28 January, 2013

The Jade Sea

Sunday. Front passing in the night, wind strong and westerly, with sun in the morning and maybe a more SW with some big showers in the afternoon. What to do...??

What's the default setting, boys and girls? Yup, I went off to Prawle.  :)

Only had to drive through 2 flooded sections of road to get there, too. With blazing sunshine - I'd set my alarm for the crack o' doom just in case and seen the last clouds zipping off - I decided it might be a good idea to wander over to Horseley Cove to see the Water Pipits before trying a seawatch later on, when hopefully some clouds might have arrived. Before I'd left the car park, a Goldcrest showed very well and in hopeful mood I squelched off down the slope, past some rather brassed-off looking sheep.

Getting there proved interesting, as the coast path is more of a coast swamp in several places. Negotiating these in a strong blustery wind, while avoiding thick brambles, cliff edges, and live electric fences proved a challenge. In the end I managed to not fall over or get my boots topped, but I did get a good thump off one of the fences; all of which are highly unnecessary as there's not a single animal in need of restraining except for any loose dogs, which the fences do nothing to stop...


Horseley Cove was it's usual picturesque self - with the wonderful rocks and drifts of pebbles that I've waxed on about before - though now with a few added slumps from the cliffs. These are just minor soil slips, but are of great interest to the gathered birds. Watching a half dozen Rockits clinging to the new bare faces as they searched for food was quite something. There were at least 20 there [the wind may have helped coalesce them, of course] plus the 2 Water Pipits, at least 8 Pied Wagtails, a Grey Wagtail, at least 3 Chiffchaffs, plus Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens. Quite a gathering!

I stayed put for quite a while, admiring them and the small group of waders on the shoreline. Long enough for a male Sprawk to pop over the edge and have a go - unsuccessfully. Casting an eye over the swell, a few auks and Gannets were passing. While I watched, a Red-throated Diver came along west, but seemed to change it's mind once it got out into the full force of the wind, turned back and started climbing away to the SE!

With the sky having clouded over, I took this to be a hint to get to the Point and packed up. The 'mega-flock' of 100+ Cirls seems to have split up, as I found two separate 30+ groups plus a dozen or so scattered out along the usual fields. The wind was keeping them down, and they only moved when skipping up into the hedges as people passed.

Getting up to the rocks of Prawle Point, I was soon greeted by a nice squally shower, but after that nowt and then the sun came back out! This turned the sea to jade - utterly beautiful. It was unsurprisingly quiet, bird-wise, with very low numbers. In 3.5 hours; 40 Gannets, 30 Kittiwakes, and 50 auks [all Razorbills in the air, 6 Guilles on the sea] - mostly west with a few of each back east. 10 LBBs passed west, as did 2 Fulmar. A lone Bonxie was the only real quality. With a big regular pattern of rollers, it was a surprise to actually see [albeit in brief glimpses] some cetaceans! Firstly at least 2 grey dolphins, probably Bottlenose, went west, then closer in at least one Harbour Porpoise went east. Pure luck in catching them in the wide troughs, of course..

I headed back via Slapton on the off chance of Big Brown Things, but to no joy, and from a quick scan from the Memorial, only a few auks on the sea.

In the Garden, Frau Schwartzkopf still holds the fat, with the male and another female sneaking in now and again. Bird numbers aren't super high, though. I hope this is due to them getting fed elsewhere, rather than an indication of mortality.

26 January, 2013

Mobile Flocks

Were the most notable things today, with three all giving a nice audio accompaniment as a bonus. As to the three species responsible... Well, you'll have to wait and see.

The weather really is being annoying, isn't it? As I type a lovely front is bearing down upon us, but it being the middle of the frickin' night and me not having night vision optics [now THERE's an idea...] I am bereft for the second day running. We are not amused. To add insult to - well inconvenience I suppose, really - coming in after it are some lovely-looking fronts. They are set to arrive in daylight, too. During the week.

Well, I suppose I don't have to sleep?

Oh, great big furry rats.

I very nearly went anyway on Friday, but found after a gruelling week of grit and graft that I couldn't summon the energy. I did eventually get out and gave the Harbour gulls and Blackball grebes a going-over. I even managed to get quite soggy, as the rain suddenly arrived on me. What I didn't get was anything better than the top of a [presumably the same] Grey Seal's head vanishing under the waves. 7 GC Grebes, plus a Razorbill, at least 1400 large gulls [and still rising as they vanished under the murk] and 94 Kittiwakes were off Blackball. I really don't know where all the grebes are - there's been enough cold weather up country by now, surely?

