Monday, 14 October 2019

Super Whooper

Delighted to clap eyes on this adult Whooper Swan in the valley late this afternoon, it was with a small mixed-aged group of Mute Swans just south east of Bridge Marsh...

They were near to where the River Coly meets the Axe

Ten years ago this species was pretty much an annual visitor to the Axe, most often recorded during cold spells or dropping in briefly in spring. From about 2010 however records took a sudden nose-dive, presumably due to the decrease in UK wintering population and/or the milder winters. They really have become something of an Axe rarity.  

My last Whooper Swan on the Axe was the obliging bird Sue Smith found in front of the Tower Hide on 7th October 2011 - so that's eight years with no Whoopers! I think I can recall somewhere in my grey matter that Ian Mc may have seen a fly-through since?  But if not, the bird in 2011 was indeed the last Axe record, it's certainly my last Axe bird whatever.

Can you just about make out the orange staining near the bill base?  This is quite common in Whoopers, it's a staining caused by birds feeding in iron rich water that's found in some parts of Iceland - how cool is that! 

Whooper Swan aside, today has been quite a birdie day - although admittedly far damper than ideal. This was especially the case during the last couple hours of the day when it absolutely lashed down, which frustratingly coincided with my time out and about.

Down here in the south west we are usually about a week to ten days behind the east coast at this stage of the autumn. It can be quite nauseous reading all about these exciting autumn incomers in Norfolk/Yorkshire/Shetland, whilst down here we have said goodbye to most of our summer migrants and find ourselves in this rather stale period with nothing but a zillion Meadow Pipits to count.  It does eventually come to us though, and today felt like day one of the south west catching up.

There has clearly been a very substantial and sudden increase in Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Blackcap numbers today, with all three species obvious everywhere that I've checked bushes - the former particularly numerous. Kev also managed a Yellow-browed Warbler right in the heart of Beer, hopefully the first of many for us this year - although it's not proving a great autumn for this species anywhere in the UK.   Overhead was busy too, mostly Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, along with a few finches too.

I have checked the gulls on the Estuary a few times today, but have nothing to show for it but a few Common Gulls.  Three Common Sandpipers and two Dunlin the only semi-notable waders present.  

Lastly, it was nice to see about thirty hirundines over Bridge Marsh late today, a mix of House Martins and Swallows. As the hirundine flocks get smaller, I feel the need to check them even more rigorously. Later in the month I will literally chase lone hirundines and grill them until they're charcoal!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Merveille du Jour

74 macro moths of 16 species greeted me in the moth trap at Mum and Dad's on Tuesday morning.  No more Radford's Flame Shoulders sadly (Portland trapped an astonishing 11 the night before!), in fact the only immigrant I caught was one Delicate, but it was still an exciting catch...

If you're a birder you will understand completely the feeling you get from seeing your first Wheatear of the spring.  Well in late autumn I get a similar buzz when I see the first one of these of the season...

Merveille du Jour

A truly stunning moth

The other highlights were my first two Black Rustics of the year along with singles of Spruce Carpet and Dark Spectacle...

Black Rustic

Regular visitors to the blog may notice that I've had a bit of a blog revamp - think it has to be done every now and then. Hope you all like :-)

Monday, 7 October 2019

October Gulling - Fruitful Yet Frustrating!

I love checking through the flocks of large gulls on the Axe on stormy October days - the month that is the best to see non-juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls here.  And this afternoon proved that once again...

Whilst scanning through a big gang of mostly Great Black-backed Gulls north of Coronation Corner I saw this...

Striking mantle colour

It was distant and tipping down with rain, and at first I thought it was an adult Yellow-legged Gull, but soon I could just make out it's leg's weren't exactly bright yellow and there were some dark marks on the bill, so decided it had to be a near-adult.  Not long after I saw it much closer...

Looking quite young close up!

Very pale legs (just tinged yellow), and that marked bill combined with very adult-like upper parts says it's a third-winter bird to me.  An absolutely massive beast though - it's going to look amazing in a year or two! 

