Thursday 29 May 2014

A Mixed Morning

Once the early morning shower had passed (although there were a few more afterwards!) I took my nets up to a site near Beer where I monitor the breeding Swallows.  Last week I had come up here to eye up the potential for catching adult Swallows, but instead came away in awe of what must be one of the busiest bird feeding stations I've ever seen - with an impressive variety of species too!

I only had one 60 foot net up (this is all it needs) and it kept me very busy! My personal highlights were three Siskin; an adult male that was already ringed (D776068), a second year male and a juvenile.  We all know how stunning male Siskins are...

But even the juveniles are super little birds...

I had been here for about an hour and a half (although had to close the net for twenty minutes whilst another rain shower came through) when I started hearing rumblings about one of my most wanted gulls well within twitching distance...

Soon enough it was confirmed - there was a Ross's Gull on Bowling Green Marsh!  There's very few species I'd drop everything for if they were turn up off patch, but this is one of them.  I love gulls, I dipped Ross's Gull in my younger years, and it's simply a species I've always wanted to see - the opportunity was too great to let go.  I sent a few texts out and within ten minutes had a car full getting ready for a trip west.

We left Seaton at 10:30 with news the gull was still these despite the tide having fallen, but on arrival we were informed twenty minutes ago it had flown off towards the Estuary. Bugger.  We headed for the platform by the River Clyst, but one last glance over the marsh revealed it sleeping beside a Black-headed Gull.  We spread the news that it was back and enjoyed some great views over the next half hour or so...

Not the everyday view of Bowling Green Marsh....

Although it was great to watch it resting and feeding, it looked even better in flight!  The tail really is striking - a black-tipped diamond.  Size for me was a really noticeable feature too, as although it was smaller than the nearby Black-headed Gull it never looked minute as Little Gulls do. There's a great photo on Devon Birds which shows the size difference well, click HERE.

Oddly when I was watching the Ross's feeding in a muddy scrape it reminded me most in shape, structure and behaviour of a Common Gull! 

You can see from these photos though why it caused some headaches and debate yesterday...

An obvious Ross's Gull

Hmmmmm..... a far from obvious Ross's Gull!

Lastly I'd like to thank Bun, Ian and Karen for the twitching company, and Matt and Mark for all the useful info and updates throughout the morning.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Nightjars Return With Friends

Last year Nightjar was added to everyone's patch lists as at least two birds were found late summer in only recently created suitable habitat (see HERE).  We couldn't prove breeding but both male and female birds were present.

Last Sunday night I took my first dusk trip to the site this year, and was delighted to see a male Nightjar fly in and begin churring at 21:25. Even better a female immediately reacted to the song and flew up to join him. They both flew around together before heading off into the darkness - awesome! 

Whilst here, in the fading light I was pretty sure I could hear a Tree Pipit singing from somewhere, so went back this morning for a walk round during day light hours.  And it just shows that if the habitat is there, birds will use it, as I saw an amazing three Tree Pipits! Two males and a female...

 And how do I know one was a female? Well....

Tree Pipit porn!  I'm pretty sure this is the first known breeding Tree Pipits on patch.

Only other news I have to report is of my first immigrant moth of the year, in a rather unusual location!  This Silver Y was on the charging lead for the works van...

Great to see again!

Thursday 15 May 2014

Back To Beer Head

Unlike Tuesday morning, on Wednesday I didn't snooze the alarm and slip back into bed - I was on Beer Head for 5:30.

The conditions really didn't seem good, but I've said that so many times I'm beginning to ask myself whether I know what 'good' is!?  There was the fainest NW wind, which practically wasn't there - but it must have been enough to drop some migrants out of the clear blue skies.  Walking from my car to the netting site I heard a couple of Willow Warblers singing, and saw a Spot Fly, so knew it wasn't going to be a complete waste of time.

Whether they were all new migrants, or some lingering from yesterday is another question.  A Garden Warbler spent the whole morning singing around the area I was in, and I first heard it from the same bush I saw the Garden Warbler in yesterday. They're a scarce spring migrant here so my money's on it being the same bird.  There were at least five Spot Flies around too, and I bet at least some were hangers on from yesterday. But there were clearly more Willow Warblers around and a Redstart that wasn't there on Tuesday.

I had two nets up for four hours, and caught 26 birds. Amazingly, considering the date, 18 were Willow Warblers. What's also amazing is that although the odd one could be seen in the bushes, no one would ever have said 18 were present!  I have now ringed 103 Willow Warblers on Beer Head this spring.

Out of the 26 birds caught, I only used four A-rings (the most used ring size when netting passerines). One went on a locally breeding male Robin, but the other three were pure migrant quality. 

This was the first Garden Warbler I've ever ringed, and its a species I've always wanted to handle. I'm 99% sure it was the singing male that was hanging around - if anyone sees it well have a look at its right leg.

Out of the five Spot Flies, only this one found its way into one of the mist nets. The sunlight made the nets look quite obvious which probably didn't help, but also Spot Flies spend a lot of time on top of the tallest trees and bushes, and often fly between them at height.  Another great bird to handle, they are really long-bodied and look strikingly long-bill.

This was the sixth Redstart I've ringed up here this year, the fourth female.  I really wasn't expecting to catch any more of these as I presumed they would all be in by now.  I saw it briefly in the field first, caught it a few minutes later, ringed and released it, then no further sign.

I would have used a fifth A-ring if the male Whitethroat hadn't extracted itself from the net. So annoyed by that. Grrrrrrrr.

Three Blackbirds were the only other local birds I caught, a first-year male and two fresh juveniles, my first '3J's' of the year (ringing speak for a bird in juvenile plumage).

