Thursday 28 November 2013

Getting Back To It

First of all, I have to say thank you so much for all the comments, emails, texts and tweets in response to my previous post. I do have more to say, but I'm not going to. It's time to draw a line under it...

...and get back to what this blog is about.

We have been blessed with flat calm seas for a few days, and decent cloud cover making conditions ideal for sea scanning. Bird wise though there has been very little on the sea, with species you'd expect to see several of (Great Crested Grebe, Common Scoter, Cormorant, Shag) few and far between, or totally absent.  Thankfully though the last few days have seen a bit of quality appear!

I haven't seen Long-tailed Duck here for six years, and before that I'm pretty sure I've seen just one other. So you can imagine my thrill when I picked up two feeding in the bay off the Spot On Kiosk yesterday morning. Both are immature/female-types, but beyond that I've never been too confident at ageing/sexing distant non-adult male LTD's. One was considerably whiter than the other - and if I had to place bets I'd say they were both female's, and ad and an imm. Most pleasing is that they seem settled, and are still out there feeding this morning.  Also yesterday a drake Red-breasted Merganser flew around the bay for a while which was nice, as was my first settled Great Northern Diver of this winter.

This morning I gave Branscombe its second look of the week, and had two more settled Great Northern Divers, along with a fly by Red-throat.  There were way more Kittiwakes and auks off here than in Seaton Bay, so hopefully regular visits here will turn something up.  A snoop around the sewage works here earlier in the week showed four Chiffchaffs and good numbers of the expected species - sadly no Yellow-browed or Dusky.

Tuesday morning I undertook my usual woodland bird survey near Colyton. Nice to see my first four Woodcock of the winter, along with a couple of Fieldfare, 10 Redwing and a fly over Golden Plover. All very wintry! 

There is a very winter feel to the birding scene now, vis mig appears to have all but stopped and the hopes of a late autumn rarity seem far flung.  Before it did end I gave Beer Head probably it's last visit of the year, on the 15th.  It was nice to see a few Wood Pigeons flying over NE, only 1350, but it was my biggest passage of the year (which is terrible!). 

On the ground, four Song Thrush, three Redwing and a Chiffchaff were expected, but a late Wheatear not so...

Looks a bit more exciting in this picture than it actually was - always just a Northern sadly.

So there you have it, autumn 2013 done.  And now we are into the last phase of the year - the last phase of my year listing year.  Long-tailed Duck was my 188th species for the year, which is a notable number as its the first guess from Steve's 2013 Patch Year Listing Competition.  Here's a reminder of who guessed what I'd end the year on...

188 - Andrew  
189 - Karen    
190 - Phil      
191 - Julia      
192 - Bun    
193 - John O' Sullivan  
194 - Col      
195 - 'Corky'     
196 - Dave H      
197 - Jonny      
198 - Skev      
199 - Tim White    
200 - Gav
201 - Sue Murphy  
202 - Catharine    
203 - Sue Smith

So Andrew, if the year was to end now, you would be the winner. But I'm afraid it doesn't, and I'm sure there's at least a few more year ticks in it...

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Why bother...

I probably shouldn't write or send this post - but I'm going to.

First of all, a brief summary of recent events.

A few days ago news broke of a Devon first, a Dusky Thrush, present in a private garden in Brixham for about eight days. The situation and location meant the decision was taken by the locals that news could not be released nationally whilst the bird was present.  As County Recorder I was informed of the presence of this bird, but as any County Recorder would do, the wishes of the land/home owner had to be respected. A horrible situation to be in yes - but it's one of only a few down sides to being County Recorder, compared with endless up sides. 

Once the bird had departed, I was asked to join the discussion about how best to release the news. Do we wait until the BBRC report is published in 2014?  Well in my opinion, there was no reason to withhold the news any longer - the bird had gone so the reason for withholding the news had gone. Any further 'supression' would have been pointless.

With the news release, I felt there should be some pictures to go with the text. I was well aware of the discussions about the purity of the Kent Dusky Thrush earlier this year, and thought including photos would help/enhance this discussion. Not only that, it would also show everyone instantly that this was indeed a Dusky Thrush and not a weird leucistic Redwing or such like. If photos weren't released when the news went out, how long would it have been before people asked to see photos?  A few minutes? 

Ok, now I am removing my County Recorder hat. This is Steve Waite the patch birder...
Now I certainly think my opinion was wrong about releasing the news so soon. In fact my opinions have changed about many things in many ways over the last day or so. 

First of all, I must state I'm only talking about the absolute minority here.  Thank you to most for being understanding about this difficult situation.

1/ Do home owners have any rights?   I am a home owner - should I ever have to explain why I let certain individuals into my house? Surely it is up to me who I invite in - for whatever the reason. Should I also be expected to open my doors wide for anyone and everyone to come in?  Please, I've only been a home owner for a year, so I need to be told if I'm wrong here....

2/ Why do some birders/twitchers think they have the right to see every bird? Or think they have the right to know about every bird immediately...

