Monday 30 January 2017

Little Bunting

Although it's off patch, I just had to pay the Little Bunting that James Mc found on Trinity Hill late Saturday a visit. Full marks to James for this great find, who (thanks to news from Sue Murphy) kept on checking the flock of up to 80 Reed Buntings that are feeding/roosting here. A great example of how some clever thinking, and persistence, can pay off.

The weather this afternoon was dreadful, and Trinity Hill was fogged out and wet. You couldn't make out anything further than about 25m away, so I chose to just stand by some bushes and wait. About 30 Reed Buntings and 20 minutes later, 'tic tic'...

What a terrific little bird. Although when I say little, not that much smaller than a Reed Bunting if you ask me. Clearly shorter tailed though.  It was great to hear it call several times, so Robin-like but just a little cleaner, not so liquidy if that makes any sense.  If you're going to try and see it yourself hopefully this map helps, the red cross is where I stood...

Now back to the patch, my PWC patch to be precise. It took until today for Golden Plover to be added to my PWC list, despite up to 70 being present for most of this winter about two miles outside my PWC patch boundary!  There seemed to be a load more Lapwing in the valley too, and 'the golden one' was with a small group of Lapwing in the field opposite Colyford WTW at 9am.

My other recent PWC year tick (my first for a week in fact!) was a Little Owl on Saturday evening near Lower Bruckland Ponds. It's nice to know there are still three local spots for this declining species, but there are most definitely fewer around than five years ago.

For a damp, dreary and dull late January day, it's not been too bad at all!

Monday 23 January 2017


See what I did there?  If not, hopefully once you've seen the contents of this post it will be more obvious :-).

Completely fogged out this morning on my PWC patch, which could well have cost me Whooper Swan as one flew east past Cogdon and on to West Bexington at 10am. If it could have seen our valley it may well have chosen to land here. Drat.

Thankfully the fog cleared early afternoon, but a few hours out and about failed to show much of interest. Except possibly a couple of Rock Pipits...

We used to get a double figure flock of Rock Pipits on Colyford Common during the winter months, and they always seemed to turn a bit pink in late winter and then get considerably pink and even a touch blue headed in early spring before disappearing. So safe to say they were probably mostly (or all?) Scandinavian littoralis birds.  But we haven't had these birds for several years now, so it was really nice to see two or three Rock Pipits on Colyford Common this afternoon...

The identification of winter plumaged littoralis Rock Pipit is a minefield. Well actually most papers and sources say it's impossible. Whilst there are features to look for in winter plumaged littoralis, none are clinching and a nominate petrosus Rock Pipit could also show these features.

This enabled me to conclude that today's birds on Colyford Common were.... Rock Pipits

To be honest they do just look like Rock Pipits to me, nothing that different to what I'd expect to see grubbing about among the boats on Beer Beach. But this doesn't mean they are not littoralis, as guess what, winter plumaged littoralis can look just like petrosus!  

Friday 20 January 2017

Find Axe Birder an Axe Waxwing

Knowing that my window of opportunity for adding Waxwing to my patch list is pretty limited, I thought I'd try and increase my chances by offering a reward. Yes folks a REWARD!

The person who finds me my first Axe Waxwing will receive.... a whole entire homemade 'Jessicakes' cake!  And of whatever variety they want.... who likes Coffee and Walnut? Chocolate? Lemon Drizzle?  Choice completely YOURS.  

There's not many rules, in fact just these four;

1/ It must be a Waxwing.

2/ The Waxwing(s) must be on patch. I don't mean my Patchwork Challenge Patch but the whole Axe patch (which in summary is Seaton, Colyford, Colyton, Axmouth, Beer and everywhere in between).

3/ I must see it/them.

4/ If there's any debate over the true finder, my decision will be final.

Best of all about this is who says the finder has to be a birder?  This competition is open to everyone, Waxwings are striking birds that could drop in anywhere.

And in a final attempt to fire you all up...

Thursday 19 January 2017

The Ton

Well I didn't have to wait that long at all!  I ended yesterday's blog post listing some of the easier species I am yet to see this year, but none of them were my 100th PWC species for 2017...

Yes that's our wintering female Tufted Duck at Lower Bruckland Ponds, along with three new friends. Two drake and a female Gadwall, the ton is done.

