Thursday 30 April 2020

Garden Mega

Well you can't say I didn't see it coming - although really wasn't expecting it from the house! Find below a snippet from yesterday's blog post...

At about 18:30 today, whilst I was in the middle of Harry's bath and bed routine, Twilight Tim (Davey) messaged that he'd found an Iceland Gull on the Estuary.  But by the time I got to my phone there was a second message to say it had flown off south, along with some suitably gripping video footage.  However 15 minutes later there was another message to say it was back. Many thanks for the updates Tim.

I positioned myself at the bedroom window and tried to get a look at every gull I could see in flight over the small section of Estuary inline with mine.  Much to my surprise, ten minutes later bingo, Iceland Gull flying low north up the Estuary! I really wasn't expecting it as most gulls that take off from the Axe Estuary mid-afternoon onwards fly south, which would have ensured it remained out of view from me.

It was flying steadily north, and after the few seconds I was watching it, just as it was about to disappear behind the tree in the foreground that blocks my view north east, it chose to circle around twice with a Herring Gull, before then continuing north out of view.  This gave me a couple of extra seconds to grab my camera and take these two photos.  Yes they can only be described as dreadful shots, but it is a real credit to the capabilities of the P900 that in these couple of extra seconds, at a distance of about half a mile, through a not very clean window, I managed to get anything identifiable at all!

Striking even at this distance!

Just as it flew out of view

Although Iceland Gulls are annual here, they very often don't stick around for long and I've just never been looking out the window at the right time - this is a full fat house tick! 

These distant views were a really good reminder of how big Iceland Gulls can look in flight.  Most Iceland Gulls at rest are clearly smaller than Herring Gulls, and if you see a large looking white-winged Gull in flight it is so easy to incorrectly conclude Glaucous (which are so much bigger than Herring Gulls at rest).  Yes Iceland Gull maybe smaller than Herring Gull, but they are a long winged bird and their whiter wings will always make them 'appear' larger than a darker winged bird even of similar size - especially in dull light conditions.   Just something to bare in mind if you encounter a flying white-winger.

Iceland Gull takes my lockdown house list to 85, with the other addition since my last post being Dunlin and Water Rail, both heard after dark on 28th.  The latter being particularly vocal.  Am pleased to report the Grasshopper Warbler continues to reel, although it seems to have moved a short distance as it's a bit quieter from the garden now. 

Although my camera was with me in the bedroom for the gull, I stupidly didn't take it with me today for my daily family walk.  As we came back through Black Hole Marsh the Ruff was showing exceptionally well, as can be seen with this phone pic...

Why oh why did I go camera-less!

And how can I not end this post without bragging about these beauts Jess cooked up today.  We are trying to eat sensibly during lockdown, but you've got to allow a treat now and then...

She's good at photographing the fruits of her labour too!

Stay safe everyone.

Wednesday 29 April 2020


This drastic weather change has seen a significant pulse of wader passage on the Axe Estuary, which is to be expected with rain in late April.

This morning the star bird was a Ruff briefly on Black Hole Marsh, before flipping over to the Estuary. Obviously we all know how stunning/bizarre spring males are, but this was a she, and she was truly beautiful.  A really small and dainty bird, probably not that much bigger than a Curlew Sand, but so exquisitely marked.  Just look at those tiger-striped tertials and greater coverts, absolutely stunning...

I wonder where she's been wintering and where she may be heading off to breed?

Hello there Mrs

Also today, probably the same Grey Plover I saw from the house last week, and which Phil heard a few days ago, was showing distantly on the Estuary. Along with a single Bar-tailed Godwit, four Whimbrel and a few Dunlin and Ringed Plover...

100% winter plumaged Grey Plover on this side

But a few black spots on this side, with a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Whimbrel

Good to see there's still some gull passage going on, with two first-winter Common Gulls and at least 25 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the Estuary this morning... 

All ages - I keep reminding myself there's still time for a late white-winger

Yesterday I took my exercise walk in the afternoon, and was delighted to see a flock of thirty odd Dunlin on the Estuary. Then in true spring fashion, in came another flock and I was now looking at 64 Dunlin and five Ringed Plovers.  In birding I don't find much more exciting than being amongst spring wader passage, when out of nowhere flocks of breeding plumaged waders drop in en-route to their tundra breeding grounds, having wintered somewhere south of the UK.

