Wednesday 31 August 2016


Feels quite flat out there today, despite the thick cloud cover.  Black Hole Marsh this morning showed nothing new, just what has been there for a few days with two each of Little Stint and Ruff, at least one LRP, 10 Ringed Plover, 35 Dunlin, three Water Rail, Snipe, a heap of Teal, etc etc..

So I'll take this quiet day to post something that really has made our week. If you don't feel a warm feeling inside after reading this then you need to check you still have a pulse...

Late afternoon on Sunday 17th July the door bell rang, and there greeting us was a young boy who looked about 10, with his mother. The boy had his hands cupped and was clearly holding something small with care...

"We've found this baby bird, what should we do?".

He had a baby House Martin in his hands, fluffy white feet and all.  The first thing to do was obvious, and everyone please do this if a baby bird is handed to you, I asked them to take me to exactly where it was found.  This was only a short walk away, but it was nowhere near any House Martin nests. A complete mystery as to how it got there!? The best practice with grounded fledglings is always to leave them be, you may possibly have to move them out of immediate danger (i.e. just off the ground or off a busy path), but otherwise do very little. This clearly wasn't an option though in this case...

I checked it over and there were no obvious injuries, and it was also a good size with the primaries about a third grown. So I decided the best thing to do would be to take it in.  We made it a nest in a box, and thankfully after about twenty minutes it began taking the mealworms we were offering it.

For the next few days Jess and I fed 'Marti' every hour during the day, until 10 at night. And then from 6am in the morning. What was amazing was how even after just a few hours, Marti learnt the noise of the tupperware lid coming off the tub meant it was feeding time, he would only start begging after hearing this. Also he instantly knew to stick his bum out of his make shift nest when he needed to poo, this must be so hardwired.

Jess and Marti

After just a few days he began to get more flappy and adventurous, so I knew it was time he had to go somewhere better equipped.  Catherine Willerton informed me she was heading up to RSPCA West Hatch the following morning, perfect, thanks Catherine :-)

And why am I posting this only now?  Well last night I heard that in early August, Marti was taken to a farm a few miles from West Hatch where they release rehabilitated hirundines, and off he flew... 

Makes all the effort so so rewarding.

It wasn't just this news that gave me a good feeling inside, but the fact the young lad who first found him wanted to help - he wanted that baby bird to be ok. I often find myself in complete despair with the younger generations of today, so for me this was so refreshing. I must track him down and give him the good news.

Good luck and Godspeed Marti

Monday 29 August 2016

Tree Pipit Triumph

I'd describe myself as a pretty dedicated patch birder. Sure it helps to have such a great patch, but I do love patch birding in general. One of the things I most like about it is how relatively common, sometimes even nationally VERY common birds can become so much more.  I have read many times of birds like Coots, Mute Swans, and my god even Canada Geese making someones morning by appearing out of the blue on their patch. How brilliant is that! Patch birding can add a new dimension to birding which otherwise simply wouldn't be there.

One persons dross is another persons mega!

The main problem with the Axe patch is it is so bloody big! We calculated the boundary by drawing a circle with a radius of 5km from the lower road bridge over the River Axe (Harbour Road, Seaton). Yes we only have ourselves to blame for it being so big, but we wanted to include all our key sites like Beer Head, Axe Cliff, Bovey Down, Branscombe, etc.  Having a patch this big makes deciding where to go often very hard, but also it makes finding rares so much more challenging. There must be thousands of private gardens within our patch, who knows how many Wrynecks and Hoopoes annually hunker down in these? There's acres of woodlands, and even more open farmland with hedges and scrub.  I think this is the main reason why none of us have ever seen a Shrike here. One could drop in anywhere and if it doesn't happen to be at one of the places we check, then we just wouldn't know it was ever there...

