Archive for March, 2019

Exeter Cathedral (4)

Posted: March 15, 2019 in Devon, History, UK
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The Exeter Astronomical Clock (1484). The upper dial was added in 1760. The door to the works has a hole cut in it to allow access for the Bishop’s Cat to deter mice and rats from taking up residence in the clock.

Elephant Misericord (13th Century). Carved from a drawing of an elephant given as a gift to King Henry III (1207-1272)
Tomb of Bishop Walter Bronescombe (1257-1280) who initiated the rebuilding works of the current Cathedral.

The strange case of the Lady with two left feet. This is a sculpture on the tomb of John Atkinson Rudman, a merchant and Alderman of Exeter. The sculptor has strangely given the lady two left feet. Did he hope no-one would notice his mistake?

Exeter Cathedral (3)

Posted: March 14, 2019 in Devon, History, UK
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14th Century Minstrels Gallery

This unique 14th Century Minstrels Gallery has 14 Angels, 12 of whom are playing Musical instruments.

Exeter Cathedral (2)

Posted: March 13, 2019 in Devon, History, UK
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As I walk into the west door I am taken back by the glorious architecture

Exeter Cathedral (1)

Posted: March 12, 2019 in Devon, History, UK
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Construction of the Cathedral in Exeter began in 1194, but only small parts of this original building remain as a major rebuild was carried out between 1270 and 1350 to give the building we see today. As you approach the west door the wonder of the Cathedral rises up before you and welcomes you into its glorious interior.

 

The final day of our trip to South Devon and Keith and I went to Berry Head Nature Reserve, which is on a headland just outside Brixham. Our first destination is the quarry, where for 200 years since the 1800s Limestone was quarried from the cliff. Today it provides a cliff face and a secluded place for birds.

There are Fulmar nesting on the cliffs and out in the bay a large number of Northern Gannets and Guillemots. This looks a fantastic place for resting migrant birds, but only a few early migrants have arrived so far and apart from the resident species there is little to record.

Fulmar
Rock Pipit

Our next destination is the bird hide which faces opposite the cliffs where the Guillemots nest. At this time, it is estimated that there are around 1000 birds on the cliff ledges.

View over the bay towards the Guillemot colony
Guillemots on cliff ledges

Our final stop on Berry Head is the point where we look for passing sea birds but only see more Guillemots and Gannets.

We then began to descend from the headland vis the coast road, which passes through some woodland where we add some common woodland species to our day list, before coming to Breakwater Beach just outside Brixham Harbour. Just as we pass the outdoor swimming pool, I notice a small bird on the rocks, which turns out to be a Purple Sandpiper. We soon find another and spend some time watching and photographing this wading bird which spends most of its time probing in the gaps between rocks looking for food.

Purple Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper

Walking back through the harbour to the town, we see a Ruddy Turnstone on the quayside.

That brings us to 107 species in 3 and a bit days birdwatching, the best we have achieved on any of our trips. Not only an excellent number of different species but some fantastic views as well. Fircrest tops the list for me as it is a species I have tried to find many times and failed so it was great to finally catch up with one.

Northern Fulmar [sp] (Fulmarus glacialis)
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)
European Shag [sp] (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk [sp] (Accipiter nisus)
Ruddy Turnstone [sp] (Arenaria interpres)
Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
Black-legged Kittiwake [sp] (Rissa tridactyla)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Common Murre [sp] (Uria aalge)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Eurasian Jay [sp] (Garrulus glandarius)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Eurasian Rock Pipit [sp] (Anthus petrosus)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
Eurasian Bullfinch [sp] (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)

A visit to Exter Museum and a chance to see the only Great Black-headed Gull ever recorded in the UK. This bird which is a larger version of our Black-headed Gull breeds in an area stretching from Russia to Mongolia and winters in the Eastern Mediterranean, Arabia and India.

This bird was reportedly seen on the Exe estuary in June 1859. Realising it was something unusual the observers shot it! This was standard practice in Victorian times before the advent of conservation and photography. The specimen was eventually sent to the British Museum for identification and was displayed there.

The specimen of Great Black-headed Gull in Exeter Museum
Photo by Keith

When the owner died his collection passed to the museum in Exeter and the Gull returned there where it can still be seen on display.

There is much doubt over such Victorian records. You only need look at cases such as the Hastings Rarities, where many exotic birds were claimed to have been seen in the locality but which have since been shown to be improbable and have been removed from the list of species recorded in the UK.

