29 April, 2012

No Matter The Weather...

... You can always seawatch!


The bloody new blogger's 'small' font is very small indeed [another thing worse..] so I'm trying 'normal', which seems pretty damned big on the interface but what the hell.

Speaking of hell...

A gale force NNE, heavy persistent rain, a marked drop in temperature and those bloody [or, it seems, other bloody] Stilts way up in't north. What to do? Sod the Stilts, they'd only bugger off if I went for 'em, I'm off seawatching!

Well, its an onshore wind [just] and it wasn't too shabby yesterday and moreover, it is a maxim of mine that no matter the weather, you can always seawatch. You never know what might go past. Ok, maybe half the Channel, horizontally, or 500 yachties in summer, but there's always a chance. Also, the forecast said that the wind would ease off and swing round to the south [or so], the rain would die off to odd showers, and thus everything cowering in, say Tor Bay would come streaming out past Hope's Nose late morning / early afternoon. 

Yeah, right.

I'm used to being let down by the Met Office's gerbil-powered supercomputer, but I expected better of Magic Seaweed [thus the naming and shaming. Tut.]. The wind did kick a bit more to the east twice, ending up a fair NE, but die down? Hah. Did the rain ease? Well, it got a bit brighter in the afternoon, but the rain did not let up. At all. [[Admittedly, it has now, but too late.]]

But these things are sent to annoy you. I mean, imagine if you could actually predict the weather - you know, accurately? Chaos would ensue....

 But back to today. I was unsurprised to find nobody there this morning [wimps and lightweights the lot of you! ;) ], as even the craziest fisher-fanatic has trouble casting when waves are sweeping him into the sea... Oh and the waves! A big beefy swell was sending white water right over the Lead Stone and 2/3 up the Ore Stone [not bad for such a short fetch] and the sea [away from the outfall's input] was that grey it goes when it means business. A 'thunderous swell' was definitely the term as the waves shook the ground twice - as they broke and as they slammed into the shore. It was quite a sight and worth the trip by itself.

Not being entirely crazy, I didn't even think about going lower than the grass - I set up in the lee of one of the spoil heaps, where I'd been yesterday. This time I had the bumbleshoot with me, which was its usual mixed blessing. Yes, it kept the rain and wind off, but it also demanded a hand and a half at all times or risk the wind seeing how far it could drive it into Berry Head....

It was all good fun and games; proper 'ardcore seawatching! I gave it seven hours.  :)

There were even some birds, too. [Oh, his cup doth floweth over!] Six skuas. Four of which I could call, too. And a few other bits of interest...

Pomarine Skua 1 S [dark morph]
Bonxie              3 S
Skua Spp.         2 S [1 light morph, probably Pomarine, 1 intermediate, Arctic/Pom]
Manxie             2 N
Yellow-legged Gull  1 N [3cy, nice and close!]
Med Gull          1 N [2cy, briefly harrassed by Geeb]
Whimbrel   1 N
Swift  3 N
Swallow  4N
Feral Pigeon  4 in/off from SE [presumed racers]
Fulmar  50 N  6 S
Gannet  36 N  15 S
Kittiwake  19 N  1 S
Auk spp.  20 N  6 S [all close enough to ID were Guillemot]

The Manxies were well out - there could have been a lot more hiding in the gunk as I got a fair few glimpses of 'stuff'. Everything going south of its own volition [several Gannets went by backwards and the first Bonxie was flying sideways!] was going at one hell of a lick, as you might expect. Thus two skuas who, even though they passed inside the Ore Stone [they all did], were too brief to be sure of. The gulls were among what seemed to be a movement of Herring and GBB in the hundreds [though an unknown number may have just been recycling back over the top] and all came through inside the Lead Stone, nice and slow. :) The only birds unbothered by the wind were the Fulmars, who progressed into it with no apparent effort; I didn't see a single wingbeat all day! Now that, my dear readers, is flying.

28 April, 2012

Double Dip

Just a quickie update on the last two days' fun and frolics...

I have mostly been dipping Black-winged Stilts and getting soggy.

Yesterday I went to Exminster on hearing of Stilts present and even waded through the flood to try to find them. After much squelching around with water-filled boots, I realised it was not going to happen. I did see a very nice Yellow Wagtail, added Reed and Sedge Warblers to the yearlist, saw shedloads of Whimbrel, including a hundred or so whistling around my ears when I was on the tow path :D, but didn't see any Swifts or Hobbies.

Today I tried Bowling Green and Exminster, before finally hearing the gits were in north Devon...