Also in the flock were three Common Gulls, two Med Gulls (ad and first-winter), this cracking intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull...

On the right - really long-winged

And then this appeared...

Between the male Mallard and Great Black-backed Gull
Yup - that one!

My immediate reaction, I think mostly due to the neck shawl combined with fairly mature looking upper parts, was second-winter Casp! But a bit more watching soon put me off, particularly with that feeble looking bill.

Still looked pretty good at some angles

I had to leave it quite abruptly, but thankfully when I returned an hour later it was still there - well a bit closer actually...

Looking really dinky here - sometimes even reminded me of a Common Gull!
Note mantle colour - looking pretty good for a Casp being just a shade darker than the Herring
Still from a video
And again. Wing pattern looking ok actually

So what it is?  Well for me, for now, it's going in the 'cactus' group (CaspianxHerring hybrid) - I just don't like the small bill and head, the pale eye, dusky streaks around the eye, as well as the lack of giraffe-like neck and long wings.  But, as Brett has pointed out in a flurry of messages this evening, there is a chance it could still be a pure small female Casp. If you've any thoughts do let me have them, thanks :-)

Other bits and bobs that I've seen today in the valley include; 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Greenshank, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Common Sandpiper, 4 Dunlin, 70 Wigeon and 100 Teal.  

Looking at the weather for the week ahead, expect more gull-posts...

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Radford's Flame Shoulder

I had drafted another post out to be my next, titled 'Beware of Hackers' (many of you am sure will be able to guess the content of this one!) but something far more exciting has come up...

I put the moth trap out late last night, it was well past sunset when I realised despite the drizzle the conditions were actually pretty moth-friendly with little wind and reasonably mild temperatures. This proved a good move as I was rewarded this morning with a new species for the garden and for me; Radford's Flame Shoulder!  

Described as a rare immigrant to the south coast, it's one I have been keeping my eye out for for years.  Any late Flame Shoulder is worth looking closely at as Radford's Flame Shoulder is generally found in the UK after the flight period for Flame Shoulder is over - although am sure some are overlooked during (or at least towards the end of) the Flame Shoulder flight period.  Anyway, when I saw a Flame Shoulder resting at the bottom of my trap this morning I potted it immediately.  After I'd gone through the rest of the trap I came back to it for a closer look, and it was ticking many of the boxes for Radford's.  As it is quite a tricky species to ID I asked for confirmation from the fantastic @MothIDUK on Twitter, and am pleased to say this was rapidly given :-)

The key ID features I noted were;
  • Black streaks extending beyond kidney mark (almost producing a 'shear')
  • Kidney and oval marks smaller than in FS 
  • Dull brown ground colour 
  • Sharp contrast between purple thorax and white patagia
  • Clear white hindwing.

I have to be honest and say it didn't look that long-winged to me, but then again I've not seen a Flame Shoulder for maybe three weeks now so a direct comparison may well have given me a different conclusion.

Am ashamed to say the reason why the photos are so poor is because whilst trying to get a photo of its hindwing, I completely fluffed re-potting it and much to my despair it flew off high to a nearby tree! I would have taken far more photos were it not for this :-(

The full catch total ended up at 83 macro moths of 20 species - not at all bad for October.  A single Delicate and L-album Wainscot were the macro sub-highlights, along with fairly late individuals of Cypress Pug, Willow Beauty and Broad-bordered Yellow UnderwingLunar Underwings made up the bulk of the catch, with 25 in all.

Seeing as I've not done a moth post for a while, despite the fact I have done quite a bit of mothing, here's a few other moth pics that I've taken over the last few weeks.  I've not caught any other goodies but there are some really smart moths on the wing at this time of year, and here's three of the most vibrant;


Centre-barred Sallow

Barred Sallows

I still haven't caught the two big immigrant moths that I'm after (The big Hawk and the one with blue underwings!) but have been getting a steady trickle of Silver Y's along with two Delicates.  Although I mostly steer clear of micros, I have noted plenty of Rusty-dot Pearls and a few Rush Veneers in recent weeks.


