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Tuesday, 8 September 2020

A Galling Gull

I wandered into the Tower Hide early evening on the 3rd and was greeted by the very pleasant sight of a mass gathering of large gulls resting on the shingle opposite.  And even more pleasantly, virtually the first gull I raised my bins at was this first-winter Yellow-legged...



I just couldn't take my eyes or camera off of it, and spent ages papping away and gawping at all those lovely replaced scapular feather. But then I remembered there were another 300+ gulls to look at..

I swung around to the left, started scanning and almost immediately spied an interestingly looking clean and pale fronted juv/1w large gull asleep in the flock.  I grabbed my scope but due to the angle of the bird this didn't help much at all, it was asleep with its head tucked in facing directly towards me. Still though, for whatever reason thoughts of Caspian Gull were already in my mind, it just looked leggy and strikingly clean breasted and pale.  I then noticed it was bearing a yellow-colour ring...

It was an easy read, XLTC. I read it again a couple of times to be sure and then took my eye off the scope to write the code down. What happened next wasn't in the script.

Every single one of the 300+ gulls took to the air, with roughly half of them flying off.  Despite further scanning the yellow-ringed gull was gone. And four days later I haven't seen it again. What's even worse is we never saw what actually flushed the gulls, making it an even more frustrating turn of events.  

To my absolute horror, looking up the ringing scheme later that evening showed it had been rung in Germany in a Caspian Gull colony!  My email to the ringing scheme coordinator included a plea for any pics or other sightings of it - but there had been none since it was ringed as a grey fluffy chick on 9th June 2020... 


It's important to note that although it was ringed as a Caspian Gull, in that part of the world hybrids are a real problem and a lot of the gull colonies are now a complete jumble of DNA .  This in my eyes makes it even more important that someone else sees and ideally photographs XTLC! I need to know what it is.

Please, someone, put me out of my misery...

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

It's beginning to feel a lot like Autumn

There's a distinct chill in the air in the early mornings now, not that they are very early anymore!

I know us birders talk about autumn from about mid June when we see the first returning Common Sandpipers, but it is now starting to feel like autumn 'proper' in all aspects of the natural world.  Even the trees are starting to turn.


I spent this autumnal morning on Black Hole Marsh, and the place was once again jam packed with wading birds and Teal.  76 of the latter to be precise.

The bulk of the wading birds as usual were Black-tailed Godwits (70+), Dunlin (60), Redshank and Common Sandpipers (9).  With quality provided by two Knot (lower pic), two Curlew Sandpipers (top two pics) and two Little Stints (middle two pics).  All six of these being juveniles.







To complete the sightings from this morning, a couple of Yellow Wags flew over with a Willow Warbler in nearby scrub.  And to complete my sightings from today, I was thrilled to be in the right place at the right time to watch an Osprey fly low south east over Seaton and off out to sea.  My third within the past few weeks, and my third whilst at work!

Considering the numbers present in the UK at the moment, I think we will be seeing many more Curlew Sands over the next few weeks.  If I remember rightly 14 is my personal best on the Axe at once - be nice to beat that!

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Axe Cliff

Having not written a blog post for two weeks, in one of the busiest birding months of the year, I have allowed it to get to the stage that I have so much to blog about I have no idea where to start! 

The two Ospreys maybe? The mass of wading birds using Black Hole Marsh? How about the (mostly unsuccessful) seawatching of late? Agggghhh just too much possible content! So I shall simplify, which is what my brain wants and just talk about this morning, in which I enjoyed my first visit of the autumn to Axe Cliff.

It was cold, very very cold.  And am sure the harsh north wind didn't help reveal all the birds that were present, but there were clearly birds about. Wheatears topped the chart at 16, including a nice mix of males (top) and females (below)...



A couple of grounded Tree Pipits were nice to see, and my first migrant Meadow Pipit of the autumn made it into my notebook.  Six Yellow Wags flew straight over west, but three of the five alba Wagtails that were heading the same way landed - not that that helped with their ID in anyway! 

For me to call an autumn White Wagtail I need to see a strikingly pale mantle and a importantly a pale rump, but I do think I'm over cautious and probably let many intermediate-looking birds slip the net.  As I didn't see this birds rump it remains an alba Wagtail, although the cleanish flanks do make me wonder...




The bushes weren't busy at all, although they were being blown all over the place so I couldn't be sure. Just a few Chiffchaff and one Willow Warbler were all I could see.  Surprise of the visit goes to a single Snipe that flew over north.

Just before work I had time for a quick glance over Black Hole Marsh. In keeping with the cold theme a juvenile Pintail was feeding on the marsh, amongst an obvious increase in Teal numbers. Still plenty of wading birds about too, which I will fill you in about on a later post.



Do check back for more soon.  Well once I figure out what I want to blog about that is!