Before that, I was at the Nose*, where a couple of dark morph Arctic Skuas were mugging Kittiwakes, 6 Whimbrel and a Curlew went north, as did 8 Swift! [Yes!]. A lot of Guilles were messing around [I assume mostly heading to Berry Head from early morning's fishing]. [Devon Birder] arrived just before I left for my Wild Stilt Chase and promptly found a Bonxie, with a Sarnie passing too.

Bowling Green had 3+ Common Sand and 13 Greenshank [until flushed by a train?!?], plus a whole heap of hirundines. The highlight at Exminster was a report of an Iceland Gull [I didn't know at first it had been flushed - let me guess, the flusher wore a red and grey jacket?]. Not knowing it had flown I kept looking, eventually getting to the 800-odd gulls lurking up by the M5. Ding-ding-ding jackpot! :D Very nice it was too - my first of the year, would you believe?

Not a complete waste of time, by any means...  :)

[[*Seawatching [albeit briefly] in a NE, whatever next??]]

23 April, 2012

Rubber Duckies, Being Bambouzeled, and Wild Cuckoo Chasing.

Saturday was quite a lot of fun. Even though I got really hailed on. 

Started off with an early start at Yarner - ah, Yarner in the springtime... - two nice Tripits on the heath on the way in, and then a pond full of duckies! Seven, count 'em, seven Mandarin, plus a very pretty drake Wood Duck. This is just taking the piss, you realise? 26 smegging years....

Anyway. The new hide has three windows - one too low and two too high, so clearly a well thought-out project. The feeders were pulling in a lot of birds - Siskin, Marsh Tits and Nuthatches stood out, but also drew the ducks in to munch the spilt seed. Point blank Mandarin. Definitely taking the piss. I even tried photos [you have been warned...]. That Wood Duck, though dubious to say the least in a listing context, was very nice to look at. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the one from Abbotsbury, you know.

Into the Wood proper, and a single Wood Warbler was zipping away merrily. I went to the usual spot and he showed wonderfully. :D  The Pied Flycatchers were a little less showy, the Redstarts even more bashful [there's a surprise]. Everything's getting wonderfully green again...

I decided against spending the whole day wandering around there and moved on to the Moor - doing a loop around Vitifer, Headland, and Challacombe in search of Ring Ouzels, Cuckoos, Wheatears, and maybe even a very early Whinchat? The sun was very shiny, but that was in the gaps between the great big lumps of rain and hail. Well, that's what waterproofs and ear protection are for. One such hail flurry cost me, as with my head down against the weather, an Ouzel at Headland saw me first. I got the Chuck!s and a view of it vanishing behind some scenery. Where it really did vanish, as try as I might I couldn't even get its abuse again... Drat. Saying that, a couple with two big loose dogs were coming along, so even if I'd seen it first and tried a stalk for a photo, I'd have been thwarted.

Crossing into Vitifer, I staked out for Cuckoo, but got nowt. No Whinchats waiting around for the whin to grow, not even a Wheatear! I did meet [Devon Birder], who told of a pair of Ouzels there earlier and a Cuckoo at Challacombe. As I was heading that way anyway...

Not a sign. Not even one call. I waited a very long time, through showers and sun, but to no avail. I even stopped off on the way home, parked up and listened, but nothing. Bloody Cuckoos....

And now for a round-up of Other News.

Sunday - morning about the Patch, with 9 Whimbrel and 2 Whitethroat at Hope's Nose. Contrast with last year when on this day there were 12 Whitethroat and a Lesser... Interestingly, Blackcaps outnumbered Chiffchaffs and only 2 Willow Warblers were to be found. 
Afternoon and a stroll with the Folks around Parke [not been there for a while] brought about a Dipper, which was very confiding and appreciated by all.

Last week at work, a Speckled Wood got into the canteen - fortunately I was able to rescue it before it got shut in.

Last Sunday - wander about Fernworthy - hordes of Siskin singing and displaying everywhere. Only one group of Crossbills and those a bit distant, though nice in the sun. Willow Warblers outnumbered Chiffchaffs 3 to 2. 55+ Swallow and 2+ House Martin feeding over the reservoir. The clearance of the magnolias below the dam [though welcome - even if its rough on the birds and dragonflies] makes it look like someone's been playing with napalm... 

I'm sure there's more, but I think that'll do for now.


A Quick Rant

Why is it, that of all the dogs encountered on the Moor since the first of March, aside from a Certain Little Black One, only one has been on a lead? Lambing sheep? Nesting birds?

