Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Autumn Moves On

Thought it was high time I wrote a few more words here. I am getting out now and then just not finding the time to blog about it.

I suppose the biggest news is we are well and truly in September....and don't we know it!  Meadow Pipits streaming over with fewer and fewer Tree Pipits, Yellow Wagtail vis mig replaced by Grey Wagtails and alba Wagtails, Chiffchaffs taking over from Willow Warblers as the most common phyllosc in the bushes. Autumn has well and truly moved on to the next phase, which I think of as the 'middle phase'...

Wheatear Axe Cliff - 14/8/18

The Estuary has seen a run of good birds this month, with four Spotted Redshanks together on the 1st being an amazing local sight. Osprey, Ruff, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper have all been seen by others, with Cattle Egrets being frequently seen over the last couple of days, in fact Mark Dobinson had ten on Seaton Marshes this morning!

I was hoping to get a look at the sea this morning considering the rough weather, but only had time to muster a couple of quick scans of the gulls on the Estuary.  Proved worthwhile though as there were a couple of first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls in with them, one in the morning and one early afternoon. I didn't have a camera to hand for bird two but the first allowed some pics...

The bird on the left, nice pale headed individual

A flash of its tail

Hope to see some of the Cattle Egrets soon!  They may be getting commoner but I always enjoy seeing them.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Whale in the Bay

Last Thursday Phil texted with news of a large cetacean off the Spot On Kiosk, which encouraged me to take an early lunch break in his company. Compared with the views others had mine were dreadful (a brief head-only view) but we weren't really sure what it was.  Although I think we all knew it wasn't any of the usual Whale species on the radar.

Chris Townend kindly confirmed the identification when he saw Roger's and Phil's photos a couple of hours later, a Northern Bottlenose Whale. He then jumped in his car and headed over, although the Whale vanished at about 12:30 and wasn't seen again, so sadly he missed it. Maybe good news for the Whale though - hopefully this means it went back out to deeper water.  Take a look at Roger's photos HERE and Phil's on his Twitter timeline HERE.  I wasn't really sure about the status of Northern Bottlenose Whale in UK waters or beyond before seeing this beast, but here's a good overview...

You may remember the 2006 London Whale, which was a Bottlenose Whale, observed swimming up the Thames.  She sadly stranded and died on day two.  I looked to find some more information about her online, and was surprised to see she has her own website;

Seeing as I didn't manage any pics of our Whale, and the fact I don't like posting photo-less posts, I'm going to rewind back to the hotter parts of the summer, when I spent some time looking for a patch Southern Migrant Hawker.  I never did find one, but it was the best summer here for Small Red-eyed Damselflies and a pretty good one for Ruddy Darters too.  The latter have really dipped in numbers over the past few years, but this year a wander around Lower Bruckland Ponds would often reveal several individuals, with six on 3rd August being my highest count...

More birdie posts to follow...

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A Flavour of August

As can be guessed by my subdued social media and blogging presence of late, it's been a busy few weeks! August is one of my favourite birding months of the year, so with a window of opportunity to get out towards the end of the month, I took it...

The birders who've been getting out to Beer Head this month have been well rewarded, with good numbers of common migrants (including a few Pied Flies) and a bonus Wryneck found by Bun on Wednesday 22nd.  I knew Beer Head would be busy with birders on Saturday morning, and following a glimpse of some decent vis mig during a dog walk on the edge of Colyton on Friday morning (five Tree Pipits and six Yellow Wags flew west in a ten minute period), and the fact Saturday morning saw a cloud-less dawn, Axe Cliff lured me...

The view over Seaton from Axe Cliff

I was up here 06:00-08:15 and saw; 

44 Yellow Wagtail (all west, including two groups of ten)
7 Tree Pipit (all singles, west)
1 Wheatear
1 Redstart (a cracking male)
3 Whitethroat
5 Willow Warbler

So not loads of birds by a long way, but it filled me with so much joy. The joy of autumn birding.

After this I headed down to Black Hole Marsh, another venue that has done well this month, although unlike Beer Head hasn't offered any real patch scarcities. The second Spotted Redshank of the month (with a third found today!) had been found the day before, and showed well around the Island Hide whilst I was there. Exceptionally well...

As you can see it's a juvenile - and an incredibly fresh one at that! I don't think I've ever seen one so young, rewind just a few weeks and it was probably stumbling around a damp Arctic taiga landscape peeping at its mother for food!  Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Also on view were a couple of juvenile Little Ringed Plovers, c25 Dunlin, a Green Sand and a Greenshank.

Won't keep you waiting as long for the next blog post I promise!