It's because of this that I always make a point of checking areas away from the regularly birded haunts.  And there's one small patch of scrub and rough grassland in Seaton that I check many times over the course of spring and autumn - it just looks so good for a Shrike or a Wryneck. So far, no Shrikes or Wrynecks, but I have had a modest selection of commoner migrants up here over the years.  And last Thursday afternoon, I added a new species to this micro-patch, when two Tree Pipits flushed up from the grass in front of me...

They clearly didn't get on with each other! Notice the short hind claws

This one had quite a striking ear covert spot cf. Olive-backed Pipit.

Although I had seen 16 Tree Pipits earlier that day on Beer Head, these two meant so much more. I knew I was going to see Tree Pipits on Beer Head even before I stepped out of my car, but I really was not expecting these. Yes I know they are relatively common migrants, but it really feels like they have rewarded my efforts, and they have certainly fired me up to visit this site a bit more often now. Hopefully next week it will be the turn of a Shrike or a Wryneck...

Lastly, I just want to thank you for all the comments I've had (via twitter, email, the blog) about my last blog post. And it seems that not only am I inspiring people to get out birding, but also other bloggers to write.

Oh and by the way, so far Photo B is way in the lead, but I will wait until the vote closes before announcing the winner.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Why Blog?

I'm sure this is a question most bloggers ask themselves every now and then. If not maybe it's good to?

Me, a blogging birder - birder first mind!

After a couple of exciting days birding on patch, I've reminded myself exactly why I like to blog and why I started this blog in the first place (eight years ago amazingly!). The last sixth months have seen very sporadic blog posts at times due to various factors, so if you've stuck with me through this thank you so much! The last few days though have really encouraged me to keep it up regularly now - having retired as County Recorder, and with my Dartmoor RSPB surveys completed, I do have a bit more time to type. So type I will. But anyway, back to the title and why I blog....
There are clearly different 'types' of birding blogs out there. There are those whose authors use their blog as a platform to showcase their photography or art, basically an online gallery with a few words. Then there are those that are about far more than just the birds, more about the blogger to be honest. Paragraphs about his/her emotions, their daily life and lots of reminiscing.  I really enjoy reading some of these blogs, and occasionally a post may appear on my blog similar to this type (like this one?), but Axe Birding is first and foremost a birding blog.

Hopefully the last couple of posts have shown the excitement and joy that birds, birding and wildlife gives me. I absolutely love going out birding, but I also get great joy in sharing my encounters and experiences with others, I always have. In my mid teens, after returning home from a day out with my Dad I couldn't wait to tell Mum what we'd seen, and then I'd be straight on the phone to fellow birders excitedly informing them of our day (which in hindsight at times could have been very gripping for them, but it was never meant that way!). This is just what makes me tick, I don't do it to boast/show off/gloat, I do it because I just enjoy sharing it. Simple.

When I was at Beer Head yesterday I met a couple of sets of birders who had come here on the back of reading my blog the previous evening about my morning up here on Thursday. I mean how fantastic is that - my hastily put together blog post inspired others to get out and enjoy what I think is such an incredible wildlife experience. Brilliant!!

The other thing I like to do with my blog is inform and maybe even educate if I can. I think if you have a passion for something it's a natural thing to do, wanting to educate and coach others who may be new to it.  Obviously there are so many teaching tools out there for birding these days, but I would like to think my occasional gull posts and some of ringing posts can be described as being educational...

Personally as well, for me, my blog is my diary. So some (most?) of the posts may just be my sightings for that day - not everyone's cup of tea at all - but it's my diary, just a very public one!

One thing I think is important though is to always adapt and change a little, just to keep things fresh. So I would like to make this a more interactive blog if I can, and in the future I've got a few ideas, including to possibly host some guest blogs from individuals who don't have their own blogs to showcase their talent/passion.  

Anyway, on the interactive thing... I have a poll! Now I am not saying either of these Spotted Flycatcher photos (both taken at Beer Head yesterday) are that good, but I would love to know which one YOU prefer:



Which photo do you prefer?

