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...


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Martin, thanks for the comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

      Best wishes, Steve.