Saturday 31 March 2018

Two More Geese and a Glauc

The last day of March offered the Axe even more wildfowl variety, with two new geese for the year. 

This morning Ian Mc found a Greylag on Bridge Marsh, which remained in the valley all day. Late March/early April often sees a spike in Greylag records for us, suggesting it must be some sort of spring passage, although from where to where who knows...

Greylag Goose standing proud

Then this evening Tim Wright located a Barnacle Goose, the same one that Dave Helliar has seen recently in the Chard area...


As Barnacle Geese go, well let's just say it's not the best. This bird shows surprisingly grey flanks and belly, some brown in the black of the neck and breast, and a bit more white than usual in the head area. Nevertheless I still think it's a pure bird, just a grubby first-winter individual probably of 'suspect' origin. 

Yesterday, as you'll have probably already seen from other local blogs, Ian Mc scored his fourth white-winged gull of the year on the Axe. Thankfully this one I actually managed to see, a stonking first-winter Glaucous Gull. A proper massive and fairly dark one too - the best type :-)

As we reach to the conclusion of March 2018, some may find it interesting to know that thanks to two cold snaps, a decent flurry of early spring migrants, 11 species of gull and the whole host of wildfowl that we've seen, 136 species of bird have been recorded on the Axe Patch this month.  Pity the sea wasn't busier as that could easily have added another five or more.

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Garganey and Egyptian Goose

I ended my last post saying how good last week had been for wildfowl on the Axe, well this week it got even better!

This morning an Egyptian Goose plodding around on Bridge Marsh with the Mute Swans was a nice surprise. Although I had a couple fly through the patch last spring, we haven't had a settled bird for quite a few years now...

"I want to be a Swan!"

Then this afternoon, a pair of Garganey graced the valley and I was delighted to catch up with them on Axe Marsh from Norcombe's Gateway early afternoon...

Absolute beauts. A drake Garganey is without doubt my favourite dabbling duck of all time, and sits in my top five of ducks (Smew, Eider, Scaup and Long-tailed Duck - all drakes - the others). But don't underestimate the female, with those gorgeous head stripes and almost russet breast.

Although the Axe is a south coast Estuary with plenty of pools, ditches and marshes, we do surprisingly badly for Garganey. They just never seem to stick. Even these two during the course of the afternoon were flying around all over the place, and even spent half an hour or so towards dusk just sat on the water on the lower Estuary! No doubt they will be gone by the morning. I was so thrilled to see them as I've not seen a spring drake here since March 2010, I've missed four since! My last Garganey on the Axe was a surprise juvenile on the late date of 18th Oct 2013.

Many thanks to Mr White for finding these, and Dad for tracking them to where I managed to see them.

March has been quite good for us, I wonder if there's another surprise or two before the month is out?

Saturday 24 March 2018

Spring Rain

Although not great for many things, today's light rain and grey skies looked perfect for downing some early spring migrants - and it did the trick!

I only had time for a quick look around the valley mid afternoon, but this showed a Wheatear on Seaton Beach that soon flew inland, two Sand Martin feeding over Colyford Marsh and two Sandwich Tern on the Estuary...

Dan J had several past Sidmouth this morning so there's probably been a decent arrival of these today

Spring Sarnies always look so clean and smart

It's been a great week for locally scarce wildfowl on the Axe, with Pochard, Tufted Duck and last night Billy had two pairs of Goosander drop in on Black Hole Marsh. Pity I didn't get to see any of these, but as ever thanks all for the texts.

Really excited for spring to get going properly now, and we seem to have got to late March remarkably quickly which is good news!

Monday 19 March 2018

The Thaw

Overnight last night there had been even more snow, and although it had stopped by dawn, we had a 100% white-out. An early morning trip out showed the local area looking incredibly beautiful...

Looking east along Seaton Beach
Looking west along Seaton Beach to Beer Head
Seaton from a distance
Axmouth from a distance
The A3052 at 8am. Most Monday mornings this would be busy with commuters and buses!
A random county lane - looking lovely!

Despite all the snow there were surprisingly few birds about. The only species that seemed to be struggling a bit were Meadow Pipits and the odd Chiffchaff, but there were no Golden Plovers or Lapwing, or that many thrushes really. Great news.

Mid morning the sun came out, so before lunch I enjoyed another quick whizz around. This showed a bit more variety, with eleven Dunlin, four Pintail (two pairs), three Gadwall and the lingering Marsh Harrier and first-winter Caspian Gull on the Estuary. Was nice to have some blue sky above the stunning snow too...

