Friday 26 October 2012

All Blown Out

Pretty grim out there this morning, strong NNE wind, some drizzle and 100% cloud!  So I thought I'd bash the bushes in and around Branscombe, and try and find some sheltered spots.

Well there were a few nicely sheltered areas, and quite a lot of birds really. I came across two decent sized Tit flocks.  Sadly though, other than 15 Goldcrest and four Chiffchaff, it was just tits! A quick look over the sea showed this flock of 20 Brent Geese flying west...

Nearly there lads - the Exe is in sight!

A look up the Estuary showed at least eight, but possibly 15 Dunlin.  Along with 50 Lapwing, a Green Sandpiper and this second-winter Med Gull...

Distantly 'Lumixed'

And that is as exciting as today got for me!

Thursday 25 October 2012

Maybe Tomorrow...

..that's a title I could have used for yesterday's post too!  Today was better though, less birds but a bit more variety.  

I didn't make it over to Portland again today - but am starting to dislike that place as they seem to be sucking up every BB rarity that's made it to the south coast of Britain!  Yes not only have they got a stunning Daurian Shrike, but on Monday they bagged a first for the Western Palearctic with a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, and today a Siberian Stonechat has appeared.  And don't forget the Wrynecks, Hawfinches, Yellow-browed Warblers, etc...

Anyway that's enough of the negativity about Portland - I am in danger of sounding like a fellow blogger and good friend of mine!

So I did try Axe Cliff this morning, and am pleased to have changed location.  There seem to be a few Short-eared Owls about at the moment, and I thought here would give me my best chance of seeing one. And with only one area of rough grassland, it wasn't hard to figure out where it would probably be! And when I got to this strip of pasture, as expected up came a Short-eared Owl.  But I didn't expect it to fly south, south some more, and even further south, until it was a dot half way across the English Channel!

It all happened so quick too!  This was the first photo I managed of it...

Yeah I know - it could be anything!

And this was the last photo I took of it...

You can just about make it out still!

Short-eared Owls aren't regular on patch - so they are always a joy to see.  But this one was even more special because it made me the first person to see five species of Owl in a year on patch.  I'd do anything to take that up to six species though!

Back to Axe Cliff, and a Snipe was my second best grounded migrant of the morning, with a Stonechat and stacks of Linnets and Skylarks also noted.

We never do very well with vis mig if the wind doesn't have west in it - and today was no exception.  There were good numbers of birds passing over, with Starlings and Wood Pigeons being the most numerous species, but they were flying in all directions making counting impossible!  There were lots of Chaffinches too, along with several Siskins, five Mistle Thrush, two Brambling, two Reed Buntings and one Redpoll sp.

One of the biggest Wood Pigeon flocks I saw this morning
After Axe Cliff, a quick look along the Estuary showed a Ringed Plover (my first here for almost a month - just shows how terrible this autumn has been!), a Barwit and a Common Gull.

Mid afternoon the weather looked to be clearing, so I headed up to Beer Head.  I was wrong - in fact it clouded over even more and the wind was much stronger up here!  I still gave it a bash though.  Not much apart from Blackbirds in the bushes on the head, but looking down the Underhooken gave two immature Ring Ouzels. Two Stonechats were along the track as I walked off the head...sadly they weren't pale with black underwing coverts!  I have seen Sibe Stonechat once (Spurn), and I have to say I was really impressed with it!  You may think 'I won't bother - it's just a Stonechat'. I can tell you it really isn't - they can look more like Wheatears! Top birds.  Well done Portland...

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Unfulfilling... the most suitable word I could think of for the title of this blog post.  

I have had a couple of good days birding on patch - there have been lots of thrushes about especially.  The weather conditions have been just perfect.  But despite the numbers, and the sights, it's just missed 'the one'. I am forever hopeful though, and hope to be titling tomorrows post as 'The One'.

So why else has it been unfulfilling?  Well - I don't do twitching, I hate twitching and twitches (not twitchers though, I have some good friends who come under that bracket!). But very occasionally the bird causing the twitch outweighs all of this.  There are two reasons why I would want to 'twitch' a rare bird..

1/   Because I think studying it in the field will give me a little more experience and potentially help me in the future if I was ever to find one.

2/  Because I want to see it.  This summer's White-winged Black Tern at Lodmoor an example of this!

