After an appointment at hospital concerning my injuries I had finished by 3.30. The weather today has been fantastic, sunny all day, a real Indian Summer. I went out to Cockwood to see what was about. In the harbour there was 3 Black Tailed Godwits feeding in the harbour mud. One had a broken leg which was quite distressing to see as he hopped along.
Today is a very special one for me, if you have stumbled on the blog by accident, please read this. I served for 35 years as a musician in the Royal Marines Band Service and on this day 20 years ago 11 of my fellow musicians were brutally murdered by the IRA in a massacre at the Royal Marines School of Music. This incident changed my outlook on life forever, I live for the day and remember my good friends killed in such atrocious circumstances. The explosion occurred at 8.29 so imagine my thoughts when, sat in my hide and at exactly 8.29 the Green Sandpiper that I have spent 4 days and 8 hours waiting to catch. landed right in front of me. Here are some of those images. I must admit that my emotions did get the better of me as I snapped away, and I perhaps missed some of the best shots as I thought of Mac, a bird watching buddy killed on that day. Who knows, perhaps Mac sent the bird to me. The coincidence is a littl!e too much to take in.
Perhaps someone could explain to me why citizens of Ireland travelled to England and murdered 11 innocent young men. Musicians, fathers, husbands, bird watchers, sportsmen and good friends who represented the best that UK can muster. I am not in a position to forgive but I will never forget. I also hope that if you are Irish you may take some collective responsibility for the hatred that your religiously intolerant society created.
Having had such an exciting encounter yesterday I decided to try and repeat it. I made my way back to the brook at around 7 and set up the hide quickly as usual and took my place. Things were looking good at this time. I had placed a broken branch from a nearby vandalised tree in a good place and my hide was placed strategically. Grey Wagtails immediately were on the scene but it was still not bright enough for a good photo. By now it was about 20 past 7 and I became aware of talking behind me and the Egret, as usual perched just a few feet away from in his favourite spot, flew off. The talking got louder and then more voices were heard. To cut the story short, eventually someone decided to throw a rock at the hide! Can you believe that? I quickly exited and the stupid men, because that's what they were, not kids, scattered like children. Eventually one showed his face and I asked him if he really was an idiot or was he pretending? He denied my accusation but being the "bolshy git" that I am, I proceeded to insult him even more, this made me feel a bit better but my Kingfisher watching was over for today. It seems that this is not going to be practical during the week because of the nearness to the factory behind. I came back home taking some comfort from knowing that I am free to do what I want for the rest of my life and these morons are stuck in a factory for at least another 20 years!! Perhaps if they thought it through a bit they would realise that if they were just a tiny bit more intelligent they could have adjusted their life to retire in their 50s like me.
So now back at home, stuck with no transport, the sun shining beautifully I took a sobering photo out of the Bathroom window of a Sparrow....... back down to earth a bit. But it's a nice bird and a nice picture. Great Tit, Robin, Blue Tit, Rook (on the roof), Collared Dove and at last a young blackbird Hen, really oddly the first Blackbird in the garden for weeks and weeks.
It would be very hard to put in to words what a great, great exciting, fulfilling and rewarding morning I had today. To start with I don't normally get up at the crack of dawn, I am not a morning person but I made an exception today. I set the alarm for 6 and by 20 past I was on my way to the nearby Alphin Brook. I thought that if I got in to my hide before dawn, then when the sun rose I would be in position and hopefully get a shot of the Green Sandpiper that I have seen for the last three days and I really would like to get a good photo of this species. So I approached the chosen spot and even in the darkness I disturbed a Grey Heron fishing in just the spot that I had planned to be. I quickly set up and within a minute I was tucked inside with a coffee poured. It was still quite dull at way past 7 and even though the Grey Wagtail was around my feet almost, it was too dim to get anything like the kind of photo I want. So, at around 7.40 I was pleased as the sun started to rise and cast a bit of light on proceedings. I was even more heartened when the Wagtail appeared to my left and I started to get a few shots of it............. then wow... wow .... wow....... just a few feet in front of me a Kingfisher appeared and my heart raced as I realised that I was going to get the best chance ever to photograph Britain's most attractive and iconic bird.
I couldn't believe my eyes late this afternoon. Being stranded at home without transport, it was dull and overcast, there was very little going on in and around the garden. I decided to take a trip in to the City to organise a few things but diverted to the local trading estate to have a look at a new scooter.... but that's another story. I was literally stopped in my tracks as I crossed the Alphinbrook, at this stage a concrete eyesore that is constrained between high concrete banks at pavement level. You would think it about the least wildlife friendly place in the whole of Devon. There, in the water below, adjacent to Lidl's car park, was a Green Sandpiper! It was bobbing away in the shallow water which at this point trickles over solid concrete. If that was not enough, a Grey Wagtail was nearby. Perched above, only a few feet from the main road and pedestrians, was a Little Egret. Of course, I had no camera and I stopped a bloke, a total stranger in a BMW and told him about the bird and my need to get my equipment 2 minutes by car back in to the village of Alphington. He didn't even hesitate and gave me a lift back to get my gear. What a hero. As soon as I got back the Sandpiper, still feeding away, took to the air and landed down stream amongst an area that is a little more natural. after only a few minutes it came back to the original spot and I took just 2 photos before a dog walker disturbed it and it left again. Here is one of the photos.
