Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Osprey 014 on the Axe

Enjoyed a wonderful evening out tonight on patch. It was just a few hours but much needed in the middle of a busy week of work.

First and foremost was the female Osprey that's been around for at least two days, which was showing well perched in a tree on Bridge Marsh, before fishing (unsuccessfully) over the Estuary.  We know it's a her because she's colour-ringed, and was showing off her '014' blue ring this evening.  As often is the case with colour-ringed birds, once the ring is read and history learnt a fascinating back story unwinds.  Blue 014 is one of the translocated birds from Scotland released in Poole Harbour in the summer of 2018.  She spent the summer of 2019, as to be expected for a first-summer bird, not in the UK, but in May this year she surprised everyone by reappearing on a Osprey nest cam in Dyfi, Wales!  Full details of her movements can be found HERE.  

And here she is on the Axe Estuary tonight...

Osprey in situ

014 on the Axe - how exciting!

A quick look over the sea showed c20 Med Gulls (so many stonking adults and second-summers) and my first independent juvenile Herring Gull of 2020...

Sadly not a Yellow-legged

I ended the night with a look along the river and a quick visit to Black Hole Marsh. This showed 15 Common and my first Green Sandpiper of the autumn (a fine adult), a beautiful fresh juvenile Little Ringed Plover, an adult Greenshank, ten super smart Black-tailed Godwits and a Shoveler

Green Sandpiper

A distant juvenile Little Ringed Plover

Can't tell you how much I enjoyed it.  And HELLO autumn!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Balearic Shearwater Passage

Although it's been a busy week for me, there is no way I could have ignored the sea considering the weather and last weeks bumper Balearic Shearwater passage off south Devon.  

It wasn't until extremely late that I made it down to the seafront yesterday, 20:20 to be precise. All thanks to a text from James Mc who was at Lyme Regis and reported lots of westward shearwater action.  Upon my arrival I was greeted by a huge feeding flock of large gulls just offshore (the whitebait and mackerel are in the bay I'm told) joined by numerous Gannets too.  And within less than a minute shearwaters came by.  In half an hour I noted; 

Manx Shearwater 44
Balearic Shearwater 27
Common Scoter 15

Pretty much all the shearwaters were at a good range, with many of the Balearics in particularly seemingly being pulled close inshore by the feeding flock, before most then turned and headed back out south/south west.  

With the wind still up this morning, I was back at the Spot On Kiosk by 05:25 and gave it just under two hours.  As soon as my eye met the telescope there were Balearic Shearwaters passing through, I'm sure if I had arrived earlier I would have added so many more Balearics to the tally.  It was  a spectacular show for this species, that far out numbered Manxies today. For the first hour and a bit all flew straight through west, but then a close flock of ten, that at first seemed to be doing the same, decided to land and began feeding offshore.  This in turn tempted most of the remaining Balearics that came in the from the east to land with them.  By the end of the watch there were about 15 birds feeding on the sea with the large flock of feeding gulls and Gannets. Fantastic to watch.

A Velvet Scoter was a real surprise, always is here but especially so considering the date, with an immature female-type high west and then back east at 05:41. I was really hoping it would be picked up further east but wasn't to my knowledge.   The Great Skua that flew west about four minutes later was however picked up again, by Mike at Beer.  My first Skua of the year FINALLY!  Wonderful to see, although distant as this dreadful photo suggests...

Was so far out!  Really restricted white in the wing too, if it were late August I would have labelled it a juv

An adult Yellow-legged Gull in with the large numbers of gulls (400+) feeding just off the beach was another great highlight, a proper heavy billed brute too.  Interestingly single adult YLG's were also seen at Abbotsbury and Portland today so maybe something of a mini-arrival?  Worthy also of a mention was my fist juvenile Mediterranean Gull of the year - always a highlight and quite an early one too.  It was one of several Med Gulls that were offshore/flying west. 

My full totals for this watch were (west unless stated); 

Gannet 200+ (uncounted so an estimate)
Balearic Shearwater 67 (last 15 birds landed and fed offshore, flock of ten the biggest group)
Manx Shearwater 7
Great Skua 1
Yellow-legged Gull 1 (close inshore with gull flock)
Med Gull 5 (1 juv, 1 2nd sum, 3 ads)
Kittiwake 4
Auk sp. 5
Velvet Scoter 1 (west then east)
Common Scoter 20 (clearly some duplication as a flock of 12 flew west then came back east about five mins later)

A very enjoyable watch. I tried again tonight, but twenty minutes showed just; 

Balearic Shearwater 2
Shearwater sp. 1
Common Scoter 3
Med Gull 7 (loitering)

To finish the post - spot the odd one out!  It's a common sight at this time of year to see gulls feeding on washed up whitebait on the beach.  But never before have I seen a Little Egret get in on the action! I even watched it have to briefly take flight on a couple of occasions to avoid the incoming crashing waves...

