Monday 30 January 2012

White-winged Frustration!

Still no white-winged Gulls in this part of Devon!!

I had several looks along the Estuary today, where five Barwits were the highlight, and spent the late afternoon period stood on Beer Beach Pier. Lots of gulls, especially at the latter site, but not a white-winger in sight :-(

A nice treat at Beer though was this Black Redstart, it really brightening up the other wise dull and gloomy afternoon (as you can tell from the crap photo!). I think this is the only Black Red wintering on patch this year, and it is probably the most elusive Black Red known to man! Even when I saw it this afternoon, after about a minute it flew back around the corner and disappeared towards Seaton Hole!

Friday 27 January 2012

Crossbilled Blackcap

Had a bit of time to put a net up in the garden this morning. I caught one bird, which was yet another Blackcap!

This one was a quite different from all the others though, because it had a deformed bill, and had been eating something which had made its face go very yellow....

A right weirdo!

It was light compared with my recent Blackcaps (weighing 16.4 grams - the previous five birds coming in at 18.7, 18.7, 23.0, 18.8 and 18.5), but it had a fat score of 25 and a bit of body muscle. If it was summer, and this was a Phyllosc, I would have said the yellow on its face was pollen - but it isn't - so I haven't a clue what it has been feeding on!

Had a couple of looks along the Estuary today, the mid afternoon look revealed 12 adult Med Gulls. One was well on its way to summer plumage - yummy! None of them were today, I think the white colour ringed bird the other day has already moved in.

This bird was white 31A7, and it turns out it was ringed as a third calendar year bird on 24/06/09 at Harlingen Haven, Friesland, Holland. There was an interesting re-sighting of it on 13/05/10 on the Island of Griend (also Holland), where it was seen eating a Black-headed Gull egg! Since then it has been seen only once before I spied it, this was on 20/06/11 at The Wetland Centre for Wales, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire.

Monday 23 January 2012

Still No Time...

...for birding or blogging!

But I have just seen this on the net. Click on this link and scroll half way down to the Robin in Cumbria...,NMDQ,3CXANV,1WQEQ,1

Especially in the right hand photo - doesn't that look rare! Imagine if you glimpsed that skulking about in the bushes at your local migration hotspot!!!

Early afternoon update: I lied in the post title! I did have enough time for a sweep of the Estuary, which was nice.

The highlight was two Golden Plovers that flew in from Colyford Marsh direction and landed with Lapwing north of Coronation Corner.

Amongst the gulls were seven adult Med Gulls (including one white ringed bird, I have sent the ring details off for it), and a very dark mantled Herring Gull. It had lots of black in the primaries, was clean headed and average sized, so I think it was just a darker than average

Thursday 19 January 2012

A Grey Chiff...

I can only apologies for how quiet this blog has been of late. I have had such little time for birding, and even less time for blogging!

Anyway, I thought it was about time I did pull my finger out, so....

Here's a few pictures I took of the grey Chiffchaff I saw in Mike Tyler's hand on Saturday morning at Colyford WTW. There is green in the mantle, which I guess alone would rule out pure/classic tristis? As you can see though, it is a very pale grey bird - the top two photos showing it alongside a collybita shows this well. Also note the lack of any yellow tones on the birds underparts.

What do you think...

Tuesday 10 January 2012

All Quiet

I'm sure many of you are wondering why the Axe Estuary has been so quiet lately? No news of any decent gulls, or anything else for that matter! Well that's because it has been quiet! I've been out for at least a couple of hours every day, but I've seen almost nothing worthy of note.

Yesterday I trekked out to Weston again, and finally had good views of the Scoter flock. There were just under 200 birds, but unfortunately all were Commons.

Weston Cliffs; the furthest point is Beer Head

The gulls have been relentlessly crap. Whilst Radipole have had up to three Ring-billeds, an Iceland and a Caspian within the last few days - not to mention 350+ Med Gull - the Axe yesterday had six Med Gulls (4 unringed adults, 1st winter and 2nd winter) and that dark mantled hybrid third-winter large Gull that I photographed the other day. And that was it! Today was even worse, with just three Meds.

With some cold weather predicted, let's hope it shakes something up!

Saturday 7 January 2012

Where's Our White Winger?

An hour at Branscombe this morning revealed virtually nothing on the sea. A few Razorbills and Guillemots were as good as it got for things 'floating'. Luckily there was a little bit of interest over it, with a single Great Northern and six Red-throated Divers west.

