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...

Saturday 7 November 2015

A Tricky Siskin

I caught a couple of Siskin at the beginning of the week, which was really nice as I don't handle many of these at all.  Mind you there were a flock of 40+ hanging around one of my mist nets so I was expecting a few more to be honest.

The first bird, a female, was very easy to age as a bird born this year (age code 3)...

Siskin head (3f)

The standard open wing shot

The eagle eyed will notice in the above photo the difference between the unmoulted juvenile-type feathers and the moulted adult-type feathers.  The tertials show it really well (the three large feathers in a line closest to the birds body). The lower of the three tertials has not been replaced and due to its brown-ish cast can be aged as a juvenile feather, whereas the two smaller ones above are blacker, these have been moulted and are now adult-type feathers.  There's also a nice contrast between the moulted adult and two unmoulted juvenile greater coverts...

Greater coverts are always moulted from in to out in passerines, hence why whenever any aren't moulted it's always the outer most one(s).

Then there's the male. When I took it out of the net I thought it was going to be a young bird because it just didn't look like an adult male, but on ringing it I tentatively put it down as an adult (age code 4). However I was never happy with this as I know young Siskins can do very odd and extensive moults (sometimes even complete moults!) and looking at the photos it's gone back to being a young bird (age code 3) again. Here's why...

A nice male Siskin

It had an adult tail (rounded and all feathers similarly worn) and all greater coverts and tertials were adult-type feathers. But what gave it away for me was the longest alula feather...

Virtually the same pic but with numbers

Basically this young bird has moulted everything apart from its primaries (3), primary coverts (2), secondaries (4) and longest alula feather (1). You can tell this by the duller and slightly browner appearance of these juvenile feathers, compared with the blacker tertials (5) and greater coverts (6).  Also in an adult Siskin the wing flash across the primaries and secondaries is deeper yellow, as you can see in this bird it is pale yellow. 

I really love educational birds like this, and hope at least one person finds this post helpful/useful/educational.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

A Cracking November Day Plus Another Yellow-browed

The first part of this post's title does not refer to the weather, it's been pretty grotty for most of the day, but at least the wind has remained light/non-existent. Birding wise though I have had a thoroughly enjoyable day with some real nice highlights, and that's despite spending more than four hours of the day sat in front of this laptop! (Probably five by the time I've finished writing this post!).

Had to take the dog for a walk this morning, so soon after breakfast we headed up to Beer Head for a wander (thankfully Honey is used to frequent pauses during her walks!).  The bushes were in general very quiet, with just a Chiff and two Goldcrest noted. There were clearly a few thrushes about though with 15+ Blackbird, 15 Redwing, six Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush noted.  Overhead passage was also quiet (probably due to the occasional drizzle) with just small numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch, two Redpoll and singles of Siskin and Reed Bunting.

It was a very worthwhile walk though as there was one major (and overdue this autumn) highlight, a beautiful Short-eared Owl. It came up from the base of some bushes just a few feet in front of me, and treated me to an amazing close fly by. But within what seemed like a few seconds it was distant, beyond the cliff edge. Oddly though it then remained on view for forty minutes as it didn't seem to know what it was doing or where it was going, drifting off north, then back south, flying off to the east then back west. It finally seemed to be heading off as I was getting back in my car, I could see it distantly flying east across Seaton Bay.  

Just about identifiable.

A rather dramatic photo I think, or just crap...
Despite all the time I spend up Beer Head during the spring and autumn, this was amazingly my first Short-eared for the site! There has been a couple in the past but I have just never jammed in to one here, which is surprising because I've seen half a dozen at Axe Cliff, a few less in the river valley, one over the sea front and two in the Beer Cemetery Fields (just inland from Beer Head).

On the way home I pulled in at Seaton Hole where at least one of the Firecrest was still showing, there's been at least two here for a week now...

It was a male, not that you can tell that from this pic!

