Saturday 30 April 2016


I've been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time on Dartmoor over the last few weeks, and will be spending a heck of a lot more time up here over the next 11 weeks...

The weather really has been mixed, the above photos were taken on the nicest day, on other mornings we had to sit out snow and hail showers, and the first day saw a raw east wind whip up late morning.  

As expected it's been nice to see plenty of the usual Dartmoor summer birds; Cuckoos daily, Curlews, Redstarts, Whinchat, Snipe, etc. A Fieldfare on the 28th was my biggest surprise, the latest I've ever seen one in the county, but considering the temperature at dawn was -1 it was probably feeling at home...

When we are out on the moor we don't have much time to hang around, none at all really.  But when this Fox appeared in front of me I just had to stop and film it for a short while, and luckily for me it did a full on mouse-pounce...

Now back to the patch. I'm really pleased that the Hoopoe is still here today, and remained in view pretty much all day for the constant trickle of visitors, there's some stunning photos of it appearing online.  It's clearly been quite a good day today, I've not gone out birding at all but two dog walks and an eye open from my back garden has given me some nice birds. Allhallows mid morning showed ten Wheatear, two Willow Warbler and a Whitethroat. A wander around Colyford late afternoon showed a female Whinchat, and from the house this evening a female Goosander flew up river and my first Swift of the year flew south.  

Wish I had gone out birding today after all!

Friday 29 April 2016

Patch Hoopoe

Hoopoe's are pretty much annual on patch, with some years delivering maybe two or three - but most of them come and go with out being seen by a single birder.  So an obliging individual is always much appreciated and after one was seen briefly last night near Lower Bruckland Ponds, gladly it was still present today and remained faithful to the same area from about 10:30...

Monday 25 April 2016

More Rain Please!

The showers this morning did the trick in grounding some migrants around the Axe.  I decided to concentrate on the river valley and it was soon evident there had been an arrival of Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.  It took a while until I found any quality, and when I did they were in the same hedgerow, the rare-looking hedgerow that runs north from Coronation Corner alongside the Estuary.  One was a Grasshopper Warbler that reeled briefly before vanishing, but the other was far more obliging - my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year...

As ever with my videos, if you click on that small cog-like symbol near the bottom right hand corner of the picture, and change the quality setting to 1080pHD, it will look a whole lot better.

For my previous birding outing you will have to turn back to last Friday, which was a very very wet day indeed!  The weather did the trick though as this proved our best wader day of this spring so far (which isn't hard as it has been dreadful!).  I clocked up 27 Dunlin, one Ringed Plover, 6 Common Sands, one Barwit (a gorgeous summer plumaged bird) and 19 Whimbrel.

Best of all though were the four stunning Yellow Wagtails on Bridge Marsh.  Spring Yellow Wags are a bit like Tree Pipits here, they are almost always just fly overs - so it was a real treat to see these.

Lastly, I just realised I never got round to thanking Mrs Bishop for finding the Montagu's Harrier the other day. A pity you got the ID a little wrong Brenda, but if it wasn't for you none of us would have seen it so many thanks from all of us here :-)

Monday 18 April 2016

Montagu's Harrier

Had a wonderful day on Exmoor with the girls yesterday, but I won't lie when I got a text from Phil saying he had a 'very interesting ringtail harrier on Colyford Common' I became concerned...

I was clearly over thinking/worrying, but the addition of the word VERY got me panicking.  Surely this is hinting that Pallid could be a possibility!!??.... I can't tell you how thankful I was when Phil soon texted again saying it was a Monties - phew!  This is still a patch mega mind, only the third ever record, but as it was already safely tucked away on my patch list I was able to relax and we continued to enjoy our day.

I was amazed to hear it was still kicking about when we returned home (and had in fact been around since 2pm!), so as it hadn't been seen to leave the valley I was up at 6 today hoping for some Monties action.  I didn't go to one of the usual spots, but hid myself in a hedge on the edge of the marsh hoping for some close up video opportunities  One male Gadwall, three singing Sedge Warblers and two hours later I was completely freezing my t*ts off and no one had seen the Harrier.  

Luckily for me Tim, Karen and Dave H (who had been there since 05:50!) stayed put and at 09:20 were rewarded when it appeared out of the exact spot it was seen to drop in to at 17:40 yesterday.  I by this point was in Ottery St. Mary, so after a rather disappointing breakfast and a hurried (by me!) shopping trip, I was heading back for the Axe and got to Boshill Cross at about 10:45.  And there it was...

What an absolute beaut! The above video clips were taken during the hour and 15 minutes that I enjoyed with it, and it showed so so well (annoyingly often circling around the hedge I was hidden in earlier in the day though!). My last snippet was the last we saw of it, it gained a bit of height and flew off purposely north east.

