Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Big Year

....or not!  Sadly I didn't hit the 200 I was after for my 2013 patch year list, in fact I've fallen along way short.  Still, it was a very enjoyably year, with only a little stress (surprisingly!).  And this is roughly how it went...


The year soon got cold, with freezing temperatures and snow rising expectation for a cracking first month - and I wasn't disappointed!  The first couple of weeks of January were probably the most fun of the entire year, tacking down all the easy species and enjoying the lingering Bewick's Swans and Woodlark.  But mid month the goodies started appearing thanks to the weather, namely wildfowl, with Greylag Goose, Red-breasted Merganser, Pintail, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye (the latter not an easy bird at all on patch) all added to the year list. The 17th gave what should have been shock of the month, with a surprise Hen Harrier west over town!  This was only my second ever on patch - so to say unexpected is an understatement. The real shock of the month was still to come though, with the patch's first EVER Green-winged Teal on Colyford Marsh on 29th!  Could the year have started any better? Well yes... I could have seen the Goosander that roosted on the Estuary for four nights in a row, it was never there in the morning, and didn't turn up the first available evening I had! And don't even mention Waxwings...

Bewick's Swans


A snowy scene

Ended the month on 112.


A few days away in Wales early in the month thankfully weren't costly (although gladly the Hen Harrier reappeared for a  few to see), with a Firecrest at Branscombe WTW a nice coming home present!  Sea watching remained frustratingly disappointing despite the flat calm seas, with two Ruff on Bridge Marsh on 9th my next notable year tick. It felt like I spent most the month driving around looking for patch Waxwings, but failed spectacular, although it did turn up a Brambling in Colyton on 12th. And that was that!  Despite all the effort, at the end of the month I'd not seen any interesting gulls despite looking (there were actually very few gulls full stop), nothing of note on the sea, and no bloody Waxwings!!
Not a Waxwing, but a distant Brambling.

Ended the month on 117.


March started well, with Gav finding me a couple of twitchable Goosanders on the Estuary on 3rd - unblocked!  The 5th was a double-tick day, with a Merlin over Morganhayes and a welcome Avocet on the Estuary, but the 7th produced the real corker, with an adult Spoonbill on the Estuary. Water Pipit was the next year tick, a species that used to be a regular winter visitor (and in good numbers), but is now a scarce migrant. Spring was introduced to my year list on 18th with the first Wheatear, although a Spotted Redshank the day before was a far more valuable year tick!  Then came a very frustrating week, where migrants were arriving en mass, but I only had very limited time out in the field. I still managed to add Sandwich Tern, Swallow, Sand Martin, and Little Ringed Plover though, but I really regret not being able to go out more during this spell - I bet there was a Stone Curlew lurking somewhere.  The 27th did give something better, a cracking male Ring Ouzel on Beer Head found by Ian P, but more memorable were the large numbers of Chiffchaffs literally everywhere, and the flock of Little Ringed Plovers! The 29th gave two more year ticks, both raptors and both from my bedroom window!  James M phoned with news of a male Marsh Harrier quartering over Colyford Marsh, and a glance out the bedroom window showed it. Less than an hour later James then phoned with news of an Osprey over the Estuary, I did the same and had the same result - a year tick! The last day of the month gave me Grey Plover, but I painfully missed a drake Garganey.

Ring Ouzel

Chiffchaff in the garden!

I ended the month on a pleasing 133.


The month began as March ended - with dipping.  I had been keeping a close eye on the gulls as we often get goodies in April (I've seen many Iceland Gulls during this month). Annoyingly the two times I wasn't looking at them, Gav was, and had a Glaucous Gull and Caspain Gull, neither being twitchable. A Yellow-legged Gull on the 12th wasn't really satisfactory compensation, but it was still a year tick.  The expected spring migrants such as Hobby, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Sedge, Reed and Willow Warbler and House Martin were next on the list, along with a couple of reeling Grasshopper Warblers. Although Groppers are annual here, if you don't get this species during a few weeks in spring, chances are you've missed it for the year! One of my favourite birds of the spring was a cracking male Pied Fly at Seaton Marshes on 17th - a scarce spring migrant for us.  The 18th gave what turned out to be a rarity this year - some decent sea watching weather, with two Great Skua and 16 Manx Shearwaters.  Then there was more dipping, with a Wryneck in a private garden in Rousden being particularly painful, along with a couple of brief Red Kites. Thankfully a Red Kite did finally decide to fly over me, on 23rd. The 26th saw a coupe more decent spring birds for the patch, with singles of Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler. Surprise of the month was not just a patch year tick, but a patch life tick - a jammy Montagu's Harrier that flew west over Black Hole Marsh on 26th. Complete and utter jam! Finally the sea came good on 27th, with a cracking drake Velvet Scoter sat close in for all to twitch (and photograph!). There was one last surprise in the month, with the 29th giving a singing male Wood Warbler in Colyton. Although this doesn't sound that exciting - only the second one in recent times for the patch!  A proper patch rarity, and completed a pretty successful April.

