Monday 31 March 2014

Exmouth Glaucous Gull

Had to go into Exeter today with Dad for suit fittings and other wedding related things, then afterwards dropped in to see the second-winter Glaucous Gull that's been lingering at the Quay car park in Exmouth.

What a great idea this was, as it is an abosolute stonker, and seems totally oblivious to humans.  As we drove in it was on the rocks below the car park to the left...

What a corker! You can see it's a second-winter due to the pale iris and amount of pale on the bill.  After it spent five minutes sat on these rocks, a Great Black-backed chased it briefly, before re-landing IN the car park...

We finally tore ourselves away from it when it flew up onto this container...

I cannot recommend this bird enough, and its proving a great subject to photograph - won't get many more opportunities to get this close to a Glauc in Devon I can promise you.  Interestingly a photographer present said there were two present earlier today.

On our return home Lower Bruckland Ponds showed a Swallow and three Sand Martins. Sadly the Axe gull flock didn't contain anything exciting though.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Honey I'm......OSPREY!

It's almost unbelievable, but I still haven't seen a Wheatear yet this year! I promised myself that I wouldn't twitch one, and I haven't had chance for any birding during the last few days when they've been more numerous.  I haven't had Willow Warbler yet either. In fact, before today (and excluding Chiffchaffs which seem to be everywhere!), the only migrant I've seen since my last blog post was another Swallow, with one over Seaton Marshes on Wednesday morning.

All change today though, despite being at work from 7 - 4:15. On my return home, I noticed plenty of Shelduck flying around over the Estuary. Yes gulls are the best for shouting about a passing raptor, but on the Estuary where canoeist, dog walkers, etc can send the gulls up, it's often when the other species take flight (like Curlew and Shelduck) that you know it's an Osprey or Marsh Harrier (or better!)... And this afternoon, it was an Osprey....

The first pic I took of it

Not really that surprising to be honest, as the weather today has been perfect for Ospreys to cross the English Channel and continue with their northward migration. Very happy one decided to have a look about the Axe though.  It spent about ten minutes flying around, and hovered several times over the Estuary, but it didn't go in. I lost it when it flew off north west.

As soon as I spotted it I sent the texts out, including to Sue Smith. I didn't need to though as she was sat in the Tower Hide right below it!  And you've got to check out her stunning images....

Something nice about seeing a good bird from your own house though. Well chuffed with it.  Hopefully this week there will be a few more migrant related blog-posts...

Monday 24 March 2014

One Swallow Doesn't Make A Summer...

....but does two?

I was very happy to see (and hear) two Swallows with ten Sand Martins over Lower Bruckland Ponds this afternoon.  Throw in about five Chiffchaffs (two singing) and it should have felt very spring like.... well it didn't at all!  It was absolutely bloody freezing grotty weather with rain and gusty winds, and then 'tchak-tchak-tchak'; 45 Fieldfares flew over low east! It felt more like the middle of winter.

Always like to get a pic of my first Swallow of the year but the dull conditions didn't help

Part of the Fieldfare flock. You can actually just about make out a Sand Martin in the bottom left hand corner of the shot too.

I've checked the Estuary gulls several times today, as we are well overdue another white-winger. Nothing really, with the only 'oddity' amongst the larids being this...

"oh crap - water water and water, where do I go? I need a car to run in front of quick!"

Over on Seaton Marshes, I failed to see any Wheatears again, with only the lingering drake Gadwall being notable...

A very underrated duck

Friday 21 March 2014

Mid March Musings

"As usual the buzz of early migrants has petered out to just Chiffchaffs."  My favourite tweet of last week, sent by Mike King (@GlosterBirder). So true, and sums up my feelings for the month of March perfectly.

I have to say though, there has been a lot of Chiffs!  And it's nice to see them behaving how they should be after the distressing scenes of last spring. I have ringed a few too, well one, the other bird I caught at the Donkey Sanctuary yesterday was incredibly one I ringed there back in May 2012! Here's the 'fresh one', complete with pollen...

Makes it somewhat less-cute!

Whilst on the subject of ringing at the Donkey Sanctuary, although numbers have reduced with birds clearing off to defend territories, there's still been some right crackers. Namely...


Back to spring migration, and the only other spring migrant I've seen is Sand Martin, with three over Seaton Marshes on 17th.  I felt a bit short changed today though, as a quick visit to Exminster Marshes at midday showed at least 300 flying around, but a prolonged visit to Seaton Marshes this evening gave none! 

I have given Beer Head a few visits already this spring, with a few Chiffchaffs, two Red-legged Partridge (!?) and a Black Redstart on 18th the highlights.  I can't tell you how excited I am about Beer Head this year, and hopefully soon you will all see why.

The Black Red started off in the Hollow, before flying into the caravan park

I have been keeping an eye on the Estuary gulls when possible, but they've been a constant disappointment to be honest.  A varying number of Lesser Black-backs have kept hopes up that gull passage is happening, with the occasional stunning ad Med Gull too.

Let's end this post on a positive note, it's nearly April...

Saturday 8 March 2014

Donkey Ringing

....well maybe not quite, bird ringing at the Donkey Sanctuary yes.

