Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Results Are In!

Thanks everyone for taking part in the Linnet count game, I've enjoyed watching the different estimates come in. I've had 35 responses in all, varying from 450 - 1500 birds. Here's the pic again...



So what do the guesstimates look like?  Well I've quickly put this little bar chart together, which I hope makes sense. I have rounded all guesses up/down to the nearest '50' to neaten it up...



As you can see the most popular estimate was the 600 bracket (575-624), with 800 being the second favoured. The 500-700 range received 60% of votes, with the average of all answers working out at 688.  And the answer? Well I took a series of three photos just after I took the above pic, slightly more zoomed in. I have since stitched them together and counted...



After each '00' I changed colour, except for the turquoise on the right, that's 45 birds. Which means the answer is 845 Linnet! Although to be pedantic, in the original photo there's clearly still a few birds flying in, about 15, so 830 would also be correct.  But as I was only after estimates, anyone guessing 800-850 is a winner for me, so well done @bucko41 @CharmouthBirder @cornishbirder @freddyalway @surreywallcreep and @WhitleyBirder.

It's been a bit of a wake up call for me though. I often have to count lots and quickly, and whenever I double check (with photos) I'm always there or there abouts. But my god, I was way out with these! And I think I know why...

Pretty much all occasions I've had to conduct quick mass counts involve larger birds, mostly wading birds and wildfowl, also Wood Pigeons and Starlings/thrushes. And I seem to be able to mass count large numbers of these just fine, but my eye is clearly simply untrained to big numbers of small birds. And thinking about it some more, I'm not surprised, because how often do we see large flocks of finches/buntings these days? Anything up to 250/300 I would count bird by bird, and I can't think of many occasions that I've had a single flock of 300+ small passerines to count!

There were 900-950 Linnet in total in this field, just west of Greendale Farm Shop, which I was really impressed about. A truly massive gathering. I would love to have access to this field and have the chance to give the place a good grilling. With that many birds about, who knows what else could be lurking in there...

Thanks again everyone for getting involved. Those of you that were brave enough anyway :)


Friday, 12 January 2018

A Counting Conundrum and Cattle Egret

So what are your counting skills like? Or estimating skills I should say... We popped into Greendale Farm Shop today (along the A3052 near Westpoint) and I was astonished to see the number of Linnets feeding in a neighboring field. I estimated 500 birds when I quickly counted this flock perched up, but what do you think?



I'll post the answer in a blog post on Sunday night, but before that I'd love to read your guesstimates. And I don't mean sit there and count them one by one, take a quick look, count them like you would a large flock of moving birds in the field, and let me know what number you come up with. Be so interesting to see the variation in responses. Is my 500 bang on the money, or would you go higher or lower?

I've been off work this week, and for the last few nights have been trying to get to grips with the Egret roost, but I've kept missing them! They keep switching sides, one night roosting on the Borrow Pit then the next night roosting in Axmouth - and I kept picking the wrong side!  Tonight finally I was in the right spot, and at Axmouth one Cattle Egret (which I reckon is a wintering bird that's been with us since Nov 2017, just been spending the day time north of the patch) and 48 Little Egrets came into roost.

Also tonight there were good numbers of large gulls on the lower Estuary at dusk. Sadly there was nothing better in them than this dodgy looking third-winter (I think) hybrid-type...



And lastly, Sue Murphy saw the two Musbury Hawfinch this afternoon, both from the car park near the Church.  Delighted that someone else has managed to catch up with them.

Right then, get guesstimating folks... 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

More Local Hawfinches

Yet again the day's highlight came within the last hour of light... A stroll with Jess and Harry from Musbury up to Musbury Castle rewarded me with two sightings of Hawfinch. One flew low north east over my head and landed in distant trees half way along the footpath from Musbury to Higher Bruckland Farm (just within the patch boundary!). Then when we returned to the car, which was parked in the small car park by the Church in Musbury, I could hear Hawfinch calling. It took some searching but I finally located it in the top of a tree just down and across Church Hill from us. Also saw 250+ Redwing and four Yellowhammer in the fields below Musbury Castle.

Earlier in the day, two adult Dark-bellied Brent Geese were sat on the sea with the Wigeon flock off Seaton Beach. They didn't stay long though, and after five minutes flew off west. January is easily the best month of the year to connect with this bellied-variety of Brent here, although most records are of birds passing offshore.