I knew I shouldn't have trusted that guy on ebay to get that Dragunov; "Oh, I sent it two weeks ago, hasn't it arrived yet?".....

He's back.

So it seems we get the new blogger interface whether we want it or not. Nice.

Other than a few useful little bits that should have been there already, there's nothing new that isn't annoying / more complicated / both. 

What more can be said, other than google             .

[[*Redaction courtesy of built-in lawyers.]]

14 April, 2012

Being Good and Being Bad

Being good today meant dragging up and zipping over to Hope's Nose before the doggers got going [not that sort of dogger, get your mind out of the gutter] and drove all the poor exhausted migrants away. This meant going before breakfast and thus before coffee, so it was in a dangerous mood that I shut the fucking gate properly and started seeing what was about.

Careful working of the Top Dell and South Side produced Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and Willow Warblers. Plus the usual suspects. A Stonechat popped up, then popped back down again, out of the wind. Onward, onward, watching the dewy grass... Ah, but wait, right down the bottom, here were not one but two lovely Wheatears! :) More was to come, as the first Whitethroat of the year gave a brief burst of song from beyond The Wall. As I crept up said Wall to try to get a better view, something sat on top of a tree caught my eye. A pipit. A Tree Pipit [it was on a tree. ;) ] - for once not flying over, just sitting there. Best of all, as I was heaving back up the First Slope, a Swallow came up past me! Then another! Then another! One, two, three.. Three Swallows, ah ha ha ha ha ha! [[Ahem.]]

Home. Food. Coffeeee.............

Right then, time for some filthy twitching! The Black-winged Stilt at Abbotsbury Swannery was very obliging, pottering around at nice scope range [for those of us who object to paying £10.50 - I mean, come on...] from the lane. I met a crew from up north who called themselves the Dunsford Dippers - a most amusing bunch, I have to tell you. As well as admiring the Stilt, we had an interesting time with a distant and very dark dove, which was probably just a very dark funny-looking Collared, but worth a good look nonetheless. Also very decent blokes, as when the heavens then opened in impressive fashion, with thunder and lightning to boot, they gave me a very welcome lift back to the car park.

I shamelessly sat out the downpour [something about standing around with a long bit of carbon fibre with a lump of metal on the end in a thunderstorm didn't appeal...], had my lunch and waited. Eventually the weather got bored and wandered off. I re-emerged and went back for seconds. Gorgeous bird; slender, elegant, graceful. Made me think of a Wilson's Phal on, well, stilts. I spent an hour more there before heading home, well-pleased.

09 April, 2012

Not Bad.

Wet and windy, oh what to do...?


The best of the weather looked to be mid-day to mid-afternoon, so I didn't drag up at Aaargh.. o'clock [that's tomorrow...]. Consequently, my seawatch at Berry Head didn't start 'til 0900, with three intrepid watchers there well before me. I did give it a good seven hours, though, and was rewarded for my stubbornness patience.

In time-honoured seawatch style...

Balearic Shearwater 2+
Distant probable at 1333, much closer singles at 1455-58 [in to scalloper] and 1532 [different individual by markings]
Manx Shearwater 1238 south
Arctic Skua 1 [North at 1045, dark phase]
Bonxie 2 [North together at 0920]
Auk sp. 142 S, 24 N
Gannet 82 S, 10 N
Kittiwake 36 S
Common Gull 3 S
Med Gull 1 N [ad]
Sandwich Tern 14 S, 3 N

Also a steady movement of passerines in/off. Notably a Willow Warbler landing on [Famous Devon Birder]'s tripod - his second tripod tick! - and another plonking down in front of us, looking terribly bedraggled and generally soggy. Poor thing. Several more migrants zipped past at low level, with warblers and finches making up the majority.

In the sea, at least 4 Harbour Porpoises showed repeatedly at close range, and a Grey Seal caused a couple of double-takes as it did a passable impersonation of a big grey fin [!].

Despite there being not a vast array on show - the Manxies came in definite pulses and the rest were slim pickings - it was a good watch. Just seeing shears was a delight, as ever :) It's also special watching from Berry, as at this time of year you're surrounded by Fulmars - very atmospheric, even if it does mean you haven't a hope of a meaningful count! Not just their wonderful nasal calls, either, as the residents are wont to suddenly swoop past at eye level or zoom low overhead. Distracting yes, but not unwelcome!

The first definite Balearic was a real treat; it came in on the close Manxie line*, but then started switching back and just came closer and closer - no doubt drawn by the smell of rare coral - before diving into the scrum of gulls and Gannets behind the scalloper [which was dredging most of the day]. As it came in, the rain even stopped! Ok, the rain started up again pretty soon, but it was nice while it lasted..

