Friday 29 March 2013

Raptor Spectacular!

No photos and no time, but I just HAVE to post this!!

I was in Plymouth for most of yesterday - I got home at about 14:15. Earlier in the day, I had mentioned to James Mc (who was out birding on patch - mate you gotta do that more often!), that it was classic Marsh Harrier day, nice sunny morning and early afternoon, then clouding over.  Within half an hour of my return home James phones "Marsh Harrier Colyford Marsh - a male too!". I ran upstairs to the bedroom with my bins, where I can look over Axe reed bed and the air space above...

All I could hear were the words "it's going north" and "low". Words that weren't good to hear, as I can't see any of Colyford Marsh. James kindly kept the running commentary going, and gladly the bird gained height and began heading south, which is when it came cruising into my view (along with the customary pursuing Crows!) before dropping into the reeds. What a great patch year AND house tick - nice to see a stunning male too. Later, it was seen to be wearing green wing tags, which means it has to be the bird that was at Exminster Marshes recently.

So that was great, but there's more to tell...

Less then an hour later, just as I was about to have a pre-work shower the phones goes again, it's James... "Osprey over the Estuary". Agggghhhhh!!!  I went back to the bedroom window, and I could see all the birds taking flight on the upper Estuary - but no Osprey. I looked a bit further down river and there it was, circling amongst a group of mobbing gulls, before heading off down river.  It's a pity it didn't come up river as I would have got great views - but what I saw was more than good enough. A great patch year tick, and another house tick!  It was also the first Osprey I've ever seen whilst wearing no clothes!!!

Having already dipped two Ospreys, it was top of my 'Most Worrying Gaps on my Patch Year List' list. So it's not there anymore, but has been replaced by Waxwing. Yes - the terrible news filtered through on Wednesday evening that a Waxwing was photographed in Colyford on Tuesday afternoon. Needless to say there's been no sign since...

Right - must get ready for work. No Easter break for me, I'm working today, tomorrow and Sunday!!

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Ouzel On The List

If it's early I just can't cope with a laptop - so when I got up just after 6 I decided to head down to the sea front.

All was quiet to be honest, with passage over the sea restricted to just two Red-throated Divers and two Sandwich Terns west. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls around though, with several large flocks coming in from the east. Still no Little Gull! A Little Ringed Plover was something of a surprise, it came up from the beach and flew high west then north.

Just before 8, I thought I'd give Beer Head a quick look over - with Ring Ouzel at the forefront of my mind. As I got out of the car I noticed a text from Ian P - "Ring Ouzel Beer Head". I could see Ian, and he kindly showed me where he had seen it, but there was no sign. We were sure it hadn't gone far though, and about ten minutes later spotted it further south towards the cliff edge...

It then took off and flew back to where Ian had first seen it...

We then watched it for a good 15 minutes until Ian Mc arrived.  What a stunning bird!  A very valuable year tick too, we often don't get Ouzel until late autumn, and usually only in good years when there are lots about. So you could easily go a year on patch and not see one. 

There wasn't much else on Beer Head (although I didn't stay long), except for a flock of 46 Golden Plovers, including one of two summer plumaged birds.  Karen arrived to twitch the Ouzel, at least I think she did....

I think she's in this picture somewhere??

I came back home via the valley, which showed the Red-breasted Merganser still on the Estuary and 125 Meadow Pipits on Axmouth football pitch...

I searched hard for an early (and patch first!) Red-throated Pipit!

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Looking At My Laptop... what I've been doing for most of the day. But I did give myself a half hour break mid morning, so I nipped down to Black Hole Marsh. Here there were still nine Little Ringed Plovers, one Ringed Plover, along with singles of Swallow and Sand Martin. Seemed to be much fewer migrants about though. Typical isn't it, a fall each of the three days I'm not around, the day I'm back there's been something of a clear out!!

The gulls from the Tower Hide looked promising, but yet again delivered nothing. Lots of Black-heads feeding in the water, a Little Gull in amongst them would have looked just perfect. Sadly I couldn't stay long, and it never happened. 

