Saturday, 30 November 2013

November in Topsham

7th-29th November - Topsham

It seems like I've spent most of November chasing just one bird. I found a Water Pipit at the Rec on the 7th, got rather poor photos and virtually every day for the next three weeks it's been giving me the runaround. Here's a selection of some of my more 'successful' attempts.

Water Pipit - Topsham 7/11/2013
The first day (above) - not bad I thought, it's at least identifiable. It's likely to stick around for the Winter so I expected much better photos to come.

Water Pipit - Topsham 15/11/2013
A week later (above) and the bird is still only giving brief and distant views - though at least sometimes the light was better. It tended to fly at the slightest provocation and when it flew, it flew far. It's favoured stretch of shore was also alongside a path used by dog-walkers so even if I kept my distance, someone else would flush it sooner or later.

Water Pipit - Topsham 24/11/2013
This one (above) shows the diagnostic warm brown rump and upper tail coverts, clearly different from any Rock Pipit. There's an interesting difference in colour tones to the previous photo, due to light and me playing with the white balance to get a truer picture. Also just visible is a white-tipped outer tail feather. After nearly three weeks, and over 200 shots, these are still the best I've managed.

Water Pipit - Topsham 27/11/2013
I've been surprised at the attention this bird has attracted, I counted seven other birders at the Rec recently. Some might have been there hoping for views of the Bearded Tits still hanging around - although I still haven't so much as heard them. I can go weeks without seeing anyone but dog-walkers. It's clearly a quiet period in the Exeter area - Water Pipit is not exactly a rare bird, I find them to be virtually annual at The Rec.

Meanwhile, gull-watching goes on - someone's got to do it. Common Gull numbers are rising and often there's a Mediterranean Gull hiding among the Black-heads. Of course, the real interest is in the larger species, and here's my first michahellis of the Autumn at the Rec. I saw this bird probably on the 24th, but distantly and briefly and I got no photos, on the 29th it sat on the spit for a few minutes before flying off. There followed the usual procedure with such suspects: the bright white head draws attention, then the coverts and tertials checked out ok, I had reservations about the quite well-marked scapulars but they're certainly within the 'range', the head and bill shape isn't classic either but it'll do - actually the bill looked a lot more impressive when in flight. And when it flew it removed any doubt with an absolutely classic michahellis wing and tail; dark inner primaries and almost 'Lapwing-like' white rump, coverts and tail base with a thin, neat black band, narrowing to a point on T6. It's just a shame the light was so bad I had to do without my teleconverter and shoot at 250/sec - hence the blur.

Yellow-legged Gull 1st winter - Topsham 29/11/2013
Yellow-legged Gull 1st winter - Topsham 29/11/2013
I don't know how many Water Rails breed in the reeds across the river but I hear them nearly every day, sometimes I see one furtively creeping on to the mud on the far shore, very rarely I see one in the open on 'my side'.

Water Rail - Topsham 29/11/2013

Water Rail - Topsham 29/11/2013
Finally, we have a new addition to the already impressive collection of local birding sites, and another place to check when 'doing my rounds'. The new stretch of the Exe Estuary Cycle Route opened a few weeks ago; a raised boardwalk and a new bridge over the Clyst alongside the railway which coincidentally gives access to the RSPB's previously hidden Goosemoor reserve. Here's the new path, the fences still smelling of resin and freshly-sawn wood.

New Boardwalk/Cycle Path, Goosemoor
A view across the reserve, looking north to Fisher's Mill and up the Clyst Valley.

Goosemoor, Topsham
The water level is controlled by a 'regulated tidal exchange' device - basically a ballcock - which allows a limited amount of water in on a rising tide and lets it out when it falls. The result is a few shallows pools, low islands - for breeding terns and Avocets? - and a good extent of estuarine mud right in front of the path, nothing here today but maybe good close views of waders in the future? All the views across the pools are to the north or north-east which means none of the light problems of sunny mornings at the Bowling Green - and perhaps the birds might be closer?

Goosemoor, Topsham - exposed mud at low tide
There is a downside, the reserve can only be watched through narrow slits. I guess they're great for people of a certain height - mainly children, perhaps - but I'm a little over 6 foot tall and have to stoop to look through the highest gap, and it feels like peeping through a letterbox. The whole experience is a bit disappointing, it's potentially a great site for good close views of waders - and it's sure to get some quality birds in time. But while walking on the path there is nothing to be seen but fence, there are no wide views across and above the pools and no views at all without using the handful of viewing slits. While it's handy to be able to rest bins or camera on the wood of the openings, I've noticed that the whole structure shakes when a runner goes past. I can fully understand why it was necessary to screen the path to minimise disturbance to the birds but I wonder if more extensive facilities might still have been possible?

Goosemoor, Topsham - the letterboxes

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