Sunday, 8 December 2019

Blue-winged Teal

First-winter male Blue-winged Teal - Mansands.
Nick and I headed down to Mansands under the cover of darkness this morning, our target - the long-staying Blue-winged Teal. We were on site just after dawn and enjoyed good, prolonged scope views of the bird as it dabbled with other ducks on the small pool at the back of the marsh, towards the sea-ward end.
Every now and again I get the urge to see a species that I haven't seen for a while. In the case of Blue-winged Teal I saw my first at Tehidy Country Park, Cornwall on October 14th 1995, my second on March 27th, 1997 - a self-found, long-staying female at Newcross Pond, Kingsteignton - see here, and then several in Texas in April 1998. So a 21 year gap, making this morning's trip all the more worthwhile.
Also on the Ley - 4 Tufted Duck, 8 Teal, 3 Gadwall, 2 Coot and at least 17 Mallard.
Exmouth remains pretty quiet but I had a good count of 320 Pintail off Mudbank this afternoon, and yesterday morning I recorded at least 5 Purple Sandpipers on Maer Rocks, along with a lonesome Knot, 3+ Turnstone and 31 Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Three Red-throated Divers flew past offshore along with a further three distant diver sp. On Orcombe Point the wintering female Cirl Bunting was grovelling around the dung heap, and off Mudbank - 16+ Teal, 2 Greenshank and a red-ringed Mediterranean Gull.

This young male is acquiring a clean-cut white facial 'blaze' rendering it highly distinctive. The flanks are marked with prominent chevrons and the orange legs were visible at times.

Gutted that the camera focused on the near vegetation as the bird wing-flapped.

Despite all my years of birding in Devon this was my (and Nick's) first ever trip to Mansands. A beautiful spot, packed with potential. Definitely my type of local patch, with a variety of habitats to explore, away from the crowds - superb!

Nick and I had great views of the bird from this gateway.

The wintering Cirl Bunting was on the dung heap yesterday.

Sunday, 1 December 2019


The lure of one of my favourite birds - a relatively close and apparently reliable Smew proved too much, so I shot up to Chard this morning to see it. The bird was always pretty distant from the Fisherman's carpark at the north end, but it was a joy to watch - diving frequently like Smew do! It's becoming increasingly difficult to see this species locally, in fact I haven't seen one since early 2010 when a pair was upriver from Mudbank, having earlier flown over the Warren (and Kev). I managed to see them from Joel's bedroom window but to say the views weren't great is an understatement. Prior to that I've seen a few in Devon over the years - the most memorable being a pair that I found on Newcross Pond (which no longer exists), near Kingsteignton on February 8th 1991. That was back in the day when large bodies of water used to freeze over for weeks, and wildfowl would cram together in the small ice-free patches. I really do miss those days. As well as the Smew the reservoir held at least 36 Great Crested Grebes and good numbers of Redwing were moving around the surrounding woodland.

Chard Reservoir - photographed from the north end. A very nice site and the first time I've been there. It's just inside Somerset but I was surprised how quickly I got there. Arrived at first light, back for breakfast!

Juvenile Pale-bellied Brent Goose - one of six off Mudbank this morning. Also c100/150+ Pintail.

Two Black Redstarts in the Shelly Beach area this morning. This site is pretty reliable for Black Reds with only one blank winter in recent years.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Purple Sandpipers

Seven Purple Sandpipers on Maer Rocks this evening and 3 Common Scoter offshore. Off Mudbank - 132 Turnstone, 12 Grey Plover and a Greenshank. A Ring-necked Parakeet was seen over Maer Valley, from the car, and late on Monday evening a Great Northern Diver was upriver from Mudbank.

