Tuesday 31 January 2023

One Month Down

I end January on 102 species for Patchwork Challenge.  As expected new species have slowed right up in the last few weeks, with Red-legged Partridge added today and Dipper last Friday.  These being the only new birds since my last blog post on 24th.

With calm seas lately any spare morning I've had I've been scanning over Seaton Bay.  This hasn't shown any more surprises since the trio of Eider, but it's always a joy to be out when there are sunrises like this to be witnessed...


Birdwise all I have seen is up to six Red-throated Diver, the odd Common Scoter, 90+ feeding Kittiwakes lingering (notable for us) and several hundred auks, of which so far all the ones I have been able to identify have been Razorbill.

My inability to competently identify (/string) a Guillemot brings me nicely on to species I should really have seen by now  Guillemot and Mistle Thrush are top of the list, with Blackcap, Firecrest, Siskin and Marsh Tit not far behind.  We don't seem to have a wintering Common Sandpiper on the Axe for this first time in at least 15 years, in fact aside Avocet wading bird variety and numbers have been poor - bring on the spring!

There's three key species I have missed; Little Gull, Marsh Harrier and Red Kite.  Am not worried about the latter two, but Little Gull has become a less than annual visitor to the Axe so really need some more southerlies!  This dip was even worse as I would have seen it were it not for a helicopter flushing the gull flock literally seconds before my arrival.

I won't list the highlights as they are in the contents of my recent blog posts, but something I do want to mention as a highlight is just how much I am enjoying participating in Patchwork Challenge. Exactly as I was hoping it would, it has given my patch birding a new lease of life, and as everyone knows being out more is the key to seeing more - and as a result I am blogging more!  

Roll on the next 11 months...

Tuesday 24 January 2023

One Hundred!

Absolutely loving these freezing frosty mornings, makes going out early in the day even more of a joy than usual.  Today proved the coldest of the year so far, it was -5c at 8am, and no warmer twenty minutes later when I took this...

Almost black and white except for the Roe. A truly epic frost.

Have added two new birds to the Patchwork Challenge list this week making it a ton for me now.  Grey Wagtail was the rather uninspiring 99th bird, but number 100 was the over-wintering but highly mobile and elusive Dartford Warbler.  Only the third I have ever seen in the valley, so a great bird for the year list and a nice male to boot.

The recent Great White Egret has proved the longest staying of this species in Axe history, but with the appearance of one on the Otter Estuary yesterday I presumed its stay had come to an end.  Well I was wrong, during my drive home from work late this afternoon I spied this feeding in a small ditch right by the A3052 at Bridge Marsh...

Little and large!

Look at that neck

It was feeding well

Amazing how erratic and generally elusive this Egret has been, considering the fact it is a three foot tall pure white bird.  No wonder it took me almost two months to see a Dartford Warbler!!

Friday 20 January 2023

A Cold and Frosty Week

What a lovely wintery week it has been here on the Axe, wish we would have more of this weather during the winter months.  

No day off until today, but earlier in the week I still managed to add some new species to the year list before and after work.  Some of these were overdue resident species that I just hadn't bumped into yet, like Jay and Nuthatch, but there was some notable species too, like the 13 Golden Plover on Bridge Marsh on Tuesday...

A proper cold weather sight!

A Goldie with a bit of light on it

The last throws of Wednesday gave an excellent double, with a Goosander south down the Axe at 4:40pm and a Woodcock out of roost at 5:25pm.  Especially pleased with the latter as it was a stab in the dark (literally) that produced a result on the first attempt!

Then came today, a day off! And what a stunning day it was, unbroken sunshine and a stunning morning frost...

My favourite weather!

A distant Kingfisher in a frosty scene


Spent a fair bit of today looking for a Dartford Warbler, highly likely the Dartford Warbler that was present on the edge of Sheep's Marsh at the end of 2022.  Phil saw it briefly on Seaton Marshes yesterday morning but all further attempts to locate it have failed. No doubt it will appear again at some point though, it is really proving a slippery little sod!

Despite no Dartford, walking around today was just sheer joy.  Saw plenty of Snipe, Reed Buntings, three Cetti's Warbler, two Cattle Egrets, the lingering Great White Egret, a Treecreeper (another overdue year tick) and couldn't resist papping this lovely male Bullfinch, which for a change didn't fly off at first sight...

