26 November, 2011

Oh Bugger...

I type this late and slowly, I'm afraid, as I have damaged myself again....

So I was at Hope's Nose, which as I have in the past described as 'not so much slippery when wet as downright dangerous'. It was wet, and yes, I had a little accident. There is a rock. A nice rock [or so I thought]. I have stood on it hundreds of times, looking into the Top Dell. Its siltstone, not limestone, so is nowhere near as ice-like when water is applied to it. Or so I thought.

Anyway, I had been standing on it, looking into the Top Dell for what might have been a late Ouzel [but was probably just that Blackbird again] [[But you never know]][[[*]]]. I decided to move on, shifted my position, tested my footing, it seemed firm, so I picked up my other foot.. My planted right foot just went from under me like I was on a cartoon banana skin. A 90° pivot and fall gave me just enough time to think "This is the kind of fall that breaks your hip" before impact. Did I mention I had my Big Scope over my shoulder?


Once I'd finished turning the air indigo, I checked to see what was broken. My scope and tripod were seemingly intact [What?? a) bones heal, metal and carbon fibre doesn't, and b) I'm a birder; Your optics come first! ], my bins landed on me so they weren't in danger. They build them well in Japan and Italy [the custom padding I've added to my scope against just such an eventuality may have helped]. No bones broken, either, and everything seemed to work. Wow, did I get away with that?!? I walked [very carefully] down to the lower bench to check my scope hadn't had its prisms jarred, and no, they were ok too, it seemed. A pod of Bottlenose Dolphin then came by south [one had a very noticeable notch in the tip of its dorsal - almost like it was split].

I kept looking around the Nose, feeling my right ankle, but that cleared up. Result? I went on to Preston [a Black-necked Grebe and not much else] and then Cockington, and then, up the high fields near Scadson's Wood, as I went to hop over a stile, my right wrist gave under me and I almost went into the mud... damn. It started seizing up worse and worse, so I headed home. No swelling means no sprain, but I've evidently bruised the ligaments where the hand bones meet the arm bones. It's weird; it looks fine, but any pressure or move it the wrong way and ouch! So, a day of not a lot of fun for me. The good news is it should heal in days rather than weeks [its already better than it was - I can now type with both hands, albeit slowly], but the bad is I'm rather limited because of course, its the right one and I'm not a southpaw..

Today I had a lie-in, then got some stuff done. I managed to have a look at the Harbour, where there were no gulls on the pontoon, but 4 Pied Wags. A single GC Grebe was all I could get on the sea - high tide, strong wind and so on..

Before I had my little accident I'd had some good stuff at the Nose - a tristis Chiffchaff, no less! :D It called and everything, nice and close too, though not super-prolonged. Also a couple of Blackcaps and a collybita Chiff. There were at least 125 Guillemots on the Ore Stone, and a dozen Kittiwakes and Gannets were attending a group of trawlers,which seemed to be working together about a mile offshore.
Cockington had a Stock Dove [Patch Yeartick!], three Mistle Thrushes in one tree and a group of very confiding and active [even for them] Goldcrests, including one very shirty male with his crest seemingly permanently raised. Also, on my way back I passed the new 'craft centre thing' - oh dear.

[[[*It was just a Blackbird, too...]]

PYL: 83.5%

24 November, 2011

Urban Birding

Having to get up a little early to get Something Done, I found myself walking the streets in daylight on a work day, for the first time in a fair while. Naturally I had my eyes and ears open - though not just for birds as I had to walk through one of the more, er, interesting neighbourhoods in my Patch. Birding-wise, there's not a huge amount of prospect to it, a [sub]urban area with a few trees and bushes, a bit of rather muddy and over-dogged grass, plenty of tarmac [tatty] and concrete [stained]. Lots of rooftops, though.

The housing in my Patch is very much divided into haves and have-nots. The haves have nice big gardens with trees and bushes full of promise, the have-nots have rooftops and maybe a little bushy garden in place of the far-too-frequent decking. You might get a Blackstart on a roof. Not to say Blackstarts aren't interesting, they're wonderful, but you get the comparison.