So as you can see, some fantastic catches. But none were anywhere near as exciting as this Blackcap...

This '5' (born last year) male Blackcap, which had spent the hour or so before I caught it singing from nearby bushes, already had a ring on its leg - and it wasn't one of mine!! If any ringer reading this recognises Y737725 then please get in touch.

Other birds I saw during the morning included three single Yellow Wags, a Whimbrel and a decent passage of Swallows over west/north west.

Another thouroghly enjoyable morning bird ringing on Beer Head, and again in glorious weather. Nice to have James M with me for a few hours too.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

May Migrants

I went to bed last night with all the intentions of getting up early for a ringing session on Beer Head, despite the fact there's been very few migrants up here since May begun. 

I woke up at 5am this morning with a headache, glanced out the window to see clear skies and a strong breeze, so stupidly decided to slip back under the covers.  Several hours later I got up, and headed up Beer Head just to see if I had missed anything....I really had!

It was actually very interesting walking around Beer Head, as I've spent all my time up here this spring in one area. And after covering the whole headland I can safely safe I've picked the best spot! The area around the Sheepwalk was obviously sheltered from the wind, and this was where there were at least six Spotted Flies (my first of the year), a Garden Warbler (ditto - quite a spring rarity here), a Whitethroat and two Willow Warblers.  Elsewhere on the headland, a couple of Blackcaps and a fly over Yellow Wagtails were all I saw.  

Although it was too windy for mist netting really, I would certainly have caught at least one Spot Fly I'm sure. Gutted.  At least it has given me some hope for the next week or so as birds are clearly still coming through. A wander around Beer Head yesterday showed absolutely nothing so I was beginning to think that was it for spring 2014. Away from the migrant birds, two of these continue to linger here...

Today has clearly been a good day for migrants as I've just had my first Hobby of the year over the back garden - about time too!  Within the last few days there's been a big increase in Swift numbers, with over 150 in the valley yesterday morning.  A Lesser Whitethroat has also been present in the valley, I've heard it singing from the same hedge on three occasions during the last week.

Wading birds have been really disappointing so far this month, with a handful of Dunlin and a trickle of Whimbrel the best from the Estuary.

I did have a few waders during a sea watch on Saturday morning though, with one Turnstone, two Ringed Plover, two Dunlin and three Whimbrel past.  These, along with five Great Northern Divers, six Manx Shearwaters and a few Kittiwakes meant it was a reasonably enjoyable hour staring at the sea.

And what about the garden I hear you say?? Well, we had a lot of wood to get rid off, but thankfully now it has all gone. And we've pulled up the patio that we uncovered under the decking.  The last photo I posted looked like this...

And today it looks like this...

Hopefully from this weekend onwards there will be lots of obvious progress. Watch this space...

Thursday 8 May 2014

A Sickening Wildlife Crime On Our Doorstep?

I've been plastering this all over twitter, and it certainly deserves a corresponding blog post.

On Monday evening at about 19:45 I had a phone call from Dad, some Seaton residents had reported seeing a sick or injured Peregrine soaked and unable to fly along the west walk of Seaton Beach.  I leaped up and headed out.

Dad was already there and they had managed to get the bird into a box and were underneath a shelter.  I carefully took it out to have a closer look.  What a stunning bird to lock eyes with, a pleasure to hold, but in the worst possible circumstances.  The bird didn't seem to show a broken wing, but did have an alarming suspicious-looking wound on its right wing...

On returning to the car with the bird, I informed the Police, and took the bird up to Mum and Dad's where the RSPCA were called. The bird spent the night in the box, and was collected by the RSPCA at 9am the following morning.

On Wednesday, Sergeant Dave Knight called mid afternoon, with two very upsetting bits of news:

1/ The bird had to be euthanized due to an infection.

2/ The wounds were consistent with a gun shot wound.

I have to say, the Police, especially PC Josh Marshall and Srg Dave Knight (both WCO's) were very helpful and informative. I even had a call from the local station asking how everything was going which was much appreciated.  I know wildlife crime isn't taken as seriously as it should be in many counties of the UK, but have to say, I feel like we have a dedicated and proactive team here. Saying that though, I highly doubt the offender will ever be caught...

I believe the RSPB are planning on another press release later today, possibly with a reward on offer. I'll post the link up here when it's out.

Friday 2 May 2014


2014 has easily been my worst spring for Wheatears on patch.  I didn't see my first until 10th April (almost a month later than other years!) and have only seen four since. In previous springs I've see four times as many in an hour on Beer Head, or on one fence line at Seaton Marshes!  I'm not sure why it's been so poor, as other sites have had them, but it's not just me, Ian M was saying exactly the same this morning.

After this morning though, I now feel like I've had the best ever spring for Wheatears! And it's all thanks to this beastie...


The Firecrest and Redstarts have all been fab, and much more than I expected, but for me this is the highlight so far. Not just because of it's stunning plumage, it's was just a really lovely bird to handle. 

Better still, wing length (104mm) weight (38g) and plumage (amount of black in tail, rusty edge to upper mantle feathers) puts this bird safely in the Greenland Wheatear (sub sp. leucorhoa) camp.  So not only has it flown all the way from South Africa, it's now got to get to Greenland - maybe even Canada!  

Other than this, it was a very quiet ringing session. There were clearly no migrants in the bushes, a single Blackcap trapped and ringed was the only other migrant I netted today. Overhead a few Swallows and a single Yellow Wag were as good as it got. 

But this fantastic capture has shown me that even if it is quiet at Beer Head, it always worth having the nets up as you just never know.