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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.268

Published on: 5 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 4 Dec, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

Inclement Atlantic westerlies continued the theme for November as we drifted into the second half of the month.

Despite the forecast, my wife and I took the opportunity of a much overdue break down to Devon.

Scenic Devon.

It had been our first chance to get away for a few days in over a year. Although intentions were for it not to be a birdwatching holiday, I decided to take my cameras just in case, for a few scenic shots at least.

It would have been rude of course not to pay respect to a lesser known species of gull that happened to be visiting Exeter Quay while on our travels.

It had previously been reported near to Cricklepit Bridge by the quayside.

Exeter Quay.

The cost for me was a pot of tea and a slice of carrot cake for my wife at one of the numerous cafes by the quayside while I set off in an attempt to find the glaucous gull.

Feral pigeons, Cricklepit Mill, Exeter Quay.

Eventually, I found my ‘target’ bird among a group of other gulls and feral pigeons gathering for their daily feed from the locals.

A first winter Glaucous gull at Exeter Quay.

Glaucous gulls are the only kind of large gull found in the highest reaches of the Arctic during summer and the second-largest gull in the world.

They breed in Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and winter from in the North Atlantic to the North Pacific oceans. A few, as with this one, occasionally winter in the British Isles.

Black and mute swans, Exeter Quay.

An added interesting sight while there was a pair of black swans on the river.

Taking in many of the scenic autumn views as we travelled north across the rolling Devon hillsides, we eventually arrived at our residence on the northern side of the county.

Unlike the gentle rolling Surrey Hills, we found steep slopes and dells that made for faster flowing streams and rivers. Thus being a perfect habitat for a rather special kind of bird rarely seen anywhere close to the Surrey borders.

River Lyn, Lynmouth.

On the River Lyn, at Lynmouth, while mesmerised by the constant flow of water down through the boulders and stones, several dippers could be viewed.

Dipper on the River Lyn, at Lynmouth.

Dipper on the River Lyn, at Lynmouth.

They dipped between the rocks disappearing out of sight beneath the water to feed on small invertebrates within the substrate.

Exmoor ponies.

On the moorlands of Exmoor a few of the infamous Exmoor ponies could be viewed.

Golden plovers on Exmoor.

As much of an interest to me are the large groups of golden plovers that winter there. Some could be occasionally seen, disturbed into flight in flocks of 50 or more.

For the most part, continued inclement weather and shortening daylight hours restricted us to the contentment of the surrounding views from the place where we stayed.

Early morning mist across the valley.

From our vista we looked down through the valleys and watched the mist as it evaporated in the morning light.

Red deer, Devon.

Distant red deer ambled across the hillside.

Common buzzard, Devon.

While a pair of common buzzards, with what appeared to be one of its young, spent their time feeding on grubs and small vermin among the sheep in the surrounding fields.

Raven, Devon.

A pair of ravens were also a daily sighting, often first heard making their guttural cronking sounds.

At nightfall, we listened out for the sound of tawny owls. My wife even glimpsing one as it passed by the kitchen window.

Rainbow over a North Devon hillside.

For us, it was far from a holiday for chasing rainbows. We just let them come to us for a change.

Returning to Guildford, I decided, as earlier in the month, to again visit Tice’s Meadow, http://www.ticesmeadow.org/ near Aldershot. This was on November 22.

Great white egret, Tice’s Meadow.

As on my previous visit, a great white egret was once again making an appearance. On this occasion, for a while at least, a little closer to view from the waterside hide.

Dartford warbler, this one a recent sighting on Whitmoor Common.

Continuing to be a surprise sighting there, although distant to view across the meadow, were two Dartford warblers – some way from their natural heathland habitat.

Gadwall, Tice’s Meadow.

Adding to the day’s sightings, several gadwall ducks were present close to the hide.

Adult great crested grebe, Tice’s Meadow.

A great crested grebe passed by close to the hide.

Pochard, Tice’s Meadow.

While a growing number of pochard could be viewed.

Wigeon, Tice’s Meadow.

And wigeon were also present.

Lapwings, Tice’s meadow.

A group of 50 or so lapwings took flight across the water, only to reposition themselves on another section along the far bank.

Goosanders, Tarn Pond, Cutt Mill, Puttenham.

By the latter weeks of November the first pair of goosanders had arrived back to take up their annual winter residence on Cutt Mill Ponds in Puttenham.

Mandarin ducks.

While the resident mandarin ducks continued to be viewed out on the water.

As the last days of the month approached, the dominance of low pressure systems bringing wet and windy westerlies began to wane.

High pressure had begun to build to the north of the UK and across Scandinavia blocking the Atlantic flow. A retrograde in the airmass had begun to bring light winds from the east lowering temperatures down to single figures, with several damp and overcast days.

Far from best for photography, nonetheless I visited Worplesdon churchyard at Perry Hill.

By now the yew berries had already been depleted by the winter thrushes.

Redwing feeding on holly berries.

The redwings, still present, had now found the holly berries ripe enough to consume and could be seen busy working their way through them.

Dank and dreary weather made for a challenge in my photography at Britten’s Pond too.

Juvenile great crested grebe on Britten’s Pond.

Two juvenile-looking great crested grebes could be seen out on the water.

Long-tailed tit, Britten’s Pond.

While a small group of long tailed tits did a circuit around the lakeside.

Britten’s Pond.

But apart from a dozen or so black-headed gulls, all was still and quiet across the water.

Raising my hopes for the coming weeks have been reports of more than 250 Bohemian waxwings along the north and east coasts of the UK. For me, an irruption of these birds would be a welcome sight.

Waxwings, Onslow Village, February 2013.

It has been nearly a decade since the last winter influx of these endearing birds from across the North Sea. And with winds turning to easterlies, things were starting to look hopeful they might once again grace our berry bushes within the Surrey Hills.

Waxwings get a great reception along Aldershot Road, Guildford.

Browsing through my achieve of photos, I have decided to show a few, for readers unfamiliar with such delightful birds, and what to look out for.

I really can’t believe it was that long ago when I last saw and took photos of them!

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test 3 Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.268

  1. Susan Smith Reply

    December 5, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    Some lovely photos in that article well done!

  2. Carolyn Armstrong Reply

    December 6, 2022 at 9:27 am

    I always like reading the Birdwatchers Diary. Great article this time and I hope I get to see the waxwings.

  3. Gillian Patricia Stokes Reply

    December 6, 2022 at 9:53 am

    Thanks for this report. North Devon is my favourite place. I have seen most of your birds but golden plovers over Exmoor is news to me.

    Exeter Quay: not seen glaucous gull but black swans great. Always see dippers; clever smart dudes like most birds.

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