Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Live From the Ley

I'm roaming again, this time with the FSC's trainee tutor scheme, and for the next six weeks I'm out and about in the south west. Over this time I'll be split between the fabulous centres at Nettlecombe and Slapton Ley; and in between observing the best that FSC teaching has to offer, I'll be exploring the local environment to find out what I've been missing out on since I moved north.

My main targets while I'm down here are cirl bunting, cetti's warbler (I still haven't gotten a photo of one) and fire crest, plus whatever migrants I can bag.

We started out at Nettlecombe, having a couple of really great days in the local rivers and on the Bristol Channel. Obviously I was most taken by the shore day, adding snakelocks to my UK anemones list. There were also good numbers of all our native topshells, and well as copious juvenile shore crabs and the biggest rag worms I have seen in my life.

Snakelocks Anemone

Purple Topshell

Shore Crab

The third was the start of a three week stint at Slapton Ley (which comes with attached NNR). When we got to the pub last night we were informed that the murmurations were still in full flow in the nearby north ley. It turns out my fellow trainees are also keen to get to grips with their birds, so expect outside input now and again.

I was awake before dawn on Monday, and - obeying the "birds-before-breakfast" rule - I was down the hill to the reserve just after seven. A quick orientation walk gave me 8 gold crests and a yellow-browed warbler and a late hobby (doubtless held by the numbers of starlings), then I trudged back up the slope to work. We started the working week easing into our duties and getting to know the area, and - when released from our duties - Ami and Ilo joined me in dashing off down to the reserve to catch the returning starlings. If the girls weren't sure about the benefits of birding before dusk, they certainly were by the time the first 2000 starlings swooped in low over the bridge.

Monday's Bag:
Starling murmuration (40 - 45,000 birds)
Yellow-browed warbler
Hordes of goldcrest
4+ Cetti's warbler
Tufted duck
GC grebe
40+ GBB gulls
10+ Cormorant
3 Grey Heron

Tuesday morning, and I had convinced the girls to get up at 6 30 to see the starlings emerge from the roost. A power cut in the night meant a very dark morning. But Ilo and I still made it to the reserve for 6 50 as the first dribs and drabs were leaving.

The birds were just warming up, wheeling low, barely breaking the top of the reeds. Then BAM! Sparrowhawk! The reeds exploded with 35,000 birds. They took of low, and we lost sight of the sprawk as the starlings streamed over our head. 30 seconds later, they were gone... Then Ami arrived. Bad sprawk timing.

Abandoning the bridge, we went in search of potential firecrests, and I told the girls how to separate cormorant from shags. Further down the trail we scanned for cettis breaking cover, and I pointed out tufties on the lake and a silhouetted kingfisher as it broke for the bridge.

As the girls went to pick up their bags from the B&B, I stood with Dennis on the bridge, counting the 1000's of migrating woodpigeon. A cettis made a quick flash under the bridge and there was a rail feeding directly opposite us. Dennis is a mine of information; a resident of twenty years, he's an accomplished ringer, has studied wagtail roosts in the area, and is well connected in the area. He's already clued me in on the bet places to go for cirl buntings... Here's hoping

Tuesday's Bag:

Starling Murm
gold crest
tufted duck
grey heron

Taking off
Dropping in


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