Had a good sift through the gulls today, with two trips along the Estuary, a look over the pig fields and a visit to Beer beach (as well as scoping the gulls on the rocks at Weston). Nothing but three adult Med Gulls. We are blatantly going to get an Iceland Gull though within the next week - coffee coloured first winters are always nice, but I've never seen a second or third winter on the Axe, so one of those please....

Friday 6 January 2012

A Few Days In One

Just a few snippets of interest to mention from the past few days on patch.

On Wednesday a check of the Estuary mid afternoon revealed three adult Med Gulls and this weirdo large Gull. It could just be a Lesser Black-backed Gull at the pale end of the scale, if not it's certainly got Lesser Black-backed in it somewhere...

Sorry for the grainy photos - full digital zoom used!

At home, I netted yet another female Blackcap! My ninth of the winter so far.

Yesterday all I had time for was another Estuary sweep, nothing but a couple of adult Med Gulls.

Today, mid afternoon the Estuary showed three Med Gulls (two adults and a first winter) and a surprise Ringed Plover! They are a regular spring and autumn migrant here, but actually quite rare in the winter months...

If only it was a Killdeer...

Lastly, just a note to please be vigilant - or keep your ears open at least.

On Thursday evening two wildfowlers were shooting ON Seaton Marshes. This is a Nature Reserve and I think is disgusting behaviour - not to mention totally illegal. The Police were called but the shooters had gone before the Police arrived. If anyone sees them return then please phone the Police immediately. Shooting is obviously permitted on Colyford Marsh and other areas of the valley that are not owned/managed by EDDC.

Monday 2 January 2012


I thought I better put the birding world at ease...

Has Steve Waite suddenly become part Cornish*? Has his listing streak got the better of him and his interests are now entirely selfish....

.... No!

I understand some slightly disgruntled birders were hunting down the pale Wigeon this morning, with the question 'why did we not hear about this yesterday' nagging them. Likewise, a local blogger was clearly rather bemused as to why his afternoon coffee was not interrupted yesterday.

So I thought it best I explained myself...

Wandering down to Seaton Marshes bird hide, and there's about eight Wigeon feeding not far from the path to the hide. I put my bins up and notice a paler female amongst them, with a bit of an eye mask. I thought it best I took a snap as the birds had their heads up like they were about to fly, and I knew a pale female Wigeon had been seen on the Otter the end of last year, so I took a photo (I thought I took two or three at the time, but the day before I had changed my camera setting from 'burst' to 'single shot'). Seconds after I took the photo, every Wigeon on marsh took flight (no I'm not a flusher either - it wasn't me!) and headed towards the Estuary.

I had bin views of this Wigeon for maybe 5-8 seconds. It turned out my reasons for why I should take a rapid photo were right, as it did indeed bugger off!

I only had three female Wigeon to directly compare this bird to in the few seconds I had of looking at it (though there were many more Wigeon on other parts of the marsh), and the only things I noted were that it seemed to be much paler with a fairly distinct dark eye patch. In a larger flock with a greater variety of female Wigeon I wondered if it would have stood out as much? Would other female Wigeon look paler and more like this bird? Could it just have been a first winter female and the other three were adult females? All these were quite possible I thought - so I thought no more of it.

I thought I should also point out that at the time it was pissing down with rain, I was soaked through and my bins were full of rain and partially steamed up.

Ok, usually when I go out birding, I come home soon after and immediately get the photos off my camera and onto my laptop. But today I was out a lot longer than usual, and didn't return home until pretty much dusk. I had a bite to eat, a much needed shower, got into a change of clothes (I was soaking wet!) and then fired the laptop up and began downloading the day's pics.

The Wigeon pic came up on the laptop, and my immediate first instinct was to text the local birders and send them a copy of the photo. Only now could I see the structural differences on the bird (head shape) and the apparent (partial?) black gape line. Obviously if I had noticed these features in the field (i.e. if I got it in my scope if it had stayed put for more than ten seconds) then I would have sent texts out there and then.

Basically I did not get a decent enough view of the bird at all to convince myself it warranted a text.

Most who know me know my nanosecond texting ability (and whilst not looking at my phone too!). And all know how rapid I usually am at getting the news out when I find a goodie - often before I am personally 100% happy with the identification, maybe because I've not seen all the clinching features (i.e. the White-rumped Sand this Nov, Solitary Sandpiper, my 'Iberian sounding Chiffchaff on Beer Head', and even the Audouin's Gull; I'd only seen that red bill for a few seconds before I made the first phonecall).

