Tuesday 28 September 2021

Even More Balearics

Late September is proving peak Balearic time for us here, with the right weather conditions of course. Formally I associated Balearics with late summer, but times really seem to have changed. 

We've witnessed the first decent Atlantic front of the autumn today, and Ian Mc was able to meet it at the seafront and recorded just over 100 Balearic Shearwaters west in 90 minutes. Very little else however.  

When news of this passage came through, I'd just started a methodical check of all wet bits on Colyford Marsh hoping for a Pec. A well overdue Pec at that! And I kept with it... for next to no rewards though.  I did manage a half hour seawatch from 11am at Spot On, which showed Balearics were still moving. I counted 22 west, along with my first two Dark-bellied Brent Geese of the autumn also west. 

I suspect an all day count would have shown about 300 or so past here today, roughly matching Berry Head's numbers.  The English Channel must be full of this critically endangered species at the moment, even Dungeness way off to the east managed over 150 which is their highest ever count.

Just a pity they don't bring more Sooties with them... a true Axe patch rarity these days.  

Sunday 26 September 2021


This is going to be a really a quick post. Truth is I haven't got much to tell because for most of the last five days I have been knocked out by a rather nasty bug. Pleased to say it wasn't Covid - but it wasn't pleasant either!

Yesterday morning after Ian Mc reported seven shearwater sp. west past Beer Head, I was able to give Seaton Beach a bit of time.  The sea was flat calm, rammed with fishing boats but very few birds, just the odd Gannet. But then, within quick succession two tight flocks of Balearic Shearwaters flew west, a close six followed by a more distant four.  Brilliant to watch them over a calm sea, adopting a completely different fly-style than how I usually see them, shearing over big waves in stormy seas.  

I had to leave soon after, but I don't think it developed into much more.  Can't be so sure it wasn't the tail end of something more significant though...

There's been a couple more Little Stint, a Ruff and an Avocet at the wetlands during my forced-absence from the patch bird scene.  Pleased to have not missed anything more major, especially with American wading birds now appearing throughout the UK.

Monday 20 September 2021

Released White-tailed Eagle on Patch!

Those that have used auto focus for a distant circling raptor on the P900 (and likely other camera-types) will know exactly what I am talking about below, but if you don't...

Through the camera LCD screen, as you scan through the emptiness of a blue or grey sky looking for a bird you have already spied, you'll see a fuzzy black dot.  Sometimes the autofocus will notice this blur too, and focus on it like a peach - you can't help by self-congratulate yourself on your pin sharp camera skills! On other occasions however it doesn't, although give the camera it's due it will always try, it can take a while thinking about it, but then decides to leave it as a dark fuzzy dot.  Seems to be pot luck to me, but there must be some rhyme or reason to it.

So, picture the scene.  I am sat at my desk at 11:22 yesterday and the gulls on the lower estuary gradually lifted up, but no calling.  Although it was gradual and silent, it was all of them so it was enough to get my attention.  And I spotted a Buzzard-type raptor flying north up the valley, and after a quick look with the bins (never far away!) I thought it looked a little long-tailed, so thoughts of Honey Buzzard entered my mind.  Knowing it was about to disappear from my current view, and that it was flying directly north and away from me, I knew if I had any chance of ID'ing it I had to change viewing location and ditch my binoculars to pick up my trusty P900.

I ran into the next office, opened a window and fired off a successful shot.  By the time the camera went click however I had lost the Buzzard from the screen, so looked with my eyes to relocate it.  I did, refound it in the camera screen and bingo another shot and this one a little more side on as it had turned to the west.  Yet again though it disappeared off screen, so I moved the camera a little, found what I thought was the same fuzzy dot on the screen and the camera did its laboured attempting to focus-thing.  It succeeded, but it wasn't the same bird. This is what the blur on my camera screen focussed into...

I have never pressed a shutter button quicker! A White-tailed Eagle and in focus

I took another ten or so photos of it, then switched to binoculars to watch this impressive beast gain height over Axmouth, dragging seemingly every local Common Buzzard and corvid up with it!  I put the news out but with that sadly lost it from view.

