Wednesday 12 May 2021

Some more Seawatching

A quick update post as I have managed a few sea watches since my last blog post.  With some success too which is nice :)

On Monday morning I spent 06:05 - 08:30 at the Spot On, joined by Phil for some of it.  It was a bit gripping to hear multiple points in Dorset had recorded a couple of Pom Skuas, but in all honesty I was more than happy with my haul:

14 Great Northern Diver, 1 Red-throated Diver, 7 Manx Shearwater, 13 Common Scoter, 42 Kittiwake, 1 Great Skua, 3 Sanderling and 100+ auk sp.

All of that lot flew west, except the Kitiwakes that were passing east.  The Great Northern Divers were fantastic to see, some really close (including two almost over the beach!) with others being complete dots (well dots with long necks and big feet!).  The Great Skua powered through really quickly at 06:35, and reached Sidmouth 17 minutes later where Dan was watching.  

Two of the Great Northerns powering through

Flock of Scoter flying west

I tried a sea watch on Tuesday evening with little success, just a couple of Manxies passed, but I tried again this morning from 05:30am.  The weather was not really suited for sea watching off here, a gentle south westerly wind with lots of blue skies! However there were some birds...

There's clearly some good feeding conditions out there at the moment, with Kittiwakes and Gannets on every scan.  I was hoping these birds would attract something better, well they didn't, as the 'something better' flew right on by without stopping!  

The time was 05:55, and that was exactly the moment I went from not seeing a Pom Skua this spring, to seeing one!  I picked up the distant but distinctive shape of a skua, quite a way above the horizon, flying steadily east.  A quick zoom-in revealed it was a pale-phased bird.  I was already pretty sure it was a Pom on structure and flight-style, but I had to wait 'til it reached the 12 o'clock point before seeing the whacking great spoon sticking out its backside (although only viewable with the scope set on 40x plus zoom)!  So with the ID sorted, I just enjoyed watching it very steadily make its way east. A true unit of a bird, and clearly on a mission to migrate!

There is no such thing a bad a Pom. But I will admit, the distance of this bird did dampen the excitement a little.  Still, a spring including a Pom Skua will forever be better than a spring lacking any Pom action!

Only other notable birds this morning during the sea watch were 11 Whimbrel, 4 Common Scoter and a couple of Manxies.  I remained in place until 7am before throwing in the towel.

I added Common Tern to the year list on Tuesday morning - whilst on the phone in my office!  I happened to be looking out the window when one flew low south down the river towards the sea, thankfully I managed to grab my binoculars in time to get a look at it to rule out an Arctic.  The only other species worthy of note that I have been seeing outside my office lately is Whimbrel, with two or three feeding daily on the lower Estuary at low tide...

One with lunch!

I'll sign this post off with a pic I forgot to attach to my last post.  This is the Spotted Fly I saw at Beer Head, which was not far from where the Wood Warbler I was twitching was supposed to be! 

Quite like the atmosphere of this shot, despite the fact the bird plays such a small part in the overall image

Goodnight all!

Sunday 9 May 2021

Back with a Bang... Well, two Cuckoos and a Bonxie!

Have spent most of the last week living out of a large static caravan in north Cornwall with the family, which was really lovely.  We wanted to grab a break away before the rest of the UK descended upon the south west, think it will prove a wise move. Certainly did price-wise when you compare to post-17th May!

Thankfully I didn't miss much on patch whilst I was gone, and then Saturday, the first day I was back, turned out to be one of our best days on the patch so far this spring. Timed that well!

I must start with Cuckoos... yes, plural!  A spring Cuckoo here is a true rarity, I have only ever managed two in my 17+ years of birding the Axe patch, so to boast two on the same day is pretty remarkable.  Yesterday morning a Beer resident reported hearing one just after 7am, and thankfully at 9am when I had made it over to the village it was still calling!  Then during the afternoon during a check of the Estuary, one was belting it out from the hill above Axmouth.  I saw neither, but I can live with that - it's all about the sound and what a special sound it is.

Further evidence that yesterday was a good arrival day for incoming spring migrants, despite the grim weather, was provided when Clive came across a group of five Whinchat on Seaton Marshes.  I enjoyed good views of all five a short while later, feeding with a single Wheatear.  They were finding shelter from the blustering south west wind thanks to a line of low bramble bushes, and would often perch up on the lowest wire of the fence to help keep themselves out of the worst of the weather.  A really nice sight, and great to share with Dad.