I said in yesterdays text-only post how worrying it is to see all these Chiffchaffs clearly struggling to find food. Luckily I think the clear skies encouraged many of them to move on last night, and to hopefully find more food. But there are still a few around, including one that distracted me whilst I was working on my laptop. Although Chiffchaff is on the garden list, this was the first one we've had IN the garden...

You won't find much food there mate!!

When I downloaded the above photos from my camera, I noticed this pic I took of a Sandwich Tern on Black Hole Marsh last Friday.  I thought I'd post it because it isn't a common sight...


Right - must get back to my work now. Be good to get an interuption though - can we have three Ospreys in three days??

Monday 25 March 2013

Missing Out

Last weekend saw a huge arrival of early spring migrants. Us birders go through winter dreaming of these days – they seem so far away when you are freezing cold and surrounded by winter wildfowl and wading birds!   Last weekend was probably one of the best early spring falls the Axe has ever seen – and I missed (almost) all of it!

I spent a good few hours out on Friday, which I thought showed promise despite (or I should say because of) the awful weather.  There were c35 Sandwich Terns in the valley and over the sea, with most resting on Bridge Marsh which was a new sight for me. I even managed to see at least ten from the house - a cracking house tick!  A couple of short sea watches showed a Red-breasted Merganser fly east (my third of the year!) and two cracking adult summer Med Gulls that came east along the beach before heading up the Estuary.  Other than the Terns though, no summer migrants. So although Friday was ok, and had potential, nothing really materialised.

Then Saturday dawned, and the spectacle begun! All I got back in time for was a quick look from the Farm Gate at dusk, which gave me a handful of Sand Martins.

Sunday was an even better day for migrants - and I was at work.  Karen found an Osprey on the Estuary just after 10am. I didn’t see the message for a good ten minutes, at which point I was on the phone (and on hold!). I finally got off the phone, only to be pulled into the office for a meeting, so when I finally made it out into the back yard I was too late. Although the Osprey was still around (the gulls were making a right fuss) I just couldn’t get on it. Annoying. Oh well – there will be more, you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

It got worse for me as the day went on, as news of falls from other south coast localities plastered twitter.  Then the final nail in the coffin, two Little Ringed Plovers were found on Black Hole Marsh! A bird on my ‘most worrying gaps in my year list’ list.

It really did feel like a 20 hour shift, but 16:15 finally came around and I was out.  I went straight to Black Hole Marsh to see the (now four) Little Ringed Plovers. Well there wasn’t four any more – there were NINE! Along with three Ringed Plovers.  I have only once seen numbers like this before in the spring, and in the following week or two we had Night Heron, White Stork and three Alpine Swifts!! Let’s hope…
I checked a few more sites before returning home at dusk – and added Swallow to the year list at Seaton Marshes.  

Today I have been off patch all day, but understand there are now ten Little Ringed Plovers in the valley. Annoyingly there was another Osprey too - it flew north over town at 13:10. Grrrrr. Bun also netted the first House Martin of the year.

I won’t have much time at all this week for any patch birding, or the following weekend. Hopefully though if a decent patch year tick is found I will be available to nip out.

More important than any of the above though is the current weather. The Chiffchaffs I have seen haven't looked in a good way at all. It really needs to warm up or we may well have something of a disaster on our hands. Fingers crossed...

Monday 18 March 2013

Wheatears At Last!

Saturday was a non-birding day except for a quick and urgent look at the Estuary mid afternoon, this was because earlier in the day 'Sidmouth Clive' had seen a Spotted Redshank from the Seaton Marshes Hide.  Now up to about ten years ago, we used to have one or two Spotted Redshank winter on the Axe annually, but in recent years you don't usually see them here until mid autumn, and only in ones or twos. So as you can imagine I was very keen to see this bird as soon as I heard about it, and am pleased to say I did rather rapidly connect with it - a beautiful bird in winter plumage.

