Tuesday 31 March 2015

Wrong Direction

An extremely windy walk along Exmouth Beach, with the family plus dog this morning. The W/NW wind has knackered the possibility of any migrants in Exmouth at least. A quick dawn sea watch from Maer Rocks this morning produced 8 common scoter, 1 great northern diver, 4 red-breasted mergansers, 1 great crested grebe, several kittiwakes, gannets and a handful of auks. Yesterday a similarly timed watch produced 1 red-throated diver, 2 red-breasted mergansers and 1 great crested grebe, with 2 purple sandpipers and c10+ turnstones on Maer Rocks. In the estuary late afternoon there were c40+ common gull and 2 sandwich terns.

Brent Geese flying into the wind towards the Warren.

Maisie's 5 second beach art.

The view from Orcombe Point, looking towards Straight Point yesterday morning.

Monday 30 March 2015

2w Gull sp

Good to see Martin Elliot's new blog and interesting to read his latest post on american herring gull. It prompted me to have a look back at a second-winter herring gull that I photographed at Mudbank, back on 16/12/05. I submitted it to the BBRC, rather naively, but was not too surprised to have it 'not proven'. The feature that struck me most at the time was the extensively dark, smoothly- textured underparts, and I still haven't seen another quite like it. Unfortunately my photos were poor and I didn't get good enough images of the upper and undertail regions, or the tail. It was a hefty, robustly built bird that really stood out, but without a full suite of classic features it was never going to go anywhere!

Friday 27 March 2015

Devon Flashback 10 - Blue-winged Teal and Little Bittern

Female Blue-winged Teal with drake Shoveler by John Fortey.
Two good birds on this date. The first remains the only blue-winged teal I've seen in Devon. It was found by myself and Kev Rylands on Newcross Pond, Kingsteignton, a great little site that I used to visit a lot, years ago, when I lived in Newton Abbot - a handy diversion en route to the Teign Estuary. Over the years it pulled in smew, ring-necked duck, long-tailed duck, common scoter, goosander and ruddy duck among a load of other good stuff. Sadly it has long since gone, filled in by the Ball Clay works company - a really sad loss.
Below is my logbook extract for March 27th 1997:
First day of my Easter holidays. Kevin and I checked the Passage House high tide but it was disappointing, with very few gulls and no waders. Ten little egrets was a good count but there was no sign of any migrants. Kevin phoned the line from the restaurant but there was nothing locally, and only the little crake (Kent) nationally. Not sure what to do, we resigned to checking Newcross for hirundines and possibly an odd diving duck. An initial scan produced a few tufties and a small group of shoveler. Kevin said "four shoveler" and I replied "no five - there's a female with them". I looked at this brown duck asleep on a protruding stick and said "no it's not a shoveler, it's too brown, not orangey enough, and it's too small". I got Kevin to look at it through my scope and we pondered its identity. Thoughts of teal and garganey were our first ideas and I became more curious because I was sure I'd seen a blue-grey forewing patch as it ruffled its wings slightly. I mentioned this to Kevin but thought I'd imagined it, when it popped its head out and stretched its wing out to reveal a blue-grey forewing! The head pattern definitely wasn't right for garganey - lacking the striking cheek stripe. I became sure it was a blue-winged teal because of the distinctive pale loral area. I took some brief notes and we decided to dash back to Kevin's to check the books and phone the news out.
On our return the bird was still there and we spent the whole afternoon watching it. The light improved as the afternoon went on. The blue-winged teal stuck to the shoveler like glue and provided good views most of the time, though it was always quite distant.
The bird was present until April 19th 2007, commuting between Newcross and Bowling Green Marsh on occasions! I saw it on Bowling Green too. It remains the only record for the Exe Estuary, though there are seven previous records for Devon, involving possibly 10 individuals, and one subsequent record from Paignton on 25th - 26th December 1997 (The Birds of Devon - Mike Tyler).
A short while later, the late John Fortey gave me a painting he'd done of the blue-winged teal with its partner shoveler. I was so chuffed and just love the way he captured the dark water and protruding branches that characterised Newcross.
My original shocking field sketch - I'd twitched a blue-winged teal at Tehiddy Country Park in Cornwall in October 1995, so I had pretty good idea what it was. Female cinnamon teal had to be ruled out though.

This is the neat version of the field sketch that was submitted to the BBRC alongside the original sketch and Kev's notes.

This sketch was done of the bird when it was at Bowling Green Marsh.