So why this blog post? Life is too short. I hate people thinking I've done wrong - because I always do try to do my best for everyone. If you are still genuinely peed off after reading this account as to why I didn't send a text out, then I can only apologies. I will endeavour to text any time I see something that looks even the teeniest bit 'odd'...

Right, I must go, I've just got to check and see if that Dark-eyed Junco is still in my neighbours back garden**....

*please take this as a joke! I (and I'm sure all) are well aware the Cornish controversies stem from only one or two individuals.

**there isn't one really!

Sunday 1 January 2012

Jan 1st Bird 'Race'

I will apologise now for the lack of photos in this post. Too busy rushing about to take photos - except for one which may prove rather important!?

Well it has been some years since I've had a proper attempt at a Jan 1st bird list/race. So I thought I might as well give it a go today, for a bit of fun. It certainly wasn't a race though, as I was solo, and up against only myself!

Yesterday I wasn't sure if I was going to do it. First of all the weather looked pretty pants for today, rain due in at midday and a moderate south west wind all day, which wouldn't be helpful at all for looking for divers, grebes, etc. And secondly, we have no birds! Yes that is a bit of an over the top statement, as obviously we do! But we have no 'goodies', most years there's a Whooper/Bewick's, and maybe a Surf Scoter or such like... diddly sqat this year. And forgetting rares, there's very few even marginally scarce birds around - no decent wildfowl (diving ducks, gadwall, pintail, etc), and the sea has been pretty pants full stop.

So, should I do it or should I not?? I honestly couldn't decide! So I thought I'd let the birds decide for me. I will go out at 6am, if I scored with all three of the Owl species that occur on patch before dawn, then I'll go ahead and do it. If I didn't - then I'd go home and back to bed!

So 6am of January 1st came, and I was out the door...

Little Owl is always pretty predictable, and a calling bird south of Musbury confirmed this. Barn Owl is the trickiest of the three to net, and after over half an hour of driving and lamping I wasn't feeling confident. But from the farm gate, whilst listening for Water Rails, I shone the torch out and one was hunting the field right in front of me!!! It was now 6:45, I still needed Tawny...

Tawny Owl is easily the commonest of the Owl species on patch - but when you want one, they aren't always there! Lower Bruckland Ponds delivered the goods though, with one calling in woodland to the south. So that was the three Owls, a day's birding is was to be....

It was still very dark, so I returned home to eat some more breakfast - I had a big day ahead of me! Turned out to be a wet one too!!!

I was soon out the door again, and had a quick look around Axmouth. By 8am I was on 25 species, with the 25th being Kestrel - always a relief to get this one on the list (although by the end of the day I'd seen four!). A quick sweep of the Estuary was made worthwhile when a Sparrowhawk flew over - again not always easy to see on a given day (although again, by the end of the day I'd see four!). The usual waders were notched up, before I headed over to Branscombe.

The sea was horribly choppy, far from ideal for a Jan 1st day list. I like to see what's on the sea, and when there's big waves I can't!!! Still there were lots going over it. Never has Kittiwake been so easy on Jan 1st, there was a bit of a mega passage going on! There were some gems too (well for the patch anyway!), with a female Red-breasted Merganser west being the top prize, with a lone Brent Goose also west coming in at second. A lone Red-throated Diver west was the only diver of the day, and two Common Scoter east were the only sea duck of the day. The most numerous bird at sea was Razorbill - they were all over the place! I honestly thought I wasn't going to get Guillemot though, even the ultra distant stringable range auks all looked like Razorbills! Thankfully one did come through, very close in too, and I picked up a second on the sea. Raven and Peregine also made it on to the day list from my sea watching position.

I thought the sea had given all it could, and apart from a quick look over the sea from Beer where I added Great Crested Grebe, I didn't give it another look. So I had a mooch about the sewage works. I was hoping for Firecrest, I was disappointed. But I wasn't disappointed with the 'list padders'; Mistle Thrush (always good to get!), Treecreeper (likewise), Jay (likewise again!), Chiffchaff (one green one and one much greyer bird) and a Grey Wag were the best of the bunch here. I was on 50 species shortly after 10am.

Next up was woods! Oh look, here's a photo from today I can put in...

How unispiring!

