Saturday 25 November 2017

Hawfinch Hotspot and Patch Update

Having not seen any more Hawfinch on patch since my Colyton duo earlier in the month, I've been keen to get to Shute where James Mc found 3+ birds in the Churchyard a couple of weeks ago. Shute is only a couple of miles outside the Axe patch, which makes the fact we've not had any more here even more frustrating!

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the lanes of Shute on Thursday morning and heard/saw 10-15 birds, including groups of five and four.  I didn't have any in the Churchyard at all, and my god they could be elusive little blighters - it's a good job they were so vocal!   Most views were similar to this...

But this more distant bird perched up nicely for a few minutes...

There's plenty of Yew, Hornbeam and Field Maple around Shute and most birds seemed quite mobile, but I've highlighted on the map below where I saw most of mine. They are still being seen around the Church as well so don't walk past here without checking the Yews carefully.  I can't stress enough how useful it is to know the various different Hawfinch calls before visiting, particularly the 'seep' call. It's an unobtrusive and subtle sound, but distinctive once learned - they're still not particularity easy to pin down though even when they are calling!

Back to the patch, and I'll quickly summarise my patch highlights over the past week or so...

I had two Brambling with a large flock of Chaffinch at Stafford Cross back on 14th Nov, and a return visit on Thursday morning showed there were at least five now present...

Female Brambling
Male Brambling

I saw another Brambling yesterday, along Clay Lane in Colyton. This afternoon, a Facebook message from a visitor from London, Mark Knivett, reporting two Black Redstarts feeding along the cliff edge on the West Walk, reminded me of this lovely first-winter male Black Red I had along Trevelyan Road on 16th Nov...

It's proving to be an absolutely stonking autumn/early winter for thrushes around here. So SO many Redwing about, in other years we often don't get good numbers of grounded winter thrushes until after Christmas...


And I think that's it from me for today, so I shall bid you all a good night...

Seaton Beach looking towards Beer Head on the evening of 17th Nov.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Exe Estuary Cruise and EDG Review

On Saturday just gone, I was thrilled to join my Dad on a Stuart Line Cruise up the Exe Estuary, which set off from Exmouth at 1pm. Dad has led some of these winter trips for many years now, and I always like to try and get on at least one a winter.

With no telescopes on the Stuart Line Cruise, it's a great place to test out binoculars and get a true feel of their capabilities and limits. So no better place than this to try out the Nikon EDG's that were sent to me to try out earlier in the week...

The light remained nice and flat throughout the three hour cruise, there was no wind and plenty of birds - a fantastic trip! 

On the lower part of the Estuary, hundreds and hundreds of Brent Geese proved a spectacle, along with good numbers of Shag, and in the deeper water here two Great Northern and a surprise Red-throated Diver (rare in the river), the resident Slavonian Grebe, only a few Red-breasted Mergansers (still lots of these to arrive) and a very distant Long-tailed Duck, which was way way off to the east north of Mudbanks.

Red-throated Diver

Slavonian Grebe with a typical Exe back drop

The ultra distant Long-tailed Duck, only identifiable thanks to the amazing zoom on the P900!

As we travelled up the Estuary towards Topsham, the usual change in species occurred with Avocet, Dunlin, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit becoming the most numerous species. A flock of c230 Golden Plover roosting on the mud were nice to see, along with good numbers of Lapwing among the usual smaller numbers of Grey Plover, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and a lovely little flock of 30 Sanderling.   There were also impressive numbers of wildfowl present, mostly around the Clyst area with thousands of Wigeon and probably well over a hundred Pintail. Three Kingfishers pleased the punters on the boat, as always.

It was nice to see three Common Seal on the trip, including a small youngster. Two allowed their photographs to be taken...

And what about the binoculars? Well I was really impressed. Superb image quality and light levels, which I have come to expect with Nikon products now. They were a really comfortable pair of binoculars too with a thick neck strap, and for me they're the perfect size allowing a good solid grip to keep them steady, an important attribute in optics when boat birding.  They allowed me to pick out all three divers on the trip, and I doubt I would have spotted the Long-tailed Duck at all had I been using other optics. It honestly was a dot, but through the EDG's it did at least look like a Long-tailed Duck-shaped dot! It's these small differences that can sometimes make all the difference when birding.

