Saturday, 17 February 2018


Ruff - Bowling Green.
A 'bitty' day today. The morning was spent watching Joel's team beat arch rivals Alphington Allstars. Great to see Joel back in action after a prolonged injury-induced break. A quick look at Bowling Green produced the long-staying Ruff, with c1/200+ Avocet, and a lightning stop at Ludwell Valley produced 2/3 Green Sandpiper and 2 Chiffchaff.
This afternoon the gulls on the Otter disappointed, but it was nice to watch a roosting Tawny Owl. Just a couple Ringed Plovers, 2 Rock Pipit and a Meadow Pipit were the only other species to make the notebook.
A quick look at Hayes Barton on the way home produced 4+ Brambling among c100+ Chaffinch. Also noted - 2 Mistle Thrush, c10+ Redwing, 1 Chiffchaff, c5+ Meadow Pipit and 3 Red-legged Partridge.
Last thing this afternoon - both the Long-tailed Duck and the Slavonian Grebe were scoped from Exmouth Quay.

Avocets - Bowling Green

Green Sandpiper - Ludwell Valley - one of two or three birds present.

Tawny Owl - Otter Estuary

Meadow Pipit - Hayes Barton

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Somerset Levels

Four of six Bewick's Swans - Nythe. It's so nice to catch up with species that you haven't seen for many years, and Bewick's Swans kind of epitomise winter birding. Beautiful birds that are very sadly declining.
Derek and I popped up to the Levels today. I was particularly keen to have a break  from the winter 'stalemate' of Exmouth birding. I'm pretty loyal to my patch but every now and again I just want to see species that I don't normally see. Exmouth has no fresh water so the Levels provide a perfect opportunity for a change of scenery, and a variety of unfamiliar species. Ham Wall and Greylake are both new reserves for me and Derek, who is more familiar with the area than I am, was the perfect guide and companion for some late winter Somerset birding.
I was particularly keen to see Bewick's Swan, so we started at Nythe, where a wintering party of six birds was easily located. They provided great scope views but were never close enough to photograph satisfactorily.
Next we moved on to Ham Wall. I'm not used to birding large RSPB reserves, with birders milling around everywhere, but the shear number of birds present was ample compensation, and our time there was thoroughly enjoyable. I didn't count Teal, Shoveler or Wigeon but did log c100+ Tufted Duck, 100+ Gadwall, 40+ Pochard, 2+ Pintail, 9 Snipe, 28 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Glossy Ibis, 2/3 Great White Egret, 1 Little Egret, 9+ Little Grebe, 3+ Bittern, 4+ Marsh Harrier, 2/3+ Cetti's Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, c10+ Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Reed Bunting, 1 Redpoll and a small number of Redwing.
A closed road prevented us from looking for the Sharpham Pink-footed Goose so we headed home via Greylake - another RSPB reserve, on the A361 back towards Taunton. Nothing out of the ordinary here but astonishing, close views of Teal, Shoveler and Snipe with 2 Great White Egret, 1 Little Egret, 2 Water Rail, 1 Stonechat, 1 Kestrel, c10+ Dunlin and c1100+ Golden Plover thrown in for good measure. A wonderful day's birding, in great company. Many thanks Derek.

Glossy Ibis - Ham Wall - might want to click on some of these photos.

Little and Great White Egrets - Ham Wall

Drake Pochard - Ham Wall - one of c40+ of this species seen.

Male Marsh Harrier - Ham Wall - viewed from the Avalon Hide - by far the best vantage point for this species today. Prolonged views of at least 4 birds were enjoyed, with some interaction between this bird and a female, though no full courtship today.

Above and below - 'Cream-crowned' Marsh Harriers - Ham Wall.

Great White Egret - Ham Wall - one of two or three seen here, with a further two birds seen at Greylake.

View from Avalon Hide - Ham Wall

Above and below - Snipe -  Greylake

Female Teal - Greylake - photographed from a hide. Views here are better than any I've had anywhere before. A photographer's dream!

Male Teal - Greylake

Golden Plover - Greylake - part of a flock of an estimated 1100 plus. Dunlin and Lapwing in with them but nothing rarer.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Devon Flashback 15 - Laughing Gull at Portworthy Dam - September 16th 1996

Laughing Gull roosting with Lesser Black-backed Gulls - Portworthy Dam - painting done from field sketches.

