Saturday 29 February 2020

Devon Flashback 19 - Little Crake

Male Little Crake - Exminster Marshes 9/4/08. Photographed not long after its initial discovery. I saw it again in the ditch below the fisherman's carpark on the 17th and 20th April. It was present until April 23rd.
A fabulous find by AJ Bellamy. I drove past him, on my way to the fisherman's carpark,  shortly after he'd found it, not realising that the figure stood photographing 'something' in a ditch was AJ, who was the warden at the time. I got a text from Mark Bailey whilst stood by the canal a couple minutes later - "Little Crake - Exminster Marshes". I'm at Exminster Marshes! A short while later and I was watching it alongside AJ - a really beautiful bird and a real show-off - stealthily picking its way along the ditch beside the lane, and in view for long periods of time.
There are nine Devon records (of 11 individuals) listed prior to the Exminster bird (The Birds of Devon - M Tyler) but the majority of those were in the nineteenth century. There has been one record since - a juvenile on Black Hole Marsh, Seaton, found by Ian McLean on September 4th 2014. I never tried for that one but I wish I had.
My first Little Crake was the Marazion bird that my brother and I drove down to see on November 6th 2004. We had pretty good views early on in the morning after a trip down in the dark.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Bonaparte's Gulls in Devon - A 30 Year Personal Retrospective

 Notes on my first ever Bonaparte's Gull - a first-winter bird on the River Plym on 6/4/90. Plymouth was a real hot-spot for this species back in the day.
If I had to pick one species that I've been really lucky with over the years it's got to be Bonaparte's Gull. I've seen ten in Devon - a good chunk of the total number recorded in the county which, according to the Devon Bird Report 2017, by the end of 2017 numbered around 27 individuals. There's a question mark next to the number of previous records, presumably because some records are likely refer to returning individuals. The first Devon record was from Sidmouth in October 1961 (The Birds of Devon - Michael Tyler) and then the majority of records were from the Plymouth area, in a golden era that spanned the late eighties, through the nineties. In the last twenty years the river Exe has arguably been the place for this tree-nesting, north American species, with Bowling Green Marsh faring particularly well in the spring.
I don't think I've ever dipped one, I've found birds on three different estuaries, seen two from our house and enjoyed hours of wonderful, close-up encounters over a number of years. I consider myself incredibly fortunate when it comes to Bonaparte's Gull but it doesn't make me any less keen to find another.

My second - an adult on the River Plym on 19/4/92 - above and below.

My third was yet another Plymouth bird - a first-winter on 4/5/96. Original field notes in rather fetching blue biro below. From the late eighties and through the nineties Plymouth was the place, not just for Bonaparte's Gulls but for gulls in general. Some very good birders, coupled with a sewage outfall and a large, fully operational tip made the area one of the best places, if not the best place, for gulls in the country. Sadly the tip and the sewage are a thing of the past.

Bonaparte's Gull number four and my first self-found bird - a first-winter bird on the River Teign on 17/3/00. It stayed on the river until May 1st 2000. This is my BBRC submission.

Bonaparte's Gull - Teign Estuary. Photographed by the late George Reszeter. He very kindly sent me this photo which I've treasured ever since.

My fifth was a first-winter/summer on Bowling Green Marsh on 20/5/01 and subsequently. This one was found by Dave Smallshire and was present for five days (Devon Bird Report 2001).

I've only seen one Bonaparte's Gull in Cornwall - this adult bird at Millbrook Lake on 4/1/02. All the others (apart from birds in the USA) have been in Devon. Devon and Cornwall records must account for a massive proportion of the UK records.
This is a second-winter bird that I relocated on the River Otter on 31/1/07. It had been originally found by Steve Votier on the Tamar Complex at the end of 2006, and was on the Plym until 14/1/07 (Devon Bird Report 2007). A clear dark smudge on the tertials identified it as being the same bird. Sketches of the bird below.


My second self-found Bonaparte's Gull was this first-summer bird that I initially scoped from the canal towpath at Exminster Marshes. It moved from the river on to Bowling Green Marsh. There has since been a remarkable run of records at the north end of the Exe. If you want to find one of these beauties, targeting non-breeding spring flocks of Black-headed Gulls offers a very good chance. They really do prefer estuaries and fresh-water marshes to other habitats though.

Bonaparte's Gull - Bowling Green Marsh 20/5/08 - photo Dave Stone.