Later on in the day Jess and I went for a wander around town, and jammed the Spoonbill in the corner of Seaton Marshes right by the cycle path.  It's odd how this bird disappeared for about a week and has suddenly reappeared, maybe it ventured into Dorset for this time as I've noticed the numbers at Lodmoor have varied from two to four.

Sunday was as usual a day spent at work, but with blue skies greeting me when I finished at 16:15 I was keen we went for a late afternoon stroll, but to where? I suggested to Jess we gave Beer Head a visit - where better to enjoy sun, sea and stunning views!?  Quite by chance I then found out a few Wheatears had made landfall to south Dorset during the afternoon, what a stroke of luck!  Pleasingly Beer Head came good, and the first spring migrant made it on to my year list - Wheatear.  There were two actually, both stunning males, but neither very obliging. Still, the first Wheatear of the year just HAS to be photographed how ever far away and with whatever camera you have on you...

What a great sight!

Today, I headed over to Branscombe for about 7:45. The sea wasn't as flat as I was hoping, and I could only see three Great Northern and three Red-throated Divers on it. Over it, a female Red-breasted Merganser flew east with six Common Scoters, with a further eight Common Scoter past by 08:30.  Although Merg isn't a year tick for me, it's a good reminder of how the sea can produce a good bird at a moments notice.  I think I need to spend a bit more time looking out there - there are several gaps on my year list that more time sea watching could fill.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Still No Summer Migrants For Me

I saved most of today's birding time for this afternoon, as spring migrants often drop in as the day goes on when the weather is like this. But that didn't work for me today - despite visiting most places in the valley and Beer Head. 

It's been a cracking day weather wise, although bitterly cold first thing. The car thermometer read -3c during the drive over to Branscombe at 6:20am.

Taken from Branscombe at sun rise today - that's the Beer Head stacks

Heavy ground frost on Bridge Marsh early morning

Looking west from Beer Head early afternoon

Brascombe was very disappointing early on, because there was a horrible haze over the distant sea. I saw exactly zero Great Northern Divers! And nothing else either.  Later Ian M had 26 GND here, so they must have reappeared when the haze went.

I didn't really see anything of note during my few hours out this afternoon either. In fact my birdie highlight of the day occurred whilst I was inside...

We've seen Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Robins and Dunnocks on the new bird table in our garden - and of course the Wood Pigeons! So nothing too exciting. But I had quite a shock when I looked out mid morning today! Reed Bunting is on the garden list thanks to a fly by soon after we moved in, but I wasn't expecting to see one IN the garden eating our food...

A surprise Reed Bunting! A right cracker too.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Branscombe Back To Form

Well there's still no summer migrants on my year list!  I spectacularly dipped Little Ringed Plover yesterday, and James M saw a couple of Sand Martins over Seaton Marshes last Sunday - so we have had some.  The best I've managed so far was a single male White Wagtail opposite Axmouth FC this morning, which was nice. Equally nice was seeing  the Water Pipit again, although rather briefly.

The flat seas tempted me over to Brascombe this morning. I thought the three Great Northern Divers I saw the other day may have been the start of something - and I was right!  I did three complete 'sweep-counts' of the sea, and the last one gave the greatest count - 42! Yes 42 Great Norther Divers!!!!  Although I was surprised to see this many, we have had large gatherings here before. There were several small groups and singles dotted about, but also two main flocks, one of 13 and another of 14.  A flock of 14 Great Northern Diver is quite a sight I can tell you!  I saw a few wing flap and they appeared to be in wing moult, so I can see us having these birds here for a while yet - maybe they will attact a White-billed!?? Ideally we need a proper flat calm 'glass-like' sea to get the true count, which I'm sure will be greater than 42.

