Thursday 30 March 2017

Early Tree Pipit

Today started promising, Black Hole Marsh first thing suggested there had been an arrival of warblers, with three Willow Warblers and two Blackcaps.  This didn't seem to be the case though with other sites showing very little.  In fact after this warbler flurry all I saw of note in the valley today were a House Martin, ten Sand Martins and the lingering Knot and Pintails.

There was surprise for me whilst walking the dog at Bovey Down though mid morning (sadly outside my PWC patch).  Last March I published a post about what I felt were the top five misidentified early spring migrants, you can read it again HERE. But in brief, Ospreys that are white Buzzards, calling Cuckoos that are actually Collared Doves, Willow Warblers that are bright Chiffchaffs, etc. Third on my list was Tree Pipit.... and guess what I saw today - a Tree Pipit!!

I picked it up on call, so never any doubt to the ID.  I heard it call three times before I even saw it, and then I watched it fly low west over the common before it seemed to drop down at the far west end of Bovey Down.  They have bred here in recent years so it may be a returning breeding bird, or possibly just a passing migrant. Wherever it's heading it's my earliest ever in the UK that's for sure.

It's gone lovely and mild out there today, with a nice southerly wind blowing, so the next few days could be interesting... or just frustratingly quiet with nice birds turning up elsewhere. Hopefully it's the former!

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Little Gull Interrupts Sea Watch

With a passage of Velvet Scoters through Portland over the last few days (but nowhere else - not seen anything off here at all lately!) the increased southerly wind meant I was back at the seafront this morning. Well as soon as I could be anyway as we had a new washing machine delivered this morning, which amazingly arrived prior to 07:30 - impressive!

The sea watch was briefly interrupted when Ian Mc rang at about 08:45 with news of a first-winter Little Gull on Colyford Scrape.  The last year I did a year list I missed out on this species, so I hot footed it straight to the Farm Gate at Axmouth where the Little Gull was viewable distantly on the scrape - exactly where I saw my last one last year...

Distant phone-scoped pic

Also saw my first two Swallows of the year here, which I picked up whilst scanning for the Little Gull that briefly went missing when I first arrived.  There's got to be a slight chance the Little Gull is the same one that's been on Bowling Green Marsh (Exe Estuary) for a few weeks, as there's no sign of it there today. If it is hopefully that gorgeous Bonaparte's Gull will follow it east...

I was keen to get back to the sea as quickly as possible, although the first half hour of the sea watch was completely dead, the wind turned from south to south west, and after that a few more bits and pieces began passing.  Full totals for 08:00 - 08:45, 09:00 - 09:45 were; 

31 Common Scoter 
1 Red-throated Diver
1 Diver sp.
1 Razorbill
1 Curlew
11 Sandwich Tern

So although it wasn't a big haul, the regular small groups of passing Common Scoters were more than enough to keep me there. Sadly no white secondaries in with them though. It was nice to see my first Sandwich Terns of the year too, with a further four west at 13:45 this afternoon.

Yesterday Knot was added to my Patchwork Challenge year list, with one keeping the Grey Plover company on Black Hole Marsh in the morning. Good to get that one on the list nice and early in the year.

Monday 27 March 2017

Slow Day, Busy Evening

I have basically spent today waiting for an Osprey. The weather conditions have been absolutely perfect and so many have arrived into the UK today, but I drew a blank. Not even a token Marsh Harrier.  

Over all today has felt quiet.  A few Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs dotted about, my first Willow Warbler of the year singing in Axmouth which was nice, and amazingly a patch first!  Ok, I can't actually tick it, but it was novel seeing a Swan Goose with the Canada Goose flock for most of the day...

Massive bill!

Bizarrely there seems to have been an influx/breakout of Swan Geese in the last week, with replies on twitter informing me of singles at Lodmoor and Langford (Wiltshire/Hampshire border) in the last few days. Odd. Even odder was that people were replying to my tweet with the word "gripping!". Really!??

I am really glad I kept plugging away today despite the apparent lack of birds, because I had an excellent hour out tonight. Although still no Osprey!

Three Little Ringed Plovers had been on Colyford Marsh all day, and tonight they were joined by a fourth bird and a Water Pipit.  It's hardly surprising to come across an Axe Water Pipit in late March, but in summer plumage (although this one was only half way there) they are always a delight to see.  The total Axe Little Ringed Plover count this evening was six, as just after seeing the four on Colyford Marsh I nipped around to Black Hole Marsh where two were showing well (and had been seen earlier in the day).

There was one further surprise to the day, when at 19:45 (oh how I love BST!) four Goosanders came floating down river. A drake and three females, which you can just about make out here...

A three year tick day. Excellent!

Lastly a bit of late news from yesterday, with the six Cattle Egrets south over Black Hole Marsh at 19:20. Nice to know they are still around, but how much longer will they stay?

Saturday 25 March 2017

Little Ringed Plovers

Seemed to be much less happening out there today, not surprising considering the lovely clear skies. I didn't mind this though as we had a garden to sort out!

