31 December, 2012

Another Year Bites The Dust, Part 2; The Last Watch

Almost forgot!

Right then, here we go again! Incoming front, strong SW forecast, so down to the Nose to end the year in style. Maybe.

Remembered all my kit this time, which helped, but the wind was a lot more S than W - a SSW pushing SSE which was just right to make the Nose rather inhospitable. I'd plonked down on the Steps, but the wind wouldn't let me be and took a bite out of my bumbleshoot, which made staying vaguely dry even harder. I had a look at the Seawatching Spot, but the wind was coming in from both sides, so it was worse! So I stuck it out, wedged in sideways on the Steps and made out ok - albeit waiting out the rain watching almost 90° from my preferred direction. The bumbleshoot needs a fair bit of surgery but I'm hopeful of a full recovery. ;)

The birds were worth it, though. In 6 hours;

Gannets 265 [clicker may still be acting up a bit, so this a minimum figure]
Auks 793/1 [of those identified, about 60% Razorbills]
Kittiwakes 538 [seen to pass]
Fulmars 104+ [due to them  messing about the slick, I abandoned the count - this is the minimum figure for passage]
GND 8 + 3 on the sea - one off the Lead Stone all day and two more in Hope Cove when I left
diver sp. 1
Bonxies 6 [one had a 1w Herring for lunch]
Turnstone 13 - settled on the rocks
C Scoters 19+ on sea
Harbour Porpoises 3+

Everything was going south [with or without lingering] with the exception of one lone Razorbill! The rates varied quite a bit, with half of the Kitts in front of the front and the Gannet rate spiking once the rain cleared from 10 to 100/hr!

The outfall duly kicked in when the rain did and the slick attracted counts of 66 Fulmar [thus the passage count abandonment], 120 BHG, 3 Common Gull, 185 GBB. There was a constant presence of Kittiwakes once the slick developed, so the count given may well be markedly lower than actual passage. Of the divers, one of the Red-throats and two of the Great Northerns were well outside the Ore Stone and clearly heading south with intent, the rest passed inside and appeared to be heading into the Bay.

Well, that's 2012 done and dusted. An interesting year, ending in an appropriate manner - with rain! :D

Another Year Bites The Dust, Part 1; The Lost Weekend

The Cornish side of the family descended a day earlier than scheduled and so birding was suddenly curtailed. A cunning plan for a seawatch was scrapped as I found myself taking custody of a Little Black Dog while Stuff was Done. The weather didn't know the seawatch was off though, so we got very wet and very winded. Fortunately for me, I had my full seawatching gear to hand and so stayed dry. Unfortunately for Tilly, I had my full seawatching gear to hand and so she got a proper yomp [she didn't mind that much, really - any chance to bark at cats/squirrels/plastic bags/poor innocent ladies with umbrellas.... ;) ]. Tilbury even walked nicely to heel now and again - though I soon noticed this was whenever a car came past on our side of the road - that dog is quite intelligent when she feels like it.. We saw a Chaffinch and a Blackbird - the latter seeing us just in time - so it wasn't a total loss :)

In the afternoon, once They had arrived and the weather cleared up, we took a wander about Cockington. Just a gentle stroll - I was quietly hoping for a Coot on the ponds, but no joy - very civilised.

Sunday morning saw another stroll - this time a loop of IMD. Again very civilised stuff, though there were three divers in Hope Cove which I had to be dragged away from [bah, no appreciation for the important things in life, some people!]. One was a very nice 1w RTD with great big shiny thigh patches - a real sneaky one at range, that! :)

Sunday afternoon saw me scuttle off down to the Downs to have a look at the roost. Very glad I did, too, as there were a few birds in! 1700+ large gulls, 400+ Kittiwakes, a few Razorbills, only 12 GC Grebes, but a group of 6, yes 6 Great Northern Divers! When I arrived there were three fishing off Withy Point, I admired them for a bit, then got to counting. Later, I was going through a raft of Kitts when 6 big dark shapes cruised through the middle of them - GNDs!! They were in tight formation and stayed that way - I've not seen a diver flock roosting together like that before. :D

And finally... As anyone who's dipped looked for the Perinville Rd Waxwings recently may well have found out, there is now a non-bird attraction there. Towards the Babbacombe Rd end a swallow hole has opened up! The opening in the tarmac is only about a half metre square, but the void underneath is much bigger... Ah, the joys of limestone, faults, and lots of rain. :)  Another one opened a few months back in the middle of a football pitch - the guy driving the tractor mowing the grass got a shock - by Anstey's Cove, and there's a dinky little one in a footpath near Tessier. It makes you wonder about all those little dips in the roads around here, I must say...

Today's fun - I went to the Nose [[SHOCK!!]] - will follow later.

28 December, 2012

Responsible Birding

I have been Good and responsible and so forth and stayed on't Patch the last two days. No venturing out into the Great Flooded Unknown for me, oh no.

Yesterday I made a concerted effort to locate any lurking Waxwings that may be about. Needless to say, I failed miserably. The gulls in the Harbour were not even interestingly odd Herrings and only the odd Razorbill was on the sea. Best bird on land? Goldcrest. The evening roost off Blackball wasn't up to the previous days' numbers, with 850+ large gulls and 24 GC Grebes [at least there were some grebes...]

Today I had planned  to get some stuff done before having some fun tomorrow, but events have occurred and now all that's out the window.. :( I did manage to get out late afternoon and salvaged something by trying a seawatch from LongQuarry - Walls Hill's headland. This is something I've wondered about over the years - would it be any good? Well back, true, but close enough to lug kit to on foot and maybe more birds hug the coast than is obvious at the Nose? Now I had the weather to try it out when I wasn't busy seawatching somewhere else!

I watched from a sheltered nook on the head, not from down on LongQuarry Point itself, I must hasten to add, as the descent is suicidal inadvisable even when it isn't raining sideways*...
I only had time for half an hour, and while I could see the Nose and Ore Stone, it was clear that being two headlands back [though more than 200' higher] was indeed a bit of a disadvantage. [[Shock!]]
Gannets 47
Kittiwakes 39
Fulmars 7
Auks 4
The auks were definitely 'auk sp.'! As were the 7 I could see on the Ore Stone - though in sunlight I'd be able to call Guille vs Raz on colour.

It is a very easy spot to get to, with [assuming you stay clear of the edge] a definite lack of risk to life and limb, plus no steep slopes to climb. The view up to the north is spectacular and you can see the main passage line clearly. You just need a little visibility and a huge scope. Good for a Questar. :) One big advantage is the view of what's sheltering in the lee of the land. The 1w GND with the pale nape [as seen at the Nose on Saturday - it does stand out] was off Anstey's and I got a wonderful look-down on it. I also got a great view of the Blackball roost, so much so that I only moved as far as the Memorial Viewpoint to count.

Wowser... 3000 Kittiwakes!!! I couldn't believe my eyes, it was like a carpet of dinky little gulls. Amazing.. [The high angle meant I couldn't do an accurate scope count - there was no way to be sure I wasn't overlapping in the massive spread out flocks - so I counted and recounted in 50's and 100's]. This was in addition to 800+ Herring [I could pick them out but they kept coming and coming from onshore] and 105+ GBB. It was an incredible sight, especially when the setting sun suddenly caught the clouds and illuminated the sea in a wonderful rosy glow [though that did bugger any more attempts at a count..]. The grebes? There were 4.

Birds, eh?

[[*Then it's only bloody dangerous. Didn't stop a couple of crazy brave fishermen, though.]]

27 December, 2012

Bonxing Day

Having spent the 25th with the Family [While we did go for a wander, the Waxwings weren't forthcoming, though there were Long-tailed Tits at one point :) ], the promise of a nice fast and frisky-looking front coming through in the middle of the day had me toddling once again down to my Beloved Hope's Nose.. ;)

I sat myself down on the Steps in bright overcast - it's so nice when you can set up in the dry - and then after a brief pause to say some very rude words*, I packed up, slogged back up the Slopes, into my li'l car, and home again.

But why? Well, you are aware of the saying "I'd forget my head if it wasn't screwed on"? Yeah, exactly.

[[Ok, you can stop laughing, now.]]
[[At least I wasn't at 'gwarra.    I kept telling myself that.]]

Back again a short while later and it had started to rain. Sideways. Joy.

But I got back down and set up and off we go! The Gannet clicker was along again and this time it decided to work. Well, it looked like it was working, anyway... It got a little work before the front and more after it had come through, as did the other two, with Gannets, Kitts and Auks - almost entirely Razorbills - moving in small numbers and Fulmars in even smaller ones. A few gulls remained on the sheen that was the slick - then the SWBCM kicked in and it got busier; I counted highs of 16 Common Gulls, 45 BHGs, 45 Kitts, and 30 Fulmars - plus Herrings and Geebs.

But nothing fancy passed. No grebes, no divers. Eventually a GND did appear, this one a nice 1w but it was lurking by the slick, not flying. Not that I'm complaining. The Scoters turned up - this time 27 of them - and a 1w Shelduck flew overhead. I checked the Ore Stone ledges in a spell of no rain and counted 196 Guilles and 3 Razorbills.

Then, an hour after the front, I got one! A Bonxie came trolling along and to my delight pounced on an adult GBB and proceeded to kick seven shades of shit out of it... The poor Geeb, after trying fleeing, fighting, and crying for it's Mum, finally barfed something up and was sent packing.
An hour and a half after that, I got another - a nice juv. - and in the next 45 minutes 4 more skuas showed up! :D Not only another Bonxie but two, yes two Poms! Not bad for December. [The fourth, well the third, actually, was a dark morph skua sp.]. The first Pom was an adult or thereabouts and showed up towering like a frickin' Pterodroma, but always stayed distant, the second - a light morph like the first - was a 2cy that came close enough to show the lovely barring to prove it.

I almost stayed until the light went, but decided instead to swing by the Downs and look off Blackball for the grebes. This was a mixed bag - I was there late and the light was already too bad for my scope, but I could still get stuff as usual through bins and what stuff! A big gull roost had gathered, I counted ~2300! 450+ Kittiwakes were more expected, given the wind, 2 RT Divers were nice, but also very close in, as were a couple of Razorbills. No grebes could I see. At all. I suspect they may have been hidden among the monster gull flock - which coalesced from a half dozen small ones - but with big clouds sucking the daylight away, I couldn't pick them out.

