Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Just got details through of a Siskin I ringed in the parents' garden last Feb, which was then controlled...

...somewhere unpronounceable in Poland, 55 days later. Niice...

Weekend birding

Off again... Na escaped with the excuse of a party in Cardiff, so I grimly went out and birded for myself instead. Saturday was easy enough: babysitting in the morning, drop Na at the train and head off to a roosting gull survey, where we got chilled to the marrow for the sake of a few thousand Black-headed and Herring Gulls, with a scattering of Common Gull and both black-backed species. Not scintillating, but could have been worse.

Once again the weather forecast was for extreme crap whistling in from the south, so met up with Judith to do some searching of the Exe. Once again, the Met Office were completely up the creek, for which we were quite grateful!

Powderham - the Cattle Egret flock now numbered three birds, with a Little Egret looking down on them amongst the cattle.

Dawlish Warren briefly - all three scoter still present, yes, tick, blah blah.

Starcross - no, no sign of the resident Slavonian Grebe (now beginning to moult into summer plumage again: check the Dawlish Warren website for some piccies). No sign of the Spoonbill either, but pleasant enough birding as it stood - Red-breasted Mergansers and a dusting of waders across the growing mud. No Iceland Gull either. Oh well.

Powderham through to Exminster Marshes - started off well with a good tight pack of Avocet in the river, kleeping and sweeping their way around the ebbing tide; accompanied by Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover in abundance on the waters' edge. Further up-river, the Brent Geese were peppering the edge of the water, so we stopped off for a scan - five birds in, a nice adult Pale-bellied (hrota) bird; then at the other end of the flock, a Black Brant (nigricans). Seemed good anyhow: wide collar meeting across the front of the neck, whitish flanks and a blacker belly than the accompanying Dark-bellied birds. A couple of minutes later, the whole flock lifted off and dropped onto the shallow floods over the railway line from us. Will have to get back and have another look at that!

We then picked up another little group of Brent on the grass, where we could see legs, so I had a quick squiz through for colour-ringed birds: success in the form of two locally-ringed birds, both from 1996 sessions, and a 'new' bird, which proved to be ringed on the Taimyr peninsula, Russia. Looks like this was the first sighting of it since ringing in 2006 as well, so that was particularly satisfying.

Exminster marshes themselves were covered in Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit, Teal and Wigeon. We picked out a few Golden Plover amongst the Lapwing, and a Peregrine lurking atop one of the pylons at the back of the site, which seemed to have really put the wind up the Lapwing - they were up and down like, well, fill the blank yourself, I think!

Lapwing flocks over the marshes

I finally dropped Judith back at her car and headed back to search for more colour rings in amongst the godwit, only to be thwarted by the entire flock hoofing it over the horizon as soon as I got back. Consolation in the form of a Ruff and a single Water Pipit, and some quality time watching everything going about it's daily business...

Topsham from Exminster Marshes

Thursday, 22 January 2009


17th-18th January.

Another weekend of somewhat twitchy birding, to take us to well over the hundred species for the year. Pathetic. Saturday required (aargh) time spent shoppng in Exeter, which was well balanced with a trip to Dawlish Warren. Three scoter, one of each species, off the seawall were a good start to the walk, along with more Red-throated Diver than I remember seeing here for years. A couple of confiding Slavonian (or Horned, if you prefer) Grebes were feeding energetically just offshore near the hide path, with another in the river. A Great Northern Diver in the river was also very nice to see. The usual selection of waders and ducks backed it all up. Our route back took us through Powderham, where we bumped into a couple of Cattle Egret feeding, for once, amongst cattle.

Sunday was more colourful. The forecast was for utter crud, so we decided to head down to the Living Coast at Torquay, where we would be guaranteed some decent species to look at, even if they aren't wild! In the event, the weather was fan-bloody-tastic, so we wandered around the exhibit, then spent time sunning ourselves on the seafront,
The Guillemots were starting to come into breeding plumage...

But the Tufted Puffins were a bit less advanced. You can just see a wee bit of crazy yellow eyebrow starting to show through.

Yes please. Wouldn't that look good on the local patch?

Finally we headed off for a look at the Penduline Tit which has been lurking in Paignton for a week or so now. This eventually showed itself off in the reeds of the middle pond, well enough even for me to take a couple of ganky pictures, which I've amalgamated here:

Given the wind direction we've had recently, I've added in a link to the Ivory Gull satellite tracking project on the right - would be great to see another, and to have one in Devon would be even better. Here's hoping...