What did I see today? Well, there are the ubiquitous Herring Gulls - a nice 1w with a very Iceland-y shape and colour to it [spoiled by the head and bill, it was just a Herring] - plus a few others, mostly messing about in the wind. Magpies, too. Lots of them about, they're doing very well here, have been for a couple of years now. Crows, too, though fewer than Magpies where I was. A Grey Wagtail was a little unexpected [though shouldn't really be any more] and very welcome, Pied Wagtails more expected. This urban Grey Wagtail thing - is it just here or are they in towns a lot? Its a year-round thing; they breed in central Torquay, for goodness' sake... Could it be that as they're 'supposed' to like the rocky sides of rivers and streams, houses with gutters are good enough? Is it a case of ongoing adaptation? Have you seen Grey Wagtails in built-up areas? Answers on a postcard, please.

Anyway.. Feral Pigeons lurking on roof corners and that was it. No other small passerines, not even a Sparrow. Too windy, really. It was just a quick trip out, though, so not too surprising. On a longer trip.. well, if I get over 15 species I'm usually doing well [or getting into the areas the last government seemed to think everyone lives in down here...].

Of course, because nothing in birding is black and white [well, Black and White Warblers aside]; last winter.. this was where the Waxwings were. :D

21 November, 2011

Another Boring Post

About where I went and what I saw.....

One day I will get back to amusingly deranged rants and other interesting things, promise!

Saturday did not see me zooming up to Chew after the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, as I had work going on. Arg. I might have been able to twitch it straight from, but considering the amount of daylight left, I didn't think it really viable. I know, what's the rule?

Instead I stayed on my poor underwatched Patch, and resolved to at the very least bash the Harbour gulls senseless. This turned out to be a problem, as some helpful person had covered their pontoon in fireworks, and there wasn't a single larid present... To make matters worse, someone with a very loud PA who thought he was the reincarnation of Freddy Mercury was rending the air. Oh, my poor ears.......

Even right out on Haldon Pier it was intolerably loud, but there were at least some nice birds on the Real Living Coast to distract me. The Purple Sandpipers are back for the winter - I counted 5 hiding among the 'granite' chunks; there will be more - and an impressive 11 Turnstone, too, plus a couple of Rockits. Scanning the Bay brought a Slavonian Grebe off Livermead, at least 3 Great-crested, and a distant Black-necked. A Grey Wagtail in town was by now expected and did not disappoint, though the call was hard to hear over the cacophany of 'music' going on. I don't know what sort of event it was, I'd heard nothing about it [or I wouldn't have been there..]. I really ought to stop going on about it.

Also on Saturday, our first Blackcap of the winter - a female.

Sunday dawned, well sort of bright and cheerful. I'd decided to go for the Sharp-tail if it was there [trying to be good and so on...] but there would be no burning petrol on spec. Finding news proved problematic. A certain telephone news service recycled all of the previous day's news and didn't even mention the mega-rarity in their area, despite a report being out [which I missed, due to the 3-post rule and Black Redstarts being so noteworthy]. Last time I call them. Eventually, a begging post on a Certain Online Forum About Birds resulted in someone taking pity on me. May they find the next first for Britain.

One Wacky Race later...

Distant but distinctive, I think that's the best way to put it. The Big Scope with its 75x did its duty, indeed several birders near me abandoned theirs to look through mine. [I'm not smug, really I'm not. Satisfied. Pleased. Ok, maybe a little bit too happy. Its just nice to have my choice of a straight-through with a big eyepiece pay off. :) ] The intervening Willow trees and reeds did make things tricky, as did the STS's habit of wandering out of sight. Also, in the first hour or so, the Lapwings were very nervy and kept flushing, taking the small waders with them. The STS could be easily picked in flight - it looked very Ruff-y - which was nice and helped refinding it quickly. On the ground, when the sun shone [albeit briefly] it was as gorgeous as you'd expect a juvenile to be.

Also present were at least 12 Snipe, a smart Little Stint*, and up to 34 Dunlin. Off to one side, 2 Bewick's Swans were nice, and the Spotted Sand over the road showed twice while I was there. I couldn't find the Dowitchers, despite scanning all the mud visible from the length of the bridge. Oh well. Nor did I see any Ring-billed Gulls among the Commons and LBBs ::Shrugs::

As the Sharp had by this point decided to hide for a while, I moved on to make a gradual trip back. First stop being Catcott Lows, where there were 2 more Bewick's! I spent an hour counting ducks [A sample; 57 Pintail, 36 Shoveler, ~500 Wigeon] and Lapwings [~1800] and watching flocks of Starlings assembling. The biggest being ~3500. Alas, the mist/haze prevented any long-range views of any display. I did get a Snipe display, when a passing Buzzard put up 81 of them. A lone Oystercatcher dropped in, and there were groups of winter thrushes knocking about, too. It was very very nice there, with low sunlight catching the birds, and the Lapwing coming very close to the hide. Naturally, I hadn't taken the camera this time...