Little Ringed Plovers have a habit of dropping in when not much else is moving, and Phils one from early this morning had become three by the time I saw them late this afternoon...

As you can see they remained distant!

I have to say Black Hole Marsh is looking far busier than usual for the time of year. This site is often a late summer - mid autumn hot spot but quieter in other months. Not this year though, there's waders, wildfowl and gulls all over it. Fab.  Some of the wading birds are starting to look rather nice too...

Black-tailed Godwit

Friday 24 March 2017

Good to be Back!

Since the early hours of last Saturday I have been knocked out by the worst sickness bug I've ever experienced. It really has not been nice. This meant no birding for me at all between Saturday and Thursday - six days is probably a record for me! Not good when there is so much passage going on, the mind boggles at what I've missed by not being out there.

Anyway, I finally began feeling better yesterday, so this morning got myself up and out...

I soon got the vibe that birds were moving, with several flocks of Meadow Pipits flying north up the valley, and during a dog walk along the beach, several more flocks arriving in/off the sea. Exciting times - this meant there was active passage. So to Seaton Marshes...

Along the entrance track and around the Borrow Pit there were about ten Chiffchaffs (still no Willow Warbler for me) and a lone House Martin was flying around overhead. Amazingly this being my fourth of the year and I'm yet to see a Swallow!  I then turned the corner to walk to the hide...

It was so great to see eight Wheatears (one female) on the fence lines and path, allowing me to get a really good Wheatear-fix (much needed by any birder in early spring). And all the time several small flocks of Meadow Pipits continued to fly north overhead, proper spring migration, so cool...

Colyford Common and Colyford Marsh after this showed another Wheatear and a further 40+ Meadow Pipits, but not the desired LRP or Water Pipit. Maybe tomorrow?

Black Hole Marsh early this afternoon showed the four drake Pintail still and four Dunlin, and at Bridge Marsh ten Sand Martins and the Greylag Goose still.

It is so so SO good to be back!

Friday 17 March 2017


Delighted to finally see my first Wheatear of the year today, a lovely male in the fields south of Seaton Marshes just after midday.  A pretty average date for my first, but it feels late as they have been turning up along the south coast for a good week or so.  Sadly no pics as it remained distant, but this didn't limit the joy watching it gave me. Always such a turning point in the birding year.

This was my second PWC year tick of the day, thanks to a Greylag Goose that has spent the day in the valley.  March is by far our peak month for Greylags here, so it's another semi-expected but much appreciated early spring year tick...

Spot the odd one out!

Other bits and bobs from me today include 15 Sand Martins over Colyford Marsh, a second-summer Mediterranean Gull with 65+ Common Gulls on the Estuary at dusk and at least six Cattle Egrets again in the egret roost at Seaton Marshes. 

I did say I would post details here about the colour-ringed Avocet on Black Hole Marsh when I heard back from the BTO, and I have heard back. Sadly since its initial ringing as a chick on 23/6/16 at Greenabella Marsh, Graythorpe, Hartlepool, it's not been re-sighted. Well until it dropped in at Black Hole Marsh on Saturday morning!

Whilst on the subject of colour-rings, a Crane that was seen briefly on Colyford Marsh on 7/3/17 by good friend of mine Jean, looks like it was probably the same Crane that was at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire five days earlier.  Named 'Excalibird' I believe. Interesting name...

Thursday 16 March 2017

Dusk Delights

I have been away since Sunday so was eager to get out today to enjoy some more spring action. Sadly though I woke up to fog, which completely smashed my enthusiasm to pieces and I went back to bed.  When I did finally get up I noticed on twitter that Portland was experiencing something of a fall, so I headed down to Seaton Marshes.

It was foggy.

I did eventually stumble upon some migrants, they were (amazingly!) another two House Martins with eight Sand Martins.  I really don't know what is going on with House Martins this year but several have already been seen in the UK, which by mid March is so unusual. I wonder if something has happened where they winter? Maybe some got mixed in with wintering Sand Martins and they've headed north with them?  All I do know is pretty much every year I don't see my first House Martins until the first week of April, weeks after my first Sand Martins and Swallows - but I'm yet to see one of the latter!

I was tied up for the rest of today, but headed out again at about 16:30.  All seemed quiet, including nothing with the gulls on the Estuary, but a distant scan of the gulls roosting on the sand by Tesco revealed something darker mantled.  At first I was really excited as I thought it may be a sub-adult Caspian, but when I got closer I could see it looked more like a particularly cute headed fourth calendar-year (third summer) Yellow-legged Gull...

The bird right of centre
Presumably a female - you can see why I was thinking Casp at first with that lovely little eye

This is my third, and the Axe's fourth Yellow-legged Gull so far this year, which is three or four more than you would usually expect to see by mid March. They are a rare bird in winter here (and in Devon) despite their ever increasing occurrence in late summer/autumn.

Last thing tonight I went back to Seaton Marshes, where the egret roost has recently relocated too.  And in with the Little were SIX Cattle Egrets - yeah we've gained at least one more!  I say at least one because I could only properly go through about a quarter of the Axe egret roost, I could see at least 30 egrets in the distance with the Heronry behind Axmouth Church and I didn't have my scope!  I will try and get down there again tomorrow night and see how many Cattle Egrets we really have...

