Devon Birding Weekend - 18th to 20th of August 2016.
 
Thursday the 18th of August.

An early start to pick up my two birding buddies Gary Hobbs and Steve Nikols from Nuneaton and then travel to the Somerset levels and our first destination, the RSPB Ham Wall Reserve one of many locations we visited over the weekend.

The weather was very cloudy as we began our route, however upon arriving at the Reserve we were soon baking under a very hot sun.

This was my first visit to Ham Wall, a small reserve but the species seen was very notable, these included, Glossy Ibis, Bittern, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Black Tailed Godwit, Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Curlew, Green and Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Swift, Swallow, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, plus many of the usual birds you would expect to see on such a reserve.

Before leaving for North Devon, we settled down to a picnic lunch generously provided by Gary who excelled with a superb pasta meal which got him nominated as master chef for the next weekend away! We left Somerset and made our way west, ensuring that we would make high tide at Northam Burrows before moving on to our  B & B. Our timing was perfect as we arrived an hour before high tide which gave us superb views of the incoming tide and with it, many birds.

The day was topped off with Fish and Chips at Westwood Ho! and a few beers at the B & B.
 
Friday the 19th of August.

After a great full English breakfast we set off from Appledore to Hartland Point for some sea watching and hopefully Butterflies, Cetaceans and Seals. The weather had by now changed to intermittent rain and strong winds. Upon arriving we explored the bay area, here a total of 5 Grey Seals we observed just a few metres off shore. A pair of Raven had the gulls up and circling the cliffs. Out at sea were Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Great Black Backed, Lesser Black Backed, Black headed and Herring Gull, Kittiwake concluded the birds seen here.
Gannet
 Whilst scanning the sea from the Coast Guard Station area a single Bottlenose Dolphin was spotted about half a kilometre out, it was accompanied by several Gannet overhead no doubt chasing the same fish?

Later in the morning Butterflies were also seen as the weather changed to sunny spells, Wall, Specked Wood, Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Whites and Painted Lady all made brief passes by our sheltered position on an old wall.

Our next location was Marsland Nature Reserve managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. The road leading down to the centre was challenging, but we made it and found a place to park. Steve is very much in to Butterflies, therefore spending a few hours here was on our agenda. This reserve is known for its two rare Butterflies, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary as we got out of the car both species were seen within minutes, tick-tick!

We left after several hours and travelled to Fremington Quay a disused station from the days of steam for an hour viewing the inlet and estuary. Many Redshank, Curlew and Little Egret were the notable birds.

Our last stop of the day was RSPB Isley Marsh, parking at Yelland Quay we took a circular walk along the Tarka Trail, on to the Marsh foot path and around to Instow and back.

Birds of note here were, Grey Heron, Little Egret (33) Osprey, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Common and Green Sandpiper, the usual Gulls, plus Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull. Three species of Tern passed by, Common, Black and Sandwich. A Kingfisher flew at great speed past our viewing spot and we were treated to a huge feeding frenzy of Swallows and House Martins over the water. As we made our way back along the Tarka Trail, Buzzard and Raven were high over the surrounding fields and Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Linnet were also spotted.

The first time I visited the Taw estuary there were really good numbers of Shelduck, all along the estuary and the Fremington inlet. Not one single bird was seen which is worrying?
 
Saturday the 20th of August.

Today we were booked to go over to Lundy Island aboard MS Oldenburg, this weekend was one of my MARINElife wildlife officer trips, sadly the poor weather meant that the sea crossing was cancelled! This day has since been called an “Extreme Birding Day” due to the weather and what was found at the end of the day.

Plan B was implemented, a trip across the estuary to Morte Point for some high sea watching. As we made our way up past the church at Morthoe the wind became increasingly stronger, arriving at the highest point, we could hardly stand up! Not a good start to our day as we left after only twenty minutes. A brief stop at the Esplanade at Woolacombe gave views of the resident Stonechats, plus a few Gannet and Oystercatcher passing through.

Next stop was Braunton Burrows and Crow Point. This area is always good for seeing something out of the ordinary and today didn’t disappoint. Firstly we stopped at the weir on the river Caen to look for Dipper, the resident pair were viewed at reasonable distance, however taking photos was not easy as the rain was pouring down! We managed record shots and then moved on to the Burrows and then along the toll road the Crow Point. Notables were Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Curlew, Kingfisher, plus the usual common bird species.
Dipper taken in torrential rain
 
Curlew Sandpiper with Dunlin a distant record
 After a morning and afternoon of severe bad weather we decided to call it a day and head back to the B & B and then out for an Indian meal.  I suggested a slight detour to Northam Burrows for half an hour and then head back. We all agreed and as we arrived the high tide was making its way towards the sandbanks. The weather was still poor with rain and high winds, so we thought a quick look around and then leave.