Garden Warbler

Pied Flycatcher


Willow Warbler

Wood Warbler

I ended the month on 156, over three quarters of the way towards my 200 target!


What a disappointment May was. A month that promises so much, and most years gives so much, but not in 2013. An Egyptian Goose was a very welcome start to the month, but missing another two Garganey certainly wasn't - I even got up at 4am for them!!  Some welcome wader passage on 9th added Sanderling and Wood Sandpiper to my list, and finally we had some good sea watching on 14th with two species seen that could easily not be seen in a year, Storm Petrel and Pomarine Skua. The last year tick in May was a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper - but that was it.  No rarities at all, not one. Wader passage was overall VERY poor, and as for the sea - just one species of Tern all month! For a 200 year I'd need them all!


Pomarine Skua

 I ended May on 164.


Well June is a month you'd expect little, and it gave little, not one year tick.  Moths distracted me a bit too much maybe, but every time I went out birding it felt like there was nothing to be found! There was some excitement late in the month though, when Jess and I got engaged!

We are getting married in July 2014

Another month that doesn't usually give much, but I managed to scrape four year ticks out of it, first of all a surprise Mandarin on the Estuary on 1st! A proper patch rare!  I spent most of the first couple of weeks out birding this month down the river, as waders such as Little Ringed Plover and Greenshank were beginning to pass through, but the next year tick for July came whilst studying moths - a fly over Crossbill. Mid summer is turning out to be the best time of year to get this species on patch now.  Balearic Shearwater is another species you have a good chance of adding during the summer doldrums, and sure enough three flew passed me on 25th. The month concluded with our first scarce wader of the year, a Pectoral Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh found by James M.

Little Ringed Plover


I ended the month on 168.

August started with a shock - although an overdue shock!  Phil found some (presumed) breeding Nightjars on the edge of our patch, in habitat that is only been recently been made suitable. This was a patch first for all of us, and for me my 250th bird for the patch ever! Black Hole Marsh really was superb this month, with Turnstone soon added to my patch year list - but the rare wader never happened despite everyone looking, and despite constant scanning of the Teal no Garganey.  Cuckoos are scarce now days on patch, and as I'd missed them in the spring I thought I'd missed them for the year, but no, a juvenile appeared at Black Hole Marsh - in fact this autumn we had two, with one remaining for several weeks.  There rest of the month was mostly frustrating, how ever much time I or anyone spent out in the field, there wasn't any goodies despite lots and lots of common and scarce birds. Finally another year tick came, with a brief juvenile Black Tern on Black Hole Marsh that I was fortunately able to twitch, I twitched a Little Gull too the following day but missed it by minutes.

Yellow-legged Gull



I ended the month on 175.


Over all another very frustrating month, the amount of time we spent in the field should have produced more rares, and at least one Wryneck! Wrynecks were literally turning up everywhere, but we didn't have one. It wasn't all gloom though and there were some highlights in the month.   To go a year here and not see a Knot would be disappointing, so thankfully three were on the Estuary on 5th. Both Beer Head and Black Hole Marsh were dripping with common migrants, but it took until the 17th until my next year tick, a pleasingly one too after missing one in the spring.  Caspian Gull is fast becoming a regular annual visitor to the Axe, but still a joy to find. It was three ticks in three days, with the 18th producing a fabulous Spotted Crake on Stafford Marsh, only my second ever for the patch!  And on 19th, my first Arctic Terns of the year were feeding off the sea front.  The last ten or so days of the month should have produced more than they did, but the one year tick it did give was a real surprise - a twtichable sat out in the open Bittern, on the Estuary found by Tim Wright on my birthday - the 27th.


Spotted Crake

Caspian Gull (the one looking left in the middle)

I ended the month on 180, so twenty to get in three months - possible if it's a good three months!


