31 May, 2013


To continue from yesterday...

Yesterday, I decided to try another seawatch. Showers had again been forecast, and in the past I've not done that badly with a NW if it's got some oomph to it. Not at the Nose, though!

Default setting would be Prawle, but I've been there more than once already this year and so I had another place in mind...

I speak of Inner Froward Point. Home of a WWII coastal defence battery [alas minus guns.. ;)]. Said battery had two big searchlights. They too are gone, but their emplacements remain and give great and not that high up views over Start Bay while having roofs - yes, protection from rain. Luxury... Ok, they're open to a SE. And a S too, for that matter, and a SSW... but still, roofs!

Aaanyway... The promised precipitation never showed up, but the wind blew and though numbers were low and much was passing at 1km [or more] there were some highlights. Chief being that wonderful light morph Pom Skua, flying serenely south [I doubt anyone had the nerve to tell it it was going the wrong way]. There were more auks and fewer Gannets per hour than at the Dodman, with a Manxie rate of about 10 an hour - but these were much enlivened by the addition of my first two Balearics of the year :D
The auk mix shifted from 80% Razorbill in Cornwall to 75% Guillemots in Devon [unsurprising, with the proximity of Berry Head]. No Basking Sharks, but a Harbour Porpoise popped up now and again - never saw more than one at a time. Also a Grey Seal in close but too sneaky to photo.

[[This means that yes, I passed by Mansands twice and didn't go down to look - psychic powers failed miserably..]]

Today, with all this sunshine and an actual amount of warmth in the air, I went looking for insects! Shock.. Must be summer...

On the way to Bystock, I took a meander through 'that bit between Haldon and the Exe', which was interesting bird-wise [though I failed to see any partridges - the crops are too high and they weren't posing anywhere convenient. Pheasants, yes, bunnies, yes]. Things went pretty well in that I only met two tractors in the lanes. Though this was at the same time. Which was fun.

It was perhaps still a little early to be hunting odonata, but worth a go. Downy Emeralds are indeed on the wing, though they weren't feeling very showy [not that they ever just sit and pose for you, mind]. Quite a few Large Red Damselflies on site, but nothing else yet. I'll give it a couple more weeks.
Butterflies were a different matter, with a wonderfully showy Dingy Skipper, easily the best one I've ever seen, being Star of the Day. Dingy Skippers are exactly what it says on the tin. They're, well grey-y browny and they skip along so very merrily.. I didn't take the paparazzi setup with me, not expecting anything really good, so naturally one sat and posed. IF I'd had my proper camera you'd be looking at something pretty damn good, after getting it developed and converted, - probably - but as lining up my teeny 0.5MP phonecam is never quick or easy, the only pic I got is so awful even I won't inflict it on you..
Anyway, there were also plenty of the regulars, like Common Blues and Small Heaths. Other insects of note were the wonderful Green Tiger Beetles buzzing along the heath paths in front of me, and a Big Boss Hornet cruising over the pond as I staked it out for Downy Emeralds.. :)

30 May, 2013

The North (West) Wind Doth Blow

Sod it, I'm seawatching anyway!!

It's shutdown week at work, so here I am. :)
Thus far this week I've given the Patch an overdue battering - though my feets seem to have come off worst, I have to say - with not a whole lot of spectacle in result. I counted just shy of 300 Guillemots and at least 2 Razorbills on the Ore Stone, having lugged the Big Scope down - hopefully the rest were off fishing and not dead of PIB [[Sign the Petition!!]].
The northern House Martin colony has no sign of life yet, though the nest locations are not exactly easy to monitor, so there may be one or two birds around, but no more than that. The southern [and bigger] colony is showing life and nesting activity, which is great.
Closer to home, small bird numbers are still down on where they should be, with 3 pairs of House Sparrows coming into the Garden [there's usually at least 6 nests in visiting range] and a high count of only 3 Greenfinches. Better is the continued visits of 2 Goldfinches and the first small species fledgling seen - a Great Tit [though only one]. Corvids and pigeons are doing just fine, Herring Gull nest numbers may be down a touch, but it'd need proper surveying to be sure - not a big enough change to be casually noticeable if there is one.

Right then..

