Monday 29 April 2013

The Woods Come Good!

I've been doing a monthly woodland bird survey near Colyton for about eight years now - and over the years I've learnt it does throw up the odd surprise. The best bird to date being a Yellow-browed Warbler on 30th October 2007, but I've also had Pied and Spotted Flies, Hobby, Firecrest and several Crossbills here.  It's by far the most reliable and best place on patch for Woodcock too, with double figure winter counts not unusual. So far this year it hasn't given me any bonus surprise year ticks, well, until this morning...

Wood Warbler is a ridiculously rare bird on patch.  The last record was of an autumn bird on Beer Head on 7-8th August 2006 - Gav found it on the 7th, and he, Ian M and I saw it the following day. Before this, I think there's only been two or three records.  I was more than half way round the survey this morning when I thought I heard the distant song of Wood Warbler - this set me off in a sprint! Luckily for me it only had to be a short sprint as I soon found myself looking at an absolute BEAUT of a Wood Warbler....


It then moved into larger more dense trees, and became elusive. It never stopped singing though, even giving several bouts of 'tu tu tu'.  After asking permission from the wood owner, I sent a text out and am pleased to say at least two other locals got it. Hopefully Karen has got some 'proper' pictures of it.

I did take this video too, but as you can see it hasn't turned out too well...

Oh yes, something I didn't mention in my previous post was that the Monties was my 249th bird for the patch. I only found this out when I updated my Bubo list.  Now I wonder what 250 is going to be....

Right - I must go, I've just shown Jess her fourth species of wild Owl in the UK and she's jumping off the walls!  It was a Tawny by the way, and sat up nicely for a couple of minutes in a tree in front of the car.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Lorry Load Of Jam = Patch Life Tick!

I'll just get on and tell it how it was. What an amazing late afternoon/evening yesterday was!

After Jess finished work yesterday, we had a tea then went for a bit of a wander seeing as the weather was quite nice.  We walked from our place, along Harepath Road to Colyford, then turn back down towards Colyford Common, and through Black Hole Marsh then back up to ours from Colyford Road. It's a really nice loop walk which can be done in an hour.  Anyway..

As we got to Black Hole Marsh, Tim White was stood on the platform so we stopped for a chat.  This is no lie, just as Tim said how he's missed ALL the decent raptors so far this year (four Ospreys, three Red Kites and two Marsh Harrier to be precise!), the gulls went up on the Estuary.  They didn't go Osprey-crazy, just got up and started to loaf around in the air, they weren't even making much noise.  Some sky scanning revealed nothing, but Tim then noticed a shape flying below them heading west over the marsh.  I looked at it through my bins and was shocked to see a ring-tail Harrier! A small one too!!

It was all over too quickly though, as it rapidly continued south west over Black Hole Marsh, we probably only saw it like this for no more than 10-15 seconds. About a minute later I could see it again, but very distantly as it flew south west towards Seaton along way south of the marsh. By this time I had already sent several texts out to the other local patch birders, but don't think anyone else saw it.

So what did I see on the bird!? Well it was small and slim winged, and in the field I could see just three obvious primaries at the wing tip. I also looked for a collar, and didn't see one, so I'm pretty sure I'd ruled Pallid out of it. I didn't see the upper parts at all, but did get a fairly good (albeit brief) look at the under wing.  It had to be a Monties!!  Montagu's Harrier though is a Devon A rarity, and I certainly hadn't seen enough to put a convincing description together - this could easily have been a 'near definite' that had got away....

Luckily though, Tim White is an ace photographer, and has ace kit...

All photos (c) Tim White

Tim first sent me these pictures when we were tucking into a 9" deep crust at Pizza Hut, Exeter. Turned out to be the best Pizza I've ever eaten!!!

This is only the second patch record of Montagu's Harrier, Gavin had the first over Axmouth on 12th September 2008. So it's one heck of a grip back!  And I have to say, it's nice that we've finally had a decent spring rarity this year - about time!

There's been some more excitement this morning, when a text came through from Ian informing me of a Velvet Scoter on the sea off Seaton. I rather rapidly got up, got dressed and headed down there - I wasn't expecting what I saw though!

I can only describe it as being ridiculously close in, and 'it' was an adult drake!!! A STUNNING BIRD!  You will be seeing some nice photos later on Karen's and Gavin's blogs. Easily the best Velvet I've ever seen here - probably the best one I've ever seen anywhere!!

