Friday 30 September 2016

Knot Good

High tide is around dawn at the moment, so for the last two mornings Black Hole Marsh has been the obvious place to see the new day in. 06:10 - 08:15 yesterday from the Island Hide showed;

2 Grey Plover
14 Dunlin
1 Knot
3 Common Sandpiper
7 Bar-tailed Godwit
3 Water Rail
3 Sedge Warbler

Out of that list, maybe just a handful of Dunlin and the Knot were the only 'new' birds. Not quite the arrival of waders I was hoping for.  Very sad tale to the Knot though, as shortly after I picked it up flying around over the marsh, it struck an overhead cable right in front of the Island Hide. Poor thing dropped like a stone...

A very sorry sight

I thought it was dead, but it got itself together and swam to the nearest island and out of view.  Neither of the wings looked broken, and I was pleased to see Tim White report the presence of a Knot at Black Hole mid afternoon, so hopefully it lives on.  So sad though to think it has just flown all they way from Arctic only for this to happen.

Later on yesterday, five Ringed Plover were on the Estuary.

This morning Black Hole was no different, except for the light conditions...

 Beautiful isn't it.

 It's also upside down!  This is right way up...

And here's a less cropped version to prove it...

The reflection of the sky looked absolutely stunning. Really beautiful. Good job too because the bird situation was pretty dismal. Still a couple of Grey Plovers about and 14 Dunlin again but nothing new.  I even resorted to photographing a Little Egret...

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Autumn Adjourns

The blog posts have dried up because autumn has...

It has been really stagnant out there for the last week and a bit (but boy have I been trying!). We had a sudden and surprising influx of Grey Plover at the end of last week, Phil had a staggering nine on the evening of Thursday 22nd, with one still present for me the following morning. On Sunday morning another couple had arrived/returned to make three...

A true record shot!

Bar-tailed Godwit numbers seem to be dwindling now, but other wader counts have been very samey with less than ten Dunlin, a couple of Ringed Plover, five Common Sandpipers and not a lot else. I'm hoping the upcoming new moon along with some wind and rain will encourage a bit more variety, but it's looking like the Black Hole Marsh autumn is done now, as the marsh often seems to largely lose its appeal to wading birds by the end of September.  

The clear skies and light winds this morning meant there was only one place to go, Beer Head...

It's getting towards my favourite time of year for weather - I just love cool, crisp and blue late autumn mornings.

Overall it was pretty quiet, but it was nice to see a few different bits and pieces - this list is a mixture of grounded birds and fly overs;

14 Skylark 
200+ Swallow
80+ House Martin
11 alba Wagtail
2 Grey Wagtail
100+ Meadow Pipit 
1 Whinchat
2 Stonechat
3 Blackcap
5 Chiffchaff
1 Spotted Flycatcher
c30 Chaffinch
1 Siskin
1 Yellowhammer

In brief, the bushes were quiet and overhead a little less quiet!  The lone Siskin I think confirms my suspicions that this isn't going to be one of those amazing Siskin autumns - hopefully this won't be the case for all the finch species though.

Annoyingly for some reason all the subjects I tried to photograph this morning were in some way obscured...

Whinchat - the clearest of them all.

A hiding Spotted Flycatcher.

Even this Small Copper suffered from a blade of grass!

It was nice to see Ian Mc at Beer Head this morning back fresh from his holidays, he ventured further west than I did and saw another two Whinchat and a Reed Bunting.  It's great to have another pair of eyes back on the patch, I get the feeling coverage has been pretty poor on weekdays this month - there's only so much ground one pair of boots can cover!

Birds aside, I've been seeing the odd Clouded Yellow around which is nice, including a male on Beer Head this morning.

Let's hope the next blog post is a bit more exciting...

Thursday 22 September 2016

Going, Going, Gone...

Having been out birding every morning this week, it's hard not to feel a little sad when you realise many of our UK breeding birds have left us...