The Harbour had 124+ Herring, 3 GBB, a Moorhen, a male Pied Wagtail, and a couple of Crows. One of the Herrings was quite interesting [yes, it's gull time - run while you can!]; it was a big rangy thing, 1w, with an all-dark tail [and I mean all-dark, right up the sides] and well barred tail coverts. Quite long-winged, too, but otherwise entirely Herring... Never ceases to amaze.

Today I overslept horribly and then ran around doing stuff that needed doing. Fortunately, some of that stuff was out Newton way, so I decided to drop into Stover for a late lunch [hopefully] cooing over the Goosander reported there. Before I even got to the lake I got lucky, with a big party of Crossbills flying over; I couldn't get a count on them, but by the amount of calls - the full-on sleigh bells experience! :) - I'd have to say there were at least 20. Siskin were also about in numbers, but no Redpoll that I could find. On the lake a lone female Goosander floated about with a couple of GC Grebes, 5 Cormorants, 4 Tufties, 2 Pochard, and about 70 BHGs. Scanning the swampy fringe revealed at least 13 Snipe, with one coming out and sitting in full view - a very considerate bird, there.

A cornish birder dropped in to the hide and we chatted for a bit, during which he mentioned having just seen the Waxwings by the A38.. Well, it would be rude not to go see them, wouldn't it? :) The easiest way to get to them would be to park along the Teigngrace road - still possible as there are a few layby spaces which haven't been churned into a quagmire by 4x4s - and walk alongside the dual carriageway towards Exeter. They were going to the berry bushes in the central reservation beyond the railway bridge from trees on the near side, but I'd not head there too late in the day as they flew off towards Heathfield [presumably to roost] just after ten to four.

Fortunately, this was just after I'd arrived. Unfortunately, it was 5 minutes too early for the family group that I met as I headed back... :(

Finally, at the caravan park on the junction, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large group of Goldfinches - a pre-roost gathering, most likely - which occupied the tops of 4 large trees and numbered at least 198 birds. I think that's the biggest flock of Goldfinches I've ever met - they certainly sounded impressive, with an almost Starling-like chattering.

24 January, 2013

In A Bubble

It's weird.

The thing is, there's all this stuff on the news about snow and ice and how terrible the weather is, but on the Patch it's just not happening. I had to take more than an inch of snow off my car at work last Friday, and there was some snow in the air and sticking to bushes on Tuesday [I think?] morning, but even then it wasn't settling. There was a nice attack of hail, which made things slippy for a few minutes, but then it too just melted away. We have water here; nothing has settled, nothing has frozen. It's just cold and damp.

It's a little disturbing - like I'm living under a dome or something, isolated from reality. I looked out to the far hills of Occombe* when I got up and they were green [ok, also a bit brown.. but the pint is no snow]. I'm not complaining. Far from it, as trying to get in and out of work [exposed sloping car park, plus high narrow wet roads] in ice let alone a foot or two of snow would be a pain...

The only evidence that connects what the media say with life as I experience it, is that there are gaps in the shelves in shops, at work they're almost out of coffee beans in the machines - this is actually very serious news, there may be blood [ ;) ] - and not all the post has been arriving on time. But otherwise... crisis, what crisis?

They don't call it the Riviera for nothing.

I suppose some bird news is in order.
Staying inside the Bubble on Sunday I bashed the Patch and got bugger all. [Thus no Monday post about it] The grebe roost turned up a miserable 11 GC Grebes. Cold weather movements? Not here, anyway. Lots of nice un-frozen snow-free habbo, but no influx yet.

Yesterday I got down to the Harbour to count the Herring Gulls and actually got lucky! As well as a Shag, the 2 Moorhen [still can't get over them] and a couple of GBBs, the 47 Herrings had a 1w Yellow-legged Gull with them. YES! Nice burly one, a real classic example. Worth getting out in the rain and murk for. :D  Also, on my way down I heard the first singing Blue Tit of the year. :)

Definitely no complaints.

[[*Being high up and inland and thus the bit of the Patch most likely to get and keep any snow.]]

20 January, 2013


Firstly, yesterday evening I hit Blackball for the grebes, and counted 54 before my fingers froze...

[I also tried it on Wednesday, but despite the wind being in the southern half of the compass, the waves were coming around the peninsula and there was only a single GC Grebe bouncing around, though a Grey Seal put in an appearance, so it was worth the trip!]

