Sunday, 29 January 2017


The Black Redstart was sheltering from heavy rain under the cover of the Shelly Beach apartments late this afternoon.

Another weekend with little to report. A quick look off Maer Rocks with Nick this morning produced 90+ Common Scoter, 10 Great Crested Grebes, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and 3+ Red-throated Divers. The drake Scaup was off Mudbank yesterday and today. Also off there today - 2 Goldeneyes and a Lapwing north over.
I had a look for the Bonaparte's Gull off Shelly Beach this afternoon but no joy. The only birds of note were an adult Kittiwake on Bull Hill and the regular Little Grebe in the marina. The Black Redstart was on the apartments.
Late after work on Friday afternoon I finally clapped eyes on a Mediterranean Gull - an adult and my first in Exmouth this year believe it or not. I also had a high count of 9 Goldeneyes off Mudbank on Friday. The little flock included 3 males, 2 of which were displaying to the females. Fifty two Pintail off there on Friday too.


Sunday, 22 January 2017



Up to six Cirl Buntings at the local sight this morning - the most I've ever seen. Numbers of other stuff unremarkable with c50+ Chaffinch, 1 Reed Bunting, c5+ Yellowhammer, 2 Mistle Thrushes and 25+ Redwing. The crop is still being planted but apparently no seed has been put out on the tables for two years.
Otherwise - 8 Goldeneye off Mudbank, including 1 adult drake, was the most I've seen in ages but the Scaup has again gone walkabouts.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Still Quiet

Another quiet week bird-wise (but busy work-wise) with very little time out in the field. Bird of the week was a Black-necked Grebe off the seafront late after work on Tuesday. It was presumably the bird that has been reported for some time off the Warren. It was accompanying 2 Great Crested Grebes and 3 Wigeon.
Today there's little else to report though the long-staying Scaup has been off Mudbank all day. Also off there a single Teal and c40+ Pintail.
A quick look off Maer Rocks first thing this morning produced just 4 Purple Sandpipers and 28 Dark-bellied Bent Geese.

Bullfinches seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment. Long may it last!

Sunday, 15 January 2017


One of two or three Meadow Pipits wintering on Warren View playing fields. Also on there this afternoon - 2 Mistle Thrushes and a Chiffchaff.
More of the same this weekend. The first-winter male Scaup reappeared off Mudbank yesterday and was still present over the high tide this morning. What was almost certainly a Long-tailed Duck followed 2 Red-breasted Mergansers towards the river mouth early on this morning. A check of the lower estuary subsequently revealed c20+ Red-breasted Mergansers and a probable Slavonian Grebe. This afternoon there were good numbers of Herring Gulls off the seafront, along with c25+ Common Scoters and a couple Red-throated Divers. Yesterday the 2 Firecrests showed well behind the cricket club and that's about it. Glaucous Gull must be on the cards any minute now.
Moorhen - Bystock Pond

Friday, 13 January 2017

Not a Lot!

Lovely but cold down the seafront this evening. The Bonaparte's Gull was watched offshore with Black-headed Gulls, until 1610 at least, from the Octagon. Little else to report this week as I've had so little time out, but my brief checks of known Rose Hip sites produced just a single Bullfinch. I'm struggling to find berries or apples in Exmouth full stop. A few Hawthorn berries remain along the cycle track between Littleham and Budleigh.
Also of minor note this evening - a very dark first-winter Herring Gull that gave the initial impression of a bonxie. Intriguingly its rump appeared very dark brown  and its tail extensively dark too. Unfortunately it was roosting a long way off on Bull Hill so there is nothing I can do with it, but I'd like to have seen it close-up. It was nothing special size-wise and although the underparts were dark its head appeared no paler (not that that's a problem this early in the winter). I couldn't work out what was going on with the undertail coverts. Worth keeping an eye out for but large gulls rarely play ball on the Exe.

I've noticed a few wheezy trumpet-like notes emanating from Bullfinches recently - from both Castle Lane and Littleham sites. I'm not suggesting for a moment that they're anything other than local birds but I'm a bit miffed as to why I've never noticed these calls before.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Devon Flashback 13 - 2004 Lesser Scaup

Exactly thirteen years ago today, on January 10th 2004, I discovered Devon's first Lesser Scaup, a first-winter male, on Exminster Marshes. There is an account of the find in the 2004 Devon Bird Report and the above sketches were shown on the back page of the report. I kind of thought that it would open the floodgates for more Devon records and indeed Kev Rylands discovered the second, a female, on Beesands Ley just a year later on March 4th 2005. A third bird, another first-winter male, was found on Roadford Reservoir on November 19th. It remained in to 2006 and, as far as I'm aware that was the last accepted record in the county (The Birds of Devon - Michael Tyler). Not exactly the opening of the floodgates despite a very promising start! Of course the recent 'probable' first-winter female at Slapton may well get re-found and prove to be Devon's 4th. Let's wait and see.....
Since Britain's first Lesser Scaup, at Chasewater in Staffordshire in 1987, numbers have increased nationally to the point where it is now no longer a BBRC rarity. It was removed from the list of species considered by the BBRC at the end of 2014, although apparently numbers in North America have been in decline (British Birds October 2015 Vol 108).
The Exminster bird stayed on the marshes until April 23rd 2004. It was often out of sight in one of the wide drainage ditches and on at least one occasion it popped over to Bowling Green Marsh.

