Wednesday, 13 January 2021

A Wise Move

An exciting new venture.... 

I'm absolutely thrilled to have joined the Wise Birding Holidays team, a Devon based bird tour company owned by Chris Townend.  And a tour company that genuinely does give something back, as a share of the profits from all tours are donated back into conservation projects. More details of that here; 

At some stage we will see the back of this awful virus and the world will become more accessible again. But I am particularly excited by the locally focused tours now on offer, as our part of the UK is home to such a rich and varied list of wildlife.  And I am so looking forward to sharing it with others!

Stay safe everyone, and see you on the other side.

Friday, 8 January 2021

A Review Of The Decade (+1). Part Two.

I won't explain the idea of this series of blog posts again, I did that in Part One.  So let's just crack on from where we left off...


At least seven Water Pipits were discovered overwintering with us, an increase on recent years, with the male Green-winged Teal and one of last autumns's two Glossy Ibis still around into March.  Despite these quality overwintering birds, the first winter period was quiet and the first wave of Wheatears, Sand Martins and Little Ringed Plovers around the 16th March were so much appreciated.  Three Goldeneye on 19th were a nice sight swimming up the Estuary, where three Ruff also pitched in, and the 22nd continued the 'in three theme' with three Black-throated Divers settled off Branscombe.  A long-awaited white-winged Gull finally appeared on 29th with an Iceland Gull on the Estuary.

April saw the usual light scattering of summer migrants, with a Short-eared Owl at Beer Head on 12th a nice highlight, although completely eclipsed by a lingering female Montagu's Harrier in the valley for a couple of days from 17th.  A Hoopoe at Lower Bruckland Ponds was a nice end to the month. A poor spring for sea watching sadly.

I spent a lot of the next two and a half months off patch, surveying for the RSPB on Dartmoor, enjoying a Scotland holiday and working in Slovenia for a week. All three incredible experiences that for me made the year, but means few Axe bird sightings from me in these months!

A Wood Sandpiper ensured the focus was on Black Hole Marsh at end of July, which ultimately led to the discovery of an adult Least Sandpiper on 2nd August.  We then won't talk about the never before heard of flurry of Cory's Shearwater sightings off Seaton whilst I was at the Bird Fair, a very painful event to miss out on.   Beer Head was excellent over the last week of August, with good numbers and a varied selection of common migrants, although the year was not made up here until the 15th September with the discovery of a Red-backed Shrike.  During September wader passage was good with numerous Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Little Stint, and nine Grey Plover on 22nd are worthy of mention, a great count of this Axe scarcity.  Another pulse of action at Beer Head in October included several Ring Ouzels on 9th. A Turtle Dove in the valley mid month was seen on several dates, with other oddities during the remainder of the month including singles of Barnacle and White-fronted Geese (the latter staying just one date), a juv Little Gull, a Short-eared Owl and a Yellow-browed Warbler in my road.

Early November wasn't too bad either, with a moribund Arctic Skua on the Estuary, a Pochard on Seaton Marshes, a couple of brief Spoonbills (one ringed) and a nice fall of Black Redstarts. Bird of the month was a Dusky Warbler trapped on Stafford Marsh, but sadly missed by most, but a Yellow-browed Warbler at Lower Bruckland Ponds was the opposite and often very easy to see.  In mid December Cattle Egrets begun appearing in what was an influx year, and proved the start of the spread into UK.  Three Velvet Scoters off the beach were a nice end to the year.

So two additions to my patch list, Least Sandpiper and Red-backed Shrike.  

Green-winged Teal

Montagu's Harrier

Least Sandpiper - the star of the year rarity wise!

The first shrike on any of our local lists - a juvenile Red-backed Shrike

Turtle Dove - probably won't be seeing many more of these here

The only ground feeding Yellow-browed Warbler I've seen here


Decided to year list this year, so put extra effort in especially early on.  This didn't result in any rarities in January, but there were plenty of minor highlights like Tufted Duck, PintailGadwall, Firecrest, etc.  February saw an Iceland Gull off Seaton Hole on 7th, with another on the Estuary on 14th and amazingly a third on 22nd, two Yellow-legged Gulls were noted too suggesting a good gull passage. Early March gave a Short-eared Owl on Seaton Marshes and an early pulse of hirundines included an incredibly early House Martin. Two Egyptian Geese on 12th were only notable as I was year listing.  Spring migrants continued to arrive over the month, and I remember the evening of 27th being a good one with six Little Ringed Plover, four Goosander and a Water Pipit, and the next day a young Little Gull graced Colyford Marsh.

