Thursday, 21 October 2021

Whooper Swans and Water Pipit

Well I can only start this blog post by mentioning the staggering rainfall that Seaton and the surrounding area witnessed last night. 

Very sadly this led to many properties in Seaton being flooded out, and my heart goes out to all those who have fallen victim of this. The Fire Brigade were in my road for most of the evening, as the torrent of water in the below video (almost destroying a neighbours fence) was pouring right into someone's kitchen a little further down the hill.  Our local Fire Station received over 30 calls during the night, they had to call in a further three appliances to assist.

And it was no surprise to see the river valley full to the brim this morning...

Looking south from the A3052. On an average day you wouldn't be able to see any water from this viewpoint.

The A3052 itself.  That campervan was still there at 3pm today, this photo was taken at 07:40!

By this afternoon much of the flood water south of the A3052 had rescinded, thankfully.  Although Seaton Marshes remained much wetter than it has been for what feels like about five years! I took this at 5pm ish...

Looking like a proper marsh at last!

And the reason why I was there? Well to walk the dog along the cycle track of course.  The fact Clive shortly before found two Whooper Swans on the flood water (viewable in the picture above) was a pure coincidence!

Sadly I didn't have the chance to get to a closer view point, so pleased to see them though!

Love how the yellow bills are so vivid in this pic. These two birds could well have been in Iceland at dawn yesterday.

Something I noticed about one of the birds was a narrow black line where the bill met the forehead, which you can just see here...


And I'm pleased I noticed this, because here's a screenshot of a tweet from Charlie Wheeler about two Whooper Swans which flew into Abbotsbury Swannery this morning, but had gone by early afternoon...


An exact match.  And yet another example of big white birds leaving Abbotsbury and turning up here (we've had numerous Whoopers, Spoonbills and three Great White Egrets do it over the years!). Shame their wintering Scaup never follow suit!

Anyway, these were my first patch Whoopers since one on 14th October 2019, and the first ones on patch since two on 2nd Dec 2020. From the patterns of our previous records, these two will either be gone by the morning or stay until March!   I am going for the former option, although would love to know where they go next!

And finally I must mention (as they are no longer a regular wintering species here) the Water Pipit I saw on Bridge Marsh yesterday morning.  It didn't hang around long enough for a photo and flew off towards Colyford Marsh, but it is good to know we have at least one around.    I always pick these up on call here, not that I can at all ID them on call - it's a Rock/Water until I see it properly.  

Is there anyone out there who can separate these two species on calls?  I certainly get the impression Water Pipits sound thinner, but it's not consistent enough for me. I have heard thinner calls from Rock Pipits, but must admit have never heard a definite Water Pipit quite sound like a Rock. If that at all makes sense?  Thankfully yesterday's bird showed well enough before darting off that it didn't at all matter what it sounded like.


Tuesday, 19 October 2021

A landmark Caspian Gull

I didn't have chance for much today, but after a trip into town with Harry mid-morning I thought I'd drive back home via the Estuary. When I saw the number of resting gulls there I simply could not drive on by without at least a cursory glance!  

Wet and windy October days are one of my favourites for gulling, so I thought I'd test Harry's patience and see how long he'd let me scan through the vast flocks whilst he was occupying himself in the back seat.  Thankfully he was actually pretty good, as I came away with two cracking rewards...

I almost completely fluffed the Caspian Gull though.  I was scanning the mass of gulls on the water (must have been 200 here at least) when a darker mantle, white head and clear neck shawl shone out like a beacon.  I just knew it had to be a Caspian Gull so didn't go for my scope but went straight for the camera instead.  However I couldn't find it in the view finder, and when I went back to my bins I couldn't relocate it!  A quick look in the air didn't show any large gulls flying away, so I began scanning the river bank opposite where about 250 large gulls were resting.  

I almost immediately picked up a darker mantled sub-adult gull with my bins, I transferred to the telescope (learnt my lesson!) and found myself looking at a Yellow-legged Gull, an absolutely huge third-winter...

Look how big it is compared to all those Herring Gulls. Lovely white head as to be expected for this species.

I just know this bird is going to look absolutely stunning in adult plumage. Please come back in a year or two!

