Friday, 8 January 2021

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

I won't explain the idea of this series of blog posts again, I did that in Part One.  So let's just crack on from where we left off...


At least seven Water Pipits were discovered overwintering with us, an increase on recent years, with the male Green-winged Teal and one of last autumns's two Glossy Ibis still around into March.  Despite these quality overwintering birds, the first winter period was quiet and the first wave of Wheatears, Sand Martins and Little Ringed Plovers around the 16th March were so much appreciated.  Three Goldeneye on 19th were a nice sight swimming up the Estuary, where three Ruff also pitched in, and the 22nd continued the 'in three theme' with three Black-throated Divers settled off Branscombe.  A long-awaited white-winged Gull finally appeared on 29th with an Iceland Gull on the Estuary.

April saw the usual light scattering of summer migrants, with a Short-eared Owl at Beer Head on 12th a nice highlight, although completely eclipsed by a lingering female Montagu's Harrier in the valley for a couple of days from 17th.  A Hoopoe at Lower Bruckland Ponds was a nice end to the month. A poor spring for sea watching sadly.

I spent a lot of the next two and a half months off patch, surveying for the RSPB on Dartmoor, enjoying a Scotland holiday and working in Slovenia for a week. All three incredible experiences that for me made the year, but means few Axe bird sightings from me in these months!

A Wood Sandpiper ensured the focus was on Black Hole Marsh at end of July, which ultimately led to the discovery of an adult Least Sandpiper on 2nd August.  We then won't talk about the never before heard of flurry of Cory's Shearwater sightings off Seaton whilst I was at the Bird Fair, a very painful event to miss out on.   Beer Head was excellent over the last week of August, with good numbers and a varied selection of common migrants, although the year was not made up here until the 15th September with the discovery of a Red-backed Shrike.  During September wader passage was good with numerous Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Little Stint, and nine Grey Plover on 22nd are worthy of mention, a great count of this Axe scarcity.  Another pulse of action at Beer Head in October included several Ring Ouzels on 9th. A Turtle Dove in the valley mid month was seen on several dates, with other oddities during the remainder of the month including singles of Barnacle and White-fronted Geese (the latter staying just one date), a juv Little Gull, a Short-eared Owl and a Yellow-browed Warbler in my road.

Early November wasn't too bad either, with a moribund Arctic Skua on the Estuary, a Pochard on Seaton Marshes, a couple of brief Spoonbills (one ringed) and a nice fall of Black Redstarts. Bird of the month was a Dusky Warbler trapped on Stafford Marsh, but sadly missed by most, but a Yellow-browed Warbler at Lower Bruckland Ponds was the opposite and often very easy to see.  In mid December Cattle Egrets begun appearing in what was an influx year, and proved the start of the spread into UK.  Three Velvet Scoters off the beach were a nice end to the year.

So two additions to my patch list, Least Sandpiper and Red-backed Shrike.  

Green-winged Teal

Montagu's Harrier

Least Sandpiper - the star of the year rarity wise!

The first shrike on any of our local lists - a juvenile Red-backed Shrike

Turtle Dove - probably won't be seeing many more of these here

The only ground feeding Yellow-browed Warbler I've seen here


Decided to year list this year, so put extra effort in especially early on.  This didn't result in any rarities in January, but there were plenty of minor highlights like Tufted Duck, PintailGadwall, Firecrest, etc.  February saw an Iceland Gull off Seaton Hole on 7th, with another on the Estuary on 14th and amazingly a third on 22nd, two Yellow-legged Gulls were noted too suggesting a good gull passage. Early March gave a Short-eared Owl on Seaton Marshes and an early pulse of hirundines included an incredibly early House Martin. Two Egyptian Geese on 12th were only notable as I was year listing.  Spring migrants continued to arrive over the month, and I remember the evening of 27th being a good one with six Little Ringed Plover, four Goosander and a Water Pipit, and the next day a young Little Gull graced Colyford Marsh.

