Sunday 30 April 2017

Best Day of the Spring

Wow what a day. The best birding day of the month turned out to be the last day of the month, and that was simply because we had some different weather. A nice south easterly wind has been blowing all day (since yesterday in fact) and we've had lots of rain. And this meant birds birds birds!

Although south easterlies aren't our best wind direction for sea watching (that's south westerlies) I just had to give the sea a look - quite a long look in the end! I started the day with a four hour sea watch and then had two twenty minute glances during the afternoon, all from the Spot On Kiosk. These are the exact times, and this is what I saw (east unless stated);

05:50-09:50, 13:10-13:30, 15:10-15:30;

2 Dark-bellied Brent Goose 
110 Common Scoter (75e 35w)
5 Great Northern Diver (all singles and all west)
70+ Gannet
6 Manx Shearwater (two singles and a four)
4 Arctic Skua (ad pale-phased west at 08:40, ad pale-phased and near-ad pale-phased close east together at 09:02 and ad dark-phased west at 09:40)
3 Mediterranean Gull (all first-years)
6 Common Gull
40 Black-headed Gull (most flew in)
21 Sandwich Tern
1 Arctic Tern (so close that I think it came out of the Estuary then flew east at 08:20)
4 Dunlin (in)
3 Sanderling (one east with a flock of ten Whimbrel and later two flew in sat on beach briefly then headed off west)
72 Whimbrel (biggest single flock being 38 birds)
2 Guillemot
14 Razorbill
8 auk sp.
1 Yellow Wagtail (flew east along beach calling).

I'm pleased to say there's four year ticks in that list; Arctic Skua and Tern, Manxie and Sanderling. I had to wait for the skuas, they only arrived once the cloud came over and just prior/during the first rain showers of the day. Although the numbers always make a sea watch for me (Whimbrel and Scoter today), and of course the skuas which are always notable birds here, my star bird of the watch was the Arctic Tern. Our 'commic's' are usually distant, but this thing virtually flew over my head! Great to be able to see all the diagnostic features, but best of all that distinctive bouncy flight and super long tail streamers. Now if I was to be a bit whingy a Black Tern would have been nice, but I'm not today - it's just been such a fab fab day!

Whimbrel flying east

Arctic Skua - just!

One of the closest Gannets of the day

With many other birders watching the coast today, there were a couple of interesting re-sightings of my birds. My four Manx Shearwaters in the afternoon flew past Sidmouth half an hour earlier (Dan), and it took my dark-phased Arctic Skua twenty minutes to fly from here to Budleigh (B Heasman) and then another forty minutes before it flew west past Teignmouth (L Allnat). Always find this kind of stuff fascinating, thanks for getting in touch folks.

Considering the amount of wading birds passing over the sea, I knew the river valley would be worth keeping an eye on today. By the end of the day on the Estuary there were; 

10 Ringed Plover
12 Dunlin
5 Bar-tailed Godwit (three sum plum males)
3 Black-tailed Godwit
36 Whimbrel (giving me a day total of well over a hundred - very notable count for the Axe)
1 Greenshank

From left to right; three Barwits, a Whimbrel and a Blackwit
Is there a finer wader? Summer plumaged male Bar-tailed Godwit
And again
And again! x2
Four of the five Barwits from today

And this wasn't it.  Wandering towards the Colyford Marsh hide early afternoon I noticed all the birds that were clearly on the main scrape on Colyford Marsh lift off and behave as though they'd just been spooked by something. Two minutes later I was watching my/our first Marsh Harrier of 2017. Year tick number five of the day...

Female Marsh Harrier
And again, but a little more zoomed in

I must just thank my wife, who's been amazing as always and was quite happy to let me fill my boots when it came to birding - she knows how much I've been longing for this weather. In my defence I did find time to build a bed today as well!

Before I sign off for the night I will quickly tie up yesterday's birding news - don't worry it won't be long as I only had about an hour out. Saying that it was a pretty good hour though! First up was an Avocet that flew in calling on the Estuary just as the tide was coming in...

Avocet and Shelduck

Then there was a new in Lesser Whitethroat singing alongside the tram line opposite Coronation Corner. And finally my forty minute wander along the beach with the dog which produced a Great Skua east and a Mute Swan and 22 Pale-bellied Brent Geese west...

