Saturday 31 October 2015

Yellow-browed Still Here

Primrose Way is still blessed with the presence of a Yellow-browed Warbler, I saw it a few times today in exactly the same trees as yesterday.  What a lovely bird, and today I even managed some photos. Just...

A couple of hours out with the dog this morning were rather unproductive despite the calm conditions.  A good yomp around Axmouth produced just 15+ Goldcrest, 6 Siskin, 4 Redpoll and a Chiffchaff.

I forgot to mention this the other day, the day after the Chard Spotted Sandpiper was last seen, in heavy rain I spied a distant Common-type Sandpiper on the Estuary.... It came closer and my heart sank, Common Sand it was and it's still there today.  Sadly it appears to only have one foot and it hops instead of walks...

Friday 30 October 2015

Like Buses!

There's been lots of water in the valley on the last couple of mornings, and I love it when it's like this because all the wildfowl, waders and gulls congregate and they're all dead easy to see (except when there's driving rain!)...

From the farm gate at Axmouth

Haven't seen anything different on the water, but there's way more duck around than I thought, about 350 each of Wigeon and Teal, plus two Shoveler

Once the rain cleared today I had a walk around Seaton Hole, where there were a few Goldcrest and best of all a cracking Siberian Chiffchaff.  Sadly it never called but it looked absolutely bang on for tristis.

That's where I thought my birding had ended for the day, but when I was stood outside my front door waiting for Jess to pull up at 14:30, a Yellow-browed called!  Flipping heck - what a house tick!!!  I grabbed the bins and camera, it called again, and I soon found it feeding high up in a line of trees that border a small green just up the road from me.  It was completely on it's own, although there were singles of Chiff and Goldcrest calling from over the road.  I watched it for a couple of minutes (sadly couldn't get any pics) before my lift arrived and I had to leave. Wow. Although I was over the moon with this, I have to say it's not at all unexpected. I've got some lovely trees around my place, including what is the tree/hedge line that marks the north end of Seaton, it really looks tasty and has delivered some good birds before. Hopefully a Pallas's will appear here next - it's about time!

Thursday 29 October 2015

Stripes At Last

Despite a month of walking the dog in places I thought were quite likely to host a Yellow-browed Warbler, and the fact there's been about million in the country, it's taken me until yesterday to see one!

During an afternoon dog walk along the cycle track by Seaton Marshes out popped the head of a Yellow-browed Warbler for all of three seconds. And that was it.  I'd see enough though so sent the texts out, but in the windy conditions there was no further sign. There was actually quite a few birds here, at least two Chiffs (one of which appeared quite grey), three Blackcap and several Goldcrest.

This morning despite the wind and the rain I went back for a better look. No sign for ten minutes but then all of a sudden a Yellow-browed burst in to a spate of calling right behind me. I was then treated to the most fantastic views of it feeding low down in some willows, what a gorgeous little bird. I don't care how common they get, they will always give me a buzz when I see one.  I didn't take any photos because I just wanted to watch it, and I knew they'd be crap in the dull light, but I think Tim White has managed to get some pics of it so watch his blog...

Also this morning, after hearing Mark B was heading our way I met him at Black Hole Marsh where we had good but distant views of the two inexplicably sporadic Glossy Ibis...

Told you they were distant!

Tuesday 27 October 2015

There's Life In Autumn Yet

Despite the windy and rather wet last couple of days, it's clear there's been a decent pulse of late autumn migration.

Yesterday the wind prevented me having a proper look around, but a walk through the sheltered back lanes of Axmouth revealed heaps and heaps of Goldcrests. Looking at other south coast birding blogs and websites it's clear there had been a widespread arrival of this species, the largest for many many years.  Sadly I couldn't find anything other than a Chiffchaff, numerous Coal Tits and a Lesser Redpoll in with them though.

Today the wind had dropped a bit, but it's been very wet.  Or was anyway until about 11am, and at 11:05 two Black Redstarts popped up at Axe Yacht Club...

My first two of the autumn

At night there's been plenty of Redwing and Song Thrush passage, but I've only seen the odd Redwing during the day and no more Fieldfare.  Roll on the rest of the week...