Friday, 3 August 2018

Wading Birds

I have just written the Axe Estuary monthly report for July, and what a great start to 'autumn' 2018 we've had. Yes I know it is early to be using the 'a' word, but before you start throwing your keyboards at the screens let me clarify I don't mean autumn as in the calendar autumn, I mean it as in the autumn bird migration (southward post breeding passage). Every year the autumn passage for wading birds starts in July, often in June in fact, but this year in particular we've had an excellent variety of species. This sadly though probably indicates they've not had a good breeding year, so although we are seeing more, it's bad news.

I missed the first two Wood Sands of the year here (and the first since 2016), and I guess I missed the third as only one of the two that Tim Wright had drop in on Black Hole Marsh on Wednesday night was still present on Thursday.   When I saw it Thursday morning it wasn't close like it was later in the day, but great to see nonetheless...

A juvenile Wood Sandpiper along with an adult Dunlin

Personally I've also seen a couple of Greenshank, three Green Sands (great comparison on offer of adult and juveniles), the lingering Spotted Redshank, 40+ Black-tailed Godwit, up to 16 Dunlin and Common Sands and a Snipe.  The first few gorgeous lemon yellow Willow Warblers have been noticeable in the bushes over the past week, looking extremely lovely. A lovely adult Hobby flew low south west through Black Hole on Thursday too, which could well have been a local bird.

With a couple more sunny days now upon us, my search for a local Southern Migrant Hawker continues...

Saturday, 28 July 2018

More Juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls

A fresh southerly wind and a bit of rain and cloud has encouraged me to look at the sea on a few occasions over the past couple of days.  No rewards as yet with just small numbers of Manx Shearwaters and a few Med Gulls passing, but tomorrow is looking the windiest of all the days so maybe the best is yet to come?

Black Hole Marsh has already proved popular with migrating waders, although I have managed to miss two Wood Sandpipers, a summer plumaged Knot and a Spotted Redshank (although this one is still present so there's hope yet!).  It's also been a good summer for juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls on the Axe, and today I managed to add another four to the tally.  All were on the Estuary early this afternoon...

The closest of the four

There's two here, the one stood up with head tucked in being the darkest of all four, and the bird sat down facing left being classic in all respects (and the most advanced with several 2nd gen scapular feathers already)

And this one was the largest, posing nicely here next to a Great Black-backed Gull which it was the same size as!

Friday, 20 July 2018

Dragons and Juv Yellow-legged Gull

Had a cracking afternoon at Lower Bruckland Ponds today, so many dragonflies and damselflies about. 

At least 310 Small Red-eyed Damselflies were spread across the whole site, which is easily my highest count here and probably the highest count ever here.  The true number is probably well over this to be honest as 90% of these were males, so I wouldn't bet against 500 actually being present.

Male and an ovipositing pair of Small Red-eyed Damselflies

My personal highlight were a couple of Ruddy Darters, including this stunning adult male. The best one I've seen on patch for many years...

Ruddy Darter showing all the diagnostic features

Ruddy Darter - the abdomen is not only pinched in when viewing from above

A couple of Golden-ringed Dragonflies were also good to see, in the same spot that I always see one or two when I visit the Ponds...

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - the pinched in abdomen and bulbous rear end makes this a male

There were clear signs of passerine autumn migration too, with plenty of hirundines feeding low over the Ponds before flying on west along with a few Swifts...

And now for a proper bird....  First juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the year on the Estuary on Tuesday evening. It was almost dark when I saw it but the occasion certainly warranted a record shot...


A nice chunky long-winged beast, and in full juvenile plumage. I love the early ones they always look the best in my opinion, and hopefully this is the first of many...

Monday, 9 July 2018

The East Budleigh 'Italian Sparrow' Preliminary Results

I'm sure you don't need me to remind you about the East Budleigh Italian Sparrow, and the fact I was fortunate enough to handle this bird and under license remove a couple of body feathers for DNA analysis.  All of this possible only due to the local home owners, and the efforts of local birder Chris Townend.  If you do need a reminder you can read my original blog post HERE

East Budleigh Italian Sparrow trapped and ringed on 9/4/18

The feathers went to Prof Martin Collinson at Aberdeen University. He and his team weren't really sure exactly what they would be able to tell about this bird, given the extremely complex DNA make up of Italian Sparrow, a species that doesn't have it's own DNA just a mix of House and Spanish Sparrow genes. Then there's the complication of similar looking Sparrows that can be found in other parts of the Mediterranean region.

