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...

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