Monday 28 August 2017

Yellow Wagtails Galore!

It's proving to be an absolutely stonking autumn for Yellow Wagtails. We always do well for them here in late August/early September, especially at Beer Head, but this year there are stacks more than usual. 

For the last few days up to 100 have been present in the valley (they can be found wherever there's cattle or on Black Hole Marsh) and most mornings Beer Head goers have been seeing upper double figures flying west. Plus this morning I added a load more with a visit to Axe Cliff, which I will happily write about now...

Beer Head has been pretty well covered so far this autumn by the usual gang; Ian Mc, Phil A, Bun, Clive W and Dad. This gang would usually include me, but this autumn I've decided to really concentrate on Axe Cliff which usually plays second fiddle, hence why Axe Cliff is within my Patchwork Challenge patch.  I went up there a few weeks ago but it was before the autumnal rush, and for the last week Harry has been suffering with a cold so our nights have not been too good (to say the least!). Thankfully though I finally made it up there this morning for a good walk about, albeit later than I would usually visit. An hour and a half from 08:30 produced;

6 Tree Pipit (two grounded, four west)
7 Meadow Pipit (grounded - my first of the autumn)
140+ Yellow Wagtail (all grounded in the stubble fields, I reckon I would have seen 200+ had I walked more fields)
1 Wheatear
3 Whinchat
1 Stonechat
3 Blackcap
2 Whitethroat
5 Willow Warbler

The bushes never do that well at Axe Cliff, but oh my word the stubble fields were amazing. I don't think I've ever seen Yellow Wagtails like it - they were everywhere!

This is what the Axe Cliff stubble fields are looking like at the moment

If you enlarge this photo, all the dots flying above the stubble are Yellow Wags!

Two Yellow Wags - they weren't easy to photograph as they spent most their time feeding in among the stalks

One of the Whinchats

Down in the valley, Black Hole Marsh is pretty samey wader wise but it's nice to have a juvenile male Ruff with us, which has been here since the afternoon of 23rd. There are a few more Snipe (11) and Teal (25+) about as well, and I'm sure a scarcity or rarity is only a matter of days away.

Which leaves me just to say goodnight...

Tonight about twenty minutes after sunset on the lower Axe Estuary looking towards Seaton

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Black Hole Update

Morning visits to Black Hole Marsh today and yesterday have shown the following; 

47 Little Egret
1 Cattle Egret
12 Teal
14 Oystercatcher 
20 Ringed Plover
c50 Dunlin
c50 Black-tailed Godwit
5 Greenshank
8 Common Sandpiper
4 Green Sandpiper
1 Mediterranean Gull
4 Wheatear
20+ Yellow Wagtail
10 Willow Warbler

This morning's Wheatears were my first of the autumn, simply because I haven't managed to get up to Axe Cliff/Beer Head much in the last few weeks. There had clearly been something of a small fall this morning as some of the bushes and reeds were hopping with Willows and Chiffs, especially around Stafford Marsh.  In local terms it was an impressive count of Little Egrets early yesterday morning near Tower Hide, suggesting they've enjoyed a good breeding season.

Although tundra Ringed Plovers are probably very common migrants, among yesterday's (most distant) Ringed Plovers was probably the best tundrae example I've ever seen here...

The middle bird, a compact Ringed Plover with a strikingly dark mantle and crown

At the Birdfair I learnt a lot more about the fantastic Nikon P900, so am going to really try and get to grips with its various different settings and features. Sure should be fun...

Yesterday's sunset on the lower Axe Estuary, looking towards Seaton

Monday 21 August 2017

Birdfair 2017

This year I was able to spend two days at the Birdfair at Rutland Water, and was proud to be representing Nikon once again...

We had a really successful show with so much interest on both the optics and camera side.  I really enjoyed chatting to people visiting the stand and was thrilled at how many people introduced themselves to me.  We saw plenty of birds from our view point too, with numerous Ospreys and Hobbies, a Great White Egret, Greenshank, few Yellow Wagtails and an array of wildfowl.

As ever with Birdfair it's great bumping into familiar faces...

Nathan from Spurn - he had just told me all about the male Bluetail he saw a few years back!

Jonny of Blyth's Pipit fame! Along with his better half and their beautiful new addition

But it's also about making new friends. I can't tell you the respect and admiration I have for this chap..

Tom Mason

Tom Mason is a freelance wildlife photographer. He hasn't even reached 25 but has been on photo expeditions to locations such as the Falklands, the Amazon, etc... At the age of 16 he took a Friday off school to attend the UK Photography Show, where he tracked down someone in particular (a marketing manager I believe), managed to entice them to a sit down and a coffee and basically walked away with a job.  For a 16 year old that takes serious balls!  What he doesn't know about cameras and photography isn't worth knowing, and what's so refreshing is that he knows his wildlife too.

I was also delighted to see first hand the work of one of my favourite wildlife photographers Rebecca Nason. I've always found her work to be something of a mixture of photography and art, and I just had to shake her hand when we met. Seeing her photographs up close made them look even better!

Sadly I had to leave the fair at 2pm on the Saturday, but obviously couldn't leave Rutland without a quick stop off to look at this bush...

Surely quite famous now?

Yes on the south shore of Rutland Water a healthy population of Tree Sparrows survive. And it looks like they've had a good breeding season as there were plenty of young'uns about...

During my absence Phil seemed to be keeping a close eye on things around here, he wouldn't let anything rare slip through. I tried to retweet as many of his tweets as I saw but the signal at the Birdfair was mostly pants. To very quickly summarise though thankfully I didn't miss anything major.