Sadly I came just as the Red Kite gave up chasing it, but thankfully (and very unusually) the Red Kite remained.  This amazingly is the first Red Kite I've ever seen perched up on the patch, and I reckon I've seen at least 35 Kites here!

Back to the stunning Harrier - oh what a treat! I have to say I was shocked that it stayed in our little valley for so long, the previous two Monties were fly throughs, the valley doesn't even hold Hen Harriers for more than ten minutes!  Date wise it's quite an early one really, which makes me think it could be an overshoot (what with the Hoopoes and Subalpine Warbler on Portland) as opposed to a returning UK breeder.  Am surprised not to have seen more Devon birders up here today really, it's not often one is twitchable in this county (Devon tick for Dave H).

To finish off this post, a couple of snap shots taken from my video footage (which I'm dead pleased with, quality not great but they're clear enough) with a few comments as to what makes it a Monty and not a Hen...

  • Long and narrow winged appearance with the wing tip being made up of three distinctive long primaries, four or five in Hen Harrier. 
  • Very narrow white rump band, much broader in Hen Harrier.
  • Distinctive black bar along the base of the secondaries, absent on Hen Harrier.
  • Obvious dark bands across bases of primaries, less obvious in Hen Harrier.
  • Obvious pale patch on scapulars, often present in Hen Harrier but not as striking.

  • Rich orange tones to the course underpart streaking, with the underwing streaking reminiscent almost of an adult male Monties.
  • Broad pale bar between dark bars on secondaries, on a Hen Harrier the pale and dark bars should be of similar widths.
  • Again wing tip clearly made up of three primaries.

Our first proper goodie of spring 2016 - hopefully there will be many more to come...

Saturday 16 April 2016

Maiden Castle

Dorchester was today's venue for a day out with my girls, and before we went into town we took Honey for a walk around Maiden Castle. 

It was fairly windy, but what a great place for a wander and so many birds!  I was really surprised at just how many Corn Buntings were around, 15+ being a conservative estimate. Also saw several Yellowhammer, really good numbers of Skylark, six Wheatear (which looked Greenlandy) and most surprisingly for me two Grey Partridge.  These were the first Grey Part's I've seen for flipping ages so was dead chuffed.  I really hope you enjoy this video - the only footage I managed of the Partridge is at the end...

Friday 15 April 2016

A Damp Day

I've not had any time for birding today, but a wet and windy dog walk along the beach first thing gave me the chance to video my first sea birds.  I've been really excited about the potential of getting some of my sea bird sightings on video, so I was keen to see how my camcorder would perform with distant and constantly moving shapes.

I was stood down by the breaking waves getting completely and utterly soaked by the driving rain when I noticed two Common Terns slowly making their way east just offshore, perfect subjects!  You will have to forgive the shakiness when I crank up the zoom but I wanted to see what the quality was like on full whack. Uploading to YouTube has affected this somewhat, but I'm still pleased with it.  Just waiting for the summer plumaged White-winged Black Tern now!

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Beer Head

Up to Beer Head again this morning with the nets, joined by Peter for the first time this year - sadly I couldn't offer him an exciting session though.

It was soon evident the bushes were quiet, with just the odd Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler filtering through.  They could clearly see the nets as well which really didn't help - at one stage I watched a group of five Willow Warblers flitting along the bushes right towards one of my nets, but two went over it, two went around it and I caught just one!  

Two nets in two and a half hours saw 14 birds of six species ringed;

1 Blackbird
1 Blackcap
4 Willow Warbler
5 Chiffchaff
2 Blue Tit
1 Long-tailed Tit

Chiffchaff (left) and Willow Warbler (right).

With the clear skies I guess I wasn't surprised how few birds were in the bushes, but I was really surprised about how few birds were passing over.  I only noted five 'vis mig' birds overhead; two Swallows, two Meadow Pipits and.... well the and was a bit of a good one...a Short-eared Owl!

As can be seen from my video it was harassed by every Crow in Beer for a short while before it gained height and flew off south east across Lyme Bay.  What a lovely surprise, and one of the bonuses of having Beer Head as a ringing site :-).

Despite then spending the rest of the day at work, I still managed another year tick today. Whilst walking the dog around my estate tonight (about 20:30) I could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the edge of the marshes.  A few minutes later and I was stood right next to it - one of the best sounds of the bird world if you ask me. 