It was nice to get a mist net up for a few hours today too, my first bird ringing session of 2018. Although it was a modest catch with just eight new birds ringed, there was one rather nice highlight. It's a species that comes into the garden frequently, but up until today has always managed to avoid my nets...



Am sure you all recognise that eye, yes a Jackdaw...



As you can just about see in the above photo, this bird had a few white/partially white feathers in its wings. This leucism is quite common in corvids, although I see it most often in Carrion Crows and less so in the other species...




Tuesday, 9 January 2018

White-fronted Goose and Caspian Gull

Well that was an exciting hour out!

Mid afternoon Ian Mc texted with news of our second White-fronted Goose in three years on Colyford Marsh. But he soon texted again with more news, it had flown off... Thankfully Martin Wolinski was in the Tower Hide and phoned in excitement as an adult White-fronted Goose had just landed on the mud in front of him. Thanks for the call Martin.

By the time I got out this afternoon, it was back on Colyford Marsh where it thought it was a Shelduck...



But quickly saw sense, flew south, and decided it actually wanted to be a gull...



Although this is our second in three years, I missed the last one so it's my first on patch for a staggering six years and three months! The last one I saw/found here was a Greenland flavirostris bird. My last European White-front albifrons was six months before that, also a lone adult bird, but oddly in the month of May!  White-fronted Geese are going the same way as all the grey goose species and winter swans for us, getting scarcer and scarcer. Whooper Swans and White-fronted Geese were virtually annual on the Axe ten plus years ago, presumably it's the milder winters meaning these species simply don't need to fly as far south and west.

As the post title suggests, there was more to the afternoon than the Goose. Just before 4pm the White-fronted Goose disappeared (I think it followed a small flock of Canada Geese south west) but was, amazingly, replaced by a gorgeous snowy-headed first-winter Caspian Gull! Another somewhat overdue bird, as I said the other day, our first since Nov 2015.  

This is the seventh Caspian Gull I've found here, the eighth I've seen here (the Axe's twelfth), and was just as gorgeous as all of them, but it was without doubt the most frustrating. My first views of it were very distant and in rapidly diminishing light. I drove to a different view point where it was closer, but after a brief clear view, gull after gull decided to stand in front of it before the whole flock took to the air and the Casp flew off south. Arse. Hopefully it sticks around.

So my first views looked like this...



Knowing the pictures would be so poor, I tried a video. This didn't prove much better...





Then I moved. Head and back end showing well here, just missing the middle bit (second gull left of the male Mallard)...



Not even a head in this picture, but it does show the wing quite well (note the solidly dark tertials with narrow pale tips, plain greater coverts and the amount of grey on the mantle)...



See what I mean - frustrating. I never managed the money shot, but thankfully saw all the key features, and most are visible in these pics somewhere (though some squinting may be required!). It wasn't a massive bird, larger than surrounding Herrings but not by much, and although its bill was narrow and longer than the Herrings, again it wasn't massive. This makes me think it's a female.  

My photos are so poor that I'm not going to do my usual 'this is what makes it a Caspian Gull' notes. I will if I get some better shots I promise.

So great to see on social media that lots of people are coming over/getting out to enjoy the Colyford Common Water Pipits. They really are great value, I can't recommend them enough. And as today proves, who knows what else you might find...

Monday, 8 January 2018

Even More Water Pipits

Jess and I had a house sort out day today, which often happens once the Chirstmas decs have come down in early January. But as morning turned to afternoon, Harry made it clear he needed a nap, so I selflessly offered to take him out for a walk so he could enjoy a bit of peace and quiet and knock out some zzz's. Amazingly we wound up at Colyford Common again...

Much duller light today, but thankfully less wind, although a few more people were around which meant the Pipits were a bit more flighty.  There were more of them though, and twice I counted twelve birds, an impressive ten Water Pipits and two Rock Pipits. Thanks to the versatile Nikon P900 I managed to take (record) shots of all twelve in one scan. Now you're welcome to switch off now, as what follows is nothing better than poor photos of twelve Pipits, but crucially they are poor photos of twelve different Pipits...