So distinctive

An actual Eagle on patch!  What a result.

There is a little back story too, as Gavin Haig saw one, which turned out to be the same bird, over his Bridport garden late afternoon yesterday.  Then I was alerted to one flying west over the sea off West Bay about an hour and a half before my sighting, although considering our previous luck with these reintroduced monsters, I wasn't expecting to actually see it! We know that four have previously flown over our patch, but no one has actually seen any of them - the satellite tracking data has given them away after the event!

I guessed it was probably a first-year bird due to how dark it looked, and this was confirmed when Tim Mackrill, of the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, kindly got in touch on Twitter with a map showing G547's movements on 18th and 19th Sept. Gav's and mine sightings are highlighted, plus I've added directional arrows.  It was released on Isle of Wight with 11 other young on 2nd September 2021.

Basically clockwise

If it weren't for G547's random little foray south over Axmouth, I probably wouldn't have seen it.  Neither would I if that Buzzard sp. hadn't flew up the Estuary grabbing my attention. 

And by the way, it was just a Common Buzzard.

Saturday 18 September 2021

Ruddy Darters

Managed to grab an hour out at lunchtime today, and spent it wandering around Lower Bruckland Ponds. I had a wonderful welcome...

Looking at the top two photos remind me how much I prefer 'in habitat' shots. They have to be right, there is a fine line between a good 'in habitat' shot and a bad record shot, but I enjoy how they make me feel.  A good 'in habitat' shot can literally take me away and make me feel like I am in the field watching the bird. I can't say a full frame feather-perfect shot has ever make me feel that way, however much I admire the picture. 

It was nice to see a few dragonflies and damselflies still on the wing, in the surprisingly warm weather. Several Migrant and a few Southern Hawkers were expected, as were the masses of Common Darters, but I wasn't expecting to see a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, several Common Blue Damselflies and even a couple of Small Red-eyed Damselflies! The highlight however were two cracking male Ruddy Darters, my first on patch for a couple of years so a real bonus.  Interestingly they were in exactly the same spot that I saw two males in July/August 2018 - but not in the intervening two years.

Check out that figure!

They really are a different sort of red

Left side

Right side

You may have guessed from the photo overload, but Ruddy Darters are one of my favourites.  The fact I see them so infrequently is a real shame, and a far cry from the early 00's when they were so easy to see along the ditches and paths at Seaton Marshes.

I wonder what other insect surprises 2021 has left in it? One or two more would be nice...

Friday 17 September 2021

Another Clifden

Last night's moth trap wasn't all that busy, but on moving the last couple of egg boxes it became apparent the overall lack of moths didn't matter one bit...

Note the big grey beast! 

Yes, my second garden Clifden Nonpareil in ten days - result!  And what's more I didn't just let this one go, although they are surprisingly tricky to photograph. They're not like Hawkmoths which give you plenty of warning they are about to fly off, these blue beauties take off without any prior warning, and they do not welcome being poked and prodded.  

Beautifully marked on the forewing 

That underwing! Love the striped legs too, only just noticed them.

I didn't get a shot showing the blue, but saw it really well just before it flew off.  It was great to have Kevin around to admire it too, a first for him.

The only birding I've done today was a half-hour check of Seaton Hole, in my ever hopeful quest for a 2021 patch Wryneck.  Another fail, and only three Blackcaps compared to ten here four days ago.  I suppose this is the right time to mention the flock, yes flock of Blackcaps I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago, also whilst I was hoping for a Wryneck.  There were 19 feeding in elderberries and blackberries at the top of Upper Churston Rise, and surprisingly they were actually behaving like one flock.  Quite cool to see actually!

A freshly-washed juv Blackcap

Good to see some juv American waders making landfall in the UK over the past couple of days, like Buff-breasts, Pecs, Baird's and a Semi-P.  Hopefully some will eventually make their way down to us here because any of the above would be appreciated.