Monday 11 April 2016

A New Toy

For some reason I had low expectations for today, not sure why because it is getting on for mid April, but I just thought it was going to be duff.  I spent half an hour on the beach looking out to sea from 8:30 and didn't see anything of note at all, which wasn't a great start. We never seem to do well here in easterlies, annoyingly the Chesil side of the bay do very well in this wind direction.

Home for a quick coffee and then it was down to Black Hole Marsh for a quick pre-recorded interview with BBC Radio Devon. It was during the drizzle here that suddenly the day felt better...

My first Sedge Warbler of the year was singing strongly just inside the entrance gate, with a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in the bushes above.  Overhead Swallows and a few Martins were streaming over NW, with two Ringed Plovers that circled over the marsh also my first of the year (it really has been a dreadful spring for wader passage so far).

A look along the Estuary then showed my first two Whimbrel of the year, but Seaton Marshes produced nothing new.  I was out again later with Bun which revealed the continued presence of our lingering Marsh Harrier and a smart White Wag beside Colyford WTW.

And now to the post title.  You will notice this has been a photo-free post, well that's because I've been videoing!  I've always wanted to own a camcorder, and Sean Foote (@PortlandNature) and his fantastic monthly vlogs (video-blogs) tipped me over the edge. So I purchased one of what he has, a Panasonic HC-V250. It's cheap but seems to do the job well, and boasts a superb 90x zoom.  I am not going to be vlogging, but I thought it would be good to film what I see as much as I can.  You cannot beat a good photo, but being a realist, unless I spend several thousand pounds on a long lens, I'm not going to take good photos and be able to compete with the pros. Not to mention that everyone takes photos now, absolutely everyone, so I thought it would be refreshing to go off in a slightly different direction.  Don't worry there will be some pics still, just expect (and hopefully enjoy!) some videos too.

To start the ball rolling, it just has to be our long staying rarity...

Yes I have got a lot to learn, but still, what a nice subject to start with.  I also managed a quick vid of today's White Wag...

Looking forward to the rest of the week now - hopefully it won't disappoint. 

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Beer Head Ringing

Looking at the weather forecast for this week, I had to take my mist nets to Beer Head this morning because it looks as though I won't have another chance any time soon!   With a gentle NW wind and plenty of high cloud the conditions couldn't really have been any better, but I was a bit concerned about a huge low that moved slowly east through Spain/France last night - right on the migration route. Thankfully though this didn't appear to be a problem...

Only set one 60 foot net, and in 4 hours caught 19 birds of 9 species. Two were retraps (a Dunnock and a Wren) with the other 17 being; 

1 Robin
1 Wren
1 Blackcap
3 Chiffchaff
8 Willow Warbler
1 Redstart
1 Linnet
1 Goldfinch

It was shaping up to be a really excellent session, but the phylloscs quickly dried up. I caught eight within the first half hour, but from then on only had the odd one drop in (I'm sure not helped by the net moving in the breeze).  The Redstart certainly brightened things up though :-)

First saw it in the field, but within 30 seconds it was in my very well placed net!

Just love the head pattern on a spring male Redstart

Classic spring Willow Warbler - so great to handle a few of these again

I saw an unringed male Redstart about an hour and a half after ringing the first one (think there were three on site), but other than that there were just a few more Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in the bushes.  Overhead passage was non-existent, the only notable bird I saw flying past remains unidentified! It was either a Goosander or a Red-breasted Merganser but I only saw it for a few seconds before it flew into the glare of the sun and then below the cliff.

Yesterday I saw my first House Martins of the year, with five over Lower Bruckland Ponds with Sand Martins and Swallows. There were plenty of gulls on the Estuary for most of the day, and among the 26 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were four intermedius-types. Also saw the Marsh Harrier numerous times during the day, including from the house last thing at night...

It's definitely a 2cy bird, but unsure of which sex. I keep thinking I can see a grey wedge on its underwing but the upperparts look female.

It was was nice to see several of the regulars (and Alan) up Beer Head this morning, spring is well and truly in the air!

Friday 1 April 2016

Beer Head

Beer Head yesterday morning wasn't heaving with birds, not by a long way, but there was a nice late March selection. All in nice weather too which is always a bonus!

Best of all was a smart male Firecrest in the Sheepwalk, with a back up cast of a female Black Redstart, a female Wheatear, a sub-singing Willow Warbler, two Goldcrest, five Chiffchaff and seven Stonechat.

I often find the first arriving Wheatears don't allow close approach - bring on the showy Greenland hulks!

I was so pleased with the haul that this morning I took my mist nets up there for the first time this year.  Sadly though everything was the opposite to yesterday, especially the birds (none!) and the weather (bloody cold!).  Nice views though as ever, here's my main net ride half way through setting the net...

I am so lucky to have these spectacular views at this ringing site.