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...

Thursday 24 October 2013

Watching The Waves

Yesterday, although the weather wasn't quite as suitable for sea birds, I still had a couple of looks over the sea. I've been hoping for a Little Gull or two as there's been a few birds (mostly Black-headed Gulls) feeding close in off the sea front.  No Little Gull (still hoping!), but there was a lovely juv Arctic Tern.  This bird will soon be continuing on its migration to the Antartic. Incredible...

I only included the lower shot to show how close in it actually came at times!

On my first scan with my bins I saw a chunky and pale almost white wader flying very low over the sea, close in and heading for the beach - but lost it within seconds. It may well have just been a Sanderling but I would like to have known for sure. Frustrating!

The day before a group of 12 Brent Geese west and two adult Yellow-legged Gull again on Colyford Marsh were the highlights.  

Right must go, it's lunch time...

Monday 21 October 2013

A Trio Of Ticks

After a post moaning about the lack of patch year ticks - along come three!

Rewinding back to Friday, and I was just having a bite to eat before work when Fraser (our reserves warden) phoned.  He could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds on Stafford Marsh, and whilst on the phone saw four fly out and head for Black Hole Marsh. I was out the door and down the reserve in moments - and moments later the calls of Bearded Tits could be heard from the platform.  A minute or two later along came a tram and up went the Bearded Tits, all four, although they soon dropped straight back into the reeds. Another minute or two later and up they went again, but this time stayed low and flew over Black Hole Marsh, and east over the tram line.

Bearded Tit really is a rare bird, these were only my second ever, with my first being equally brief. Many thanks Frase for this unexpected year tick.

With all the wind and rain, I had high hopes for today. And with the sea being quiet in recent days I decided to spend my morning in the valley. The weather meant Colyford hide was the most obvious choice - from here you get a good view over the flood water on Colyford Marsh and Colyford Common.


My most painful dips this year have been with Garganey - I managed to miss three spring birds.  I thought I'd missed my chance with this species to be honest, but on Sunday noticed a few new birds had been reported in the UK. And guess what was with the first flock of Teal I looked at this morning...

At the back in front of that Lapwing

... a Garganey! My latest ever too. I can't tell you how happy I was to see this - and it instantly made looking through hundreds and hundreds of Teal this autumn worthwhile!

I spent another hour in the hide, and there were superb numbers of birds about (particularly ducks and gulls), but I couldn't find anything else better than an adult and first-winter Med Gull. Or maybe I did...

I picked up a darkish mantled gull in a distant and very large flock of mostly Great Black-backed Gulls. I thought it was going to be a Yellow-legged, but then it showed its legs, they looked pale pink!? It had a clean white head and looked otherwise ok for this species. Then the sodding thing turned and showed its head and bill in profile - it was at this point the shakes came over me as it looked a lot like an adult Caspian Gull!!! Stupidly the only camera I had was on my phone, so I got a few very poor pics this way, but when I put my eye back to the scope it wasn't there. And that's where this story ends, as I never saw it again. So gutted.  Anyway, for what it's worth, here's the 'best' pic...

Anyone care to comment?

I said early in this post how poor the sea has been, and it really has been. I don't just mean here, look at Portland Bird Obs website. We've had gale force southerly winds, with low after low coming through - but the totals have been pathetic! Where are the Sooties and Grey Phals?  Mid afternoon I thought I would give the sea another chance though - so headed down to the Spot On...

...and it was rubbish!  There was quite literally nothing passing, and after twenty minutes I decided to give up. Wandering back to the car, one last glance at the sea with my naked eyes gave me the shock of the year - SABINE'S GULL!!!  A juv Sabine's Gull was just there, flying west close in, its distinctive wing pattern immediately obvious. I grabbed a few record shots, but pleasingly it stopped flying west and joined some feeding Black-headed Gulls. I got the news out, then legged it down to the shore to take some more pics...

I know not everyone likes gulls - but come on...

 And here's a quick (and rubbish) video...

It stayed here for about ten minutes, then drifted further out and sat on the sea. A few minutes later it took off and flew west - and we last saw it about five minutes later towards Seaton Hole. Stunning, stonking, beautiful, elegant, buoyant.... I could go on and on. WHAT A BIRD!!! Look how dark the head is, the delicately forked tail with the black band, and don't get me started on that wing pattern....

Isn't it funny how one last glance at the sea turned this sea watch from dire to incredible. If I had walked back to my car the other way (the shorter way!) I simply wouldn't have seen it, and this Sab's would have been loitering out here without any of us knowing!  This was my second Sabine's here, and quite similar to my first - stupidly close in, and there was nothing else moving over the sea.

