Monday, 13 November 2017

Odds and Ends

First of all, thanks to everyone who's made kind comments about the article I've written for the November edition of Birdwatch magazine. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to pen a three page article all about birding the Axe Estuary and Seaton Wetlands during the winter months. I was even more delighted in the fact the Axe had been given so much magazine space! If you want to read it, when you're next in a Newsagents look for this front cover...

It's worth paying the price for the Sibe Blue Robin story and photos alone!

I've just got a few odd sightings to report from the last few days on patch, not that I've done much birding...

Last Thursday I had several sightings and 'soundings' of a Brambling bombing around where I live. Never saw it perched, but it was clearly perching somewhere.

The following morning (Friday) I saw my first Black Redstart of the autumn, with a female-type on roofs along Beach Road, Seaton. Offshore were big numbers of gulls, Kittiwakes and Gannets feeding, although mostly far out.

Sunday morning a calm sea revealed a lovely Great Northern Diver at first off Seaton, then off Seaton Hole. It came quite close inshore at times, but the light made photography tricky...

And today, my best sighting was of thirty Golden Plover with Lapwing in the usual fields alongside the A3052 by the Honiton turn-off. Sadly no small grey ones among them. There seemed to be a few birds moving this morning, from the back garden I had a few Chaffinch and Redwing, and a flock of six Fieldfare NW.

Hopefully I'll manage to get out a bit more during the remainder of the week.

Friday, 10 November 2017

140 to 280

I've been (slowly) working on a social media themed blog post for about two months now, but unbelievably it's still not finished. In the mean time though I have some breaking news from Twitterland to blog about that simply cannot wait.

The powers that be have decided, following a trial, to double the character allowance for each tweet (which for the benefit on non-Twitterers is basically a post) from 140 to a whopping 280!  A big change. A big change of the fundamental basics of Twitter.

I've been on Twitter for over five years now, and have always absolutely loved it. It's such a great place for us birders and naturalists to network, share our experiences, help others, etc, which is why more and more birders are signing up by the day. With all this networking and infinite topics to discuss surely increasing the amount we can write is a big plus? Well no not in my eyes...

Most birders have their own blogs, then there's Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms that let users write what they want in as many words as they want. I've always found Twitter to be refreshingly brief, and because of this easy to digest. 140 characters isn't much, but it's enough to gauge things like excitement levels and personality, in quite a unique way. This is what made Twitter different.

As I almost solely use my phone to access Twitter it is bad news for my thumb, a lot more scrolling will be required. These screen shots from my phone depict my problem...

 'Old' Twitter (excuse some of the content it's a bit off-topic!):

'New' Twitter:

I've gone from five tweets in view to one and a half. That makes Twitter far less user friendly in my books.

With any social media, regardless of how strict you are about who you follow, there is always going to be drivel. At least with Twitter if drivel was there, there was only 140 characters of it. I am already shuddering at the prospect of folk having a hefty 280 characters to moan about the usual hot topics such as suppression, bird ringing, photographers flushing or baiting rare birds, etc... Yawn.

There is one benefit I can think of. The number of times I've wanted to list what birds I've seen, but end up having to miss half of them out just so they fit in the tweet. Mind you, strangely there was an element of this I got a little pleasure out of. Tell me did anyone else feel this? You rapidly write out a tweet excitedly narrating a birding event, you hit send but nothing happens -  oh no ten characters too many! It then takes five minutes to work out which are the best ten letters/numbers/punctuation/spaces to lose so that it falls below that magic 140 but still makes sense. I miss this already.

So taking this all in to this account, I am going to start a movement. Let's get #thanksfor280butIonlyneed140 trending! Yes Twitter, you can keep those extra 140 characters, I will only be needing the 140 I have always had*.

*unless a mega is involved

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Thrushes, Yellow-legged Gulls and more Vis Mig

Monday didn't give that me much time out, but I did grab an hours wander along the footpath running through Allhallows (a large ex-private school in Rousdon) with Hawfinch in mind.  Looks really good for them here, but none during my visit. It was nice to see heaps of thrushes though, including ten Mistle Thrush and plenty of settled Fieldfare and Redwing...


Tuesday was a completely different day. Rain, wind and more rain. This meant the Estuary gulls got my attention, and at 2pm the 300 Great Black-backed Gulls and 45+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls (including some cracking intermedius) were accompanied by two Yellow-legged Gulls, a second-winter and an adult...