Steve pointed to a large black and white bird in the distance which as slowly coming closer as the tide came in. Scopes out and on to the bird “Pomarine Skua!  What a great surprise and not expected, however due to the severe weather over the last few days, who knows what may have turned up. A local birder turned up and we soon had him on to it too, a couple of phone calls to his mates and there was soon a convoy of cars, headlights shining and heading our way along the Burrows. We tried to get record shots, however the light was gone and the wind got even stronger!
 
 
Distant and poor weather record shots
 The night out at the local Indian restaurant was abandoned and a take away was ordered as we all looked for decent record shots to send to the local bird recorder. What a fantastic end to a day of extreme weather.

Sunday the 21st of August.

We started the day with another few hours at Northam Burrows before leaving for Exeter in the hope that the Pomarine Skua was still around, as today’s weather had improved and the sun was shining. No luck, however some of the birders we spoke to the night before said it had been seen a dawn. Birds of note were Dunlin, Curlew, Ring Plover, Oystercatcher, Linnet and Wheatear.

Our next location was in the Dawlish area of South Devon looking for Cirl Bunting. Sadly we didn’t see any, we therefore moved on to the RSPB Bowling Green Marsh Reserve. Here we saw 23 species of bird, which included Ruff, Curlew, Black Tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Common and Green Sandpiper. Reports of a Wryneck had us all scanning the trees, however this didn’t show and we left to start the journey back to the Midlands.
 
Another superb weekend with good friends who share a common passion for Birds and wildlife. Our weekend total number of bird species was 113; this was an increase from last year’s trip of 108.

I now look forward to my penultimate Lundy trip in September and I hope the weather stays fine for it, plus plenty more birding trips with Steve and Gary.

Twitter links for more reports and photos.

@nuneatonbirder  (Gary Hobbs)

@nikols_steve  (Steve Nikols)
Saturday the 30th & Sunday the 31st of July 2016 - North Devon



This month’s Wildlife Officer Trip to Lundy Island also began in Ilfracombe, the sun was shining and the crew of MS Oldenburg were soon welcoming the many passengers on board. With me this trip was Ruby, my fiancĂ©e who like me, was looking forward to another excellent trip. Before boarding a young lady, Emma and her husband who have recently attended a MARINELife training day run by MARINELife’s, introduced herself and we chatted in the queue for the ship. Emma is planning to volunteer to do some surveys at some point this year. We also discussed the role of wildlife Officer and I explained what was involved.


After a brief chat on the bridge with Jason the ship’s captain and Vernon the first mate, I began my tour around the upper and aft deck introducing myself to as many interested passengers that I could. Within 10 minutes of leaving Ilfracombe a single Harbour Porpoise made a few passengers run to the port side to catch a glimpse of this small cetacean.


The first birds of note were Gannet, followed by Fulmar and Manx Shearwater. All three species were seen within a mile of the harbour. We soon had sightings of Kittiwake, Herring Gull; Lesser Black backed Gull and a single Great Black Backed Gull.


As the MS Oldenburg approached the Lundy landing bay the first of six Grey Seals was seen. Our afternoon was spent in the wooded area around Milcombe house looking for birds of note, here a Spotted Flycatcher showed itself. Stopping for lunch on the eastern side of the Island, we conducted an hour of sea watching. 

  Looking down to the sea there were many Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet and the usual Gulls. Numerous Goldfinches were seen, which are now a true success story as they are breeding well throughout the UK. In the surrounding area the gorgeous sound of Skylark was heard and I watched many fly very high continuing their song. Linnet, Meadow Pipit and both adult and juvenile Wheatear were plentiful too.

Juvenile Wheatear
 During our decent towards the landing bay we stopped off to watch a very large shoal of Mullet that were very close to the rocks to the left of the beach. As we expected, a playful Grey Seal soon appeared to start moving through them, it didn’t take any of the fish, which suggests it was already full from an earlier


During the return sailing two separate pods of Common Dolphin thrilled everyone on board. Firstly a pod of 12 individuals, then within 10 minutes 3 more were breaching within 500 metres of the ship.
 
Distant Common Dolphin

 For me, volunteering as a MARINELife Wildlife Officer is always a great privilege as we get to meet some wonderful likeminded people interested in Cetaceans and Birds, however, when you point out Porpoise or Dolphin to passengers that have never seen a cetacean before, it is always a thrill for both them and me!