On then to Greylake, hoping for a SEO or 5. [Why not 'the' place? Big detour needed, and time pressing]] I got there a touch later then I would have liked, with everyone else just leaving and reporting not much activity, raptor-wise, but I pressed on regardless. It was pretty much a bust, there were Snipe and Wigeon, and a Woodcock flew over me, but no sign of any owls or anything else on the reserve. I nipped over the road and scanned that side, and in the distance there was an eared owl which looked to be hunting, but I couldn't get anything on it. Drat. But worth a try.

[[*EDIT: As has been later proved, there was a Semi-palmated Sandpiper present up to the 20th, and I saw it and assumed it was the Little Stint, which, by the way, I remain sure there was. I saw, in the better light when I arrived, a clear juv. LS. I assumed the grey thing later on [after the waders had flushed repeatedly and when the light had become so annoying] was the same bird. It wasn't. Oh well.]]

18 November, 2011

Shameless Twitching

As I said I would yesterday, I went swanning off to the Backwater to have a go for the Temminck's Stint. It was surprisingly quiet when I arrived at Black Hole [being good and not parking at Colyford, oh what a Saint I am...] - only one car. A couple of people were in the Tower, but I didn't detour on my way, via the path [which has neatly kept the squishiest bit gravel and boardwalk free - nice touch.] to Colyford Common. There I found a couple of birders, who hadn't seen the Stint, but weren't giving up just yet. After we gave everything on the scrape a thorough grilling, they decided to try the platform, to get a different angle and to look for the Water Pipit that had been knocking around. Maybe 5 minutes after that, the Lapwing went up, taking with them a few Starlings and a tiny wader with very white rump and tail sides and a delicate bill. It and a group of the Lapwing headed downriver and I lost them when they went behind a partition and I moved to try to get back on them. Yes, the unreliable and unbelieved bloke who says he saw it in flight at 0905 is me. I would have loved for it to reappear on the deck and show off its legs and so on, but you take what you're given.

A lot of other birders started to arrive, and the hide became well-appointed with eyes. Lapwing came and flushed, joined by up to 12 Dunlin, 46 Curlew and at least one Blackwit. A little before 11, [Devon Birder] found a Spotshank, which had gone undetected by all observers since first thing, due to not being on the scrape, but in the maze of channels and wet bits behind it. The Dunlin in particular managed to get in and out [flying, mostly!] without up to 7 pairs of eyes noticing, so a small sneaky Stint would have had no problem, if it wanted to, in coming and going undetected.

I was resolved to stay put, as Better Views were most definitely Desired. The Stint, it seemed, had other ideas. My high count of 517 Lapwing indicates that, as the flock is definitely 700 or more, there were always Lapwing elsewhere. In front of the Tower, in the wet bits behind the scrape, in the fields on the far bank of the river... The sneaking suspicion that it had gone down to near the Tower kept nagging at me, and I decided to head down to have a thorough search after I'd had a bite to eat. [I'd been on the verge of leaving for Black Hole earlier, when the Dunlin's first arrival had stopped me].

However. Things changed suddenly not long after the Spotshank was found, when [Devon Birder] got a call about what had been found at Mansands. He and [Devon Birder] took off at something approaching Mach 3. I'd just taken my first bite of flapjack, with a fresh cup of coffee poured [[Coffee always calls the birds!!]]. I thought hard and yes, very fast. I'd given it nigh on 3 hours, I had seen the bird, it clearly wasn't feeling co-operative. Black-eared Wheatear [as it was then] would be very nice...

Mach 3? More like Warp Speed.....

I surprised myself by finding it without getting lost, despite only having been there via Coast Path and only seeing the road required on a map. Which I didn't have with me. Its a long way down to the coastguard cottages from the car park. A long, slippy, cobbly way. "Its not a Black-eared, its a Desert" and "Its a male" were two useful bits of info I acquired on the descent, from others climbing up. I was undeterred and still happy - 'even' a Desert Wheatear was a Lifer, after all! [[Tart!]] The assembled throng [well, never getting into double figures, but still not bad for a weekday at short notice] included many of Devon's Finest, and the craic was merry indeed.