Oh, I almost forgot the scores;
Gannets S 225 N 8
Kittiwakes S 396
Auks [90% Razorbills] S 286 N 17
Fulmars S 52+ [with much milling about]

[[*Which I certainly couldn't repeat here.]]

25 December, 2012

So I Had This Idea...

Why not try the same thing as yesterday? Same route, same time, see what happens. Only this time, with the li'l scope as well for more reach!

Well, first up I actually find some Sandpipers Purple! 8 of them, plus 6 Turnstones. This is great. I also find a sea empty of birds.. Ok, two very distant Shags and a Cormorant in the Outer Harbour but that's it. It's not that rough, I've seen BN Grebes out in worse.. Oh well. There were a couple of Rockits and three Pied Wags, but while there were about 60 gulls above the Inner Harbour, there were none in it!

I also met a very nice couple from Off East - near Brighton - down on holiday. We chatted about birds, where to see them here and there and so on. Time wandered on, but a Turnstone wandered up :) We parted ways and I headed on to Meadfoot, where there was nuttin' bar a couple of rather puzzled-looking Geebs "Where have all our poor innocent victims gone??"

Hope's Nose... I'd had to choose due to lack of time before the light went and decided the Nose was a better bet than Blackball [I've been half-expecting to see a report on DBN about the record-breaking roost there today...]. The scope showed 114 Guilles on the Ore Stone, the naked eye showed 26 Scoter inside the Lead Stone! :) Less good was a drastic drop in gull numbers, with only 25 on the Lead Stone - yesterday it was more like 200 - and only one Common Gull now staying with the outfall. The wind having more south in it may be a factor - the slick was being pushed up the coast and churned more - though the lighter rain [the few heavy bursts had much shorter duration] can't be ruled out either.

No divers, no grebes, no fancy birds at all - just the odd Razorbill. A few Gannets were moving south.

To end on a more positive note; before I headed out today, Frau Schwartzkopf was joined in the Garden by a Coal Tit, 3 Chaffinches, a Dunnock, and no less than 5 Blackbirds. These all at the same time, which involved some careful manoeuvring by the Blackbirds!

24 December, 2012

'Twas The Weekend Before Christmas, Part 2

The shopping is done, the dekkers are up [albeit sometimes falling back down again..], it's time to bash the Patch!!


It was so dead I thought someone'd come along with a giant vacuum and sucked all the birds up.

I exaggerate, but not that much. I couldn't even find a Great Tit or a Dunnock or a Chaffinch - how is that?!? There were three gulls in the Inner Harbour - plus the Moorhens, it's true - and on the sea a lone Razorbill with a couple of Shags way off in the distance... Meadfoot didn't even have that - a lone Shag is all...

The best birds I saw were stuck in the Trawler Wreck. Ok, if they'd been out in the wild it would have been Screaming Giga time as they were Spectacled Eider!!  Fuck's sake, what birds, what beautiful amazing birds... Swimming back and forth with King Eider, dodging penguins, wondering where the ice is. I didn't know they had them there. I call that place the Trawler Wreck, I loudly wonder why they have Choughs in there when they're not planning to reintroduce them to Devon, my heart breaks a little every time I see the Fairy Terns flying ceaseless circles... Birds in cages.

Getting back to non-ranting, Hope's Nose gave some birds - a few Gannets and Kittiwakes lingered on. 3 Common Gulls stayed with the outfall and 11 Common Scoter were nicely close inshore. At least 140 Guillemots were on the Ore Stone ledges, with a lone Razorbill flying south. A couple of idiots paddle boarders had cleared Hope Cove, but there were a lot of gulls sat about on the Lead Stone to look at. Well, you never know, even if it is a reach for bins. [You can do the easy stuff, but the pattern of the limestone makes a scope vital for immature gulls]. Trying to maintain a compromise between height and distance*, I was contouring the mown section of the Lower Slope when I got a surprise; Woodcock! Flushed out of the longer grass it flew off to the North Side [as all good birds do]. Wowser, what a Patch Tick!!! :D

The light was fading as I got to the Downs for the Grebe roost. Right, where are they....? There's one down there, where are the rest? Er..  Ah.. No....  The gulls were easy, a big gathering of ~650, but I eventually found the Grebes way off to the east, 35 of them plus the one close in made 36. Not a lot, really. A couple of Razorbills were closer, as was a diver; my first and only of the day - what a difference from Saturday - a light grilling [don't want to burn it ;) ] made it a GND.

Well, what a weekend this one's been!

[[*While you can get pretty close along the Sole, you're almost level with the birds, and as the Lead Stone is very curved on top and sloping away in two directions- thus why I think the name Flat Rock is ridiculous, btw - you'll not be able to see as many birds. Climb higher and you're markedly further away. It's swings and roundabouts.]]

23 December, 2012

'Twas The Weekend Before Christmas, Part 1

That magical ten minutes at Hope's Nose on Friday whetted an appetite not really in need of encouragement and so with a front through in the early hours and the prospect of sou'westerlies and continuing gungy weather I got myself down to the Nose first thing.

Nobody else there, not even a fisherman! Indeed, though the odd bod wandered down, nobody stayed and when I left it was shaking my head at the wimps - I mean, who'd rather be shopping when they could be out in the wind, rain, and sewage spray??


Offshore wind, so less of the latter - I plonked down on the Steps and gave it 4 hours. Alas the Christmas Compromise of birding the morning and Shopping and Decorating the afternoons meant I couldn't make a day of it. As it was I was very naughty and spent an extra hour in the Quarry - meaning I didn't get to the Grebes again - but more on that in due course.

My Gannet clicker malfunctioned again - I thought I'd fixed it, and indeed it worked fine again once I got it home, the little $&!™**^±§§ - so I had to resort to averaging four timed counts to get a theoretical 384. Auk passage was continuous, with 743 mostly Razorbills past south, plus a count of 172 Guillemots on the Ore Stone and an amazing surge of Guillemots [which I mistook for the Ore Stone birds being flushed and so didn't click] - three flocks totalling some 240 birds. I'd guess these were birds from Berry Head returning from a feeding trip to the Exe. Certainly quite a sight, it reminded me of the Great Auk Passage of early 2011..

Kittiwakes were also moving; I counted 233, and 23 Fulmars also passed, with a few more lingering. But the stars of the day were Divers. 7 Great Northern, 4 Red-throated, and a Black-throated passed south - all but one of the GN inside the Ore Stone - and three more divers lingered in Hope Cove, with one adult Great Northern showing down to very close range :) Also in close were at least 26 Common Scoter - finally coming this side of the Lead Stone - and plenty of other seabirds, too! Gannets were diving in just off the Nose itself, with Shags, Cormorants, Razorbills and at least 4 Harbour Porpoises joining in the fun! :) I reckon that the sustained heavy rainfall has caused the overflow to discharge for long enough to attract a lot of fish in - thus the near feeding frenzy.

Gulls were around the outfall constantly, though not in enormous numbers. At least 5 Common Gulls among them were nice to see, but still no Bonaparte's among the Black 'eads. Likewise, no hints of anything exotic among the larger gulls on the slick; even the pale-headed dark Herring was absent. Further out though, I was this close to a good 'un! Just after 9:00 I was tracking a GND past when a gull flashed though my view - white wings!!!!! The diver was abandoned and I got the briefest of glimpses of a decent-sized gull with fairly pointed wings, a brown-streaked head and a seemingly flawless pale grey saddle. It dipped behind the not inconsiderable swell and lost itself in the mass of large gulls, not to be refound. So while I am confident it was an adult, was it an Iceland or a Glaucous? The wings weren't quite long and pointy enough to rule out a Glonk and it wasn't so obviously huge as to rule out a big Iceland. I didn't get enough of a view of the head to get the clinching structure there. Dammit, I can't be sure... :(

After my allocated four hours I packed up and headed out - well, I would have done, except as I got to the end of the Steps and Hope Cove came into view I saw how full it was! Razorbills, Shags, Cormorants, assorted gulls and divers! Oh the divers.... I moved around into the Quarry to get shelter from the wind and a better angle against the driving rain and the time just went.. Playing hide and seek with divers is always fun. An adult GND showed very well, very close and a 1w with a notably pale nape was interesting to look at. The sea was calm, there was an interesting quality to the light, and lots of birds to run interference. Joy. :)

21 December, 2012

You Little ... Er.. Beauty?

One of the nice things about working in a factory is the Christmas Shutdown, which started today. So, just in time for the End Of The World, then.. :)

What were you doing when the world was due to end - in some vague manner possibly involving an invisible planet, was it? - I was out wandering the damp but bird-rich lanes around Exminster. The magic moment came and went, and while I cannot prove all this isn't an hallucination brought about by the trauma of imminent death [there was an X-Files episode about it one time], I think I'm still here.

More importantly, what about that ever so elusive Rose-coloured Starling? Already in the bag! :D

But to rewind a little....
The Mid-Winter Sunrise at Hope's Nose was utterly spectacular.
There was a line of cloud on the horizon [but of course] but this only served to cause golden beams of sunlight to reach up into a sky that shifted into a series of ever brighter colours before the sun finally revealed itself in a surge of light that fair took the breath away...

Once I'd finished grinning, I went and had a look at the sea.

With the sun blazing away, counting Guilles on the Ore Stone - let alone picking out Razorbills - was a difficult proposition. I finally decided on 163+ [certainly 'quite a few' but not 'a full load']. There were, in defiance of the light winds and sunshine, quite a few birds passing. I wasn't set up for a seawatch [shock!], having Things To Do and so on, so I gave it a 10 minute timed count. Oh boy, what a ten minutes....
Gannets - 29
Kittiwakes - 109!
Auks - 60 [almost all Guillemots]
Puffin! - 1
Bonxie - 1
RT Diver - 4!

This was not sustained for long, however - I kept looking but no more fancy birds and the Kitt rate dropped right down within another ten minutes; by the time it got to 9:00 it was just the trickle you'd expect for a sunny day after assorted blows. Like they always say; get there early.
There were a few gulls knocking about the remains of the slick, but nothing interesting among them. All the Stonechats were spotty, no warblers of any kind about.