Second-winter Yellow-legged Gull (middle bird)
Adult Yellow-legged Gull (on right, with a Great Black-backed)
Both Yellow-legged Gulls, the adult looks small here but it wasn't

As you can see the adult was very clean headed, and a somewhat cute-looking bird, two features that meant my initial thought was Caspian Gull when I spotted it. Sadly this didn't go beyond an initial thought as it soon became apparent it was a Yellow-legged. Oh what I would do for an adult Casp here...

This morning the sun was out again, so Axe Cliff was the obvious place to go. Richard P joined me and we spent an hour or so on the cliff-edge before the westerly passage dried up. Amazed there were no Pigeons, maybe they've all gone through now? What vis mig there was included;

1 Grey Heron
1 Mistle Thrush 
20 Skylark
3 alba Wagtail
60 Meadow Pipit
139 Chaffinch
1 Redpoll
10 Linnet
1 Greenfinch
2 Bulfinch
1 Reed Bunting

A vis mig Grey Heron!
Incoming Grey Heron with Seaton Hole as a backdrop

Sunday, 5 November 2017


Aren't birds amazing. We've only ever had Hawfinch wintering on patch once, that was during the first few months of 2006. Now guess where I found two (eagerly anticipated) Hawfinches today - exactly the same tree that I saw my first patch Hawfinch back in 2006!

Hawfinch records are few and far between around the Axe. As well as the wintering birds mentioned above (two until late Feb '06, increasing to three and then five before they departed in mid March) there's been four other patch records before today. Two of these were of single birds seen for one day a piece in a private garden in another part of Colyton, with the other two thankfully being in front of my eyes. In 2010 early in the morning of 27th October I watched two Hawfinch fly north up the river valley from the gateway north of Axmouth, and then on 3rd November a single bird flew west during a vis mig watch at Beer Stables. 

With the current invasion I had a feeling the best chance of a settled one here was probably where the Colyton birds wintered, there's plenty of field maple in this area which is one of their favoured food sources. This morning was my third time of trying Burnards Field Road within the past two weeks, and it was third time lucky as on arrival two hefty finches were sat on top of a... well the bare tree. Success! First patch Hawfinches since Nov 2010. I fired off a couple of record shots...

I'm glad I got these pics because soon after both birds dived down into trees behind and disappeared (just like the 2006 birds often did!).  I sent a text out but a couple of minutes later there was suddenly an explosion of Hawfinch calls (that lovely soft seep) and they both flew up out of the trees and off low to the south east. Such a shame they flew so soon, but it's always a treat to see this species in flight. Annoyingly I don't think they've been seen again, but would not bet against them or others coming back here.

These cherry stone-crackers were a great finale to a good couple of hours out this morning, when I spent my time whizzing round the patch at breakneck speed checking as many spots as possible. Redwings were far more evident today with small numbers everywhere, the most being at Lower Bruckland Ponds where 12 Fieldfare were also present, along with eight Chiffchaffs in the willows around the top pond. A Lesser Redpoll was feeding with a small flock of Chaffinch on the Borrow Pit, and I was surprised to see the Bridge Marsh Cattle Egret had been joined by a friend, now two present...

So a lovely morning was had. And it wasn't a bad sunrise either...

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Last Week

Only a rapid fire post tonight I'm afraid folks, I just wanted to keep you up-to-date.

Well the Glossy Ibis that was found last Saturday afternoon on Colyford Marsh pleasingly remained for me to see. I didn't see it until Monday though due to work commitments. I did try for it on the Sunday morning but a five minute scan over Colyford Marsh failed to show it, however a Great White Egret dropped on to the Estuary which made up for that! Finally! After missing five of these massive white birds here this year, number six (my lucky number as well!) did the decent thing and pleasingly stayed all day for everyone to enjoy. The Cattle Egret was also on Bridge Marsh (and remained until mid week at least) making it a three Egret day!

Wood Pigeons were moving most mornings this week, although in lesser numbers than the end of the previous week. My best vis mig bird without a doubt was the young female Merlin that zipped west through Seaton Marshes on Friday morning. Really overdue this autumn as there seems to be a few about, but amazingly this was my first Merlin on patch for a staggering four years!

