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...


  1. Great stuff Steve, Hawfinches steering clear of me as well. Thought I had a small flock this morning but too brief. Plenty of time yet though. Good luck.

    1. Thanks Perry. Exciting isn't it this vismig game. Blooming Hawfinches though, they just don't seem to be using the south coast to migrate as they are flying over every Tom Dick and Harry inland.