Saturday, 8 June 2019

Glossy Ibis

Whilst with the family in Lyme Regis this afternoon I was surprised to get a message from (no longer) 'Midland's Mike' telling me of a Glossy Ibis on the Estuary from Tower Hide.  It was first found by visiting birders mid afternoon.  A surprise turn up in June, most new Glossy's tend to appear in mid-late autumn on the Axe.

I didn't see it until late this evening, and wasn't able to get round to the Tower Hide so my views looked a lot like this...

Would have been point-blank from the hide!

Although this is my 29th Glossy Ibis on patch - frustratingly I am yet to find one!  I was nowhere near finding this one as my birding levels have been woefully low this spring, but hopefully one day I'll pick one up dropping in somewhere. I presume enough years down the line they won't be rare at all, so am sure it's just a matter of time...

Sunday, 2 June 2019


Enjoyed a wonderful evening with the local Nightjars last night.  They weren't especially vocal but offered amazing views along the main track from 21:40.  I saw two males and one female, which is pretty much the norm for this relatively new site...

Such great birds to watch in flight

A male coming in to land on the track

The exposure settings on the camera makes this photo look like it was taken in daylight - but the light levels were the same as they are in the above two shots.  With such a slow shutter speed I'm surprised how steady my hands were!

Hope the nights warm up for them soon! 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Dartmoor Double Dose

Thrilled to have spent a couple of days on Dartmoor within the last week. Reaffirming my feelings that this magical place is one of my favourite places on earth...

So picturesque

Last Wednesday was a very special day, as I took Dad up to the Moor for the first time since he suffered a stroke last October.  Thanks to the time I spent working on Moor Than Meets The Eye I feel like I know the Moor pretty well now, but I have to be honest and say I was really scratching my head thinking about where to find accessible birds. By accessible I mean birds easily viewable from a road or by a level and smooth path/track...there really isn't much of Dartmoor that can be described as being level and smooth! I soon learnt there was very little information online about where we could go, so hopefully this blog post will provide others in need with the relevant information.

I asked a few friends for their thoughts, and spoke to some land owners requesting a bit of extra access - and am delighted to say they were all super helpful and very obliging.  Basically it was only for permission to drive down a couple of private drives, but that increased level of access certainly helped make the day the success it was.

Looking down Headland Warren Valley to Challacombe Farm

We started the day by driving slowly down the valley of Headland Warren where Dad's first Wheatear of the year were easy, there were several pairs showing close to the road...

Male Wheatear
A different male Wheatear, this pair were clearly busy feeding young

 And right on cue, Dad spotted this right next to the car. Talk about 'easy' birding...

Cracking male Whinchat

I was a bit surprised that this proved our only Whinchat of the day, considering how densely packed in they are on the east facing slopes just across the valley from the road. The moderate and fairly cold easterly wind probably wasn't encouraging birds to sit out though, despite the blue skies.

At the base of the valley we arrived at Challacombe Farm, a site that always delivers. A good hour and a half here gave us two Cuckoo, three singing male Redstart, a couple of Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting, Whitethroat, Marsh Tits nesting in a wall and just plenty of birds. It's never a bad thing seeing lots of birds whatever the species, especially in this day and age.

Male Redstart
Same male Redstart
And again

A quick look in the Sousson's area gave us another singing Redstart and slightly more showy Cuckoo, along with a couple of Tree Pipits...

Distant singing Tree Pipit

After a quick stop in Postbridge and a check of the pines around the Bellever Forest car park (just a few Siskins here) we dropped down to Yarner Wood, our final destination of the day.  

First came lunch, then I managed to get Dad along the small track that runs from the top end of the car park along the back of the wet area in front of the hide.  We were told by a very helpful warden we were in the right place, and after some patience we saw two pairs of Pied Flies.  One of the males in particular showing especially well...

First-year male Pied Fly
And again
And again - what a poser!
Last one I promise! He was just so photogenic...

So there you go.  Accessible birding is possible on Dartmoor, it just needs a bit of forward thinking and planning. A truly memorable day for me, in so many ways.

A few days on, now Saturday, and despite the cloudy skies it was a day on Dartmoor with Jess and Harry - another amazing day. Although the sun wasn't shining it was still bright and there was not a breathe of wind which is unusual. Our first stop was to Holwell Lawn near Hound Tor, a staggeringly beautiful spot especially at this time of year - and an ideal spot to snap your loved ones in...