Sage Quotes

Thanks for voting (if you haven't, scroll up a bit and vote!) and as ever, thank you for reading Axe Birding :-)

Friday 26 August 2016

Beer Head Bird Binge

Very different weather conditions up Beer Head this morning, not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind. 

Pre-dawn looking east to Seaton Bay and Axe Cliff

A few hours later looking west

After yesterday's debacle I didn't even consider bird ringing this morning, I just packed my bins, camera and a breakfast bar and went for a wander - well I clocked up 4 miles actually!  The birding was so exciting, there's nothing better than being surrounded my migrant passerines at a beautiful location such as Beer Head, and in such nice weather too! I'm also desperate for a patch Ortolan and now's as good a time as any to try my hardest for one. 

A beautiful scene, but can you spot the Whinchat?

I was up here for four hours from 06:10 and noted; 

1 Egret sp. (this was so annoying. Rear end views of a large and deep wing-beating Egret heading NE overhead just after 9am - well aware how tricky it is judging size on lone white birds though so could do nothing more with it)
2 Skylark
2 Tree Pipit (over)
50+ Yellow Wagtail (c25 with sheep with more overhead)
40+ Wheatear
2 Whinchat
3 Stonechat (juvs)
4 Redstart (2m 2f)
2 Garden Warbler (one in Dell, one Branscombe slopes)
3 Blackcap
1 Lesser Whitethroat (stunning fresh juv in Sheepwalk, gutted it never popped back out for a pap. Oh and sorry Ian P!)
12 Whitethroat 
15 Willow Warbler
8 Chiffchaff
6 Spotted Flycatcher 

So, far fewer Tree Pipits than yesterday, but more of everything else. I had the feeling some of these birds were remainders from yesterday, for example two of the Spot Flies were with a female Redstart and flicking between the Sheepwalk and the Hollow, just like yesterday.

And here's a few more pics...

One of the Whinchats and it's shadow!

Juv Stonechat

Same again, a juv Stonechat

The colours on autumn male Wheatears are amazing. So much more than those beige juvs!

Spot Fly

Another Spot Fly

An elusive male Redstart - all of the four were buggers to get a good look at

Yellow Wags by their second most favoured choice of livestock!

Yellow Wag posing a bit better

Ok I think that's enough bird pictures for now.  Having a P900 makes it hard not to point and shoot and everything you see, however far away!

What was extra rewarding about this morning was the trek out to the upper slopes of Branscombe...

Short grass and plenty of bare ground and scrub

Almost every time I come out here and have a good look around, despite how yummy the habitat looks, I rarely see much at all.  That was different though today, and the area shown in the  photo above was home to ten Wheatear, four Whitethroat, two Redstart, two Blackcap, one Garden Warbler and a Spot Fly. It was just after I took this photo when I picked up the flying Egret, can't lie it did put a slight downer on things - I never like things getting away from me.

After Beer Head I gave the Estuary a couple of sweeps looking for big white things (whatever their bill shape!), failed on this but saw a lovely juv Marsh Harrier.  I would have said this was the bird Tim Wright saw a couple of days ago, but I don't think it was because this is the first Marsh Harrier I've ever seen here actually arriving - all the previous ones I've stumbled upon in the valley have already been over the marsh hunting.  I first clocked it thanks to an alarming Herring Gull behind me high above the hill above Axmouth.  It seemed to be drifting high west, but then dropped like a stone...

Marsh Harrier losing height!

And began to hunt over the marsh, with Crows in attendance as ever...

You can just about make out the pale fringes to the coverts, making this a juvenile

It's amazing to see how this species has increased here, in line with an increase and spread in breeding range across the UK. Ten years ago they weren't even annual, but this is probably our fifth of sixth individual of this year alone...

So all in all, a cracking morning, one that really got my juices flowing. But I must say it does feel like I am missing something.... Oh yes, now where's that Ortolan...