Onward onward to Exminster, where the hope of a Devon Tick lurked. I made my way quite slowly to the churchyard, as every Starling needed checking and there were a few around.. The cold was far more evident than at the balmy Nose, and the tales of how elusive the Rosy One was made me wonder if not taking coffee was a mistake. It's certainly a very - I was going to say scenic, but perhaps atmospheric is better - place, especially with a little mist curling around the headstones...

I found the north end, with the allotments behind a little black gate and two nice bare trees with a succession of Starlings coming in to sit in them. Also a lot of cats, none with collars, but that's by the by. Various locals came by going to and from shops. Lots of birds moved around; aside from Starlings, mostly Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Chaffinches, and Blue Tits. Two Snipe flew over towards the marshes. About 15 minutes passed, and then there it was, right in the top of the right hand tree. There it was and there it sat and preened and sat some more, for maybe another 15 minutes! Elusive? Hard to see? Ok... Admittedly, it did stay front-on for most of the time, but it did eventually turn sideways, too. Of course I didn't have my camera with me. [[I suspect this is why it showed so well, they can see what we're carrying, after all!]].

Great, Rose-coloured Starling! Admittedly, this was more a Sand-coloured Starling, really, the cygnet effect in play. Being next to fresh Starlings didn't help it's cause much either, truth be told. The bulk of that bill was quite notable, a very marked difference to the Standard Starlings, though it could still peer down it like they do. :)

Having scored earlier and better than I could have hoped for, I decided to take a wander around and about. I was feeling chipper, to say the least, and taking my life in my hands seemed a good idea [big lane-filling tractors going very fast, idiots in cars that don't realise gravel on tarmac is almost as slippy as ice, etc. etc...]. I didn't have any near-misses and I did find a lot of birds - mostly the usuals, of course - including a very nice flock of mixed finches. Said finches included a few Brambling, two of which sat and posed for the scope :)  Joy. A male Blackcap and a Chiffy [collybita] were warblers of the day.

Back on the Patch; Parents walking Little Black Dogs reported 6 Waxwings on Wednesday and 5 on Thursday. Frau Schwartzkopf holds the Garden still, and there have been no sightings of Blackstarts there for more than a week now [are the two related, or have they just gotten sick of Palm seeds?].

This afternoon I was busy Getting Things Done, and alas didn't even get time to check the Grebe roost.

The world keeps turning - at least until the asteroid they haven't told us about bullseyes us tomorrow....

18 December, 2012

The Magnificent Seven(teen)!!

Ah, work is a pain...

As every birder in Devon apart from me will already know, there is a flock of showy Waxwings on my Patch. This being opposed to the unshowy ones I found - well heard - on Tuesday. Anyway, having not touched my computer yesterday, I got up this afternoon, made myself a cuppa and flicked it on to see if anything interesting was about. No serious intent of running off - it was already starting to get dark, after all - but it's nice to start torturing myself hoping and praying planning for when Friday comes.

Oh, shit.

Cue the usual jokes about flaming footprints and making Mr Bolt look tardy....

I wasn't expecting them to still be there, but to my delight I heard them about a street away* and yes, 17 gorgeous trillers were sat atop a Hawthorn, looking fabulous....


The Cotoneaster - a straggly thing overhanging the sunken pavement and not what you'd think of as a big attractor by any means - is in the front garden of no.79 [the one with the big pointy conifer], the Hawthorn they were using is maybe 80' down the road - the other side of the semis with the solar panels. I shamelessly sat myself down on the steps opposite midway between the two and enjoyed Waxwing tennis! As long as there was no movement close to the berries, they were very relaxed, and someone with a camera on the grassy verge across the street could get some nice shots after the rain stops tomorrow [assuming they're there, of course!].

With the light going, I couldn't examine them all fully, but it seemed most were 1w - I only saw three definite adults; two female, one male - which is interesting. I don't know if there's any info on the composition of the other flocks seen, are they a majority of young birds? Most vagrants are young, but irruptions aren't the same thing. Could it be that adults [who may have irrupted before] know just how far they have to go to find food, whereas the 1ws, who haven't the knowledge, keep going until they hit something by chance? Or is it that this year they've bred very well and there are a lot of youngsters? Or is this just a chance group not reflecting the bigger picture?

Questions, questions..

The Waxwings themselves seemed very happy where they were. They'd sit atop the Hawthorn - nice 360° view - and every few minutes a group of 4-7 would come trilling over and snarf a few berries, then they'd fly back and a few more would come over. Once all the birds had fed they'd sit still, the odd one trilling quietly, until it was time to go again. They eventually flew off to roost at 1623 after one final round of bill-stuffing -when all the birds piled in at once - and I toddled back home feeling very happy indeed.

[[*Unlike Sunday, when I passed by twice at similar distances and didn't hear them...]]

16 December, 2012

Maybe Not

Well, I'm still under the weather, so no messing about the Exe [let alone swanning off to dip that Subalp... :( ] for me. My birding has been limited to out the window and a daily stagger about the Patch in a vain hope of restorative Waxwings. [[They have magical healing powers, you know.]]

Needless to say, no joy on that front. The wet and windy weather making most landbirds keep a low profile.

I must confess that the thought of Scandinavian Blackbirds with all-dark bills hadn't really occurred to me before. So it is that I now am watching them all - no joy - with the lingering suspicion that I have seen them in winters past [as opposed to autumns past, when the locals still have them, of course!]. I have seen at least 3 Blackcaps coming into the Garden, though all but the one female find themselves exiting again quite rapidly.. One notable fight turned into a proper furball - perhaps featherball, more accurately? - when a couple of Sparrows joined in! Mrs. Blackcap [should that be Frau Schwartzkopf?] remains in possession, having a tenuous truce with the Sparrow Mob. At least for now.

Today I gave the Harbour and north Bay a quick look, but the lower tide had done nothing for Purple Sand numbers on Haldon Pier, with only 3 visible. I suppose they have a lot of weed to choose from - makes you wonder how many we really get? You'd probably need a kayak and IS bins to do a decent count, though. On the water I found 5 GC Grebes and a rather lonely-looking Kittiwake! Shag and Cormorant inside the Outer Harbour showed well - the Cormorant was that intergrade bird*, btw - no wagtails on the weedy Ramps... Hmm.

Both days I had a look for a grebe roost off Blackball, with somewhat different results;
Saturday: 19 GC Grebe, also 135+ Kittiwake, 200+ Herring Gull
Sunday: 59 GC Grebe, also 250+ Herring Gull

The wind on Saturday was much stronger and more SW - which is why the Kitts were sheltering - with more and stronger squally showers on the Sunday. Where the extra grebes came from is a mystery, as the weather has been consistently 'windy and showery', without the hard cold that normally produces a spike in numbers [ice driving them off inland waterbodies]. It is getting closer to where I'd expect them to be, so perhaps it's just a later arrival.

[[*In case I've forgotten to mention it, a Cormorant with an intergrade level gular patch angle - about 80° - has been knocking about. I reckon it's a top-end carbo, but it's still interesting.]]

15 December, 2012


So there's all this weather coming. Huge low pressure system. Massive, stretches across the whole of the North Atlantic Basin. Major air flow right from the northern Americas and up the Western Approaches. Could bring anything. Here it comes for a Friday, when I can be at the Nose for first light. I've been quietly prepping for this all week. Got it all planned.

Joy, right?

Ok, realistically, maybe a few divers, some auks, and possibly a late skua or a winter Balearic... But still, a proper winter seawatch with the chance of- well that's the point! :D

What did I get? Fucking plague.....  Woke up yesterday afternoon with a throat like I'd been gargling hot sand and it just went downhill from there. Now, I ought to apologise at this point as this is clearly a self-pitying rant you don't need to read - though there are some birds in the last paragraph if you want to skip ahead - but I'm pissed off and need to vent at someone and as you're here freely and of your own will it's you. Sorry.

I have tried seawatching when under the weather [ho frickin' ho] before and suffered the consequences, so I spent last night's fun and frivolity at work not so quietly hoping my lurgy would clear up a bit so I could justify sitting in the wet and cold for 8 hours. No chance. It's not anything major, either, which is actually worse. I mean, you get flu or pleurisy or ebola or something and it's fair enough, you're going nowhere... but a sodding cold?!? It seems to be a particularly nasty one that's doing the rounds right now - I blame all this xmas shopping, myself - but still...

So, after getting some uncharacteristic rest, I eventually wrapped up and went for a stagger prowl. I found no sign of Waxwings - though some Starlings did come into the Garden and gorgeous they were too. A male Blackcap also risked the resident female's wrath to do the same. Anyway, I ended up down at the Harbour, where there were no sexy gulls - though a 1w Herring with a dark belly made me look twice, it was only stained, not anything interesting. 50+ BHGs gave me a hard time checking for Bony's as the bastards would not sit still and kept hiding behind boats in the Inner Harbour. On the Real Living Coast there were 4 Purple Sands and a Turnstone [tide was a bit high], in the Outer Harbour another Turnstone joined 8 Pied and 3 White Wagtails on washed up weed, out in the north Bay 1 BN and 2 GC Grebes bobbed in the chop while a few Gannets lingered well out.

Maybe tomorrow will be better?

11 December, 2012


I read with interest about the Foot It! challenge that's spreading through the better-written sort of birding blogs; especially as this concept is what I consider to be Patch birding... :) Aside from when I'm doing a proper seawatch - as I am alas nowhere near rich enough to live within full-kit-yomping distance* of the Nose - all my Patch birding is done on foot. My Patch being defined as the area I walk around, after all.

So I laud and encourage this challenge and look forward to see how my betters do. Getting into the spirit of it, I've looked through my records from this January and by the end of the month I'd seen 56 species on Patch - all by foot, of course - which isn't bad, considering I was working and off filthily twitching this and that, too... ;)

Speaking of Patches and wandering about them... :)  Having been mightily vexed by that report of '10-15 Waxwings in garden near Plainmoor' I've been doing some hunting in the brief minutes between getting up and it getting dark. This being the Patch, that generally involves not finding much - well, 10-15 Starlings aren't too hard as there are usually that many knocking about the stadium lights - while trying not to attract the attention of the denizens [it's.. shall we say not a neighbourhood to go flashing expensive kit around?]. I have found Waxwings there before - most famously on the little Rowans behind Domino's Pizza**, as seen from the Waitrose*** car park! [[Yes, the fancy-pants supermarket in that neighbourhood, go figure.]] - and others have too and escaped alive, so it's worth a go.