Seven Purple Sandpipers was last winter's peak count. Fingers crossed this little flock increases in number this winter.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Off Patch

The Long-tailed Duck in near darkness, early this morning, on Bowling Green - I had a look at it on my way to Countess Wear. I'm banking on it moving to the south end of the river some time soon. I've not seen one in Exmouth since early 2018.
I usually have a look at the Old Sludge Beds around this time of year but it was disappointing with very few crests and chiffies found. In an hour or two I recorded just 4 Chiffchaff, 2 Redwing, 9 Fieldfare, 7 Cetti's Warbler, 7+ Goldcrest, 8 Gadwall, 9 Teal, 2 Wigeon, 2 Jay, 2 Raven, 1 Mistle Thrush and 3 Water Rail, along with a few other bits and pieces. Gone are the days when Siberian Chiffchaff was pretty much guaranteed at this time of year. Haven't seen one for ages.
Back home in Exmouth - 40 Pale-bellied Brent Geese off Mudbank along with 1 Kingfisher, 1 Mediterranean Gull, 3 Red-breasted Merganser and 2 Goldeneye. A dog-walk along the cycle path mid-afternoon produced a fly-over Cirl Bunting between West Lodge and Mudbank.

Whenever I visit Countess Wear I always stop a while to look at this narrow stretch of water within the water treatment works. There are only a couple of spots along the tow-path where you can see it, but most of it is hidden. I'd love to know what has been in there over the years. It's a brilliant spot for Gadwall and in early 2008 I re-found the returning drake Falcated Duck in there. I'm sure it has harboured several Bitterns over the years. In April 1999 I found a first-summer Night heron from this very spot. In all the years I've been checking it I don't think I've ever bumped in to another birder.

Drake Gadwall - only 8 seen today but I've had much higher numbers over the years.

There's some lovely habitat in the DWT sludge beds but the roar of traffic from the M5 motorway bridge takes the edge off the enjoyment of birding it.

I watched Countess Wear far more regularly when I lived in Exeter. It was always famous for its pylon-roosting Cormorants so it was nice to see a few birds continuing that tradition today. The wet riverside fields below these pylons used to be fantastic for wintering Water Pipits but not any more. Those same wet bits also played host to the 1981/82 Hudsonian Godwit - sadly not on my Devon list.

This Grey Heron was so pre-occupied with watching passing rowers on Exeter Canal that it didn't clock me sneaking up on it. I rarely get this close to this stunning species.

I heard at least seven Cetti's Warblers on my stroll this morning but this was one of only two that I actually saw. I've yet to photograph one in Exmouth and I haven't seen the West Lodge bird on subsequent visits, though I strongly suspect it's still there.

Saturday, 23 November 2019


Berry Head from Orcombe Point late afternoon.

Another grey and very wet day to hamper my photography efforts. Little time out but managed to record 150+ Shelduck, 20+ Great Crested Grebe, c20+ Pale-bellied Brent Geese and at least 1 Goldeneye off Mudbank.
Just before dark on Orcombe Point - c1/200+ Starling, 1 Mediterranean Gull, c12+ Meadow Pipit, 1 Chiffchaff, 6+ Goldcrest and 2 Firecrest. Sixteen Common Scoter were loafing offshore.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019


You'll have to take my word for it but top right of this picture are two of five Avocets that were about half a mile off Mudbank just before dark this evening. A scarce bird this end of the river - these are the first I've seen in Exmouth this year. At the bottom of the picture - four of 13 Pale-bellied Brent Geese present.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Thrushes and Cetti's Warbler

Kestrel - Orcombe Point.

Still very little going on but a few more thrushes around today with 18 Fieldfare and a Redwing dropping in to gardens opposite our house this morning.
Blackbirds seemed conspicuous on Orcombe Point with 20+ recorded, along with at least 6 Song Thrushes. Otherwise just 20+ Chaffinch, 3 Chiffchaff, 6 Goldcrest and a handful of Meadow Pipits noted, with 4 Common Scoter offshore.
Just before dark this evening I discovered a Cetti's Warbler in the small West Lodge reedbed. I think I'm right in saying that it's my first in Exmouth since the cold snap of winter 2010/11.

November Moth agg.

Greenshank - Mudbank.