Thursday 25 August 2016

Mega Beer Head Morning

Mixed emotions from Beer Head this morning. One of my best ever early autumn falls, but I was bird ringing and managed to catch not that much at all!!  I knew it was going to be good straight away, as I was walking out to my net site in the half-light of dawn I saw a Spot Fly on a low fence with half a dozen Wheatear, and two Tree Pipits flew over calling.

The first two hours were really amazing, with birds just suddenly appearing in the bushes, but then quickly disappearing too.  The field I was ringing in was then completely invaded with Wheatears when a huge flock dropped in, but again they pretty quickly moved off west. Yellow and Grey Wags and Tree Pipits kept zipping overhead, it really was all go and so so exciting!!! At about 9am though it all went quiet. And I mean really quiet, the bushes just went bird-less. So weird how this happens...

But my one 60 foot mist net that usually catches most things I see was completely and utterly useless.  The north wind was just strong enough that birds could clearly see it as they were flying around, under and over it.  It may as well have been painted neon yellow to be honest - well it couldn't have done any worse! So so disappointing in this respect (especially as I saw the star bird of the morning 'bounce out'), but a superb few hours at the same time!

Pointless mist net!

So, forgetting about the ringing (which is what I should have done at 7am and just gone for a wander!) this is what I saw;

1 alba Wagtail
3 Grey Wagtail
30+ Yellow Wagtail (some with cattle, others over west)
15 Tree Pipit (my highest ever count for Beer Head, all overhead)
25+ Wheatear
2 Redstart (m and f)
1 Pied Flycatcher (a bit of a Beer Head mega, last seen bouncing out then flying around my mist net! Gutting)
5 Spotted Flycatcher
1 Blackcap
1 Garden Warbler
4 Whitethroat
10 Willow Warbler
5 Chiffchaff
1 Goldcrest (my first of the autumn here)

Ian Mc, Ian P and my Dad were also up Beer Head this morning, and from what they told me I reckon you could add another one or two Redstarts, a couple more Spot Flies and a load more Whitethroats to my totals.

Epic epic epic morning. Really hope we get many more like this, but it would be nice if I caught a few of them next time...

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Yellow Wag Tap Turned On

I have been seeing one of two Yellow Wags over the last week or so, but this morning my word they were everywhere!

Every group of cattle in the valley - Bridge Marsh, Colyford Common and Seaton Marshes  - had their own little flock. As well as these, every so often small groups or singles would fly over west. It's really tricky to know for sure how many I saw/heard, but as a guesstimate I'd go with 50+.

The bushes were really quiet though, with the only other passerine migrants noted being two Wheatear and this Whinchat on Seaton Marshes...

Whinchat playing peekaboo!

That's better!  I am so impressed with the P900 - this bird was some distance away but you'd never know it from the photo

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Seawatching Unsuccessfully

16th May 2009 is a date that has always stuck with me - it remains the most gripped I have ever been by missing a patch bird. Ian Mc was watching a decent passage of Manxies from Beer when out of nowhere a Cory's Shearwater came gliding through with them!  We soon learnt this bird was first seen in Chesil Cove (by Brett) and later Exmouth - so was just one random bird that had got mixed up with the usual Manxies. So gripping, and a first for the patch.

Well I have been gripped again - big time!  

From early last week it was pretty clear Birdfair weekend was going to be a good one for birding, finally a decent Atlantic blow was coming in and I was going to completely miss it.  Despite seeing plenty abroad, I am yet to see Cory's in the UK - the last couple of years I've been desperate to get down to PG but the weather and the timing of the fronts just haven't been kind to me. On Saturday I was expecting to be miss a decent passage of these brutes at PG, but had no idea I was going to miss several seen from Seaton! Large Shearwaters are just SO rare this far into Lyme Bay and this far up the English Channel, so to hear of groups of four and a count of up to 12 is just so mind boggling! And devastating.

Even local photographer Tim White who is a complete newbie to sea watching rocked up and saw two, one of which passed by just a couple of hundred meters offshore! This is probably closer than any Shearwater I've ever seen in 12 years of sea watching here!!!