April was very predictable, a couple of Spoonbills mid month were nice to see and several Ospreys charged through north.  Cattle Egret numbers were now up to seven, and species like Grasshopper Warbler, Whinchat and Redstart made the year list in the last half of the month.  The sea and wading bird passage was poor all month, but improved in the final few days with a good push of waders, wildfowl shearwaters and even a couple of skuas! It was just Arcitc's and Great's until the 11th May when I watched a fully-spooned Pom fly by, although this was nothing compared to the following morning when a flock of nine practically flew over the beach and will forever be one of the best things I've ever witnessed here. Another Iceland Gull dropped in on 18th May, at the same time we all missed a Ring-necked Parakeet that was hiding in Axmouth gardens for a few days.  The 24th and 25th saw a sudden Red Kite passage, I had twenty in just under two hours on the first day, with many more present on day two.  It was at the end of May our Harry was born, and the following lack of sleep ensured a reduction in birding time!

In fact there were very few posts from me in June and July, although a good run of juvenule Yellow-legged Gulls from mid July clearly woke me up again. Black Hole Marsh was ticking over nicely with Little Ringed Plovers and the typical early autumn fare. August was again light for me in birding terms, although several Curlew Sandpipers on Black Hole Marsh was appreciated, and a big Axe Cliff day at the end of the month included a count of 150 Yellow Wagtails. 9th September incredibly saw another Axe Least Sandpiper, although this one identified retrospectively from photographs so enjoyed by very few. There was plenty of other bits to be enjoyed though including a juvenile Spotted Redshank and a Grey Phalarope on Black Hole Marsh from 20th. The month ended with a Spoonbill and a great count of 14 Ruff.  October gave a Yellow-browed Warbler again in my road on 19th when six Avocets were gracing Black Hole Marsh, and the month ended with some excellent vis mig - with 15k of Wood Pigeon leading the charge!

November started superbly well with Glossy Ibis and a Great White Egret that I finally saw (had missed four during the year!), and then the Hawfinches arrived.  A national influx which made for a terrific winter, which started for us in Colyton on 5th when I found two. In keeping with the finch theme a handful of Brambling wintered on the outskirts of Colyton and stayed into 2018.  December did very little for my year list, well nothing in fact, but with Hawfinches popping up now and then it was still very much an enjoyable month!  

No patch lifers at all, the first year this has happened since I kept an Axe list. It was also probably the worst autumn for sea watching since I properly birded the Axe!  Highlights were easily the flock of Pom Skuas and the Hawfinch invasion.

Incoming flock of Pomarine Skuas

A Glossy Ibis actually looking glossy!

Grey Phalarope


January saw the best showing of Water Pipits I've ever known here, with a flock of up to twelve birds on Colyford Common almost daily.  The 8th was a good day with Caspian Gull and a White-fronted Goose recorded, and new Hawfinches continued to pop up with birds at Musbury and Colyton church now. The same or another Caspian Gull remained throughout February, and with cold weather beginning to set in at the end of the month this immediately saw the arrival of around 200 Golden Plover in the valley, as well as couple of Bearded Tits in Axe reedbed and several Pintail and Gadwall.  

When March began, instead of showing signs of spring, it snowed and freezing weather set in for several days!  Lapwing and even more Golden Plover arrived en masse, with 6250 and 3000 respectively counted flying west on 1st, and hundreds more making landfall wherever they could find thawed ground. Thrushes were also plentiful, both overhead and on the deck.  Six Avocet graced Black Hole Marsh and a Spoonbill looked thoroughly cheesed off on the Estuary.  After seeing my first Wheatear on 14th I thought the seasons had changed, but a few days later yet more snow which saw another huge rush of thrushes.  A pair of Garganey on 28th were much appreciated by all, a species that shouldn't really be as scarce as it is here, and a nice dark first-winter Glaucous Gull looked impressive on the last day of the month, with a variety of odd geese in the valley including singles of Greylag, Egyptian and Barnacle!