This is the month that would make or break my year....and it broke it!  It started well though, with two Yellow-browed Warblers at Lower Buckland Ponds on 2nd. Although this species is something of a patch rarity, we were bound to get some this year considering the incredible numbers that arrived in the UK in the autumn, amazingly though these two were our only ones (that were seen anyway)!  I was hoping for about ten year ticks in Oct, as I felt we must finally be due some rarities and some decent sea watching. Well it just didn't happen, and all I got were three more year ticks in the entire month - all good ones though! I had a phone call from our Reserves Warden Fraser about four Bearded Tits on Black Hole Marsh on 19th, and a few minutes later I was watching them - only the second time I've seen this species on patch! The 21st saw a double whammy of year ticks, both superb birds, with the mornings year tick, Garganey, being extra pleasing after dipping this species twice in the spring, and having spent the entire autumn scanning through Teal flocks!  The afternoon saw the sea finally come up with something better than average with a cracking juvenile Sabine's Gull feeding close in - only my second for the patch. 


Sabine's Gull

Yellow-browed Warbler

I ended October on 184.


Well I was hoping the lack of year ticks in Oct meant for a surge of year ticks in Nov - but overall it was another disappointing month, but started quite well.  On the 7th a Pochard (the first here for two years!) flew up and down the valley much to my delight, but was eclipsed by the year tick the next day.  Glossy Ibis is a bird you can hope to see most year with numbers ever increasing, and one did the decent thing and spent a few hours on Seaton Marshes. It only stayed a few hours though, and showed how easily a year tick could slip through.  There was some excellent birding to be had mid month, probably my most enjoyable of the year, with lots over a very busy sea and an east coast like thrush arrival. Although I did manage a year tick, Black-throated Diver, I couldn't believe I missed out on Little Gull! Portland had well over a thousand, yet despite sea watching off here for most of the same day, I had none!  Little Gull clearly wasn't to be in 2013 for me.  The month ended with a nice high though, with constant scanning over a flat sea revealing two Long-tailed Ducks. Pleasingly they hung around, unusual for us, and rare too - only my third ever sighting of LTD on patch ever. And before I knew it Nov was over.

I ended the month on 188.


This is the month I needed to catch up with all the wintering birds that we hadn't had in Jan, Feb and March. I needed all the three species of sea Grebes, Eider, either white-winged or Little Gull, any grey Geese (except Greylag), Whooper Swan, Snow or Lapand Bunting, either rarer Egret (Great White surely a possibility with the numbers in the south west)..... I saw NONE of any of these!!!  What a crap month December was for birding here, hours of seeing diddly squat.  And that brings me to here - the end.

Steve's 2013 patch year list total: 188. Which means, ANDREW is the winner!!! Congratulations mate, I'll be in touch :-)

So, where did it all go wrong?  Why was I so far off the mark? Well I didn't miss much that was seen, maybe six species, there just wasn't the birds. The two winter periods were very poor, the sea especially, in fact the sea was disappointing all year, with only one good day of spring sea watching, and none in the autumn!  Dismal. Spring and autumn migration on the land gave us good numbers of birds, but just nothing rare and very few scarcities.   I have to be honest and say it was one of my most frustrating years birding I've ever had here, as places all around us were picking up goodies, but however much we looked, nothing... not even a bloody Wryneck!  

So, did I enjoy it?  Yes I really did, I think it's something that just has to be done once in a while, not too often, but now and then. I'll probably do it again sometime, but probably not for a good few years with marriage and hopefully children around the corner (don't worry Mum - not around the next corner!).

So, what was my highlight?  Black Hole Marsh was incredible this autumn, with a superb variety and number of wading birds - just such a shame the rare one never happened. The individual birds that stood out for me were Green-winged Teal, Spotted Crake and Sabine's Gull.  It's always nice to find a patch first, and I love Teal, so that's why the Jan Green-winged Teal is up there. To be honest though, the Sabine's Gull gave me even more of a thrill! To get such superb views of stunning patch rarity (and possibly the prettiest gull?), over a sea that had been total pants throughout - awesome. And lastly, the Spotted Crake. I love Crakes, and the views this beautiful one day wonder gave certainly earned it a place in my top three birds of 2013.

So, is 200 in a new possible?  Well yes, I was 12 birds away, and if any of these had visited the patch I would have done it; Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Slavonian, Black-necked and Red-necked Grebe, Roseate and Little Tern, Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Sooty Shearwater, Whooper Swan, Long-tailed Skua, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Snow and Lapland Bunting and any BBRC rarity!!  

So, although I didn't do it, I think I've proved it is certainly possibly if you chose the right year.

So, what's happening with Steve and his birding next year? Well we'll have to wait and see. I'll still be very much focused on the patch, but something tells me much more off patch birding will be done in 2014...

Saturday 28 December 2013

A Born Again Twitcher?

