The South West part of my Round Britain UK tour took place this weekend and despite the weather being truly inclement, virtually all of the Target Birds were achieved.
In fact, an almost record-breaking February deep Atlantic low bought three continual days of gale force SW/Westerly winds and intermittent rain - pretty poor birding conditions......
POOLE PARK (DORSET)
We had left Little Chalfont at 0500 hours, arriving at the Poole Park gates just as it was getting daylight. Although we could barely stand up due to the strength of the wind, it was relatively mild - remaining constant all weekend at 12 degrees C.
We had come to Poole Park first to see Dorset's overwintering LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER - a bird we had initially seen at Lodmoor in November. Although there was no sign of it for the first half hour of light, Jon Mercer located it as it flew in to feed in its regular haunt - in the NE corner of the lake directly opposite the Poole Park Pond. The views were quite incredulous - at around 20 yards - and my best of this Nearctic species in a very long time. It was probing for food in the shallow water and seemed quite unconcerned of its surroundings - and remained solitary throughout the period of observation. Both Jon and Simon Knight obtained some superb images of the bird, the bird now having moulted in to first-winter plumage.
At the other end of the main lake, the muddy edge had attracted 8 Black-tailed Godwits, 14 Common Redshanks and a number of Oystercatchers, whilst other species recorded included the adult Australian Black Swan, 41 Mute Swans, 35 Atlantic Canada Geese, Grey Heron, Mallard, 91 Tufted Duck (all on the pond), 6 Common Goldeneye (including 2 adult drakes), Moorhen and Coot.
Frustratingly, a very confiding first-winter Ring-billed Gull was discovered after we left the site but sifting through the gulls earlier had produced an adult winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL amongst the 400 or so Black-headed Gulls present, along with 28 Common Gulls and a number of Argenteus Herring Gulls.
Passerines included Woodpigeon, Common Magpie, Pied Wagtail, House Sparrow (5) and Greenfinch.
A flock of 64 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS was feeding on a fully laden berry-bearing shrub at the junction of Purewell Cross Road and Normandy Drive but were very mobile in the strong winds, commuting back and forth across the road; also numerous Redwings and a single Greenfinch.
SOUTHBOURNE CLIFFS, BOURNEMOUTH (DORSET)
Despite the huge swell on the sea, it was possible to locate a number of seabirds and other species offshore from the shelter of the cliff namely -:
Vast numbers of RAZORBILL and Common Guillemot off shore, a few Northern Fulmars, 20+ Atlantic Great Cormorants, 3 RED-THROATED DIVERS, over 150 Great Crested Grebes and a party of 7 VELVET SCOTERS.
Driving along the Wessex Way in Bournemouth, a pair of Carrion Crows was noted at Richmond Hill.
THE ARNE PENINSULA (DORSET)
At Middlebere, waders on the high tide included a mammoth 818 click-counted PIED AVOCETS, 400 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Red Knot, 5 Grey Plover, 6 Bar-tailed Godwit, 35 Common Redshank, 1 SPOTTED REDSHANK and 200 Dunlin, along with large numbers of Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon and Common Teal.
Two adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were standing menacingly at the helm of the creek, whilst many Rooks were partaking in acrobatic display despite the conditions.
We then walked out from the Information Centre Car Park beyond Arne Farm to the double-decker hide overlooking the harbour and Shipstal Point - a walk that takes about 20 minutes.
The well-stocked feeders either side of the shop yielded large numbers of Blue and Great Tits (25 and 15 respectively), along with a few Coal Tits and Nuthatches, whilst the evergreens in the vicinity produced 5 Goldcrests. There were also a number of House Sparrows in the area, as well as 2 Robins, whilst the purposefully planted Sunflowers and other weeds along the 'Finch Trail' harboured 40 Chaffinches and 10 Goldfinches.
At the hide, we were delighted to find 24 SIKA DEER feeding out on the saltings, including amongst them four fine stags. The eight wintering EURASIAN SPOONBILLS were showing well, initially roosting to the left of the hide and then flying and feeding after being flushed by a PEREGRINE. One of the immatures was bearing rings on both legs - a blue ring on the left and a pale cream or yellow ring on the left inscribed '3Y'.
