Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Just Odds and Sods

Well in answer to the title of my previous post... no, not really.

Saying that, late May for me has been really busy at work and both my Wife's and Son's birthday fall here so it's not like I have spent much time in the field lately.  Still, there are some things to report including two Patchwork Challenge ticks!

During my walk to work on Thursday 25th, it was really exciting to watch a Spotted Flycatcher fly low north over the housing estate by my place, pitch up in a garden tree for little more than a few seconds, then continue on northwards.  Portland may have had many hundreds do this during that week but this one was honestly an absolute thrill to see.  Raw migration in action and not where I would necessarily expect to see it.

And today came year tick number two, with a Barnacle Goose leading three Canada Geese in flight over the river valley.  I managed to take this photo with my phone before they flew north over the A3052 and away towards Musbury...

At least it is identifiable!


The goose wasn't my bird of the day though, with this lovely Grey Plover feeding on the Estuary about ten minutes later...

Right up there for me when it comes to cracking looking waders

However the Plover wasn't my wildlife sighting of the day!  Have had almost no time for Odonata yet this year (ultra frustrating during a Vagrant Emperor influx!) but half an hour today gave me my first patch Red-eyed Damselfly since about 2008!  Only had my phone for a camera so this is all you are getting...

On The Borrow Pit, Seaton Marshes

Small Red-eyed Damselflies, although not out yet this year, have spread right across the patch.  There were some Red-eyed Damselflies at Lower Bruckland Ponds around the time Small Red-eyed Damselflies were first discovered there, but within a couple of years they died out (whereas Small Red-eyeds exploded in numbers).  

The only other sightings I have to report from the last couple of weeks include a Sanderling on the beach last Thursday evening, and an unseasonal Osprey which I was fortunate to see three days on the trot hunting over the Estuary. It was an excellent fisher too, often catching on its first attempt - quite different from the autumn juvs we see!

Friday, 19 May 2023

May Must Have More?

Following what can only be described as the best March/April on patch for years, certainly the last five but possibly of the last decade, May has been completely pants.  

Black Hole Marsh at dusk earlier this week

Some of the common (ish) summer migrants that you would hope to pick up in this month, like Garden Warbler, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Cuckoo, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, Hobby, maybe if you're lucky Turtle Dove, are all still gaps on my Patchwork Challenge 2023 year list!  And as for the sea... we had a whiff of southerlies earlier in the month but they didn't do much here - although I did miss a Bonxie one morning which was annoying to say the least!  

And where are the wading birds?

May is by a country mile my favourite month of the year for wader passage, when flocks of Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel can be seen on/off the beach or up the Estuary, as well as a good chance of local scarcities such as Knot, Turnstone, Grey Plover, etc..  Often all in fine summer plumage too!  However as yet it just hasn't happened, and I have tried! On the few wet days we have had, my lonesome and dripping wet figure could be seen walking Seaton Beach.   The lack of southerlies am sure is part of the reason, but hopefully they are all still on their wintering grounds or further south at least.  I remember in 2018 when I went to Portugal in early June much to my surprise there were massive numbers of small waders still feeding on the Tagus Estuary..

So since the 4th (which gave Pochard and Wood Sand) I have only had two more year ticks!  Shocking for May, although to be fair both of them were really nice...

On 10th, Mike H and Stuart O had a Short-eared Owl hunting near Black Hole Marsh an hour before dusk.  I nipped down there, couldn't see anything for about half an hour, but then whilst stood halfway up a gate scanning distant fields to the north, I looked around and the Short-eared Owl was hunting literally right infront (well behind!) me!  It saw me then hastily made its way down the hill and out of view.  I just about managed to hold my phone up and get some sort of video but it is so poor I won't even bother posting it on here.

Then today, having just seen a couple of lone Dunlin and Ringed Plover, two Greenshank and a single Bar-tailed Godwit over the last two weeks, finally we had a wader highlight. A visiting birder found an adult breeding plumaged Little Stint on Black Hole Marsh...