Saturday 24 October 2015

Fieldfare Revisited

Seeing as the Fieldfare I caught at Beer Head yesterday was the first Fieldfare I've caught as a C ringer, I thought it deserved a bit more attention on the blog.  They do seem to be pretty mist net-savvy birds, unlike the smaller species of thrush that are caught much easier.

Such a smart bird

I thought I'd go through how we came to age and sex this bird in some detail.  I have to be honest and say as I've handled so few Fieldfare I'd forgotten you could sex them, but a quick look at the ringers bible, Svensson, revealed that a closer look at the crown feathers should tell all...

And here's our bird...

What do you think?

Look particularly at the feather showing the largest amount of black towards the top of the pic, the black shows a concaved shape as it runs up the spine of the feather, matching Svensson's female example nicely.  So a girl it is.

Then there's the ageing, and I have to say I had a feeling it was a bird born this year (age code 3) as it came out of the net, because overall for a Fieldfare it just looked a bit dull.  I can't believe I've called a bird this stunning dull, but adults have a lovely rich chestnut brown mantle and scaps and lead grey head and rump - not this one though.  

The photo is pretty poor quality I'm afraid but it was pre-sunrise!

I've marked where the moult limit is, between the brown inner replaced adult-type greater coverts, and the old juvenile ones.  As well as the colour difference, you can see the difference in wear between the two, with the old juvenile coverts looking pretty knackered, whereas the adult ones are much smoother edged. That's simply because the juvenile feathers are probably three or four months old, but the new replaced adult ones a month old at most. 

And as with most birds, the tail is usually pretty helpful too when it comes to ageing...

I always find it hard to spread a tail nicely for photographs

Again look at the wear, if this was an adults tail it would be a month or so old as the bird would have undergone a complete moult before autumn migration - but it is pretty ragged and worn.  I'm sure other 3's show pointier tails than this, but I've found tail shape can vary a lot between individuals even if they are the same age and sex  The colour of the feathers, dull brownish grey, also fits with the bird being a young female, adult males have jet black tails.

Hope you've enjoyed this post, it's nice to get a bit technical now and then.  I'll finish it with a quick snap I took of a couple of Reed Buntings that I caught at Lower Bruckland Ponds earlier in the week, they were both 3's and conveniently one of each sex...

If only I had a third hand I could have got many more photos!

Friday 23 October 2015

Beer Head

Very much an end of autumn feel to Beer Head this morning.  The weather was as perfect as it could be with 100% low cloud cover and for the first couple of hours no wind at all.  Despite this there wasn't much moving about in the now pretty baron trees and bushes. Even overhead passage was disappointing with just a few flocks of Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits and very small numbers of the other expected species. 

As a result, it was no surprise that only twelve birds were trapped and ringed this morning. But although there many not have been the quantity, there was some excellent quality including three new species ringed for the site...

A stonking Fieldfare!!

I was really surprised to catch this, because unlike Tuesday (when we put in the same effort as today) there were no thrushes about, we caught no Blackbirds, Song Thrush or Redwing. But this is worth all of them and more in my eyes - my favourite of the regular UK thrushes.  What made this capture even better was that this was a new bird for Peter, and he really deserved a reward for joining me early this morning despite knowing he had to leave prior to 9am.

Peter has a habit of rubbing under his ear when he's excited...

So Fieldfare was the first bird in the nets this morning, and the second was this gorgeous Lesser Redpoll...

In my eyes an even more stunning capture - such a charismatic sweet little bird.

And later in the morning new bird number three dropped in to one of my two nets...

A Treecreeper, and you don't see many of these up Beer Head.  Don't worry I did make sure it wasn't a Short-toed!

The (not very) full list of birds ringed this morning looks likes this:

1 Fieldfare
4 Chiffchaff
2 Goldcrest
1 Great Tit
1 Long-tailed Tit
1 Treecreeper
1 Chaffinch
1 Lesser Redpoll

As well as these, we re-caught three birds, two Goldcrests and a Long-tailed Tit.  One of the Goldcrests we ringed here three days ago, and amazingly in that time had put on a gram in weight. That is a heck of a lot for a bird that weighs about the same as a 20p piece! Really interesting to see how quickly the fat reserves can build up on these tiny birds. 