Always enoy a good view of one of these, such charming birds

Ok, one more pic...

Two distant and fed-up looking Cattle Egrets soon after dawn


I unexpectedly had a spare twenty minutes mid this afternoon, so I spent it looking over a nice calm Seaton Bay.  Shag and Great Crested Grebe were easy year ticks, but I was not expecting to clap eyes on three 1w drake/female Eider feeding close in off Seaton Hole - not an annual species here.  They soon drifted further out but I just about managed to get some record shots.  The light was absolutely appalling though...

I think it was two 1w drake and a female but I could be wrong, the light was awful

Not a shape we see regularly here!

Now on 98 species for the Patchwork Challenge year list, be good to break 100 before January is out!

Friday 13 January 2023

Avocets and Gull Influx

Local photographer Susie found a couple of Avocet this morning on Colyford Scrape.  I saw them distantly here early-afternoon, and this evening at dusk saw them fly in and tuck themselves in for a snooze on the Estuary...

This is the best shot you are getting from me - the sun had long gone over the horizon!


Was pleased to add this species, and finally Greenfinch to the year-list today.  Disappointing however to miss two drake Goosander that were seen on the Estuary this morning, just typical I wasn't in my office the day they chose to float past my office window! But thanks for the message anyway Tim C.

My highlight of the day was the sheer number of gulls resting on the Estuary early this afternoon.  Common Gulls actually outnumbered Black-headed Gulls, with well over 1,000 of the former spread along the length of the Estuary.  In with them were 83 Mediterranean Gulls, the vast majority being adults and some already developing black hoods...

All those small gulls are indeed adult Meds!

Just about got eight in shot if you include that wing entering frame from the right!

So with all the above, plus a wonderful five mile walk with the Mrs around Tipton St. John this morning, I'd say I'd had a pretty good day off!

Thursday 12 January 2023

Patchwork Challenge Update

Since my last post all my days have been work days, but I have still managed to see a few new species for the year list.  At least one a day in fact, until today which was my first blank day of the year for year ticks.  It had to come sometime!

Sunday 8th saw my first Black-tailed Godwit of the year. Weirdly I can only find three at the moment, not our usual 70+. I suspect they have dropped us for the new look Otter Estuary! Only two Dunlin on the Estuary too which is a poor showing.

Monday 9th I met with Kev at Tower Hide whilst it was still dark, hoping to see the Egrets leave the Axmouth roost as two Cattle were seen going in there!  After about 30 Little Egrets, and a lot of rain, finally a Cattle Egret emerged at 08:05 and flew north up the valley and away.  Result.  

Tuesday 10th was a really wet and windy day, so I walked along the beach before work. To my amazement the five ducks that came flying into view from the east were Pintail!  They landed briefly, flew back east then about five minutes later flew west along the beach.

Awful photo in awful conditions! But five much appreciated birds.

Tuesday didn't end so well, as I missed a Little Gull by a matter of minutes.  Clearly plenty more Common and Mediterranean Gulls about though, which is hopeful as it shows some Gull passage is underway!  

Wednesday morning I started the day stood in the dark with Kev again! This time on the beach, checking the roosting small gulls offshore in the half-light hoping to see the previous nights Little Gull in there.  No luck, with a couple of passing Fulmar being my year tick for the day.

And today, although it gave no year ticks (and I still need Greenfinch!) I was really pleased to have a count of 64 Med Gulls in an hour tonight on the lower Axe Estuary - 40+ of them being adults too! Still lots of Common Gulls about, plus a few more Lesser Black-backs but still no Little one!  

Year list stands at 87. Wouldn't mind a change in the weather now, well, once I see a Little Gull that is!

Friday 6 January 2023

Eastern Yellow Wagtail...finally!

This post was so very nearly titled 'That Bloody Wagtail!'

My year list keeps moving forward at a steady pace, which was always the way I was planning to do it.  Yes I will be making an effort for any goodies that show up but my current aim is to casually mop up all the usual fare as the days roll by - and that is exactly what I have been doing!  Now, back to this Wagtail...

