Friday 30 August 2019

It's Autumn on the Axe

It's been a good week locally for birds, one of the best autumn weeks we've enjoyed for several years I'd say, and this is why...

First of all I'll start with Ospreys. A couple of weeks ago, on the 18th in fact, I happened to be outside at work (in the middle of Seaton) when an Osprey flew low south west overhead shortly after 10am.  It disappeared as quickly as it appeared, unlike the juvenile Sue Smith found from Tower Hide on 25th.  This one, clearly an amateur fisher, is still around today, and can be easily seen fishing on the Axe given a bit of time.  It's great having a long-stayer again, our first proper lingering bird for what seems like years...

Osprey with a typical back drop - lots of alarming gulls!

The Tower Hide is the best place to see it from, although I have stayed clear of here as I know it's proving a busy place for photographers at the moment - and rightly so.  This has to be one of the best sites to photograph fishing Osprey in the UK (away from breeding grounds)?

Going in for a dive

I had a second Osprey on the 27th, when one flew in from the north west over Seaton cricket pitch, then continued south west at quite a height.  Our usual bird was back fishing on the Estuary an hour or so later so am happy this was a different individual.  Whilst on raptors, at least one Marsh Harrier remains in the valley, and I had a second fly west over Lyme Regis on the morning of the 23rd.

Now to the wading birds and Black Hole Marsh.  After another little pulse of Wood Sandpipers with three on 25th, it really kicked off yesterday.  Late afternoon on 29th, inline with something of a national arrival of these species, Phil texted with news of three Curlew Sands and three Ruff - nice.  I went down there that evening and saw all six of these goodies, along with three Greenshank, a juvenile Knot, several Yellow Wags and plenty of the usual species...

All three Curlew Sands - a cracking adult and two juvs
Three juv Ruff - I think a male and two females
Juv Knot

Over the course of today, the three Ruff have dispersed, but a lovely adult Little Stint has joined the fun and games.  Unlike the adult Curlew Sand which is still very summery, the stint is more advanced in its moult to winter plumage...

Little Stint on the left, and Curlew Sand in shot too
On the right here, such a delicate little beauty

A juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit was also new in, mixed in with the vast numbers of Black-tailed Godwits...

Note the difference in leg-length!

Had some better views of the Curlew Sands too.  The adult really is cracking, only seen one or two better than this on the Axe before...

Look at that!
Constantly feeding though! 

Also tonight a Green Sand, two Ringed Plover, the Knot still (which has developed an occasional limp), a Whimbrel and heaps of the usual species.  I am so glad the water levels have now been sorted on Black Hole because the mass of birds it's attracted will no doubt continue to attract even more - the next few weeks could be really good.

The one thing I have really missed this August is Beer Head. I simply haven't had chance to get up there, but those who have have been seeing plenty.  Phil turned up the highlight, with a brief Wryneck yesterday morning, but the large counts of migrants coming in most mornings have proved equally gripping.  Looking forwards, Yellow Wags will start picking up in numbers now, they usually peak over the few days when August ends and September begins, so hopefully I will be able to cash in on this at least.

 'til next time...

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Long-tailed Blues

I've got quite a bit of catching up to do!  Since my last post I've seen quite a few birds, not seen even more birds, and enjoyed a couple of really productive moth nights.  All of that must wait though, because the contents of this blog post, quite simply, deserve its own post...

Late afternoon on Saturday 24th, news broke on Twitter of at least two Long-tailed Blue butterflies at Axmouth Harbour, from Lloyd Evans. Here is the very tweet...

What a tweet!

All this came as quite a shock.  I was stuck at work, but Kevin quickly followed it up and saw two an hour later. They were feeding & egg laying on a small patch of pea plant just to the east of the river mouth.  

Frustratingly the following day didn't allow me any chances to see them, but three were present and well reported on social media, pulling in visitors from far and wide.  Then Monday came around, and thankfully - finally - I managed to spend my lunch hour with them.  What a treat...

Female Long-tailed Blue

What wonderful little butterflies, clearly smaller than Holly Blues, and I found them really hard to keep up with thanks to their distinctively jerky and rapid flight.  They were oddly sporadic in their appearances too, with one period of 20+ minutes of nothing, and then a flurry of sightings right up until I left.  This one spent a lot of time underneath the flowers, so often the views were like this...

Easily to overlook - but once seen so distinctive

This female showed by far the best, resting on flowers and egg laying on the nearest patch of pea to where I was stood...

It actually has long-tails!

As can be seen in the above pic though, she has a deformity on her right wing. Also viewable in this pic...

A cracking underwing pattern - but what's with the wing...

This is a defect caused when the wings are being pumped up during emergency, which begs the question, was this butterfly born and bred here!?  Well personally I think not.  Despite this damage it was flying around just fine, and considering there has been a national influx of this species within the last week or so, I think the chances are it arrived as part of this influx.    