3/ Why do people who do not know the full facts, think they do and speak like they do. And even more annoyingly, think they know MORE than the people that DO know the full facts. I don't know the full facts about the Dusky Thrush, but I trust the judgement of the people that do. Does that make me naive/stupid, or just a normal person?

Something I do understand entirely is how this news release would have been a right punch in the face for so many - a bird as epic as a Dusky Thrush right here in Devon! But that is no excuse for the above, or for the down right nasitness aimed at the lucky ones that did see it (although I'm sure none of them 'feel' lucky at all!). And how about the poor chap who found this crippling rarity? What on earth has he done wrong!? And I can't begin to imagine how he must be feeling. 

I'd just like to stress yet again, this isn't a moan at birders/twitchers in general. It is me feeling extremely exasperated and quite simply stunned at the behaviour of just a few.

In my ten-ish years of what I'd describe as 'being a birder' - I have never felt so low because of my hobby. So so much worst than missing the Pacific Swift that flew directly over my parked car - that I was sat in! And boy was that painful. This is on another level altogether.

This episode has made me question the whole idea of birding, my number one (two if Jess reads this!) passion in life - it's what I enjoy doing day in day out and it has always given me so much happiness. This is the first time this has happened to me, and I'm finding it so very sad. It is the reason I am up at 2am posting this when I should be asleep. All very upsetting to witness, so much nastiness created by one bird.  One blob of feathers.

Before last week I would have dreamed to have a major rarity in my garden. Not any more. In fact do I want to find a major rarity ever again? What's the point.....


Thursday 14 November 2013

Monster Monday, Tick Tuesday and a Wasted Wednesday

Monday was something else - birding from my back door felt like birding on the east coast!

Annoyingly I had to work for a few hours Monday morning, but on my return home, looking out from the kitchen I was astounded by the numbers of thrushes.  The weather was dreadful, with very poor visibility, but this made it.  Large flocks of Redwings were dropping out the sky, landing on nearby trees for a few minutes, then flying off again. Flock after flock after flock. Other flocks were flying over much higher with out stopping, and only visible for a few seconds as they came under the low cloud. I saw about 500 Redwing in less than half hour, along with at least ten Fieldfare - my first of the autumn.  

If this wasn't enough, a Black Redstart appeared on a house roof just down the road from our back garden. This is my second one from the garden, but my first anywhere on patch this autumn. I watched it for about ten minutes feeding, before it dropped down into a back garden and out of view.  

What exciting birding!! And whilst drinking tea in a warm and dry kitchen! :-) Really reminded me of my Spurn days, when I could stand in the door way of 'Dun Birding' and watch migration in action.

Late morning I popped out for a look along the Estuary but learnt of the Little Gull movement at Portland - a species I still need for the patch year list! I went straight to the sea front and spent most of the rest of the day sea watching. I watched 11:25 - 13:05 and 14:00 - 15:10, and unbelievably saw NO Little Gulls. Portland witnessed a record breaking passage with 1500 of these beautiful small gulls passing the Bill and Chesil Cove, and Seaton Bay had none. As every minute passed the wind dropped and weather improved, which I think was our downfall - I reckon they were just too far out by the time they'd reached us. If I had started seawatching at 8am though, I think it would have been a different story. Or maybe if I'd gone to Branscombe.

Forgetting about Little Gulls, it was a surprisingly productive sea watch. The conditions during the night before must have been perfect as the conditions during the day certainly weren't! This is what went into my notebook from the two watches:

2 Brent Geese
20 Wigeon (hard to tell proper passage though as lots of birds from the valley were on the sea)
32 Teal (same as above!)
1 Shoveler (fem - may have come from the Estuary)
3 Pintail (eclipse drake and 2 fem west with Wigeon)
c100 Common Scoter (flocks flying both ways so hard to count, 60 biggest flock)
2 Velvet Scoter (two flew west in a flock of 24 Common Scoter)
1 Red-breasted Merganser (fem west)
2 Red-throated Diver 
2 Balearic Shearwater (flew west together)
3 Mediterranean Gull (flew west together; ad, 2nd winter and 1st winter)
c30 Kittiwake (no obvious passage, just birds feeding, plus a juv out of the Estuary)
1 Pomarine Skua (juv flew east, but appeared to drop down on sea)
2 Sanderling (both singles close west)
45 Dunlin
70 small waders sp. (presumably Dunlin, a 40 and a 30, but too distant - couldn't eliminate White-rumped Sandpipers)
5 Curlew
1 Bar-tailed Godwit

So as you can see, not a  bad haul for here. I was disappointed not to get a stand out bird - although I may well have fluffed a couple. A Common Scoter flock flew in to the bay and they were all just Common Scoters, but when I saw them again several minutes later flying out of the bay they had two other ducks with them - not Scoters. They looked like aythya's, and one had grey on the mantle. I couldn't see any wing bars (but they were mega distant) so am hoping they were 'just' a pair of Pochard and not the gripping blocker Phil has on his patch list...

