Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Yellow Wag Tap Turned On

I have been seeing one of two Yellow Wags over the last week or so, but this morning my word they were everywhere!

Every group of cattle in the valley - Bridge Marsh, Colyford Common and Seaton Marshes  - had their own little flock. As well as these, every so often small groups or singles would fly over west. It's really tricky to know for sure how many I saw/heard, but as a guesstimate I'd go with 50+.

The bushes were really quiet though, with the only other passerine migrants noted being two Wheatear and this Whinchat on Seaton Marshes...

Whinchat playing peekaboo!

That's better!  I am so impressed with the P900 - this bird was some distance away but you'd never know it from the photo

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Seawatching Unsuccessfully

16th May 2009 is a date that has always stuck with me - it remains the most gripped I have ever been by missing a patch bird. Ian Mc was watching a decent passage of Manxies from Beer when out of nowhere a Cory's Shearwater came gliding through with them!  We soon learnt this bird was first seen in Chesil Cove (by Brett) and later Exmouth - so was just one random bird that had got mixed up with the usual Manxies. So gripping, and a first for the patch.

Well I have been gripped again - big time!  

From early last week it was pretty clear Birdfair weekend was going to be a good one for birding, finally a decent Atlantic blow was coming in and I was going to completely miss it.  Despite seeing plenty abroad, I am yet to see Cory's in the UK - the last couple of years I've been desperate to get down to PG but the weather and the timing of the fronts just haven't been kind to me. On Saturday I was expecting to be miss a decent passage of these brutes at PG, but had no idea I was going to miss several seen from Seaton! Large Shearwaters are just SO rare this far into Lyme Bay and this far up the English Channel, so to hear of groups of four and a count of up to 12 is just so mind boggling! And devastating.

Even local photographer Tim White who is a complete newbie to sea watching rocked up and saw two, one of which passed by just a couple of hundred meters offshore! This is probably closer than any Shearwater I've ever seen in 12 years of sea watching here!!!

It wasn't just me that missed out mind. Bun was even further away, in Mexico! James Mc spent a lot of time sea watching on Saturday from Lyme and Seaton, but missed the lot. Dan J who is a very keen sea watching in Sidmouth didn't get a whiff of a large Shearwater despite several watches during the day. And poor Tim Wright, he was sea watching from the thatched shelter when both of Tim White's birds went through, but came away with nothing. It was a bad day for quite a few of us! 

What was odd is how they were behaving, not passing by here and then being seen off other sites to the west of us, they were just here!   It was clearly a small group of displaced feeding birds that probably spent most of their time just over the horizon, but now and then circled into and then out of Seaton Bay. Although 12 were counted, I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number of birds was lower, possibly 6-8 maybe? A big well done though to Brendan Sheils who saw the first two on Friday evening, and then the Chard boys who picked up the numbers on Saturday morning, if it wasn't for them this phenomenal event would have probably gone by completely undetected! 

I did try, despite a 17 hour day on Saturday (including eight hours of driving!), I got myself up at 05:30 on Sunday and sea watched 05:50 - 08:30, and again 17:00-19:00. I didn't see any large Shears, but did see;

1 Common Scoter
7 Balearic Shearwater 
95+ Manx Shearwater
11 Kittiwake (mostly juvs)
1 Sandwich Tern
1 Ringed Plover
1 Dunlin

Not a bad Seaton haul really, but very unsatisfactory given the circumstances.

Looking at the forecast, looks like my UK Cory's chance is blown for another year, and probably another 15 years for the patch!!!  Thursday is looking interesting though with a chance of a passerine fall and maybe some more waders?  On the sunny days this week, Osprey has got to be a good bet, most juveniles have now left their nests now with the adults well on their way south already.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Beer Head

I've been visiting Beer Head twice a week at least for the last three or four weeks hoping to see signs of autumn migration.  Well I have been seeing some signs, but only very very small ones!  Late July and early August can see big numbers of Willow Warblers passing through, but not this year. Probably not helped by the clear skies and light winds that we've seen during this period - it usually takes cloud or a cold wind to drop any numbers - but I am worried they've not had a good breeding season.

Apart from the odd (and I mean odd, just one or two) Willow Warbler, it took until the 15th August before I saw any numbers worthy of a notebook entry. A Tree Pipit over east, eight Whitethroat, two Willow Warbler and a Wheatear grounded were noted on this date.

A Wheatear looking autumnal

These few birds gave me the encouragement I needed to get up here with my mist nets at the next available opportunity. So I did a few days later, but was a little late and having trudged out to my ringing site and being struck by how there were no migrants about at all, I just turned around and came back home! 

A veil of cloud and almost no wind on 18th tempted me up there again, and this time I actually stayed put and set up some nets!  A few hours with two nets gave me 15 birds of 5 species, including a control. They were:

6 Swallow (1 adult)
2 Robin
1 Dunnock
5 Willow Warbler (2 ads, 3 1st yrs)
1 Chiffchaff (a control, ring number HLV777)

Young Willow Warblers are just so yellow!

