With what can be regarded as no less than ridiculous numbers of Divers been seen in and around Brixham Harbor, and with 4 species of said genus being possible, it would have been rude not to take an offer given to me on the 31st to head down there.
So in the early hours of the morning, after finding my first Tawney Owl for the year, which perched 10ft away from me, it was towards the meetup point at Upton Warren. 2 car loads of us were heading down, a mixed composition of birders and photographers, and following a smooth journey down, we arrived at the carpark near the breakwater. Even scanning from the car, 3 BLACK-THROATED DIVER were immediately obvious, as were GREAT-NORTHERN DIVERS, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Shags.
This was going to be good!
For what was a relatively short walk to the end of the breakwater, it took a really long time, as i paused and scanned every few steps. Great-northern Divers everywhere, Turnstones pottering about everywhere, Kittiwakes flying past and Rock Pipits feeding on the rocks!
It was around halfway along the breakwater a 1st winter BLACK GUILLEMOT popped up in front of us at very close range, giving stunning views as it fed just off the rocks. Easily the best views of the species i have had, with each of my previous ones having been distant.
I was then distracted by the 3 BLACK-THROATED DIVERS which had swam in closer, and my scope was then aimed at those.
A GREAT-NORTHERN then joined in with the fun:
While watching this variety of sea-birds, Jarad called out the ICELAND GULL as the wintering 1st winter bird started to circle nearby before flying off out to sea.
It really was all going on!
Catching up with the remainder of the 'Crew' i was told that our main target for the location was showing, and within a few seconds i was onto the WHITE-BILLED DIVER as it fed near to some boats fairly close in. From this range that yellowy bill really stood out to the Great Northern it was feeding with.
It was somewhat of a privilege to get such good views of a species like this. It is rare to see one this far south, but to have such amazing views as we did though made it probably once in a lifetime.
After about 10 minutes, the bird dived, but was never seen to resurface, and we didn't see it again after that! (And neither did anyone else!)
We spent some time scanning from near the end of the Breakwater, with PURPLE SANDPIPERS, Turnstones and even a Grey Seal giving up close and personal views immediately adjacent to us.
2 SLAVONIAN GREBE were picked out on the far side of the Harbor which was the first grebe species of the day, and again, a good bird to find. With the Harbor being well covered, a lot of the birders in the group turned and scanned the sea, and we were quickly picking up the likes of Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill, Guillemot as well as even more Divers!
All were Great Northern bar a single RED-THROATED DIVER, which flew in from the west and pitched down on the sea on the opposite side of the bay.
After we all had our fill of the excellent location, the walk back to the car started, being equally slow to the walk there.
Again we were treated to amazing views of Black-Throated and Great Northern Diver alongside the Black Guillemot.
It was while watching this mix-match though that a smaller bird surfaced adjacent to them, which was easily recognizable as a RED-NECKED GREBE! Again, excellent views were had as it fed close by. It was somewhat bizarre to have seen the two rarest of the 'regular' British Grebes before either Little or Great-Crested!
We then took the short journey to a well known winter feeding station for CIRL BUNTING'S, where we had stunning views of this attractive farmland species as it fed on seed put out by birders to sustain them throughout the winter. A flock of 20 eventually came down to feed, and all at close range. The surrounding area produced Yellowhammer and 3 Chiffchaff before me and Jarad went off to scan the sea and Beach.
The beach was quiet, as it was covered in dog walkers, but just behind the surf we were treated to good views of 2 BLACK-NECKED GREBE as they fed in the very shallow water, at times being completely submerged by incoming waves. Further out in the bay, the 4th Grebe species of the day was picked out, as a large raft of 100+ Great-Crested Grebe was visible. A RED-THROATED DIVER was also offshore here, along with yet more Great-northern Divers!
With the afternoon drawing in, we decided to drive the short distance to Dawlish Warren to hopefully catch up with the wintering Bonaparte's Gull.
The walk out to the end of the Beach was long and hard, but we were entertained by Dark-Belled Brent Geese, a small flock of Common Scoter and 2 Great-Northern Diver. A pair of Stonechat were feeding on reeds on the Golf course.
We eventually got to a point which overlooked the Estuary, and we were treated to views of 10 RED-BREASTED MERGANSER as they fed on the incoming tide. The 3rd SLAVONIAN GREBE of the day was picked out distantly, as was a female Goldeneye. Small numbers of Little Egret, Dunlin, Reshank and Curlew were feeding in the shallows and a Ringed Plover flew past calling.
But one thing was obvious. There was an almost complete lack of Gulls, and it was only as the light began to fade that the large flocks in the distance started flying towards us. A single adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL landed on a sandbank, but unfortunately we were unable to locate the American interloper.
With the light fading, and a 3 hour car journey back we gave in as a rainstorm hit. As we walked along the Beach 15 Turnstone flew in, ending the day nicely.
A big thank-you to Vern for the offer for the Day, and to 'my' carload of birders for the banter. Twitching as a group certainly makes it much better! A great day, and a great start to the years birding!