BIRDWATCH 2006, THE RESULT.
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
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
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.
Since this report was posted on the website several people
have sent contributions, thank you to all of them.