So many waders! Never a common sight on the Axe.

Always feeding in such a frenzied way!

More rain tomorrow so possibly more waders to come!? Stay safe everyone...

Monday 27 April 2020

Seaton Wetlands

I consider myself extremely lucky that my daily exercise walk more often than not includes a lap of Seaton Wetlands (Black Hole Marsh, Stafford Marsh and Colyford Common). Living just a three minute walk from the entrance of Black Hole Marsh has never been more appreciated.

Although the aim of this post is summarise some of my highlights from the last couple of weeks, more than ever I am getting so much enjoyment from seeing the commonest species...

Male Reed Bunting

Sedge Warbler - there's at least five singing males on the reserve from what I have observed

Blackcap - good numbers present

Whilst I'm in the bushes and reeds, Reed Warblers are singing in excellent numbers. I counted 11 singing males on 18th April but more have arrived since.  The 18th was a good morning for warbler arrivals, being the only cloudy and damp morning that we've had so far this month (was the same morning I had a Willow Warbler singing from my back garden).  As well as the Reed Warbler count, I noted a singing Lesser Whitethroat (which is still with us today), a Common Whitethroat and four Willow Warblers. Wheatears have been really sparse on the marshes this spring with just the occasional one or two noted, I think they are all heading for higher ground thanks to the sun we've enjoyed.

Wading bird passage has been ticking over, no big arrivals but often something different most days.  Dunlin numbers have been varying between one and seven birds, and two Ringed Plovers keep popping up every now and then - whether they've been the same two all along who knows!?  A lone Knot on Black Hole on 24th was one a pair that had been hanging around a few days, there was a nice but distant summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit on 17th, and Whimbrel have been trickling through for about ten days now.  I have already posted a photo of the two Avocets that Phil found yesterday, but today Phil discovered this rather lovely, and fairly late male Little Ringed Plover...

Typical LRP pose

Can't beat a spring LRP


I know it seems most of my recent posts have included an Osprey - but I'm afraid this one does too!  I was treated to the most amazing views of one hovering right above my head on 17th, before it flew off west over town.  It virtually looked down into my eyes - have been really spoilt rotten for this species this spring.

My recent visits have also shown that we still have at least two black rabbits with us.  For some reason they seem to sporadically appear down here, ever since I have been birding here at least...

Spot the difference!

Bit of a cutey really!

Back at home, the Lesser Whitethroat mentioned above was singing from a green just down the road from my place as I walked back from the marshes today.  I scooped Harry up, legged it home and could hear it from my back garden - taking my lockdown house list up to 82.  The Grasshopper Warbler still reeling well tonight.

Sunday 26 April 2020

Avocets, Osprey and Gropper still

I have a couple of blog posts in the making at the moment, but I just wanted to slip this one in with all the latest from the house.

As I write this, sat in the conservatory with the back doors wide open, I can hear the 81st species of bird added to my lockdown house list.  Earlier this morning Phil found a couple of Avocet on Black Hole Marsh, which pleasingly I saw tonight during my evening exercise walk.  Once I had returned home a bedroom window vigil failed to show them, but they have been calling sporadically since it's got dark - which is rather nice as it happens to be one of my favourite wader calls.  This is what they looked like on Black Hole Marsh earlier this evening...

They were in stunning plumage, and on size a male and female

Species number 80 was an slightly overdue one, with a male Bullfinch (scoped I must add - it wasn't close!) late afternoon yesterday.

Back to today, and I was thrilled to see my fifth Osprey of the spring, which flew very low north over Primrose Way at 16:30.  So often when the gulls take off and start giving that distinctive 'there's a raptor coming' alarm call, it can take a while before you actually spot what it is that has spooked them.  Sometimes, well quite often really, you don't spot it at all.  But this time I looked up and it was right there just above roof top height, so impressive that I actually said "wow" out loud!  Of course by the time I got the camera out it was further north and had begun circling up, but I managed to grab the below pic.  This was our second Osprey of the day, as Kevin saw another fly NE over his place at 14:50.