Righto, time for bed!  Check back soon :-)

Thursday 16 September 2021

Osprey, Merlin and Yellow Wags

Not the best pics, but I chose the right moment to take Harry for an after-work walk down Black Hole Marsh last week (Thursday I think so a week ago today).  My fourth Osprey of the autumn flew in from the north, spent a few minutes looking interested in the upper Estuary, but then headed off high east never to be seen again... Well not by us anyway, I didn't mean for it to sound quite so final!

Whilst on the raptor theme, I jammed another patch Merlin too! Not an easy species to see at any time of year here, in fact it is easy to go a whole year without seeing one at all!

It was during a really quiet wander over Beer Head on Monday morning (day after Ortolan - I figured all the usual Beer Head birders would be on Axe Cliff!), bushes were dead and not even a Wheatear to look at!  But near the end of my visit a juvenile female Merlin flew right past my head and made it all worthwhile!  It even pitched up for a minute or so...

And although it was otherwise a quiet walk, it wasn't grounded migrant-less thanks to a group or 32 Yellow Wags around the cattle.  It is always a pleasure spending any time with this species, especially as their numbers are already thinning out as they move off south...

I have been so lucky to have a flock of these for over a week right by my office, although the last day I was working I didn't hear one all day, so suspect they have moved on now as the cows are still there.  And before I move on I should just mention the bird in the second pic down, which showed a clear grey-green head both in the field and in the pics. Nothing more I can do with it, but it certainly looked like it could well have been a 'something'-headed Wagtail.

I've got an exciting visit to Axe Cliff to tell you about too. Yes, I know I have already told you about the Ortolan Bunting, and have mentioned it again umpteen times since, but a couple of days before that I had my best day of the autumn up there for numbers and variety.

Although I do like birding Axe Cliff, and now choose it over Beer Head, as I mentioned in my last post, it is nowhere near as good for 'bush birds' as Beer Head.  So by Axe Cliff standards, the morning of 7th Sept was very very good!  In an hour and a half I noted singles of Redstart, Whinchat and Tree Pipit, three each of Spotted Flycatcher, Whitethroat and Wheatear, five Grey Wags, seven Yellow Wags, ten Chiffchaff and 15 Blackcap!  Not bad at all.  Almost nothing posed for a photo, although as always that didn't stop me trying...



Before that have just had small numbers of Tree Pipits, Wheatears, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers sporadically at Axe Cliff, and way back on 22nd August my only Lesser Whitethroat of the autumn so far...

A very distant Lesser Whitethroat

Equally distant Wheatear, but I did a better job of photographing it!

Well that's me all up to date with birds, so now to insects...

I have only had the moth trap out on a couple of nights since my mammoth insect post.  Scored with another first for the garden though, and another big moth!  This one had red underwings not blue like the last monster I caught...

Some of the other interesting moths noted included my second garden records of Feathered Gothic...

And Pretty Chalk Carpet...

And probably my fourth garden Gem, an immigrant species...

On the Odonata front, there's still plenty of Migrant and Southern Hawkers about, and of course Common Darters. Butterflies are again plentiful in this recent warm weather, including heaps of Red Admirals, slightly fewer Small Whites and pleasingly a few Clouded Yellows too. I saw four males in one field in Branscombe today, which gives me some hope for tonight's moth trap because it must mean some sort of insect migration is underway. Fingers crossed!

Sunday 12 September 2021


After a troubling couple of days, at precisely 18:11 today I added the 263rd species to my Axe patch list.  Patch ticks don't come along often, so all are appreciated, but this one was especially sweet.  

I think it is fair to say I have been unfortunate to miss the previous two patch Ortolan Buntings. Well especially unfortunate to miss the first. But despite how utterly painful that first dip was, I consoled myself by the fact it was a species I would highly likely see here eventually... although I didn't think it was going to take 15 years!

So before I talk about the last couple of days, let's delve into patch history and take a look at a couple of posts on the Backwater Birding thread on Birdforum, dated 30th August 2006. Click to enlarge...

