28 February, 2022

The Next Wild Goose Chase

In which your brave author goes haring off into the wilds [and...cornwall! ::gasp::] in search of another Devon yeartick or four.

I am somewhat of a creature of habit, have limited time, and don't have a compulsion to go absolutely everywhere.
All these are valid reasons for me not to have been to one of Devon's moderately famous birding sites [or two]. But chasing yearlists make you do odd things, and driving right across the county.. and even Over There.. Is certainly one of them.
Thus, the Bean Geese wintering with a horde of Things at Tamar Lakes had to be given a chance at redemption.
Redemption?? Well, they seem to spend most of their time stuffing their bi-coloured bills on the cornish side, which won't do at all. [Unless you're a cornish yearlister, of course...].
There would normally at this point come a long and somewhat tongue in cheek section about territory, but what with current events to the east [Fuck you, Putin]*, I'll behave myself.

Suffice to say that while geese grazing on the west bank don't count, geese hitting the water to the east...

"...so I said 'That's not a knife, that's a spoon' "

...Are a different matter!
Get in.

Out of water, they proved quite considerate, almost flying right up to me;

Tundra Bean Goose

Tundra Bean Geese

The joys of a fairly bombproof accompanying species; grey geese at 30m!!! They were always aware of the passing public, and any pause got their attention, but with care, they gave views like that.  :)

Tamar Lakes is a rather nice site, despite all the mundanes ambling about. The Lower being fairly small and woody - like a certain spot near Exmouth - and the Upper is like a cross between Drift and Wimbleball, open and army.

Lower Tamar Lake

Upper Tamar Lake
[sort of]

Tamar bridge with the
cutest little oxbow lake
[er, pond?]
you ever did see 
in background


17 of 22 present at one point on LTL in the afternoon.

Scarlet Elfcup

"Human? What human?!? 
I can't see any human!"

Cormorants are such divas...

Finally, I need to show you something I saw from my car [I may or may not have been driving around looking for where those Whoopers spend their days...]. Fortunately, I was able to stop and get the camera out.
Anyways, you'll see why I was keen to get this on record;


Female Merlin

Not bad, right?

Definitely heading back up north again.

Be Seeing You...

[[* Anyone shocked by my language is requested to look at the news; I have been very restrained. ]]

24 February, 2022

The Grind. Pt.II, Ground

Monday afternoon saw sunshine and a WNW wind of a continuingly frisky nature. I had previously planned a small excursion towards Brixham harbour, with dire intent towards cowering diving things.

However, the Murphys got there first and didn't find a sneaky Red-necked Grebe so I reconsidered. Wind north of west put the north side of the Bay in play, and I resolved to hitch up the Pony* and get the Big Scope to Meadfoot.

From the shelter I gave the bay a good scanning, finding... Very little.

I kept at it, scouring the Oyster Beds for duckies [nope], the offhsore waters for divers [nope] and the inshore waters for grebes [no-


Got something!

Great Crested Grebe

One GCG. Yes, in fancy-pants summer plumage and everything, but still. One.

A couple of slender-looking Cormorants got grilled, and one did indeed have a 90° gular angle - but promptly decided it wasn't going to be photo'd and flew off... Bar steward.

A beamer came out in very nice light - they sometimes tie up in the Outer Harbour - and revealed herself to be 'Julie of Ladram';

All quite scenic

Looking the other way, a little geology for you;

Variscan thrust forms in 
Middle Devonian marine strata
[Also known as Thatcher Point...]

After taking those, I decided to give it one more scan before yomping up to Daddyhole and trying from there..
Holy Moly, that's a Red-necked!!!!!

Came zinging out of the bay - above the horizon - passed outside Thatcher Rock and disappeared off up the coast.



I didn't get a photo. Really would have liked one, it got lit quite nicely, but would have had to have camera out and zoomed and focussed in advance, so not going to happen.

In lieu of that, I'm going to burble at you..

Oh yes.

Grebes in flight are, unlike divers**, quite separable. They have a distinctive form, being dumpy of body and long of neck, with a very busy flight action [despite seeming better adapted for light than the much bulkier divers] that makes them stand out.
While each is a different shape - some standing out more than others - grebes also, very considerately, show distinctive markings in flight, as they all have marked areas of white in the wing.

