Thursday 28 January 2016

What No Cake!?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my cake, along with many other lovely food-types. And over Christmas and New Year I ate a lot, a heck of a lot. My parents-in-law laid on a spectacular buffet on New Years Day evening, and once I'd eaten my 31st cocktail sausage of the night I realised I had a bit of a problem.  When we got home I stepped on the bathroom scales, and to be honest I'm surprised they didn't fall through the floor. I was the heaviest I'd ever been so knew I needed to take drastic action...

No more of this!

For the first week I went on a complete detox. I cut out all meat (except fish), bread, milk, refined sugar, so on and so on. After the first week was over I became less strict, eating meat a couple of times a week, the odd sandwich, and once a week a bit of a treat (it was a slice of the above cake last weekend!).  And the result.... I've lost a stone and a half in less than a month!  And that's without doing any extra exercise, although I do lead a pretty active life with plenty of walking and a fairly manual job.

What has amazed me most of all though is how different my taste buds are now.  As well as being a chocoholic, cakeoholic, biscuitoholic, pastryoholic and toastoholic, I was also a cerealoholic, ate at least two bowls a day - loved the stuff.  Two weeks after starting my 'detox diet', I had a bowl of a certain-type of cereal that I've enjoyed most days for the last eight years of my life, and I couldn't even eat half the bowl, it was far too sweet. This means my palate has been retrained and it was a real eye-opener. In short, the food industry is drugging us all with sugar, and sugar is more addictive than cocaine (so I've been told anyway!). The more sugar that's put into our food, the more sugar we want, or 'think' we want, so they keep adding more and more of it.  Really crazy that they are allowed to get away with it, but as long as we provide the demand (because we've been manipulated into wanting sugar!) they are going to keep doing it.  

Anyway, I have some advice for anyone wanting to get healthy, or go on a diet or a detox, or whatever you want to call it. Ignore all the fad diets, don't worry about signing up the gym, just eat as many foods that are completely natural and have not been interfered with by humans. Although it is quite hard to get off the sugar, it most certainly does not mean you can only eat boring foods. Just look at this...

Completely good for you!

Yes that scrumptious looking dessert above is totally natural and healthy, made with only avocado, dates, cacao (raw chocolate - which is good for you) plus the visible fresh fruit.

Right, before I'm asked by the blog police to rename this blog 'Healthy Eating On The Axe', I best include some bird news. Not that there is much...

On Tuesday morning a female Pintail was on the Estuary with a small flock of Wigeon just north of Coronation Corner.  Sadly though the gulls haven't produced anything better than three Med Gulls, which is 1% of the number counted at Ferrybridge today!  I do wish they'd spread out a bit more.

I'll end this blog post with a pic that I forgotten I'd taken, of our beloved Axe Estuary at dusk on a mid winters day...

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Looking Back; Dawlish Warren 14/10/00

Birds, birding and wildlife is my main passion in life, I get so much enjoyment and pleasure from it day in day out. One could say it's what makes me tick.  But during a particularly dull dog walk this morning when my head was away with the fairies, I realised that as a more experienced birder it's just not quite the same, there's a certain excitement that's now lacking.

When I started birding and was just getting into birds, everything was new. I didn't have Harry Potter or revision books next to my bed as I was growing up, but bird books.  I knew the Collins Bird Guide off by heart page by page plate by plate, and I read it over and over and over again. As a result all the species and the different plumages in there that I'd never seen before, however common, had an almost mythical status in my head. And whatever the species was, when I first clapped eyes on it in real life after studying it on paper for so so long, it was so captivating and felt like I was actually living the dream and had achieved a massive goal in life. Yes, at the age of 30 I do still see 'new' birds now and then, rare birds turn up that I've never seen before, but they are few and far between as twitching isn't really my thing. And now days when I do twitch something, the bird is so intensely photographed, blogged and tweeted that I kind of feel like I've seen it before I've actually seen it! My main reason for twitching these days is if I think the bird I'm going to see will be educational for me, and will ultimately help me become a better birder.

My usual bed time reading

Anyway, back to starting out and the amazing feeling of learning your way through your early years as a birder, this is what's encouraged me to do some 'turning back the clock' blog posts and relive some of the elation I felt as a teen. 

A photo from the archives of Dad and I at Branscombe in 1989.

I'm lucky enough to have a birder for a Dad, in fact he's what got me into birding in the first place, and much to my delight when I was growing up we went out pretty much every Saturday. Mind you, I think Dad was just as pleased about this as I was - I was the perfect excuse for him to go birding all the time!  I used to keep something of a diary in my early birding days, and these are going to help me construct these 'Looking Back' posts...

