Friday, 28 February 2014

Not A Nice Post To Write...

The stormy winter months haven't just been devastating for many people in the UK, but they have been for our seabirds too.

An arcitle on BirdGuides reveals that a survey during the weekend of 22/23rd February along the coast of the Bay of Biscay, France, showed 21,341 dead birds (mostly Puffins). On top of this, 2,784 ill birds were taken into care and fisherman were still reporting seeing carpets of dead birds floating at sea. Such disturbing news.

Along the Devon coast, Kev Rylands of the RSPB has said around 200 dead birds have been found. I know that south Dorset, particularly Chesil Cove, have had large numbers too, and Cornwall.  Wales is in the same boat now also and I presume Ireland is as well.  The true number of sea bird that have died, considering these numbers, and the fact most are probably still floating at sea, is scary. Must be around or above 100,000 birds surely?

Seaton beach sadly has had its share of this. Local birder Alan Bibby has found most of the birds, but I've been down a few times also keeping an eye on things.  Personally I've seen 16 dead birds; 10 Guillemot, 3 Razorbill, 1 Kittiwake, 1 Great Skua and 1 Manx Shearwater.  I know of a further four dead birds that have been found, including a Puffin. This selection shows how many different species have been affected.

And now, I'm afraid, some pictures...

Sadly many of the Guillemots, like this one, were in pristine summer plumage and looked in good shape (except for being dead obviously!).

A Razorbill.

A dead adult Kittiwake, this was the only bird I've seen with obvious oil.

This I found the saddest sight. Great Skua's are the bullies of the sea, a proper dominate pirate species. Not this one anymore.

A head shot of the Great Skua, such a powerdul bird.

A Manx Shearwater (which is still in my back garden!) - we usually see these gracefully gliding just above the waves.

Hopefully my next blog post will be a bit more positive...

Monday, 24 February 2014

Red-flanked Bluetail

Now this is a bird I would like to see on Beer Head!

I'm not that deluded though, it will probably never happen. So with a twitchable bird over-wintering in the Shire Valley, South Gloucester, I just had to pay it a visit (especially now the crowds have hopefully died down!). And my twitching companion for the day? I'm pleased to say, my Dad.  For years and years when I was a teen, every weekend he'd take me out birding, so it's about time I began repaying him...

We left Seaton at 6am, and at 7:45 parked up at the suggested spot, with no one else around. After a quick coffee and foot wear change, we headed off...



Across the field towards that muddy track, which winds away between the trees...



Through the gateway...


 
To where the stream meets the path. We're here!

It was still a bit gloomy, and began raining, but after about 15 minutes I spied exactly this...



...BINGO!

This is pretty much where it stayed for the next hour and a half. And it was view for the whole entire time, clearly favouring the first group of small trees to the left of the path after walking through the above gateway...



As you can see they are right next to the path, so it showed at point blank range! What a superb little bird, and it's easy to see why it is proving so popular with photographers.  Of course I can't match their standards, but this post wouldn't be complete without a few pics from my Lumix...

It spent quite a bit of time singing to itself - what a treat!

Wish my bloody camera had actually focused on the bird!

At least it did this time!

Just to show the white throat, which it showed off here as it fed on its favoured lump of grass.


Although I'm not that proud of my photographs, I am pleased with the videos...






I really like the chat family as it is. There's nothing like seeing a migrant Redstart flicking about in spring or autumn, or a Black Red feeding on a barren beach. Even Robin's are cool! So this bird rates really VERY high on my list of all time best birds.  An absolute cracker that I recommend to any and everyone!

We finally tore ourselves away from this little stunner at 11, and after returning to the car drove for about four minutes before stopping again.

Living and birding in Devon means we don't see Corn Buntings. I appreciate that for many blog readers this may appear a total over reaction, but bloody hell!!!! We saw over 100 Corn Buntings whilst stood in one spot! There were at least 110, but probably way more than that with birds visible in the distance in all directions. Flocks of 40, 30, 15, several singing males - it was Corn Bunting porn! Throw in several ten's of Yellowhammers and Skylarks in full song, it felt like we were in 1940 Britain!  Proper farm land birding.






Our third stop of the day was less successful, the Tree Sparrows just wouldn't play ball.  We heard them almost constantly, and had a few brief glimpses, but that was it. Two hours later we gave up and headed home. 

I won't lie, I'm bloody knackered, but it was well worth it! Thank you South Gloucester, and in particular the finder of the eastern blue-tailed beauty.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Another Storm and a Bemusing Brent

The storm that hit the south coast a couple of weeks ago has been well reported and documented (not least on this blog!), but the storm that hit a week ago tomorrow was even more destructive.

