Sunday 25 August 2013

Migrants Flood In

...just a pity I've not been able to see any of them!

Actually that's a lie, a visit to Seaton Marshes today showed 13 Wheatear and a Whinchat (a patch year tick so a worthwhile visit) but I have been missing out on all the goodies in the Beer area.  I know I'm always moaning about this, but it's amazing how decent falls nearly always coincide with the weekend!  Beer Head has been a real struggle over the last two weeks, a lot of looking for the odd migrant.  Oh well, at least I've not missed a year tick.

I did see a few passerine migrants last week that I've not had chance to blog about. Wednesday I had a Tree Pipit over Colyford Common, and on Friday Yellow Wagtails were suddenly seemingly abundant, with multiple birds over several locations.  Also on Friday Little Stint made it on to the year list after Phil found a juv on Black Hole Marsh - there's now two and a Curlew Sand. What a place!

Brief sea watches on Friday morning and today both showed single juv Med Gulls, with Friday giving two lovely close Balearic Shearwaters east.

In other birdie news, Wood Sand has made the house list.  On Saturday evening (about 19:30) what I presume to be the lingering juvenile was very vocal and easily audible from my back garden.  

I was very pleased to be able to get the moth trap out last Thursday night, as it gave me 231 moths of 52 species. Amongst the haul was a first for the garden, an eagerly awaited one as I love the Prominent moths...

Coxcombe Prominent

I had several garden scarcities too, the best of these being two Hoary Footman (my third and fourth for the garden)...

Quite a local species

And these...

Dark Spectacle

Flame Carpet

Lime-speck Pug

Sharp-angled Peacock

Finally there was this.  The Kittens are part of the Prominent moths, and they are stunning, but I do find them (well two of them) quite tricky to ID. I think the ones I catch are mostly Sallow Kittens, but one I caught the year before last looked like a Poplar to me (see HERE). This one though I'm really not sure about, it was a large one, but the markings look almost a bit of both to me...

Kitten help required...

Monday 19 August 2013

STOP PRESS!!! Black Hole Marsh Sinks Under The Weight Of Wading Birds

Black Hole Marsh just gets better and better and better!

For some reason today most the wading birds have been feeding between the Island hide and platform, offering excellent views. Early this morning this area was also heaving with Black-headed Gulls, 24 Little Egrets, four Grey Herons and lots of Mallards and Teal. There must be some seriously good food on offer in this corner of the marsh at the moment!!

I've been there twice today, at dawn and again mid afternoon.  This morning with the exception of an increase in Teal numbers (58), it looked pretty much as it has done recently with singles of Wood Sand and Ruff. This afternoon though four juvenile Little Ringed Plovers have joined the mass of birds, these were showing exceptionally well and I'm sure will be well 'papped' later...

Four gorgeous juv Little Ringed Plovers

Green Sand on the left, Wood Sand on the right
The Wood Sand again, but with the Ruff in the background

The only wader I saw in the earlier visit but not the second was an interesting Ringed Plover. It was a juv, but slightly smaller (although doesn't look like that in the photos!) and notable darker than the others - so I guess a Tundra?  And no sadly it wasn't a Semi-palmated Plover.  Here's a couple of pics of it taken in VERY different lights...

Before sunrise!

In bright sun light

No sign of the Cuckoo today, but I saw it on both Thursday and Friday last week. On Thursday I watched it eating caterpillars on an island from the Tower hide for about half an hour, it was always distant though. On Friday it was much closer sat on the wires right in front of the Island hide. Sadly the sun was almost right behind it though!

Still the best Cuckoo photos I've ever taken on patch!

And to complete today's post, some Odonata excitement!  Just before my second visit to Black Hole Marsh I went to Seaton Marshes. Here I found seven male and one female Small Red-eyed Damselfly - my first away from Lower Bruckland Pond (Devon's first ever site for this species).  As usual, the only reason I saw/noticed the female was because... was attached to a male!

Thursday 15 August 2013

Feeling Flat

Feels a bit stagnant out there at the moment - wherever you are it just feels flat; the marshes, bush bashing, sea watching. It does make you question why you're bothering but you just gota keep trying. After all yesterday was 'Audouin's Day' (the sixth anniversary!).