After Sunday's Moor fun and a day stomping the streets, I was knackered and couldn't summon the energy to go for the evening front on Monday. I thus missed out on Puffins and serve me right.  :(

Tuesday, though, I was determined to see some sea. With the wind the wrong way but nice-looking showers forecast I decided to take a trip, seeing as it's hollyday time and all. I went to a place I've been but once before and that a few years ago - The Dodman. For those who can't be bothered to gogle it, 'tis a peninsula on the south coast of Cornwall; midway between the Fowey and Carrick Roads. Site of a peninsula fort [coastal hillfort] and home to seriously impressive views. The point is of the flattish top, steep slopes and cliff variety. The top's exposed, but on the SE corner is a bit called Dodman Horse where the resident ponies have made zigzag paths down to an assortment of shelves and dells, some sheltered by small outcrops. It's very open to a SE, but from S and westwards, you've got good shelter - if mostly higher than I'd prefer. [Of course, I'm used to the Nose and it's 15'-30' of elevation...]

As you might expect, there wasn't an avalanche of passage, with about 17 Manxies an hour. A couple of Puffins were nice, if a tad distant, and each time one of the scattering of trawlers pulled in it's nets, it attracted a mobile cloud of gulls which included a small posse of skuas. Star performance came not from above the sea but below it... Oh yes :D  Basking Sharks!!
Two in very close proximity seemed to be circling each other [co-operative feeding?], sadly interrupted by an FPV. One went down at once, the other headed south at an impressive rate - cue awful phonescope shot!

Basking Shark [well, the dorsal fin].
Yes, out on the right. Couldn't crop more as it was barely in frame. 

Also passing - though unlike most of the feathered birds, heading east - were two of these fine specimens;

Finally finally... I was also out today, but time is against me as I want to get some shuteye. A very quick summary: More seawatching; no Apaches, but a gorgeous Pom Skua! :)

26 May, 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Yesterday did what I always do on AGM day - forgot it completely and went birding!

I got to Bowling Green not quite for the high tide, but close enough. The bird I was hoping to see had stayed put, though it took a lot of waiting before it finally showed itself - having neatly hidden amidst the throng.

Male Ruff, summer plumage, black form. Wow.

The light was.. well, abysmal, and I managed to make an idiot of myself again, but still... That bird? Worth it.

With a burst of sunshine and lighter winds, I figured maybe a wandering raptor might be on the cards. Well, there's one place that always springs to mind in this circumstance. Somewhere with a lot of memories for me.

The Haldon Bird Of Prey Viewpoint holds a special place in my heart. Not just for the 5 raptor Lifers, either. Or that you had a good shot of seeing them all in a day. Without doing more than turn your head. This of course was 'back in the day', during my first flush of birding when I was but a lad and that, dear reader, was the heady days of the late 80s. Birds I don't even [usually] mention were publicised as breeding there - though that alas is also ancient history.

I got there today and once again I couldn't believe how much the trees have grown. It really does make you feel old. [I get the same thing at Sousson's - one clearing where I once sat on a stump and watched Crossbills is now a mass of two-storey trees..] It also buggers up a once-great panorama and makes picking a spot to sit your arse down and wait for something to fly past a trial. I plonked down on the end of one of the picnic tables - the benches are now too low down and/or too off to one side - and set to.

Skywatching is a lot like seawatching, only drier and with less going on. This is especially true when you're beset with haze, as was the case here. Birds would just vanish while you were looking at them - not even side-on, either [dreadfully rude, that] - and thus also could appear from seemingly empty sky, so constant vigilance was required. An exercise in masochism, surely? Buzzards Buzzards and more Buzzards, all way off in the gunk, right?
Well, yes. Lots of Buzzards. Watching territorial pairs beating up passers by was quite amusing, and there was the odd hirundine moving through to try to ID [that haze waxed and waned; when it waxed things got interesting..], as well as at least 40 Racing Pigs and a duck! Duck ID in haze is fun, but I got on it early and eventually clinched it. Yeah, a Mallard.

Closer to, the star of the show was a lovely male Yellowhammer. Icy cool this one, singing on despite noisy cyclists, screaming brats adorably active children and muppets groups on Segways. Yes, Segways. You know, those two-wheeled sixties throwbacks? It looked like some kind of introductory trip thing, a manically cheerful leader and a handful of helmeted hi-viz clad notevengoingthere students. Welcome to Tomorrow Town.