Little Grebe is very small, compact, and shows almost no white, being quite uniformly 'dark'. They tend to fly very low and are rarely seen at sea - though it can happen especially in hard icy weather.
Black-necked has a thin but not hugely long neck and distinct head [seen well] and white extending almost the full width of the trailing edge of the wing. The head and neck are dusky and dark-looking.
Slavonian has a more evenly shaped head/neck than BN, and in winter show a strong black and white head pattern [like an auk] extending [though less obviously] to the throat [unlike BN] and have white only about halfway down the trailing edge of the wing, with a small and variable amount on the inner leading edge; the 'shoulder', which is often hard to pick out.
Red-necked is markedly longer-necked and bigger-looking, with an evenly tapering head/neck shape, making one seen side-on look a little like a flying wedge. Head and neck appear dark, though some have a paler-looking cheek and the yellow bill base can sometimes catch the light and appear - maybe only as a bright spot - at surprisingly long range. It has inner half trailing and a small shoulder white wing markings - the latter often hard to see, making the wing look thinner rather than standing out.
Great-crested is the most distinctive of all, with a very long thin neck and distinct head [though less so out out s/pl]. They appear very pale compared to other grebes, and this is exacerbated by the extensive white in both trailing and leading edges of the wing; the flashing of these catching the light is often what draws the eye to a flying GCG.

That's a lot of words, but I'm not allowed to put up an illustration from say the Bird Guide, which would show far more neatly pretty much everything I've tried to convey. What can you do? [Ok, if you're The Artist, draw something even better, but, well.. I'm really not. ]

Anyways, on the fourth day I got lucky.
Like I keep saying: Patience, Persistence, and a massive scope. ;)

Time to go, here's something purdy;

I do love a Crocus,
especially this form.

Be Seeing You...

[[* That's Longshanks' Pony, btb. ]]
[[** Who can be quite hard to call at any kind of range ]]

22 February, 2022

The Grind

After another day lost, I got out to the Nose again on Sunday to find even less than on Saturday, though some gulls posed nicely...


Gull Pick n' Mix

In a shock deviation from the standard, these are not all Herring Gulls..!!
You know you love it.
After getting some things done, as I was out in the car already, I thought I'd go looking for all the grebes and divers that had to be cowering somewhere.  [Right?]

I plumped for Broadsands [pre-Eunice reports of a RNG may have had a bearing, I must admit] as being closer than Brixham so giving more searching time before forecast rain arrived.

It was... Horribly dead. At least in terms of diving things that weren't Shags.
Looking Patch-wards.
Very windy, sideways dizzle, and a surprising number of mundanes - even non-dog walkers! - and a few gulls harried by said canines. A nice Med Gull was flushed off [and blown away...] before I could zap it, but I did get this;

First [2], second, third winter
Herring Gulls

Quite nice, considering I was shooting across the wind.  :)  Two first winters to show some of their variation I think actually works quite nicely.
[Yes, resorting to taking 'oh look at the age-mix of Herrings' shots sums the situation up nicely...]

Eventually, while I was cowering slightly out of the wind and scouring Elberry Cove, a bird flew in from Brixham Harbour or thereabouts [I knew it...].


A chinstrapped BTD, even. The Artist had found this bird on Thursday and got far better pictures than me, so look at his twitter.


Grey nape

Not bad, considering shot through mizzle and of a very actively diving bird.. 
Scope views far better [BIN views far better....]. Considering how awful most of my BTD shots are [they're not the most helpful of birds, usually], I'm.. Not too displeased by these.

This was the only decent bird on the sea. 13+ Shags and a Cormorant were happily diving all over the place, so no excuses for other spp. not turning up if you ask me.

As the saying goes, you've got to put the time in. Eventually, something comes out. Not this time, but eventually.



Something scenic to end on

Mayhaps the next set of posts will be a little different?

Be Seeing You...

21 February, 2022

A Date With Eunice

Well, it had to be done.

The passing of the main force of rain saw me toddling over to the Nose and seeing what'd blown in. Fast-moving February depressions can produce almost anything - it's the month of whisky foxtrot rarities in the seawatching community - so it was definitely worth a try.

In a suitably careful manner, of course. You don't mess about with F11 winds, even on a lee shore.

Though that F11 was more forecast than reality, with Berry Head getting up to a mere 78mph. Still enough to blow an unwary birder off a cliff, especially with the fiercely gusty squally nature of the wind, but said care was taken.

It was in fact amazingly sunny - when squalls weren't hammering by - and, as I'd expected with the sheer force of wind, there wasn't much passing.

Not nothing, as it turns out, though.

Rainbow squall!

At least 35 Kittiwake and about half that number of Gannet were loitering off the Nose, feeding in bursts, with as many again moving south offshore. More numerous was a clear passage of winter plumaged Razorbills, with a steady 30 birds an hour passing south, split about 50/50 between the Manx Line and close inshore. A handful of Fulmar also passed, but nothing else. 
A GND was in the lee of Thatcher Rock as I left, but no other divers and no grebes or ducks were seen at all.

There was a slick from TSWBCM, but the wind shredded it; possibly mixed patches of slick were attracting fish which prompted the seabird feeding events.

