Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Autumn Moves On

Thought it was high time I wrote a few more words here. I am getting out now and then just not finding the time to blog about it.

I suppose the biggest news is we are well and truly in September....and don't we know it!  Meadow Pipits streaming over with fewer and fewer Tree Pipits, Yellow Wagtail vis mig replaced by Grey Wagtails and alba Wagtails, Chiffchaffs taking over from Willow Warblers as the most common phyllosc in the bushes. Autumn has well and truly moved on to the next phase, which I think of as the 'middle phase'...

Wheatear Axe Cliff - 14/8/18

The Estuary has seen a run of good birds this month, with four Spotted Redshanks together on the 1st being an amazing local sight. Osprey, Ruff, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper have all been seen by others, with Cattle Egrets being frequently seen over the last couple of days, in fact Mark Dobinson had ten on Seaton Marshes this morning!

I was hoping to get a look at the sea this morning considering the rough weather, but only had time to muster a couple of quick scans of the gulls on the Estuary.  Proved worthwhile though as there were a couple of first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls in with them, one in the morning and one early afternoon. I didn't have a camera to hand for bird two but the first allowed some pics...

The bird on the left, nice pale headed individual

A flash of its tail

Hope to see some of the Cattle Egrets soon!  They may be getting commoner but I always enjoy seeing them.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Whale in the Bay

Last Thursday Phil texted with news of a large cetacean off the Spot On Kiosk, which encouraged me to take an early lunch break in his company. Compared with the views others had mine were dreadful (a brief head-only view) but we weren't really sure what it was.  Although I think we all knew it wasn't any of the usual Whale species on the radar.

Chris Townend kindly confirmed the identification when he saw Roger's and Phil's photos a couple of hours later, a Northern Bottlenose Whale. He then jumped in his car and headed over, although the Whale vanished at about 12:30 and wasn't seen again, so sadly he missed it. Maybe good news for the Whale though - hopefully this means it went back out to deeper water.  Take a look at Roger's photos HERE and Phil's on his Twitter timeline HERE.  I wasn't really sure about the status of Northern Bottlenose Whale in UK waters or beyond before seeing this beast, but here's a good overview...

You may remember the 2006 London Whale, which was a Bottlenose Whale, observed swimming up the Thames.  She sadly stranded and died on day two.  I looked to find some more information about her online, and was surprised to see she has her own website;

Seeing as I didn't manage any pics of our Whale, and the fact I don't like posting photo-less posts, I'm going to rewind back to the hotter parts of the summer, when I spent some time looking for a patch Southern Migrant Hawker.  I never did find one, but it was the best summer here for Small Red-eyed Damselflies and a pretty good one for Ruddy Darters too.  The latter have really dipped in numbers over the past few years, but this year a wander around Lower Bruckland Ponds would often reveal several individuals, with six on 3rd August being my highest count...

More birdie posts to follow...

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A Flavour of August

As can be guessed by my subdued social media and blogging presence of late, it's been a busy few weeks! August is one of my favourite birding months of the year, so with a window of opportunity to get out towards the end of the month, I took it...

The birders who've been getting out to Beer Head this month have been well rewarded, with good numbers of common migrants (including a few Pied Flies) and a bonus Wryneck found by Bun on Wednesday 22nd.  I knew Beer Head would be busy with birders on Saturday morning, and following a glimpse of some decent vis mig during a dog walk on the edge of Colyton on Friday morning (five Tree Pipits and six Yellow Wags flew west in a ten minute period), and the fact Saturday morning saw a cloud-less dawn, Axe Cliff lured me...

The view over Seaton from Axe Cliff

I was up here 06:00-08:15 and saw; 

44 Yellow Wagtail (all west, including two groups of ten)
7 Tree Pipit (all singles, west)
1 Wheatear
1 Redstart (a cracking male)
3 Whitethroat
5 Willow Warbler

So not loads of birds by a long way, but it filled me with so much joy. The joy of autumn birding.

After this I headed down to Black Hole Marsh, another venue that has done well this month, although unlike Beer Head hasn't offered any real patch scarcities. The second Spotted Redshank of the month (with a third found today!) had been found the day before, and showed well around the Island Hide whilst I was there. Exceptionally well...

As you can see it's a juvenile - and an incredibly fresh one at that! I don't think I've ever seen one so young, rewind just a few weeks and it was probably stumbling around a damp Arctic taiga landscape peeping at its mother for food!  Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Also on view were a couple of juvenile Little Ringed Plovers, c25 Dunlin, a Green Sand and a Greenshank.

Won't keep you waiting as long for the next blog post I promise!

Friday, 3 August 2018

Wading Birds

I have just written the Axe Estuary monthly report for July, and what a great start to 'autumn' 2018 we've had. Yes I know it is early to be using the 'a' word, but before you start throwing your keyboards at the screens let me clarify I don't mean autumn as in the calendar autumn, I mean it as in the autumn bird migration (southward post breeding passage). Every year the autumn passage for wading birds starts in July, often in June in fact, but this year in particular we've had an excellent variety of species. This sadly though probably indicates they've not had a good breeding year, so although we are seeing more, it's bad news.