Today all that sunshine saw myself and the Folks up on't Moor. We did one of my favourite walks; Holne Moor to Ryder's Hill to the Heap of Sinners, Huntingdon Warren, Puper's Hill, the Mardle valley and contouring back around. In blazing sunshine and a moderate wind, we made good going over the very dry Moor. Gerts are quite useful things, sometimes. Especially when you are accompanied by a deranged dog that thinks sheep the best part of a mile away can even hear her.. So it is thanks to our industrious forebears that we had a quiet lunch :)

Tea turned out a little noisier, partly due to a babbling Mardle, but mostly due to a Cuckoo - one of three for the day and the only one which showed itself. Less noisy but even more showy were Wheatears around HW; at least 5 of them :) More vocal and not at all showy were Willow Warblers and Yellowhammers. Picking a male Yellowhammer out in a conifer is fairly easy, getting one sat on a blooming gorse bush among several dozen other similarly blooming gorse bushes is really not... Still fun trying, though.

Tomorrow [well, today now].. Hmmph. Bloody weather. Why can't we have some proper seawatching weather, eh? Or failing that, something brilliant in reasonable twitching range? A nice Devon Roller, say?

[[Hey, if you don't ask...]]

21 May, 2013

Very Little

Blogger's Block is a pain.

There are things I want to say but the words just won't come while I'm anywhere near a keyboard. You don't want to know how long it's taken simply to force this pittance out.

News from the Patch is very little - there seems to be a dearth of small birds, but more on this when I can get the words to work.

Saturday I spent up on't Moor, merrily wandering about my favourite birding up there; Vitifer and Challacombe. Though the north wind did blow, the sun was shining [mostly] and there were many many Whinchats. :D  Also 4 Cuckoos - 3 of which I got eyes on :)  Aside from a strange lack of Stonechats, everything was present and correct and I spent very nearly 9 hours just meandering about, enjoying all the birds. It was great...

Probably a good thing that I don't have the technology to blog when I'm out, as there would have been pages. ;)

Sunday saw the Folks feeling like a little coast path wander - as I'd thought about the Bolt on Saturday how could I not go? Even the threat of the chance of drizzle didn't put them off. We got to Bolberry to find bright overcast with rain lurking offshore - maybe a mile out. It was very nice, at least until the rain noticed us, came over to say 'Hi', and never left... To their credit, my parents did not immediately head for the hills, but pressed on to Bolt Head, where we found a nice overhang with no livestock in sight. The rain wasn't heavy, but it was persistent, and after trying heading towards Bolt Tail in case it was localised we eventually gave up. Sitting in the car wasn't entirely without reward, as a gorgeous male Yellowhammer spent several minutes atop a bush much closer to us than he would have if we'd been in the open.

Of note, here at last was a place with more than the odd Stonechat! So they've not all vanished.

12 May, 2013

Time For An Horrific Tern Pun...

I like terns. To watch them do their thing is to know sheer joy at their grace and agility.

Today I had my lunch at John's Watch on Dawlish Warren, spending a merry couple of hours watching the terns catching theirs. Well, when they weren't haring off towards Langstone Rock, anyway. My attention was on a pack of about 30 birds, all zooming around together; Commons being the most numerous [surprise], but also including 3 Arctic, 5 Little, and 8 Roseate. Yes, 8 Roseate Terns!! As the tide receded, they spent more and more time further out, but their forays along the nearest surf line were well worth the gaps! Did I mention I like terns? Late on a group of 5 Arctics came in from Orcombe way - it looked like they were a separate group. There were Sarnies about too, and a few Gannets quite close in. A decent-sized group of Common Scoter were offshore, but the chop and heat haze [grr] made getting a good count impossible. Much closer and more countable, 11 Sanderling and 1 Dunlin on the beach, dodging the walkers [no colour rings].

I also saw a very pretty, very rare, and above all very small flower. Cue crap mobile photo;

Warren Crocus

Earlier I'd been at Bowling Green, where the superb s/pl Bonaparte's Gull was with about 240 BHGs and 2 1s Little Gulls. The Little Gulls were driven off by psycho Black'eads, then most of the rest of the gulls exited post-haste when a Hobby dropped by to see the hirundines! The falcon didn't catch anything except some flak from a gung-ho Pied Wagtail and soon departed. There were a fair few waders still present for the tide, with s/pl Knot and Barwit being the prettiest. A female Ruff was at first elusive among the rushes at the back, but eventually came over to the channel and I couldn't resist...