I finished the day with a look up the river valley. Two more Med Gulls were the best, although the Starling roost was nice to watch. We've had up to 4,000 roosting in the valley for at least a week or so...

And here's a short video..

Tuesday dawned, and despite the fine conditions, I just had to look at the sea again. This time I gave Branscombe a go. I wasn't expecting it to be anything like Monday, but I did manage something I hadn't the previous day - a patch year tick!!  My totals were:

4 Brent Goose
2 Pintail (flew west)
8 Common Scoter
1 Black-throated Diver (flew west)
1 Red-throated Diver (flew west)
70 Kittiwake (west)
30+ auk sp.

So a pretty underwhelming year tick yes - and you could say an over due one too, but I think 'real' Black-throated Divers are actually pretty rare down here in Devon. It's taken me 11 and a half months and about 125 divers to see one this year!

My overwhelming thought of Wednesday was of disappointment. With the first frost of the autumn and bright blue skies I just had to go up to Axe Cliff for some vis mig action...

Sadly the vis mig never really got going.  I was hoping for a strong Wood Pigeon migration, but in the end saw less than a thousand. They were going in all directions too, probably due to the lack of wind.  Singles of Brambling, Reed Bunting and four Lesser Redpoll were the best of the little over head migration, with another five Reed Buntings on the deck amogst 10+ Yellowhammers and c80 Linnets.

And now we're on Thursday, but I've not had chance to go birding today. Hopefully I'll go for a wander somewhere tomorrow as the weather looks like it's going to be nice.

Saturday 9 November 2013

More On The Duck

Just a quick post - with the superb news that yesterday I saw my 25th patch Glossy Ibis! Yes, finally the Axe has bagged one this year, with a visiting birder being the lucky finder, although Tim White stumbled upon it a little later without knowing it was there.  Superb bird and a cracking patch year tick! I know 25 seems like a lot of Glossy Ibis to have seen on patch, but 18 were in one flock and flew over very rapidly (and distantly!), and the other sighting were of six that spent less than a day here. 

Had an interesting tweet this morning from Ian Ballam, to let me know he recognised my (presumed) hybrid RuddyxCommon Shelduck.  It was in Poole Harbour Dec 2012 - Feb 2013, and here's a thread on Birdforum about it...

Thanks Ian!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Wonderful Wildfowl

This is going to be a very duck orientated post, as pretty much everything I've seen that's notable has been a form of wildfowl!!

We are a week into Novemember, and I am at 185 for the patch year list. I'm going to have to be honest now and say I think 200 this year is impossible. There's only been 190 species recorded by everyone on patch so far in 2013, so I reckon even if I saw 100% of all the species seen on patch by the end of the year then I still wouldn't be at 200! Oh well. I can't wait to see who wins the competition though - I won't stop trying!

On the last day of October I was on 184, so what was number 185?  On Monday morning, a look along the Estuary was made a lot better when I picked up a Pochard flying up, and then back down the valley north of Coronation Corner. It appeared to land on the river somewhere around Colyford Marsh, but a look from the Farm Gate afterwards failed to locate it.  Pochard has become a great rarity here, and this was the first record for the patch in about two years!!

Just before the Pochard excitement, a sea watch revealed almost as much excitement with three Velvet Scoters. First of all, two flew in from the east and landed distantly off Beer. Then just a few minutes later I picked up another one, on its own, flying west far out.  I love Velvet Scoters so was well happy with these, and it certainly made up for the lack of anything else on the move at sea.

Going back to the end of the previous week, I had a female Pintail and drake Shoveler on the morning of the 1st. These were on the Estuary along with the lingering Curlew Sandpiper (which I last saw on Monday 4th) and Ruff. The Spotted Redshank is still knocking around too.

Back to the sea, and on Tuesday morning a Red-breasted Merganser and two Brent Geese were the highlights. With a look at Lower Bruckland Ponds showing the continued presence of the two Tufted Ducks. A nice surprise were calling Bearded Tits from the Farm Gate, I didn't see them though so have no idea how many or where exactly they were!! Possibly the same birds that Fraser found on Black Hole Marsh last month?

A seawatch yesterday morning didn't show any wildfowl of note, but it did show plenty of Kittiwakes! Sadly though variety was lacking - and I still haven't seen a 2013 patch Little Gull!

Then there's today. All was quiet, then this thing flew in and joined the local Shelduck... (apologies for the poor photos - it was very distant)


I knew it wasn't Ruddy, Cape or Australian Shelduck, but whatever it was it was STUNNING! Really gorgeous deep velvety red, and in flight it looked superb with flashes of bright white!

The nearest I can find online is this which is a CommonxRuddy Shelduck hybrid. A new one for me!

Steering this post away from the duck-theme, I've just heard a few Crossbills calling from the back garden. Sadly I couldn't see them but they were flying west.