There was a 43rd large diver out there, very distant. Plumage wise I had it down as a Black-throated, much more contrasty than any of the other 42 birds, with really nice constant flank patches. But it just looked too bill and head heavy - structure wise it looked like a Great Northern. So it had to go down as a diver sp. because I just couldn't make my mind up! If it had too, I always tend to go for structure and shape over plumage, so I'd say it was another Great Northern.  There were also seven Red-throated Divers here and 23 Common Scoters. 12 of the Scoters were sat on the sea, eight flew east and three went west.

I have looked for spring migrants today, been up Beer Head and on Seaton Marshes. Didn't see much at all at either of these places, just one of these on Seaton Marshes...

Right family - wrong species!

Also at Seaton Marshes, I was surprised to see a bat flying around!  Just as I went up to record a video of it, it disappeared. But I soon found where it had 'disappeared' too...

It was sat on a fence!

I went to pick it up so I could take it to Seaton's Bat Woman - but as I went for it it took off and started flying about again!  It's clearly not right though. Anyone know what species it is?

Hope to nip out again this afternoon - when maybe I'll have more luck with summer migrants??

Friday 8 March 2013

The Aftermath

First of all, I would just like to clarify my rant yesterday.  Reading the comments on here and on Twitter, it would appear at least a couple of people got the wrong end of the stick.

Not at all was my rant about non-birders using bird hides, or me wanting to be the only person in the bird hide.  What the EDDC have done on the Axe is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. And to be honest, I wish they'd promote it more - you wouldn't believe how many people in Seaton/Colyford/Colyton don't even know what is on their doorstep!  Our reserves and hides should be enjoyed by everyone - as long as they are respected.  With the way our world is going, the environment is becoming less and less of a priority, so the best thing 'we' can do is to get as many people interested in the outdoors as possible - especially the younger generation.  Personally I think if everything stays as it, in 100 years time there's going to be serious issues - just where is the next generation of birders/naturalists??

Anyway, before I go off on another rant (two in two days!) I just want to simplify what I meant in yesterdays rant... 

I had a problem with being made to feel like I was doing wrong, and being a nuisance, for wanting to look at birds from a bird hide. That's it.  Maybe I should have just written that - so I apologies if I have mislead anyone. 

Ok, that's enough of that, so what about today.

Well this morning, my sulky and grumpy self drove out to Brascombe to look over the sea, as the conditions were pretty good for some sea scanning...

The sea could have been flatter but the light was brilliant

For the last couple of months on this blog you would have noticed how I have sulked and grumped on about how poor the sea has been.  Well I was thrilled to see a sea busy with birds this morning! Delighted! Over joyed! Although I wasn't, I was too busy being sulky and grumpy.

350-400 auks made up the numbers, with most far out to the south east. Nine Red-throated Divers were expected, but the three Great Northern Divers weren't.  Big divers have been scarce this winter, so to see three together quite close in was brilliant - they just oozed dominance and supremacy!  I know that sounds stupid and dramatic, but they really did!

There wasn't that much flying over the sea, but for one major highlight.  At 8:45 I picked up two Avocet flying east.  I've seen huge flocks of Avocet, I've seen Avocet chicks, I've had Avocets virtually walk over my feet, but this was the first time I've seen Avocets on a sea watch off the patch. And these were honestly the best Avocets I've ever seen!  They just looked fantastic as they slowly made their over the vast flat sea - really delicate and elegant. What a sight!  

I then moved on too Beer and Seaton Hole, where two Gadwall flew east and four Great Crested Grebes were feeding close in.

The sea hasn't just given me ornithological action today, off Branscombe I had several brief views of a Porpoise (later also seen by Ian M), and off Seaton Hole a group of 4-5 Bottle-nosed Dolphin moved distantly west.  Bonus!

This afternoon, I spent an hour or so looking in the valley. I was hoping to notch up our first Sand Martin with all this low cloud, but not yet.  What I did notch up though was far more 'valuable' than a Sand Martin to the patch year lister!  

