Saturday 28 October 2017

When Wood Pigeons Become Cool

I'm going to kick this blog post off with a video. Make sure you turn the volume up so you can hear their wing beats...

Yesterday proved a major Wood Pigeon day for us, with James Mc seeing somewhere between 30 and 50 thousand pass through (I really must buy him a notebook!) though sadly I only managed to witness about twenty minutes of this. But today, with clear skies forecasted for the first few hours of the day, I wasn't going to miss round two. James joined me for an Axe Cliff vis mig watch 08:00 - 10:00.

There were fewer Wood Pigeons today (for us anyway) with probably about 15,000 seen flying west. Still, many of them passed really low over our heads, or just in front of us below the cliff edge. As the morning went on flocks started passing higher both out to sea and inland, so we probably missed thousands!  I tried to capture their magic on camera but it's never the same...

Although this would have proved enough excitement, there was plenty more to be seen this morning.  After three busy nights of thrush passage, it was good to finally see more about in daylight hours. There were almost constantly ones and twos of Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Redwing taking off or dropping in, along with my first three Fieldfare of the year west. Pity the four Ring Ouzel James saw here yesterday weren't still about, or some more, but hey ho.

I stupidly forgot my notebook this morning, so the higher counts are more like guesstimates, but this is roughly what would have gone into my notebook (west unless stated); 

3 Lapwing 
7 Golden Plover (a five and two singles)
15,000 Wood Pigeon
50 Stock Dove (probably a gross undercount!)
6 Rook
200 Jackdaw 
140 Starling 
70 Skylark (most of these were inland of us so we probably missed more than we saw)
70 Blackbird (total includes both settled and migrating birds)
40 Song Thrush (total includes both settled and migrating birds)
45 Redwing (flying in all directions!)
3 Fieldfare
10 alba Wagtail
50 Meadow Pipit
70 Chaffinch
3 Brambling (all singles)
80 Linnet
15 Siskin
1 Redpoll 
6 Bullfinch
25 Reed Bunting

With all these passing migrants the predators were having a field day. Two Peregrines were almost constantly having a go at the Pigeon flocks, plus we saw three different Sparrowhawk...

Sadly the fields at Axe Cliff are a shadow of their former self. Since they've been ploughed, flattened and replanted this year with winter crops, they're proving completely unattractive to ground feeding birds. In past years today would have also shown hundreds of larks, pipits and finches feeding in the fields, adding another exciting element to birding here, but today absolutely nothing. I really can't believe Yellowhammers are hanging on, but they are...

After Axe Cliff I had a 15 minute look over the valley. A Great White Egret had flown west past Abbotsbury earlier in the morning, and by my reckoning was due to drop in on the Axe any minute. Sadly though, having now missed five here this year (Bob Longhorn found another on Black Hole Marsh yesterday, which stayed 45 minutes), this bird decided to completely bypass us and flew up the Exe instead. Typical! The other bird I was hopeful for was Glossy Ibis, as yesterday saw something of an influx of these into the UK. Despite checking all the visible ditches and scrapes, no luck. Guess what Sue Murphy found on Colyford Marsh late this afternoon though, yes, our first Glossy Ibis of 2017. I had the right idea - just picked the wrong time!

A few days ago it was nice to see a Cattle Egret still with us. Or was, I haven't seen it since! It was feeding with a few Little Egrets near the cattle on Bridge Marsh on Wednesday...

Am really looking forward to some more vis migging, hopefully there's a few more sessions left in this autumn. The question is though will a Hawfinch reward my efforts?  Only time will tell...

Saturday 21 October 2017

More Stormy Weather

Cracking weather here last night and today, big seas, strong south west wind and plenty of passing showers.  I gave the sea as much time as I could, but sadly no Leach's Petrels came past when I was looking. There were plenty of Gannets out there this morning moving west, along with a lone Shearwater sp. (looked Balearic but mega distant) a few Kittiwake and Auk sp. and one Common Scoter

A nice bonus was a Sanderling that flew around with three Ringed Plover for a short while before pitching down briefly on the beach...

I've also spent time today checking the gulls on the Estuary, there were excellent numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls but nothing better in with them. I suppose the highlight was this first-winter presumed intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull. Although the photo is pretty bad (taken in strong sunlight) it does shows how fresh this bird looked. It basically looked like it had only just come out of the nest, by now a first-winter graellsii should be far more worn than this...

Thursday 19 October 2017

That's More Like It!

Well Ophelia has come and gone, but in birding terms delivered nothing. She didn't bring any American land birds or waders, and didn't even drag up that many sea birds on her journey - bit or an ornithological flop really. But since then things have picked up...

The last week has seen an exceptional arrival of Firecrest across south Devon and Dorset, well some parts of south Devon and Dorset! Portland recorded an unprecedented 150+ on Sunday, with probably just as many around Prawle/Start/Soar. But other places (Dawlish Warren, Exmouth, here) recorded none on the very same day!  Pleasingly they have started trickling through here now, I had my first at Spring Head, Axmouth on Monday afternoon, with another on Tuesday up by Axe Cliff Golf Course car park. Dad had six at Beer Head also on Tuesday, and Bun another in Beer village. Such smart birds.