Well yesterday, Portland delivered a bird that certainly ticked point two - and also point one to a certain extent.  So today, I had prepared myself (mentally) to embark on a twitch to see it, I just needed news that it was there.  Well the first news was negative, and the second wave of news was only 'a report'.  When the third report came out, and that it was definitely there, it was too late.  I just didn't have time.  I am just hoping it stays overnight again, I would love to see it.  Oh yeah, by 'it', I mean THIS

So this has certainly helped me feeling 'unfulfilled'.  Getting arse-end views only of three non-calling short-tailed looking Larks from the front garden yesterday morning didn't help either. I hate 'letting things go'.

I suppose it could be worse, I could have been a fish in this part of the River Axe yesterday morning...

Oh dear!

That's enough negativity!  What HAVE I seen?

Well yesterday morning, I had an hour to 'do' Beer Cem Fields.  It felt SO rare - low cloud and fog, some drizzle, and thrushes everywhere!  LOADS of Blackbirds, about 25 Redwing, maybe 15 Song Thrush and my first Fieldfare of the autumn - as vocal as ever!  A Brambling over was my first of the autumn also.  The bushes (aside from thrushes) were quiet really - just a couple of Chiffs.   

After this I had to spent a couple of hours at home, but went out again for a good three hours afterwards.  I tried to cover as many sites as possible (Lower Bruckland Ponds, Seaton Marshes, Axmouth Harbour, the Estuary) - but I was to be disappointed.  A few Siskins and Redpolls, and two wing-barred warbler-less Long-tailed Tit flocks.

This morning, I was up Beer Cem again. I had more time though so gave it two hours.  The cloud was much higher (although still 100% cover), and no fog, but there were still lots of Thrushes.  50 Redwing is certainly a conservative estimate, with probably about the same number of Blackbirds.  20 Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush completes the Thrush counts for this visit!  Like the previous day, a single Brambling flew over, but again like the previous day, there wasn't much else!

Having still not see a Black Red this autumn (I don't know how, Start Point had 21 yesterday!) I went down to Axe Yacht Club and sure enough, there was one...

In this photo it seems to be another one of them 'slightly rufous bellied ones' - what ever they are!

A quick look up the Estuary showed nothing better than a Bar-tailed Godwit.  Then a quick look at Axmouth FC scrape showed two Green Sands, five Lapwing (with another 30 on the river) and 34 Wigeon.  

The weather seems to be pretty much the same again tomorrow - so I will try again. Maybe a different place though.  Axe Cliff maybe?  Then hopefully I will be going off twitching....

Monday 22 October 2012

Patch First!

Long-eared Owl is a bird we all know we get on patch - maybe not often - but we must get them.  Despite this, before today this species wasn't on the patch list, they are just so elusive. We could have a winter roost of twenty in the Undercliff and not know about them!

So although it is a bird we know we get, I thought there was a good chance it could be a bird we may also never get! (if that makes sense!?).  So imagine my excitement when upon investigating an alarm calling Blackbird at the Beer Cemetery Fields, a brown wing flopped out and two orange eyes looked down at me!!!

I'll rewind back a bit, and I had spent almost an hour walking the arable fields around the Beer Cemetery Fields, hoping for a Lap Bunt or such like.  All but one field was almost bird-less, the one with birds was STACKED out - just common species though sadly.  So I headed back to the car via the usual bushy areas, though wasn't expecting much as it really was dull and gloomy.  Any self-respecting passerine would be hunkered down deep in cover.  As ever though, expect the unexpected!

So I heard this Blackbird, but to be honest it wasn't going crazy at all - in fact it even seemed to move some distance whilst alarm calling.  I still checked it out though.  And as I was approaching the bush, I heard some rustling, looked up, saw an out stretched wing and then two huge orange eyes looking down at me!!!  Not believing what I was seeing, I took my camera off my shoulder and was about to snap when it took off and flew out the back of the bush and around the corner.  Argggggh!  

I went off in pursuit, thinking all I was going to see was the back end of a flying asio Owl - but before I had even opened the gate I needed to get through  - it was flying back over my head!!!  With my camera already in 'ready to fire' position, I aimed and clicked...

If you enlarge the pic you can see those stunning eyes!

Then to my delight it then perched up briefly. Although not to my delight in the excitement I some how breathed on my camera's lens so the photo is even more gloomier than it already would have been...


After a few seconds it dropped down deep in to cover and I lost it, although I knew it hadn't gone far.  I sent the texts out and am pleased to say Phil and Tim were able to respond and added the bird to their patch lists about half an hour later.  I am not sure if anyone else tried for it this afternoon, but I'm sure it was still there.

