Monday 30 April 2012


Well it was a rough one this morning! This was the view from the Beer shelter when I got there at 06:30...

Windy, wet and lots of white-topped waves!

Phil, Bun and Karen were already here, although all wished they hadn't bother because it was was quiet on the bird front. I had another look a little later from Seaton sea front, it was better with a Bonxie and a commic Tern, along with a strong passage of Manxies (70 in ten mins). The sea still looked as impressive...

I thought the remaining beach huts were going to get another bashing - but they got away with it today!

Up the valley, lots of flood water about. I love our valley when it is like this - the habbo looks superb for so many species. In this view you normally wouldn't be able to see ANY water...


There were large numbers of hirundines and Swifts over the valley today, but for me the flood opposite Axmouth FC was the best spot. The Egyptian Goose James found yesterday was still present...

Our first one for several years - for a few years it was a guaranteed year tick on the Axe!

And this afternoon, a lovely flock of Whimbrel, Blackwits and Barwits were here. There were five of the latter, with two in stunning summer plumage...

In the top photo there's three species but five different plumages!!

The flood came over the A3052 at Colyford today. Not surprising, and not the first time I've seen this. But I thought it deserved a photo...

It was always passable though

Before I post this, I must just mention another new local patch blog! And I am already very impressed with the photography on show on it! Sue Smith has started a blog, and you just HAVE to check out her stunning Whinchat photos from today...

Thursday 26 April 2012


Last night I witnessed some very dramatic scenes on Seaton beach. Although there was almost no wind, the true power of the sea could be seen. Foam was everywhere, and beach huts were being knocked about like they were made of polystyrene. I watched several being 'sucked' from the beach and into the sea, where the next large wave destroyed them with seemingly no effort at all. This morning, half the beach huts on the west walk are damaged/destroyed/gone, likewise many on the east part of the beach.

It looked like snow! Note the green beach hut facing the wrong way!

This morning I was up at 05:45. After quick look at the sea front to check on our beach hut (which had thankfully survived the night) I was at Beer shelter for 06:15. Bun and Karen joined me briefly from 06:30. Although there was nothing like the Skua passage of yesterday, it was still an enjoyable sea watch with some nice sights.

The highlight was an adult summer Little Gull soon after I arrived, it was feeding whilst slowly flying west. I really enjoy the Brent Goose passage too - although I had missed a flock of c45 that came through prior to my arrival (seen by Gav from Seaton).

My totals for this watch, 06:15 - 08:15, were (west unless stated):

93 Pale-bellied Brent Goose (four flocks, one of a flock of six had a lot of white in the wing - anyone else seen this bird?)
6 Dark-bellied Brent Goose (in with the Pale-bellies)
6 Gadwall (4 and 2)
49 Common Scoter
4 Great Northern Diver (1E, 2W and 1 sum plum close in on sea before also flying west)
13 Manxies
13 Whimbrel
4 Bonxie (2E, 2W - at least three birds involved for definite)
1 Arctic Skua (pale-phased adult flew distant east but came in and flew back west close in)
1 Little Gull
6 Kittiwake
10 Sandwich Tern
8 Razorbill
13 auk sp.

If you enlarge this photo you can just about to make our four Dark-bellied Brents

So, it was an enjoyable sea watch...but still no Poms. I thought I had blown it...

I was at home doing things that needed to be done, but a quick check on Portland Bird Obs website had me heading for the door again! They had had Poms in Chesil Cove and past the Bill, I was still in with a chance - so I went back to Beer.

I sea watched 10:30 - 12:30, and what a great watch it was! This is because I saw not one, but SIX Pom Skuas! Y-e-e-e-e-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h-h!

At 11:15 I picked up a flock of four Skuas way off to the east flying west, I knew instantly they were Poms. I watched them for the next fifteen minutes as they made their way across the bay and out around Beer Head - twice they stalled briefly on the sea, but they didn't stay down for long. The flock comprised two full-spooned pale-phased birds, a slightly darker intermediate-type full-spooned bird, and a dark phased 'spoon-less' bird. I sent some texts out, and Gav and Ian M both reacted and were alongside me within half an hour. I have to say, I felt bad though because there was absolutely nothing to see! Since the four Poms, the sea had gone dead.