Today I gave the Patch a bash, with a brisk NE making a survey along the sheltered side of the peninsula seem like a good idea.

Before I'd even got to my starting point at Hope's Nose I'd scored big time! From IMD I picked up a movement on the sea - bins up and Brent Geese!! Four of them, all dark, heading south. Result! :D They used to be a fairly irregular sight, coming in groups of a dozen or so to munch the weed off Corbyn's and Hollicombe, but not so much in the last few years. I like Brents.

The Nose itself was as expected; pretty windswept - ok this is the default setting - so it was in the lee of one of the few remaining gorse bushes that I had a look at the Trinity House ship setting great big buoys around the Famous Wreck Site. It would be nice if they left a few, evenly spaced out, maybe marked in different colours? [Yeah, I wish... ;) ] Downslope from me, my first Stonechat on Patch this year clung on to a bit of thistle determinedly. Right then, what's in Thatcher Cove...?

Three divers! 2 GND and this one isn't a probable, a Black-throat. Very nice :)  Also a lone GC Grebe and plenty of mixed auks. Scanning in more hope than expectation for the Scoters I find another diver near the Lead Stone - a Red-throat!?! Ok, I go on about how unusual it is for RTDs to hang around in these deep, rocky, and current-swept waters and now they're all doing it.. Gits. Still, a good start and maybe there'll be everything that usually shelters off Broadsands to come?

Off Meadfoot there is a raft of 26 GC Grebes and two more GNDs - one very close inshore - plus several Razorbills. I can see big waves breaking on the southern side of the Bay and my hopes of a hatful of grebes off Torre Abbey pick up another notch. Plenty more to do before then, though.

After failing to find a Firecrest [or much else] I get to the Real Living Coast and ooh! Purple Sandpipers! I counted 13 along Haldon Pier, then saw another two fly from under Princess Pier towards the Torre Abbey steps, making a total of 15. Not bad at all - more like the old days. Also 2 Turnstone and at least 2 Rockits. A 1w Razorbill was hanging about the Outer Harbour entrance and a 1w LBB was with the Herrings on their pontoon in the Inner Harbour.

Right then... Past the Theatre and let's see what's on the lovely calm sheltered waters off Torre Abbey...


Well, a group of 73 BHGs were sitting around, but not a single grebe was to be found. Drat. I don't know; lovely sheltered water, lots of little fishies hiding by the pier and sea wall, but not even a GC Grebe.. Tut. In scant consolation, a Grey Heron was lurking on the weedy rocks by Corbyn's Head with a Little Egret for company. Oh well; you win some, you lose some - I reckon I came out ahead today. :)

18 January, 2013


Definitely the colour of the day.

Got out from work this morning to find it all snowing and stuff. Huh, weatherbods actually got it right. Drove home in a lovely blizzard. But only on the high bits. Really altitudinally defined weather, with sleety rain in the valley bottoms and full-on snow higher up. I'd found my car with a nice inch of snow [the heavy wet stuff you have to scrape off] all over it, but arriving home [and actually higher up than work!] the cars were only soggy... All fun and games.

With the snow seeming to be picking up, I decided to be good and wait on it. Driving in snow is only fun if you don't have to worry about other road users.. ;) While I did, I had a little wander online and noticed what Magic Seaweed had to say about the wind. Oh ye Gods and Little Fishes, what a sight! Such a crisp front, with all that gunk, strong winds...  A big SE with a high tide normally sends me to Berry Head, as the Nose can be a mite.. inhospitable, but if it did start snowing a lot later on..? Even worse, the bumbleshoot still wasn't fully repaired after the 31st [it being more broken than I realised].  Sod it! I tooled up for a morning's watch [only a little flask - purely to keep hypothermia at bay ;) ] and  with the snow only settling on cars, I zipped over. [I'm not actually doing the FootIt! Challenge, after all].

WOW!! Big sea, big wind, big tide - spectacular! For some strange reason there was nobody else there... I honestly can't think why. Without a stick I had even more fun getting down in one piece, but made it and tried to find a spot at the Seawatching Spot where I could sit my arse down comfortably. Having set up light in case I was walking there, I didn't have my stool, so this made things interesting. I ended up almost side-on, but at least I was sheltered, and seeing birds!

Well, when the view wasn't blocked by gouts of water, anyway...