Mine and Phil's post from the day, am so sorry for my dreadful spelling.  What you can't see is Gav's jubilant post just above!

The second patch Ortolan record occurred on 22nd August 2009, again at Beer Head and again involving Gav and Ian Mc.  Phil, Kevin and Clive also got on this one as they were there when Gav called it.  However it disappeared shortly after being found, so although I was disappointed to miss another one, as I was busy bird ringing at Seaton Marshes it didn't hurt anywhere near as much as the first. I just didn't have a chance with this one, and that happens.

Axe Cliff, particularly over the last few years, has become my chosen migrant bird stomping ground.  Although it isn't as productive as Beer Head for warblers, flycatchers, etc, the open farmland is excellent for buntings, larks, pipits and finches. It has also proved to be our best vis mig spot - a real passion of mine.  Because of this I've always kind of had the feeling this was likely to be where I would add Ortolan to my patch list, whenever that moment came.  Turns out I was right.  However, I have also always envisaged it would most likely be a calling fly-over or something similarly brief and ultimately unsatisfying, as many south coast Ortolan records are.  I was wrong on that point...

A stonking Ortolan

What a bird.  A truly beautiful bird.  Far brighter than any autumn Ortolan I've seen before, which makes me wonder if it is an adult?  It spent about ten mins sat almost motionless on this branch, with Yellowhammers zipping all around it. Wow.

So thrilled to share this experience this afternoon with Luke H and Tim C. Great to finally meet you Luke, thanks for the scope views.  And Tim, thanks for putting in the leg work and relocating it, much appreciated.

James Mc first found this cracker early yesterday during what can only be described as his second birding outing of the autumn. Soon after he found it (and had enjoyed super views) it vanished, and there was no further sign of it during the rest of the day.  However early this morning James was watching it yet again, sat on a bush close to where he had first found it.  Within an hour though it once again vanished, although not before Ian Mc managed to see it - making him the only birder to have seen all three of the Axe's Ortolans!  

Similarly to yesterday there was no sign of it for the most of today, and I was just plotting my tactics for the morning when Tim C, who had returned to Axe Cliff after missing it this morning, located it in almost the very same spot.  For me the timing was perfect, as it was now about half an hour before I was due to finish work. Well that sorted my after work plans, a father-son post-work twitch...

Keep up Harry!

Crazy to think that when I was 21, painfully missing an Ortolan Bunting and hastily writing the bird forum post featured above, that in 15 years time I would be walking over Axe Cliff with my 4 year old son en route to seeing my first Axe Ortolan Bunting.  Life is strange isn't it.  

Tuesday 7 September 2021

Insects of 2021

Am delighted to be able to finally publish my insect catch-up post.  I have already blogged about one of the most exciting finds, the Beer Head Southern Migrant Hawker, but there's plenty more to tell...

As I have already mentioned a species of dragonfly, that's where I will start.


You'll see a similar theme with all three of these sub-sections - the cold spring of 2021!  Am sure you all recall those raw easterly winds that hampered even the blue days of April and May, with temperatures not really rising until the end of May. This didn't help insect numbers at all, or birds or flora for that matter. It some years I see my first Large Red Damselflies and/or Broad-boded Chasers in April, but not a single Odonata for me in April 2021.

However once the little beasties finally did start to emerge, it turned out to be an ok season.  Scarce Chasers had a great season, especially at Lower Bruckland Ponds, and there seemed to be more Golden-ringed Dragonflies around than usual too.  Sadly, although there is technically still time, no Ruddy Darters for me on patch this year - I do miss that unique colour.  Autumn is turning out good as well, with loads of Migrant and Southern Hawkers around. Hope you enjoy my pics...

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser up close!

Scarce Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer

Broad-bodied Chaser

White-legged Damselfly pair

Golden-ringed Damselfly

Female Southern Hawker


I don't think I have ever seen so few spring butterflies.  I didn't see any spring Holly Blues, only three sightings of Orange-tip (compared to 2020 when they were abundant) and just the one Brimstone.    A truly shocking start to the year, although hardly surprising given the persistent cold wind.