Especially when I enlightened them on who the 'some bloke said he saw it in flight' was. Oh, the looks on their faces... Worth the yomp back up the hill alone, that :D *

But the Star of The Show could not be denied. Once again a vagrant Wheatear sits up on a roof and catches flies, while wowing all present. Utterly utterly gorgeous bird. Go look at the photos. If its still there when you read this, go look at the bird! I had, for some reason that made sense to someone who'd been up all night, taken my camera and the New Big Lens, so I couldn't resist sticking it on my tripod and trying some shots. When I get the film developed, if any come out, I'll come back and stick one or two on here [[This is likely to be next year, by the way - cost of film and processing means I take shots verrrrry sparingly...]]. My ancient setup attracted quite a bit of interest among the group - mostly disbelief that anyone could be so behind the times, I think! ;) I like using film, it makes things difficult, yes, its cost me greatly in the past, oh so true, it costs a fortune all the time, undoubtedly. But when it comes off, when you get the prints back and something's worked, oh the joy. Its the Patch birding of photography.

[[* It should be pointed out to those who aren't from Devon that I am a Notorious Stringer and Generally Unreliable Observer]]
[[Yes, really. Came as a surprise to me, as well.]]

17 November, 2011


What other title could I use for my 300th post?


So, what news do I have to impart? Well, not much really. No invasions of Starlings even, let alone flyover Cranes [though something set the gulls off strongly enough to wake me from my slumber at about 2-15 this afternoon. I didn't see what, despite giving anyone looking towards my windows a horrible shock....] [[Yeah, you really needed to know that, didn't you?]] There have been a few Greenfinches and Sparrows and Blue Tits in the Garden, plus the usual Herrings, Crows, Jackdaws, Magpies, Wood- and Feral Pigs flying about. The odd [more local] Starling. A few Redwing over calling after dark, 'tis true. Pied Wags. Nothing spectacular. Still no owls on the commute..

Why the post? 'Temminck's Stint on Colyford Common'. Oh, that brings back a painful lesson. The last time this happened, I was working the 4-shift at the merry 'vox, and I uttered the fateful words; "It's clearly hanging around, it'll still be there tomorrow" to myself as I decided not to twitch it straight from work. Ouch. [[So, the lesson; For a filthy twitcher, Hubris equals death dipping.]]

Reading about it and seeing those lovely pictures today - when it was just too late to get there before dark - I must admit I wailed a little. I know they're not the most spectacular of birds, I've dipped far better and hunger for need much prettier [[Bee-eater, anyone?]], but Temminck's Stint is one of the personal ones. Will it stay? I don't usually call my twitches, but you know where I'll be tomorrow...

But wait, there's more! Time for a burble - I keep coming up with great ideas for these while I'm away from my computer. [Inevitably]. At work, driving, limping around Exminster...
Speaking of, and very quickly, I think I've said all that needs to be said on the subject of Red-breasted Geese on here before. But that won't stop me from re-saying it;
Is the Exe bird the one that was at Stanpit? If so, does that mean its actually wild? I say it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. Its a 1w, with no rings or signs of captivity, acting just like a wild Red-breasted Goose would. If its not kosher, then none of them are. Anywhere. End of.

Time for a bit on gulls.
[[Run now, while you can...]]
Thayer's Gull in Scotland? Or not? Ah, the joys of large gulls. Reading the thread on [Famous Online Forum About Birds], I cannot help but wonder at the use of 'typical' and 'pure' and so on... With big gulls there is no such thing. Show me a typical Herring Gull, please! Not just gulls, either, so many 'species' of birds can interbreed, that I do wonder why the term is still in use. I suppose its laziness convenience; the term 'the person on the street' understands.
But that's a digression [[What's stopping you? I hear you cry.. ;) ]]]. Gulls vary. No two are completely identical, so saying "Oh, we can't put Thayer's on the British List until a perfect one shows up to prove they can get here" is, well, insert your favourite invective here, boys and girls. Because once such a bird does appear, with enough photos to make the online snarkers relevent committees happy, magically, not-quite-so-good birds will be suddenly ok. I know, I shouldn't be going on about this, it doesn't make any difference to me personally how they play their little games, but.... well, what are blogs for if not to exercise the odd rant? [[Oh, I've been through that before as well, haven't I?]]

