Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Back in Boscastle for Easter - March 2013

With a four day break for Easter, it was off down to Boscastle for a spot of west country birding. With the continually cold easterlies along the south coast, migrants have been few and far between on my local patch, so I was hoping to add a few to my year list this weekend. We drove down late on the Thursday night, and on Friday morning I took the chance to check out Valency Valley. It was bitterly cold and the hazy sun did little to add any heat, nonetheless there were some signs of spring breaking through.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage - Valley Valley

The flora in the valley is typical of a damp wooded valley and is carpeted with bluebells, although only one or two were in flower. Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage covers the dry stone walls and wild daffodils are abundant in Minster churchyard. The flora this year was way behind last year, in part due to the cold weather, but mainly because it was a very early Easter this year. Greater stitchwort, red campion, primrose and ramsons were all in flower, but only a few of each.

Bird wise there were no migrants present, I would have at least expected the odd chiffchaff or blackcap, but alas no. The usual woodland species, blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, treecreeper and goldcrests were all very visible though. Even the river itself was fairly bird less although I did eventually find one dipper and a grey wagtail. It was good to compare the British race of dipper Cinclus cinclus gularis with the nominate black-bellied C. c. cinclus that I saw in Norfolk earlier this year. Although difficult to make out, the red brown on the lower breast are just visible in the image below, the underparts are uniform dark on black-bellied.

Dipper - Valency Valley

On Saturday 30th March I had to visit Bude and took the opportunity to walk along the cliffs. It was a gloriously sunny day and by the time I arrived there were people and dogs everywhere. Fortunately the pitch and putt course was cordoned off so not too many dogs were straying onto it, and so an ideal refuge for newly arriving northern wheatears. The most I saw at any one time was five, but birds seemed to be continually moving through, so I am sure there were many more. Some of the male birds were just stunning, as the individual below...such quality birds wheatears!

Northern Wheatear - Bude

As I settled down to photo the wheatears, my attention was distracted by a moth that settled between my legs to get out of the wind. Due to the cold weather moths have been a bit of a rarity this year, and this March moth, as it turned out to be, was my first of the year. Quite what it was doing in the middle of a pitch and putt course with no cover was a bit of a mystery. I guess it had been disturbed from its place of shelter and got blown there in the brisk wind.

March Moth - Bude

Another migrant that is typical of this time of year is white wagtail Motacilla alba alba, the nominate subspecies of the British pied wagtail M. a. yarrellii. White wags have a plain grey mantle and rump, a black hood with a clear border between the hood and mantle.

Pied Wagtail - Bude

Unfortunately, none of the birds I saw were white wags, but I did manage to get some great views of a couple of pied wags that were more intent on feeding than bothering about me.

Pied Wagtail - Bude

On the way back from Bude I stopped briefly at Davidstow Airfield, another good place for migrants and waders. There were at least 20 wheatears scattered around the area, a couple of ravens croaking loudly as they attacked a grey heron and that was about it. Crowdy Reservoir wasn't much better so I headed home. As I did a flock of around 50 golden plover put in a brief appearance, wheeling around before settling back down on a recently ploughed field.

Northern Wheatear - Davidstow

Sunday 31st March began with an early morning stroll around the cliffs at Boscastle, before being confined to the house for domestic duties. I started with a stroll through the scrub on The Stitches before settling down in a sheltered spot for a bit of sea watching on Willapark. The Stitches were predictably quiet with chaffinch, robin and dunnock being the most numerous species. The cliffs too were extraordinarily quiet with no fulmars or herring gulls settled on their usual nesting places, although the offshore islands were covered with birds. The sea was a bit more lively with fulmar, guillemot, razorbill and shags all present, a flyby male peregrine added to the excitement and a steady trickle of meadow pipits moved west. A sudden flurry of activity by the auks attracted a couple of sandwich terns, who made quick work of catching and swallowing their prey before the herring gulls got to them. As I was leaving I had the feeling I was being watched and suddenly noticed a peregrine sat watching me. It seemed more intrigued than perturbed by my presence, probably because it knew I no chance in getting too it on the unstable cliff face.

Peregrine Falcon - Boscastle

Monday 1st April began as Sunday with an early morning stroll around the cliffs at Boscastle, before packing up and heading home. This morning I did  the route in reverse, looking at the sea first before heading up to the scrub on the stitches. The sea was much as the day before, even with two sandwich terns feeding just offshore, but then a couple of close gannets and an adult kittiwake came into view. Two male peregrines were sat on the cliff face, one was calling constantly, presumably trying to scare off the intruder from its territory. This went on for about 10 minutes before the intruder took to the wing and flew north, watched all the way to the horizon by the other bird. It was nice to see that two fulmars had taken up residence on a suitable nesting site since yesterday morning, just maybe spring is on the way. The Stitches were as quiet as the previous day, with the only new species added being a jay and a couple of fly over linnets.

Northern Fulmars - Boscastle

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