A proper rarity today - I've been twitching! I'll be honest, twitching isn't my thing, I have nothing against those that do, it just isn't for me. I'm a bit of a loner birder to be truthful, and although I like driving, hours sat in a car for one bird doesn't really appeal to me.  There are two reasons though why I may overlook these negatives...

1/ Because I think the opportunity to watch the species in the field will give me some valuable experience if I was to find one in the future.

2/ Because I want to see it.

There's been two birds in the south west over the last couple of days that have been tempting me. The Brixham White-billed Diver attractive due to reason number two. I saw the Hayle bird, and that was one of the best birds I've ever seen!  What's not to like about a big Great Northern Diver with a rhino horn for a bill!

The other bird is the Brunnich's Guillemot in Portland Harbour, this tempting for reason number one.  It is a bloody rare bird too, one I never thought I'd get the chance to see in the UK.  Anyway, it didn't take much to turn today into a part twitching/part shopping day with Jess, and at 10:30 this morning we tagged onto the the end of the large crowd of birders/twitchers/photographers on the edge of Portland Harbour.  

Within a few moments, and without knowing when and where it was last seen, it popped up right in front of us!!

Then followed the expected small stampede of a group of photographers, all wanting to understandably get in line with the bird.  This proved quite funny to watch, as the bird travelled surprisingly long distances under water, and often only surfaced for a few seconds.  This meant that often by the time the photographers had reached the Guillemots position, it had gone back under!  Jess and I just stood still, and in the ten minutes we were there it surfaced about five times right in front of us, despite at times being out of view to the left, and very distant to the right.  So my advice is, pick your spot and stay there - your time will come...


I'm not sure where it has been for the past few days, but it spent the whole time we were there along the near shore, most of the time between us and the jetty pictured here (which had several people on it - not bothering the Guillemot at all!)...

You can see in the photo below the same jetty, inside the marina, with the mass water body of the main harbour behind. Really lucky that it's feeding inside the marina, imagine finding it, and the views you'd get, if it was elsewhere in the harbour! I've previously seen a Surf Scoter in this small part of the harbour too.

And the last shot from here, our last view of the Guillemot...

Then it was Weymouth time (and lunch time -  McDonalds for two!), with shopping interrupted briefly by a couple of Mediterranean Gulls...

And an opportunity for Jess to feed her favourite water birds, Coots...

 (I really don't know why she loves Coots so much, but she really does!!)

I then managed to wangle a five minute scan from Sandsfoot Castle (along the north shore of Portland Harbour). What a worthwhile stop this was with at least two Red-necked Grebes (one really close), 17 Black-necked Grebes (one flock of 14 and a trio) and at least three Slav Grebes.  The sea grebes are all pretty scarce on patch, so this really was a treat for me!

The view from Sandsfoot Castle

If we'd had more time I would have tried for the two white-winged Gulls on offer, but we had to return home mid afternoon.

So sat here tonight, can I say it was an unforgettable experience? Well no, not really.  At the end of the day it is an auk with an extra white stripe!  I'm sorry if that offends you, but come on, how often do you look at a winter plumaged Razorbill or Guillemot and go 'ooooohh - what a stunner!'. But if I ask myself whether I'm pleased to have seen it? Well the answer is most certainly yes.  

And my next question?  When can I fit in a trip to Brixham....

Thursday 26 December 2013

Happy Christmas

Well this hasn't been a busy blog of late, and that's quite simply because I haven't seen anything worth blogging about! It's been dire out there it really has, and my patch year list remains at 188. Which means Andrew it's looking very good for you with just a few days to go.  Saying that though, decent birds are turning up all around us at the moment, so there may possibly be another surprise or two left in 2013. I hope so...

I have to say, the mega rarities either side of us (Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland and White-billed Diver in Torbay) are very tempting even for me!  If one or both are still present on Saturday, don't be surprised if you see me at one or the other.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog post, which was to wish all my blog readers and all my birding pals a very Merry Christmas. I really hope you had/are having a good one. 

With no photos to post of birds, I'll just have to post a photo of the cupcakes Jess made the other week (you may already have seen this on twitter)....

They tasted great too!

Monday 9 December 2013

Another Blog Link...

Just to quick one.  Ivory Gull is one of my most wanted, and it is one of very few birds that I'd actually travel to see.  So I really enjoyed reading this account of The Stringer finding one just outside his patch...

