Monday 29 November 2010

I Did What!???

Sorry for the delay in writing this post, I have had a very busy weekend! But yes the rumours are true - I have been birding in Devon NOT on patch.....

Last Friday, I had to go to Exeter, but thought I'd make a bit of a day of it! So I was at a very cold and frosty Ide by 07:40...

Up to 70 Redwings flew over, as did a Golden Plover. A Chiffchaff showed in an adjacent hedge, and at 08:05, a Hawfinch dropped out of the sky, landing on a fairly distant tree for about half a minute before flying off west.

This was the trees and field I was looking over...

...basically where I was told to go and where I've seen them before

But after a further hour, I hadn't had another sniff of Hawfinch. I was going to give up, but decided to try a little further down the lane just before I headed off....and there they were!!!

Hawfinches suddenly started calling from above me...

You may need to turn the sound up for this video!

There were three chasing each other around, one flew one way, another went another way, but one stayed put for a short while, allowing me to fire off this quick pici with the Lumix...

Cracking birds!

I left here, popped in to Exeter, then carried on south - I was heading for Torbay.

Broadsands was my first stop, here I met up with Mike and Josh.

A perfect day for it

In the bay were seven lovely Black-necked Grebes and a Red-throated Diver. We then headed for the 'bunting fast food restaurant' where up to 14 Cirl Buntings where showing, although very jumpy thanks to passing noisy dog walkers. Also here a couple of Siskins were feeding in alder trees with Goldfinches.

Cirl Bunts with a Reed Bunt and a Chaffinch

I then headed for Berry Head, where a tame Lapland Bunting had spent the last couple of days. I'm pleased to say it was still there! It really was tame, with dogs, children and prams passing within feet of it!

I didn't like to get too close to it as there were other birders and photographers there, but these are my best pics with the trusty Lumix...

What a bird! It is clearly a first-winter, and almost certainly a male

And here's a short video; it would have been much longer if a passer-by hadn't started talking to me!!

After another meet up with Mike, a look off Paignton failed to show the Long-tailed Duck, but there were singles of Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and Black-necked Grebe. It was then time to come home and go to work.

Well - I really enjoyed myself, great to go birding in this part of the county again. I can see a few other off patch day trips in the months ahead...

I did no birding at all during the weekend, just plenty of wedding planning, a day at work and a three hour gig. This morning though I've been back out on the patch, and have seen a few interesting birds. Expect another blog post later or tomorrow....

Thursday 25 November 2010

Pleasant But Quiet

I woke up to, as forecasted, a very hard frost and ice. Just what winter should be like!

After a brief and unsuccessful sea watch, I headed up to Beer Head. The only birds that could possibly be described as being grounded migrants were a couple of Song Thrushes and a Goldcrest. I was surprised by the eastward trickle of Finches along the cliff edge; it was mostly Linnets with smaller numbers of Chaffinches and Goldfinches, with two Siskins and a Redpoll adding variety.

Two adult Med Gulls were on the Estuary mid afternoon, with the wintering Common Sandpiper - but that's all I've seen of note today.

To end this post, here's a few wintry snaps that I took this morning...

A frosty Axe Valley from Beer Head

The pools opposite Axmouth FC (of Dowitcher fame) frozen over

Axmouth FC pitch

I've heard of 'water off a duck's back' - but not 'ice off a swan's back!!!'

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Knot Worthy Of A Blog Post

There was a lone Knot on the Estuary from Coronation Corner this afternoon. Also managed a good count of 162 Teal, split almost exactly 50/50 between Colyford Marsh and Axmouth FC.

Earlier today, a sea watch 08:00 - 09:00 revealed:

6 Red-throated Diver (west, in three lots of two)
1 Great Northern Diver (showing well on the sea)
6 Common Scoter (5 east and 1 drake on sea, later there were 2 females on the sea)
90+ auk sp. (I can't say I saw a single Guillemot though)

What an exciting birding day.......

Monday 22 November 2010

Just An Hour

An early afternoon sweep of the Estuary showed 39 Blackwits (well 37, with two more opposite Axmouth FC) and amongst the Gulls were this nice adult Med...

We only have one or two Meds around at the moment - the other day Brett counted 285 on his patch on The Fleet!

There was also this (very exciting!) thing. At first the mantle shade along with the amount of white on the birds primaries made this look good for my first argentatus Herring Gull of the winter, but it lacked the size and there's a few other things not quite right with it. So I've put it down as just a darker than average argenteus...

