Sunday 30 November 2014

Fungi Twitch!

Red Cage Fungi - Exmouth.
I managed quite a bit of time outdoors today. Lu and the kids had friends over for much of the day so I made the most of it. I never thought I'd say this but the day's highlight was a couple incredible fungi. I had the good fortune to bump into Nigel Pinhorn, a superb naturalist and old mate, down at the sailing club. Nigel showed me a photo of these red cage fungi on the back of his camera and I was determined to have a look at them for myself. When I arrived, another fantastic naturalist and someone else I haven't seen in ages, Andrew Cunningham, was photographing them. If you walked past these you'd swear they were a kid's plastic toy - almost as big as a size 3 football and spongy-looking. Really, really weird!
Birding wasn't too bad today. I resolved to do some Exmouth sites early before doing Countess Wear after it had warmed up a bit. The farmer has finally cut the maize field at the top of Gore Lane and it was quite good. A quick circuit shortly after dawn revealed 3 golden plover, 9 snipe, c40/50+ skylark, 1 reed bunting, c5+ meadow pipit, c30+ linnet and c5+ chaffinch. There were 100+ dark-bellied brent goose and 3 turnstone on Maer Rocks. I scoped the drake long-tailed duck which was quite close off Warren beach and saw 2 black redstarts near the sailing club, though brief views suggested that neither were the 'paradoxus' male. Off Mudbank there was a female-type goldeneye and at least 11 great crested  grebes, along with the usual stuff, though both redshank and dunlin were present in higher numbers than usual.
Countess Wear was disappointingly quiet with c20+ redwing, 7+ chiffchaff, 1 water rail, 1 jay, 6 goldcrest and a grey wagtail the only birds of note.
This afternoon I took the dog and went looking for the great grey shrike on Colaton Raleigh Common but couldn't find it. At least 3 dartford warblers, a couple reed buntings, a fieldfare and several stonechat didn't quite make up for it but it was lovely up there all the same.

Good numbers of juvenile dark-bellied brents are mixed in with the adults off Shelly Beach.

Mute Swan - Countess Wear.

Lone Fieldfare - Colaton Raleigh Common.

Saturday 29 November 2014

One Year Blogging

 'BirdingExmouth' has been running for exactly one year today. Many thanks to everybody who takes time to read it.

Two black redstarts around the sailing club today. Not a lot else.

Friday 28 November 2014

Black Redstart - Paradoxus?

The first-winter black redstart of the presumed 'paradoxus' type again showing well around the sailing club this evening. It was frequenting the gable ends of the apartments down there, but also coming lower down on to the sea wall and getting in the tiny gardens and on the balconies. This form differs from the typical autumn grey female-types by having more advanced adult male-type head and body feathering and retained worn juvenile wings, lacking the striking white wing panels of adult males.
At least one purple sandpiper was with 5+ turnstone and a little egret on Maer Rocks late afternoon.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Black Redstart Again

The view from Exmouth Quay tis evening. A rare glimpse of the sun on another grey November day.
I was keen to have another look at the immature male black redstart in the Docks area this evening. It was feeding along rooftops behind the sailing club until almost dark, loosely associating with a robin and a pied wagtail. The brown juvenile wings confirm that it is a young bird and there seems to be a hint of paler tips to the greater coverts. Nothing else about the plumage suggests that it is anything other than a bog-standard black redstart, though I can't remember seeing too many looking like this. It's a pretty good match for the illustration of an advanced first-summer male in the Collin's guide.

Immature male Black Redstart.

The back of Camperdown Terrace.

Tuesday 25 November 2014


Siberian Chiffchaff - Orcombe Point - 10/11/13 - a very grey 'fee'-calling tristis classic and my only record to date on Orcombe Point.
An interesting piece on Martin Garner's fantastic 'Birding Frontiers' website immediately brought to mind an interesting chiffie that I saw on Orcombe last year. The Scandanavian race of chiffchaff, abietinus is a bit of an enigma in Britain but they simply must occur. Any thoughts on the bird below?

An interesting chiffchaff photographed on Orcombe Point during the freezing spring of 2013. Photographed in the dung field on 24/3/13, it appeared very grey and white and tristis-like but note the yellow tones in the super and olive tones in the mantle. The call wasn't written down at the time but I'm pretty certain it uttered the typical 'hweet'. The grey collar on this bird is particularly arresting.

