Monday, 24 November 2014

A Touch Of Frost

So nice to feel a chill in the air this morning - a proper winter one.  The cars took several minutes to defrost this morning, the crystal clear over night sky had given us a sharp frost this morning...



I had high hopes for today to be honest. I wasn't expecting grey geese, wild swans or masses of ducks, but I was hoping to see some Warblers.  Chiffchaffs have been very scarce for several weeks here, with very few at the usual wintering sites, but a tour of the likely spots today showed at least 14.  Rather unfairly though, I didn't see any other species of Warbler!  In fact I didn't even see a 'grey' Chiffchaff - they were all green collybita birds. 

I really did spend all my birding time today looking for warblers, and haven't seen much else.  Bun and my Dad have seen at least four Black Redstarts between them, all new in, and another species that's had a poor showing here so far this autumn.  I didn't see any of today's birds, but on Saturday just gone was thrilled to see one just down from my house, a nice first-winter male...



Forecast doesn't look too promising for the morning - be a good day to catch up with emails I think...

Friday, 21 November 2014

A Spoon And A Gull

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's got this condition, but I find it impossible to drive past the Estuary without stopping and looking. Whatever I'm doing, wherever I'm going, whoevers in the car - it doesn't matter. I just can't drive between Seaton and Axmouth without stopping at least twice.  So taking this into account, it really is surprising how few birds of note I have seen on the Estuary this autumn. In fact, apart from the Caspian Gull, I can't recall anything else that's made this blog from my Estuary checks.  Thankfully though yesterday saw an injection of semi-quality.

At about 08:30 whilst I was stood at Coronation Corner this immature Spoonbill flew in and fed amongst the resting Gulls... 



Everyone see the cheeky adult Med Gull in the lower photo? Bun texted the news out on my behalf (faulty phone - thanks Kevo), but it seems this Spooner stayed only briefly as it wasn't there twenty minutes later. 

Another sweep of the Estuary early afternoon revealed something that's much more up my street (although don't get me wrong I have nothing against Spoonbills!) an absolute stunner of an adult Yellow-legged Gull...



What an absolute beast. It wasn't the biggest YLG I've ever seen, being only very slightly chunkier than the surrounding Herring Gulls, and with a not too massive beak, so I reckon it's a female. But I just love the combination of the clean white head and breast, dark grey mantle, extensive black on the primaries and bright yellow legs of this species - one of the smartest adult large gulls around I'd say. It certainly brightened up what was otherwise a dull day for me.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Winter Woes

I've been walking the dog around Axmouth harbour pretty much daily for the last three weeks, hoping for maybe a storm-driven Grey Phal, or Little Auk, the patches first Spotted Sand (yes I think big - although we are somewhat over due one!), Snow Buntings or even just a Black Red. Well none of the scarcities/rarities in that list ever materialised, and it took until Sunday just gone for a Black Red to finally appear...

 


The following day there were two here, along with a late Wheatear on Seaton Beach.  Although no Spotted Sandpiper, it seems as though one of it's commoner cousins is going to over winter with us...

 

Am so glad to say that thrush numbers have increased.  Last Thursday and Friday I saw several flocks of Redwings around the patch, including a group whizzing about the estate I live in.  And I saw my first Fieldfare of the winter on Friday, with small numbers in Colyford (less than ten).

Have to say though, it has been a very poor autumn for many species of birds, especially finches.  It has to be the worst autumn for year for Siskins, I've had less than ten on vis mig this whole autumn, but in previous autumns I often see over a 100 in a morning. I've not had any true 'vis mig' Redpolls (just one in a woodland where they might breed) and I have still not seen/heard a Brambling.  Even Chaffinch numbers were way way down this autumn - and no Crossbills either.  I reckon there's still stacks of food in Scandinavia, and if something drastic doesn't happen weather wise, I think it's going to be a quiet winter down here in the south west.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Wrong Choice

Yesterday, the number of gulls on the Estuary during the afternoon were just too much of a pull for me - I spent all the birding time I had looking at them...

Stuff of dreams...

Despite numerous visits and scans, the best I managed was a probable third-winter Yellow-legged Gull.  There's no reason why it wasn't one, but I just didn't see it long or well enough to be absolutely sure a hybrid could be ruled out.   There was an impressive number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls about too, with 80, all of the graellsii race for a change - we tend to have darker backed birds drop in when the wind is up. Amongst the small gulls were two Kittiwakes and three Med Gulls...

One of the adult Meds

During the morning I had given the sea ten minutes, and was impressed with the number of Kittiwakes on the move, I also noted another four Med Gulls. But this is exactly where I should have been looking during the afternoon, as Portland, Berry Head and even Budleigh recording excellent numbers of sea birds.

The wind kept up over night along with showers, so I didn't want to make the same mistake this morning and was at the sea front for 7am.  Sadly the passage had died off, probably because the wind had much more west in it and visibility was much better.  Still, staying there until 08:30 did give me a pretty nice selection of birds, my favourite being the lovely juv Pom that flew west at 07:30.  Full counts:

16 Brent Geese (7 west, 9 east)
13 Common Scoter
4 Red-breasted Merganser (in one flock, flew west)
1 Goosander (female/juv flew west along the beach)
1 Red-throated Diver
1 Black-throated Diver (very close west, flew into Seaton Hole)
1 Pomarine Skua
3 Med Gull
2 small wader sp. (looked chunky and pale, gleaming white underwings and dark bits around the face, but there were just too distant to clinch - although I think I know what they were.)

Think I might try again in the morning if the weather is right - we are due a Little Auk or two.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pigeon Passage

This morning it finally felt like autumn!  I stepped out the back door just after 6am and was greeted by a distinct chill and a beautifully crystal clear starry sky. A little later, just after the sun rose over Beer Head, it looked and felt equally as autumnal....