It was a good day for hirundines too, with large numbers of Swallows arriving in-off throughout the day, particularly this afternoon. Always a thrill to watch them arriving over the sea despite the blatantly grim travelling conditions.  And whilst on the subject of the sea this is how I got on looking at it...

The morning seawatch was dire.  Despite decent numbers of waders passing both to the east and west of us, I couldn't do better than two Dunlin in-off!  I gave it an hour but really don't know why I did.

A second attempt later in the day, 17:00 - 18:15, was far more rewarding, and it was great to be joined by Richard for some of it.  Highlight was  my first skua of the year, a menacing Bonxie that I picked up virtually on my first scan, but it remained in view for nine minutes as it slowly made its way west. Wonderful to see.  The full totals for this watch were (all west):

5 Common Scoter, 24 Manx Shearwater, 1 Great Skua, 3 Kittiwake, 10 Whimbrel, 2 Sanderling (flew west with 2 Dunlin) and 38 Dunlin (one flock of 30).

On the Estuary wader-wise I saw 16 Whimbrel, 14 Dunlin and 4 Ringed Plover. Sadly missed the Turnstone seen briefly mid afternoon though.  Although most the Whimbrel remained distant, this one ventured a little closer...

A noticeable increase in gulls included a high proportion of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, one of which gave me a right fright when I first sighted it on Bridge Marsh.  The combination of a very pale head, sloping forehead and narrow bill gave it a real Caspian feel... 

See what I mean!

However upperparts clearly not right, neither was wing pattern or moult.  And after it had moved around a little it's tiny size soon became apparent...

First-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull it is.

Had another Caspian-fright a short while later, with a really large, clean and smooth-looking 2cy gull distantly viewable from Axmouth.  Never got closer to it, but prolonged views suggested it was actually a really smart young Yellow-legged Gull, one of the cleanest I've ever seen.  But then again, I don't think I have ever seen a 2cy YLG this late in the spring...  

Looking left over its shoulder- giving off Casp vibes here

A better profile shot although a bit blurry. A really hefty bird.

I tied everything to turn it into a Caspian but really couldn't.  If anyone has any comments or thoughts do let me know.

Today has been equally exciting, although more for land birds than waders and seabirds.  I have missed almost all of it due to work, and sadly didn't see the Wood Warbler Kev found on Beer Head late morning, but an hour here from 17:30 showed my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year, along with several Willow Warblers and Whitethroats.

It's turning out to be a late spring this one - and hopefully there's a bit more in it yet!

Saturday 1 May 2021

False Hope

Yesterday morning's trudge around Axe Cliff brought back a nice memory from the dim and distant past...

It was mid to late autumn 2004 and I was stood chatting to a bunch of birders much better than me at the Warren, Spurn. This was back when the Warren was the location of the Spurn Bird Observatory.  Three chat-shaped dots perched up on a fence way off to the north, on the edge of Clubley's, and they were just that, dots.  But within seconds the mighty Mr Hutt casually remarked "Whinchat with those two Stonechats over there"...

First of all I had to check he was looking at the same three dots as me, he was, so then had to get my telescope (note he didn't have his either!) out of my room to confirm what seemed like a remarkable feat of birding wizardry.  Of course he was right... he always was!  A great learning experience for me, just like the rest of my time at Spurn.  

Anyway, yesterday morning I got out of my car at Axe Cliff, and for some reason decided to walk up the road instead of out towards the golf course.  Only a few steps in and whilst looking ahead at the numerous Yellowhammers and Whitethroats flitting along the hedges and perching up on telephone wires, there sat a shape, completely back lit on the most distant bit of hedge I could see.  Without even a moments thought, I internally congratulated myself at finding my first Whinchat of 2021...

So distinctive!

It did allow for some slightly better pics, but sadly didn't hang around for others to see.  I knew the next car along the lane would flush it.

Didn't see one during spring 2020 so much appreciated!

Just wish that branch wasn't there!

But why the title of the post?  Well as I said, this Whinchat was within practically the first minute of my visit to Axe Cliff.  A quality migrant so soon must mean there's been a fairly decent arrival, so I took a much longer route around the site than usual...  One Willow Warbler was the only other grounded migrant noted in the 1.5 hours I was there!  I did see eight male Common Whitethroats but they were all clearly on territory.

The evening before I saw my first two Swifts of the year over Black Hole Marsh, always an uplifting sight.  There's been a really good arrival of hirundines over the last few days too, lots more House Martins about in particular which is good to see.

I really cannot believe we are already in May! Really hope for some decent sea watching in the next few days, Monday maybe?  I'll be there watching that's for sure.