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.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Local Nightjars

Long time no blog.... Yeah sorry about that, but it's been a really busy time at work, and I spent three days of June in Lisbon (Portugal) which was rather nice, I will tell all about that in a future blog post. For now though, I have spent several evenings over the last couple of weeks with our local Nightjars, with last night offering the best experience...

I've been hearing/seeing five birds most nights, which is brilliant news.  Our local and relatively new population seem to be doing just fine...

It wasn't just the Nightjars that put on a good show last night, with a belter of a sunset. I didn't leave until half past ten when the horizon still looked like it was on fire...

Hope to be blogging regularly again soon! 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Black Hole Marsh

Whenever I've been outside during the past week I've been mostly looking for/at Starlings! The beginnings of what could well prove to be a mightily impressive influx of adult Rose-coloured Starlings into the UK is underway, following exceptional numbers seen in central and eastern Europe.  Most the local Starlings are still in their family groups at the moment, but there does seem to be plenty of them dotted around so hopefully some big groups will start to form.  We are all very keen to see an Axe Rose-coloured Starling following the painful near miss we suffered in Colyford many years ago. An adult bird graced private gardens for almost a week in June, and we only found out about it the day after it was last seen...

Today has seen some classic murky grey and sometimes wet weather, and being late May that's meant wading birds!  Tonight Black Hole Marsh was bursting with Arctic nesting waders including 24 Dunlin, six Sanderling, four Ringed Plover and singles of Grey Plover (cracking breeding plumaged adult, been around a few days now) and Bar-tailed Godwit. Ian Mc had a Turnstone and a few more Sanderling on the Estuary earlier in the day too.

I didn't have long so couldn't get closer to any of the birds by going up to the Tower Hide, but still want to include some pics here to give you a flavour of the evening...

Grey Plover, in this plumage they are hard to beat!

Sanderling and Dunlin, doing what these late May waders always seem to do whenever I see them - feeding frantically! 

A Bar-tailed Godwit taking a more relaxed approach to life!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Late May Wader Passage

It's been a busy two days off for me, mostly because today was Harry's 1st Birthday! Quite how he's already one we really don't know, but today was our first experience of hosting a children's birthday party and I have to say I loved it!  If I analyse why, having party food in the house all day may well have been a significant factor :-).

The annual rush of Arctic breeding waders has been taking place over the last three or four days. If we'd had more rain then we would have seen many more I'm sure - three figure flocks of small waders are easily possible on some wet May days, but still there's been a decent variety.  Phil's done the best on Seaton Beach, with a couple of Sanderling flocks and a Turnstone on Wednesday morning, but Thursday night the Axe Estuary gave me a busy group of 32 Dunlin, six Ringed Plover and two splendid Sanderling feeding opposite Coronation Corner.  The following night there were fewer small waders about but Black Hole Marsh hosted two Bar-tailed Godwits and ten Black-tailed Godwits with a first-summer Med Gull on the Estuary...

Bar-tailed Godwits

Med Gull

There was clearly some good feeding conditions off Seaton Beach on Wednesday evening, as 18 Sandwich and a couple of commic Terns were feeding offshore. I also had two Sandwich Terns fly down the Estuary early on Thursday morning.  On Monday night it was nice to see a churring Nightjar on Bovey Down, seemed to be all on his own though so hopefully there are more to come.  

Since my last post I'm pleased to say heaps more hirundines have been pouring into the UK - better late than never! Be interesting to know what's been holding them all up?