Birds that have been seen here this week, but not by me include a Red Kite over the Estuary (B Clark) and a Brambling in a private Seaton garden (K Hale) on Friday, and a male Black Redstart today just east of Seaton Hole (R Harris).

Autumn is rolling on quickly and winter is approaching at speed. Hopefully there's a few more surprises to come yet, but in the mean time have a seasonal Harry photo...

Saturday, 28 October 2017

When Wood Pigeons Become Cool

I'm going to kick this blog post off with a video. Make sure you turn the volume up so you can hear their wing beats...

Yesterday proved a major Wood Pigeon day for us, with James Mc seeing somewhere between 30 and 50 thousand pass through (I really must buy him a notebook!) though sadly I only managed to witness about twenty minutes of this. But today, with clear skies forecasted for the first few hours of the day, I wasn't going to miss round two. James joined me for an Axe Cliff vis mig watch 08:00 - 10:00.

There were fewer Wood Pigeons today (for us anyway) with probably about 15,000 seen flying west. Still, many of them passed really low over our heads, or just in front of us below the cliff edge. As the morning went on flocks started passing higher both out to sea and inland, so we probably missed thousands!  I tried to capture their magic on camera but it's never the same...

Although this would have proved enough excitement, there was plenty more to be seen this morning.  After three busy nights of thrush passage, it was good to finally see more about in daylight hours. There were almost constantly ones and twos of Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Redwing taking off or dropping in, along with my first three Fieldfare of the year west. Pity the four Ring Ouzel James saw here yesterday weren't still about, or some more, but hey ho.

I stupidly forgot my notebook this morning, so the higher counts are more like guesstimates, but this is roughly what would have gone into my notebook (west unless stated); 

3 Lapwing 
7 Golden Plover (a five and two singles)
15,000 Wood Pigeon
50 Stock Dove (probably a gross undercount!)
6 Rook
200 Jackdaw 
140 Starling 
70 Skylark (most of these were inland of us so we probably missed more than we saw)
70 Blackbird (total includes both settled and migrating birds)
40 Song Thrush (total includes both settled and migrating birds)
45 Redwing (flying in all directions!)
3 Fieldfare
10 alba Wagtail
50 Meadow Pipit
70 Chaffinch
3 Brambling (all singles)
80 Linnet
15 Siskin
1 Redpoll 
6 Bullfinch
25 Reed Bunting

With all these passing migrants the predators were having a field day. Two Peregrines were almost constantly having a go at the Pigeon flocks, plus we saw three different Sparrowhawk...

Sadly the fields at Axe Cliff are a shadow of their former self. Since they've been ploughed, flattened and replanted this year with winter crops, they're proving completely unattractive to ground feeding birds. In past years today would have also shown hundreds of larks, pipits and finches feeding in the fields, adding another exciting element to birding here, but today absolutely nothing. I really can't believe Yellowhammers are hanging on, but they are...

After Axe Cliff I had a 15 minute look over the valley. A Great White Egret had flown west past Abbotsbury earlier in the morning, and by my reckoning was due to drop in on the Axe any minute. Sadly though, having now missed five here this year (Bob Longhorn found another on Black Hole Marsh yesterday, which stayed 45 minutes), this bird decided to completely bypass us and flew up the Exe instead. Typical! The other bird I was hopeful for was Glossy Ibis, as yesterday saw something of an influx of these into the UK. Despite checking all the visible ditches and scrapes, no luck. Guess what Sue Murphy found on Colyford Marsh late this afternoon though, yes, our first Glossy Ibis of 2017. I had the right idea - just picked the wrong time!

A few days ago it was nice to see a Cattle Egret still with us. Or was, I haven't seen it since! It was feeding with a few Little Egrets near the cattle on Bridge Marsh on Wednesday...

Am really looking forward to some more vis migging, hopefully there's a few more sessions left in this autumn. The question is though will a Hawfinch reward my efforts?  Only time will tell...

Saturday, 21 October 2017

More Stormy Weather

Cracking weather here last night and today, big seas, strong south west wind and plenty of passing showers.  I gave the sea as much time as I could, but sadly no Leach's Petrels came past when I was looking. There were plenty of Gannets out there this morning moving west, along with a lone Shearwater sp. (looked Balearic but mega distant) a few Kittiwake and Auk sp. and one Common Scoter

A nice bonus was a Sanderling that flew around with three Ringed Plover for a short while before pitching down briefly on the beach...