It wasn't just me that missed out mind. Bun was even further away, in Mexico! James Mc spent a lot of time sea watching on Saturday from Lyme and Seaton, but missed the lot. Dan J who is a very keen sea watching in Sidmouth didn't get a whiff of a large Shearwater despite several watches during the day. And poor Tim Wright, he was sea watching from the thatched shelter when both of Tim White's birds went through, but came away with nothing. It was a bad day for quite a few of us! 

What was odd is how they were behaving, not passing by here and then being seen off other sites to the west of us, they were just here!   It was clearly a small group of displaced feeding birds that probably spent most of their time just over the horizon, but now and then circled into and then out of Seaton Bay. Although 12 were counted, I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number of birds was lower, possibly 6-8 maybe? A big well done though to Brendan Sheils who saw the first two on Friday evening, and then the Chard boys who picked up the numbers on Saturday morning, if it wasn't for them this phenomenal event would have probably gone by completely undetected! 

I did try, despite a 17 hour day on Saturday (including eight hours of driving!), I got myself up at 05:30 on Sunday and sea watched 05:50 - 08:30, and again 17:00-19:00. I didn't see any large Shears, but did see;

1 Common Scoter
7 Balearic Shearwater 
95+ Manx Shearwater
11 Kittiwake (mostly juvs)
1 Sandwich Tern
1 Ringed Plover
1 Dunlin

Not a bad Seaton haul really, but very unsatisfactory given the circumstances.

Looking at the forecast, looks like my UK Cory's chance is blown for another year, and probably another 15 years for the patch!!!  Thursday is looking interesting though with a chance of a passerine fall and maybe some more waders?  On the sunny days this week, Osprey has got to be a good bet, most juveniles have now left their nests now with the adults well on their way south already.

Monday 22 August 2016

Beer Head

I've been visiting Beer Head twice a week at least for the last three or four weeks hoping to see signs of autumn migration.  Well I have been seeing some signs, but only very very small ones!  Late July and early August can see big numbers of Willow Warblers passing through, but not this year. Probably not helped by the clear skies and light winds that we've seen during this period - it usually takes cloud or a cold wind to drop any numbers - but I am worried they've not had a good breeding season.

Apart from the odd (and I mean odd, just one or two) Willow Warbler, it took until the 15th August before I saw any numbers worthy of a notebook entry. A Tree Pipit over east, eight Whitethroat, two Willow Warbler and a Wheatear grounded were noted on this date.

A Wheatear looking autumnal

These few birds gave me the encouragement I needed to get up here with my mist nets at the next available opportunity. So I did a few days later, but was a little late and having trudged out to my ringing site and being struck by how there were no migrants about at all, I just turned around and came back home! 

A veil of cloud and almost no wind on 18th tempted me up there again, and this time I actually stayed put and set up some nets!  A few hours with two nets gave me 15 birds of 5 species, including a control. They were:

6 Swallow (1 adult)
2 Robin
1 Dunnock
5 Willow Warbler (2 ads, 3 1st yrs)
1 Chiffchaff (a control, ring number HLV777)

Young Willow Warblers are just so yellow!

Chiffchaff HLV777 looking really scruffy in head moult

Usually I only catch young Swallows in the mist nets up here, so on catching an adult I thought I'd do some comparisons.  Adult Swallow (age code 4) on left, juvenile Swallow (age code 3) on the right...

So although I have had an enjoyable couple of hours of ringing, really it is still very quiet for passerine migration. Let's hope as we come towards the end of the month things pick up....


Back in 2003 when I was 17, Dad took me to my first Birdfair - The Birdfair at Rutland Water.  I remember an interesting day with several marquees and a few famous faces, but it was a much smaller event than it is today. Funnily enough it is the birds I remember the most!  In the north arm I life ticked Great White Egret, with an Osprey flying around over our heads there. From another hide we saw a juvenile Black Tern and Tree Sparrows were feeding on the feeders by the Visitors Centre.

