like Wheatears, no in fact I love them. They saved me from that horror, if I hadn't been distracted I'd still be stood there going "Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww....................................."

Climbing back up the Lower Slope, I detoured to avoid following a dog walker and found a nice band of mostly Blue Tits and Goldcrests, with no less than 5 Blackcaps tagging along. Also what looked very like a Y-B Warbler, {or at least something Goldcrest-sized with two yellow stripes on its head}, but it was too brief to clinch and the group moved off into the North Side [where you can't get at them] and didn't come back. Drat. At the Entrance Bushes, a band of LTTs and Goldcrests had a Firecrest with them, but it wasn't much consolation. And they buggered off into the North Side too, the gits.

Still, even with yet another frustrating drop, it was a glorious bit of birding

PYL: 81%

03 October, 2011

A Sunny Stroll

After all the fun in zumerzet, yesterday I did another thing I've not done for a while - had a day out on't Moor with the Folks [and of course Tilly the Wonder Dog*]. Weather, work, and a Patch Yearlist have been getting in the way, but as it was sunny [[and there was no way I'd be up early enough to bash the Nose before the hordes descended {as they surely would}]] I thought 'Yes, let's go!'

[[*As in, 'It is a wonder how she can go so bonkers so often without losing her not-so-little voice...']]

We parked at Belstone and went south along the ridge in blasting sunshine and a brisk wind. Once upon a time, not so many years ago, when we did the same thing on a similar day at a similar time of year, 2 Red Kites flew over us. Not this time, alas. Indeed the only birds of note we saw all day were Wheatears and a few passing passerines [nothing spectacular, though I've not seen Greenfinches on {Ok, flying over} the High Moor before]. Red Admirals were passing southwest in a similar number to the day before [and indeed could have been some of the same individuals, I suppose!]. Mipits and Skylarks were plentiful, though whether there was any passage going on or not I couldn't tell.

Belstone is a lovely village, a proper village, not just a collection of houses along a road or by a bridge. Its eclectic, with stone homes of all shapes and sizes, seemingly put down at random, with the roads filling in the gaps between them [its fun to drive through]. So many styles of building, and none of the horrific estates of little boxes you see all over the place. If not for the weather in the winter and the grockles in the summer it'd be a wonderful place to live.

The Belstone ridge runs between the valleys of the Taw and East Okement, its very much an anti-valley, weaving sinuously along its course, studded with tors as a moorland river is with rapids and falls. Its northern end, containing Belstone Tor itself, is a wild and rocky place, one long outcrop after another rise from steep slopes full of clitter. There are tracks at those slopes' feet, but only one path along the top, a small tricky thing that weaves around the rocks and through the clitter, delighting in sprouting dead ends. The southern part, though, is grassier and friendlier place, with muddy bits the chief hazard [though Oke Tor has a clitter slope, too].

After lunch at Oke Tor, we took the way down into Steeperton Gorge [which is well-named] crossing the ford and carrying on towards Hangingstone Hill, though not with the intent of climbing it, but instead paying a visit to Ted Hughes' Memorial. The grass has really grown up this year, and the old path is mostly hidden, so getting to Ted's stone was a little more interesting than we expected, as we had to wade through waist high tussocks. Looping back, we took the East Okement valley track rather than the ridgetop path and met a Common Hawker patrolling the sheltered runnels. Eventually some high cloud took the edge off the sunshine [only the wind had made walking practical, it was much more like August than October] but all in all it had been a glorious day.

01 October, 2011

Patience, Persistence, and Lots of Sunblock

It's a shocking statistic, so I hope you're sitting down, but I haven't been on a proper twitch since July! Horrifying, I know. I've been being good, bashing my Patch, and so on, but really this needed to change. Fortunately, at last one of those gorgeous baby Pallid Harriers, such as have been teasing me by flapping around Shetland and suchlike far and distant places, finally decided to pop up somewhere I'll allow myself to get to. It still had to have some fun - arriving midweek so I'd have to wait to see if it would stay or not and indeed had more than that besides. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I figured the best tactic would be to head up to Beacon Batch [I went there once, many years ago, on a whistle-stop Geography field trip. They've put a lot of rocks in since then...] and be prepared to stay put the whole day. The Harrier would eventually fly past. It had been doing so all week.

It did indeed do this, though for me to get eyes on it took more than 8 hours. Oh yes indeed.

Many and intrepid were the birders assembled to see the russki visitor [or Ukrainian, or...], braving blazing sunshine, intransigent geography [Those hills are very poorly shaped for observing low-flying birds, really they are. Someone ought to complain.], and mis-identified Buzzards, Kestrels, Ravens, and Sparrowhawks. Plus having to explain to passing civilians what a Pallid Harrier was approximately 7 times an hour....

I'm not going to go into it in great detail [[Stop cheering]], suffice to say I covered a lot of ground, missed it by margins narrow and frustrating, but eventually got some very nice views, culminating in the slightly surreal and very amusing sight of said Harrier being mobbed by 3 Pied Wagtails! Also seen were yet another Hobby, 6 Crossbills [N] and 3 Snipe [S], plus the best view I have ever had of a Kestrel - a hunting female hovering very close and staying put long enough for me to get the Big Scope on her for Simon King level views... Wow. Hirundines were moving in a constant stream, 90% Swallows and there must have been thousands going south over the course of the day. On the butterfly front [yes, there's a butterfly front, slightly noisier than the Western one, perhaps?] I saw a Hummingbird Hawkmoth east of the radio masts and another chap saw one near the trig point, also Red Admirals were passing south in low but steady numbers. Back to birds; icing on the way out in a juvie Marsh Harrier and on the way back with a Barn Owl. :)

Oh, and if anyone is thinking of going up for it - don't do as you are advised elsewhere online and park 'between the sharp bends near Tynings Farm' as the farmer has large bits of machinery to move and ploughs and bodywork don't mix... To translate his request; "Please park only in laybys where you are entirely off the road and not next to or opposite any farm or field entrances, thankyou". Alternatively, park at the masts [limited space etc.] or the Ellick car park on the B3134. Go on, take a picnic and enjoy the 360° panorama, its worth the climb by itself.

I apologise if this post was a bit disjointed or generally odd [odder?] - its been a long day and I opened the Uigeadail in celebration. I really thought I was going to end up staying 'til dark and dip....