Monday 30 December 2019

Male Black Redstart

Well it's not that I've been out birding but haven't had time to blog... I really have not had any time out birding!

The lead up to Christmas was very busy work-wise for me, and on the few days I did have off I had to cram in all my Christmas shopping and family days out!  Things aren't set to change soon either with a steep learning curve ahead - more on that in another post...  

The only notable birds I've managed to stumble upon have been a few Blackcap, with a female near my place and a pair often showing at Mum and Dad's.  And best of all a male Black Redstart that I've seen on the couple of occasions I've taken the dog down to Seaton Hole beach.  It's been really showy, although I haven't had chance to properly 'pap it' yet - just these ropy shots...

I have seen blacker males, but haven't seen many with so much white in the wing.  A real corker, and looking at my Twitter timeline he seems to be attracting quite a bit of attention.
Anyway, I really hope everyone has enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. Thanks for sticking with Axe Birding! 

Friday 29 November 2019

Heading North

It's been a hectic few work weeks for me, but with a gap in my diary yesterday morning I took the opportunity to take Dad to Axminster to see the lingering Whooper Swan (which is the same bird I had in Colyford in October), and then the Chard Reservoir female-type Smew. 

The Whooper Swan was the only swan in the field yesterday (north of the B3261 where the river runs under the road), whereas when I saw it here a week ago it was one of about twelve!  It was nice to see a Green Sandpiper as well, presumably displaced due to the high river levels.

I could never tire of seeing winter swans!

Same bill pattern as the Colyford bird, plus slight copper staining on the top of its head

Then it was time for the Smew at Chard Res - and wow what a bird!  It started off distant but took flight and landed in a much closer corner of the Res, where it would sometimes loosely follow groups of Mallards around.  The light was always a bit bright and we were often looking directly into it, but I couldn't believe how close it came!  It's a real corker, and am surprised it's not proving more popular with photographers...

A brilliant bird. My first Smew for many years, and another cracking bird for the Chard area (always a bit gripping considering how close we are to Chard!).

Sunday 17 November 2019

Red-throated Divers

A nice flat sea this morning encouraged me to start my day on Seaton Beach...

As expected there was next to nothing flying over it, but on it were my first two Great Crested Grebes of the winter and a locally respectable count of eight Red-throated Divers. Unusually six of these divers were really close in, presumably indicating we've got some pretty good feeding conditions close in. Really enjoyed watching them...

This was followed by a quick look along the Estuary, which showed a single Knot with the roosting Redshank. Another quick look later revealed an Avocet too, another bird that first dropped in yesterday.  I then had just enough time to confirm the continued presence of at least three Water Pipits opposite Colyford WTW (which I continued to photography abysmally!)...

Find of the day however goes to Mike, who turned up an extremely late Whinchat on Beer Head this afternoon.  Can't be far off Devon's latest ever?

Sunday 10 November 2019

Water Pipits

The large field opposite Colyford WTW along Cownhayne Lane is looking rather tasty at the moment - it's crammed full of birds!  Seeing them isn't always easy mind...

For a couple of days I've seen a lone Water Pipit feeding just inside the gate during some some fairly brief checks of the site. Today though I had time to set the scope up and spend a decent amount of time here, which revealed a total of (at least) five Water Pipits...

Dreadful picture - sorry!

Four of them spent about five minutes feeding around the cattle right inside the gate, with a fifth seen and heard in flight along the southern edge of the field (where there could actually have been many more!).

Watching these birds reminded me very much of early 2005, when a flock of up to twenty Water Pipits were feeding in the field on the opposite side of Cownhayne Lane (just north of the WTW).  Back then Water Pipits were an annual winter visitor for us, but they were usually confined to Colyford Marsh.  That particular winter however I remember they went missing just prior to our New Year's bird race, but a few weeks later Gav stumbled upon them in this field.  It was a real surprise to us as they had always been so site-faithful, and we had never even heard of Water Pipits feeding on arable land before!  What's odd though is history hasn't repeated itself, and as far as I'm aware not a single Water Pipit has been seen in this field since.  Well - until maybe this year as am sure some of these will cross the lane sooner or later.

As well as the Water Pipits today, this field gave; 80 Linnet, 40 Meadow Pipits, 30 Pied Wags, 10 Skylark and a Greenshank that has been feeding in the same muddy puddle for a few days now...

Looking even more out of place than the Water Pipits!

I have always dreamt of finding a Buff-bellied Pipit on patch, and I can't help but think this field will offer me a good a chance as ever. It is though so tricky to get among the birds properly, mostly due to the stubble and crop height, so it's the kind of site you just need to keep checking as often as possible. Finger's crossed...

