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!]]