Monday 13 November 2017

Odds and Ends

First of all, thanks to everyone who's made kind comments about the article I've written for the November edition of Birdwatch magazine. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to pen a three page article all about birding the Axe Estuary and Seaton Wetlands during the winter months. I was even more delighted in the fact the Axe had been given so much magazine space! If you want to read it, when you're next in a Newsagents look for this front cover...

It's worth paying the price for the Sibe Blue Robin story and photos alone!

I've just got a few odd sightings to report from the last few days on patch, not that I've done much birding...

Last Thursday I had several sightings and 'soundings' of a Brambling bombing around where I live. Never saw it perched, but it was clearly perching somewhere.

The following morning (Friday) I saw my first Black Redstart of the autumn, with a female-type on roofs along Beach Road, Seaton. Offshore were big numbers of gulls, Kittiwakes and Gannets feeding, although mostly far out.

Sunday morning a calm sea revealed a lovely Great Northern Diver at first off Seaton, then off Seaton Hole. It came quite close inshore at times, but the light made photography tricky...

And today, my best sighting was of thirty Golden Plover with Lapwing in the usual fields alongside the A3052 by the Honiton turn-off. Sadly no small grey ones among them. There seemed to be a few birds moving this morning, from the back garden I had a few Chaffinch and Redwing, and a flock of six Fieldfare NW.

Hopefully I'll manage to get out a bit more during the remainder of the week.

Friday 10 November 2017

140 to 280

I've been (slowly) working on a social media themed blog post for about two months now, but unbelievably it's still not finished. In the mean time though I have some breaking news from Twitterland to blog about that simply cannot wait.

The powers that be have decided, following a trial, to double the character allowance for each tweet (which for the benefit on non-Twitterers is basically a post) from 140 to a whopping 280!  A big change. A big change of the fundamental basics of Twitter.

I've been on Twitter for over five years now, and have always absolutely loved it. It's such a great place for us birders and naturalists to network, share our experiences, help others, etc, which is why more and more birders are signing up by the day. With all this networking and infinite topics to discuss surely increasing the amount we can write is a big plus? Well no not in my eyes...

Most birders have their own blogs, then there's Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms that let users write what they want in as many words as they want. I've always found Twitter to be refreshingly brief, and because of this easy to digest. 140 characters isn't much, but it's enough to gauge things like excitement levels and personality, in quite a unique way. This is what made Twitter different.

As I almost solely use my phone to access Twitter it is bad news for my thumb, a lot more scrolling will be required. These screen shots from my phone depict my problem...

 'Old' Twitter (excuse some of the content it's a bit off-topic!):

'New' Twitter:

I've gone from five tweets in view to one and a half. That makes Twitter far less user friendly in my books.

With any social media, regardless of how strict you are about who you follow, there is always going to be drivel. At least with Twitter if drivel was there, there was only 140 characters of it. I am already shuddering at the prospect of folk having a hefty 280 characters to moan about the usual hot topics such as suppression, bird ringing, photographers flushing or baiting rare birds, etc... Yawn.

There is one benefit I can think of. The number of times I've wanted to list what birds I've seen, but end up having to miss half of them out just so they fit in the tweet. Mind you, strangely there was an element of this I got a little pleasure out of. Tell me did anyone else feel this? You rapidly write out a tweet excitedly narrating a birding event, you hit send but nothing happens -  oh no ten characters too many! It then takes five minutes to work out which are the best ten letters/numbers/punctuation/spaces to lose so that it falls below that magic 140 but still makes sense. I miss this already.

So taking this all in to this account, I am going to start a movement. Let's get #thanksfor280butIonlyneed140 trending! Yes Twitter, you can keep those extra 140 characters, I will only be needing the 140 I have always had*.

*unless a mega is involved

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Thrushes, Yellow-legged Gulls and more Vis Mig

Monday didn't give that me much time out, but I did grab an hours wander along the footpath running through Allhallows (a large ex-private school in Rousdon) with Hawfinch in mind.  Looks really good for them here, but none during my visit. It was nice to see heaps of thrushes though, including ten Mistle Thrush and plenty of settled Fieldfare and Redwing...


Tuesday was a completely different day. Rain, wind and more rain. This meant the Estuary gulls got my attention, and at 2pm the 300 Great Black-backed Gulls and 45+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls (including some cracking intermedius) were accompanied by two Yellow-legged Gulls, a second-winter and an adult...