And whilst on the subject of Goldcrests, I thought it was quite fitting that what could well be the last bird I ring on Beer Head this year (have you seen the weather forecast for next week?) was indeed a Goldcrest...

It's been an amazing autumn for this species.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Beer Head

Enjoyed another good morning with Peter up Beer Head this morning.  It was windier than I expected, which really affected what is usually my most successful mist net (it was like a sail on a boat!), but thankfully the second net is in a more sheltered location.

There was a different 'feel' to the session, with the first hour or so being all about thrushes, a family of birds I don't usually catch many of at this site.  Smaller birds started dropping in to the mist nets once it had warmed up a little, which took a while!

In about four hours we caught 32 new birds, as follows:

9 Blackbird
2 Song Thrush
1 Redwing (my first for the site - what a cracker!)
1 Blackcap
6 Chiffchaff
11 Goldcrest
1 Great Tit
1 Chaffinch

What a gorgeous bird.

The first Redwing I've handled for years!

Two male Blackbirds, a bird born this year (age code 3) on the left and an adult (age code 4) on the right.

Same as above.

As well as the 32 birds ringed, we re-caught three that I had already ringed.  One was a resident Robin (there aren't many resident birds up here) and interestingly the other two were Goldcrests, one that was ringed on 8th Oct and the other on 14th Oct.  So some of these migrants are lingering and not just going straight though.

We very nearly caught a Woodcock too!  As we were walking up to one of the nets about an hour and a half into the session, completely unexpectedly one took off about 3 meters from the net but flew the wrong way. If only we had walked in from behind it we could well have ringed a Woodcock this morning - now that would have been nuts!  This is actually the first Woodcock I've ever seen at Beer Head, a rare bird for the site.

Overhead passage was quieter than I expected, although four low flying Golden Plover were nice to see.  Didn't see much more in the bushes either, and no further sign of the Dartford Warbler that Ian M saw.

Friday 16 October 2015

Bird Ringing

Here it is, the final catch up post...

During September and so far this October it feels like we've had more than our fair share of wind, which has seriously hampered mist netting efforts. Even more so because my prime autumn bird ringing location, Beer Head, is so exposed. Still, this autumn I have managed six sessions up there, the 2nd, 18th and 25th of September, and 3rd, 8th and 14th of October.  All sessions were over by about 11am, and I never had more than two 60 foot nets up, in fact on two dates I just had one 60 foot net open. Thanks must go to Peter B who has helped and accompanied me on four of the dates, his help has proved invaluable.   

During these six sessions 226 birds of 23 species were trapped and ringed, and they were:

5 Swallow
4 Meadow Pipit
8 Wren 
7 Dunnock 
2 Robin
2 Redstart (both ringed on 2/9)
2 Stonechat (both ringed on 8/10)
3 Blackbird
1 Lesser Whitethroat (ringed on 2/9)
2 Whitethroat (singles ringed on 18/9 and 25/9)
52 Blackcap
75 Chiffchaff (incl. one grey bird ringed on 14/10)
4 Willow Warbler (all on 2/9)
25 Goldcrest
2 Firecrest (singles ringed on 8/10 and 14/10)
1 Spotted Flycatcher (ringed on 18/9)
8 Long-tailed Tit
3 Coal Tit
7 Blue Tit
8 Great Tit
2 Chaffinch
1 Goldfinch
2 Bullfinch (ringed on 18/9)

What a superb ringing site Beer Head is turning out to be.  It continues to amaze me just how many birds move through the two hedgerows I net, and how quickly they pass.  So few birds are re-trapped here, just the odd resident Dunnock and tit, on release all the migrants just motor on with their migration.  And it's always worth remembering I only net a tiny part of Beer Head, so the true number of birds that move through the whole place is probably quite significant.  Anyway that's enough text, here's some pics...

Lesser Whitethroat.

Head shot of Lesser Whitethroat showing that gorgeous steely grey iris.

