Tuesday 25 February 2014

Pale-bellied Brents and Odd Gull

I had a very enjoyable hour or so birding after work this afternoon. With the evenings drawing out the birding potential is definitely on the up! Off the Imperial this evening were three dapper pale-bellied brent geese - the first I've seen for ages. I'm assuming they are wintering birds that are normally elsewhere on the estuary as they normally move in the spring after the bulk of the dark-bellied brents have gone. There have been really high April counts on the Exe and they are now expected in numbers in the spring. Also this evening c80+, common gull, just 10+ lesser black-backed gulls and a smart adult summer mediterranean gull. A lone guillemot was drifting down river looking none too healthy and I counted 1 great crested grebe, 2 goldeneye and 35+ red-breasted mergansers.

The view from the coach park looking across to Cockwood with the Imperial rugby ground on the left.

I photographed this herring gull off Mudbank yesterday afternoon. There is nothing really at odds, plumage-wise, with it being a first winter herring but I feel a little uneasy about it. Firstly it has, in my opinion, a mild 'cachinnans' feel to it and I wonder if there might be some caspian genes lurking somewhere? The most odd feature is the paler 'band' across the greater coverts contrasting with darker bases. It's certainly not the classic 'cachinnans' pattern, or even close to it, but it's odd for herring gull too and I've seen photos of caspians showing patterning close'ish to this. Whether or not they are pure caspians of course remains open to question and even if this bird looked very like 'cachinnans' in other respects I think its wing coverts would rule out its acceptance as being pure. The tertials are worn and of little help and there are no pale tips to the median coverts that, on caspian, combine with the pale greater covert tips to give a double 'wing bar' effect. The bill is not great - quite short and a bit bulbous-ended and the head isn't gleaning white but it still feels a bit odd to me.

A bit of a bulge behind the legs in this shot but it doesn't look long-winged.

Note the smooth contour to the neck and the light neck streaking. The legs are not long and certainly not spindly and they are as pink as the herring gull to the rear.

I'm annoyed this is the only under wing shot I got and I missed seeing it properly in flight. You can't see anywhere near enough detail but it's not especially dark and neither does it look particularly pale. The overall feel is much more herring-like in this pose and the tail/upper tail coverts looks like bog-standard herring. I'd be really interested to see what anyone else thinks. Am I going mad or does it look a little unusual?

Sunday 23 February 2014


I watched from the raised beach huts, near Maer Rocks this morning from 0725 - 0850. Totals included 5 gannet, 90 dark-bellied brent goose, 65+ kittiwake, 6+ red-throated diver, 13+ diver sp, 3+ great northern diver, 7 fulmar, 7+ common gull, 1 ad mediterranean gull, 1 eider, 1 long-tailed duck and 9+ common scoter. There were also good numbers of auks bombing around in the murk.

Good numbers of common gull are on the move at the moment. In the above photo a first-winter, adult winter and smart adult summer off Mudbank this morning. Lesser black-backed gulls are moving too with 24 off the Imperial rugby ground this evening. I photographed the great black-backed gull (presumed third -winter) below a couple days ago - a magnificent bird guarding its fish with vulture-like dominance. I'm guessing it's a male - compare the massive build with the accompanying first-winter bird.

Mediterranean gulls have been a bit thin on the ground of late. The last two I've seen have been picked up on call funnily enough. They get more vocal as spring approaches. The bird photographed below flew over me up at Hayes Barton Pig Farm. A distinctive 'keeaw'. I'm sure I'd have missed it had it not called!

Friday 21 February 2014

Yarner Wood

We took the dog for a walk up at Yarner, near Bovey Tracey today. I do love mandarins! Three drakes and a female present by the car park.

Puffed up, sails up and looking gorgeous! I like the way the zebra flank stripes continue into the water in this shot.

A soft piping call was uttered by this male.

Five species of tit were present on the feeders. The one I most wanted to photograph, marsh tit, spent milliseconds on the feeders and never posed away from the feeders themselves. Above, blue tit. Below great tit, then blue, long-tailed and finally coal tit. I could have spent ages photographing the birds up there today but my family don't share my interest in birds so I had about 10 minutes max!

Tuesday 18 February 2014

A Few Bits and Pieces

Just brief snatches of birding today. A quick look off Maer Rocks this morning produced a great count of 5 great northern diver relatively close offshore with the 2 female eider and a great crested grebe. On a lovely still river there were 13+ red-breasted merganser, 2 great crested grebe, 6+ goldeneye, c60+ common gull and 3+ guillemot - all visible from the rugby club. A chiffchaff in the back garden paid too fleeting a visit for me to get any plumage detail on it.

This little egret was photographed from the car near the Imperial rugby ground.

Lots of birds were singing today including this robin on Orcombe Point. A definite sense of spring in the air this morning but for how long? On the ledges of Straight Point - 12 kittiwake already. Also several guillemots in Sandy bay plus red-throated diver. In the top fields of Orcombe Point - 11+ snipe, 40+ linnet, c10+ meadow pipit and c50+ skylark.

First-winter herring gull

This guillemot paddled past the coach car park. I thought the herring gull was going to give it some grief but I think it was just curious.

Nice skies this afternoon.


Shelly Beach

Yesterday the weather was too foul to do much birding but I did get a single purple sandpiper on Maer Rocks and an adult little gull was in the estuary off the rugby ground, presumably one of the adults that was around over the weekend. Additionally, an adult mediterranean gull was on Warren View football pitch.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Juv Glaucous Gull

A beautiful morning this morning. Strangely calm after all the violent weather. I got out at dawn in search of gulls and was disappointed to see all the birds off the Warren. I decided to scan the tip of Warren Point and very quickly picked up a beautiful juvenile glaucous gull. It was of the relatively dark, coarsely-marked variety complete with pink, black-tipped bill and some dark markings in the primaries. As far as size goes it was at the smaller end of the scale, being only slightly bigger than adjacent herring gulls and nowhere near the size of the great black-backed gulls. At around 0810 it flew off out to see and I lost it in the glare of the early morning sun. Apart from that it was quite quiet with a slavonian grebe off the rugby club, 4 goldeneye, a few red-breasted mergansers and a distant auk sp drifting down the river.

Looking towards the Harbour View Cafe from the seafront.

Looking across to Warren Point. You can see part of this morning's large gull flock and the Stuart Line ferry.

Juv Glaucous Gull - not a particularly big individual.

Rubbish field sketch of the glauc.

Dark-bellied brents on glass-like water.

Spent some time with the family and the dog on the beach at Sandy Bay this afternoon. It was really lovely and almost deserted. The main beach along Exmouth seafront was no doubt really busy as it always is the minute the sun comes out. The black redstart was still below the cliffs near the bottom of the ramp and a guillemot provided a sad sight, like many others that have been wrecked along the south west coastline recently. A lady was in attendance and had contacted the RSPCA but I very much doubt this bird will make it.