Wednesday 29 April 2015


I had an early alarm set for this morning, the forecast was promising wind, rain and cloud so I just had to try a sea watch.

Up until about 07:50 the conditions were pretty good.  Although the wind was never that strong it was coming from the south west which is our best direction for sea watching, and with it were a few passing showers that always help to bring birds closer in.  Sadly just before 8 we had a substantial downfall that for some reason killed the wind right off and the sea practically went flat. Still, I held out to make it a three hour watch.

05:55-08:55 produced (all west unless stated):

15 Pale-bellied Brent Goose (one flock)
2 Gadwall (pair at 08:10)
17 Common Scoter (10w, 7e)
9 Great Nortern Diver
1 Black-throated Diver (w/pl landed on sea half way across bay, but never saw it again)
1 diver sp.
92 Gannet (some flew east but there did seem to be a general westerly passage)
406 Manx Shearwater (a decent count, including several flocks of 40+ birds)
16 Whimbrel
1+ Ringed Plover (heard only)
1 Sanderling (came in then flew west)
15 Kittiwake (12w, 3e)
11 Razorbill

I have to say I was disappointed not to get a Skua (made even more so by the fact James Mc had two single Bonxies off Lyme Regis, one of which went west but never made it to me), but I love a sea watch that gives a nice variety of species, and this one certainly did. So all in all I was happy with my haul.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Quiet, But Who Cares...

Even when I spend almost two hours walking around Beer Head in late April and see nothing better than four Wheatear, three Whitethroat and a Willow Warbler, I simply cannot justify a moan...

Absolutely stunning views, this is looking west

Looking east, as usual Portland was viewable, but looking west you could see all the way down to Start Point which is a whopping 40 miles away! Well, you could just about see it...

If you squint you can make out the white lighthouse at Start Point, just to the right of that boat
I'm pretty sure this is Brixham with Berry Head to the left
Hope's Nose and the Ore Stone
Dawlish, Langstone Rock and Sandy Point
Ladram Bay

We really do live in a beautiful part of the world!

And although the migrant birds I saw weren't exactly special, if you think about the journey they have just undertaken then really they are ALL special.   Three of the Wheatears I actually saw arrive, and I can't put it into words how amazing it is to see them make landfall into the UK for the first time this spring. Simply amazing...

Sunday 26 April 2015

Weekend Update

I got up nice and early on Saturday, spurred on by tweets from Bill and Andy at Berry Head who had stumbled upon a Nightingale and a Lesser Whitethroat - fall?

Well no, not here anyway.  Phil did Beer Head and Bun the Beer Cemetery Fields, and both reported slim pickings.  I checked most the sites around the valley and didn't see much, although did manage one year tick with a (not so) Common Whitethroat.  Before I saw this though I had two Lesser Whitethroats, with singing males at Black Hole Marsh and Axmouth.  So this year I had four Lesser Whitethroats before getting my first Common! Also noticed more Reed Warblers about, and on Black Hole Marsh four black-bellied Dunlin

I tried a sea watch as well, and stood at the Spot On 07:30-08:00.  Conditions weren't at all promising so I wasn't expecting much, good job really (all west):

1 Common Scoter
2 Great Northern Diver (singles, my first of the spring)
11 Manx Shearwater
5 Sandwich Tern
9 Razorbill

To be fair I've endured much worse here! And it was great to see the GND's, I always love seeing these beasts power through in the spring.

Today all I've managed is a quick trip to Black Hole Marsh at dusk, where the Short-eared Owl was showing well. Sue's managed some excellent photos of it which really are worth a look, I said it was a dark one:

Friday 24 April 2015

Some Nice Variety

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty decent day.  The only migrants about in quantity were hirundines (about time as I've only seen small numbers so far this year) with 200+ at Bridge Marsh during the morning, mostly Swallows but also several House and Sand Martins...

Was really hoping for a Red-rumped...