Anyway... Cutting things short, I scored late this afternoon; having done a patrol with not even Starlings to report, I was heading back. I had my head full of a blog post about - well look up, that stuff! - when my mind registered that trilling sound. It took a few seconds for me to process that at least 2 Waxwings were calling from almost above me, by which time they'd removed themselves from sight. Bastards. They were sneakily on the posh side of Plainmoor [the stadium] - in fact closer to Cary Parks and thus not in Plainmoor [the area] at all. Online reports are tricksy things. Birds more so. The important thing is that there are Waxwings on my Patch! :D


When I have some more time to waste spend, I'll see if I can pin them down - though I'm not holding out much hope, they're too mobile at the best of times - to somewhere they're feeding or resting. There is still that nice Cotoneaster by the old electric building in St. Marychurch, which would be a great place to watch them, IF they ever decide to grace it with their presence.

We shall have to see.

[[*I have tried it, and damn near killed myself lugging all the kilos of stuff I deem 'vital' over a couple of large and very steep hills... As any of you who have seawatched at Hope's Nose will know, just getting to and from the road is an excellent cardio workout!]]
[[**Other pizza takeouts are available.]]
[[***Other supermarkets are available, but why would you want to? ;) ]]

10 December, 2012


A weekend of Patch bashing for me, and I must warn you;

This Post May Contain Gulls

So abandon hope all ye who enter here.....

Despite covering a great deal of ground, I have skilfully managed to avoid any and all Waxwings - drat - with much of the action coming from the sea. Primary exception to that being the arrival of Blackcaps and the sustained if more elusive presence of Blackstarts. Frau Blackcap has taken up station in the Garden though so far no challengers have shown up to start Garden Wars III [It could be argued that the Blackbirds are doing a fair job by themselves, of course].

Getting to the sea: both days I checked the north half of the Bay. Saturday's calm gave me 3 GC Grebes, 2 GNDs, and a Guillemot, today with more wind I only found 2 GC Grebes and a RTD - but a [the?] Guillemot was not out at sea but in the Inner Harbour! Showing cripplingly well as it finished terrorising the little fishies, had a preen, then swam out under the Teeth - JOY. :D The Real Living Coast was home only to a Rockit due to the high tide, but yesterday there were 11 Turnstones and 2 Purple Sandpipers - far fewer Purps than I'd expect.

Also far less than expected was today's paltry grebe roost off Blackball... 4!! The Common Scoter flock still hangs about the Ore Stone, the unhelpful wind direction meant I could only see 8 today. Better was a nice group of 13 Gannets, which were fishing off Preston. They got a long and careful check in case of cetaceans, but with no sign thereof, alas.

With the Guillemot taking Star Bird today, it may not be a surprise to learn that yesterday's Star Bird was also in the Inner Harbour. What was it? A gull!

[[Run... Run while you can! Aaaarrrrggghhhh....]]

Today there were about 90 Herring Gulls hanging about - 43 on their pontoon - plus a few GBBs and 2 Moorhens. Yesterday the numbers were much lower, but stood side by side on the slipway were two adults. They caught the eye because one was markedly darker; with a darker mantle and darker and more extensive head streaking.. I naturally moved to change the angle of view [as gulls are evil little sods easy to get wrong] and found to my delight interest that no, it wasn't an artefact of angle. Also, I got a good look at those primaries.. Oh wow, what a P10! Dipped in white!!

Yes indeed, a very nice can't-find-anything-wrong-with-it argentatus Herring on the Patch! Result!

It wasn't around today - though with a trawler dragging ~600 gulls across the Bay, it might still be in the area. Finally a little late migration, with a flock of 23 Chaffinches over south this afternoon.

07 December, 2012

All Sorts. Not Liquorice.

Let's start the fun with Monday, when the first Blackcap of the winter put in an appearance in the Garden - a nice female, who stuffed her face with sunflower hearts [?].

Finishing work before dawn, I've had exactly one morning clear enough to try some astronomy, and was rewarded with a wonderful view of Mercury! Alas a very brief view, but special for it's rarity. The more ordinary planets also on display, but I hardly ever get to see Mercury, so  yay!


Having Fridays back [albeit without sleep..] saw me tarting about the Exe today. First up was Dawlish Warren, where under the mix of sunshine and showers the three oddities were all still about. As I got to the Main Pond, the sound of pinging [which still doesn't sound like a ping to me, but never mind, eh?] filled as much of the air as the wind would let it. Reed beds in the sun and out of the wind were indeed promising, but before I could pin down the little chap, right out from underneath me came the Black-necked Grebe! It seems to like fishing beneath the overhanging trees on the side by the visitor centre - I backed off, circled around and was treated to the best views I've ever had of one. :) While I was cooing, the Swallow came over; a December Swallow is interesting, but back when the merry 'vox was working, there would often be daft young ones hanging around and on a couple of occasions they made it to January - once even February - so I wasn't jumping around.

The Beardie had gone off in a huff at being ignored and refused to be refound, so after watching with amusement the sight of an Oyk swimming under the feeders I moved on the Powderham Bend, in hope of an estuarine LTD. No joy, though two duck spp. lurked in the far distance with a big group of Brents - carefully staying end-on in deference to the Big Scope. More obliging was a Slavonian Grebe - presumably the Slavonian Grebe - around the canal entrance. Avocets in the hundreds, at least 30 R-B Mergansers, plus the usual waders were gradually pushed around by the rising tide. I couldn't find any Water Pipits in the fields - though the wind didn't help - and after the mystery ducks gave me the slip as I changed position I decided to move on again.

Bowling Green was much nicer; sitting down out of the wind was good, but seeing the female Long-tailed Duck out the window was better! :D The Blackwits were in and feeding right up to the hide - accompanied by vociferous Redshank and the odd Curlew - Wigeon and Lapwing numbers were good, a drake Pintail, a couple of Pochard, and a few Shoveler livened up the Mallard and Teal. There were at least 3 Barwits with the Blackwits, 11 Dunlin pottered about - two Sanderling flew in but didn't stay long - and at least 5 Snipe were present. A Water Rail showed on and off by the hedge, while a Fox lounged in the sunshine... The birds were fairly twitchy, though nothing attacked while I was there, and this made counting them accurately nigh on impossible. ::Shrugs::  Oh well.

Also nigh on impossible was getting people on the LTD, as she was up and down like a frickin' jack-in-the-box! Fun times...  ;)

02 December, 2012

Winter Has Landed


No, I'm not about to start singing. Promise.

Ahem. Right then.. Yes, yesterday I had Things To Do in Exeter - unfortunately, seeing Waxwings wasn't one of them - but I did manage to sneak over to Topsham in search of the Long-tailed Duck and Scaup that had been tarting around there [so much so as to come swimming down in front of the hide at Bowling Green, even!]. Unsurprisingly, they had buggered off somewhere [it seems they've actually gone gone, too] - I saw a couple of Mergansers on the Exe and that was it for diving quacks! At least 75 Lapwing, 121 Brent, and 45 Avocet were visible, which isn't bad seeing as the tide was unhelpfully out and the light all wrong from that side of the Exe. I even dropped into Dart's farm, but the Brambling had buggered off as it was dark...

Oh well.

And there were Waxwings on Patch that morning, too.

Mutter mutter...

After all that cold and sunny nonsense, today I looked at the forecast rain and went "Ha!". Sod staking out the Cotoneasters, time for a wander on't Moor!

It was a bit wet, with a little ice here and there*, and after about 1300 the cloud base dropped and it got into proper murk and rain mode. I had a good day. :D There is nothing like sitting drinking coffee on a cold wet winter's day - when you're neither cold or wet. ;) Of course, my mood had been helped greatly because less than 10 minutes after I arrived at Bennett's Cross I was, with great joy and exhilaration, watching a Waxwing!!!!

Ding-ding-ding jackpot.

I've heard a lot of people talking about how this is a bad year for berries. It's true that the Rowans haven't been weighed down and the Blackbirds have stripped them all very quickly. Also true that not all the Hawthorns are in berry, but those that are are very well endowed. Certainly the 1w that came a trillin' thought so. :) Alas, I was unable to enjoy the spectacle for very long, as just as I was starting to work on getting a photo, a frelling Green Woodpecker, of all birds, came along and drove the Waxwing off! W. T. F. ?!?!???

Flinging a few choice insults at the ant-molesting git made me feel better, but the Waxwing had flown off down the valley. I went after it, but found no further sign.

Right before the Waxwing, a group of Chaffinches had revealed a Brambling as they too flew off not to return. Five flavours of thrush were on offer, with a few decent sized groups of Redwing and Fieldfare, as I worked through Vitifer, Sousson's, Challacombe, and Headland. There were non-Siberian Stonechats and non-anything-but-Reed Buntings - including several of those nice 1ws that you don't see in the books but really ought to.. Mipits were thin on the ground, with not even double figures, and only one Skylark all day. There weren't even any Siskin, let alone Redpoll or Crossbills, though a flock of 16 Goldfinch in Sousson's were nice to see and hear.

Finally, still no sign of any German-accented Blackcaps, Blackbirds continue to try to politely kill each other, and both Blackstarts are still around. :)

[[*Though none of it anywhere near a road.]]

30 November, 2012

The Joy of Patch

Written with a little irony, alas.

No Waxwings here - at least none that I could find this afternoon, the only daylight I've had to try for them...

I did get a Work Tick - in the form of a very nice female Kestrel - on Wednesday. The day before, three Starlings coming in low had me briefly interested. At least until they turned and I could see their heads, anyway. The cold weather has brought a few more Chaffinches in, but no Brambling with them and still no Blackcaps yet - though the suet has been deployed.

On the plus side, I'm now off Days for a few weeks at least [I hope], so I've a slim hope at anything close by and I get Fridays back. Admittedly, this is the Living Dead version of me, but it's better no sleep than no birds, right?

