Tuesday 30 January 2018

Retro Casps

Bad photo taken in bad light, at distance, but showing a weak bill, dark-based greater coverts, pale-tipped tertials and lengthy, skinny tibia. It looked way better in the field.

Following  a great post by Gavin Haig here, I re-visited an old Caspian Gull record that I decided not to submit. I found the bird in February 2015, on the river Otter. Although I was perfectly happy at the time of watching it, my photos were so poor that I decided to shelve it. With hindsight I think that was a mistake. Although not the perfect, classic 'cachinnans', there were no plumage or structural features at odds with Caspian Gull (or suggestive of a hybrid). My main point of concern was the inner primaries in the photo below. They don't show the expected 'venetian blind' effect created by dark outer webs contrasting with pale inner webs. At the time I suggested that was due to the fact that the outer wing is blurred (a common theme in all my photos) and I'm still convinced that that's the case today. It seems a case of 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater' to lose this record on the basis of a crap photograph. In other respects the wing is perfect, and to reiterate what Gavin says, you can see a stripy upper-wing created by dark-based greater coverts and blackish secondaries, sandwiching a pale bar, created by pale greater covert tips. The median coverts show a similar pattern, though this isn't as easy to see.
The photo doesn't adequately show the tail pattern and underwing, but both were seen reasonably well in the field and documented in field notes taken on the spot (see below).
My original blog post can be found here. Many thanks to Tim Worfolk for his comment in support of the identification.

Field notes of the Feb 2015 Caspian Gull.
One of my birding ambitions is to find a Caspian Gull, in Exmouth, that's close enough to photograph well. I've had three accepted in Devon, and all three were photographed, but all badly. The two first-winters were both short-stayers and the adult was always observed in less than optimal conditions. Below are details of all three birds:
Original field notes of a first-winter found on the river Otter on 3/12/11. A fabulous looking bird but brief and through a scope.
Adult Caspian Gull found on the river Otter on 29/1/12 - never close.
Field notes for first-winter Caspian Gull - Warren View 14/12/12.
First-winter Caspian Gull - Warren View playing fields 14/12/12 - photographed from the house but at a distance. Absolutely stunning through the scope. This is my one and only record in Exmouth, but that's hardly surprising given the fact that the majority of large gulls in Exmouth shun convenient viewing spots for sandbars, half a mile out in the estuary or off the seafront. A rubbish tip would be handy!

Monday 29 January 2018

Bonaparte's to Bread

The Bonaparte's Gull again coming to bread off Exmouth Quay late this afternoon - showing down to a few feet but again showing up all the inadequacies in my photography skills. Also one Eider and a Great Northern Diver off there.

Sunday 28 January 2018

Yank Wigeon, Hawfinches and Bonaparte's Gull

Exmouth seafront shortly after dawn this morning.
Maer Rocks first thing - 49 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 1 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 4 Turnstone, at least 1 Purple Sandpiper, 2 Eider and an adult Mediterranean Gull. The third Eider was off the Grove, along with the Long-tailed Duck and 3 Great Northern Diver.
Very little off Mudbank today but 4 Goldeneye were noted and yesterday there was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose off there.
For some inexplicable reason I had the urge to get out of Exmouth and see some other stuff so, with the family all enjoying a lazy Sunday morning at home, I nipped in to Exeter to reacquaint myself with the American Wigeon which I last saw in Exmouth at the end of October 2016. It was easily found on Matford pools but never too close. Whilst there I realised that I was close to Exwick cemetery so I popped over to look for the Hawfinches. They were very vocal so easily located towards the top end, in cherry trees. Although they were easy to see they were a nightmare to photograph, managing to hide in trees with no leaves. I reckon I had about 10 birds but they were hard to count. Paul Gosling managed twelve a bit later on, and was lucky to have views of them feeding on the ground. It was great to bump in to Nigel Pinhorn but we couldn't locate the Common Scoter that's been frequenting the nearby flood-relief channel.
This afternoon I cunningly steered a family dog-walk past an Exmouth Jack Snipe site and managed to find a single bird with 9 Common Snipe.
Last thing this afternoon I popped down to the quay, where quite a crowd had gathered. The Bonaparte's Gull soon appeared and I managed to tempt it close-in with some mouldy bread that I keep in the boot for emergencies. I was gutted not to achieve a decent shot despite the bird being just feet away. Others fared rather better!

Drake American Wigeon - Matford - the first time I've seen this bird since October 2016, when it was off Mudbank in first-winter plumage.