After this excitement I had another look up the valley. The Estuary was empty, but from the farm gate I was pleased to see lots of large gulls.  Sadly my Caspian-ish thing wasn't in amongst them, but two lovely adult Yellow-legged Gulls were. I then noticed a few gulls were starting to gather on the Estuary right in front of the Tower Hide, and in amongst them was yet another Yellow-legged Gull, this one a first-winter. Even at the distance it was, still very distinctive and proved its ID nicely by flying up and down a few times.  Later Gav and Tim saw this bird and took some great photos (click on their names to see the pics).  Also from the farm gate were six Ruff with the Lapwing.

What a day!!!

Thursday 17 October 2013

Patch Year Ticks Harder To Find Than Four Leaf Clovers

It really is getting annoying now!  There are so many possibilities when it comes to potential patch year ticks at this time of year, so so so many. Several being highly possible too - I mean come on, how rare is Pochard!?  Neighbouring patches and other sites along the south Devon/Dorset coast are getting birds left right and centre that would be additions to my 2013 patch year list - but they just aren't coming here! 

Saying that, the last two days have seen an improvement in the birding.  And tomorrow looks like it may be quite good too...

The strong wind and heavy rain that I woke up to yesterday morning ensured my first stop of the day was Seaton Beach for some sea watching. The conditions were a bit too inclement though...

Pants visibility

I knew the front was going to move through quickly though, so at 10:45 I was back here, and half an hour later exactly the same view as the above photo looked like this...

What a difference a few hours make!

It was actually very annoying that the weather cleared through so quickly because when it was cloudy and still a bit grim, birds were passing. As soon as the big yellow thing came out passage dried up and the viewing conditions became horrendous.  In 45 mins I logged:

12 Common Scoter
7 Brent Geese
1 Balearic Shearwater (very dark bird which seemed to be lingering below a feeding flock of Gannets)
2 Arctic Skua
1 Dunlin

Where was my Little Gull? Sooty Shearwater? Rare Grebe? Eider??? many possible year ticks!!

I had a couple of trips alongside the Estuary too - with the first one showing a nice (presumed) fourth-winter Yellow-legged Gull by the tram sheds...

Sorry for the poor quality pics - it was chucking down with rain!

The Yellow-legged Gull on right with two Great and one Lesser Black-backs and two Herring Gulls.

This was actually a really interesting bird (I know very few of you will agree with me!).  The head streaking and pale washed out yellow legs wouldn't be right if this was an adult Yellow-legged Gull, but the bill shows this bird isn't an adult - with a dark smudge.  Other pro-Yellow-legged Gull features that helped rule out a weird hybrid (which actually never entered my mind) were long winged appearance, small white primary mirrors, narrow white tertial crescent, mantle colour, overall structure, bill size and head shape. 

Another look along the Estuary a few hours later showed the Yellow-legged Gull again (now north of Coronation Corner) and two Brent Geese...

Can we have a goose other than Canada or Brent PLEASE!!

And now to today. Axe Cliff was my first port of call this morning, I was hoping for some good vis mig but it never really got going. Best of all was my first Ring Ouzel of the autumn, which was amongst several Blackbird, 10+ Song Thrush and a Redwing.  A few Chiffchaffs were in the bushes too, with three Stonechat and three Reed Bunting also present.    

After this, a look from the farm gate showed the Spotted Redshank still on Colyford Marsh and a stunning Marsh Harrier sat out in full view preening - nice!  

Lastly, a quick visit to Lower Bruckland Ponds showed a surprise diving duck! Was it a Pochard???......

...was it heck! Yet another Tufted Duck, you guessed it - not a year tick!

Monday 14 October 2013

Being Left Behind...

We (not just the patch, but Devon as a whole - in fact to a certain extent the south west!) have been left behind by the rest of the UK. The east coast has seen yet another superb influx of migrants, scarcities and rarities but very few have reached us.   I thought the Lower Bruckland Yellow-browed Warblers a fortnight ago were going to be the start of a cracking spell of birding for us - but that wasn't the case.

Although I haven't had much time to go birding, I've forced myself to look along the Estuary and river valley at least once a day. And every couple of days I've given either Beer Head, Axe Cliff or the marshes a good look.  The highlight of what should be one of the best times of year has been...a Brent Goose!  Yes - that's how bad and frustrating it's been.

The cold northerly winds that closed last week shouted Whooper Swan or grey goose to me. Annoyingly the Whooper Swans decided to fly back north a little to the west of us (yes you guessed it - Dawlish Warren had three on Friday morning) and the goose wasn't a grey one, but as I've already mentioned a Brent. I thought the 90 Canada Geese would attract something but I was hoping for something a bit better.  Wildfowl are clearly on the move at the moment, a few days ago I had three Shoveler fly past at sea, and this morning a lovely juv Pintail was on Lower Bruckland Ponds.