A distinctive bird with broken tips on two of the primaries on its right wing, as well as the obvious wing moult

The other very exciting news I have to share is that my reeling neighbour - the Grasshopper Warbler I first discovered from my back garden five days ago - is amazingly still here!  Bizarre really as where he is looks nothing like traditional breeding Gropper habitat at all, I wouldn't even think to look for a migrant one there! It's basically just a hedge in between two intensively managed ecologically barren crop fields.  Still, there must be something he likes, and although throughout the day he doesn't make a sound, from about 19:45 he's been reeling almost non-stop til around 21:15. Such a treat - I can actually hear him whilst lying in bed!

A couple of evenings ago I went back out into the field hoping to see him.  No luck there, but his vocal performance was off the scale...

Stay safe everyone.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

A Flurry of Spring Ticks

Thought it was about time I gave you all a lockdown house list update.  And as expected there's been a nice flurry of ticks over the past few days.

My lockdown house list now stands at 79, and the recent additions include a whopping three full fat house ticks. Seriously impressive considering I've lived here for over seven years, and it just shows what a little extra effort can achieve. I'll start with today, which ended in the most exciting way...

At 4pm today I was stunned to hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling briefly whilst in my back garden, twice, which was handy as that confirmed nicely I wasn't hearing things.  The first record for the house and another spring migrant I was fully expecting not to connect with this year.

After these two short bursts of reeling, I remained in the garden for the next half hour, and sporadically popped out there until 6.30pm, but there was no further sound of it.  Being a Gropper though, I was hopeful it may start up again later in the evening, and at 8.20pm it did just that.  As soon as I heard it again from the garden I nipped out the front door and jumped into the field next to my house.

Although it never showed, I was treated to the most vocal migrant Gropper I have ever come across. It was still going strong beyond 9pm, and the experience got even better when a Barn Owl began quartering the field I was crouched in! Just amazing. Aren't birds brilliant.

Today was a gloriously sunny day, like most of the previous lockdown days. And like all the other sunny days I've spent most of it in the garden... which of course means I've been looking up!  The skies have been busy too, with the highlight being my first Hobby of the year over low east early afternoon.  There's been plenty of raptors up all day, with numerous Common Buzzards as usual, five different Sparrowhawks (two displaying), two Kestrels (one displaying), and the day started in fine form with two Peregrines tussling and calling to each other low overhead when I first opened the back doors this morning.  I am so so lucky to live where I do.



Common Buzzard

The Hobby represented the eighth species of raptor recorded from my house during lockdown. A ninth will be a good one whatever it is...

Also today Whimbrel was added to the lockdown house list, about time as they've been on the Axe in varying numbers for a week or two now.

Yesterday produced a nil result, but Monday gave another house first!  During a window watch over the valley in the evening, just as I was trying to work out what the large plover-sized wader was that I was watching flying north over Black Hole Marsh, it banked around revealing black wing-pits.  Grey Plover is a good Axe bird, and it reminded me that the previous evening whilst stood in the back garden, amongst a burst of Redshank calls I thought I heard Grey Plover call once but couldn't be sure.

Sunday finally rewarded me for my daily scoping of the only bit of Axe Cliff Golf Course I can see from my back garden, which is over a mile away...

Maybe distant and small, but potential is there...

When I posted the below photo on Twitter it opened the flood gates to a flurry of sarcastic remarks - as to be expected.  But it depicts one of the reasons I have been scoping this far away golf green so often, for a Red-legged Partridge!  There were actually two of them on view just before I grabbed this shockingly poor (come on it's over a mile away and taken with my mobile!) photo...

No it's not a rabbit!  

Red-legged Partridge was a full fat house tick.  But it didn't end there for my lockdown ticks, as this scope view on Sunday also gave me Yellowhammer (thankfully a bright male - otherwise it would have been unidentifiable) and Skylark.

Saturday morning began with a Willow Warbler singing from trees next to the back garden.  A species that hasn't been in anyway numerous this spring. The crystal clear mornings aren't conducive to dropping migrants - and Saturday morning was practically the first cloudy and damp morning that we've had all April!