We arrived in Ilfracombe harbour where the day’s trip concluded, I thanked Jason the captain and his crew for another successful day on behalf of MARINElife and I look forward to my next Lundy Wildlife Officer trip in August.

Birds seen on our trip included, Manx Shearwater, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Lesser and Great Black Backed Gull,, Gannett, Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag, Gannet, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Starling, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, House Sparrow, Wood Pigeon, Swallow, Linnet, Oystercatcher, Skylark, Goldfinchtail, Cormorant, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Wagtail and Cormorant.

Sunday was spent picnicing at Northam Burrows in Appledore a superb open area for watching birds as the tide turns, as it does it brings in many species of feeding birds. Here the birds of note were, Black Tailed Godwit, Littel Egret, Dunlin, Ruff, Oystercatcher, Curlew,Ring Plover, Turnstone, Peregrine, Stonechat, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Starling, Goldfinch and Linnet.


Saturday the 18th of June 2016 - MARINElife Wildlife Officer Trip to Lundy Island.

This months trip began in Ilfracombe, the morning started cloudy but as we made our way towards Lundy the weather brightened up and soon the sun was shining.

The crew of MS Oldenburg were soon welcoming the many passengers on board. This voyage to Lundy had additional people that were going to the island for a four day MARINELife experience. Two of the party were the organiser Rick Morris and MARINELife’s Patron Maya Plass. 


After a brief chat on the bridge with Jason the ship’s captain, I began my tour around the upper and lower decks introducing myself to as many interested passengers that I could. As usual the conversations were positive and it’s always great to hear other likeminded people’s wildlife experiences.

As the ship left Ilfracombe harbour, the first birds of note were Gannet, followed by Fulmar and Manx Shearwater. All three species were seen within a mile of the harbour. We soon had many Kittiwake, Herring Gull; Lesser Black backed Gull and a few distant Great Black Backed Gull.


As the Oldenburg approached the Lundy landing bay the first of three Grey Seal was seen bobbing effortlessly. My afternoon was spent at Jenny’s Cove scanning the nesting birds, here there was good numbers of Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake.

Before the crossing back to Ilfracombe Rat Island provided a further Grey Seal.


  During the return sailing six rafting Puffin were seen off the port side, much to many peoples delight.   


We arrived in Ilfracombe harbour where the day’s trip concluded, I thanked Jason the captain and his crew for another successful day on behalf of MARINElife and I look forward to my next Lundy Wildlife Officer trip in July.
3rd - 5th of June 2016 - Birding & Wildlife Weekend in East Riding, Yorkshire.

Just after sunrise on Friday morning I was up early to collect my two birding buddies Steve and Gary from Nuneaton and we were soon on our way to Yorkshire. Stopping off for breakfast at North Cave nature reserve we all sat with coats, gloves and hats on as the weather was very cold and windy on the 3rd day of June! After some time scanning the lake where there was nothing of great note to record, we carried on towards Yorkshire.

As our base for the weekend was the Brockton B & B in Bridlington we spent the day around the Flamborough area which included some sea watching at North Landing Cliffs. Here birds of note were Eider Duck, Shag, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, lots of Gull species and Skylarks were singing over the fields.
Passing Gannet
 The afternoon was spent at Flamborough Head in extremely cold and windy conditions, looking out to sea all of the birds seen at North Landing were rafting or flying past above the choppy sea. An addition to our list for the day was a great many Puffin a favourite sea bird for many people. Armed with telescopes we got fantastic views and seven Grey Seals were counted amongst all the birds. Before we left, a single Common Scoter was observed looking distictly larger than the surrounding Guillemots!

Before checking in the our B & B the last stop for the day was Bridington harbour and the bay. Here Turnstone enjoyed the pickings as the reseeding tide uncovered seaweed and this in turn brought insects to eat. Looking out in to the bay many gulls were seen along with a Great Crested Grebe, however the best bird for the day was left until last as Gary picked us out a Black Throated Diver. Dinner was traditional seaside Fish and Chips before we finished birding for the day.

Saturday morning began with a visit to an area just outside Bridlington where Gary and I saw five Bee-eaters last year. As lightening does'nt strike twice, we enjoyed an hour looking at the woodland birds which included Goldcrest, Garden Warbler and a female Blackcap.