I photographed this bird in May 2011 off Mudbank. Its original finder was Chris Townend. He first had it on the Otter estuary on 13/4/11 where it was seen on and off until 29/4. It was also seen on the Exe between 18/4 and 19/7, reappearing off Dawlish Warren on 29/8/11 (Devon Bird Report 2011). It then went on to winter between the south end of the Exe and Teignmouth, for consecutive winters, until the early winter period of 2018.

Bonaparte's Gull - Exmouth Beach July 2011.

Adult Bonaparte's Gull - Shelly Beach 29/2/15 (same as above).

Adult Bonaparte's Gull - Shelly Beach 21/1/18. The last time I ever saw it was off Maer Rocks on 22/3/18.

My third self-found Bonaparte's (fourth if you include the 2007 Otter bird) and tenth in Devon was this first-summer off the Imperial recreation ground. It was present from 3/6/19 to 6/6/19 over the high tides. This one broke the recent trend of birds favouring the Bowling Green/Clyst area.

Sunday 23 February 2020


Gadwall are a rare treat in Exmouth. A male was head-bobbing to a female just upriver from West Lodge late this afternoon. By the time I decided to try for a photo the pair had steamed further upriver, so my photo is truly awful (no surprises there). Three Goldeneye were diving mid-river but I didn't see much else of note.
The day started with a fairly brisk south-westerly which had died down by the afternoon. An early morning sea-watch from the raised beach huts, between shortly after dawn and 0825, produced counts of 14 Fulmar (all south), 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 diver sp, 4 Red-throated Diver and 4 Common Scoter. As well as a steady passage of Gannets and a few Kittiwakes there were several auks passing. I managed to pick out 2 Razorbill and 3 Guillemot amongst the nearer birds.

Saturday 22 February 2020

Dog Walk

Singing male Dartford Warbler.

Long-tailed Tit collecting cobwebs for a nest.

Friday 21 February 2020

Pale-bellied Brent

A juvenile Pale-bellied Brent Goose was with c200+ Dark-bellied birds off Mudbank this morning.
Still pretty quiet in Exmouth at the moment. Counts from Mudbank today included 13 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Goldeneye (one male), 32 Wigeon, 1 Canada Goose, c200+ Brent Goose, 2 Teal, 11 Great Crested Grebe, 12+ Sanderling, 1 Grey Plover, 1 Dunlin, 1 Knot, 2 Peregrine, 95+ Common Gull and 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull. The Slavonian Grebe was scoped from Shelly Beach and nearby the male Black Redstart betrayed its presence by calling from a tree in someone's drive.
Yesterday the only birds of note were an adult Mediterranean Gull off Maer Rocks, 48 Fieldfare and 1 Redwing over Withycombe Raleigh Common and 8 Snipe and two Skylark in Littleham stubble fields.
On the 19th a look off Maer Rocks revealed 60 Brent Goose, 2 Purple Sandpiper and 3 Great Crested Grebe. The female Eider was off Dawlish Warren. Mudbank counts included c600 Brent Goose, 2 Peregrine and 3 Goldeneye. An afternoon dog-walk on Colaton Raleigh Common produced 3 Siskin, 2 Crossbill, 1 Reed Bunting, 2 Stonechat, 3 Skylark and a lone Jack Snipe - the first I've seen in ages.
On the 17th, on/off Maer Rocks - at least 5 Purple sandpiper, 1 Great Northern Diver, 2 Turnstone and 33 Brent Goose. Off Mudbank - 8 Red-breasted Merganser and a male Goldeneye.
The Ravens are getting playful. Six birds seen on Orcombe Point this morning.

Black Redstart - Shelly Beach.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Storm Dennis

A Great Northern Diver flies in to the bay before 'belly-bouncing' off a wave and landing, to loaf off the seafront. In the background the waves hit the sea wall and railway line between Dawlish and Langstone Rock.
I've been really surprised at how few birds seem to have been blown in by storms Dennis and Ciara. In the past I would have all but guaranteed finding the odd Little Gull or Kittiwake somewhere in Exmouth but I've had no luck whatsoever. Probably just as well for the birds, but the suspicion is the birds just aren't out there like they used to be.
It has been raining heavily for most of today and yesterday but this morning I managed to record 12 Red-breasted Mergansers, at least 9 Great Crested Grebes and 2 Goldeneye off Mudbank. At least 10 Cattle Egret flew up from Cockwood Marsh with a load of gulls. Earlier a Great Northern Diver, 1 Fulmar and two Mallard were off Maer Rocks. A look off Shelly Beach late afternoon revealed good numbers of Black-headed Gulls dip-feeding in the estuary and the regular Kingfisher in the marina.
Otherwise the only news this week is from the 12/2 when the Slavonian Grebe and 2 Mediterranean Gulls were scoped from Shelly Beach after work.