April was very predictable, a couple of Spoonbills mid month were nice to see and several Ospreys charged through north.  Cattle Egret numbers were now up to seven, and species like Grasshopper Warbler, Whinchat and Redstart made the year list in the last half of the month.  The sea and wading bird passage was poor all month, but improved in the final few days with a good push of waders, wildfowl shearwaters and even a couple of skuas! It was just Arcitc's and Great's until the 11th May when I watched a fully-spooned Pom fly by, although this was nothing compared to the following morning when a flock of nine practically flew over the beach and will forever be one of the best things I've ever witnessed here. Another Iceland Gull dropped in on 18th May, at the same time we all missed a Ring-necked Parakeet that was hiding in Axmouth gardens for a few days.  The 24th and 25th saw a sudden Red Kite passage, I had twenty in just under two hours on the first day, with many more present on day two.  It was at the end of May our Harry was born, and the following lack of sleep ensured a reduction in birding time!

In fact there were very few posts from me in June and July, although a good run of juvenule Yellow-legged Gulls from mid July clearly woke me up again. Black Hole Marsh was ticking over nicely with Little Ringed Plovers and the typical early autumn fare. August was again light for me in birding terms, although several Curlew Sandpipers on Black Hole Marsh was appreciated, and a big Axe Cliff day at the end of the month included a count of 150 Yellow Wagtails. 9th September incredibly saw another Axe Least Sandpiper, although this one identified retrospectively from photographs so enjoyed by very few. There was plenty of other bits to be enjoyed though including a juvenile Spotted Redshank and a Grey Phalarope on Black Hole Marsh from 20th. The month ended with a Spoonbill and a great count of 14 Ruff.  October gave a Yellow-browed Warbler again in my road on 19th when six Avocets were gracing Black Hole Marsh, and the month ended with some excellent vis mig - with 15k of Wood Pigeon leading the charge!

November started superbly well with Glossy Ibis and a Great White Egret that I finally saw (had missed four during the year!), and then the Hawfinches arrived.  A national influx which made for a terrific winter, which started for us in Colyton on 5th when I found two. In keeping with the finch theme a handful of Brambling wintered on the outskirts of Colyton and stayed into 2018.  December did very little for my year list, well nothing in fact, but with Hawfinches popping up now and then it was still very much an enjoyable month!  

No patch lifers at all, the first year this has happened since I kept an Axe list. It was also probably the worst autumn for sea watching since I properly birded the Axe!  Highlights were easily the flock of Pom Skuas and the Hawfinch invasion.

Incoming flock of Pomarine Skuas

A Glossy Ibis actually looking glossy!

Grey Phalarope


January saw the best showing of Water Pipits I've ever known here, with a flock of up to twelve birds on Colyford Common almost daily.  The 8th was a good day with Caspian Gull and a White-fronted Goose recorded, and new Hawfinches continued to pop up with birds at Musbury and Colyton church now. The same or another Caspian Gull remained throughout February, and with cold weather beginning to set in at the end of the month this immediately saw the arrival of around 200 Golden Plover in the valley, as well as couple of Bearded Tits in Axe reedbed and several Pintail and Gadwall.  

When March began, instead of showing signs of spring, it snowed and freezing weather set in for several days!  Lapwing and even more Golden Plover arrived en masse, with 6250 and 3000 respectively counted flying west on 1st, and hundreds more making landfall wherever they could find thawed ground. Thrushes were also plentiful, both overhead and on the deck.  Six Avocet graced Black Hole Marsh and a Spoonbill looked thoroughly cheesed off on the Estuary.  After seeing my first Wheatear on 14th I thought the seasons had changed, but a few days later yet more snow which saw another huge rush of thrushes.  A pair of Garganey on 28th were much appreciated by all, a species that shouldn't really be as scarce as it is here, and a nice dark first-winter Glaucous Gull looked impressive on the last day of the month, with a variety of odd geese in the valley including singles of Greylag, Egyptian and Barnacle!