Have been up Beer Head the last two mornings, VERY early this morning in fact!  I was there for sun rise, although didn't stay long as there was clearly nothing happening.  Mind you, it felt the same the previous morning but I netted a Beer Head tick when a Goosander flew west just offshore behind two Mallard...

Proof....just about!

Luckily better views were had about five minutes later when the Goosander flew back east on its own, over Beer Head heading for the Estuary. 

After my shortened Beer Head visit today, a twenty minute sea watch showed a surprising number of Gannets.  There were bloody loads of them, with many blogging but others purposely flying west (some close and large groups) - I counted 168 doing this.  Otherwise I noted just 13 Common Scoter and a Sandwich Tern west.

Hopefully my next blog post title (and post itself!) will be a bit more exciting! 

Monday 12 August 2013

Insects Save Otherwise Photo-less Post!

Beer Head showed a bit more variety this morning, with the bushes giving me my first Garden Warbler of the autumn, two Whitethroat, three Blackcap and 15 Willow Warbler. Two Wheatear were the only birds of note in the open areas.  It was nice to see a Wall Brown whilst wandering around - this is one of the few places left on patch where you can see this species...

Showed well too!

I also saw my first Clouded Yellows of the year today, with two at Lower Bruckland Ponds. They didn't stop moving though, and when one did it was playing hide and seek...


The reason for my visit to Lower Brucklands was to look for Small Red-eyed Damselflies. Sadly there is almost no suitable habitat for them on the ponds now, with a distinct lack of floating vegetation. There's just one small pond which does have lily pads and weeds, and after a short while I eventually spotted a single male. Only the one though...

Hang in there buddy!

To get this post back to bird news - the female Tufted Duck remains here.

Mid morning I had a look around the marshes, with the highlight being a Wood Sandpiper on Colyford Marsh scrape, along with a Greenshank and two Green Sands.  The Wood Sand appeared only for a couple of minutes, had a preen and wing stretch, then flew off NW. Good chance it was a new bird as I don't think the two last week have been seen all weekend? I may be wrong though.

On Black Hole Marsh there's now 40 Black-tailed Godwit, the Ruff still, but much smaller numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover than last week. 

And that's that short post done and dusted. Hope to give Beer Head another look in the morning - I want a Whinchat...

Thursday 8 August 2013

Summer Meets Winter

Within a few minutes this morning I saw four Wigeon and a Cuckoo!  Not two species that go together very often...

Obviously the star bird of the morning was the Cuckoo. I wanted to have a good count up of all the waders at high tide today (see below for totals), but this was interrupted when Ian Mc saw a Cuckoo at Black Hole Marsh. This is a species I thought I'd blown for the year list as I missed out on calling spring birds.

I spent about an hour looking for this bloody bird - but my back up plan worked in the end. It was last seen when Sue Smith saw it land in trees beside the tram way, but it immediately vanished. Knowing autumn Cuckoos are incredibly lazy I waited, and waited, and waited... for the first tram of the day to come up from Seaton.  Sure enough as the tram came through (the bright pink one too!) out popped the Cuckoo.  It flew from tree to tree in front of the tram, before flying across Colyford Common and landing (distantly) on some overhead wires...

An epic Patch Year Tick!

After a few minutes it took off and flew towards Stafford Marsh, when I lost it. As I write this it's not been seen again, but I wouldn't be surprised if it hangs around for a while - juv Cuckoos often do.

I've already mentioned the Wigeon, there were four of them on Black Hole Marsh with 6+ Teal.  We don't usually get Wigeon until late August/early September, so these can certainly be called early returners.

Now for the waders.  Black Hole Marsh is still superb for wading birds, but there were a few bits on Colyford Marsh too. Totals being; one Wood Sandpiper (Colyford), one Ruff, two Greenshank, three Little Ringed Plover (one BHM, two west over), ten Lapwing, 12 Green Sands, 20 Ringed Plover and 42 Dunlin.

Earlier today (at 5:45 to be precise!) I went up to Beer Head - I must be mad!!! Apart from half a dozen Willow Warblers my notebook remained empty, so here's another scenic shot...