Pale-bellied Brent Geese, later seen off Dawlish Warren

That's it now. Night all and roll on tomorrow...

Thursday 27 April 2017

Slow Going

I don't think it is just here that spring seems to have stopped for the time being. Although I've not had much time out this week (an hour or so in the field both first thing in the morning and last thing at night) it's clear that it's really quite quiet.  In fact I hadn't had a year tick at all this week (so unusual for the last week in April) until just before 7pm tonight...

Whenever I've been around in the evenings over the past few weeks I've been checking the little pre-roost gathering of up to twenty Pied Wagtails that can usually be found either on Bridge or Colyford Marsh. A White Wagtail would have been nice enough (still not seen one this year) but a pair of Yellow Wagtails on Colyford Marsh this evening were way more exciting!  Hard to beat a spring male Yellow Wag if you ask me - I just love 'em! And a year tick too :-)

Otherwise today has been poor, as was yesterday. Tuesday was a little better though with the increased water level on Black Hole Marsh at dawn offering 16 Dunlin, six Ringed Plover (both notable increases), a Greenshank and a Common Gull, plus five Cattle Egret over north and seven Whimbrel on the Estuary (been this many pretty much all week).  Walking back from the Island Hide I briefly caught sight of a large yellow bunting and crossed everything that it was going to turn out to be a Cirl Bunting...

...It was a Yellowhammer. Still really notable though, I can't recall seeing many/any Yellowhammers on the deck in the river valley. I have had a few fly over, but not perched up in a bush which is promising, it would be great if they started nesting here. It was nice to see a Sedge Warbler quite well too for a change...

At both ends of Tuesday there were at least 200 hirundines feeding low in the valley, by far my biggest gathering this year and no doubt congregating low due to the bitterly cold north wind. They were mostly Sand Martins and Swallows with the odd House Martin mixed in.  It was fascinating watching them during the evening, because when a huge dark cloud came over and the light level dropped instantly, they all flew up and started behaving like a murmuration of Starlings...

I have been keeping an eye on the sea since my Great Skua, but it's been as quiet as the land. I had four Sandwich Terns fishing offshore on Tuesday, a Ringed Plover flew east on Wednesday and today the lingering Common Scoter remains...

I'm actually well impressed with the above photo, as the Scoter is at the very least half a mile out!  

Having moaned in my last post about the lack of sea watching weather this spring, I am literally salivating at the forecast for Saturday evening/Sunday.  I've asked Jess to keep our imminent arrival in there til Monday at least...

Monday 24 April 2017

Great Surprise Skua

A key component of a good Axe year list is plenty of good sea watching. And for good sea watching you need the right weather... this is something we've not had at all so far this spring!  In fact all year the sea has been poor, dire in the winter months for divers, grebes and ducks, and dire this spring for anything because the weather has been so far from right (we need Atlantic storms - there's been none!). It's 24th April and I haven't even seen a Manx Shearwater yet, in previous years by now flocks are streaming by during the evening.

Amazingly I have managed to see a skua though! On Saturday afternoon I noticed that although the sea was flat calm, there seemed to be quite a few Gannets and gulls feeding out there - which could only mean there must be some food.  So later that evening I went back expecting to see a few Manxies, but instead bagged a jammy Great Skua! My first skua of the year :-)

It flew west, and was the closest bird of them all, but it was unusually high up. The further west it flew the higher it went, and I lost it as it seemed to fly west over Beer Head.  It was so weird watching a skua off here in blue skies with no wind, but I have seen a few Arctic Skuas over the years behaving similarly in similar weather conditions. I once saw an adult dark phased Arctic fly straight in from miles out, gain height by soaring up a bit like a raptor, then fly in off over Seaton and away inland.  

Other than this Bonxie, I've not seen too much since my last blog post, although haven't had that much time out really.  Many places have seen some wader passage over the past few days, but all I've noticed here is an increase in Whimbrel numbers...

Friday 21 April 2017

Gotcha Gropper

It was a lovely still and cloudy dawn this morning, which got me out the door nice and early again. A quick look around Black Hole and Seaton Marshes was disappointing, but Axe Cliff beckoned as the conditions were just too good.