Friday 26 April 2013

Fog Changed The Game

My alarm was again set for 05:40 yesterday for some pre-breakfast birding. A look out the window though revealed thick fog so I got on with my laptop work and saved up my birding time for later on in the day.

Late morning, after noticing from the kitchen table several big Swallow flocks flying north - and my first Swift - I just had to get out!

Black Hole Marsh was my destination, and I was soon greeted by a fly over Yellow Wag amongst the trickle of Swallows and Martins.  It was as I was leaving that I first heard the song of the Lesser Whitethroat, and I soon picked it up just south of the main entrance track to the marsh.  Gav and Karen both arrived, by which time it had moved nearer to Black Hole Marsh, and was joined by a Whitethroat.

In mid song

I returned home for an hour or so, but my best efforts to work were disturbed by a text from Gav informing me of a Garden Warbler north of Coronation Corner.  Kindly Gav waited for me (delaying his lunch hugely!), but I had to wait about half an hour to see it.  We could hear it, and see Blackcaps, a Whitethroat and a couple of Willow Warblers, but the bloody Garden Warbler took an age to come out!  Thankfully it did though...

Not an easy bird to see here in the spring

Then it was back home, and this is where I stayed until Jess finished work. Early evening we went for a walk around Lower Bruckland Ponds, not much to be seen here, so we headed into town to buy a few bits.

Jess knows by now though that I can't drive past the 'Farm Gate' without stopping!  And I'm glad I did last night as an immature male Marsh Harrier was hunting over Colyford Marsh - result! It was a cracking bird too.

This morning, the alarm went off at 05:40 again and I went down to Black Hole Marsh.  The Lesser Whitethroat was still singing away, more Reed Warblers were singing away than recent days, and 12 Ringed Plovers were good to see (wader passage!).  

Whilst attempting a sea watch after this, I didn't see any sea birds but I did see a Yellow Wag fly in off the sea.

Right - time to bury my head in my laptop yet again!!!

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Too Busy...

The only birding I've had chance for over the last couple of days has been pre-breakfast birding.  That was except for a ten minute wander around yesterday afternoon - which proved incredibly well timed!

I'll start with yesterday's jam, which was a Red Kite! Amazingly it was in exactly the same bit of air space as the one seen over Black Hole Marsh the previous day, and really not far from the Saturday bird either!  It was definitely a different bird though as Mark's bird was clean winged, mine was missing a few inner primaries from each wing.  It circled over Black Hole Marsh for a few minutes, before being seen off west by Herring Gulls.

Today my pre-breakfast birding was a good look around Black Hole and Stafford Marsh. I was hoping for a Cuckoo as this is often the time of year a migrant might be heard here, but it appears that I missed it as one was calling here for a few minutes the prevoius day. Drat!

There wasn't much to be honest, with a fly over Yellow Wagtail and 11 Whimbrel being the highlights. It was nice to see several Reed and Sedge Warblers back on territory and in good voice though. One Sedge showed so well that I just had to get a video...

A quick look at Seaton Marshes before the shreddies went down a treat showed a female Tufted Duck on the Borrow Pit. I would post a photo of it here but for some reason Blogger won't let me upload it! 

Monday 22 April 2013

A Quick One

Although I've got a week off work this week, I think I'll be out less than usual (if at all) as have got lots of laptop work to do.

It's not been a good few days for the year list, I've missed two more quality ticks - well three really.  Since my last post there's been two Red Kites on patch. Both I could easily have seen from my house, but neither I were in for.  And the other year tick - a Wryneck! Last night I was sent a couple of photos of a Wryneck feeding on ants in a Rousdon garden during the middle of last week. I thought at first it was nearer Lyme Regis, so in Dorset, but it turns out it was well inside Devon, and the patch boundary.  A great record though!

Told you it was a quick one...

Thursday 18 April 2013

What A Walk To Work!

Well it's about time I caught up with things, and tell all about the excitement following my last blog post.

Tuesday afternoon I headed off to work, and walked along the cycle track into Seaton. As I came down to the marshes the first bird I saw was a male Whitethroat - my first of the year! Pleased with that, I walked a little further south to the water treatment works on the edge of Seaton Marshes. There were a few Willow Warblers flitting about, but I wasn't expecting what I saw next - a male Pied Fly

Now this may not seem like much to many birders, but to us it's a big event...

The twitch!