Let me finish on a much more positive, birdy note; aren't Snow Buntings wonderful? I for one don't get sick of seeing them.

14 November, 2011

Fun With the Family

Yesterday morning I had a bit of a go at the Patch, but didn't range far as my tendon isn't any better [suppose all this walking on it isn't really helping, is it?]. No birds of note out and about, with the most interest coming from the Garden, where at least 5 Greenfinch [including at least 3 1w] have started up on the sunflower seeds :). We also had an invasion of Starlings! A good 300-strong flock descended repeatedly [though only about 50 could fit in at a time] - giving the palm seeds a severe hammering. They did seem to spill as many as they ate, though, and made quite a mess, the little gits. Seeing them at point-blank range through the back window made up for it; what birds they are! Not at all how they look in most books, you can understand how they can be mistaken for Nutcrackers when they're in their autumn finery.

After all that nonsense, the rare event of a Family Walk called! With the Sisters having decided they want to be involved in more family wandering, an afternoon had been arranged.

Haldon Forest was grey, misty and windy, but the going was reasonable and though a fair pace was set [a mix of keen dog and cold sisters, I feel] I still managed to find some birds. They were all together! A huge band of well over 30; mixed tits, 'crests and finches, plus others. At least 6 and probably 12 or more Redpoll immediately caught the ear and then [when they cold be got on] the eye. Several Chaffinches were accompanied by at least one Brambling [a female]. No sound of Firecrest or warblers among the tits [mostly Blue and Coal] and Goldcrests, but 2 Nuthatches were very vocal, and there was at least one Treeeecreeeeeeper, too. I was very happy. And very left behind... Philistines.

Finishing the loop, it was decided to go somewhere else, as there was still plenty of light left. Mamhead was surprisingly busy for the dingy weather, and the birds were more elusive, with heard-only Siskin and Bullfinches being the best of them. There were a lot of interesting-looking fungi around; having looked them up I think pretty much all of them are poisonous, which is probably why they were still there! Mum's very keen on mushrooms, and always has her eye out for Chanterelles, but no joy this time.

Haldon Forest's a very pretty little bit of woodland, spoilt only by the incessant traffic noise. Oh, and all the dog mines of course.. Both places were rather atmospheric in the reduced visibility, the wet bringing out the colour in the fallen leaves very well, and softening the often stark lines of the plantations. Tilly had her usual whale of a time, including getting tangled up on two saplings overhanging a water-filled ditch - leaving her dangling. Muggins here had to get her loose [which involved straddling said ditch while keeping hold of soggy doggy, taking her extendo-lead off, freeing it and re-attaching it without letting her escape - lots of fun] [[I really hope Sister didn't video it, I haven't dared check youtube...]], though I did nearly have a laugh when a patch of clay-rich mud almost led to Tilly dragging Other Sister off down the track on her backside...

It was a very pleasant afternoon, though I can't help thinking about Red-breasted Mergansers again.. [[Tut tut.]] Oh well, work beckons!

12 November, 2011

Oh Deary Me...

I set my alarm last night. Did so for a reasonable hour, intending to get out for what promised to be a morning of possibility at the Nose.

Turned the damn thing off in my sleep...


While I recognise that I evidently needed the sleep, it's still frustrating [[and I never do it when I have to work, bladdy subconscious...]]. So, I scrap plan a and think about plan b. I figured that there'd be no point going over there on a bright Saturday - after all, that super-wonderful SEO was a one-off, wasn't it? [[Go look at Devon Bird News if you don't get that joke..]] Admittedly, Patch patrolling with a dodgy tendon isn't the best idea anyway [well, not when your Patch is as hilly as mine..], but the need is there, you know?

I decided on a nice Wild Goose Chase. Masochist...

I should know by now that chasing geese around the Exe is asking for trouble. The blimmin' things fly around and are never where you look when you're looking. So, I limped all around Exminster, from the bridge to the canal, past Turf to Powderham and back via the path. I saw 5 Canada Geese. I did find the main Brent flock, which is a radical turnup for the books, and probably only because I wasn't actually looking for them. They were on the mud between the Exe and Clyst channels, munching the weed and looking very pretty in the low sunshine. Previously I met a Cetti's and 18 Shoveler, 2 Pochard, a few Tufties, and a whole heap of Wigeon and Teal.

I got into my li'l car knowing I had enough light left for one more site, but which one? Sod it, I'd try Dart's Farm.

