27 January, 2014

Something From The Weekend

Back on Nights, happy happy joy joy...

Right then; Saturday's original plan was derailed by work, and a quick nip to Blackball was all I could do.

Despite a not inconsiderable force of wind, there were a paltry 4 Kittiwake sheltering in the lee of the cliffs and only 13 GC Grebes. The trip was certainly not a waste, though, as a group of 4 duck gradually made their way closer down the coast. They were dark and diving regularly and also mostly head-on. Eventually they came right down to a spot they seemed to like - off Petitor Point - and hung around. What were they? Eider. All females.  :D

Yesterday, with a frisky front and following showers forecast, I headed down to the Nose. Yeah, really original.

It was... Interesting. The morning's 'rain interspersed with sideways drizzle' was more productive than the afternoon's 'sun with vicious squalls' and so after 6.5 hours and with the slick pretty dispersed, I called it a day.

There was a steady low level passage of mostly Kittiwakes; just over 50/hr and Razorbills; just under 50/hr, with Fulmars; about 9/hr and Gannets about 28/hr also moving. Late on, a few Guillemots started moving [as opposed to the birds going to and fro from the Ore Stone - highest count 109] with 36 passing south. Of interest, the majority of Guillemots were in or near s/pl, while most Razorbills were still in full w/pl. Only 5 Kittiwakes were 1w.

In the morning there was a passage of divers, with a lone Black-throat first thing and then 16 Red-throats, including flocks of 8 and 5. A lone Scoter zipped past and was the only flying duck, while the only wader was a cracker; Grey Plover! PATCH TICK!!!!! :D

On shore, the friendly neighbourhood Rockit hung around until I appeased it with food. It's amazing how much sarnie can fit in such a little bird... It then appeared for showers and took advantage of my bumbleshoot - as long as I didn't move it [that's just too scary; all rustley!] - as well as viciously seeing off another Rockit that tried to join in the fun [ouch..]. Apart from the odd chirp, it stayed quiet, unlike another one, which was singing regularly through the day! Rockits singing in January. In the rain. Whatever next..??

Right then, time for some Fun.

Abandon hope all ye who read past here.

Be warned that there is Gull Talk a' comin'.....

But first a pretty picture.

The nice heavy frontal rain started up the SWBCM;

Yeah baby, it's chumalicious out there...

and drew in a fair few gulls including a very fetching adult Med Gull. Alas, neither the Ross's nor Ivory Gulls rsvp'd. At least 35 BHGs and 6 Common Gulls - one a rather big one, which made me look twice - among the assortment of Herring, GBBs, and the odd LBB, that competed with the Kitts in the traditional Hope's Nose Stormy Impersonation Contest. I can't help but be amused at the sight of an adult Geeb tripping.. :)

What really caught my eye, though, was this interesting one, hanging about the edge of the slick by the Lead Stone mid afternoon;

Brown-backed gull

It was really slippery - this was the only shot I got of it - but it's not too bad. The bird was very slender and attenuated - those long all-dark primaries were actually even longer than they look here. Tertials slightly paler than prims, with whitish thumbnails. The upperparts were what really caught my eye; almost uniformly dark greyish brown. A few dark shaft streaks in the mantle and GCs, and the hint of a thin dark subterminal anchor in the odd smaller covert were the only markings - those only visible in direct sunlight. The bill was pale at the base. The head, neck, and body [that I could see, I never caught it flying] had brown spotting - they were lighter than appears in the picture.

Odd, isn't it? It looks like a 1w [presumably LBB] which has managed to wear off all of its saddle feather markings; I've never seen anything like it. Like I put in the caption, it's a Brown-Backed Gull!

Right then, larophilia over.

Also near the Lead Stone [though on the other side] was a female Eider - looked like the one from late last year but was even slipperier than that gull! On the sea were 4 GC Grebe and a GND.

So, an interesting watch and I think a better way to spend the morning than staring out the window at the rain.
Ok, opinions vary on that one.

24 January, 2014

Untickable View

I managed to get about the Patch a bit this afternoon. Wasn't really expecting to, but the rain was a lot less heavy than forecast and the dead calm was very helpful..