Gulls were also loitering, and there was some interest from my camera...
[Oh yes, I'm going there]


Many yucks.

Plenty of Guillemots hanging about at least.

Also signs of Spring,

Cormorant with nest material!

Though this attempt was less successful, the bird ending up blown backwards over the Ore Stone...

Alexander in bloom

H. persistens

Most interesting bird of the day was actually seen on the way out, with a nice tit and crest band around Brandy Bend [yup, there again]. [[Yes, I walked out, Big Scope and all. I wasn't going to leave my car out in that weather, come on! :) ]]
Tits were mostly LT and Blue, 5 or so Goldcrests, I'm pretty sure 2 Firecrests, and what looked suspiciously like a YBW.! Only seen zipping across IMD and down into the cliff trees, but it seemed very interestingly 2-toned green and off-white. I am ongoing in looking for that band again!

Upon that note of hope, I shall

Be Seeing You...

17 February, 2022

Abandon Hope

Patrolling the Patch gave not a huge amount. The weather may have been a factor. But I'd been limited by my head in when I could get out, so I took what I could get.

I did come across a nice photo opp. and it would have been wrong not to,


Dozing in the Inner Harbour.
Seemed to be unoiled, so possibly had just come in after small fish?

Holding position with a casual foot

Offshore, the chop and sunshine made viewing less easy, but another Guiilemot and 2 RTDs [off Hollicombe, more or less] were the only non-Shorm birds I could find.


Two out of Three

Right then. Time for the title.

It has been far too long since I put any horrific eye-searing images of garstly gulls on here, and I have a reputation to think of.

While looking in vain for grebes off Princess Pier, I saw a big thing with a dark tail, dark body, and pale head fly over and plonk down off Torre Abbey. It had... Something, which it wrestled with on the water for several minutes, before flying off and landing on top of the theatre. Out of sight.
I never got it any way but arse-on to the camera, despite shifting position twice, but I did at least get some pictures.

Oh yes, here we go;

Larid sp.

Dark body

Slightly better focus, at least..

Best wing view.
Nice grey bits, there..

Not exactly ideal views, but this isn't Broadsands and I'm not the Artist.

What do you think, laridophiles?
[Everybody else will be on the floor, rolled into a ball, gibbering quietly... ;) ]

As it flew past me, the pale head, dark body, black tail made me go 'Oooh, possible Smith!', but it's a bit lacking in tail covert barring, and that tail isn't as all-black as it looked in flight [though super-spread poses do have that effect]. The body-colouring was also a bit blotchy, not the velevety uniformity you'd expect on smith.
The upperwing of what looks like a first winter bird [older of any spp. would have a whiter body tone, surely] makes you think a little of YLG, especially with what seems to be a neat tail band [on some images] but the secondary coverts seem a bit light-looking. You'd want the double wing-bar effect. 
The default option is 'It's a weird Herring Gull' and that's where I'm leaning, but it seems to have strange genes from somewhere; I get a lot of odd Herrings [you may recall with displeasure] and this stood out even in comparison. 'What would a GBBxLBB look like' did come to mind as I pondered it, though probably nothing like that...

Anyways, I'm keeping eyes open and if I see it again and get a better shot, you'll be afflicted.

Ok, normal people can look again.

Finally, something completely different;

Street art

Be Seeing You...

15 February, 2022

Mice And Birders

The weekend didn't exactly go to plan, due to a variety of reasons I'm not going to pain your eyes with.

Suffice to say, the only proper birding I got to was on Saturday, when I spent a lot of foot-miles looking for yearticks - most notably the White Pimpernel* - around the Exeter area.

[Sums the day up quite well, this]

While I did succeed in finding a Green Sand, in exactly the same spot - and quite possibly exactly the same bird - as in December, I got nothing else new for the year.

Not to say I didn't see the odd nice bird. A Kingfisher in the Ludwell valley was lovely - if not feeling photogenic - and no less than 3 Spoonbills were on Exminster in the afternoon.

Cue Meatloaf.

At least they're moving, even if they wouldn't let me get them all in one shot.

I was in no ways alone in my quest, with the Usual Suspects also after the WP*, and vast numbers of brightly-coloured fun runners pounding around the area. Joy joy. 
Anyways, they were all over the Matford-Canal area, but it was a weekend not tipping with rain, so disturbance inevitable, I suppose.
I did have a good nose about the lower part of LVP, which - apart from the horrific levels of plastic in the stream... - is surprisingly lovely for where it is. You can see why you get some of the birds that are reported there. 
RVP was its usual frustrating self. So little effort would be needed to make it far more user-friendly for people who want more than a dog exercising area. But then, Exminster...  