Not easy to see the upperwing - just about managed a shot of it here

As you can see, this conclusively sexes this insect as a female - but when flying around on two occasions I heard others announce it as a male due to how blue it appeared.  When comparing it to the second Long-tailed Blue that was flying around however, this was understandable. The second individual was a really drab, brown and tatty female - presumably the one pictured by others in previous days lacking any tails.  I did see a third insect in flight on two occasions, and this one really did look proper blue, sadly never saw it settled though.

There is a previous patch record of Long-tailed Blue, I know of at least one recorded on Goat Island (where there is lots of pea plant - so there could be a load out there now!) but it's great to have some 'gettable' ones!  Whilst at the harbour I also saw Common Blue, Painted Lady, Silver-washed Fritillary and a couple of smart male Clouded Yellows.

As I said earlier there has been something of an influx of Long-tailed Blues into the UK - in fact it's looking likely to prove the biggest influx ever!  For more details have a read of this excellent BirdGuides article;

And I will finish by ending on a similar note to the article-linked above.  Go out and search your local pea plants, you may not find an adult but there's every chance you could discover some eggs. And if you do then keep coming back and you never know you may just witness a UK bred Long-tailed Blue emerge or take its maiden flight. Something I hope to do in about a month's time...

Saturday 17 August 2019

Most Succesful Dip Ever

Odd title for a blog post isn't it.  And having missed a patch first you'd think this post would be downbeat...

Clive and Liz stumbled upon our first patch Cirl Bunting early afternoon today, a male sat out on top of a hedge for about ten minutes.  Frustratingly though by the time Phil and I arrived it had done a bunk, Kev arrived soon after too.  Well done Clive and Liz, a fine reward for all the leg work and it's good to know this species has finally spread to the far south eastern corner of Devon - our corner.

Phil had to leave, so sadly missed out on what happened next - one my best birding experiences for a good few years. No the Cirl Bunting didn't reappear, but I had the shock of the life when a hulking great juvenile Goshawk appeared in the sky in front of us!  First patch record for about 15 years, epic...

Such a distinctive shape, especially the wing shape - that secondary bulge!!

What made is so special were the views we enjoyed.  I've seen plenty of Gos, displaying birds, fly-overs, perched up - even sat on a nest (under license) - but I have never seen one like this.   It was simply loitering, flying backwards and forwards over a small patch of woodland, mobbing Buzzards that came too close and even had a half-arsed attempt at one of the Wood Pigeons it flushed out of the small copse.  You should have seen the cloud of Wood Pigeons that flew out of the trees when the Gos went in! An amazing experience and delighted to share it with Bun, Clive and Liz.

About 15 years ago we had a spate of Goshawk sightings on patch, including a displaying pair and a first-winter that was seen a few times in the valley, but since then not a sniff.  Sorry the photos aren't great, but as far as I'm aware these are probably the first pics ever taken of a Gos on patch...

Rounded tail, deep chest and again, look at the size of those secondaries!
Although only just about viewable in this pic - could clearly see the white fluffy undertail coverts
Mobbing a Buzzard - crap shot but good size comparison
This was taken when it was at it's most distant, but best shot I managed of its underparts - could almost be mistaken for a ringtail Hen Harrier in this pic!

A Gos and Cirl duo would have of course been even better, but honestly, I would have swapped the Cirl for this beast any day of the week. Am pretty confident Cirl will be on my patch list within the not too distant future, but might not see another Gos here for 15 years...

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Best Job Ever?

On Sunday evening I was delighted to lead a tram of 19 (plus Allan our driver) up the Axe Valley on a Birdwatch special. 

The weather during the afternoon was overcast with some heavy downpours, and the forecast looked a bit iffy for the duration. But in reality except for a couple of spots of rain as we left Seaton Station, everything including the weather was just so kind to us.  The wind dropped to almost nothing and the rain and clouds soon cleared revealing a magical soft golden light across the valley...

The birds were just as kind to us, and I'll start with the punters favourite as always, Kingfisher.  We had four sightings of probably two birds, with one sitting in full view for several minutes which left smiles on everyone's faces.  The hunting Barn Owl that remained in view for about ten minutes was also a firm favourite, this also posed well for the tram full...

Barn Owl

On the other side of the Estuary, one of the lingering juvenile Marsh Harriers hunted over the reed beds before landing distantly in a field opposite...

For the whole journey, low-flying Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and (a surprisingly high number of) Swifts showed really well as they fed low on flying insects. Whilst on the subject of passerines, three Wheatears showed well around Sheep's Marsh...

Wheatear - I just love the pale-edged black primaries

What was really special for me was the variety and numbers of wading birds on show.  At the top end of the trip where we turn around by Colyford scrape, as if three Green Sandpipers, a young Turnstone, a Dunlin and 11 Ringed Plovers weren't enough - a Wood Sandpiper took off from the small pools north of the scrape and flew south, calling all the way.