A glance as I drove the bends showed a bunch of Canada Geese, and an RSPB chap I met in the car park confirmed that not only was the Greenland Whitefront present, but also the Red-breasted Goose, the Barnacle [wow], a 'Canada/Bar-head' hybrid and something odd that might be a Nutcracker [Ahem...] I didn't see the odd thing, and the bloody White-front had flown off [with the Barnacle and about a hundred Canadas], but the Red-breasted Goose was still present.

And how.

There's a blind at Dart's Farm. They call it a hide but its a blind. A very nice one, but still a blind. I had no idea it existed [to be fair its new] until the RSPB chap told me. Thus it was that some really good views could be had of the Red-breasted Goose and the 6 Brent Geese it was with [See that? ;) ] and the 304 Canadas they were near to. They came very close for geese, and in the low sunlight they were utterly gorgeous. What is it about hides? They knew we were there [there were 4 others with me], the Red-breast looked up every time someone spoke, and several of the Canadas were alert to any movement, but still the flock as a whole kept doing their things.

Speaking of their things, it was clear that the Brents and Red-breast were 'by but not with' the Canadas, and that of the Brents, there was a family group of 5 plus a hanger-on [the RBG acting as a second hanger-on]. Its interesting that not all the Brents have a taste for Eelgrass.

After I'd checked the sneaky little gullies for a hiding White-front, it was too late to go chasing it, as the sun was already sinking behind Haldon [dratted subconscience...], so I had to eat another dip. Oh well, not like I've never seen one before. It just would have been nice, you know?

And finally; I'm not chasing a Devon Yearlist, but if I was, that's 220. Ye gods.......

11 November, 2011

A Flying Visit to Berry Head

A midday commitment plus rain on the way and a brisk to "Was that your hat?" wind severely curtailed my options today. Knowing how blown out the Nose would be, and not wanting to risk my dodgy heel on the rocks, I elected to zip over to Berry Head. After all, figured I, there's a nice sheltered bit of habbo in the Quarry for me to find anything that's been blown up by these winds, and then there's always a nice quick seawatch before I have to head back.

I limped down to and all around the Quarry, and was rewarded by finding a Blackcap. Which quickly unfound itself. Woohoo.

Not too put off by this, I headed up the the Seawatching Point, to find [Devon Birder] and [Young Devon Birder] there. We were soon joined by [Famous Devon Birder] and later by [Devon Birder]. Though the conditions looked really good, with truly impressive seas and a nicely angled wind, the hoped for petrel [either one of the two seen recently, we really weren't fussy! ;) ] failed to appear.

I diligently counted everything I saw, and thus in just over two hours passed south;
Balearic 1
Manxie 2
Pomarine Skua [dark juv] 1
Bonxie 1
Eider [imm. male, very close] 1
Red-breasted Merganser 2*
Common Gull 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull 4
Razorbill 99
Guillemot 31
Auk sp. 42
Gannet 61
Kittiwake 116

Plus a whole bunch of Herring Gulls and a score or two of GBBs.

A Great Northern Diver was found by [Young Devon Birder] very close in off the Outer Platform - always a pleasure. The Harbour Porpoises put on a good if intermittent show, with the odd full breach. Unsurprisingly, land birds kept a low profile.

Passage died, the rain started and I had to go in quick succession [this is mere fortuitous timing, I assure you...], it had been, despite the paucity of numbers, a good seawatch - the good birds we did get were very nice [and well enough spaced to enjoy instead of just to record, as sometimes happens] and the company was excellent, which always helps when its slow ;)

This afternoon, when I realised that the rain wasn't going to stop [bloody weathermen - [Famous Devon Birder] is very right] I shamelessly had a nap.

I'm not old, just a night worker!

[* When these went by, I remembered I still need R-B Merg for the Patch Yearlist; "Drat!" was the polite term...]]

08 November, 2011

By The Skin Of My Teeth

Surprise mid-working week post!

I found out about the Axe White-rumped Sandpiper too late yesterday to do anything about it other than scheme, but scheme I did and this resulted in me getting up early this afternoon and checking that yes, still present. [[Cheers, Gav!]]