Colyford Marsh and the upper Axe Estuary
Bridge Marsh
Looking up the Axe from A3052

The welcome sun saw an increase in temperatures and an impressively rapid thaw. More birds appeared once this began, with lots of thrushes taking full advantage of the freshly revealed green, along with numerous Chiffchaff, Snipe and various wildfowl on Seaton Marshes mid afternoon...

Common Snipe
Common Snipe
Common Chiffchaff. So happy to see so many feeding well after picking up the dead bird yesterday.

Tim Wright scored our first Little Ringed Plover of the year an hour or so later on Colyford Marsh, does this mean we've finally seen the back of winter?

Sunday 18 March 2018

More Snow!

Like many other places in the south west today, it's been snowing here in Seaton from dawn until dusk. One snow event in a year is exceptional enough for us, two is unprecedented! 

The view from my bedroom window late this afternoon

The heavy snow didn't start until about mid morning, and it was amazing to see how quickly the birds reacted to this. Just proves they really do need to be able to feed constantly, and as soon as they realise they can't, sitting it out just isn't an option. They have to move.

I could do nothing more than have sporadic looks outside today, but these have shown incredible numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing flying west, thousands upon thousands, along with several hundred Starling and Golden Plover and smaller numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch plus a single Reed Bunting.  All seen from the centre of town. Incredible scenes.

The passage did seem to dry up mid afternoon, and unlike the last snow event, apart from a few Meadow Pipits there doesn't seem to be many birds struggling for food in gardens. Not a single Redwing in the road I live in late this afternoon, compared to about 500 two weeks ago! So although as things stand, this cold weather period doesn't look to be as severe on birds as the last, the timing is probably a bit worse.

Some local birds will have started nesting now, especially Blackbirds. Disaster for all these early breeders. And then there's the early arriving migrants, small numbers of Wheatears, Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs have already arrived in the UK after a long migration - and they now have to face this. There have been several reports of struggling Chiffchaffs today in particular, and late this afternoon I was deeply saddened to find this in the corner of a carpark in town...

Dead Chiffchaff
Sorry mate, you didn't quite make it

This beautiful Chiffchaff probably spent the last week or so traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles as it migrated back towards it's breeding grounds somewhere in the UK. All the obstacles it would have had to overcome, all the energy it would have used up. And all for this. Lying dead in the snow in Seaton. So so sad.

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Wheatear, Weirdo Rockit and New Marsh Harrier

With rain belting down outside as I write this, it's hard to believe the view from Beer Head late yesterday morning was this...

Looking back towards Seaton and Axe Cliff

It really did feel like spring, and this was emphasised by the joyous sight of my first Wheatear of the year, a cracking male. With the clear skies it didn't stay around long, in fact it didn't even allow me to take the annual 'first Wheatear of the year' ropey record-shot!

Other birds present included a male Stonechat, and a flock of 11+ Rock Pipits with one of them looking like this...

It proved surprisingly elusive in seemingly short grass

Interestingly Bun remembers seeing (presumably) this bird here last spring, which backs up my thoughts that these were all petrosus birds, and I guess local breeders. All eleven Rock Pipits showed heavily streaked underparts and dull olive upperparts, with no hint of any pinkness anywhere to be seen. Compare with Tim Wright's photos of a recent Colyford Common littoralis HERE.

This morning I had just under an hour out at Black Hole Marsh with local wedding photographer Matt who wanted to have a play with my Nikon Monarch scope. There was plenty to look at with a drake Gadwall on Black Hole Marsh, the Greenshank on the Estuary and a Marsh Harrier showing for most of the morning .

I haven't seen our lingering Marsh Harrier for about a week now (has anyone else?) and photos of this morning's bird shows it to be a young male. Presumably with the extent of cream on the crown it can only be a first-winter, despite the amount of grey on the bird's upperwing...

Worth clicking on this pic to enlarge it so you can see the extent of grey

And yes, that's a Water Rail it's carrying...

Monday 12 March 2018

No Show

I spent the last half hour of light watching the pre-roosting gulls at the lower end of the Estuary again today, in the hope yesterday's two 'yellow-legged' gulls would reappear. I wanted to spend more time watching them because I'm just not done with them, I cannot make my mind up and it is driving me mad. For the record though my current thoughts are that bird one is actually a pure third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, but am having serious doubts about bird two.

There were good numbers of gulls present tonight, but nothing better than four Med Gulls (three adults and a second-summer). I say nothing better, but in truth there isn't many things better than an adult summer Med Gull...

