Tuesday, 5 January 2021

A Review Of The Decade (+1). Part One.

So instead of the usual "Review of the Year' blog post, which every blogger up and down the land will have posted over the past week or so, I have decided to go the extra mile and extend it into a review of the decade!

Well, it's going to actually be eleven years long, as I want to start this entry with one of my personal favourite years of birding on the Axe...


For me 2010 will go down as the white year.  In both winter periods we experienced some extreme cold weather and heavy snow falls, which is a real rarity here.  And in both cases, this kick-started some exceptional and dramatic - yet always emotionally troublesome - cold weather movements.

From 6th January the thrush passage began, but on 7th it really intensified with Fieldfare, Redwing, Skylark and Lapwings passing west overhead all day as well as large numbers of the former two grounded.  The Estuary showed large numbers of wildfowl including a drake Goldeneye, a Velvet Scoter was offshore and further up the valley four Ruff and the wintering singles of Bewick's and Whooper Swan remained.  A Bittern was glimpsed in the evening by a local, which we all saw during the following few days and was a patch tick for all.  With ice still in place on 10th wildfowl movement really picked up, with incredible scenes (for us!) over the sea including 17 Pochard! 11 Tufted Duck were in the river and now seven Ruff and other oddities such as Spoonbill, Jack Snipe and Goosander.

The second period of cold weather period began on 2nd December and this one was even whiter!  Thrushes began moving right away and larks did even more so, I counted over two thousand Skylarks in one day! The sea again produced some more crazy counts including double figure numbers of Pochard and Tufted Duck plus three Eider and a whole host of commoner species.  A new Bewick's Swan appeared in the valley along with a Spoonbill.

Sandwiched between these two Arctic spells were some cracking rarities.  Of course for me, the Black Hole Marsh Solitary Sandpiper from 10th October was rarity of the year, with back up from a Long-billed Dowitcher at Boshill Cross on 9th and 10th November and the Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Colyton WTW which I was delighted to trap and ring on 14th December.  The latter technically remains the rarest bird ever to have occurred on patch, as it constitutes just the second accepted British record.

The spring and autumn were overall poor for passage birds (on land and at least), but a nice spring highlight came in the form of an Alpine Swift over Lower Bruckland Pond on 27th March and the pick of the autumn was a showy Dotterel at Axe Cliff in early September, a Corn Bunting on Beer Head from 14th of the same month, several Lapland Buntings following an influx into the UK and two Bearded Tits on Colyford Common on 1st November.  Despite it's possible plastic origins, a female Red-crested Pochard on the Estuary in August just has to be included in this review I am afraid, although I much preferred the stonking juv Glaucous Gull that dropped in briefly in early November.

And that's why 2010 remains one of my best Axe years. So many birds thanks to the cold weather movements and six patch ticks to boot (Solitary Sand, LB Dowitcher, Eastern Yellow Wag, Corn Bunting, Bearded Tit and Bittern). It was also the year the Island Hide opened on Black Hole Marsh - and what a success that has proved!

Gav and Kev on an icy seafront

See - proper snow!

An Axe lifer - Bittern

The Long-billed Dowitcher


I spent most of the first few months looking for a patch Waxwing as it was a Waxwing winter.  No luck for me though and the first two months were very slow going, with a flock of nine Velvet Scoters in the bay being the easy highlight. Thankfully spring started early with two Wheatear on 8th March and improved no end on 21st with a Hoopoe in Axmouth and a cracking male Ring Ouzel on Beer Head on 23rd. A few Red Kites flew over at the end of the month and a nice pulse of waders in the valley included Little Ringed Plover, Ruff and Grey Plover.

I was away for much of April, but the bit I was here for was pretty good with a cracking Purple Heron on Colyford Common on 23rd after a Great White Egret in the valley on 19th. A White Stork at the end of the month sadly showed too well as it revealed a plastic leg ring - still nice to see!  A White-fronted Goose on Black Hole Marsh mid May was unexpected, and sadly the Quail found in Beer at the end of the month was only found after it had died...