Right then, back to work.


[[*There were 4, sometimes all used together, the gits..]]

08 April, 2012

White Wood

A lie-in is a rare and wonderful thing in these days of day shifts and the necessity to go birding. I enjoyed one today [Well, sort of. I was still up and awake far too early, really..]. So, it was this afternoon that I went for a wander with the Folks around White Wood and Venford reservoir. White Wood is wrapped around Bench Tor, a steep [and by that I mean Devon steep, so you can fall down it] mass of mossy rocks and boulders covered in twisted Oaks and bordered by Birch groves. The Dart churns past its feet - far below the track which is the one way through it. Leaving that track - which runs from a private field to the base of the reservoir's waterworks enclosure - is asking for a nasty accident, just don't do it. Even if you don't dislocate or break something, the climb back up will kill you. More importantly, you can see all the birds around from the track. :)

Today there weren't any Pied Flycatchers or Redstarts or Wood Warblers or LSWs or anything sexy like that. There were two singing Willow Warblers, a pair of Green Woodpeckers, and a small group of House Martins. Venford was empty of birds, but around it there were groups of noisy Redpoll and Siskin, and a showy Treeecreeeper. Not a long walk, but a nice one.

In other news... The Gull Alarm has been going off fairly regularly, but the most notable trigger was an adult Geeb, which was vigourously seen off by a dozen Herrings yesterday. Still no hirundines here. Let alone insanely early Swifts. Oh, but for an Osprey actually over my patch when I'm there to see it.......

07 April, 2012

A Purple Patch

I know, I know, but I couldn't resist it!

A sort-of* long double bank holiday weekend means more birding, oh yes, and it was with great satisfaction that I got out for a Friday in the field. Starting off with the Nose first thing, I was rewarded with a whole heap of warblers - mostly Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs - a super-smart male Wheatear [ :D ], a surprise Shelduck sat on the sea, and best of all......two Pintail!!!! They flew past north, a Patch Tick of spawny joyousness. :D

Then onwards, as I decided that I really was over the Hume's [good call, as it didn't show!] and went after a Devon Tick instead... The Purple Heron.

More happiness en route, as there were at least 2 House Martins catching insects above the first sharp bend north of Labrador Bay. When I got to the Otter, I found a fair few birders, none of whom had seen it. It hadn't shown 'til 1035 the previous day, and I was well prepared to hang around, but 1035 came and went, and so did 1100. The crowd [ok, the group] started to thin... Then at 1120 it came casually flying downriver, low over the fields, eye level through the bins. Yeeeeeeeess!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It landed by the boundary between the first and second fields - a line of Willows along a channel - and strolled down out of sight. You wouldn't believe there was even anything there from most angles, let alone a watercourse deeply incised enough to hide a heron, such are the tricks of perspective. It stayed hidden until 1205, when it flew to the reedy channel at the back of the second field, moving from there to the reedy and rushy channel crossing the second field at 1234. So, three flight views; two very good and one prolonged. Better than expected!

The sun was shining, the wind was blowing [a bit] and I decided that I wasn't going to get a better look at the Heron, so I might as well have lunch a bit late elsewhere. I had a plan. Hordes of bods made me re-think slightly, but I eventually wound up with a very nice panorama on Woodbury Common. This plus the Big Scope was my cunnin' plan to try to get a raptor or six. Naturally, this wasn't going to be as easy as that - the haze and indeed heat haze made viewing a challenge. But this was merely an exercise in ID, with plenty of gulls and corvids to keep it interesting. Speaking of corvids, just before two a kettle of them caught my eye - an empty kettle. Where was the object of their ire?? I scanned around and got it - up and left, a lot of up! This one wasn't a Buzzard, it was an Osprey! YES! It looked to be over the Otter valley, but when, having out-climbed the corvids, it decided to move, I lost it too quickly in the haze to be sure which way it went. I'd guess it was one of the Exe birds - though whether that was before or after I saw it is unknowable.

At least six Buzzards were knocking around, with the corvids and gulls keeping them occupied.. Three Siskin flew over, calling prettily, as did several groups of Linnet, but there was not a notable passage. Eventually it clouded over and I called it a day. Not a bad one, either, with a Patch Tick, a Devon Tick and plenty new for the year.