The ever-confiding Rockits were their usual cheery selves, coming right up to me to snarf bits of flapjack and shelter from the elements. Meanwhile...
All that melty snow had turned on the SWBCM and a horde of gulls duly descended upon it. Auks [about 50:50?] and Kittiwakes were moving steadily south - though with many Kitts coming to the outfall, counting wasn't exactly easy. I settled for only clicking those definitely passing and so will have a large underestimate. Gannets were thin on the ground, easily outnumbered by Fulmars - it's not often you can say that. 9 divers came past, with the wonderful sight of an adult and 1w RTD plonking down together and staying among the mountainous seas for an hour or so before flying on south. Red-throats aren't normally fans of the Nose, but these two seemed to like it. Two GC Grebes - their heads stuck up as high as possible - plus the usual plethora of Shags and Cormorants made up the rest on the water.

In the air... A lone Common Scoter was nice but not a patch [ho ho] on 8 Golden Plover! Not at all easy here, I can tell you. The slick stole the show [and sold it back before anyone had noticed it was gone, too] though, and the stunning adult 'eat my hood biatches' Med Gull was only icing to the 7 Little Gulls!!!! 6 adults in various stages of moult, plus one 1w. Two of the adults came in and lingered on the slick for 20 minutes or so - just amazing to watch them. :D

Finally some numbers. In 2.5 hours [the last half hour being pretty dead, it must be said];

Auks [~50:50] S257  N3
Kittiwakes S183
Gannets S14
Fulmars S32

EDIT: Whoops, forgot the divers!

Red-throated Diver  6
Great Northern Diver  2
Diver sp. [probable B-T]  1

Having been given a phone with an actual camera for crimbo [by Sister the YoungerYounger, vexed by my old one always cutting out on her] I have on occasion tried using it. Lining it up to optics is almost impossible, but that hasn't stopped me; after all, no developing issues! :) Said camera is about 50 pixels, but here is something I took on this Watch. It's a gull holding position over the slick, but which gull?

15 January, 2013

A Grand Day Out

With blue skies and light winds - ok, albeit a bit nippy - at last on Sunday for the first time since the beginning of October [I was shocked, I must admit] I went for a day out with t'Folks. We [as then] wandered about Fernworthy; it being one of the very few places where you can still wander without sinking into a morass....

At least along the forestry tracks, anyway.

We wandered around the western and southern bits before stopping off at the hide to have a look on the water. It was very nice going, with gorgeous low light coming through the trees. We did meet a couple of parties of schoolkids as we arrived - 10Tors or DofE I assume - a whole heap of dog walkers as we left and a couple of surveyors [working on a Sunday, oh the scandal...! ;) ] in the middle, but otherwise it was quiet. Some sheep have gotten [or been let] into the compound, but fortunately we didn't meet them, only plenty of signs of their passing. The only mammals we did see weren't in the compound at all - we stepped out onto the Moor to have a look at the footing and the scenery and were surprised to see two Red Deer hinds, well out in the open, by a fence! They were quite surprised to see us, too, but as we were a way off and didn't make any moves, they just stood and looked at us, ears wide. I love the way deer's ears do that. Tilly didn't see them - stood still and not being sheep-coloured, also not upwind - so we watched them for a while as they relaxed a bit and started nibbling, before we headed back.

It was pretty quiet on the bird front, as well; a few bands of tits and Goldcrests, a couple of woodpeckers, that sort of thing - no Crossbills, Redpoll, or Siskin.. Tilbury did make sure we got a couple of good birds, though, as she found not one but two Woodcock! Both were right beside the track, but each time she'd clearly noticed something; it wasn't a randomly ditch-leaping dog bumping into them. I reckon she's learnt their scent, having flushed several in Yarner by accident. She is a smart little dog, especially when there's something to bark at...

On the reservoir were a Little Grebe, 13 Teal, and 2 Coot. Also 2 Grey Herons and assorted bathing gulls. The latter were turning over so no sure counts but included at least 3 Common Gulls and an adult LBB. It's very unusual to not see any GC Grebes or Cormorants on Fernworthy - even when it was really low there was usually a Cormorant knocking about. Odd.

Finally, we had a chance to have a look at some archaeology we'd never got around to going to as well; the 'other circle'. This is a cairn circle with a nice double stone row attached to it, near Assycombe. Similar thing to Hingston Hill, though nowhere near as long! It's a very interesting site - if you like that sort of thing - with an unusual style of double row, a very close hut circle, and what appears to be a stone platform by the cairn. It's not in my guide; not being a 'proper' circle and there being better-looking, more accessible examples elsewhere, I assume. It's a nice spot, if rather treed-in, and I will be back.