A Pied Fly of any form at any time of year is notable for us, with autumn being the best time (although we never get more than a handful).  Spring Pied Flies are rare here, and rarer still are spring male Pied Flies.  This is only the third of this plumage I've ever seen on patch, with the other two being on Beer Head - the last four years ago. It's not just about the rarity value though - they are such stunning birds.

I thought I'd best grab a record shot of it when I first saw spotted it, in case it was to disappear...

Still looks amazing despite the awful pic!

Thankfully it did remain, and Karen got some excellent snaps of it, see HERE. Sue also got some great pics of it, along with some shots of the lovely Yellow Wag on Black Hole Marsh earlier that day, see HERE.

It wasn't just birds I saw on this walk in, but plenty of Butterflies too. I only saw Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells, but there were lots of them...


Today, all I've had time for was an hours sea watch from the Spot On Kiosk, where I had arranged to meet Gav at dawn.  The conditions weren't great, and I wouldn't describe it as being busy, but it was great to see a few sea birds at last. 

Best of all were three stunning Great Skuas that flew fairly close west together just after 7am. Two adults and one clearly a younger bird with a paler belly and less prominent white wing flashes.  It was also nice to see some Manx Shearwaters finally, with 16 west (two and a distant flock of c14). Other than this I saw a few distant Terns and Kittiwakes, six Common Scoter, two Red-throated Divers and a distant large Diver sp..

Tomorrow looks as though it may be good for some more grounded migrants. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday 16 April 2013

The Flood Gates Have Opened

Yesterday morning, most of Beer Head looked like this...

You could barely see your feet - let alone any birds!

Thankfully though, the eastern side of Beer Head was clearer, and this is where the birds were.  April 15th is 'Grasshopper Warbler day'. Almost every year we've had at least one on this date, and this years bird reeled for about ten seconds at the bottom of the Dell.  I, like others, always like to see Grasshopper Warblers, but I do find something quite magical about just hearing them. So often when your migrant searching in spring one will start reeling, then stop and just disappear in to thin air. They are almost mystical! And how many non-singing birds do we walk past!??

The other year tick here was a heard only Tree Pipit somewhere in the fog. Ian M saw it briefly later too in roughly the same place.  The colour came thanks to two cracking male Redstarts, these shared the bushes with 15+ Willow Warblers, 5+ Chiffchaffs, three Blackcap and a Fieldfare. It was also nice to get good views of a huge and pale Greenland (type) Wheatear.

After Beer Head I then had a walk around the equally foggy Beer Cemetery Fields.  It was mostly quiet here except for a small group of Willow Warblers accompanied by another fine male Redstart, at least five Blackcaps in the lane behind the cemetery, and a Siskin.

The low cloud/fog yesterday meant throughout the day there were large numbers of hirdundines feeding in the valley. Mostly Swallows but with several Sand and House Martins mixed in too.  I managed to see all three species from my house late afternoon, and at 17:50 had a very pleasant surprise when a Hobby powered through low north. I really love where we live :-).  I love it even more because I can walk to Black Hole Marsh in exactly four minutes. When the next mega occurs here that I'm at home for, it would be quicker for me to run/jog to it, than drive to it! Love it!

Anyway, this short walk was what I did this morning. I didn't get home til very late last night after a Devon Birds council meeting, so didn't fancy getting up early. This is why I didn't see a Velvet Scoter that flew past us at 7:40. But when I did emerge I had a great time at Black Hole Marsh.

It was really jumping with birds!  The bushes were alive with Willow Warblers...

A Chiffchaff could never look like this!  Willows really can be very striking

And in the reeds, my first Sedge Warbler of the year showed well before singing.  The highlight was on the marsh though, with a cracking male Yellow Wagtail amongst six Wheatears.  Sadly when the Wheatears moved off west, so did the Yellow Wag. In this picture they are four Wheatears and the Wagtail, can you spot them all...

The star bird is sadly facing the wrong way!!

Also on the marsh, a couple of Green Sands (looking stunning now) and my first family of Mallards...

There were 15 ducklings in all

That's probably all the birding for me for a couple of days. Although I do hope to spend an hour sea watching in the morning before I have to head off to another meeting.

Friday 12 April 2013

Watching Migration

The over night rain has certainly done the trick. As is often the case though in wet conditions, Beer Head watchers came back with little, whereas the marshes and river valley have been jumping!