What a stunner!

Similar to what I wrote about the Wood Sands earlier this month, Little Stint has appeared to have become much scarcer here over the last few autumns, and spring birds are really really few and far between, so I was dead chuffed to see this!

Looking at the forecast, I haven't much hope for the rest of May.  However as is so often said it only takes one bird...  

Monday, 8 May 2023

Wood Sands and Pochard

Just a quick one to bring everything up to date, and since my last post the only real action I have to report is from last Thursday.

With an apparent influx of Wood Sandpipers across the country mid-last week thanks to rain and easterly winds, I was hopeful we'd get one here at some point.  They are a tricky species to see here in spring though, if we get any they are usually brief, and actually they've not been much easier in autumn in recent years!  So when I heard of four feeding on Black Hole Marsh from late morning Thursday, this sorted my after work plans for that day. All four still present and looking splendid in their breeding plumage at 5:30pm...

Three Wood Sands phone-scoped

The fourth loner

About an hour later Tim messaged with news of two probable Pochard flying around the valley - thankfully exactly the part of the valley I can see over from my bedroom window!  And soon after I started scanning, two grey plain-winged ducks with contrasting breast bands and pale bellies came flying in and dropped out of view.  Over the course of the evening I saw them several more times in flight from the house - two female Pochard.  A dead tidy Patchwork Challenge tick, although they have returned to being annual over the last five years despite their continued decline in the south west.

Scores on the doors for Patchwork Challenge at the end of April for me were 146 species and 194 points.  Really need some good spring sea watching although it is looking less and less likely as we get nearer to mid May. Oh and Common Crane istill omitted... for now...

Sunday, 30 April 2023

A Few More Waders

Nice to see a few more wading birds coming through as we head towards May.  

On Friday morning the Estuary showed a Patchwork Challenge year tick in the form of a lone Sanderling, along with four Ringed Plover (which the Sanderling was associating with), six Dunlin and two Common Sandpipers.

Awful photo but Sanderling is quite a rarity for the Estuary, far more often seen on or flying past the beach

Then this morning two Avocet were looking very interested in one of the islands on Black Hole Marsh. This has to be the next breeding species for the Axe Valley, even though we see so few during the winter months.  

There were a few passerine migrants around this morning too, with a couple of Willow Warblers, a Common Whitethroat, a noticeable increase in Reed Warblers and a few more Sedge Warblers.  One of the new Sedge Warblers was singing in this small corner of shrub at the entrance to Seaton Tesco... 

Love seeing out of place migrants!

Have to say, although I am loving the easterly winds, a nice south westerly blow wouldn't go a miss. I have still not seen a skua of any variety yet this year!

Thursday, 27 April 2023

Night Heron

Well I've spent far too many hours checking willow trees and ditches for a patch Night Heron over the last three weeks.  

Tonight I went out hoping to find some migrants after a day of mostly rain, and having spent ten minutes checking a large flock of hirundines on Seaton Marshes, I turned around to see this...

North end of the island on the Borrow Pit

Within ten minutes other birders started to arrive, and am pleased to say it began looking a bit more lively. Probably the smartest Night Heron I have ever seen, absolutely immaculate plumage...

Look at the size of that plume!
Massive yellow legs and feet too! And that lovely red eye

I stayed with it until just after 20:30, when after it had clambered its way up to the top of the tree, it took flight and headed off south east towards the sea.  Brilliant to hear it call as it flew, and it was suprisingly loud. There's a video clip in my Twitter-feed which is worth a watch - well a listen!

Only my second Night Heron on patch following an adult also on Seaton Marshes in March 2006.  Have missed one in between, a first-summer which was viewable from Tower Hide at Black Hole Marsh for one day in early May 2015.  I was on honeymoon in Greece at the time!