Of course, it's also the busiest time of the year for Stuff that needs Doing... But hey, you can't have everything.

Wow, wasn't that a boring post.. 

25 November, 2012

No No No No No......

I'm suffering a terrible torment, real mind-rending horror. That @$^*£$$%% robby williams song is stuck in my head. I may have to take drastic action. Where did I leave that hammer...??


I suppose I really ought to behave, but why start now?

So... As the media claimed that most of the country was under several feet of water, I decided to be a responsible birder and stayed on't Patch.

Never mind that the fun weather had buggered off overnight and the next lot wasn't due until- well it's here now, actually. The wind was still blowing, everything was very soggy, there were rain bands and so on forecast, and a nice easing in the wind might encourage stuff blown up the Channel to come a wandering past? Long-tailed Skuas, Little Auks, and Stormies had been seen in the week - any one of those would do nicely.

Of course, Hope's Nose works to it's own rules. These are non-linear / chaotic / bloody annoying / unpredictable / all of the above... but that's what makes it interesting. Often conditions like these lead to 4 Gannets and a Fulmar.....  But the South West's Biggest Chumming Machine was still on line, so you never know what might turn up. Also, there was the chance that the Scoters which seem to have taken to lurking around the Lead and Ore Stones might be about and may have a friend of some sort with them? And it's November, so divers and grebes are definitely on the menu.

Six hours of sunshine, impressive clouds, squally showers, and a good compact rain band later....

A near-total lack of S's to report; no skuas, shearwaters, Stormies, or Sab's. Drat. The Scoters were about, and being right little buggers, too, but more on them later. A surprise Patch year tick came in the form of a pair of Wigeon; which came north, plonked down briefly, then headed on again. Also of Patch interest were the 6 Common Gulls - a big number for here - which stayed on the outfall, with the bunch of Herrings, Geebs, BHGs, and a fair few Kittiwakes. The latter showing very well at point-blank range in the sunny bits :) No Little Gulls, alas, but a lone LBB and a good candidate for argentatus Herring, were also among the gang.

Kittiwakes proved the most common passing species, with 306 going south [plus 9 north and a score still on the slick when I left]. Gannets were moving intermittently, but due to my clicker dying, I don't have an accurate [stop laughing] count - 'about 200' is the best I can do. The balance of passage was south; with Fulmars 9/1, Razorbills 56/5, Guillemots 14/1, and auk sp. 4/1

The first GC Grebes of the winter showed up, with 3 on the sea close in and another passing south. Divers got into the fun; 10 Great Northerns came south, with three seen to land and at least two of those hanging around. The only non-GN D was the first to pass, a very smart Black-throat. :) Only one diver passed inside the Ore Stone - a rather tatty-looking immature GND - though in the rare seconds the settled ones were visible between waves and dives, the two [or possibly more - only one ever visible at once, separation via plumage] didn't show too badly.

The Scoters were hanging about in the lee of the Ore Stone, and the swell, combined with their diving and moving about made going through them, let alone counting them, and exercise in bloody-minded stubbornness! After much effort, I reckon there were at least 23. [[There could, of course, have been another 123 hidden 'round the back...]] There were at least 6 Purple Sands there, as I saw them fly in and not come out again! Sneaky sneaky.... Well, you learn something new every day; there's Purple Sand-friendly habbo [[weedy rocks, then]] on the other side of the Ore Stone.

And on that earth-shattering revelation, I shall say farewell.....

24 November, 2012

Black Birds

In traditional British manner, I shall start this post with discussion of the weather!

Ye Gods and Little Fishes, hasn't it rained?

Right then, now that that's out of the way....

Today I couldn't get any proper seawatching in, as I had Things to do, but I managed to get brief burst of birding in both morning and afternoon;

This morning, seeing there were birds close in I scurried down the cliff road from Babbacombe Downs to see a 1w Great Northern Diver showing rather well, but it then decided the water was too muddy for it's taste and flew off south*. In ten minutes timed staring from the lee of the shop on Oddicombe Beach, I counted 6 Fulmar past south, but no other seabirds. A dozen BHGs were picking among the flotsam and jetsam - no Little, let alone Bonaparte's - and that was it aside from Herrings, Geebs and the odd Shag and Cormorant. In the woods, a big tit band was far too active for the Li'l Scope [I was on foot and had taken that instead of bins, anticipating the only activity to be at sea - drat], by their calls they didn't have anything scarce with them.

This afternoon I swung by Tessier, where a horde of Blackbirds - I counted 13 in one corner - were accompanied by a dozen Redwing and a couple of Song Thrushes. The Downs were.. well windswept is probably the term... Bands of rather nicely squally rain were shooting through and I again cursed the day shift for making me have to do stuff when I could have been getting soaked for sod all happily seawatching.

As it started to get dark, a roost of Kittiwakes built up off Babbacombe Beach - slightly further around than usual, as the wind was still pretty SE - I counted 320 and still rising when the light failed. A single Gannet came past, but again nothing else. There were no other small gulls that I could pick out amongst the Kitts, and again no divers, auks, etc. No sign of any grebes, which is odd as there are usually at least a few by now. Perhaps it's the lack of proper cold weather, combined with all the rain keeping them at their inland sites?

Switching back onshore, the male Blackstart continues to hang around the Garden and in my wanderings this afternoon I found a female type near Cary Park and another male on the Downs. In the Garden, Blackbird numbers have climbed markedly, with low-intensity multi-sided skirmishes between 5 males this morning! Aside from the Sparrows, Greenfinches and Coal Tits are most numerous at the sunflower feeders, but still no Blackcaps yet.

[*Technically heading a little south of east along the peninsula {even more technically, until they pass Longquarry, when they turn to full SE...}, but 'south' is the better term]

19 November, 2012

Sea Ducks?

Did I? Read on, Macduff...

Yesterday; Ducks and the sea were on my mind for some strange reason. Can't think why..??

The Patch did get bashed, with a strange emphasis - why I know not - on the coast, especially the bits with shallow-ish water, weedy rocks, and fresh water flowing thereinto. Much scanning was done for little [ish] ducks of a white, black, and orange nature [maybe with a bit of green, too].

What did I find? Well, on land exactly what you'd expect for a winter Patch. Out to sea, a few Gannets hung about. On the rocks at Hope's Nose, there were no less than 33 Oyks. There was also another wader, which flew in and landed on the far side of the Lead Stone - I have a horrible suspicion it was a Patch Tick - but I got on it too late and it never came out... Bugger.

There were also some ducks, flying around and even sitting on the sea! Common Scoter, 51 of them and all females. They came quite close in, and even found a spot to feed. I kept on them for far too long, hoping they might draw something else in, as they moved around and split up, but no.

Oh well. Hopeless causes and all that, eh?

18 November, 2012

What Is It With These Woodcock?

There have been a lot of records of Woodcock showing up in the open in daylight just recently - not really what they're supposed to do at all - and I've got another for you. On my way back from the Mardle this afternoon, I flushed one from an open hillside, where the only cover was dead bracken! Did not expect that. [I doubt the Woodcock expected me, either...]

Getting back to the beginning.. This morning I went over to Hembury Woods, in the hope of some of the vast hordes of Mandarin being around. After two sweeps of the river I ended up with 28; 16 males, 1 immature male, and 11 females. While they were typically wary, I did get some great views and in a much nicer surround than underneath a concrete road bridge.. ;) To get the full count I did have to wade through worryingly deep mud [the kind where you just have to hope your foot stops going down before your boots are topped..] to get to the nice viewpoint at the south end of the NT area though, as most of them decided not to be at the top end of the island.

Otherwise, the woods were as quiet as you'd expect. A few tit bands, Nuthatches, a GSW... A lone Fieldfare flew over [wow!]. On the plus side, it was utterly beautiful. The weather was far sunnier than forecast, and with everything wet from the overnight rain, it brought the colours out wonderfully. I must admit to cursing a little, though, as I've learnt that there's just no way to photograph this spectacle [and a spectacle it truly is] and do it justice.

With the Mandarin having been mostly driven off by the general public [early and late seems to be the best time to get numbers of them], I decided to move on. [[Didn't see that coming, did you? ;) ]]

Heading up over Holne Moor to the Mardle to play my annual game of Fieldcraft vs Fieldfares - a little sunnier than I'd like, but never mind. This was slightly derailed by a lack of thrushes! There were plenty in the fields adjacent to t'Moor, but despite there still being plenty of berries about - not every hawthorn has them, but those that do have plenty - the Mardle was almost thrushless. I eventually tracked a fair-sized group of Redwing [30+] with a few Fieldfare [11+] down, staked out a good spot and waited. They weren't playing ball, however. A group of 5 Fieldfare did fly low overhead and didn't alarm at me [which is a point] but then another one pretty much came up to me and said rude things about my Mum [two to them]. Cue big surprise; until now, Redwings had outnumbered Fieldfares 3 to 1, but suddenly a flock of 83 Fieldfares arrived! They settled down by the farmstead - well out of range - and seemed to be working the other way. I thought 'Sod this, time for direct tactics'.

It was as I made my approach to the line of Hawthorns they were feeding in and around that I flushed the Woodcock - fortunately, they didn't go too - and it is with no small amount of satisfaction that I can report that I not only got in to comfy binocular range, but also got the scope on them from that close and then got out without flushing them.  Victory!

In all, there were at least a hundred of both Redwing and Fieldfare around Holne Moor today, with 5 or more Mistle Thrushes accompanying them. It was also wonderfully quiet - single dog walkers on the track each way was it. I saw a lone walker on Buckland Beacon and another on Bench Tor but nobody closer. The wind was light, the sun shone, the bracken was like wrought copper... Bliss.

12 November, 2012


Is what I've been; on updating, what I've seen, and indeed where I've been...

Work was a bugger last week. There was a lot of it, too. Joy, but what can you do? I did get to see an Apache, which was a) great! and b) my first in Devon. Also the first time I've bounced up on seeing something out of the window and actually then had co-workers not only looking too but interested! Shock!