Adult Ringed Plover left and juvenile Turnstone right
Green Sandpiper

Thankfully on the return journey the Wood Sandpiper showed better, unusually feeding on the Estuary with a group of Redshank...

Look at the size difference - juv Wood Sandpiper flanked by two Redshank

Black Hole Marsh showed good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin plus a close Greenshank, with the Estuary giving another three Greenshank, a further three Turnstone (four is a cracking good count for us!), two Whimbrel, a heap more Black-tailed Godwits and at the very least 14 Common Sandpipers.  

Next year I'm going to try and arrange a few more Birdwatch tram trips for autumn, particularly August and September.  Seeing large numbers of wildfowl during the winter is always good, but nothing quite beats the variety, quantity and almost endless possibilities that can be seen during a trip in one of these months.

Friday 9 August 2019

Balearics and a Beast

It's high time I summarised my recent bird sightings, which thanks to today have become a little more interesting...

Black Hole Marsh had a spate of activity early last week, and although I missed the two Wood Sands that dropped in for half a day, three adult Little Ringed Plovers stayed put long enough for me to catch up with, although they were often flighty and vocal...

Little Ringed Plovers - surprisingly all adults!

On the same day I also saw a single Ringed Plover, two Greenshank, three Green Sands (also vocal and flightly), ten Dunlin and two juv Med Gulls on Black Hole Marsh.  Along with a brute of a juv Yellow-legged Gull on the Estuary and a Lesser Whitethroat on Colyford Common.  

I've not had chance to do Beer Head/Axe Cliff so far this autumn, but Willow Warblers keep popping up in front of me. Ian Mc did ok up Beer Head yesterday morning with a Pied Fly and good counts of Wheatear and Willow Warbler - although this wind will presumably have halted any further passerine passage.  Does looks like it's kick started some sea passage though which is good!

I gave the sea a couple of ten minute watches this afternoon, showing the odd Manx Shearwater and several Gannets passing, but things livened up a bit more during a 40 minute watch from 17:40 this evening when I recorded;

11 Balearic Shearwater
4 Manx Shearwater
1 shearwater sp.
1 Med Gull (juv)
2 Kittiwake
2 Common Tern
3 wader sp.

Great to see some Balearic action, with ten of the 11 passing in a ten minute window from 17:45, including a fairly close flock of five which looked so awesome. I haven't had any decent counts of Balearics off here for a good number of years - they seem to be sticking more to the west part of Lyme Bay these days - so every one of these 11 were very much appreciated.

A look up the Estuary just after this watch revealed an absolute beast of a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, a real brute...

A truly epic bird - that juvenile Herring Gull looks so tiny in comparison!
Long legged, long winged, huge billed - what a treat!  Quite a dark one too (esp around the face), although note the pale ground colour to underparts

Saturday 3 August 2019

Bedstraw Hawkmoth

Thursday night was the first time since my last blog post that I've had a moth trap out (at Mum and Dad's) and would you believe it there was another garden first in there! A spectacular one at that...

Bedstraw Hawkmoth!

Wow - just wow! I actually felt it before I saw it, as it was resting on the underside of one of the egg boxes. My fingers went to pinch the box to grip it so I could turn it over, but my thumb brushed against something that was clearly large and soft!  When I did turn the box over I could hardly believe my eyes -  BEDSTRAW HAWKMOTH!!!!!

This is the ninth species of Hawkmoth recorded in the garden, and follows on nicely from the two Striped Hawkmoths I caught in June 2015.  So what will number ten be?  Well there's one immigrant species that I don't quite now how I haven't caught yet - Convolvulus Hawkmoth. But there's also a UK resident species I haven't had yet, despite pine trees not all that far away - Pine Hawkmoth.  The flight period for Pine is almost over now, so if it's going to happen this year chances are it's going to be the former - unless of course something more unexpected comes along!?  Seems like my Bedstraw Hawk was the front runner of a influx of this species, with several trapped in the UK last night - great that there's some proper moth immigration underway!  And presumably linked to this fresh wave of Painted Lady butterflies?

Anyway, back to the Bedstraw, and here's some more photos of this cracker.  It was quite active when out in the fresh air so I didn't have long for proper pics...

Love the white above the face
Just about to take off

The Bedstraw was accompanied by another 234 macro moths of 40 species in the trap on Thursday night, and came with five Silver Y for company in the immigrant moth department.  Other notables were singles of Four-spotted Footman, Crescent Dart, Dog's Tooth, Mocha (is there something going on with this species this summer!? My third ever but all the space of a week!), Iron Prominent, Small Waved Umber and four Jersey Tigers.

Another male Crescent Dart - looking a bit faded though this one

Dog's Tooth - a well marked moth and showing that distinctive black 'tooth' marking

Iron Prominent. The Prominent moths are never numerous, but I tend to catch one or two most nights

And that's that.  The bird news from the last few days I will roll on to my next blog post...