Well, that was until at 12:20 when Ian picked up a Skua heading east - another Pom! And with it a second one. These were both pale-phased birds, one with spoons and one without. The spoon-less bird briefly harassed some Sandwich Terns before continuing on east. Result! So pleased for Gav too.

The full list from my second sea watch of the day looks like this (west unless stated):

24 Pale-bellied Brent Goose (in two flocks; with Gav's flock we've had c170 of these today)
12 Common Scoter
1 Black-throated Diver (a really close winter-plumaged bird west)
42 Manxies
1 Bonxies (east)
6 Pomarine Skua (4W, 2E)
1 Med Gull (first summer feeding offshore)
3 Kittiwake
33 Sandwich Tern
4 Razorbill

Also of note, throughout both these watches I saw several hirundines and other passerines fly in off the sea, indicating that it was a good day for passerine migration today. Wish I had more time because I would have 'bashed some bushes' if I had.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

A Day Of Sea Watching

Some would blame my current bed-loving nature for missing three Pom Skuas this morning - I blame the weather men! They said it was going to be tipping down, clearing mid morning, about 10ish. So I had set today aside for a mid morning til early afternoon sea watch. When I did wake up soon after 7, I looked out to see no rain and lots of wind!

Just after half 7 a text from Bun informed me of the Poms - I really have rotten luck with this species on patch (as you will read later!). The last spring Poms I saw were in 2007, three in one sea watch, and they were awesome. But I want to see more!!!

So I rocked up at the Beer shelter just prior to 8am. And the shelter was VERY busy...

Almost full capacity!

They had already notched up nine Bonxies, the Poms and an Arctic, along with a load of Whimbrel and two Velvet Scoters.

Bonxies were the main feature of this sea watch, but they were flying in both directions, so the true number of birds is impossible to know. I saw 23 in all (17W, 6E), whether this is 23 different birds, or 17, or 11, I don't know. Who knows? The four Arctic Skuas were all different birds though, with two (pale and dark) west, then a single dark phased west, and lastly a single pale phased east.

The full list of what I saw (08:00 - 10:40) looks like this:

43 Pale-bellied Brent Geese (3, 13 and 27)
2 Mallard
11 Common Scoter
2 Great Northern Diver
1 Black-throated Diver
1 Red-throated Diver
79 Whimbrel
23 Bonxies
4 Arctic Skuas
70+ Kittiwake (they picked up near the end of the watch)
40+ Sandwich Tern
2 Common Tern

The largest flock of Brents

Passage really died at about 10:15ish, the sun had come out and wind dropped right off. It could almost be described as being pleasant.

Sea watchers getting bored!

So we jacked it in at 10:40.

After doing a few jobs at home, and having a bite to eat, the weather turned again, and after a text to Bun, Me, him and Dad were back down Beer shelter for 14:00. Within five seconds of setting my scope up, two Arctic Skuas flew past, and a third came through a couple of minutes later. I sent a text to all the other patchers which ensured Ian M joined us at half past, and later Phil and Gav.

The star bird in this watch was a Little Tern - only my sixth on patch ever! I picked it up as it was flying south west with a small group of Sandwich Terns - such a tiny bird! Luckily for the year listers it hung about, and remained for a couple of hours - although it was a right git to see! It took Phil about an hour and a half to catch up with it.