Black-headed and Common Gull numbers are also increasing, with two Med Gulls (a first and second-winter) on Saturday morning and an adult this morning.  Waders have been trickling though with a few Ruff still about (apparently five this morning), 15 Dunlin and a lingering Greenshank.

Vis mig hasn't been spectacular but there's been some ok days with good numbers of the expected species passing over. Have had several Reed Buntings, Grey Wags and Siskins go through, and my first Redpoll of the autumn with two over Black Hole on 6th Oct.  Considering the number of Redwings in the UK I'm amazed to say I've not actually seen one!  I've heard a few going over in the night but a day time bird has so far eluded me.

Because I've seen no decent birds I've taken no photos of birds. Well that's except for a Swallow I spied this morning - I'm starting to note down any hirundines I see now as they are getting few and far between. If I didn't tell you I took this photo this morning, it could easily be a late March pic of the first returning male Swallow...

You better get going mate!

I was pleased to get the moth trap out a few times before the weather turned cooler. One of the nights isn't worth talking about, but the other - 8th Oct - certainly is!  In the trap the next morning were 69 moths of 19 species. This included plenty of immigrants, such as...

Two Vestals, only caught one before in the garden ever!

My third Clancy's Rustic

A Delicate

And my highest ever count of Dark Sword Grass, four.

And that's that. I'm afraid this long awaited blog post wasn't worth waiting for. Hopefully things will get better soon...

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Eastern Invasion Finally Reaches The Patch

Thought I was going to have to wait a bit longer for Yellow-browed Warbler to get on my patch year list - but I was pretty confident I was going to get one at some point this autumn considering the monster influx up north a week or two back.

I basically spend all of October and Novemember every year looking for Long-tailed Tit flocks - so I was pleased to hear some as soon as I got out of the car at Lower Bruckland Ponds this afternoon. With so many leaves still on the trees at the moment it's not easy checking tit flocks, so I decided to go in under the trees and look up.  Within a few minutes I got my prize, as a Yellow-browed Warbler popped out literally a few feet in front of me!! Sweeeet.  Better still, as I was watching it, another called from just above and behind me about four or five times!  I fumbled around trying to get some pics, but soon the whole flock moved off and across the pond.  About 15 mins later I had brief and distant views of one again, and heard more calls as the tit flock disappeared south away from the ponds.  Sadly no one else connected, but Dave H heard one a few hours later. The weather was pretty lousy though.

These Yelllow-broweds are our earliest ever, by a day, and represent the eighth and ninth for the patch. The last one I saw here was on 30th Oct 2007 - the two since (both at Beer Head, one in 2010 and one in 2011) were seen only by their finders.

This is the best pic I managed of the bird I saw. Look at that stonking 'super', and you can just see a wing bar... 

You eastern beauty!

Although this photo is pretty rubbish, all the other photos looked like the below, so I'm glad it decided to turn its head...

A Yellow-broweds arse!

There was clearly a bit of a warbler influx today, an early morning sprint around the valley showed 15+ Chiffchaff, and there were at least five at Lower Bruckland Ponds. Other than this, a few Wheatears and Yellow Wags, and my first autumn Stonechat today, migrant passerines haven't exactly been abundant or surprising over the last week. It's been all about wading birds.

Last Friday, a Little Stint and a Ruff appeared on Black Hole Marsh. There's now four Ruff on Black Hole Marsh, and a cracking juv Spotted Redshank which has been around since Saturday. It was quite flighty and vocal today, although looked quite settled on Colyford Marsh scrape this afternoon.  Dunlin numbers have been pretty stable throughout with 20-30, but Bar-tailed Godwit numbers seem to be ever-increasing with an impressive 11 on the Estuary yesterday! Wildfowl numbers have also increased dramatically recently, with a juv Pintail last Thursday and five Shoveler on Monday being notable. Still hoping for a Pochard!

I have been keeping an eye on the gulls too. There's not been that many to look at sadly, but amongst them yesterday was another one of those 'presumed' Lesser Black-backedxHerring Gull hybrids...

Not quite a Yellow-legged Gull

Washed out yellow legs, short wings and legs, smallish head and bill, overall small(ish) size, head streaking, wing tip pattern and mantle colour all give aways that it's not the 'real McCoy'.

I've been disappointed by the sea, although tomorrow looks like it might be worth a look.  The best I managed was yesterday morning when easterly gull passage included my first Med for several weeks (an adult), a Common and 11 Black-heads, plus two Sandwich Terns. Birds flying west included two Teal and two Common Scoter.

That's all the birdie stuff dealt with, but before I sign off I must mention that since the last post I've added an extra year to my age. Birthday means birthday cake - and when your fiancee is a professional cake maker this is what you get...

They tasted as good as they look!