Anyway, having dreadfully neglected the poor Patch last weekend - what with gallivanting off to weddings, recovering from same, and then twitching Roadrunners [ ;) ] - I decided to Be Good and give it what for. This I did on both Saturday and Sunday, with not only the standard checks and bashings for what might be about but also a survey of berry bushes for potential Waxwing sites. The latter came back very poorly, with the Rowans almost entirely stripped by ravening hordes of Blackbirds! The only decent bushes [ie. high enough and with a decent tree nearby to hold lurking Waxies] were Cotoneasters - not high on the favourites list previously.. Oh well, you never know - maybe Pine Grosbeaks love them...?? [Oh stop laughing..]

I don't have anything as spectacular as 40,000 Woodpigs, but there were still a few finches and pipits on the move. No Blyth's, alas, [[I did ask you to stop sniggering, didn't I?]] but Water was a fair substitute, stopping off briefly on the Nose before heading on. Heading the other way was a female Goosander and sat on the cliffs a surprising Grey Heron. I've not seen one on a cliff before... Also plenty of tit and 'crest bands around, with an Eyebrowed Git amongst one [very sneaky and didn't call - didn't look dull, though], again at the Nose. The Lower Meadow Stonechats had an especially hard time of it, not only being dreadfully harassed by a psychotic Robin, but also pursued by a deranged birder, muttering 'Show me yer arse...'  ;)

A few Gannets were loitering offshore, but the Guilles are gone again and no divers about here yet. Not a bird but great to see was a Daring class [[Yes, we now have more than one, so you need names and it was way too far out to get that with bins..]] passing by, nice to see the Navy has something modern that works. The sea was empty but for Shormorants on Sunday, but on Saturday a flock of 20 Common Scoter were loitering - I know their number exactly due to a couple of gulls, which flushed them and they amazingly took off in a neat line and could be counted!

Evidence in favour of staying at home came in the shape of a female type Blackstart, in the Garden after palm seeds on Saturday afternoon; this while I was in the Garden, playing with some chairs [long story]. I had my bins with me [but of course] but she was too wary to show well. The male has been hanging around, and has been more in evidence than the F-type [sorry]. EDIT: indeed, he's still around on Thursday!

So, many miles wandered for the odd Patch Yeartick and little hope of loitering Waxwings. That's birding, folks.

Yesterday afternoon, I went for a wander about Mamhead with the Folks and Sister The Younger. The wind had picked up a bit and was starting to get some winter teeth, but it was still almost summery in the sunshine. It was pretty quiet, bird-wise, with more heard than seen [a couple of Siskin were the best of it, though some Goldcrests showed quite well]. Big event was LBD showing she could be let off the lead*! She's been getting gradually better, now when my parents walk her they can let her off in some places to chuck a ball - this gets number one priority of attention for Tilbury.

She was indeed very good; always coming back straight away when called, no messing, unlike many dogs you see [which don't have any excuses about being rescues who were never trained properly]. She had a whale of a time doing gazelle-style four foot bounces over ditches, tracking down all the animal runs, and even managed to find a ball. This is a talent of hers, she has a large collection she's brought back from ditches, bushes, beaches and even the odd river.. Sunday's ball was a deflated kiddies thing, not her preferred tennis, so only lasted about half a click before being discarded.

I kept my eyes open for passing migrants - in the past we've seen squadrons of winter thrushes coming low over the ridge there - but no joy. Still, it was a nice walk, and seeing Tilda Swindog - and Mum, watching her - so obviously happy was brilliant. Now if only we could somehow get every sheep, cow, pony, and trace thereof off the Moor.... ;)

EDIT: As I've been going on so much about her, here's a photo of the Little Black Hound Of Hell, on't Moor this summer;

 She loves it when a plan comes together.

[[*At least up on Haldon; in areas away from the dual carriageways, where there's room for her to run without meeting other dogs, and most importantly, there aren't any livestock. Or cats. Also, of course, when there aren't any birds nesting!]]

04 November, 2012

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Was a wonderful bird today. I having finally got around to twitching the Ernesettle Lesser Yellowlegs for my Devon List. A brief glimpse earlier was followed by another birder staying briefly [he having also had a brief glimpse] before being put off by torrential rain and the theory the bird had gone back towards the railway bridge. This turned out to be wrong, as the little bugger [who managed to be mobile and elusive, while also showing very well and at half the distance of the Walmsley bird!] had gone upstream. It duly arrived not a minute later, but despite my running up to the main path, the other birder was gone. Drat.

The Lesserlegs then spent it's time feeding like a Redshank out on the flats. When it got something big it would run straight to the water to wash it. This was wonderful to watch as it held its body still while it did so; with its rounded head on long, cocked back neck, and tapered body over the legs whirring underneath, it looked very like the Roadrunner ["Beep beep!"]. Moved fast, too! It was in the sunshine, rainbow overhead, while I was getting very rained on and not caring a whit. Glorious bird.

Yesterday, birds took a back seat as Sister got married. [They didn't go completely by the board and in fact I got in some great quality - albeit over in Cornwall..] Yup, Cornwall*. It was a really good day; with a steam railway, a cake that had to be seen to be believed [and tasted as good as it looked ;D ], and culminated in a bonfire party with deadly ginger beer [complete with justified skull and crossbones... arg], and a 'bring a firework' display that would have been visible from space...
But enough of the fun, the quality was twofold; a Barn Owl [before the evening's pyrotechnics, you will not be surprised to learn] was very nice, but the Waxwing that flew over Bodmin Central railway station early afternoon was brilliant! Of course it didn't land in sight, and while I couldn't resist jogging after it - just in case it was in those trees over there, you understand - I couldn't find it. As it was Sister's Day, [and I value my life] I let it go.

It's interesting that there are these odd ones and twos knocking around Cornwall, but no reports [that I know of] in Devon. Maybe they filtered down the west coast? Whatever, I'm keeping an eye on the local Rowans..

[[*While it's not Devon, there are worse places to live. I have been to Milton Keynes. ;) ]]

02 November, 2012

You Little Beauty!

Utterly gorgeous male Black Redstart in the frickin' Garden!!!!!

A few years ago a female dropped in for grapes*, I missed out on her and have been gripped by that ever since. This week, to make matters worse, I've been gripped off by both parents on a superb male. But now, at last, not 15 minutes ago I saw him! :D

It's not like it's the first one I've seen on the Patch. They winter every year, though as we are blessed with a vast multitude of cliffs and rocks - both natural and built - finding them can be tricky. It is, however, only the second male that I've seen well. The vast majority are females and immatures; still lovely, but not quite the same.

It's been slim pickings otherwise, with the odd overflying groups of Woodpigs by day and Redwings by night being the only noteworthy events.

[[*Any fruit that goes bad gets chucked on't shed roof for the Blackbirds. If the Herring Gulls don't see it first!]]

28 October, 2012

[Insert Humourous Blog Post Title Here]

I was very tired when I got in yesterday, and very grateful for the extra hour's sleep as the clocks went back to Real Time. No, I'm not going to get distracted and go on another rant about that.

Where was I....?

Yeah, so no posting yesterday. Friday was a washout, no birds of note to report on t' Patch at all.

Saturday I allowed myself to be tempted by the possibility of four great birds on one Rock. I dipped three of them, the only one I saw was the only one I'd seen before.

But that Shrike was GORGEOUS!!!!! As you may remember, I'd been for the Gosport one, which was cowering in a bramble bush and I don't blame it. This one was flying around making forays like a flycatcher and generally being amazing. Unless you were trying to get a picture, that is, as it's wonderful poses were generally held for a split-second less time than it took to line up on it...

But before that...

Suspecting a clear night and a brisk [to say the least] northerly would spell an exodus, I'd a backup plan in place. I stopped at Dorchester to get gen and - it being all negative at that point - I didn't spend half the day freezing my arse off around Fraggle Rock, but instead went somewhere I've been meaning to get to for years; Maiden Castle.

Yes, it blew a hoolie, but the sun shone and the views were outstanding. I didn't get the passing bird I was hoping for, but the resident Corn Buntings were on show, so a result! But they were icing as I wanted to have a look at this most massive of monuments. I'm very fond of hillforts - we have a few in Devon and there's one [perhaps more, though now pretty much destroyed] on the Patch.

Not as big as I'd expected, to be honest. I've heard a lot of stories about how amazingly big it is, and yes its a big hill, the main wall and ditch are suitably sized, but the entrances aren't as epic as I'd imagined. Also the info boards could do better, with their plan views of the evolution of the site being hard to read at best. They're also a bit low - I practically had to kneel to read them.

Having said that... I really liked it. I suppose the minimalist approach does work; letting everyone take what they want from the place, even if that does seem to be a good sized dog/kid walking circuit. Sitting on the outer ramparts, with only the wind for company, I watched the long green grass rippling and felt quietly moved.

So to today, and this morning with what turned out to be an erroneous 'No Sign' at Soar I gave the Patch a bash - things started well with a flock of ~120 Woodpigs over that had at least one Stock Dove with them; Garden Tick! :)  There were quite a few things moving, though no spectacular numbers, and the Woodpig flocks [I caught the back end of another as I got home] all stayed inland of the Nose. Finches, pipits, and wagtails were all moving or lurking - still no big pipit, of course...

There were 2 Curlew with the 40-odd Oyks [only had singles before], about 30 Guilles on the Ore Stone, and a couple of Kitts and a 1w Med Gull past south. Also on the sea, the first GC Grebes of the winter; a group of 5. Also 5 were very pretty Bullfinches, munching berries by the Rocky Path. I only found one Chiffchaff - things have shifted - though a Swallow let me know it's not winter yet.

After lunch I shamelessly twitched the Soar Sibe Stony, which proved elusive in the wind and sideways rain. That is, until it's Brave Finder showed up to point the small crowd to where it actually was.....

Yeah, it's a pale juvie Stonechat, big deal... ;D Like all Stonechats, it was a little cracker and seeing it was well worth the cold, wet, and dodgy humour. :)  It stood out very well from the Bog Standard Stonechats - though apparently it's quite a bit paler than the one I dipped yesterday was, so they aren't all this easy to pick - and while unless it felt like showing you it's arse [let alone underwing coverts], from the front the white throat makes a nice field character to say "Look at me!"

