Monday, 25 March 2019

Little Ringed Plover

There was a fine end to this fine day, with our first Little Ringed Plover of the spring gracing Bridge Marsh...

The distance didn't make it any less of a delight to see!  Still present at dusk.

Friday, 22 March 2019

A Galling Gull

A quick snoop around the patch early this morning showed a flock of 15 Sand Martin feeding over Colyford Marsh, but not a lot else...

I had two more trips out today, late morning and late afternoon, with gulls being the main focus. Among the 120+ Common Gulls on the Estuary were five Med Gulls (one first-summer, two second-summer and two adult summers). There weren't big numbers of large gulls on show today, but they did include this first-summer Caspian Gull*...

First views showed exactly what can be seen in the above pic. A strikingly white headed and breasted first-year gull, with extensive (almost complete) grey saddle, solidly faded dark brown tertials, plain (although very faded) greater coverts, and narrow pink legs with comparatively long tibia.  Overall it was a sizeable bird too, larger than the surrounding Herring Gulls.

My views of it were shocking mind, as you can tell from the below pics...

Frustrating I had to go before I'd even picked this bird up, so after ten minutes of watching it I really had to go!  But when I finally and begrudgingly did drive away, I suddenly realised how I may be able to get a closer view...

Oh yes much closer and clearer, but not the most helpful of angles. And now I really really really had to go!!

I desperately hope I or someone sees this bird again, because currently I'm just not quite happy with it.  I reckon if I'd been able to give it the time it deserved then I would have come away happy, but the bill size and shape, and dull grey mottling on flanks and belly are unsettling me... 

Is it a big male Casp, or do these features suggest some Herring influence?  Any comments as ever gratefully received.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

A Good Gull Day

I am sure being with/married to a birder is not an easy thing at the best of times, but it can get treacherous on particular occasions that's for sure...

There are four birding events that make my wife shudder to the core - and I don't blame her.  If I'm not birding when any of these four things are taking place, then I am not a nice person to be with. And that's not something I have any control over. Shocking but true. The four 'birding events' being; 

A patch first/lifer
A good fall day (spring or autumn)
A good sea watching day
A good gull day

What I don't think the non-birder truly understands is that to create three of the above four events everything has to be exactly right - like a complex jigsaw puzzle that fits together probably only for a single day, and then possibly not again for months/years. The weather needs to be right, the time of year needs to be right, and the birds need to be there - but sometimes even when those three do marry up it still doesn't happen, so when it does happen it is not to be missed.  If it is being missed then I simply don't want to be wherever I am at that time, I want to be birding.

And why have I written all of the above? Well today one of my four 'birding events' happened... Gulls!  Mid March, a strong south west wind with plenty of rain and 100% cloud cover - all absolute classic conditions for big numbers of Gulls on the Axe.  Miraculously once I'd seen the forecast last night, our plans for a 'lovely Saturday out' suddenly changed to us enjoying more of a 'stay at home' day.... funny that :-)

My first look along the Estuary mid-morning showed about 210 Common Gulls, two Med Gulls (second-summers) and best of all this lovely second-summer Yellow-legged Gull...

Don't be put off by the dull yellow legs - completely usual for a YLG of this age. Note the lovely bright bill, red orbital ring, square back of the head and the vast amount of grey in the wing - it's well advanced.

A direct comparison with a similarly aged Herring Gull - note the difference in bill colour!

With two adult graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Note the complete black tail band - a good feature for a second-summer Yellow-legged, other species usually show a weak or broken tail band by this age

A fluky flight shot - all perfect for a second-summer YLG

Last one I promise! With two Herring Gulls

The Yellow-legged Gull remained on the Estuary all day, as I saw it during both the afternoon Estuary scans.  Mid afternoon there wasn't much else to add, but a look along the Estuary from 17:30 showed a massive increase in smaller gull numbers - now six Med Gulls (ad, 4 2s and 1 1w) and an impressive 620 Common Gulls.  The mind boggles at how many of these have probably passed through the patch today!