Although there wasn't anything else about in quantity yesterday I did have some nice snippets of quality, including my second Lesser Whitethroat of the year rattling away whilst watching these hirundines. Amazingly I have still not seen or heard a Common Whitethroat on patch this year, so to have two Lessers before any Commons is just weird. Sometimes I don't see any Lessers in an entire spring, compared with tens and tens of Commons. 

Just prior to this, I had a Grasshopper Warbler reeling for about twenty seconds lower down the Estuary near the Riverside workshops. Really thought I'd missed out on one of these skulkers this spring, they've been few and far between like many other passage species.  

I did Beer Head as well, but after flogging the eastern half of it I thought it was going to be a complete write off, the bushes were dead. When I reached the old Coastguard Lookout though a nice double whammy made it all better...

A fairly shy but very vocal male Redstart, only my second of the spring
This gorgeous male Whinchat, also my second of the year

I spent a lot of time with the Whinchat, it was a pity to leave him as he was such a stunner...

And now to today, which has been pretty disappointing.  I was up at 5am, and at Beer Head for 6am with my mist nets and poles. To me the weather looked perfect for a fall, the wind had switched round to the south west overnight, and was light, plus there was 100% cloud cover. I also checked some European satellite images last night which showed a high pressure sitting over the Med with virtually no cloud between us and southern Spain.

By 8:15 I had caught just three birds, two Chiffchaffs (both possibly local breeders) and a Robin. The only other grounded migrant I saw was a Sedge Warbler in full song - which was a bit of an odd one.  That was it for the bushes, pitiful and far from a fall. Two summer plumaged Golden Plover over low west were nice mind, with eight Whimbrel doing the same a little later. 

By this time last spring I had trapped and ringed 127 birds at Beer Head, including 76 Willow Warblers. The three birds I caught here this morning were the first three birds I've ringed up here this year.  I have tried, I've woken up at 5am on five mornings this month, but all sessions have been no good.  On three of these visits the net sites were completely blown out by an easterly wind (my rides are fairly sheltered from anything northerly or westerly, but exposed to easterly winds), on another thick fog and clear skies above deemed the session a fail before it begun, and the fifth attempt was today - when there just weren''t any migrants about.

The best sight of the morning was during one of the daily dog walks, when a flock of 16 Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew close west past the sea front...

Just about got them all in frame!

They flew past me at 09:52, I tweeted Dawlish Warren and texted Lee C, and later learnt Dave Jewell had them off the Warren fly in from the east then south at 10:27. Always love it when migrating birds are tracked, and it's really interesting to know it takes a Brent Goose flock about 25 minutes to fly just under 20 miles.

By the time they reached Dawlish they must have lost the 17th bird of the flock. Can you spot the Brent Goose-wannabe?

You don't fool me Mr Carbo

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Mostly Quiet But Some Quality

Unlike the last couple of days I've not had much time out birding today. I spent an hour and half walking the dog around Axmouth this morning (hoping for Hoopoe, still...), all was very quiet and I didn't see many migrants at all. Well that was except for a five minute period at the top of Stepp's Lane when I got to where the path goes out to the golf course.  Five Wheatear were huddled together in a tight flock in the middle of a large field here, and in with them my first Whinchat of the year...

Wheatear left, and a Whinchat head to the right

And whilst watching these, I had a couple of brief views of a Ring Ouzel being chased up and down the track to the golf course by the resident Blackbirds. When I got round to the track it flipped over the hedge and into the field that I was just stood in, I went back but I didn't see it again.  I think it probably flew across the field and into the trees/hedge on the other side, it looked to me like it had only just dropped in and wasn't at all settled. Still it was great to see nevertheless, they're not a regular spring migrant here and sometimes we even have blank autumns for them.

The other half an hour of birding came this evening, and was prompted by a call from James Mc who could see a passage of gulls and terns passing distantly off Charmouth.  I got down to Seaton Beach at about twenty to eight, and although I didn't see any terns, I must have seen over 50 Common Gulls (mostly first-summers) flying east by 20:10.  In with them were three Med Gulls (an adult and two first-summers) and best of all three Bar-tailed Godwits (two in summer plumage).