Last week Martin wrote to me with the preliminarily results, although was keen to stress they have got a lot more work to do yet.  But in short - it's looking like it isn't a true Italian Sparrow.  All tests so far have returned results inconsistent with italiae and they are sure it has not originated from Italy. They do still need to rule out the possibility of it being an Italian Sparrow from one of the Mediterranean Islands though.

Once Martin and his team have worked on this further by studying more genes, hopefully they will be writing an article in BTO's Ringing & Migration.

Sorry folks, this may not be the news you want to hear, but don't forget what a stunning looking bird he was/is. A real corker.  I am so privileged to have been a small part of this fascinating tale, but all the real work is being done Martin and his team so they deserve all the praise. So much time and effort on three little feathers.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Local Nightjars

Long time no blog.... Yeah sorry about that, but it's been a really busy time at work, and I spent three days of June in Lisbon (Portugal) which was rather nice, I will tell all about that in a future blog post. For now though, I have spent several evenings over the last couple of weeks with our local Nightjars, with last night offering the best experience...

I've been hearing/seeing five birds most nights, which is brilliant news.  Our local and relatively new population seem to be doing just fine...

It wasn't just the Nightjars that put on a good show last night, with a belter of a sunset. I didn't leave until half past ten when the horizon still looked like it was on fire...

Hope to be blogging regularly again soon! 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Black Hole Marsh

Whenever I've been outside during the past week I've been mostly looking for/at Starlings! The beginnings of what could well prove to be a mightily impressive influx of adult Rose-coloured Starlings into the UK is underway, following exceptional numbers seen in central and eastern Europe.  Most the local Starlings are still in their family groups at the moment, but there does seem to be plenty of them dotted around so hopefully some big groups will start to form.  We are all very keen to see an Axe Rose-coloured Starling following the painful near miss we suffered in Colyford many years ago. An adult bird graced private gardens for almost a week in June, and we only found out about it the day after it was last seen...

Today has seen some classic murky grey and sometimes wet weather, and being late May that's meant wading birds!  Tonight Black Hole Marsh was bursting with Arctic nesting waders including 24 Dunlin, six Sanderling, four Ringed Plover and singles of Grey Plover (cracking breeding plumaged adult, been around a few days now) and Bar-tailed Godwit. Ian Mc had a Turnstone and a few more Sanderling on the Estuary earlier in the day too.

I didn't have long so couldn't get closer to any of the birds by going up to the Tower Hide, but still want to include some pics here to give you a flavour of the evening...

Grey Plover, in this plumage they are hard to beat!

Sanderling and Dunlin, doing what these late May waders always seem to do whenever I see them - feeding frantically! 

A Bar-tailed Godwit taking a more relaxed approach to life!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Late May Wader Passage

It's been a busy two days off for me, mostly because today was Harry's 1st Birthday! Quite how he's already one we really don't know, but today was our first experience of hosting a children's birthday party and I have to say I loved it!  If I analyse why, having party food in the house all day may well have been a significant factor :-).

The annual rush of Arctic breeding waders has been taking place over the last three or four days. If we'd had more rain then we would have seen many more I'm sure - three figure flocks of small waders are easily possible on some wet May days, but still there's been a decent variety.  Phil's done the best on Seaton Beach, with a couple of Sanderling flocks and a Turnstone on Wednesday morning, but Thursday night the Axe Estuary gave me a busy group of 32 Dunlin, six Ringed Plover and two splendid Sanderling feeding opposite Coronation Corner.  The following night there were fewer small waders about but Black Hole Marsh hosted two Bar-tailed Godwits and ten Black-tailed Godwits with a first-summer Med Gull on the Estuary...

Bar-tailed Godwits

Med Gull

There was clearly some good feeding conditions off Seaton Beach on Wednesday evening, as 18 Sandwich and a couple of commic Terns were feeding offshore. I also had two Sandwich Terns fly down the Estuary early on Thursday morning.  On Monday night it was nice to see a churring Nightjar on Bovey Down, seemed to be all on his own though so hopefully there are more to come.  

Since my last post I'm pleased to say heaps more hirundines have been pouring into the UK - better late than never! Be interesting to know what's been holding them all up?

Friday, 18 May 2018

A Worrying Spring

Am pretty sure that any and every birder who regularly watches a coastal area or migration hot spot will agree with me when I say spring 2018 has been absolutely dire. Numbers and the variety of species has been dismal, with only two single days here when the bushes could have been described as being 'busy'. The skies have been far quieter than usual too, with very few days when visible migration actually got going.