The best passerine migrant I've seen this morning was a male Redstart on Seaton Marshes, which was fascinating to watch.  I first picked it up distantly on fence posts along the ditch that divides the two fields south of Seaton Marshes, but realised each time it flew it was moving a little further north. It continued making short flights until it came to the ditch that borders the southern edge of Seaton Marshes. It then started moving west along this ditch, doing exactly the same making short flights from post to post. When it came to the last bushes before the cycle track it spent about five minutes here, often feeding on the ground...

Beaut! Wish it was a tad closer though.

Then all of sudden it flew on to the cycle track, perched up in a sycamore, and just after I took the following snap it melted away through the trees towards the church yard...

Fly little bird, continue on your journey. And good luck!

The most numerous migrant in the valley was Willow Warbler, and today's the first day they've out numbered Chiffchaffs (only saw 8+ of these). There were at least 70 spread around various sites, with several small flocks and many singing...

Welcome home!

There's plenty of hirundines around too, not loads, but certainly more than there has been. All three species were hawking over Colyford Common.

Rarest bird of the morning though was a stunning breeding plumaged Spoonbill on Colyford Marshes. I don't think I've ever seen a smarter example of one, really vivid yellow on the neck - what a stunner!!

Bit of an odd thing this morning was making friends with a Pheasant!  I think it was probably being over territorial as it followed me from Stafford Marsh across half of Colyford Common... 

I even ended up opening gates for it!

All I had time for yesterday was a quick walk around Seaton Marshes. Most notable sighting was a vocal Grey Plover over west, which was presumably the departure of the long staying bird on the Estuary.

It was very nice to see a decent spring fall today, but things are still running very late. Most years the first decent Willow Warbler arrival is within the first week of April - I wonder if things will catch up or whether the entire spring will be a week or two behind previous years?

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Staying Positive...Just!

I'll get the negative stuff out the way first.  I missed two good year ticks yesterday, one that didn't turn up until after I got to work, a Sanderling on Blackhole Marsh. The second was a Caspian Gull, I got to Coronation Corner about ten seconds after had flown. Painfully I could see two distant gulls flying away north over Colyford Marsh, of which one was the Caspian Gull.  I'm sure there's some out there who would have ticked it, but I couldn't tell which of the two it was so it's certainly not on my list.

Both, although great patch birds, I do think I'll get another chance with. Not so confident with Waxwing and Glaucous Gull though!  Ok, that's enough moaning...

Yesterday morning I went up Beer Head, hoping the change in weather would do something. It certainly did!  Great to see migrants about, although the cold wind didn't make it easy - or that pleasant to be honest with you!  

The highlight has to be the male Redstart on the top of the headland - a cracker. Sadly it didn't pose for photos, when it did pose it was just too distant.  These were my full counts:

18 Blackbird
24 Song Thrush
22 Robin
4 Wheatear
1 Redstart
2 Blackcap
3 Willow Warbler
5 Chiffchaff
5 Goldcrest

Wheatears top two and a Willow Warbler at the bottom

You would been forgiven to think it was actually late March, or (minus the Willow Warblers) late October!  Although there were lots of birds, it didn't 'feel' like an April 9th fall. I wasn't expecting to hear Gropper, or see a Pied Fly or Whinchat - all a real possibility on this date. It just felt like late March with all the thrushes and Robins around!

I saw a few other bits and pieces yesterday . Four Wheatears behind the old Racal site in town, several Swallows including the first on territory, several White Wagtails and at least one Water Pipit on Colyford Marshes scrape.

This morning I tried Beer Head again, Ian M joined me for a wander around. With clear skies I wasn't expecting much. I was right with just the following noted:

4 Wheatear
3 Blackcap
3 Willow Warbler
1 Chiff/Willow
6 Goldcrest

This afternoon, all I've had time for was a quick look along the Estuary. A distant second-winter Gull north of Coronation Corner looked good for Yellow-legged to me, but with rubbish light, the distance, a lack of time and no digi-scoping camera, I had to leave it as a 'prob'. After a quick look at Olsen and Larrson I texted Gav, who unbeknown to me had just arrived at Coronation Corner (he's never far from a Larid flock!). Thankfully the gull was exactly where I had left it, and he was soon able to turn it from a 'prob' to a 'definite'. Hopefully he'll post some photos of it later.

And that's that. So a mixed post - but overall I was just pleased to see some actual spring migration. Bring on some more...

Monday 8 April 2013

That's More Like It!

A two post day, and that's because it was a day of two halves. Right after I had a good moan on here about how crap it's been, I went out and had a great afternoon!

