Friday, 29 October 2010

Black-headed gulls again

Must be winter. A lunchtime stroll to the quay in Exeter produced two returning Black-headed Gulls: one Latvian bird ringed a couple of years back, the other a Finnish-ringed bird which was ringed back in 1997, so 13 years and counting. They get to be like old friends, even if they don't treat you that way...

Saturday, 23 October 2010

An American on the Exe.

Every second Friday I have a day 'off' (working compressed hours, not skiving!) where I usually get to do the housework, shopping and whichever other miscellaneous chores have built up over the past fortnight. Yay. Yesterday, however, the sun was shining, there were birds to be seen and I had the bonus excuse that I need pics of some of the local waterbirds for a training course I'm running soon. So, down to the Exe I went. I started out at Powderham, where the autumn sun was low and bright, highlighting the turning yellows and browns that are starting to appear in the oaks, and bringing a velvety sheen to the coats of the Fallow Deer which roam the park. The tide was high, so after a cursory look at the mouth of the river Kenn, I headed back to the church and the track leading to the Turf Locks Hotel.

 Little Egret heading upriver at Powderham, Somehow, they always sound so very, very angry when you disturb them.

Powderham Park glowing in the morning sun.

 Powderham marshes doing likewise.

 The Exe, glistening.

Soon after crossing the railway tracks, I noticed a Robin shoot to the top of a low bramble beside a ditch, sit straight up and start calling - he was rapidly joined by a Wren, which rattled and churred like a bird possessed. Very soon, a Stoat's head popped up out of the grass on the ditch edge, and looked coolly at the two birds, before it dropped back into the vegetation and continued hunting whatever it was hunting! The two bird tracked it along the ditch for a good 50 metres, never once letting up on their incessant alarm-calling.To be fair, the Stoat didn't seem at all bothered.

 Stoat, regarding me balefully. I think it resented not being asked whether I could take it's photo, but mindful of the attitude displayed by the Stoats towards Toad, I made sure to keep a safe distance. In any case, I don't carry a cudgel, and Stoats are well known for being armed on a regular basis.

I could see that I wasn't going to have the day all my own way, as bruise-black clouds were building to the north, over Exeter. However, the sun was shining on me and the tide was ebbing, so I pottered on. A couple of flocks of Shelduck and some scattered Grey Plover diverted me for a short time, trying to get some halfway recognisable shots of the latter being rather tricky! Eventually I gave up and moved upriver. A Kingfisher on the rocks was another brief diversion, but unfortunately I managed to fumble the camera.

 Greenshank. No, really.

This couple of Rock Pipits were so intent on beating seven bells of hell out of each other that they completely ignored me. The bird currently on top came out the victor in the end, but not before several air-to-ground tussles which looked, quite frankly, extremely vicious.

 Rock Pipit - the victor.

I then settled down to a bit of a scan of the river, when a plover flew straight upriver past me. 'Hmm' - I thought to myself - 'looks like those pits need a wash'. The penny dropped with an audible clunk, and I worked out I was looking at either a Pacific or an American Golden Plover; the question then being: which one? As it settled, it resolved itself as a nicely greyed-out bird, with a chunky flared supercilium (technical term for what is the equivalent to the eyebrow on a bird) and primaries extending well beyond the tail, with rather short tertials. American Goldie it was - and is still there today, being perved at by dubious-looking men in long flasher-macs.

A truly awful picture of what is in fact a very nice-looking bird. American Golden Plover - see what I mean about the striking supercilium? The reason for the bad picture is that I was holding an old Panasonic Lumix to the eyepiece of a slightly clapped-out telescope. Anything for a record of a rarity, eh?

After that, everything else was bound to be a bit of an anticlimax, but that's life. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls up at Topsham, one bearing a red colour-ring (perhaps from Slovakia, if Dirk Raes' c-r birding projects page is up-to-date) rounded off a decent day.

Today's time was spent lurking around the head of the river, admiring a chunky flock of Black-tailed Godwits - one of which was ringed by my wife in Iceland a few years ago -along with a single Spotted Redshank and a handful of Avocet. A flyover Merlin shoo-ed them all away from the edge of the river, so I met up with a friend, wandered down the west side of the river, and then spent the last of the usable daylight watching the rising tide gradually shunting the Brent Geese and the waders ever closer to the shore by Starcross.

