Saturday 27 February 2021


I was chuffed to find my first Colt's-foot flowers this afternoon. Stunning things!

A massive Moon over Haldon Belvedere this morning.

Friday 26 February 2021

Black Redstart

All it takes is a bit of sunshine and the male Black Redstart fly-catches and flashes its gorgeous red tail around the Shelly Beach apartments. Off Mudbank - the male and female Goldeneye.

 Speedwell sp - Orcombe Point.

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Musk Stork's-bill

Musk Stork's-bill

Despite putting a lot of effort into learning plants last summer, I still feel very 'green around the gills' so I may very well have misidentified some of these. Spent a bit of time looking down at the ground after work. Musk Stork's-bill is a new one, as is Common Whitlowgrass - lovely splashes of colour on a grey winter day, and some species flowering that I wasn't really expecting.

Common Stork's-bill

Common Whitlowgrass

I'm not sure about this one.

Common Fumitory


Red Campion


Field Pansy

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Odds and Ends

The local female Blackcap has finally discovered our small feeding station - photographed through the kitchen window. The male puts in occasional appearances too, but seems less brave.

Little to report but I fitted in a couple looks at the lower end of the river, around work, today. Counts included 35+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 2 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Wigeon, c3/400+ Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Goldeneye (male and female), 1 Greenshank, 1 Redshank and 6 Sanderling. I have a hunch that a party of three Pale-bellied Brent Geese, this evening, were new-in.

One of just two Mediterranean Gulls this end of the river today.

This aberrant Black-headed Gull stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Probably today's highlight.

Sunday 21 February 2021


Female Brambling. One of at least two (I just missed getting a photo of a stunning male) in with a flock of c50+ Chaffinches. The flock was seen whilst I was doing some survey work on the edge of Ludwell Valley Park, Exeter.

Mudbank today - c500 Brent Geese early morning, 1 female Goldeneye and 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls. Great to see Paul Gosling today.
Nearby, on Orcombe Point, 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls, c400+ Black-headed Gulls, 5 Snipe and 2 Stonechats.

I probably should know what this is but I'm not sure I've seen it before. Masses growing in an arable field. A Swinecress type thing?

Red Deadnettle.

Saturday 20 February 2021


Wet and windy weather over the last few days has drawn in a lot of Herring Gulls, feeding off the beach and in the estuary. Lots of searching but nothing unusual as yet.
Off Mudbank today - drake and female Goldeneye and adult Mediterranean Gull. A Great Northern Diver was off the seafront, along with an adult Mediterranean Gull and Fulmar.
Yesterday - 2 Great Northern Divers off the seafront and the day before (18/2) - 3 Great Northern Divers together and 5 Purple Sandpipers on Maer Rocks.

A Great Northern Diver in heavy wing-moult and presumably unable to fly

Thursday 18 February 2021

Another reply

This one from Paul French, chairman of the BBRC and a man with much more experience of Redpolls than me, both on the east coast and on Scottish islands:

Hi Matt

No worries, although looking at pics of these is no substitute for watching them in the field. I can't rule out a mixed flock, but the grey ear coverts, white wingbar, pale sides to the nape and whitish base colour to the rump make me happy at least the bird in pic 77 is probably Common. However, the dark surround to the ear coverts is limited or lacking in all of them, and the left bird in pics 65 and 74 looks browner toned with a darker rump. Tricky, as i don't think these would get identified as Lessers on Shetland, but I'm not sure they are acceptable as Common in the SW. Be interested to hear what Andy thinks.


Thank you Paul.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Final Word on Redpolls?

I mentioned in my original post that I was very nervous about identifying Redpolls, and guessed that Mike would respond with the cautionary approach required. We'd been through this all before, with a Redpoll on Topsham recreation ground, about 20 years ago! It seems that in the intervening time nothing has really changed - Redpolls are still extremely difficult, and probably worthy of being lumped together as one species.
Despite all the wonderful input, from brilliant local birders, it felt like a sensible idea to try and get some input from east-coast birders, who are more used to seeing Mealy Redpolls, before taking the record of these Redpolls any further.
I first got hold of Roger Riddington, based in Shetland, (who suspected they were Lessers, but "wouldn't stake his pension on it") who put me in touch with Andy Stoddart.
There may still be more to learn about these birds but if the main Redpoll man - Andy Stoddart (Vice-Chair of the BBRC and a man with bags of experience with Redpoll taxa) isn't sure what species they are, then there's little hope for the rest of us..

Here's what he had to say...