I suppose I'd better get to the title; I saw a new bird for the Patch, the ID was certain, I even got a photo, but it's not a Tick...

Why? Well, take a look at said photo and tell me... What's The Bird???

A 1w GBB with Norwegian Blue

The scene was the left D-Day Ramp, the 1w Geeb was happily tucking into the guts of this poor creature while a 1w Herring looked on hopefully. The victim's head was almost severed and is down by its feet. This, the neat way the breast meat had been removed, the evident freshness, and the utter lack of feathers in the vicinity lends me to the theory that this new bird for the Patch was killed and partly eaten elsewhere, before the gull stole or scavenged it.

Earlier and later... The sea was dead calm and such perfect conditions let me pick out 58 GC Grebes, a Slav [nice to nail it], only 2 GNDs, and a few auks. A large raft off Broadsands [like I said, great conditions] might have been Scoter, but were probably gulls [or even grebes!] - they didn't wingflap or do anything conclusive while I watched them and before rain stopped play - and there were the usual Shags and Cormorants.

On shore, 4 Blackcaps - including a male and female together in Glen Sannox - were the most in one day so far this winter. 2 different Song Thrushes in song plus plenty of Robins and a few Blackbirds. Oddly, no Wrens in evidence..?

 4 White Wags with 9 Pied in one group on Haldon Pier were fun to watch as they bathed in a big puddle. Time stopped me properly checking the rocks - so the 2 Purple Sand on the weed were very much a minimum figure. The Brown Rockit is still present - showing off its grey edged tail to the doubters - but no Turnstones [probably all at Preston].

For the interested; 
the ex-bird is an adult male Goldeneye. You can see the face patch and green gloss to the head reasonably clearly

19 January, 2014


As you may have guessed from the title, I like me a little Spooner-ish swonsonant citching now and again..  ;D

Having done buggere alle yesterday - at least in the sense of getting out and doing something approaching birding, anyway - today would have to be another matter.

For the first time in the year and far too long, the Folks were up for a day on't Moor [the LBD is always up for t' Moor, of course..] and nothing was getting in the way. Certainly not roads covered in ice. As it happened, the roads were covered in water of the unfrozen type, but try telling that to some people; there is sensible caution and there is driving li- [[RANT REMOVED]]


Finally arriving, we went a' wandering among the trees in the glorious sunshine. And it really was glorious  :)  It was also pretty quiet - among the conifers we met only one group of Goldcrests and two of tits - WTF..?!? - this despite covering quite a proportion of the area. Ok, we may have been unlucky - it's a big place and mobile bands are easy to miss, after all - but it felt quiet, too. Tilda Swindog failed to find us a Woodcock [I guess word's got around; "Don't roost within 10' of the tracks or this horrible little black dog will find you!"], though she did have lots of fun barking at sheep, ponies, and where deer had been earlier...

In a sheltered spot, basking in the sunshine we found, yes, a Red Admiral. A pretty much unblemished one, too. First flutterby of the year.

There were more birds close to the reservoir, including flyover Fieldfare and a group of lost [there's no cones] Crossbills. On the water, a lone Canada Goose [could be a genuine vagrant! ;D ] swam about looking lost, with a group of 15 Teal very mobile, and lone Little Grebe and Cormorant [the latter in breeding finery, but too far off to get race]. The gulls started building after the big boss shower - which kicked in less than 5 minutes after we got to the Hide [Oh, such beautiful timing!] - ended. They were on 70+ Herring and 6 Common when we left. The shower left this;

LBN locates Little Grebe

Pretty pretty

Twas a nice walk indeed and much overdue. Hopefully there will be less of a time gap until our next meander.

18 January, 2014

A Quick Type at Lunchtime

Very little to report on, only one bit of proper birding so far this week. It really won't do, you know.

This was yesterday, when I borrowed some time to have a prowl around the southern side of the peninsula - Harbour to Meadfoot - between two pieces of Stuff.