I wasn't out at all during last weekend, but Phil has informed me it was the highest he'd ever seen the water levels on the Estuary (and he's lived here for a very very veryyyy long time!). The Axmouth straight (road that runs alongside the Estuary) is still in a complete state, as the water came right over here that night. There's been something different about the Coronation Corner picnic site too...

A boat!

This boat was apparently floating along the road up past the church at one point during the night!  The wind caused damage too, with the large garden on the other side of the road to where this photo was taken in a complete mess...

Where will the Little Egrets roost now?

And on the other side of the Estuary the tram line has taken a real battering, with the bank underneath the track washed away in several places. Some of the poles have also been up ended...


Bird wise, I have been giving the gulls as much attention as I've been able to. But except for a couple of lovely Little Gulls (which are never to be sniffed at), they've given me nothing exciting since the Kumlien's.  I certainly think there is more to come though.  

Quite unusually we've had a few Brents for a week or so. It started off with two, increased to three on Monday and then four from Wednesday (and there's still four).  I've found one of the birds really quite interesting. 

Look at the Brent that's got the first third of its body hidden behind a clump of salt marsh...

The one side on

Clearly a Pale-bellied. Or is it...

Now the one on the left

....nope!

It shows almost pure white flanks that extend down to the vent area, but as you can see, the rest of the underparts are just too dark. It's got an impressive neck ring too. I know Dark-bellieds can often show paler flanks, but this is white.  Luckily the UK's leading Brent Goose expert is always just on the other end of a text/email for me (I won't name names - he'll get embarrassed), and it turns out it is either just a paler than average Dark-bellied, or possibly a PalexDark-bellied Brent hybrid.  And there I was dreaming of Grey-bellied or a Black Brant hybrid!!

Lastly, I had a worrying email from local birder Alan Bibby tonight, informing me of a disturbing variety of dead birds washed up on the beach this afternoon. I'm going to under take a complete beach walk in the morning, not really looking forward to it to be honest...

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Canadian Beauty

Although there are no where near as many gulls feeding off the beach now (and there hasn't been since Saturday) there does still seem to be plenty of large gulls about. I had a couple of looks along the Estuary yesterday but turned up nothing better than this Yellow-legged Gull wannabe.  I presume it's another one of those HerringxLesser Black-backed Gull hybrids...

These are seemingly more regular that pure Yellow-legged Gulls!

A few of the main give aways that this bird wasn't a Yellow-legged Gull were:
  • pinky-yellow legs - short legged too
  • mantle colour a tad darker and more 'sooty' than a YLG should be
  • overall small size, a tad smaller than Herring Gull
  • head streaking
  • bill a tad smaller than Herring Gull and LBBG-like head shape

Today though I struck absolute GOLD with my second check of the river just before midday. There were a few more Lesser Black-backed Gulls about which is always a good sign, and at Coronation Corner through the bins an interesting-looking adult white-winged gull had me scrambling for my telescope.... it was a STUNNING adult Kumlien's Gull! Kumlien's Gull is a race of Iceland Gull that breeds in the Arctic region of Canada, and I believe this is the first record of this sub species for the patch!  And here it is...




What an absolute stunner!! Just look at that subtle grey patterning on the primaries. For me also, it's head shape looked a bit different than the average Iceland Gull, with a slightly meaner look to it. Overall it was probably just a tad smaller than Herring Gull - but not by much.

Annoyingly my mobile is not allowing me to text at the moment, so I asked Bun to spread the news on my behalf, but just as I was speaking to him the bloody thing took flight and started flying south. I quickly made for my Lumix and managed to fire off these shots as it went by...




Really pleased with these shots as they show the primary pattern quite nicely

Sadly it kept flying, and as it got towards the sea it seemed to veer east. With all the gulls around though, and more storms over the horizon, there's got to be a chance it will return? I really hope it does!

An adult Kumlien's Gull was seen off Exmouth sea front yesterday, the chances are this is the same bird. I have been sent a couple of images of it though, and to me it looks to have darker (almost black) primary markings. Terry if you read this what do you think?...

Friday, 7 February 2014

Gullmageddon in Seaton

Wednesday's storm must have stirred some food up for the gulls - with huge numbers around this afternoon.