Anyway, although this bird clearly didn't have a neck shawl, I started to think I'd been seeing things with the bird on the water and that this must have been it. However, I then lost the Yellow-legged Gull when a few gulls took off and had a fly round, but shortly after resuming scanning came across this...

Well hello there!

I was right all along - Caspian Gull! Complete with neck shawl, a lovely white head and small dark eye, a narrow parallel bill, nice darker mantle tone (but less dark than the YLG) and overall a bit of a brute.  

It then decided to completely show off, and very kindly struck a very typical Caspian-pose...

Classic belly, neck and head shape. Also note the 'saggy nappy' appearance. Compare size with the Herring Gull to left and the subtly darker mantle tone.

On a bird this old, a streaky and defined neck shawl contrasting with no other head, neck or underpart streaking is a pretty solid and obvious Casp-trait.

A clearer shot showing neck shawl, nice long-winged appearance and that lovely little eye.

I sent a message out on the patch WhatsApp group, but about thirty seconds later the darn thing took off and flew away south west.  At least I was pointing my camera at it when it took to the air...

Long white tip to P10 and grey tongues protruding into the black feather tips

When I first saw this bird in my bins I thought it was going to be second-winter, but you can see from the above pics it is clearly a third-winter with its adult-like wing pattern and all white tail.   And that makes this the most mature Caspian Gull ever to have been recorded on the Axe. Before today we've not had anything older than a second-winter, but this is not the reason it's a landmark Caspian Gull as the post title implies...

This is (if accepted!) the 25th Caspian Gull for the Axe Estuary - we are a quarter of a century in!  The total consists of 19 first-winter/summers, five second-winters and today's third-winter.  The quest for an adult continues but it certainly feels like it is getting ever closer.

And if you find yourself yearning for just a bit more detail on these Casps then you are in luck. It's time for another appearance of my Axe Casp chart, which documents each of the Axe's Casps by year, month and age...

I have seen 16 of these, having found 13.  Gav adds the other 12. It is really quite remarkable that only two people have found every single one of them.  Tim White so nearly got his name to one, but looking closer at photos after the event revealed it was highly likely the same bird I had seen a week or so earlier - sorry Tim!

And finally to complete today's bird news, another quick look along the Estuary mid afternoon revealed 29 Med Gulls and 1x Gav.  It's great to see plenty of Common Gulls around now as well, they have suddenly arrived in numbers.  It's just a pity Ring-billed Gull no longer feels like a realistic possibility - although that will never stop me trying!

Monday, 18 October 2021

Med Gulls

In what has proved a really poor late summer/autumn for Med Gulls in East Devon - if not all of Devon from what I have read online - it was good to see a decent arrival today.  Better late than never!

What was presumably the Weymouth wintering population of Meds took advantage of the masses of whitebait that have come close inshore along this stretch of the south coast in the last couple of weeks. Huge counts of Meds were made all the way along Chesil (see Gav's post HERE) with several hundred even travelling as far west as Lyme Regis, which never happens!  

We didn't see numbers like that here, but late this afternoon on my way back from Bridport a quick look around showed around 30 (c20 adults, nine 1st-winter and one second-winter).  I had 18 on the Estuary, with just into double-figures feeding offshore.  

Having not seen numbers like this since early spring, every single one was much appreciated.

Adult Med Gull 

Gull action off the harbour late this afternoon

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Kingfisher, Cattle Egret and not much else

Living here on the Axe, Kingfishers are one of those birds that can be so easily taken for granted.  So when I stumbled upon one repeatedly fishing in a small section of ditch, on Seaton Marshes during a walk to work late last week, I took sometime to properly enjoy it.  And am so glad I did...

And seeing as this picture was in the same camera download as the above, I thought I should stick it up next.  Cattle Egrets aren't yet routine-fare on the Axe, they are still irregular enough to be a highlight.  This one was resting on the Estuary soon after dawn yesterday...

The Estuary and Wetlands are still hosting up to four Greenshank, ten Dunlin, three Common Sandpipers, a Ruff and increasing numbers of Lapwing when it comes to wading birds.  More and more Wigeon and Teal are arriving too, with a couple of Shoveler on Seaton Marshes today.  