In September 1996 Kev Rylands and I embarked on a four day round trip, that took us first to north Norfolk, then to Essex and back to Devon via Hampshire. It was great fun and we saw some fabulous birds that included; Spoonbills at Cley, Lesser Grey Shrike at Burnham Overy Staithe, Spotted Crake, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, 16 Little Stints and Pied Flycatcher at Titchwell, Little Gulls, at Sheringham, Purple Sandpiper at Salthouse, Red-backed Shrike and Pink-footed Geese at Holme, Red-necked Grebe, Black-necked Grebes, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, LRPs, Ruff, Ruddy Ducks, Long-tailed Skua (juv) and Pectoral Sandpiper, all at Abberton Reservoir (Essex), Baird's Sandpiper and Hobby at Need's Ore (Hampshire) and Laughing Gull and Rose-coloured Starling in Devon. Great times and some tremendous birding with Kev.
Here is my diary entry for the 16th - the twitch for the Laughing Gull, at Portworthy, from Kev's home in Aldershot:

It's been a long day - mostly driving but very worthwhile. It took us a little over an hour, from Kev's house in Aldershot, to get to Beaulieu Motor Museum, from where we picked up permits for Needs Ore. It was weird getting the permits from a very officious building in the complex. A secretary sat us down and gave us the details and map and we paid £1 each.
It was a short distance to the reserve, on the private Beaulieu estate, and a short walk from the gritted lane besides which we parked,
The reserve is just a big pond, mostly reed-fringed but with nice muddy edges. There are two hides and there were no birds from the first one we tried, so we went round to the other and, after a short while, a small flock of small waders flew in to view. I quickly picked the Baird's out amongst them. We had good views but the flock sometimes flew or walked  to the right, out of view, and we had short waits before they walked or flew back. There were only four other birders in the hide and they were having trouble picking the bird out, but I'm pleased to say I found it easy. I managed to get some reasonable notes.
We watched it for at least three quarters of an hour and enjoyed a Hobby eating dragonflies, on the wing, over some trees at the back of the water. At about 12'ish we planned to check the line and go for the Citrine Wagtail that was at Chew yesterday, but there was negative news so we pushed on back to Devon to try for Laughing Gull.
It took us a while to get on the M27 because we set off for Southampton and had to track back, but the journey was pretty good, via Dorchester, Honiton etc. We hoped to get to the ECC works for the roosting gull but wanted to give ourselves plenty of time because we weren't sure about the site.
At about 4pm we found the works but there were no gulls anywhere, so we went back in towards Plympton to get some grub and find out some more exact details.
Kevin got through to Dave Hopkins and we found out we'd been in the wrong place. We went back and took a dead end turning off towards Portworthy where other birders were already overlooking a clay quarry basin, which was part-flooded. Tonnes of Canadas were on the water's edge and gulls were resting on the clay.
Other birders present were Pat Mayer, Mush, Rob Kempster and John and Jean Woodland. Colin Bath and Steve Bird arrived later.
After half an hour or more someone shouted 'there it is' and it flew in and landed. It then flew a short distance again and plonked down - lying amongst Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Apparently there were Yellow-legs there but the light made it hard to see any detail.
I did several sketches of the bird (found by Mush at Chelson Meadow Tip) and made the decision to go for the Rose-coloured Starling at South Milton, before dark.
The gull feeds on the tip by day and is apparently invisible, except for when in flight, so it was good to get it on the deck.
We got to South Milton, via Aveton Gifford, much more quickly than I expected and ran to the ringing hut as light was fading. We were gutted when Bob Burridge (there with a friend) said it wasn't on view and wasn't likely to be (apparently yesterday it didn't show after 6pm and it was 645pm when we arrived).
Sunlight made its chosen ploughed field, and favoured area, difficult to view, but numerous wagtails could be watched well on the right hand side of the field.
After about 15 minutes a couple other birders who had arrived found the bird about 20 yards away, at the edge of the field. We enjoyed superb views in improved soft evening light, and I got a couple sketches.
It flew back up in to the hedge and after the second appearance we guessed it wouldn't show again.
There were 3 Wheatear in with the huge wagtail flock which comprised some stunning glowing yellow adult Yellows and loads of very clean-cut, pale White Wags - I should have studied them harder.
A good assortment of waders was in the seaweed on the beach at South Huish, and the marsh was virtually empty. A superb end to a superb day.