Rock Pipit one
Rock Pipit two (back) and Water Pipit one
Water Pipit two
Water Pipits three and four
Water Pipit five
Water Pipits six and seven (seven is unidentifiable in this pic I'm afraid)
Water Pipit eight
Water Pipits nine and ten


Wow, I'm impressed if you're still with me! If so, the exciting news is that if you check back tomorrow there will no doubt be even MORE Water Pipit photos ;-)


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Water Pipits

We've had a Water Pipit knocking around the Bridge Marsh area since early December, but a week or so ago Twilight Tim (aka Davey Macbrayne) clocked the presence of up to four birds in the Colyford Common area. Today he saw 5-7 birds, so I convinced Jess we should take Harry for a stroll down the Wetlands for his afternoon nap, despite the harsh and extremely cold north east wind! Luckily Jess is as fond of the Wetlands as I am, so not much convincing was required :-)

Back in the day when Water Pipit was a regular and fairly numerous winter visitor here, there was a rule which nine times out of ten Pipits stuck too. A large Pipit on the west side of the tramline (Colyford Common) would be a Rock Pipit. A large Pipit on the east side of the tramline (Colyford Marsh) would be a Water Pipit. Although this sounds very sweeping and unscientific, which it is, it was nearly always true. Rock Pipits would break the rule now and then and flew east, but hardly ever would a Water Pipit fly west over the tramline. Must have been something about the habitat.  

So what is amazing about the current birds, is that they are actually on Colyford Common, the west side of the tramline. They still seem to keep their distance from any onlookers, but it's a damn-sight better than them being out in the middle of Colyford Marsh that's for sure! I only had ten minutes with them this afternoon, but the light was stunning, and my highest count was of six birds, along with one Rock Pipit and a couple of Meadow Pipits...

Four in one shot was the most I managed. Pity I wasn't stood on that bit of boardwalk in shot though!

All eye-stripes, wing bars, and white bellies!

The larger Pipits (Rock and Water) have a far more laboured way of walking when compared to the smaller Meadow Pipit

This was the most diffuse bird present, in fact I wondered about Buff-bellied when I first saw it! The late afternoon sun is making it look warmer toned than it was. 

Grey nape showing well on this bird in this pic

The Pipits shared the ground with Starlings, but not a lot else!


All in all an enjoyable ten minutes. If you're passing I urge you to enjoy them whilst they're here, it's not often you can see Water Pipits showing like this and at this distance. I'm going back for seconds that's for sure!


Saturday, 6 January 2018

Med Gull

A look along the Estuary late this afternoon showed a reasonable number of gulls, although there was nothing better than a single adult Mediterranean Gull among them, my first of the year...



This Med Gull was actually my first Med Gull on the Axe for almost a month, which is quite staggering really.

Roll back ten years (ish) and I was with Gavin scoping the roosting gull flock off Seaton Hole on a dull January evening. At least twelve Med Gulls were in the roost that night. We remarked how the sudden increase in the Fleet population could only mean that numbers on the Axe will forever be on the up, and how that in ten years time maybe half the small gulls on the Estuary will be Meds...

How wrong were we! Quite the opposite has happened in fact, and during the last few winters they have proved quite scarce. It's only the late summer period that's seen an increase in local Med Gull counts as birds from the increasing UK population disperse west.  

This prediction isn't the only one that didn't come off. Once Gavin and I learnt how to identify Caspian Gulls, we were pulling one or two out a year on the Axe. "Oh they're regular, clearly just being overlooked"... No Axe records in either of the past two years. The last Axe record were the two on 14th November 2015, with the first-winter still present the following morning.

Then there's Cattle Egrets. The big influx in 2008/2009 ensured everyone exclaimed "they're the new Little Egret".... And what happened? They all went, and Cattle Egrets became rare again. The next influx was last year, this time many stayed for the summer and bred. But it looks like most of them have gone again though, except maybe the Somerset Levels birds.

The same could be said for all the local birders predictions for the next species to be added to the patch list. Once I fluked it and got it right, with Green-winged Teal and Long-eared Owl. But every year we all say the same; "Black-winged Stilt, Red-rumped Swallow, American Wigeon, Purple Sandpiper...". Yep we are still waiting for all of those...

For me this unpredictability is one of the factors that makes birding so exciting, especially birding a patch. Even what we may think is predictable, is unpredictable.  

I'll sign off tonight with a photo I rather like, which could even be described as being a bit 'arty'. I took this a couple of days ago from the Axmouth straight at 3pm...



Goodnight all...