One of the things I said earlier was how I've not seen a Willow Warbler yet, well guess what I saw at the first place I went after I posted that! There was at least one Willow Warbler amongst 15+ Chiffchaffs and two Goldcrests around the Borrow Pit on Seaton Marshes. Now and then some of the Chiffs and the Willow broke out in song, which was nice.

After a rather uneventful look along the Estuary, I went to Lower Bruckland Ponds were it really kicked off!

I was busy trying to photograph this annoyingly camera shy Willow Warbler...

A terrible photo, but it was the best I managed! Although it was very close it wouldn't stop moving.

...when I noticed this hovering over the lower ponds...

A bloody Osprey!

It didn't dive or hang around, and soon flew off east towards Rousdon...

It was nice to see a few hirundines here too, with about eight Sand Martins, four Swallows and my first two House Martins of 2013...

About time!

I then spent the next hour and a bit scanning over the mass of fields between Axmouth and Rousden hoping for a patch Stone Curlew. To be honest, there could be a flock of 100 out here and I still could have seen none. Some of the fields have crop high enough to completely engulf a sat down Stone Curlew, and some of the fields are about 5 miles long and three miles wide and perfect Stone Curlew in colour!

I did hear something which I really would liked to have seen. Basically it sounded like a Curlew, twice, and I thought it was a Curlew, but then it gave a drawn out single note - a bit Golden Ploverish but less pleasant sounding and longer.  I don't even know if the same wader made all these three calls, but I will be checking up here again tomorrow.  

I didn't see any birds of note up here, but I did see six Hares. This is by a long way (by four to be precise!) my highest ever count of Hares on patch, and my first for about three years.  Here's a distant photo showing four of them...

Very nice to see.

 I wonder what tomorrow will bring...

What Month Is It?

April for me has been utterly disappointing.  It started in the worst way possible with me missing what would have been a quality patch year tick - Glaucous Gull. I won't go into details, but it was a very painful miss as I could have seen the bird from my bedroom window and I was at home. But I am glad that finally we have had a scarcer gull on patch this year, because we have been looking daily, it just hasn't happened. Well until April 1st... and I didn't see it :-(.

Ok, so how could April get worse? Well believe it or not, I have not had a single patch year tick so far this month.  With the exception of the first few weeks of the year, I would say April is the most prolific month for a year lister - and in other years by this date I would have seen up to ten more summer migrant species than I have this year.  And I have been trying - we all have - it is just dire out there!  I still need Willow Warbler for crying out loud!!

I've had three early morning sea watches this month, a few Sandwich Tern and the odd Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter were all I came away with.

On Beer Head yesterday, and this morning, it honestly could have been January. On both days a single Chiffchaff was the only summer migrant I saw. There was a bit of vis mig yesterday morning, with a few Mipits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and alba Wagtails over east, but very little really.  The sunrise was quite spectacular though...

So where are all the migrants!?  I have been thinking that this hold up will produce some exceptional falls (whenever it comes!), but now I am starting to wonder. If everything is grounded, and feeding up, when they do move on they will be well fed and in a hurry to get to their breeding grounds. So, could this hold up be costing us our spring?

Sorry for so much negativity readers, I do hope this will change soon...

Monday 1 April 2013

A Quick Update

Well we are in to April now, and to see how my year list stands see HERE.

Yesterday Grey Plover was added to it, thanks to a text from Gav. This is another one of those species that you should get, but as we never get many, in theory there is no reason why we couldn't go a year without one.

Also yesterday, when I walked out my front door early morning to head off to work, a Black Redstart greeted me - what a house tick! It was feeding on the neighbours front lawn, then flew up and perched on their out door lamp. What a fine start to the day.

Friday wasn't so fine, as I missed a bit that is firmly on my 'Most Worrying Gaps on my Year List' list. Early afternoon Tim had brief flight views of a drake Garganey from the the farm gate, but there was no further sign for several hours. Well, that was until 4 minutes AFTER I started work. From then on it showed sporadically from the Axmouth - Bosshill Cross road. Garganey is a rare bird on patch, they are a lot lot rarer than they should be. And when we do get them they never seem to stay long . I gave it an hour the following morning and saw 18+ Little Ringed Plovers (including eight opposite Axmouth FC - they were dotted about all over the place) and several Sand Martins, but no Garganey.  Having a couple of records in one spring isn't out of the question though, so I do remain hopeful. 

Personally I think it is about time Bluethroat made it on to our Patch List. But where do you start looking....