The totals of what I saw in this watch (14:00 - 16:40) are:

32 Common Scoter
14 Bonxies (8W, 6E)
7 Arctic Skua (5W, 3E)
36 Whimbrel
25+ Kittiwake
c9 Sandwich Tern (blogging)
1 Little Tern
2 Swift (in off, my first for 2012)

Well, when I said I watched 14:00 - 16:40, there was about a three minute period (about 14:40) when I nipped off to move my carpark to avoid getting a parking ticket. In that time, a sodding full spooned pale-phased Pom flew REALLY close east. What a total bummer! I have seen 48 skuas today, but the only Poms flew by when I wasn't there. I was ok about missing the morning ones, but this was just cruel. It didn't put me in a good mood! (sorry Jess!!). It has insured though that my alarm will be set for 6am in the morning though!!

Ok, enough about sea birds! I have had a couple of looks up the river, the highlights being 16 Whimbrel and a pair of Gadwall. I was expecting to see more though as there was a heck of a lot of water in the valley today - it looked great for a Black Tern. Maybe tomorrow...

Monday 23 April 2012

A Four Way Sea Watch

There were four 'shifts' of sea watchers this morning from Beer.  Phil did the early stint, with Bun and Karen dropping in just after 6:30.  I rocked up at 7:50, staying til 08:35, not long before Ian Mc arrived to continue the watch!

We never seem to do that well for numbers in south easterlies (except sometimes Terns), and today was no exception!  I think there was too much rain as well, with several Gannets visible resting on the water.  All I noted were (all west):

2 Manxies
7 Whimbrel
1 Med Gull (second-summer)
1 Common Gull (first-summer)
14 Sandwich Tern

A little later I had a quick look off Seaton sea front too, where I noted a single Common Tern flying close in east, and a Dunlin whizzing backwards and forwards over the beach.

Mid afternoon, a quick tour of the valley showed AT LAST good numbers of hirundines.  At least 450+ were feeding in the valley.  Swallows were most numerous, with House Martins probably at the 100 mark with only a few Sand Martins.

It was so good to see this sight again!

A look along the Estuary revealed four Common Sandpipers, three Whimbrel, but nothing else of note.

This one was just north of Coronation Corner 

Since when did blogger change the posting format!?? I don't like it - I want the old style back!

Friday 20 April 2012

Back To Basics

Well after a very enjoyable and exciting fall on Tuesday, and a excellent sea watch on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (so far) have been somewhat dire!

Yesterday, the best I mustered were my first White Wagtails of 2012 (late or what - I often see my first in March!). Two males were on Black Hole Marsh early morning, before flying off north.

This morning, the Beer Cemetery Fields produced just half a dozen Willow Warblers, two Swallows and a singing male Whitethoat. I was hoping for much MUCH more than this, because after a mostly clear night there was some decent clover this morning.

Today's blog post photos are going to have to come from some garden bird ringing. I've had the net up between showers today and yesterday as lots more birds are coming into the garden at the moment - especially finches. In fact about ten minutes ago I ringed the 150th Greenfinch for the garden (since June 2011).

Another small landmark was reached yesterday, with my 35th Bullfinch for the garden. It was a cracking second calendar year (aged 5) male, and below is a comparison shot of its open wing (above) with an adult male (below - taken on 27th Feb). Note the big red arrows pointing to the greater coverts and the key difference...

note the much broader whiter tips on the retained juvenile feathers on the younger bird. My fat thumbs are obscuring the carpal coverts on these birds, which is also a key ageing feature for Bullies.

Also this morning, I was rather surprised to catch this recently fledged juvenile Dunnock...

Don't worry, it was reunited with 'Mum' (or Dad?) upon release

Wednesday 18 April 2012

A Lazy Sea Watcher

Normally I am quite an intense sea watcher. Pockets full of clickers, a notebook and pen, there for dawn. But not today, yet it was probably one of the greatest spring sea watches I have ever had on patch! And this was pretty much my first attempt at a proper sea watch this year!

Last night, Bun texted to say he was going to be sea watching off Beer from 7am. My alarm went off at 6:10am, but I hit snooze...and again....and again.... I finally got up at 7am, soon received a text from Gav simply saying "sea busy", then made my way to join Bun at Beer with no clickers and only a scrap piece of paper. Bun was running late, and we both arrived at the shelter at about 07:22. In the first scan, several flocks of Manxies were in view - oh goodie!