Friday, 16 January 2009

Auld aquaintance

Back when the year turned, we managed to bump into a couple of old, old friends of mine. Two at Dawlish Warren and one at Bowling Green Marsh. Anyone who knows me will realise these have to be birds (my social circle is not exactly wide, shall I say). I don't have any pictures of the exact individuals, unfortunately. They probably don't recognise me either - I'm nothing more than another part of the scenery to them, unless I accidentally startle them - but I recognise them: they're all colour-marked.

Two are Brent Geese, which were both ringed on the Exe in 1996, and have been returning here probably every winter since. There's a website ( where you can register and log your sightings, and as a handy bonus of modern technology, you get an instant history of the bird. Here they are:

This bird was ringed at Powderham, in the winter of 1996, and has been seen in several places along the western European section of the migration route over the years. A total of 61 logged sightings too, which is pretty impressive:

This bird hasn't been seen so widely, but still has 37 logged sightings over the 12 years since ringing:

A closer look shows something of the widespread use they make of the Exe:

The other old friend was a Black-tailed Godwit, ringed on the Wash - also in 1996. This is one of the older blackwits I've seen now, and I'm sure all of them have plenty of life in 'em yet!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Son of Brass Monkey

Now the weather's changed, here's a couple of pics of some more ringing - this time at a friend's site just north of the moors.

Real field ringing - working out of the back of a car in the frost. Not all cosy heated observatories, you know :o)

A Long-toed Short-toed Treecreeper. Or actually, just a bog-standard Eurasian Treecreeper showing off the fact that it has longer nails than those poxy Short-toed continentals!

Female Fieldfare, last year's young (age 5, in ringing terms)

The weather turned last weekend, so Na and I headed down to Torbay to look for seaduck and purps. We ended up finding ourselves a nice Black-necked Grebe - Na's first in this country - a bunch of Common and a single Velvet Scoter, and a small flock of Eider, before rounding off the day with one of my higher counts of Purple Sandpiper for the county: a whole 20 birds along the breakwater. Here's a couple, with apologies for the image quality, though for hand-held at 1/40th of a second or so, it's not too bad!

Purple Sands. On the rocks.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Old year out, new year in...

Brass monkeys over Hennock. You'll need to look carefully to see 'em though.

First off, a happy New Year and all that malarkey. In the grand birder tradition (why, I wonder?), here's a roundup of last year: it was great!

OK. Being more sensible... I... saw a lot of new birds, met the girl of my dreams and moved in with her, earned a bit more money than the previous year (hardly difficult, but there you go!), visited three new countries, ringed a load of birds and generally had a very happy year. Vomiting yet? I am... This year I resolve to do more of the same, though as I've met and moved in already with the girl of my dreams, I'll not be aiming to improve (much) on those stakes.

We finished off last year with a trip to Slimbridge, where we admired the birds - both wild and tame - and enjoyed watching the hardcore birder element who stride resolutely past all the captive birds, making it very clear they're not going to look at any of those things, thankyou very much. But it was nice to get some practice at female Aythyas and potential hybrids - all those Canvasback really do look like hybrids, having read up Keith Vinicombe's article (I'll link to it when I find it again). Not that I'm likely to find one, but it's nice to practice :o)

Good to see that the aberrant Moorhen is still alive - seems to survive despite the aggression of the other Moorhens around the site.

A confiding Goldcrest that was the devil's own job to photograph.

The New Year's birding was brass-monkey chilling weather, so we skulked around the Exe for the day, amassing a vaguely respectable list of species and enjoying a large mixed flock of Calidris waders, Brent Geese and Shelduck at point-blank range at Dawlish Warren. My desire to see Snowy Owl overcame my reluctance to twitch, so we also gathered up the ever-dependable Judith and twitched the little bugger. Was well worth it too - a proper charmer, for all his/her inactivity. For the record, birding the Hayle estuary and Helston felt far more 'real' for some of us, and produced a nice selection of species to bolster the day, finishing off with a rather dimpsy Firecrest as the light faded.

As the famous brass monkey will attest, it's remained very - unusually - cold here in the south of England, and we've noted a complete clear-out of species such as Redwing and Fieldfare, which all seem to have headed for the river valleys. The feeders outside the front door have been literally carpeted with Long-tailed Tits at times (9 on a peanut feeder is quite a sight!) and we've been getting some Goldcrests in the garden recently, at least one of which looked to be at death's door. It don't half make you sorry for the individual, I can tell you!

Finally, and by no means least, we now have chairs for our dining table! Oh joy, oh rapture! No more camping table dinners - we are now officially a civilised household. Na might debate that last point, but it's my blog...!

The Teign just below our house. Looking very Dartmoorish, I tell you...

And in case I didn't post it earlier, a pic of the pre-roost gathering of Pied Wagtail from Kennick reservoir last year.