Chiffchaff HLV777 looking really scruffy in head moult

Usually I only catch young Swallows in the mist nets up here, so on catching an adult I thought I'd do some comparisons.  Adult Swallow (age code 4) on left, juvenile Swallow (age code 3) on the right...

So although I have had an enjoyable couple of hours of ringing, really it is still very quiet for passerine migration. Let's hope as we come towards the end of the month things pick up....


Back in 2003 when I was 17, Dad took me to my first Birdfair - The Birdfair at Rutland Water.  I remember an interesting day with several marquees and a few famous faces, but it was a much smaller event than it is today. Funnily enough it is the birds I remember the most!  In the north arm I life ticked Great White Egret, with an Osprey flying around over our heads there. From another hide we saw a juvenile Black Tern and Tree Sparrows were feeding on the feeders by the Visitors Centre.

13 years later, on Saturday just gone I was thrilled to be given the opportunity thanks to Nikon to attend once again, and it was great to return the favour to my Dad and take him back too! It was a long day, leaving Seaton at 5am and returning home at 21:30, but boy was it worth it!  

It was so nice seeing friends old and new, in particular some familiar faces from Spurn Bird Observatory - a place I owe so much too.  At the Nikon Stand, well you remember my little jaunt to Slovenia, it was nice to see the first results of this...

"The Film" will be released online on 1st September after a bit more tweaking - I really hope to share it here when it's out.

And guess what birds we saw? An Osprey, Great White Egret (three in fact, viewable from the Nikon stand), Black Tern (a moulting adult at the Egleton Reserve) and Tree Sparrows (on the feeders at Egleton).  Déjà vu!

I have a couple more blog posts in the pipeline, including my first bird ringing on Beer Head of the autumn, and some (failed) sea watching combined with horrific dipping. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Beer and Beavers

Yesterday after a nice meal out with the team I spent the summer surveying the birds of Dartmoor with, local birder and Beaver guru Chris took us up the River Otter prior to dusk hoping for some Beaver action. These animals have been in the news several times so am sure you all know about their presence, well done DWT with all the excellent work you have done here.

Despite quite a crowd waiting, just after 20:00 the adult female Beaver named Patricia made an appearance and remained in view for about ten minutes...

Then twenty minutes later  we were lucky to also see one of the wild born kits too, which also showed for roughly ten minutes. Here's a couple of videos, the first showing Patricia...

And this one of the kit...

They really are fantastic animals to watch, and it is so good to see them living here in complete harmony with the local environment.  Many thanks Chris!

Friday, 12 August 2016

More Yellow-legged Gulls

Yesterday late morning Black Hole Marsh was very enticing with 14+ each of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, 29 Blackwits and smaller numbers of the other usual species. I did look over them once or twice, but the main reason I was here was for the Tower Hide.  Twenty minutes earlier from Coronation Corner I could see a juv Yellow-legged Gull in with the flock of large gulls right in front of the hide.

For a good while I couldn't find it which was annoying, but a glance at a break away group of six juvenile large gulls further up river showed it was still here...

Pleasingly it soon had a bit of a fly around...

And then dropped in closer, albeit it briefly...

The left hand bird, just look at the size of that bill compared with the three on the right, and the overall head shape.

This morning, after deciding to abort a ringing session before it had even started, an early morning look along the Estuary revealed another Yellow-legged Gull. And I have to say it was one of the smartest ones I've ever seen, a huge beast that was well into its moult to first-winter plumage. It was so obvious it stood out like a fully kitted out clown waving and shouting "free cream cakes here"...

Sadly the sun light hadn't made it on the Estuary before it flew off south west, so I couldn't better my pics in the dull light, but it was nice to get a flight shot...

It was interesting seeing these two birds within two days as it really highlights the variation in, not just Yellow-legged Gulls, but all juvenile/immature large gulls. This is one of the main reasons why I find gulling so enjoyable, it's a never ending learning curve...

Monday, 8 August 2016

Aren't Juvenile Waders Great!

I was watching this nice little flock of Black-tailed Godwits feeding along the Estuary this morning...

When they were joined by this beautiful fresh juvenile...

Just look at that! A gorgeous gingery work of art. 

Sometimes it's the simple things in life...

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Least Sandpiper

What an incredible start to August on Black Hole Marsh!  This exquisite adult Least Sandpiper delighted many by still being present this morning, a first for the patch...

And a (very) short video...

This appears to be roughly the 51st record of Least Sandpiper in the UK, and the sixth (or maybe fifth?) for Devon (the two Lundy records seem very similar and close together, but are listed as two separate records?).  The most recent of these records was a bird at Thurlestone Marsh in Aug/Sep 2005, prior to that you have to go back to 1966!

So that's why Mr Bailey Junior was so happy this morning...