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! 

HOW!? WHERE!??


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...

Gotcha!

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...