Urban Birding in Plymouth — Janner Style!
I am a Janner Birder! A Janner is to PlymouthA what a Scouser is to Liverpool or a Geordie to Newcastle. I spent all of my childhood birding the Plymouth, with delights like the rusty anchor (a sewage outfall), fishscale beach (a fish factory discharge pipe) and the pool of dreams (a pool that never produced anything!).
I'm sure I have sold the birding stature of this fine city to you already, but before you grab your bins and nose peg, I should inform you, many of these places have now been ‘cleaned up’ and as a result do not live up to their former ornithological expectations.
My own Janner birding story began on 27th February 1986 when I saw a strange bird with a punk hairstyle akin to Chris Packham on the Cattedown roundabout, an extremely busy area of Plymouth. What was it doing there? The AA Book of the Countryside with its tiny illustrations and inaccurate descriptions led me to conclude it was a Lapwing. This was by luck, rather than a reflection on the quality of the field guide however!
From then on I spent every day of the school holidays, the weekends and any other spare moment birding Plymouth. My daily round would be to walk both sides of the Plym estuary (c.4 hours) and then have a look at the rubbish tip (c. 1 – 2 hours). If there were enough hours in the day, I'd go to Plymouth Hoe and the Barbican where I would sample the delights of the fish market and the various sewage outfalls, particularly ‘rusty anchor’ where you were guaranteed Purple Sandpiper and Mediterranean Gull over the winter. I even took certain girlfriends on dates to the fish market and sewage outfalls; needless to say they didn't appreciate the stench of fish or raw sewage quite as much as I did.
The astute among you may have already gathered that the main birding was gull focused, but this isn't to say I didn't see other cracking birds in Plymouth. Desert Warbler in a local birder's garden was not one to miss. Hume's Leaf warbler was one which I went straight from school for. It could be found in the only patch of green anywhere to be seen, in a small buddleia bush/stalk, behind the city library. I stayed there until dark watching the bird. I thought it safer to tell my mother I had received a detention at school rather than saying where I had really been! (Sorry Mum!)
Now I stated earlier that ‘The Pool of Dreams’ never produced anything, but that's not quite true. It had a definite purple patch in 2002 producing a Little gull. Whilst I was admiring this bird a Ross' Gull flew overhead and landed on the pool…. Truly this was the pool of fulfilled dreams! As my excitement level increased rapidly I skidded in a patch of mud, almost resulting in a Janner being face down in a mudflat!
View of Plymouth from Mount Edgecumbe (S. Tonkin)
Mediterranean Gull — winter (S. Tonkin)
Common Gull (D. Lindo)
Ross' Gull can cause serious injury / embarrassment! (S. Tonkin)