A typical colybitta-type olive and yellow bird photographed on Orcombe this autumn.

A Siberian Chiffchaff photographed in the back garden on 29/3/14. This bird always gave the bullfinch-like 'fee' call, perfect for tristis.

Purple Sands

Two purple sandpipers on Maer Rocks this evening - masters of camouflage.
I don't think I'll ever get a good photo of a purple sandpiper in Exmouth. The best time to get them is late in the day, when the weather is foul. This combination of timing and conditions is necessary, because if it's dry and the light is any good, Maer Rocks is usually crawling with people scouring the rock pools or just slipping around. This evening, after work,  it was raining steadily, cold and nearly dark. There were very few people on the beach and none on the rocks which is just what you need. The camouflage of these birds is absolutely superb and they can be quite easily overlooked. Also on the rocks this evening were 5 dark-bellied brent geese, 1 curlew and about half a dozen turnstone.

Monday 24 November 2014

Black Red Yellow and Blue

A beautiful evening and a quick dog walk around the docks area after work. Good to find 2 black redstarts fly-catching from the, now not so new, 'new development' buildings. I'd much prefer some photos with wilder-looking backgrounds but beggars can't be choosers (and I do like the colourful buildings down there). Note the lack of white in the wing on the obvious male - presumably an immature bird. Interestingly the duller female-type bird shows a clear pale and extensive wing panel so is presumably also a young male. Probably need to do a bit of reading up on the subject!

Sunday 23 November 2014

More Frustration

I checked Countess Wear sewage works this morning - an old favourite haunt of mine. I had a handful of chiffies and goldcrests on the way through but as I was walking back along the towpath, just past the two big oaks, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I could hear a clear disyllabic 'chu-vit' call, not too dissimilar to pied wagtail, coming from sallows just a few yards in front of me. I quickly got on the bird as it flicked around high up in the canopy of a large sallow, calling constantly - a 'yellow-browed' type going 'chu-vit' - has to be a 'humes'! I faffed around as usual, not sure whether to look at it through bins or film it with the camera and in the end I tried, rather embarassingly, to do both! Consequently I got no further beyond 'small wing-barred phyllosc' with the plumage and a minute of shaky video where all you can here is road noise from the nearby M5 flyover. I should have tracked it as it moved off but I once again reached for my phone and that was the last I saw of it. An absolute shambles!
I'm still hoping it gets re-found (there were a fair few people looking for it by the time I had to leave) but, unless it does, I just don't have enough on it for it to be acceptable to me as a find, never mind the BBRC. As with any rarity, you want to get all the features and allow them time to sink in and be enjoyed. I felt like this when I first had the Caspian Tern, back in August and it's not a nice feeling.
I'll definitely try and get back there next weekend.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Birding in Near Darkness

Pale-bellied Brent Geese - flushed towards the Warren by a paddle-boarder.
Only a few minutes of daylight available after work in the afternoons so little to report, but there were two pale-bellied brent geese off the Imperial this evening and 3 avocet yesterday evening - an uncommon sight this far down the river. Nearly all the wigeon and pintail have moved on (presumably upriver) but there are plenty of gulls coming in to roost, so there's still stuff to look at.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese with Lympstone in the background.

Sunday 16 November 2014


Heavy rain and thunder storms last night gave way to a reasonably dry dawn, though persistent rain set in a bit later on. Derek, Nick and I did the usual Orcombe circuit. The best bird was a single purple sandpiper feeding with 8 turnstone and a rock pipit below the point. It afforded good scope views and we didn't have to risk life and limb on seaweed-covered rocks, as is normally the case when the birds are on Maer rocks. There was very little moving overhead but what was moving seemed to be going east, and there was an obvious increase in thrush and robin numbers in the bushes. Totals included c60+ starling, 20+ song thrush, c20+ blackbird, c20+ robin, c20+ redwing, 8+ stock dove, 1 little egret, 3 reed bunting, 3+ bullfinch, 1 great northern diver, 1 goldcrest, c15+ chaffinch, 1 snipe, 2 grey wagtail and a small number of meadow pipits and pied wagtails.
On the way back home I had a quick look off the Imperial Rugby ground and almost immediately picked up 4 spoonbills out on the estuary. Scope views revealed them to be an adult with 3 juveniles. They were still there when I left but their little spit of mud had been covered and they were knee-deep in water as the tide crept in. No doubt they will relocate to the north end of the river. Also present were good numbers of dark-belled brent goose (no sigh of yesterday's black brant though), a small number of red-breasted mergansers, an adult peregrine and a slavonian grebe.

