Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Black Hole Beckons

With storms and rain showers overnight, and wader-inviting water levels, I knew Black Hole Marsh needed a thorough look over this morning. So at 06:00 I whisked Harry down there and we stayed until about 07:50.  It was so worthwhile - today has proved to be the best wader day of the autumn so far.

I was amazed at how quickly the water levels had dropped, this was taken at 13:00 yesterday...



And this at 06:50 today...



This was another part of the marsh this morning - lots of lovely (and lovely plumaged) wading birds...



My totals were;

3 Teal
32 Little Egret
1 Ringed Plover (autumn first)
1 Little Ringed Plover (ad)
20 Dunlin (also had six flying over the Estuary, unsure if they joined the Black Hole flock so maybe 26 present)
3 Greenshank
53 Redshank
12 Black-tailed Godwit
7 Common Sandpiper
1 Green Sandpiper
1 Med Gull (juv)
2 Kingfisher
 

When the marsh is in this condition birds seem to constantly trickle in, so expect these totals to be way off by this evening, especially after a high tide. Exciting times!

The Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover stayed close to each other, this allowed for some nice comparison shots. Ringed Plover upper bird in both shots, just look at the overall difference in size (particularly bulk) and shape...



The two Greenshank that remained together, although both adults, looked completely different to one another (left bird still very much in summer plumage)... 



And I simply cannot get enough of juv Med Gulls, enjoy them before they moult...



If you ever find yourself in the Tower Hide with a camera, do make sure you keep an eye on the post just underneath the hide on the Black Hole Marsh side. This little fella can easily sneak in and out without being noticed...



In the voice of a stern tennis umpire... "More rain please!"

Monday, 17 July 2017

Finding Emerald

I enjoyed another mid afternoon wander around Lower Bruckland Ponds today looking for dragonflies and butterflies. Was really hoping to bump into the Lesser Emperor again but no luck with that, although I did have some luck as I found my first patch, and I think the first patch, Emerald Damselfly

It's a very widespread species, just not one we get here. And as I haven't seen one for a number of years I had forgotten just how beautiful they are. It's body was just like the colour (iridescence included) of a Demoiselle, with a surprising amount of blue on the side of its thorax and head, a delicately slightly pinched in abdomen and amazing tear-dropped shaped wings. Such a beautiful insect. I just wish it hadn't flown off just as my camera was focusing on it! I will certainly drop in there again this week in case it sticks around, I would love to get a pic.

It seems to be the best year for a long time for Small Red-eyed Damselflies here. I'm sure that's simply down to much fewer dabbling ducks on site, resulting in far more surface vegetation...



I also saw my first two Southern Hawkers of the year, along with two Golden-ringed Dragonflies...



There was nothing unusual among the as ever excellent numbers of butterflies, but here's another underwing shot for you, and today it's a Red Admiral...



And now to birds. Well since my last blog post I have managed to miss two patch Great White Egrets. This morning Ian Mc had one fly in off the sea and appear to land on the beach (although there was no further sign), and three days ago one appeared on BirdGuides for Seaton Marshes just after midday, but no one saw that one again either.  They can be ever so slippery for such large white birds!

Waders continue to move through slowly. On Thursday 13th I had a Greenshank, six Dunlin, one  Whimbrel and 76 Curlew (a big sudden increase) on the Estuary. Tonight there were at least three Whimbrel present along with a decent scattering of Common Sandpipers. The water levels are looking better on Black Hole Marsh again now so expect more sightings from here in the coming days and weeks.  Med Gull passage seems to have slowed down a bit on the Estuary, although they are still trickling past offshore, with four flying in from the south west on Thursday morning.

A walk around the wetlands yesterday morning didn't show much in the way of water birds, but overhead it was wonderful to watch a flock of about 50 screaming Swifts feeding. Whilst watching them I realised that within a matter of weeks they will all be gone, so I decided to watch them some more...