Well I have gone on a lot longer than I though I would already in this post - so will sum up the rest of the birds I've seen today in one sentence; 35+ Redwings, 250+ Starling, one Redpoll sp. all fly overs and not much else.

Friday 19 October 2012

Axe Cliff

After two days of meetings it was good to be out again.  Am pleased to have (for a change) timed it with favourable weather condtions too!

At dawn it looked promising for 'vis mig', so I went up to Axe Cliff.  The vis mig was actually disappointing both numbers and variety wise - probably due to a lack of any sorts of wind, and quite heavy cloud cover. All that went into the notebook was:

22 Wood Pigeon
40 Skylark
30 Meadow Pipit
19 alba Wagtail
21 Jackdaw
3 Jay (flew north)
28 Starling
55 Chaffinch
22 Linnet
12 Goldfinch
11 Siskin
1 Redpoll sp.
2 Reed Bunting (landed briefly in Undercliff)

It wasn't just in the sky that there was 'vis mig' though. Looking down into the Undercliff Goldcrest were filtering through west - with two main waves of birds passing.  So exciting to see a migration of this tiny bird in action.  Also down in the Undercliff, a Ring Ouzel appeared for a short while before flying east.  This bird certainly looked like the bird I saw on Monday, but was in a different area...

Maybe a first-winter male as it seems to have a nice black tail

I have been to other spots this morning, but saw nothing better than this Wheatear...

This bird was along harbour road - no Black Redstarts yet (which was what I was looking for!)

When I got home - annoyingly there seemed to be quite a few birds going over the garden (a couple of Redwing, few Skylarks and alba Wagtails). I wonder if I should have spent the morning watching from the garden - maybe I'll try that in the morning if the weather is suitable...

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Weekend

Haven't got much to report really.  We are all a bit gripped/puzzled by a pager report of a second-winter Ring-billed Gull on Black Hole Marsh yesterday afternoon. It would have been great to have seen this bird for sure! 

On Friday last week, after Jess finished work we had a wander around the lanes of Colyford and I was surprised just how many birds were there!! Must have seen at least seven Chiffchaffs amongst two different tit flocks, for the umpteenth time this autumn I was convinced I was about to find a Yellow-browed Warbler!  

The highlight though was really out of the blue.  We had almost got back to the car when amongst a few Pied Wags a male Yellow Wagtail was perched on a telephone wire over a back garden of a farm house!  I was looking into the sun, but it really did seem to have a darker head.  I honestly thought I was cracking up though. I would say 90% of mid to late autumn Yellow Wags I see, but for the vent area, are almost yellow-less, this was yellow through the whole breast and belly!  I had a small digital camera with me, so took some snaps - these don't show much but seem to show a white throat and white super, along with two distinctive wing bars.  Anyway, I grilled it for a bit longer with my binoculars but learnt no more about it, then it took off and flew east with a Pied Wag.  It did call a few times when it flew and I have to say sounded pretty bog standard, I suppose it may have been a little less 'pleasant-sounding', but there was certainly no buzzing or rasping qualities to it.  

So my conclusion is, it was a Yellow Wagtail of some sorts...

A distant and silhouetted Yellow Wagtail

On Saturday, we were feeling energetic and walked from home to Branscombe!  Luckily we dropped a car off at Branscombe village hall first so didn't have to walk both ways - four miles is ok, eight would have been way above my limit!  Yes I am that unhealthy!!!

It was a stunning day and some of the views were totally splendid, this one in particular...

Looking west from Beer Head

There was a fair bit of overhead passage with Mipits, Skylarks and Siskins most numerous.  Grounded migrants were few and far between, with a Redstart below the main Beer Head car park being the highlight.

From Beer Head we walked to Branscombe through the Under Hooken.  It really is scary how much cover is down here, all these photos taken show different sections of it...

Simply impossible to bird. Too much cover which you can't get into or see over

 Annoyingly, later that day a male Ring Ouzel was found here. Drat.

Sunday as ever I spent at work, and whilst out the back managed a work tick!  A lone Jay flew low west over town - not unexpected I have to say.  It was nice to see a couple of small flocks of Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws going over, but not many passerines.

Monday morning, I decided to give Axe Cliff a look about.  It was nice to see a Ring Ouzel, with a very vocal bird perched up for a couple of minutes in a small tree near to the start of the Undercliff (another massive area of impossible to bird premium habitat!).  Otherwise save for a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, and a flock of c150 Skylark, the selection of grounded birds was limited.