Male Redstart.

It's fitting that I've caught three Coal Tits as they are everywhere this autumn, I've not seen a Continental ater bird yet though.

Gorgeous male Stonechat.

A lady Stonechat.

Firecrest number one, a male.

The second male Firecrest, from above to show off that lovely head pattern.

The grey(ish) Chiffchaff from 14/10 - colour wise it reminded me of a Garden Warbler.

At the rear with a standard collybita bird, it was far from a tristis but still very striking and nothing like the other 74 Chiffs I've ringed here this year.

And it's not only all these birds Beer Head can offer. There really are worse places to spend the morning...

Looking east towards Seaton and Axe Cliff.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

A Frustrating Few Days

It's saying something when it's mid October, winds are coming straight from Russia, your nearest headland has had Olive-backed Pipit, Little Bunting, two Red-backed Shrikes and numerous other scarcities, and the highlight of the week so far is...

Second from right...

At the back

Yes, a weirdo duck.  I'm pretty sure it's a MallardxGadwall hybrid, and it was a nice bird, but please I want proper birds!!

To be honest the wind has been a major problem, for both birding and ringing.  I've tried checking all the sheltered spots but that's still turned up nothing. I know Bun's spent a lot of time out and about too, and no doubt Ian M - yet not even a Yellow-browed Warbler to show for our efforts. Grrrrrrr. 

I can't really grumble too much as I have seen plenty of birds, just not anything special. I had my first Redwing over the house after dark (whilst bringing the washing in, see there is an up side to house work!) on Monday night, and this morning I saw my first day time ones with five on Beer Head just after dawn.  Also on Beer Head this morning a good passage of Skylark east, along with a few Siskin, two Redpoll and some invisible Crossbills (sounded like a small flock).    I was actually up there ringing, I decided to go for it despite the wind. As there's a bird ringing post coming up on this blog I wont give any details of what we caught (it wasn't much!), but as a teaser, here's the best bird from the mist nets this morning...

3 male Firecrest

Oh well, try again tomorrow...

Monday 12 October 2015

A Busy But Blustery Beer Head and a Glossy House Tick

Too windy to even contemplate bird ringing this morning (and maybe this week?), but I still thought Beer Head was worth a walk around today despite the crystal clear skies and strong north wind. 

The regular haunts on the east side of the head were completely blown out and did appear to be pretty bird-less, but looking over the Underhooken, along to Branscombe and the upper slopes of Branscombe were sheltered enough to show there was quite a lot of passage going on.  I spent almost an hour looking over the Underhooken watching Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs filtering up the cliff edge, then flicking over the top and off inland. Sadly there wasn't anything rarer (or stripier) among them.  

Overhead passage was ok, not great numbers (Skylark and Meadow Pipit the most numerous), but there was some nice variety. Best of all being a flock of six Crossbill that flew east, low enough to see a couple of nice red males too. There were the expected Chaffinches, Linnets, Goldfinches and Siskins, along with a single Reed Bunting and two Redpolls. Still a few Swallows and House Martins about, but seemed to be noticeable fewer than just a few days ago.

I've already mentioned the Chiffs and Goldcrests, but it was also a Stonechat day - I had at least 18 in all, which is a great count for Beer Head.  And with them two Wheatear, one of which posed in a nice autumnal way...

I am still waiting for my first Redwing, but there were noticeably more Blackbirds and Song Thrush about so I don't think it's far away. To complete my list of sightings from this enjoyable two hour wander, three White Wagtails were nice to see as they were my first of the autumn, and a couple of Yellowhammers dropped in (although they could have been local birds)...

I'm sure you have already read about them on another website/blog/social media platform, but on Saturday as I was driving towards Portland, two Glossy Ibis were flying the opposite way.  They weren't seen from the sea front here (the obvious place to stand when you are told two birds are following the coast west), but it later transpired they were seen circling over Black Hole Marsh at midday, and then feeding on Colyford scrape later in the afternoon.  