Sunday 12 March 2017

Egyptian Surprise

Only a quick blog today,  but two Egyptian Geese flew west over Colyford Marsh,  and then off west over Colyford at about 08:20 this morning. A mega PWC tick,  don't think I've seen one here for a good three or four years.  It was lovely to see at least 45 Sand Martins hawking over Colyford and Bridge Marsh as well,  it's amazing how quickly they've flooded in this year,  often we just see dribs and drabs through the Axe before bigger numbers arrive late in March.

Another migrant that appeared to arrive in numbers this morning were Chiffchaffs. Several more at Seaton Marshes,  including at least one with a pollen forehead. Still no Wheatear for me though.  The Avocet was still present on Black Hole Marsh at 9am.

Saturday 11 March 2017

March Wakes Up

I've never been a fan of March when it comes to birding, so much promise and hope, but in reality you see a few Wheatears and Sand Martins mid month and often very little else.  

The first ten days of this March were just as disappointing as I was expecting. The sea has been absolutely dire with watches most mornings showing nothing on it and nothing over it, and there's been no summer migrants for me despite a few Sand Martins and Wheatears turning up elsewhere. There's not even been any early March wader passage on the Estuary which often occurs (Greenshank, Ruff, Knot, etc). It's the gulls that have kept me going, with a couple of days of triple figure Common Gulls and the odd Mediterranean Gull still coming through.  There's been nice numbers of big gulls too, but even these have disappointed with no more white-wingers or anything better.

There was one thirty minutes of slight delight on the 9th, when the warmth of the sun in Axmouth encouraged my first Blackcap of the year to sing, along with - at last - my first PWC2017 Nuthatch. It was nice to see a Brimstone too, this helped make it feel really spring-like...

Today though spring really did step up a gear. The low cloud/fog dropped some migrants in the Axe valley, and it all started with a text from Ian Mc mid morning reading "Short-eared Owl Seaton Marshes". Twenty minutes later this was my view...

Can you see it?

Dreadful pic I know!

Yes it was day roosting in a tree - quite unusual for a Short-eared. And it stayed here for the whole of the day too!  I saw two Short-eareds last year on patch, but they are only just about annual in the valley and often don't stay for long, so it's nice to get this one on the year list early.

About half an hour after seeing this beaut, news filtered in from Lesley Clarke of an Avocet on Black Hole Marsh.  Perfect. And bang on cue, March is by far and away our peak month for Avocet on the Axe, you would be unlucky to go the month without seeing one - but then again I have gone a year without seeing one here, so it's another handy year tick...

It was showing really well from the Tower Hide, although I didn't have time to venture up there.  It's bound to have woken the local wader photographers from their winter hibernation though, and hopefully they will have many more subjects to aim their lenses at this year. Another good Black Hole Marsh wader year would be greatly appreciated by me that's for sure!  Interestingly this bird was colour-ringed, and I will post the details here when I find out about its life history. Be great to know where it wintered last winter that's for sure.

Later on today I had another hour out, and was delighted to see Sand Martins had suddenly arrived.  There were ten over Colyford Marsh and 18+ over Lower Bruckland Ponds between 16:00-17:00. I wouldn't have been that surprised if I'd seen a Swallow amongst them, I didn't, but I was really surprised to pick up a House Martin with the flock at Lower Brucklands.  My earliest ever in the UK by just under three weeks (31st March being my previous earliest). Amazing.  I knew I had to get a snap of it to save face, but sadly couldn't do any better than this...

March Mega!

It may be dreadful, but it is identifiable. Mind you the same could be said for any of my above pics!

Saturday 4 March 2017


Having missed the first showing from the Humpback Whale off Slapton last weekend, I thought it was worth a gamble this weekend.  I say gamble because it has become far more sporadic in its appearances, although I had noticed late afternoon seems to be the time. Presumably this is because shoals of fish often come closer to shore in the evening?

We got down to Slapton at about 15:00. No sign of the whale but there was clearly still lots of food about as there were numerous Habour Porpoise offshore, and plenty of Gannets close in too.

Looking east from Strete Gate

Porpoises (not baby whales!)

At about 16:20 from the Memorial car park I saw a distant blow followed by a brief dark shape. And that was the start of it. This absolutely stunning animal swam in (at quite a speed) before seeming to settle just south of Strete Gate where it happily fed not that far out at all. Far far closer than you'd ever imagine seeing a whale from land that's for sure! What an incredible experience. The shear size of the beast really is breathtaking, as is the height the blows reach.  Wow.

I could have got far better photos, and many would have done, but I just wanted to watch it to be honest. Such a treat...

One of the best things about this unprecedented event, apart from the animal itself, is the atmosphere it is bringing to the place. Cheers and claps when it surfaced, numerous audible 'wows!' and kids running up the beach ahead of their parents hoping to get closer views.  Fantastic.