Friday 27 September 2013

One Hundred And Eighty... what my 2013 patch year list is on thanks to a text from Tim Wright this afternoon.

Glossy Ibis, Wryneck, Rosefinch, Rose-coloured Starling and virtually all species of American wading birds have been on my radar over the past week. But as they say, expect the unexpected...

Can you see it!?

A bloody Bittern!

Having a Bittern on the Axe is amazing in itself - but for one to be out like this early afternoon is just crazy!!! Only my second ever for the patch - the first one hung around for several weeks during a spell of freezing weather.  I guess with the rapid increase in breeding numbers on the Somerset Levels we should expect more of these from now on - I certainly won't be complaining!

Monday 23 September 2013

Catching Up...

In the last blog post I spoke about the two bird highlights of last week, but I didn't have chance to blog about everything else! So here it is...

A week ago today saw my (now seemingly annual) guided bird watch around Beer Head for the East Devon branch of Devon Birds.  It was one of those days weather-wise that you didn't know what to wear, in some spots it was quite warm and still, but grey clouds overhead always suggested rain was imminent. On a couple of occasions it was more than imminent...

'The Hollow' bushes proving very useful!

There weren't loads of migrants around, but there were some.  The bushes held a couple of Whitethroat, and Blackcap, a Redstart (only seen by a couple of people) and several Chiffchaffs. On top of the headland at least five Wheatears and a Whinchat were nice to see, and the flock of 20+ Yellow Wagtails around the cattle proved very popular. Had great views of a juv Green Woodpecker too, feeding in the middle of the field - this was probably my highlight of the walk as we don't see many around here.

The next day was Caspian Gull day - but a morning seawatch showed my first Red-throated Diver of the autumn west which is certainly worth this paragraph I'd say!

Next it was Wednesday, which was Spotted Crake day! Thursday dawned and I was hoping to make it three year ticks in three days - although I had to be in Exeter for 9:30 which made that rather unlikely...

I was in Exeter to record a piece for BBC Radio Devon about the recent Lesser Yellowlegs.  Unfortunately we didn't see it as it was further down river, but I enjoyed doing it never-the-less. I think it is still on 'Listen again'. If you really want to hear it, you want Good Morning Devon on Friday 20th, and go to 23 minutes. Clips of the interview even made the half-hourly news and the whole piece was repeated towards the end of the show too!  Anyway, the actual interview was all done and dusted by 11am, so I came straight back home...

The weather  became really interesting, fairly strong southerly winds and heavy rain, and as soon as the rain stopped I headed to the sea front. I'm very pleased I did as I did indeed make it three patch year ticks in three days!  Arctic Tern was the species, there were three (two ads, one juv) lingering close in, with another two juvs west past.  After I'd seen the first three Arctic Terns, and had my first Balearic Shearwater of the watch, I sent a few texts out and was soon joined by Gav. I watched 12:40-13:50 and mustered the following (all west except the three lingering Arctic Terns):

42 Common Scoter
12 Balearic Shearwater
5 Arctic Tern
2 Sandwich Tern
5 Dunlin
1 Turnstone

Although this doesn't sound much, as we've had virtually no good seawatching this year it seemed like a bloody good seawatch! Turnstone and Arctic Tern are fairly scarce here, and Balearic's are always nice to see, Gav stayed on a bit longer and had a few more of these. Our passage of Balearic's tied in nicely with a passage off Portland that also occurred when the rain stopped, see HERE and scroll down to the 19th.

Friday came next and I fancied a walk around the marshes early morning. All was quiet until I spied an Osprey circling way down river. It disappeared around the corner towards Axe Cliff, but five minutes later  reappeared, flew all the way up river before U-turning over Black Hole Marsh and flying off south...

Not great photos - sorry! It was dull, I really should have taken a video clip

I returned home for a day of laptop work, but this was interupted by a phone call from Doug Rudge (of EDDC). Someone had phoned them with news of a dead Peregrine in Axmouth.  Soon as I heard Peregrine and dead together I knew I had to get this bird in case it was dead via sinister/illegal means.  Many thanks to the owners of Axmouth Camp Site for keeping the bird (in the freezer too!) and reporting it.  Everyone please do this when it comes to dead birds of prey.