At first, they were incredibly kind to me. I am not joking, within ten seconds of getting out of my car Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker were added to the list! After a short walk, a Lesser Redpoll was much appreciated - but this is where the woodland 'good times' ended. During the winter months, I kick Woodcocks up left right and centre in this woodland - but not today. Bloody hell! After stomping around virtually the entire wood, I finally kicked one up from the southern edge - swines! Although this was indeed a pain in the arse, it meant I was in the woods for a bit longer than planned, and if I had left them on time I wouldn't have scored with the two Siskin that flew over east as I was walking back up to my car :-)

Next stop was Beer Beach where I dipped on Bun's Black Redstart, but added Great Crested Grebes and Rock Pipit. This was followed with a quick pit stop home, where two slices of yesterday's Pizza were much needed, as was the female Blackcap scoffing rotten apples in the front garden.

It was now midday and I was off out again after my ten minutes refueling. Bad news - the rain had started! Oh well - I was in it now, so had to see it through, even though I ended up getting soaking wet! Seaton Marshes gave me the three birds I wanted from here; Shoveler, Stonechat and Common Sandpiper (right in front of the hide). This though is where the 'important photo' comes in to it.

I gave the Wigeon flock on the marsh a quick look through - in case there was a Gadwall or any other patch goodie in amongst them - and this very pale female Wigeon stuck out like a sore thumb! It immediately reminded me of a female Wigeon sp. seen by Chris Townend on the Otter just before Christmas, see HERE.

Anyway, I got my camera out, took one photo.... then it flew off! Drat. It flew towards the Estuary, and no I didn't see its underwings :-(. Anyway, here it is...


Looks good in this photo doesn't it! Pale head and neck, dark eye mask, slightly less sloped forehead with more rounded cap, and is that a bit of a black gape line visible in the more zoomed in photo??? I now wish I had abandoned my day list at this point, and re located this Wigeon, but I didn't, I'm sorry to say I was in listing mode.

Next was Colyford Common, basically I got really really wet for bugger all. Well Stock Dove, Water Rail, Reed Bunting and Fieldfare were added to the list, but it was Jack Snipe and Water Pipit I was really after. Lower Bruckland Ponds added Coot to the day, but no sight or sound of any Cetti's. I then went to the 'secret Woodlark site' - and really did see BUGGER ALL here! It was tipping down, and foggy, and a waste of time.

Another sweep of the Estuary gave me an adult Med Gull (which was bloody hard work to find, over the past week they've been dead easy!) and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Then I suddenly realised I hadn't seen Grey Heron or Kingfisher!!!! It was round to Black Hole Marsh, were I'm pleased to say I scored with singles of each.

I then headed up to some arable fields, on the out skirts of Beer. Here a decent sized flock of Yellowhammer put this species on the list, then I went to some fields near Colyford where a couple of Skylark were present (there were many more here a week or two ago!).

Then the rain came in again, I was already cold and very very VERY wet, so at about 15:00 I called it a day.

So my day total for this Jan 1st patch list attempt (the lesser patch too by the way, 5km radius from Axmouth bridge, no time for Weston, Farway, Trinity Hill, etc) was.... 94.

I'm actually really chuffed with that - because like I said earlier, there isn't really much about, and the weather was a long way from being ideal. So yes - I finish the day a happy 'lister'. And am also happy that that's the listing done with for a good while - back to proper 'patch birding' now.

So I've said what I have seen, now time to say what I didn't see...

Well there's a very embarrassing one, and it isn't on the list basically because I forgot they existed! Linnet.

At no time during the day did I think "oh I need to see a Linnet", and when I added Yellowhammer late in the day, I saw yellow then went straight back to the car - I didn't look around at all, which would have lead me to some Linnets I'm sure. Oh cock.

Green Woodpecker's another one I didn't get today - but they're always a git to pin down. And all the Canada Geese have gone, not one anywhere on patch today (that I saw anyway). I've already mentioned I failed on Cetti's Warbler, Water Pipit, Jack Snipe and Black Redstart.

I have to be honest, I just don't think I'm cut out for listing. I enjoy birding, I like 'grilling' birds, I like scoping/scouring through flocks of birds (gulls, wildfowl, etc). When you are doing a list like this - you've just not time to do this properly.

Right, I need to go to bed! Happy New Year everyone, I hope 2012 is a good one. Let's hope this Wigeon is still around in the morning...