It was however quiet for new migrants, unlike Portland today which seems to be having another good day. My hour walk revealed just three new migrant passerines in the bushes; a Willow Warbler, a new Whitethroat (saw four this morning) and this invisible reeler...

Yes I did it - I got my Gropper! You will probably need to turn up the sound and listen carefully to the above YouTube clip, but that's all I can offer you I'm afraid as per usual for a spring migrant Grasshopper Warbler it didn't show. I am so happy to get one of these on my Patchwork Challenge year list, because if you miss out on Gropper in the spring, you have probably missed them for the year - autumn ones are hard to catch up with here.

It was nice to get some better views of the very vocal but highly elusive Lesser Whitethroat on today's visit, although a completely clear view was only just about manageable...

And here's one of the Common Whitethroats, this particular individual has been in since Wednesday...

Whilst walking through a field of Rapeseed it was a bit odd to suddenly hear some Brent Geese calling, but I couldn't see a thing. I did eventually get to see them when I arrived at the first decent viewpoint over the sea, a nice flock of eight Pale-bellied Brent Geese...

They soon swam in towards the rocks just east of the river mouth, and began feeding here...

All in all a rather pleasant morning out with a nice bit of variety. Oh I do love spring.

Wednesday 19 April 2017


Yesterday was not a good day for me. The south west coast of the UK saw an really impressive fall of migrants - with many places recording multiple Redstarts, Grasshopper Warblers, etc. Portland had a truly epic day. And it was a day that I didn't have much time to go out. I managed to give Seaton Marshes and the Boshill Cross area a good look, but they were both surprisingly quiet. With the clear skies the action was obviously on higher ground, Ian Mcs morning trip to Beer Head proved this with five Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher. I so so wish I was able to give Axe Cliff a visit, but I wasn't. So I did the next best thing and went there this morning...

It started well with a singing Whitethroat being my first of the year - I recorded at least three by the end of my two hour walk.  And it was good to see the Lesser Whitethroat that I heard here last week still in situ, and showing quite well today.  A couple of Wheatears pitched in briefly before heading north, and I heard up to eight Willow Warblers singing from various spots.  Best of all though was this absolute beaut...

Oh yes. An absolute stonking male Redstart.  I often find spring Redstarts quite skittish and unsettled, but not this fella. He had found a warm and sunny corner of a field, and was showing off superbly - an absolute pleasure and joy to watch.  When I walked back half an hour later he was still there. 

I can confirm the best way to get over the disappointment of missing a good fall and a whole lot of potential, is to go out and watch one of these! I just need a 'Gropper' now to completely cure me.

Lastly, a few decent sightings and counts from my Dad last night at Black Hole Marsh included four Little Ringed Plovers, ten Dunlin, a few Ringed Plovers, and 12 Wheatear on Colyford Marsh. 

Monday 17 April 2017

Wheatears and a Whinchat

Early morning yomps around the Marshes have been very quiet over the past couple of days, very quiet indeed. Both early wake ups have been somewhat saved by sea watches afterwards, although neither produced any year ticks. 

Yesterday morning 45 minutes of looking over a flat calm sea gave (west unless stated); 

1 Great Crested Grebe (flew in from miles out and landed on the sea - so should have been a Red-necked!)
1 Shelduck 
4 Common Scoter (east)
4 Whimbrel
1 Knot

And an hour this morning gave (west unless stated); 

3 Great Northern Diver (my first of the spring - one in summer plumage)
10 Common Scoter (east)
18 Sandwich Tern (including a lovely close fishing flock of 11)
1 Common Sandpiper
1 Kingfisher (flew west about 20m offshore - a weird sight!)
1 Wheatear (flew in off)

Portland have had a stormingly good day today for migrants, which you'd expect considering the cloudy weather and date. But most places here have been quiet, except for Colyford Common which was hopping with birds!  Thanks to a text from Dad I was pleased to enjoy our first Whinchat of the spring and 16 Wheatear mid afternoon...

A distant but very attractive male Whinchat!