And that brings me all up to date.

What a thrilling post this was to write, one that is positively bursting with decent birds.  And I didn't leave home once.  Lockdown listing isn't just great fun, but it's making me appreciate far more, and look closer at, the vast array of wildlife that's not just on my doorstep, but can quite literally be seen from it.

Sunday 19 April 2020

Dewick's Plusia

Most forms of natural history recording/surveying have been in someway disturbed by the recent lock down, but one that hasn't so much is moth trapping.  Moth'ers all over the country primarily trap in their gardens, which of course they can still do.  However I am stumped because I trap in my Mum and Dad's garden, my back garden sadly isn't secluded enough to run a 125w MV bulb all night.

Fran who lives just around the corner however is far better placed, and this morning she kindly left a moth outside her front door for me to take a look at...

A Dewick's Plusia!  An immigrant species that I have trapped only once before, so was delighted to get another look at one. This insect was slightly unusually marked on both wings, with some extra white marks on its right side...

And a split white mark, almost twin-spot, on it's left side...

Such a cracking moth, thanks Fran!  A birding update to follow within the next couple of days.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Almost an Eagle!

For the last 28 or so hours here in East Devon/West Dorset we've been on the look out for one of the roaming satellite tagged White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight.  It was seen flying west over Weymouth at 3pmish yesterday, and then we had news its satellite pinged at Bridport a short while later.  Vigils yesterday late afternoon/evening proved unsuccessful, and annoyingly this morning news came through it was now to the west of us - somewhere between the Exe and Otter Estuaries! Drat.

I have taken a screenshot of the relevant part of the map showing its route, from the blog post here;

I was waiting at Seaton from 4pm but didn't see it, and it seems as though it flew through our patch just south of Colyton. This is a route often favoured by westward flying coasting raptors, probably due to the lie of the land around Lyme Regis which seems to encourage birds to take a more inland route.  I blame this for missing a patch Black Kite many years ago, with one seen flying along the coast towards Lyme Regis but the group of us gathered on Seaton Marshes dipped.  

Am waiting to hear what it's been up to today, but it would be nice to see it that's for sure so hopefully it will head back east soon.

Sky watching today did reward me in another way however, as finally, after seeing two patch Ospreys this spring, and missing four others whilst in the house, it's a species now on my lockdown house list. I had to run though, as I was on the nearby green when I picked it up at 13:45 cruising low north over my housing estate.  I had to abandon playing football with Jess and Harry and run back to the house, gladly the recent increase in consumption of cake and chocolate didn't slow me down too much, and I made it to our front steps whilst it was still in view. 

The only other additions to the lockdown house list over the last few days have been Goldcrest and Mistle Thrush (now seen one a day for the last three days!) making it 69.  Hopefully the arrival of some unsettled weather will add a few more migrants species to the list.  

Although I have already seen several Red Kites from the house this year, I can't not mention the seven that flew west on 11th April, including this group of four...

And to end this post, the slightly unusual sight of a Grey Heron perched on a house roof at dawn about a week ago.  Photo taken from our back garden...

Stay safe everyone...  and look out for an Eagle!

Friday 10 April 2020

Redstart and Spoonbill

A screeching Jay has been the only addition to the house lockdown list since my last post, but our daily family walks have come up with the goods both today and yesterday.

Yesterday I was delighted to see that flash of red that you always hope to see in the spring - Common Redstart.  This was on Stafford Marsh in the middle of the afternoon, a young male...

Wasn't sure if I was going to see one this spring so thrilled!

Also my first Reed Warbler of the year singing quietly along with a drake Shoveler on Black Hole Marsh.

Today we took a different route to the wetlands through Colyford, which gave me my first three singing Willow Warblers of the year.  Shortly after we arrived at Stafford Marsh a quick scan of the sky revealed the surprisingly shape of a Spoonbill!  It dropped on to Black Hole Marsh just long enough for me to grab this dreadful photo with my phone...

An adult too - sorry again for the awful photo!

For the rest of the time it was around it remained flighty, and am not sure it's still here as both Phil and Ian M watched it gain height and appear to depart.  