Obviously Swifts and Cuckoos are long gone, but now all those lovely Redstarts, Pied Flies and Wood Warblers that brighten up our wooded valleys have departed our shores, and won't be back for another seven months.  Most of the Yellow Wags, Whinchats, Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers, Grasshopper Warblers, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Tree Pipits have gone too, and we will probably only see dribs and drabs of these, if any at all, from now on.  Come on, how can this not make you feel a little sad?

So now, for a good birding autumn, we are highly dependent on birds born and bred outside of the UK.  And down here on the south west coast, you can usually judge whether it's going to be a good one by how much arrives in the north and east of the country. Once good numbers of birds are in the UK, they then naturally filter down through the country or along the coast. So far things are looking good...

Taken from

Although this is a darn good count of Yellow-browed Warblers, every year more and more are arriving into the UK, usually within the last few weeks of September so they are bang on cue.  Last year was our best ever autumn for them here with five different individuals noted, let's see if we can beat that.  My earliest ever here was on 2nd Oct (two in fact, at Lower Brucklands in 2013) so let's see if we can beat that too... I tell you one thing, I certainly wouldn't mind another one from my front garden! :-)

It's looking promising for Lapland Buntings too, a quick look at reveals they had a day last week with 110 on the island which is pretty impressive. 

And why all this waffle? Well I've not seen much that's why. I guess the best of the batch was a Lesser Whitethroat on Stafford Marsh yesterday morning, and an invisible Golden Plover over Beer Head an hour or so later.  Axe Cliff this morning and Beer Head yesterday were pretty much the same, quite a few Meadow Pipits along with less than a handful of Wheatear and Chiffchaff and a couple each of Yellow Wag, Grey Wag and Stonechat.  

No bird photos, so here's the moon again. It looked stunning and so red on the evening of Tuesday 20th...

Tuesday 20 September 2016

A Frustrating Few Days

This could easily be a down-beat blog post, but I'm going to try my hardest to not let it go that way...

Let's start with a nice Wheatear photo, one of four that I saw yesterday...

Positive positive positive...

The Little Stint from the Tower Hide was nice yesterday too, as was meeting Mike Hill (an ex Channel Island ringer).  But that was about it.

A good look round the Estuary and marshes this morning revealed the following;

45 Wigeon
190 Teal
2 Shoveler
4 Water Rail
14 Lapwing
2 Ringed Plover
9 Dunlin
1 Little Stint
75 Redshank
19 Black-tailed Godwit
16 Bar-tailed Godwit
6 Chiffchaff
3 Yellow Wagtail

No White Wags this morning, but had a couple on Black Hole Marsh over the weekend. I wasted far too much of this morning grilling this (I thought) interesting looking first-winter male Wigeon...

Sadly its underwings proved it was just an Eurasian Wigeon, but there you go, you've got to be in it to win it.  Thanks to Bun for the second pair of eyes from a different angle.  Not only did it waste my time, but it reminded me of the 'fun' we had over the winter of 2011/12 when a pale female Wigeon was knocking around...

Right that's me done, I'll sign off with a few random photos...

Juv Little Egret Seaton Marshes

An atmospheric shot of Jess at Seaton Marshes

The moon, taken on the night of 16th Sept with my Nikon P900

Friday 16 September 2016


A quick check of Seaton Marshes before work yesterday meant I happened to be in the right place at the right time when an Osprey decided to use our little valley as a highway out of the UK. 

I knew there was one about for a good five minutes before seeing it as all the birds up river scattered in a way they only do for an Osprey. I actually thought I had missed it as I'd been waiting for so long, but all of a sudden it came cruising down river with a few Rook in pursuit...

The bird began circling just south of Seaton Marshes hide, and before I knew it it was high above Axe Cliff Golf Course and still gaining height.  Next stop France...

This was - amazingly - my first Osprey of 2016. Usually see a few in spring and autumn but not this year, they've all been on the Exe!

