Tuesday 31 March 2009

Birding With A Beard

An unusual post title I know, but it is true! Well it was before I had to sort myself out for work today!

I shall start with yesterday's news, but I'll keep it brief cuz I've got no photos to pad it out with..

I saw and heard my first Willow Warbler singing at the entrance to Manor Farm, I just wish the superb Siberian Chiffchaff I was watching at Colyford WTW mid morning was just as vocal - but it didn't even peep! There was another pale Chiffy here too but not as striking as this particular individual. A Ringed Plover was the best of the selection on the river.

My second year tick of the day came during a ringing session at Colyford Marsh in the evening. As we walked across the marsh a Little Ringed Plover got up and flew south - nice! It returned later as we could hear it calling after dark. There was a nice flock of 60 Sand Martins here too with a few Swallows. We netted five Black-tailed Godwits, three Curlew and three Redshank, well worth the midnight finish! A grey goose flew over calling at about 23:45, which was annoying, and a few Redwing could be heard overhead.

Now to today, and I was out at dawn in the hope that my grey goose was still in the area - but it wasn't! The weather looked promising though...

Low cloud and no wind.... almost perfect!

Willow Warblers were singing almost everywhere I went, with five in the Borrow Pit on Seaton Marshes. Hirrundines were everywhere, a flock of 160 Sand Martins over Bridge Marsh included at least three Swallows and my first House Martin of the year. Two more House Martins were over Colyford Marsh about 15 minutes later and there must have been another 100-150 Sand Martins in the lower valley too (Seaton and Blackhole Marshes). Impressive stuff!

Back to Bridge Marsh where my first two White Wagtails of the spring were showing well but distantly, and on Colyford Marsh, there were now TWO Little Ringed Plovers...

They always stayed on the far side of the scrape though!

So how is 'birding with a beard'? Well, I had a good few days birding, shaved it off at 12:30, today, and at c14:30 missed an Osprey fly up the valley (whilst I was sorting out a refund at the tills!) and another/the same one again at 17:30.

I can therefore proclaim that you are more likely to see decent birds if you have a beard.... I think I need to go to sleep!!!

Sunday 29 March 2009

Migrants and Doughnuts

I knew today was going to be a good day from the start, when I got into my car (admittedly not 'til 10am!), the first song I heard on the radio was THIS one; an old classic!

First stop was the sea front, and the view was beautiful as ever...

Looking towards Seaton Hole

The view was made even better when I picked up a Sandwich Tern fishing close in off Fishermans Gap. Our first of the year - not to mention a year tick for me!

A bit more looking about revealed rather little, but in Musbury a single male Swallow was sat singing on telephone wires...

Can you see it?

If not, you should be able to now....

So nice to see again, and year tick number two today!

Two Wheatears on Seaton Marshes late afternoon and a pair of Oystercatchers that have discovered one of the shingle islands on Blackhole Marsh round off my patch sightings for today

Off patch though, there was more excitement! I visited James of Alpine Swift and 'jammy fly-over crown' fame early afternoon. He moved to just north of Axminster last year, so it was great to see him and his family again. We had a nice stroll along the back lanes, where a single flock of 15 Swallows were a nice treat, all singing and chasing each other around.

Back at the house, James' wife began to fry the locally famous 'McCarthy Doughnuts'....

They don't look too appetising like this do they?

Well they do when they are like this...

Sooooooooooooooooo tasty!

Thanks guys for a lovely feast, will be back soon.... you can count on that!! : )

Friday 27 March 2009

Some More Colour Rings and Stuff...

Have had precious little time in the field recently....but what time I have been out and about I've seen NOWT! With two Ruff on Colyford Marsh on Tuesday before work being the only exception, not to mention the occasional Iceland Gull still.

Wednesday night I took Kym to the Princess Theatre, Torquay to watch Chicago, it was excellent. Jimmy Osmand did an brilliant job playing the smooth talking Billy Flynn, and all the singers/dancers and musicians were just top quality. Anyway, back to the post title, and colour rings...

I'll start with the most interesting one, it was a colour-ringed
Common Gull that I spied on the estuary on 08/03/09 bearing a white ring which read 'J479'.

He was ringed as an adult (so at least in its 4cy) on
05/05/02 in NORWAY! At Bjerkaker, Tromso, Troms to be exact, which is about here....

View Larger Map

So not only was it ringed 1491 miles away from the Axe, but when I saw him he was at least nine and a half years old. And he hadn't been reported anywhere else since the day he was ringed. Amazing!

Slightly less exciting were the two colour-ringed Herring Gulls I spotted on the estuary on 22/03/09. Both birds had dark blue rings with striking orange writing. Both were ringed at Gloucester Landfill Site by The Severn Estuary Ringing Group.

'BTC' was ringed on 22/12/07 and aged as a three (meaning he was born in that year), and 'BDD' was ringed also in 2007 but on 13/01 and aged as a five (meaning he was born in 2006). Not so amazing but still very interesting.

Finally, I'm publishing my patch yearlist on Surfbirds, to be exact it is HERE. When I first posted here I was top, but due to the recent total lack of migrants I've slipped down a place. Let's see how I get on, and I wish all other local patchers on this list good luck.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Is It Really Spring?

The weather certainly says it is, as do the few singing Chiffchaffs that are about. But that's it... well it was for today anyway!

No summer migrants for me anywhere, in fact it was a day of very little with an
Iceland Gull on the river being the best. Here's a photo showing an area of an Iceland Gull the average photo doesn't show...

Just look how stripey those undertail coverts are!

A few Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the near shore encouraged me to take a few snaps of them too...

Just starting to look red, in nice light

Let's hope the weather change that is predicted for next week ups the birding quality!

Friday 20 March 2009

The Best March Ever... probably not going to be this one! Flipping morning river fog/mist/murk is a real problem at the moment. I hate it!

So, when was our best March ever? Well that's easy! I don't really like the month of March (as everyone should know by now!) but this March was simply sensational! So please sit back and enjoy this little bit of nostalgia... this was March 2006...

On the 8th I found a Yellow-legged Gull on the estuary, but it soon flew out towards the sea. Whilst wandering along the beach with Gav in the hope of relocating it we tripped over this...

A Snow Bunting; this was the first bird on patch in March '06 to cause a Devon twitch

In Colyton, since January a Hawfinch or two had become temporary residents in a private garden, here's a pici I snapped of one earlier in the year. But on 9th March, the two became FIVE!

Still not seen one of these on patch since!

A nice patch scarcity appeared on 12th and remained in the area for nearly a fortnight, although it was most probably 'plastic'...

Our friend 'Barnie' the Barnacle Goose

Spring soon really got going. Phil started it off by finding these three Little Ringed Plovers on Bridge Marsh on 18th. Little did we know that there would be an impressive NINE here by the 21st - surely some sort of Devon record?

I can't wait for our first one of these this year!

It then became ten-fold better with Phil again coming up trumps! This was a lifer for me on Seaton Marshes, present from 19th til 23rd...

A STUNNING Night Heron!

James McCarthy and Phil can both claim the next find, when a White Stork flew in from the south and landed on Seaton Marshes on 21st, it was on Bridge Marsh the following day before flying to Somerset....

With an out-of-focus head!

Seaton Marshes again was the place to be, when this Spoonbill appeared here on 23rd and remained 'til 28th...

With its head out for a change!!!

A final March surprise came when these three Geese flew in and landed on Bridge Marsh on 29th, little did we know one would still be with us now.... (mind you saying that I've not seen him for a good few weeks!)

Egyptian Geese, fresh in from Norfolk!???

April started off pretty good too, and for some reason over the first couple of days I went through a phase of taking 'totally random' sky photos, see....

Nice sky.... ohhh, hang on, just what are those birds???

Here's one of them up close, just before it 'got out of bed'....

Our Alpine Swifts, present for most of April!

So.... not bad hey? And I'm glad I had bought my camera just prior to all this excitement! If March 2009 is half as good as 2006 then I will be more than happy....

Thursday 19 March 2009

My 2009 Listing Intentions

It's time I revealed all.... why have I been so desperate to see EVERY bird we've had this year???

This year I am going to try and beat the previous year list record, which I set in 2007 with a total of 197 species. 2007 was one of our best years EVER, with countless BB rares (NOT just Cattle Egrets!) and nearly every species of Gull that has ever been recorded in the Western Pal, well... nearlyish...

Last year I think Karen saw the most species, 188. On this date last year she had seen 125.... today I'm on 131, so I'm more than happy with that! The patch year list in total is on 136, meaning so far I am missing five. Three of these I'm not worried about, Swallow will fall in days, Balearic Shearwater probably within a couple of months and I see (on average) between three and seven Merlins a year. Marsh Harrier is a little worrying.... but Hawfinch is the big bogey, unless I jam an autumn fly-over I can't see me clawing that one back!

This year, a lot of my mornings during spring and autumn will be spent ringing in Beer (more about this in another post at a later date). Hopefully this will give me some patch goodies (even the likes of Garden Warbler, Pied Fly... etc), but I will surely miss one or two ticks by being here. I'm not worried about sea birds so much, as (on the whole) good conditions for these are bad conditions for ringing! Anyway, that's my waffling over with, what have I see today?

One year tick this morning, with a Cetti's Warbler singing at Colyford Common. It was full of birds here, with an impressive seven Green Sands (six on scrape and one on wet reedbed). Where are they coming from? It must be too early for spring migrants, so I guess they have been wintering somewhere else locally and have heard about this great new habbo! Also the male Ruff still, seven Dunlin, six Blackwits with a Wheatear and Sand Martin adding to the enjoyment!

Later on, a sweep of the river - which yesterday produced our first Ringed Plover of the year - revealed two Iceland Gulls, adding a nice touch of 'winter' to this very summer-like weather. They were in a very small group of large Gulls north of Coronation Corner.

Lots of birds in this photo!

And two Iceland Gulls in this one! (also doesn't that first winter Herring-type look interesting, the one stretching forward in front of the rear Iceland...)

Early start tomorrow, am giving Branscombe a to bed for me....

Tuesday 17 March 2009


After a look at Birdguides late morning, which showed Portland had had a fairly decent arrival of early spring migrants, I just had to have a look over Seaton Marshes before starting work at 13:00. And along the path to the hide, my first four Wheatears of the year : )

The sun was ultra bright, and they were very jumpy, but still just had to take some snaps - they are very pants though!

Just BRILLIANT to see them again!

There wasn't much else on show here, neither was there during an ultra quick whizz along the estuary. Have a bit more time tomorrow so hope for some more year ticks to fall....

Yummy Wader Habbo

This morning Colyford Scrape looks just awesome! Here it is...

A closer look reveals...

... lots of lovely wet mud full of grubs

The male Ruff has found it, as have four Green Sandpipers, two Redshank and lots of Teal. If it stays like this for the next month or so we are going to have an excellent spring for waders, could this be the year that we all add Black-winged Stilt to our Axe lists?? I do hope so! A single Water Pipit showed briefly behind the scrape and a couple of Chiffchaffs were singing from the reserve.

Bridge Marsh showed a couple of Sand Martins lingering about - could these be the first returning local breeders?

A scan over the sea showed the two Slav Grebes were still in the bay, they were closer today and looked even smarter. Otherwise the sea was very quiet.

Monday 16 March 2009

Some Birding At Last

It's very rare that I will go four days without any birding, but for the four days up to today I have just had no time at all. Mind you that didn't stop me landing a handy patch year tick yesterday!

Shortly after 7am a text came through from Bun which told of a Red Kite flying north towards the water tower, luckily I was in the backyard of Co-op! A look northwards revealed it flying rather low NW with two Crows in hot pursuit. I was surprised how the local Herring Gulls made no noise at all, maybe they just didn't spot it! I certainly wouldn't have done if it wasn't for Bun - thanks mate, a new bird for the works list too!!!

Today, after spending the night in Plymouth for Kym's birthday, I returned home by 10:30. I was hoping for some summer migrants, but until 18:00 saw none. At 18:01 I did see one, a lone Sand Martin over Colyford Marsh.

A big fat year tick today was the big fat Ruff Phil found yesterday morning. It was on Bridge Marsh at 11:00 and still at 15:00 today. He was always distant and in strong light but I still tried a photo or two..

You might have to enlarge this one to actually see the bird!

With the blue skies today I had my first 'sky watch' of the year, from Seaton Marshes. A surprise here was a flock of six Golden Plovers that flew high north over town; I'm used to seeing this species doing this in autumn but never before in spring. I spotted them whilst scanning for the culprit that had flushed all the Herring Gulls in the area. Also a couple of Chiffchaffs singing here which was nice.

A look over the sea from Seaton Hole at first was quiet, but soon became instantly massively more exciting when I picked up two Slav Grebes feeding in the bay. Even better was that one of them was wearing almost full summer plumage, it's head pattern in particular looking stunning. They were always distant though, and look, here's the proof...

These specks did cause a minor local twitch, with Karen, Ian M and Dad all tempted by them.

Whilst watching these an Iceland Gull flew west over the sea, then joined some loafing Herring Gulls between Seaton Hole and Beer.

A look around the fields behind Axmouth in search of my first Wheatear of the year drew a blank, but it did reveal a field full of Buzzards! The variety in plumage was amazing, but this bird was especially stunning...

And check out it's warm orangey-buff underwings, undertail coverts and 'trousers'...

One COOL Buzzard!

I bumped into Fraser early this afternoon, he informed me he had just pulled the plug on the main scrape on Colyford Marsh, the first time he has ever done this at this time of year. By 18:00 there was a lovely muddy margin on view which was simply heaving with two Green Sandpipers! It could be VERY interesting over the next week or two...

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Pale-bellied Brent - This Is Your Life

Enter Michael Aspel holding a big red book!

It wasn't easy, but I've got the details on the Pale-bellied Brent Goose I photographed the other day. It was first seen on the estuary by Ian McLean last Thursday.

The bird (CILY) was first ringed at Hausastadir, Álftanes, SW Iceland on 18/05/05 (which is about HERE). She was identified as a lady and aged as a six, which means she was born before the previous year (so any year before and including 2003).

She spent the winter of 05/06 in Northern Ireland, on the east coast at Castle Espie, Strangford Lough which is just east of Belfast. Here she was in a flock of 2000 PB Brents!

In spring 2006 she was sighted back up in Iceland, at Skerjafjörður which isn't far from the site she was ringed. Here she was seen with a mate (CVLY). By 04/10/06 she was back down in Ireland at Strangford Lough again where she remained all winter.

Spring 2007 saw her back up in Iceland then again in October 2007 she was back in Ireland at Strangford Lough...but then she went AWOL!

She was at Strangford Lough up until the end of October, but soon into November had moved a little further south into Southern Ireland and was seen in a flock of 80 PB Brents in Dublin Bay, she was last seen here on 11/11/07 when she was apparently being 'pushed around' by the other birds in the flock.

The next sighting of her was in Christchurch Bay, Hampshire where she was seen with ten Dark-bellied Brents at Milford-on-Sea on 24/01/08. She was seen again here on 26th but there were no more reports of her up until the 5/03/08 when she dropped in on Colyford Marsh!

Since she was ringed I've worked out she's flown at least 4819 miles!! Who knows how many she has flown since she was hatched?? Thanks must go to Graham McElwaine of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group for all this information.

Now, let's have another look at her...

No wonder she looks a little tired!!!

I've also had details back on a colour-ringed Herring Gull I saw on the river on 18th Feb this year, it was an orange colour-ringed bird with the green letters 0237.

It was ringed as an adult on 14/11/00 at Heathfield Landfill, Devon. My sighting of it was the only time it has been reported since being ringed. When I saw it it would have been at least 13 years old (I think!?)...

All interesting stuff. This morning I have mostly been painting a gate, and will shortly be going to work... : (

Monday 9 March 2009

My First Summer Migrants

Sorry for the recent quietness - but it is March.... say no more!

As the title suggests I've finally seen a hint of spring, with a couple of Sand Martins tonight during a farm gate vigil. They flew pretty hastily up river at 17:45 but were still much appreciated, my second year tick of the day - yes - SECOND! Which brings me back to 9am....

With the recent run of Crossbill sightings on Trinity Hill - well a report of six here on Friday - I picked Karen up and we headed up off to the top. Little did I know Karen was soon to reveal a HUGE GRIPPER - she'd seen them here yesterday!!!! Still, although at first it all looked grim, an eruption of 'chups' was music to my ears : ). Also lots of Siskins up here, including a couple of singing males.

We came back via the estuary where the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was on show by the tram sheds. This is the first time I've seen him on the estuary, I think he's just been on Colyford Marsh ever since Ian M found him last week. As you can see he is colour-ringed, I am awaiting details, you can also see how grubby he looks! Incidentally if you do recognise this ring combination, please let me know and post a reply!


Here he is telling a Herring Gull (just out of shot) to go away!

Have spent lots of time scanning the Gulls this afternoon, where I met Gav - we spoke about how our Iceland Gulls have appeared to have gone. About two hours later, by the tram sheds, I came across this....

A really narrow billed individual and my first pale one for a week - is it a new bird?

Yesterday during my hunt for a Ring-billed I came across a colour-ringed Common Gull, I will post details on this bird when I get them. I think it's the first colour-ringed Common Gull I've ever seen!

I spent 16:50 - 18:10 watching the upper river valley from the farm gate. I've already mentioned the two Sand Martins but there were a couple of other highlights too. At 17:02 an Iceland Gull came down the valley with a small group of Herring Gulls, it appeared to have come in from the Colyton direction - so we do have at least two still! Also a drake Gadwall floated down the river and 27 Little Egrets flew to roost.

I haven't posted since we had a surprise snow storm during one night last week, so here's a few snaps...

The front garden

Looking down the drive

The back garden

Finally I just MUST share with you this picture which almost made me fall off my chair this morning! We've had Ring-billed Gull on the estuary in the past two Marchs - two in March 2007 in fact! I hope we have one this March too! This photo makes me want one EVEN MORE, simply stunning photo Ronan, who said Gulls aren't attractive? Please take a look....

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Not Long Now...

... 'til the floodgates open and migrants start pouring in, but in the meantime we have the month called March.

Every birder in Britain goes out day after day during this month with summer migrants on their mind, but often every birder actually sees very little and by the end of the day realises what a pants day they've had! SOME years March can be superb - especially the latter half of it - it all depends on the weather.

That is reflected on the patch, we've had some great birds in March (Night Heron, White Stork, Snow Bunting, etc...), but little else.... It can be a month of lots of leg work for little reward. If the first four days are anything to go by then I don't hold out much hope for this year's 'month of anticipation'!

I haven't had much time out over the past couple of days but it does seem to be a little 'flat'. Monday I went to Branscombe early on, it was lovely - but the sea was a little too lumpy.

If you look closely you will see there's a boat where that Napoli was - GO AWAY!

The Red-necked Grebe that transformed me into an animated cartoon tiger last week was again showing, though appeared to be even more distant. Other than a couple of Red-throated Divers it was all quiet. Monday also gave me a chance to take a photo of our Black-tailed Godwit flock... so I did...

Well most of them anyway!

This morning we were hoping to catch some ducks on Seaton Marshes - but failed miserably! Later on in the morning, a look through the small collection of gulls on the river revealed the dark Iceland Gull still.

It still has a dodgy left eye

Hopefully my next post will contain photos of several local patch goodies (which aren't Iceland Gulls)... I DO hope so....

Sunday 1 March 2009

The Waites Invade Seaton!

This weekend my Uncle and Aunt have been visiting from Surrey, the first time I've seen them for about seven years! I still managed a quick tour of the estuary late afternoon today though.

There were two Iceland Gulls on the estuary, the 'dark one', and I presume the 'intermediate one', though I reckon it may possibly be a new bird - it showed a distinctive dark eye-mask. It remained distant and the light was always strong but I still tried taking a few pics....

This is the best of the lot

I also came across this first winter Gull which showed a very Caspian-like head and bill, I'm not convinced by the rest of the bird but it does look on the 'leggy' side too...

See what I mean....

And again...

This would have been a much better photo had the bird actually been in focus!!

After grilling the Gulls I watched from the farm gate, I was here for about half an hour and seen just 14 Little Egrets fly down river. At about 17:50 I thought I'd scan over the Bridge Marsh pool incase an early LRP had dropped in, there was indeed a small wader squatted down on the edge of the scrape. I drove round to Bridge Marsh gateway.

As the light was poor I had to walk out on to the Marsh, where I was surprised to see it was actually a Golden Plover! Even weirder was the fact it was paired up with a Dunlin! It ran around the edge of the scrape when I got too near, but just didn't want to fly off. It really SHOULD have been an American or Pacific.... one day....