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.


Mark said...

Nice find! Whats yer training course Mr B?

jeremy barker said...

Waterbird ID and ecology... tough one.