April saw the usual species arrive, with an Iceland Gull on 15th nice to see (even more so as I had missed three of these this year!). Although I didn't have much time to do Beer Head, pickings were slim although a singing Corn Bunting for two bays form 25th an excellent record. Pity it didn't stay longer. Another Garganey showed exceptional well on Borrow Pit on 6th May when my first two Red Kites of the year flew over.  A nice pulse of wader passage at the end of the month gave Grey Plover and several Sanderling on the Estuary.

I didn't post any blog posts in June, but July was a good month with Spotted Redshank, Ruff, two Wood Sandpipers, Knot and a good passage of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls. I was again kept busy in August, although up to three more Spotted Redshanks on Black Hole Marsh during the month were an excellent tally, with another four or so Wood Sandpipers.  It was sad to miss a Beer Head Wryneck on 28th.  I was away much of September so have little to add, although the highlight wasn't a bird but a Northern Bottlenose Whale in bay briefly.  

Yet again, the street I live in produced a Yellow-browed Warbler, with one on 13th October, and evening looks along the Estuary around the same time often showed four or so Cattle Egrets.  A first-winter Arctic Tern that spent about a week on the Estuary in early-mid November was novel for us, but that's where my blog posts ended for the year.  

So yet another patch tick free year.  The highlight was the cold weather movement, and seeing so many Hawfinches!


And two more - just because it was so novel seeing so many!

Snow and Lapwings on a main road in Seaton!

A very fed up looking Spoonbill!

Drake Garganey on the Borrow Pit.

Juv Spotted Redshank

My new birding companion!


Nothing exciting around at the start of the year, but February saw yet another 'big freeze'.  Not quite as much snow as the previous ones but the movement of thrushes on 1st was absolutely staggering, with an estimated 120,000 over west during the day, mostly Redwing.  Completely mind blowing.  Thankfully everything defrosted quite quickly so nothing looked too distressed.  Three Mandarin off the seafront on 4th March were just crazy, but there was nothing else too unexpected over the course of the month.  April had the same theme, with a Cuckoo showing well in Colyton on 18th an increasingly scarce highlight, with the rest of the month proving poor. May started better, with a singing Wood Warbler at Lower Bruckland Ponds on 5th a true spring rarity.  But again there was little more, just too much blue sky for downing migrants!  A Glossy Ibis on 8th June was a turn up for the books, with a Wood Sandpiper already with us before July had even begun.

I spent most of July in a moth trap, but saw the error of my ways in August and was rewarded with a juvenile Goshawk over Axmouth on 17th.  Black Hole Marsh was as it often is at this time of year, teeming with wading birds, including adults of Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint before the month was out.  This was the first time in a while we had a lingering Osprey, which kept many happy by fishing daily on the Estuary. A Honey Buzzard over Colyford Marsh on 14th September made me really happy, and a Great White Egret was viewable from my house on 18th.  The month ended with finally some decent sea watching, with a combined day total of just shy of 200 Balearic Shearwaters west on 27th, with a few Arctic and Great Skuas recorded over the next couple of days. 

A Whooper Swan on the Estuary on 14th October was only a one-dayer, and easily my highlight of a rather quiet month. Seven Black Redstarts at Axe Yacht Club on 1st November brought with them a surprising Common Redstart, with the 2nd producing the Axe's second double-dose of Caspian Gull with two on Bridge Marsh.  

And that was it for real highlights this year, with for the third year in a row no patch lifers.  The highlight for me was the epic Balearic passage and the autumn raptor fest.

Three surprising Mandarin

Adult Whooper Swan - although just a one day wonder here it spent the winter near Axminster

Male Black Redstart - this bird proved popular to photographers and you can see why

A November Common Redstart!