It was quite striking in the field, the light conditions were ideal for 'gulling'

There's still loads of birds opposite Axmouth FC. Three Shoveler (one drake) were a 'field tick' for me.

A little later, from Seaton Hole, two Great Crested Grebes and a Common Scoter were all I could spy on the sea.

Am liking the forecast with cold weather predicted, things might get interesting by the end of the week....I hope!

Finally, there was another new addition to my 'birding library' today, this....

It is huge!

It is literally a library in itself, being 746 pages long! But it is an invaluable addition to my collection, and surprisingly up to date too. For example, the Solitary Sandpiper is in there under 'Pending records new to Devon', along with Yelkouan Shearwater, Barolo's Shearwater (Lundy this year), Elegant Tern, etc. Bearing in mind the Sandpiper was only just over a month ago, it is incredibly up to date for a book of this calibre. Well done Mr T I say!

Thursday 18 November 2010


I have only had chance for a whistle-stop tour of the river mid morning. The best spot was Bridge Marsh, with MASSIVE numbers of ducks on what water was left over from yesterday...

Tons of ducks!

There were 410 Wigeon and 90 Teal on this pool. I looked hard for a vertical stripe amongst the Teal, or some nice salmon pink flanks amongst the Wigeon...but not today (either would be an over due patch first!). Two drake Gadwall were notable though, out first of the autumn I believe.

Whilst downloading these pics, a couple of Raven flight shots dropped on to my computer that I'd taken yesterday...

Croak croak

In the last week I've learnt of a 'new birder on the block'. Rodney who lives in Axminster cashed in on the Little Gull influx yesterday with a first-winter on his part of the Axe at Axminster. Much more gripping though was the juv/female Long-tailed Duck he had on 30th Oct during a sea watch in stormy conditions from Seaton Beach. His exacts words were "it was flying so close to the beach it was almost within touching distance"....GRIPPED!! But an excellent record nevertheless! :-)

Back to my Bonxie experience of yesterday, I did try to take a video as it flew around above my head, despite being stood right besides the crashing waves in gale force winds and torrential rain! I knew it was going to come out rubbish and wasn't worth posting, but that hasn't stopped me before....

This video doesn't do it justice at all, but it does show how it just stayed above my head!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

What A Contrast!

I took these photos just after half past midday...

And I took this photo less than two hours later...

All morning it was absolutely horrendous - torrential rain with a very strong south easterly wind whipping the waves up a good'un! But early afternoon, it was as if someone flicked a switch; not a breath of wind and blue skies! The sea remained pretty choppy though.

Mid morning, the flood opposite Axmouth FC was graced by a gorgeous adult Little Gull. Unfortunately, as I was attaching the camera to my telescope, everything took to the air and it buggered off! Also here 12 Snipe and 8 Dunlin (with a further 14 Dunlin on the Estuary).

A few hours later, whilst sea watching from the shelter of Axmouth Yacht Club, another adult Little Gull flew through east. Although the sea watch was very poor (we never seem to do very well in really rough conditions), the Little Gull wasn't the highlight.

I picked up a Great Skua flying into the bay quite a way to the west of me, which then started to fly east along the beach. I broke from the shelter of the yacht club building and ran to the shore where I was soon treated to my best ever views of a Bonxie on patch! When it came level with me, it double-backed and hung in the wind no more than ten metres above my head, looking down at me! I have to say, I felt intimidated, but it's moments like this that make birding so enjoyable for me. What a stonking view of a terrifically powerful was the kind of view you'd only expect to get during the breeding season on Shetland!

I returned to the shelter of the building, and took a few snaps as the Bonxie continued to fly up and down the beach...

A long way from Mark Darlaston quality - but not bad for Seaton!

And that's pretty much my highlights for today, but for two adult Med Gulls; one on the Estuary and one on flood water south of Boshill Cross.

Early afternoon I gave the new hide at Colyford Common a go for the first time...

This is no 'box' anymore!

A vast improvement! It is now comfortably spacious, and the added height helps no end. Best of all though is the much improved panoramic view, with the north end of the main scrape on Colyford Marsh now easily visible. Excellent work again EDDC :-)

There were plenty of birds to be seen here, like for example at least 400 Wigeon, but nothing out of the ordinary. Two Green Sands on Colyford Common probably being the best.

Now, it's days like today that I think food plays an important part in the birding regime. There hasn't been much mention of food on this blog of late, but during one of my brief returns to 'base', this helped me along no end...

