Thursday 22 April 2021

Spring Progress

The persistent cold north/north easterly winds recently have really slowed down spring migration this year, but understandably so. We've had more night time frosts in April than we have had throughout the whole of the winter!

It's always hard to truly gauge the progress of a spring nationally by the number of passage migrants seen on a coastal patch, simply because there are just so many variables that determine how many migrants are grounded.  But I can see that many local breeding summer migrant species are present in much lower numbers than you'd expect by now, like Whitethroats, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Swallows. I've not seen/heard one Lesser Whitethroat yet, and Reed Warblers arrived a whole ten days later than last year into the narrow strip of reeds up to the Tower Hide on Black Hole Marsh!  A very strange spring really.

Most mornings during the last few weeks have looked exactly how Axe Cliff looked a couple of days ago...

Clear skies, frost on the ground, and although you can't tell in this pic... a bloody cold wind!

Seeing as the above photo is from 20th, I'll start with what birds I saw during that wander...three firsts of the year in fact! A cracking male Redstart, an invisible but much appreciated reeling Grasshopper Warbler and a couple of Common Whitethroats.  Also noted were three Wheatear and a Willow Warbler, as well as good numbers of the usual residents like Skylarks, Linnets and Yellowhammers

One day one of these will be a Cirl Bunting!

I went back up to Axe Cliff today, much quieter for migrants with just one Wheatear and one Willow Warbler. Four Common Whitethroats on territory now though (still well short of usual numbers).

The Wheatears are getting bigger and more upright by the day!  Suggesting more northern breeders

The distant blob of a Whitethroat on the edge of the cliff

Same bird with a sea blue backdrop. Interestingly this was a male bird as it was singing, but looked very plain and female-like.

Other notable passerine migrants I have seen since my last blog post include my first Yellow Wagtail of the year low north over Sheep's Marsh on 15th, and a cracking male White Wagtail on Bridge Marsh on 17th.  

Our first Bar-tailed Godwit of the year appeared on the Axe on 19th, with thousands seen migrating along the English Channel in the days since.  Always a delight to see in spring, even if this male still has some way to go before he is full on brick red...

One of my favourite waders

A lone Barnacle Goose has joined our Canada Goose flock in recent days, probably not all that wild but it's always good to see something different.  Sorry for my dreadful photo, taken at extreme distance and after sunset on the 21st...

They really are tiny

And to finish off this post, I am delighted to say the Glaucous Gull is still around, and this morning I enjoyed some excellent views of it as it bathed on the lower Axe Estuary.  So I will sign off tonight in the best possible way, with a flurry of Glauc pics...

Friday 9 April 2021

A Gaudy Glauc

One of the many exciting things about this time of year is the overlap of the seasons.  

I went out this evening hoping to stumble upon possibly a Redstart, or any other exciting summer migrant, but instead a message from Phil soon saw me watching a staggeringly white and large first-winter Glaucous Gull on Sheep's Marsh...

Can't get much whiter than that!

Wasn't too sure of it's age at first, with a pink tip to the bill, and although it didn't show a truly pale iris you could see it was paler than the bird's pupil.  Thoughts of second-winter were at the forefront of my mind whilst watching it, although now am thinking that big wedge of black on the bill would support this being a faded first-winter bird.  And back to the eye, all the second-winter white-winged gulls I have seen in the past have showed clearly pale iris's, not subtly pale ones like this bird.

A big chunky bird!

Extent of pale bill tip visible here - only just the tip

I couldn't help but take a video as well, spring white-wingers don't usually linger like this on the Axe so wanted to make the most of it...

Late March/April is by a mile our most prolific time of year for white-winged gulls on the Axe, and it's been a fantastic late winter/spring for gulls in general on patch.  Glauc is the rarer of the two species though so it's great to get one under the belt.  I'd be very surprised if we don't get an Iceland at some point too - we've all been expecting one!

