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SPONSORED BIRDWATCH 2006, THE RESULT.

Paul Boulden


Wednesday, 31st May, 2006

The alarm clock went off at 01:30 and a glance outside revealed clear skies and a light breeze, much better conditions than last year when it was very foggy with drizzle and stronger winds. A look around the garden in the hope of seeing a Tawny Owl failed but there was the usual Swallow roosting in a shed to get the list started.

I then spent an hour or so driving around local lanes looking for Owls but they have been elusive recently and evaded me again. I then drove to Bennet's Cross ( near Warren House Inn ), arriving well before dawn. Whilst waiting for the sun to rise I heard at least two Ring Ouzels singing which was encouraging as the have been hard to find this year with some local birders wondering if the recent declines have resulted in the loss of Ring Ouzel as a breeding species on Dartmoor, happily that doesn't seem to be the case - yet.

Just before 5 a.m. I crossed the road and went to the edge of the heather to catch a glimpse of a Grasshopper Warbler, in the pre-dawn light it looked strangely yellow, as I watched it a Kestrel flew overhead, this was a great start as both species went unseen last year ( this time four Kestrels were seen during the day ).

On the other side of the road, towards Vitifers, I saw several common species and had excellent views of a male Ring Ouzel, whilst returning to the car a male Red Grouse flew down from the lower slopes of Birch Tor, the first I had seen for two years and a good omen for a large day list. The drive to Sousson's Plantation revealed another eleven species ( including Great Spotted Woodpecker and Stock Dove ). A quick look along the main path of the plantation turned up only three more species but one was Redpoll which are not easy even if you have time to wait. Driving off, I was very pleased to see a Green Woodpecker - a bogey bird for me and another species which can easily be missed, it would be easier if I counted birds I heard but, unlike normal bird-races, I only count species seen and identified.

Just before arriving at Challacombe Farm there were three groups of Bullfinches in the hedges, one of many species which can be tricky to find on demand. The farm added another ten species including Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher but there was no time to spare to look for the Iberian Chiffchaff that had been in residence for a while. This was followed by a drive up to Headland Warren Farm which delivered the goods in the shape of a Wheatear and a Whinchat. The total now stood at forty two.

The journey to Trendlebeare Down didn't add to the list but Garden Warbler, Tree Pipit and Mistle Thrush were added soon after arrival. Yarner Woods added Raven, Nuthatch and Wood Warbler ( amongst others ) and a Grey Wagtail that flew across the exit road was a welcome sight.

Dartford Warbler and Turtle Dove were seen at unusual locations, as they were likely to be breeding the locations will be withheld. They are easily found at other, well known, locations but these sites saved a little time. A visit to Exminster could have provided Woodlark and Cirl Bunting ( as it did last year ) but there were none to be seen so I moved on to Topsham.

Bowling Green Marsh added another twenty species including a selection of ducks and waders, there are often odd ducks and geese there which are easy to see in a short time, very helpful when chasing numbers. The viewing platform on the Clyst did not add anything.

Exminster Marshes was rather disappointing as well, adding only Pheasant, Lapwing, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler, as with the previous year some time was wasted looking for Hobby.

At this point the score stood at eighty one so a target of a hundred seemed possible. Unfortunately there were road works at Powderham so I couldn't stop in the usual place where a view of the lake would have been possible. A quick look over the estuary added two gull species and Oystercatcher. It would have been useful to go to Dawlish Warren but my mobility is rather limited so it was out of the question, it would also have been extremely busy as it was half-term which would have made birds harder to see anyway.

I had a couple of spots where I might see a Dipper so a bridge over the River Dart near the A38 was the next stop, there were no Dippers there but a young Kingfisher was a surprise, there were also several Grey Wagtails present, a pair of adults and a scattered group of youngsters which were spread over a large area of the river, the adults were obviously agitated and I suspect that the youngsters had fledged early, possibly due to disturbance from a dog ( there was a spaniel in the water making a lot of noise and running along both banks ).

Gara Bridge was the next stop but again no Dippers, at both sites the water level was higher than usual ( after recent heavy rain ) with faster flow so I suspect the Dippers may have moved to wider, slower moving parts of the river. Driving past my house added Rook to the list ( I knew I would pass the rookery here so hadn't spent any time checking corvids after identifying the other species ), the list now stood at eighty five.

Slapton was next, this is one of my regular patches so I was able to add Great Crested Grebe, Reed Bunting and Cetti's Warbler very quickly, a Sand Martin over the Lower Ley was slightly unexpected as they have mostly moved inland to breeding sites by this time. There was nothing much at sea so I took the Torcross short cut and looked from Beesands beach for seabirds. It is odd that there are often more seabirds to be seen off Beesands than Slapton, this is probably due to birds crossing Start Bay at an angle and therefore being too far out to be seen from Slapton.

Three passing Guillemots were soon seen together with some distant Gannets, a couple of Shags were close inshore as were large numbers of Kittiwakes from the nesting colony at Hallsands. There was nothing new on the Ley so on to Start Point.

From the road there were several Whitethroats and viewing from the car park returned Peregrine and Fulmar. The list now stood at ninety six so the hundred was tantalisingly close but with few possibilities remaining. There had been a pair of Red Leg Partridges at Start Farm but they were usually on the road at first light ( taking grit ) and difficult to locate at other times. This time I was lucky and I heard the male calling from the field beside the farm track, after ten minutes I saw both heads peering out from the long grass beside the hedge. It was now after 7:30 p.m. so there were few places left to look. A phone call to Perry Sanders brought the suggestion of Cirl Bunting at West Charleton Marsh. I initially looked at Frogmore Creek for ducks or waders with no joy so on to the marsh. I was unable to see or hear any Cirl Buntings and was just about to leave when Perry arrived, after another few minutes we heard a male singing and soon located him at the top of a tree.

I thanked Perry and left, on to Bowcombe Creek to look again for waders or ducks. I was hoping that either here or the Kingsbridge Estuary ( viewed from the slipway by the pumping station ) might still hold a Redshank or maybe a Greenshank or Common Sandpiper but there was nothing to be seen. It was a little late in the year but it is also possible that the extra disturbance of half-term may have moved birds out of sight.

It was now getting a little exasperating, I wanted the hundred species but was running out of daylight and tiring rapidly, the only place I could think to look before the final stop was Thurlestone Marsh where a quick look from the car might have brought a Shoveler or possibly even the local Marsh Harrier - but it didn't, there were very few birds present, none of them unusual. At this point I was resigned to falling short but still went on to East Soar where, at 9:12 p.m. the resident Little Owl put in an appearance on the roof of the partly restored house. At this point I had to be satisfied with what I had seen so headed for home, whilst keeping an eye out for any owls but it was not to be.

I thought that ninety nine wasn't bad but there is a postscript to the story ( as there was last year but then it was a Black Headed Bunting the following day in my garden ) . The following day I was checking the list when I realised that, due to rushing, I had neglected to write Oystercatcher on my list so I had in fact succeeded in seeing 100 species in the day.

In conclusion it was a successful day in terms of numbers seen but it could have been better in terms of money raised, however we will be able to provide quite a few more nestboxes as a result.

Postscript:- Since this report was posted on the website several people have sent contributions, thank you to all of them.

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