31 July, 2017

Big Day At Prawle

Yesterday I nearly went to 'Gwarra, but various things got in the way and so I compromised on a day of hopefully big showers and a SW wind* at Prawle. That recipe has in the past scored massive big shears at said cornish mecca, so what could it give at Devon's version?

Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

This will be the blog post coming.

Yup, you're reading the teaser.

No, there won't be crippling photos, because I was up a great big headland and all the good birds were well out, or too fast, or I was too busy going 'wooooo'... Hey, you want nice photos from a seawatch, go to The Boss. [[And indeed, if you want good birds]]
Yes, there were good birds. Yes, there will be awful photos of blobs of one or two of those birds. And better ones of worse birds.
Because this is Backward Birding, after all.

But a trailer needs something, so here are two numbers for you.



Ok, the second one was a time. How about 10 + 1? ;D

 On a brighter note, I had intended to put a piccy up here as well, but gaggle in their infinite incompetence have decided that I can't do that today. So you're spared.

Be Seeing You..

[[*The theory runs that birds will be moving due to the wind, and will fly around the showers. So if one passes offshore, they'll come inland [ie. downwind] of it. And you get to see them in good light without being rained on. When it works, it's amazing. When it doesn't, you start looking at yachts...]]

The Two Tors

Slightly delayed, my apologies.

A tale of two tors, as I continue to visit all of the 'best bits' of the Moor.

The forecast was.. reasonable. A bit windy, with the chance of rain - maybe big boss showers, even - and maybe hot sunshine. So pack for everything. :)

As you may well have ascertained, I only went up two tors, but they were notable ones, harder to link into a longer trip.

Ok, let's let the pics do the talking;

 Great Mis Tor

Looking north from the top;
Dartmoor's NW massif

Yup, the Barad-dur of Dartmoor itself, Great Mis Tor.

I wandered up, had a bite to eat, sat and enjoyed the view in the hope that something would fly by, got rained on, sat some more, then had a wander about. It's a big place, GMT; about ten tors' worth of outcrops on one big boss hill. The weather was feeling atmospheric [hoho], so I indulged a little;

The Wilhay and Fur Tor

The southern massif

Looking east

Looking towards Plimoth

The weather was.. changeable

Inevitably, I was somewhat distracted by Wheatears;

First brood?

Brand new!


Other birds;

Mipit, FF



I eventually tore myself away for the trip across the watershed to tor number two. Can you guess which one?

Look uuuuuuuuuuuup....

North Hessary Tor. Home of a telly station and a really big mast. Plus, now a hard core way of getting up;
That goes up to the crow's nest..

Prospective BASE jumpers should be aware the security has been beefed up; with night vision, IR motion detectors, and everything..

The views from up there are the reason to go, really, so here we go;

You had to be there

Always another Wheatear

I then toddled down to find a spot out of the wind where I wouldn't be in the way of everyone coming up; and you wouldn't credit how many people stagger up NHT from Princetown..

Cue Hollow Tor.

Looking back where I came from

 It's one of those shoulder tors*. A nice little spot, and as the name suggests, has suffered an attack of the quarrymen, though you wouldn't know it until you pretty much walked into it.. 

So, not a vast meander, but a nice little amble.

 More waits on the weather.

Be Seeing You..

[[*Also on the route were Little Mis and Rundlestone Tors, btw]]

28 July, 2017

All Change

Once more and again unto the Nose this afternoon, as even more interesting weather eventually showed up. I should have been down much sharper, but it looked as if it could burst into sun at any point when I got back from work.

Then the south and western sky darkened and I thought "Ah.." Down I scurried.

Civilians held me up, wanting mostly to talk about the Grey Seal [it's become quite the local celebrity, it seems], but eventually I got down to The Steps, and got an eyeful of a rather different avifauna from Wednesday!

Of most note for this blog is the number 26. This being the minutes that that Great Shear took to do the Bay. Having known one do it in 11 [I think], it must have really been dawdling. Then again, as I tracked it behind the Ore Stone but not out the other side [unlike the three Manxies it was with], perhaps it took a wander out into Lyme Bay before heading on? Or a sit down??