I must have spent most of the next few months with my head in a moth trap as didn't see much at all, but in September I must have started looking up again as I bagged a Rousdon Wryneck on 2nd and wading bird passage really kicked up a notch, with an amazing end to the month with a Semi-palmated Sandpiper which remained into October, when two Great White Egret also dropped in.  October proved by far the month of the year here, with a Whooper Swan on 7th, a Hen Harrier in the valley on 14th, a Richard's Pipit in Beer on 19th, a Greenland White-fronted Goose on Colyford Marsh and Lapland Bunting at Axe Cliff on 20th, but sadly no Short-toed Eagle (Dawlish Warren!).  I remember Oct 2011 being excellent for visible migration as well, with good numbers of Crossbill, Redpoll, Siskin which doesn't happen every year.  Saw a few Short-eared Owls too which are never to be sniffed at.

November wasn't too bad either, with a White-rumped Sandpiper on the Estuary on 7th and 8th with two Snow Buntings at Axmouth Harbour on the second of those dates as well.  A Temminck's Stint on Colyford Marsh on 17th continued the scarce wader theme, not expecting at all considering the date!  For the third consecutive winter Woodlarks were wintering near Rousdon, and other than one of the Snow Buntings remaining with us, all was quiet until 23rd Dec when our fourth (my second) Caspian Gull showed well on the Estuary. This bird remains one of my favourite individuals to date.

So a five patch year tick year for me, with Semi-P and White-rumped Sandpipers, Purple Heron, Richard's Pipit and Hen Harrier.

Best views of Hoopoe I've ever had here

Stunning adult Purple Heron

The first breeding plumaged Great White Egret I'd ever seen - check out those pink legs!

Semi-palmated Sandpiper - showing well too!

Greenland White-fronted Goose - half a new bird for the patch!

Richard's Pipit just about

White-rumped Sandpiper


Literally nothing happened in January, but thankfully February got a bit better with colder weather producing species like Golden Plover, Ruff and Tufted Duck in the valley.  An Iceland Gull on 18th was the first decent bird of the year, and spring started early with four Avocet and a Stone Curlew on Seaton Marshes on 5th March.  A new Caspian Gull on 10th was appreciated, with another Iceland Gull a couple of days later.

A huge highlight, literally, on 2nd April was a Common Crane on Colyford Marsh (just before they became untickable!). A nice flurry of migrants on 17th included two each of Grasshopper Warbler, Redstart, a Tree Pipit and 50 Willow Warblers, but then attention was turned to the sea.  A Black Guillemot past Beer on 18th was a real surprise, along with a Little Gull, with the next few days producing over 150 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, six Pomarine Skuas and good numbers of the more usual fare.   May started well with one of my best ever spring falls at Beer Head on 1st including three Redstart, two Spotted Flies, two Grasshopper Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, 12 Yellow Wags and heaps of Wheatears and Willow Warblers. After a nice run of waders on the Estuary (although missing a brief Kentish Plover wasn't so good!), a purring Turtle Dove in Beer on 13th and a Curlew Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh on 22nd end the spring in style.

July 2012 was a month to remember, although not for any good reasons. Flooding, severe flooding which would have proved devastating for the local breeding birds.   Autumn started early for us with an adult Wood Sandpiper on 14th and an Osprey on 20th, and August was full on some good wading bird passage including multiple Ruff, Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and a Spotted Redshank, a juv Garganey was a nice surprise on 30th too.  September showed a Spotted Crake on the Estuary from 9th, with a nice passage of 71 Balearic Shearwaters offshore the following day.  A Sooty Shearwater flew past on 3rd October and a Pectoral Sandpiper appeared on Black Hole on 9th.  A Long-eared Owl in Beer on 22nd got some of the locals moving, but for the last couple of months of the year I spent much time away.  There was one last Christmas present with two Bewick's Swan at Boshill Cross which stayed into the following year.

That's four patch tickets for me in that year, with Common Crane, Turtle Dove (overdue!), Spotted Crake and Long-eared Owl.  All in all another pretty good year.

Iceland Gull

Stone Curlew - in exactly the same place as the previous one!

