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...

Saturday 5 October 2019

Radford's Flame Shoulder

I had drafted another post out to be my next, titled 'Beware of Hackers' (many of you am sure will be able to guess the content of this one!) but something far more exciting has come up...

I put the moth trap out late last night, it was well past sunset when I realised despite the drizzle the conditions were actually pretty moth-friendly with little wind and reasonably mild temperatures. This proved a good move as I was rewarded this morning with a new species for the garden and for me; Radford's Flame Shoulder!  

Described as a rare immigrant to the south coast, it's one I have been keeping my eye out for for years.  Any late Flame Shoulder is worth looking closely at as Radford's Flame Shoulder is generally found in the UK after the flight period for Flame Shoulder is over - although am sure some are overlooked during (or at least towards the end of) the Flame Shoulder flight period.  Anyway, when I saw a Flame Shoulder resting at the bottom of my trap this morning I potted it immediately.  After I'd gone through the rest of the trap I came back to it for a closer look, and it was ticking many of the boxes for Radford's.  As it is quite a tricky species to ID I asked for confirmation from the fantastic @MothIDUK on Twitter, and am pleased to say this was rapidly given :-)

The key ID features I noted were;
  • Black streaks extending beyond kidney mark (almost producing a 'shear')
  • Kidney and oval marks smaller than in FS 
  • Dull brown ground colour 
  • Sharp contrast between purple thorax and white patagia
  • Clear white hindwing.

I have to be honest and say it didn't look that long-winged to me, but then again I've not seen a Flame Shoulder for maybe three weeks now so a direct comparison may well have given me a different conclusion.

Am ashamed to say the reason why the photos are so poor is because whilst trying to get a photo of its hindwing, I completely fluffed re-potting it and much to my despair it flew off high to a nearby tree! I would have taken far more photos were it not for this :-(

The full catch total ended up at 83 macro moths of 20 species - not at all bad for October.  A single Delicate and L-album Wainscot were the macro sub-highlights, along with fairly late individuals of Cypress Pug, Willow Beauty and Broad-bordered Yellow UnderwingLunar Underwings made up the bulk of the catch, with 25 in all.

Seeing as I've not done a moth post for a while, despite the fact I have done quite a bit of mothing, here's a few other moth pics that I've taken over the last few weeks.  I've not caught any other goodies but there are some really smart moths on the wing at this time of year, and here's three of the most vibrant;


Centre-barred Sallow

Barred Sallows

I still haven't caught the two big immigrant moths that I'm after (The big Hawk and the one with blue underwings!) but have been getting a steady trickle of Silver Y's along with two Delicates.  Although I mostly steer clear of micros, I have noted plenty of Rusty-dot Pearls and a few Rush Veneers in recent weeks.


This autumn there have been unusually high numbers of L-album Wainscots on the wing.  This is a species I catch every year but normally only in very small numbers.  One morning last week there were six in the trap, and I know several other sites are reporting much higher than usual counts...

L-album Wainscot - a real favourite of mine

And another - such a beautifully marked moth, especially considering it's a Wainscot!

I'll end this post with some (real) bird news. Clive did well to turn up a Spotted Crake on Black Hole Marsh late this afternoon, although sadly I couldn't react to the news.  Our fifth in recent years I believe, but seeing as there aren't many in the country this year it's extra good value.  I've not been here for most of today, but did have a nice little surprise whilst filling up with fuel at the Tower Services this morning. It didn't take me long to pin down a sharp sounding crest in the bushes on the edge of the neighbouring chalet park - and as I thought it was my first Firecrest of the autumn. Always a delight.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Windy Weather Finally Wains

Today autumn had a chance to breathe. The wet and windy weather of late (which has produced some good birding - keep reading on for that) cleared for dawn today revealing beautifully clear skies with a light northerly wind. Ideal conditions for a bit of migration so as soon as I could (8am) I was wandering around Axe Cliff...

Lots of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails

Try as I might I couldn't turn anything scarce up - but the volume of birds was seriously impressive.  The Golf Course looked as good as I've ever seen it, with large numbers of Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Linnets feeding on the greens...

A closer view

The bushes and fence line between this and the fields hosted a Stonechat, five Yellowhammer and three Reed Bunting...

Female Reed Bunting

In the stubble fields were 20+ Skylark and a few more Meadow Pipits and Linnets.  The bushes at first seemed quiet, but looking down into the Undercliff Chiffchaffs were almost constantly filtering through, along with a couple of Goldcrests.  The sky was also pretty busy, mostly hirundines and Meadow Pipits going over along with a few Skylark and Chaffinch.  So yes, disappointing to not score a goodie, but exciting nevertheless to be among some true autumn magic.

Spent a bit of time late morning/early afternoon hoping to see some fresh Long-tailed Blues at Axmouth Harbour, but the sunshine didn't deliver the goods.  Good to see two Tufted Ducks on the Estuary though, Gav saw them earlier from the same spot...

We don't see many diving ducks on this Estuary!

There's been a Cattle Egret hanging around recently, and I was lucky enough to see it on Colyford Common early Saturday morning...

However common these become I will always enjoy seeing them! Am pretty sure it's an adult although they are tricky to age.
I often find Cattle Egrets strike unusual poses and postures compared to Little Egrets!
Size difference with a Little

On Sunday afternoon a wander around the Wetlands with Jess' family showed singles of Ruff and Green Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh, but sadly not the Spotted Crake that I've been hoping to jam in on! 

Green Sandpiper

And now to the sea.  Following the record breaking Balearic Shearwater day as detailed in my last post, I've enjoyed some more time looking at the sea.  We've had a few really lean sea watching years here, so it's been nice to be blessed with not only the right weather, but actually some birds too.

On Sunday morning (29th) I shared the Beer shelter with Ian Mc and Phil from 07:15 - 09:00 and it was excellent!  My totals were (all west);

2 Red-throated Diver
48 Common Scoter
3 Great Skua 
3 Arctic Skua
22 Kittiwake
2 Golden Plover (in-off)
1 small wader sp. 
12 auk sp.

Flock of Common Scoter flying west

I didn't count the Gannets but they really were plentiful. The six skuas were easily the highlight for me, and as usual injected a good amount of adrenaline into the watch.  Four of them (two each of Arctic and Great) passed at fairly close range - just brilliant to watch. Good fun ageing them too!

My other sea watch was on Tuesday 1st from Spot On Kiosk in Seaton 07:15 - 08:45 and showed (all west);

350+ Gannet
9 Balearic Shearwater
2 Shearwater sp.
12 Common Scoter
1 Arctic Skua (pale-phased)
3 Kittwake
6 auk sp.

So all good.  And I suppose if there was a moral to this blog post, it's you don't need to see a rarity to have a good time out birding!