I'm really privileged to be able to ring here as this charity owns and manages acres and acres of superb wildlife-friendly habitat, containing a surprising variety of different habitats too.

Friday morning I spent three and half hours with two nets up, which resulted in 34 birds ringed.  One of the first birds in the net was a Nuthatch, but not any old Nuthatch. The only other time I've ringed at this location was back in May 2012, and during that session I caught one Nuthatch - the same Nuthatch

Love the powerful dagger-like bill

She was a breeding adult when I caught her back in 2012, thankfully she's still a she!

In keeping with the trunk climbing nature of this species, the real highlights from the session were two absolutely beautiful Treecreepers.  Not an easy species to age, in fact it's only recently that a few features have been noticed. Even so, I was confident ageing one as an adult, but the other I've had to put down as a '4' (ringers age code for not a clue!).

This bird was considerably longer billed than the first,  so maybe a male?

The same bird. Incredibly it was two grams lighter than the Wren we caught an hour earlier!

I really look forward to doing more ringing here. It will be interesting to learn how many birds are making use of this well preserved part of East Devon.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Not Another Twitch!

Look where James M and I went yesterday...

The first time I've ever been here!

Before we had arrived at out first destination, Mandarin was on the trip list. A fine male was sat on a log in an area of wet woodland right besides the above pictured road shortly after passing this sign.

Just after 8am we arrived at our first port of call, Parkend. And to be precise, here...

At the end of Church Drive

And the grave yard on the opposite side of the road

The grave yard side is where you want to look, and within seconds we had four Hawfinch perched up with Goldfinches. And they were doing what all Hawfinches ever seem to do, sit around on top of the barest trees...

James watching the Hawfinches

A fine finch selection

Whilst watching these we could hear others calling, and couldn't believe how many we eventually saw. In about 15 minutes we saw at least 19, with birds flying in from the right, others appearing from behind and some popping up in the trees above the road we had driven in on. 19 was probably an under estimate as I'm sure we didn't see all of the birds we could hear.  What an incredible experience!

They really are fab birds

What a great place for finches this was, with single Brambling and Lesser Redpoll, two fly over Crossbills and several Siskins. From the larger trees below the cemetery, a selection of drumming Woodpeckers included what must have been a Lesser Spot. One driller was consistently and notable higher pitched, with longer drills than the surrounding Great Spots. It moved at least once too so it wasn't just the tree it was drilling on.  We later found out from a local birders that Lesser Spots do indeed occur here.

Next stop, our main stop. Up to Brierley and pull in and park opposite this garage...

We parked a short way in, but I know some have been driving further into the forest before parking

Something we did wrong was take the left track here, don't...

Take the right one!

The right hand track takes you up to the top of Serridge Ridge, walk east...

Larches on the right

Then, at the T-junction take a right, and you will soon get to this much reported sign...

Drybrook Road Station

This is where we joined the twitch. Well I say twitch, I mean the only other birder present...

James 'grilling' for info

This birder had seen some Two-barred Crossbills earlier, and informed us they were somewhere in the Serridge Ridge plantation.  After a while of having no luck by just standing, waiting and hoping, we started to wander around and give ourselves neck ache...

My least favoured birding habitat!

After about half an hour James called me over as he could hear Two-barreds calling, and we soon picked out at least five adult males feeding, calling, and even singing, in the larches above us.  From the moment we clapped eyes on them we knew we had done the right thing by coming to see them, stunning stunning STUNNING birds. The red is not like a male Common Crossbill, it's proper scarlet red, with those broad brilliant-white wing-bars.  The call really is important in tracking these down, it is Crossbill-like, but with an almost Bullfinch whistle tone to it, not the sharp 'glip' of Commons. The song is pretty nondescript, but never-the-less important to learn as two of them were singing as much as they were calling!

No cracking pics of them from me I'm afraid. Although they did show very well, there was always a branch or two in the way that messed up the focus...

Spot the Two-barred! They are bloody hard to find, and easy to lose even though we knew exactly where they were!

We found it a bit odd that we didn't see any females, and that the males appeared to be so tied to the area we saw them..... when do Two-barred Crossbills breed?

Other than a couple of fly-over Common Crossbills, we didn't see much else here to be honest.

It was getting on for 10:30, so time to get to our next stop, New Fancy...

Complete with Gos-watchers

To be honest, there was less Goshawk action than we were expecting (it was quite cloudy and never got that warm mind). Saying that, we did see probably three different displaying males and another (that must have been a female due to its size) sat out in the open for ten minutes...

What do you mean you can't see it?

We also had a Peregrine here along with another couple of Crossbills.  The drive home showed another couple of Peregrines and  a surprise Red Kite just on the English side of the Old Severn Bridge.

Sadly we didn't bump into any Wild Boar, although talking to the locals I'm not sure this would have been safe to do!  It is instantly clear as you enter the Forest of Dean the damage they do, as all the verges of pretty much all the roads, and most open ground, looks like this...

And people complain about Badgers!!

So another very successful twitch - I think I need a horrendous dip to get me back on the straight and narrow! Many thanks to James for the company, and Dave Dawe (@Exmoorbirder) for the gen, really helped a lot Dave.