Common Crane

Severe flooding on Colyford Common

Long-eared Owl


A tried for a year list in 2013, which meant lots more effort in January.  This certainly gave me the rewards, with a Red-breasted Merganser off the beach on 4th and of even greater Axe quality a drake Goldeneye on 14th. Some colder weather brought a few more species of wildfowl into the valley with Gadwall, Pintail and Tufted Duck all noted - and a surprise Hen Harrier on 17th, although a Green-winged Teal on 29th was an even bigger shock to the system!  February wasn't all bad with over 250 Golden Plover often in the valley, with a couple of lingering Ruff and a female Goldeneye on the Estuary.  Early March gave Spoonbill and Merlin in the valley, and an impressive gathering of 40+ Great Northern Divers off Branscombe.    2013 was the year of the cold spring, when after the first arrival of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Little Ringed Plovers, freezing northerly winds set in and stopped all these migrants in their tracks.  A male Ring Ouzel was on Beer Head on 27th when there were still nine Little Ringed Plover in the valley, but thankfully many of the now tired looking Chiffchaffs and hirundines had managed to carry on north.  On 29th a male Marsh Harrier and Osprey were both viewable from my bedroom window hunting over Colyford Marsh.

On 1st April there were a whopping 18 Little Ringed Plovers in the valley, but it wasn't until mid month that passerine migration really got going again.  Beer Head showed plenty of Redstarts, a few Grasshopper Warblers and Tree Pipit, but my highlight was a male Pied Flycatcher on Seaton Marshes on 18th. Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler were added on 25th but the 26th served me up with a plateful of jam when a female Montagu's Harrier flew west over Black Hole Marsh. An adult drake Velvet Scoter offshore on 27th showed ridiculously well and the month was topped off nicely with a singing Wood Warbler in Colyton on 29th.  May started with a spring Wood Sandpiper which is never a common sight, and some good seawatching mid month produced a cracking Pomarine Skua and a couple of sightings of up to four Storm Petrels.  Other than that, and a Curlew Sandpiper at the end of the month, that was spring done.  One of my best here so no complaints from me!

Traditional early July fare included Little Ringed Plover, Ruff and Osprey, along with a few over flying Crossbill and three Balearic Shearwaters flew by at the end of the month. All eclipsed though on 1st August with the discovery of some patch breeding Nightjars, which thankfully we got wind of just before the end of the season. A first for most the patch birders.  This was followed by a nice run of juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and a showy juvenile Cuckoo that spent several weeks at Black Hole Marsh, with a cracking end of the month thanks to a brief juvenile Black Tern on Black Hole Marsh, and wading birds including three Knot, two Spotted Redshank, and singles of Curlew Sandpiper, Little StintTurnstone and Wood Sandpiper.  The 10th September gave an excellent fall of passerines on Beer Head including Pied Flycatcher, four Spotted Flycatchers and 75 Yellow Wagtails. A nice double on 17th and 18th including the Axe's first September record of Caspian Gull and a very showy Spotted Crake on Colyford Common. A nice birthday treat on the 27th was a Bittern showing well from Tower Hide.

Still plenty of wading birds about in October with four Ruff and a Spotted Redshank, and two Yellow-browed Warblers at Black Hole Marsh. The 21st was a cracking day despite the wet and windy weather, with a juvenile Garganey on Colyford Marsh and a Sabine's Gull - only my second here - close in off Seaton Beach. A Glossy Ibis appeared on 9th November, and the 14th gave one of my most exciting 'east coast' like days, with hundreds of thrushes dropping out of the sky, and a busy seawatch with decent numbers of wildfowl and waders moving, including two Velvet Scoter, three Pintail, a Red-breasted Merganser, over 100 Common Scoters and small waders, a Pomarine Skua and two Balearic Shearwaters. Two Long-tailed Ducks spent over a week in the bay from 28th.  December was quiet, although two notable off patch twitches for me included White-billed Diver at Torbay and Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland.

Another absolutely excellent year for birding, which more than made up for just the one addition to patch list - Green-winged Teal.

Spotted Crake showing well!


What a bird!  Sabine's Gull


This year started off slowly, with nothing worthy of mention under a first-winter Glaucous Gull at the end of January, and a big blow early in February produced a couple of Little Gulls on the Estuary.  Big numbers of gulls remained feeding on the after storm debris, which pulled in a stunning adult Kumlien's Gull on 11th.  Spring began on queue from mid March, with an Osprey at the end of the month a nice early treat.

Enjoyed much of the spring bird ringing up Beer Head, which was surprisingly productive with several Redstarts, Firecrest, Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and over 125 Chiffchaffs/Willow Warbler caught and ringed.  What we won't be mentioning here though is the Great Spotted something that spent the afternoon at Beer Head on 4th April.  A Cattle Egret in the valley a little later in the month was no compensation. Fast forward to 1st June and a Bee-eater (which joined five more a short while later) at Axe Cliff was a superb sighting on a warm sunny day.  