April saw the usual species arrive, with an Iceland Gull on 15th nice to see (even more so as I had missed three of these this year!). Although I didn't have much time to do Beer Head, pickings were slim although a singing Corn Bunting for two bays form 25th an excellent record. Pity it didn't stay longer. Another Garganey showed exceptional well on Borrow Pit on 6th May when my first two Red Kites of the year flew over.  A nice pulse of wader passage at the end of the month gave Grey Plover and several Sanderling on the Estuary.

I didn't post any blog posts in June, but July was a good month with Spotted Redshank, Ruff, two Wood Sandpipers, Knot and a good passage of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls. I was again kept busy in August, although up to three more Spotted Redshanks on Black Hole Marsh during the month were an excellent tally, with another four or so Wood Sandpipers.  It was sad to miss a Beer Head Wryneck on 28th.  I was away much of September so have little to add, although the highlight wasn't a bird but a Northern Bottlenose Whale in bay briefly.  

Yet again, the street I live in produced a Yellow-browed Warbler, with one on 13th October, and evening looks along the Estuary around the same time often showed four or so Cattle Egrets.  A first-winter Arctic Tern that spent about a week on the Estuary in early-mid November was novel for us, but that's where my blog posts ended for the year.  

So yet another patch tick free year.  The highlight was the cold weather movement, and seeing so many Hawfinches!


And two more - just because it was so novel seeing so many!

Snow and Lapwings on a main road in Seaton!

A very fed up looking Spoonbill!

Drake Garganey on the Borrow Pit.

Juv Spotted Redshank

My new birding companion!


Nothing exciting around at the start of the year, but February saw yet another 'big freeze'.  Not quite as much snow as the previous ones but the movement of thrushes on 1st was absolutely staggering, with an estimated 120,000 over west during the day, mostly Redwing.  Completely mind blowing.  Thankfully everything defrosted quite quickly so nothing looked too distressed.  Three Mandarin off the seafront on 4th March were just crazy, but there was nothing else too unexpected over the course of the month.  April had the same theme, with a Cuckoo showing well in Colyton on 18th an increasingly scarce highlight, with the rest of the month proving poor. May started better, with a singing Wood Warbler at Lower Bruckland Ponds on 5th a true spring rarity.  But again there was little more, just too much blue sky for downing migrants!  A Glossy Ibis on 8th June was a turn up for the books, with a Wood Sandpiper already with us before July had even begun.

I spent most of July in a moth trap, but saw the error of my ways in August and was rewarded with a juvenile Goshawk over Axmouth on 17th.  Black Hole Marsh was as it often is at this time of year, teeming with wading birds, including adults of Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint before the month was out.  This was the first time in a while we had a lingering Osprey, which kept many happy by fishing daily on the Estuary. A Honey Buzzard over Colyford Marsh on 14th September made me really happy, and a Great White Egret was viewable from my house on 18th.  The month ended with finally some decent sea watching, with a combined day total of just shy of 200 Balearic Shearwaters west on 27th, with a few Arctic and Great Skuas recorded over the next couple of days. 

A Whooper Swan on the Estuary on 14th October was only a one-dayer, and easily my highlight of a rather quiet month. Seven Black Redstarts at Axe Yacht Club on 1st November brought with them a surprising Common Redstart, with the 2nd producing the Axe's second double-dose of Caspian Gull with two on Bridge Marsh.  

And that was it for real highlights this year, with for the third year in a row no patch lifers.  The highlight for me was the epic Balearic passage and the autumn raptor fest.

Three surprising Mandarin

Adult Whooper Swan - although just a one day wonder here it spent the winter near Axminster

Male Black Redstart - this bird proved popular to photographers and you can see why

A November Common Redstart!