My birding diarys from the early 00's

A random page from one of them. Full details of the days birding on the right hand pages, highlights in green felt tip on the left pages, with major highlights/rarities starred in red!

And first up is not so much a day, but a very memorable hour which I can recall so clearly despite it being over 15 years ago!

Dawlish Warren ~ Saturday 14th October 2000

Dad, myself and our very good birding friend Jean Millen (aka 'my birding Mum') were spending this mid October day at Dawlish Warren.  We had spent the morning on the Warren and looking around the Bite, but hadn't seen much special. After our lunch we walked along the sea wall towards Langstone Rock, which is where all the magic happened. 

Even from a distance we could see the (back then regular) Common Scoter flock very close in just off the rock, there were about 50 in all, of both sexes, but as we got closer I thought I glimpsed a white stripe down the wing of one of the birds that were resting. We all looked closer, it was slightly bigger, over all a different shape with a completely different face pattern to the female Common Scoters, just two small white dots on a darker brown face. It then flapped - I was looking at my first ever Velvet Scoter!  This was just the start of it. We had already seen a couple of Red-throated Divers, but a close summer plumaged bird was a delight to see, although this was completely eclipsed moments later.  On the flat calm sea a dark green-gloss head appeared, with a beautifully patterned white necklace and a striking blood red eye, I was looking at a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver!  I'd seen many winter Great Northern Divers before, but to see one in this plumage was immense, and not something I thought I'd see without going to northern Scotland or further!  Also whilst looking at the sea we noticed an all dark seabird with pointy wings, and it kept coming closer and closer - it was a dark-phased adult Arctic Skua - the closest view I'd ever had of one.  It sat on the sea, flew west, but soon returned back east before landing on the sea again.

We were just folding up the telescopes and began walking away when a few alarming Herring Gulls made us look up - Osprey!  It circled really low over our heads a couple of times, before disappearing off west towards Dawlish Town.  I'd only seen a handful of these in the past so it really was the icing on the cake.  What an incredible hour!

Reliving this hour of birding ecstasy has made me realise one thing hasn't changed with me and my birding.  Whether I was 15, or 30 (today), I get the most pleasure from seeing a bird I wasn't expecting.  I don't just mean the rares (though they are always nice obviously!), but even just scarce birds, or unseasonal ones. My biggest buzz has always, and I think will always come from the surprise-factor of the unexpected.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed that. Tough if you didn't because there will be more!

Monday 25 January 2016


Looking at the weather forecast for the week, and the tides, this afternoon looked like my best shot at completing my BTO Non-Estuarine Waterbird Surveys (NEWS), I signed up for all the sections between Weston and Branscombe - a three mile stretch of beach!  I parked up at Weston, walked down to the beach and then along the rocky shoreline to Branscombe where Dad kindly met me.

Weston Beach - with the first interesting looking rocks in the distance

First time I've been down here for umpteen years, and I'd forgotten about this rare looking scrubby valley that leads right down to the beach - bet there's been a few Sibes in here over the years!

This is what most of the shoreline looks like at low tide between Weston and Branscombe

Another pic of the rocks - I love the dramatic light in this pic though

I can't tell you how pleased I was to get to here! Branscombe and Dad

This stretch of coast isn't known for it's wading birds, so three Oystercatchers and a Curlew exceeded my dismally low expectations. A Grey Heron fishing in the rock pools was also a bit of a surprise.  On the sea the waves made viewing difficult with just singles of Great Crested Grebe and Red-throated Diver, three Razorbill and a Guillemot noted. Over the sea three Common Scoter west were the highlight, along with a dozen or so Gannets and a reasonably steady passage of large, Common and Black-headed Gulls.

Looks like we've got a few rough days ahead, and there seemed to be good numbers of large Gulls around the patch today.  I will be disappointed if by the end of the week I've not seen a white-winged or Caspian Gull. Watch this space...

Thursday 21 January 2016

First Bird Ringing Of 2016

With a couple of days midweek forecasted to have little/no wind, I wanted to get out with my mist nets on at least one of them, so yesterday headed out to the superb Lower Bruckland Ponds...

Because it was so cold I only put two nets up, and didn't open them until the sun had come up. It's only right to be extra cautious when ringing in cold conditions like this.  The two nets in two and a half hours gave me just nine birds, but it was quality not quantity. 

Over the past few weeks I've been chatting to other patch birders about how scarce Green Woodpeckers have become, I hear them only very occasionally now and I've not seen one on patch for over a year. But as I was putting up my nets I heard one call in the distance, so once the nets were up I gave Bun a call to let him know there is still at least one left here!  While we were nattering it flew down from the slopes above and began feeding around the base of some of the small trees at the Ponds.  Occasionally it flew up to a large oak, which is when I was able to get this snap...