This autumn there have been unusually high numbers of L-album Wainscots on the wing.  This is a species I catch every year but normally only in very small numbers.  One morning last week there were six in the trap, and I know several other sites are reporting much higher than usual counts...

L-album Wainscot - a real favourite of mine

And another - such a beautifully marked moth, especially considering it's a Wainscot!

I'll end this post with some (real) bird news. Clive did well to turn up a Spotted Crake on Black Hole Marsh late this afternoon, although sadly I couldn't react to the news.  Our fifth in recent years I believe, but seeing as there aren't many in the country this year it's extra good value.  I've not been here for most of today, but did have a nice little surprise whilst filling up with fuel at the Tower Services this morning. It didn't take me long to pin down a sharp sounding crest in the bushes on the edge of the neighbouring chalet park - and as I thought it was my first Firecrest of the autumn. Always a delight.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Windy Weather Finally Wains

Today autumn had a chance to breathe. The wet and windy weather of late (which has produced some good birding - keep reading on for that) cleared for dawn today revealing beautifully clear skies with a light northerly wind. Ideal conditions for a bit of migration so as soon as I could (8am) I was wandering around Axe Cliff...

Lots of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails

Try as I might I couldn't turn anything scarce up - but the volume of birds was seriously impressive.  The Golf Course looked as good as I've ever seen it, with large numbers of Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Linnets feeding on the greens...

A closer view

The bushes and fence line between this and the fields hosted a Stonechat, five Yellowhammer and three Reed Bunting...

Female Reed Bunting

In the stubble fields were 20+ Skylark and a few more Meadow Pipits and Linnets.  The bushes at first seemed quiet, but looking down into the Undercliff Chiffchaffs were almost constantly filtering through, along with a couple of Goldcrests.  The sky was also pretty busy, mostly hirundines and Meadow Pipits going over along with a few Skylark and Chaffinch.  So yes, disappointing to not score a goodie, but exciting nevertheless to be among some true autumn magic.

Spent a bit of time late morning/early afternoon hoping to see some fresh Long-tailed Blues at Axmouth Harbour, but the sunshine didn't deliver the goods.  Good to see two Tufted Ducks on the Estuary though, Gav saw them earlier from the same spot...

We don't see many diving ducks on this Estuary!

There's been a Cattle Egret hanging around recently, and I was lucky enough to see it on Colyford Common early Saturday morning...

However common these become I will always enjoy seeing them! Am pretty sure it's an adult although they are tricky to age.
I often find Cattle Egrets strike unusual poses and postures compared to Little Egrets!
Size difference with a Little

On Sunday afternoon a wander around the Wetlands with Jess' family showed singles of Ruff and Green Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh, but sadly not the Spotted Crake that I've been hoping to jam in on! 

Green Sandpiper

And now to the sea.  Following the record breaking Balearic Shearwater day as detailed in my last post, I've enjoyed some more time looking at the sea.  We've had a few really lean sea watching years here, so it's been nice to be blessed with not only the right weather, but actually some birds too.

On Sunday morning (29th) I shared the Beer shelter with Ian Mc and Phil from 07:15 - 09:00 and it was excellent!  My totals were (all west);

2 Red-throated Diver
48 Common Scoter
3 Great Skua 
3 Arctic Skua
22 Kittiwake
2 Golden Plover (in-off)
1 small wader sp. 
12 auk sp.

Flock of Common Scoter flying west

I didn't count the Gannets but they really were plentiful. The six skuas were easily the highlight for me, and as usual injected a good amount of adrenaline into the watch.  Four of them (two each of Arctic and Great) passed at fairly close range - just brilliant to watch. Good fun ageing them too!

My other sea watch was on Tuesday 1st from Spot On Kiosk in Seaton 07:15 - 08:45 and showed (all west);

350+ Gannet
9 Balearic Shearwater
2 Shearwater sp.
12 Common Scoter
1 Arctic Skua (pale-phased)
3 Kittwake
6 auk sp.