A flock of Golden Plover gave us a fly-past, and some impressive flocks of Starlings swirled in the background. The latter also gave a good The Birds recreation en route, turning overhead wires black..

Finally... I keep trying and failing to come up with a suitably 'funny' title for this. Answers on a Comment, please!

25 October, 2012

Warblers Beginning With 'S', Indeed...

I didn't mean that one, though it would have been nice....

It'd be a dream and a nightmare all at once, finding a First for the West Pal in your [or anybody else's] back garden. The Five Stages of Finding; Shock, Denial, Joy, Panic, Fear*....

But back in Reality, another week of work continues. Today there was the minor interest of a small flock of Woodpigs going over south-ish and not one but two Ravens! My cup runneth over. ;)

Back on Sunday - so long ago, so far away - I did do more diligent Patch-bashing, and saw the Firecrest again. Albeit briefly and a bit further up IMD, but it was still there. The increased wind kept things down, though it did mean seabirds, well a few Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Gannets passing south, anyway. BHG's were going north, and each got a careful look for pretty pale-underwinged black-billed vagrants. See? Prescient, just not looking at the right bloody one....

[[*Or; What the hell is that?!? No, it can't be, it just can't be... OMFG IT IS!!!!! Gotta get proof...! Three. Thousand. Twitchers...................]]

20 October, 2012

A Calm, Sunny Weekend Day. Uh oh...

Right then, up and at 'em this morning!

Down to the Nose I toddled, intending a quick bash before heading on to Soar in hope of visible Ouzels and maybe even something else. It was bright and calm, with a mass of cloud lurking out in the Channel, but blue skies overhead. Hmm. The assorted piles of fresh shit showed that, no matter how early you get there, some dogger* has been through earlier and once again ruled out my vain vain hope of a big pipit on the Lower Paddock or Sandy Point [oh stop laughing]. Still, there was always the even vainer hope of a warbler beginning with S, wasn't there?**

Things got interesting quite quickly though, as thrushes started flying out of the South Side and buggering off north. Nothing to do with other people, their dogs, or even my own cackhandedness, as the culprit for this thrush flushing [try saying that five times fast] was a Raven. Said thrushes caught the eye as among them were a Fieldfare, at least 3 Redwing, and another Ouzel! After years of a single heard-only, that's now two in as many weeks and this time I saw it. :D Ok, it was flying off, but still.

Then it got a lot quieter.

Even fewer Chiffs than yesterday, though the odd fly-over migrant kept my hopes up; a couple of Crossbills and an actual definite migrating Jay [it flew high out to sea!] among the dribble of finches and Mipits. Two small groups of Swallows tarried briefly, feeding over the South Side before moving on. On the Ore Stone, I was surprised to see Guillemots on the ledges; I counted 27. Interesting...

Finally, as I was getting back up the First Slope, I heard a lot of Goldcrest calls coming from the North Side. I waited and they duly appeared; a big group, easily 10+, probably 14+, they had a couple of Blue Tits and 2 Chiffs with them. I watched them for a while, moving all around me in the trees and bushes, having lots of fun as I tried to get on every movement. Then I scored; working through the Old Man's Beard across the way, then joy of joys flying over to the bush I was standing next to, a Firecrest! Brilliant! It didn't hang about long, soon heading towards the Top Dell, but showed so well while it was there :D

It wasn't until I got back to my car that I realised how long I'd been on site - by the time I got to Soar it'd be midday...

Bugger it.

I went over to Berry Head instead.

There were loads of people, loads of dogs, no Ouzels.. Fine calm weather with now hazy sunshine does that, dontcha know.

I wandered up to the North Fort, saw there were no Ouzels, and so sat myself down upon my favourite bench and waited to see what there was to see. A few more migrating Jays went over. A big band of LTTs came past twice, all 21 of them! :) The calm sea lent itself to watching for cetaceans, with the local Harbour Porpoises showing a few times - at least 4 were about. There were a few Guilles on the ledges too - I counted 146 with the aid of the li'l scope - though they had all cleared out within an hour of my arrival. The very odd Gannet and a lone 2w Kittiwake ambled past. The rest of the time I was watching Stonechats.

Lovely little birds, full of character, and at this time of year, always worth practicing on. One day there'll be a maura and Berry Head's probably the place it'll be found. As the wind picked up a bit I headed around to the quarry, where an actual interestingly pale Stonechat eventually showed up. I had the scope on it and was waiting for it to turn around and show off it's arse when it relocated to another bush. Not a problem to get back on, except this bush had a Robin in residence, and the rest is inevitable.... Oh well. I should be clear that I have no serious thoughts about it actually being a Sibe, but it would have been nice to be able to check properly.

I went home via another stop at the Nose, which got me bugger all by way of notable birds. The only thing of note was the unusual sight of a couple of chaps rowing double skulls around Thatcher Rock! Ok...

[[*This being my shorthand for 'irresponsible dog owner who is too lazy to clean up after it and/or can't keep it under control', whether or not they do illegal things in car parks..]]
[[** Almost came off, but the little bugger took a right instead of a left mid-Channel...]]

19 October, 2012

... But Mostly You Miss

After the fun at Hope's Nose on Sunday - which itself came after a lot of slogging for not much - I took a wander about Yarner with the Folks. It was nice, there were birds coming to the feeders, including Marsh Tits and Nuthatches, but no winter thrushes and the only Bullfinch was a sneaky git and Mum didn't get onto him.

This week has seen fun and frolics at work and misses near and clear out of it. Most galling was a couple of grey geese which flew over calling on Wednesday - not Canadas, most likely Greylags - but I couldn't get enough on them. Any grey spp. aside from Pink-foot would have been a Patch Tick, so very frustrating! No Redwings at all, either...

Today, with Friday afternoons still my own, I gave the Patch a bash and though the bashing was long and thorough, I came home with very little. A few Chiffchaffs. Several bands of Goldcrests. More Jays than there should be, maybe. A tree full of Woodpigs. Another GSW. Not even a single LTT, let alone the band. Certainly no frickin' Scaup.... [Mutter mutter]


This is of course more like usual service. Normality is restored. No chance of a scarcity here. Rarities? Never heard of them.

I wonder if the council have put the gulls' pontoon back in the harbour yet...?

14 October, 2012

News Flash!

Yellow-browed Warbler at Hope's Nose!

Late morning in the trees and bushes on the north side of the First Slope, typically mobile and annoying, called in bursts. It was with large band of LTTs, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, and a few other tits. NB: at least 3 other LTT bands are present in the area - the one you want has more 'crests than Chiffs - all are of course very mobile and usually where you can't get at them....

Not a great deal else to report; a group of Coal Tits low down the Second Slope may well have been migrants, also a few Chiffs, a Nuthatch again, and a couple of Blackcaps. Overhead small numbers of finches and a few Skylarks. Much quieter than expected, but that's the Nose for you. The YBW only showed up as I was leaving, if I hadn't lingered to chat with another birder about how quiet it was, I'd have missed it! Nearby what may have been a group of migrating Jays [a slim may] having a... erm, vigorous discussion with a parliament of Magpies. Result inconclusive, though both sides claimed victory.

13 October, 2012

Proper Twitchin' Like

You know, where you travel to some dump in the back of beyond go a long way at great a safe and legal speed, wade through mud, then stand around for a while with a group of crazy fools like-minded fellows, waiting for a daft bird that flew the wrong way on migration some wonderful vagrant to appear. Said bird makes you wait for a while, because you need time to worry if you're the poor sod who was 30 seconds too late for it's last showing and because if it's just there you won't appreciate it as much. Then it does appear and tarts around at close range for ages, even staying still for seconds at a time, in great light and where you're not in the wind, the rain, the road, or something nasty and knee-deep....

Thus it was today on the Lizard!, with that wonderful Paddyfield Warbler. It's so close! Yes, it made me wait for half an hour, but then it showed for a full one! Did I mention how close it was? Munching flies [when it didn't miss], preening and just sitting there in the sunshine... Wonderful wonderful bird, I'm so glad I didn't go to Pagham... ;)

I'm a happy chappy.

I even tried photography, and here for your suffering and woe are a couple of my efforts!
[[Run, run while you can...]]

First up, the Traditional Twitch Shot. 
[That little light brown blob everyone is looking at is indeed the bird.]

Secondly, the Best One I Got. 
Yes, the little git decided to start preening as I was pressing the button...

That was the third attempt, after which I realised that no matter how quickly I got on it, focussed and set up, it would still move the second the shutter clicked. You can see it's a little brown warbler, at least...

Then there was the shrike.  :D
Closest one ever. Again performing like a dream - I'd have tried a photo if the light hadn't been horrific...

I even had time to wander down to Bass Point and have a look at the sea.. Gannets, a few auks, a handful of Kitts and a group of Harbour Porpoises. The utter lack of squally showers hitting is entirely to blame, of course. There was a Wheatear, though. :) Also, the rocks were quite something, but having inflicted photos on you, I shall be merciful [There is a photo of the rocks in existence, with lens cap and everything, so be very very grateful.....]

Ah, what a glorious day.

12 October, 2012


Having a Friday afternoon, I decided instead of doing something productive or, indeed bashing the Patch, I'd get some more filthy twitching in. After regretfully deciding the Lizard was just too far, I went after a Devon Tick instead and not so much burned as splashed over to Budleigh.

Today has been one of warm sunshine, a brisk wind somewhere around the west, and some humungous showers-come-thunderstorms... Which made for an interesting time up on Otterton Ledge, with half an eye on the huge cumulonimbi, half on the big flocks of Linnets, and the rest on various bits of long grass, any of which could conceal the Richard's Pipit. I was not alone in my endeavours, as [Backwater Birder] was on site when I arrived and [Devon Birder] arrived as I did. Alas, the pipit is definitely elusive and indeed rather mobile and they both dipped. I, being mad more stubborn than is good for me younger and thus perhaps more wind-resistent, kept wandering about looking for the little bugger.

Following the theory that it didn't like the wind and had moved to get shelter from it, I headed further along the coast path until I found a bank/hedge thing. This bank/hedge thing had a couple of Stonechats sitting on it and I stopped to watch them and see what might be lurking in the lee of it or in the margins of the crop. Yes, that's right, potatoes! After a while I became aware of what sounded like a Richard's Pipit calling. This was not the first time, as most of the small birds around were trying their impressions. Still, it was a good one and I looked around to see what it was this time and, oh wait that's a big pipit with a long tail and a heavy bill and yes it sounds like the Richard's because it is the Richard's.....