From this oak it kept returning to the same small trees to feed in, but after taking this photo it flew straight for the clump of trees which had one of my mist nets in.  I looked around the corner and was shocked to see it IN my mist net!!!  I ran...

This, not surprisingly, is the first Green Woodpecker I've ever ringed.  And it's a bird I thought I would never ring around here, what an absolute privilege.  Lower Bruckland Ponds is a big site, and two mist nets covers such a tiny proportion of it - I was so so lucky!

The other eight birds caught included a couple more notable highlights. Two of the four Goldcrests I caught already had rings on, one was a bird I ringed here on 1st Nov 2015. Really interesting to see it is over wintering at the ponds, and it was half a gram heavier so it must be doing ok. The other ringed Goldcrest wasn't one of mine, anyone reading this recognise ring number CPX749

Two male Siskins were great to ring, the flock has been here since October but they are very hard to catch as they usually stay up at the tops of the trees...

And the last highlight, in fact the last of the nine birds I caught, was this fantastic male Stonechat - he's been overwintering at the Ponds and I see him most times I visit...

What a fantastic morning, lovely weather too. Sadly though it looks like we've slipped back to wet and windy conditions again...

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Water Pipits

Wow what a lovely day it has been, a proper cold frosty wintry one. Lovely. It's days like these that I really enjoy being a dog owner...

Honey playing in a puddle of ice

Really gorgeous scenes at Lower Bruckland Ponds this morning

As the title suggests this post is mostly about Water Pipits.  This species used to be a regular winter visitor to the Axe, in particular Colyford Marsh where up to double figures could be seen feeding in the long grass beyond the main scrape.  During the winter of '03/'04 numbers peaked with up to 18 on a field next to Colyford WTW - this was quite a sight.  

Since then though numbers have declined drastically and over the past four or five years we haven't had any over winter with us at all, the peak month now is April when spring birds pass through.  It's really odd why they have become so rare as the habitat they use is still the same, in fact more of it has been created - a true mystery.  On Saturday though Phil had at least five on Bridge Marsh, so on Monday I gave this area plenty of time as I was keen to seen some.  After twenty minutes of looking Water Pipits began to make themselves known and I saw at least seven (all perched on a fence at the same time) although I think there were probably more like nine present.  It's so great to have them back, let's hope they begin to winter with us once again.

Thursday 14 January 2016

Winter Weather At Last

Finally it feels a bit more like winter. Not sure what all these flowering daffodils and primroses are going to make of it though...

I've not been out birding much at all so far this year, so yesterday it felt like a real privilege to be stood in the middle of a lovely little mixed flock of Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls...

A small part of the flock

Lesser Redpoll

Male Siskin

It was one of those occasions that watching these birds feeding, whilst stood in bright sunshine, transported me off this earth and in to a different world... 

Isn't it amazing just how powerful and almost magical the simple pastime of watching birds can be...

Monday 11 January 2016

In Search Of The Purple One

Here's a map...

You will notice two different types of symbols on this map of the East Devon/West Dorset coast.

The red lines represent the coastal boundaries of our patch, between the two is a distance of 10km which is quite a lot of coastline.

The blue dots represent where Purple Sandpipers are currently over wintering.  Do you notice a pattern?  I certainly do. Either side of our patch and you will undoubtedly see a Purple Sandpiper even if you spend the day looking through your binoculars backwards, but within our patch, no dots, no Purps. Not only aren't there any Purple Sandpipers wintering with us this year, but there are actually no records of Purple Sandpiper on the patch EVER!  I think we all know there probably have been Purple Sands here before, surely some have at least flown past?  But no one has seen any and that's what counts...

Anyway, one of my new years resolutions was to resolve this problem, and get Purple Sandpiper on the patch list.  For me the best chance has got to be the coastline east of the river mouth at Axmouth.  I tried for the second time this year earlier today, although the tide didn't go down as much as usual so far fewer rocks were exposed, the potential was still there...

Yet again though I drew a blank. And that's despite the extra help from four more legs...

We do have other bits of Purple Sandpiper-looking coastline, Seaton Hole for example, and around Beer Head.  But what I think makes these particular rocks the most likely option is that this is the only part of our rocky shoreline that regularly has wading birds on, even on today's few exposed rocks were two Oystercatchers and two Curlew.  It's not many I know, but in my experience birds attract birds - even if it is just four!

Knowing how unpredictable this birding game can be, when we do finally get a Purple Sand here it will probably be in with a flock of Dunlin feeding on Black Hole Marsh!  

Finally, sorry this hasn't come sooner, but Happy New folks. I really hope 2016 is a good and prosperous year for you all....not to mention bird-filled of course!