Eleven people gathered at Ham Wall car park in anticipation of a good morning’s birding and as usual the Avalon Marshes did not disappoint. We started by searching the car park area for the Firecrests that had been reported and, while they failed to show, we quickly started to find a good number of species, including a big flock of Goldfinches and Siskins on the alder cones. This was the first of several finch flocks we saw during the day, but despite some careful searching through these tree top gatherings, there were no Redpolls amongst any of them.
The new Noah’s hide on Shapwick provided a comfortable stop from which to admire the many hundreds of duck on the lake. The majority were Wigeon (1500 by a recent count), but a search through the melee added Tufted, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler and a few smart Pintail. Two Marsh Harriers added to the excitement, causing flurries of panic in the duck ranks. The walk there and back added Raven, Jay, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Stonechat and a couple of Kingfisher fly-pasts and as we returned to the car parks a mixed tit flock included a Chiffchaff and several Goldcrests. Hints of a Firecrest moving with them were confirmed by some of the group as we lunched in the carpark. Switching to the Ham Wall side in the afternoon added several species we had missed in the morning, including the resident Glossy Ibis, our first (surprisingly!) Great White Egret and Snipe feeding on one of the islands.
All in all a very enjoyable few hours birding with a very good mix of species, giving a final list of 53 for the day. (Many thanks for leading Giles.) Giles Morris
A fine sunny morning with a chilly wind greeted 23 members for a walk around about two-thirds of Cheddar Reservoir perimeter and the remainder on to the levels south of the water to the river Axe and back via Axbridge. From the top of the bank we could see Tufted Duck, Coot in large numbers across the water and a Moorhen near to the bank. As we walked around the reservoir we had a clear view of the several hundred Coot along with a few Great Crested Grebe and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We descended the bank to walk along a squelchy drove to the Axe. On the way to the river Axe, a Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Heron Goldfinch, Dunnock, and Robin were seen though only in small numbers. Somewhat surprisingly no Fieldfare or Redwing appeared and there were no Little Egrets on the Axe and adjacent rhynes, although some members spotted a Buzzard, and over 20 Meadow Pipits were counted. Along the path to Axbridge a Stonechat sat in good view and a Kingfisher flashed by. Blue, Great and Coal Tits fed in the hedgerows and on feeders, a Chiffchaff was heard and two Redwings were the only thrushes we saw all morning. Back on the reservoir path Mandarin Duck and Mallard along with quite a few mixed varieties were on the water, and on the way back to the car park the adjacent woods and scrub produced Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tits giving a total of 45 species. (Many thanks to Mark for leading this walk). Mark Watson
Based at Hope Cove – 20 members; weather – squally with periods of bright sunshine interspersed with showers, driven by a blustery NW wind. Species total: 90
Day 1: We started at Matford Marsh, an informal newish reserve for flood relief between main roads just south of Exeter, to look for an American Wigeon – not there; though Eurasian Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe were.
Next, Labrador Bay, a coastal farmland reserve just south of Teignmouth, for Cirl Bunting. We found abundant Linnet and Chaffinch, and Skylark and Meadow Pipit as well as up to 20 Cirl Buntings sunning on a sheltered hedgerow waiting to be fed. It was many people’s first view of these lovely birds with striped heads with olive surround, and they became the favourite ‘bird of the trip’.
Next, a sea watch on the calm seafront by Paignton Pier, finding Gannet, Shag and Great Northern Diver.
Finally, the Clennon Valley Reserve, Torbay, a modest urban-fringe reserve with woodland, stream and lake, to look for Yellow-browed Warbler. We didn’t find it, though it was there earlier and would be seen later; but we did find a Firecrest and Kingfisher.
Day 2: The early morning beach at Hope Cove had Oystercatchers, Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails and Kestrel, Guillemots and Gannet flying close in.
Next, to South Molton Reserve, Thurlstone, a mile west of Hope Cove – a modest wetland area behind the beach and dunes, with Wigeon, Snipe, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwits, Stonechats, and a Kingfisher balancing in the reeds. The large sea stack off the beach had Cormorant and Shag, with a Grey Heron huddled high on the sheltered side.Next, to the long flat stretch of shingle beach at Slapton Ley, where on the sea side were Shags, a diver which photographic scrutiny resolved to be a Red-throated Diver; and, surprisingly close inshore, a raft of 25 female and two male Common Scoters (Jane’s ‘birds of the trip’…) bobbing on relatively calm waters and easy to view even with bins; with a dolphin diving further out. Then, into the reserve round the Ley (lagoon) behind the beach – strikingly calmer and warmer. We saw or heard a good list of water and woodland birds including Water Rail, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Song Thrush, Redwing (one of only a handful of winter thrushes seen on the trip), Treecreeper, Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Bullfinch; with Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Coots and Moorhen on the Ley.