All but about 11 of these birds are Common Gull!

So many Common Gull - but sadly no Ring-billeds (that I found anyway!)

Adult and second-summer Med Gull

Another second-summer Med Gull

And just to finish this post, so I can reclaim some brownie points by doing the dishes, I saw my first Sand Martins of the year today. Three were feeding over Lower Bruckland Ponds mid afternoon.

Right, must dash...

Friday, 15 March 2019

Hybrid Gull (no please do still read this post!)

Now I'm not ashamed to say I've described many gulls using words like 'stunning' or 'cracking',  but I confess to hitting a new low late this morning...

I was actually mildly impressed by how smart a hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull looked. My word I can't believe I'm even writing this!

Mantle colour actually not that far off a Yellow-legged Gull, but look at the wide white tertial crescent. The consistent feature with these hybrids (which you can just about make out in the above pic) is the pale washed out yellowy-pink legs.

Similar view but a little more zoom. A short-legged and compact bird but a bit longer-winged than surrounding Herring Gulls.

See doesn't it look smart!  The fine bill, clean white head and small eye, combined with mantle colour giving it an almost Caspian feel.  Nice!

Oh look - a fluky open wing shot!  What a mess though; sizeable window on P10, a little dot of white on P9 on right wing at least... I do like those narrow white bands that separate the grey and black on P5-P7 though.

What is nice is that this shot clearly rules out a small argentatus Scandinavian Herring Gull which would show far more white and far less black in the wing-tips.

So to summarise this post... No there were no decent gulls on the Axe Estuary today despite several scans.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

First Wheatears

A message from Clive mid afternoon yesterday alerted me to the presence of our first two Wheatear of the year on Colyford Common. Yeah finally some spring migrants - I really do not know how we've missed out on all the early hirundine action here!  

I got to Colyford Common just before 5pm, and was greeted by the soul-lifting sight of three gorgeous male Wheatears. Here's one of them...

These early ones are always so strikingly small, dumpy and pale compared to the tall orange breasted Greenland/Iceland birds that move through from mid April. Over the course of a year I'm sure we actually see many more of the larger brighter birds than these small presumably UK breeding birds.

It was clearly a fairly good migration day yesterday, as there were also a few new Chiffchaffs dotted around the Marshes. And today Ian Mc has seen our first Sand Martin of the year, so hopefully this means the flood gates have opened... 

Monday, 4 March 2019

Salty Mandarins

A good storm often produces an oddity or two, whatever the time of year, but Tim Wright took that to a whole 'nother level at about 3pm this afternoon  Not so much on rarity-value, just pure whackiness...

Two drake and a female Mandarin

Yes, that's three Mandarin sat on the sea!!  There's not been a Mandarin anywhere on patch since July 2013, prior to this I've seen four or five here, but none - as you'd expect - on or over the sea. What a bizarre record, and thanks for the message Tim. I would love to know where they woke up this morning!?

They weren't that far out, but the choppy seas didn't help with photography

And here's a 30 second video...

60 Black-tailed and the Bar-tailed Godwit, five Dunlin, 90+ Common and 14 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were on the Estuary this afternoon, but I couldn't manage anything better. I've still not seen a summer migrant yet, which in an average year I would expect, but this year I feel a bit cheated.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

They're getting closer!

This is a sight I have longed to see on patch...

Bottom right hand corner

Yes it's a Cirl Bunting, a stunning male at that.  Truth is though I am still longing to see one on patch, but since a small number have been found just a few miles outside our patch boundary by Clive and Dan, there's a real sense it could happen any day now!

Such smart bird, with a head pattern to rival any American sparrow!

In the glorious blue skies of this afternoon, things were looking really promising with one or two singing males and a pair keeping themselves very much to themselves.

Enjoyed some super views, perched and on the ground

Female Cirl Bunting on a not quite so natural setting!