13 years later, on Saturday just gone I was thrilled to be given the opportunity thanks to Nikon to attend once again, and it was great to return the favour to my Dad and take him back too! It was a long day, leaving Seaton at 5am and returning home at 21:30, but boy was it worth it!  

It was so nice seeing friends old and new, in particular some familiar faces from Spurn Bird Observatory - a place I owe so much too.  At the Nikon Stand, well you remember my little jaunt to Slovenia, it was nice to see the first results of this...

"The Film" will be released online on 1st September after a bit more tweaking - I really hope to share it here when it's out.

And guess what birds we saw? An Osprey, Great White Egret (three in fact, viewable from the Nikon stand), Black Tern (a moulting adult at the Egleton Reserve) and Tree Sparrows (on the feeders at Egleton).  Déjà vu!

I have a couple more blog posts in the pipeline, including my first bird ringing on Beer Head of the autumn, and some (failed) sea watching combined with horrific dipping. Stay tuned...

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Beer and Beavers

Yesterday after a nice meal out with the team I spent the summer surveying the birds of Dartmoor with, local birder and Beaver guru Chris took us up the River Otter prior to dusk hoping for some Beaver action. These animals have been in the news several times so am sure you all know about their presence, well done DWT with all the excellent work you have done here.

Despite quite a crowd waiting, just after 20:00 the adult female Beaver named Patricia made an appearance and remained in view for about ten minutes...

Then twenty minutes later  we were lucky to also see one of the wild born kits too, which also showed for roughly ten minutes. Here's a couple of videos, the first showing Patricia...

And this one of the kit...

They really are fantastic animals to watch, and it is so good to see them living here in complete harmony with the local environment.  Many thanks Chris!

Friday 12 August 2016

More Yellow-legged Gulls

Yesterday late morning Black Hole Marsh was very enticing with 14+ each of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, 29 Blackwits and smaller numbers of the other usual species. I did look over them once or twice, but the main reason I was here was for the Tower Hide.  Twenty minutes earlier from Coronation Corner I could see a juv Yellow-legged Gull in with the flock of large gulls right in front of the hide.

For a good while I couldn't find it which was annoying, but a glance at a break away group of six juvenile large gulls further up river showed it was still here...

Pleasingly it soon had a bit of a fly around...

And then dropped in closer, albeit it briefly...

The left hand bird, just look at the size of that bill compared with the three on the right, and the overall head shape.

This morning, after deciding to abort a ringing session before it had even started, an early morning look along the Estuary revealed another Yellow-legged Gull. And I have to say it was one of the smartest ones I've ever seen, a huge beast that was well into its moult to first-winter plumage. It was so obvious it stood out like a fully kitted out clown waving and shouting "free cream cakes here"...

Sadly the sun light hadn't made it on the Estuary before it flew off south west, so I couldn't better my pics in the dull light, but it was nice to get a flight shot...

It was interesting seeing these two birds within two days as it really highlights the variation in, not just Yellow-legged Gulls, but all juvenile/immature large gulls. This is one of the main reasons why I find gulling so enjoyable, it's a never ending learning curve...

Monday 8 August 2016

Aren't Juvenile Waders Great!

I was watching this nice little flock of Black-tailed Godwits feeding along the Estuary this morning...

When they were joined by this beautiful fresh juvenile...

Just look at that! A gorgeous gingery work of art. 

Sometimes it's the simple things in life...

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Least Sandpiper

What an incredible start to August on Black Hole Marsh!  This exquisite adult Least Sandpiper delighted many by still being present this morning, a first for the patch...

And a (very) short video...

This appears to be roughly the 51st record of Least Sandpiper in the UK, and the sixth (or maybe fifth?) for Devon (the two Lundy records seem very similar and close together, but are listed as two separate records?).  The most recent of these records was a bird at Thurlestone Marsh in Aug/Sep 2005, prior to that you have to go back to 1966!

So that's why Mr Bailey Junior was so happy this morning...