Look carefully and you'll see it! Was distant and in sea spray

Felt so good to enjoy some decent seawatching off Seaton, especially after the spring we've just had.  Hopefully there are more sea-based treats ahead during the remainder of summer 2020, and fingers crossed they are large ones...

Monday, 29 June 2020

Third-summer (4cy) Mediterranean Gull

Following on from my last post, I have received the details of green-ringed Med Gull RX2P.  A cracking looking bird that I saw on the Axe Estuary at 9am on 27th June.  It makes interesting reading...

Firstly, incredibly this bird was also sighted in Weymouth on 27th June!  Looking at the EXIF data of the Weymouth photograph it was taken at 5:15pm, and although not all that surprising a gull has travelled 30 miles along the coast in a day, it's gone the opposite way to what I'd expect!  The Med Gull passage off the south west coast at this time of year is usually a westward one so it's gone the wrong way!

Secondly, and something that really excites the guller in me, is that it was ringed as a pullus in Paris on 02/07/17. A quick tot up on my fingers tells me this bird is in it's fourth calendar year (4cy) and it's third-summer plumage.  This is not something I have ever written before for a Med Gull as it shouldn't be an identifiable age-class, with the usual ageing process as follows;

Juvenile - First-winter - First-summer - Second-winter - Second-summer - Adult.

Or if you prefer using calendar years (cy) and not plumage cycles;

1cy - 2cy - 3cy - Adult.

However in the past I've seen some second-winter/second-summer Meds with such a restricted amount of black in the primaries that I've wondered if they were actually a year older. From how RX2P looked the other day, it turns out they probably were!

This is a typical second-summer Med Gull taken on the Axe Estuary on 29/03/11...

Not the best photo but black and white primary tips obvious

And here's a typical looking second-winter Med Gull taken on the Axe Estuary on 2/12/11...

Clearly overcast when I took this photo!

Here is RX2P...

Nearly adult but not quite! Small black streak on otherwise white primaries

A more distant view but shows how little black there is

So what does this mean for the 'second-winter' and 'second-summer' labelling of Med Gulls? Well a bird with a typical amount on black I suspect the ageing remains correct, but for anything showing less 'second or third winter/summer' would probably be a more accurate caption.  For example, let's look at the unringed Med Gull that RX2P was accompanied by...

Looks quite similar doesn't it!

It has a bigger black smudge than RX2P on its otherwise white primaries but it's only one smudge and is far less than the average second-summer.  It has to be a good candidate for another third-summer surely?  

I'm going to have to do some more digging I think and see what other colour-ring sightings have shown.

Gulls, is there no end to the happiness and wonder they give me?  If there is I am a long way from it that's for sure.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Marvelleous Meds

As we approach July, we are heading towards the peak passage period for Mediterranean Gulls on the Axe.  

Most the big flocks tend to fly past us over sea but we still get our fair share in the valley.  What's best though is how they look, with the adults/near adults often sporting full summer wear, and the super fresh juveniles looking like butter wouldn't melt.  It's still a bit early for the latter (mid July onwards) but at 9am this morning a small flock of Black-headed Gulls on the near shore off Coronation Corner contained these two beauts...

Colour-ringed, awaiting to hear back the details

Its non-blinged mate

The non-ringed bird again to show how brutish it looked - presumably a male

Today's windy weather gave some seawatching promise, and there was some success for those who were able to get out early.  Five Manx Shearwaters and a Whimbrel was all I added to the tally from two short watches during the afternoon, when conditions were less than ideal as the sun decided to put in an appearance.  

With a record June count of Balearic Shearwaters made in south Devon today (425 at Start Point by MD) let's hope it's a precursor for an excellent summer and autumn of seawatching in the English Channel.  Big Shears for me please!

Thursday, 25 June 2020

High Brown Fritillaries

Spent this scorcher of a day on Dartmoor with the family, enjoying a very relaxed afternoon around Venford Reservoir. It's not an area of Dartmoor I have explored much before, although have no idea why because it's a truly stunning part of the moor...

Looking north from the north east corner of Venford Res

Venford Brook

Whilst we were here Fritillaries were forever frustrating me by zipping around without stopping for breath. When I did eventually get a good look at one I was shocked to see it was a High Brown Fritillary - one of the rarest butterflies in the UK! 

High Brown Fritillary

The three Frits I saw settled were all High Brown, and the other 7-10 insects that I only saw in flight looked similar in every way, although am well aware of the Dark Green pitfall.  Am sure it's a known site, but a real delight to stumble upon without prior knowledge that's for sure.  

I think this one simply had to land because it was in such a state!  The wing shape was more akin to a Comma...

Sadly a bit distant, and that blade of bloody grass!