My favourite one yet

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Beer Head Back On The Birding Agenda

After several days of blustery and wet conditions, Tuesday was calm and dry so I thought I'd give Beer Head a try for autumn migrants. It was a bit of a long shot really as sites like Portland and Dungeness hadn't reported much in the way autumn migrants yet.

As ever, and in keeping with previous 'first visit of the season to Beer Head posts' - here's a scenery shot...

Notice the mist in the river valley

Nice to see a new visitor board at the entrance too. For some reason they've not labelled the prime migrant spots though...

I just wish people would read the 'Please keep your dog on a lead' bit!!

Bird wise it certainly was a worthwhile visit - although no variety, totals of 28 Willow Warblers and two Wheatear certainly made it feel 'autumnal'...

This is the closest this Wheatear would allow me!

Every year when I see the first autumn Wheatears they always look small - and I suppose that's because the last Wheatears I see proir to this are large Greenland-type jobs in late spring.

I gave Beer Head another try today, it was much quieter with just one Wheatear and eight Willow Warblers. I did have a Beer Head tick though in the form of a juv Green Woodpecker near The Summit bushes. They do breed half a mile in land but I've never seen one here before.

A little later in the day I had a lovely flock of 17 Crossbill in Morganhayes Woods. They were clearly hanging around as they were moving backwards and forwards between tree-tops, so I'll have to keep my eye on them in case a Two-barred joins them. Now that would be nice...  

After this, a quick look at Lower Bruckland Ponds showed an aytha in with the moulting Mallards. Sadly not a Scaup or a Pochard...

...a lady Tufted Duck

My daily Black Hole Marsh vist was later than usual today, I didn't get here until early afternoon.  The wader situation appaeared much the same as the previous few days. A single juv Ruff remains, there's up to 34 Black-tailed Godwits (including two Axe Estuary colour-ringed birds) and several Green and Common Sands dotted about.  There was a newbie in with the Dunlin (numbering 40) and Ringed Plover (numbering 22) though - this lovely Sanderling...

Sanderling surronded by Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper
Have to say it wasn't feeding like a Sanderling at all, it was probing just like a Dunlin!

To complete this post, an update on the colour-ringed juv Kittiwake at Black Hole Marsh on Monday.  Thanks only to Phil's quick camera work we were able to make out the combination of colour-rings, and I've already had a response...

The bird was ringed at the Pointe du Raz colony (Plogoff, Finistère, Bretagne, France), which is pretty much the most western point of France. It was last seen in the colony here on 27th July.  Thanks to Phil and Jean-Yves Monnat.

Monday 5 August 2013

Wonderful Waders, Glorious Gulls and Sweet Swallows...

Black Hole Marsh just keeps getting better!  Still no rares, but waders on it this morning included several Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Common and Green Sands, 56 Dunlin, 24 Ringed Plover, one Little Ringed Plover, one Ruff and a Greenshank.

Part of the small wader flock

Amongst the small gulls Phil picked out a colour-ringed juv Kittiwake. Bit of an odd record, and I was a bit gutted I didn't see it from the house as it would have been a cracking house tick! Anyway, here it is...

My first juv Kittiwake of 2013. You can't see the rings but I've sent the details of (hopefully to the right place!)

Later on, another visit to Black Hole Marsh was mainly to have a look through the resting gulls on the Axe Estuary, and I soon picked out two juv Yellow-legged Gulls. One disappeared soon after I spied it, but the other showed well for ten or so minutes. It was interesting to see this bird had more white on the tips of the tertials than the 'classic' juv YLG...

An 'almost classic' juv Yellow-legged Gull

So the tertials may not be bang on - but everything else was. The most clinching feature visible on the above photo are the second generation mantle feathers.  Here's a closer look at them...

Two of them are very clear to see

First of all, notice the colour of them; The dark bits are almost black, compared with the lovely warm brown of the other mantle and wing feathers, notice the broad white areas near the tips too. Then there's the pattern of them; Lovely anchor shapes and nothing like the plain juvenile mantle feathers. Scroll up and have another look at the top photo again - can you spot them now?