Since it was first found by John Gale on Christmas Day there had been no further sign of the probable Eastern Yellow Wagtail on Colyford Common. Then just as surprising as the reappearance of the Izzy Wheatear, the wag was seen again on 2nd Jan, albiet briefly. The 3rd was a dreadful weather day, but following mid-afternoon sightings on both 4th and 5th, I planned my day today so I could be at Colyford Common for 2pm.  Well it actually showed up at 1pm, but thanks to our amazing local WhatsApp Group (thanks Mark and Mike) I shot around from my location on the other side of the river and thankfully arrived just in time! But I do mean just...

On my arrival to Colyford Common it was out of view feeding in a ditch, but a minute or so later up it popped onto a grassy tussock. It remained here for just over a minute then took off and flew away to the north with no further sign up to dusk. I cannot tell you the relief I feel for finally seeing this bird, which is proving the most elusive and unpredictable rarity we have ever had on patch!  I will return to the ID of this bird in a later blog post but here are my record shots from today...

When it is on the Common it looks so settled, so have not idea why it keeps disappearing and where it is disappearing to!

Another rubbish pic, but it picked the colours up ok including that yellow wash to the throat

Whilst I was here, it was nice to get my best views yet of the Isabelline Wheatear, a bird we are so lucky to still have with us...

Finally I have a pic showing a more typical Isabelline Wheatear stance and structure! Long legs, upright posture, etc..
The dull light allowed my camera to pick all the lovely subtle shades of peach

The closest it came

Right, best get on with telling you about the other year ticks I have enjoyed since my last post.  Well with my casual approach I am still ticking off species like Bullfinch, Fieldfare, Coal Tit, etc, but have had some notables as well.

Early on 5th, stood in the middle of a pitch-black Colyford Common with Kev hoping the wag would make a post-roost appearance, a Green Sandpiper called several times from Colyford Marsh as we enjoyed good views of a hunting Barn Owl...


On the 4th I finally added Black Redstart to my year list (I say finally becuase we have at least three wintering with us!).  It was during my walk to work along Harbour Road when I suddenly heard a Black Redstart calling, and was delighted when I clapped eyes on this..

What a stunner - it was our one an only male!

Also on 4th, my lunch time walk at work involved a walk along the beach. I was going to head out at 1pm, but a message came up on the WhatsApp that a flock of Brent Geese had flown west past West Bexington at 11:40.  I moved my lunch forward, and at 12:20 was in the right place to see this...

*** if watching with sound turn it right down! ***

So I think that just leaves me with the rest of today. When news came through that the wag was present, I was getting wet feet at my most reliable site for Jack Snipe on patch. It was worth getting wet for though as I had great views of three, along with 14 Common Snipe.  Love it when a plan works out!


Monday 2 January 2023

Quality over Quantity

I always knew my Patchwork Challenge year would start off slow; I was in Somerset most of yesterday and in work most of today. So my game plan was to prioritise any 'goodies' in the little time I did have free, and it worked...ish!

On the 1st I had up until 08:40 spare, and seeing as it doesn't really get light until 8am I knew I had to use that 40 minutes as best I could... so I spent it looking at three empty gorse bushes where a Dartford Warbler had been seen flitting between two days previous!  A Dartie would be a quality bird for the list but frustratingly no one has seen it since the turn of the year. 



Despite this the 1st still proved a success, as like any good year lister I didn't go out when it got light, I left home about an hour before that!  And whilst I was scanning the still very dark river valley hoping for a cheeky Barn Owl, the only other species of bird that I had any chance of identifying in that level of light came floating down the valley - a Great White Egret!  It even pitched in briefly on Black Hole Marsh, and was seen later in the day and again today but others.  Presumably the same bird that was seen for a couple of days on Colyford Marsh around Christmas.  Still, I wasn't expecting it!

Then we have today, and during my shift at work news came through that incredibly the Colyford Common Isabelline Wheatear, last seen on Boxing Day, had reappeared in exactly the same place!  So at lunchtime I dashed up to grab some distant but much appreciated views. A big fat FIVE POINTER in Patchwork Challenge - thank you very much!

Another bird that reappeared today was the (was a probable now surely is) Eastern Yellow Wagtail also at Colyford Common.  It was seen on Christmas Day briefly, and then like the Wheatear, not seen again until today when it was photographed by visiting birders on overhead wires at Colyford Common late this afternoon.  So that's my next target, if I can find it...

Other year ticks so far have included Green Woodpecker, Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler and Coot.  Not looked at the sea yet, or the gulls, or been anywhere really, but my time for quantity will come...