The Wheatears showed such an amazing variety of plumages and sizes, in particular the males. There were small dark ones just like the birds we see in March, and other really pale and absolute monster Greenland fellas. Some of these have such restricted colour on their front that they almost look like Eastern Black-eared Wheatears. 'Wheatear of the day' for me was the bird in the bottom left of this pic...

Some of the females were clearly Greenland-types too, as they looked large and leggy...

The few other interesting bits and bobs from today included a Green Sandpiper on a pool near Boshill Cross, four Whimbrel on Colyford Marsh and at least three new singing male Reed Warblers in. I did see/hear the odd Willow Warbler this afternoon, but nowhere near enough to claim a fall.  It was nice to finally see all seven Cattle Egrets together, on the Estuary early this morning...


Saturday 15 April 2017

Hare, There and Everywhere. But Few Birds...

The weather conditions were absolutely perfect for a spring fall this morning, with a north west wind and really nice thick covering of cloud. There was even a little bit of drizzle not long after dawn!

It started quite well with an early visit to Black Hole Marsh showing that overnight two Reed Warblers had dropped in, with both singing from the strip of reeds up to the Tower Hide. I just love migration, not there one day, singing in full voice the next!  

I then headed up for a good stomp around Axe Cliff, which started off well with a single Tree Pipit over north soon after my arrival. Not a common spring migrant so great to get one on my Patchwork Challenge list so soon.  This was however a false start, with little else passing over and the bushes being incredible quiet migrant-wise.  A singing male Lesser Whitethroat towards the end of my walk did somewhat make up for all the fruitless trudging around mind - another decent year tick. But what really made the walk worthwhile was this wonderful Hare...

I have missed a couple of good birds today. One was a Spoonbill that Phil had briefly drop onto Black Hole Marsh at 1pm, which interestingly looks to be the same Spoonbill that was on Bowling Green Marsh up until 11:30 today.  But more gripping year listing-wise was a Grasshopper Warbler heard reeling for twenty minutes on Colyford Common by a visiting birder mid morning.

I did try tonight for the 'Gropper' in case it started up again at dusk, which they can sometimes do if they haven't moved on, but my plan didn't work out.  It wasn't a wasted trip though as I got to see Goosanders again, with three circling over Black Hole Marsh before dropping onto the Estuary at 20:05...

A drake and two female Goosanders

In my last post I was wrong to presume the lone Cattle Egret that I've been seeing for a couple of days, and the lack of any Cattle Egrets in the Borrow Pit at dawn, meant we were down to just one bird. Twilight Tim has seen seven over the past two days, which actually makes me wonder if the lone bird was bird number seven, which has now joined up with the regular six?

So to summarise today, an okay day but considering the date and the weather it should have been much better. Sometimes I really do wish our patch was somewhere else in the south west, at a real migration hot spot like Lands End, Portland or Charmouth...

Thursday 13 April 2017

Spooning at Night

Well Tuesday night ended not how I was expecting it too!

Whilst I was at work (until 10pm) Mr White texted with news that two Spoonbills were on Black Hole Marsh.  For an Axe year lister Spoonbill is a bird you want to see, some years you will get several, but other years you may get one or even none. I had to see these birds...

The skies were clear, I knew it was a full moon, and Spoonbills are big and white... I had come up with a cunning plan! At 22:10 I pulled into Black Hole Marsh car park where Tim met me, and we walked up to the Tower Hide. The view from the Tower Hide with my naked eye at 22:15 was this...

Now I really don't praise my optics as much as they deserve, but wow, just wow. My Nikon Monarch Binoculars and Telescope literally brought the marsh alive, and there as clear as (not quite but almost) day were the two Spoonbill. I was expecting them to be fast asleep on one of the islands, but in fact they were constantly feeding, which I guess explains why Spoonbills so often sleep for hours upon end during the day!  Watching two Spoonbills sieve the water for food with those long sweeping neck movements, surrounded by numerous Shelduck and Grey Heron at 22:20, with just the slightest of natural light from the full moon was an absolutely awesome experience.