Hi Matt,

The first thing to say is that this isn’t easy and I’m not actually totally sure what your birds are. There are some obvious pro-Mealy features such as extensive greyish-white in the rump and (on some) a greyish face/neck ‘shawl’. Furthermore, I can’t see any birds showing the giveaway Lesser Redpoll undertail coverts pattern of many short fine streaks overlain by a rich buff wash.


So, your birds could be Mealies but, like Roger, I can see brown hues in the face and flanks of some. Given that this hasn’t been a good winter for Mealies (there are hardly any in Norfolk) whereas it has been a bumper, record-breaking winter for Lessers, I’d be hesitant to log a decent-sized flock of Mealies, particularly in the SW where the subspecies is rare.


I’m sorry I can’t be any more precise – redpolls are devilish things!


All the best.



Thanks again to everyone who commented on these birds, thanks to Andy for allowing me to publish the above e-mail, and particular thanks to Chris Townend, who endured all kinds of dreadful weather to photograph and sound-record these birds. I hope it didn't feel like a fruitless exercise Chris!

Monday 15 February 2021

Redpoll Increase

Mediterranean Gull - Mudbank.

Great Northern Diver - Maer Rocks - popped up whilst walking the dog on the beach with Lu and Joel.

Chris texted this afternoon, with news of 18 or 19 Redpolls in the boggy area below Woodbury Fort. Feeding on the deck, and occasionally landing in their favored thicket, they were never easy. Having seen a few of Chris's 'back of the camera' photos I'd say there are now some Lesser Redpolls in the flock, but this individual at least is surely too white for any Lesser, and in the field brought to mind Arctic Roll!

Sunday 14 February 2021

Tricky Polls

Another try for yesterday's Redpolls (it has always bugged me how difficult they are), following a long discussion with Mike last night. I was keen to see these birds not puffed up. Unfortunately the weather this morning was awful, and I got soaked trying to obtain these rubbish photos - disappointing after yesterday's relative success. 
I found all eight birds further up the boggy valley, below Woodbury Fort. Again they were feeding on the ground and really difficult to get views of in the boggy, tussocky terrain. When the rain was at its heaviest they buried themselves in a thicket before excitedly emerging and flying back on to the ground. The field impression was of really cold greyish-white birds, but they are real chameleons and some of the images obtained, particularly of birds on the ground, look less convincing for Mealy - and you could certainly make an argument for a worn, late winter Lesser. 
On balance I'd say these it's still too soon to rule out Mealy Redpoll, but I wouldn't be totally bowled over if ultimately they turn out not to be. Let's hope Chris has some success with his camera this afternoon...

The birds are feeding on the ground in this very wet, boggy area.

The thicket where the birds are seeing out the worst of the rain.

On my way to pick up mum I stopped opposite Darts Farm to find the Black Brant, in with c15/20  Brents. Ten minutes later, as we drove back, the flock had increased to about 2-300 birds! Torrential rain made briefly grabbing this photo extremely unpleasant. Interesting to note that all three Brants were reportedly still on the Fleet, in Dorset a few days ago.

Saturday 13 February 2021


I had a probable (but very distant) Great Grey Shrike near the Model Aircraft carpark just before dark last night, so walked over Woodbury/Colaton Raleigh Commons this afternoon. With snowfall quite heavy at times, and a continuing freezing south-easterly, I was delighted to find this little flock of eight frosty-plumaged Mealy Redpolls, feeding on the ground and resting in what I'd perhaps describe as 'Birch Carr', but that may not be quite the right description.
I'm extremely nervous about identifying redpolls, and may well be wrong with these birds, but all eight are pictured and all eight show plumage features consistent with Scandanavian Common Redpoll,  flammea, as opposed to the British Lesser Redpoll - cabaret. Most notably the face and breast lack the strong orangey wash of cabaret (although at least two birds are a bit more buffy in these areas) and the mantle and scapulars are cold-toned and greyish as opposed to being more brownish (in cabaret). The birds all seemed quite chunky, but I'm not sure to what degree this effect is caused by the birds being puffed out (and one bird is quite chunky-billed).
If anyone is interested in looking for these birds please contact me and I can direct you to where I saw them. I'd also appreciate comments on the identification.
Also this afternoon - female Merlin, 4 Crossbill, 2 Golden Plovers, 2 Dartford Warblers and 2 Ravens.

This is the heavy-billed individual. Note the extent of streaking on the under-tail coverts. Note how white the supercilium and ear coverts are. I'd expect this to be washed orangey-brown on Lesser Redpoll.

Male Crossbill - one of just four this afternoon.