The female Kingfisher can be so difficult to find in the marina. Great camouflage!

Sunday 9 February 2020

Storm Ciara

Horrendous conditions today and precious little in the way of birds. This is Exmouth quay and part of the seafront shortly after dawn.
Thought I'd at least get a Little Gull or two today but if anything the weather was too bad with apparently nothing moving at sea and very little on the estuary. I just about managed to pick out the Red-necked Grebe, alongside a Great Crested Grebe, off Shelly Beach this morning and 14 Grey Plover flew towards the Warren late afternoon. Otherwise 26 Pied Wagtail on the cricket pitch and 15 Brent Geese on the Imperial rugby pitch were the only things noted.
Yesterday was better with Mudbank counts including 4 Pintail, 2 Redshank, 1 Greenshank, 13 Dunlin, 3 Goldeneye, 70+ Shelduck, 11 Grey Plover, 1 Peregrine, 30+ Wigeon, c40 Common Gull, 6 Red-breasted Merganser, 100  Brent Geese, 130+ Curlew and a tight-packed flying flock of 18 Cattle Egrets towards Starcross (with a further 3 sitting on a wreck).
A very quick look off Maer Rocks produced just 1 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Crested Grebe and 20 Kittiwake. The Red-necked Grebe was off Shelly Beach with 9 Red-breasted Merganser.

No shelter in the estuary today. This was the view from Shelly Beach this morning. The Red-necked Grebe was out there alongside a Great Crested Grebe but difficult to pick up in the choppy conditions.

This strikingly pale Black-headed Gull was off Mudbank late yesterday afternoon.

Two of fifteen Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the Imperial rugby ground this afternoon.

Wednesday 5 February 2020


The cattle field at the top of Gore Lane is just mud now. It's attracting Pied Wagtails (at least 65 this afternoon) and gulls. Should be good for Wheatears in a month's time.
Some birding after work this afternoon. Off Mudbank - 10 Pintail, 54 Wigeon, 14 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Greenshank, 3 Redshank and 1 Peregrine. Thanks to the flat-calm conditions the Red-necked Grebe was scoped in the usual spot off Shelly Beach.
Shelly Beach - the Red-necked Grebe 'til gone 5pm, Slavonian Grebe (off Cockwood), the male Black Redstart, 70+ Shelduck and 170+ Curlew on Cockle Sands.
Orcombe Point - 2 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Northern Diver, 3 Razorbill, 2 Guillemot and 130+ Kittiwake back on the Straight Point ledges. The top fields returned counts of 65+ Pied Wagtail, c20/30+ Meadow Pipit, 20+ Skylark and a single Snipe.

Sunday 2 February 2020


Little Egrets - Lower Halsdon Farm. Birds regularly use the fields alongside the cycle track to sit out the high tide.
Today's highlight was a Woodcock flushed from damp woodland along Castle Lane. Otherwise a few other local bits and pieces but no unusual gulls...
Mudbank - 46 Mallard, 360+ Brent Goose, 2 Peregrine, 13 Wigeon and 15+ Cattle Egrets on a wreck north of Starcross.
Shelly Beach - 12+ Sanderling (Cockle Sands), Red-necked Grebe and the Slavonian Grebe off Cockwood. Nice to see Libby for the second day running and good to meet Tim.
Maer Rocks early on - just 1 Red-throated Diver south and a Fulmar. Offshore winds are never terribly productive.
Yesterdays counts were as follows:
Mudbank - 21 Wigeon, 38 Mallard, 100+ Dunlin, 47 Shelduck, 2 Red-breasted Merganser and 2 Goldeneye (male and female).
Shelly Beach - 1 Red-necked Grebe, 1 Slavonian Grebe, 1 Raven, 9+ Cattle Egret (north of Starcross), 7 Pintail and 11 Wigeon over.
Off the seafront - 7+ Great Crested Grebe, 1 Red-throated Diver and the female Eider sitting off Dawlish Warren.

Scarlet Elf Cap? No clue with Fungi.

Red-necked Grebe - still here and still hard to photograph.