Wednesday 23 December 2015

An American Surprise

In typical Phil Abbott fashion, despite it being what I can only describe as the worst winter on patch in my time here for both birds and weather, he still makes as much effort as ever and was duly rewarded with the patches second ever Green-winged Teal! A smart drake on Bridge Marsh on Saturday 19th Dec.

Unlike the first one (a short staying drake on Colyford Marsh on 29th Jan 2013) this one is lingering, although it is often invisible, I dipped it four times before seeing it this morning.

Not exactly a top quality photo!

Really pleased Ian Mc has seen it, he was off patch on the day of the first bird with no sign of it by the time he was home.

This will probably be my last post before Christmas, so I'd like to take this opportunity to wish ALL my readers a....


Wednesday 9 December 2015


Mid last week the Abbotsbury Swannery boys came over again, hoping to catch the male Mute Swan that slipped the net a few weeks ago.  It wasn't as easy as our first attempt as the female clearly remembered us and remained a little nervous, which rubbed off on him. Despite this though within a few minutes thanks to some superb tiger-esk stalking from Steve G, he was in our hands...

As you can see from Steve's expression in the lower of the three photos he was a heavy boy, weighing 3kg more than the female at 13.5kg.  And he can now be known as DJO.

Tuesday 8 December 2015


This is a completely non-birding post, you have been warned!

Whenever I visit any zoo, I do so with mixed emotions. Animals should be free and wild and that's how I always want to see them, but I'm not completely dead against zoos.  I do understand the fantastic educational opportunities they offer, plus many do help with and undertake important conservation work. And of course the animals are not wild, they have been born and bred in captivity, as have their parents and parents parents (I hope!).

Jess has been keen to go to Longleat for a while now, and I have since I was about ten!  Thankfully my bank agreed the loan last week, meaning we were at last able to afford a trip to this impressive place.  

Overall it was very good, both the animals and the house part. My only real negative was the amount of people we were sharing it with.  It felt like we spent the whole day queueing, whether it was in our car with Wildebeest and Lions around us, or because we wanted to go to the loo or buy a bottle of water.  People and cars everywhere!!  The road through the safari park has two lanes, the left lane for people who want to stop and look, with the right lane being the over taking lane which is meant to stay flowing.  Well this works just fine when the animals are on the left hand side of the road, but when they're to the right the whole place comes to a stand still!

My final advice is if you have parking sensors on your car don't go in the Monkey section! I have lost 50% of my reversing sensors thanks to these critters - it was so painful watching and hearing them cause so much damage and not being able to do anything about it!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these few pics...

The above beasts were only half the story. As it got dark the Festival of Lights became the main attraction, and this really was impressive - done on such a massive scale ...

All in all, I can recommend. Especially at this time of year as there's a lovely Christmas feel to the house and surrounding gardens, just try and avoid their predicted busiest days (which last Saturday was one of!).

Thursday 26 November 2015

Swanning About

I'm writing this post sat outside in the back garden with a well deserved mug of tea, listening to Redwings and a few Fieldfare flying over in the dark.

On Wednesday, Steve the Deputy Swanherd from Abbotsbury Swannery (see his blog: came over with a small team to help me catch a pair of Mute Swans, so we could ring and colour-ring them. They've got some important bits of kit that I haven't, plus the necessary catching skills!  

We managed to complete 50% of the task and catch and colour-ring one of the birds, a female that weighed a whopping 10.4kg!!

Steve and the lucky lady.

Fitting the colour-ring.

Weighing her.

And here is DJN!

Many thanks chaps, hopefully see you again soon for round two!

Thursday 19 November 2015

Not About Gulls!

Despite my best efforts I haven't seen any more interesting gulls on the Estuary, so I can assure all that this blog post is a gull-free zone...

It's been rather wet and windy this week, and last week, well for the whole of November to be honest! I've not been able to do any bird ringing because of this, but I have still had a dog to walk (and gulls to check!).

This is proving to be one of my best ever autumns on patch for winter thrushes (despite the mild weather!). Every time I go out I'm seeing Redwings, and more often than not Fieldfares too (saw 45+ two days ago) and I don't just mean fly overs which is the usual way we see them in the autumn. In most other years I don't see many winter thrushes settled around here until Christmas time, so it really is notable. And whilst on the subject of thrushes, I should mention here the house tick I had on 12th with four Mistle Thrush from my kitchen window.

Black Redstarts keep popping up in front of me too.  After seeing a male and two female-types at Axmouth Yacht Club on 4th Nov, I had three female-types here on 11th (with none in between, so all three could have been new birds?). Away from here I had a female-type in the main car park in Beer on 9th, and about two hours ago was treated to my third ever from my house, another female-type just a few roofs down.