Note the healthy seeded multi grain bread

And then I thought I'd get a taste of the festive spirit soon to be upon us...

Note the small slice I've cut off for myself; this was the only slice I ate, promise...

Monday 15 November 2010

Colyford Common Ringing

I was a little late this morning, I thought I pressed the 'snooze' button, but I actually pressed the 'go away I want to sleep' button! I finally got down to Colyford Common at 8:30. The reserve looked stunning...

There had been a very hard frost. It had taken me a few minutes to get the ice off my windscreen

The sun soon warmed everything up though, and it has turned out to be a beautiful day!

Although ringing was never busy, there was a good variety, with one stand out highlight....

A Snipe - one totally STUNNING creature in the hand!

We trapped yet another unringed Cetti's Warbler. Cetti's is the only UK bird to have ten tail feathers...


In the clear conditions Skylarks were on the move over head in some numbers but little else. A few Fieldfares were kicking about with at least two Water Pipits and two Green Sandpipers on the marsh.

Couldn't see the Long-billed Dowitcher or any Whooper Swans during a quick look about early afternoon.

Saturday 13 November 2010

The Sea And My Patch List

I do love living by the sea - it is always there to look at, and it can NEVER be built on! Not to mention the fact its appearance changes from day to day...

This was how it looked on Wednesday morning of last week...

Oh so tranquil!

And this is how it looked the following morning...

See what I mean! And yes - the sea watching was so poor that I ended up taking photos of waves!

And when it comes to birding - the sea is just fantastic! You simply never know what is going to fly past, literally anything could at any moment! Which is why, if I'm not sure what to do or where to go, I head for the sea front. This was the case today....

I arrived at the Spot On Kiosk at 08:20 this morning, joined by Ian M about five minutes later. There are three lessons to be learnt from today's sea watch...

1/ a quiet sea watch isn't always a rubbish sea watch

2/ eat lots of breakfast beforehand

3/ sea watching with company is much better as you are less inclined to give up as quickly

So, in the end, we did a full TWO HOURS of sea scanning, I was planning on a twenty minute watch!

First highlight was a female-type Eider bobbing around distantly, our first of the autumn - and not a common bird for the patch at all. It remained on view throughout the whole two hours despite getting itchy wings and taking to the air on a couple of occasions.

Second highlight was a Black-throated Diver which flew west at about 09:15.

Third and final highlight was a Red-necked Grebe Ian picked up flying east at 09:30. It looked as though it was going to fly straight through, but it landed somewhere miles to the east of us. I wonder if it's the same bird that I had off Branscombe on Wednesday just milling around?

Other than these three highlights; five Red-throated Divers (3w,1e,1 on sea), one diver sp. (distant e), a few Gannets, nine Dunlin (w) and a Razorbill (w) were all that made it in to the notebook.

So little to show in quantity for two precious hours of my life, but some nice patch quality :-)

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon at home, that wasn't totally bird-less though...

Oh look - a nice male Sprawk

I was out again though mid afternoon til dusk...

Spent 40 mins wandering around the stubble fields at Axe Cliff. The first flock of Skylarks I flushed (c80 birds) had a Lap Bunt in with them. I couldn't see it, just heard it call several times. And I didn't see or hear it again despite sifting through another 350+ Skylarks before returning back to the car.

I spent pretty much the rest of the daylight hours seeing nothing of note at all. But last thing from the farm gate was incredibly pleasant....

Very nice

And when it was almost pitch black, a/the flock of 12 Brent Geese (re)appeared. They flew south down the river - so I assume they are feeding up river somewhere and roosting on the Estuary or in the bay.

Now to lists....

Whilst sea watching, Ian M casually asked me "so how many birds have you seen on patch?"

To which I replied "haven't a clue!"

So this evening I worked it out - and have even uploaded my list to BUBO (thanks to Bun for the guidance!).

And yes I have been strict...

1/ Ruddy Shelduck is not on the list....despite the fact the two Gav found were wild!! If you don't believe me - look for yourself...

See, both totally wild! Wary, unringed, fully winged, only present for a couple of hours, seen by me, etc...

2/ The Black Stork that stunned Bun and myself on 08/06/07 was 0.4km outside the 5km radius from Axmouth Bridge - which just sucks! As you read this I am drafting a letter to the 'local patch authorities' to see if I can get ours expanded by another half a kilometre!