And finally; drama on't Patch yesterday, with some highly competent a tug crew having an unfortunate coming-together with the ship they were towing to scrap. Fortunately, our brave emergency services saw to it that nobody was hurt and no environmental disaster ensued. Said derelict [ex- german navy FPV, apparently] is now on the bottom, but we are assured that all the valuables pollutants had been removed beforehand. If it deters the scallopers from destroying the last scraps of the corals around the Nose, I say jolly good show.

12 January, 2013

Little Dark Things

After a surprise change to the Night Shift I found myself with a free day on Friday and work today. Right... ::Rolls up sleeves::

I went and had a look at some duckies. Quite a lot of duckies. I also saw a lot of rain, but 'saw' is the important word as I was joyously out of all but a little of the lightest of it! :D

I'd never actually seen a female Ring-necked Duck [or "slippery little $%@&§fl!!!" as I more usually say...]. I've dipped them - most notably a few years back at Stover - but only seen males. I decided to wander down to Slapton and have a casual look for the one down there; if anything else happened to stray into view, then that wouldn't be bad, either.

The North Ley was noticeably lacking in Bitterns and Marsh Harriers [at least, visible ones] and I got rather muddy checking for sneaky ducks hiding in Ireland Bay. Someone has been busy with the super-strimmer along there! I did see a gorgeous [is there any other kind?] male Goldeneye, but the Tufties had no little [or not so little ] friends with them - only a group of Wigeon. A Firecrest has been reported from the Bridge area, but I couldn't find it - and while various birds called from the reeds, none felt like showing themselves.

Crossing the road I gave the sea a scan and was rewarded with a flock of 45 Common Scoter, plus another group of 38 heading past south. One Scoter was an adult male - the first I've seen for a while - and he was busy displaying at the [rather bored-looking] females. The Scoter were quite close in, but even closer was a nice Slavonian Grebe. Further out was a GND, with a couple of Razorbills finishing things off. On the beach towards Torcross were a group of loafing gulls, upon interrogation, one of the Commons showed an interestingly pale saddle, but alas it was only that and not a Ring-billed.

Moving south, I found that someone has been very busy indeed as both the hides have been replaced! The car park hide got only a flying visit - it now has a fancy sign over the entrance ramp and seems to be smaller than the old one? - as I had Stokeley Bay in mind for lunch...

Wow, what a difference.

I'm afraid I have to give a rant alert, now.

Which I have deleted.

Short version; windows are too tall, central pillar too wide, no shutters, so no light control and wind and rain come right in. Otherwise good, especially if it gets stained [and has shutters fitted!]. ;)

Ahem. Right, sorry about that. It's not that bad a hide, I'm just a little frustrated at what looks like a missed opportunity.

It's still in a nice location - the Noah's Hide of Devon - and I stayed put for a long while. Yes, there was lunch involved - also a nice lady and her grandson; she liked the Pochard, he preferred the Tornado that came roaring past! - but also a Great Duck Hunt. Patience, persistence, and the Huge Scope won out in the end, but the RND didn't give herself up easily. She was lurking out beyond Scaup Point [the bit that sticks out and stops you seeing Ireland Bay, I call it that as Scaup are usually near it when present], but eventually came down to just north of Stokeley Bay. She stayed close to the reeds' edge and was a slippery little git, but I waited her out and she showed quite well eventually. Through the scope, anyway. :)  A Scaup [1w male] also briefly came around the Point, dived a couple of times in the usual Scaup place, but evidently decided he liked it better on the other side and made himself scarce.

The Goldeneye were better behaved, though always distant, with at least 10 on site. Two Black-necked Grebes that stuck together determinedly were another good sighting. Coot and Tufty in three figures with at least 45 [probably a lot more] Pochard, more Gadwall, plus Mutes and Canadas made up the bulk on the water. The usual 5 flavours of gulls were in and out to bathe, at least 9 GC and 6 Little Grebes, plus Cormorants, dived or bobbed. A lone male Shoveler worked the seaward reed edge and a female Pintail appeared briefly before flying off. Finally, The Beast Of Beesands has returned from whatever Dark Dimension he goes to, looming over the quaking Tufties.......

When the rain eased off, I went for another look at the sea. A [the same?] GND was close in to the north, a 1w RTD flew south and a GC Grebe fished closer to. On my way home I again checked the North Ley and again failed to see anything big and brown...

