Monday, 11 April 2022

Spring Skuas!

There were four reasons why I wasn't particularly excited by the sea watching potential of this morning:

1.  The wind was south easterly, we often fail spectacular in anything with east in it.

2.  The sun was out.  Poor visibility seems to be the primary reason seabirds accidentally venture this far into Lyme Bay.

3.  The wind didn't really strengthen until just before dawn. Often need a good half-the night of gales to blow birds in here.

4.  94% of times I am excited about birding potential because of weather conditions, I end up being hugely disappointed.

But this proves just how unpredictable birding can be, even when watching a patch you think you know pretty well!  It was actually a really enjoyable watch.  I could only give it 90 minutes, in hindsight wished I had started earlier and of course that I didn't have to leave for work at 08:30. Pleased to have had the company of Phil for most of it, always helps having another pair of eyes and someone to talk to during the quiet times.

Gannet - as close as they ever come here!

For me the highlight were the skuas. I have gone entire springs here without seeing a single skua, so to see five Arctic Skuas in one watch was a nice result indeed. Saying that, three were a bit underwhelming, as I only saw them when they briefly pursued a (presumed) Kittiwake up from the horizon somewhere between Seaton and France, and then disappeared when the four birds dropped back below the horizon. The other two however were far better value...

An intermediate sub-adult flew in from the west, and spent about twenty minutes in the bay including looping right into the Seaton Bay and then back out, which is when it then tagged onto a lone dark-phased adult that was steadily flying east and both went on their way.

My full counts (all east) were: 70+ Gannet, 11 Manx Shearwater, 5 Arctic Skua, 24 Common Gull, 14 Sandwich Tern, 9 comic Tern, 7 Common Scoter, 1 Wigeon, 2 Teal, 2 Whimbrel and 20+ auk sp. 

So although nowhere near the quality and quantity seen further east (the sea watching in Lyme Bay in easterlies dramatically improves the nearer to Chesil Cove you are) it was still great fun for us!  Well all except for this tern...

I thought it was a Common Tern, it just didn't look floaty and dainty enough for an Arctic to me. I watched it for a minute or so with a Sandwich Tern, sometimes close, but on my last view looking back west away from the sun, a pale grey upperwing and clean underwing suddenly worried me that I had thrown away an Arctic! And that's when it flew off...

Please let me know if anyone can do anything with the below pics. I really don't see anyway near enough Sternas to be confident either way...

Lower bird

Not this one, this is the close Sandwich Tern I saw

This one! Worryingly long-tailed looking in this pic, but is it bill a bit too long?

Tern aside, more of the above would make for a very enjoyable spring!  Check back to the blog soon for more news...

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Green-winged Teal

A nice little spring treat popped up in front of Phil yesterday morning on Bridge Marsh, and gladly stayed put for the day.  The Axe's third Green-winged Teal...

You can't beat vertical white stripes on a Teal

Always distant and the light was just weird

This was literally the closest it came - the nearside of the scrape!

Handy comparison

Full display mode!

I have to hold my hands up and say after watching it for a while, I did actually stutter with the ID. Enough so that I shared my concerns with the only other observer on site at the time (Kev).

Like gulls, hybrids are always something to be weary of when dealing with wildfowl, and this bird often showed a distinctive pale horizontal line too! In fact it was to the extent that if I scanned over the scrape and saw this male Teal asleep (angled just a little more away) I don't think I would have given it another look.  Would you?

But that is the male Green-winged!

On balance I just can't see a hybrid having such a dazzling and broad set of vertical stripes.  Be keen to know others' thoughts, although do appreciate the quality of the pics do not help.  

To complete the picture, the previous patch records of Green-winged Teal are as follows:

Drake on Colyford March 29th January 2013 (one day only).
Drake on Bridge Marsh 19th December 2015 remaining in the valley until late March 2016.

Assuming this is a spring migrant heading back north with its Eurasian cousins, it would be great to know where it spent the winter. Presumably somewhere in southern Europe or maybe even further south?  

My next post will be a summer migrant update... unless something else unexpected appears in the meantime!  In one sentence though, the cold wind seems to be stalling spring just like last year.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

A Right Barney on Patch!