**WARNING** Not for the feint hearted!!

Tuesday 3 December 2013

A New Blog Is Born

First of all, I must highlight a new blog that has appeared on my blog list;  

Ace bird finder Matt Knott has joined the 'darkside' and started blogging. Well worth following as he is a dedicated and very hard working patch birder, and is proving that the more you look, the more you find.  My only gripe is despite Lapland and Snow Bunting, Richard's Pipit, White-fronted Goose, 2+ Turtle Dove, Purple Sandpipers and the 1000's of others waders and several hundred wildfowl, he's claiming to have had a 'disappointing autumn'. Matt you need to bird over here a bit more often mate - I'd be more than happy with that in an autumn!  Just shows how high his standards are. Anyway, top bloke, so I can bank on it being a top blog.

This morning, it was nice to get a mist net up for the first time in months.  Didn't catch that much, but it's been so long that I even enjoyed being attacked by Blue Tits!!  After a few hours of this, the flat sea was just too tempting and I headed down to the beach.

Three brownhead Goosanders close in were a surprise, and shared the sea with two Red-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe and the two Long-tailed Ducks.  I didn't actually see the latter, but they were seen about an hour after I was there.

The Goosanders were later on the Estuary at Coronation Corner, where they were fishing at low tide...

Very nice to see

Also saw two Greylag Geese with the Mute Swans opposite Stedcombe (which first appeared yesterday) and the two Tufted Duck again at Lower Bruckland Ponds.

Right must dash - time for work!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Getting Back To It

First of all, I have to say thank you so much for all the comments, emails, texts and tweets in response to my previous post. I do have more to say, but I'm not going to. It's time to draw a line under it...

...and get back to what this blog is about.

We have been blessed with flat calm seas for a few days, and decent cloud cover making conditions ideal for sea scanning. Bird wise though there has been very little on the sea, with species you'd expect to see several of (Great Crested Grebe, Common Scoter, Cormorant, Shag) few and far between, or totally absent.  Thankfully though the last few days have seen a bit of quality appear!

I haven't seen Long-tailed Duck here for six years, and before that I'm pretty sure I've seen just one other. So you can imagine my thrill when I picked up two feeding in the bay off the Spot On Kiosk yesterday morning. Both are immature/female-types, but beyond that I've never been too confident at ageing/sexing distant non-adult male LTD's. One was considerably whiter than the other - and if I had to place bets I'd say they were both female's, and ad and an imm. Most pleasing is that they seem settled, and are still out there feeding this morning.  Also yesterday a drake Red-breasted Merganser flew around the bay for a while which was nice, as was my first settled Great Northern Diver of this winter.

This morning I gave Branscombe its second look of the week, and had two more settled Great Northern Divers, along with a fly by Red-throat.  There were way more Kittiwakes and auks off here than in Seaton Bay, so hopefully regular visits here will turn something up.  A snoop around the sewage works here earlier in the week showed four Chiffchaffs and good numbers of the expected species - sadly no Yellow-browed or Dusky.

Tuesday morning I undertook my usual woodland bird survey near Colyton. Nice to see my first four Woodcock of the winter, along with a couple of Fieldfare, 10 Redwing and a fly over Golden Plover. All very wintry! 

There is a very winter feel to the birding scene now, vis mig appears to have all but stopped and the hopes of a late autumn rarity seem far flung.  Before it did end I gave Beer Head probably it's last visit of the year, on the 15th.  It was nice to see a few Wood Pigeons flying over NE, only 1350, but it was my biggest passage of the year (which is terrible!). 

On the ground, four Song Thrush, three Redwing and a Chiffchaff were expected, but a late Wheatear not so...

Looks a bit more exciting in this picture than it actually was - always just a Northern sadly.

So there you have it, autumn 2013 done.  And now we are into the last phase of the year - the last phase of my year listing year.  Long-tailed Duck was my 188th species for the year, which is a notable number as its the first guess from Steve's 2013 Patch Year Listing Competition.  Here's a reminder of who guessed what I'd end the year on...

188 - Andrew  
189 - Karen    
190 - Phil      
191 - Julia      
192 - Bun    
193 - John O' Sullivan  
194 - Col      
195 - 'Corky'     
196 - Dave H      
197 - Jonny      
198 - Skev      
199 - Tim White    
200 - Gav
201 - Sue Murphy  
202 - Catharine    
203 - Sue Smith

So Andrew, if the year was to end now, you would be the winner. But I'm afraid it doesn't, and I'm sure there's at least a few more year ticks in it...

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Why bother...

I probably shouldn't write or send this post - but I'm going to.

First of all, a brief summary of recent events.