The second quality Devon bird that I've seen on this date, this time in 2002, was the Exeter Canal little bittern. It was initially found by a dog-walker, swimming in the canal (the bird not the dog-walker) in the incongruous setting of the Grace Road playing fields, with warehouses and industrial-looking buildings as a backdrop. It was obviously in poor condition and sadly picked up later, moribund, before dying in care the next day.
I finished work and turned on my phone to find messages from Kev Rylands and Chris Bishop. When I arrived mid-afternoon it was in canal-side vegetation but it soon walked up the bank and on to the adjacent playing fields before returning to brambles on the canal bank. We watched it struggle to swallow a spiny fish and I attempted to sketch it. A beautiful and charismatic little bird.
This was a very welcome Devon tick for me. I'd dipped the Cockwood bird of 1988 and was unable to get to a couple Slapton individuals. I just wish this bird had been fit and well.

I'm not proud of these field sketches - they don't do the bird justice at all and I've failed completely to capture the essence of what was a stunning little bird. I wish I'd had the camera back then because the bird walked past just feet away.

I kept this newspaper article. Recognise anyone?

Sunday 22 March 2015

Local Rock Pipits

Watched the pair of rock pipits that breeds on Orcombe Point this morning. As expected, both looking quite grey on top and a bit pinky-buff below. No doubting these birds are petrosus.

Distinct white super on this bird!

Straight Point as viewed from Orcombe Point this morning. The white marks on the rocks are the droppings from the kittiwake colony. The noise of the colony gets more audible as you follow the coast path eastwards towards Sandy Bay.

A waxing crescent moon with Venus clearly visible tonight.

Saturday 21 March 2015

This Week

Another busy week with limited birding time. The odd trip up to Orcombe after work has produced a couple of stonechats, a handful of chiffies  and very little else. This morning a bullfinch, and a snipe provided a tiny bit more variety but it was really very quiet. This afternoon I tracked down the rock pipit again in an attempt to get some better photos and it was nice to enjoy some warm sunshine.

I have to say, I found this week's solar eclipse distinctly underwhelming, but that may have something to do with being at work, watching it with a class of thirty fairly disinterested fourteen year olds. Give me a sunset or sunrise any day of the week!

Still not sure about this bird. It's amazing how light affects the colour tones. Probably just petrosus. They get greyer on top at this time of year, losing the yellowy-olivey tones that you see in the winter.

Monday 16 March 2015

Rock Pipit

I found this rock pipit late this afternoon whilst walking the dog along river. My initial reaction was that it was a fairly typical petrosus but the more I watched it the more I wasn't quite so sure, and I still can't make up my mind.  At times it seemed very grey about the crown, ear coverts and scapulars and quite buffy below, with tinges of orangey pink to the centre of the breast. It also has a reasonably prominent supercilium.The above photo shows an undeniable pinky tinge to the centre of the breast but I suppose, ideally, you'd want a more colourful one to be sure of littoralis. I've always found rock pipit races tricky and ever since the gold/white/black/blue dress debate I've lost confidence in the colours I'm seeing (I only ever saw gold and white by the way). As always I'd love to hear what other people think.

Note the fairly plane greyish mantle and scapulars on this pretty unremarkable individual.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Small Migrant Numbers

An Orcombe dawn raid before football. A very small number of migrants, on a cold easterly, comprised 1+ stonechat, 2 wheatear, 1 chiffchaff and 2 goldcrest. Additionally 10+ robins probably included a few moving birds. Maer Rocks produced  236 dark-bellied brent geese, 1 dunlin, 20+ turnstone, 7+ purple sandpiper and a great crested grebe.
Late yesterday evening, on Maer Rocks, there were 10+ turnstone, 1 purple sandpiper, 2 great crested grebe, 1 female long-tailed duck, c10+ common scoter, 1 redshank and 38+ brent geese.

Stonechat with Dawlish Warren in the background.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Worthwhile Half Hour

Stonechats - Dung Field.
Got home, from a very busy day at work, to a text from Terry Smith about two wheatears on Orcombe Point. I had just a 45 minute window, before football training with Joel, but it was well worthwhile. Not only were there 3 wheatears in the field where Terry had his, there were 3 stonechats in the dung field and a black redstart in the Bristol Schools Camp. Additionally I got 1 chiffchaff and 6 meadow pipit - a little frustrating to have missed the best part of what had obviously been a good day.

Black Redstart on a fence.

Next to some hand soap.

On a roof.

On a barbie.

The wheatears just wouldn't play ball, and with the light fading I had to make do with awful distant record shots. Still it's always good to get the first wheatears of the year.