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!

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