Literally my favourite photo ever

Here there were singles of singing Garden Warbler and Cuckoo, along with a noisy recently fledged family of Stonechats.  After lunch in Widecombe we came back up the hill for my first ever visit to Emsworthy Mire, another beautiful spot...

Love the barn!

Not only was the view nice, but the soundscape matched it too.  A male Redstart was singing continuously in the trees pictured above, along with Wheatears, two Cuckoos and the amazing sound of two bubbling Curlews.

Stunning, and am already looking forward to my next visit.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Spring 2019 - Blink And You Missed It

This month (well this year) is going by so quickly!  I cannot believe it is already mid-May, and dare I say it, that spring 2019 is already pretty much over!?

I do though have a few snippets of interest to mention since my last blog post on 5th. As is to be expected with the month of May, this includes some Red Kites! On 6th as I was driving along Cownhayne Lane, Colyford, the sight of a Red Kite flying extremely low overhead caused me to stop dead and leap out of the car. After enjoying some excellent views of this bird, I had a quick scan around and soon picked up another five circling a long way off the east.  Sadly I couldn't stick around though to see if this was the start of a major movement. 

The following morning Axe Cliff gave me my first Lesser Whitethroats of the year, an invisible singing male plus a very much visible pair calling to each other right in front of me. Excellent views.  Still plenty of Common Whitethroats too, I counted 13.  Seems to be more Yellowhammers around this year too which is great considering their general decline.  

Some suitable sea watching weather on 8th produced nothing but disappointment.  Well, there were three each of Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake, nine auk sp. and a flock of 13 Dunlin - but considering the conditions this was pityful.  And probably the last chance of any decent spring sea watching this year. :-(

On Monday just gone a nice pulse of waders dropped in on the Axe. Sadly I missed Ian Mc's three Grey Plovers, but did see the cracking summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit and one of the two Knot that were around. I had another Lesser Whitethroat too, this one singing at the far north end of Colyford Common.  There's been a few more waders since but I've not had chance to get among them...

I have though had chance to go up to Dartmoor for a day! And to make up for this lousy photo-less post, I look forward to blogging all about mine and Dad's Dartmoor day. I have lots of pics of nice birds to go with it too...

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Whinchats and Wood Warbler

I wasn't on patch for most of yesterday, but a last ditch mooch around was enough to bump into my first Whinchat of the year - three of them in fact.  They were showing really well in a small sheep paddock between Axmouth and Rousdon, such stunning and charismatic little birds...

Male number one

The other male and a female

Same two but head on

Today I have also not been around for most of it, due to work.  Thankfully though the Wood Warbler that was found along the road near Lower Bruckland Ponds mid morning remained in situ, and at 7:30pm was still trilling away. This represents my third for the patch, with previous records being Beer Head 8th August 2006 and Private woodland near Colyton on 29th April 2013 - so a proper good local scarce.  The light wasn't great when I got to see it, but that didn't stop me trying...

Such clean white underparts - and yellow like no other yellow!

Seems to be an unusually good spring for migrant Wood Warblers on the south coast this year, despite their vast reduction in numbers on their breeding grounds. 

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Axe Cliff and Surprise Crossbills

Yesterday morning, although it was clearer than I was hoping, I went up to Axe Cliff soon after dawn. After a short while I realised I was actually grateful the sun was shining, it was a real pleasure to be out with the fine weather ensuring the local breeders were showing and singing well...

Male Yellowhammer with a back drop of Lyme Bay and Beer Head

I was staggered by the numbers of Common Whitethroats around.  In recent years there's normally about six singing males in the area of Axe Cliff that I cover.  Yesterday however I noted 13 singing/displaying males, along with a 14th non-singing bird. They were all behaving like they were local breeders too - so is it simply going to prove a good summer for the species? Has anyone else noted good numbers of Whitethroats this year?  On the other side of the coin though, I usually come across one or two singing Lesser Whitethroats here, but none during this visit.

The Whitethroats were all sat out proudly and partaking in frequent song-flights

This one on a more natural perch

A lovely highlight was a Hobby that flew low east across the fields soon after I arrived, with the only definite 'grounded migrant' being my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year.  Not that it stayed grounded for long - it soon continued west along the cliff edge.