Friday, 14 August 2020

Black Hole Marsh Update and Common Dolphins

I can't believe it's been about twenty days since my last blog post! Apologies for this, especially when it's been so busy out there in the birding world. I have been getting out as much as possible, just always been running out of time to blog about it afterwards.  

In this post as the title indicates I want to update you all with the happenings on Black Hole Marsh since my last post about the wading birds here on 20th July.  It really has been excellent, and right now is looking as good as it ever does so do come and visit if you get the chance.

Following the early juvenile Wood Sand I blogged about on 17th July, over the past ten-ish days up to two more juveniles have been present, although there seems to be just one now.  One of them in particularly was really showy, hence the obscene amount of photographs below. They are such a charismatic species packed full of charm it's a real struggle not to aim the camera at them..


It's been a good late summer/early autumn for Greenshank, with six on 17th July my highest count.  I noted the first juvenile on 1st August, with the early date suggesting it may be of Scottish origin.  A really cracking example of a juv too, looking strikingly paler than all the recent adults...


The first juvenile Ruff was on the marsh on 10th, with two a couple of days later.  Again, how fresh and bright does it look in its brand new baby feathers...


And the most recent addition to the Black Hole crowd is a Little Stint first found by Derek Carter on 12th.  Surprisingly it was also a juvenile - another example of what I believe to be an early date for a juv wading bird. 2020 really is proving the year of early juvenile waders, which hopefully is a sign they've had a good breeding season.  

As you can probably tell from my pics though, the two times I've seen it it hasn't been particularly close...


Whilst on the subject of juvenile wading birds, I always look forward to seeing my first juv Black-tailed Godwit of the year.  This year that was on 4th August, but it wasn't the first of a flurry - I have only seen one more since!


Not that there's anything wrong with summer adult Black-tailed Godwits, so richly coloured...


Other bits and bobs on the marsh have included up to 51 Dunlin, 25 Teal, 20 Common Sandpipers, nine Ringed Plover, four Green Sandpipers, four Snipe and my first Yellow Wagtail of the autumn on 5th August.  The lingering juvenile Marsh Harrier is still around too, although can be surprisingly sporadic in its' appearances.

I'll finish this blog post on a different topic.  Yesterday morning before work I spent fifteen minutes sat on Seaton Beach with Jess and Harry, and as we wandered down to the shore I mentioned that the flat sea looked good for cetacean spotting.  About five seconds later I was showing Jess two distant Dolphins out in the bay, including one frequently breaching - pirouettes and everything!  Unfortunately though they were too distant to ID and I couldn't get any other local birders on to them.

So I was dead chuffed to find a video of them on a local Facebook page today, clearly shot at the same time we were watching them from dry land.  Here's a screen shot from the video, showing they were my second ever Common Dolphins here...


And here's a link to the actual video, which is well worth a watch: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=321669915550419.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Birds That Aren't Gulls!

With waders and gulls featuring heavily in my last few blog posts, I thought I should fill in the gaps with my other bird sightings from the last couple weeks.

As we approach the end of July, with autumn passerine migration starting to be a feature on the south coast, I gave Beer Head an early morning walk on two days last week...

Looking south west from Beer Head. Such a fantastic location to spend any time!


Both visits showed a similar amount of birds in less than ideal fall conditions.  There were between 6-8 Willow Warblers scattered across the headland on both days, all being my favourite flavoured yellow-lemon juv ones.  There was also a family of Whitethroats in the same place on both visits, as well as the usual breeding Blackcaps.  My second visit however, on 23rd July, did show one more migrant than my previous, with a very charming Garden Warbler feeding on an elder bush in the base of the hollow.  My earliest ever autumn record of this species on patch so a nice reward indeed. 

Just slightly drifting away from the bird theme of this blog post, it was nice to see up to seven Wall Browns during my second visit, which was slightly later in the morning than my first.  This is our most reliable local site for this species...

An underrated butterfly in my opinion, and scarce enough around here to be suitably appreciated


A little inland in the Morganhayes area (woodland west of Colyton), am sure like most conifer plantations in the UK at the moment, there seems to be plenty of Crossbills 'chupping'-around.  Seeing them perched up is a different story though... Why do they always land on the pines just beyond the ones in view!?  On the evening of 20th however one made an error of judgement and actually landed in view, and although it wasn't an adult male it was still much appreciated...

Hello you!  Nice to actually see the cross bill on a Crossbill for a change

Although it landed in view, he/she was never in full view!  


Back down in the river valley, during my recent gull watching sessions other birds have been rudely interrupting my fun.  Take Kingfishers for example, as usual for this time of year they seem to be plentiful, with this one in particular begging to be papped...

A token photo!  Do like the natural framing though so am pleased it stayed put for me :-)


And don't get me started on this Marsh Harrier.  Yes it's a lovely fresh dark glowing-headed juvenile, but it's been around for a week now and not only is distracting, it actually FLUSHES the gulls on occasions!  Not on at all...