However, there have been a number of records of Great Black-headed Gulls in Scandinavia and Holland over the years and the majority of these have occurred in May and June. In 1993, this record was re-examined by the British Records Committee who found there was no reason to disbelieve it was a genuine record. So although there has been no further confirmed record in the UK for 160 years it may turn up again one day.

Naturelog: 28 February

Posted: March 7, 2019 in Birds, Devon, Natural History, UK
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Keith and I headed off to Exeter today to look around the city. However the train travels along the River Teign, the coast and the Exe estuary before it reaches the city, so a chance to see some birds on the way. Large numbers of Redshank, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Oystercatchers are present plus Shelduck, Cormorants and Gulls. On our arrival, our first stop is a local Church to see the Peregrines which roost there. we are fortunate and both are sitting out on the steeple before the male flies off.

Peregrine Falcons
Photo by Keith

On the way back to our base in Brixham, I see a Little Grebe on the River Exe in the city and 12 Brent Geese on the Exe estuary to add to the species seen on our trip.

Brant Goose [sp] (Branta bernicla)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Common Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
Eurasian Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus ostralegus)
Eurasian Curlew [sp] (Numenius arquata)
Black-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa limosa)
Dunlin [sp] (Calidris alpina)
Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Rock Dove (Feral) (Columba livia ‘feral’)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Peregrine Falcon [sp] (Falco peregrinus)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
White Wagtail (Pied) (Motacilla alba yarrellii)

The Operation Tiger memorial stands on Slapton Sands in South Devon.

Operation Tiger took place in late April 1944. It was part of the preparations for the D-Day landings. American Landing craft left from ports on the south coast laden with tanks and men.

The Naval escort, the Destroyer HMS Scimitar, was meant to shield the landing craft from seaward attack, but unfortunately, it developed a fault and never left port. The command of the exercise was unaware of this and the landing craft continued towards Lyme Bay and Slapton Sands, which had been chosen due to its similarity to ‘Utah’ beach in Normandy.

As they entered Lyme Bay, 4 German E-boats attached. The landing craft had little or no defensive firepower. 3 landing craft were sunk and one was badly damaged by the combined torpedo and gun attack. The E-boats having completed their attack left the bay and shortly afterwards a Royal Navy ship HMS Onslow arrived and together with one of the undamaged landing craft began rescuing survivors from the stricken vessels.

639 soldiers and sailors lost their lives that day, yet nothing was said. The survivors were threatened with court-marshall if they spoke about the tragedy. It would be many years before the story of Operation Tiger came out and the Sherman tank memorial would be realised. It was raised from the sea in 1984. By the 50th anniversary in 1994 the full story was beginning to fully emerge and the families of those who had died finally found out what had happened to their relatives.

Our second day in South Devon and we are out again with local naturalist and artist, Mike Langman. Our first stop is Broadsands Bay where Mike has been providing Supplementary feeding during the Winter. This project is aimed at helping the local speciality species Cirl Bunting survive through the winter. This species had declined so much that only a handful of pairs remained in a couple of spots in Devon. Since the beginning of supplementary winter feeding programme began at a number of sites throughout South Devon the number of birds has risen dramatically and the species is now expanding out from its traditional area into surrounding counties. We get excellent views of Cirl Buntings and Yellowhammers.

Yellowhammer

Moving on from Broadsands, we drive to Dartington in search of Dipper. Parking up we walk the stretch of river which is an established territory and had a couple of flight views before we eventually found a bird collecting leaves for its nest.

Dipper

Travelling South we moved onto Slapton Ley, a freshwater lake adjacent to the sea.

Common Lizard at Slapton Ley

We soon located a Ring-necked Duck, a visitor from North America, a number of whom have crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the beginning of the winter. On the sea is a Black-necked Grebe.

Slapton Ley
Black-necked Grebe

Continuing our journey south we come to Beeson Ley, but there are only a few ducks. On the sea here though are a flock of 25 Common Scoter.

Turning north we stop at a wood just outside Dartmouth, where we locate a male Firecrest. Excellent views but this hyper-active bird will not stay in one place to be photographed.

Firecrest.
Photo by Ron Knight (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sussexbirder/)

After Mike dropped us off in Brixham, Keith and I walked out to the end of the harbour breakwater. We were rewarded with sightings of 1 or 2 Seals plus a pod of 6 Dolphins (probably Bottlenosed) plus the amazing sight of over 100 Pied Wagtails coming into roost on the boats in the harbour.

Dolphins

Pied Wagtail

A second excellent day. Our thanks to Mike for sharing his local knowledge and transporting us around.

Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Gadwall [sp] (Mareca strepera)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)
Northern Fulmar [sp] (Fulmarus glacialis)
Red-necked Grebe [sp] (Podiceps grisegena)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Black-necked Grebe [sp] (Podiceps nigricollis)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
European Shag [sp] (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Eurasian Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus ostralegus)
Ruddy Turnstone [sp] (Arenaria interpres)
Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Mew Gull (Common) [group] (Larus canus canus/heinei)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Rock Dove (Feral) (Columba livia ‘feral’)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Eurasian Collared Dove [sp] (Streptopelia decaocto)
Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
Cetti’s Warbler [sp] (Cettia cetti)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Chiffchaff [sp] (Phylloscopus collybita)
Eurasian Blackcap [sp] (Sylvia atricapilla)
Common Firecrest [sp] (Regulus ignicapilla)
Goldcrest [sp] (Regulus regulus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Song Thrush [sp] (Turdus philomelos)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
White-throated Dipper [sp] (Cinclus cinclus)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
White Wagtail (Pied) (Motacilla alba yarrellii)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Eurasian Rock Pipit [sp] (Anthus petrosus)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Chloris chloris)
Common Linnet [sp] (Linaria cannabina)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Yellowhammer [sp] (Emberiza citrinella)
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)

Keith and I in South Devon for a few days birdwatching and today we are out with local Naturalist and artist Mike Langman. Our first stop is Yarner Woods on the edge of Dartmoor in search of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

We see a number of different woodland species before we hear one drumming. Heading towards the sound we eventually locate the area and see the bird as it flies away. It is so small it looks like a pair of wings with no body!

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Photo by Sergey Yeliseev (https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/)

Moving on we locate another drumming male and locate it high on a tree. We get some brief views before it too flies off. We hear another drumming but are unable to locate it.

From here we move onto the side of a valley to look for Goshawks. Mike gets a brief view but Keith and I cannot get onto it before it disappears. That proves to be our only sighting and we move onto crossing the River Exe to Aylesbeare Common in search of Dartford Warbler. We are very fortunate and before very long we locate an area where 3-4 Dartford Warblers are disputing territories and chasing each other around.

Dartford Warbler.
Photo by Tom Lee (https://www.flickr.com/photos/68942208@N02/)

We also have good views of Stonechat and 3 Ravens which flew over the common.

Stonechat (m)
Stonechat (f)

Our next stop is Powderham where a Yellow-Browed Warbler has been over-wintering but no sign. There were a number of YBW over-wintering in Devon, but a brief cold spell a couple of weeks ago seems to have moved them on (as it has for the two I saw in Dorset in January). A brief stop at Starcross follows and we quickly locate the wintering Slavonian (Horned) Grebe which has been wintering in the area. Our final stop of the day is the RSPB reserve at Bowling Green Marsh on the edge of the River Exe. There were a large number of Pintail (around 100) and Wigeon (c50) as well as other ducks. Leaving the Marsh we continued to the riverside and on the mud were Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Curlew. Also present were 3 Goldeneye.

Pintail

An excellent day’s birdwatching.

Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Common Goldeneye [sp] (Bucephala clangula)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Horned Grebe [sp] (Podiceps auritus)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Common Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Grey Plover [sp] (Pluvialis squatarola)
Eurasian Curlew [sp] (Numenius arquata)
Black-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa limosa)
Ruff (Calidris pugnax)
Dunlin [sp] (Calidris alpina)
Common Snipe [sp] (Gallinago gallinago)
Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Stock Dove [sp] (Columba oenas)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Tawny Owl [sp] (Strix aluco)
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dryobates minor)
Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Rook [sp] (Corvus frugilegus)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Northern Raven [sp] (Corvus corax)
Coal Tit [sp] (Periparus ater)
Marsh Tit [sp] (Poecile palustris)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Chiffchaff [sp] (Phylloscopus collybita)
Eurasian Blackcap [sp] (Sylvia atricapilla)
Dartford Warbler [sp] (Sylvia undata)
Eurasian Nuthatch [sp] (Sitta europaea)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Redwing [sp] (Turdus iliacus)
Song Thrush [sp] (Turdus philomelos)
Mistle Thrush [sp] (Turdus viscivorus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
European Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola rubicola)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Grey Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla cinerea)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Chloris chloris)
Common Redpoll [sp] (Acanthis flammea)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Eurasian Siskin (Spinus spinus)
Yellowhammer [sp] (Emberiza citrinella)