Also 2 European Storm Petrels, 2 Sooties - together - and a mere 26 Manx in 2.5 hours.. But 29 Fulmars! No Balearics. 3 Arctic Skuas, which all went north. 170 Gannets, only 16 Kittiwakes.
Adult and juv Med Gull, and more on other juvs when I have time to play with the pics.

The weather was much 'better', with me hanging on to my bumbleshoot for dear life more than once in the sidewinding squall lines.. Fun, isn't it?

Be Seeing You..

26 July, 2017

Once More Unto The Nose.2

This post now re-worked to improve legibility. No added pictures, due to giggle throwing another hissyfit..

On with it;

So, with yet another juicy front showing up on a work day [and yet another birder bumped into with 'sympathy' for my imminent-in-about-50-years retirement...], I once again got in, grabbed kit, and got out to the Nose this afternoon.

I almost didn't. It was far too bright, and the rain was gone long enough for the ground to be drying..
But there were still clouds, some looked interesting, and the wind was blowing, so why not, eh? Persistence is No.2, after all.

After running into the birder I shall call Mr Peregrine, I went on down anyway and set up among The Mounds; as I could see the horizon, I felt an extra 20' might help with all the multi-km viewing, and to be honest, I just couldn't wait to get eyes on..

Doesn't look promising, does it?

Good. Call.

First bird. First bird in the scope was a skua. A distant but very interesting skua indeed. I watched it for a couple of minutes as it meandered southish, stalled, recovered, then finally plonked down. Sub-adult, I reckon.

There were not huge numbers after that glorious start, but oh the quality.

 Cory's Shearwater! Well out, in the only [excuse for] rain and loafing along in a bow-winged glide as the couple of Manxies near it arced up and did the Swift-fast wingbeats.. :)
5 Balearics! Three lone classics, close in, then two paler ones with Manxies. A Balearic was the first shearwater I saw - wowser. :) I even sort of got one;

Heading outside the Ore Stone.
[It's that dark thing on the left.]
If you zoom, you can see its wings are raised, mid flap, and you can see dark underwings, paler belly and dark vent. Really.

I'm blaming the angle; it worked last time!

I actually tried on all but one of the Balearics, as they were universally close in [compared to most of the other shears, anyway].

Almost invariably, I got this;

Sea watching...

In my defence, there is no way I can tell whether the bird I'm aiming at is even in view when using my little viewfinder, but at least I can see the sea.. [[Oh dear get a DSLR...]] It only sort of worked at Manxie line range birds once. Observe Gannets!

There are five Gannets.

So, aim for something harder to miss;

'Westerly Fulmar'

Fossils can't duck out of shot
[nice rugose coral, there]


Good gulls were thin on the sea - no chum today, alas - with only a lone juv Med. ambling past. At least, until the 'Two Brothers' came by;

With a few friends!

Three species

No, not as good as last week, either..

Getting back to the birds.. An early highlight was the two European Storm Petrels - through together on the Manx line - in proper bat-flutter mode; a wonderful way of flying with which they can move at a surprising rate [and I don't blame them, with all the gulls..].

A second good skua, and a bit closer, was a cracking light morph Pom, battering a poor Kittiwake. Even more skuas came with an insanely distant flock of five. They went by south, climbed up quite high at one point, and looked for all the world like Poms. Flight action, what shapes I could get, etc. But the gunk had teamed up with foreground heat haze [it was interesting weather!] and so I can't be sure they weren't Arctics. I really don't think so, though. Oh well.

Numbers; 84/3 Gannets, 29/3 Kittiwakes. No Fulmars or auks! Only 32 Manxies.. That's more or less 6:1 vs Balearics.. What the actual?!?

I suppose it's very much the weather. You've got the last dregs of the main passage - Cory's, Stormies, Manxies etc. - plus the birds who don't like the wind, so wait for it to ease off before they move - Balearics and LTs and so on - coming through at the late hour I was there.
Well, it's a theory, anyway.

It was more than the weather 'deserved', it was much much better than I expected. And I even got rained on a little bit! :D

Roll on the next one!

Be Seeing You..

22 July, 2017

"That's a Great Shearwater."