A quick look along the beach to see what Ophelia had left us revealed just six Ringed Plover, a Little Stint (presumably the lingering bird) and a whole load more Man o' War.

Looking east along Seaton Beach on Tuesday morning

Wednesday gave us a nice double, although sadly one of which I missed.  Our Reserves Officer James Chubb saw a Great White Egret on Colyford Common (which had previously been at Abbotsbury Swannery), but it soon took flight and headed off south west. So proving to be as brief a visitor as the other two recorded here this year. Drat.  What followed cheered me up though...

Yellow-browed Warblers have proved much scarcer this autumn than recent years, presumably solely because we've not had the easterly winds of the previous few autumns. So, stepping out my front door early afternoon, I was really surprised to hear one call from trees just up the road - my third from the garden! I didn't have great views of it, but Tim White clearly did an hour or so later as he managed THIS fab picture of it - always such smart birds and always great to see/hear.

The drizzle and completely still conditions of last night saw (well heard!) an excellent nocturnal passage of Redwing and Song Thrush overhead, which gave me high hopes for this morning.  But those hopes have not really been lived up too (as usual!), although it did feel really good out there. There was one lovely highlight though...

As I drove over the lower Axe bridge into Seaton, I was amazed to see a flock of six Avocet fly across in front of the car! A really mega-sized flock by Axe standards.  I watched them fly upriver, they then circled around a bit before seeming to drop down on Black Hole Marsh. So I went around for another gander...

And that brings me and this blog up to date! So good to feel proper autumn excitement - we are a go...

Saturday 14 October 2017

Man o' War

With no urgent bird news to write about, all I've got to report is incredible numbers of Portuguese man o' war washed up on Seaton Beach. I wouldn't be surprised if a walk along the whole length of the beach revealed a three figure count today, with one or two every ten or so feet...

Stunning looking things! Pity to see such big numbers involved though.

In the bird world autumn has clearly moved on. Goldcrests seem to be everywhere now, and I saw my second Redpoll of the autumn this afternoon.  The Estuary has offered me nothing better in recent days than singles of Little Stint and Bar-tailed Godwit, a couple of Med Gulls and seven Ringed Plover.  I wonder if this so-called hurricane will blow anything more interesting in...

Monday 9 October 2017

Cattle Egret

An early morning walk down to Seaton Marshes would have proved quiet were it not for the recent Cattle Egret. It was showing well from the hide with the cattle on the reserve itself, although the cattle didn't seem to like it very much and often charged it away!

Saturday 7 October 2017

Axe Cliff Vis Migging and Harvest Moon

This blog post is a day late, but wow yesterday morning was so so enjoyable. Under beautiful blue skies and in the cool early morning autumn air it was exhilarating watching an impressive westward passage of passerines over Axe Cliff.

The view from my favourite vis migging watch point on patch

I usually count absolutely everything I see whilst vis migging, with a notebook in my pocket and clickers hanging off anything and everything they can. But yesterday morning due to the lack of wind, birds were flying past on countless different lines, which basically made counting impossible.  Although most the finches were passing just off the cliff edge, there were flocks of bird passing a quarter of a mile out to sea, and even more up to half an mile inland! There really were thousands of birds though, it was an epic watch with the most numerous species (in order) being; Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Chaffinch, alba Wagtail, Goldfinch, Skylark and Greenfinch. The species I counted included; 25 Siskin, 21 Reed Bunting, 6 Starling, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Dunnock and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker should really read ex Great Spotted Woodpecker, sad but it did give me one of my vis migging life highlights. I heard a swoosh, and out of no where an adult Peregrine powered into a Great Spotted Woodpecker (that I hadn't seen previously) right in front of my face! The noise of the Peregrine stoop was incredible, but then came the thud, followed by a squawk from the Woodpecker and then a explosion of black and white feathers that slowly floated to the ground.  Amazing. Sadly though both lost out. The Peregrine dropped its prey deep into the undergrowth and could not retrieve, and the Woodpecker would not have survived.

Although overhead was super busy, the fields at Axe Cliff were unusually quiet with a couple of Stonechat and a couple of briefly grounded Reed Buntings the best.


There was a bit more movement down the cliff edge though, with a trickle of Goldcrests and the odd Chiffchaff making their way west through the vegetation. Sadly no Yellow-browed Warblers.

A quick look over the valley afterwards produced a lovely juvenile Marsh Harrier over Colyford Marsh that circled up and rapidly flew off north.  Today, although  I haven't been out, a Cattle Egret and an adult Yellow-legged Gull have been seen from the Tower Hide, along with a report of a Bittern. Gripping.

In a rapid change of topic, I'm sure you all are aware by now that Thursday night of last week gave us a spectacular display of the Harvest Moon. I took a few photos at around 11pm, and as I missed the moon rise, took one of the 'moon set' at Axe Cliff in the morning. All photos with the ever impressive Nikon P900...


What I found even more impressive came the following night, with an almost full moon lighting up a sky full of clouds. Amazingly the following photo was taken from my back door at 10:30pm...