The next morning (Wednesday) we had cloud! And lots of it, so I was out early hoping to cash in on the surely guaranteed mega fall of spring migrants.  Well no, there was no mega fall, there was definitively a bit of a fall, but it was just Willow Warblers and Wheatears, and not many of them. There was enough to keep me walking around the next corner hoping for something better, but the best I managed was our second Sedge Warbler of the spring, this one singing on Stafford Marsh (with the Borrow Pit bird still in situ). Both Spoonbills were still present and one Cattle Egret (which I think is the only one left?) was with the cattle on Colyford Common - making this a four Heron species day for me!

 Here's some pics (and I won't ever make any excuses for too many Wheatear photos!)...

Male Wheatear Seaton Marshes 12/04/17

Male Wheatear Seaton Marshes 12/04/17

Male and female Wheatears Seaton Marshes 12/04/17

Day Spoonbills... so boring compared with night Spoonbills!

A nice Devon Red and our last remaining Cattle Egret?

There was one last surprise for me on Wednesday, an even flukier Osprey than my first of the spring! I was out driving the work's van up Colyford Road, could see the gulls making a fuss and my eyes locked on to an Osprey in with a bunch of spiraling gulls somewhere above the Estuary just south west of Tower Hide.  I had to put my eyes back to the road, and by the time I'd found somewhere safe to pull in I couldn't pick it up again, although could tell it was probably still around as the waders and ducks on the Estuary were now going nuts.  Turns out from others already in the Tower Hide that it then spent the next half hour on our little Estuary, before flying off east. Yes I would have liked better views but pleased to have seen it nonetheless.  I understand our third Osprey of the spring was seen this afternoon, although I couldn't pick it up from my house so no such luck for me today.

This morning I had virtually no time, just half an hour for a quick scoot around the marshes. Couldn't find anything obvious new, except for a second singing Sedge Warbler on the Borrow Pit. One male seems to be happy on the island, with another along the back edge where a small line of reeds are (this is the one that's been there since Monday). No Reed Warbler yet for me.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Spring Trickles On

Although we have some cloud we need more!  My god you must all think I am just always moaning about the weather on this blog.... well I suppose I am. But a good spring on patch is completely dependent on the weather. A bit of rain would be ideal but I can't see that coming, so just some thick cloud would be nice...

Yesterday there was a bit of action, mostly Wheatear-action, and this was probably more to do with the cold NW wind than the bit of cloud. When there's a strong head wind migrants are far more likely to need to drop in for a refuel before heading on, than if there's little/no wind. I guess flying into the wind uses more energy?  It was really nice to see a load of Wheatears again because they've been scarce since my Wheatear binge on 24th March. There were at least 14 in the valley yesterday, with most (eight at least) at Colyford Common, one at Seaton Marshes and five in the ploughed field opposite Colyford WTW.  

I did also manage to add Sedge Warbler to mine (and the Patch's) year list yesterday, not before time, with one singing on the Borrow Pit. Plus there was a Common Sand flying around here which would have been another new-in migrant.  The final spike of interest for me yesterday were two Goosanders on Black Hole Marsh at dusk, but not the two from the previous night as one of these was a fine adult drake.  This makes me think that the run of Goosander sightings over the last couple of days stem from the same four birds I had drift down the river late on the 27th March (a drake and three females).

This morning I was up and out early again, despite the lack of cloud, and again overall it was quiet but there were a few snippets of interest. Even if I see nothing though being out and about here is ALWAYS a pleasure, especially early in the day when there are few other people to ruin it about...

The Borrow Pit (pictured above) produced the singing Sedge Warbler again and the six Cattle Egrets having another lie in. A Willow Warbler singing here was one of five that I've seen/heard this morning, which is five more than I noted yesterday!

Black Hole Marsh gave a couple of surprises, with our first Green Sandpiper of the year dropping in calling at about 06:45...

And from the Tower Hide my 11th patch Pintail of the year, which is tons by Axe standards! Ten of them have been drakes which is nice...

I ended my last post with Venus, so I will end this one with Jupiter which was showing just below the moon last night...

And here's basically the same pic just with a different shutter speed, as I wanted to try and capture some of the cloud...

I struggled to get a good photo of Jupiter on its own, this is my best effort as you can see three of its largest moons...

And roll on tomorrow. Spring is great as with each day comes a whole lot more potential...