The typical summer doldrums started picking up from mid July when wading birds began their autumn passage, and a Great White Egret on 25th was a welcome rarity.  Ringing took centre stage again from August at Beer Head and gave some excellent rewards, although the nets couldn't come down quick enough on 5th September with a surprise Little Crake on Black Hole Marsh. October saw some more bird ringing on Beer Head, although distractions came from a Caspian Gull on the Estuary on 21st, and a Yellow-browed Warbler in Axmouth on 28th and another at Lower Bruckland Ponds the following day.  The 31st produced a stormer, with a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Seaton Hole.  November was a lot quieter, with nothing much until a Spoonbill on the Axe on 21st, and December equally quiet.  At least this enabled me to tot up my Beer Head ringing totals, 360 birds of 24 species.

So a quieter year with far fewer birds, but three patch lifers; Bee-eater, Little Crake and Red-breasted Flycatcher.  Should have been four though!

Not the best looking Glaucous Gull maybe!

The best looking Kumlien's Gull though!

Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in the hand

Bee-eater - what a sight!

Red-breasted Flycatcher


January and February were completely uneventful, well except for 22 Greylag Geese in the valley in mid Feb but that may be debatable by some.  Thankfully in March things much improved with an Iceland Gull on 1st and a Short-eared Owl which spent a week hunting over Axe Cliff.  A Yellow-browed Warbler appeared at Branscombe from mid March and stayed for a couple of weeks, our first spring record, with a Caspian Gull present on the Estuary 27th and what has turned out to be a real rarity now, a Ring-billed Gull on 30th. This was the same date a Slavonian Grebe was off Seaton Hole, summer plumage too!

April 5th 2015 will be remembered for a long time, as the two Penduline Tits that were on the Exe suddenly appeared on Stafford Marsh and stayed just for that one afternoon affording excellent views. Clear skies for the first few weeks of the month produced six Red Kites and a couple of Ospreys, along with another Short-eared Owl on 21st (this one in the valley). A Ring Ouzel and Whinchat on 22nd were highlights as passerine migrants numbers had been so low this spring!  

May I spent two weeks in Greece, so not much to add.  But whilst I was away a Night Heron pleased others on the Axe from Tower Hide for one afternoon only.  June was typically quiet, and July included mostly just the first few returning wading birds and a splattering of juv Yellow-legged Gulls. Three Tufted Ducks and two Gadwall on the last day of the month were a bit surprising considering the date!  August started quietly, but an adult Baird's Sandpiper on 15th really spiced things up! Although any America wader is a surprise, seeing 34 Wood Sandpipers together on Black Hole Marsh on 23rd was probably even more of one!  An incredible sight.  Double figures of Ruff as well by the end of the month, although this didn't make up for missing a brief Citrine Wagtail, Spotted Crake and Wryneck all in the last weekend of August! 

September really was quiet, but two Glossy Ibis on 10th dropped in on Black Hole Marsh, and unlike the other recent rarities I actually saw them! Well they did stay for months.  I spent most of the rest of the month ringing on Beer Head (with Lesser Whitethroat, Lesser Redpoll, Fieldfare, Stonechat among species ringed), but I did find a Yellow-browed Warbler on Seaton Marshes on 29th and then another from my front door the following day.  The 4th November was a good one for me with a Short-eared Owl on Beer Head, a Hen Harrier hunting over Colyford Marsh and a Yellow-browed Warbler in Axmouth, with back up cast of three Black Redstarts and a Firecrest!  The 14th will also go down in history for me, with our first double dose of Caspian Gull, a first and second-winter on the Estuary from early afternoon (and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls!). December was looking to be predictably quiet, until a Green-winged Teal appeared in the valley from 19th and remained to the following spring.

So two patch ticks this year with the Penduline Tits and the Baird's Sandpiper.

Short-eared Owl

Ring-billed Gull second-winter - honestly!

Well that's the first six years done!  Check back soon for Part Two....


  1. Great post, Steve. Lovely to see some photos that I haven't seen for ages too, and particularly like the LEO and Sabs. What a patch!

    1. Thanks Gav. Indeed what a top and varied patch. I fear the second instalment won't be as exciting with a couple of really poor years recently, although thankfully we've had 2020 which improved things greatly!

      Always good to dust some old photos off, and it's often the 'less good ones' that actually tell more.