This morning during a family outing I was surprised to hear Crossbills calling from Bovey Down, then about half an hour later watched two flying around above me calling at nearby Blackbury Camp.  Presumably the date indicates local breeding?  Mid summer is usually our best time to see (or more often just hear!) Crossbills, when family groups are dispersing from their breeding grounds.  Anyone with more experience of the Crossbill breeding cycle have any thoughts on this? Could they actually be breeding here!?

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Short-changed by a Shortie

I forgot to mention this in yesterday's blog post...

On Saturday evening a friend of mine WhatsApped me a photo with the caption "what's this?".  As a birder, and am sure like most birders out there, I frequently get ID requests from my non-birder mates.  And almost all the time they relate to common species, so I was a bit surprised when attached to this particular request was this photo...

Well look at that! A stunning Short-eared Owl which he snapped sat on a fence post beside the A3052 just east of Rousdon.  Ok, so they're not exactly rare but just check out that photo! We all know how terrible phone cameras are when it comes to wildlife photography - the mind boggles at how close it must have been!  He even managed an arty 'in habitat' shot too...

Sickeningly good! Both photos (c) Lee Taylor.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

More Migrants Required!

Well spring really seems to have stalled since my last post, no falls worth blogging about and just a sporadic trickle of wading birds on the Estuary.  Best bird for me being the lingering female Marsh Harrier...

Small numbers of Whimbrel have been showing daily on the Estuary, along with a flock of 20+ Black-tailed Godwits that flew in to Black Hole Marsh a few evenings ago.  I haven't seen any Bar-tailed Godwits on the Axe for a while, but on the last day (25th) one of the two present was in full breeding plumage - nice!  A single Greenshank seems to be lingering in front of Seaton Marshes hide, with the odd Dunlin and Common Sandpiper dropping in.

Several Whitethroats are now in around Axmouth, with good numbers of Reed and Sedge Warblers in the valley.  Firsts for the year for me since my last blog post include a Hobby low east over Primrose Way on 25th and two Swifts this evening over Black Hole Marsh.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A Fulmar Fooling Around

Time for a quick update following the Colyton Cuckoo.  Since then spring migration seems to have slowed down a notch. For example, although I've not made it up to Beer Head recently, all who have report very little to be seen.  I have seen a few bits and pieces though...

Roll back to 19th April, and a female Little Ringed Plover was on Bridge Marsh at dusk, with the reeds full of singing Reed and Sedge Warblers. It's amazing how quickly (about a week?) the reeds went from being almost completely silent, to being crammed full of singing acros. Dusk is much more enjoyable when there's a back drop of chuntering Reed Warblers that's for sure...

Seaton Marshes hide

On the 22nd Chesil Cove recorded an impressive 800+ Bar-tailed Godwits through during the morning, whereas 30 minutes from Seaton Beach showed none!  I did check the Estuary last thing in the evening though and was pleased to see six just upriver from a flock of 12 Black-tailed Godwits.  There are still three here today, this being one of them...

Always look so short-legged!

This morning we had a real April 2019 rarity....rain!  It didn't seem to have done much at first, with just four Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and two Common Sandpipers on the Estuary.  But once the rain stopped during the afternoon things stepped up a gear , and although I missed an Osprey and drake Garganey, I did see the Marsh Harrier over Colyford Marsh, a Greenshank on the Estuary, and from the beach in 20 minutes; 150+ Manx Shearwaters west and a Goosander in-off. 

Looking out to see the visibility was outstanding, with a large container ship crystal clear despite it clearly being a long way off. Thanks to ship tracking website ( I was able to see it was 'Liberty Ace', a Japanese container ship heading for the US, and was about 15 (land) miles out!

The fact this distant ship was so clear wasn't the only surprise this evening.... Whilst I was at Coronation Corner, which is about 1.25km up the Axe Estuary, I looked up to see a Fulmar flying around!... soon realised its mistake and headed back down the Estuary towards the sea.  Now I was not expecting that!!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Going Cuckoo Over a Cuckoo

A major highlight this evening during a dog walk along Cownhayne Lane between Colyford and Colyton - Cuckoo

Yes we get them every spring, but only two or three in most years, and they often stay only for something between two minutes and an hour before completely disappearing.  And they are almost always heard and not seen.  I however have never been in the right place at the right time. Not once. In 17 years of birding the Axe Estuary I haven't heard a Cuckoo call, which is even sadder when you hear how common they used to be here. The only Cuckoos I've seen on patch have been in late summer/autumn, with my last patch Cuckoo in August 2013. So hearing just one blast of Cuckoo call this evening made my day, and I sent a message out to alert others.