A Hobby zipped through south and in the bushes two Willow Warblers made their presence known by calling. It was great to hear that call again, although on the other hand it's a bit sad when you notice just how little bird song there is now, in the last couple of weeks it has really quietened down.  Proper autumn is looming...

Monday, 10 July 2017

Small Copper and Lesser Emperor Update

I think Small Copper is one of my favourite common butterflies. I prefer the upperwing but today you'll have to make do with an underwing shot...



Whilst on the insect theme, I found out today that my male Lesser Emperor of last month at Lower Bruckland Ponds wasn't the one day wonder that I thought it was.  I saw it on Monday 19th June and on Sunday 2nd July Roger Harris (@chardbirder) saw it on three occasions.  Sadly neither of us managed to photograph it though.  He's got a great blog by the way, well worth a look especially if you like spiders and other insects; http://threecountieswildlife.blogspot.co.uk/.

It won't take me long to update on my bird sightings because I've not seen that much lately, well not much new anyway. A Whimbrel was with the Curlew flock yesterday morning on the Estuary, as was the usual dull first-summer Med Gull.  Black Hole Marsh will likely go a bit quiet for a few days now as the water levels have risen...



Rain in the forecast... White-winged Black Tern anyone?

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Early Vis Mig

Taking a baby out early in the morning does have it's benefits. This was 04:45 today...

Looking north up the Axe Estuary from Axmouth Harbour


Today saw the first steady passage of Swifts and Sand Martins through the patch of the autumn, with 34 and 19 respectively flying west offshore in a 40 minute period from 6am.  I saw more Sand Martins passing through off Beer Head late morning so I do think it was a sustained movement.  Also whilst at the sea front this morning five Med Gulls flew west (3 ad, 2 juvs) among a sporadic passage of Black-headed Gulls. If I stayed longer no doubt I would have matched Dawlish Warren's total of twenty by 8am.

I saw a further three Meds on the Estuary mid afternoon, two adults and the lingering dull first-summer (which is often the southern most gull on the Estuary).  Gutted to have missed our first juv Yellow-legged Gull of the year that Ian Mc saw a bit later in the day, but no doubt I'll see many over the next few months.

Black Hole Marsh at 5am was lovely and peaceful, with quite a few waders on the diminishing water levels.  Still nothing surprising here as yet this autumn, just the routine fare, but it is still very early days. Among an increase in numbers of Common Sands were three Green Sands (all adults). An adult Little Ringed Plover was probably the bird Ian Mc had yesterday, but also looked suspiciously like the first of the autumn here back on 1st July. Otherwise there were 22 Redshank, two Blackwits and an adult Water Rail.  

Three Green and a Common Sand

Two of the Green Sands


Having missed out on finding our last three rare waders (Least Sand - Tim Wright, Baird's Sand - Phil Abbott, Semi-P Sand Peter/Phil Abbott) I think it's high time I found another decent wading bird this year (and I don't count Pecs, I have seen more of them on patch than Cuckoos!).  Hopefully the early morning baby walks will do the trick eventually...


Thursday, 6 July 2017

Scorchio!

Wow it's hot today.  A look along the river at about 08:30 showed there had been a bit of an arrival of new waders, with three Black-tailed Godwits alongside three Dunlin (my first of the autumn) along the waters edge...

Summer plumaged Blackwit and three Dunlin


Among the gulls three Med Gulls were on show, the first-summer that I yesterday labelled 'distinctively bland' and these two beautiful juveniles...



If you're not familiar with the juvenile plumage of Med Gull, I urge you to come over to the Axe Estuary or Black Hole Marsh and take a look at one. At this time of year they should be present pretty much daily now in varying numbers, and they really do have a delicate beauty to them.  Gorgeous things.

The moth trapping last night would have gone better had Mum and Dad's resident pair of Herring Gulls not taken an interest in the trap before I got to it!  Still there was a very good variety of moths and good numbers too. Nothing new for me or the garden, but the two scarcest species (which were actually both on the wall of the house) were...