Monday, 24 April 2023

A Quick Catch up

Just a quick update to bring everything up to date.  Haven't had much time out since my last blog post but have still managed to see a few bits...

On Friday a quick look around mid afternoon revealed my first Whitethroats of the year - one of each-type in fact!  An elusive male Lesser Whitethroat was half-heartedly singing next to the Bridge Marsh gateway, and a male Common Whitethroat looked like a proper migrant feeding in flowering blackthorn alongside the Estuary with a few Willow Warblers.  Great to see a brick red male Bar-tailed Godwit on the Estuary too, finally.

Male Common Whitethroat 

Male Bar-tailed Godwit


Later on Friday a lovely evening wander, surrounded by feeding hirundines, was made even better with my third Osprey on the spring.  It completely surprised me flying low south past me, before spending about ten minutes fishing on the Estuary, and then flying back north past me.  It was seen again the following morning. Unusual for a spring bird to linger.

Osprey with a Herring Gull escort

Saturday evening a short seawatch was called for following a light late afternoon skua passage past Portland and Chesil.  No skuas for me, with just five Whimbrel west and 23 Manx Shearwaters.  A quick look at Black Hole Marsh afterwards showed two Bar-tailed Godwits.

Then today, an early morning trip to Black Hole Marsh was worthwhile with two Ruff feeding on the far edge of the reserve.  The light was always poor but could see one was a nice male.  A Lesser Whitethroat was singing away too, and showed really well albeit briefly.

Nothing rough about these Ruff! Well except for the photo of them...

Now on 141 species for the Patchwork Challenge year list, equating to 183 points.

Thursday, 20 April 2023

The Magic of Migration

Migration at its BEST today!

Although nowhere I went this morning had big numbers, the cold north wind was pushing migrating birds down low - as a result what I witnessed from Seaton Beach up to 8am this morning was nothing short of mesmerising...

Looking towards Beer Head

I wish I had got to the beach sooner, I'd spent half an hour walking ditches in the valley on my quest for a rare heron, but no rewards there.  My reason for going to the beach was in the hope of cashing in on some of the Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel passage that had been seen throughout the UK the previous day.  I did see four Whimbrel (two in/off and two west) but the constant sight of small passerines flying in/off low over the waves was something that will stay with me forever.

Don't get me wrong, there were never waves of birds coming in, but every minute or so I'd pick up a passerine far out to sea, and watch it almost clip the top of the waves as it made its way north towards shore.  Only two actually landed when they arrived at the coast, most got to where the red cliffs are in the above photo, then gained height and simply continued flying inland. Remarkable.  

Most of the passerines were not identifiable due to distance, but three were Phylloscs, two Pipit sp, eight House Martins, one Wheatear and one - one of the only two that landed - a Redstart!  As this bird flew over the sea I kept thinking I could see red in its tail, and thankfully when it arrived at the beach instead up flying up, it landed on cliff side vegetation and showed itself to be a male Redstart!  It didn't hang about though, no more than twenty seconds later it was off up and over the cliff.  Am also pretty sure I had a Whinchat in/off as one bird looked short tailed and appeared to show show some white in the wing, just too distant to be sure though.  

Just absolutely mind blowing.  This is obviously what usually goes on far above our heads at this time of year, but the wind was keeping them low.  Am pleased to say everything I picked up did make landfall, just imagine spotting a really rare bird flying in-off only to see it drop into the sea!  

Kev, who was birding Beer Head at the time, witnessed similar rapid movement of migrants through, including an brief Hoopoe that had clearly just arrived and very quickly moved on.  Even Jess got in on the action, with a Cuckoo singing in Holyford Woods during her mid-morning walk.

This kept going until early afternoon at least, with Wheatears and Willow Warblers passing through past my work, and I was pleased to see a nailed-on Whinchat during my walk to work on Seaton Marshes.

A stunning male Whinchat - just a dreadful photo of it!