Hawfinch - one of up to about 10 individuals in a cherry orchard in the corner of Exwick cemetery. Easier to hear than see, and calling almost constantly.
Pale-bellied Brent Goose - Mudbank.
Bonaparte's Gull - an utterly disappointing shot following point-blank views.

Sunday 21 January 2018

Bonaparte's and Glaucous

The adult Bonaparte's Gull showed well, albeit briefly, off Shelly Beach at 1430 this afternoon.
A good spell of birding mid-afternoon with the adult Bonaparte's Gull off Shelly Beach and, very shortly afterwards, a (presumed) juvenile Glaucous Gull which appeared overhead before ditching down on Bull Hill, where it remained with Great Black-backed Gulls. A Great Northern Diver was off there too and the Long-tailed Duck was scoped from the Quay as it fed off Warren Point. In the marina - the usual Guillemot and a Kingfisher.
A look off Maer Rocks early morning revealed the ever-present 3 immature drake Eider, 13+ Common Scoter, 1 Great Crested Grebe and my first Fulmar of the year - a single bird south.
Off Mudbank - 6 Goldeneye and 70+ Grey Plover.
A scoot round a few local sites yesterday produced 5 Great Northern Divers and the Long-tailed Duck from the Grove, a Firecrest behind the cricket club and off Maer Rocks - 3 Eider, 3+ Turnstone and at least 3 Purple Sandpiper.
The Sowden finch flock included c30/40+ Brambling and 10+ Reed Bunting.

Glaucous Gull -picked up as it was almost directly overhead and 'snapped' as it headed for Bull Hill. Pretty sure it's a juvenile but didn't get a great view.

Glaucous Gull roosting on Bull Hill with Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Powderham Church yesterday with a particularly intense rainbow - viewed from Mudbank.

Wednesday 17 January 2018


The Long-tailed Duck was again present off the seafront late this afternoon. I took this awful photo from the Quay.
Just a brief whiz round late this afternoon. All the usual stuff still present with 3 Eider, 6+ Purple Sandpiper and 13 Common Scoter off Maer Rocks, and 2 Great Northern Diver and the Long-tailed Duck off the Quay.

Great Northern Divers

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Devon Flashback 14 - Black Duck

Male Black Duck - Slapton Ley 31/3/01
On the morning of October 29th 1999 I birded Start, Beesands and Slapton. I didn't see very much but at Start I bumped in to Adam Davidson who was back home in the South Hams for a while. Later that afternoon Adam found Devon's first Black Duck, from his house near Bowcombe Creek on the Kingsbridge estuary. I had a message from Tom Whiley at 4pm and shot all the way back down there, from Exeter, to twitch it. The bird was out of sight at first but soon appeared with a group of Mallard on one of the bends in the creek. We had friends coming down from Bristol that evening so I couldn't stay long. In the short time I was there I saw Pat Mayer, Perry, Mark Bailey, Dave Stone and Paul Clack.
The bird went on to put in a protracted stay in the area and was last seen on April 20th 2002. I caught up with it again on March 31st 2001, where I had more time to sketch and photograph it.
There hasn't been a Devon record since, of this north American species, but it's a bird that could show up again and it's one of the reasons I always scrutinise the Mallard flocks off Mudbank.
The only other Black Duck I've seen was just a year prior to that in 1998. Kev and I twitched an individual down at Stithians reservoir, Cornwall on October 30th. The same day we added to our 'Yank' duck tally with Ring-necked Duck at Stithians, American Wigeon on the Hayle estuary and Surf Scoter at Helston.
Field notes for the Slapton bird.

Sunday 14 January 2018

Exmouth Latest

This pair of Chiffies were the first I've seen in Exmouth for ages. Both were feeding in gardens, and around boats, in the Shelly Beach area yesterday.
I had my usual look off Maer Rocks at first light this morning - 3 immature drake Eider, 2 Common Scoter, 2 Purple Sandpiper, 6 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 1 Little Egret and 3 Turnstone.
A quick look off the Grove revealed the wintering Long-tailed Duck, 6 Red-breasted Merganser and 2 Great Northern Diver.
Shelly Beach failed to produce the hoped-for Black Redstart or Bonaparte's Gull but the Slavonian Grebe was scoped, along with a further 2 Great Northern Diver.
Other odds and ends today included a surprise Jay along the seafront, Treecreeper in Manor Gardens and a flock of c30+ Meadow Pipits in fields around West Lodge. Mudbank produced just 5 or 6 Goldeneye and a Mediterranean Gull. The Sowden Lane finch flock included c10/20+ Brambling, an estimated 200+ Linnet, several Chaffinch, a few Greenfinch and a Reed Bunting.
Yesterday the 3 Eider were off Maer Rocks, 2 Chiffchaff were in the Shelly Beach area and off Mudbank were c50+ Dunlin, 5 Goldeneye, 2 Mediterranean Gull and 10+ Great Crested Grebe.
On the 11th there was a female Blackcap in scrub around Warren View playing fields and on the 10th there were exceptional (at this stage in the winter) numbers of wildfowl off Mudbank. Birds had presumably been displaced from marshes at the north end of the river. They included c50+ Teal, 6+ Shoveler and c7/800+ Wigeon.

c10/20+ Brambling were showing superbly in the Sowden Lane area. The birds are feeding on the seed-heads of sunflowers.