Sunday 11 March 2018

Gulls Only A Mother Could Love

I spent all day at work today, so once I'd clocked off at 4.30pm I had a quick whiz round hoping for my first Wheatear of the year.  Despite checking several sites I couldn't find one, so I spent the last twenty minutes of daylight watching gulls drop in at the lower end of the Estuary.

It was mostly small gulls, but among the larger ones were eight Lesser Black-backs and two birds that I am a bit puzzled by. I originally put them both down as HerringxLesser Black-backed hybrids, but now think bird one could be a pure Yellow-legged. If anyone thinks differently or has some views then please let me know. All photos were taken when it was nearly dark...

Bird one
Bird one again, with a Herring in shot to compare mantle shades

Bird two
Bird two again

Both are yellow-legged, albeit a dull yellow, which actually is fine for pure Yellow-legged or Lesser Black-backed Gulls of this age.

Bird one I'm pretty sure on bill and moult is a third-winter, but I haven't completely ruled out it being an advanced second-winter. It was the larger of the two yellow-legged birds being Herring Gull-sized, but short-legged, reminiscent of Lesser Black-backed Gull. The bird's mantle colour actually looked pretty spot on for a pure Yellow-legged Gull, I usually find these hybrids look the wrong shade of grey for YLG. I have to be honest and say I am struggling with this bird, but do think it could indeed be a pure Yellow-legged.

Bird two was built more like a Lesser Black-backed Gull in all proportions, and I think it's a second-winter despite the yellow bill. Again a short legged and cute headed gull, but mantle colour was a touch darker than bird one, more akin to the previous presumed HerringxLesser Black-backed Gulls that I've seen here.

Hmmmmmmm.... Gulls, who'd have them!

Away from these confusing gulls, there's still a decent variety of wading birds on the Estuary with Avocet, Greenshank and two Bar-tailed Godwits again present today.

Friday 9 March 2018

Caspian Gull Yet Again

Perfect weather today for large gulls on the Axe. In the end though the numbers were disappointing and I found nothing unusual in with them, well except for the lingering first-winter Caspian Gull (last seen on 26th Feb). I'm amazed at how infrequently we are seeing this lingering bird, just where is it hiding?

I will be honest, although all views of it were distant and during dreadful weather, when I first picked it up I thought I had a new individual. It just looked big, proper Casp leggy and necky, plus it looked quite a clean bird - all unlike the lingering bird...

Look at that neck!
At rest

The whole gull flock was then flushed and the Casp took to the air...

Quality completely naff as its a video still
Ditto, but it does at least show some of the classic Casp features

A minute later once most the gulls had gone with only about 25% of the original flock remaining, I picked it up again, now a little closer. It was then obvious that on plumage it was the lingering bird, with the distinctive patterning on the greater coverts a perfect match...

Looks really beaky in this shot. Again totally different to how the lingering bird usually looks
The weather was so awful this photo almost looks black and white!

A good lesson in how different postures can alter the overall look of one gull.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Lyme Regis Little Gull

I took a trip over to Lyme Regis today in the lovely spring-like weather to catch up with James Mc and to enjoy some of his and his wife's wonderful food. Whilst I was there I thought Id take a look at the lingering Little Gull(s) too. 

In the end though, I spent far too much time chatting and eating, and realised as I was wandering back to my car I was twenty minutes over my ticket! As a result all I could do was scurry down to the sea edge with Harry, enjoy thirty seconds of ace Little Gull action, and then hurry back to the car.  This brief encounter with an obliging and close Little Gull in such calm and pleasant weather left me wanting more, so two hours later I was back!  Obviously I can't compete with the long-lenses for pictures, but simply watching it gave me all the enjoyment I needed - what a super little bird...

And a little video...

I've seen plenty of Little Gulls, several hundred, but none quite like this bird. This first-winter is feeding often just a few feet off Monmouth Beach and the Cobb, and coupled with the amazing weather of today, it gave views that are quite simple not the norm for this species. Most the Little Gulls that I've seen over the sea off Seaton have been during strong winds and heavy rain, or as a dot a mile out to sea!  I urge you to fill your boots with this bird while it's there.

Turns out I'm going to have to do a bit of investigative work here too. Although there was just the one bird there today, for the past few days there have been two first-winter Little Gulls. BUT, I've come across a report of a third bird here either yesterday or the day before, an adult.... which may or may not coincide with the disappearance of the adult Ross's Gull from Weymouth... 