Top bird number one came at 7:30, when I picked up a first-year Little Gull flying in from the east with five Sandwich Terns. The Little Gull then spent the next ten minutes or so feeding fairly close in. Another one, or the same bird, reappeared at 08:30ish. I'm more inclined to say it was a second bird, as it appeared to fly in strongly from the east.

Next highlight was after a tip-off from Gav, who was sea watching from Seaton. At 07:45 two pale-phased Arctic Skua flew in from the east, at close range. They came into view with two Kittiwakes, but soon lost them when they spotted a small group of fishing Sandwich Terns. The Skuas spent the next half an hour offshore, often resting on the sea near to the fishing terns, only flying up when they had 'pirating' to do! We got excellent views of these two beauts.

The final highlight was without doubt the best. At 8am, we had kinda given up and were just chatting about all sorts of rubbish, when I fixed my scope on a bit of sea that had a summer plumaged Black Guillemot flying over it!!! SHOCKER!!!! I shouted to Bun, and despite his shaking hands and noticeably panicky voice, he quickly got on it.

It was distant, but the light was brilliant. We both managed to lose it soon after, me whilst I was hopelessly trying to photograph it, and Bun when he moved his scope. For Bun it was a patch lifer, but I saw a single moulting bird off Branscombe in Feb 2005, followed by two in summer plumage there in March. As it's a Devon A rarity, and didn't photograph it, I quickly penciled out a sketch of it on the scrap bit of paper in my pocket - much to Bun's amusement! Needless to say I will not be posting it up here!!

This is the full list of what we clocked up this morning (west unless stated);

2 Common Scoter
1 Great Northern Diver (east)
1 Red-throated Diver (east then landed on sea)
40+ Gannet
200+ Manx Shearwater
10 Whimbrel (see photo)
2 Arctic Skua
8 Kittiwake
1+ Little Gull
8 Sandwich Tern
10 auk sp.
1 Black Guillemot

My first of the year - they gained height and appeared to continue west over Beer Head

Another short sea watch from Spot On Kiosk, Seaton, 11:30 - 12:15 revealed the now westerly wind had pretty much killed it. Except for Sandwich Terns, of which 29 flew west. It was nice to see hirundines trickling in off the sea, including my first House Martins of the year (at least six).

Despite almost immediately alerting other Devon birders about the Tystie, it wasn't seen off anywhere else. So I'd certainly advise a look off Branscombe in the morning - the sea should be a bit calmer too.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Not The Day I Was Expecting

Normally, the evening before I have a pretty good idea what kind of birding I will be doing the following day. And last night I set the alarm for 6am with sea birds in mind. I was very wrong!

For some reason I woke up shortly after 4am today, and it was horrendous outside. Heavy rain and strong winds battering against my windows. When my alarm went off at 6 though, no rain, and much less wind. This, along with my interrupted sleep, encouraged me to get a little bit more sleep!

When I did get up, I sent Gav a text to find out what the sea was like. The response was mostly negative, so I headed out at 7:30 to check elsewhere.

The Estuary showed nothing new at all, so I headed to Black Hole Marsh. As soon as I stepped out the car I could hear several Willow Warblers singing, many more than I should be hearing! I wandered down the track towards the marsh, but was interrupted by a reeling Grasshopper Warbler in the field to the south. One of my favourite sounds of the spring - and our first of 2012. A look over the lagoon showed another 'first for the year', in the form of this Common Tern...

With two Black-headed Gulls

I walked back towards the car where I met Gav who had twitched the Gropper (they can be hard to find when you 'need' them). Whilst we were waiting it didn't make a sound, but another first for the year briefly popped up, in the form of a cracking male Whitethroat.

Next stop was the Beer Cemetery Fields, I grabbed my mist nets on the way up too. I shouldn't really have bothered with the nets, as it was really quite windy up there - although it wasn't a total waste of time as I did catch and ring three birds; Blackcap, Wren and Blue Tit.