Was nice to see a Red Kite fly low north up the river too whilst here, possibly making up one of seven that were seen together just north of Axminster about half an hour later.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Track My Osprey

Well I've still not seen an Osprey from the house... but I have seen two Ospreys!

The first was during our daily family walk through the wetlands on Saturday afternoon. It flew up and down the Estuary, looked to hunt but then circled low over Black Hole Marsh before completely vanishing...

My best shot - shortly after taking this I lost it. Still don't really know how!

Although I didn't notice this in the field, when I came home and downloaded the photos it turned out it wasn't your average Osprey.  As you can see in the below pics, this bird has an unusual and fairly large white patch in its left wing...

I put a plea out on Twitter, hoping someone else may have seen this bird during migration, or better still knows where it breeds.  So far I've had just the one positive response, and that was from our very own Phil! He photographed the same Osprey on the Axe back in April 2018, see this tweet...

So we know it likes coming through the Axe in spring - but come on birders of the UK/the world, someone somewhere must know or have seen this Osprey before!? It's at least three years old now and it would be great to track some of its movements.

The second Osprey I saw this week was from my office at work, I spied it after all the gulls lifted up on Monday at about 10:40.  It flew up river and was later seen to catch at fish north of Tower Hide, per James Chubb. It came 50 minutes after a Red Kite flew low east overhead, also flushing the gulls.  Now that's what I call a productive morning at work!

I have managed some more house ticks for the lockdown list since my last post.  My total now stands at 66 thanks to a waffling Green Woodpecker on Friday morning (not often heard here so much appreciated), my first two House Martins of the year, along with quite possibly my last two Wigeon of the winter (they flew into Black Hole Marsh just prior to dusk) on Sunday, a vocal Coot flying around for twenty minutes after dark on Monday and several Swallows today - along with a few more House and Sand Martins.

I'll finish this post with a bit of national gull news.  The American Herring Gull from West Bexington and here, turned up in south Cornwall at the weekend.  Amazing that it's still around but has only just appeared for the third time.  And today I was completely shocked to receive a request to ID a gull from a mate who lives on a farm on the Devon/Dorset border - it was a first-winter Laughing Gull!  Stunning find Neil well done, hopefully it will make its way to the coast soon enough.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Lockdown List Update

Well today it finally felt a bit warmer didn't it, much more spring-like. The day was tarred for me however because somehow I managed to not see an Osprey, despite the fact at least five were seen this morning between the Exe and Charmouth. This included one that flew north over the west side of Seaton at 9am, whilst I was looking over the east side! Am surprised the gulls didn't react where I was but they didn't.

Wasn't all bad though, because finally I managed to get Cattle Egret on the lockdown house list! Every evening I have been checking the egrets flying down the valley at dusk, and haven't lucked in, but mid morning today suddenly there was one in flight almost above my garden, before landing in a nearby sheep field out of view...

Amazed it has taken me nine days to see one of these from the house, seeing as though two or three have been in the valley the whole time.

Also today Ringed Plover was a nice addition, with one in flight with a large Black-tailed Godwit this morning, along with a single Siskin east over mid afternoon.  The lack of Osprey wasn't the only annoyance today, as a Ruff was feeding this evening on mud underneath the airspace I can see, and I had a probable Little Ringed Plover fly in early afternoon, but at distance and non-calling.

Yesterday I managed just one lockdown tick, a last gasp Redwing over the house looking for somewhere to roost, just after dusk.

The day before (so Tuesday - not that I really know what day it is at the moment... mind you does anyone!?) I managed a few more ticks.  A Barn Owl decided to be vocal for a few minutes after dark, and I finally added Teal thanks to several calling also after dark. Another night time tick came at the other end of the day (just after midnight) when at least one of the local Tawny Owls actually decided to call.  Am sure many lockdown listers have noticed just how quiet Tawnies are at this time of year, as the females are egg laying.  My fourth tick on Tuesday was actually during daylight hours, with two Pied Wagtails north over the garden.

On Sunday a Moorhen was the only tick for me, again a heard only after dark. With a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on Saturday the one tick for that day - although I have heard him drumming most days since.

...and that brings everything up to date. As I sign off tonight my lockdown list is on 62.