I've also spent time today checking the gulls on the Estuary, there were excellent numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls but nothing better in with them. I suppose the highlight was this first-winter presumed intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull. Although the photo is pretty bad (taken in strong sunlight) it does shows how fresh this bird looked. It basically looked like it had only just come out of the nest, by now a first-winter graellsii should be far more worn than this...

Thursday, 19 October 2017

That's More Like It!

Well Ophelia has come and gone, but in birding terms delivered nothing. She didn't bring any American land birds or waders, and didn't even drag up that many sea birds on her journey - bit or an ornithological flop really. But since then things have picked up...

The last week has seen an exceptional arrival of Firecrest across south Devon and Dorset, well some parts of south Devon and Dorset! Portland recorded an unprecedented 150+ on Sunday, with probably just as many around Prawle/Start/Soar. But other places (Dawlish Warren, Exmouth, here) recorded none on the very same day!  Pleasingly they have started trickling through here now, I had my first at Spring Head, Axmouth on Monday afternoon, with another on Tuesday up by Axe Cliff Golf Course car park. Dad had six at Beer Head also on Tuesday, and Bun another in Beer village. Such smart birds.

A quick look along the beach to see what Ophelia had left us revealed just six Ringed Plover, a Little Stint (presumably the lingering bird) and a whole load more Man o' War.

Looking east along Seaton Beach on Tuesday morning

Wednesday gave us a nice double, although sadly one of which I missed.  Our Reserves Officer James Chubb saw a Great White Egret on Colyford Common (which had previously been at Abbotsbury Swannery), but it soon took flight and headed off south west. So proving to be as brief a visitor as the other two recorded here this year. Drat.  What followed cheered me up though...

Yellow-browed Warblers have proved much scarcer this autumn than recent years, presumably solely because we've not had the easterly winds of the previous few autumns. So, stepping out my front door early afternoon, I was really surprised to hear one call from trees just up the road - my third from the garden! I didn't have great views of it, but Tim White clearly did an hour or so later as he managed THIS fab picture of it - always such smart birds and always great to see/hear.

The drizzle and completely still conditions of last night saw (well heard!) an excellent nocturnal passage of Redwing and Song Thrush overhead, which gave me high hopes for this morning.  But those hopes have not really been lived up too (as usual!), although it did feel really good out there. There was one lovely highlight though...

As I drove over the lower Axe bridge into Seaton, I was amazed to see a flock of six Avocet fly across in front of the car! A really mega-sized flock by Axe standards.  I watched them fly upriver, they then circled around a bit before seeming to drop down on Black Hole Marsh. So I went around for another gander...

And that brings me and this blog up to date! So good to feel proper autumn excitement - we are a go...

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Man o' War

With no urgent bird news to write about, all I've got to report is incredible numbers of Portuguese man o' war washed up on Seaton Beach. I wouldn't be surprised if a walk along the whole length of the beach revealed a three figure count today, with one or two every ten or so feet...

Stunning looking things! Pity to see such big numbers involved though.

In the bird world autumn has clearly moved on. Goldcrests seem to be everywhere now, and I saw my second Redpoll of the autumn this afternoon.  The Estuary has offered me nothing better in recent days than singles of Little Stint and Bar-tailed Godwit, a couple of Med Gulls and seven Ringed Plover.  I wonder if this so-called hurricane will blow anything more interesting in...

Monday, 9 October 2017

Cattle Egret

An early morning walk down to Seaton Marshes would have proved quiet were it not for the recent Cattle Egret. It was showing well from the hide with the cattle on the reserve itself, although the cattle didn't seem to like it very much and often charged it away!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Axe Cliff Vis Migging and Harvest Moon

This blog post is a day late, but wow yesterday morning was so so enjoyable. Under beautiful blue skies and in the cool early morning autumn air it was exhilarating watching an impressive westward passage of passerines over Axe Cliff.