Female Four-spotted Footman
The Fern


It was great to get the chance to introduce Harry to a Poplar Hawkmoth, his reaction was epic...



Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Cows on the Line!

Just a quick one to update all, having spent a bit of time out over the past few days...

On Sunday morning there had been a notable increase in Common Sandpipers with 11+ in the valley, along with a nice summer plumaged Blackwit on Black Hole Marsh.  On Sunday, and the few days since, several gull scans have failed to give me my first juv Yellow-legged of the year but I have seen three different Med Gulls on the Estuary, two first-summers and an adult...

A distinctively bland first-summer Med Gull
 

The sea this evening was beautiful, but quiet (as expected)...



A flock of 11 Common Scoters flew west, with a group of six sat on the sea closer in. I would have been really gripped by Ian Mcs fly by Red-breasted Merganser this morning had I not seen a pair off here within the first few days of the year. He also had seven Med Gulls fly west today, a usual sight at this time of year but always a lovely one.

I had quite a surprise this morning along the Estuary, with cattle on the salt marsh and tram line...

There were at least 14!


A quick phone call to the tram company scrambled three guys and the maintenance tram. It was quite fun watching them herd the cattle back to where they belonged, but I have to say they did a great job - certainly looked like they had done it many times before!

Now don't all sigh at once, but I have a moth trap out tonight for the first time this year. It's about time really as we've had so much suitable weather. I promise though I won't drown this blog with moth photos - but it would be nice to catch a few immigrants. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

More Waders

Well my predictions in my last post are hardly encouraging me to buy a lottery ticket because they were just so predictable, but half an hour down Black Hole Marsh this afternoon showed my first Little Ringed Plover of the autumn (an adult found by Ian Mc an hour earlier) and a Green Sandpiper.  Plenty more Common Sands too, and even more mud...



Clearly the arrival of all this mud has helped with the increase in wader and gull numbers, but late June/early July often sees a variety of wading birds pass through here. It's easy to forget exact dates so a quick look back through my blog and notes shows we've had Grey Plover, Barwit (and ofcourse Blackwit), Greenshank, LRP, Wood Sand and even Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint in late June.  Some probably being late spring migrants but most will be early autumn returners, they don't hang about on their breeding grounds if they don't need to.

Basically it's always worth checking muddy edges whatever the month, especially considering the fact the big one often travels alone...

Friday, 30 June 2017

Autumn Firsts

Before I go on I feel I should clarify my use of the word 'autumn'. No I'm not wishing summer away - well actually I kind of always do but that's not the point - I mean 'autumn' as in the autumn passage of birds.  Autumn passage, which spans from June to November/December is the post-breeding passage, whether it's a bird that's failed to breed, has bred or is a juvenile. With gulls and waders, and even some passerines, it can start as early as mid June. 

Although this blog continues to remain quiet, it is a seasonal quietness not a baby-related quietness. See I still get down the marshes...



Actually Harry really is turning out to be an outdoor-loving baby.  Most crying fits can be solved by a wander outside, which is pretty handy for me... unless it is in the middle of the night then it really isn't!

I noted the first passerine migrants back on the 22nd June when 11 Sand Martins flew purposely south west in two groups over the Estuary, and a Willow Warbler sub-songed from Stafford Marsh.

With the waders, we've had Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew all summer (although sadly none of them breeding) but numbers of these are building up a bit now. There's roughly twenty Redshank about, Curlew numbered 26 last week and I've just seen twelve Lapwing. The first Common Sandpiper was on the Estuary on 22nd June, and the day before yesterday I noticed the first on Black Hole Marsh for the autumn - with three there yesterday. I'm amazed I've not seen a Green Sandpiper yet, but I reckon there will be one or two out there on the pools around Colyford Marsh we just can't see them.  Little Ringed Plover will also arrive within the next few days I reckon.