I had a good walk around Black Hole, Stafford and Colyford Marsh this morning and saw;

21 Dunlin
1 Curlew Sandpiper
3 Knot
2 Ruff
16 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Common Sandpiper
3 Wheatear
2 Yellow Wagtail
10 Chiffchaff
1 Spotted Flycatcher

Wigeon numbers are increasing by the day on the Estuary now, am keeping a close eye on them as an American flavoured one in eclipse plumage could easily sneak through.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Red-backed Shrike Beer Head

At the beginning of every year, for as long as I can remember, there are three birds that we all always say "we must get this year!". Red-rumped Swallow, Black-winged Stilt and Red-backed Shrike.  Now at last, one of those species can be removed from that list...

Just as I was setting off to join Kevin (Bun) up Beer Head, he phoned with news he had a Red-backed Shrike on the Summit bushes. Excellent...

And about twenty minutes later the world was a better place...

A really beautifully coloured example of one too - such a gorgeous bird and so so overdue.  It looked very settled as it had found quite a sheltered spot and was finding plenty of food, so if you want to come up and see it hopefully this map will help...

And here's a tiny bit of video. Very tiny...

Not only am I delighted for Bun, and my patch list, but also for Beer Head.  There is a keen team of us that daily/weekly/yearly spend hours upon hours trudging over this place ever hoping for something like this. Although we have had some scarcities and a couple of rarities over the years (no one mention the Cuckoo), it never feels like we get quite what our effort deserves. So Bun, if you don't mind, this one is for us...

Seemed to be a heck of a lot up Beer Head this morning, I was only here for an hour and had 80+ Mipits, 2 Tree Pipits, 6 Wheatear, a few Chiffs and my first 'vis mig' Siskins (6+) of the autumn.  I wouldn't be surprised is something else decent is unearthed here later today.

Although all the local birders need Red-backed Shrike for their patch lists (or did!), it's not a new bird for the patch. I'm sure like many other south coast sites, this species formally bred here, with confirmed nesting in the mid 60's. There's been at least one other more recent record as well, but not recent enough for any of us to have seen!

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Autumn Returns

You may have picked up on some frustration in my recent blog posts that despite daily visits, Black Hole Marsh has remained very samey - except for the lovely juv Sanderling on Friday 9th that is.  

Thankfully though, yesterdays frequent thunder storms and heavy rain showers seem to have got things moving again.  A flying visit mid afternoon yesterday showed a nice due of Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff new in... 

Juv-1w Curlew Sandpiper

I was back down there for dawn today, and saw;

1 Avocet
6 Ringed Plover
22+ Dunlin
1 Curlew Sandpiper
1 Knot (juv)
14 Black-tailed Godwit
6 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Ruff
3 Common Sandpiper
1 Green Sandpiper
2 Snipe

Out of that list the Avocet is the stand out bird.  Although they are annual on the Axe, this is the first that I've ever seen on Black Hole Marsh. I'm also pretty sure this is our first of 2016 following a blank spring.  I didn't have time to walk to the Tower Hide so you will have to make do with an ultra distant record shot...

Good job Avocets aren't little brown things!

The second Ruff and the Knot were also new arrivals, as was a second Knot on the Estuary about half an hour later.  

It's not just been a wader day, seems to have been a good one for passerines too.  Colyford Common mid morning showed six Wheatear and two Whinchat...

Love autumn Whinchats!

Whinchat on the baordwalk

A Wheatear and Ruby Red Cattle

A late morning visit to Axe Cliff was also fairly rewarding, despite the heat and the time of day. 

What a view!

10:45-12:10 here produced;

1 Golden Plover
12 Wheatear
7 Whinchat
50+ Meadow Pipit
1 Tree Pipit
1 Sedge Warbler
3 Whitethroat
1 Willow Warbler
3 Chiffchaff
90 Linnet

The Golden Plover was my first of the autumn, and flew over west. Thankfully I picked it up on call so didn't need to worry about the Lesser varieties. The Whinchat count was decent (a five and a two) and the Tree Pipit I flushed out of long grass.