So all good.  And I suppose if there was a moral to this blog post, it's you don't need to see a rarity to have a good time out birding!

Friday, 27 September 2019

Balearic Bonanza and White Stork Update

This windy weather has brought some seabirds into Seaton Bay, and Ian Mc has done well to keep on top of them - sea watching every morning since the breeze began.

Yesterday morning he reported a fairly decent passage of Balearic Shearwaters prior to 9am, 64 west.  This encouraged me to try a mini-sea watch during my lunch break from Seaton Beach, and sure enough I soon saw a flock of six fly west.  I went back in the evening and was pleased to count 23 in just fifteen minutes from 18:45, giving us a day total of 93. Although that's with the sea not watched for most of the day, so I wouldn't be surprised if the actual day total was 150+.

This morning news came through from Ian Mc that there was an even heavier Balearic Shearwater passage going on, he and Mike counted a very impressive 155 west by 09:40. Today was also my birthday, and although I couldn't have made it out for this early watch, when Jess asked me what I wanted to do today my answer was simple.... sea watch!  I watched 10:15 - 12:15, adding another 26 Balearic Shearwaters to the tally, plus five Kittiwake, three Auk sp and a Sandwich Tern. Ian saw another seven Balearics during a mid afternoon watch, and I added a further three this evening during a one hour watch from 17:30, plus a first-winter Common Gull and another Kittiwake.  So adding all these together that's 191 Balearic Shearwaters west past Seaton today, by a million miles our highest ever day count! In fact as far as I can recall this is our first ever three figure, with my previous highest being 71 on 10/9/12. In recent years there's been no decent counts of Balearics here at all, this species seems to be venturing into our part of Lyme Bay far less frequently.  Thanks Ian and Mike for being so helpful with times and counts today, really useful as it's enabled us to work together to get as much coverage on the sea as possible.

Now for an update on the Lyme Regis/Seaton White Stork, and the Sidmouth one which amazingly wasn't the same as ours! The Lyme/Seaton bird (unringed with a tracker and snipped primary tips) was photographed flying over Prawle Point by Pat Mayer on the 19th (the day after it was here), whilst another White Stork bearing a small black ring was stood on the roof of Lidl's in Sidmouth!

Anyway on the morning of 20th I was surprised to get a message from Wild Zoological Park in Bobbington, near Wolverhampton.  Both White Storks were theirs - free-flying display birds that had been whisked away by a thermal the previous day (17th).  And here's a snap of them together...

(c) Wild Zoological

They have names of course, Victor and Violet, and the reason Violet was ring-less was because she came to the zoo with foot and leg problems. Victor is back home now, he flew down from Lidl's roof when he saw his 'keeper', but Violet is still on the loose.  If you see her please let me or the zoo know, she could still be in the South Hams area.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Big White Birds

Just a quick update, but one that does include plenty of pictures of big white birds!

On Sunday night Phil found a Great White Egret on Black Hole Marsh (although a tram driver reported to me an egret that looked larger than a heron earlier that day, but from experience I've found sometimes driver's bird ID can be a bit ropy!).  I was stuck home Sunday evening, but a glance out the bedroom window was all I needed because there it was sat on a tree alongside the Tower Hide!  It stayed there about twenty minutes 'til it got too dark to see.  Please excuse the quality of the phone-scoped pic...

My second GWE from the house

This morning Jess suggested an early morning walk in Lyme - which I didn't vote against seeing as Richard let me know the night before that an unringed White Stork roosted near the Cobb.  I thought we had missed it as it was last reported flying east over town, but soon after our arrival there it was flying over town coming back west...

And much to our disbelief, it landed on the RNLI Station which we were stood right next too!!

Amazing views! After about half an hour it took off and flew west a little way out to sea, but seemed to turn back east and drop back in towards Lyme...

As we drove off a little while later, I could see it again in flight and heading west, so as we came back into Seaton I suggested we briefly stopped off at the sea front in case it kept on flying west.  And amazingly this greeted me...

Incoming Stork!