I have to say, overhead was disappointing too.  I was expecting a lot lot more passerines, with just low numbers of Mipits and alba Wagtails seen along with a few Finches.  I did however see 290 Wood Pigeons and one Stock Dove fly west - and it was nice to take a few photos of migrating Pigeons again...

The only time Pigeons become interesting!

After Axe Cliff, the Axmouth FC scrape gave a Grey Plover amongst half a dozen Lapwing - a new bird for me on this field!  And that was really it for yesterday.

Today I have been in all morning, with a net open in the front garden.  Amongst the small number of birds I've caught and ringed were a Goldcrest and two Coal Tit - migrants?  I'm sure the Goldcrest was, weighing five grams with next to no fat.

Friday 12 October 2012


Well I haven't got that much bird news to tell you from me.  Although I did try my best yesterday in the rain.  A Marsh Harrier over Seaton Marshes at about 9:30 was certainly my best bird of the morning, although a Redstart in the field below the Farm Gate was nice to see in the mist - I momentarily thought I was on the tip of a migrant filled headland!  I got that feeling later in the afternoon too during a walk about the Borrow Pit on Seaton Marshes; It was stuffed with Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Robins and Chiffchaffs, but sadly nothing better.

I spent an hour or so out again this morning - but it was more of the same really at the Beer Cemetery Fields. At least one Redwing was amongst c20 Song Thrush and about the same number of Blackbirds, there were quite a few Chiffs and Blackcaps too.  Overhead there wasn't as much movement as I was expecting, just a few Siskin, Mipits and alba Wagtails.

Anyway, now to the post title - I touched upon it on my last post. Last Saturday I treated Jess (who absolutely loves and adores Owls of all shapes and sizes!) to a half-day of raptor handling and flying at Yarak Bird of Prey Centre, near Cullompton (link to the website HERE).

It took much less time to get there than we thought, so we ended up killing some time at the fabulous Escot. We didn't spend the £300 that it costs to get (N.B. this may be an exaggeration!) into the main gardens, but thankfully the Red Squirrel walk through enclosure was free!   There are signs in the enclosure saying 'keep quiet the Squirrels are shy', and we spent ages looking high into the canopy and deep into the undergrowth, but to no avail.  Then we walked a little further along the board walk...


And this wasn't the closest we got to them.  Jess took these videos on her phone (turn the sound up, it's funny listening to Jess!)...

Then we went off to Yarak, and before the falconer met us we had time for a little look around the centre...


...before it was time for Jess to get hands on!  First bird out was an American Barn Owl - called Jess amazingly! Here she is getting weighed before going outside...

After Jess held Jess, it was time for every falconer's 'safe bet' - a Harris Hawk...

Followed by Owl number two, Buffy the Eagle Owl.  Sadly due to how Buffy was kept before arriving at Yarak her feet had become deformed so she couldn't land properly - this meant the food had to be placed on top of the wooden poles...


But when it was time for Buffy to go back in, she just didn't want to...

Next out was Jess's favourite of the morning, this lovely little White-faced Scops Owl...

And to finish this exciting experience off, what better than a Ferruginous Eagle...

 As you can see from her face - Jess really enjoyed it, as did I.  We both are normally very cautious and sometimes concerned about captive birds, and I have to say I still find looking at birds that I see in the wild, in a cage, being a bit odd.  But the fact is many of these raptors have been rescued from far worse places, and in terrible conditions - their lives now are so much better.  And of course, they're not wild birds in the first place! Thank you Yarak for an enjoyable afternoon.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Pec At Last

After going out every day for the last month or so thinking 'we've got to get a Pec today', finally yesterday was the day!  It was found by Sue Smith just before I went to work, so I didn't get chance to see it until early afternoon today.  During a very heavy downpour... 

And the worst photo of the year away goes!
It is actually a very well marked and stunning bird.  For some proper photos of it, look here on Sue Smith's blog.  

You will also notice on Sue's blog the Spotted Crake, which amazingly reappeared yesterday after not being seen for pretty much an entire month! Now that is what you call elusive.

Well what else have I been up to today, well Beer Head was very enticing this morning.  It was also very wet!  Especially as numpty here had forgotten his wellies and coat!  It wasn't really raining until the end of my wander, but it was that foggy mizzle stuff that just gets you drenched without you noticing! 
It may have been wet, but it looked 'rare'
Although there wasn't much at all - it did 'feel' really good.  I suppose knowing a Red-throated Pipit had just turned up less than 14 miles away, with a Richard's Pipit yesterday even closer, helped my inspiration.