Back to the patch, and we still have a nice selection of wading birds on the Axe, including Avocet today. Having missed the three Ruff last Sunday I was pleased to see a stunning male in with the roosting Redshank and single Greenshank yesterday - a right corker too.

Looking at the weather forecast just now, all bets are off for an arrival of Wheatear this weekend...

Monday 5 March 2018

Cold Weather Movement or Spring Passage?

It's been great to see birds behaving as they should be again today, and where they should be. Wading birds and wildfowl on the river, and thrushes in the fields and not in the middle of housing estates. There are still plenty of birds about though...

I've had three tours of the Estuary today and a visit to Black Hole Marsh. Most birds seen were lingerers from the last few days, except for a couple more Avocet and a two fold increase in Gadwall. My highlights were; 

8 Pintail
290 Wigeon
12 Gadwall (two 6's in the morning, an 8 and 4 in the afternoon)
80 Teal
7 Shoveler 
10 Avocet (a double figure Avocet count for the Axe is exceptional!)
700+ Lapwing
9 Golden Plover
1 Grey Plover
72 Black-tailed Godwit
2 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Dunlin
4 Mediterranean Gull (all adults)
70 Skylark (in the field opposite Colyford WTW)

I was really hoping for a Bittern today, with my thinking being the increased water levels may reveal one that's been lurking in the reeds since the cold snap... If it happened I wasn't in the right place at the right time. No sign of any Ruff or the recent Spotted Redshank for me today either.

What has been so incredible about the recent cold weather movement is the number of wading birds that's been involved. Since last Thursday there has been a staggering twenty species of wading birds recorded on the Axe Estuary. To put this in perspective we usually only have nine species of waders that regularly winter on our tiny Estuary, although it's been eleven this year with singles of Greenshank and Ringed Plover bucking the trend. Twenty is usually only possible in a short space of time like this in May or September - but even in those months it doesn't happen that often. A lot of these waders are lingering too, with the Avocet flock ever building, and the Spotted Redshank, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits still here from last Wednesday/Thursday. Knot and Sanderling (four of the former, three of the latter) and a whole lot of Dunlin (193!) were the only brief visitors, being seen by new patch birder Billy on Thursday afternoon but not since (he also found the Spot Red and Barwits).  

Watching the Avocets today, and having read something on the Portland Bird Obs website the other day, suddenly it clicked. Let's just think about this, why would an Avocet sat on a snowy Estuary somewhere decide that upping sticks and flying tens/hundreds of miles was the best thing to do, instead of just sitting there and waiting for the tide to drop?

Avocets are a March species for us, no we don't usually get ten, one to four would be a more typical count. But March is clearly the month they begin to migrate back to their breeding grounds. So maybe, although for the Lapwing, Golden Plovers, thrushes and other passerines what we witnessed was undoubtedly a cold weather movement, for other species of wading birds, are we actually seeing spring passage?  We know that heavy rain showers cause migrating wading birds to drop in, so a gigantic snow front that has tracked north across the English Channel, well that's going to ground everything that's trying to fly through it right!?  

Rewind to March 2013 (blog post HERE). Many early spring migrants arrived, like Sand Martins, Chiffchaffs, Little Ringed Plovers, Stone Curlew, Ospreys and Ring Ouzels, but a brisk northeast wind and freezing temperatures meant they all stalled on the south coast and went nowhere for several days.  It was so tragic to watch so many Chiffchaffs struggling to find food on pavements and in gutters, do you remember it? Well I'm wondering whether this is something similar, but as it's happened earlier in the month its not affected the species that we think of as the early spring migrants, but the true early spring migrants like waders, gulls and wildfowl?

And discuss...

Saturday 3 March 2018

Unforgettable Yet Unforgiving

Wow what a few days. Thursday was impressive enough alone (if you missed my post click HERE) but Friday proved just as memorable, and still today there were so many birds about. Most importantly though, thankfully today we've had a dramatic thaw and there's now plenty of grass and fresh water about.  Just in time for many, but sadly too late for others.

This is what the last two days have looked like for me...

Friday 2nd March

The heavy snow from Thursday was very much still with us, now covered in a thick layer of ice - which made quite difficult walking conditions! It wasn't just the snow covered in ice though, literally anything and everything outside was, with stunning icicles all over the place...

Frozen branches
Black Hole Marsh viewing platform
A bit closer
A viewing slot on Black Hole Marsh

I'd never seen anything quite like this. Simply stunning.  But now for the birds...