Now this on it's own could mean nothing. In my opinion you simply cannot accurately monitor population numbers of migrant birds species on 'how many you see passing through the coast'. There are just too many variable factors when it comes to migration and spring falls, with the weather being the greatest. If the sky is blue and there's a gentle south westerly wind giving migrants a helping hand as they fly north over the English Channel, then there's absolutely no need for them to land on the first bit of coast they see. Also, if they've had a good trip up from South Africa to Southern Europe, then they'll have more reserves than if they'd had a bad trip up, so again, less likely to drop in on the south coast of UK. Food availability can be a major factor too, if they've had plenty of chances to feed up during their journey northwards then they will again have more reserves to fly further without the need to stop. So so many variable factors that can dictate how many migrant birds we see on the south coast during spring.

What is really worrying though is the comments and stats I'm seeing all over the internet regarding the numbers of many of our migrant birds on their breeding grounds. Let's take a quick look at BTO BirdTrack, the best platform to monitor and compare UK bird population data through citizen science. This is the current graph for House Martin...

And Grasshopper Warbler...

The magnitude of comments that I've read on Twitter and various blogs regarding poor numbers of some of our migrant species on breeding sites have been particularly focused on Swift, Swallow, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Common Whitethroat. Also some of the scarcer species seem to be in a bad way too, like Wood Warbler and Nightingale.

A week or so ago I was pretty certain spring was just running late this year, but it's the 18th of May and I'm now thinking this isn't the case. I really do fear something catastrophic may have happened, either during the spring migration or on their wintering grounds.

I'd be very interested to know what your eyes/ears/stats/mist nets are telling you, drop me an email or leave a comment if you get the chance.

Monday, 7 May 2018

A New Chapter

So I have some news...

Anyone who has visited the Axe will know the prime location of Seaton Tramway, Seaton's leading tourist attraction. Well I'm delighted to say that this morning I started working for them, as Manager of the new Station in Seaton (which is actually still under construction!).

Once the Station is up and running, I hope to use my local wildlife knowledge and experience to further enhance the Tramway and what it offers customers, and the local wildlife scene. A truly exciting prospect, and right at the heart of the place that I love most.

To say I'm thrilled is an understatement...

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Drake Garganey and Red Kite

Well that's birding for you! In March this year I saw my first spring drake Garganey on patch for a whopping (and surprising) eight years. This evening I saw another...

Many thanks to Tim Wright who found this bird earlier in the day. I didn't get round to seeing it until late on when the sun was setting, the light was fading as I was watching it so my pics aren't great at all, especially colour-wise...

And here's a short video...

It was really amazing to hear it call as well, several times. Not a sound I've ever heard on the Axe Estuary before. Just brilliant and so atmospheric!

Not really a surprise considering the weather we are currently enjoying, but I had a Red Kite fly low west over the house just after 9am today. There were two reported on patch yesterday too, so no doubt I'll be seeing a few more over the forthcoming days...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

All At Sea

Yesterday saw a good shake up in the weather, with a front arriving from the south overnight Tuesday/Wednesday producing strong winds and heavy rain. There was a bit too much rain on Wednesday morning for decent sea watching, but I gave it a go anyway! 07:40 - 08:40 from Spot On was wet and at times quiet, but another twenty minute watch from 09:45 with Phil showed a bit more was on the move once the worst weather had gone through. By mid morning the wind turned and began blowing from the north west which put a stop to any movement.  My totals from both watches came to (flew west unless stated);

2 Great Northern Diver
1 Arctic Skua (dark-phased low west at 08:23)
41 Manx Shearwater
26 Kittiwake
20+ Sandwich Tern (6 west, 14+ fishing close in)
8 Common Tern (all looked like Commons to me anyway!)
12 Auk sp.
2 Ringed Plover (on the beach then flew west)
1 Dunlin (on the beach then flew west)
9 Sanderling (seven on the beach with the above two species, then all flew west joined by two more)
3 Whimbrel

A bit of rain and wind in early May always seems to drop Sanderling on Seaton Beach, my thanks to Phil for texting me about these. The seven settled birds ranged in plumage from full summer to just moulting out of winter wear...

Well concealed among the pebbles!
Enjoying a well earned rest

Wednesday wasn't a complete wash out though and the sun came out mid morning. A dog walk around the back lanes of Axmouth showed several singing male Common Whitethroat and a smart and fairly showy Lesser Whitethroat. I will keep an eye on it as it's a place I've never had one before. Lesser Whitethroats actually seem to be increasing in our bit of Devon over recent years, going against the grain of virtually every other migrant species!