I knew the bushes were going to be quiet, but I was hoping for some good vis mig. Well, Pigeons certainly didn't disappoint.  Whilst here, and birding at other sites later in the morning, I had just over 8,000 Wood Pigeons fly west.  Some of the flocks were obviously spooked by something, and came tumbling down from high and continued flying west only just above head height.  Love hearing the 'woosh' followed by the sound of their powerful wing beats...



There were quite a few Stock Doves mixed in, and the odd flock of Jackdaw too.  It's a real shame cloud and rain came in just after 9:30, as it could have been a really big day for them. 

Forgetting the Pigeons, the vis mig was disappointing, with not that many smaller birds moving - although this could have been because they were passing ultra high due to the clear skies and light winds.  I suppose the highlight was a high flying very vocal Bullfinch going west - don't tend to see that many of these on vis mig. Otherwise it was just relatively small numbers of Skylarks, Linnets, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, alba Wagtails and Meadow Pipits.

I did have a good 'vis mig' bird on Sunday, during a dog walk with Jess.  Whilst walking along Harbour Road in Seaton (the road just inland and running parallel with the sea front), the gulls went up and for a change I could immediately see why - a Kite!  Sadly it was just a Red Kite, but still great to see as winter records remain pretty scarce in Devon.  It flew almost directly above us as it followed the road east, then when it got to the Estuary began to spiral up before I lost it as it circled over Axe Cliff.  My rapid right hand meant the texts got out whilst I was still watching it, and amazingly Bun managed to see it from Seaton Hole!

I'll finish this post with a couple of off-patch photos.  We took the dog to Stover CP last Saturday, and I was pleased to see a pair of Mandarins in one of the arms of the main lake...


Saturday, 1 November 2014

October Ends In Style

What a few days!!!  I'll start with Thursday...

Another day, another dog walk, and another Yellow-browed Warbler (or two?).  At Lower Brucklands Ponds late morning one of the first birds I looked at in a Tit flock around the top pond was a Yellow-browed Warbler - nice!  With so much movement, and so much cover, it was hard to keep tabs on it, but for a while every time I lifted my bins there was a Yellow-browed Warbler looking at me! There was one Chiff in the flock, and I saw that three times, but I must have seen the Yellow-browed(s?) about ten times!  Only heard Yellow-browed call twice, but I'm pretty sure there were two birds (and who knows, maybe more?) in there. Annoying really as I'd liked to have confirmed it if there were more than one, but never mind.  Lower Bruckland really is the local hot spot for this species, almost half of the patch records have come from here.

Soon after I got home I had a phone call from Gav, he was listening to a Yellow-browed in Axmouth just down the road from where last Saturday's bird was - so presumably the same one?  Great that someone else managed to connect with it.

Thursday night was incredible - without doubt one of the best nocturnal migrations I have ever witnessed over Seaton.  Redwing and Song Thrush calls were constant, some sounded so low and there were clearly some flocks involved too.  Just amazing.  Also heard a few Blackbirds and a Dunlin.  Love migration in action. Incredible. And it gave me a good feeling about Friday...

So Friday dawned, and at first it just produced some decent vis mig - Wood Pigeons, Stock Doves and Jackdaws in particular making the most of the clear skies - but there didn't appear to me many grounded migrants about.  I tried Branscombe (a very under watched site), Seaton Marshes and along the cycle track and Mare Lane in Beer (behind the Beer Cemetery Fields). Certainly thrushes weren't very evident so they all must have all flown straight over during the previous night. Turns out I was just in the wrong place....

Seaton Hole has been heaving with birds over the last week, I've seen the Firecrest there daily, but Friday was the first day I didn't go there this week. Ian M and Ian P (looking for the Firecrest) did and found a fantastic patch first - some would say an overdue one, but in my opinion not so, as they seem to turn up only at their favoured haunts year in year out. A lovely first-winter Red-breasted Flycatcher...



Although it was first found in the open on an isolated tree, it spent most of its time high in the conifer plantation on the left hand side of the road. As it was always high up my photos are not too good, but it was a great bird to watch.  And now I realise why they are only seen at their traditional stop over sites....because they are so hard to spot!  It would often sit motionless for several minutes, and could SO easily be walked past by even the sharpest birder.  It didn't call once, and if this bird was another 10 metres deeper into the wood no one would ever have known it was there.  The next photo should show you all what I mean, and bear in mind this was at the very top of the trees.... Can you see it?



I actually now think the only reason RB Flies appear to be so site faithful, is because they aren't looked for deep in random woods across the UK, which is where many of them probably are.  They like big trees and they like being at the top of them!

I really am chuffed to be able to add this bird to my patch list (my 253rd bird on patch). Although I think we've had them in the past, and am certain we will have more in the future, I think the chances of another actually being found is slim. So it's a good job this bird hung around for the rest of the day for all the locals to see.
Whilst watching this bird, saw a Firecrest and had a massive surprise when this Willow Warbler appeared in front of us!  My latest ever, just such a shame that when it came close enough to be photographed there was a bloody great bramble in the way....



Quite a pale bird, although it did had some yellow tones around the throat and neck.  Have to say when I first saw it head on and could just see a pale belly, striking supercilium and pink-based bill, I was half expecting to see wing bars when it turned around! Sadly not.

This morning I spent a couple hours kicking the stubble fields at Axe Cliff.  Lots of Linnets and Skylarks as is always the case up here in the autumn, but apart from four Stonechat no evidence of much else grounded.  Overhead there seemed to be lots on the move, plenty of Pigeons again and finches along with my first Golden Plover of the autumn.  The Raven population certainly seems to be thriving up here...