Thankfully however the year has imrpoved.  And the really hot spell we experienced in July coincided with peak Hairstreak season! Unfortunately my quest for a patch White-letter once again failed, but we enjoyed a bumper year for Purple Hairstreaks.  The small population I found near Lower Bruckland Ponds in 2020 showed a lot better this year, with my highest count being five on 21st. Even better however were the two I discovered on the evening of 19th at Black Hole Marsh, in small Oaks by Tower Hide...  

Purple Hairstreak Lower Bruckland Ponds

Purple Hairstreak Black Hole Marsh

With my mind still back in July, Marbled Whites, Small SkippersGatekeepers and Ringlets all seemed to have an excellent year too. And within the last month I've been blown away by the numbers of Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Small Whites - the local Buddleia's have been absolutely awash, terrific to see.  There's been a few Painted Ladies around too, not loads but I was seeing up to ten on some days in early August.  

Marbled White Lower Bruckland Ponds

Painted Lady

Painted Lady x 2!

Red Admiral


Considering the poor state of affairs with the above two orders during spring, I didn't even consider dusting the moth trap off during March/April/May.  All I was reading on social media and other wildlife blogs during April/May were how few moths were on the wing, and that some of the early species (Early Grey, Hebrew Character, Common Quaker, etc) hardly emerged at all.  Worrying, and I can't help but wonder what effect it will have on next year?

I first put the trap out on 15th June, and since then have been running it when I've been able to on suitable weather-nights.  Just routine fare really for the first few months, although it's always exciting to see each species emerge as the year progresses...

Canary-shouldered Thorn


Large Emerald

Four Buff-tips!

Four male Four-spotted Footman

Sallow Kitten

Small Elephant Hawkmoth

No new species the garden were recorded until the night of 19th August, when an Oak Eggar was a wonderful furry surprise...

My first view of it

Oak Eggar and Shuttle-shaped Dart

Then during the night of 25th/26th, I captured two more new ones for the garden, although neither are all that rare...

Barred Hook-tip

Bulrush Wainscot

And then last night happened, which gave me another new moth for the garden. At 6am this morning I turned over an egg box that revealed the absolutely holy grail. Sure, it may not be the rarity it once was, but I was just not ready for the adrenalin rush the sight of this beast gave me. I give you the moth whose name literally means "beyond compare". The Clifden Nonpareil...

Otherwise known as the Blue Underwing

It was so massive. Huge. After I took this photo I managed a peak of it's blue hindwing, and even better, its striking underwing with a big white stripe. But I am afraid there are no more pics of it, because quite simply, I lost the plot.  I was so encapsulated and blown away by it, I basically didn't do what I have done hundreds of times before, pot a moth.  Instead I was just gazing at it from every angle, giving it the odd poke, and then it flew off.  This wasn't all bad though, because I got to see it in flight.  An amazing flopping flight, and looking more bat-sized than moth-sized.  What a delight.

Personally I've recorded very few immigrants, the odd Silver Y, just one Hummingbird Hawkmoth (not trapped) and two Dark Sword Grass on 4th/5th August.  Go back in time even more however and there is one large immigrant species that for some reason never got a mention on this blog, but very much deserves it..

On 15th September 2020 my Hawkmoth tally for the garden was nine species (Poplar, Eyed, Elephant, Small Elephant, Privet, LimeHummingbird, Bedstraw [3/8/19], Striped [two - 16&17/6/16]).  On the morning of 16th the tenth was added.  I knew number ten was probably going to be either this species or Pine Hawkmoth, which I really should have recorded before now, but it didn't make the discovery any less exciting! The 11 year wait was over...

Convolvulus Hawkmoth! A bit battered but what a beast.

And there we go!  What a post, and it's been a delight to relive it all.  Thanks for reading and be sure to check back soon for more :-)