Anyway I picked it up and although always sad to see a dead bird, I was pleased it wasn't a Peregrine. It was actually (very surprisingly!) a juv Merlin...

A stunning little bird!

A Merlin was reported from the Axe Wetlands several times last weekend, and the camp site owner said he'd seen this bird several times during the week. It was very thin so obviously couldn't catch itself any prey - maybe it left home too soon?

This morning, a look around the reserves at high tide pleasingly showed an increase in wader numbers.  Best of all were two juv Curlew Sands on Colyford Marsh with 22 Dunlin and 15 Lapwing. On Black Hole Marsh it was nice to see Redshank and Blackwits roosting again, with nine Green Sands showing there is at least some food in the mud here!

And that's me caught up. Lastly, if you're not looking forward to something coming up, just think what this Wheatear is about to do... a few thousand miles!

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Caspian Gull and Spotted Crake

Won't have much birding time from now til the end of the month, so am making the most of any time I do find...

Yesterday with all that rain, and a middayish low tide, I thought the Estuary would be worth a quick look early afternoon - in the end it wasn't a 'quick' look at all!  The moment I drove over the bridge at the bottom end of the Estuary things looked promising as I could see lots of black...

Great Black-backed Gulls galore

Lots of Black-backed Gulls (whether they're Great or Lesser) is always a good sign, and is usually the case when there's strong wind and rain. They're birds that have come in from offshore to shelter from the weather, and there's always the possibility they've bought something else in with them. I thought a Yellow-legged was on the cards, but I really wasn't expecting to net Devon's first September Caspian Gull!

When the weather is as foul as it was yesterday, I tend to just go through the gulls with my bins from the car until I reach Coronation Corner, when the scope's needed to check birds to the north. It was whilst checking the second flock of gulls I'd come to when this made me jump out of the car and grab my scope...

The bird asleep behind the female Mallard

I didn't really know why this bird got me so excited so quickly with just this view, but looking at this pics it's the white head, neck and breast, with neat streaking around the rear of the neck, and the mostly dark greater coverts that contrasted with the rest of the coverts, scapulars and mantle feathers.

So the scope came out, but I didn't learn much more about the identity of this bird. I did learn a bit about its age though, and was starting to think it was probably a first-summer/second-winter bird as it just didn't look young and fresh enough to be a first-winter, and those broad white tips to the tertials weren't right for a 1cy bird.  I had to wait about five minutes before a male Mallard (the one pictured behind the bird in the above photo) walked past it and woke it up, and out popped exactly what I wanted to see...

Notice the typical Caspian-stance with a bulge at the top of the neck

Looking very cheesed off in the heavy rain!

Gav soon arrived and after some discussions (and seeing the bill well, which had lots of pale on it) we decided it was indeed a second calender year bird, still mostly in first-summer plumage.  In my mid I expected a second-calender year Casp in mid Sept to be more like a second-winter bird showing far more pale grey in the scaps and mantle, but apparently this is fine. To be honest I usually do my best to avoid first-summer large gulls. All other ages I will happily have a go at - but there is just so much variation in this age group of all the large gull species it's a nightmare. So I'm pleased this bird screamed Caspian first and foremost regardless of its age!

Other pro-Caspian features included the long tibia (which you can make out on the above photo), and the general size of the bird. It wasn't the biggest Casp I've seen, being clearly smaller than the Great Black-backed Gulls, but it was still significantly larger and heavier in the body than all the surrounding Herring Gulls. We had a brief view of its upperwing which looked spot on for Casp, as was a glimpse of a very white underwing and a very white tail with no black spots just a neat black tail bar. This is all depicted on Gav's blog as he managed a shot of it as it flew off, see HERE.

If all this gull talk is making you sleepy, hopefully this will wake you up...

Oh yes....

Half way through writing this post, I got a call from Dad saying someones got a Spotted Crake in front of the Field Studies Base on Stafford Marsh. I sent the texts out (I thought to everyone - sorry again Gav) and headed straight down there. It was Ian Hunt (a member of the Axe Estuary Ringing Group) who'd seen it, he saw it well at about midday. Thankfully at about 12:50 it did the decent thing and showed for five minutes in exactly the spot Ian had seen it. What a superb patch year tick - two in two days! And what a superb bird too - nothing like that drab almost spot-less dark blob last year, a really charismatic little thing poking around the juncus looking rare...


