Sunday, 30 April 2017

Best Day of the Spring

Wow what a day. The best birding day of the month turned out to be the last day of the month, and that was simply because we had some different weather. A nice south easterly wind has been blowing all day (since yesterday in fact) and we've had lots of rain. And this meant birds birds birds!

Although south easterlies aren't our best wind direction for sea watching (that's south westerlies) I just had to give the sea a look - quite a long look in the end! I started the day with a four hour sea watch and then had two twenty minute glances during the afternoon, all from the Spot On Kiosk. These are the exact times, and this is what I saw (east unless stated);

05:50-09:50, 13:10-13:30, 15:10-15:30;

2 Dark-bellied Brent Goose 
110 Common Scoter (75e 35w)
5 Great Northern Diver (all singles and all west)
70+ Gannet
6 Manx Shearwater (two singles and a four)
4 Arctic Skua (ad pale-phased west at 08:40, ad pale-phased and near-ad pale-phased close east together at 09:02 and ad dark-phased west at 09:40)
3 Mediterranean Gull (all first-years)
6 Common Gull
40 Black-headed Gull (most flew in)
21 Sandwich Tern
1 Arctic Tern (so close that I think it came out of the Estuary then flew east at 08:20)
4 Dunlin (in)
3 Sanderling (one east with a flock of ten Whimbrel and later two flew in sat on beach briefly then headed off west)
72 Whimbrel (biggest single flock being 38 birds)
2 Guillemot
14 Razorbill
8 auk sp.
1 Yellow Wagtail (flew east along beach calling).

I'm pleased to say there's four year ticks in that list; Arctic Skua and Tern, Manxie and Sanderling. I had to wait for the skuas, they only arrived once the cloud came over and just prior/during the first rain showers of the day. Although the numbers always make a sea watch for me (Whimbrel and Scoter today), and of course the skuas which are always notable birds here, my star bird of the watch was the Arctic Tern. Our 'commic's' are usually distant, but this thing virtually flew over my head! Great to be able to see all the diagnostic features, but best of all that distinctive bouncy flight and super long tail streamers. Now if I was to be a bit whingy a Black Tern would have been nice, but I'm not today - it's just been such a fab fab day!

Whimbrel flying east

Arctic Skua - just!

One of the closest Gannets of the day

With many other birders watching the coast today, there were a couple of interesting re-sightings of my birds. My four Manx Shearwaters in the afternoon flew past Sidmouth half an hour earlier (Dan), and it took my dark-phased Arctic Skua twenty minutes to fly from here to Budleigh (B Heasman) and then another forty minutes before it flew west past Teignmouth (L Allnat). Always find this kind of stuff fascinating, thanks for getting in touch folks.

Considering the amount of wading birds passing over the sea, I knew the river valley would be worth keeping an eye on today. By the end of the day on the Estuary there were; 

10 Ringed Plover
12 Dunlin
5 Bar-tailed Godwit (three sum plum males)
3 Black-tailed Godwit
36 Whimbrel (giving me a day total of well over a hundred - very notable count for the Axe)
1 Greenshank

From left to right; three Barwits, a Whimbrel and a Blackwit
Is there a finer wader? Summer plumaged male Bar-tailed Godwit
And again
And again! x2
Four of the five Barwits from today

And this wasn't it.  Wandering towards the Colyford Marsh hide early afternoon I noticed all the birds that were clearly on the main scrape on Colyford Marsh lift off and behave as though they'd just been spooked by something. Two minutes later I was watching my/our first Marsh Harrier of 2017. Year tick number five of the day...

Female Marsh Harrier
And again, but a little more zoomed in

I must just thank my wife, who's been amazing as always and was quite happy to let me fill my boots when it came to birding - she knows how much I've been longing for this weather. In my defence I did find time to build a bed today as well!

Before I sign off for the night I will quickly tie up yesterday's birding news - don't worry it won't be long as I only had about an hour out. Saying that it was a pretty good hour though! First up was an Avocet that flew in calling on the Estuary just as the tide was coming in...

Avocet and Shelduck

Then there was a new in Lesser Whitethroat singing alongside the tram line opposite Coronation Corner. And finally my forty minute wander along the beach with the dog which produced a Great Skua east and a Mute Swan and 22 Pale-bellied Brent Geese west...

Pale-bellied Brent Geese, later seen off Dawlish Warren

That's it now. Night all and roll on tomorrow...


  1. Steve, great post.. still trying to work out that Arctic skua photo and then comparing which was worse your Arctic Skua or Matts Black Tern photo!! I could sort of work out Matts Tern but still cant fathom your skua!!

    1. Haha thanks Mike, that's what record shots are all about! It was a great day, been waiting all spring for it!