It was nice to be down at the Sludge Beds again. I'm overly fond of the place, perhaps, but I find if you can tune out the traffic noise and are upwind of the Works...
Yes, a quite a reach.
Just tune the M5 out...
Said Works had a nice posse of Wigeon resting on the big square bit and assorted BHGs on the settling beds. No Chiffs I could find, though.
Did find this;


Let's end with something from Matford,


Be Seeing You...

[[* He seeks it here (Exminster), 
he seeks it there (Matford), 
the Backward Birder seeks it everywhere. 
Is it in that channel, 
or behind those reeds over there?
That  BLEEPed elusive... Great White Egret.

Ahem. ]]

12 February, 2022

Back To Reality. Pt.2 There

In between bouts of Patch attention, I got out and about a bit. Looking for holes in the yearlist and generally anything wonderful I could come across.

Mixed results, with quite a lot of misses, but Spring definately Sproinging, with actual singing!!! Yes, despite the toothy wind and odd shower, I was serenaded by non-Robin birds; Skylarks [yes, plural] while ambling about country lanes.
This is actually quite special, as I'm used to only getting Skylarked up on t'Moor, so being serenaded while I squished myself into a hedge to avoid a speeding delivery van was a real treat.


I even hit one with the camera!!

Didn't so much as get the chance for any partridges - again - which is starting to wander towards being a little annoying. The vast volume of released 'gamebirds' knocking around, while majority Pheasants, mean there should be some. Other people are seeing them... [Stop moaning]

Anyways, as I sort-of said, I covered a lot of ground, trying the 'park up and walk' tactic - usually far superior as long as you avoid the aforementioned speeding vans [cars have better brakes and are easier to dodge, I find.... Farm vehicles are big, yes, but slow and driven by people who actually know the road and take care not to squish non-vehicular road users.. Ahem*] - at several spots. Definitely something to try again, ideally from a central point, but I didn't have the whole day [always things to do] and wasn't sure how well it'd go.

Let us put up some other 'farmland' species I got on camera;


Not often pictured [on here]. This is mostly as they don't set down anywhere near you! Yes, I was shooting through the top of a hedge [and one not flailed to hell, which was nice].

Bullfinch's arse

He was posing so nicely, then I zoomed in and he turned away. I'm putting the pic up anyway. Again, look at that hedge top! Farmland gets a bad press, but if it has decent hedges, and add woods, set-aside, water, etc. to increase the effect, you can find birds.
Just watch out for traffic.

Be Seeing You...

[[* It is perhaps revealing to point out that despite being an inveterate pedestrian - often on roads rarely walked by sane most people - I have only ever been hit by vehicles twice. Both were bicycles.** ]]
[[** Yes, yes, you normally only get hit by a lorry once.... ]]

09 February, 2022

Pretty Pretty

Spring is getting underway. Observe the following Patchy delights;



Oh yes

[None of these was in a garden, btw]

That's it.

Be Seeing You...

08 February, 2022

Back To Reality. Pt.1 Here

With all the fun and nonsense of recent times, it was inevitable that reality would reassert at some point. I don't normally see all the sexy birds - you'd want the Artist or the Backwater collective for that sort of stuff [Serin.. Serin..!!!!!*] - I just grind away at not very much until maybe one or two scarcities a year might pause in front of the camera.
So all this HH and so on will inevitably give way to Buzzards sooner or later.
Sooner it is, then.

I have been seeing the odd yeartick, and indeed at the Nose on Sunday, a sunshine and showers seawatch got me my first skua of the year! The [perhaps inevitable] Pom. I say 'the', but it was waaaaay offshore - ships were closer! - and while I tracked it in the Big Scope for 3 or 4 minutes, I got no hint of morph. Balance of probabilities says it's the adult light morph ['The Teacher's Pom'] which has been wintering in Lyme Bay, but of course there could be others doing the same.
Otherwise, said watch was lot of auks close to and a few Gannets, Kittiwakes, and the odd Fulmar further out. Nothing sexy in said auks, I was checking [Feb is the month for insane seabirds, after all.]
Despite a fair chunk of rain overnight, no slick from the SWBCM, so only four light gulls passing [3 CG, 1 BHG], and naturally not a hint of a nice winter shear. But worth a try and always fun to see the sea. [Oh dear]

When it wasn't raining,
it was like this.

BlackRed still lurking
around the place

Who needs Hen Harriers?
[Don't answer that]

The other end of the weekend was less productive, though the long-lurking Eider was visible about the oyster beds [I didn't see her on Sunday, but with the weather it wasn't exactly easy viewing].

How many seals can you sea[l]?


Goddess of Birding shows me
where the YBW are hiding

Still got the view,
I suppose...

Be Seeing You...

[[* At least it's not November, I suppose...]]