Haldon Pier - aka The Real Living Coast [as opposed to the Trawler Wreck next door] - came up with a very worthwhile 13+ Purple Sandpipers, which was lovely. These are my first of the year, having not seen any at Brixham [I may not have tried very hard, I prefer my 'own' ones ;) ], and yes, they're still wonderful little birds. One Rockit [one of those brown ones] and no Turnstones this time. The Harbour itself was seemingly dead; marked contrast from the birdfest on my last visit! The odd Shag and not even a half dozen Herring Gulls.. Weird.

The gulls turned out to be all offshore - the Constant Friend was hauling nets out in the Bay and 2000+ other friends were in attendance. I gave the whirling mass a good look, but couldn't pick any skuas out. The sea seemed pretty empty too, with only a couple of Razorbills and less than a dozen Shags.. Odder and odder - where are the grebes, even?!? As I was leaving, one [very] bright note; a stunning GND surfaced by the Marina channel and swam right up to the Harbour entrance, glowing in the glorious on-cue sunshine, before slipping away underwater. Wow.

A female Blackcap was in the bushes by the Trawler Wreck overlook; as I watched her, the Choughs called and the King and Spectacled Eider swam round and round in little circles, while above them the Fairy Terns flew their endless loops...  I know I go on about this, but the older I get, the more I think zoos need to justify themselves. Especially when they're keeping migratory and wandering species in confined environments. There's those sayings about caged birds, you know.


Between the Harbour and Meadfoot Beach is a big chunk of limestone and slate known as Daddyhole. The Coast Path along there is quite wiggly, and the interesting cliff woodland always seems to promise something interesting hiding in the close canopy. You know those places? The ones that just seem to smell like rare birds.. Warblers in this case, lots of interesting habbo for them. I've never seen anything better than a Firecrest there, though, and the potential for those has dropped markedly since the Council and Trust got into their 'destroy all foliage' campaign... It's probably too exposed; warm south-facing slopes are also right in the path of all the gales.

No exception here, all the fun was on the sea. A large diver was in the channel between the East Shag and Daddyhole Cove - it never posed side on and the light was horrific - so I can't call it GND as I can't rule out WBD! It gave three views before buggering off and being replaced by two more divers, which seemingly arrived out of nowhere [as they do]. These were much more obliging; BTDs! ::Sigh:: Normally, two BTDs like that would be quite a thing, but I guess I'm just spoiled.. ;)

Single BHG and LBB flew along the shore, but still no grebes, or many Shags, and only one Cormorant.. Well, birds are funny things.
Onshore the most interesting thing I saw was this - with apologies for my mobile's low-light function again - perched in a garden. Not impossibly early, with all the night rain we've had; the tan and white colouring was spot on, alas said colouring seems to be on a 'standard owl' body..

Barn Owl.
Slightly plastic, though..

Would have been a nice Year Tick.. ;)

Today so far I've been stuck inside doing Stuff, with only a few quick breaks to watch the Robin taking sunflower hearts and coo over the odd Blue Tit which braves the Sparrow hordes!

EDIT: Just as I finished this post it's absolutely thrashed it down. As one of my jobs was the rather overdue re-proofing of my coat, staying in seems like a very wise choice..

12 January, 2014

A Slightly Belated Post

Due to watching The Bridge last night instead of typing away merrily, like a responsible blogger would. Oh well, what can you do?

Right then.. After another merry week at work, I decided to get out and maybe even some exercise. First piece was a brisk, er, well not really brisk it being at birding pace, walk about Stover. Someone had said something online about not only a Mandarin but also Goosander and a low-flying Bittern. The prospect of these and maybe some other birds seemed worth at least a quick look.

There were no Mandarin on display, let alone any herons of any kind, but a slippery female and a surprise male [I met him when he was tight in by the canal bank - oops, but at least he flew onto the lake to show for everyone else...] Goosander were present.

Her gooseyness;
Goosey Goosey Goosander, wither do you wander?

The unmagnified view; Stover Mill Pond.

The usuals were present, including a nice line of Snipe, but nowt spectacular, so with mounting numbers of chavsc people, I moved on.