This manic day of migration followed on from another good spring day.  Although Wednesday was a work day I managed an astonishing seven Patchwork Challenge year ticks!  They were, in order of appearance:

Grasshopper Warbler  - reeled twice during my walk to work at Sheep's Marsh but remained hidden.

Common Sandpiper - amazingly my first of the year, this is the first year we haven't had an over-wintering bird on the Axe since I can remember.

Mandarin - the mega of the day - a drake found by Clive on Sheep's Marsh and is still present today, first on patch since three off Seaton Beach on 4th March 2019.

Grey Plover - also found my Clive on Black Hole Marsh (see below photo).

Ringed Plover - one on Black Hole Marsh alongside a Little Ringed Plover.

Reed Warbler - singing away at Black Hole Marsh, a few days later than my first Sedge Warbler.

Common Redstart - a female at Lower Bruckland Ponds at last light.

Grey Plover in front of Grey Heron

The best of the other year ticks in the past week was this Red Kite over school on Tuesday as I was dropping Harry off for his first day back...

The worst photo of all on this blog post - which is some doing when it also includes that dreadful Whinchat!  A phone pic of the Red Kite.

With this flurry of spring excitement my Patchwork Challenge list is now on 137 species and 179 points.  Not that today I really cared, because witnessing migration as I did is literally worth 500 year ticks in my eyes.  Just incredible. 

What a day.

Sunday, 16 April 2023

Black-winged Stilt!

I don't think a year has gone by that one of the local birders hasn't predicted the next addition to the patch list to be Black-winged Stilt! A gaping and frankly puzzling omission from the patch list despite our location and seemingly perfect habitat.

But today was finally the day. Am absolutely thrilled to have seen this elegant beauty gracing Black Hole Marsh.  Looked even better than I ever imagined to be honest!

The fun all started when this message appeared on BirdGuides just after 1pm today...

The location wasn't clear but I thought I'd chance the Island Hide at Black Hole Marsh. And this was the view that greeted me...

A very pleasant view indeed!

It spent the next few minutes feeding right by the Island Hide before flying across to the Tower Hide.  Only the fourth time I've seen Black-winged Stilt in the UK, including the infamous Sammy of Titchwell!

No offence to my good friend Chris, but it's nice not to have been trumped by the Otter again. Plus having missed out (so far) on Alpine Swift, Night Heron, Purple Heron and Hoopoe, it feels good to get in on the overshoot action at last!

Black-winged Stilt is the 266th species of bird that I've seen on the Axe patch.  

Red-rumped Swallow now stands alone as the most glaring omission from the patch list. Be nice if that fell this year too...

Saturday, 8 April 2023

A Crane Conundrum

On Thursday Joe Stockwell kindly alerted West Dorset/East Devon birders via Twitter that he had seen a Common Crane fly west over Abbotsbury Swannery.

Several hours later Clive texted with news it was on Bridge Marsh!  By the time I got there it was circling low over the valley...

Always an impressive sight!

And then, in what seemed like just a few seconds, it was a speck!  It gained height at speed and disappeared off to the east still gaining height.  And then it was gone.

Very apt at migration despite their cumbersome appearance when on the ground!


A great bird to see on patch....but was it a wild bird!?

Thankfully I saw Common Crane on the Axe before The Great Crane Project in Somerset had really got going, an adult on Colyford Marsh on 1st April 2012 courtesy of Kev.

For the first few years of The Great Crane Project, even though 93 captive born Common Cranes were released into the wild on the Somerset Levels, they were all sporting obvious colour-rings.  So an unringed Common Crane was still fair game, although in my opinion you'd need to see the bird on the ground to be fully sure it was indeed unringed, so from that moment on in my view fly-overs were no longer provable wild. 

Fast forward to 2023 and where are we now... Well who knows...

The released and blinged-up GCP Common Cranes started successfully fledging young 'in the wild' from 2015, and since then have fledged 62 chicks.  It was thought at the end of 2022 just over 100 GCP Common Cranes were alive and kicking, made up roughly 50/50 of surviving birds from the original introduction (so ringed) and of birds born 'in the wild' (35 of which were unringed!).

