Tuesday 30 April 2019

More Migrants Required!

Well spring really seems to have stalled since my last post, no falls worth blogging about and just a sporadic trickle of wading birds on the Estuary.  Best bird for me being the lingering female Marsh Harrier...

Small numbers of Whimbrel have been showing daily on the Estuary, along with a flock of 20+ Black-tailed Godwits that flew in to Black Hole Marsh a few evenings ago.  I haven't seen any Bar-tailed Godwits on the Axe for a while, but on the last day (25th) one of the two present was in full breeding plumage - nice!  A single Greenshank seems to be lingering in front of Seaton Marshes hide, with the odd Dunlin and Common Sandpiper dropping in.

Several Whitethroats are now in around Axmouth, with good numbers of Reed and Sedge Warblers in the valley.  Firsts for the year for me since my last blog post include a Hobby low east over Primrose Way on 25th and two Swifts this evening over Black Hole Marsh.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

A Fulmar Fooling Around

Time for a quick update following the Colyton Cuckoo.  Since then spring migration seems to have slowed down a notch. For example, although I've not made it up to Beer Head recently, all who have report very little to be seen.  I have seen a few bits and pieces though...

Roll back to 19th April, and a female Little Ringed Plover was on Bridge Marsh at dusk, with the reeds full of singing Reed and Sedge Warblers. It's amazing how quickly (about a week?) the reeds went from being almost completely silent, to being crammed full of singing acros. Dusk is much more enjoyable when there's a back drop of chuntering Reed Warblers that's for sure...

Seaton Marshes hide

On the 22nd Chesil Cove recorded an impressive 800+ Bar-tailed Godwits through during the morning, whereas 30 minutes from Seaton Beach showed none!  I did check the Estuary last thing in the evening though and was pleased to see six just upriver from a flock of 12 Black-tailed Godwits.  There are still three here today, this being one of them...

Always look so short-legged!

This morning we had a real April 2019 rarity....rain!  It didn't seem to have done much at first, with just four Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and two Common Sandpipers on the Estuary.  But once the rain stopped during the afternoon things stepped up a gear , and although I missed an Osprey and drake Garganey, I did see the Marsh Harrier over Colyford Marsh, a Greenshank on the Estuary, and from the beach in 20 minutes; 150+ Manx Shearwaters west and a Goosander in-off. 

Looking out to see the visibility was outstanding, with a large container ship crystal clear despite it clearly being a long way off. Thanks to ship tracking website ( I was able to see it was 'Liberty Ace', a Japanese container ship heading for the US, and was about 15 (land) miles out!

The fact this distant ship was so clear wasn't the only surprise this evening.... Whilst I was at Coronation Corner, which is about 1.25km up the Axe Estuary, I looked up to see a Fulmar flying around!... soon realised its mistake and headed back down the Estuary towards the sea.  Now I was not expecting that!!

Thursday 18 April 2019

Going Cuckoo Over a Cuckoo

A major highlight this evening during a dog walk along Cownhayne Lane between Colyford and Colyton - Cuckoo

Yes we get them every spring, but only two or three in most years, and they often stay only for something between two minutes and an hour before completely disappearing.  And they are almost always heard and not seen.  I however have never been in the right place at the right time. Not once. In 17 years of birding the Axe Estuary I haven't heard a Cuckoo call, which is even sadder when you hear how common they used to be here. The only Cuckoos I've seen on patch have been in late summer/autumn, with my last patch Cuckoo in August 2013. So hearing just one blast of Cuckoo call this evening made my day, and I sent a message out to alert others.

Twenty minutes later it called a few times again, but closer. This warranted another message out because this meant it was lingering so had the potential to be twitched. Phil soon arrived and it soon called again much to both our delights.  It was close too, really close, so we wandered a short way down the lane and gazed up into some big trees in a garden where we thought the calls originated from. There was no sign after ten minutes of searching, so when it suddenly started calling again somewhere right in front of us we were speechless! 


We then spent half an hour looking into these few trees, from every angle we could find, but despite the fact it would occasionally burst out in song could we find it!?  Could we heck!!  We were going Cuckoo ourselves, and laughing about it because this was just crazy - Cuckoos aren't usually this elusive!

Then finally - although not before the sun had gone down and moon risen high in the sky (it was now 20:30) - I caught sight of some fine barring high in a dense patch of leafage. There it was sat almost motionless...


A spring patch Cuckoo... well most of one anyway!

Am presuming it was pretty tired after a long flight in, but still had just enough energy to burst out the occasional bout of song.  I'm glad it did because no way would it have been found otherwise!

Oh I do love spring, and this has made mine that's for sure.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Redstart Heralds Restart of Spring

Now we've seen the back of that blasting easterly wind, northbound migrant birds have responded accordingly.  

Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it out today, but Kev did ok up Beer Head as the fog cleared mid morning with Grasshopper Warbler, Redstart, Black Redstart and Whitethroat.  I did however cash in on some migrants yesterday, thanks to two visits to Seaton Marshes.

Visit one showed at least ten Willow Warbler and seven Blackcap in the bushes, with my first Reed and Sedge Warbler of the spring on the Borrow Pit.  The rain and low cloud kept 30+ Swallow and half a dozen or so House Martins low over the marsh...

Unfortunately yet again they weren't accompanied but a Red-rumped!