Twenty minutes later it called a few times again, but closer. This warranted another message out because this meant it was lingering so had the potential to be twitched. Phil soon arrived and it soon called again much to both our delights.  It was close too, really close, so we wandered a short way down the lane and gazed up into some big trees in a garden where we thought the calls originated from. There was no sign after ten minutes of searching, so when it suddenly started calling again somewhere right in front of us we were speechless! 


We then spent half an hour looking into these few trees, from every angle we could find, but despite the fact it would occasionally burst out in song could we find it!?  Could we heck!!  We were going Cuckoo ourselves, and laughing about it because this was just crazy - Cuckoos aren't usually this elusive!

Then finally - although not before the sun had gone down and moon risen high in the sky (it was now 20:30) - I caught sight of some fine barring high in a dense patch of leafage. There it was sat almost motionless...


A spring patch Cuckoo... well most of one anyway!

Am presuming it was pretty tired after a long flight in, but still had just enough energy to burst out the occasional bout of song.  I'm glad it did because no way would it have been found otherwise!

Oh I do love spring, and this has made mine that's for sure.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Redstart Heralds Restart of Spring

Now we've seen the back of that blasting easterly wind, northbound migrant birds have responded accordingly.  

Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it out today, but Kev did ok up Beer Head as the fog cleared mid morning with Grasshopper Warbler, Redstart, Black Redstart and Whitethroat.  I did however cash in on some migrants yesterday, thanks to two visits to Seaton Marshes.

Visit one showed at least ten Willow Warbler and seven Blackcap in the bushes, with my first Reed and Sedge Warbler of the spring on the Borrow Pit.  The rain and low cloud kept 30+ Swallow and half a dozen or so House Martins low over the marsh...

Unfortunately yet again they weren't accompanied but a Red-rumped!

Visit two early afternoon revealed the cherry on top, a cracking male Redstart. It wasn't hanging around however, and within a few minutes had traveled the whole length of the ditch that runs west to east across the marsh just north of the Borrow Pit. I lost it when it flew into bushes next to the tram line.

And that brings this blog up to date for now, although considering the date I hope that by the day there will be more to tell.  To complete this post, although off patch, a visit to Lyme Regis the other day showed the immature drake Eider still present...

Wish it moved a little way west!

Monday, 15 April 2019

Some South Easterly Seawatching

The raw east wind that's been hammering us for about a week edged more southerly yesterday, and this morning we woke up to a decent south east gale.  I'm not a fan of sea watching here in south easterlies, it's almost always disappointing and every time we are completely trumped by Chesil - embarrassingly and frustratingly so!

I didn't miss much this morning from what Ian Mc and Phil reported, but tonight I was keen to give it a go after work - am dead pleased I did!  An hour at the Spot On Kiosk from 18:50 produced (all east);

2 Teal (why weren't these Garganey!!??)
54 Gannet
128 Manx Shearwater (18 the biggest single flock)
1 Arctic Skua (a sleek pale-phased adult at 19:04)
5 Common Gull
12 Sandwich Tern (6, 4 and 2)
1 Arctic Tern (flew in then over the beach, gained height but then flew back out again!)
11 Whimbrel 
5 Dunlin

So not too shabby at all by Seaton standards, with the two Arctic's being the highlights.  The Tern just kept coming closer and closer, to the point I could even see the bill detail which was nice! And as for the Skua, well this was my first Skua of the year which is always a highlight - but this one looked particularly dinky and streamline and the plumage simply stunning in front of the dull grey sea.

Although I have been at work all day, it's clear there's been a constant arrival of hirundines. Every time I have been outside small groups of Swallows/House Martins have whizzed through quickly north. This evening whilst sea watching I must have seen twenty Swallows arrive in-off too. 

No photos from today I'm afraid, but here's a dreadful photo of a female Goosander that did a lap of Bridge Marsh in front of me on Saturday evening, with 60 Sand Martins and ten Swallows also on show...

A blur which shares some similarities with a female sawbill!

More of the same please Spring 2019!

Monday, 8 April 2019

More Birding Required!

I've not seen loads or been out that much, but I have seen enough to write this...

