Friday 30 June 2017

Autumn Firsts

Before I go on I feel I should clarify my use of the word 'autumn'. No I'm not wishing summer away - well actually I kind of always do but that's not the point - I mean 'autumn' as in the autumn passage of birds.  Autumn passage, which spans from June to November/December is the post-breeding passage, whether it's a bird that's failed to breed, has bred or is a juvenile. With gulls and waders, and even some passerines, it can start as early as mid June. 

Although this blog continues to remain quiet, it is a seasonal quietness not a baby-related quietness. See I still get down the marshes...

Actually Harry really is turning out to be an outdoor-loving baby.  Most crying fits can be solved by a wander outside, which is pretty handy for me... unless it is in the middle of the night then it really isn't!

I noted the first passerine migrants back on the 22nd June when 11 Sand Martins flew purposely south west in two groups over the Estuary, and a Willow Warbler sub-songed from Stafford Marsh.

With the waders, we've had Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew all summer (although sadly none of them breeding) but numbers of these are building up a bit now. There's roughly twenty Redshank about, Curlew numbered 26 last week and I've just seen twelve Lapwing. The first Common Sandpiper was on the Estuary on 22nd June, and the day before yesterday I noticed the first on Black Hole Marsh for the autumn - with three there yesterday. I'm amazed I've not seen a Green Sandpiper yet, but I reckon there will be one or two out there on the pools around Colyford Marsh we just can't see them.  Little Ringed Plover will also arrive within the next few days I reckon.

Among the gulls, and the increasing number of Black-headed Gulls, on Wednesday I was pleased to see the first Med Gull of the autumn on the Axe - an absolutely stunning summer plumaged adult. We usually get our best numbers of Med Gulls in the mid to late summer period, although most pass over the sea and don't even give our Estuary a look in. Also on Wednesday the first two juvenile Black-headed Gulls were present, hopefully they've had a good breeding season, as hopefully have Yellow-legged Gulls too because as ever I'd love to see lots of those clean and crisp juveniles.

Starlings seemed to have had a bumper breeding season, there were about 350+ on the wires on Colyford Common yesterday. That's more than enough to attract a(nother) pink one surely!  I'm a little worried about our local breeding Barn Owls mind, as at 11am the other day I tracked one and watched it hunt over Black Hole, Stafford, Colyford and Bridge Marsh, Colyford Common, and then the field just by Boshill Cross before it finally caught something.  That's a lot of effort for one small meal. The three Crows chasing it back wouldn't have helped either, and this is why it flew inside the Island Hide to get some shelter. I know Barn Owls use this hide at night, but have never seen one fly into it during the day! Really wish I was sat in there. It did the trick though as the Crows didn't follow it in.

And that brings me and Axe Birding back up to date. As soon as we get into July migration usually steps up a gear or two, so hopefully that will mean more blog posts. Hope all you lovely readers are well and thanks as always for sticking with me.

Monday 19 June 2017

Lesser Emperor

Wow what a stunning few days we've had. Not so great for a three and a half week old baby, but great for dragonflies which is why I had a wander around Lower Bruckland Ponds this afternoon.

This proved a great move with a stunning surprise in the form of a male Lesser Emperor at 3pm over the top pond.  This is the third Lesser Emp I've found here (previous being 16th July 2006 and 10th August 2012) and turns out this afternoon several have appeared in the UK.  Sadly no pics as it didn't settle, and I last saw it being chased by an Emperor towards the next pond down. Fingers crossed it hangs around, all my previous have been multi-observed and I'd like to keep that record up!

Other notable Odonata on show this afternoon included my first Small Red-eyed Damselflies of the year, with at least five males on the smallest two ponds, am pretty sure these are fairly early too. Also still at least nine Scarce Chaser on the wing, seven lone males and an ovipositing pair. The more usual fare included 15+ Emperor, 20+ Black-tailed Skimmer, five Four-spotted Chaser, three Beautiful Demoiselle, two Banded Demoiselle, one Broad-bodied Chaser and the usual damselfly species.  And now for some pretty pictures...

Here's two different Small Red-eyed Damselflies...

Three different male Scarce Chasers...

A Four-spotted Chaser...

A Beautiful Demoiselle...

And VERY unusually for this blog - a flower! A rather long-stemmed Common Spotted (I think!?) Orchid...

And I just had to photograph this Coot chick on its completely exposed nest. Most Coot nests here are nicely tucked away...

I have also got a bit of birding news to catch up with.  I've already enjoyed three early morning wanders around the Axe Wetlands with Harry...

Each time I've heard singles of singing male Common and Lesser Whitethroats from the field to the south of the entrance track to Black Hole Marsh.  Interestingly the Axe Estuary Ringing Group recently trapped a breeding female Lesser White on Stafford Marsh as well, which is great news.  There certainly seems to be plenty of young passerines about this year too which is encouraging - it looks to have been a good breeding season for many species.

Sometime last week I has a Hobby from the back garden, not before time as they have been regular around here this summer. Red Kites are also clearly still around in some number, I had one over Colyton on Wednesday of last week and received emails informing me of low flying birds over Musbury (two) and Colyford on different days within the past week.

Apologies for the lack of posts lately guys, a mostly awake sometimes crying baby hasn't helped the cause. Although actually tonight he really did help...


Tuesday 6 June 2017


Good sea watching weather in June often doesn't produce much, with most species of sea bird safely on their breeding grounds a long long way away.  It's always worth a look though, especially if you need Storm Petrel for your Patchwork Challenge year list!

Although it's the strong winds and heavy rain that bring Storm Petrels close to shore, I always have better luck finding them off here once the weather has calmed down. Big waves and dark seas are not helpful when trying to pick out a Sparrow-sized mostly black bird that's probably a mile or so out! But when the waves ease and a bit of sun comes out that's when I usually have success, and today was no different...

Yesterday it rained and rained, and a really strong south westerly wind whipped up. These conditions were due to continue overnight until about 4am, when the rain was to ease and wind switch to a north westerly direction - perfect. So at about 05:20 I was setting my scope up in front of a nicely pale coloured and not too rough sea, and about fifteen minutes later my prize came. It wasn't the closest Storm Petrel I've ever seen here, but it remained in almost constant view for at least five minutes as it slowly battled its way west.  I always get such a thrill seeing this tiny sea bird over the huge expanse of the ocean, and I was surprised to remind myself on my return home that the last Stormie I saw here was back in May 2013.

Other than this it was a predictably quiet sea watch with 05:20-06:20 showing just; 

15+ Gannet
7 Kittiwake
7 Swift

I've not seen much about lately, hence the recent lack of blog posts. A flock of c46 Black-tailed Godwits on the Estuary on 2nd June were a real surprise as there have only been single figures present through most of May. I wonder if they were a late spring flock or a group of non-breeding birds?  

I do have some highly gripping news though of an Axe mega seen yesterday, a male Red-backed Shrike briefly on Colyford Common at midday. Despite a very quick and much appreciated text from Sue Murphy, we all managed to miss it. Hopefully it's not gone far though.

I'm sorry this has been a photo-less post, but I think I deserve some credit having written this entire blog post with a baby fast asleep on my left arm!!