I missed the first two Wood Sands of the year here (and the first since 2016), and I guess I missed the third as only one of the two that Tim Wright had drop in on Black Hole Marsh on Wednesday night was still present on Thursday.   When I saw it Thursday morning it wasn't close like it was later in the day, but great to see nonetheless...

A juvenile Wood Sandpiper along with an adult Dunlin

Personally I've also seen a couple of Greenshank, three Green Sands (great comparison on offer of adult and juveniles), the lingering Spotted Redshank, 40+ Black-tailed Godwit, up to 16 Dunlin and Common Sands and a Snipe.  The first few gorgeous lemon yellow Willow Warblers have been noticeable in the bushes over the past week, looking extremely lovely. A lovely adult Hobby flew low south west through Black Hole on Thursday too, which could well have been a local bird.

With a couple more sunny days now upon us, my search for a local Southern Migrant Hawker continues...

Saturday, 28 July 2018

More Juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls

A fresh southerly wind and a bit of rain and cloud has encouraged me to look at the sea on a few occasions over the past couple of days.  No rewards as yet with just small numbers of Manx Shearwaters and a few Med Gulls passing, but tomorrow is looking the windiest of all the days so maybe the best is yet to come?

Black Hole Marsh has already proved popular with migrating waders, although I have managed to miss two Wood Sandpipers, a summer plumaged Knot and a Spotted Redshank (although this one is still present so there's hope yet!).  It's also been a good summer for juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls on the Axe, and today I managed to add another four to the tally.  All were on the Estuary early this afternoon...

The closest of the four

There's two here, the one stood up with head tucked in being the darkest of all four, and the bird sat down facing left being classic in all respects (and the most advanced with several 2nd gen scapular feathers already)

And this one was the largest, posing nicely here next to a Great Black-backed Gull which it was the same size as!

Friday, 20 July 2018

Dragons and Juv Yellow-legged Gull

Had a cracking afternoon at Lower Bruckland Ponds today, so many dragonflies and damselflies about. 

At least 310 Small Red-eyed Damselflies were spread across the whole site, which is easily my highest count here and probably the highest count ever here.  The true number is probably well over this to be honest as 90% of these were males, so I wouldn't bet against 500 actually being present.

Male and an ovipositing pair of Small Red-eyed Damselflies

My personal highlight were a couple of Ruddy Darters, including this stunning adult male. The best one I've seen on patch for many years...

Ruddy Darter showing all the diagnostic features

Ruddy Darter - the abdomen is not only pinched in when viewing from above

A couple of Golden-ringed Dragonflies were also good to see, in the same spot that I always see one or two when I visit the Ponds...

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - the pinched in abdomen and bulbous rear end makes this a male

There were clear signs of passerine autumn migration too, with plenty of hirundines feeding low over the Ponds before flying on west along with a few Swifts...

And now for a proper bird....  First juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the year on the Estuary on Tuesday evening. It was almost dark when I saw it but the occasion certainly warranted a record shot...


A nice chunky long-winged beast, and in full juvenile plumage. I love the early ones they always look the best in my opinion, and hopefully this is the first of many...

Monday, 9 July 2018

The East Budleigh 'Italian Sparrow' Preliminary Results

I'm sure you don't need me to remind you about the East Budleigh Italian Sparrow, and the fact I was fortunate enough to handle this bird and under license remove a couple of body feathers for DNA analysis.  All of this possible only due to the local home owners, and the efforts of local birder Chris Townend.  If you do need a reminder you can read my original blog post HERE

East Budleigh Italian Sparrow trapped and ringed on 9/4/18

The feathers went to Prof Martin Collinson at Aberdeen University. He and his team weren't really sure exactly what they would be able to tell about this bird, given the extremely complex DNA make up of Italian Sparrow, a species that doesn't have it's own DNA just a mix of House and Spanish Sparrow genes. Then there's the complication of similar looking Sparrows that can be found in other parts of the Mediterranean region.

Last week Martin wrote to me with the preliminarily results, although was keen to stress they have got a lot more work to do yet.  But in short - it's looking like it isn't a true Italian Sparrow.  All tests so far have returned results inconsistent with italiae and they are sure it has not originated from Italy. They do still need to rule out the possibility of it being an Italian Sparrow from one of the Mediterranean Islands though.

Once Martin and his team have worked on this further by studying more genes, hopefully they will be writing an article in BTO's Ringing & Migration.

Sorry folks, this may not be the news you want to hear, but don't forget what a stunning looking bird he was/is. A real corker.  I am so privileged to have been a small part of this fascinating tale, but all the real work is being done Martin and his team so they deserve all the praise. So much time and effort on three little feathers.