I'm not sure if it is good to see so many Meadow Pipits. When they replace Yellow Wagtail as the most frequent fly over migrant you know you've moved into the next phase of autumn migration. I've been hearing them going over fairly often now for the past three of four days, and have only had one Yellow Wag. Autumn rolls on...

Monday 12 September 2016

Yellow-legged Gull Influx

Literally the first gull I clapped eyes on this morning was this lovely first-winter Yellow-legged Gull, at the bottom end of the Estuary...

It was a hefty bird all round and heavy billed.

 Look at all the second generation feathers, way more advanced than any Herring Gull of similar age.

Note how pale the bird looks, almost streak-free head with pale ground colour to neck, breast and belly.

My best ever open wing shot of a young YLG - thanks to that Little Egret! Note the restricted pale inner primary window.

Here on the left with 1w and 2w Herring Gulls. Note how overall it is a chunkier and longer winged bird.

I came back about an hour later, and was surprised to see it had been joined by a second bird...

The second bird (on the right) did have worryingly pale greater coverts, but all other features looked fine for 1w YLG

Both birds with a young Herring Gull (upper left) - shows the size difference well.

My favourite shot of the two YLG together.

Later in the day (mid pm) I had two first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls north of Coronation Corner.  One of these could well have been bird one from the morning, but the second bird was definitely a different bird - so that's three today! An hour later I then had bird one again and it was back down by the tram sheds at the lower end of the Estuary.

Other than these, and all round good numbers of large gulls, I've not seen much else today, although there's still at least 14 Bar-tailed Godwits on the Estuary which is not the norm at all...

Bar-tailed Godwit

Friday 9 September 2016

The 'W' Word

Well it's hard not to think of winter when you see the first of these of the autumn loafing on the Estuary...

Male Wigeon

Otherwise it was much the same on Black Hole Marsh, although it was pleasing to see the Greenshank on here - a gorgeous silverly juv.  Yesterday it was nice to see a Green Sand close to the Island Hide, they have been present in unusually low numbers this autumn...

Juv-1w Green Sand

Such a pity the sun wasn't behind me for this photo!

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Photo Poll Results

For the last two mornings we've been plagued by the dreaded fog. It's mostly affected high ground so I haven't even bothered with Beer Head and Axe Cliff, the valley however has been a bit clearer at ground level so I have put all my effort in here...

A lot of stomping and scanning has failed to produce the goods. The wader variety and numbers seem to be dwindling as each hour passes, except for an usually high number of Bar-tailed Godwits (my highest count being 12 on Black Hole Marsh yesterday morning). I've really been hoping for a Wryneck but as yet I've not fallen over one. At least this morning there was clearly an increase in Sedge Warblers (15). This gave me the encouragement to work extra hard for an Aquatic but alas no pale central crown stripes, although there was one scarily yellow juvy Sedge (not the one pictured below)...

Seeing as though things are still quiet, it's time for me to waffle again.  And today's waffle is about the results of last week's Spotted Flycatcher photo poll.  I'm delighted to announce that my favourite won with an enormous 75% of the 96 votes cast...

I know there will always be a market and a desire to get the cracking full frame bird photos, and like anyone I absolutely love to see a pin sharp close up of a nice bird. But very rarely do these photos actually excite me or stay with me for long. Personally I am all for flying the flag for the 'record shot'. You know, the photos that show you more about the moment than the cost of the photographers lens. Let's look at those Spot Flies again.

This is a Spotted Flycatcher....

This is a migrant Spotted Flycatcher that's pitched down on top of a blackthorn bush on Beer Head, hoping to refuel on insects flying in the early autumn sunshine before continuing on its long migration to Africa...

OK, the photo doesn't necessarily tell you all of that, but hopefully you get what I mean.
I mean come on, how many full frame Wheatear photos do we have to see each year... oh yeah, that reminds me...

In my defence there is plenty of habitat detail in the shot giving it some atmosphere!

Back to record shots, this Whinchat photo (showing one of three Whinchat on Seaton Marshes yesterday) is dreadful, but I love how vivid those supercilia are and how charismatic the bird looks...

Long live the record shot!