Isn't it funny how quickly an autumn can go from being average to good....

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Anyone Seen A Wryneck?

First of all, a short message to any locals who read this blog. If you have one of these in your garden...

..then please let me know! My email address is stevewaite85'at' Thanks :-)

Beer Head this morning was epic. It's felt pretty samey up here over the past week, but this morning there was passage and new grounded migrants. I could have spent the whole day up here to be honest - it felt like there was a rarity around every corner. Sadly I never found it, but I still had a very enjoyable three hours birding.

For the first time this autumn Meadow Pipits were fairly abundant, c100 is the total in my notebook, but there was so much movement this could be a gross underestimate. Chiffchaffs out numbered Willow Warblers 28:1, another sign that we've moved into the next 'phase' of autumn migration. 

So although I didn't find the rarity I was hoping for, I did come across a patch scarcity with a cracking Pied Fly.  Pleasingly the Pied Fly was in an area I (and I think most the other local birders) don't usually go, I've only included it on my route around Beer Head in the hope of turning up a Wryneck! It stayed pretty loyal to a row of trees so I ended up taking quite a few pics...

Only my second of the year following a cracking spring male by Seaton Marshes

I think that's enough of the Pied Fly! These are my full totals from this morning:

c350 House Martin
c300 Swallow
c100 Meadow Pipit
c75 Yellow Wagtail (most grounded but others straight over west)
5 White Wagtail (my first of the autumn)
2 Grey Wagtail (over west)
26 Wheatear
1 Whinchat
4 Spotted Fly
1 Pied Fly
11 Blackcap
3 Whitethroat
28 Chiffchaff
1 Willow Warbler

And a few more pics...

Two of the Spotted Flies
The closest approaching Wheatear
Three of the White Wagtails
A pretty standard-looking autumn Yellow Wagtail
With all these passerine about - no surprise this fella was lurking around...

Down in the valley, it seems as though our Black Hole Marsh bubble has burst.  Every September something happens which suddenly makes this wonderful place much less wonderful. In 2011 it was 25th September, and this year it was last Sunday.  For some reason the small waders leave the marsh and start feeding on the Estuary at low tide - only using Black Hole over high tide. Then they begin avoiding it altogether and start roosting on Seaton Beach, and that is where we are at the moment.

Low tide yesterday...

This is quite nice to see again to be honest though

High tide yesterday...

First person to spot the Curlew Sand gets first prize...

I may be wrong, and once the water levels drop, Black Hole Marsh may become THE place again. But personally I think that's it. Saying that though, it doesn't mean the rarity potential on Black Hole Marsh is any less.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Knot One, Knot Two, But THREE!

Sorry, but Knot puns are just too tempting....

Knot is one of the last 'pretty much guaranteed' species to fall on my 2013 patch year list attempt. It fell on Tuesday morning, and as you can maybe tell from the post title, there were three of them (which I think is my single highest count for the Axe!)...

A Redshank leading the Knot along the Estuary.
Waders have been fantastic - and it's looking ever better now a bit more water is coming on to Black Hole Marsh.  Dunlin have been numbering just less than 50 (48 Wed, 46 today), Ringed Plovers 30ish, literally millions of Curlew Sands (most often about ten), two juv Little Ringed Plovers and a lovely juv Little Stint. Sadly the two Spotted Redshank didn't hang around at all.

The most focused rarity hunter would be best just sitting in the Island Hide all day - but I've got year ticks to find, so have been covering some ground (when I've been able too anyway!).  There's got to be a Wryneck around here somewhere...

I went up to Beer Head later than usual yesterday, I got there at 9ish, and stayed for an hour and a bit. At first it looked dead, but around the Sheepwalk there were birds all over the place! It was clear why too, because there were flies everywhere, which meant pretty much all the birds were sat out flycatching and showing really well - not always close though.

Garden Warblers
Spotted Flycatcher

In all I had three Spot Flies, three Garden Warbler, three Whitethroat, at least eight Blackcap, a handful of Chiffs/Willow, two Wheatear and overhead singles of Grey Wagtail and most unusually, Greenshank!

It really felt like an Ickey was going to pop out at any point. If it did, it was after I left...