I also saw several Small Heaths and Large Skippers, along with singles of Brimstone and Green Hairstreak.  Bird-wise, Crossbills stole the show with almost constant calling and frequent small flocks flying over.  Hardly surprising though considering the movement that is underway at the moment - I bet Dartmoor is absolutely bursting at the seams with them!

Back to Fritillaries, and on Tuesday we visited the other Moor that Devon boasts, Exmoor.  I didn't see many birds to talk about, except for a lovely family of Garden Warblers, but it was great to see numerous Dark Green Fritillaries (too quick for photos) and my first Silver-washed Fritillary of the year...

Silver-washed Fritillary

Well that was a Fritillary-heavy post, which can't ever be a bad thing! I do have more content stacked up ready to blog, but it's late now so will have to wait for another day. Check back soon...

Saturday, 13 June 2020

An Odonata Update

Been meaning to post this one for a while, although seems a bit late now that we have lost the stunning sunshine of April and May.  Just what has happened to the weather!?

Once lockdown was eased I was able to spend more time looking around the patch for dragonflies and damselflies. Really enjoyed seeing plenty of the usual species, including an impressive mass emergence of Scarce Chasers in late May. Hope you enjoy these pics...

Scarce Chaser

Same insect different angle

Broad-bodied Chaser male

Broad-bodied Chaser female

Black-tailed Skimmer immature male

Beautiful Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle


Teneral White-legged Damselflies

Really pleased with some of these shots, a credit to the P900.

I fancied an off-patch Odonata foray too, looking for the rare Southern Damselfly. About 15 years ago I found my own site for this extremely rare damselfly on the East Devon Commons, but haven't been back since. I had no idea if they were still there but on 29th May was very happy to confirm they indeed were.  What a delicate little insect and so beautifully marked, fantastic to see again...

Southern Damselfly

Another Southern Damselfly

Isn't nature beautiful.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Rose-coloured Starlings

Sometimes success can be even sweeter if you re-visit past pain.  So to do that, here's a post I wrote on the old Devon Bird News blog nine years ago...

If you can't read it here's a direct link to the post;

On 9th June 2011 the local birding community found out about a stunning adult Rose-coloured Starling that had been flaunting itself around Colyford for several days. Unfortunately it was last seen on the 8th.  If I remember correctly it was then seen in mid Devon, before winding up on the Otter Estuary in July.  A completely gripping event, can remember the pain even now.

Every year since we've hoped for redemption.  Obviously a summer adult would be most appreciated, and during influx years we've put the effort in, but even an autumn juvenile would suffice to plug the gaping gap on all our Axe lists.  Not a whiff.

And that makes today a very good day indeed.

With the current Rose-coloured Starling influx picking up pace, a couple of days ago I posted this on Facebook. Well us birders can't find one for love nor money, so I thought I'd see if the local non-birding community could do better..

It clearly wasn't shared enough.  This morning Kev phoned with news a friend had tagged him in the following post...

Fairy Liquid and a Rose-coloured Starling!

Soon after we gleaned the exact location we descended. Phil managed to see it perched up but it didn't hang around, Kev and I only managed brief flight views.  I (with Jess and Harry in the car - Jess was just as keen as I to track it down!) followed it in flight across half the town before it seemed to head off west.  We thought that was it, but a few birders sat it out and almost three hours later news came through it was back in the same spot.

We jumped in the car and ten minutes later were treated to this...

Rose-coloured Starling!
Pink punk
It even began to sing!

Turn the volume up for some singing Rose-coloured Starling action...

A singing male Rose-coloured Starling - amazing!  But even more amazing than that, it soon became apparent there were two with a duller bird also present. I managed to drop in briefly later in the afternoon, and didn't even have to get out the car as this was sat on the roof next to me...

Rose-coloured Starling number two! 

The singing male can only be described as being ridiculously flamboyant.  Black, pink and full of punk.  This bird however had paler and dirty looking pink bits, pale tips and edging to most the darker feathers, a dark-tipped bill and just a bit of a shaggy head lacking the large plumes.  We have a male and a female then... they couldn't could they?

A further twist today (which could have been very unpleasant had today not have happened!) came when I found out that there was also a Rose-coloured Starling in a private garden in Colyton nine days ago.  "A baby Magpie that was bright pink and black with a crest" is pretty conclusive for me!  No pics sadly so we can't compare.

Rose-coloured Starling is remarkably my third patch tick of the year, with American Herring Gull in February and the Blyth's Reed Warbler (both patch firsts).  Before 2020 I had suffered three blank years for new birds here, with my last addition being the Beer Head Red-backed Shrike in September 2016 (a month after Least Sand).  Have said it before and it will be said again, a funny old game this birding. Completely unpredictable.

Before signing off I must just mention Crossbills. I had one fly very low west over Seaton early afternoon yesterday  (unfortunately not from my house!) with several more today calling from the Morganhayes Wood area.  They've clearly had a good year, with lots of Siskin around too.

What a day.  A ridiculously pink one.  Take care all.