Otherwise this autumn continues to be distinctly unremarkable.  Chiffchaffs are having a good one, they are everywhere at the moment - every bush in the valley seemed to host at least one this morning.  But aside some fairly good Jackdaw, Wood Pigeon, Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit overhead passage on the still and clear mornings, and my first few Redwing of the autumn, there is literally nothing more to add from several mornings out during the past week.  

We can only hope this autumn doesn't just fizzle out, I have everything crossed for a late rush!

Monday, 11 October 2021

Grounded Goldies

Hearing Golden Plovers call as they fly over is one of the many little perks of vis migging in late autumn.  That distinctive plaintive whistle is always the first clue one or more are coming, and this is exactly how I found my first of the autumn late this afternoon, during an after-work family walk around Axe Cliff.

Highly unusually for the site though, as soon I spotted them (there were three) it was clear they were coming in to land and not flying straight over.  One even uttered a short burst of song as they made landfall on a neighbouring field...

Three big brown dots

A closer pic of a golden beauty

These were a fitting end to the day, as an hour out this morning felt very 'late autumny'.  Several flocks of Wood Pigeons flew over high west, along with a couple of sizeable Jackdaw flocks, plenty of Chaffinches, alba Wagtails and Meadow Pipits and small numbers of Skylarks and Siskins.  

It was another cracking sunrise too, along with a very refreshing chill in the air.  I just love this time of year...

Looking east from Seaton Beach

Friday, 8 October 2021

Moth Immigration

Putting the trap out last night proved an excellent move because the relatively mild night-time temperatures and south westerly wind produced a good arrival of immigrant moths.  Looking at Twitter today it was clearly a widespread arrival too.

In the trap this morning the macro count was 91 moths of 27 species. At this time of year overall numbers and variety will be lower than the summer months, but there's always the chance of something unexpected, or jamming in on a good night of immigration - which is exactly what happened!  Out of the 91 moths, the immigrants/oddities were...

Dark Sword-grass x 2

My second ever Radford's Flame-shoulder

Front view of the RFS

And a silky white hindwing - perfect for RFS



Not photographed were the Silver Y and two L-album Wainscot.  

I couldn't help but notice evidence of immigration among the micro moths too, with a Rush Veneer and 13 Rusty-dot Pearls in the trap.  Here's one of the latter, last night was my best catch for this species here to date...

Rusty-dot Pearl

Amongst the resident macro species, it's clear to see we have moved into the final phase of the moth year, with 14 Feathered Ranunculus, Beaded Chestnut, Grey-shoulder Knot, Dark Spectacle and six Black Rustic trapped.  The latter a species I always look forward to seeing at the end of the season...

Black Rustic - what a beaut!

I couldn't not put the trap back out again tonight after this, although the conditions aren't quite so promising. You simply never know though and that's one of the many reasons why I enjoy mothing so much.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Pastry v's Purp

Purple Sandpiper is probably the most surprising gap on the Axe patch list.  Never recorded here, despite the fact you can practically see five different wintering Purple Sandpiper sites from various parts of the patch.

What is almost just as surprising is that despite my many hours of seawatching over 18 or so years, and having seen countless flocks of small waders flying over the sea, I've not even had a possible.  Not one. Not a single wader that made me think "oh was that a..."  Well until this morning, it finally happened. Today I had a possible Purple Sandpiper on patch.

Moody skies over Seaton Bay.  A moody Steve too just after this pic was taken!

It was about 08:10 when I casually strolled up to Ian Mc who was seawatching by the Spot On Kiosk.  Ian was set up like any competent and efficient seawatcher, whereas I rocked up like a causal amateur munching a pan au chocolat with my bins hanging off my shoulder.  But before Ian had even had time to tell me what he'd seen, I spotted a small flock of waders flying low west over the sea, close in, and called them out. But I wasn’t prepared for them at all.

My bins eventually met my eyes and I quite quickly concluded they were Dunlin, and not the other likely small wader options of Sanderling or Ringed Plover, and that there were seven of them.  But then it struck me, hit me like a sledge hammer, that the third bird in from the front was dark, much darker.  It looked a similar size to the others, and then a flash of its underside revealed a clear pale belly and a dark pectoral area. "There's a much darker bird in their Ian!".