Clive saw Thursday's Axe bird well on the deck, and confirmed it was unringed. Was it one of the 35 unringed birds mentioned above, or was it indeed wild!?  Well, early spring I would say is the prime time for a wild Crane to turn up in the south coast, especially with an arrival of other overshoots like Hoopoes, Black-winged Stilts and Purple Herons. And this Crane was clearly on the move not wanting to hang around! But does any of that actually mean anything?  

Even with all those factors combined, is it not still more likely that one of the unringed 35 has decided to go for a fly around?  Presumably the breeding adult GCP birds are getting more territorial so may be forcing younger birds away, and could the blue skies that we've enjoyed this week just be igniting an inner urge for the GCP Cranes to wander? Similar to what the first-summer Red Kites do, sometimes en masse, on warm spring days (also reintroduced!). 

You could of course be of the mind set that it doesn't matter at all, it wasn't ringed so wherever it came from it was born in the wild. Whilst that would technically be true, for me reintroduced parents does not make it wild enough.  

And then there is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration, possibly a less obvious one...

If the topic wasn't already complicated enough, take a read of this Twitter mini-thread from Slimbridge WWT. I asked them if they knew were their unringed Common Cranes (they currently have eight on site) had come from...

I actually saw 'Ruby' and her unringed wild mate when I visited Slimbridge a month ago with Dad...

Buy One get (a wild) One Free!


So basically two wild unringed Common Cranes have joined the GCP Cranes, with one of these birds now breeding with a GCP bird!   This begs the question, does having a mostly-resident flock of 100 GCP Common Cranes in the south west actually increase ALL our chances of seeing a wild Common Crane down here?  We all see it during our birding, a flock of waders attracts other waders, flocks of gulls attract more gulls, geese flocks attract geese (of any species), same for swans, passerines, etc...  The 'pull-factor' of a big flock is unquestionable. 

So in conclusion... I am just as unsure and confused as I was before I wrote all this! Will I be adding Common Crane to my Patchwork Challenge 2023 list?  I don't think I can. Is that the wrong decision? Maybe. Actually quite probably.  I just don't know...

Anyone who wishes to add their opinion, please do...

Tuesday, 4 April 2023

Double Osprey and Triple Garganey

Aside a few Willow Warblers and several sightings of Swallows, haven't done all that well lately.  However today was a realy cracker, not bad at all for a non-birding day!

First up, thanks to an obvious gull flush on the lower Estuary at 10:30, an Osprey gave incredible views as it cruised low south down the Estuary before heading off south west.  Only had my phone camera to hand so this is all I managed...

Love that shape!

Views were much better than the photo suggests

I had a second Osprey later this afternoon too. Just as all the gulls went up again a message came through from Richard that he had just seen an Osprey fly in-off the sea and over Seaton Beach.  A short while later I was watching it hover and fish over the upper Estuary, even saw it catch a fish before flying off low north with its catch.  

And if two Ospreys weren't enough, Phil messaged with news of three Garganey on the sea off Spot On!  Been hoping for one or two seeing as South Huish Marsh boasted a flock of twenty last night, but it's never an easy species to see here so was dead pleased to catch up with them...

Light wasn't great and the sea was quite lumpy but the female is on the right

The two dapper looking drakes.  Shortly before this I read on Twitter about a flock of 1,000 on the sea in southern Europe earlier today. 

 Oh how I love spring!

Saturday, 18 March 2023

Summer Migrants and Tufted Ducks

Well it certainly feels like spring now!  

Much milder air has dominated since last weekend, and although the weather hasn't been particularly nice whenever the sun has emerged from behind the clouds its warmth has been apparent. The sight of these have also helped with the spring-feeling too...