The quiet January was more than made up for by February, with a Serin in Seaton on 5th a unseasonable surprise, and an American Herring Gull on the Estuary on 14th a jaw-dropping surprise!  March started averagely, but then everything got even more local with lockdown starting and all effort was on the house list.  This gave me rewards, with Red Kites, a Marsh Harrier, two Ospreys (saw six in total this spring), a Spoonbill, two Cattle Egret, an Iceland Gull, a Grasshopper Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and two Avocet noted without even leaving home!  

Thankfully by the end of May restrictions had eased which meant we could all cash in on a singing male Blyth's Reed Warbler on Beer Head on 31st, and then the two Rose-coloured Startlings that had joined the towns Starling flocks from 6th June.  Early July saw a surprising amount of sea birds in the bay, including up to 100 Balearic Shearwaters and an unseasonal Velvet Scoter on 6th.  Black Hole Marsh came in to its own soon after too, with Ruff and a couple of Wood Sandpipers noted before the end of the month.  It proved another good summer for juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls too, and the surrounding conifer woods were alive with the sounds of 'glipping' Crossbills.

August showed a steady turn over of waders but little else (a few Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, etc), and September also remained rarity free - and mostly bird free too. Well that was until a Pink-footed Goose was discovered on 28th.  October began with thousands of House Martins feeding low over the patch, with awful weather blocking their southwards migration, and then there was a run of Great White Egret sightings mid month (with the now expected Cattle Egrets also present).  Over the last ten days of the month there were good numbers of gulls including multiple Yellow-legged Gulls and a couple of sightings of Caspian Gulls (on 24th and 27th).

An Eider appeared off Seaton Hole mid November, and the year ended with a beefy young Glaucous Gull on the Estuary, topping off an excellent gull year in the best possible way.

For numbers of birds, not the best year, but for patch ticks absolutely incredible with four; American Herring Gull, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling and Pink-footed Goose.  The novelty of lockdown listing ensured there was a positive spin on the devastating situation around us.  

American Herring Gull.... oh yes!

Singing male Rose-coloured Startling

The female Rose-coloured Starling

One of the best looking Ruff I've ever seen on the Axe

Pink-footed Goose

And there we are.  That's the two parter done and I have so enjoyed it!  Reliving so many amazing memories on the Axe Estuary over the last eleven years, my true birding home.

A few things have really hit me whilst I compiling these two posts.  First and foremost, it's not just about the patch you have or the birds that use it, but it's the birders you share it with.  The main core of Axe Estuary birders are all thoroughly nice guys and girls and we all have such a want to share our sightings with each other.  If I haven't shared a good bird with at least one other person then the experience is completely tainted for me, forever.  I almost wish I had never seen it in the first place! For example the brief Gull-billed Tern in 2008 that shocked me sat on the mud north of Coronation Corner.  I literally got no enjoyment from that despite its epic rarity status, and that's because it took off and flew out to sea before anyone else arrived.

Also, almost always the birds and experiences that stick in my mind the clearest, and have made me smile the most whilst writing these posts, aren't the true rares.  Yes the biggies give me a buzz, and seeing a rarity here, which may also be a new bird for the patch, is always going to be a highlight.  However it's the massive cold weather movements that I've witnessed, and the winter when Hawfinches were 'common' that really jump out at me as being highlights. And I can't not mention the flock of nine Pomarine Skuas which will forever take centre stage in my mind's eye.    

So that's me done, I really hope you have enjoyed these two posts.  Be sure to check back soon for a 2021 update - I may even be forced to bring lockdown listing back!?  


  1. Yes, great couple of posts, Steve. Nice to have shared so many excellent birds, and birdy events, with such a fine bunch of folk. And even after moving several miles down the coast, still able to enjoy the very same 9 Pom Skuas that morning... 😊 👍

    1. Thankyou Gavo. Yes those Poms were made even better by the fact they were tracked to well into Hampshire I believe. Take care and see you after lockdown!