The quiet January was more than made up for by February, with a Serin in Seaton on 5th a unseasonable surprise, and an American Herring Gull on the Estuary on 14th a jaw-dropping surprise!  March started averagely, but then everything got even more local with lockdown starting and all effort was on the house list.  This gave me rewards, with Red Kites, a Marsh Harrier, two Ospreys (saw six in total this spring), a Spoonbill, two Cattle Egret, an Iceland Gull, a Grasshopper Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and two Avocet noted without even leaving home!  

Thankfully by the end of May restrictions had eased which meant we could all cash in on a singing male Blyth's Reed Warbler on Beer Head on 31st, and then the two Rose-coloured Startlings that had joined the towns Starling flocks from 6th June.  Early July saw a surprising amount of sea birds in the bay, including up to 100 Balearic Shearwaters and an unseasonal Velvet Scoter on 6th.  Black Hole Marsh came in to its own soon after too, with Ruff and a couple of Wood Sandpipers noted before the end of the month.  It proved another good summer for juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls too, and the surrounding conifer woods were alive with the sounds of 'glipping' Crossbills.

August showed a steady turn over of waders but little else (a few Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, etc), and September also remained rarity free - and mostly bird free too. Well that was until a Pink-footed Goose was discovered on 28th.  October began with thousands of House Martins feeding low over the patch, with awful weather blocking their southwards migration, and then there was a run of Great White Egret sightings mid month (with the now expected Cattle Egrets also present).  Over the last ten days of the month there were good numbers of gulls including multiple Yellow-legged Gulls and a couple of sightings of Caspian Gulls (on 24th and 27th).

An Eider appeared off Seaton Hole mid November, and the year ended with a beefy young Glaucous Gull on the Estuary, topping off an excellent gull year in the best possible way.

For numbers of birds, not the best year, but for patch ticks absolutely incredible with four; American Herring Gull, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling and Pink-footed Goose.  The novelty of lockdown listing ensured there was a positive spin on the devastating situation around us.  

American Herring Gull.... oh yes!

Singing male Rose-coloured Startling

The female Rose-coloured Starling

One of the best looking Ruff I've ever seen on the Axe

Pink-footed Goose

And there we are.  That's the two parter done and I have so enjoyed it!  Reliving so many amazing memories on the Axe Estuary over the last eleven years, my true birding home.

A few things have really hit me whilst I compiling these two posts.  First and foremost, it's not just about the patch you have or the birds that use it, but it's the birders you share it with.  The main core of Axe Estuary birders are all thoroughly nice guys and girls and we all have such a want to share our sightings with each other.  If I haven't shared a good bird with at least one other person then the experience is completely tainted for me, forever.  I almost wish I had never seen it in the first place! For example the brief Gull-billed Tern in 2008 that shocked me sat on the mud north of Coronation Corner.  I literally got no enjoyment from that despite its epic rarity status, and that's because it took off and flew out to sea before anyone else arrived.

Also, almost always the birds and experiences that stick in my mind the clearest, and have made me smile the most whilst writing these posts, aren't the true rares.  Yes the biggies give me a buzz, and seeing a rarity here, which may also be a new bird for the patch, is always going to be a highlight.  However it's the massive cold weather movements that I've witnessed, and the winter when Hawfinches were 'common' that really jump out at me as being highlights. And I can't not mention the flock of nine Pomarine Skuas which will forever take centre stage in my mind's eye.    

So that's me done, I really hope you have enjoyed these two posts.  Be sure to check back soon for a 2021 update - I may even be forced to bring lockdown listing back!?  

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

A Review Of The Decade (+1). Part One.

So instead of the usual "Review of the Year' blog post, which every blogger up and down the land will have posted over the past week or so, I have decided to go the extra mile and extend it into a review of the decade!

Well, it's going to actually be eleven years long, as I want to start this entry with one of my personal favourite years of birding on the Axe...


For me 2010 will go down as the white year.  In both winter periods we experienced some extreme cold weather and heavy snow falls, which is a real rarity here.  And in both cases, this kick-started some exceptional and dramatic - yet always emotionally troublesome - cold weather movements.