And it did exactly the same as it had in Lyme, it landed right next to us!  On a roof I'm more used to seeing Black Redstarts on...

The big white bird on the roof!
A White Stork on patch!

Soon after I left it, Kev watched it fly west over Beer Head and it's been seen today on the Exe, and finally this evening on a pub roof in Sidmouth!

Sadly though, although the sheer joy of seeing this amazing bird still lives on, the feeling it's given me inside has completely withered....  Look closer at the open wing shot on the RNLI building and there's clearly been some sort of human intervention with the tips of these primary feathers...

And despite the lack of rings, it's wearing some sort of satellite tag.  If anything this makes it even more intriguing though, why tag it and not ring it!??

So come on, own up, who is tracking this Stork!? Please get in touch!

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Honey Buzzard and Brown Hairstreak

Considering I haven't properly been out birding today, as the post title implies it's not been too shabby at all...

I was travelling from a to b this morning with Harry in the back of the car when I figured I had time for a five minute scan over the valley from the Axmouth farm gate (if the patience of the back seat passenger allowed it!). Almost immediately I picked up a super high flying raptor circling over Colyford Marsh and it just didn't look 'right'.  It was at that point much to my frustration I realised my telescope wasn't in the car, so all I could do was watch it in my bins some more before grabbing my trusty P900. The bird was always gaining height, and I managed to get one pic before it got so high the camera would no longer focus on it.  About thirty seconds later it began a determined-looking glide heading off purposely south west.

I'd seen enough with my bins to put out news of a 'possible Honey Buzzard' to my fellow patch birders, but it wasn't until about two hours ago that I downloaded the photo onto my laptop...

Same snap but heavily cropped!

And there it is - a dark juv Honey Buzzard!  Note the long and broad tail with 2 or 3 narrow but distinct black bars, the narrow base to wings with dark bulging secondaries, black carpal patch, solidly dark brown underparts and a nice yellow bill!  Although it's a fresh juv it seems to have a damaged or missing inner primary on its left wing.

I've been fairly lucky with patch Honey Buzzard's as this represents my third, although the last one was way back on 24th Sept 2008!  Amazingly I saw the 2008 bird from exactly the same spot as today's, and that was also a lone dark juv - although thankfully flying much lower in the sky!  2008 was a proper influx year with large numbers noted in September, although most of them staying well east of us. 

2019 really is proving the year of raptors on the Axe with long-saying Osprey and Marsh Harrier, the Goshawk last month and now this! Hopefully a nice Pallid Harrier is just around the corner to finish the year off in style...

To complete my bird news for today, I had a Wheatear land on the roof next to Mum and Dad's house.  When you see a wacky thing like this you know it's a good day for migration! Plenty of Meadow Pipits flying over whenever I was outside too.

And now for the Brown Hairstreak - a first for me and following the Long-tailed Blues another butterfly first on patch!  Exactly a week ago Pam Parsons photographed a Brown Hairstreak on Colyford Common (tweeted HERE) - been only one or two patch records of this species in the last five years.  So whilst I was down the wetlands with Harry and Jess this afternoon, I left them behind for ten minutes to check the general area Pam photographed it.  As it was a whole week ago and probably involved just one insect, I really wasn't expecting anything.

I was wrong to be so pessimistic...

The first view I got - a female Brown Hairstreak!
I can only really describe the orange as 'Gatekeeper-orange'
And what an underwing!

I watched her for about five minutes, egg laying on a blackthorn just to the left of the lower entrance gate to Colyford Common.  If anyone is interested in looking for her, she spent the whole time on the lower left hand side of this bush...

Surely the very same insect!?

I've heard many people saying how hard these are to get good views of - so I was well and truly spoilt today.  A larger butterfly than I was expecting, although if it were fluttering around the top of a tall ash tree am sure it would look far smaller!  Thanks Pam for tweeting the original picture out a week ago.

Today was a nice reminder of how lucky I am to live where I do. From my house I can walk to the Brown Hairstreak bush within ten minutes, and I probably could have scoped the Honey Buzzard from my back garden!