Monday, 25 January 2016

Local goodies from the last week...

Dave Helliar has had a great time last week in the local counties with some fine birds and great photo captures to go with them. Kicking off the selection is the long staying (though often elusive) drake American Wigeon at Bowling Green Marsh in Devon:

American Wigeon: Dave Helliar
American Wigeon: Dave Helliar

Next up are Purple Sandpipers at Lyme Regis - not nearly as many as usual this - presumably because of the mild weather.
Purple Sandpiper: Dave Helliar 
Purple Sandpiper: Dave Helliar 
Turnstone: Dave Helliar 
Brambling have been very scarce this winter in the southwest so this local bird was a nice find...

Brambling: D. Helliar
A trip into Dorset towards the end of the week yielded good opportunities at Radipole in Weymouth on the 20th:

Bearded Tit: Dave Helliar
The resident drake Hooded Merganser: D. Helliar
Med Gull, adult winter: Dave Helliar
The car park has always been host to some good
gulls and meds dominate it some times.
Med Gull, adult winter: Dave Helliar

Never get tired of seeing Med Gulls - one of my favourite birds. Thanks for sharing your week in pictures Dave, another round-up soon.

Friday, 22 January 2016

River Regulars...

Every year for the past few years my father-in-law and myself have taken one of the post Christmas river cruises on the Exe in Devon. Today was that day for 2016 and despite a less than encouraging start to the weather the heavy rain cleared around 10am in Exmouth and the sun broke through. In fact as it turned out it was also one of the warmest trips we've ever done at this time of year - a spring-like 13 degrees no less!

The warmer weather was a little less good for bird numbers and variety than normal but we still had a great time getting wonderful views of the river regulars:

Some of Avocets on the river: R. Harris
One of my favourite birds, so elegant: R. Harris
Avocet: R. Harris
Great Northern Diver: R. Harris
Great Northern Diver: R. Harris
Brent Geese, lower numbers this year: R. Harris
Curlew: R. Harris
Pair of Red-Breasted Merganser. No trip
would be complete without these: R. Harris
Red-Breasted Merganser, female: R. Harris
...and the male
A single Common Seal on the sand banks
Young Shag, good numbers this year
We also saw three Goldeneye, around 40 Pintail, a few Greenshank and a very distant Slavonian Grebe - not to mention large numbers of Dunlin, a few Sanderling, 50 Pintail and reasonable numbers of Black-tailed Godwit. Not a bad way to spend 3 hours on a sunny January day.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Black Red...

Gotta love Black Redstarts. Charismatic little birds and always a pleasure to see. When I lived in Chard I use to get one or two regularly passing through my neighbourhood every Winter but nowadays it's usually a trip to the Devon coast if you want to catch up with these beauties. Nine times out of ten you see the more drab coloured female/immature type bids (see photo in previous post) but this is a stunning male and definitely deserves more than a second glance:

Black Redstart, male: R. Harris
Black Redstart, male: R. Harris
Black Redstart, male: R. Harris
Black Red (and white): Dave Helliar
Black Redstart: Dave Helliar

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Local round-up from the last week...

Thanks to Dave Helliar for his local photographic round-up of birds from the last week. Kicking things off are the long-staying Glossy Ibis at Seaton and one of several Black Redstarts also present this year:

Glossy Ibis, Seaton: Dave Helliar
Black Redstart: Dave Helliar
Closer to Chard were these Mandarin Ducks and Little Owl:

Mandarin Ducks: Dave Helliar
Little Owl: Dave Helliar
Another long-stayer was the Stolford Snow Bunting. Always cracking birds to see and this male was no exception:

Snow Bunting: Dave Helliar
Snow Bunting: Dave Helliar
Snow Bunting: Dave Helliar
Snow Bunting: Dave Helliar
This family of Whooper Swans has been out on the Levels for a while. Though mobile, Dave managed to catch up with them near North Curry on 4th January as well as the Mudgley Cattle Egret, Red-crested Pochard and Scaup at Cheddar and a Merlin on the Levels.

Whooper Swans: Dave Helliar
Cattle Egret: Dave Helliar
Short-eared Owl: Langport
Nicely rounding off the week was this Devon Dartford on the 6th:

Dartford Warbler, Devon: D. Helliar
Dartford Warbler, Devon: D. Helliar
Stonechat: D. Helliar
And this Dipper in Somerset on 8th:

Dipper: Dave Helliar
Dipper: Dave Helliar
Not sure I should be wishing on retirement but I wish my weeks were more like this - nice one Dave and thanks for sharing.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Grey Phalarope and rough seas...