Thankfully Phil refound them on Sunday afternoon, but I didn't manage to see them, well one of them, until 4pm today.  It was worth the wait though because I saw it from my bedroom window!  To be honest I thought they'd gone as they were last seen at 11am today on Colyford scrape, and I checked that place several times since and saw nowt.  But as I was typing away on my laptop I heard a very low flying helicopter going over, so thought it was worth a punt.... and among a sky full of panicked birds, a lone Glossy Ibis came circling down on to Black Hole Marsh. Result!  This is my fourth patch record of Glossy Ibis, the others being;

  • A flock of six on Black Hole then Colyford Marsh on 19/09/09, found by Clive and they stayed for about six hours.
  • On 13/09/10 a flock of 18 that had been on the Otter Est for days flew past Gav and Bun on Beer Head, I was at Axe Cliff and could see them flying east and then north up the valley. Later the same day they were at Dungeness (Kent)!
  • A one day bird on Seaton Marshes on 8/11/13 found by Tim White.  

As you can see from those records, Glossy Ibis don't usually stay with us very long at all, but these two must have found something they like!

Saturday 10 October 2015


Had a nice day out today with Jess and Honey. Went a little further east than usual, which was nice as I haven't been here for several years...

Didn't appear to be many sea birds offshore despite three pairs of eyes looking...

We enjoyed a really nice walk up to the slopes past the Coastguard Lookout, through the Top Fields to Southwell, back down across the the Bill Road through Eight Kings Quarry then along the East Cliffs back to the bill end.  

It wasn't a birdie trip, but was nice to see a few Wheatear, heaps and heaps of Stonechats (15 in one field!), a few Chiffs, Blackcaps and Goldcrests, loads of Mipits, and to finish the walk off perfectly...

The resident Obs Quarry Little Owl

The best bird of the day was during the journey over; a single Marsh Harrier circling by Abbotsbury Castle before it flew high east along the Fleet. Pity I didn't see the two Ibis that were going the other way though!

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The Birds

It's time to review what the birding has been like on the Axe over the last month or so, and what I've seen...

I'll start back when I first became laptop-less, in late August.  The Baird's Sand proved a one day wonder on Black Hole Marsh, but the Wood Sands lingered.  Although big numbers were only present for a couple of days, there were between five and 14 for the next few weeks - still amazing numbers when talking about Wood Sands!  What proved as amazing as the numbers were the views they were offering...

Personally I think there's not many places better for seeing wading birds up close in the UK than Black Hole Marsh.  Just look at that Wood Sand in the photo above, it couldn't be closer to the Island Hide!

We had quite a few juv Little Stints over the course of August/September, never more than two at a time, but we probably had about seven or so over the course of the autumn.  Curlew Sands though have proved scarce this autumn, and all we managed were a couple of juveniles on 24th Aug...

A front view and a back view! Both are Curlew Sands I promise

Otherwise we had good numbers of Ruff (up to double figures) and the odd single Knot, Turnstone, etc...


Black Hole Marsh really came good on 30th/31st Aug. Late on 30th a patch first and Devon mega appeared in front of Tim Wright, a Citrine Wagtail! (the grim details and a photo here).  Sadly after barely a minute it flew off and was never seen again. Gutting.  The following morning birders searching for the rare waggy turned up a cracking Spotted Crake and a Wryneck - on fire!!!  I didn't see any of the three rarities, but so happy for the chaps that did and very pleased for the patch. A Bittern was seen on Colyford Marsh by many on 8th Sept, but since then Black Hole and Colyford Marsh have remained rarity-free zones. 

Over on the Estuary  it's been fairly quiet.  The small wader flock from Black Hole Marsh could often be seen here at low tide, and good numbers of gulls on 21st Sept included 180+ Great Black-backed Gulls and a lovely first-winter Yellow-legged Gull.  I saw my first Wigeon of the autumn on 24th Aug (it was actually on the sea), but from mid Sept numbers have been building, there are probably about 80-100 present now.  A nice surprise this morning were two Pintail on Colyford Marsh scrape, my first ones this year. Unusually a Razorbill has been present for a good few weeks on the Estuary, often on the river as far north as the Tower Hide. Bit of an odd sight.