A few days ago news broke of a Devon first, a Dusky Thrush, present in a private garden in Brixham for about eight days. The situation and location meant the decision was taken by the locals that news could not be released nationally whilst the bird was present.  As County Recorder I was informed of the presence of this bird, but as any County Recorder would do, the wishes of the land/home owner had to be respected. A horrible situation to be in yes - but it's one of only a few down sides to being County Recorder, compared with endless up sides. 

Once the bird had departed, I was asked to join the discussion about how best to release the news. Do we wait until the BBRC report is published in 2014?  Well in my opinion, there was no reason to withhold the news any longer - the bird had gone so the reason for withholding the news had gone. Any further 'supression' would have been pointless.

With the news release, I felt there should be some pictures to go with the text. I was well aware of the discussions about the purity of the Kent Dusky Thrush earlier this year, and thought including photos would help/enhance this discussion. Not only that, it would also show everyone instantly that this was indeed a Dusky Thrush and not a weird leucistic Redwing or such like. If photos weren't released when the news went out, how long would it have been before people asked to see photos?  A few minutes? 

Ok, now I am removing my County Recorder hat. This is Steve Waite the patch birder...
Now I certainly think my opinion was wrong about releasing the news so soon. In fact my opinions have changed about many things in many ways over the last day or so. 

First of all, I must state I'm only talking about the absolute minority here.  Thank you to most for being understanding about this difficult situation.

1/ Do home owners have any rights?   I am a home owner - should I ever have to explain why I let certain individuals into my house? Surely it is up to me who I invite in - for whatever the reason. Should I also be expected to open my doors wide for anyone and everyone to come in?  Please, I've only been a home owner for a year, so I need to be told if I'm wrong here....

2/ Why do some birders/twitchers think they have the right to see every bird? Or think they have the right to know about every bird immediately...

3/ Why do people who do not know the full facts, think they do and speak like they do. And even more annoyingly, think they know MORE than the people that DO know the full facts. I don't know the full facts about the Dusky Thrush, but I trust the judgement of the people that do. Does that make me naive/stupid, or just a normal person?

Something I do understand entirely is how this news release would have been a right punch in the face for so many - a bird as epic as a Dusky Thrush right here in Devon! But that is no excuse for the above, or for the down right nasitness aimed at the lucky ones that did see it (although I'm sure none of them 'feel' lucky at all!). And how about the poor chap who found this crippling rarity? What on earth has he done wrong!? And I can't begin to imagine how he must be feeling. 

I'd just like to stress yet again, this isn't a moan at birders/twitchers in general. It is me feeling extremely exasperated and quite simply stunned at the behaviour of just a few.

In my ten-ish years of what I'd describe as 'being a birder' - I have never felt so low because of my hobby. So so much worst than missing the Pacific Swift that flew directly over my parked car - that I was sat in! And boy was that painful. This is on another level altogether.

This episode has made me question the whole idea of birding, my number one (two if Jess reads this!) passion in life - it's what I enjoy doing day in day out and it has always given me so much happiness. This is the first time this has happened to me, and I'm finding it so very sad. It is the reason I am up at 2am posting this when I should be asleep. All very upsetting to witness, so much nastiness created by one bird.  One blob of feathers.

Before last week I would have dreamed to have a major rarity in my garden. Not any more. In fact do I want to find a major rarity ever again? What's the point.....


Thursday 14 November 2013

Monster Monday, Tick Tuesday and a Wasted Wednesday

Monday was something else - birding from my back door felt like birding on the east coast!

Annoyingly I had to work for a few hours Monday morning, but on my return home, looking out from the kitchen I was astounded by the numbers of thrushes.  The weather was dreadful, with very poor visibility, but this made it.  Large flocks of Redwings were dropping out the sky, landing on nearby trees for a few minutes, then flying off again. Flock after flock after flock. Other flocks were flying over much higher with out stopping, and only visible for a few seconds as they came under the low cloud. I saw about 500 Redwing in less than half hour, along with at least ten Fieldfare - my first of the autumn.  

If this wasn't enough, a Black Redstart appeared on a house roof just down the road from our back garden. This is my second one from the garden, but my first anywhere on patch this autumn. I watched it for about ten minutes feeding, before it dropped down into a back garden and out of view.  

What exciting birding!! And whilst drinking tea in a warm and dry kitchen! :-) Really reminded me of my Spurn days, when I could stand in the door way of 'Dun Birding' and watch migration in action.