Last day of 2015 and James McCarthy finds a Grey Phalarope by the Cobb Wall at Lyme Regis. What's a birder to do? I love Lyme but boy does it get busy these days, no longer the quiet bolt hole it use to be in the middle of winter. My initial response was to avoid it like the plague but after an hour's consideration I decided to go for it. A phone call to Dave Helliar (he'd been thinking the same thing) and he decided to come along too.

We arrived to find the top car park heaving with traffic - no point in trying to park down near the Cobb itself when it's like that so we found a space and walked down into the town instead. The phalarope had been reported by the Cobb Wall as viewed from Monmouth Beach but it was hard to believe that one of these little wonders could survive in the churning white froth - I haven't seen it this rough in a while. But it was still there. Dave soon picked it up almost in front of us as it moved up and down the beach, staying loyal to the waters just west of the Wall. Perhaps just as surprising was the complete lack of other birders present while we were there, we had this little beauty all to ourselves, just a dozen or so people taking photos of the waves and a few chancing their lives close to the shoreline. It was so rough it was almost impossible to keep up with it through the camera before it vanished into one huge wave after another often in the company of a juvenile Kittiwake. Dave grabbed a few shots and got about 5 seconds of video before giving up and just watching the bird whiz around in the surf. Great way to finish the year.

Grey Phalarope and Kittiwake at Lyme Regis: R. Harris

There's a Grey Phalarope in there somewhere! :D. Helliar
Juvenile Kittiwake: D. Helliar
Fighting the wind, juv Kittiwake: D. Helliar
Juv Kittiwake: D. Helliar
Grey Phalarope: D. Helliar

Friday, 1 January 2016

Looking back and forward...

2015 has been a strange year for me. I've lost family members and friends this year, far more than in a 'normal' year. Most notably my mother-in-law in February  and my father in June. The result was a life changing house move and fewer opportunities to go exploring than planned. Indeed many plans were made and most of them had to be put aside. Everyday life was effected - hoping that will all change in 2016.

Bearing in mind I've had fewer opportunities to get out in 2015, it's maybe not surprising that I didn't even see an adder this year despite extensive searches locally! Populations have certainly decreased dramatically but it's not often I can say I've seen more Smooth Snakes than adders in a season. I'm still optimistic I'll rediscover a local population next year, I have a few places to check in the Spring.

More of these than adders in 2015?
On the plus side the family move from Chard to Whitestaunton has opened different opportunities to log the wildlife in and around the in-law's garden and pond. When I haven't been able to get out further afield, this has been my saviour - it has literally kept me sane this year. It's also thrown up some interesting stuff, not least a green sandpiper on the garden pond in September, not something I would have ever predicted.

There have been some rarer birds though. The highlights including an adult summer plumaged White-winged Black Tern at Wareham in Dorset closely followed by a red-footed falcon in the same area.

The Wareham White-winged Black
The Black Hole Marsh Baird's Sandpiper was unexpected as was a local Spotted Sandpiper near Chard. One of my favourites last year though has to be the Hudsonian Godwit at Meare Heath, not a UK tick but a welcome addition to Somerset's  bird list and a fantastic bird to see outside of Canada.

The Hudwit: Dave Helliar
And then there was the very showy gull-billed tern near Newton Abbot - yes, there have been some good things in 2015 I'm pleased to say.

The Newton Abbot Gull-billed Tern
So what does 2016 hold in store? We'll, I'm certainly making plans, despite some of the challenges we now face as a family. I'm hoping to get more overseas trips under my belt in the coming twelve months and with it some good birding and herping but I'd like to think I can also put in more quality time in my local (Three Counties) region as there's still plenty of good wildlife to see and film roundabout. No doubt bats will feature high on the list again, as will spiders - Eresus sandaliatus is firmly on my hit list for 2016. There are also a few introduced reptiles I'd like to get on film too - the magnificent Green Lizards at Bournemouth and maybe the naturalised Aesculapian snakes in North Wales. The year ahead will be a good one and I hope that (with help of my friends - thanks for all your contributions in 2015 Mr Helliar), Three Counties Wildlife will continue to flourish. A happy and prosperous New Year to you all, let's make it a good one.