Spoken in a very matter-of-fact manner, though admittedly with only my own company - so not entirely calm - as said bird arced up above the horizon, the sunny side of a mile off Hope's Nose on Friday afternoon. Visibility had [temporarily] shot out to near said horizon, and the sea was suddenly there after a long period of deluge-created gunk.

It wasn't the first of the day, it was certainly the furthest out, but striking the classic pose, in the classic flight action - and lit beautifully - it was definitely the easiest.

The first one is always the hardest. It's the credibility factor. It doesn't matter how good the weather's being, how right the time of year, even, to an extent, how many you know are / may be in the area. You see, you train yourself on the species you see all the time. And for shears off Devon, that's Manxies, plus Balearics. You look for Sooties in Summer-Autumn, you hope for big ones, you dream of Barolo's and Yelks.
But what you see are Manxies and the odd Balearic. In their variety and eccentricity.

Thus, when something else comes through and isn't being really obvious - say a nice close well-lit Great doing the big shear flight amongst a bunch of Manxies not doing the big shear flight - your tricksy brain tries the most common shape first and sees if it can jam it in.

So you get me going "Oh, that's a pale Balearic" to myself, as a Cory's goes cruising by inside the Ore Stone [I'm not letting that go any time]. Or you get me wondering "How can a Manxie with that much marking on its underside not be a Yelkouan - I mean, it's just not got the attenuated rear end and oh is that oil staining... and look the head's all.........Oh [CENSORED]!!!!!!!"
[The first Cory's was 'a very brown and white Manxie' for a moment...]

Yeah, so Hope's Nose was fun on Friday.

Nowhere near as much fun as it would have been if I didn't have an actual job, mind.

Yes, while The Boss and The Artist et al were getting TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY BIG SHEARS at Berry Head, I was a work, getting covered in swarf and coolant. Joy.

But work ends and I was prepared. Get home. Get kit. Get to the Nose.

I had exercised dreams of getting there before that wonderful-looking cold front did; catching pre-front passage, beasting out the rain, then getting post-front exodus. It was a nice plan.

The rain started before I even got home, and by the time I was skidding down the Slopes, it was hammering down.

Then it rained harder. And harder.

At least I had all my gear on - 'tis a rare luxury to put my bag cover on in the dry - and while I wasn't exactly dry after setting up, I did find that the wind was feeling amazingly generous. The wonderful wind was SW if not WSW and on The Steps, I was almost out of it. Just lookit!

Bumbleshoot resting on my knee!

Yes, those are hivis waterproof trollies; they're my latest attempt to find ones that will keep me dry for a full seawatch and survive the experience, being allegedly hard-wearing rail workers' attire. We shall see.
Observe also the visibility, with gunk just outside the Ore Stone [so @1km], also the swell breaking waves over the Lead Stone, and the slick from the SWBCM starting up.. :)

"Thar she blows!"

The blowhole was on good form, too.

There were not huge numbers of anything passing, alas and alack. The three figure shearwaters were all in the AM, it seems. But as you may have guessed, I did see some; with 2 Great, at least 3 Cory's, 2 Sooty, and a mere 81 Manx. No Balearics. One Bonxie. One storm petrel; which came in to the slick and close enough for me to hope for a shot... but the big swell hid it too well and then it noticed all the gulls and.. Drat.
Also; 59 Common Scoter, one each of Raz and Guille, 88 Gannet, 84 Kittiwake, a variety of Fulmars - hanging about and spoiling my count attempt - and a few gulls. The one Med came through and didn't pose. Other gulls did.

Eyeing the slick.

Better pose, worse attempt.

Almost art.

Can you guess what it is?

"Now this is how you pose"

Because you've gotta have a Herring Gull.
At least three juvenile YLGs - including two together - with one looking a lot like the 'less obvious' one The Artist has had at Broadsands. My first juv LBB of the year - with that all-dark tail looking nothing like a YLG to this little black duck, I have to say - and a few block 'eads, though no juvs.

Not only gull posing though, as on my way out - and after no small amount of teasing on their part - I got this;

1cy and adult male Bullfinches

Not just the gulls who've had breeding success. :)  It's taken me a lot of goes to finally get any of this year's Bullfinches - they're not exactly bold around cameras - and I'm glad I got the comparison shot in doing it.

Today I did things I should have done yesterday, and so was not at 'gwarra where I should have been. Or Prawle.