I did manage to grab an hour out this morning at Black Hole. There had clearly been the first semi decent pulse of Yellow Wagtails with up to twenty between Seaton and Colyford Marshes. A lone Whinchat just south of Black Hole Marsh was my first of the autumn.  On the marsh itself the variety is still poor (no doubt due to the lack of easterly winds), but overall numbers are looking good with 60+ Black-tailed Godwit, c50 Dunlin, 12 Teal and smaller numbers of the usual suspects.

Oh, almost forgot, I saw some really bright juvenile Willow Warblers today. They were nice and yellow... one could say they were yellow warblers in fact...

Tuesday 15 August 2017

First Wigeon

Enjoyed a bird-filled morning down Black Hole Marsh this morning, with the bonus of some lovely weather. And there was an Axe first.... three Mr Waite's on the platform at once...

My totals for the visit were;

2 Wigeon (first of the autumn - bang on cue)
3 Teal
14+ Ringed Plover (maybe 19 as had five high west over Colyford Common)
70 Dunlin
68 Black-tailed Godwit
3 Whimbrel
6 Greenshank (a good Axe count, and included my first juvs of the year)
1 Yellow Wagtail
5 Willow Warbler 

There's just so many wading birds on Black Hole Marsh at the moment, with many of them showing really close to the Island Hide. A photographers dream...


The Wigeon weren't quite so cooperative though...

Saturday 12 August 2017

The Glorious Twelfth

I have been meaning to post this video up here for a while now, but today being the 'Glorious Twelfth' (the first day of the Red Grouse shooting season) has reminded me to do so.

I have seen this several times on social media, but realised that if you're not social media savvy (which I think many of my readers aren't) you wouldn't know anything about it at all. Typically it received zero coverage (at least that I saw) on TV, radio and the newspapers.

In June 2013 on a shooting estate in Scotland, a camera placed by the RSPB to monitor a Hen Harrier nest filmed this. It's upsetting but not overly graphic...

As you can see this video shows someone with a very large gun (and undoubtedly a very small *****) flush a female Hen Harrier from its nest, before shooting it then collecting its life-less body and the inevitable scattering of feathers. Good solid evidence.... you'd think!

This case was subject to a prolonged Police investigation, and nine separate court hearings. But a matter of weeks before the trial was due to take place earlier this year, the Crown Office informed all parties the case was to be dropped and the prosecution to be abandoned.

Obviously the RSPB went completely mental, but in reality there was nothing they could do. And the pathetic reason given was basically "because the shooter didn't know he was being filmed".  The Crown Office alleged the camera had been deliberately placed there on private land to film exactly this, but actually RSPB insists it was simply there to monitor the nest (how many young fledge, how many feeding visits by the adults, etc).  

But does it really matter why the camera was there!? You can't get more solid evidence of illegal raptor persecution than this! And if this is apparently not good enough, then oh dear we have serious problems.

It just shows how hard us conservationists need to work to save our birds. Especially our birds of prey. They really are in serious trouble.

You can find more details about this sorry tale here:

Normal Axe Birding service will be resumed from the next blog post...

Monday 7 August 2017

Quick Update and Icelandic Blackwits

Only time for a short update. The last few and the next few days have been and will be a bit hectic for a variety of reasons. I have managed a bit of time out though which I'll summarise here...

A morning wander around Black Hole Marsh last Friday showed the bushes were the busiest they've been so far this autumn. The highlight was a cracking juv Lesser Whitethroat along the track to the Tower Hide, but the ten Willow Warblers were just as exciting to see...

Autumn Willow Warbler - hope I get to ring some soon!

The marsh itself revealed a Greenshank, c18 Dunlin and two Cattle Egrets.

Saturday gave me less than above, although three Green Sands showed well.  In the afternoon I saw my first settled Yellow Wagtail of the autumn (but my third of the season) on Seaton Marshes.

Green Sandpiper

And that's about all the bird news from me, although there has been a few other bits and bobs about. The six Goosander are still around, as are at least two Cattle Egret. And this afternoon Dad had a juv Little Ringed Plover on Black Hole which was new in.

Lastly I have been showing my (annual) love for juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on Twitter over the past few days. I saw my first on Wednesday 2nd which showed really well in front of Island Hide...

Juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit

This dull photo doesn't really do it justice. They are the most beautiful colour, with soft yet crisp plumage and amazing patterning on their scapulars and tertials.   Despite the gloomy weather, a nearby adult meant I was able to take a nice adult vs juv comparison shot...

Moulting adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit (left), juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit (right).

There are so many differences visible and I would happily go through them all...but that would be boring so I won't. All I will say is just look at how different they appear, the adult is a tatty worn looking bird, whereas the juvenile is so so fresh - you can just tell all those feathers are new.  Such smart birds.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Curlew Sandpiper

It wasn't just teeming with rain at Black Hole Marsh this morning -  it was teeming with wading birds too!

I've lost count at the number of times I've praised rain on this blog, but it really does makes all the difference. There was a perfect example of this this morning, at 06:15 there were 35 Dunlin on Black Hole Marsh, five hours later there were at least double that! And they were feeding all over the place, not just in one or two tight flocks - looked amazing!

My reason for the second visit was because Mr White spied our first Curlew Sandpiper of the year drop in at around 8am. We often don't see them here til September when the juveniles arrive, although saying that the epic flock of 15 in 2013 arrived in August (right at the end of it though). Tim also reported four Turnstone and a Sanderling - the latter our first of the autumn.

Being early August I was expecting to see a nice red Curlew Sandpiper, but it was surprisingly pale with only slight remnants of summer plumage...

A Greenshank, two Cattle Egrets and six redhead Goosander (first seen yesterday morning by Ian Mc) were also on Black Hole Marsh at 06:15.

It's also worth mentioning that today is the one year anniversary of the Least Sandpiper! Well not for me, that's tomorrow, but Tim Wright first found it on the 2nd. I wonder what this year's autumn Black Hole rarity/ies will be...