One of the original Laughing Gull sketches.

Sketches of juvenile Long-tailed Skua - Abberton Reservoir, Essex.

Juvenile Red-necked Grebe - field sketch.
Painting of Burnham Overy Lesser Grey Shrike - from field sketches.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Otter Water Pipit

Water Pipit - you'll just have to take my word for it!
A quick trip over to the Otter this morning, primarily to look for gulls. The river was heavily swollen from the overnight rain so the gulls were on the scrapes. Low numbers and little of note except for 5 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
Plenty of other stuff to see though, with 3 Ringed Plover, 5 or 6 Dunlin and 5 Snipe, along with small numbers of Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank amongst several Wigeon and Teal.
Most of the interest however was on the cricket pitch, where 21+ Rock Pipit were feeding with about half a dozen Pied Wagtail, 1+ Meadow Pipit and, best of all, a single Water Pipit. I moved around from the footpath to the club house to try for a better photo than the above appalling effort, but by the time I got there the bird had vanished. Water Pipit is another one of those birds that I can go a long time without seeing so I was pleased with today's bird - a species I've still yet to see in Exmouth.

Monday, 12 February 2018


I was stood in the back garden mid-morning, scoping Sparrowhawks across the river, when I had a strong urge to see Goshawks. Being prime time of year, and being the half term break I realised that I could actually go and see some so, with the family all busy, I jumped in the car and tootled up to a known site. Within seconds of getting out of the car a single Goshawk drifted from right to left across the valley in front of me. Minutes later and I was watching a different individual on the soar - presumably a young male as it seemed to be a bit buffy beneath, and wasn't especially large looking, though there were no birds nearby to compare size with. It soared ever higher without a single flap and eventually I took my eye off it to sketch it. A few minutes later and what I assume was a third individual soared up from the ridge. This bird was more 'contrasty' and clearly an adult male, briefly joining a couple Buzzards that easily out-sized it. This bird's hooded appearance was discernible and it was clean white beneath.
So no 'fluffy trousers' and no displaying today but some fabulous prolonged views. I should really make the effort more often.
On the way home I popped in to Stover Country Park to see the Goosanders, and was glad I did as they showed superbly in today's beautiful light. About a dozen birds, all redheads bar one, were seen.
Other bits and bobs from today included the Long-tailed Duck off the Grove, 2 Peregrines sat on the mud off Mudbank and a Dartford Warbler on the East Devon Commons late this afternoon, whilst walking the dog.

Female Goosander - Stover CP

Nuthatch - Stover CP

Drake Tufted Duck - Stover CP

Drake Goosander - Stover CP

Green Woodpecker - Woodbury Common

Sunday, 11 February 2018


A big flock of c1500+ Linnet opposite Woodbury Business Park. Well worth a look as they make quite a spectacle lining the power lines. A couple Brambling and a small number of Chaffinch in the area too.
Interestingly the Devon Bird Atlas states that during the survey period, the maximum flock sizes recorded were between 200 and 550, but in early February 2012, 1500 were near the Exe Estuary and in 2010, hard-weather  movement brought 2171 to the Exe. Whilst watching this flock today, small parties seemed to be frequently supplementing the flock. I'd love to get a handle on the precise numbers involved in this flock and I'd be very interested to hear if anybody else manages to count these brilliant little finches. Easy to see from the road. Not easy to count!