One rather fraught drive later [deary me...] I parked at Black Hole [thinking it was the best place to start]. I found myself walking rather briskly, [[well, limping rather briskly as I did myself a disservice at Prawle and my achilles is unhappy with me..]], following [Devon Birder] to the Tower Hide, where we found [Devon Birder] who was on the bird. He very graciously let us both have a good look through his scope, which was very very fortuitous, as when I was 3⁄4 through setting mine up the White-rumped Sand decided that the Redshank next to it flushing was worth following... They both plonked down behind an island out of sight.


It had apparently done this before and eventually wandered back into sight, though. So I defied the temptation to tick and run and hung about in hope of better views. No, no getting a bit of lost sleep back for me. Dedication, that's the thing.

Then the helicopter arrived.

It came down the valley very low and put everything up - including the W-R S, which first [Devon Birder] and then myself managed to get on in flight - the white rump showed very well against the dark background before it climbed up above the horizon and vanished towards Colyford Common with some Redshank.

A few minutes later a bunch of Redshank [well, 19+], and most of the other waders [11+ Blackwits, 2 Barwits, and eventually 4 Dunlin, plus a couple of Curlew] reappeared as if by magic, but of the yank there was no further sign by the time the tide forced the birds up onto the tussocks.

So, White-rumped Sandpiper by the skin of my teeth! At least one, maybe as many as 3 Kingfishers were a nice distraction, and a Cetti's Warbler calling briefly as I headed back to my car was a bonus. This was the first time I've been in the Tower Hide, and very nice it is, as is being able to park somewhere 'proper'! ;)

Now all I have to do is stay awake at work...

07 November, 2011

A Stroll With The Folks

Because it's been a while, because it was a clear night last night, because a brisk north-ish can be a pain, and indeed just because.

"How do you feel about Prawle?"

I did try not to grin - after all, another chance to dip Pallas' Warblers!

When we arrived, the car park was not full and the Reserve was not heaving with birders drooling over seven-striped sprites. Here we go again.... Having been generously told "You can catch us up, we're going thattaway", I had a careful look around [[Join Devon Birds, get into Prawle Reserve! Go on, you know you want to!]], because you never know, right?

There were many many Blue Tits and Great Tits and Robins and Blackbirds and Chaffinches. Also a silent Phylloscopus warbler with snazzy wingbars. It stayed high in the willows and I could see the Most Ridiculously Close Dip Ever* happening all over again. Only then it tilted its little head enough...

I got it I got it I got it I got it I got it I got it I got it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OH HELL YEAH!!!!!!!!

It then decided that, the game being up, it might as well show like a porn star. It even started calling. :D

After that**, I caught up with the Folks and we wandered eastwards. We turned back before Mattiscombe, as some tosser had left a gate open and cattle with calves had wandered onto the coast path; cattle with calves + Tilly in an enclosed space bordered by a cliff = trouble. Instead we worked back to the Point and had coffee looking out towards The Bolt.

But before that... Lots of Cirls, as you'd expect from the site for them, but best non-stripey headed birds were not one but 2 Blackstarts, one each side of Lannacombe. Gorgeous! Woodpig flocks were passing towards the Point all day - I totalled a little over 700, so I think I might have missed one or two....? Two Oyk flocks on the rocks each had add-ons; a Dunlin and a Curlew. Skylarks, Mipits, Chaffinches, and alba Wagtails were moving overhead with the Woodpigs [mostly higher].

The sea was, perhaps unsurprisingly, devoid of anything fancier than a couple of LBBs, with no cetaceans [though water traffic was unusually light]. Landbirds were fairly plentiful, with tit and 'crest bands, assorted finches and pipits, thrushes [though no Ouzels] and corvids knocking about.

The sun shone, no it blazed, it was more like September than November and out of the wind it was almost sweltering... Butterflies fluttered, bumblebees buzzed, jaspers caused trouble, Mum found a Violet in bloom [not bad for November]. Tilbury was quite well-behaved, for her [well, there was this one cow, and some sheep, and then she decided low-flying gulls were fair game... But apart from that.] It was nice; we ambled out, we ambled back, we admired the scenery. The Start Complex really does make beautiful coasts.

[[*See the Great Berry Head Pallas' Debacle. Or don't, its painful...]]
[[**Ok, after I'd drunk in the joy of the Pallas', done a couple of rubbish sketches, grinned, cackled, done a silly dance and generally been extremely happy... ;) ]]

05 November, 2011

The Joys of Patch Birding

Last week, I successfully twitched the Pied Wheatear, and enjoyed the experience greatly. When I nailed the American Wigeon, I felt a great deal of satisfaction [["Take that, you thcwewy duck!"... Ahem.]]. However, neither experience lived up to the utter joy that came my way today, here on my humble Patch.