Among the gulls, and the increasing number of Black-headed Gulls, on Wednesday I was pleased to see the first Med Gull of the autumn on the Axe - an absolutely stunning summer plumaged adult. We usually get our best numbers of Med Gulls in the mid to late summer period, although most pass over the sea and don't even give our Estuary a look in. Also on Wednesday the first two juvenile Black-headed Gulls were present, hopefully they've had a good breeding season, as hopefully have Yellow-legged Gulls too because as ever I'd love to see lots of those clean and crisp juveniles.

Starlings seemed to have had a bumper breeding season, there were about 350+ on the wires on Colyford Common yesterday. That's more than enough to attract a(nother) pink one surely!  I'm a little worried about our local breeding Barn Owls mind, as at 11am the other day I tracked one and watched it hunt over Black Hole, Stafford, Colyford and Bridge Marsh, Colyford Common, and then the field just by Boshill Cross before it finally caught something.  That's a lot of effort for one small meal. The three Crows chasing it back wouldn't have helped either, and this is why it flew inside the Island Hide to get some shelter. I know Barn Owls use this hide at night, but have never seen one fly into it during the day! Really wish I was sat in there. It did the trick though as the Crows didn't follow it in.

And that brings me and Axe Birding back up to date. As soon as we get into July migration usually steps up a gear or two, so hopefully that will mean more blog posts. Hope all you lovely readers are well and thanks as always for sticking with me.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Lesser Emperor

Wow what a stunning few days we've had. Not so great for a three and a half week old baby, but great for dragonflies which is why I had a wander around Lower Bruckland Ponds this afternoon.

This proved a great move with a stunning surprise in the form of a male Lesser Emperor at 3pm over the top pond.  This is the third Lesser Emp I've found here (previous being 16th July 2006 and 10th August 2012) and turns out this afternoon several have appeared in the UK.  Sadly no pics as it didn't settle, and I last saw it being chased by an Emperor towards the next pond down. Fingers crossed it hangs around, all my previous have been multi-observed and I'd like to keep that record up!

Other notable Odonata on show this afternoon included my first Small Red-eyed Damselflies of the year, with at least five males on the smallest two ponds, am pretty sure these are fairly early too. Also still at least nine Scarce Chaser on the wing, seven lone males and an ovipositing pair. The more usual fare included 15+ Emperor, 20+ Black-tailed Skimmer, five Four-spotted Chaser, three Beautiful Demoiselle, two Banded Demoiselle, one Broad-bodied Chaser and the usual damselfly species.  And now for some pretty pictures...

Here's two different Small Red-eyed Damselflies...



Three different male Scarce Chasers...



A Four-spotted Chaser...



A Beautiful Demoiselle...



And VERY unusually for this blog - a flower! A rather long-stemmed Common Spotted (I think!?) Orchid...



And I just had to photograph this Coot chick on its completely exposed nest. Most Coot nests here are nicely tucked away...



I have also got a bit of birding news to catch up with.  I've already enjoyed three early morning wanders around the Axe Wetlands with Harry...



Each time I've heard singles of singing male Common and Lesser Whitethroats from the field to the south of the entrance track to Black Hole Marsh.  Interestingly the Axe Estuary Ringing Group recently trapped a breeding female Lesser White on Stafford Marsh as well, which is great news.  There certainly seems to be plenty of young passerines about this year too which is encouraging - it looks to have been a good breeding season for many species.

Sometime last week I has a Hobby from the back garden, not before time as they have been regular around here this summer. Red Kites are also clearly still around in some number, I had one over Colyton on Wednesday of last week and received emails informing me of low flying birds over Musbury (two) and Colyford on different days within the past week.

Apologies for the lack of posts lately guys, a mostly awake sometimes crying baby hasn't helped the cause. Although actually tonight he really did help...

 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Stormie

Good sea watching weather in June often doesn't produce much, with most species of sea bird safely on their breeding grounds a long long way away.  It's always worth a look though, especially if you need Storm Petrel for your Patchwork Challenge year list!

