An early start on a fine but witheringly cold morning! Down to Exminster Marshes to look around, which produced a selection of common species, but failed to deliver the Black Redstart of late yesterday. It was then I discovered, after one of my habitual conversations with one of the Parish's lady dog walkers, that we were in the wrong place. Precise instructions were received and we went, somewhat ashamedly, to the opposite end of the lane where the bird, a Rose-coloured Starling ( 2013, 163 ) was soon located sitting in an apple tree. It disappeared completely for a while before emerging, perching out and then flying off!
Off to Bowling Green Marsh where a pleasant walk along the lane produced Chiffchaff, but little else. There was very little out on the marsh itself either; odd Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Moorhen, and Curlew until a couple of male Northern Wheatear (2013,164 ) were located. Around to Dart Farm ( conservation at its most twee in my book! ) where a few Wigeon lurked along the lens of open water.
It was at this point that thoughts of breakfast began to arise! A couple of enquiries produced nothing and then, due to some unfortunate navigation ( me! ), we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. We decided to get our visit "southwards" out of the way and pick up something en route. This proved to be a roadside cafe which came in at a more than creditable score of 7!!
Broadsands was arctic! How can a British holiday destination be so cold I thought? The wind cut through clothing, thoroughly chilled your face and ensured any standing about was folly, and that view was from a well educated standpoint of both of us being brought up on the eastern flank of the Pennines! Nonetheless we ventured out and looked at a winter feeding station on the edge of the car park. Nothing! Muck spreading was happening over an adjacent field and first thoughts were that there was too much activity going on ,but a particular patch showed a few birds present. A "White" Wagtail, Northern Wheatear and two Black Redstarts (2013,165) gave good views and even two Common Buzzards searched the same ground. The sea, backed by the fresh wind, provided nothing so we turned back to the feeding station where Robin, Dunnock, several Chaffinches and two male Cirl Bunting (2013,166) were now present. One of the buntings sang briefly and showed really well, a fitting return for what had been a gruelling episode of birding!
A call to Dawlish, in marginally improving weather, saw us attempt some seawatching. A few Common Scoter, Shag and Brent Geese were all that was on offer so we decided to go back to the Exeter area.
Neither of us had seen Waxwing yet this winter, so a report of up to 51 birds being along Buddle Lane saw modern technology brought into play and our completing five return "sweeps" along the entire road. Any curtain twitching Neighbourhood Watch stalwart would have been firmly convinced that, at the very least, our repeated journeys would result in a robbery attempt at a local shop, but all we were doing was looking for birds, Your Honour! We didn't see any, but our systematic "sweeps" did confirm something we'd commented on throughout the day. There had obviously been a very large arrival of Chiffchaff in SW England as they were everywhere! Three in a small tree next to a traffic light, several birds feeding in shrubbery within a light industrial estate, birds flitting across roads and, obviously, birds encountered in the various more "open" areas we'd visited. Wherever you looked, birds were present, feeding voraciously and without calling! With hindsight, I suspect I saw more Chiffchaffs throughout the day than in the last ten years.
Returning to Exminster Marshes we then had a great period of birding through the late afternoon. A Sand Martin (2013, 167) went through north, a Little Ringed Plover (2013, 168) was located within a larger group of Ringed Plover and a couple of Spoonbill could be seen across the marsh. We met up with a family from Wales and had a really enjoyable spell of time together. The lady was a keen birder and had done a sterling job locating a male Garganey (2013,169) at the far side of the marsh. It transpired that she works for RSPB as an Education Officer, so we put various things right on conservation too. My gaffe of the afternoon was advising we'd met a birder called Dave out in Israel, who I thought came from their home area. Did they know Dave? ( Only Welsh people will appreciate this mistake!! He installed kitchens I remembered........Dave the Kitchen, make yourself known at the Newport Reserve please, if only to save my embarrassment! ). And so the afternoon moved on amidst conversation, laughter and good birding. We located a Long-tailed Duck out on the estuary, heard a couple of Water Rail, saw Red-breasted Mergansers and a flock of Black-tailed Godwit out over the Exe and watched various waders coming in to roost as the tide flowed in behind us. A nice mixed group of Dunlin, Redshank and Grey Plover gathered in front of us and Curlew numbers began to assemble further out into the marsh. As previously, Chiffchaffs could still be seen flitting about within nearby scrub, or moving between clumps of flooded vegetation, not one of them giving out a typical call! Finally the afternoon drew to a close with the temperature moving further downwards!
Our adventures of the day didn't cease until the evening. Having taken on the appalling one way system in Exeter, whilst looking for something to eat, we discovered by chance a Chinese takeaway/snack bar establishment. All the menus were in Chinese characters. A waitress explained, somewhat haltingly, that they only served traditional Chinese food and our attempts at describing what would be perfectly acceptable to us met with no success and probably wasn't understood. We were intrigued, particularly as the place was empty! Is there such a large Chinese community in Exeter to ensure the success of such an individual enterprise? To seek out authenticity, and be defeated by it, was a bit disappointing!