I was home by mid morning and got my head down.  Lunch time was soon upon me and I realised there wasn't much food in the house, so en route to the shops I stopped off at Axmouth Yacht Club. I've been here a few times in the last week but haven't seen any more Black Redstarts since the two last Tuesday, so was surprised to see three today including a stunning adult male.  None of them were very co-operative though and remained skittish...

Male Black Red

And again

One of the female-types

Back home, and after a bite to eat and another couple of hours of laptop work, it was time to take Honey out for her second walk of the day.  I drove along the Estuary on way, where small numbers of gulls included my first Med Gull (an adult) for almost a month...

Second from the right

The biggest surprise though was when I pulled over to have a scan over Colyford Marsh, and I picked up ring-tail Harrier being chased by a Crow over the reed bed. Flipping heck!!  I scrambled for the scope, and thankfully after a nervous couple of minutes of no sign, it reappeared and showed itself to be a gorgeous juvenile Hen Harrier.  Pity it wasn't the rarer species of Harrier, but Hen is rare enough here - only my third ever on patch.  I just managed to grab a couple of dreadfully poor record shots before it dropped down out of view behind a hedge, I'm not sure whether it carried on flying north or landed.

Can just about make out a white rump and I'd say a broad wing tip (if you squint!)

Yes an even worse photo!!

So all in all an excellent day.  I do like early November, it can be a great time of year on the south coast, although a bit of cold weather wouldn't go a miss.  

Yesterday I had even less time out, in fact much to Honey's dismay she only got one walk (tut tut bad me!). Late morning we had a wander up Axmouth village, although didn't walk as far as usual as it sounded like World War Two with the amount gun fire around the Spring Head area!  Anyway, turns out we didn't have to walk that far at all, as half way through the wander I thought I half heard a Yellow-browed call once from dense cover behind a couple of noisy Coal Tits. I got the mp3 out and played Yellow-browed call, and about twenty seconds later a small bird flew from behind me and landed in the tree right by the road, Yellow-browed Warbler.  It remained in this tree and in view for about a minute, but then melted away in to the trees behind and I didn't see it again during the next hour (Gav joined me but sadly dipped).   I thought I took a couple of pics of it but on downloading the photos all I took is photos of leaves!!

Sunday 1 November 2015

Lower Bruckland Ponds

With the forecast suggesting this morning was going to be cloudy and still I was keen to get out ringing, and opted for Lower Bruckland Ponds - what a session it was!  I only put two 60 foot nets up and in the first net round caught 21 birds!!  It wasn't just the nets that were busy, there were birds everywhere. The fog appeared to be disorientating migrating birds as I had small flock of Redwings flying in all directions. A Brambling north overhead was my first of the autumn and ten Fieldfare included a flock of eight that flew north.  LOVE MIGRATION!

Bird ringing always has the ability to surprise me, and yet again it did just that today.  I'm always dropping in to Lower Bruckland Ponds during the autumn to check through the Long-tailed Tit flock that seems to be semi-resident here, well I caught this flock on my first net round today.  I then caught another flock of un-ringed Long-tailed Tits, then another, and then another!  Nuts.

You can't do anything with ageing on Long-tailed Tits as both young and adult undergo a complete autumn moult so they all look the same, although one of today's did look a bit different...

Someone been for a manicure? Claws are usually dark.

My ringing totals for the morning were:

1 Robin
4 Chiffchaff
2 Goldcrest
3 Great Tit (1 retrap) 
12 Blue Tit (4 retrap)
27 Long-tailed Tit
1 Treecreeper
1 Goldfinch

So that's 45 new birds ringed.  Not bad for a session that I actually had low expectations for, and only two nets!

The Yellow-browed Warbler was still present in Primrose Way this morning, but there was no sign of it at midday so it may have moved on.  Later on in the day Clive pulled a good'un out of the bag with a Cattle Egret in Colyford, the second he's found in two days! Seems to be something of a influx of these happening at the moment, so maybe we can expect some more?