Tuesday 16 January 2024

South Devon recce - 8th - 11th January 2024

8th-10th January:

The seafront Travelodge in Paignton was a good base but even in the heart of the winter the local council do their very best to ensure that anyone visiting has to part with their money to park anywhere.  It was 7pm in a deserted sea front car park looking at the raging sea in the dark and it was still £1.30 to park for 30 minutes.  As we left there was even a hardy traffic warden checking cars for tickets with a torch …  

 Pity it was dark as I would have loved to have seen one of these trying to steal my £13.80 fish 'n' chips!

The whole Torbay area is double yellow lined far inland with no seasonal variation.  You could not even park anywhere to go for dinner and visit a takeaway.  The whole dining economy down there must revolve around JustEast.  It was making me quite irritable...

 But this made me smile...

RingGo car parks are everywhere and even the one at RSPB Labrador Bay is still ‘ALL BAYS CHARGABLE’ just in case you thought you could pop your membership card in the window.   As you can tell I found it a little frustrating.  How anyone can afford to spent a summer holiday down here I do not know?  

Labrador Bay at sunset 

Paignton seafront

The weather was challenging too with a howling bitterly cold easterly making seawatching a real struggle.  While at Broadsands, a quick look at the sea resulted in my eyeballs actually throbbing from the cold!  The Cirl Buntings here were at least showy and the feeding area attracted three male and four females along with a healthy House Sparrow population.


Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Two journeys up onto Dartmoor afforded wonderful vistas but few birds but at I did eventually manage to find a Dipper on the upper Dart at Newbridge along with Kingfisher, Marsh Tits and Treecreepers.  Oh and if you visit Tavistock Pannier Market have breakfast or lunch at Bob’s – you will not eat again all day – it was magnificent. Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtails, Chiffchaffs and a female Black Redstart were seen at my usual riverside sewage works near Buckfast along with a Siberian Chiffy that I first heard calling.




Grey Wagtail


On the 9th it was so cold that it started snowing and a slushy drive to Slapton resulted in a longer route due to my disbelief at the £8.40 charge to cross on the small ferry at Dartmouth. I was getting grumpy at rip off Britain which did not improve at Slapton where each car park is a separate RingGo number… The weather was grim but I wished I had stopped being so grumpy about being followed by council car park vans into each spot and just stopped and checked the sheltering duck flock.  Perhaps I would have seen the Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup that I did not know were there.

There was some recompense that day with a stunning little Firecrest foraging on the bank in a farm shop car park and watched at eyelevel from the warmth of the car.  A stop at another Newbridge (this one on the Kingsbridge Estuary) gave me a snorkelling Great Northern Diver, three Mergansers, a few waders and 30 Dark-bellied Brent Geese.  Winter Heliotrope was flowering in the verges and Ravens tumbled overhead.


Winter Heliotrope

Wild Slapton


Holm Oaks are incredibly common in the area and I may well have added a few spots to the Devon map for Ectoedemia heringella along with Bramble loving Stigmella aurella while garden centre visits to look for bargains produced a couple of Lemon leaves with the mines of Phyllocnistis citrella.  It would appear that both had a cocoon so Antony hope to rear out the moths hopefully developing within.

Stigmella aurella

Ectoedemia heringella

Phyllocnistis citrella on Lemon

Phyllocnistis citrella

Polypody Ferns


Peltigara membranacea

11th January:

Going home day.  It told me about six hours twenty whether I went the A303 route or via Birmingham so I opted for the traditional route an kept my fingers crossed that the M3 and M25 would be kind.  I had the notion of stopping at Maldon for the Northern Waterthrush but assumed that the traffic Demons would conspire against me.  Amazingly it was a smooth non stop run and by 2.30pm I was walking down to the spot in Heybridge were this lost American warbler had relocated to from its initial discovery in Simon Wood’s garden.

I had been lucky enough to see this species in Costa Rica but I had not seen a UK one having dipped on the one at Portland Bill that I did not see on the 18th October 1996 as it was almost certainly taken by a Sparrowhawk the night before.  I hoped that a late afternoon visit might up my chances of seeing this one and my wait at the ‘wrong end’ was a good call as I heard it loudly calling as it made its way into its favoured brackish ditch which it visited in between garden visits.

Northern Waterthrush - Dave Aitken

Northern Waterthrush

I quickly moved to the other end and the next twenty minutes were fabulous as it energetically collected tiny morsels from the waters edge and fluttered out to perched on short stems in the water before leaning down to pluck some invisible titbit with its tail bobbing and weaving – like Buff Rumped Warbler – all the time.  I do not think I had noticed how pink and pointy the bill is and this one was certainly more yellowly underneath than my Central American encounters.  Once it had fed up it soon decided it was time to head back to the gardens and zipped at super speed ‘zicking’ all the way. 

My flying visit had been spot on and I was soon back on the road for the last 90 minutes to home.

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