So, next time you hear the term second generation mantle feathers, this is them! And this is what to look out for to absolutely clinch a juv Yellow-legged Gull at this time of year.

The other onithological action for me today was taking another look at one of my Swallow breeding sites. The second brood is well underway, although one nest just had eggs in. Another nest had four naked and blind young in, but a third nest had four larger juveniles in - which I ringed...


Saturday 3 August 2013

Black Hole Marsh, Butterflies and a Balearic

Black Hole Marsh looks EPIC at the moment. There's lots of mud and it absolutely stinks, which means there's lots of lovely flies and bugs for wading birds to eat.  This afternoon Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Common Sands were spread about all over it - as were Green Sandpipers, 13 of them (with a 14th on Colyford Marsh).  Highlights were a stunning juv Ruff, and this juv Little Ringed Plover...

It's been here several days now

Two Med Gulls included an adult and the usual juv...

Starting to moult into first winter plumage

Yesterday morning the wading bird situation was pretty similar, just with the addition of a Turnstone which flew around calling for a few minutes as I was leaving. There were also three Teal (come on Garganey!).

Before yesterday's visit to Black Hole Marsh I had a 45 minute sea watch. I would have stayed longer but I just couldn't get out of the wind! Numbers were represented by Gannets (lots, with birds going both ways) and Common Scoter - 17 of them. There were a few notable singletons too, with a Balearic Shearwater west, a Bonxie east (my first Skua of the autumn) and a Turnstone that flew out from the Estuary. 

It's not been hard to notice the excellent numbers of butterflies flying since the suns reappearance, I thought I'd photograph a few of them too...


Painted Lady - such a stunning underwing


The underwing of a Comma - and that's why they're called Comma's!

Thursday 1 August 2013

The Big 250

On Tuesday Phil followed up a report of a day time churring Nightjar on patch, and was rewarded with churring and views of two birds. I immediately went up there, and just before 11pm heard a bird calling several times - but couldn't see a thing.  Last night, four of us (myself, Bun, Karen and Gav) tried our luck.  The conditions weren't great, but after some brief glimpses and hearing wing-clapping, churring and calling, a pair appeared above us, with one circling us several times before disappearing again into the darkness.

Three gloomy but very recognisably patch birders - each with their distinctive jizz

The birds are notable enough without thinking about lists and patch birding. There's got to be a very good chance they've nested here, and hopefully will do (with some more?) for many years to come. The habitat has only recently become suitable for them, and apparently they used to be here many years ago (c20 years ago) again when the habitat was suitable. Just shows if the habitat is right the birds will come.

In terms of my patch life list these Nighjars are a milestone for me, as they're my 250th bird species for the patch. Someone hire a cheap DJ, I'll sort out the trays of cheese and pineapple sticks and let's have a party!!! Yes I've made it to the quarter of a century mark, and I've STILL not seen a (live) Puffin here!  When I have a bit more time I may well do a summary blog post about these 250 birds - but I am well chuffed with the achievement. Not liking to sound like an acceptance speech, but it's only because of the superb place we live in, and the fantastic network of kind local birders we have.

My full list and the local patch league table can be found on Bubo here: by searching for 'Axe Estuary'.

Nightjar was my 171st bird for the patch in 2013. Which means if I'm going to reach my 200 target I've got to see 29 more species in four months. That's a huge ask, but I guess it is possible, we just need a bloody good autumn and I basically need to see everything (which I have spectacularly failed at so far this year!). Don't forget to check my 2013 Patch Year List page which I am keeping up to date.

Since my last blog post, we've had a bit of a rarity too. On Tuesday James Mc found a Pec Sand on Black Hole Marsh. This place has been screaming out for a rarity this autumn, and a Pec is a good start (but we do want better!). I've literally lost count of how many Pec's I've seen on patch - I think this is my ninth.  I've no pics but it doesn't matter because all you have to do is look HERE, HERE and HERE.

To complete my outstanding bird news, my usual woodland bird survey near Colyton this morning showed a heck of a lot of birds. The highlight being a couple of Crossbill (seem to be annual here) - maybe one of those wing-barred ones will appear here...