Other sightings from the past few days include a female Goosander on the Estuary on the evening of 7th, and a splattering of ten singing Willow Warblers around Black Hole and Seaton Marshes on the morning of the 6th.  I was pleased to see my first Osprey of the year over the upper Axe Estuary on the morning of 31st March, which I later learnt had been seen by Kev over Beer ten minutes earlier.

This is turning out to be one productive spring!

Friday 2 April 2021

Stand Aside March, Hello April!

A raw north east wind encouraged me to start the day at Seaton Beach, there had been a few records of seafaring Garganey along the south coast the previous day so I was hoping to cash in.  It wasn't to be but three much larger ducks ensured it was well worthwhile.

I was just a few minutes in (07:10) when I first picked up three hefty ducks skirting the hazy horizon way off to the west, flying east.  Well they never really came closer just became less hazy as they passed straight out, and two of the dots were easily identifiable thanks to the super distinctive plumage of drake Eiders!  Result.  And seeing as the all dark duck between the two white knights was identical in size, shape and flight pattern - well that will be a female! Nice.

Not a common bird at all here, well scarce bordering on rare in fact, although there does seem to be a few more around the south west coast this spring so there's every chance we may see some more.  Seeing as they are a bit of a patch rare, my desire to obtain some sort of evidence became overwhelming as they powered through east. I stuck my phone on the end of my scope and pressed record. I use the word 'evidence' in the loosest possible sense...

The actual video is a bit better, as you can see they are indeed ducks and not Gannets!

Portland saw a nice bit of Eider passage this morning, three different flocks in fact.  And thanks to Keith Pritchard I was able to glean that a flock of three, compromising two drakes and a female, flew east past the Bill at 08:19.   Well if you compare Keith's tweeted photo below of the trio, with my shot above, well clearly they are the same individuals, the resemblance is uncanny...

Keith's camera time is set to GMT in case anyone is confused

Joking aside, Eiders are scarce enough down here that I'm happy to bet on the fact both sightings do indeed relate to the same flock. Seabird tracking is great fun, it's always a delight to hear when birds have been clocked from other points along the coast.  

Although Keith is clearly a far more competent photographer than I am, comparing the above two photos of the same flock of birds perfectly highlights the challenges of sea watching off here (a bay, deep in the bowels of a massive bay) vs sea watching at somewhere like Portland!  The mind boggles at just how many rarities and scarcities we miss/overlook because they pass us at 'beyond-identifiable range'. Frustrating.  

The rest of the sea watch was a bit of an anti-climax really, although a trickle of Sand Martins and Swallows flying north east, and a group of three Sandwich Terns through east were just enough to keep me awake.

Then followed a flying visit around the river valley which was actually fairly productive.  The cold north easterly was clearly grounding new arrivals making for some pretty exciting birding. Just how I like it :-)

Seaton Marshes housed a couple of Willow Warblers, too busy feeding to sing, and too busy feeding for my focus to latch on to...

That's the wrong willow!

Black Hole Marsh showed two Little Ringed Plovers and a Dunlin, which also didn't want to be photographed as after one click of the shutter, they took off...

They came back later 

Bridge Marsh showed a Wheatear, and among c90 Sand Martins my first four House Martins of the year.  And then came my highlight of the morning, yes even more of a highlight that the Eiders...

I noticed the gulls take flight right down the far end of the Estuary (I was still at Bridge Marsh), then up went the gulls at the top of the Estuary, and shortly after out of the mass of wings emerged a stunning adult male Marsh HarrierMarsh Harriers are now annual here and pleasingly appear to be on the up, in fact last winter we had our first ever overwintering bird, present from autumn 2020 through to mid January.  Most records though relate to 'cream-crowns' with adult males remaining few and far between. I think this was only the third full male I've ever seen here. It was stunning, and so so sleek.  It didn't hang around sadly, and within minutes gained height with Crows in hot pursuit before leaving high to the north east.

In line with all other photos in this post (except for Keith's) I only managed a really ropey record shot...

(it's the upper bird!)

Not at all bad for a pre-breakfast foray!