Part of our planned weekend was to be going out to photograph diving Gannets under Bempton Cliffs, sadly as with last year, the ship was cancelled due to bad weather! The day was spent at the RSPB reserve of Bempton Cliffs, the weather did not improve as the whole area was covered in low cloud which did not clear until around four that afternoon. This reserve really is one of the RSPB's must visit sites, the cliffs are very high and its inhabitants of Puffin, Guillemot, Fulmar, Razorbill and Gannet are a fabulous sight to see (weather permitting of course).




On Sunday morning we travelled a little further north to Filey Brigg to explore this area of outstanding beauty, the weather was sunny and as the morning went on the temperture soon started to rise and made for a very pleasant morning. Eider Duck, Puffin, Guillemot, Gannet, Sandwich Tern and Grey Seals all made an appearance as we walked to top and then down to the end of the rocks and back.

Filey Brigg
 


Lunch was at Filey Dams Nature reserve, a brief stop here before going back to Bempton Cliffs for the rest of the afternoon. There was not a great deal to see here, however Tree Sparrows were viewed at close distance as were Dunnock.

Arriving at Bempton Cliffs gave us a totally different experience, as the sun shone all afternoon which made for further photo opportunities as the light was so much better that the day before.




As we viewed the cliffs from the many platforms we met Kevin Groocock who is also from Rugby and used to come on our local RSPB Group trips before moving to the Bempton area. Kevin now enjoys his Sundays working as an RSPB volunteer.

Pair of Puffin

The weekend came to an end with us all returning on Sunday evening and we are looking forward to our next trip in August, this time to North Devon for four days of birds and wildlife which will include a day trip to Lundy Island.


MARINElife Survey Birkenhead to Belfast 21st -22nd of May 2016.


An early start to get to Liverpool in time for boarding the Stena Lagan began at 05:00am and due to hardy any traffic I was in Birkenhead in plenty of time to enjoy a good breakfast and time to check out the local birds on the river Mersey.


Once through check-in, I with other foot passengers, were taken by bus to the ship and I was soon onboard and heading for the reception team. As with last month’s survey I was allocated a cabin by the very helpful Crystal in the passenger office. Upon leaving my personal items in my cabin and returning to the passenger lounge, she then escorted me to meet the Captain on the bridge. 


Our route would take us west towards the Isle of Man, passing its southern point and then on the Northern Ireland and to the port of Belfast.


As the ship left the Mersey docks there was a very heavy down-pour and my thoughts turned to possibly surveying in foul weather with no hope of seeing anything!


As the Stena Lagan moved along the Mersey the weather abated and as we passed Crosby Beach the rain stopped, the view cleared and it stayed almost clear all the way to within an hour of Belfast Port.


The first of two Grey Seal was seen in the Crosby Beach area, quickly followed by a second ten minutes later.


Birds were very few and far between on or over the sea until the ship was out in to Liverpool bay. The usual Cormorants were loitering on the navigation buoys and the first Terns were seen. 

As I looked out from my superb vantage point on the starboard wing of the bridge, I was assisted by one of the crew who kindly set up the wing instrument panel so that it showed me all the relevant readings that are needed to conduct a successful survey.

Gannet rafting after an unsuccessful dive!
 The ship sailed through Liverpool Bay and I looked beyond the stern where the high speed Steam Packet ship could be seen as it was fast approaching a tanker at anchor. The ship’s name was “Merganser” a very apt name seeing as identifying birds was part of the survey!  


The Merganser Tanker
Sadly this survey did not produce any cetaceans but it did give me sightings of notable birds such as, Black Guillemots, Sandwich Terns, Arctic Terns and Eider Ducks.


The usual birds seen at sea made many passes in front of the bows and were also recorded over the starboard side. One species that always stands out is the Kittiwake (a real sea gull) both adult and juvenile where seen throughout the voyage. General Kittiwake records are down across the UK so it was good to see good numbers of these threatened birds!

 With an hour from the port of Belfast the weather changed to light rain, then thunder and lightning was heard and then I concluded the survey as the torrential rain made it impossible to carry on the survey as I couldn’t see anything.

A brief respite gave views of 3 Eider Duck and a total of 6 Black Guillemot. As we docked the ship was surrounded by many gulls and Common Terns and a Grey Seal feeding in the wake created by the ships manoeuvres. 

Harland & Wolffe Shipyard
  The rain stopped and the sun came out which gave superb views of the port including the world famous Harland and Wolffe shipyard. And as with the aptly named ship earlier, alongside was a drilling platform by the name of “Borgholm Dolphin”. I look forward to doing this survey route again maybe later this year or again next year?