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.  


  1. What a great post! Laughed out loud at Phil's BirdForum entry! A nice trip down Memory Lane for me, but more importantly I am dead chuffed you've finally scored with Ortolan. It's a beaut too!

    And now I'll have to retire that 2009 photo I keep trotting out. My gripping days are over!

    1. Hi Gav, thanks for the comment. Yes I completely forgot about Phil's response, was hilarious. That bird forum thread is well worth dipping in now and then, excellent memories. Well, not all excellent like the Ortolan dip!