Monday 2 September 2013

A Week's Worth Of Witterings

Thought it was about time I wrote a blog post! I've certainly got a fair bit to write about, so I'll try and keep it brief and put in plenty of pretty pictures.

To start with, let's rewind a week to Bank Holiday Monday. Just before Jess and I were heading out for the day I received a phone call from Sue Smith who thought she had a Black Tern on Black Hole Marsh. I was there in a shot (half way through shaving!). Thankfully the Tern remained, although only just - it flew off north about a minute after I arrived!  It looked quite a pale one to me, and I don't remember ever seeing a juv Black Terns with a pale brown mantle (they've always appeared dark to me), but it was just a Black Tern. Not that that's a bad thing though as they're really scarce on patch - so a very welcome patch year tick. See pics HERE and HERE.

So I headed off to Sherbourne for the day a happy chappy. And totally unrelated to anything else on this post, look what we saw...
A gold post box!

And if you can't remember why there's these gold post boxes around...

I saw him win this medal....on telly. Well done Peter!

The following day saw me rushing down to Black Hole Marsh again, this time for a juv Little Gull seen from the Tower Hide. Sadly I was about five minutes too late despite my fastest sprint from the car park to the hide!  Oh well, you win some you loose some. I did see a juv Cuckoo though, and am sure it is a second bird as to me it seemed a lot more rufous than the the first bird (which hadn't been seen for at least a week before).

I didn't have much birdie time last week, but when I did (except for the Tern and Gull twitch) I went in search of autumn passerine migrants, hoping for a rare warbler, Ortolan or Wryneck. Sadly none of these materialised with my best find being a juv Osprey over Beer Head on Wednesday 28th. I first picked it up just offshore after the gulls went up from the camp site, then it came in and flew west right over our heads - luckily Karen and Ian weren't far away. 

My first of the autumn

Also on Beer Head on Wednesday morning were: 35 Yellow Wags, 26 Wheatear, 5 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler and singles of Grey Wag, Tree Pipit and Whinchat.  Despite these fairly good counts, they all felt like lingering migrants from the weekend/bank holiday fall.

There's a Whinchat in the lower pic

Thursday morning I thought I'd give Axe Cliff it's first visit of the autumn. No good to be honest as they haven't cut the crop yet so Ortolan potential = zero! Still, I had three Tree Pipits and a Yellow Wag over and a few Wheatear and a Spotted Flycatcher on the deck, so it wasn't a total waste of time.

Saturday saw me give Black Hole Marsh a proper look for the first time for over a week! It was the first time I saw the 'Curlew Sandpiper show' with at least 15 juveniles scattered about amongst the Dunlin and Ringed Plover...

Some are coming stupidly close to the hide too!

 Also present were two Little Ringed Plovers, a Ruff and this juv Turnstone...

Taking time out from stone turning and having a bit of chill time!

This afternoon I gave Black Hole Marsh another look. On the marsh was a similar selection of birds to Saturday, but a trip to the Tower Hide was certainly worthwhile.  I thought I heard Spotted Redshank call shortly after I arrived, and soon spied two likely suspects roosting up river from the Tower Hide, both clearly juvs. I got everyone on to them (everyone who was interested anyway!) but we had to wait a little while until we saw some head and bill - they were clearly very sleepy!  The rising tide pushed them about which allowed me to get this superb flight shot...

You won't see any better flight shots than this!

They eventually moved on to Black Hole Marsh and mingled with the Blackwits and Redshank.

Just before my visit to Black Hole Marsh I had a look around Lower Bruckland Ponds. Whenever I go here I always spend a lot longer wandering around than I was planning too as there's always so much to see and photograph!  Best of all today were a couple of lovely male Ruddy Darters...

Check out that body shape! Is that what they call an hour glass figure!??

I don't think I normally see Golden-ringed Dragonflies this late in the year, but have seen plenty recently including this showing one at LBP today...

One of my favs these

Along with the expected Migrant Hawkers...

The dragonfly of the autumn

It's not just dragonflies that distract me here, because as always there were lots of butterflies too. The best being the second flight period of Dingy Skippers...

Dull but sweet!

American waders are turning up all over the place at the moment - so I know where I'm going to be doing most my birding over the next week....