It certainly wasn't a waste of time coming up here though! Two and a half hours produced;

2 Redstart (males - in the same area as each other)
1 Tree Pipit (flew low west calling at 11:15)
1 Grasshopper Warbler (reeling near the cemetery - it was real close but I never saw it!)
45+ Willow Warblers (probably many more)

One of the Willys

And I know you know what a Grasshopper Warbler sounds like, but here is a short video clip of the Beer Cemetery bird reeling...

I was out again this afternoon. Seaton Marshes produced ten Wheatears, Colyford Common another seven, and my first Sedge Warbler of 2012 was singing beside Black Hole Marsh.

Considering the date, and the weather, there are still very few hirundines about. I have seen a few Swallows about, but in past years, this weather on this date would produced several hundred hirundines in the river valley - and possibly even the first few Swifts. I wonder where they all are?

What a brilliant and very enjoyable day! It's so nice to see a decent spring fall. I spent a lot of time out yesterday too, and saw nothing of note all day! The only migrants I saw were a couple of lone Swallows. What a difference a day makes! I presume the weather over northern France was clear last night - they must have had one hell of a shock when they arrived in the UK!

Thursday 12 April 2012

Mr Nasty

Well it should be Miss Nasty really, as I'm pretty sure our lingering Caspian Gull is a female (on size).

Yesterday I spent half an hour watching her, from Coronation Corner - and boy was she in a bad mood! Every few minutes she would just have a go at anything near her. The funny thing is though, she would often lose! I did feel sorry for an unsuspecting first summer Black-headed Gull though, which was just sitting there minding its own business, and the Casp must have run for about 15m along the mud just to have a jab at it! For absolutely no apparent reason! What a bully...

It must be the time of the month!

Also yesterday, a wander around the Beer Cemetery fields showed little, except these four Wheatears which looked like they were shortly going to be continuing with their northward migration...

Three males, and my first female on 2012

Today, all I've had time for was a ten minute watch from Coronation Corner just before 9am. This proved worthwhile as a winter plumaged Sanderling flew north up river and around the corner. A minute or two later though it reappeared, flying around with two Dunlin, before nipping over the tram line and appearing to drop down on Black Hole Marsh.

Saw three Swallows whilst driving too, south of Musbury. Although there are nowhere near the amount of hirundines around that I'd expect by now, maybe these - along with two Sand Martins I saw yesterday over town - signal the start of a mass arrival?

Tuesday 10 April 2012

After The Storm

Just before 3pm there was an almighty hail storm in Seaton. Once it had passed, it suddenly occurred to me that any number of rare birds could have been forced to seek refuge on our little Estuary. So out I went for a sweep of the Estuary...

Well no rare birds - unless you count Caspian Gull as a rare bird still. Our lingering first winter bird was showing from Coronation Corner...

Horrible light, sorry!

Also along the Estuary, a Knot amongst the Blackwits (with the red flagged bird still present), a Common Sandpiper by the bridge (my first on the Axe for a month - so surely a migrant?) and this second summer Med Gull...

Please do not click to enlarge this photo - it is PANTS!

So although no storm driven rares - still a worthwhile trip out!

Sunday 8 April 2012


The first answer is to the question "where has this colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit come from?"...

Note the red flag

I photographed this bird a couple of days ago on the Estuary, and had a reply last night from Pete Potts.

Although I haven't yet got the full details of this bird, or the complete list of re sightings, I do know it was ringed as a chick in the nest in Iceland on 13th June 2010. And that it has been seen many times during the winter months on the Tagus Estuary, Lisbon, Portugal. How exciting is that!? I look forward to getting all the exact dates and details and will post them up here when I do.

Ok, answer number two is to Friday's poll question, "what is this duck?"

A female something...

Well despite a couple of hundred hits since posting this photo, only 25 of you placed your bets. Plus one comment.

And the answer?? Well this is it's mate...

Much easier now!