It's only a few pixels of Wheatear but doesn't that image just make you feel warm inside


I have seen more Wheatear in the last week than I did throughout the whole of last spring on the Axe (14 my spring 2022 total).  

My first were six (all males) from work, feeding on Sheep's Marsh on the morning of Wednesday 15th - the same day quite a widespread arrival occurred along the south coast (see Portland blog).  I didn't see any on Thursday but on Friday there were nine in the field to the north of Seaton Marshes (including my first female) and six on Beer Head at last light - so that's 21 and we are not even on the 20th of March yet!  It is so great to have them back!

Male and female Wheatear

Following my two early Sand Martins last week, a flock of 50 over Seaton Marshes on Thursday late afternoon became 90+ by Friday morning.  It was amazing to be stood under the flock listening to their almost constant chattering calls as they fed, often low over the marshes. A true delight...

Sand Martin flock

Although I haven't seen any other new species of summer migrants aside from Wheatear since my last post, Chiffchaffs are arriving in seemingly good numbers at the moment.  There were a couple of singing birds around the Borrow Pit on Friday morning as well as several others dotted around in ditches, hedges and even one just up the road from my house.  

There's clearly been a few Stonechats passing through too, I have seen more in the last few days than I have all winter.  This bird on Seaton Marshes - with huge white wing patches and a white-looking rump - looked particularly striking encouraging me to contemplate rubicola...

Presumably within range for hibernians though - a paler/white belly would have made it look more convincing

It was nice to enjoy a bit of seawatching on Tuesday morning. I only had an hour but it was good to see Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet passing in reasonable numbers - many quite close.  Two flocks of Golden Plover came flying through west low over the waves, a nine and a four, not a species I have seen migrating low over the sea much at all.   Year ticks came in the form of a Great Northern Diver which flew west shortly after a trio of Red-throats went by, and a Skylark which flew in off the sea in true spring vismig style!

Gull passage is still very much underway on the Estuary, with large gull numbers high including a good turn-over of Lesser Black-backsCommon Gulls are also passing through in excellent numbers still, but Black-headed Gull numbers have noticeably dropped off now.   There are still a few Med Gulls dropping in though, including a lovely pair of adults that flew in off the sea calling on Thursday morning. I will never get bored of adult summer Meds, they just look so clean cut and crisp amongst the carpet of white, grey and brown...

Leading the flock, both in position and looks!

And then today came a real nice spring highlight - four Tufted Ducks on The Borrow Pit, Seaton Marshes.  They were found by Susie earlier today but thankfully remained until I managed to get to them at about 4:30pm...

Three drakes and a female

...and they weren't always asleep!

Although Tufties are our most regular of the diving duck species on the Axe (not counting sawbills - we get more Goosanders) it is a species that still could be missed in a 12 month period. Four together is a high count for us, more often than not spring records relate to single birds.

So with the addition of Wheatear, Skylark, Great Northern Diver and Tufted Duck my Patchwork Challenge year list stands at 115 species, amounting to 146 points.

Hopefully one of the many Alpine Swifts currently in the UK will now do the decent thing...

Friday, 10 March 2023

So Much for Snow!

Despite much of the UK getting a good dumping of the white stuff over the past few days, as usual for us down here in Seaton there's not been a sniff.  Not even sleety rain, just rain.  Not that I have minded this as it has been such a dry year so far.

Although no snow it has certainly been cold. An icy cold northerly wind has been blowing, with the grey skies adding to the chill factor.  So, as was the case when I wrote my last post, seeing summer migrants is not something I am thinking about right now, even though I have...

This afternoon two Sand Martins were flying and feeding high over the confluence of the Axe and Coly, and earlier today I had my second lookings at the lovely male Little Ringed Plover that has been on Black Hole Marsh since Tuesday (which is when I saw it for the first time).  Such a lovely little bird, the cold wind probably the reason why it is lingering with us...

