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.

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