Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Choughed to Bits

The weather forecast had predicted rain, and cor blimey were they right. Setting out close to 05:00 it had already been at it for a few hours and at that time it could be described as moderate. The early start was as much about getting a clear road as anything, but it seemed everyone had the same idea and the traffic was heavy for that time of day. By the time I reached Honiton in Devonshire the sleet had replaced the rain

and things were little better when reaching the Tamar Bridge crossing into Cornwall. First place to be visited went under the name of Dozmary Pool, and though I found signposts for direction they were little help as they were not consistent.

Reaching the tiny village of St Neot with it oversize and imposing church I knew at least this was the right track

and stopping to take this supposed rather picturesque photograph I nearly drowned in the process. The weather was not getting any better.

Finally with a little help from passers-by I reached Dozmary Pool

and started my search for a

Lesser Scaup.

With only 10 Ducks on this smallish lake the task wasn't that difficult,

the problem being everything was so far away.

There were however 2 things in favour here, one being all observations could be made from the car, and two at least the bird wasn't on neighbouring Colliford Lake that is a couple of hundred times bigger.

To illustrate this first Year Tick of the day a better image taken in British Columbia, Canada has been taken from the archive.

Passing through the administrative city of Cornwall, this is all that could be seen of Truro Cathedral but at closer quarters it is a magnificent example of what may be described as one of Great Britain's more modern high churches.

Penrose House, just 1.5 miles south of Helston, is built on the side of my next port of call,

and is now in the hands of the National Trust.

Loe Pool is the largest natural lake in the whole of Cornwall, and for some days now it has been supporting another 'rare' Duck from the Americas,

a Bufflehead which today was far too distant to photograph (thank Keith from In Focus, for the Mighty Midget 'scope)

but these pictures give some idea of what the bird looked like, all except for the adult male on the right of the lower image.

is famous for an emblematic bird that only exists in a few places in the UK, and entailing just a 12 miles drive, worth every minute.

The Lizard Lighthouse, I have used this light as a bearing during my sea-going career on many, many occasions,

but The Lizards most noted claim to fame is that it is the Most Southerly Point of Mainland Great Britain.

Looking round the sweep of Lizard Bay. In my search I found one of these enigmatic bird on these rocks below me, but it was soon gone. Never fear, as behind me there was the 'call' of at least another one which were soon located in the next field.

The Chough (pronounced Chuff in English) is name after a miss-spelling of the sound they make,

and is one of the finest examples of the Crow Family.

Endangered for many years, there is now a programme of protection that seemingly is doing very well, but this fragile species needs

a specialist diet found only on the short cropped grass of these sea cliffs.

As far as the county of Cornwall is concerned this is the most important of birds, featuring on many of its Coats of Arms.

A great day, despite the weather which continued until I got home, adding a further 3 species to the Year List.

The Year (January) List now stands at 199
but there should be no talk of final hurdles etc. There is a plan for tomorrow with the prospect of 4 or 5 new additions, but one will be difficult enough!

Monday, 30 January 2012

(Up A) Lazy River - Louis Armstrong

A peek through the curtains this morning looked like the weather had conspired to scotch the 200 challenge, but on closer inspection the heavy frost was simply confined to cars and not the roads. Having said that, the 'gritters' were in evidence as I passed through Abbotsbury at 06:00 on my way to Devon again to try and redress yesterday's 'blank'.

There had been no news on the 'bird alert lines' about the Long-eared Owl at Exminster Marshes but that was the first port of call where I found nothing after a 30 minute stay.

is only a 20 minute drive away, and with my determination to get something on the score board I dug in for the long stay. At the small harbour of Cockswood the tide appeared still to be low, but it is so far up the estuary that there was still time for it to fill.

After the walk across the dunes footpath the bird hide was found to be empty, not really what I wanted as a little 'local knowledge' usually proved to be very helpful.

The view from the hide of the rapidly filling River Exe Estuary was mainly of wading birds, not quite what I was after, but with 'thousands' of them to look through it would keep me busy while also searching for the Duck.

As the tide rolled in the birds got nearer but the only wildfowl recorded thus far were a few Red-breasted Merganser, half a dozen Shelduck plus a few flights of Brent Geese.

Oystercatchers where gathering in many hundreds,

while the tens of Redshank were getting closer to the hide by the minute.

Dunlin too were in good numbers,

but as for the other Ducks they were right over there some 2Km away.

The odd Curlew was now getting closer seeming content to feed, but there's always someone wants to spoil the party.

Seemingly without provocation, this Carrion Crow made a number of attacks

on this Curlew which seemed quite capable of holding its own. While this shot does show the Crow with a pebble in its bill, it seemed every bit as if it was deliberately dropping stone on the Wader?

Grey Plover and Knot both held their ground until the water level was above their bellies, so never really got too close to the hide, but that's when the Cavalry arrived. Lee Collins and his mate Dave are 2 local birders who seem to have their finger on the pulse and told me they had seen the target bird but only from the Golf Course. There was much activity on the links, but remembering the words of Banksy - "it is easier to get forgiveness than permission" - it was game on!

Only a couple of hundred metres further on, but out of sight of the hide, I found the American Wigeon

in company with a few Eurasian Wigeon,

all fairly distant and keeping close to the sedges.

Not only was the bird logged but the walk was back towards the car

and the Golf Club entrance right next to the car park, things were starting to work.

This image taken in the USA is for illustration of how they look close up. Beaming with success it was now time to drive the 5 miles or so to Topsham, where my next target had last been seen yesterday.

Dart Farm is a massive complex of shops, fishing lakes, gardens and open fields where it took no time at all to find the Brent Geese

and very soon after the Red-breasted Goose.

An older lady with a pair of broken binoculars approached and asked what I was looking at,

and was delighted when I told her. However, she was having difficulty following my directions (or more likely I was not being too explicit),

but lending her my optics she was soon on it and even more thrilled that previously.

A closer shot of the Lodmoor bird a couple of years ago for illustration. It was now time to bomb (slowly) up the Motorway to Burnham on Sea in the county of Somerset on my next pursuit.

There at the River Brue Estuary it could be seen, looking to seaward, that the tide was well out,

and the river bed almost dried out looking inland. To find no local birders is always a little disheartening, but my search got underway finding quite a few Redshank and a single Little Egret, and then up on the bund a whole host of telescopes. Surely this meant these observers had the bird, but on closing distance I heard one lady utter those immortal words " yes that was it flying away to the east"! This was a group from Warwickshire looking for the same bird, while soon the group leader claimed he had seen it which turned into a false alarm.

It was some time later that the same man did locate the Lesser Yellowlegs

but we all had to make a dash to catch up with him. It remained distant at all times,

and a little flighty but none the less seen fairly well and

another archive photograph for the record. There was a further option of trying for a Yellow-browed Warbler some miles down the road at Ham Wall, but it was now 15:30 and raining. A drive home seemed far more practical, which is what I did but hope to be out on the prowl again tomorrow!

The Year (January) List now stands at 196
4 species and just 2 days.