From 6th January the thrush passage began, but on 7th it really intensified with Fieldfare, Redwing, Skylark and Lapwings passing west overhead all day as well as large numbers of the former two grounded.  The Estuary showed large numbers of wildfowl including a drake Goldeneye, a Velvet Scoter was offshore and further up the valley four Ruff and the wintering singles of Bewick's and Whooper Swan remained.  A Bittern was glimpsed in the evening by a local, which we all saw during the following few days and was a patch tick for all.  With ice still in place on 10th wildfowl movement really picked up, with incredible scenes (for us!) over the sea including 17 Pochard! 11 Tufted Duck were in the river and now seven Ruff and other oddities such as Spoonbill, Jack Snipe and Goosander.

The second period of cold weather period began on 2nd December and this one was even whiter!  Thrushes began moving right away and larks did even more so, I counted over two thousand Skylarks in one day! The sea again produced some more crazy counts including double figure numbers of Pochard and Tufted Duck plus three Eider and a whole host of commoner species.  A new Bewick's Swan appeared in the valley along with a Spoonbill.

Sandwiched between these two Arctic spells were some cracking rarities.  Of course for me, the Black Hole Marsh Solitary Sandpiper from 10th October was rarity of the year, with back up from a Long-billed Dowitcher at Boshill Cross on 9th and 10th November and the Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Colyton WTW which I was delighted to trap and ring on 14th December.  The latter technically remains the rarest bird ever to have occurred on patch, as it constitutes just the second accepted British record.

The spring and autumn were overall poor for passage birds (on land and at least), but a nice spring highlight came in the form of an Alpine Swift over Lower Bruckland Pond on 27th March and the pick of the autumn was a showy Dotterel at Axe Cliff in early September, a Corn Bunting on Beer Head from 14th of the same month, several Lapland Buntings following an influx into the UK and two Bearded Tits on Colyford Common on 1st November.  Despite it's possible plastic origins, a female Red-crested Pochard on the Estuary in August just has to be included in this review I am afraid, although I much preferred the stonking juv Glaucous Gull that dropped in briefly in early November.

And that's why 2010 remains one of my best Axe years. So many birds thanks to the cold weather movements and six patch ticks to boot (Solitary Sand, LB Dowitcher, Eastern Yellow Wag, Corn Bunting, Bearded Tit and Bittern). It was also the year the Island Hide opened on Black Hole Marsh - and what a success that has proved!

Gav and Kev on an icy seafront

See - proper snow!

An Axe lifer - Bittern

The Long-billed Dowitcher


I spent most of the first few months looking for a patch Waxwing as it was a Waxwing winter.  No luck for me though and the first two months were very slow going, with a flock of nine Velvet Scoters in the bay being the easy highlight. Thankfully spring started early with two Wheatear on 8th March and improved no end on 21st with a Hoopoe in Axmouth and a cracking male Ring Ouzel on Beer Head on 23rd. A few Red Kites flew over at the end of the month and a nice pulse of waders in the valley included Little Ringed Plover, Ruff and Grey Plover.

I was away for much of April, but the bit I was here for was pretty good with a cracking Purple Heron on Colyford Common on 23rd after a Great White Egret in the valley on 19th. A White Stork at the end of the month sadly showed too well as it revealed a plastic leg ring - still nice to see!  A White-fronted Goose on Black Hole Marsh mid May was unexpected, and sadly the Quail found in Beer at the end of the month was only found after it had died...

I must have spent most of the next few months with my head in a moth trap as didn't see much at all, but in September I must have started looking up again as I bagged a Rousdon Wryneck on 2nd and wading bird passage really kicked up a notch, with an amazing end to the month with a Semi-palmated Sandpiper which remained into October, when two Great White Egret also dropped in.  October proved by far the month of the year here, with a Whooper Swan on 7th, a Hen Harrier in the valley on 14th, a Richard's Pipit in Beer on 19th, a Greenland White-fronted Goose on Colyford Marsh and Lapland Bunting at Axe Cliff on 20th, but sadly no Short-toed Eagle (Dawlish Warren!).  I remember Oct 2011 being excellent for visible migration as well, with good numbers of Crossbill, Redpoll, Siskin which doesn't happen every year.  Saw a few Short-eared Owls too which are never to be sniffed at.