Please click on photos to get a better idea of the flock size.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Snow Geese

Snow Geese - Powderham Corner
I'm sure there are some of you that will think I've lost my mind, but I love wildfowl, and despite having birded in the States a couple times I've never seen Snow Geese, anywhere. This morning I just fancied seeing them so, with Joel's football rained off (and a wasted drive to Tiverton), I popped over to Powderham to have a look. To say they weren't difficult to pick out is an understatement. The pair was visible the moment I stepped out of the car, but that's no surprise. Smart birds despite being of highly dubious origin, and I'm glad I went. On the river were c500+ Dark-bellied Brent Goose, c30/40+ Avocet and c2/300+ Lapwing. Nearby a lovely flock of winter thrushes included c50+ Fieldfare, c30+ Redwing and 4 Mistle Thrush. Great to catch up with Andy Bond this morning.
A quick whiz round Countess Wear on the way home produced just 14 Gadwall, 8+ Teal and a Grey Wagtail. No Chiffies. Disappointing.
Exmouth produced the usual selection of good birds today. Maer Rocks early morning - 75+ Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 3+ Turnstone, 2+ Purple Sandpiper and 2+ Red-throated Diver. Off the Grove - Great Northern Diver, Eider, Long-tailed Duck, 3 Red-breasted Merganser and 10 Great Crested Grebe.
This evening the Bonaparte's Gull was feeding off Shelly Beach before drifting towards the quay where a small group of birders was gathered. Nice to see Mike Tout there.
Grey Wagtail - Countess Wear

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Bonaparte's Back

The Bonaparte's Gull fed off Exmouth Quay again from 1605 - 1630 this afternoon - often down to just a few feet. Also 1 Great Northern Diver off there and nearby - 2 Great Northern Diver and an adult Mediterranean Gull from the Grove. On Maer Rocks there were 9+ Purple Sandpiper and 4 Turnstone, with a Great Northern Diver offshore.
Yesterday a quick look off the Grove produced 60 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 1 Eider, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Great Northern Diver and 2 Sanderling. Eleven Linnet were on the Imperial recreation ground.
Finally, on the 5th, I found at least one Water Rail in the small reed bed at West Lodge, following no records in Exmouth last year.
Shag - Exmouth Quay

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Yellow-legged Herring Gull

First-winter Herring Gull with yellow legs and bill base - Exmouth Quay. Not sure what to make of this bird. The tertials look remarkably plain and not at all Herring Gull-like, presumably due to wear, but in flight it looked like a perfectly ordinary Herring Gull. I wondered if the yellow is due to some sort of staining, but I think the colouration is too even for that. Just a pigmentation anomaly?

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Further LWT shots

Note how much lighter the plumage tones are in sunshine, but there's no denying the extent of brown in the nape and rear crown. 

I've just been sent some more shots, taken by the finder of this bird, this afternoon. Note in the flight shot below that although blurred, the outer tail feather appears wholly white and there is perhaps a small amount of white at the tip of T5. I think this strengthens the case for this bird being blythi but I really need to do a bit more reading up on the subject.
The bird apparently first appeared in the garden about a week ago, which goes to show that birds are on the move, even in the middle of winter. It's partial to the fat balls that the owner puts out which reminds me, I need to replenish my supply.........

There appears to be some moult contrast in the tail - central tail feathers presumably old and perhaps indicating this may be a first-winter bird?

Lesser Whitethroat

I was lucky enough to be invited to see this Lesser Whitethroat at a private address in Exmouth today. It's the first wintering individual that I've seen in Devon, so I was keen to see what it looked like. There's a good possibility of it being one of the eastern races, most likely 'blythi' (Siberian Lesser Whitethroat), but assessing exact colour tones is pretty tricky, and seeing the extent of white in the outer tail feathers even trickier.
I enjoyed good views of the bird, at close range, and was struck by the brown tones on the rear of the crown, indicative of blythi. This isn't always apparent in the photos but was consistently noted in the field. Note how the colours vary in this small selection of photos, but photo number three is clearly overexposed.
A huge thank you to the occupants. It was a pleasure to spend time watching this bird in a wonderful garden, jam-packed with birdlife. Hopefully, further photos will help the identification. In the mean time if anyone can shed any further light on the likely origins of this bird I'd be very grateful.

Note the presence of some white in the supercilium, that changes in prominence depending on the bird's posture.

A slightly over-exposed shot but note the slightly paler wing panel in the secondaries.

This photo probably gives the most accurate representation of colour tones though it doesn't really show the warm brown tones, creeping up from the mantle on to the rear crown.

This photos shows a warm brown tone to the rear crown and light apricot wash to the underparts, which contrasts with the white throat.