Next, to Bowcombe Creek, a quiet inland arm of the great tidal Kingsbridge Estuary, to see Shelduck, Little Egret, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Gull – and strikingly, a Cormorant catching and swallowing an eel whose writhing progress down the neck we followed… it became one member’s ‘bird sight of the trip’.
Finally, to South Efford Marsh Reserve by Aveton Gifford (on the tidal headwaters of the River Avon which debouches at Bigbury on the coast west of Hope Cove) – a relatively new reserve with a path running betweenenclosed wetlands on one side and the river on the other. We saw Mute Swan, Heron, Little Egret, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Wigeon, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Stonechat, an LBJ that resolved to a Water Pipit, and Otter prints.
Day 3: Through the beautiful wooded lowlands of Dartmoor Forest national park, to Steps Bridge and Dunsford Nature Reserve on its north-east edge – ancient woodland along the River Teign. Two Goosanders on the river and a Dipper calling loudly as it patrolled up and down. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle and Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Marsh Tit, Goldcrest, Siskin – and for a lucky minority, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker showing fleetingly in low tree growth.
On the drive back we returned to a less obvious area of wetland at Matford Marsh, where kind locals pointed out the American Wigeon sitting with Eurasian Wigeon on the banks of a stream, its dark green face pattern almost black against a greyish face. It was here last year too – a distinctive patch of dark feathers on the creamy crown identified it to the local birdwatchers. And finally our first, and only Fieldfare.
Many thanks as always to Jane for her fun yet focused leadership, and to Keith and Alastair the gallant drivers of a minibus round the too-small, too-steep Devon lanes. Lois Pryce
As November enters its final few days, the prospect of any ‘nice’ days grows dim. Today at East Harptree must be counted one of the dimmest so far, but, it didn’t rain. From the car park we could hear Raven calling and what came after? Well, it had to be, Goldcrest, as it is the next, after RN, in the current taxonomic order. A fair few were working hard in the bare fronds of a Spruce, all so very busy, picking off the tiniest of insects, and never still. A Wren called from the deep cover of some old brown leafed brambles and Goldfinch hung (and for a heart stopping moment we thought of Siskin) on the many catkins of the Birch trees. As ever, the pond by the Smitham Chimney was without bird life – it was coloured brown and the paw marks at the edge spoke of many dogs playing. The first flock of Starling came over and we observed many Fieldfare, Redwing and Chaffinch feeding on leaf litter before retreating to the trees and then back down to feed. More Fieldfares were above us and in the distance a vast flock of mixed corvids appeared above the skyline showing three distinct sizes, so probably Rook, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow. The first Jay screeched out its presence and flew rapidly away into the trees, under which we took our customary coffee stop. Geoff declared the path down to the combe to be a no-go area – far too wet, so we dropped down into the village from the top fields, finding a couple of Pied Wagtail there. We didn’t, for certain, latch onto the Grey Wagtail that is often to be found by the stream, only a silhouette of a departing bird, undulating its way into the gloom. Across the fields and to the house whose owners have given notice of wanting to stop up a footpath – shame. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the woods above the village, two more Jay called and flew, and our final flock of Fieldfare came over. Ten walkers found 28 species and gave Geoff a big ‘thank you’ for leading. Nick Hawkridge
Twenty-six members met at Snuff Mills car park for a walk round part of Eastville Park. The weather was overcast and damp but the rain held off until after we finished. Eastville Park is well used by dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, walkers and a new development; people camping out. Many birds make the woodland their home, in spite of the disturbance. Just inside the entrance to the park we had Jay, Blue and Long-tailed Tit and heard a Redwing and a singing Blackbird, although the song seemed different to normal. It was either a winter sub-song or possibly a European migrant. An obliging Grey Wagtail sat near the weir and we had a good view of its back and tail before it turned round to show off its yellow frontage. We scoured the brush and shrubbery for Firecrest without success but we saw Goldcrest later on. Then we met a lady who had just seen an Otter in the lake. So we hurried down for a look. There was clear evidence of something in the water and a number of the group were lucky to see a head poke up momentarily. It’s amazing how long they can hold their breath. We had our first view of a Kingfisher on the lake and further round we saw two more, adult and first-winter males. They circled one of the islands in dispute over ownership of the territory. A Sparrowhawk flashed overhead on our return journey, the only raptor of the day. A total of 27 species were seen or heard. Thanks to Richard for leading. Alastair Fraser