Earlier today looking down from Axe Cliff I could see a huge feeding flock out in the bay, of at least 280 Gannets and 150+ auks. From the sea front the light and viewing conditions were absolutely dreadful so I couldn't do much more with them, but hopefully they will hang around for a few days and attract some other species. A mid winter Pom Skua would do nicely.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Seawatching and Watching What I See

I was hoping to be able to call this post 'The Ton', but I've been stuck on 99 species for 2017 Patchwork Challenge since Sunday morning, when a lone Great Northern Diver flew distantly west past the sea front.  

I have found my increased effort on the sea this year really interesting.  Every day I'm seeing good numbers of Razorbills, Gannets, along with a few Red-throated Divers and Kittiwakes. Most days I see at least a couple of Common Scoter too, but sometimes more.  What really interests me are the seemingly random spikes of passage. For example all last week I didn't see a single Brent Goose, except for Thursday morning when 32 flew west in three flocks, including my first 3+ Pale-bellied Brents of the year.  That's 32 Brents that would have gone through unnoticed if I wasn't sea watching.  

This morning was a beautiful one, but viewing conditions were tricky with haze and bad light. There didn't seem to be much moving anyway, unlike yesterday morning when a gentle south easterly breeze was enough to get some pretty decent passage going.  Sadly I only had about twenty minutes, but Richard (known to fellow tweeters as @cork_head) spent far longer sea watching and noted good numbers of Common Scoter, a few Brents and several Red-throated Divers.  I was there long enough though to completely ruin my day...

Soon after my arrival I picked up four Common Scoter flying distantly west. I had followed them in the scope for some time when they were caught up by three smaller ducks also flying west. Despite the distance I was pretty happy they were Goldeneye, a cracking patch year tick, but after watching them for a short while something didn't sit right with me. The shape of the white in wing of the male just didn't see right, I could never recall seeing such a distinctive 'oval' of white on a Goldeneye before. And it was just as they were heading away that the thought of Smew entered my head.... I tweeted and texted birders further west but sadly nothing came of it.

I can't tell you how much I wish I had picked them up sooner/they had been closer/I'd looked more at the females. Even if they were 'just' Goldeneye it's a good year tick missed, but I have a feeling I let an absolutely stonking year tick go by....

Back to this morning and I haven't seen much despite a lot of wandering around in this lovely still and sunny weather, except for the Cattle Egret still in situ at Colcombe Farm in Colyton. I have to say I'm amazed it is still alone (except for its Little cousins). I was expecting to have a small flock of Cattle Egrets here by now, but maybe they are still to come?  It's coming into roost at Axmouth at about 17:00 now, when I first found it on 11th December it came in at 16:20 which just shows how much lighter the evenings are getting :-). I have to be honest and say thoughts of spring are already entering my head space, even more so after seeing these Snowdrops last week...

Being out more is making me notice much more about the local birding scene, which is nice.  Stood at Black Hole Marsh until well after dusk the other night (dipping Barn Owls!) showed three roosts. The Starlings have been roosting on Colyford Marsh all winter and number several thousand. Pied Wagtails are roosting on a small island in front of the Island Hide, but best of all are the several hundred Redwings currently roosting behind 'Walters Mound'.  It's interesting that Redwings arrive to roost quite unlike Starlings and Pied Wagtails, the latter often sit up before going down, and we all know what Starlings get up to in the sky before bed.  But the Redwings come in much later when it is almost completely dark, and they zip in low at speed often in decent sized flocks. 

Being out so much has also shown me what species of birds are having a good winter. The current winners include Cetti's Warbler (I've seen/heard eight different individuals here so far this year, and haven't been to Colyford Common once), Water Rail (squeals everywhere!), Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Bullfinch. Man there are loads of Bullies about!  It's not such a good winter for other species of finch though, which I suppose isn't a surprise after last autumn which was so poor for finch vis mig. This year I'm yet to see Siskin, Redpoll or Brambling, and not just on my PWC patch, anywhere in East Devon! Other surprising gaps on my PWC year list are Nuthatch, Blackcap and Barn Owl. Hopefully 'the ton' isn't far away...

Friday 13 January 2017

Dedicated to Kevin J Hale aka Bun

What a team player that man is. Even if he isn't playing, he's with you on your team. Legend.

There he is! Showing well in a striped hat.

Woodcock are pretty reliable at a few sites on patch, but within my PWC patch, or anywhere in the river valley, they are very VERY hard to come by. That's unless of course there's a seriously cold snap with plenty of snow, then they start to behave like Blackbirds and pop up everywhere, but that weather is rare here. Bun suggested the valley at Seaton Hole for me, as he's had them several times in the past in Couchill Woods just to the north. So on two occasions so far this month I have endured evening vigils here, but neither with any success.