The scope was in focus, alas the phone had other ideas..

Stepping back further in time.. Saturday's forecast promised a strong WNW with squally showers. Interesting? I knew from past experience that little or none of that would get past t' Moor to the Nose and so I toddled down to Prawle. There was an agreeable amount of sideways drizzle when I got there and I found [Famous Prawle Birder] already many hours into a watch at my favourite spot amongst the rocks. This was a very good thing too, not least as he got a couple of Poms while I was still setting up! These would be the only skuas I would see all day, but never mind, they were lovely. 

The weather misbehaved, with only the odd band of cloud disturbing brilliant sunshine, but the wind blew and now and again there were birds. First decent passage of Manxies, first Stormies of the year, and gorgeous s/pl GNDs to admire. Quite a few Commic Terns were moving through, some stopping off at a small feeding frenzy [which made all the counts difficult, though the loitering birds were nice]. The conditions made these true Commics, as I could only safely ID 3 Arctic and 2 Common out of at least 66 birds.. Ouch.
The balance of passage was west, [with the exception of a flock of 32 Common Scoter who went east] including several small groups of Swallows - which seemed to have had enough of the weather and decided to head back to Africa!

On my way back I stopped in at Slapton, where hundreds of Swifts and House Martins, dozens of Swallows, and a few Sand Martins were feeding over the Ley - quite a sight. No terns offshore - a couple of Whimbrel flew by north and that was it.

Friday saw me battering the Patch to not much result until I got to the Harbour, where I found 5 very moulty Purple Sandpipers and a Turnstone! :) The gulls' pontoon has been reduced but not yet entirely removed, though there was nothing fancier than a Moorhen among the 83 Herrings and lone GBB present.. 

And Finally....
Wednesday saw a surprise Work Tick; male Goosander over at lunchtime!! Score! :D

07 May, 2013

Out For A Wander

What to do on a sunny Sunday, with light winds, and no rain having fallen for a while?

Fur Tor!!!

After many delays - mostly due to inconvenient weather - the Folks were finally up for a good yomp on't Moor [Little Black Dog is always up for it, of course..]. The weather held - sunshine, fluffy clouds and a cool breeze were pretty much perfect conditions, especially with it being so dry up there. Very dry, for may - it looks like winter still, all tan dead grass.  I hope the TenTors walkers take more care with their sodding fires on the weekend; we've already had one big burn and that is one too many.. :(

But to get back to it... I've gone on about our favourite walk more than once, so I won't go over the route again, suffice to say that we had a great day, with far fewer people up there than you'd expect for a sunny bank holiday weekend! We heard 2 Cuckoos and saw 11 Wheatears but not one Stonechat; which is odd to say the least. Swallows were passing north all day and best of all an adult Hobby took a detour in it's migration to go after a Small Tortoiseshell! The butterfly was no easy mark, showing amazing timing as it got out of the falcon's way again and again. But the Hobby didn't give up and finally got it's prize on attempt number 8! Sweet, very sweet..  :)

On the ground, we saw a couple of Lizard!s and a very surprised Vole - which was hiding in a tussock right in the middle of a well-used path on open ground!?! Fortunately, there weren't the hordes of stock that you can sometimes meet up there in summer, and aside from one hillside liberally scattered with sheep, Mum's Little Black Terror was reasonably well-behaved. Well, apart from the ball - which she found in a stream early on - that she decided to destroy on the way back, so muggins got a nice pocket full of dog-slobbered sorbo bits. Joy.

Anyway... To round off the day, the clear night saw me doing some stargazing. I don't say 'astronomy', as I am very aware of how amateur I am, by the way. I decided to get the Big Scope on a certain comet... Cue the Operatic Chorus: "Miiiiiistaaake"
It took a long long time to find PanSTARRS and it was rather disappointing when I did. Oh well. Saturn was much better. I like Saturn. Never fails to provoke sheer awe....

All that left me needing some sleep, so it wasn't until far too late that I got to the Nose the next morning. There was mistyfog and an easterly, which might mean Something Good. If it did, said Thing had already buggered off into the North Side by the time I got there. The only grounded migrants were 2 Whimbrel, there wasn't even a Wheatear, and the only ones in the air were the steady passage of Swallows [plus one Swift] low overhead. It was thick enough to hide the Ore Stone at times, but only the local auks were moving about.. I stayed awhile, scanning through the little groups, hoping for a Red-rump, but of course this was not to be.

