Mid November and a week in North Devon, a weeks holiday and a few birding highlights.

Velator and Crow Point.

The area around the village of Braunton has some really good spots for bird watching, as always I stopped at the river Caen weir to look on the river rocks for a bobbing Dipper. As per my last visit I was not disappointed as one was busy perhaps searching for molluscs and crustaceans.

Onwards towards the toll road that goes to Crow Point gave excellent views of a Little Egret fishing in the margins. The fields were full of Lapwing, Golden Plover and thousands of Starling. There was also over 60 Curlew and 35 Tree Sparrow. On quite a few times a preying Sparrowhawk was seen hunting through all of the above.

Thrushes were visible with Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Blackbird all seen either on the ground or in the bushes and trees.

In between the showers a Barn Owl was quartering an overgrown field which it shared with a Grey Heron. I don't think the Heron was happy that there was another predator on his patch! While watching the Barn Owl a Water Rail was heard, this is my first for the area and a good tick for my Devon list.

Record of Barn Owl

Record 2 of Barn Owl
Northam Burrows near Appledore.

One of the best places in the area for waders at close quarters, once I knew the time of high tide it was off to see what was around and feeding as the tide receded.

Birds of note were Brent Geese, Shelduck, Grey Plover, Ring Plover, Golden Plover, Turnstone, Redshank, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Wigeon and Dunlin.

Little Egret in between the rain showers
Also seen here amongst the bushes and rocks were Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and many Linnet.

RSPB Isley Marsh and Yelland Quay.

Here is also a good place to watch birds with different habitats, meadow, copse, mud flats, sand dunes a pond and a sandy beach.

Notables were Shelduck, Teal, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Curlew. all the usual common birds were seen and included Goldcrest.

I now look forward the another holiday during the festive break which will start my 2016 bird list off with quite a few great birds.
7th of November 2015 - WWT Brandon Marsh visit.

Arriving just after lunch, the weather played a great part in my planned routes around the reserve as high winds and torrential rain ensured that most of the birding was done from the hides! The overall bird count was low only 38 species, however it was not surprising.

First bird of note was a Kingfisher always a joy to see, followed by a Little Egret working its way around East Marsh Pool.

The highlight of the afternoon was my first sighting this Autumn of a Bittern over the Newlands reed beds. Looking back through my journal, this is now the earliest date for seeing a Bittern on the reserve. Lets hope it stays for the winter.

Poor record shot of a Bittern over Newlands from 2013 could this be the one I saw?

As the light began to fade a great many Starlings started a murmuration over Newlands I estimated around 4000. As the birds made superb shapes in the sky I watched a male and female Sparrowhawk attack them. These two were soon seen off by a Carrion Crow and not long after that the Starlings were soon dropping down in to the reeds for the night.

An enjoyable afternoon despite the terrible weather that was made better by seeing the Bittern.

Other birds seen were as follows.

Greylag and Canada goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Black Headed, Lesser Black Backed, Common and Herring Gull, Lapwing, Feral and Wood Pigeon, Magpie, Jackdaw, Coal, Blue and Great Tit, Cetti's Warbler, Wren, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare and Goldfinch.
17th - 18th of October 2015.

MARINElife survey Liverpool to Belfast.

As I arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal for our survey to Belfast, I met up with fellow surveyor Emma, whom I've surveyed with before. We checked in and were soon transported to the quayside to board the Stena Mersey Ferry. Upon checking in at the quest services desk we were allowcated our cabins. After dropping off our bags and enjoying a quick coffee we were escorted to the bridge and introduced to Captain Neil and his crew who made us feel very welcome.  With an early departure, the Stena Mersey left her berth and we began our survey.

Travelling into the mouth of the Mersey we passed the exposed sandbanks which had numerous Oystercatcher and Cormorant sitting at the water's edge, as well as some Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull feeding around a dredger.  We also observed a large group of Sanderling flying swiftly across the bow.

After passing the breakwater we moved further out into Liverpool Bay where we found a sea state of 3, good visibility, scattered sunshine and a few Gannet sweeping across the waves.  It was not long before the first cetacean sighting was made, a single Harbour Porpoise making a brief appearance ahead of the ship.

Whilst we were taking an effort reading, Captain Neil informed us that the ship would be taking the north route to Belfast, therefore keeping parts of the north-west coast of England visible. We had not expected to see Blackpool Tower and the mighty Big One rollercoaster in our binoculars!

As the ship continued its journey visibility improved to 20km and the eastside of the Isle of Man could be seen in the distance, and with this it brought the second mammal sighting of the day. Here, a group of six Common Dolphin charged through the waves and fed underneath a number of circling and diving Gannet 500 metres off the starboard side.

Reaching the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost point of Scotland and an area known for whales and dolphins, we were hopeful of another sighting and we were not to be disappointed!  We were enjoying views of the beautiful coastline now basking in the afternoon sun when three Common Dolphin surfaced 300 metres ahead of the starboard bow. We were able to observe the animals leaping several times as they travelled towards the headland. During this time a Great Skua made a pass in front of the bridge and many rafting Guillemot were seen.

Mull of Galloway Lighthouse
 As we headed towards Belfast Lough a solitary Harbour Porpoise surfaced several times as it moved away from the port side, and just as we thought that was our final sighting of the day we saw lots of Gannets diving.  Amongst this frenzy were eight Harbour Porpoise creating lots of white water as they surfaced to chase their prey.

As the light was quickly fading, we decided to end our survey; so we thanked the crew for their hospitality and left the bridge feeling very happy after a successful trip.

The days cetacean sightings were 9 Common Dolphin and 10 Harbour Porpoise.

Bird sightings were, Gannet, Cormorant, Brent Goose, Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Great Skua, Great Black Backed, Black Headed, Lesser Black Backed and Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill.