Wednesday 27 October 2010

Two And Two

Well I have a few days to write about on here!

The morning after my return from Spurn (last Friday), I woke up to clear skies and some over head movement - so I dashed up to Beer Stables to do some counting.

I really like 'vis migging' from here - though it's only any good when the wind has some west in it. As this place is so high and located just after birds have flown over the Axe Valley, passage is very low, often only just above hedge-top height. And it's easy to pick things up along time before they have reached you - bigger birds (ie Pigeons and Jackdaws) you can see coming from as far away as Axe Cliff! The view back over Seaton and the Axe is just stunning...

Anything big flying up the river could be spotted and scoped from here too!

I watched 08:15 - 09:30; and at exactly 09:00 I fell in love with this spot even more...

Two Woodlark flew low (west - like everything) over the fields just to the north of me. They looked simply sublime in perfect light conditons - calling to each other as they flew out of view. This species has been long long LONG over-due during one of my vis mig watches from here/Axe Cliff/Beer Head/my garden. Finally.... :-)

Other counts for this watch were:

7 Wood Pigeon
144 Jackdaw
2 Redwing
5 Skylark
1 Swallow
24 alba Wagtail
27 Meadow Pipit
8 Starling
1 House Sparrow
207 Chaffinch
5 Greenfinch
21 Goldfinch
5 Linnet
19 Siskin
1 Lesser Redpoll

Saturday was mostly a birding-free day, except for a quick look about mid afternoon. Thought we may have a Whooper with the numbers about that day - but a look through the Swan flock opposite Stedcombe drew a blank.

The following day, after James Mc had jammed a couple of Lap Bunts at Axe Cliff, he also took a look through the Swan flock - and there nestled nicely amongst the Mutes was a Whooper! This species is fast becomming a regular wintering visitor on the Axe. I caught up with it on Monday, and took a few snaps of it today...

It appears to be neither of the two birds we had last winter - I've had a close look at bill patterns

On Monday, in the glorious sunshine, I also had a look for a Lap or two at Axe Cliff. I failed, despite seeing about 350 Skylarks! Two Brambling over west were the first patch ones for me this autumn.

The weather on Tuesday couldn't have been more different - with rain and strong south westerly winds! A look through the Gulls on the Estuary early afternoon bagged me a stonking adult Yellow-legged Gull, which Gav duly twitched and photographed. I also counted 385 Great Black-backed Gulls - a good number for us. Much lesser numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls included a variety of mantle shades.

This morning, a look from the garden just after sun rise revealed very little going over, so I headed down to the Estuary again.

Looking across the valley from the farm gate was my plan - but calls of Redwings and Siskins kept me looking much nearer. Five Redwing were perched in nearby trees, then a flock of twenty flew over south, a few Mipits and Siskins went north, but nothing prepared me for what happened next!....

At about 09:10, my eyes were drawn to two obviously chunky and short-tailed birds that were flying low south west along the far edge of the field directly in front of me (Norcombe's field). I got my bins on to them just as they were u-turning back north.....bloody hell - HAWFINCHES!! I followed them as they continued north, gaining height all the time. I lost them well north of me - probably as they were about to fly over the A3052.

When I first clocked them they were so low, so I think they had only just taken to the air - a pity they didn't land again. These are the first ones I've seen on patch since the wintering birds of 2005 - a wholly unexpected surprise!

After this, Axe Cliff again failed to give me a Lap Bunt - just oodles of Skylarks still. A check of the pig fields beside the A3052 showed lots of birds - with an adult White Wagtail being a surprise amongst the Pieds. It seems to have a 'dodgy' left wing, which may explain why it is still here!

The last bit of birding of today - and this blog post - was a look around the Yacht Club. I failed to find a Shorelark or Snow Bunting, but did have a female-type Black Red on the roof tops of Trevelyan Road.

Friday 22 October 2010

Spurn; My Return

Anyone who knows me, or has read my second ever post on this blog ( will know Spurn was and is a very important place for me. I worked here for two years, I learnt and grew up so much as both a person and a birder. I am forever indebted to the place and the people here - and was so pleased that I finally had a chance to go back.

I arrived at 4pm on Monday 18th October. This is how my stay went....

Day One

The drive up was relatively painless. I left Seaton at 10:40, and was driving through Hull at 15:10. It was great driving from Hull to Easington, passing through all the places I have passed through so many times before - just not in the past five years.

I arrived at Kew Villa (the bird obs wardens house) at 16:00, and was greeted by Andy and Paul. With Adam arriving a little later. Great to see everyone again - and great to see none of them had changed one bit! It was getting dark and gloomy, but I did have time for a quick twitch. A Spurn tick for me - the only one I got during this visit....

An Egyptian Goose - don't worry, it does get better than this!

After log, a fine cottage pie and a glass of red wine or two, it was off to bed....

Day Two

With the wind coming from the west, and the clear skies, The Narrows was the obvious place to go. We were here by 07:30, and I left Andy to count alone at about 10:30.

Looking south from Narrows down the peninsula

There weren't loads on the move by all means, with less than 200 Goldfinches for example. There was some fine quality though with a Shorelark (which unusually for here flew north!), four Lapland Buntings and four Twite. Small raptors were also on the move with five Sparrowhawk and a Merlin south, there was also a large juvenile Peregrine hunting over the Humber, disturbing the thousands of wading birds.

The Merlin; am very pleased with my Lumix for this one - it is worth enlarging

At about 10:30 Adam shouted me over the radio saying he had just caught what he thought would be a ringing tick for me at Kew. So I went straight up there, and he was right! Two Mealy Redpolls 'in the bag'...

One of the best things about these Mealies were their 'fluffy' legs, I've never seen legs like this before on any finch-type bird! (by the way - that isn't my hand!)

After ringing a few more birds - including a couple of Tree Sparrows - I headed to the Warren. This is at the start of the peninsula, and is where the accommodation for the Bird Obs is located. I positioned myself near the sea watch hide, where I could over look the sea, the Triangle, the peninsula and the Humber.

That's the sea watch hide, and you can see the corner of the Warren heligoland trap. As you can see - nice blue skies

I watched here from 11:45 - 14:00. Pink-footed Geese were on the move in small numbers, I counted 285 in all, with flocks varying in size and flight-line. Most though flew past over the sea like this bunch...

A line of Pinkies - I just love the noise they make as they go over!

Three Red-breasted Mergansers flew in, as did a flock of 43 Brent Geese...

If you are sad and did count them, the 43rd bird is just out of shot!

With the clear skies I was hoping for raptors, and they came! At 13:00 a distant large raptor appeared miles to the south, but it was flying up the peninusla so I was just going to wait patiently. All of sudden though, it turned, and started getting even more distant! The light was awful and I couldn't make anything out on it, so just shouted over the radio "there's a large raptor flying south down the peninsula". Luckily Adam was down there, and about five minutes later he radioed that he could just make out a Rough-legged Buzzard over the Humber heading for Lincs. Why the bloody thing turned around I don't know - but very annoying!

25 minutes later another large raptor appeared in air just to the north of me - it was a cream-crowned Marsh Harrier. After being hassled by a Crow for a few minutes it flew south. The only other notable sighting during this watch was a late Sand Martin which flew south.

After a bite to eat, I headed for the Point to see if I could see the two Northern Bullfinches that had been hanging about here. Soon after I got to the end though it starting chucking down with rain - so no surprises that I didn't see them. In the outer dunes good numbers of Blackbirds, Redwings and Song Thrushes were flying up as I was walking through, plus a couple of Fieldfares and Bramblings. This chap was 'surfing' just off the Point Beach...

My seal ID skills leave a lot to be desired for! I think this one is a Common though?

I also took this (in my opinion) nicely composed pic...

Clear skies above Lincs, with the Humber Lifeboat in the foreground

It wasn't far off dark now, and I stopped off at Chalk Bank to look through the high tide wader roost where a lone Avocet was a bit of a surprise amongst the mass of grey!

This really doesn't do it justice; part of the high tide wader roost at Chalk Bank

I am always spell-bound by the numbers of variety of wading birds you can see at Spurn. It just shows how good this place is for birds, as they rarely get a look in as there always seems to be something else to look at! Over the few days, I must have seen up to ten thousand Knot, a couple of thousand Dunlin, hundreds of Grey Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher and plenty of Sanderling, Turnstone and Ringed Plover. It really is amazing!

I returned to Kew, we did log, and then went to the Crown and Anchor for dinner. Nathan - one of the Spurn regulars - came down from Hull to join us. It was great to see Nicky too, looking well - she was one of three who I went to Morocco with in 2005. A few pints later, we were back at Kew and it was time for bed!

Day Three

A blustery north west wind, and over night rain, meant sea watching was the order of the morning. It wasn't long though until the clouds cleared and sun came out - so it wasn't all that ideal. That is one problem with sea watching on the east coast - in the morning you are looking towards the sun!

There were a few bits passing through. I picked a Pom up flying north, which at first did look quite petite and Arctic-looking, but it soon revealed huge amounts of white on the underwing, and as it flew more parellel to us it showed broad wing bases and nice slow and deep wing beats. Other Skua actioned was provided by three Bonxies south. A Sooty Shearwater only offered a few brief views as it flew north, but the four Goldeneye that flew south were much more obliging - one being a cracking adult drake.

We had to head back to Kew to clear out the second bedroom as a new carpet was to be fitted. After this I headed up to Easington to see if I could see the Rose-coloured Starling that had been seen. I didn't - but had much more luck with the Yellow-browed Warbler in the church yard, a stonking little bird. Also here a cracking tristis-type Chiffchaff. It called several times - sounding more like a Bullfinch than a Chiff - but it wasn't a grey bird - more brown and buff. Not a hint of green or yellow on it though.

After hearing a few crackles on the radio about a Hawfinch, I returned to Spurn. A walk around the Triangle showed plenty of thrushes, with Redwings and Song Thrushes in almost every bush. Eventually the Hawfinch showed for me, it flew up and headed back north - always nice to see these monster finches in flight! At the Bluebell, another Mealy Redpoll was a nice treat, showing very well with a flock of Goldfinches...

Looks like it is going to be a good winter for this species

I returned to Kew to help put the bedroom back together. While I was here, Paul opened the nets and I did a bit more ringing, including a few more of these...

Tree Sparrows were everywhere - I probably saw over a hundred each day. Cracking birds though!

After some lunch, I fancied a wander north, up to Beacon Ponds....

This is the main lagoon - another high tide roosting site for wading birds

Literally as I took the above photos, two Short-eared Owls took off from the top of a bank that was no more than three metres in front of me! They flew over the ponds together for a couple of minutes before landing in a field to the south of me.

A Ruff was feeding in an adjacent field, with c100 Golden Plovers and several Lapwing and Curlew. As I walking alongside the second lagoon, a 'flash of white' turned out to be this...

A stonking adult male Snow Bunting! Again - bravo Lumix!

By the time I'd got back to Kew, it was getting dull and that was all the birding for the day done. But the garden was full of thrushes and Bramblings as darkness fell.

Day Four

My last day started how my second had, with a vis mig watch from the Narrows with Andy...

Me at the Narrows. I've seen many many good birds from here - and counted many hundreds of birds!

The south west wind (albiet very strong) ensured good numbers of birds were on the move. Totals of 122 Skylark, 40 Rock Pipit (with another 30 in off) 689 Goldfinch, 70 Greenfinch, 84 Siskin, 14 Linnet, 16 Lesser Redpolls, one Lapland Bunting and one Snow Bunting went in to the notebook. A major highlight were two Waxwing which flew low south - they nearly got through undetected too!

Wildfowl passage included seven Red-breasted Mergansers, a few Teal, Wigeon and Common Scoters, a Goldeneye, a Velvet Scoter and 46 Whooper Swans. The Swans flew past both over the sea and over land - in various sized flocks at various distance...

A distant flock of eight up the Humber - these touched down and rested on the exposed mud

A closer loner!

I left the narrows at 11:10 and returned to base camp, via a trip to here....

Easington shop - complete with a hot cabinet full of pasties/slices/sausage rolls!

After I stuffed my face - and a cuppa back at Kew - I went to the Warren and had another watch from besides the seawatch hide. I was here 12:30 - 14:45.

Over the sea, passing wildfowl included one Brent Goose, five Wigeon, two Pintail, ten Teal, a Red-breasted Merganser and another six Whooper Swans (taking the day total to 52). These really knew how to migrate - they were sat on the sea and let the tide to all the hard work! When I first picked them out they were white dots miles to the north, when I left they had just gone south of straight out!! The best the sea had to offer was a Little Auk which came whizzing through north at 13:55 - another two were seen later in the afternoon.

A few birds were still flying south, with a few more Rock Pipits, Goldfinch, Redpoll noted - and a nice flock of five Twite, their nasal 'duwee' call giving their identification away!

Most impressive though were the birds coming in off the sea - something I really love the east coast for. During my watch I counted nearly 300 Fieldfare - some single birds skimming the cliff-top as they hit the land - others in large flocks that dropped down from some height as they saw trees and bushes. Very few actually landed though, most continued on west. A few Redwing, Blackbird, Rock Pipits, Chaffinches and two Snipe came in also.

Although I felt sorry for the passerine I enjoyed watching a Merlin chase what I think was a Rock Pipit for over five minutes over the sea. It was a sad end for both - as the Pipit fell in to the sea, and the Merlin left empty taloned.

My stay here was coming to an end now. I returned my radio, which allowed me a last look at the Obs...

The Warren cottage - this building is still in use

And inside - this is the common room where log is usually held in the evenings

'Dunbirding' - this is where I lived for several months. It's now been closed down. (Probably as a result of me staying in it!!)

This large white building is also now 'out of bounds'

Paul and Andy kindly fed me up, then at 17:30 I left Spurn, and was home by 22:45.

I was very sad to leave - and had such an enjoyable time. Even if I had seen no birds - which could have well happened with the predominantly westerly winds - I would have had an excellent time. So good to see the place, and everyone again. Nothing has changed - except the fact I'm going to be a regular visitor again!

I've just a couple more photos to add to this MONSTER post. Time for just a little bit of gloating...

I've seen White's Thrush in this hedge!

And a Pine Grosbeak in this tree!

See you again soon Spurn....

Thursday 14 October 2010

Ouzel Unearthed!

Ring Ouzels seem to be invaiding all south coast headlands at the moment....apart from ours!

So after both Ian M and myself drew a blank at Beer Head AGAIN this morning - I changed tactics. I gave Beer Quarry a look - a fairly large dissused quarry about a mile inland. Here I struck gold!

At first I managed just a brief flight view of an Ring Ouzel, but about twenty minutes later one sat out in the open for a minute or so - result! The first brief view revealed what appeared to be a dull bird, whereas the one that sat out was a stonker, so I'm definitely claiming 1+!

There were loads of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a couple Redwings moving about in the same general area - so in truth there may well be a few Ouzels skulking about the place.

Rewinding the day, and Beer Head wasn't as busy as it was yesterday. Over head passage was a bit all over the place, due to the lack of wind. A Golden Plover, a Grey Wagtail and two Reed Buntings were the highlights. There were masses of hirundines about - mostly House Martins. Some where moving straight through, though 500+ were using fences and bushes to rest on...

Getting ready to go!

Grounded birds included 85 Pied Wags, 60 Meadow Pipits, ten Chiffs, six Goldcrest, two Wheatear, one Redwing and one Stonechat. I was surprised to see the Corn Bunting still with us - over a month we've had the pleasure of its company now.

I'll end this post with a couple of Wheatear photos...

Always nice to see - even in this plumage (probably the dullest a Wheatear can look!)

Nooooooooooo - don't fly to Africa yet, stay just a little longer! PLEASE!!!

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Pied Wagtails Up Close

There was lots of movement at and over Beer Head this morning - I didn't do any counting though as I could only stay an hour, had to go into town at 9am then joined Mr T for a spot of bird ringing.

The most numerous species going over were Goldfinches, Siskins and hirundines, with fewer Linnets, Chaffinches, Mipits, Skylarks, Pied Wags and a late Tree Pipit. Amongst the many grounded Robins and Song Thrushes were two Redwings, two Lesser Redpolls plus a few Chiffs and Goldcrests. I can give it much longer tomorrow morning - and I have high hopes! I've got to get something decent!!!

So then it was time for some ringing. Mr T has permission to ring inside Colyford WTW works - which is great! In the first couple of visits here we've caught tons of Chiffs, but today we managed only two...

I was hoping for something a little more stripey!

We did catch six Pied Wagtails though! Ok, so they are not rare - but up close they are stunning...



The wing of a first-winter (aged 3) male; note the contrast in old and new GC's and the contrast between the black tertials and much browner flight feathers

Whilst ringing, a Black Redstart was a nice surprise in the top corner of the WTW - unfortunately it chose not to fly into a mist net!

Lastly, late news of a Short-eared Owl seen last Saturday. It came up from Seaton Marshes late afternoon, and was chased by Crows across the Estuary then up over towards Axe Cliff.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

My Favourite!

Dropped my car off at the local garage this morning - then proceeded to check some of the less visited parts of the patch on foot.

I had a fine reward with a cracking Firecrest in bushes alongside Axmouth Harbour. It was very vocal - calling almost constantly - which made following it a lot easier! There were lots of Skylarks and Siskins passing over too, but I actually saw surprisingly few. I think they were going over very high in the clear skies.

I got my car back at 1pm, and spent the next hour out.

On the flood opposite Axmouth FC there were two larger Pipits; one is clearly a bog-standard Water Pipit (seen by Brett earlier in the day). The other though is a tricky one, although it has white outers, nice pale wing bars and pale-looking legs, over all it just looks too 'dirty'. The jury is still out on it, but I reckon it could be a littoralis. I want to see it in better light really.

Lower Bruckland Ponds didn't produce a Yellow-browed Warbler, but it did produce a drake Pochard! Now for some reason Brett didn't seem very interested in twitching this patch goodie - can't think why! I thought it certainly warranted a photo...


Am pleased that the Sandpiper is still gracing us - and would like to thank everyone for their congratulation messages! I (and I'm sure many other people) would very much like to thank Fraser and Doug for doing such a fantastic job in wardening the site....and what a cracking site it is :-)

Monday 11 October 2010


YIPEEEEEE! The Solitary Sand stayed the night has been showing well all day today. I just hope it stays another week for Gav.....come on!!!!!

After I finished work at midday I had a wander down myself. I didn't take any photos of the bird - but it looked stunning in the afternoon sunlight. Soon there will be some cracking shots of it on the net though - there were plenty of big lenses pointing at it.

I did take a few photos of other things though...

The excitement of a twitch on patch is second to none!!

The only other birdie news I have is of a nice Ruff on the (still amazing looking) scrape opposite Axmouth FC. James Mc saw this bird here yesterday too.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Why Not....

I have had a very tiring few days!

On Friday night at half ten I drove from Seaton to Plymouth, and was up for 8am the following morning. I stayed in Plymouth until half 11 on Saturday night, then drove back to Seaton and got in to bed at 1am. At 6am this morning I was awake for work at 7. Finished work at half 4 this afternoon and came home for a relaxing night... or so I was hoping for......

I really did feel like total crap, and was ready for a very VERY early night - I have work again at 6:30am! But it was such a beautiful evening I just HAD to go out! Why not....

At 18:12 I wandered down to Black Hole Marsh to see if the Curlew Sandpiper and three Little Stints were there from earlier. The first bird I saw was a Sandpiper which had walked around the corner into view....

Hmmmm....something didn't like right!!! There wasn't a Green Sand in sight - and this bird just wouldn't flash its arse or call! Not to help matters it was getting dark - rapidly!

At about twenty past I'd seen enough to put the news out locally of a 'probable Solitary Sand'.

At about half past, as the first local arrived (Ian Mc) two Green Sands flew in and joined it! SH*T THE BED - it IS a Solitary Sand!!!! It just looked so obvious now!

Once all the avaliable locals had arrived (five of us in total), I felt we NEEDED to see its rump for the BBRC, just in case it did/does do a bunk over night - so i 'encouraged' it to fly, which was bloody hard work! It flew about ten feet and showed what we thought it would :-)

We continued watching the bird until it was literally pitch black, it was feeding happily roughly in the same spot as where I first found it.

All directions are on the Devon Bird News Blog, as are a couple of crappy photos and a rubbish video clip. I'll post the pics here too though, plus one more...


This is the moment us patch birders wake up for....or in my case today - don't go to sleep for! Result!!! I just hope the currently off patch - patch birders get back before it goes.... PLEASE STAY BIRD!!!

Thursday 7 October 2010


Guess what I've just had go over?

Yes you've got it! Winter is here......a Redwing!

Whilst talking about fly overs, I had an excellent 'work tick' late afternoon yesterday. A Green Sandpiper flew low west over the back yard, calling all the way! An excellent addition to the list :-)

Night night!!

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Grey P's

Grey P number one came after work on Sunday. At Black Hole Marsh this little beaut was feeding in the corner of the marsh...

Grey Phal!

Grey Phals never fail to wow me! Whether they are minute dots bobbing about the ocean, or spinning around like this little fella on a marsh. What great birds!!! I went to Black Hole Marsh the following morning and it was not there. But at half 11 in the morning, this was....

and in bright sunshine! One odd Barn Owl!!

Today's Grey P came after a phone call from my old man. A Grey Plover (a local mega!) had just dropped in on the Estuary with two Greenshank. I couldn't see it half an hour later, though the two Greenshank were on show, as was a Knot. I did see it at midday though, and at 15:00 there were two! Never before have I seen more than one Grey Plover on the Estuary at once! This event certainly deserved a 'record shot'....

Axe gold dust!

On Monday morning I gave Beer Head a go. It was brilliant - with plenty of birds - just nothing out of the ordinary. The 'vis mig' was very good, but in the light northerly birds were flying in all directions so I didn't attempt to count anything. Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Pied Wags and Siskins were the most numerous species going over.

One particular field on the head is looking very VERY promising at the moment - with lots of passerines feeding in it. I am going to keep a close eye on it, bring on that Little Bunt.....

Saturday 2 October 2010

A Bit More Habbo

I've been keeping my eyes on this patch of flood water over the past few days. Today it was heaving with birds...

opposite Axmouth FC

There were 600+ Black-headed Gull, 40 Curlew, one Blackwit, three Ringed Plover, 50 Pied Wag, three Meadow Pipit and 80 Starling. Looks excellent for a Pec/Citrine Wag/Yank Gull. I'll keep looking...

Black Hole Marsh this morning gave singles of
Greenshank, Green Sand, Curlew Sandpiper, six Dunlin, four Ringed Plover, and tonight a Barn Owl.

The Curlew Sand

On the Estuary mid afternoon I could see seven Barwits, 12 Blackwits, one Knot, one Little Stint and overhead...the Osprey! I really thought he had gone, but must have just become less predictable!

I thought I'd end this post with a totally random photo! My least favourite birding habitat in the world...

conifer woods.....yuk! (though I must add, Scottish ones are much more inviting!)