Also seen were 100 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 173 roosting Common Shelducks, 5 Northern Pintails (3 drakes), 40 Wigeon, 8 Red-breasted Merganser, 200 Eurasian Curlew, Great Black-backed Gull and Common Buzzard.
Heading further west in Dorset, we noted 10 Mute Swans at Wool and 3 Common Pheasants at Osmington.
RADIPOLE LAKE RSPB (DORSET)
At Radipole RSPB, we were instantly greeted by the long-staying drake Hooded Merganser of presumably captive origin in the channel to the right of the car park, mingling in amongst the horde of Tufted Ducks and 7 Northern Pochard. A Little Grebe was also seen.
An adult Ring-billed Gull had been present for a couple of days but had gone awol mid-afternoon, the large number of roosting gulls harbouring 300 or so Common Gulls, at least 9 MEDITERRANEAN GULLS and several Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls.
PORTLAND HARBOUR (DORSET)
Not that much of interest other than 2 Shags, 3 BLACK-NECKED GREBES (including 1 in transitional plumage). 2 SLAVONIAN GREBES and 84 Red-breasted Mergansers, with just 8 Common Starlings at neighbouring Ferrybridge.
THE FLEET (DORSET)
Scouring the fields north of the Moonfleet Hotel produced 10 Roe Deer but the two Salisbury Plain reintroduction Great Bustards had been flushed by a dog just prior to our arrival. They had disappeared to the north but we could not relocate them.
DAWLISH WARREN (SOUTH DEVON)
We spent the last hour of daylight scanning the sea at Dawlish Warren. The sea swell was high and the wind still gale force. We were able to shelter behind one of the coastguard huts where eventually I located the wintering adult female SURF SCOTER offshore, a single VELVET SCOTER, 10 Common Eider, 8 Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe, Shag and 3 SLAVONIAN GREBES.
It got dark at 1730 hours and we then continued west into Cornwall - eventually reaching our destination of St Austell just before 1930 hours.
SUNDAY 6 FEBRUARY
We stayed overnight at Par and were away at 0615 hours. The wind at that time seemed to have abated somewhat but that was not to be the case further west. It remained mild though but still with light drizzle in the air. It was very grey and overcast.
A Red Fox ran across the A39 at Playing Place near Truro
PENALVERNE, PENZANCE (WEST CORNWALL)
It was just getting daylight when we eventually located Penalverne Place - to the west of the town centre and accessed from Penalverne Crescent. From here, we drove down 'Alverne Buildings' and this bought us out to numbers 1-20 'Weethes Cottages' where a very drab first-winter ROSE-COLOURED STARLING was frequenting the back garden of number 15 as well as a garden providing it with apple slices on the opposite side of the lane at the back of the gardens. It was associating with about 15 Common Starlings but did not appear until 0836 hours and was particularly mobile and elusive.
DRIFT RESERVOIR (WEST CORNWALL)
Next off, we had moved west to Drift Reservoir, where with the 40 Mute Swans, 100+ Atlantic Canada Geese, a single Greylag, 50 Mallard and 44 Tufted Duck attracted to the feed being thrown out by the house resident there, was the wintering first-year GREENLAND WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE.
MORRAB SUBTROPICAL GARDENS, PENZANCE (WEST CORNWALL)
By 0900 hours, we had located the wintering BLACKCAPS in the park - a male showing well and bathing in a puddle on the footpath. A party of Long-tailed Tits moved through too.
JUBILEE POOL, PENZANCE HARBOUR (WEST CORNWALL)
With the tide high and waves crashing across the swimming pool, all 42 PURPLE SANDPIPERS and 33 Turnstones were roosting in the sheltered lee on the east side of the wall. The views were typically rewarding. A few Shags were offshore.