My best views were on a gloomy day so pics not great!

Such a striking plumage at this age - love them!


Even a family of Reed Warblers right beside the Tower Hide have been causing me problems, loudly announcing their presence as the beg for food...

A true baby Reed Warbler

Beady eye!

Seemed to be four juvs with at least one adult feeding them


And to complete this post, the final bit of bird news is from today.  Whilst sat at my desk a tern whizzed past my office flying up river - never a common sight on the Axe.  A few minutes later I was outside watching and listening to an adult and a juvenile Common Tern calling to each other as they flew around and around the lower Estuary.  They finally departing when a juvenile Peregrine came diving in.  What a treat. There's a video of them calling away on my Twitter feed, it sure was great to hear.


Monday, 27 July 2020

The juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls are here!

The arrival of overcast, damp and windy weather over the last few days has prompted an increase in gull activity on the Estuary, including a really nice flurry of (mostly juvenile) Yellow-legged Gulls.

It's been a poor summer for them here, having managed just one before this blog post. The same can be said for much of the UK with numbers well below average, but all of sudden they are here and here in style. Easily my best ever series of records for the Axe...

The evening of 23rd gave me four Yellow-legged Gulls from Tower Hide, three juvenile and a bright second-summer.  

The 25th gave two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls from Tower Hide at about 5pm, along with my first juvenile Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the season.

The 27th offered four more juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls, including one of the most photogenic ones I've ever had the pleasure of seeing, and one of the largest most brutish ones I've ever seen!

I literally have a hundred photos, so will only pick the best for this post, enjoy...

Today's showy juvenile, which was hanging around outside my office for about ten minutes mid morning

Same bird as above, showing the upperwing of a classic YLG like a treat

The final pic of today's close juv, here with two Herring Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull - all juveniles

Another of today's, this being the big pale one. Couldn't get over how thickset the bill was!

Showing how advanced the scapular moult is, with several first-winter feathers on show

One of the juvs from 23rd

The older one from 23rd, couldn't get over how bright the legs were!


Fear not I'll make another blog post out of these birds that's for sure!  So many more pics where the above came from...


Monday, 20 July 2020

Raining Waders and Juv Yellow-legged Gull

The rain during Saturday night and into Sunday morning dropped an unseasonably good number of wading birds into the Axe Valley, particularly to Black Hole Marsh.  Not necessarily a good thing mind, as seeing so many adult Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin so early in the season may indicate some big problems on their breeding grounds. 

It's thought the north west wind and rain brought these exceptional numbers to the UK. It was a UK wide influx.


The star bird was a cracking summer Turnstone, my first of the year on the Axe, although it remained on the far side of the marsh...

Nice to see one in such smart plumage


By the end of Sunday the Dunlin flock had reached 51 birds (all adults) and Black-tailed Godwits for me 55, although 70 were present mid morning (again all adults).  Common Sandpipers were present in good numbers too, c14, but with many young birds in with them there's no worries about their breeding success.  Same can be said for Little Ringed Plovers too, with five juveniles present at dusk (eight today!).

Common Sands galore!


There were also three Lapwing, two Greenshank, one Green Sandpiper and two Med Gulls (ad and juv). Kingfishers have suddenly become 'common' again, as they do at this time of year here, and great to see another young Oystercatcher chick on the marsh after one pair have already got one off...

Odd that both pairs have only had one chick though, it's usually two or three per pair


Have been at work for most of today, but a last gasp check along the Estuary revealed a sight I have been longing, and expecting to see, for about two weeks now!  My first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the year, and boy was it worth the wait.  Juv Yellow-legs are so variable in appearance, but every now and then you see an absolutely corker, one that has literally been lifted out of the guide books and put in front of you.  This was one of those...

What is not to love (except for the distance and heat haze!)


In the above image note the long-winged and high chested appearance, very pale ground colour to head neck and belly (Herring's rarely show pale ground colour to underparts, they can often to head), clear dark eye patch and plain dark tertials.

I first found it on the view shown in the following picture, and can't express enough how identifiable it was just on this single view. They can be that obvious I promise...

Facing away behind the right hand of the two sleeping Great Black-backed Gulls


Even on this view we can see jet black tertials and a clear black tail band, dark eye mask and pale head.  Something not often written about juv Yellow-legs is that they just have a very 'contrasty' look to them - pale underparts, brown upperparts, black tertials and tail band and white tail. Juvenile Herring Gulls are very rarely anything other than plain brown - although I must add the caveat that a little later in the season watch out for juv Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls.  Structure is important too, and in the second photo you can see a fairly long pair of legs and an overall bulk and stance I find more reminiscent of Great Black-backed Gull, especially the case when it's a big Yellow-legged like this one.

I really hope this is my first of many, although will be surprised if any are as stunning as this!