Tonight though I was joined by the man himself, and he kindly offered to have a rummage around in nearby woodland as the sun set, whilst I stood within the boundary of my PWC patch. What a top man.  At times he was up to his waste in brambles, climbing up steep banks, slipping back down those steep banks, he just kept plugging away and all for my potential gain. After about five or so minutes I was feeling guilty so shouted out "let's call it a night"... But no, he was going nowhere "I'm just going to check down here by the stream".

Sadly though, despite all his hard work, it didn't have the desired effect. 

But as we walked back to our vehicles, moaning about how daft it is that a bird as beautiful, small, and rare as Woodcock can still be legally shot, something truly magical happened. At 17:15 I looked up towards the first few emerging stars of the night, and there one was!  It had just flown out of the strip of woodland in the Seaton Hole valley, did a couple of laps over the small field in front of us (almost looking like a gigantic bat!) and then disappeared off north.  Absolute result!!  And it's all thanks to Bun. If it wasn't for him I would have left ten minutes earlier.

My 98th bird of the year on my PWC patch. Hopefully the ton is just a few days away...

Tuesday 10 January 2017

No Longer Dipping Dippers

Since Tim Wright saw one of the local Dippers from my PWC patch, I have been giving it more time and not just a quick scan each time I've been passing.

Yesterday I spent a total of 45 minutes watching the bit of the River Coly that can be seen from the bridge by the White Hart Inn in Colyford, but nothing.  Today though after about 40 minutes my prize came, and even sang for me! Dipper now well and truly on my Patchwork Challenge year list :-)

Earlier this morning a short sea watch showed nothing better than two Brent Geese and seven Red-throated Divers, but there's still a few Razorbill (no Guillemot as of yet this year!), Kittiwake and Gannet out there so must be plenty of food about.  Patchwork Challenge is making me look at the sea far more than I usually do in January, and it does make a difference. Brent Geese for example aren't usually an easy bird to see here before spring, but I've already seen 21 this year in seven different flocks!

I have now registered my Patchwork Challenge patch on the brand new Patchwork Challenge website.  I am a bit torn between entering into the Estuaries league or the Coastal South league. Although there clearly is an Estuary on my patch, I have so much more than just Estuary so maybe coastal would be best?  Will have to ask the powers that be.

Sunday 8 January 2017


Phil text me just at the right time late this afternoon with news of a Firecrest at Seaton Hole, which is within my PWC patch. In the previous two winters Firecrests have wintered here, but this winter one has only been seen sporadically, and this was the first sighting of it in 2017.

Gladly it was still showing well when I arrived just after 4pm and I enjoyed some lovely views of it. I was enjoying myself so much that I couldn't help but photograph some twigs...

I particularly like that dark bramble branch running up the left side of the frame, I think this darkness is exactly what this otherwise pale photo needs.

I just LOVE the Ivy cover along the botton 1/5 of this photo, almost acts as a natural base to the photo. Also note that lovely 'V' of brambles just off centre. Nice.

Other birding today involved a sea watch from 08:15 for about 45 minutes. It's highly likely that Phil and I let a perfectly good Black-throated Diver fly past unclinched, it just remained far too distant but I have to say it did look the part. We were however perfectly capable to ID the four Red-throated Divers that also flew through (well one flew in actually). No wildfowl at all this morning, but still a few Razorbill, Gannet, a Kittiwake and three Great Crested Grebes out there.

In other rather gripping news, tonight Tim Wright had one of the Dippers from my PWC patch. Up to today they have only been seen up near Colyton but at 16:20 Tim had one from the A3052 at Colyford. It looks like I'm going to have to put even more time in here, I have been checking from the bridge by the White Hart daily but only for a few minutes at a time.

Friday 6 January 2017


Just after 10am I stumbled across this gull on the Estuary...

It was larger than the nearby Herring Gulls, showed a nice dark mantle and yellow legs (not bright but that's ok for a winter YLG) and the legs did look quite long. I did think it had a little more head streaking than expected for an adult winter Yellow-legged Gull, but it wasn't heavily streaked not by a long way.  All in all it looked a pretty good winter plumaged adult Yellow-legged Gull to me, huddled in with a group of wind blown Great Black-backed Gulls.  It certainly wasn't one of those small, pinky-yellow legged, funny coloured mantled hybrid things. This next photo shows the size of it compared with an adult Herring Gull (far right)..