Visit two early afternoon revealed the cherry on top, a cracking male Redstart. It wasn't hanging around however, and within a few minutes had traveled the whole length of the ditch that runs west to east across the marsh just north of the Borrow Pit. I lost it when it flew into bushes next to the tram line.

And that brings this blog up to date for now, although considering the date I hope that by the day there will be more to tell.  To complete this post, although off patch, a visit to Lyme Regis the other day showed the immature drake Eider still present...

Wish it moved a little way west!

Monday 15 April 2019

Some South Easterly Seawatching

The raw east wind that's been hammering us for about a week edged more southerly yesterday, and this morning we woke up to a decent south east gale.  I'm not a fan of sea watching here in south easterlies, it's almost always disappointing and every time we are completely trumped by Chesil - embarrassingly and frustratingly so!

I didn't miss much this morning from what Ian Mc and Phil reported, but tonight I was keen to give it a go after work - am dead pleased I did!  An hour at the Spot On Kiosk from 18:50 produced (all east);

2 Teal (why weren't these Garganey!!??)
54 Gannet
128 Manx Shearwater (18 the biggest single flock)
1 Arctic Skua (a sleek pale-phased adult at 19:04)
5 Common Gull
12 Sandwich Tern (6, 4 and 2)
1 Arctic Tern (flew in then over the beach, gained height but then flew back out again!)
11 Whimbrel 
5 Dunlin

So not too shabby at all by Seaton standards, with the two Arctic's being the highlights.  The Tern just kept coming closer and closer, to the point I could even see the bill detail which was nice! And as for the Skua, well this was my first Skua of the year which is always a highlight - but this one looked particularly dinky and streamline and the plumage simply stunning in front of the dull grey sea.

Although I have been at work all day, it's clear there's been a constant arrival of hirundines. Every time I have been outside small groups of Swallows/House Martins have whizzed through quickly north. This evening whilst sea watching I must have seen twenty Swallows arrive in-off too. 

No photos from today I'm afraid, but here's a dreadful photo of a female Goosander that did a lap of Bridge Marsh in front of me on Saturday evening, with 60 Sand Martins and ten Swallows also on show...

A blur which shares some similarities with a female sawbill!

More of the same please Spring 2019!

Monday 8 April 2019

More Birding Required!

I've not seen loads or been out that much, but I have seen enough to write this...

There's been a refreshing pulse of wader activity on the Axe Estuary since the turn of the month, kicked off by a Ringed Plover north of Coronation Corner on 2nd with three Dunlin.  On 6th whilst sky watching from my bedroom window, I was surprised to see a very high-flying flock of c30 Black-tailed Godwits power in from the north west then drop like a stone into the valley. Frustratingly as they twisted and turned before heading off down river I could make out a smaller, plain-winged wader in their midst. I suspect it was a Knot, but there was knot anything I could do about it. The following evening (7th) it was nice to see our first Whimbrel of the spring with ten Curlew just north of Coronation Corner, and this morning a flock of 18 Dunlin were zooming around at high-tide not knowing where to land.  Hopefully Kentish Plover is next :-)

Axe Estuary at dusk

With the strong winds at the end of last week I gave sea watching a go on Friday 5th.  The direction and strength of the wind however meant shelter was very hard to find on the sea front, so twenty minutes late I gave up and checked elsewhere.  Still, in that time two Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew west and a Manx Shearwater flew east - my first of the year for both.

My passerine highlight of the last few days surprisingly wasn't a migrant species, but a Dipper.  They've been really reliable on our section of the River Coly this year, and yesterday I was delighted to stumble upon an active nest - not where I was expecting to find one either.  I gave them the space they deserved and was rewarded with prolonged views of an adult Dipper plunge-diving. So lucky to be able to watch this on my patch.  

There are more hirundines about now, although I am still yet to see a House Martin.  Sand Martins were well represented during the grim weather of last week, with just under 100 in the valley on 3rd, with small numbers of Swallows seen pretty much every day now.  Willow Warblers are now starting to pass through in decent numbers, tonight I watched six feeding in an isolated clump of Blackthorn in the valley even as the sun was setting. Amazing to think that by the morning they will probably be hundreds of miles away!

A well defined setting sun over Colyford

I saw my first Red Kite of the season from work yesterday morning (7th) thanks to Phil. He had seen it fly east over Beer Head and I happened to be outside when it carried on east over Sheep's Marsh and the Estuary. I wonder how many more (hundreds!?) I will see as the year progresses.

And I will end this somewhat disjointed post with my absolute highlight of April so far. During a morning outing to Black Hole Marsh with Harry on 6th I was suddenly aware of the charming calls of Med Gull.  Two second-summers were flying around calling to each other low over the marsh before landing on one of the islands, both with pretty much full hoods.  An amazing sight and sound, and proof to anyone that gulls are anything but boring!

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Nikon Film Number Two!

So it's about time I shared this here...

Yep, this is why I spent a few days in Portugal last June.  It was a real pleasure to work with Nikon again, and the same Camera Technician and Director who shot the Slovenia film in 2016. Lisbon was amazing and the birding top-notch for a such a busy city - and you know the product is good when most the crew left wanting to buy a pair each for themselves! 

PS check out the super-sized Greater Flamingo at 00:46, I couldn't get over how completely massive he was compared to the other c100 present!