Back to the sea, and an evening walk along Branscombe Beach with Jess and Honey on 29th Aug showed there were large numbers of Gannets offshore (despite no wind at all), and thousands of whitebait washed up on the beach.  

I was interviewed by BBC Radio Devon about this, not quite the 'freak phenomenon' they were hoping for though!

Because of this, the next morning I spent a few hours at Spot On Kiosk, and was rewarded with lots and lots of birds. Most of these were feeding gulls and Gannets, but I did see c35 Manxies and at least six Balearic Shearwaters, a couple of which were lingering and feeding offshore.  A Greenshank in-off was a bonus too, and vis mig over the beach included three species of wagtail for the first time this autumn (Pied, Grey and Yellow).

A bird ringing update will be in another post (once I have IMPR up and running again), but I have spent a fair bit of time at Beer Head, and have had some good mornings there without really seeing anything that special. You don't always need rare birds to have a good day.

The 1st Sept was a pretty good morning up there, in two hours I logged 25 Yellow Wags, one Grey Wag, two Tree Pipit, eight Wheatear, two Redstart, three Spot Flies and a late Swift.

The best day for me though was 17th Sept. Up to the day before I'd seen just a handful of migrant Meadow Pipits, but it was bursting with them!  I left the head 3.5 hours after arriving, and had counted at least 750 Mipits, some flying straight through, but most landing among the long grass in large flocks briefly before continuing on west.  It felt so so good for a rare pipit, but sadly it never happened.  The bushes were just as busy as the fields, with good numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, what will probably prove to be my last Willow Warbler and Redstart of the year and a single Spot Fly.

A beautifully well marked juv Spotted Flycatcher

More recently, the 30th Sept was a windy morning, but hirundines were streaming through in their thousands at Beer Head, all going east. In with them plenty of Meadow Pipits, a few finches and on the land a Wheatear and a Spot Fly.

The best day for vis mig variety was even more recently, on 3rd Oct. I was up there ringing and it was fairly foggy, but birds were piling through north.  Several large flocks of Linnets, Goldfinches and Siskins, almost continual Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits, numerous Pied and Grey Wags, the biggest movement of Skylark of the autumn so far (35+), a couple of Redpolls, singles of Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer, and best of all at least two Crossbill. If only the bushes were as busy!  I did see a Firecrest, but sadly didn't catch it...

The only notable birds I've seen since the 3rd were this morning's Pintail that I've already mentioned, and a Firecrest in the middle of Colyton during a dog walk on Sunday morning.

It feels good to be up to date, so from now on as I see I will post, yes regular blog posts will resume.  And I look forward to compiling the bird ringing post too, that will probably come early next week.

Friday 2 October 2015

The Moths

As promised, here's a summary of what a bright light has attracted in the front garden of my Mum and Dads during the last month...

In general, September was an excellent month for moth immigration in the UK, especially early in the month. I set the trap every night of the week beginning the 7th hoping for something big like a Convolvulus Hawkmoth or possibly even the holy grail that is the Clifton Nonpareil - but sadly neither greeted me on any of the mornings.  It was though nice to see some of the usual late summer species along with a few (of the smaller) immigrant species.

The night of 7th/8th gave me 117 moths of 18 species, with migrants in the form of White-point and two Silver Y.  

The night of 8th/9th gave 117 moths of 15 species, no immigrants but a Feathered Gothic was a new one for the garden, and it was nice to see my first Canary-shouldered Thorn of the season.

Feathered Gothic

The night of 9th/10th produced 134 moths of 16 species, with the highlight being my fourth Hoary Footman for the garden.

Hoary Footman - I love their pale silvery grey hind wings

And finally was National Moth Night, the night of 10th/11th. This proved the biggest catch of the week with 147 moths of 19 species, and immigrants including a Vestal, a Silver Y and three Rush Veneer.


I'll wind up this post with a one more photo showing my last couple of Hawkmoths of 2015 - always sad to see the Hawkmoth season end...

Elephant and Privet Hawkmoths

Fear not folks, strictly birds in the next post I promise. Until then I have two words.... Coal Tits