There's been a refreshing pulse of wader activity on the Axe Estuary since the turn of the month, kicked off by a Ringed Plover north of Coronation Corner on 2nd with three Dunlin.  On 6th whilst sky watching from my bedroom window, I was surprised to see a very high-flying flock of c30 Black-tailed Godwits power in from the north west then drop like a stone into the valley. Frustratingly as they twisted and turned before heading off down river I could make out a smaller, plain-winged wader in their midst. I suspect it was a Knot, but there was knot anything I could do about it. The following evening (7th) it was nice to see our first Whimbrel of the spring with ten Curlew just north of Coronation Corner, and this morning a flock of 18 Dunlin were zooming around at high-tide not knowing where to land.  Hopefully Kentish Plover is next :-)

Axe Estuary at dusk

With the strong winds at the end of last week I gave sea watching a go on Friday 5th.  The direction and strength of the wind however meant shelter was very hard to find on the sea front, so twenty minutes late I gave up and checked elsewhere.  Still, in that time two Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew west and a Manx Shearwater flew east - my first of the year for both.

My passerine highlight of the last few days surprisingly wasn't a migrant species, but a Dipper.  They've been really reliable on our section of the River Coly this year, and yesterday I was delighted to stumble upon an active nest - not where I was expecting to find one either.  I gave them the space they deserved and was rewarded with prolonged views of an adult Dipper plunge-diving. So lucky to be able to watch this on my patch.  

There are more hirundines about now, although I am still yet to see a House Martin.  Sand Martins were well represented during the grim weather of last week, with just under 100 in the valley on 3rd, with small numbers of Swallows seen pretty much every day now.  Willow Warblers are now starting to pass through in decent numbers, tonight I watched six feeding in an isolated clump of Blackthorn in the valley even as the sun was setting. Amazing to think that by the morning they will probably be hundreds of miles away!

A well defined setting sun over Colyford

I saw my first Red Kite of the season from work yesterday morning (7th) thanks to Phil. He had seen it fly east over Beer Head and I happened to be outside when it carried on east over Sheep's Marsh and the Estuary. I wonder how many more (hundreds!?) I will see as the year progresses.

And I will end this somewhat disjointed post with my absolute highlight of April so far. During a morning outing to Black Hole Marsh with Harry on 6th I was suddenly aware of the charming calls of Med Gull.  Two second-summers were flying around calling to each other low over the marsh before landing on one of the islands, both with pretty much full hoods.  An amazing sight and sound, and proof to anyone that gulls are anything but boring!

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Nikon Film Number Two!

So it's about time I shared this here...

Yep, this is why I spent a few days in Portugal last June.  It was a real pleasure to work with Nikon again, and the same Camera Technician and Director who shot the Slovenia film in 2016. Lisbon was amazing and the birding top-notch for a such a busy city - and you know the product is good when most the crew left wanting to buy a pair each for themselves! 

PS check out the super-sized Greater Flamingo at 00:46, I couldn't get over how completely massive he was compared to the other c100 present!

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Roll on April!

Thought I best bring you all up to speed before we get into April, when it will probably all kick off on the migration front...  mind you it looks like it already has!

I was at work most of today, so missed Bun's male Redstart on Beer Head and the Osprey that flew up river mid afternoon (seems to have been several of these arrive on south coast today). A quick look around as the sun set though showed a big increase of hirundines in the valley, with 70+ Sand Martins and about five Swallows feeding over Colyford and Bridge Marsh.

Yesterday morning I enjoyed leading a tram trip along the Estuary, with six Sand Martins north, a Wheatear (my first female of the year), a Greenshank, a Dunlin and two male Shoveler the highlights...

Female Wheatear

Redshank and Greenshank (now in summer plumage)

Male Stonechat on the tram overhead!

Don't get many Wren photos so thought this was worth posting!

A couple of evenings prior to this I spent some time at our only remaining reliable Little Owl site. Great to see at least one still hanging on...

The distinctive shape of a Little Owl with a stunning orange sky backdrop

And that brings me up to date with my local bird news. April it is over to you...

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Dartmoor Day

Will post a local update in the next day or two, but in the meantime here's a few pics from a stunning family day trip to Dartmoor yesterday...

At least four Crossbills spent lunchtime with us, along with numerous Siskins, a couple of Dipper and a Wheatear.   Had one of those moments too of really appreciating a common bird. We all go nuts for spring Yellow Wagtails, especially the colourful headed varieties. But have you looked closely at at Grey Wagtail lately? Stunning...