Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A Brief Update...

I didn't want the run of blog posts to completely dry up, not that I've got much to tell!

Goosanders have been seen fairly regularly recently, most often in flight near dawn or dusk in the vicinity of Black Hole Marsh.  A possible 'one that got away' is worth blogging about too; A small grey goose seen with the Canada flock reported by a local to Phil - unfortunately not present when Phil got down there mind.  

Wish I had time to go through the gulls today, as there were huge numbers present at about 2pm. I have given them a couple of scans during the past week or so, but have returned nothing better than a couple of wrong'uns...  One I am pretty sure was a second-winter argentatus Herring Gull but I didn't get to see enough to 100% convince me. And the other, well it was a Herring Gull, but it just had the stance and perfect posture of a Caspian - more so than any Herring Gull I've ever seen before.  I did wonder about hybrid but there's nothing else to suggest that's a viable option...

Just how a Caspian Gull stands... but clearly Herring Gulls can do too!


The end...

Monday, 4 February 2019

Blackcap

A female Blackcap has been regular in Mum and Dad's garden since Christmas, with a male occasionally showing up too.  Interestingly over the past week, presumably due to the colder weather, she has become highly territorial and surprisingly aggressive towards any other birds trying to get near the tree with all the feeders in. Only the Robin can see her off, but the Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Great Tits, etc don't get a look in!  She's one feisty girl...



It's not like there isn't enough food to go around....

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Unreal Cold Weather Movement - 1st February

Winter can be a bit of a long, slow and sometimes dull season for the patch birder, this winter especially so on the Axe. There's not been much other than the usual fare so far, and numbers in general have been pretty poor.  But like any patch birder, whispers of snow in the forecast early last week raised my excitement levels, and Thursday night delivered a fine but widespread covering of the white-stuff...

Looking west over the valley


Major snow events often deliver some impressive bird movements on/over the Axe, but I really wasn't expecting much when I woke up on Friday morning.  It was only a fine covering of snow, it wasn't country-wide and I knew it wasn't going to be in any way a prolonged spell of cold. 

I spent the first hour of the day looking out from the house and garden, and what I saw seemed to confirm my thoughts; a couple of small groups of Lapwing, one Golden Plover and a flock of 15 Redwing flew over.  I then had a look around the Estuary, and other than a group of about 40 Fieldfare on Bridge Marsh - nothing else was where it isn't usually...



But then I went to the seafront....  and saw the most mind-blowing bird movement I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Just take a look at these two short videos. Make them full screen and turn the sound up...





Thousands upon thousands of thrushes!

I wish I could have just stayed there all day, but the only way I could quantify this movement in any way was by counting 'Portland-style' (a selection of 'sample counts').  Between 10:00 and 15:00 I carried out one 15 minute count, one ten minute count, two five minute counts and three two minute counts.  The last one at 15:00 showed that the passage had slowed a bit, but all previous counts gave an absolutely astonishing figure of between 400-500 thrushes passing PER MINUTE! Huge flocks were passing over, almost constantly - gaps often of only 20-30 seconds between flocks.  This statistic is staggering on its own, but when it's multiplied up it becomes really mind destroying.... Even if we take the lowest figure, 400, this suggests that somewhere in the region of 120,000 thrushes flew over Seaton on 1st February! As staggering as this number is, I am certain it's  an under estimation, especially as they were clearly passing in these numbers prior to 10am, and I've included nothing that may have passed after 15:00.  

Looking at the species break down, Redwings were by far the most abundant species, with an estimation of 80% of the all thrushes seen/heard being this species. This would make the Redwing day total somewhere in the region of 96,000! Unreal.  I did hear the occasional Song Thrush call emitting from the chaos and Fieldfare made up the remaining 20%.

James Mc at Lyme was also seeing this passage, as was Dan over at Sidmouth and Kev in Beer.  What I can't believe though is that was it.  No reports of this massive movement west of Sidmouth, in fact Dawlish Warren reported virtually no thrush movement at all! And the only reports east of us were from Portland where up to 10.000 Redwing were seen to leave north west over Ferrybridge (http://www.portlandbirdobs.com/2019/02/1st-february.html).  What on earth is that about!? Where did they all come from and where did they all go!?

Skylark were also moving in good numbers (I noted a couple of hundred, so 1000+ probably passed during the day), with a calling Woodlark over Seafield Garden at 10:45 being a nice highlight. Kev had a second one over Beer an hour or so later.  I also logged a couple of small flocks of Lapwing and the odd Linnet, Chaffinch and Siskin, but in general variety was poor and it was all about thrushes and Skylarks

As I'm typing this my mind is still blown to be honest.  Feels almost a bit like space, involving numbers that only people like Brian Cox can truly comprehend.  Just so so so many birds. 

About mid afternoon I had another look around the valley, and by now ground was starting to thaw and birds were congregating in these spots.  The slope just to the east of the Estuary was like a rolling carpet of Redwing, 500+ birds here (at the same time as the passage was still  happening over the seafront by the way!).  Bridge Marsh also showed lots of thrushes along with a flock of 60+ Skylark.  Then just up the road, the field north of Colyford WTW was again full of thrushes, a flock of Skylark, 300+ Lapwing and c60 Golden Plover.  Here's a few pics...