Having Something To Do in Paignton, I decided to take the scenic route and give my [somewhat underwatched, due to the deadly combo of work and shameless twitching] Patch a good bashing in the process. What could have been a half hour [plus traffic and parking] in the car became 5 hours on foot. My feet are unamused. The plan was to hit the coast at the Nose and follow the more sheltered side down to the south end of the Patch - with the wind more or less northerly, the rest would be blown out.

The fun started at the Palace, with what sounded very like a Firecrest calling among a big band of Goldcrests, Blue, Great, Coal, and Long-tailed Tits. I say 'sounded very like' because the cacophony of calls made it hard to be sure. After 20 minutes stood in the road dodging builder's lorries, they moved off without me being certain either way. Drat.

Reaching Hopes Nose, I started into the Top Dell with extra care, but it was very dead. Odd, this, as with shelter from the wind and even some sunshine, it should have had a few Robins and Wrens at least.. I turned to the South Side, but aside from Magpies it too was dead. 5 Skylarks came in/off and flew inland, a few finches passed high overhead, but that was it.

Then it came around the little headland between the Nose and Thatcher Point. A little lower than my level, it seemed to be heading on by, but to my delight it turned in and then came up right towards me, following the gully that comes down from the Top Dell and clearly looking about. Indeed I saw it look right at me, those blazing yellow eyes standing out in the black mask... Holy shit, a Short-eared Owl!!!

It came up over me, turned and circled over the South Side, then gained more height and ranged further over the Lower Slope, before climbing even more and moving inland. I was ecstatic, I was over the frickin' moon - a SEO on my Patch!! Then it came back, again it roved over the South Side and to my joy it suddenly plonked down! Quite high up on the South Side, in the bracken.. Uh-oh... Sure enough it was soon disturbed, but was able to find a more secluded spot further down slope. How about that? SEO roosting on my Patch! :D I wonder where it's headed? I also wonder where it came from - straight in/off migrant looking for a rest stop, or maybe came in at Berry and kept going looking for cover, or maybe even the bird flushed from Slapton today?

After that, there's not a huge amount to tell. Mostly the usuals in usual numbers, though counts of 23 Turnstones at Preston and 69 Oyks at Hollicombe [thanks to the high tide] were pretty good. A female Blackcap was new at the Nose [though which way she was migrating is debatable] and there was a steady if light trickle of overhead migrants; Mipits and common finches. The Harbour gulls were naughty and flushed before I could go through them [they acted like a raptor had gone over, but I couldn't see anything]. When some came back, they were all Herrings [Moorhen still present] - the lack of even a single GBB was unusual. There were the expected hordes of boats out on the sunny weekend, so little going on in the Bay - Shags and Cormorants cowering close in off Hollicombe - and there was no sign of any Scoter off the Nose earlier. BHG numbers in the northern half of the Bay are over 80, mostly picking through the weed washed up by the recent weather, but I couldn't find any Meds among them.

PYL: 83%

04 November, 2011

History Repeating

Out to the Nose first thing this morning, where lots of finches, mostly Chaff, were passing unseen overhead. A few came lower, including some nice Bullfinches. On the ground [or rather, closer to it] I managed to see a Chiffchaff! Woo. Very thin on the ground, lately, not sure why. It was very vocal, very mobile, and very green. A weird birders' version of the Twelve Days of Xmas played out in my head as it posed in the Pear Tree. These things happen when you go birding without sleeping...

Then it was over to Berry Head to once again dip Pallas' Warbler. Also to get rained on quite a bit. Bullfinches performed even better, and there were several Famous Devon Birders - with whom it was again a pleasure to bird, even if we didn't find anything spectacular. Eventually we parted ways and after meeting a couple of smart male Blackcaps by the Southern Fort I headed home for lunch. The rain then decided that showers were boring and continuous-pissing-it-down was more fun, so in a surprise move I decided to get a little kip...

Coming to while it was still light, I found the rain had dropped a surprise out the back of the house - about 600 Starlings! I say 'about' as the little bastards wouldn't stay put long enough for me to count them properly - No, not this roof. Ooh that roof? No, what about these trees? etc. etc. - they eventually headed off west as the rain eased. Interesting!

Wasn't that a quick post? ;)