 Black-tailed Godwits (the centre bird is the one Na ringed, hence another poor photo)

 Black-tailed Godwit

Avocets roosting as far away as possible. One of these birds is also colour-marked. Which one?

Starlings in hawthorn

Every so often on the Exe, something out of the ordinary turns up. Sometimes it's from America, sometimes from Asia. Clearly, this Black Swan was fresh in from Australia - apparently unringed and very wary indeed. Or maybe it had just learnt from the Mute Swans around that people aren't to be trusted. Or maybe it had a bad experience with a handler..

A small flock of Redshank flying downhill upriver to roost.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Lundy - pictures

Lundy Island - some photos.

Crossing to Lundy on the MS Oldenburg - a flat-bottomed girl who pitches and rolls with abandon in the choppy waters between Bideford and Lundy Island. Not for the faint-hearted when there's a swell running! 

 Not a lot to see from the boat; the highlights were a couple of pods of Common Dolphins, a single Great Skua on each leg of the journey, and a smattering of Manx Shearwaters, Razorbills and Guillemots

Looking down the East Side to the 'new' jetty, with Rat Island and Mouse Island in the background. The weather wasn't great, I'm afraid, so the photos are a bit dull too.

The church. Every island needs a church. Apparently.
Perhaps the most useless lighthouse in the UK - built high on the top of Lundy, the light itself is usually shrouded in cloud whenever bad weather occurs - which is whenever you need a lighthouse. Unsurprisingly, it was quickly abandoned as a working light.

As good as 'Earth from the air'.


An entirely unrelated photograph.

We spent today (Saturday 2nd Oct) doing some unashamedly lazy walking, birding and twitching, mainly on the River Otter, in east Devon. Too many people at Slapton to make it worthwhile joining in, so we stayed away and stuck a couple of nets up in the garden for the first time this autumn (result: one Chiffchaff, one Wren, one Dunnock, one Long-tailed Tit and a couple of Blue, Coal & Great Tits - not astounding, but nice). When the birds dried up - which they did quite quickly, we headed out to the Otter.

The estuary was packed with gulls, mainly Herring and Black-headed, all loafing and bathing in the fresh water before the turn of the tide. A single colour-marked Herring Gull was an RSPCA project bird, but not an individual I've seen before. The code looks like it should be a reasonably old bird, so might be interesting.

Peacock butterfly - we're coming to the end of the butterfly season now - these and Red Admirals (see below) are the bulk of what is still flying.

The wet fields to the west of the footpath held a smattering of Teal, the drakes beginning to moult out of their dowdy eclipse plumage. Scattered around them were a loose flock of Pied/White Wagtails, a smattering of Meadow Pipits and several Yellow Wagtails - always nice to get good views of these in Devon. Further on, a trio of Black-tailed Godwits were belly-deep in the water, probing away for invertebrates. We strolled on round to the mouth of the river, then sat awhile and admired the gulls (I admired them; Na grappled with the ID of immature 'poxies' - not a fan). A couple of moulting drake Wigeon appeared, and the beach was rippling with Pied/White wagtails and pipits, all pausing for a while on the stones to feed, then heading off west along the coast in a flurry.

We tracked upriver to Otterton, then as we headed back in the blazing (har har) sunshine, the trio of Glossy Ibis(es) appeared at the back of a field, energetically preening and flapping. Up 'scopes for Naomi's forty-somethingth new species of the year, and we spent an enjoyable 10 minutes watching them cleaning up.

Red Admiral butterfly

The previous weekend was better still in some regards: Na chose to head off to London for a girly weekend with the gang, so I spent the weekend down at Slapton, for a bit of a change. Shame you can't do sarcasm on screen. Anyway; I arrived later than anticipated, and was met with a message that Nik was off putting some nets up, so why didn't I go and put some others up? The hint was duly taken, and I headed up the ley - only to scare up a Corncrake from the long grass. A very satisfying thing, as it's not really something you expect to see in Devon these days. This was followed up the next day with a Great Reed Warbler in the nets: the first ever caught on site, and a bit of a shock to come across in the autumn! Serendipity indeed...

 Great Reed Warbler. Basically, it's a big Reed Warbler, isn't it?

Slapton sunrise. Note the mist-line along the bay - this seems to be, rather romantically, where the sewage outfall lies.