Yes, it's a Baikal Teal, and 44% of you voted this way. Well done! The second most voted answer was Garganey with 20%, and then Cinnamon Teal with 16%.

I took the above photos when Jess and I went to Axe Valley Animal Park last Friday, along with these snaps...

What a great place - right on our doorstep too!

Friday 6 April 2012

A Quick Quiz

I took this photo today, within 5 miles of the patch boundary...

The question is - what is it!?

Go on - have a go with the poll below. All it will take is a couple of seconds to select your answer and hit the vote button...

What is this bird? free polls

Thursday 5 April 2012

Just Like Fair Isle

I've only had about an hour out birding today, and most of this time was spent at the Borrow Pit ISeaton Marshes) this afternoon after a text from Dad.
On the water, this group of four Tufted Ducks were looking very much at home...

Three males and a female

But the 'Fair Isle' title of this post came thanks to the surrounding fence line. A group of at least ten Willow Warblers were working their way along this fence line in a tight group, often perching on the fence and posts before dropping down into the grass to feed - they looked superb! But what made the experience even better, was this...

A cracking male Redstart

The other small bit of birding today for me was a quick look along the Estuary early afternoon. The Blackwit flock looks stunning right now - and big too with 67 today. There are still a few of the Axe Estuary's colour-ringed birds in the flock - we have been used to seeing these all winter...

This is GOW; note the Axe Estuary's YRY combination on the right leg though

But today, this bird was also in the flock...

Not one of ours!

The Axe Estuary Ringing Group doesn't use flags (notice the red one below the orange ring on the right leg). And obviously it is also lacking the yellow red yellow combination. I have sent an email, and hopefully will soon learn where it was ringed and where it has been in the meantime...

Tuesday 3 April 2012

An Armchair Tick

....well sort of anyway!

Bun texted me last night to say I had missed Purple Heron off my patch life list on Bubo. Quite how I did this I don't know, because that Purple Heron (April 2011) was one of the best birds I've ever seen here! It is just so great when you get a lifer on patch, and Purple Heron was a bird I always said I'd never twitch because one day one would surely drop in here (and be twitchable). And to see it so well too - one epic bird! So, thanks Bun for the text (and Phil for finding the Purp!), patch life list on 244.

A little more birdie news for yesterday. I dipped on the three Little Ringed Plovers on Black Hole Marsh last night, but three Swallows north were my first of the year, and at dusk 40+ Sand Martins descended upon Black Hole Marsh.

Now to today, and I was hoping to wake up to cloudy skies and lots and lots of birds! A quick peek out the curtain at 06:30 revealed clear skies and just a whisper of high cloud - so I tucked myself back into bed! When I did get up an hour later, and after an hour of laptop work, a quick look at the Portland Bird Obs website showed a tweet from Martin saying they'd had a pulse of migrants through this morning. So that tempted me up to the Beer Cemetery Fields.

We either hadn't had this 'pulse', or I'd missed it. Three Willow Warblers, two Wheatears and the usual Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were all I noted. The Wheatears were rather nice - both very smart males. On this blog, the average Wheatear photo usually looks something like these...

The two from this morning

So it was nice when one of the birds allowed me to take this...

Not pin sharp - but nice and close nevertheless!

Also saw my first Speckled Wood of the year. I know I'm quite late at this - but it's a good excuse for another photo...

The Lumix is great for subjects like these - as long as the auto focus picks the right bit to focus on!

To mop up all the bird related blog worthy news, whilst writing this blog post I've had a net up in the front garden. And I've just ringed Bullfinch number 34! A cracking 5 (2cy) female.

I realised in my last blog post I didn't mention the content of my moth trap last Friday night. So here it is. 26 moths of 9 species included;

1 Water Carpet
1 Shoulder-stripe
3 Double-striped Pug
3 Early Thorn
7 Common Quaker
5 Small Quaker
3 Hebrew Character
2 Clouded Drab
1 Pale Pinion

So nothing outstanding, but it was nice to see a few new ones for the year.