Andy, Mandy (and thirty five others) Go Mad in Devon
Autumn Weekend Trip, 2003
The Nottingham RSPB Olde Tyme Music Hall and Glee Club party set off for a weekend in Devon. What a cast! The Great Stupendo, ably assisted by the Blonde Bombshell, topped the bill. There was impressionist Andy "I can't believe it's not Buddha!", the Amazing non-smoking Puffin and "Professor" Stringfellow, the Human Encyclopaedia. A late withdrawal was Stu "Bohemian Rhapsody" Taylor "A song, a joke, a groan!"
The real purpose of the trip, some serious birding, was soon in evidence when a buzzard was seen sitting on a field post before the coach had reached Ratcliffe Power Station. It is good to see how well these raptors have recovered. During the journey buzzards were seen in every county we went through with the exception of Leicestershire. Other species such as jay and red legged partridge were listed and the time passed quickly to the first scheduled stop at Michael Wood services. The resident ring billed gull was, on this occasion, not to be seen so we pressed on to Exminster Marshes, where we hoped to see the glossy ibis. Earlier in the year there were several of the exotic birds at the site, an indication of global warming perhaps, but by the time of our visit only two, an adult and a juvenile, remained.
With the help of local birders we soon located the adult, the iridescence of its plumage making it look black, green or brown, depending on the light. Little egret, black and bar tailed godwits and kingfisher joined a growing list and by the time we rejoined the coach we all felt that the holiday had started in earnest.
It was not far to our hotel, the Exmouth View Hotel in Babbacombe, where we were welcomed by Milka and David, our hosts for the holiday. We soon settled in and were ready for our evening meal. The food was uniformly excellent and after the meal some stayed in the hotel whilst others checked out the local pubs. We found the Crown, reputed to be one of the areas rougher hostelries, but the welcome was warm and, for the samplers of local beverages, there was draught scrumpy! A fine end to a good day.
The next morning was very windy, and the wind strengthened during the day. We set off after breakfast on the short trip to Dawlish Warren. The ferocious wind was blowing small birds across the sky which made identification difficult. Steve gets the credit for spoiling a juvenile rose coloured starling in a hawthorn. This bird, a lifer for many group members, was in the light grey plumage of the young birds rather than the striking pink and black of the adult but a notable sighting none the less. Down at the Exe estuary a hide provided some protection from the wind and grey plover, knot, sanderling and curlew were among the birds seen. Two fortunate members saw a short eared owl fly in but the bird settled down in the long grass near the hide and did not reappear.
On the walk back to the car park the chief interest was a large toadstool, amanita rubescens, by the path. In this exceptionally dry summer fungi have been comparatively scarce so this was a pleasant exception. Some of the group went along the sea wall to Red Rock and were sand blasted for their pains. Out at sea numbers of gannets were passing but closer in Maurice spotted a group of scoter appearing and disappearing in the swell. When they flew all proved to be common scoter. It was slow going but the weekend list was growing steadily.
That evening was wet but the party visiting the pub had an excellent evening. One member displayed unsuspected comic talent with her stories of life in the classroom. Among the group as a whole the sweepstake on the number of species seen during the weekend meant that a keen interest would be maintained on the birding for the rest of the holiday and the following days visit to Slapton was eagerly awaited.
The wind had died down overnight so we were no longer in danger of being sand blasted. The road to Slapton took us through some of the notoriously narrow Devon lanes. The appearance of our coach caused consternation among the local motorists who were clearly not used to having to back up. Rob, our driver, dealt with the situation in his usual robust manner and we arrived at Slapton without undue delay.
Slapton, for those not familiar with this reserve, is composed of a lake and reed bed protected from the sea by a shingle bank in the same way that Chesil Bank in Dorset protects the Fleet and Abbotsbury. Scanning the lake produced, for the first time on the weekend, several species of duck including wigeon, pochard and ruddy duck. Walking along the path Lorna spotted a female cirl bunting, a species starting to spread from their stronghold near Prawle Point. This bird settled down in the grass until it could not be seen. We all thought that it had managed to scuttle away but when we moved forward it flew up from the spot where it was last seen.
That elusive but vocal bird the cettis warbler was heard calling from the lakeside vegetation but the only one seen was an obliging individual which sat in full view near the bridge at the end of the lake, to the delight of those members fortunate enough to he in the vicinity.
Among seahirds both sandwich and common terns were seen and on the sea a shag demonstrated its leaping dive, one of the features which distinguish it from the cormorant. This was a very successful day, enjoyed by the entire group.
That evening were promised entertainment in the hotel, the threat of which proved too much for some who sought the relative peace of the pub. Those who stayed found that the evening livened up considerably once the group members took charge of proceedings. Rob bravely attempted to sing "Bohemian Rhapsody", whilst a can-can performed by Andy and Mandy will not be quickly forgotten by all who saw it. Other members displayed previously hidden talents on the dance floor, but I will conceal their names to protect the guilty.
Amazingly, everyone was packed and ready to leave after breakfast the next day. Milka and David's little lad came to wave us goodbye and we began the long journey back to Nottingham.
After a quick stop at Gordano services we made another attempt to see the ring billed gull at Michael Wood. After a while I saw the bird on top of one of the light pylons. It flew off and Maurice saw it land on the roof of the petrol station. This prompted a dash up the footbridge over the motorway, to the consternation of the chap cleaning the windows. The bird behaved impeccably, walking up and down on the roof of the building, showing us both sides of the bill where the ring was distinctly marked.
This success sustained us as we made our way to our last destination, Bill Oddie's old stamping ground at Upton Warren. This little reserve is gaining a good reputation, a reputation enhanced when avocets bred there in 2003 for the first time. As well as what is fast becoming a ubiquitous bird, the little egret, some of the birds, which had eluded us so far such as bullfinch, tree sparrow and fieldfare put in an appearance. Our trip list inched upwards until the final count, taken as we left Upton Warren, was exactly one hundred species. Christine Fordham won the sweepstake.
The journey home was made without further incident and the group went their various ways after what everyone agreed had been a very enjoyable trip. On behalf of all of us I would like to thank Dave and Jan for organising another superb trip, to Lyn for assisting Dave and I on the Rarities Committee which, incidentally, rejected four species, and Rob and Jill, our driver and courier. They joined in whole heartedly as well as making our outings stress free and we hope they won't go off to Spain too soon.
Next year is our 30th Anniversary trip and I, for one, can't wait.