Tuesday 21 April 2015

A Spring Shortie

There was yet another aborted attempt at bird ringing on Beer Head on Monday morning, when I got up there it was too blowy.  Mind you, the sunrise was nice to see.... 

It was actually a great shame about the wind as there were clearly quite a few Willow Warblers about, with most moving through rapidly.  Determined not to make it a wasted early morning wake up, I headed down into the valley for a look about, where I was surprised to see a Short-eared Owl flying around over the Estuary.  It spent a few minutes hunting over Axe and Colyford Marsh, before pitching on this distant post...

It stayed here until I left 20 mins later, and eight hours on when I returned, it was sat on the ground about 10 feet to the right of this post!  Later that evening it was hunting south of Black Hole Marsh, and it did the same again tonight apparently.  Although you can't tell it in my pic, it's a really dark bird, in fact when I first saw it in flight through the bins I was expecting it to turn out to be a Long-eared. Pity it wasn't, but still Short-eareds aren't ten a penny around here.

Today I didn't get out birding until late morning, and my first little wander was my most productive spell of the day.  My first Lesser Whitethroat of 2015 was singing well, and showing now and then, in the hedgerow that runs north of Coronation Corner. Two Common Sandpipers were flitting along the near bank of the Estuary here, with a Greenshank feeding on the first bit of exposed mud as the tide began to drop.  Best of all though were two adult summer Med Gulls that only gave themselves away by repeatedly calling to each other as they flew over rapidly and VERY high north west - sweet.  

Despite quite a lot of looking, didn't really see anything else of note whilst out birding this afternoon.  I did see an Osprey, but that was the comfort of my own kitchen, as it flew south west over Black Hole Marsh.  Why bother going out?

And to break up the text a bit, here's another Wheatear photo. At least it's a female for a change...

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. On Sunday evening whilst watching my sixth Red Kite of the month circling over fields between Colyford and Musbury, two Swifts zipped into my binocular view. It's funny how often this happens, when your watching one bird in the bins, and another you wouldn't otherwise have seen appears in the field of view. Maybe I should just randomly put my bins up to apparent empty skies every now and then?

No birds here....or are there?

Sunday 19 April 2015

The Birthday Girl

In the absence of any bird news (it's turning out to be a very poor spring for common migrants, really hope it picks up quick) I thought I should blog about the birthday girl...


It's hard to believe Honey is already one. It's been a steep learning curve for us both, but especially me as I've never owned a dog before - in fact I used to be scared of them. When I was five I jumped into a bed of stinging nettles because a dog was running at me barking!

I have now completely changed and am very confident around dogs, thanks to Honey.  She is a wonderful animal with such a good and relaxed temperament, and is a great companion in life.  Another way she has changed us is that we now get even more peed off with irresponsible dog owners.  I'm sure everyone has seen how often 'dogs on leads' signs are ignored - don't think some dog owners can read.  As for picking up the poop, there is never an excuse not to. Really winds us up, way more than it used too.

Anyway, back to Honey, and she's actually now a famous dog. Although this isn't all factually correct (dam press!) it was great to see her in the Bridport and Lyme Regis News...

But although she's one, it doesn't mean she's grown up...

Friday 17 April 2015

This Week

It's been a frustrating week. I've had two 5am wake ups with the hope of ringing on Beer Head, and both morning's I've gone up there with good intentions.  Tuesday though it was far too foggy with clear skies above, so I knew it wasn't worth it and came straight back home, and then today, the promised cloud cover came over too late and there was quite a breeze which would not have been good for mist netting.  I did have a walk around this morning instead of ringing, and am pleased I didn't bother with the nets as it was very very quiet. So basically it's now Friday and I am completely knackered for no good reason. Got an even earlier wake up tomorrow, but at least I know this one with be worthwhile...