Ach, what will you do?

Be Seeing You..

20 July, 2017

Still Looking Up...

"Oh no, not more rubbish Swift pictures..."

Oh yes.

Passing By

The scenery. A day of big thundercells coming up from the south. Fortunately for the Patch, they all missed - though the thunder was loud enough at ten miles...! - and when rain came, it had nothing nastier than watering the plants in mind.

But look, up in the sky [and over there in the sky too, for that matter..]. Bright blue is in front of sky [shock] grey-blue in front of that thunderstorm;

Sometimes high

Sometimes low - my wall top left
[and photobombing]

And so to the 'close ups'

Feather damage?

Sunlit throat patch

Out of focus, but
What A Twist

Ok, ok, I'm stopping, I'm stopping....

I have no other news, with 'more of the same' to report. Those Swifts were in a group of 25+ - and very hard to count as they were really mobile, even for Swifts.

If the weather behaves [and it is a real IF, of course..] there may well be something less repetitive to report soon.

You never know?

Be Seeing You..

18 July, 2017


What madness is this?

Wait and see...

First of all, more blobs on the blue;



Thingy vs Wotsit
[Actually Crow vs Buzzard]

Right, after that wonder and joy, onwards.

Sunday saw an actual wander on t'Moor with the Folks, for the first time in a long while. Ok, we only wandered about Fernworthy, due to weather, but still.

It was warm and close, with hill-scraping cloud and waxingwaning dizzle - plus the odd bright bit. The wind waxed and waned a bit, too. Which was important, as the damp heat was brilliant for the insect population..

Yes, butterflies and dragonflies are nice, but all the other flies are less so, especially when they all want to buzz about your head. Then you have the midgies and mossies. And then there are the Horseflies.... :O

It's a guerrilla war, with the little gits only needing a moment's inattention to get you. Though just sometimes you get them;

Biting Clegg
[Note proboscis protruding on left...]

And that is just one reason why you should always have a hardback notebook to hand!

Perhaps I ought to make it clear that I don't set out to mangle our wildlife. Even Horseflies. Avoidance, repellent, frantic swatting, and full on running away come before offensive action, but sometimes they really won't give up...

Wandering back onto point.

Here's some atmosphere;

The two faces of forestry

Isn't it gorgeous? Yes, "Argh, non-native!" some may cry. I'd make a point about how far, in what is an effectively entirely 'un-natural' environment, they would like to go? I'd also ask about some species in particular which really do need these sorts of habitats. I'd wonder aloud about proportions and coverage..

But it is lovely. Especially on a bit of a misty day. So very Northern. [[Insert X-Files / Twin Peaks / ::cough::Twilight reference etc. etc.... Here.]]

Sheltered pasture

We heard more birds than we saw. Some being very noisy young things indeed. Crossbills were flying around, but hardly ever in sight and never in camera.

Butterflies were better behaved;

Two-dot Gatekeeper

One dot Gatekeepers

Bashful Ringlet

Ok, not all the birds hid;

Ooh, what's that?

Spotted Flycatcher!

A couple were very showy, munching flies under some trees and also nabbing the odd unlucky passing butterfly!

Speaking of flycatchers, our lunch - somewhat fly-afflicted - was the scene of the blog title. Many of the flies were just buzzing around; they seemed to like high points, and trekking poles set up upslope kept a lot of them from us. The LBD, however, was universally popular; despite being markedly, well, Littler. This was not such a problem to her, as she likes flies - live ones anyway - and is crocodile-quick on the snap. The fly population was steadily reduced and by the time we were getting ready to leave, we were pretty much alone!

The Dogodile
On the lookout for seconds

It was noted that, now that she's getting on a bit, she's more of a pied flycatcher.

Strange and unusual sightings were the order of the day;

Why did the Froglet cross the road?

She'd heard the humans were realllly crazy for fishing...

Nope, not sinking, that's a chap in a little inflatable thingy. There were four of these on the res., so no birds other than the Inevitable Canadas. I'd seen them before - a very neat and quiet way to fish, if a bit cold on the lower half! - on Crowdy Res. after I'd first seen the Great White Bird, but this time I could immortalise them.

Be Seeing You..