Feathered Thorn beside a light in the Bristol Schools Camp.

There was a noticeable increase in Robin numbers this morning. Song thrushes seemed to be 'sipping' from every hedgerow too.

Spoonbills with the sea wall off Starcross in the background.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Black Brant

Oystercatcher off the 'Imperial'.
Nick and I did a quick scoot around Orcombe at first light, before a morning watching our sons playing football. The birding was a bit better than expected but there was nothing to get the pulse racing. Totals included 5+ pied wagtail, 1+ grey wagtail, 2+ redwing, 1+ goldcrest, c30+ goldfinch, c20+ meadow pipit, 5+ reed bunting, 6+ song thrush, 3 skylark, 10 stock dove, c900+ woodpigeon, c150+ starling and a lone oystercatcher. A quick stop at the Maer long-stay car park produced a chiffchaff and a water rail. Exmouth has successfully maintained its 'yellow-browed warbler exclusion zone' status!
This afternoon I had a look off Mudbank and the Imperial Rugby Ground and managed to pick up an adult black brant with a small group of dark-bellied brents. It seems to be the full ticket, with a complete white neck 'web' and a peculiarly angular-shaped head. It is presumably the returning bird from last winter. I would have liked a better look at it but a girl with a dog walked straight towards it (I thought it was pretty obvious I was trying to photograph it) and flushed it much further out on to the river. There was an adult pale-bellied brent goose off Exmouth Docks midweek.

Red-breasted Merganser off the 'Imperial'.

Little Egret - Imperial.

Adult Black Brant (second from left) off the Imperial Rugby Ground @ 1530.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Snow Bunting and Black Red

Yellowhammer - it's been a good Autumn for this species on Orcombe. This individual was initially detected by its call, from deep in cover, but it quickly popped up to show itself before flying off.
A really nice November morning both weather-wise and bird-wise. Nick and I were on Orcombe Point from dawn and clear skies signalled some late autumn migrant movement. The best bird was a snow bunting that flew west at 0730. It was picked up by its repeated plaintive, clipped 'chu' flight call. A nervous few seconds ensued before we clapped eyes on it and there was relief all round as it flashed huge white wing patches, enabling separation from the very similar-sounding lapland bunting. It was presumably a male, showing so much white, and it represents the first definite record for Orcombe as I've had to let a couple 'probables' go.
Other species logged this morning included 10+ blackbird, 5+ song thrush, 2+ chiffchaff, 2+ brambling, c60+ chaffinch, c20+ meadow pipit, 5+ pied wagtail, 1+ redwing, c10+ greenfinch, 1 grey wagtail, c20+ goldfinch, 1 yellowhammer, 2 blackcap, c900+ woodpigeon, 1 great northern diver, 2+ reed bunting, 1 rook, 16 stock dove, c10+ skylark, 1 great spotted woodpecker and 3 starling.

Great Northern Diver heading high west.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Chaffinch - a few overhead this morning and a few dropping down into cover.

A late morning dog-walk, from Orcombe to Sandy Bay, with the family produced good views of this raven and a second bird up on the cliffs, being mobbed by a pair of kestrels.

We found this thumb-sized invertebrate whist doing some beach-combing (along with 10 golf balls, several rubber gloves, lots of dead fish, loads of tin cans, a starfish and a number of sea-urchins). I've no idea what it is. The spines are really sharp. Any ideas? A very odd creature!
Edit - a big thank you to Andrew Cunningham for identifying this as a Sea Mouse! See 'comments' below.


Black Redstart - Harbour Court, Exmouth Docks.
This afternoon I nipped out in search of black redstarts and found one almost immediately, fly-catching from roof-tops around Harbour Court. A decent pale flash in the wing presumably makes this bird an immature male but my views weren't great.

Little Egret - Exmouth Docks

This dead porpoise (I presume it's harbour porpoise) was on the beach between the lifeboat station and Orcombe Point last weekend. Its dorsal fin is missing so perhaps it was hit by a boat. A sad sight. To get an idea of its size compare with the footprints next to it.

Finally, a scenic shot of the Exe estuary from Mudbank last night.