Saturday 2 November 2019

A Casp Double

It's a funny old game this birding.

October was for the most part a wet and windy month, so of course I spent as much time as I could scanning through the gull flocks on the Estuary. I had far more time too, as had almost three weeks off work during the month. The grand result; a single Yellow-legged Gull.

This morning between giving lifts and putting toddlers down for a nap, I managed to muster up enough time to scope through my first gull flock of the month, a group of about 225 mostly Great Black-backed Gulls on Bridge Marsh. Within about thirty seconds I was looking at a stunning second-winter Caspian Gull, and then a couple of minutes later I was looking at a second one! This was the Axe's (and Devon's) second double dose of Casp (previously done on 14th Nov 2015 when I found a first and second-winter from Coronation Corner) and my 11th and 12th Casps for the Axe...

I have got a lot more to say about these stunning birds, but it's late and I have a two year old with a blocked nose, so for now just enjoy the photos...

Bird one, the more advanced of the two;

Bird two, a brutish yet elegant long-billed beaut;

I promise to do a follow post to these pics, as both birds are just such fab examples of pukka second-winter Casps. But for now, simply scroll up and enjoy the pics again. I can't stop looking at them that's for sure!

A little later in the day, eight Black Redstarts (including the ad male but no Common Redstart) were at Axe Yacht Club, but otherwise wind blown rarities were in short supply for us. 

Friday 1 November 2019

Late Common Redstart

I was keen to get to Axe Yacht Club today due to the ever increasing numbers of Black Redstarts collecting here, I had three yesterday on the houses of Trevelyan Road and Ian Mc reported four this morning.

Gladly I did manage to squeeze in a visit early this afternoon, and saw at least five first-winter Black Reds, although there could have been as many as seven present. One of them was clearly a male showing black around the face and upper breast, a darker mantle, but lacking the white wing panels of an adult.   Mike did see an adult male here half an hour before my arrival, and with Kev's three in Beer this afternoon that makes for an impressive patch day count.  It really is proving a top autumn for this species. 

Amazingly though, even though it's November and I was stood on a beach in the middle of a load of boats, this wasn't the only species of Redstart present...

A female Common Redstart!

I really was not expecting this!  

When a redstart flicked up onto a boat parked up right next to me, I was completely stunned to raise my bins and see exactly just that...a Redstart!  A Common Redstart.  Thoughts of Eastern Black Redstart crept in briefly, as it took me a few views to confirm it's sex as some angles seemed to suggest it had a dark throat and orange breast. When it showed better however I just imagined I was stood on Beer Head in early September looking into a bush... yup that's a female Common Redstart...

Showed really well at times

Maybe it thought it was hitching a lift!?


When feeding among the boats it behaved just like all the Black Redstarts around.  But did differ in that its darker relatives would often fly up to the roofs of the houses along Trevelyan Road, whereas the Common didn't do that once. Despite some really close views, it often proved quite elusive - frequently dropping down below the boats and not showing for several minutes at a time.

Not the usual Common Redstart-habbo!

This is my first ever November Common Redstart, and of course the late date could well suggest she's originated from somewhere further east than our usual passage Redstarts.  But unless she stays for a few days and I manage to somehow collect a DNA sample, we will never know where she's come from or what race she belongs too.

The only other birding time I've managed today was the first hour of light which I spent hunting down Long-tailed Tit flocks with a Pallas's prize in mind. I couldn't even dig out a Yellow-browed or a Firecrest for my troubles, in fact if things don't change soon this will prove my first Yellow-browed-less autumn on patch since 2012!

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Black Redstarts

Considering the impressive numbers of Black Redstarts that have shown up at various other south coast sites within the last week, I've spent my last couple of lunch breaks wandering around Seaton checking the usual haunts.  Yesterday this gave me two first-winter Black Reds around Axmouth Harbour (one either side of the river) and today an absolutely corking male on rocks between Seaton Hole and the end of West Walk.  

The two young ones at the mouth of the Axe were quite mobile and skittish, presumably due to the freezing cold north wind blasting down the valley.  Today's male however was far more obliging...

What a top draw bird, and a real privilege to share my lunch break with.  Kev also saw two Black Reds in Beer today including another ad male, so there's at least five about for sure.

This morning saw a nice little influx of winter thrushes too, with a couple of flocks of Fieldfare and several Redwings whirling around my housing estate this morning.  Not very pleasant out in the cold wind though!