Electric yellow eye-ring

Seen in the year before Common Ringed Plover which is unusual. My earliest ever LRP for the patch

A better view of those stripes


A lone Avocet was around at the start of the week, although I haven't seen it today so think it has probably moved on.  At least one Great White Egret is still around, but possibly two as I watched one flying east up Stedcome Valley yesterday morning not long before one was photographed fishing on a garden pond in Beer (a couple of miles west of where I was).

I am ofcourse keeping a close eye on the gulls at the moment as now is the time for a white-winger if we are going to get one at all.  There are really good numbers of Common Gulls passing through, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are present daily often in double-figures, plus a handful of Med Gulls most days...

Mediterranean Gull looking dapper in full summer plumage

And to complete this post I will not be mentioning how I managed to miss Little Gull for the third time this year...


Sunday, 5 March 2023

Firecrest Finally Falls

Well February was a disaster for Patchwork Challenge.  Just so so quiet, and two of the best birds - Little Gull and Red-breasted Merganser - I missed! The latter only by a couple of minutes at most which was particularly gutting.

Anyway just to remind you, my February year ticks were:

Water Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Blackcap and Caspian Gull

So a measly four compared to January's 102! Quite the come-down.

Am pleased to say March has started with a bit more oomph - although spring it does NOT feel like!  It has been colder here since March begun that at any time during February, which is a shame as cold weather in February would have been ideal!

With the current temperatures, just thinking of species like Wheatear, Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martin feels wrong. So summer migrants aside, in the month of March birds just have more of a habit of moving around. Young birds get driven out of their parents territories, wintering birds in Western Europe head back north/north west/east, breeding birds start getting horny and vocal, etc, etc..  

So five days in and where am I at? Well I've chalked up three new species for Patchwork Challenge - so looking promising I would say! The three species being:

Greylag Goose. Found by Phil on Bridge Marsh on 2nd, I saw it that evening and again the following morning. March is a really typical month for this species here, for whatever reason!?

The outsider!


Siskin. These funky little finches have been scarce this winter, outside of conifer woodlands that is.  I would usually see and hear odd birds flying over, anywhere really, but not this year. So a pair flying in to feed on alders at Lower Bruckland Ponds on 3rd were much appreciated.  

Firecrest. A species I have been putting a lot of effort into finding on my Patchwork Challenge patch.  There are singles wintering between 3 and 400 metres either side of my patch (Seaton Hole and Axe Cliff Golf course car park) but I haven't had a sniff of one actually on my patch, despite plenty of ideal habitat. 

Well that was until this morning, when the wind-less conditions (although grey - so very dull and grey) revealed a lovely male Firecrest in trees and bushes alongside Axmouth Harbour, just beyond where the houses are on the east side.  Although you can't tell from my dreadful attempt at photography, but the views were absolutely fabulous as it busily fed right in front of me...

Still my favourite bird!


Currently find myself on 109 species for patchwork challenge and a grand total of 139 points.  Let's hope March makes up for February!  

Thursday, 2 March 2023

A Day Out with Dad - Slimbridge WWT

I'd promised Dad a day trip to Slimbridge WWT one day this winter, a reserve well-known for its accessibility.  And seeing as spring was fast approaching, last Monday everything aligned (tides, weather, work schedule, Dad's diary, etc) so off we went for what turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable day.  

I was worried I had left it too late in the season, and although we were told wader and wildfowl numbers had dropped off in recent weeks as to be expected, there was still more than enough to see. Bewick's Swan numbers actually increased on the day we were there, which is lucky as in other years all have departed by the end of February! The cold north easterly wind presumably the reason for their delayed return migration - the wardens at Slimbridge can tell they are ready to go through their behaviour and eating habits (apparently they diet before they migrate!).

The Bewick's Swans were of course the stars of the show for me, being a huge fan of waterfowl and birding a part of the country where we don't see many winter swans.  There were a handful on the Rushy in the morning, at least 46 resting on the Tack Piece late morning, four on the Dumbles shortly after and then over 50 came back in to Rushy for the evening swan feed. 