The view from my favourite vis migging watch point on patch

I usually count absolutely everything I see whilst vis migging, with a notebook in my pocket and clickers hanging off anything and everything they can. But yesterday morning due to the lack of wind, birds were flying past on countless different lines, which basically made counting impossible.  Although most the finches were passing just off the cliff edge, there were flocks of bird passing a quarter of a mile out to sea, and even more up to half an mile inland! There really were thousands of birds though, it was an epic watch with the most numerous species (in order) being; Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Chaffinch, alba Wagtail, Goldfinch, Skylark and Greenfinch. The species I counted included; 25 Siskin, 21 Reed Bunting, 6 Starling, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Dunnock and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker should really read ex Great Spotted Woodpecker, sad but it did give me one of my vis migging life highlights. I heard a swoosh, and out of no where an adult Peregrine powered into a Great Spotted Woodpecker (that I hadn't seen previously) right in front of my face! The noise of the Peregrine stoop was incredible, but then came the thud, followed by a squawk from the Woodpecker and then a explosion of black and white feathers that slowly floated to the ground.  Amazing. Sadly though both lost out. The Peregrine dropped its prey deep into the undergrowth and could not retrieve, and the Woodpecker would not have survived.

Although overhead was super busy, the fields at Axe Cliff were unusually quiet with a couple of Stonechat and a couple of briefly grounded Reed Buntings the best.


There was a bit more movement down the cliff edge though, with a trickle of Goldcrests and the odd Chiffchaff making their way west through the vegetation. Sadly no Yellow-browed Warblers.

A quick look over the valley afterwards produced a lovely juvenile Marsh Harrier over Colyford Marsh that circled up and rapidly flew off north.  Today, although  I haven't been out, a Cattle Egret and an adult Yellow-legged Gull have been seen from the Tower Hide, along with a report of a Bittern. Gripping.

In a rapid change of topic, I'm sure you all are aware by now that Thursday night of last week gave us a spectacular display of the Harvest Moon. I took a few photos at around 11pm, and as I missed the moon rise, took one of the 'moon set' at Axe Cliff in the morning. All photos with the ever impressive Nikon P900...


What I found even more impressive came the following night, with an almost full moon lighting up a sky full of clouds. Amazingly the following photo was taken from my back door at 10:30pm...

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ruff Influx and Spoonbill

Today is the first day this week that I've managed any time out birding on patch. And that's with the whole week off work!  I managed two looks along the Estuary at mid tide (early morning and mid afternoon) and an early afternoon visit to Black Hole Marsh.  It was quite a fruitful day really with my totals being; 

42 Wigeon
50+ Teal
1 Spoonbill
7 Ringed Plover
2 Dunlin
1 Curlew Sandpiper
1 Little Stint
19 Ruff
1 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Green Sandpiper
5 Common Sandpiper
1 Spotted Redshank
3 Greenshank

There's two stand outs on that list, Spoonbill and the exceptional Ruff count.  The Spoonbill was completely jammy as I saw it with my naked eye from the kitchen window flying south west away from Black Hole Marsh. Doubt soon crept in with such a brief and distant naked eye only view, but sure enough when I went down to Black Hole an hour later... "there was a Spoonbill here about an hour ago, didn't stay long though and flew off towards the Estuary". Presumably this was also the bird that dropped in briefly at Abbotsbury today.

As for the Ruff. Wow. Just wow. I had at least ten early morning on Black Hole Marsh, Dad had 14 mid morning and when I went down there early afternoon there was an incredible 19 on view. All were juveniles, and they were mostly hanging out in two flocks of seven with the rest loosely dotted around.  Not sure if this is a record count for the patch, I highly doubt it as 'back in the day' am sure Phil saw loads together at times, but my previous highest single count here is of 17. Can't remember the date off hand but it was in the winter during a very cold snap with lots of snow and ice around.

Six of the 19 Ruff on Black Hole Marsh this afternoon

The Spotted Redshank was the lingering juvenile on Colyford Scrape, and the Curlew Sandpiper (juv), Ringed Plovers and my highest count so far this autumn of Wigeon were all along the Estuary this morning.

In other news, it's that time of year when I need to edit my mini-bio to the right of this page, and increase my age by one. Though to be honest life is going by so quick it feels like I'm changing this at least three times a year!  At the age of 32, well, I can't even begin to explain just how happy and content I am with life, it would take pages and pages of text. But the source of it all is simple...

My world

Saturday, 23 September 2017

More Grey Phalarope

Although the Grey Phalarope remains on Black Hole Marsh, I've only managed another five minutes with it. That was on Thursday afternoon just as the sun came out...

What a great bird! It's no surprise that it is proving so popular with photographers as it is showing so so well.

Also reported today a new juv Little Stint, and I've seen lots of lovely pictures on Twitter of three juvenile Ruff feeding together on Colyford Common, two males and a female.