Treecreeper - Manor Gardens
One of the two regular adult Mediterranean Gulls - this one is red-ringed PPJ1. The other is a green-ringed bird. At some point I'll get round to finding out where they're from.

Monday 8 January 2018

Ye Olde Devon List Update

Elegant Tern - copy of field notes.

Thanks to the BOU adding Elegant Tern to the British list, I can finally add this species to my Devon list, and so can all the Devon birders who haven't done so already! I twitched the Dawlish Warren bird on May 18th 2002. It becomes my 340th Devon species, which is respectable I suppose, but well below the boys at the top, that must be nudging 370 species (please correct me if I'm wrong Mark).
I thought I'd lost Common Redpoll but the IOC has kept it on, so the bird I found in Topsham in February 2001 still stands.
As of January 1st 2018 I've been able to count Eastern Yellow Wagtail (thank you Phil Abbot) but my Fea's/Zino's Petrel (Prawle August 1999) has presumably become Fea's/Deserta's/Zino's, or do I have to lose it altogether? Thoughts welcome! Actually stuff that - I'm keeping it on.
I've only seen one Devon 'Isabelline' Shrike - the 1987 Wembury bird, which I suspect was Isabelline (Daurian) rather than Red-tailed (Turkestan) Shrike, but I'd appreciate clarification on that if anyone knows otherwise. I'm keeping it on my list as Isabelline/Red-tailed Shrike for the time being. I'm annoyed at myself for not twitching the subsequent Devon birds and will be making the effort to go and see the next one!
Finally there's a chance I'll be able to add Taiga Bean Goose soon. Two birds present on Exminster Marshes, back in January 1997, showed pro-Taiga features but Dave Land's video footage will need to be analysed by the Devon Birds rarities committee to be sure. The results are eagerly-awaited.
For anyone interested, my Devon list can be viewed by clicking on the tab on the menu bar at the top of this page.

Common (Mealy) Redpoll - Topsham Rec Feb 2001 - photo Pete and Carol Leigh

Eastern Yellow Wagtail field sketches - Colyford 12/12/10
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - Colyford 12/12/10
Likely 'Daurian' or Isabelline Shrike - Wembury 14/11/87. I did these field sketches when I was a kid but will have to count it as either Daurian or Turkestan Shrike on my Devon list.
Field sketches of 2 Bean Geese (possibly Taigas?) - Exminster Marshes 4/1/97 - this pair was present with 33 Mute Swan, 1 Whooper Swan and 6 Bewick's Swan! Nice.

Sunday 7 January 2018

Lapwing and Firecrests

Lapwing is a scarce and irregular visitor to Exmouth so today's, off Mudbank, was a real treat.
Counts off Mudbank today included 1 Peregrine, 1 Lapwing, 55 Mallard, 18 Pintail, 5 Teal, 5+ Red-breasted Merganser, c300+ Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 1 Great Northern Diver, 14 Wigeon, 10+ Grey Plover, 17 Little Egret and a decent count of c60+ Common Gull.
The 3 Eider were off Maer Rocks first thing, along with 11 Common Scoter, and 2 Great Northern Diver off the Grove.
Two Firecrest were watched, down to a few feet, in the usual spot behind the cricket club.
Curlew - Mudbank
Red-breasted Merganser - Mudbank

Firecrest - one of 2 wintering behind the cricket club.

Saturday 6 January 2018

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull - Shelly Beach
The long-staying Bonaparte's Gull was showing well off Shelly Beach late this afternoon. I think it's the first time I've seen it since February. Also off Shelly Beach  - 2 Great Northern Divers.
Off Maer Rocks this morning - the 3 immature drake Eider and off Mudbank - 34 Pintail, 30+ Common Gull, 60+ Grey Plover, 8 Wigeon, 1 Goldeneye, c50+ Knot and c25+ Sanderling.


One of two Great Northern Divers off Shelly Beach.
This Guillemot shows down to a few feet in the marina. It has been around for ages now.