3/ I have only seen Nightjar on Trinity Hill, again outside the 5km zone

4/ I know I've seen Baird's Sand on the Estuary, on Wednesday 19th May 1999 to be exact - I was 13. I won't go in to details, but it wasn't accepted by BBRC despite four people seeing it, and even hearing it call! But, it got the NP vote so it's not on the list.

Anyway, after all that, my official patch total is.... 238.

But if anyone was to ask me casually whilst in the field, the answers 242 ;-)

So what do I still need (apart from the four mentioned above!). Well my three biggest bogey birds are:

1/ Turtle Dove - and I reckon if I don't get one in the next couple of years I'm stuffed, just as they sadly are.

2/ Puffin - how I've not seen one of these I don't know!

3/ Hen Harrier - I was counting Chaffinches half a field away from Gavin who jammed in to one. From where I was stood, I couldn't see it! And I was at work for the male everyone else saw going to roost on Axe Marsh a year or two later.

The most painful gap on my list is Common Crane. I think I'm the only birder in the world who has ever 'fluffed' a flock of four of these easily identifiable and humongous birds....

....I reached in the car for my bins and yanked them out, but the strap got caught on the handbrake. By the time I'd untangled them, and put them to my eyes, the birds had gone around the corner.... I went to sleep that night thinking 'just what were those four massive large winged grey birds!??'.... the next day, four Common Cranes were on Exminster Marshes. In the words of James May.... oh cock!

On the other hand, I have got some really nice grippers....but no way am I going to list them or go in to any details - wouldn't even dream of it! There is one bird I will extrapolate on though....

"Friday 26th April 1996 - Dad took me and Mr House (a Grammar School music teacher) to the Undercliff tonight. Heard and got good views of a singing Nightingale in the undergrowth near Goat Island"

What is weird is that my life up to age of about 17 is just a blur of immaturity, but this is one night I can remember - and I'm not just saying that! I can see us walking down the steps, waiting, hearing and seeing... and the hazardous walk back in the pitch black! Sadly I think this was the last one ever recorded here.

So there you have it, I am now a 'lister'....

Friday 12 November 2010

Glonk Makes It 17

This morning I was going to have a gander at the American Robin, after I'd enjoyed a rare lie-in. So up I got at 08:30, saw that the Robin was still there thanks to a couple of received text messages, had breakfast, then headed out the door.... to the sea front!

Yes, for some reason I decided NOT to go to Exminster, but chose to have a look around the patch instead (as per usual!). Am bloody glad I did though, as after a rather uneventful sea watch, I had a look up the Estuary and this was the first Gull flock I came across...

Click on the photo to make it bigger - and see if you can spot the 'odd one out'. If you can't, I'll post directions to the opticians later ;-)

Yes - there sat a stonking first-winter Glaucous Gull! THIS stonking first-winter Glaucous Gull...

OH MY WORD - what a BEAST! Lock up your children - they just aren't safe with this brute around!!

You would not believe how over-joyed I was/am. Glauc is my favourite of all the large Gulls, and it is my biggest 'boggy bird' on my self-found list.... sorry, was! Wryneck now has that accolade.

What made it even better in a 'self-found' context is that this Glauc represents the 17th species of Gull I have found on the Axe since 2007. Hmmmmm, I wonder what will be next... Great Black-headed please :-)

Ian M saw it as it flew out of the Estuary and westwards, but unfortunately no one else got to it. Hopefully it lingers - it is about time we hand one hanging about. These weather conditions yet again prove to be our best for Gulls - blustery winds with some south in it, low cloud and rain.

There's a rather amusing note to add to this find... I first clapped eye on the Glonk through bins whilst sat in the car. In the excitable few moments that followed I jumped out the car without doing something. It was only when I was knelt on the ground looking at the bird through my scope, with one hand leaning on the back of my car that I realised this... car started to roll forward, OH CRAP - handbrake! Luckily, I was able to lean in the open window of the passanger door and pull it up!

As for the American Robin, what a stunning bird it is, check out Karens pics of it HERE! A cracking county record - the first 'confirmed' mainland sighting in fact. Lundy has had all three of the previous Devon birds. If it stays in to next week I will trek over and see it, but I'm not in an urgent rush as I saw the Cornwall bird in 2004. Like this bird, that was a smart thing too!

In fact that was one of my 'top three' twitches of all time, because we also connected with (how's that for 'twitcher jargon'): American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Surf Scoter, Ring-billed Gull, Lesser Yellowlegs, and on the way back, Devon's first Lesser Scaup (which funnily enough was at Exminster Marshes!)