Second-winter Yellow-legged Gull (middle bird)
Adult Yellow-legged Gull (on right, with a Great Black-backed)
Both Yellow-legged Gulls, the adult looks small here but it wasn't

As you can see the adult was very clean headed, and a somewhat cute-looking bird, two features that meant my initial thought was Caspian Gull when I spotted it. Sadly this didn't go beyond an initial thought as it soon became apparent it was a Yellow-legged. Oh what I would do for an adult Casp here...

This morning the sun was out again, so Axe Cliff was the obvious place to go. Richard P joined me and we spent an hour or so on the cliff-edge before the westerly passage dried up. Amazed there were no Pigeons, maybe they've all gone through now? What vis mig there was included;

1 Grey Heron
1 Mistle Thrush 
20 Skylark
3 alba Wagtail
60 Meadow Pipit
139 Chaffinch
1 Redpoll
10 Linnet
1 Greenfinch
2 Bulfinch
1 Reed Bunting

A vis mig Grey Heron!
Incoming Grey Heron with Seaton Hole as a backdrop

Sunday 5 November 2017


Aren't birds amazing. We've only ever had Hawfinch wintering on patch once, that was during the first few months of 2006. Now guess where I found two (eagerly anticipated) Hawfinches today - exactly the same tree that I saw my first patch Hawfinch back in 2006!

Hawfinch records are few and far between around the Axe. As well as the wintering birds mentioned above (two until late Feb '06, increasing to three and then five before they departed in mid March) there's been four other patch records before today. Two of these were of single birds seen for one day a piece in a private garden in another part of Colyton, with the other two thankfully being in front of my eyes. In 2010 early in the morning of 27th October I watched two Hawfinch fly north up the river valley from the gateway north of Axmouth, and then on 3rd November a single bird flew west during a vis mig watch at Beer Stables. 

With the current invasion I had a feeling the best chance of a settled one here was probably where the Colyton birds wintered, there's plenty of field maple in this area which is one of their favoured food sources. This morning was my third time of trying Burnards Field Road within the past two weeks, and it was third time lucky as on arrival two hefty finches were sat on top of a... well the bare tree. Success! First patch Hawfinches since Nov 2010. I fired off a couple of record shots...

I'm glad I got these pics because soon after both birds dived down into trees behind and disappeared (just like the 2006 birds often did!).  I sent a text out but a couple of minutes later there was suddenly an explosion of Hawfinch calls (that lovely soft seep) and they both flew up out of the trees and off low to the south east. Such a shame they flew so soon, but it's always a treat to see this species in flight. Annoyingly I don't think they've been seen again, but would not bet against them or others coming back here.

These cherry stone-crackers were a great finale to a good couple of hours out this morning, when I spent my time whizzing round the patch at breakneck speed checking as many spots as possible. Redwings were far more evident today with small numbers everywhere, the most being at Lower Bruckland Ponds where 12 Fieldfare were also present, along with eight Chiffchaffs in the willows around the top pond. A Lesser Redpoll was feeding with a small flock of Chaffinch on the Borrow Pit, and I was surprised to see the Bridge Marsh Cattle Egret had been joined by a friend, now two present...

So a lovely morning was had. And it wasn't a bad sunrise either...

Saturday 4 November 2017

The Last Week

Only a rapid fire post tonight I'm afraid folks, I just wanted to keep you up-to-date.

Well the Glossy Ibis that was found last Saturday afternoon on Colyford Marsh pleasingly remained for me to see. I didn't see it until Monday though due to work commitments. I did try for it on the Sunday morning but a five minute scan over Colyford Marsh failed to show it, however a Great White Egret dropped on to the Estuary which made up for that! Finally! After missing five of these massive white birds here this year, number six (my lucky number as well!) did the decent thing and pleasingly stayed all day for everyone to enjoy. The Cattle Egret was also on Bridge Marsh (and remained until mid week at least) making it a three Egret day!

Wood Pigeons were moving most mornings this week, although in lesser numbers than the end of the previous week. My best vis mig bird without a doubt was the young female Merlin that zipped west through Seaton Marshes on Friday morning. Really overdue this autumn as there seems to be a few about, but amazingly this was my first Merlin on patch for a staggering four years!

Birds that have been seen here this week, but not by me include a Red Kite over the Estuary (B Clark) and a Brambling in a private Seaton garden (K Hale) on Friday, and a male Black Redstart today just east of Seaton Hole (R Harris).

Autumn is rolling on quickly and winter is approaching at speed. Hopefully there's a few more surprises to come yet, but in the mean time have a seasonal Harry photo...