The scope came out the car to look through a group of c20 Pied Wags opposite Axmouth FC, hoping for a White. No White, but a Water Pipit was a right bonus!  This species used to be a regular winter visitor on the Axe, with mid winter counts often in double figures, sometimes greater than 20. Sadly, and for reasons unknown, this is no longer the case - it's a right winter rarity. This species is still just about annual though, with March/April being the new peak time.  It was feeding on the left edge of the main scrape amongst the Pied Wags, and I watched it for about ten or so minutes before it wandered into longer grass at the back of the scrape.  It's still in winter plumage, no trace of any pink tones. Also here; 10 Meadow Pipits, 37 Black-tailed Godwit and a Green Sandpiper.

After this, a look along the Estuary, surprise surprise, revealed now three Avocet. Nice to know our river valley enticed the passing two in from the open sea, and I bet they were thrilled to see one already here!

So all in all, I have had a fantastic early spring/late winter's day out on patch. Several amazing sights and even a year tick to top it off!  Right I've got to go now, have got to find something to rant about....

Thursday 7 March 2013

Two Year Ticks And A Rant

Nice to see we are having an early summer again this year - it could be July or August out there right now. Wet wet wet!

I've had a very exciting addition to the year list since my last post, Spoonbill!  It's a cracking adult, and was first spied late Tuesday flying west over the Estuary before it appeared to drop down on to Seaton Marshes. Thanks to Neil and Ian for informing me about this. 

So, early on Wednesday I was out - along with Gavin and Tim.  No sign during a brief look over Seaton Marshes and around the Borrow Pit, then a look up the Estuary failed to locate it. To be honest it wasn't looking good, Gav went home, Tim back to Seaton Marshes and I tried Black Hole Marsh.  It wasn't at Black Hole either, but wandering back to the car I suddenly spotted it flying from Seaton Marshes towards Coronation Corner.  A short while later I found out why it was flying - Tim has relocated in on Seaton Marshes on his return visit.  So that was that, and it is still with us today.  This Spoonbill wasn't just an addition to the patch year list (a very welcome one at that - less than annual here), it was also an addition to the house list!  I saw it twice during Wednesday morning from home, once from the bedroom and once from our new table in the kitchen. On both occasions it was flying south.

I would now love to be posting some photos of it, but I simply don't need to because there's some excellent photos HERE and HERE.

I managed another year tick today. The plan was to go to the Tower Hide for lunch, I had it all packed and everything. I was presuming there were going to be lots of gulls on the Estuary given the weather, I was wrong. No large gulls at all in front of the hide, but there were four Ringed Plovers. Now there's only two species of birds that has been seen on patch in 2013 that I've not seen, Black-throated Diver and Great Skua, I am dead pleased with that. These Ringed Plovers were more proof that there's some wader passage going on at the moment, I hope for some more in the next few days.

Due to the lack of gulls, I didn't eat my lunch in the Tower Hide and I headed back home.

But the lack of gulls wasn't the only reason I stayed so briefly in the hide  Stand by for a rare rant...

I am a birder who does prefer to be alone in a bird hide, but I am more than happy to share one - I think birding is a great hobby to share.  But when I walked into a rather busy Tower Hide today, I immediately noticed not one of the windows were open. Maybe not such of an issue if its a nice day, but they were all steamed up and soaking wet!  I tried my best to be polite and tried to focus my scope though the glass, but this wasn't working, so I had to open one.  This was immediately greeted by groans, a "your letting a draft in" and a couple of "oh it's cold".  I'm sorry, but it is a BIRD HIDE!!!! If you want to stay warm and see nothing, go home. Bird hides are outside, and outside it can be cold, wet and windy.

I shut the window, and left...

End of rant. 

Tuesday 5 March 2013

That's More Like It

What a beautiful spring-like day today, and it feels as though things are happening in the bird world.

Yesterday there were far more gulls on the Estuary than of late, with 70+ Common Gulls, 21 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a new adult Med Gull. Nothing exciting no, but a vast improvement on recent times. 

And today?  Well today I've netted two patch year ticks!