November wasn't too bad either, with a White-rumped Sandpiper on the Estuary on 7th and 8th with two Snow Buntings at Axmouth Harbour on the second of those dates as well.  A Temminck's Stint on Colyford Marsh on 17th continued the scarce wader theme, not expecting at all considering the date!  For the third consecutive winter Woodlarks were wintering near Rousdon, and other than one of the Snow Buntings remaining with us, all was quiet until 23rd Dec when our fourth (my second) Caspian Gull showed well on the Estuary. This bird remains one of my favourite individuals to date.

So a five patch year tick year for me, with Semi-P and White-rumped Sandpipers, Purple Heron, Richard's Pipit and Hen Harrier.

Best views of Hoopoe I've ever had here

Stunning adult Purple Heron

The first breeding plumaged Great White Egret I'd ever seen - check out those pink legs!

Semi-palmated Sandpiper - showing well too!

Greenland White-fronted Goose - half a new bird for the patch!

Richard's Pipit just about

White-rumped Sandpiper


Literally nothing happened in January, but thankfully February got a bit better with colder weather producing species like Golden Plover, Ruff and Tufted Duck in the valley.  An Iceland Gull on 18th was the first decent bird of the year, and spring started early with four Avocet and a Stone Curlew on Seaton Marshes on 5th March.  A new Caspian Gull on 10th was appreciated, with another Iceland Gull a couple of days later.

A huge highlight, literally, on 2nd April was a Common Crane on Colyford Marsh (just before they became untickable!). A nice flurry of migrants on 17th included two each of Grasshopper Warbler, Redstart, a Tree Pipit and 50 Willow Warblers, but then attention was turned to the sea.  A Black Guillemot past Beer on 18th was a real surprise, along with a Little Gull, with the next few days producing over 150 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, six Pomarine Skuas and good numbers of the more usual fare.   May started well with one of my best ever spring falls at Beer Head on 1st including three Redstart, two Spotted Flies, two Grasshopper Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, 12 Yellow Wags and heaps of Wheatears and Willow Warblers. After a nice run of waders on the Estuary (although missing a brief Kentish Plover wasn't so good!), a purring Turtle Dove in Beer on 13th and a Curlew Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh on 22nd end the spring in style.

July 2012 was a month to remember, although not for any good reasons. Flooding, severe flooding which would have proved devastating for the local breeding birds.   Autumn started early for us with an adult Wood Sandpiper on 14th and an Osprey on 20th, and August was full on some good wading bird passage including multiple Ruff, Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and a Spotted Redshank, a juv Garganey was a nice surprise on 30th too.  September showed a Spotted Crake on the Estuary from 9th, with a nice passage of 71 Balearic Shearwaters offshore the following day.  A Sooty Shearwater flew past on 3rd October and a Pectoral Sandpiper appeared on Black Hole on 9th.  A Long-eared Owl in Beer on 22nd got some of the locals moving, but for the last couple of months of the year I spent much time away.  There was one last Christmas present with two Bewick's Swan at Boshill Cross which stayed into the following year.

That's four patch tickets for me in that year, with Common Crane, Turtle Dove (overdue!), Spotted Crake and Long-eared Owl.  All in all another pretty good year.

Iceland Gull

Stone Curlew - in exactly the same place as the previous one!

Common Crane

Severe flooding on Colyford Common

Long-eared Owl


A tried for a year list in 2013, which meant lots more effort in January.  This certainly gave me the rewards, with a Red-breasted Merganser off the beach on 4th and of even greater Axe quality a drake Goldeneye on 14th. Some colder weather brought a few more species of wildfowl into the valley with Gadwall, Pintail and Tufted Duck all noted - and a surprise Hen Harrier on 17th, although a Green-winged Teal on 29th was an even bigger shock to the system!  February wasn't all bad with over 250 Golden Plover often in the valley, with a couple of lingering Ruff and a female Goldeneye on the Estuary.  Early March gave Spoonbill and Merlin in the valley, and an impressive gathering of 40+ Great Northern Divers off Branscombe.    2013 was the year of the cold spring, when after the first arrival of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Little Ringed Plovers, freezing northerly winds set in and stopped all these migrants in their tracks.  A male Ring Ouzel was on Beer Head on 27th when there were still nine Little Ringed Plover in the valley, but thankfully many of the now tired looking Chiffchaffs and hirundines had managed to carry on north.  On 29th a male Marsh Harrier and Osprey were both viewable from my bedroom window hunting over Colyford Marsh.