Bit of a backlog to get through having been so silent on here lately, but for me there's only one place to start...

First there was just the one Barnacle Goose in the valley, I found it feeding with the Canada Geese on Bridge Marsh on 16th March.  But on 20th there were three, increasing to four from 24th...

The usual view of them!

Although they were often distant, and who knows where they originated from, they were an absolute joy to have with us.  Watching them call to each other in the evening light, literally having a barney, is not something I can say I have ever witnessed before.  

To my surprise they stayed with us as a foursome until 30th March, when I had the absolute privilege of watching them soon after dawn on the closest part of the closest island to the Island hide on Black Hole Marsh...

Such a stunning species of wildfowl with an endearing quality about them.  And what made this encounter even more precious is that about half an hour later they were seen to fly off and have not been seen since, well not here anyway...

Later the same day four Barnacle Geese appeared on Lodmoor, Weymouth. Next stop Svalbard?  

Thursday, 3 March 2022


 For a couple of days this week, this was the view over Bridge Marsh...

Big white horizontal blob with a long neck!

Our second Spoonbill of the year was found by Phil early morning on Tuesday, and was again present Wednesday morning.  True to form for the species, as it was actually awake (they spend most their time asleep!) it spent the whole time I was watching it frantically feeding in its favoured shallow pool...

Pied Wagtail for scale!

You can see in the above photo it was a lovely adult too. We usually get younger birds on the Axe, I have  seen far fewer adults.  Note the lovely yellow wash to neck sides, some really vivid yellow bare parts (under its bill in particular) and the all white primaries.  Note also the neck plumes and shaggy neck feathers.   Amazing to think this bird is probably a UK breeder - how times have changed!

A rare moment its bill came up!

It shared the field with an Egyptian Goose for a bit of extra Axe quality, presumably different from the four present briefly at the end of January.

And I finish this brief post with some good news... there's only a week or two until Wheatears and Sand Martins will be featuring in my sporadic blog posts! Although I cannot wait to see them again, I must admit it doesn't really feel like we have had a winter this year - horribly mild for my liking.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Office Birding

Spare time is still a mega rarity in my life, so it's a good job the view from my office looks like this...

Actually this was the first time in weeks Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the lower Estuary

I had a new species for the office today amongst the loafing gulls, just about visible in the above pic (far left).  

This adult Kittiwake didn't always look in the best health, but I hear it was still present this evening so hopefully some rest has done it the world of good...

Would have preferred a Little Gull - but nice to see something different

Although there has been good numbers of gulls on the Estuary on an almost daily basis over the past few weeks, I think passage has actually been very underwhelming compared to other years. 'Spring' in the gull world usually starts in late January, but not this year it seems.

There are good numbers of Common Gulls about, but before now we usually see a marked increase in Med Gull numbers - four has been my best one day count so far.  And although I have recorded double-figure Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers on a few dates, I've been nowhere near the three-figure mark which can occur in late Feb.  And that's not to mention the distinct lack of white-wingers or Casps!

Lesser Black-backs are always a delight to see though

Looking back at my last post, you'll remember a really dark dark-mantled Herring Gull which was probably too dark to be a typical argentatus. Well I've had three more dark-mantled large gulls since...

One was a bonafide adult Yellow-legged Gull, which managed to give me the slip seconds after I spotted it.  But thankfully, and unbeknown to me, Gav was around and managed to get some rather gripping pics of it! Wish my views were as good as this.

The second dark-mantled large gull was another 'not sure'. It was easy to pick out in the flock, but different angles often made it look less appealing, and there weren't any other clear argentatus features visible.  

Bird on the right.  Only one sub-adult Herring to compare with

The third was a far more convincing argentatus Scandinavian Herring Gull for me. Not a full adult but a hefty-looking bird and strikingly darker mantled...

Back left

And look at the amount of white in the primaries, considerably more than all surrounding argenteus. Let me know what you think - but I think I'm 'aving it...

Shame it wasn't looking the right way!