It being a sunny day with a light breeze, a thought naturally occurred to me. Yes, a little early in the year, but you never know.. So I went to a hill. In a few hours I saw some Ravens displaying nicely, a few Buzzards - one with a lovely red tail - and not much else bar Woodpigs.  Wandering down towards tree-fringed fields, I saw a nice flock of finches and buntings - at least 8 cracking Yellowhammers among them - and was trying to see if there were Brambling too, when a male Sprawk came through. He was just cruising by, nowhere near attack speed, but oh, the finches went up! There were more than I thought, a lot more. A rough count gave 90+ At least 3 were Brambling; so present, but not in the same numbers as Sousson's. There were a good dozen Bullfinches, too. The flock was mostly Chaffinches [as you'd expect], with Linnets making up the next largest group.

Today I decided that, with the front due as it would be getting dark and the wind likely SSE before that, it wasn't worth a seawatch. Well, not a proper one anyway. I did get down to the Harbour and what a good move that was!

No, no WBD, but 3 GNDs and a BNG in the Harbour [playing among the boats and being sneaky, too] plus a few auks, and outside in the slightly sheltered waters off Torre Abbey; another GND, a BTD, a RNG and 2 GCGs. A lone Turnstone patrolled the Inner Harbour and unsurprisingly, given the tide and high seas [I got nailed, despite being behind shelter!] no Purple Sands.
One of the Harbour GNDs was a big 1w with a stonking bill - I rather suspect its the very same 'big pale one' that's been over at Brixham - I met it by the D-Day ramps and so had great views. When asked why it wasn't the White-bill, it made no comment but sniggered to itself and dived, reappearing two boats away [laterally, too]. . ;)

I later went over to Blackball to have a look at what was cowering in the lee roosting off there. 640+ Kittiwake [with birds still arriving as the light went], 12 GC Grebes, 1000+ large gulls, plus 3 LBB, 4 BHG [not usually roosting there], and a Razorbill. So not fantastic but not bad, either.

05 January, 2014

Sabre Dance

Life got in the way of birding - I really ought to sort my priorities, oughtn't I? - again and so I wasn't at Brixham Harbour first thing yesterday morning. As a result of this I again dipped the Iceland Gull, but the Ivory Sabre-toting Monster* more than made up for it. :)

The plan - formulated while kicking my hee merrily working - had been to get there first thing, see the gull, then stay around until I got decent sustained views of the diver, and then wander around the Coast Path to Broadsands. Not bad, right? Alas I had to curtail it drastically at both ends; I know it's heresy, but some things are more important than birding. ::Gasp::


I got to AstraZeneca to find a decent crowd for the length of the bird's stay but also to be told there'd been "No sign..". Oh shit. Not again.
After the fun on Wednesday and the two following days of porn star behaviour, I started to wonder if this diver was psychic. And evil.

Fortunately, it wasn't long before someone called it, and the 'it' wasn't the big GND with the huge bill, though that was there, too. The White-bill appeared with the big GND and an ordinary GND next to it - fascinating comparison shot if anyone got it. The WBD then proceeded to gradually work ever closer, mostly going after crabs; some of those were very big and put up quite a fight! The Red-necked Grebe then appeared right in front of us, hunched up and showing a silhouette like a Little Grebe!?!


Red-necked Grebe. 
No, really.

The bill's a giveaway in this, but when it was approaching and the bill seemed shorter, it was very.. educational.

The WBD took the chance to become briefly elusive; when you can pop up behind yachts and move anything from 0 to 200 feet from where you went down it's not hard. Fortunately it reappeared quite quickly. Photography was challenging, as the bastard bird kept turning it's head; never mind the whole 'don't stay up more than 10 seconds' routine..
Right, here's a few of mine;

Getting closer..

Showing the nape pattern; reminded me of a cobra!

The Ivory Sabre.

At this point, my phone's battery died.

The diver again showed clear psychic tendencies by coming in to spitting distance.. I wasn't complaining; I got insane views! :D

This was partly abetted by a couple of photographers, who'd hired a little boat to go for a harbourlagic. They got very very close views. A bit too close for the bird, which started to play silly wotsits with them - diving and coming up a way behind their boat. After the third time this happened, a voice from the shore pointed out that they were disturbing the bird and would they kindly refrain? To their credit they did back off [though by this point, if they didn't have perfect shots they should donate their cameras to charity and take up something else! ;) ].