I spent three hours after dawn down Seaton Wetlands, and the whole time there were birds streaming over south west. On Thursday it was pretty much all Golden Plovers and Lapwing, but by Friday it was the turn of the thrushes. Fieldfares and Redwings were passing over at truly uncountable levels, some low, some high, overhead, to the east, to the west - just impossible to properly keep track of. Thousands upon thousands of both Redwing and Fieldfare flew over, and although I was unsuccessful in capturing any flight shots, hopefully this video gives you a taste of the action...

Lapwing were still going over at quite a rate, but very few Golden Plovers. Variety was offered by good numbers of Starling, 30+ Meadow Pipits, small numbers of Skylark and Snipe and two Brambling.

It was hard to not always look up, but there was plenty to see on the ground too. Black Hole Marsh was 95% frozen but still had birds on it. Namely an impressive six Avocet...

Six sleeping Avocet
One did wake up eventually! Novel to see it stood on the ice.

In the ditches it was clear birds were struggling with Water Rails darting about all over the place, and I felt so sorry for this Cetti's Warbler...

Cetti's Warbler looking for food

From Tower Hide, although it was high tide lots of wading bird activity included at least 100 Dunlin, and up stream a pair of Gadwall could have been the birds from the previous day. 

I then wandered up to Stafford Marsh...

The Lookout at Black Hole Marsh
Stafford Marsh
Stafford Brook

Stafford Marsh was pretty quiet with just a few thrushes and a couple of Snipe, but Colyford Common was a completely different story...

Colyford Common Hide
Colyford Common

The rising tide saw a layer of unfrozen water spill across most of the Reserve, providing unfrozen water and some much needed soft ground for the birds to feed in. And my word there were lots of birds...

Fieldfares and a Redwing
Fieldfare wading
Meadow Pipit

The highlight on the Common was a gorgeous Jack Snipe that gave me lovely flight views, but there were also hundreds of Redwing and Fieldfare, c80 Meadow Pipit, one Rock Pipit, five Snipe, 200 Lapwing, five Redshank and a Greenshank.  Looking out from Colyford Common hide on to Colyford Marsh revealed even more thrushes and Starlings, the lingering Marsh Harrier, and hundreds upon hundreds of roosting Lapwing and Golden Plover...

Golden Plovers and a Lapwing

After twenty minutes in Colyford Common hide it was time to return home. It's an easy walk home when there's so many birds to look at. Incredible scenes.

When I made it back onto our housing estate it was clear the snow and ice had forced thrushes to places they would never normally go. For the rest of the day Redwings and Fieldfares were quite simply everywhere, and clearly desperately searching for food...

A Redwing in the snow

Unreal numbers. And there were still plenty flying over south west too, along with more Lapwing and my second Jack Snipe of the day. I had to work at 3pm, and on my journey in it was clear that Lapwing were starting to get really desperate too...

Lapwing on Harepath Road!

What a day. As darkness fell the temperature began to rise - the thaw had started. Which brings us to today.

Saturday 3rd March

As Saturday went on, more and more grass and thawed out ground became available for the birds to feed on. Although sadly for many it was just too late, a mid morning trip out upsettingly revealed 17 dead Lapwing...

Such a sad sight

By the end of the day most Lapwings had returned to the fields, but there were still some randomly feeding on or besides roads - with at least four for the whole day along the road I live in, Primrose Way.  Far fewer Golden Plover evident today, I think most went south west on Thursday.

Fieldfare and Redwing were still absolutely everywhere all day today, including along Seaton Beach. A trip out around Seaton mid morning with Dad showed seven Mistle Thrush too...

Mistle Thrush in the Jurassic Play Park in Seaton
A Fieldfare from Mum and Dad's front garden
A back view
And a front view!

I have looked along the Estuary a few times today. Late morning with Dad showed an increase in Avocet numbers with eight now present, along with a pair of Pintail (Phil had eight earlier in the day) and Bearded Tits were calling again from Axe Reedbeds, sounded like more that one this time too.  A look along the Estuary later in the afternoon showed four Gadwall, a Grey Plover, two Med Gulls and excitingly 152 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

A Med Gull in very un-Med-like conditions!

And why am I so excited about 152 Lesser Black-backed Gulls? Well during the winter we usually get just single figures of Lesser Black-backs on the Axe, the big numbers don't appear until this species make their spring migration northwards to their breeding grounds. So yes, this means these 152 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (or most of them anyway) were actually spring migrants. SPRING! Ohhhh I can't wait for that to get going properly...