After work today I got out about the Patch to little more than Blue Tits - something about all the rain kept the birds down, maybe - but things changed when I got to the Blackball Roost. There was a lovely two-tone colour to the sea, orange and blue really go together, don't they? :) No new rockfalls, this was just washed down soil, but the murky water inshore and the wind combined to keep the birds in a fairly narrow band, nicely illuminated in the low light. After failing to find any cetaceans under a group of 15 circling Gannets, I counted 62 GC Grebes, 2 Razorbills, 51 Kittiwakes, and a growing gull roost of 350+ But wait, what's this with one of the GC Grebe groups? Tiny, dark.. a Little Grebe!! I may have seen 6 the day before, but on the Patch, they're rarer than Red-necks. Result!  Perhaps inspired by the brave Li'l thing, a couple of good land birds came by; a Goldfinch and a Green Woodpecker. Not bad at all. :)

07 January, 2013

Bif! Oooof? Er.....

Sunday saw yet more Patch-bashing, though without the spectacularly mixed results of the day before. Having gone south and west on saturday, I went north and east. The most interesting thing I found was a Scoter flock off Petitor Beach, seen from the coast path through the drizzly gunge. They were nicely positioned to be hard to get close to, but repeated counts gave 27 time and again and I couldn't pick out anything non-Common-looking among them.

It's not a spot I associate Scoter with - there is some fresh water going in but not enough to really seem worth it - but they were diving happily and staying put, so there must be shellfish. I suspect that the increase in fluvial output from all the rain has caused disruption to the large beds off the Exe and Teign, so they've had to look for alternatives. That would also explain their presence off Hope's Nose, of course.

Having headed around the coast to the Nose and found no visible* scoter there, I assume the Petitor birds were them, the numbers are about right. There is also the reported circa 30 flock often seen off Broadsands, which may too be the same birds, though I'm not so sure.

The sea indeed was pretty quiet, with only a few auks and the usual Shags and Cormorants on the water. A lone Fulmar looked like it was prospecting the cliffs. There may well have been a lot more out in the gunk, but I didn't have a scope with me to sit and see. [I know, terribly remiss of me..]. I did at last get my first woodpecker of the year, a GSW, but otherwise there's nothing more exciting than Collared Doves to report.

[[*They could have been hiding behind the Ore Stone - not unknown by any means, the little gits...]]

05 January, 2013

Kaboom! Pow!! Splat!

These being the sounds of me battering my poor innocent Patch until it cried 'Uncle!'.....

Having swanned off out-county on the first and then doing that work thing, plus also having no small amount of Festive Blubber to work off, I decided to head off south and wander about the furthest reaches of the Patch.

Having braved the drizzly 'burbs, I worked my way up Cockington's lanes and mudbaths paths to Occombe Farm - the far bastion of the Patch. There I was again hoping to find that glaring hole in my Patch List; Marsh Tit. En route, a Brambling was a pleasant surprise, but winter thrush numbers were lower than usual - no cold weather concentrations, I suppose. The Occombe Reserve has some lovely wet woodland that looks great for them, and they are often reported there. There's even a hide with feeders. Any Marshies? Ha ha.... A Bullfinch was gorgeous and Nuthatches showed very well, plus a commando squirrel for comedy, but no black-capped brown jobs. Drat. The farmland birds were also feeling uncooperative, with the exception of a nice Stock Dove.

Following the southern border down to the sea, I swanned down to the Pier and shamelessly tried to pinch birds off Broadsands for the Patch - the Rules state that as long as you are in Patch, anything on sea or in sky counts, after all. :) There wasn't a great deal on offer, with only a cute Black-necked Grebe close by, and just enough chop to make things tricksy. Looking out, a GND and 5 fishing Gannets, looking north, at least 10 Razorbills and a Guillemot. As I headed back along the coast, a mob of 20 Turnstone were fighting over scraps tossed to the gulls and at least 45 Oyks were waiting on the tide while a Little Egret was already fishing.

Failing on Marsh Tit again is a little vexing - I suspect they may be cold weather only from somewhere further afield - more surprising is the utter lack of woodpeckers.. Odd, very odd.

04 January, 2013

Only Three Days Late

So, into 2013 and I'm absolutely positively not chasing any Yearlists. To be sure of this I decided to sabotage myself by not only getting off Patch on the 1st, but out of Devon! No half measures here.

"I didn't expect to see you here" said [Famous Somerset Birder] as we met at Ashcott Corner. I'd last run into him at the Siberian Stonechat and we had a quick chat before heading off in opposite directions. A while later we repeated the trick - though without the surprise - and I think later still missed each other by minutes at least twice! Small world and all that.