While this was happening, a Black Guille flew in and vanished and a/the Long-tailed Duck flew past the Harbour entrance. GNDs and BTDs were also on display - some of the former to the shoreline below us [it was observed that they were probably jealous of all the attention the russki was getting].

The WBD then got properly elusive and the crowd broke up.Watching the crowds - well, ok small groups - going hither and thither the long way 'round after a bird that could outpace them without it's advantage made me think of the title of this post. Humming the tune to myself, I had a wander to the Inner Harbour then came back - not having time to go further - and had lunch on the nice observation platform right by AstraZeneca itself.

 I soon picked up the WBD, which was fishing just off the old coaling jetty thing that comes off the Breakwater. Various birders were on the Breakwater and seemed oblivious to the diver. My attempts to get their attention and direct them to the bird only had the effect of pinging something in my right shoulder.. Ouch. Also bugger.

Giving up; it was probably out of sight of them anyway - hell, that's probably where it's been hiding most of the time! - I then noticed the other Black Guillemot, right below me! It was diving on the 5 second rule, so I could barely scope it, let alone try pictures, but the views were amazing! Once it had passed, I looked up and there was the WBD, still by the jetty, but now I saw it had stopped crabbing and started preening! Right.. I had my proper camera with me and rattled off a few. I was slightly hindered by discovering that my manual exposure adjustment has stuck itself on 2 seconds.. Shooting through the scope on auto is iffy, so it's more hope than expectation of getting a good proper photo, alas.

I finished my lunch, gave the diver a last coo, and went on my way.

[[*The bill of a diver, especially a Great Northern, is often well described as 'dagger-like'. Compared to them, the White-billed's is more of a sword! The upcurved impression and Russian history mean that really you can only call it a sabre.]]

04 January, 2014

That Was The Year That Was

One of the hardest things is picking the order for the Top Ten. Picking the Ten themselves is [hopefully] fairly simple, but deciding which was better? Not always so. This time, however, there was a clear winner. Can you guess?

No cheating.

Right then;

10.  Minke Whale at Hope's Nose
The very first entry and it's not a bird! Sheer spawny delight at a) seeing a whale on my Patch, b) seeing it from the Nose - not the best viewpoint, and c) seeing it in that swell.
My other Minke was in a rough sea, too [Prawle, though - bit different!]

9.  8 Roseate Terns at Dawlish Warren
Eight of them [and there were more that I didn't see], eight of them! Plus a brilliant supporting cast including five Little Terns, and they were all bombing about together at point blank range. I sat and watched them and it was wonderful.

8.  The Thing at Berry Head and Hope's Nose
If anything, I'm less sure about what it was now than when I first saw it. But this is why it's such a biggie; a bird that is living proof that you can't ID them all, no matter how well or often you see them. Maybe one day I'll see a I still can't type the name and then I'll go "Ohhhh it was!" or "Ohhh it really wasn't!" Until that day, it goes into the Whisky Tango Foxtrot category.

7.  Vulcan! at Walls Hill
Not a bird again - well, sort of a bird, I suppose - but it was in the air and it was incredible....

6.  Bluethroat at Portland Bill
Another of those birds that are so hard to see if you don't live in the east. Also a proper twitch with having to work a bit for the bird and then it showing fabulously!

5.  BrĂ¼nnich's Guillemot at Portland Harbour
Rock up, there's the bird at less than 25'. Sweet. Then get to see it giving the crowd the runaround. Not to mention all the other great birds in the area; Black Guille, Eider, BTD, Hooded Merg, Bearded Tits, Glossy Ibis. Then finish things off with some long-awaited stones in a setting that can only be described as spectacular. Job's a good 'un.

4.  76 Divers and a Black Guille at Hope's Nose
The seawatch was wonderful, the joy at finally getting something other people can share.. priceless.

3.  White-billed Diver at Brixham Harbour
What. A. Bird. Brevity of sighting alone demotes it.

2.  Lesser Yellowlegs at Trew's Weir, Riverside Valley Park
Almost speechless at how well this incredible little wader showed, despite all the civilians and their dogs.