Heading back, the rest of the Patch proved equally barren of anything noteworthy. C'est la vivre.

04 May, 2013

Who Turned The Sun On??

My fault, today. I put the bumbleshoot up, and within a ten count out came the sun....

I'd had far too much fun yesterday to stop for a bit of afternoon shuteye, the payoff being needing to actually get a decent amount overnight - no matter, not like the forecast was promising, really. Anyway, after catching up on some sleep I thought I might as well have a sit down at the Nose; it being a bit windy and a bit drizzly, so you never know? Not much else doing in this weather..

I get on site and it's frickin' raining sideways, the sea's got whitecaps and you can't see the Ore Stone clearly.. SHIT! I scuttle down, rueing needing to actually sleep, notice how the rain only seems to be at the top of the hill - a couple of hundred feet of altitude do that - but set up anyway. It's drizzly and windy and there are actual rain bands coming through.. On the second one I give in and put the brolly up - not wanting soaked kit - BANG. Sunshine...

It's not like there weren't birds, either. I'd not even got to the end of the Grassy Bit when a frickin' Hobby comes over, and I mean right over! 1s, gorgeous.....  :)
Swallows and the odd Swift [no Martins, though] steadily trickled in/off, with every Swallow getting a grilling [I think the only way to see one is to find one...]. A couple of Whimbrel were heading south [?], a female Wheatear was dodging the Rockits, and that was it for land migrants. Except for the Big Surprise, but that's later.

The wind kept up, the sun wasn't total, at least at first, and more importantly I was there and had my lunch, so I watched for three hours. There was passage, mostly auks - for Berry Head, I was careful to not count the Ore Stone Mob - but also a few Kitts, a steady trickle of Gannets, a few Sarnies [heading for the Bay, no doubt], a few Fulmars - including an odd-looking one with a pale grey tail but rump concolourous with it's uppers - and a couple of groups of Common Scoter. Also a bird that came in from the south east and went north that had a sooty black body and silvery grey wings - it looked horribly interesting until it turned and yes, it was a fucking Racing Pigeon...

Better were the [count 'em] 4 Puffins and 2 s/pl BT Divers - though they were all too far out to properly enjoy. One of the Puffins even hit the deck, but south of the Ore Stone and in the chop and sodding heat haze it was unwatchable.. Drat.
As to the Ore Stone, the Big Scope gave me a count of 266 Guilles and 2 Razorbills. I sincerely hope the missing hundred or so were out fishing and not killed by PIB...

I eventually gave up when even the most distant Gannets had stopped moving and sweated back up the slope - but wait... What. The. Fuck?!? No, not hearing things, that's a Cuckoo!!!!! Only my second on Patch and not something I expected to hear singing here!

A Cuckoo was also to be heard yesterday, though this was in the much more likely setting of Trendlebeare.
After work I hit the Nose, where I jammed onto a Garden Warbler in the same bushy tree thing the Lesser Whitethroat was in last week - sweet, if typically skulky - and also found a nice couple of long-nosed waders on the Sole; a Whimbrel and a [1w male by the bill] Curlew. Both of them had a bit of a fly about and with all the calling it got quite estuarine.. A couple of Wheatears and a Willow Warbler were the rest of the migrants and a count of 13 Whitethroats was much more like it. The Nose was also alive with butterflies and all of them were Speckled Woods; dozens of them.

I went on to Yarner, hoping for a quiet day to go for a nice amble. Despite the car park being pretty full, this is what I got - brilliant! - though the fancier birds were feeling quite bashful. 3 Wood Warblers gave precisely two verses between them, with the best one just foraging in the canopy. Redstarts and Pied Flies sang and called but weren't big on showing. Tree Pipit, Grey Wag, and that Cuckoo likewise didn't feel like being more than fleeting on the eyes. It was the same with butterflies; Brimstone and Orange Tip had been reported, but after a lot of looking I only found one Brimstone, which buggered off sharpish. Oh well. There were birds, still, and even when it clouded up I was still happy just wandering the ways.

Only two notable posers; The lone male Mandarin sat and posed on a log - I didn't bite, though I thought about it. Secondly was a very vocal buck Roe Deer - six points on this one - which stared at me for a few seconds, before deciding I wasn't worth bothering with and going back to his attempts to roar like a Red Deer stag.. :)