Monday 27 February 2017

Icelandic banker

Our recent half-term whistle stop tour of Cornwall saw me squeeze in some birding between visiting my god-daughter in Bodmin and friends in Falmouth, admiring the excellent National Maritime Museum at the latter among various other sights the county has to offer. One of the highlights was checking out a huge flock of gulls following the tractors of Polgigga as they made busy in the potato fields. Up to four Iceland Gulls had been reported in the area so I thought it would be a banker, but while I only caught up with one, at least it treated me to a close fly-past.
Iceland Gull at Arden-Sawah near Polgigga
I think a 2nd winter bird
Flying right overhead - note pale iris
Here with one of the tractors
It wasn't all as successful though. While at Bodmin, I nipped out to Dozmary Pool to see what I thought would be another banker - the long-staying, oft-returning drake Lesser Scaup. As you can see from the picture below, I couldn't see the pool, let alone the Lesser Scaup. A two hour wait by a hedge in the Nanjizal Valley looking for a Little Bunting was similarly unsuccessful, though at least there was no fog. Passing Choughs, a stunning male Hen Harrier and my first butterfly of 2017 - a Red Admiral - kept me entertained as I waited.
The sweeping vista of, er, fog at Dozmary Pool
Chough - one of a pair over Nanjizal
A male Hen Harrier hammered through Nanjizal
As is often the case it ploughed on without looking back
Red Admiral at Nanjizal
A bit of a rematch with another banker, the Hudsonian Whimbrel at Boat Cove, was successful, though it wasn't as close as on my visit this time last year. A few other waders were on the beach along with the mobile Whimbrel - soon to be downgraded from full species status as a result of changes to the British list.
Hudsonian Whimbrel at Boat Cove
Revealing the diagnostic all dark rump in flight
Grey Plover at Boat Cove
Curlew at Boat Cove
A couple of distant Red-throated Divers off Boat Cove
On the way home, after a bit of luck seeing an American Wigeon at Exminster without too much searching, there was just to time to take a short detour to look for a Little Bunting near Axminster. A couple of locals were looking for the Bunting when I arrived, and although it had been seen not long before, tales of them multiple dipping on this elusive bird did not leave me feeling very hopeful. The light was also fading, but with the rest of the family playing games on a variety of mobile devices in the car, I thought I would give it the last hour of daylight. After just half of this, a flock of previously unseen Reed Buntings flew up from the long grass, and as they alighted in the trees around me, one gave the distinctive ticking call of a Little Bunting. While it didn't exactly pose for a photo, I managed a couple of shots of it partially obscured by vegetation to cap off a good trip.
Little Bunting, Trinity Hill LNR near Axminster
It would not sit out in the open for me in a couple of brief views
This Reed Bunting was more obliging

Saturday 25 February 2017

Humpback Whale in Devon

A rare experience today seeing a Humpback Whale just 100 yards or so off an English shoreline - so lost for words I couldn't even summon up a bad whale pun for the title of this post. Thank to Steve Smith for the lift and the rugby referee style loud blast of the whistle when first relocating it off Blackpool Sands.
The Humpback Whale off Slapton Sands
Note the abrasions on the body
This was taken a few minutes earlier looking down from the coast road near Blackpool Sands
A passing Gannet gives some idea of scale
A fairly constant escort of gulls followed the Whale
The Whale's blowholes are on the right of this picture, the wind carrying spray to the left
The books say Humpback give a 'mushroom shaped' blow - a bit mis-shapen in today's stiff breeze
Humpbacks raise their tail flukes before a deep dive
Wonderful to see the huge tail out of the water
It was raining hard when these were taken so not great photos
A few whale watchers were at Slapton - boats have been asked to avoid the whale, and happily we saw none anywhere near it today - mind you, it wasn't really sailing weather
My driver and companion for the day, Steve Smith
A Black-necked Grebe at Slapton was slightly overshadowed by the Humpback

Tuesday 21 February 2017

A tale of two estuaries

A short break with the family over half-term in Cornwall gave me the chance to catch up with two species of American duck, both relatively rare on these shores. First on the Hayle, a Green-winged Teal, the American cousin of our Eurasian Teal. We were staying in Hayle, so I nipped out before breakfast to look for it. There are usually plenty of Teal to sift through out in the channel viewable from the causeway over the head of the estuary but on arrival I could see just half a dozen. To my surprise, the Green-winged was one of them and it fed quite close in the shallows on a rising tide.
Drake Green-winged Teal on the Hayle Estuary
This was the entire Teal flock - what chance that one of the six would be the Green-winged?
Green-winged Teal
 A bit of aggression between drakes of the two species
When the Green-winged Teal stood on the mud a metal ring was apparent
Do any ringers out there think this look like a bird band from a North American scheme?
My second American duck of the trip was seen on the way home - an American Wigeon at Exminster Marshes, at the top of the Exe Estuary and just a few miles detour from our route home up the M5. Several large Wigeon flocks were evident on arrival - a slightly daunting prospect to search through them all - but a tip-off from a local birder who was just leaving suggested the bird I was looking for might be in one of the closer flocks. And so it was, picked up with just about my first scan of the bins.
A Spoonbill was also at Hayle
A young bird with horn-coloured bill and some black in the wing tips
First winter drake American Wigeon at Exminster Marshes
The Wigeon flocks were much larger than the Teal flock on the Hayle...
...but the American Wigeon was quite easy to pick out being near the front of the nearest flock
The American Wigeon spent most of the time feeding intently - a rare view with the head raised here

Monday 20 February 2017

Bunker birding

I made the trip to Thurlestone Bay in Devon last November with my friend Trevor to see my first male Desert Wheatear in Britain. The bird was a bit bedraggled that day, so as I was heading to Cornwall with the family for a few days over February half-term, we took the southerly route along the A38 putting me within striking distance of this attractive rarity again.
On arrival at Leasefoot Beach, the Desert Wheatear was not present - a bit of a worry as it had been consistently there for several months, even returning after a short absence when it seemed to take a dislike to being trapped and ringed. I stuck around admiring the folded geology at each end of the sandy beach, and on returning to the base of the dunes was pleased to find the Wheatear catching the last rays of sun. When flushed by a dog it vanished over the dunes and I refound it perched on the roof of a small shed belonging to the local golf course. Away from the crashing surf I could hear its quiet sub-song - a scratchy warble mingled with a bit of melody - a real treat to hear this in the UK.
The Wheatear then perched up on some scrub at the edge of the golf course and continued to sing - I got some decent pictures of it with one of the greens as a backdrop, a pleasing contrast and a change from the classic views of it on the sandy beach which have littered the internet in recent months! It won't be long before the Desert Wheatear's northern cousins are arriving on spring migration - there must be a good chance of seeing both species together on Leasefoot Beach before the Desert Wheatear moves on.  

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Wader wonderland

Almost forgot about these, languishing in a dusty corner of the hard drive labelled 'January'. Some cracking waders from around Poole Harbour last month.
This summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit was at Shore Road - the same bird I photographed this time last year
It has spent many winters now returning to this site, standing out among its more conventionally plumaged brethren
Bar-tailed Godwits, Shore Road
Compare to the more plain-backed Black-tailed Godwit 
This bird was feeding alone and at close range in Poole Park
Black-tailed Godwit
Oystercatcher, Shore Road
A blizzard of Avocets at Middlebere (click to enlarge)