Redwings
One of the above Redwing!
Fieldfare
Skylarks
A Skylark
Meadow Pipit
Golden Plover with a Lapwing background


Best of all about this amazing influx of birds was that none of them looked to be struggling in any obvious way.  Everything I saw on the ground appeared to be finding plenty of food, and all the birds passing overhead were flying strongly and with purpose - not something weak birds can do.  It was really nice to witness a cold weather movement without feeling that sadness usually associated with snowy spells. I am really surprised this relatively small amount of snow caused such a drastic response from the birds - we had far less snow than last Feb/March but way more overhead passage.  Do they know something that we don't? 

And now to today...

The weather this morning (2nd) was completely different.  Still pretty cold, but crystal clear blue skies and most of the snow had melted away.  There were still lots of birds about, with thrushes flying around everywhere, but they were flying in all directions.  It was nice to catch up with two waders on the Estuary that Phil saw the previous day, a Bar-tailed Godwit and this Avocet...

Avocet and Black-headed Gull
Got to love an Avocet in flight!


There were also 47 Dunlin here which isn't a bad mid-winter count for us.  And that's it for this somewhat mammoth blog post.  Truly unforgettable stuff though.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

A Foray to the Exe

Having seen the Bowling Green Marsh Yellow-browed Warbler last week, I knew how ideal it would be for Dad to see. So yesterday after a hospital appointment, I took him out for his first trip to the Exe since his stroke in October last year, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.  The Brent Geese must have heard he was visiting as they treated us to some superb fly pasts - probably about 6-700 birds in total...



The Yellow-browed performed equally well, with some exceptionally close view of it feeding alongside the road right down in the stinging nettles.  The very first view we had of it was pretty special too, as it flew low down the middle of the road right past us.  In this single flight the Yellow-browed went from bushes near the entrance of Goosemoor to roughly 80m the other side of the Bowling Green hide - presumably taking it from the end of its feeding circuit back to the beginning?  

Excuse the very frustratingly positioned vegetation in the below photo, which looks horribly like fishing wire!...



There's been plenty of reports of this bird having a dodgy right eye, it was pretty much fully closed whilst we were watching it.  Sadly it evidently now has problems with its left eye too, being half-closed. Poor guy, I don't rate his chances much :-(

I'm almost embarrassed to say that this trip out saw my first visit to Goosemoor.  A lovely reserve with several excellent vantage points...



And it's clearly a great place for Greenshank...



A truly wonderful and very very special afternoon out for me.  Great to be able to start repaying Dad for all the weekends he took me out birding when I was in my teens...


Sunday, 27 January 2019

Macro Mandarin

Enjoyed a family day out to Dartmoor today, despite the brisk north west wind.... Well that's how I described it to my wife early this morning when I suggested we should go to Dartmoor today - blasting freezing cold wind originating from the centre of the Arctic circle would have proved a far more accurate description!

Due to this wind it was an in-car picnic and sheltered spots-only visit to Dartmoor. Our first spot was one of my favourites, Steps Bridge.  Am sure I'm with most people when I say I much prefer a woodland in the spring/summer, when the air is full of bird song and you're surrounded by nothing but luscious and vibrant colours. Saying that though there is something quite charming about the winter woodland, monochrome colours pretty much everywhere you look as the natural world re-sets itself for another busy season...



Something that could never be described as monochrome however was the highlight of the walk around Stover after lunch...



This was one of the six Mandarins that we saw, with this pair being the most obliging...



Here's a few more of the handsome drake...



This female was also fairly showy, among the Mallards in the prime feeding spot...



There were no Goosanders on the lake whilst we were there, with Tufted Ducks being the only diving ducks present...



Other than the usual Dippers, Siskins, Marsh Tits, Nuthatches, etc, that was it on the bird front today.  However I always leave Dartmoor looking forward to my next visit...

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Lapwing Quiz; The Results

So here's the original photo, which I gave people 15 seconds to look at before making their guesstimates of how many Lapwing are on the shingle island...



A total of fifteen replies gave answers varying from 226 to 900. And a quick calculation of these revealed the mean answer to be 496, which is precisely 29 less than the correct answer of 525...



Thanks to all who got involved with the fun and well done to the closest two; @hjwright99 with 521 and @alexmxck with 520. You win exactly nothing, but hold your heads high....well unless you cheated of course!

I took this photo on Saturday when there were at least 1,500 Lapwing on Black Hole Marsh, it was completely crammed full of them...



Along with a Greenshank, about 30 Snipe and 26 Dunlin...

Roosting Dunlin


Off the beach there's still four Common Scoter, plus yesterday a group of five Red-throated Divers flew west whilst I happened to be watching (well chatting to Roger actually!). I have been checking the gulls on the Estuary whenever I've had the chance, sadly no further sign of Gav's Caspian with nothing else of note either.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Count the Lapwing!

Just for a bit of fun...

Clicking 'full screen' (the disjointed square that appears in the bottom right hand corner once you've pressed play) will help a lot ...




Tweet me or leave a comment with your estimate. Photo taken today at Black Hole Marsh.