I love the russet on the sides of their breast

It's clearly a good spot for buntings, with at least nine Yellowhammers present too...

Three Yellowhammers - interestingly none of these were singing

Surely it's only a matter of time now...

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A Brief Update...

I didn't want the run of blog posts to completely dry up, not that I've got much to tell!

Goosanders have been seen fairly regularly recently, most often in flight near dawn or dusk in the vicinity of Black Hole Marsh.  A possible 'one that got away' is worth blogging about too; A small grey goose seen with the Canada flock reported by a local to Phil - unfortunately not present when Phil got down there mind.  

Wish I had time to go through the gulls today, as there were huge numbers present at about 2pm. I have given them a couple of scans during the past week or so, but have returned nothing better than a couple of wrong'uns...  One I am pretty sure was a second-winter argentatus Herring Gull but I didn't get to see enough to 100% convince me. And the other, well it was a Herring Gull, but it just had the stance and perfect posture of a Caspian - more so than any Herring Gull I've ever seen before.  I did wonder about hybrid but there's nothing else to suggest that's a viable option...

Just how a Caspian Gull stands... but clearly Herring Gulls can do too!

The end...

Monday, 4 February 2019


A female Blackcap has been regular in Mum and Dad's garden since Christmas, with a male occasionally showing up too.  Interestingly over the past week, presumably due to the colder weather, she has become highly territorial and surprisingly aggressive towards any other birds trying to get near the tree with all the feeders in. Only the Robin can see her off, but the Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Great Tits, etc don't get a look in!  She's one feisty girl...

It's not like there isn't enough food to go around....

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Unreal Cold Weather Movement - 1st February

Winter can be a bit of a long, slow and sometimes dull season for the patch birder, this winter especially so on the Axe. There's not been much other than the usual fare so far, and numbers in general have been pretty poor.  But like any patch birder, whispers of snow in the forecast early last week raised my excitement levels, and Thursday night delivered a fine but widespread covering of the white-stuff...

Looking west over the valley

Major snow events often deliver some impressive bird movements on/over the Axe, but I really wasn't expecting much when I woke up on Friday morning.  It was only a fine covering of snow, it wasn't country-wide and I knew it wasn't going to be in any way a prolonged spell of cold. 

I spent the first hour of the day looking out from the house and garden, and what I saw seemed to confirm my thoughts; a couple of small groups of Lapwing, one Golden Plover and a flock of 15 Redwing flew over.  I then had a look around the Estuary, and other than a group of about 40 Fieldfare on Bridge Marsh - nothing else was where it isn't usually...

But then I went to the seafront....  and saw the most mind-blowing bird movement I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Just take a look at these two short videos. Make them full screen and turn the sound up...

Thousands upon thousands of thrushes!

I wish I could have just stayed there all day, but the only way I could quantify this movement in any way was by counting 'Portland-style' (a selection of 'sample counts').  Between 10:00 and 15:00 I carried out one 15 minute count, one ten minute count, two five minute counts and three two minute counts.  The last one at 15:00 showed that the passage had slowed a bit, but all previous counts gave an absolutely astonishing figure of between 400-500 thrushes passing PER MINUTE! Huge flocks were passing over, almost constantly - gaps often of only 20-30 seconds between flocks.  This statistic is staggering on its own, but when it's multiplied up it becomes really mind destroying.... Even if we take the lowest figure, 400, this suggests that somewhere in the region of 120,000 thrushes flew over Seaton on 1st February! As staggering as this number is, I am certain it's  an under estimation, especially as they were clearly passing in these numbers prior to 10am, and I've included nothing that may have passed after 15:00.  

Looking at the species break down, Redwings were by far the most abundant species, with an estimation of 80% of the all thrushes seen/heard being this species. This would make the Redwing day total somewhere in the region of 96,000! Unreal.  I did hear the occasional Song Thrush call emitting from the chaos and Fieldfare made up the remaining 20%.