On 1st April there were a whopping 18 Little Ringed Plovers in the valley, but it wasn't until mid month that passerine migration really got going again.  Beer Head showed plenty of Redstarts, a few Grasshopper Warblers and Tree Pipit, but my highlight was a male Pied Flycatcher on Seaton Marshes on 18th. Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler were added on 25th but the 26th served me up with a plateful of jam when a female Montagu's Harrier flew west over Black Hole Marsh. An adult drake Velvet Scoter offshore on 27th showed ridiculously well and the month was topped off nicely with a singing Wood Warbler in Colyton on 29th.  May started with a spring Wood Sandpiper which is never a common sight, and some good seawatching mid month produced a cracking Pomarine Skua and a couple of sightings of up to four Storm Petrels.  Other than that, and a Curlew Sandpiper at the end of the month, that was spring done.  One of my best here so no complaints from me!

Traditional early July fare included Little Ringed Plover, Ruff and Osprey, along with a few over flying Crossbill and three Balearic Shearwaters flew by at the end of the month. All eclipsed though on 1st August with the discovery of some patch breeding Nightjars, which thankfully we got wind of just before the end of the season. A first for most the patch birders.  This was followed by a nice run of juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and a showy juvenile Cuckoo that spent several weeks at Black Hole Marsh, with a cracking end of the month thanks to a brief juvenile Black Tern on Black Hole Marsh, and wading birds including three Knot, two Spotted Redshank, and singles of Curlew Sandpiper, Little StintTurnstone and Wood Sandpiper.  The 10th September gave an excellent fall of passerines on Beer Head including Pied Flycatcher, four Spotted Flycatchers and 75 Yellow Wagtails. A nice double on 17th and 18th including the Axe's first September record of Caspian Gull and a very showy Spotted Crake on Colyford Common. A nice birthday treat on the 27th was a Bittern showing well from Tower Hide.

Still plenty of wading birds about in October with four Ruff and a Spotted Redshank, and two Yellow-browed Warblers at Black Hole Marsh. The 21st was a cracking day despite the wet and windy weather, with a juvenile Garganey on Colyford Marsh and a Sabine's Gull - only my second here - close in off Seaton Beach. A Glossy Ibis appeared on 9th November, and the 14th gave one of my most exciting 'east coast' like days, with hundreds of thrushes dropping out of the sky, and a busy seawatch with decent numbers of wildfowl and waders moving, including two Velvet Scoter, three Pintail, a Red-breasted Merganser, over 100 Common Scoters and small waders, a Pomarine Skua and two Balearic Shearwaters. Two Long-tailed Ducks spent over a week in the bay from 28th.  December was quiet, although two notable off patch twitches for me included White-billed Diver at Torbay and Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland.

Another absolutely excellent year for birding, which more than made up for just the one addition to patch list - Green-winged Teal.

Spotted Crake showing well!


What a bird!  Sabine's Gull


This year started off slowly, with nothing worthy of mention under a first-winter Glaucous Gull at the end of January, and a big blow early in February produced a couple of Little Gulls on the Estuary.  Big numbers of gulls remained feeding on the after storm debris, which pulled in a stunning adult Kumlien's Gull on 11th.  Spring began on queue from mid March, with an Osprey at the end of the month a nice early treat.

Enjoyed much of the spring bird ringing up Beer Head, which was surprisingly productive with several Redstarts, Firecrest, Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and over 125 Chiffchaffs/Willow Warbler caught and ringed.  What we won't be mentioning here though is the Great Spotted something that spent the afternoon at Beer Head on 4th April.  A Cattle Egret in the valley a little later in the month was no compensation. Fast forward to 1st June and a Bee-eater (which joined five more a short while later) at Axe Cliff was a superb sighting on a warm sunny day.  