Between 15:30 and 16:30 there were over a thousand large gulls, with about 700 feeding in two large groups off the beach (one off the harbour mouth, and the other to the east off Culverhole) and 300+ resting on the lower part of the Estuary.  Sadly though, I couldn't find anything of note amongst them - I'm certainly pretty confident there weren't any white-wingers in with them. Actually there were unusually few Black-backs, with only three Lesser and probably no more than 40 Greats, which makes 957+ Herring Gulls

There were very few small gulls too, with just a few Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls and Kittiwakes offshore. It was a nice surprise to see yet another adult Little Gull though, which came flying through close west very determinedly at 4pm. Cracking bird.

And now for a quiz, spot the Little Gull...

I'll be quite impressed if someone does find it! It is there I promise, and more importantly, perfectly identifiable.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Stormageddon in Seaton

So, I dealt with the birds in last night's post, but how about yesterday's weather...

I'm told the sea hasn't come over the sea wall in Seaton since it was installed over thirty years ago, with the last big sea-based flood occurring in 1974 (pre-wall). I'm also told this was very different than yesterday's storm, with no rain and little wind, it was just several huge freakish waves. But yesterday it was all down to the weather and tide, with the direction of the wind being key. During Tuesday night and Wednesday morning it was blowing in from the south east; our predominant wind direction here is south westerly, which is where most of our storms come from. This small difference clearly makes a lot of difference!

At high tide yesterday the Esplanade (road along the sea front) was closed off. It was more like a lake, with the large waves throwing over debris, shingle, and even destroying a wall!

Looking towards to sea from Boots

The same roundabout, but looking east towards it

Looking east from the far western end of the Esplanade

Looking west from the far eastern end of the Esplanade, just after the worst had hit

Angry looking seas!

The flood water soon followed the slope down from Esplanade, and ended up flooding Harbour Road too, which was also soon closed off...

Flowing down Trevelyan Road towards Harbour Road

Harbour Road closed off

Later in the day the Esplanade was re-opened (although it was closed again by 5pm), and this is how it looked...

Good luck with that one EDDC!

And the beach looked like this...

Yes that is a bench, which is on top of the promenade which is usually a good few feet (at least) above the beach!

Rewinding back the day again, and the Harbour took a beating too. The sea re-shaped the entrance, which meant the waves came crashing in with full force...

Looking south from the main Axmouth bridge

This wasn't good news for the Yacht Club, or the shops and houses alongside the Harbour...

By the time I took this photo it had receded quite some way

This is nothing like it usually looks!

And then there's the Estuary. We often see the upper valley flooded...

Looking north west from the Farm Gate just north of Axmouth

Looking south from the A3052. This is usually just a field and you wouldn't be able to see any water in this photo!

But the lower Estuary was incredibly high. An hour before high tide, Coronation Corner looked like this...

Wouldn't want to picnicking on those!

And lower down the Estuary just after high tide...

This is how close it came to coming over onto the road

Just south of Axmouth road bridge

With another huge storm predicted on Saturday, let's hope we don't see a repeat...

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A Little Treat

I was hoping this would be a post containing several photos depicting the chaotic scenes at Seaton this morning. The day that saw the town's worst flooding since 1974. But I've been up since half four and I'm afraid I just don't have the energy.  I just had to post about this little delight though...

A look along the Estuary soon after dawn showed two adult Kittiwakes resting on the water, here's one pictured (very distantly!) with a Common Gull...

Kittiwake on the right

They started to fly around a bit, and being such a scarcity on the Estuary I thought I'd try and get this species on the house list while I could.  So I went straight home to set the scope up in the bedroom, which I peered down for a few minutes at a time every so often. 

I can't see much river at all from my house, in fact during low tide I can't see any at all, just the air space above it. But when the river valley is flooded, I can see this much...



Still not much, and most of what I can see it partially obscured by trees. To be (almost) precise, the Estuary is about 1.900 km in length, and I can see roughly 150m of it, and of that small section, only half the width of it.

Several short watches revealed no Kittiwakes, and with the wind having dropped by late morning I figured they'd probably made a break for the sea.  I kept watching though, and at midday had my reward with a cracking adult Little Gull feeding close to the surface of the water.  I saw it several times from the bedroom over the next couple of hours, before I just had to go for a closer look from Axmouth...



It was superb to watch, feeding exactly like a Storm Petrel pitter-pattering over the surface of the water with incredible elegance and ease. What a cracking bird!!

More 'bedroom birding' later in the day revealed yet another house tick, a Med Gull. I really should have seen this species from the house long before today, as they probably fly past every day of the winter! I obviously haven't been looking hard enough when one has passed. It was an adult circling over Black Hole Marsh with Black-headed and Common Gulls at about 4pm.

And now people, with my head literally resting on my laptop's keyboard, it's time to sign off for the night. But expect a post crammed full of photos in the next day or two...