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... ;) ]]