James Mc at Lyme was also seeing this passage, as was Dan over at Sidmouth and Kev in Beer.  What I can't believe though is that was it.  No reports of this massive movement west of Sidmouth, in fact Dawlish Warren reported virtually no thrush movement at all! And the only reports east of us were from Portland where up to 10.000 Redwing were seen to leave north west over Ferrybridge (  What on earth is that about!? Where did they all come from and where did they all go!?

Skylark were also moving in good numbers (I noted a couple of hundred, so 1000+ probably passed during the day), with a calling Woodlark over Seafield Garden at 10:45 being a nice highlight. Kev had a second one over Beer an hour or so later.  I also logged a couple of small flocks of Lapwing and the odd Linnet, Chaffinch and Siskin, but in general variety was poor and it was all about thrushes and Skylarks

As I'm typing this my mind is still blown to be honest.  Feels almost a bit like space, involving numbers that only people like Brian Cox can truly comprehend.  Just so so so many birds. 

About mid afternoon I had another look around the valley, and by now ground was starting to thaw and birds were congregating in these spots.  The slope just to the east of the Estuary was like a rolling carpet of Redwing, 500+ birds here (at the same time as the passage was still  happening over the seafront by the way!).  Bridge Marsh also showed lots of thrushes along with a flock of 60+ Skylark.  Then just up the road, the field north of Colyford WTW was again full of thrushes, a flock of Skylark, 300+ Lapwing and c60 Golden Plover.  Here's a few pics...

One of the above Redwing!
A Skylark
Meadow Pipit
Golden Plover with a Lapwing background

Best of all about this amazing influx of birds was that none of them looked to be struggling in any obvious way.  Everything I saw on the ground appeared to be finding plenty of food, and all the birds passing overhead were flying strongly and with purpose - not something weak birds can do.  It was really nice to witness a cold weather movement without feeling that sadness usually associated with snowy spells. I am really surprised this relatively small amount of snow caused such a drastic response from the birds - we had far less snow than last Feb/March but way more overhead passage.  Do they know something that we don't? 

And now to today...

The weather this morning (2nd) was completely different.  Still pretty cold, but crystal clear blue skies and most of the snow had melted away.  There were still lots of birds about, with thrushes flying around everywhere, but they were flying in all directions.  It was nice to catch up with two waders on the Estuary that Phil saw the previous day, a Bar-tailed Godwit and this Avocet...

Avocet and Black-headed Gull
Got to love an Avocet in flight!

There were also 47 Dunlin here which isn't a bad mid-winter count for us.  And that's it for this somewhat mammoth blog post.  Truly unforgettable stuff though.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

A Foray to the Exe

Having seen the Bowling Green Marsh Yellow-browed Warbler last week, I knew how ideal it would be for Dad to see. So yesterday after a hospital appointment, I took him out for his first trip to the Exe since his stroke in October last year, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.  The Brent Geese must have heard he was visiting as they treated us to some superb fly pasts - probably about 6-700 birds in total...

The Yellow-browed performed equally well, with some exceptionally close view of it feeding alongside the road right down in the stinging nettles.  The very first view we had of it was pretty special too, as it flew low down the middle of the road right past us.  In this single flight the Yellow-browed went from bushes near the entrance of Goosemoor to roughly 80m the other side of the Bowling Green hide - presumably taking it from the end of its feeding circuit back to the beginning?  

Excuse the very frustratingly positioned vegetation in the below photo, which looks horribly like fishing wire!...

There's been plenty of reports of this bird having a dodgy right eye, it was pretty much fully closed whilst we were watching it.  Sadly it evidently now has problems with its left eye too, being half-closed. Poor guy, I don't rate his chances much :-(

I'm almost embarrassed to say that this trip out saw my first visit to Goosemoor.  A lovely reserve with several excellent vantage points...

And it's clearly a great place for Greenshank...

A truly wonderful and very very special afternoon out for me.  Great to be able to start repaying Dad for all the weekends he took me out birding when I was in my teens...