Late morning I popped out for a look along the Estuary but learnt of the Little Gull movement at Portland - a species I still need for the patch year list! I went straight to the sea front and spent most of the rest of the day sea watching. I watched 11:25 - 13:05 and 14:00 - 15:10, and unbelievably saw NO Little Gulls. Portland witnessed a record breaking passage with 1500 of these beautiful small gulls passing the Bill and Chesil Cove, and Seaton Bay had none. As every minute passed the wind dropped and weather improved, which I think was our downfall - I reckon they were just too far out by the time they'd reached us. If I had started seawatching at 8am though, I think it would have been a different story. Or maybe if I'd gone to Branscombe.

Forgetting about Little Gulls, it was a surprisingly productive sea watch. The conditions during the night before must have been perfect as the conditions during the day certainly weren't! This is what went into my notebook from the two watches:

2 Brent Geese
20 Wigeon (hard to tell proper passage though as lots of birds from the valley were on the sea)
32 Teal (same as above!)
1 Shoveler (fem - may have come from the Estuary)
3 Pintail (eclipse drake and 2 fem west with Wigeon)
c100 Common Scoter (flocks flying both ways so hard to count, 60 biggest flock)
2 Velvet Scoter (two flew west in a flock of 24 Common Scoter)
1 Red-breasted Merganser (fem west)
2 Red-throated Diver 
2 Balearic Shearwater (flew west together)
3 Mediterranean Gull (flew west together; ad, 2nd winter and 1st winter)
c30 Kittiwake (no obvious passage, just birds feeding, plus a juv out of the Estuary)
1 Pomarine Skua (juv flew east, but appeared to drop down on sea)
2 Sanderling (both singles close west)
45 Dunlin
70 small waders sp. (presumably Dunlin, a 40 and a 30, but too distant - couldn't eliminate White-rumped Sandpipers)
5 Curlew
1 Bar-tailed Godwit

So as you can see, not a  bad haul for here. I was disappointed not to get a stand out bird - although I may well have fluffed a couple. A Common Scoter flock flew in to the bay and they were all just Common Scoters, but when I saw them again several minutes later flying out of the bay they had two other ducks with them - not Scoters. They looked like aythya's, and one had grey on the mantle. I couldn't see any wing bars (but they were mega distant) so am hoping they were 'just' a pair of Pochard and not the gripping blocker Phil has on his patch list...

I finished the day with a look up the river valley. Two more Med Gulls were the best, although the Starling roost was nice to watch. We've had up to 4,000 roosting in the valley for at least a week or so...

And here's a short video..

Tuesday dawned, and despite the fine conditions, I just had to look at the sea again. This time I gave Branscombe a go. I wasn't expecting it to be anything like Monday, but I did manage something I hadn't the previous day - a patch year tick!!  My totals were:

4 Brent Goose
2 Pintail (flew west)
8 Common Scoter
1 Black-throated Diver (flew west)
1 Red-throated Diver (flew west)
70 Kittiwake (west)
30+ auk sp.

So a pretty underwhelming year tick yes - and you could say an over due one too, but I think 'real' Black-throated Divers are actually pretty rare down here in Devon. It's taken me 11 and a half months and about 125 divers to see one this year!

My overwhelming thought of Wednesday was of disappointment. With the first frost of the autumn and bright blue skies I just had to go up to Axe Cliff for some vis mig action...

Sadly the vis mig never really got going.  I was hoping for a strong Wood Pigeon migration, but in the end saw less than a thousand. They were going in all directions too, probably due to the lack of wind.  Singles of Brambling, Reed Bunting and four Lesser Redpoll were the best of the little over head migration, with another five Reed Buntings on the deck amogst 10+ Yellowhammers and c80 Linnets.

And now we're on Thursday, but I've not had chance to go birding today. Hopefully I'll go for a wander somewhere tomorrow as the weather looks like it's going to be nice.

Saturday 9 November 2013

More On The Duck

Just a quick post - with the superb news that yesterday I saw my 25th patch Glossy Ibis! Yes, finally the Axe has bagged one this year, with a visiting birder being the lucky finder, although Tim White stumbled upon it a little later without knowing it was there.  Superb bird and a cracking patch year tick! I know 25 seems like a lot of Glossy Ibis to have seen on patch, but 18 were in one flock and flew over very rapidly (and distantly!), and the other sighting were of six that spent less than a day here. 

Had an interesting tweet this morning from Ian Ballam, to let me know he recognised my (presumed) hybrid RuddyxCommon Shelduck.  It was in Poole Harbour Dec 2012 - Feb 2013, and here's a thread on Birdforum about it...

Thanks Ian!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Wonderful Wildfowl

This is going to be a very duck orientated post, as pretty much everything I've seen that's notable has been a form of wildfowl!!