And yes, I do actually do some work too! :-)

Saturday, 12 February 2022

The Mild Winter Continues

Just a quick 'since my last post' update tonight...

There's not much new appearing on patch at the moment, except for a few Red Kite that have all managed to avoid me.  A lucky local took an amazing video of six flying low over Beer Head caravan park a couple of days ago - a truly enviable winter count.

So what I have seen?  Well four Woodcock were much appreciated at the start of last week, especially considering this isn't proving a great Woodcock-winter.  I managed some good flight views but on the deck views remain almost impossible at this regular site for them.  Nearby the four Cattle Egret have been showing daily in Colyton, although I could only score a hat-trick here...

Will never tire of these!

The single Brent Goose I blogged about a couple of posts ago has attracted a mate, and they are both spending most their time on Bridge Marsh. Sometimes with the Canada Goose flock but other times happy with just each other for company...

Not a usual mid winter sight here on the Axe

It's been encouraging to see good numbers of gulls on the Estuary over the past week or so, with pre-breeding gull passage clearly starting to kick into action.  For example I have seen more Lesser Black-backs today than I've seen on any day so far this year and Common Gull numbers are on the up.  Am disappointed not to have seen a Casp yet this year, or a Yellow-legged, but I did see this a few days ago...

An intriguing beast!

...but I don't know what it is!  

I would usually put a bird with a mantle of this tone into the 'Probable Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid camp', but this gull didn't really match any of the previous examples that I've seen of these.  For example normally the Lesser Black-back traits are more obvious, with yellow-tinted legs, a small bill and they tend to be diminutive.  This is a big strong bird with nice pink legs and never really took me down the Lesser Black-backed route...

Really dark mantle

My hunch, despite the limited white in the birds primaries, is that it's an argentatus (Northern) Herring Gull, a 4th-winter (which may explain the aforementioned restricted white).  

After sharing images of this bird online there were concerns the mantle was actually too dark for an argy, although I have to say it's not something that bothers me, having seen some really dark argentatus at Spurn. However I am not confident enough to call it as definitely one, so in the 'dark-mantled gull' category it will have to reside. A real shame it didn't show me an open wing!!

I do hope the next blog post features a gull I can actually ID...

Monday, 31 January 2022

Not Bad For January!

Well Kevin turned up a rather nice mid-winter surprise last week, when he found a Serin lingering around an uncut crop field in Axmouth.  

It took me about a week before I had the chance to get to it, but when I did it didn't take much searching although my views were distant. Great to get my third patch Serin under the belt, all of which have been between Nov and Jan which isn't at all what you would except for this central and southern European breeder! Delighted that Phil was able to see this one, having missed the previous records.

A dreadful photo but if you squint you might be able to make it into a compact yellow-tinted streaked finch!

That's a bit better! A typical Serin head and bill shape with a nice glint of yellow on the nape

There's plenty of other birds in this field which made the hour I spent there a thoroughly enjoyable one!  I logged a couple of Yellowhammer, 120+ Linnet, 40 Chaffinch and 80+ Redwing.  When I saw the Serin it was sat up with five Linnet, but whenever the whole Linnet flock sat up the Serin wasn't with them. So basically I couldn't say if it has actually tagged on to this flock or was just going around on its own.

Always great to see good numbers of birds these days - whatever the species!

Although am still hoping a Bean Goose or two might drop in on the Axe this winter, these four Egyptian Geese were better than nothing.  Will admit to actually 'semi-twitching' these after a message from Phil to say they had just flown up the Estuary and had appeared to have landed...

A gaggle of Egyptians!  

Actually enjoyed watching these. Just about annual on the Axe but never predictable. Can appear in practically any month!

Other recent highlights include two Jack Snipe with a dozen Common Snipe near Boshill Cross, up to four Cattle Egret still feeding in Colyton by day and roosting alongside the Estuary by night, and at least three Black Redstart dotted around the town...

This bird kept disappearing under the solar panel, either looking for food or an attempt to keep warm early on this frosty morning? Strikes me as a great roosting spot!

Unusually it feels like January has been and gone pretty quickly this year, so it won't be long until we are all out looking for our first Wheatears!