With fog in the valley this morning, I spent late morning looking up for raptors at various spots around the patch. The highlight came at 10:45am when a Merlin (presumably a male) flew through north east very rapidly.  This is our first one of the year, so there's got to be a good chance it was a migrant passing through. Merlin is a bird you would expect to see here every year, but not normally until late autumn, so nice to get this one out of the way so early on.

The next year tick I found during a quick look along the Estuary mid afternoon. Avocet isn't guaranteed here every year, so I was overjoyed to see one feeding in the creek leading from the main Estuary to Seaton Marshes Hide...

Possibly the worst ever photo of an Axe Avocet

The Avocet ended up feeding right in front of Seaton Marshes Hide, so I reckon later the other local blogs will be festooned with stunning pics of it. I look forward to seeing them.

So it's 5th March, and I've already had the same amount of patch year ticks this month as I did in the whole of February!  Hopefully this is the start of the spring flood gates opening.

Now back to yesterday again, and Jess and I went 'Owling' around the patch from 17:30. This was a total success as we had excellent and prolonged views of two Barn Owls...

I've seen six different Barn Owls on patch so far this year - not bad going!

Followed by great (although very dull) views of a Little Owl that just wasn't trying hard enough to hide from us...

A ball of feathers!

I'm pleased to report that amazingly both the bird table and out table is still standing! We've been using our table every day, but so far only one bird has found the seed on the bird table...

If I was a bird I'd probably be a Wood Pigeon!

Sunday 3 March 2013

Buttons, Birds and Building Things

Yesterday was a day of putting things together.  Not the kind of day I enjoy at all, because not only do I dislike making things, I'm also rubbish at it.

There were two rather nice breaks from our day of DIY'ing though.  First one was just as we had got underway, when Gav popped over to present me with these very yummy Buttons (which came in very useful during the afternoon/evening!)...

Just look at my over-joyed face! Chocolate!!!!!

The second break also came about thanks to Gav. He had found me the bird that has been bugging me since 14th January, number one of my 'most worrying gaps' on my 2013 patch year list, Goosander. Well GoosanderS actually, with two resting on the Estuary just north of Tower Hide. RESULT! Many thanks for staying with them Gav - best Goosanders I've ever seen :-). The male was an absolute cracker too.

Ok, so what about the putting things together. Well, this was our back garden yesterday afternoon...

Something for the birds

And I'm pleased to say, this is how it looks now...


To be honest, that was pretty easy.  This was more of a struggle though. The Chocolate Buttons saved my sanity...

There was one disaster, we had to redo all four chairs half way through building them. Personally when it says the left side of something, I always take that as meaning the left side, not the right side. Grrrrrrr. Stupid instructions.

Still, this morning, we enjoyed eating our breakfast on this...

There are two more chairs, fully made, upstairs

Yes, it is nice to say we have built these - but that certainly doesn't mean I enjoyed it!

Friday 1 March 2013

Quiz Results And Patch Year List To Update

I've just been out for a couple of hours and am sad to report it looks as though March has started how February ended. Well not just how February ended, how the entire month was!  

February really was dire, I got three patch year ticks - one resident species (Little Owl) and the other two annual visitors (Ruff and Brambling).  February is one of the months you may expect the least, but I would have hoped for a decent gull or two, and maybe some grey geese. I wonder if this poor month has blown my chances of 200 for the year??  The one good thing about last month was that I didn't miss any year ticks. So as March (spring?) begins I've seen 117 of the 121 species seen on patch in 2013.

In yesterday's post, I'm sure you will have noticed the difference in the Merlin photos. The blades of grass that annoyed  were very cleverly removed by Chris Gladman. If you still can't spot it, look at the birds tail and left wing.

I am also sure you spotted the Green-winged Teal. If not...

There it is, at the end of the big red arrow

Here's a couple of more zoomed in pics...

Not great, but I didn't have my digiscoping camera with me at the time

Very much looking forward to the weekend, because I've got it off work! Woooooooo! It's scary how quickly a week goes by though isn't it? And I cannot believe Sand Martins and Wheatears are only about two weeks away...