LONG ROCK CAR PARK, MARAZION (WEST CORNWALL)
(0920-1015) Despite the huge swell and near gale-force SW winds, the adult winter PACIFIC DIVER was eventually located from the shelter of the red and white coastguards hut, 100 yards down from the Marazion cafe complex. It was close in and just beyond the breaking waves and showed reasonably well for some time as it preened. A total of 3 GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS was in the same vicinity - about the Long Rock - along with a female COMMON SCOTER, whilst the bay held at least 40 Northern Gannets and 3 Grey Plovers flew west.
MARAZION (WEST CORNWALL)
Guelva Landing and environs failed to produce either Water Pipit or Black Redstart - both species wintering there - but did yield at least 10 Rock Pipits and 8 Pied Wagtails.
CARBIS BAY, ST IVES (WEST CORNWALL)
Carbis Bay was like a millpond being completely sheltered from the fierce winds battering the south coast of West Cornwall. Well over 100 Shags were counted in the bay, along with at least 60 Razorbills, a very close-in GREAT NORTHERN DIVER and 8 Kittiwakes (including 5 first-winters). We did not locate either of the two Little Gulls though, nor any Goosander.
HAYLE ESTUARY (WEST CORNWALL)
At Lelant Saltings, we located three redhead GOOSANDERS as well as Little Egret, Common Shelduck, 115 Wigeon, Curlew, Dunlin and an adult winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL.
On the Carnsew Basin, a SLAVONIAN GREBE afforded good views, with 9 Little Grebes and a female Red-breasted Merganser also present.
ST GOTHIAN SANDS LNR, GWITHIAN (WEST CORNWALL)
The drake RING-NECKED DUCK was showing very well, resting amongst a pile of Aythyas including a female GREATER SCAUP, 86 Tufted Duck and 41 Northern Pochard. Other duck present included 10 Gadwall and 8 Shoveler, with a Little Grebe also seen.
CHYVARLOE NATIONAL TRUST CAR PARK, GUNWALLOE, THE LIZARD (WEST CORNWALL)
Just 4 LAPLAND BUNTINGS was located in the stubble field 85 yards south of the car park, feeding with 35 Skylarks and 20 Linnets. Up to 30 Chaffinches were also in the area.
We made our way back along the South Cornish coastline, checking out a windswept and birdless Carrick Roads before embarking on a ferry crossing at the King Harry Ferry. Once on the Roseland Peninsula, we soon located a healthy flock of CIRL BUNTINGS.
LOWER PORTHPEAN, ST AUSTELL BAY (CORNWALL)
Despite a relatively calm and sheltered bay, just 4 divers were located - 3 GREAT NORTHERN and a single BLACK-THROATED. There was also a raft of 40 COMMON SCOTERS present, along with a number of Shags and Fulmars.
PAR BEACH POOL (CORNWALL)
By 1515 hours we were at Par Beach Pool, where the single adult BEWICK'S SWAN was performing well, as well as the two GREATER SCAUPS (immature drake and female).
ST WINNOW, FOWEY (CORNWALL)
A real weekend bonus was the finding of a CATTLE EGRET on the Fowey - one of very few this winter in Britain. This bird was favouring the company of cattle and was showing reasonably well in fields NE of the church (accessed by walking along the public footpath opposite the church and at the second gate, continue 150 yards up the steep, muddy track to the cowfield at the top). We left the bird at 1600 hours.
DOZMARY POOL, BODMIN MOOR (CORNWALL)
The adult drake LESSER SCAUP was resting with a small group of Tufted Duck and Pochard at the south end of the lake.
WALMSLEY SANCTUARY CBWPS RESERVE (CORNWALL)
We finished the weekend tour at Walmsley Sanctuary where the warden Adrian Langton was just departing on our arrival. Fortunately, he provided us with vital information regarding the vagrant geese, and the single TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE and 3 PINK-FOOTED GEESE were intercepted in the short grass field behind the Burniere Hide in amongst a large group of Atlantic Canada Geese. The single adult WHOOPER SWAN was also in this same field feeding with the Mute Swan herd whilst at the reserve proper, the 3 EURASIAN SPOONBILLS were watched until dusk (1800 hours) and numerous Common Snipe were flighting out to feed in the fields.
A most enjoyable and rewarding weekend despite the inclement conditions........