Although it's the strong winds and heavy rain that bring Storm Petrels close to shore, I always have better luck finding them off here once the weather has calmed down. Big waves and dark seas are not helpful when trying to pick out a Sparrow-sized mostly black bird that's probably a mile or so out! But when the waves ease and a bit of sun comes out that's when I usually have success, and today was no different...

Yesterday it rained and rained, and a really strong south westerly wind whipped up. These conditions were due to continue overnight until about 4am, when the rain was to ease and wind switch to a north westerly direction - perfect. So at about 05:20 I was setting my scope up in front of a nicely pale coloured and not too rough sea, and about fifteen minutes later my prize came. It wasn't the closest Storm Petrel I've ever seen here, but it remained in almost constant view for at least five minutes as it slowly battled its way west.  I always get such a thrill seeing this tiny sea bird over the huge expanse of the ocean, and I was surprised to remind myself on my return home that the last Stormie I saw here was back in May 2013.

Other than this it was a predictably quiet sea watch with 05:20-06:20 showing just; 

15+ Gannet
7 Kittiwake
7 Swift

I've not seen much about lately, hence the recent lack of blog posts. A flock of c46 Black-tailed Godwits on the Estuary on 2nd June were a real surprise as there have only been single figures present through most of May. I wonder if they were a late spring flock or a group of non-breeding birds?  

I do have some highly gripping news though of an Axe mega seen yesterday, a male Red-backed Shrike briefly on Colyford Common at midday. Despite a very quick and much appreciated text from Sue Murphy, we all managed to miss it. Hopefully it's not gone far though.

I'm sorry this has been a photo-less post, but I think I deserve some credit having written this entire blog post with a baby fast asleep on my left arm!!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Hello Harry

Although you may well have already known this via social media, Jess and I were delighted to welcome Harry Arthur Waite into the world during the early hours of Friday morning...



He weighed a healthy 8 pounds 14 and so far appears to be just like his Dad, he can't stop eating...

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Exceptional Red Kite Passage

Mid afternoon today I headed down to the Axe alongside the A3052 to look for my first White-legged Damselflies of the year, but in the end I spent way more time looking up than down!

Literally as soon as I parked up I had two single Red Kites in quick succession quite a distance to the north over Musbury, one moved off north west and the other straight west towards Colyford. Then about ten minutes later I had a lovely group of three fly low south west over my head, with another three about four minutes later on exactly the same flight path.  That's eight Red Kites within twenty minutes. Amazing!



Just before the last three went over my phone died, so I whizzed back home to give it a charge (just in case one of the Dutch Griffon Vultures decided to drift over my head) . I headed back out at 16:50 and spent about forty minutes stood on the stile opposite Colyford WTW. On my first 360 scan after arriving here there were seven Red Kites in view! Five west of Cownhayne Lane and two east of Cownhayne Lane. They all moved off west/south west, and I know these were all different from my earlier eight as Mr White had seen about seven over Lower Bruckland Ponds in between. All then went quiet for half an hour, but at 17:20 I picked up three more Red Kites circling over Colyton before moving off west, these must have arrived more from the north unlike all the previous birds that had flown in from Musbury Castle. 


 
So that's a staggering total of (at least) 18 Red Kite west over the patch 15:25 - 17:25, Mr White may well have seen a couple more from the Ponds that I missed whilst at home charging my phone.  Although movements of Red Kites like this have been seen several times in Devon before, I have never been lucky enough to luck in on one, so to luck in on a Kite passage on patch was such a thrill!  You can be sure more will be heading west over the next few days as the weather seems to be staying the same, and am sure within a few days triple figures will be over Cornwall.  

Am pleased to say I did see White-legged Damselflies as well, about twenty but all immature insects...



And my first few Banded Demoiselle of 2017...



 This hot weather really is doing the trick!