*Today I had the Joys Of Work, but got out on't patch in the afternoon. Nothing outstanding to report before or after Hope's Nose, though. There I was fortunate enough to witness at least 6 [they were very mobile and may have been passing, rather than loitering] Sandwich terns fishing inshore of the Lead Stone. I love Sarnies! They're like mini Gannets, with that wonderful creaky call. One was unlucky enough to attract the attentions of a couple of Herring Gulls - one of whom, a 1w, gave it grief for several minutes. That daft gull seemed to think it was a skua; though it wasn't agile enough to play the part properly it certainly tried hard. The Tern won in the end - the gull finally getting it through its head that it just wasn't going to win.

I also met [Devon Birder] and [Devon Birder] and many were the things discussed. Notable topics included the excellent scheme to put cameras near vulnerable nest sites [[[If they could combine this with effective punishments**, I reckon we'd be on to a real winner]], the decline of breeding Kittiwakes, and the whole cameras versus telescopes thing. Before I go further off along this tangent, there were no Whitethroats at the Nose [let alone passing Ouzels], though plenty of calling phylloscs. Offshore, 4 Common Scoter flew north - amazingly my first of the year! Also, back on land the first proper breeding sign of the year - a Song Thrush carrying food. :)

[[**I favour public garroting - it'll make sure they don't do it again.]]

03 April, 2012


Flew past north while I was staring out the window at lunchtime today. :D

02 April, 2012

What Is It With The Weather?!?

I mean, seriously... First its August, then its back to February?!? I had to scrape the ice off my car this morning..

Yes, I'm being very British and going on about the weather, old boy. Yesterday it was schizophrenic up on't Moor [and not in the usual way, either]. Blazing sunshine, ok. Howling gale, ok. The two can go together, especially up there. But then the howling gale dies away completely and it heats up like nobody's business. Que? I'm ranting, I know, but I feel vexed and you, my dear readers, are the ones who get to enjoy it.

Anyway, I'm pretty much done. I do feel a little better.

Right then.
Moor. Folks. Little Black Dog. Said Dog was in particularly frisky mood - though the party of hackers [on proper shaggy Moor horses {That film is ridiculous in so many ways} ] were quite amused as she bounced around on the end of her extendo-lead like a rubber ball as Dad reeled her in.. Oh dear, off track already. ::Deep breath:: We parked at Lanehead and climbed past Hare Tor and Chat Tor to Great Links Tor, returning via the edge of Tavy Cleave. Great Links has some truly fabulous views across west Devon and Cornwall - at least when its not hazy - and is one of my favourites. Despite being on the edge of the Moor it rarely gets really crowded, as whichever route you take you're going to suffer for it!

Despite the wind, it wasn't a birdless day, with four notable events! In chronological order;
Tilbury, always covering about seven times the ground we do as she follows sniffs and tries really hard to get us to chase the sheep, acts like she's seen something in the long grass to our right. There's not an animal in sight, but she's up and doing her meerdog. Suddenly a head pops up - oh, that's a grouse - yes it's a male Red Grouse! He shows wonderfully as he starts walking away from us, meandering through the tussocks. Best. Views. Ever. After maybe ten seconds he decides that, no, even though that horrible little black dog has been reeled in and isn't even barking at him [she stayed quiet the whole time - perhaps the oddest thing of all!], its time to go. With a quick call he takes off and flies out of sight over the crest of the hill.
Then again, Tilbury Dog sniffs out more Grouse! A pair, who are closer to us in among peat hags and fly off almost at once - this time looping right around us in a huge arc before landing not that far from the path we're following, though we don't flush them again, fortunately.
Now up in the sky, where a five-way Buzzard barney gives us wonderful views, with the birds lit up beneath by the sunshine reflecting off the dry grass..
Finally, at Nameless Tor*, a gorgeous male Wheatear!

Never mind your Cranes and Ospreys and Red Kites and invisible Garganey - those Grouse beat them all! Not the closest view I've ever had [that was a second or two of mutual heart-attack at maybe 5 feet in the North West Passage, before the fire**] but definitely the best. Day and indeed umn. :D

[[* It has no name on the OS, and I refuse to call such an impressive outcrop 'tavy cleave rocks'.]]
[[** Before all the heather was burned off***, Cut Hill was quite good for Red Grouse. One time, when walking up the NW Passage, {which is in places pretty much person deep}, I turned a corner and met a pair of Red Grouse. They were on the lip, at head height and about 5 feet from me. Grouse don't go quietly and let's just say it's debatable who got the bigger shock...]]
[[***Not swaled - thus the long-term damage. For legal reasons, I can't say more about the party responsible or what I'd like done as suitable consequences.]]