The other reason this has been a frustrating week is because despite all my efforts, I haven't seen anything remotely scarce. Hoopoe's are flooding in to the UK at the moment, along with a nice assortment of other spring overshoots,  I have looked looked and looked....and seen nothing of note.

Wednesday morning I almost killed myself (and the dog!) by flogging Beer Head to Branscombe and back in the scorching heat. Ironically the best bird I saw during this three hour slog was the Yellow Wagtail that flew over me as I stepped out the car right at the start! Otherwise all I saw were half a dozen Willow Warblers and a couple of Wheatears.  At least the Wheatears were kind to me...

At least I saw a few butterflies, with two Clouded Yellows, two Specked Woods, a Holly Blue, a Brimstone, an Orange-tip, a Red Admiral and several Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells.

There has been a few more waders about on the Estuary this week, since midweek I have seen Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Greenshank and four Ringed Plover. There's also been two Ruff kicking about since Tuesday but I haven't caught up with them as yet.

The only other notable birds I've seen this week include my first Sedge Warbler of the spring (a singing male) on the Borrow Pit, Seaton Marshes, on Tuesday morning, and this morning yet another Red Kite.  This one had clearly roosted in the valley, because at 06:50 it circled up from the woods above the Estuary and flew off west.  Also six Manx Shearwaters flew west during a quick look at the sea just prior to the Kite.

I'll sign off with a dawn photo from Lower Bruckland Ponds taken late last week. Let's hope next week is a bit kinder to me...

Friday 10 April 2015

A Heart Stopper

Scanning through a large flock of gulls on Seaton Marshes this morning, in very bright sunshine, gave me the fright of my life.

There is one species of gull that is IT, that is the pinnacle of all gulls, and is a bird any keen British birder would sell their house, family and car to have on their British list. It is the near mythical Pallas's Gull (or as I much prefer calling it, Great Black-headed Gull). The last UK record was in 1859, but another is always possible as birds pop up now and then in other parts of the Western Palearctic (mostly in the far south east corner).

I cannot describe how I felt when I clapped eyes on this...

I honestly think my heart momentarily stopped!

Bloody **** ******* ******* Herring Gull.  When it stood up it revealed a large oil patch on its belly, which is presumably what the apparent dark eye spot was all about, but for a few seconds it really had me going.  Anyway, it's a good job it wasn't a Pallas's Gull, because within thirty seconds of spotting it, another of those poxy Red Kites came along and flushed the lot...

Flew in from west, but then turned and went back the way it came

They're not poxy at all, I love 'em, and love the fact that they are becoming a regular spring bird down here.  This was my fourth of the week, with one west over Sidmouth on Monday morning, and two high west over my house early Tuesday afternoon.  Tuesday was a good day for raptors from the garden, as at 09:55 a few calling gulls alerted me to an extremely low flying Osprey heading NW, only just above roof top height. Wow.  Whilst mentioning alarming gulls, the two Kites that flew over later that day were my first patch Kites that didn't cause any gulls to call (this is how I usually find them). I don't think it is because the gulls are getting used to them, as they still alarm call for low flying Buzzards, but probably just because the Kites were so high up.

I'm sure I had more to blog about, but am so tired my brain has turned to mush. Bed time I think - let's see if this promised rain delivers any new birds in the morning...

Sunday 5 April 2015

Patch Tick

Wow - wasn't expecting that!  The Dart's Farm Penduline Tits did the decent thing and dropped in on us on their way back east.  Hopefully they will hang around for few days, but I've got a feeling they won't.  I'm actually surprised they dropped in somewhere so close to the Exe, I would have thought their first 'hop' would be much bigger.  Maybe they aren't looking to leave the UK, just on the hunt for some suitable breeding habitat? If that's the case then I really hope they don't stay!!!

No photos from me as I could only manage a flying visit, in fact I only saw one bird - but that was more than enough.  Cracking find Bun, wonder how many people have walked past them today...