And with that they were gone.  The flock turned more southerly and disappeared into the waves so quickly that Ian didn't even have time to line his scope up on them.  Gone for good.  And that was the moment, the moment I had my first ever possible Purple Sandpiper on patch. Fluffed partially because of a delicious chocolate-filled pastry. 

Ian spent almost two hours seawatching in the end, and came away with a few Arctic Skuas, good numbers of Common Scoter, excellent numbers of Gannets, three Balearic Shearwaters, two species of divers and some Brent Geese.  So not a bad watch at all for him. My inept and brief efforts returned a few Gannets and that flock of waders!

Before I reached the beach, and ruined my day, it was going ok as I'd just seen a flock of five Pintail fly in from the north and drop in on the Estuary, my first of the autumn.  As well as a Ruff feeding with the Black-tailed Godwit flock on Axe Marsh.  There was disappointingly little vismig, but it was overcast and foggy on the surrounding hill tops so not all that much of a surprise really.

My moth trap is out tonight. With slightly warmer night time temperatures I thought it was worth a try, fingers crossed!


Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Jay Movement

After a rapid moving and wet front that came through last night, I was keen to get out this morning expecting to find the patch littered with storm blown scarcities such as Grey Phalaropes, Leach's Petrels, etc...

Naturally bearing in mind my high expectations, I found nothing.

It was actually remarkably calm by 07:30, and the only movement on the sea was extremely distant Gannets pilling through west.  Nothing else out there of note though, or anywhere in the valley despite the higher than usual water levels caused by the overnight rain.



Whilst I was seawatching and checking the Estuary, I was surprised at how much vismig was going on overhead, mostly quite low too.  All the usual suspects were passing over with alba Wagtails being especially numerous, plus it was great to see some Jays too! 

There's been a large movement of the species within the UK over the past few days, although these were my first.  Apparently there's been a bad acorn crop this year, and coupled with a good breeding season for the species it means there are lots of hungry Jays about!  No doubt numbers will soon be bolstered by continental birds too, if they haven't already been.  

Whilst I was out I saw groups of 16 and eight fly high west over town, as well as one briefly perched on telegraph wires right in the centre of town itself! 

My biggest flock of the morning, sadly flying away by the time I pointed my camera at them


A great example of how a relatively common bird can reach a whole new level of awesomeness in an instant.  Vis migging flocks of Jays - just brilliant!

Considering the weather that we've endured over the past week, I have of course spent some time looking at the sea.  However almost all the times I have looked at it not much has been flying over it to keep me interested.  For example the highlight of my seawatch on the morning of  30th was this packet of crunch creams...

Well half-packet by the time I took the photo!

I did see my first Red-throated Diver of the autumn, along with two more Brent Geese and four Common Scoter.  But aside Gannets that was it, frustratingly.  No hoped for record Balearic passage that's for sure.  Ian Mc has managed a few skuas, but none have passed whilst I've been watching the waves.

The other bird that I've seen since my last post worthy of blog space, was the lovely juv female Ruff on Colyford Marsh scrape on 2nd. Still not a Pec mind, and I fear time is running out once again.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Even More Balearics

Late September is proving peak Balearic time for us here, with the right weather conditions of course. Formally I associated Balearics with late summer, but times really seem to have changed. 

We've witnessed the first decent Atlantic front of the autumn today, and Ian Mc was able to meet it at the seafront and recorded just over 100 Balearic Shearwaters west in 90 minutes. Very little else however.  

When news of this passage came through, I'd just started a methodical check of all wet bits on Colyford Marsh hoping for a Pec. A well overdue Pec at that! And I kept with it... for next to no rewards though.  I did manage a half hour seawatch from 11am at Spot On, which showed Balearics were still moving. I counted 22 west, along with my first two Dark-bellied Brent Geese of the autumn also west. 

I suspect an all day count would have shown about 300 or so past here today, roughly matching Berry Head's numbers.  The English Channel must be full of this critically endangered species at the moment, even Dungeness way off to the east managed over 150 which is their highest ever count.