1.  Fea's Petrel at Hope's Nose.

So, 2013... Interesting year. But more importantly, will 2014 be the year I finally get Kentish Plover?

Or Stone Curlew?

Or Grotfinch?

03 January, 2014

Divers Are Funny Things

I got to the Blackball roost today and whereas yesterday there were a couple of GNDs, today there were a couple of RTDs [an adult and a 1w] and a BTD [an adult]. Go figure.

GC Grebes were up to an almost respectable 51, too. There may have been more, as birds were still arriving when a huge black cloud rolled up and opened fire with sideways hail and it was not fun. Then it was dark. Winter plumage Razorbill and summer plumage Guillemot still, but only 276 Kittiwakes [The Big Scope was dragged along]. More than 2100 large gulls further out, but no divers hiding amongst them that I could find.

Here's a nice picture of some of those grebes, showing a variety of plumage stages;

GC Grebes, Blackball roost

While I'm at it, another piece of local interest;

One quarter of what used to be a nice detached house
 and is now a demonstration of why you always get a survey...

Right then, time to get to that other post...

02 January, 2014

Aaaand They're Off!

After a false start anyway...


A New Year begins, all your yearlists are zeroed, what's a birder to do when it's forecast to piss across in a howling SE?

I went to Berry Head. I got there not quite at dawn and was shocked, yes shocked, to find absolutely no one there whatsoever! Not just no seawatchers, but nobody on site.. Scandalous, I tell you!

The weather was indeed as evil as forecast [for once], and I was glad not to have tried the Nose - where I'd have spent the morning hunkered down under my bumbleshoot being bombarded with sewerage.. - as it was pretty rough at the Head. I had to move back three times as evil spinning blasts of air tried to relieve me of my brolly. One good one sent my brolly right as it blew my scope over left and me backwards.. I made a wonderful Banksesque save, fortunately.

The weather was also too much for the birds, with almost nothing passing - though quite a bit was trying - and only one bird of note; but it was a Little Auk! :D  Came screaming past at 0959, it did.

After three hours I gave up and decided to move to Shoalstone. I've not watched from there before and I have to say what a wimpy fairweather excuse for a seawatching spot it is! There's a shelter with a roof, it's right next to the car park, and there's loos! And you can see out into the Bay enough to get passage. Sitting down in dry shelter was almost as good as the sight before me; female Eider, check. Female Long-tailed Duck, check. GND, check. Score.

The ladies were less than impressed with being so casually yearticked and promptly buggered off in opposite directions. Five minutes after that, the first birders of the year arrived. We swapped bad news, as they'd already dipped the Brunnich's and there was no sign of the WBD [ouch..]. They went back towards the Breakwater - as I'd seen the LTD fly that way - and I followed not long after.

The LTD was indeed asleep in Breakwater Cove and Brixham Harbour was full of divers, but only GNDs and BTDs. There was a monstrous GND with a huge bill knocking around, but it was just that. Of the White-bill, not a sign could I or any of the other hardy [and soggy] souls find. A Red-necked Grebe did show cripplingly well right by the mouth of the Inner Harbour - with an adult and 1w BTD in close proximity at one point - and not one but two Black Guilles also eventually showed very nicely, but no White-bill and no white winger, either, as the Iceland Gull wasn't seen.

There was much speculation about New Year's fireworks being responsible, and perhaps this is true, but it is also to be noted that birds can be right bastards. The delay in my posting this allows me to see the truth in this, as apparently the White-billed has been tarting around all day... Git.

It's not like I'm actually planning a Devon yearlist. I genuinely wanted to see more of it; it's an insanely wonderful bird, in my top ten most desirable birds that may be seen here, and just.. well, just look at it! The chance to have a look without a special trip was too good to miss. Oh well..

But getting back to it; after much searching and with dusk approaching, it was agreed that the bird was definitely not there, so those present split up; I had a plan, though. Yup, I went back onto Patch and checked the roost at Blackball! Would I find a monstrous ivory sabre-toting wonder?


2 GNDs, 17 GC Grebes, a few Razorbills and a Guille, 630+ Kitts, and 1600+ large gulls. Drat.

Coming up; the infamous Top Ten of 2013!

Run while you can....