Yes, it was off to zumerzet for me; I love the Levels in winter and try to get there in a non-twitching capacity as often as is practical. This time having them under water rather than ice was interesting! I only met one flooded road, which the li'l car handled very well, though often the road was the only unflooded thing. Driving along a road with the typical rollercoaster surface, with floodwater either side deep enough to hide the drainage ditches you know are there, and passing a 'Road Liable To Subsidence' sign... :) A brisk nor'westerly kept things suitably chilly, though the sun shone wonderfully and apart from driving through a torrential shower near Taunton I didn't meet any rain.

From Ashcott I first went west to Noah's, then back east to Ham Wall, then west again to Decoy. The long way around, it's true, but getting to Noah's early meant having it to myself [shock!], which was nice, and being in the right place for two low-flying Bitterns, which was brilliant! :D A whole heap of wildfowl were on display, the trick being sorting through them - not a bad problem to have, is it? - for the scarcer species. 8 Pintail among several hundreds all milling around and swimming behind reedy banks and islands. It's fun, even in the teeth of the wind :)

Ham Wall had a female Smew lurking about, plus as [Famous Somerset Birder] reported, at least one GWE. Both would be nice, but as you know, Smew are my favourite ducks. It wasn't showing - neither was the egret - so I decided to stay put on the first platform for a while and see what might appear. Duly something [which eventually showed as a Marsh Harrier {maybe a 2w male?}] started putting up all the ducks in the channels at the back [towards the water tower and farm, if you know Ham Wall]. The Big Scope being set up, I started scanning the sweeping flocks, hoping to see what was up and so I was looking the right way to see the Smew with a group of about 8 Teal - standing out very nicely with her white cheek blazing in the low sun - score!!! The thcwewy duckth of course dropped down into another channel as soon as I called it and didn't come up again... After managing to get the other birders present onto something - a lovely Kingfisher hovering at reed head height - and giving the Smew and GWE another half hour, I tried the second platform in the hope she was in view from there. Nope. Though a big flock of Lapwing flushing themselves were quite a sight.

Time had marched on, so I started looking for somewhere to have some lunch. Thus the yomp to Decoy - which is so far out of the way as to deter most - and may have been flooded, which would be a mighty pain.. The car park was now full to overflowing - this was of course a Bank Holiday and the first good weather for weeks [aaargh], so Noah's and Meare would be very full and staying to stuff my face would be rather antisocial. A long wander with no egrets [and no Beardies] though plenty of singing Cetti's later, I found the sea of mud that guarded Decoy. The Sweet Track shortcut was closed, so it was wading time! I got very very muddy, as you might expect, but I also got Redpoll [it's a good spot for them] and through. There was one guy in the hide and another arrived right after me, but they soon gave up on account of there being no frickin' birds.

I am made of sterner stuff, and know Decoy can be rewarding if you can give it the time. It took more than an hour for the cracking male Goldeneye to show, but he was gorgeous... :) In the mean time, an episode of high humour kept me amused; in centre view are a couple of dead trees, in these trees a motley assortment of Crows and Rooks had gathered. Mostly to caw at things, it seems. In the foreground open water, a Cormorant takes off and heads towards Noah's. Gaining height, it passes over the crow trees, as it does so it unburdens itself. Quite deliberately, as it shakes it's tail to get the cluster bomb effect.. The mob of corvids are visibly hit and I can't hold my scope steady any more as I'm laughing too hard....  ;D
Pity the poor Cormorant which arrives from the right a few minutes later, as it gets quite viciously set upon. I've never seen a Cormorant do a diving landing before.

After the long yomp back to Ashcott Corner, enlivened by finally hearing and even seeing Bearded Tits at the usual place, I decide to go looking for egrets. A Cattle Egret is somewhere up near Mudgely, with GWEs [assorted] and Whooper Swans [10] also in the general area. I drive along a lot of roads, see a lot of droves [mostly flooded - Westhay is under feet of water!] and miss a lot of egrets. Drat. Oh well, time to end the day in the traditional manner, at Catcott.

Catcott is great for ducks, often very close ducks. It's also great for late visits, with the main hide by the car park and the setting sun behind you. Getting to the car park can be fun, with some very nasty potholes and currently a track coated in extremely slippy mud. Not a good combo, as with the slaloming needed to keep my wheels attached I found myself sliding diagonally towards the nicely car-sized ditch at one point... Vehicular adventures aside, it was a worthwhile visit; as soon as I sat down in the [fairly busy] hide I saw a big white thing tarting about right in the open. Ah, Great White Egret. Hmm, what's that over on the left? Whooper Swan.