We had a crazy few minutes in the garden at lunchtime. I sat quietly enjoying the sun watching the hoverflies when I heard, and then saw a beautiful little Coal Tit. Suddenly what seemed like a dozen or so Long Tailed Tits flitted over from the apple tree to the large Cotoneaster just feet from me. I remained stock still as one descended on to the feeder, it realised that I was there and then went back up to the safety of the tree and it's flock mates which also contained Blue Tits. Birds are definitely on the move again, we had a Goldfinch on the feeder yesterday for example. We had our first Robin for months yesterday and this morning I heard it again. But the crazy minutes went on......... a Comma Butterfly - Polygonia c-album, a garden first was by the top pond and then amazingly a Migrant Hawker Dragonfly zoomed around.
A family trip to Wales yesterday ended up with a visit to Caerphily Castle, one of the largest in Britain. It is surrounded by a moat, obviously well established and a haven, or so it appeared, for waterbirds including Great Creasted Grebe, Mallard, Greylag and Canadian Geese, all (apart from the grebe) in quite large numbers.It was perhaps one of the sunniest days of the year and quite a sight. As we approached the drawbridge a few wagtails by the moats edge, caught my eye. I expected them to be Pied Wagtails - Motacilla yarellii but was very pleased when I realised that they were Grey Wagtail - Motacill cinerea. I was even more pleased when I realised that they would allow quite a close approach. They were around a sluice overflow, feeding and drinking. I shuffled down the steep bank trying not to slip. That would have been a diabolical disaster with a broken collar bone which is healing nicely now, but it didn't happen and I got myself safe and perched without coming to any harm. I have honestly been waiting to photograph Grey Wagtail for a couple of years. I just haven't been able to get close enough, but I knew I would eventually. Here in this tourist attraction the birds were very used to human activity and didn't care that I was quite near. I did feel a bit odd though amongst the Japanese Tourists and babies in push chairs. I snapped away as they came and went and the light was good, if not a bit harsh. this photography lark is so unforgiving! I am really pleased with the results, the photo shows a female and if you look carefully you can see that she is in moult showing pin-feathers on her head.
I have had a few nice days out over the weekend and today with a few wildlife opportunities presenting themselves.My damaged shoulder/collar bone aches like the proverbial, but I am trying to carry on regardless and get the most out of the late summer sun and the good company of my sister who I enjoy being with so much. She has an enquiring mind and takes an interest in everything that always appears to be a bit excessive, just like me!.
Yesterday we went to Teignmouth and had a look at the Rivermouth and beach. An immature Great Black-backed Gull was on the beach amongst the Herring Gulls and showed really well, it was good to compare the size of this bird compared to a Herring Gull. A very interesting piece of of behaviour was observed when a Third Winter Herring Gull flew low over head and dropped, in fact almost threw a cockle down on to the concrete path to break it open and get at the tasty flesh. I am sure that this is normal behaviour but never the less interesting and good to observe.
When I got home and looked at the piccies, I got excited for a few moments because I thought I was looking at a Ring Billed Gull a North American species that is seen on our shores from to time as a vagrant. But if you look close you can see that our bird has pinkish feet and a ring Billed has yellow. Compare the Herring Gull with a photo taken of a Ring Billed Gull in Florida earlier this year.
I visited Bowling Green Marsh in Topsham this afternoon thanks to my wifes goodness, she dropped me off because obviously I am still unable to drive.
I was hoping to be able to see the Wilsons Phalarope that has been reported but the state of the tide meant that it was probably out feeding in the estuary. I was however very pleased to see and get some nice views of a Green Sandpiper which I havn't seen closely this year.
Today's insect watching was productive yet again. It's been a funny day weather-wise with a reasonable bright and pleasant start which later turned into heavy dreary rain. I took the opportunity and my coffee into the garden and sat next to the productive mallow clump, seemingly so loved by hoverfly species. Having these broken bones has forced me to concentrate on my garden a little more than usual and I am pleased that this has been so productive. Yet another new species presented it's self today. Eristalis horticolis. Eristalis sp. are Droneflies and horticolis can be sperated from the others by the "shadow" markes on the wings. Other than that this species could be confused with the false Dronefly Myathropa florea. Another large but quite dull Dronefly is Eristalis Tenax, probably the most common Dronefly. I took this nice photo of a female. You may remember that I blogged about Crab Spiders the other day? Well this morning looking into the undergrowth I saw an interesting occurrence played out in front of me.I noticed a small hover which seemed to have a grey abdomen but a quick look revealed a small hover being predated by a crab spider. Not sure of either the hover species nor the spider. Here it is on the end of my thumb, you can see how tiny this little spider is and also note the stripy legs which I am sure I think is going to mark this out as different species.
It has been an interesting yet frustrating month with Hoverflies and insets providing the bulk of interest and activity. August, particularly the early weeks are traditionally quiet days for bird activity.
Interesting sightings have included Osprey still at Powderham, Green Sandpiper on Exminster Marsh and of course the Great White Egret - Ardea alba in Somerset at Chard Reservoir. Further afield in West Yorkshire this months other noteworthy sightings were a Short Eared Owl, Grey Partridge and possible Twite (that doesn't go down as a sighting though). I think the Owl is possibly the most memorable because I discovered it for myself and it was an exciting spectacle.
Garden birds have been quiet to say the least but we have had a Wren, heard but not seen, Goldfinch,Coal Tit, Blue Tit,Dunnock, Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon. The garden highlight was a female Sparrowhawk that made a pass at the bird feeder and specifically a Wood Pigeon (unsuccessfully). Perhaps more notable though was the absence of several species. No Blackbirds seen for several weeks nor Robin for at least 3 months. The Herring Gulls have fledged and left the roof next door but the male continues to be present, making a nuisance of himself. Starlings are notably absent.
Several species of hoverfly in the garden have been great additions to my list. The most exciting was Xanthogramma pedissequem the Ornate Hoverfly But there have been others including yesterday, Myathropa florea - the False Dronefly.