Just a pity they don't bring more Sooties with them... a true Axe patch rarity these days.  

Sunday, 26 September 2021


This is going to be a really a quick post. Truth is I haven't got much to tell because for most of the last five days I have been knocked out by a rather nasty bug. Pleased to say it wasn't Covid - but it wasn't pleasant either!

Yesterday morning after Ian Mc reported seven shearwater sp. west past Beer Head, I was able to give Seaton Beach a bit of time.  The sea was flat calm, rammed with fishing boats but very few birds, just the odd Gannet. But then, within quick succession two tight flocks of Balearic Shearwaters flew west, a close six followed by a more distant four.  Brilliant to watch them over a calm sea, adopting a completely different fly-style than how I usually see them, shearing over big waves in stormy seas.  

I had to leave soon after, but I don't think it developed into much more.  Can't be so sure it wasn't the tail end of something more significant though...

There's been a couple more Little Stint, a Ruff and an Avocet at the wetlands during my forced-absence from the patch bird scene.  Pleased to have not missed anything more major, especially with American wading birds now appearing throughout the UK.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Released White-tailed Eagle on Patch!

Those that have used auto focus for a distant circling raptor on the P900 (and likely other camera-types) will know exactly what I am talking about below, but if you don't...

Through the camera LCD screen, as you scan through the emptiness of a blue or grey sky looking for a bird you have already spied, you'll see a fuzzy black dot.  Sometimes the autofocus will notice this blur too, and focus on it like a peach - you can't help by self-congratulate yourself on your pin sharp camera skills! On other occasions however it doesn't, although give the camera it's due it will always try, it can take a while thinking about it, but then decides to leave it as a dark fuzzy dot.  Seems to be pot luck to me, but there must be some rhyme or reason to it.

So, picture the scene.  I am sat at my desk at 11:22 yesterday and the gulls on the lower estuary gradually lifted up, but no calling.  Although it was gradual and silent, it was all of them so it was enough to get my attention.  And I spotted a Buzzard-type raptor flying north up the valley, and after a quick look with the bins (never far away!) I thought it looked a little long-tailed, so thoughts of Honey Buzzard entered my mind.  Knowing it was about to disappear from my current view, and that it was flying directly north and away from me, I knew if I had any chance of ID'ing it I had to change viewing location and ditch my binoculars to pick up my trusty P900.

I ran into the next office, opened a window and fired off a successful shot.  By the time the camera went click however I had lost the Buzzard from the screen, so looked with my eyes to relocate it.  I did, refound it in the camera screen and bingo another shot and this one a little more side on as it had turned to the west.  Yet again though it disappeared off screen, so I moved the camera a little, found what I thought was the same fuzzy dot on the screen and the camera did its laboured attempting to focus-thing.  It succeeded, but it wasn't the same bird. This is what the blur on my camera screen focussed into...

I have never pressed a shutter button quicker! A White-tailed Eagle and in focus

I took another ten or so photos of it, then switched to binoculars to watch this impressive beast gain height over Axmouth, dragging seemingly every local Common Buzzard and corvid up with it!  I put the news out but with that sadly lost it from view.

So distinctive

An actual Eagle on patch!  What a result.

There is a little back story too, as Gavin Haig saw one, which turned out to be the same bird, over his Bridport garden late afternoon yesterday.  Then I was alerted to one flying west over the sea off West Bay about an hour and a half before my sighting, although considering our previous luck with these reintroduced monsters, I wasn't expecting to actually see it! We know that four have previously flown over our patch, but no one has actually seen any of them - the satellite tracking data has given them away after the event!

I guessed it was probably a first-year bird due to how dark it looked, and this was confirmed when Tim Mackrill, of the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, kindly got in touch on Twitter with a map showing G547's movements on 18th and 19th Sept. Gav's and mine sightings are highlighted, plus I've added directional arrows.  It was released on Isle of Wight with 11 other young on 2nd September 2021.

Basically clockwise

If it weren't for G547's random little foray south over Axmouth, I probably wouldn't have seen it.  Neither would I if that Buzzard sp. hadn't flew up the Estuary grabbing my attention. 

And by the way, it was just a Common Buzzard.