Sadly I missed what was probably the best spring fall of long-distance migrants for several years on Sunday due to work, and it was only Kev who managed to get up to Beer Head and other sites around Beer. During the day he notched up six Redstarts, ten Whitethroats, four Spotted Flycatchers and a Garden Warbler, as well as excellent numbers of Willow Warblers constantly passing through. Who knows what else would have been discovered if more people were able to get out on the day, sadly Clive and Ian Mc were both away and Phil and I were working.

Although I missed all the passerines on Sunday, I was fortunate to luck in on a couple of Red Kites that flew low west over Seaton in the early evening, causing mayhem among the gulls. Tim White had seen them arrive from the east and I just happened to be driving through town when I noticed all the commotion. They really were low, not that you can tell that from my photos, but they did gain height again as the headed off west.

Amazingly my first Red Kite of the year!
Red Kite with the light sadly behind it!

Not got much else to tell really despite this being my first blog post for a week. There are more Reed and Sedge Warblers in now, and Friday 27th saw a truly impressive arrival of Swallows with flock after flock arriving low over the beach. Always so thrilling to see active migration like this. That evening Phil saw an Osprey, or maybe two, fishing on the Estuary - like so many species it's been a poor spring for them.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Corn Bunting

A patch-twitch with baby in tow was required this morning, after a text from Phil alerted me to the presence of a singing Corn Bunting on Beer Head. A fine reward for Phil who - despite the dire returns he, and everyone else along the south coast, are getting from looking for grounded migrants this spring - is still giving Beer Head a daily wander.

With-baby twitching!

I only had a short amount of time and managed what can only really be described as 'untickable views'...

A brown streaky blob!

But this experience for me was all about the sound, it was a real treat for my ears. Although he was tricky to see when I was there, he was a he, and he was very vocal indeed! Hearing that distinctive 'jangly keys' song at a place I've been birding at for so many years was really quite special. Such a thrill, thanks Phil. This was my second Corn Bunting on the patch, with the first also at Beer Head back in September 2010 found by Gav.

I had another look for the bunting later in the morning after it had showed well for others, but couldn't see or hear it during a 45 minute look. There were very few migrants about too with just a westward trickle of Swallows and a lone female Wheatear...

Since my last post, I may have gained a bit of a tan, but I haven't seen all that many birds. Reed Warbler and hirundine numbers have increased, a male Lesser Whitethroat has been singing by the entrance of Black Hole Marsh since last Thursday, and the 20th saw the best Willow Warbler passage of the spring with good numbers flitting through Beer Head during a late morning visit.

I really hope there's a lot more of spring 2018 to come, and it's not the case that this is just how spring birding is going to be from now on...


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A Few More Spring Migrants and Pale-bellied Brents

I enjoyed an hour and a half out birding at each end of the day today, which produced a few more nice little highlights.  

A pre-dawn wander around Black Hole Marsh revealed, at last, my first Reed Warbler of the year chuntering away. I then headed down to the Spot On Kiosk for an hours sea watch from 6am, the conditions were far from perfect though with blue skies and almost no wind by the end of the watch! Still it wasn't a complete write-off, although I'm yet to decide whether it was truly worthwhile!? All west unless stated; 

34 Common Scoter
5 Manx Shearwater
3 Kittiwake (all east)
5 Whimbrel
3 small wader sp. (in off)

During a wander along Seaton Beach with the family a little later in the morning, I picked up a flock of about 40 Pale-bellied Brent Geese flying west offshore, although only just before they disappeared around Beer Head. This was at 09:38, and precisely 29 minutes later they seen off Dawlish Warren where they continued to follow the coast south, which is slightly unusual as most spring Pale-bellied flocks fly in to the Exe. 

Tonight's trip out starting very frustratingly. There was no passage over the sea this evening but there was a group of 6-8 'Commic' Terns feeding some distance out, viewing conditions though were atrocious with a blurry haze offshore.  Three of them came above the horizon in a tight group for about ten seconds, revealing a clear cut Arctic Tern with two Commons, but as for the other three or more am not sure. I did get the feeling there was more than one Arctic in there though.

Once I'd got completely fed up with straining my eyes I had a look up the river valley. Two Whimbrel and the Dark-bellied Brent Goose were on Estuary, singles of Wheatear and White Wagtail were viewable from Bridge Marsh gateway, and on Axe Marsh our first Whinchat of the year - a cracking male.  To say it was distant though is something of an understatement...

It was on the fence posts in the middle of this pic

There it is...just!

Off-patch, during a family trip to Budleigh early this afternoon, it was nice to see a Yellow Wagtail bombing around on the beach just east of the fishing boats with a couple of Pied Wags. It didn't really settle though and headed off north soon after I first noticed it.