Female-type Black Redstart at Axe Yacht Club on 11th.

The Glossy Ibis is still about, we went down to just one bird several weeks ago, and it's currently spending most its time on the first lagoon on the right through the first gate at Seaton Marshes 

Something that for me has been lacking this month, and this autumn, is Wood Pigeons.  I missed the biggest morning of passage, but have seen some flocks flying west. They've not had the ideal weather window to move en masse though, instead they've been trickling through in less than perfect conditions. Oh what I would do for a cold, still and sunny morning!

Wood Pigeons migrating over Axmouth Harbour.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Some Better Caspian Photos (though not by me!)

Just a quick post, and I'm afraid it's about Caspian Gulls again!  

Just wanted to share these two pictures taken yesterday by Ian Mclean of the second-winter bird.  After seeing both the Casps from Coronation Corner, he then went round to the Tower Hide so he could get closer views of the older bird.  Wow, it looks even more stunning up close, well done Ian and thank you very much for these pics...

Second-winter Caspian Gull (c) Ian Mclean

Second-winter Caspian Gull (c) Ian Mclean

I just love its small dark eye nestled in that clean white head. And notice how the mantle colour is subtly different to the surrounding Herring Gulls, not as dark as a Yellow-legged would be, in fact I wouldn't really call it darker more like a different shade of grey.  This is not a very long-billed individual, but note that it still shows the classic straight, narrow and parallel sided bill.

Don't think there's been any sign of this beast today, but the first-winter was still around this morning at least.  Roger Harris managed a lovely series of photographs of it sat on the water, which can be seen here:

Saturday 14 November 2015

Caspian Overdose!

The last line of my last post came true. Wow, what an afternoon...

It may have been very windy, sometimes wet and always grim, but the gulling on the Estuary this afternoon was absolutely fantastic!  It even drew a crowd, namely an ex-patcher who just couldn't ignore my texts, and an incredible bird artist who is quite simply on another level...

Gav, Tim Worfolk (an Axe rarity - maybe an Axe first in fact?) and Tim Wright (aka Davey)

It all kicked off at about 13:15 when on looking through the first flock of gulls I came across at Coronation Corner, a gorgeous and thankfully completely classic first-winter Caspian Gull stood tall.  My photos are shocking and really don't do it justice AT ALL, I just couldn't keep my scope and camera set up steady in the strong wind...

Bottom left, whiter than white and big and bold.

This could have been an excellent photo!

And this one had the potential to be even better!

I even tried a phone-scoped shot!

At least this one shows a bit more detail, a well advanced bird.

I texted the news out to the locals, and whilst waiting for Ian Mc and Dad to turn up I kept my scope fixed on it. Thankfully it did indeed remain in place for them, and for Tim Wright who turned up about half an hour later.  I really wasn't expecting what came next though.... another one!

Once the two Ian's arrived I was able to take my eye off the first-winter and check the flock of 150+ gulls further up the Estuary. I swung my scope around and was shocked to see another Casp, a second-winter! WOW!  A Casp double whammy!!! And only our second of this age ever on the Estuary (the first Axe bird was a second-winter). Sadly it always stayed distant and these phone-scope pics were as good as I got...

The bird just to the right of center, that distinctive neck streaking really made it stand out.

It's the one hunkered down behind the closest juv Herring Gull.

The fact it wasn't the longest billed Casp, or the biggest, made me think it could well be the bird that Mike Langman had at Broadsands last week - see HERE.  I thought it was for most of the time I was watching it to be honest, but a brief view of its tail seemed to show a complete and quite broad black tail band (Mike's bird had a broken tail band). Also looking at the photos, maybe this bird does show heavier streaking behind the neck and more black in the tertials than the Broadsands bird?

Sadly before any other birders turned up, 95% of the large gulls present took off and flew south. Bye bye first-winter, but amazingly one of the six gulls remaining on the shingle spit included the second-winter Casp!  Gav and Topsham Tim soon arrived and it remained on view until I left the scene at 15:20.

It wasn't just Casps here this afternoon. After the big flush that sent almost all of the gulls south, numbers gradually built up again as more were trickling in from the north, and these new arrivals included two adult Yellow-legged Gulls!  One remained distant but what I saw of it looked good, and the closer one was a right cracker. You'll have to take my word for it though...

Pretty much smack bang in the middle.

What a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours, and just what I needed to take my mind of the evil in this world.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

'XVFM' Part II

First and foremost, thank you to those who posted comments about 'XVFM' (the presumed CaspianxHerring hybrid) in my last post...