But then it gave an all important wing flap and this is when it all fell to pieces...

Ugly. So so so ugly. P5 completely wrong with just half a black band, and what's going on with P9? Nothing more than a white speck on the right wing, but what looks like a proper small window on the left wing!

This was a worrying bird for me. I have always found the 'usual' hybrids (presumed Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gulls) pretty obvious, but this was something else, maybe a Herring x Yellow-legged?

Earlier, before this headache, I enjoyed an hours sea watch from Spot On and saw:

10 Brent Geese (6w, 2e and 2 in)
14 Common Scoter
5 Red-throated Diver
2 Kittiwake
6+ Razorbill

Six Brent Geese

Yesterdays sea watch was far less exciting, but on Wednesday I struck lucky with a Jack Snipe along with 15+ Common Snipe in a small patch of Juncus near Boshill Cross. Now that was a very handy PWC year tick!

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Frosty Morning

What a stunning morning, just what winter should be like. It started off here at -4 when I headed out at 8am, and was still just -1 at 10am. 

Birding-wise today was one of those days you want on a New Years Day bird race.  There's some resident species that although are probably always here, aren't always easy to find.  And these are even harder when considering my PWC patch is vastly smaller than the Patch.  But I was on it this morning.

A dog walk up and back the one lane in Axmouth that is on my PWC patch just wouldn't stop delivering with Green Woodpecker, Kestrel, Jay (two), Stock Dove, Marsh Tit (two), Red-legged Partridge, Treecreeper and Yellowhammer all added to the year list. I was also surprised to see a Water Rail and a Little Egret here in a tiny wooded stream, presumably birds slightly dispersed by the cold weather.

Prior to this Lower Bruckland Ponds gave me another tricky resident year tick, with two Mistle Thrush. And a sea watch was worthwhile first thing (despite the 'sea fog') with groups of five and two Brent Geese east and three Great Crested Grebes on the sea.

So all in all a pretty successful morning. Thoroughly enjoyable too which I suppose is most important.

Yesterday the only patch birding I managed was a 40 mins sea watch first thing. Pretty quiet, although two year ticks came in the form of two Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter past.

The rest of yesterday was spent off patch with Jess and Honey, but I must just mention our trip to Topsham...

We basically went to the Rec at Topsham to eat a doughnut.  But came away having seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Long-tailed Duck, two Goldeneye, a few Avocet and Red-breasted Mergansers, and heaps of common wading birds. Now that's what I call a good doughnut!

Mid pm edit: I finally ran into the wintering Black Redstart this afternoon, on a house roof near Axmouth Yacht Club. Far more of a surprise though were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers that flew east offshore just after 14:00. RB Mergs are just about annual on patch, but you could easily go a year without seeing one here. Bonus!

Sunday 1 January 2017

Three out of Three!

I just have to post today, the first day of my big Patchwork Challenge attempt.

One of the best things about doing a year list is the big push on Jan 1st. Everything you see is a valuable year tick, absolutely everything. And spending the whole day out on your patch clocking up as many species as you can is such an enjoyable (but sometimes frustrating!) event. Sadly though I was working today, so no such fun for me.  With limited time it's sensible to prioritise the scarcer species, so this morning my three target birds were Cattle Egret, Tufted Duck and Grey Plover. None of these are guaranteed in a given year on the Axe Patch.

The first two were pleasingly easy. The Cattle Egret was the twelfth egret to fly out of the Axmouth roost this morning at 07:36, and the female Tufted Duck was easily visible in the pre-dawn gloom at Lower Bruckland Ponds. The Grey Plover however, well that wasn't quite so easy. No sign of it anywhere this morning, despite a nice high tide and a mass of waders right in front of the Tower Hide. 

Cue the extra mile. Despite the rain, late this afternoon during a fifteen minute break at work, I jumped into my car, scoped the mud north of Coronation Corner and there was my hat-trick. Grey Plover on the list.

My next target are the two Dippers that I first bumped into a few days ago.  Dippers have been really scarce on patch over the past few years, prior to this you would fairly frequently see them along many stretches of the River Coly.  It was Friday morning when I had two (one singing) just south of Colyton, and Phil has seen them in the same place on the two days since. My problem is they are currently about a field and a half north of my PWC patch, so I just have to hope they wander a little further down river - whilst I'm watching!