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.


  1. Hi Matt - I visited the sludge beds about a week ago hoping for a Yellow-browed Warbler, but had a similar experience as you with very few Chiffs. Great habitat though!

  2. Hi Chris - yep it's a superb place. Maybe a bit of proper cold weather will change things up a bit? I used to regularly get really good chiffie counts and the occasional YBW too. My imagination goes in to overdrive whenever I visit - Penduline Tit, Sora, Green Heron etc all lurking somewhere!
    Have been car-less the last couple weeks and work/poor weather combined have prevented me going up to Woodbury. Still intend to get up there soon. All the best. Matt

  3. It's been a while, but I've fished the canal there several times Matt, and always hope to have a decent bird visit the trees along the towpath. Nothing better than Chiffies though. Best birds for me so far were from the opposite bank, when I was fishing just N of the motorway, and 4 Cattle Egrets flew past, landing in fields to the S of the lane to the Limekilns car park.

    The only place I've ever had a birder walk past me on the towpath is on the Exminster Marshes section.

  4. Hi Gav - remember you doing a blog on Pike-fishing in the Exeter canal. I always see fishermen along that stretch. I'm surprised at how few birders look at it but I guess there are easier, arguably much better birding sites peppered around the north end of the Exe. Most birders like ease and immediate birds. Countess Wear takes a bit of effort plus that M5 bridge isn't pleasant. Many thanks for your comment. All the best. Matt