There he/she is again

I'm pleased to say I have heard back from the ringer, and this bird was ringed as a pullus on 9/6/15 here...

Grabendorfer See, Brandenburg, Germany

This will give a better idea of where exactly that is...

It's come a long way!

It was ringed in a Caspian Gull colony as a Casp, but the ringer says there are rouge Herring and Yellow-legged Gulls mixing in with these birds. Messy stuff, and look what it produces....messy gulls!

All in all it's been a very educational and highly interesting bird.  Although I won't lie, I'd swap it for a pristine first-winter 100% Casp any day - they are such smart birds!

Monday 9 November 2015

A Colour-ringed CaspianISH Gull

What a fascinating bird.  I've felt a complete spectrum of emotions over this bird, the usual elation at finding a Caspian Gull, then suspicion, confusion, inquisitiveness, disappointment, intrigue, disappointment again, perplexment, wonder.... and honestly I could go on!

I've been checking the gulls as often as I've been able to over the last few days.  There's been something of a Caspian influx in the south east, and we've had a decent turn over of gulls on the Estuary in the recent rough and wet weather, including excellent numbers of Black-backed Gulls.  And this morning shortly before 10am I spied a distant first-winter 'Caspian' Gull from Coronation Corner...

The first view I had of it was the very back end of it as it was hidden by that Great Black-backed.  All I could see was a long wing, very dark tertials with noticeable white tips, and contrasting pale greater coverts. That was enough to stop me scanning and fix the scope on it. And I'm glad I did because it then walked in to full view and looked spot on. Lovely white head and upper breast, perfect head shape and bill, a fair bit of grey in the mantle, long legs, overall noticeable bigger than surrounding Herring Gulls. Excellent.  This was all good enough to text the news out.

It then took off flew a short distance and landed a little closer, but still pretty distant. And it was still a 'Caspian' Gull...

It did now look darker than all the other Caspian Gulls I've ever seen here, the streaking behind the birds head is ok, but all that down the flanks and belly and particularly around the eye worried me a little. But not too much, it's still early November. It showed some really aggressive behavior as well, often stretching its neck out to poke its beak at a nearby landing or low flying gull  It was only now I noticed it had a green ring on its leg too, and thankfully Dad who was positioned in the Tower Hide (much closer) was able to read it. XVFM.  It then looked even better when it stretched its wing...

Excuse the quality of this pic, I was just taking the phone away from the scope when it stretched so I quickly pressed the button. Lovely crisp white underwing and slightly paler inner primaries.  I then found out thanks to Rich Bonser that a four letter coded green ring is a Caspian Gull ringing scheme in East Germany, coordinated by a chap called Ronald Klein.  I really was elated by this, we had nailed a ringed Casp on the Axe. Epic.

It then took off and flew south, I didn't look at it much in flight as I was busy taking photos. But reviewing these it's still looking ok...

Again for a first-winter Caspian Gull it does look quite dark underneath, but wing pattern still ok with a lovely dark secondary bar and narrow white lines either side of it, and a restricted pale inner primary window, although it is missing the classic dark greater covert bar.  Seems to be a good Casp tail pattern too.

I thought this was it going, often large gulls do this and disappear out to sea never to be seen here again. But to my amazement it dropped back down on to the mud lower down the Estuary.  So I jumped in my car and followed.  Within about a minute I was there, and looking forward to the prospect of getting some top notch patch Caspian Gull photos as it would now be much closer. My bins went up to check which of the two settled large gulls it was, and... "what the ****!"

This is when the cycle of most of the emotions mentioned in the first paragraph of this post began.  To my eyes this no longer looked like the Caspian Gull that is was, not by a long way....

Eughhhhh. Overall shape, bill, legs, head shape, mantle and I think tertials (although not perfect) still ok. Not to mention the perfect Caspian Gull ring! But it just looked gross.  Except for the lowest two or three, the greater coverts are far from being plain, too many notches and bars surely? And now all that streaking around the head (especially the eye), neck, flanks and belly did indeed look too heavy.  PANTS.

I've sent the ring details in, along with some photos, and will post what comes back. And please I would love to read other peoples opinions on this bird. But in my view this is just not Casp enough and it's got to be a hybrid (presumably with a Herring Gull?).

It's only thinking about this some more though that I am starting to feel more positive about this bird, how many confirmed definite Caspian hybrids have been recorded in the UK? Certainly none in Devon anyway. This could turn out to be the most educational gull that I've ever seen.

As I said, all comments welcome please, and I will post the ringing details when I have them...