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.]]