The typical summer doldrums started picking up from mid July when wading birds began their autumn passage, and a Great White Egret on 25th was a welcome rarity.  Ringing took centre stage again from August at Beer Head and gave some excellent rewards, although the nets couldn't come down quick enough on 5th September with a surprise Little Crake on Black Hole Marsh. October saw some more bird ringing on Beer Head, although distractions came from a Caspian Gull on the Estuary on 21st, and a Yellow-browed Warbler in Axmouth on 28th and another at Lower Bruckland Ponds the following day.  The 31st produced a stormer, with a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Seaton Hole.  November was a lot quieter, with nothing much until a Spoonbill on the Axe on 21st, and December equally quiet.  At least this enabled me to tot up my Beer Head ringing totals, 360 birds of 24 species.

So a quieter year with far fewer birds, but three patch lifers; Bee-eater, Little Crake and Red-breasted Flycatcher.  Should have been four though!

Not the best looking Glaucous Gull maybe!

The best looking Kumlien's Gull though!

Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in the hand

Bee-eater - what a sight!

Red-breasted Flycatcher


January and February were completely uneventful, well except for 22 Greylag Geese in the valley in mid Feb but that may be debatable by some.  Thankfully in March things much improved with an Iceland Gull on 1st and a Short-eared Owl which spent a week hunting over Axe Cliff.  A Yellow-browed Warbler appeared at Branscombe from mid March and stayed for a couple of weeks, our first spring record, with a Caspian Gull present on the Estuary 27th and what has turned out to be a real rarity now, a Ring-billed Gull on 30th. This was the same date a Slavonian Grebe was off Seaton Hole, summer plumage too!

April 5th 2015 will be remembered for a long time, as the two Penduline Tits that were on the Exe suddenly appeared on Stafford Marsh and stayed just for that one afternoon affording excellent views. Clear skies for the first few weeks of the month produced six Red Kites and a couple of Ospreys, along with another Short-eared Owl on 21st (this one in the valley). A Ring Ouzel and Whinchat on 22nd were highlights as passerine migrants numbers had been so low this spring!  

May I spent two weeks in Greece, so not much to add.  But whilst I was away a Night Heron pleased others on the Axe from Tower Hide for one afternoon only.  June was typically quiet, and July included mostly just the first few returning wading birds and a splattering of juv Yellow-legged Gulls. Three Tufted Ducks and two Gadwall on the last day of the month were a bit surprising considering the date!  August started quietly, but an adult Baird's Sandpiper on 15th really spiced things up! Although any America wader is a surprise, seeing 34 Wood Sandpipers together on Black Hole Marsh on 23rd was probably even more of one!  An incredible sight.  Double figures of Ruff as well by the end of the month, although this didn't make up for missing a brief Citrine Wagtail, Spotted Crake and Wryneck all in the last weekend of August! 

September really was quiet, but two Glossy Ibis on 10th dropped in on Black Hole Marsh, and unlike the other recent rarities I actually saw them! Well they did stay for months.  I spent most of the rest of the month ringing on Beer Head (with Lesser Whitethroat, Lesser Redpoll, Fieldfare, Stonechat among species ringed), but I did find a Yellow-browed Warbler on Seaton Marshes on 29th and then another from my front door the following day.  The 4th November was a good one for me with a Short-eared Owl on Beer Head, a Hen Harrier hunting over Colyford Marsh and a Yellow-browed Warbler in Axmouth, with back up cast of three Black Redstarts and a Firecrest!  The 14th will also go down in history for me, with our first double dose of Caspian Gull, a first and second-winter on the Estuary from early afternoon (and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls!). December was looking to be predictably quiet, until a Green-winged Teal appeared in the valley from 19th and remained to the following spring.

So two patch ticks this year with the Penduline Tits and the Baird's Sandpiper.

Short-eared Owl

Ring-billed Gull second-winter - honestly!

Well that's the first six years done!  Check back soon for Part Two....