Hirundines and Meadow Pipits were the only species in any number, with the best bird of the visit being a corking male Redstart in the gorse hedge.  But save for a Wheatear, four Blackcap and two Chiffchaff grounded migrants were at a premium.

So two wet feet, wet clothes and wet everything else for a Redstart. Pants.

I haven't really done any birding at all before today and since my last blog post - although I have seen a few birds.

Friday evening I thought Jess would enjoy a nice walk around Seaton Marshes.  We all know this is a fantastic place to go for a nice romantic stroll...right!? Anyway, there was a surprise flock of Siskins on show. Not just one or two, but a splendid flock of 40, feeding in alders around the Borrow Pit and showing really well - a real surprise.  Apparently there was no sign of them the next morning, so I presume they were just passing through until the rain prompted them to stop off.   

Saturday was another non-birding day, but still produced a good bird.  We had spent the day at Yarak bird of prey centre, where I treated Jess to a half day of raptor flying and handling.  It was great fun, and how fitting that we should finish the day off with a (wild) rare raptor!  At 5pm just as we were turning onto the A3052 from the Honiton road, there was a stunning Red Kite flying low over the field beside the road.  Even from our view (naked eye and from a moving car) it was clearly a bright bird with a very red upper tail - far more so than than usual (presumed) first-summers I see down here in spring. 

To compete this post, just a couple more photos.  A crap one showing one of two Jays that were in the field besides the Farm Gate yesterday...

I just had to include a Jay photo seeing as we are currently experiencing a pretty incredible influx
And a better one of a Mute Swan swimming up the Axe late on Sunday...

Very tranquil
I think I'll spend a bit more time looking at the Swan photo above, as not finding a Yellow-browed on patch is starting to stress me out!  There's got to be one here somewhere...

Wednesday 3 October 2012

A Day Late...

I wish I had had time to go down to the sea front and look over the waves yesterday afternoon/evening, because Sooty Shearwaters were passing the south coast en masse. Portland had 60 and Start Point over 300!  I'm pretty sure I would have been rewarded with a patch record count if I'd given it time, but I reckon even if I had a spare half an hour I would have seen some Sooty action.  What a pain in the arse!

To try and compensate I was out at 7am this morning, and sea watched for an hour from 07:08 from the Spot On Kiosk.  Annoyingly the conditions weren't that great...

Blue sky and small waves = not good for sea watching

I'm pleased to say though I did manage a Sooty Shearwater! YEAH! :-)  The views weren't great as I got on it late, but it was at a pretty good distance for here so it wasn't all that bad.  It came by pretty much bang on 8am.  It was nice to see four Red-throated Divers too, three of which flew through west, and the fourth looked to be doing the same until it plonked down on the sea infront of me.  My first of the autumn.

So anyway, the full totals of this watch were (all west):

1 Common Scoter
4 Red-throated Diver
110 Gannet
1 Sooty Shearwater
9 Balearic Shearwater
2 Kittiwake
2 Auk sp.

So although I did see a few bits, I basically 'did a Josh'. (That's a new phrase meaning 'to miss a good seawatch').

Don't know why I'm bothering to post this, but I like Gulls, and I really like Lesser Black-backed Gulls, so this little group on Black Hole Marsh in my opinion deserve the effort of going up here...

You probably won't agree though!

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Not Much To Report

Well this blogger and local patch birder is starting to get down hearted by the absolute lack of birds. This is the time of year we spend the whole year looking forward too, and it is proving absolutely dire!

The last couple of days I have spend a few hours in the morning down the marshes and looking along the Estuary.  Out Pec still hasn't materialised, not much has in fact!  Look what I ended up taking photographs of yesterday morning...

It was a very stupid and tame Pheasant though!

And then there was this Wheatear on the board walk...

We all love a good Wheatear - this is the best I can offer I'm afraid!

When it comes to notable birds, five Green Sands and singles of Greenshank and Dunlin were the best - all on Black Hole Marsh.

Today it was virtually exactly the same, although a check of Axmouth harbour revealed this Guillemot...

Can't recall seeing an auk on the river before

Rewinding back a little, I had an amazing weekend although there was very little birding involved.  Did have an evening stroll around Beer Head with Jess on Saturday though.  Bird-highlights were 100+ Meadow Pipits and three Yellow Wags, but the sunset was the real highlight...