The egret flew off after taking offence at a marauding Buzzard, and what should emerge from the rushes? Another GWE. Well, at least I know where they were hiding! Also the adult female Marsh Harrier who amused herself by tormenting the Crows - not a good day to be a corvid ;) - the horde of quacks, tons of Snipe, and finally the cherry; a grandstand [with optics, I admit] view of the Starlings...


EDIT: Having now a pinhole camera on my shiny new phone*, here is a truly awful GWE shot. Don't try enlarging it, trust me, it won't get better...

Health Warning: Retinal damage may result from looking at this image.

Today I just had time to get to the Harbour after Things took longer than anticipated. 5+ Purple Sand, 7+ Turnstone, a Rockit and an Oyk [! great bird for the location] were on the weedy defences, with a smart male White among the Pieds on the D-Day Ramps. Out in the Bay; 2 GND, 1 BN Grebe, 2 close and at least 10 more roosting GC Grebes, a group of about 25 C Scoter, and a nice close Guillemot. Among the loafing gulls off Torre Abbey was an adult Med Gull. Not bad at all. :)

[[*Which, in a radical advance upon my old one, does indeed have internet that works and a camera. You have been warned... ;) ]]

02 January, 2013

There's No Escape..

From my Birding Highlights of 2012!!!

So, without further ado [or posts about what I've done so far in 2013*], here goes;

17 Waxwings on my Patch and showing really well! Wooo!

The Siberian Stonechat at Soar. 
Late in the day, dodgy weather, a few brave foolhardy souls persisting in the face of a terrible dip...  and then the immortal "Oh it's just over there, we've been watching it for a while now". The elements of a proper 'ardcore twitch, really! Cracking bird when we got to it, too. :)

Black-winged Stilts, assorted.
Twitched to Dorset and got very rained on. Dipped at Exminster and got even soggier. Finally nailed [for Devon] from the platform at Powderham Marsh and, yup, got rained on again! Wonderful birds but oh, how I had to work for them.

The Short-billed Dowitcher.
A skulky mega-rarity, a huge crowd, some interesting viewing conditions, someone gets it, someone doesn't, directions-via-mobile, Mr. Evans.... all the ingredients were there! What a day. :)

Common Yellowthroat.
Yet another proper twitch [that'll be version 3, then..]. A really skulky mega-rarity, a carload of twitchers, downloaded directions, The Bucket, trying the other side of the hedge, learning valuable lessons- ah, ok, I'll stop the listing. Anyway, it was a great day.

Leach's Petrel at Berry Head.
Need I say more? :D

Spotted Flycatchers at Hope's Nose.
On my Patch. On my Patch. Not just one, not just flying past, or sitting for a moment then buggering off, oh no, flycatching, looking amazing, and calling!!

Roseate Terns at Hope's Nose.
[[Let's see, 5; seawatching, 4; Patch, so.. 3; seawatching on Patch!]] It's one of the things that has bugged me; that Roseate Terns, those gorgeous birds, fly past the Nose. I know they do it, they have to, but can I be watching when they do? Ha ha.. But not any more. Not only do I finally see one, but it's two - and yes an adult with the tail and everything! Then another one later on in the year!

10 Long-tailed Skuas.**
Yes, even more seawatching.. Late August, a cadre of Devon's finest seawatchers, some suitable weather, and me. The company, the birds, the debates about the birds - we had a right old time. Still makes me wax biblical; "Oh the Faithful did come and the Lord did rain down skuas upon them and it was Good." Ahem.

Seawatching in June.
Not a single day, but a series of watches in June [yes, you read right, June]. 33 Puffins at Berry Head was just the start of it; the best was the watches at the Nose, when planning, pondering, and consideration led me to be there when the weather came together in just the right way. The way for Storm Petrels. Why the best experience of the year? Because I was reading the weather, knowing my Patch, thinking that 'this is possible' and being right. 45 little black and white marvels over the peak two seawatches isn't a big number by any means - it's dead for the Bridges! - but to me it was and still is wonderful.

There you go; Patching, twitching, and seawatching. Yeah, that's about right! ;)

[[*I'm not chasing a yearlist.]]
[[**The official account may {ok, does} differ, but I was happy with 10 skuas as good Long-tails.]]