We are a week into Novemember, and I am at 185 for the patch year list. I'm going to have to be honest now and say I think 200 this year is impossible. There's only been 190 species recorded by everyone on patch so far in 2013, so I reckon even if I saw 100% of all the species seen on patch by the end of the year then I still wouldn't be at 200! Oh well. I can't wait to see who wins the competition though - I won't stop trying!

On the last day of October I was on 184, so what was number 185?  On Monday morning, a look along the Estuary was made a lot better when I picked up a Pochard flying up, and then back down the valley north of Coronation Corner. It appeared to land on the river somewhere around Colyford Marsh, but a look from the Farm Gate afterwards failed to locate it.  Pochard has become a great rarity here, and this was the first record for the patch in about two years!!

Just before the Pochard excitement, a sea watch revealed almost as much excitement with three Velvet Scoters. First of all, two flew in from the east and landed distantly off Beer. Then just a few minutes later I picked up another one, on its own, flying west far out.  I love Velvet Scoters so was well happy with these, and it certainly made up for the lack of anything else on the move at sea.

Going back to the end of the previous week, I had a female Pintail and drake Shoveler on the morning of the 1st. These were on the Estuary along with the lingering Curlew Sandpiper (which I last saw on Monday 4th) and Ruff. The Spotted Redshank is still knocking around too.

Back to the sea, and on Tuesday morning a Red-breasted Merganser and two Brent Geese were the highlights. With a look at Lower Bruckland Ponds showing the continued presence of the two Tufted Ducks. A nice surprise were calling Bearded Tits from the Farm Gate, I didn't see them though so have no idea how many or where exactly they were!! Possibly the same birds that Fraser found on Black Hole Marsh last month?

A seawatch yesterday morning didn't show any wildfowl of note, but it did show plenty of Kittiwakes! Sadly though variety was lacking - and I still haven't seen a 2013 patch Little Gull!

Then there's today. All was quiet, then this thing flew in and joined the local Shelduck... (apologies for the poor photos - it was very distant)


I knew it wasn't Ruddy, Cape or Australian Shelduck, but whatever it was it was STUNNING! Really gorgeous deep velvety red, and in flight it looked superb with flashes of bright white!

The nearest I can find online is this which is a CommonxRuddy Shelduck hybrid. A new one for me!

Steering this post away from the duck-theme, I've just heard a few Crossbills calling from the back garden. Sadly I couldn't see them but they were flying west.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Garden Birding

This is our garden...

All a bit wooden!

You couldn't really call it a haven for birds, and most days a couple of Wood Pigeons, the odd Collared Dove and the local flock of House Sparrows are all we see in it. For some reason today though it's been a bit mad and since dawn I've seen ten species of birds actually IN the garden! The above three species plus Greenfinch (2), Chaffinch (2), Robin, Blackbird (3), Great Tit (2), Blue Tit and Magpie.

It just shows that if you put food out, and make your garden as bird-friendly as you can, you WILL get birds wherever you are.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

The Great Storm of 2013

Early on Monday the biggest storm since 1987 came.... and went... 

I'm not saying it wasn't bad, because it was, but it lasted only a couple of hours, and by the time dawn came the wind had already shifted to the west and skies were clearing. It actually turned into quite a nice day!  We were actually true victims of the storm, as a rather large branch landed on Jess's car and caused this...


The sea on Monday really was disappointingly poor, with a juv Kittiwake along the beach early on being the only 'storm driven' bird noted. The highlight of all the sea watching wasn't even a bird, but a Grey Seal that appeared for a few minutes close in.

The Estuary and valley were equally poor, with a second Tufted Duck at Lower Bruckland Ponds getting 'bird of the day' award!  

Does this qualify as a flock??

Although the wind has made the news, the mildness hasn't. With the exception of today, it's been so warm for late Oct. As a result I'm still seeing many Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters, and more amazingly, on Monday 28th this Common Blue Damselfly...

Sorry it's a bit out of focus!

Tuesday was much calmer, and as a result there was a bit of vis mig. Best of all being my first Brambling of the autumn west over, along with two Lesser Redpoll and plenty of Chaffinches.  Also saw my first 'vis mig' Wood Pigeons and Starlings of autumn 2013. Also had a Swallow flying around over the Estuary later in the day.

This morning was much quieter for vis mig, with the only notable birds being on the Estuary; a late Curlew Sandpiper with five Dunlin and the lingering Ruff and Spotted Redshank.

With the amount of good birds turning up in the south west at the moment there's got to be a chance of something good appearing.  Ideally I'd like a few more year ticks before November begins, oh - that's the day after tomorrow!  Just where has this autumn gone... This year in fact...