Talking of not very pleasant out, rewind to Saturday which was an absolute wash out of a day. We had high hopes for some good sea watching, but in reality 07:40 - 09:10 produced nothing more than (all west);

1 Brent Goose
21 Common Scoter
345 Gannet
1 Arctic Skua (dark juv at 08:20)
1 Great Skua (08:40)
112 Kittiwake
70 auk sp

Yes the Kittiwake and Gannet counts are pretty impressive, and it's always good to see skuas, but the action died down fairly quickly and by 08:45 it had already gone pretty quiet.  And no stand out scarcity sadly.  There were no scarcities on the Estuary either on Saturday despite several checks, but the three Cattle Egrets were still showing around Boshill Cross...

Spot the three Cattle's!

And that's that.  As ever, thanks for reading.

Friday 25 October 2019

A Quick Update

It's a rough old night and my hopes are high for the morning... which often means an empty notebook and two wet feet but we'll see.

I haven't blogged within the last week because as I haven't really seen much to blog about - which speaks volume about the three Cattle Egret I saw on Bridge Marsh midday on Wednesday. Just shows how time's have changed, it looks like we are going to have some wintering on the Axe again this year.  The lingering Greylag Goose is still around too, although I must just stress just because I've put this species in the same paragraph as Cattle Egret I am in no way saying Cattle Egrets will ever stoop to Greylag-level in Axe rarity stakes.

There's been excellent numbers of large gulls on the Estuary lately, but I haven't managed to pull anything decent out from then.  Common Gull numbers are increasing by the day however, and there continues to be a handful of Med Gulls about too.  The only snippet of interest from the sea were two male Common Scoters settled close in on Thursday...

Shame the light was poor, but you can see how close they were

Let's hope there's a bit more than that on the sea tomorrow morning however...

Saturday 19 October 2019

Vis Mig Mini Watch

This morning was one of those mornings that I really could have done with all the time in the world! A lovely start to the day encouraged a flurry of westwards visible migration, which am sure given more coverage would have produced a scarcity or two.

All I was able to do was a 15 minute watch from Mum and Dad's front garden at the west end of Seaton from 08:20, and then a half-hour watch at 9am from my second favourite vis mig watch point on patch, Beer Stables.

Looking east over Seaton towards Axe Cliff from Beer Stables. The great thing about this site is you can see birds coming from miles off!

Watching over this 45 minute period gave me totals of;

3 Lapwing
1 Golden Plover
4 Stock Dove
390 Jackdaw (biggest single flock 220 birds)
2 Crow
7 Magpie (!!)
70 Starling
48 Skylark
85 Meadow Pipit
26 alba Wagtail (one flock of 14)
5 Grey Wagtail 
94 Chaffinch
18 Goldfinch
12 Linnet
1 Greenfinch
8 Siskin
5 Reed Bunting

I can't tell you how much I wished I was up Axe Cliff for the whole morning - although saying that many of the larger birds seemed to be passing inland of me at Beer, so would probably have been completely missed from the cliff edge. Actually what I really wish is that we had a proper vis mig pinch point here on the Axe patch, but we don't... or I've not found it yet anyway!  


More Jackdaws!

Vis-migging Magpies!

Over the last few days I have been checking the usual haunts when I can, like the Estuary for example - especially considering how many large gulls we've had gracing us lately.  Sadly nothing in them worth writing about since my last Yellow-legged and the half Caspian-thing.

Seaton Hole was really birdie about a week ago, several Chiffs, Goldcrests and Blackcaps, with the same selection although in smaller numbers present there today. On Tuesday however when I went there it was oddly quiet, but I soon worked out why...

Sat out proud

Stunning male Sparrowhawk

...and again!

And for the last time I promise... just look at that eye!

Delightful to get such a prolonged, relaxed and close view of our second commonest raptor on patch. They maybe common, but views like this don't come by often. 

Monday 14 October 2019

Super Whooper

Delighted to clap eyes on this adult Whooper Swan in the valley late this afternoon, it was with a small mixed-aged group of Mute Swans just south east of Bridge Marsh...

They were near to where the River Coly meets the Axe

Ten years ago this species was pretty much an annual visitor to the Axe, most often recorded during cold spells or dropping in briefly in spring. From about 2010 however records took a sudden nose-dive, presumably due to the decrease in UK wintering population and/or the milder winters. They really have become something of an Axe rarity.  

My last Whooper Swan on the Axe was the obliging bird Sue Smith found in front of the Tower Hide on 7th October 2011 - so that's eight years with no Whoopers! I think I can recall somewhere in my grey matter that Ian Mc may have seen a fly-through since?  But if not, the bird in 2011 was indeed the last Axe record, it's certainly my last Axe bird whatever.