After giving views remarkably similar to CT's pic on DBN*, it duly dropped into the weeds on the edge of the potatoes, very considerately close to a big ragweed - the only one in sight, even - and vanished. I did not get even a sniff of it again. Admittedly I didn't wait that long before going 'Sod it, I've seen you, you bastard' and starting back. I ran into another birder and pointed him in the right direction [see how considerate the Dix was to land by the only unmissable marker?] [Even if it was totally hidden], saw a gorgeous Wheatear, and then got rained on. Result.

Also on site were about 600 Linnet - which had split into 3 or 4 flocks and were quite a sight - and several dragonflies - I picked out Migrant and at least one Southern Hawker, plus what looked like a darter sp.  Red Admirals were steadily moving west, as were a few Swallows but little else. A Whimbrel, 3 Redshank and at least 3 Little Grebe were on view from the hide while the rain stopped....

Not content with that, I stopped off at Bowling Green and Exminster on the way back. Both were rather waterlogged, to say the least. The Garganey finally gave itself up, and came right down in front of the hide, too  :D  and 10 Greenshank dropped in and actually landed on the near side of the water! Wonderful views. Single Curlew Sand with the Dunlin, too. At Exminster, after getting past one section of flooded road to reach the bridge, I found that the flood was nearly to the RSPB car park turnoff, and was reportedly [via a deranged brave if soggy cyclist plus his happy dogs!] knee deep before Lion's Rest... The fields were water meadows, now Exminster Marshes really are! Not having a boat handy I scanned from the bridge - no waders in sight but plenty of ducks - Mallard, Teal, Wigeon. The Whooper Swan was near Mutes off to the north, as were a lot of Canadas [dear DEFRA, why can't you shoot them??], all enjoying water soaked grass.

If only the Dix had turned up about an hour earlier, it would have been a perfect afternoon...

[[*Funny that, you'd almost think it was the same bird at the same place doing the same thing... ;) ]]

11 October, 2012

Another Post Involving An Ouzel

This one I did see as it flew over us while we were having lunch at Fernworthy on Sunday! It was heading southwest and was probably en route to be one of the ones which have been knocking around Soar this week. Two migrating Ouzels in as many days - not bad. :)

To rewind a little; it being very soggy, the Folks decided that staying off [or rather out of] the mud was the best idea but didn't want to wimp out completely. And Fernworthy is nice at any time of year.

There weren't Crossbills. Ok, there were a couple that flew over calling, but none to be seen - the sheer absence of cones may have something to do with this? No Redpoll either and a single Siskin only...

We had a good meander about the ways, though, and Tillbury Pog had her usual great time. She was especially excited as it seemed that all the Red Deer in Devon were on site and only just ahead of us. I've never seen so many.. er, signs. Aside from one from the car near Lustleigh, though, we didn't see any. Tilly did decide a pile of logs was a deer at one point [we'd already been past it earlier, but that never matters], at least until she got to about 20' from it, whereupon she suddenly pretended to have no interest in it at all. Mad dog....

As well as our lunchtime treat, we also were flown over by a Dipper! This was up one of the streams that feeds the reservoir, in a lovely spot that screams "Some amazing bird is here!" but never produces anything. Well, a Dipper isn't quite a Kingbird, but it's not bad - would be a site tick if I kept that many lists. Also not bad was a Common Hawker - October dragons! :)

And lastly... I've been noting with interest all this passage going on. On Sunday we saw exactly two Swallows. On the Patch there have been no movements of Jays - at least so far as I can tell, they're pretty common here - and only the odd passing hirundine. Odd...

06 October, 2012

It Saw Me First

And duly buggered off, but it was still a Ring Ouzel at the Nose!!!!




Would you believe only my second there? Also plenty of birds [mostly finches] - in variety if not numbers - over, including Redpoll and Crossbill [yes!], plus some wonderfully showy Goldcrests. Ok, a paucity of warblers and it was blowing a cold hoolie, but heading to the Nose first thing was a good call. Also a nice band of LTTs with a few Goldcrests and the only warblers on site - 2 Chiffs.

After I'd given it a thorough going-over, I decided that as it was October I ought to wander over to Berry Head and try dipping [Famous Devon Birder]'s birds again. Its traditional, after all.

The sun was well out and so were the bods, but for some reason, after I'd gone over the woods and headed down to the quarry, I found nobody there... Yes, a couple of fishermen and some climbers, but no birders or dog walkers [the latter being something to be thankful for]. There were some birds, though, including the least skulky Garden Warbler I've seen this year and a smart Wheatear. The sea was pretty quiet; 6 Guillemots and 3 Razorbills in an hour quiet. Oh yes, before [and after] that, the woods were alive with Chiffs - maybe this is where all the ones that should have been at Hope's Nose went??

On my way back I dropped in at Paignton Mud Baths Clennon Ponds, where there was no sign of the Yellow-brow, though the drake Pintail was very smart and [as well as plenty more Chiffs] there were at least 2 Migrant Hawkers still buzzing around. Failing to connect wasn't entirely unexpected, as looking for little green birds among all those leaves makes you reach for hay-based analogies.

Hmm, I'm sure I had more I was going to say, quite possibly about trees... Oh well, that's what the Edit button is for.

03 October, 2012

Making A Pig's Nose Of It

Yup, return of the Horrific Pun Title....

Apologies for the delay, but Life gets in the way sometimes. Anyways, Sunday saw my original plans become derailed and I turned to the Standard Default Setting; Prawle.

The weather was a bit in the middle, yes it was supposed to be windy, but the coming front wasn't due 'til pretty much dark. The odd interesting vagrant may well have hung around [not exactly a night for migrating south] but if it was too windy then anything present [or which had arrived in front of the weather] would be cowering out of the way.

I had a cunning plan; check out how windy it was in the Pig's Nose Valley [home of many rarity sightings over the years], if I could find shelter there might be birds. If not, head to the Point and stare at the sea - something would go by eventually. Sounds half-reasonable?


Slightly better than staring at a wall?

Yeah, so I ended up covering most of the network of footpaths west of East Prawle, all of Pig's Nose twice, and all along the Coat Path [including a diversion due to forgetting which bit I was on and going up the cliff too early, oh my poor legs..] to the Point. The Valley was pretty windswept, perhaps not entirely unsurprisingly, matters not helped by someone making quite a racket - at first I wondered if it was a gate banging in the wind, until I heard the voices. I think it was a farmer fixing something. Or maybe beating a tree to death. Hard one to call ;)  I did find a Tree Pipit, which seemed like a good sign as it was quite early on... In total I also found four warblers. Four. Two of them were in the car park bushes as I left, including the only one which actually called and showed more than once. Yes, it was a Chiffchaff.

Oh well.

In three and a bit hours, the sea produced a little; a very close Bonxie was nice*. Two Balearics, one of which came right in and circled to see what a group of gulls were looking at, were great. 7 Common Scoter were also close enough to count 4/3 and be sure no Surfers were lurking among them. Yes, I always check if possible, just like I check every auk; 3 Guillemots and 71 Razorbills. 245 Gannets went west, 8 east, as did the lone Kittiwake. The group of gulls, which were hanging around what I think was a big chunk of weed, included at least 4 LBBs, though they milled a bit and were partly too close to view without risking an accident [yes, that Balearic came very close :D ] so there may have been more.

While not outstanding, it was certainly an interesting day, worth the trip. I do now know which bits of PNV are sheltered from a raging SW [come WNW - bloody Met Office..] and I certainly got a good walk out of it.

[[*I wouldn't say that to it's face, though... ;) ]]

30 September, 2012

Chasing Migrants

Is largely an exercise in futility, as they can fly far faster than you can...

This weekend I did best [and this is of course a relative term] when I stayed put and let them go past. First up was Hope's Nose [you were expecting Spurn? ;) ], where a large number of Chiffs knocking about catching flies got my hopes up. Ho ho ho. I did find a Nuthatch, which is a really good bird for the Nose, and nearby [though not actually in Nose bounds] my first on-Patch GSW of the year! Really odd, that - Greens everywhere.

Anyway, I was thwarted in my hopes of finding something rare and sexy, and the other notable sighting was a Fox!

I then, after some pondering, said Sod It and went up on't Moor. The South West side - after a quick look about Foggintor Quarry for Wheatears [nowt there but a Common Hawker] I followed the tramway out to a nice viewpoint where I could see over the Walkham valley and out to a large chunk of SW Devon and into Cornwall. There I plonked down and waited to see if any Honey Buzzards or the like felt like passing. Ha ha ha.

28 Swallows went past west [one in touching distance] in an hour, as did assorted finches - Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin etc. No big numbers. There were a LOT of Mipits about, and they seemed to be on the move, though in a slow casual hopping from one feeding spot to another manner. One party had a juv. Yellow Wag with them - I'm not sure it knew what it was doing there, though there were cattle aplenty about, so maybe it did. I spent a fair amount of time going through said Mipits - I am a masochist, it's true - being very interested by the variation among them. They're almost as bad as Dunlin and large gulls...

The usual moorland birds [so that'll be Crows] were about, as were increasing numbers of bods in the sunshine. I eventually found a couple of Wheatears - one of which was one of those autumn jobs. You know, with the pale colouring and stand-out alula, broad tail bar and very upright stance. It was not anything other than Northern, I must stress. Just one of those birds that aren't in the books - lot of that going around, isn't there? Also of interest, the first Golden Plovers of the autumn, though they flew along the other side of the hill so I only heard them - not a big group, by the sounds of it.

Today, a slight case of miscommunication, a change of plans, and... well, various other factors led me to rock up at Prawle far later than if I'd meant to go there from the get-go. It was very windy, but more than that shall have to wait, as again I'm out of time. I love Days.

Oh, ok I'll tell you one thing I saw;
The 'Grande Napoli'.

One of those floating breeze blocks car carriers, in a lovely scheme of off-white and yellow, with Grimaldi Lines on the side. Too far out to see if it actually was Monaco registered...