Typical Bewick's bill pattern although they are all different!
They pair for life - the larger male on the left here

The young birds still showing grey plumage but bills have turned yellow (start off pink)

Strange colour due to taking this photo through glass!

Bewick's sleeping on the Tack Piece


Another high point for me was seeing the Eurasian White-fronted Goose flock, numbering 172, feeding along the back of the Tack Piece.  Amazing that this is still such a reliable wintering site for the species, considering how far south and west it is and how their numbers have declined here for decades...

What a lovely sight, those stunning black belly bars

Always on the fair side of the field

Living and birding on a patch where, except for Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck, we don't see ducks in any numbers, seeing so many Shoveler, Pintail, Tufted Duck and Pochard was just amazing!  At least 700 Wigeon still present too despite the late date.


Two dapper drakes

Couldn't stop photographing these to be honest!

A mass of Shoveler!

I know many birders find the whole swan feeding-thing unappetising, but I love it! Such a great way of engaging the 'semi-interested' and for me it is just so novel to see so many wildfowl...

Ready for their grub!

Feeding time!


However, the one thing about Slimbridge that does make me question myself and all things birding was nicely summarised by Scaup.  

It was great to see the drake Greater Scaup that has been wintering onsite, showing distantly on the Rushy. A really smart bird but never came close...

Drake Greater Scaup - what a looker!

Such a great looking duck!

I then walked around the corner and took this photo with my phone...

More Scaup!

Yes these are of course captive, but they unequivocally look exactly the same!  Just not quite sure how to deal with this, as seeing that wild drake Scaup (albeit distantly) gave me such a buzz and then I clapped eyes on these!  Not sure what to make of it, all I can say is I find it confusing for my (wild) bird-loving brain.

A drake Smew, lots of Eider and Goldeneye were in the same pen too, although we did see a wild Goldeneye on South Lake as well...

Note the Avocet - a returning breeding pair

Whilst on the subject of non-wild birds, nine Common Cranes were on the Dumbles.  Although two weren't ringed so maybe these were of wild stock?

All these were ringed

But the left hand bird here is unringed

Also on the Dumbles a big flock of feral Barnacle Geese, containing a Ross's Goose and a Snow x Bar-headed hybrid.  There were two single Barnacle Geese in with the White-fronts too, presumably also feral but who actually knows?

Ross's Goose in with Barnacle Geese

And here's the Snow x Bar-headed


There were heaps of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Dunlin here as well, and about 90+ more Pintail distantly viewable on the Severn...

Waders on the Dumbles

I have only been to Slimbridge twice before. Most recently in February 2003 on the way back from Norfolk to see a first-winter Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the White-front flock.  My first visit was in 2002 when I was thrilled to see a Greenland White-front, two Bean and three Pink-footed Geese in with the 400+ strong White-front flock. This was the holy grail of goose flocks as far as I was concerned, although not a shadow on what Peter Scott used to record in the 40's/50's when he could count two thousand grey geese (mostly White-fronts) wintering on site. 

I really do look forward to visiting this place for the fourth time.  A great reserve and a truly memorable day out with Dad. 

Accessibility Review

I thought I would add this little section at the bottom of my post, as Nature Reserve accessibility isn't something most birders need to think about, but it is absolutely critical for the ones that do need to think about it.

Am pleased to report Slimbridge ticks all the right boxes, a great network of flat paths, spacious and well designed hides (including a hide with a lift in it*), several accessible loos and a very clear and informative accessibility section on their website.  

Nature can't be much more accessible than this!

*The lift in the Estuary Tower Hide wasn't actually working on the day we visited, although as you can see from the below screenshot the website told us this well before our visit.  My only point to note on that would be that it would have been good for the member of staff on the welcome desk to mention this to us, just in case we hadn't been on the website pre-visit.

A screenshot from the website homepage