This is one of the few photographs taken of the Exminster bird. It was taken by Dave Stone and quite nicely shows the size and structural differences compared with a Tufted Duck. Many thanks for letting me use the photo Dave!

Some of my original field sketches, drawn just after finding the bird. It was on the main lagoon on the marshes, so a long way off.

Mike Langman managed to get these digi-scoped shots of the bird on the day of its discovery. Mike's doing a talk in north Devon tonight so I haven't managed to get hold of him to check if he minds me using them. Hope it's ok Mike. Note the rather dirty-looking plumage which shows it's moulting from first-winter into adult-type plumage.

Head shape is important when it comes to identifying Lesser Scaup. The photos show the classic shape with the peak of the crown at the rear. The shape changed considerably though when the bird was diving - it could look quite flat-crowned. I tried to capture this in the above sketches.

This shot of Mike's was very helpful in getting the record accepted by the BBRC. It shows the all-important truncated wing-bar - nice and bright across the secondaries, abruptly fading to grey across the primaries. Anyone re-locating the Slapton bird should check for this feature, as well as the small black nail at the bill tip.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Weekend Stuff

Stonechat - Orcombe Point
First thing this morning there was a female-type Long-tailed Duck off the seafront. It looked restless, flying around, ditching down and then flying off again. There were at least 100 Brent Geese off Maer Rocks and the sallows below Foxholes held a male Blackcap, a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest.
The two wintering Firecrests were quickly located in their usual spot behind the cricket club and at least one Goldcrest was close by.
I checked the 'Gut' and found the Black Redstart still present along with the two regular Meadow Pipits.
I couldn't find the Scaup off Mudbank today though it was still present on Friday evening. The only things of note were 3 female Goldeneye, 14 Great Crested Grebes, 6+ Sanderling and a Ringed Plover along with the usual stuff.
Finally there were 8 Purple Sandpipers on Maer Rocks late on Friday afternoon.
This is the small inlet known as the 'Gut'. Not a nice name but a lovely little area that's currently home to a wintering Black Redstart. It lies between the Imperial recreation ground and Shelly Beach. The wooden construction is the River Exe café that's normally moored out on the river during the summer months - a great place to enjoy fish 'n' chips.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Close-in Scaup

The light was beautiful today so I attempted more photos of the Mudbank Scaup. It was really close-in this morning, often out of sight below the railway line. Not sure where it's getting when it's not off Mudbank. Also 100+ Redshank and 200+ Dunlin off there over the high tide. The Kingfisher showed well too.
Yesterday there was a male Blackcap in the Foxholes sallows and off Maer Rocks there were two small grebes. They were almost certainly Black-necked Grebes but the light wasn't great and they were just too far off for me to be sure. The fact that they kept disappearing in the swell didn't help either. Off Mudbank yesterday - 82+ Pintail, a male Teal and a pair of Peregrines attempting to chase down a Redshank that somehow managed to stay alive. A Mistle Thrush was on Warren View playing fields and a single Chiffchaff was in the Maer long-stay carpark.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Usual Suspects

First-winter male Scaup - back off Mudbank after a short trip to Exminster Marshes.

It was good to get out for a bit today after a late one last night, despite the horrible weather. I checked the usual sites and all the regular stuff was still loitering. The adult Bonaparte's Gull was in the river mouth off Warren Point at 1525 before flying into the estuary. There was also a Greenshank off Shelly Beach and the Little Grebe was in the marina.  The regular Black Redstart was in the 'Gut' between the Imperial recreation ground and Shelly Beach.
It was good to have the first-winter drake Scaup back off Mudbank today. First thing this morning it was really close in with Mallards. Also a couple male Teal off there with all the other usual stuff.
I could only find one Chiffchaff in the rain-soaked Foxholes sallows but the two Firecrests showed well in brambles behind the cricket club, alongside two Goldcrests.
This afternoon Lu and I walked the dog on the beach in heavy rain. We managed to avoid two horses that broke loose from their irresponsible owners before galloping full-tilt, first along the beach and then along the road. I also managed a quick check of Maer Rocks and was pleased to find 8 Purple Sandpipers. Numbers are still a little lower than we've been used to over the last couple of years but there's plenty of time this winter to get a higher count.

Interesting to see that in the week or so since it was last off Mudank it has attained more grey in the mantle, scaps and flanks. Nice bird.

One of 8 Purple Sandpipers on Maer Rocks this afternoon.