Can you just about make out the orange staining near the bill base?  This is quite common in Whoopers, it's a staining caused by birds feeding in iron rich water that's found in some parts of Iceland - how cool is that! 

Whooper Swan aside, today has been quite a birdie day - although admittedly far damper than ideal. This was especially the case during the last couple hours of the day when it absolutely lashed down, which frustratingly coincided with my time out and about.

Down here in the south west we are usually about a week to ten days behind the east coast at this stage of the autumn. It can be quite nauseous reading all about these exciting autumn incomers in Norfolk/Yorkshire/Shetland, whilst down here we have said goodbye to most of our summer migrants and find ourselves in this rather stale period with nothing but a zillion Meadow Pipits to count.  It does eventually come to us though, and today felt like day one of the south west catching up.

There has clearly been a very substantial and sudden increase in Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Blackcap numbers today, with all three species obvious everywhere that I've checked bushes - the former particularly numerous. Kev also managed a Yellow-browed Warbler right in the heart of Beer, hopefully the first of many for us this year - although it's not proving a great autumn for this species anywhere in the UK.   Overhead was busy too, mostly Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, along with a few finches too.

I have checked the gulls on the Estuary a few times today, but have nothing to show for it but a few Common Gulls.  Three Common Sandpipers and two Dunlin the only semi-notable waders present.  

Lastly, it was nice to see about thirty hirundines over Bridge Marsh late today, a mix of House Martins and Swallows. As the hirundine flocks get smaller, I feel the need to check them even more rigorously. Later in the month I will literally chase lone hirundines and grill them until they're charcoal!

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Merveille du Jour

74 macro moths of 16 species greeted me in the moth trap at Mum and Dad's on Tuesday morning.  No more Radford's Flame Shoulders sadly (Portland trapped an astonishing 11 the night before!), in fact the only immigrant I caught was one Delicate, but it was still an exciting catch...

If you're a birder you will understand completely the feeling you get from seeing your first Wheatear of the spring.  Well in late autumn I get a similar buzz when I see the first one of these of the season...

Merveille du Jour

A truly stunning moth

The other highlights were my first two Black Rustics of the year along with singles of Spruce Carpet and Dark Spectacle...

Black Rustic

Regular visitors to the blog may notice that I've had a bit of a blog revamp - think it has to be done every now and then. Hope you all like :-)

Monday 7 October 2019

October Gulling - Fruitful Yet Frustrating!

I love checking through the flocks of large gulls on the Axe on stormy October days - the month that is the best to see non-juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls here.  And this afternoon proved that once again...

Whilst scanning through a big gang of mostly Great Black-backed Gulls north of Coronation Corner I saw this...

Striking mantle colour

It was distant and tipping down with rain, and at first I thought it was an adult Yellow-legged Gull, but soon I could just make out it's leg's weren't exactly bright yellow and there were some dark marks on the bill, so decided it had to be a near-adult.  Not long after I saw it much closer...

A big bird!

Up close the legs did look very pale (just tinged yellow), and that marked bill combined with very adult-like upper parts says it probably is a fourth-winter, although could be a well-advanced third-winter maybe?  An absolutely massive beast though - it's going to look amazing in a year or two! 

Also in the flock were three Common Gulls, two Med Gulls (ad and first-winter), this cracking intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull...

On the right - really long-winged

And then this appeared...

Between the male Mallard and Great Black-backed Gull
Yup - that one!

My immediate reaction, I think mostly due to the neck shawl combined with fairly mature looking upper parts, was second-winter Casp! But a bit more watching soon put me off, particularly with that feeble looking bill.

Still looked pretty good at some angles

I had to leave it quite abruptly, but thankfully when I returned an hour later it was still there - well a bit closer actually...

Looking really dinky here - sometimes even reminded me of a Common Gull!
Note mantle colour - looking pretty good for a Casp being just a shade darker than the Herring
Still from a video
And again. Wing pattern looking ok actually

So what it is?  Well for me, for now, it's going in the 'cactus' group (CaspianxHerring hybrid) - I just don't like the small bill and head, the pale eye, dusky streaks around the eye, as well as the lack of giraffe-like neck and long wings.  But, as Brett has pointed out in a flurry of messages this evening, there is a chance it could still be a pure small female Casp. If you've any thoughts do let me have them, thanks :-)

Other bits and bobs that I've seen today in the valley include; 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Greenshank, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Common Sandpiper, 4 Dunlin, 70 Wigeon and 100 Teal.  

Looking at the weather for the week ahead, expect more gull-posts...