Friday 17 February 2023

Caspian Gull

Although I was half expecting it, I was still not prepared for just how poor February has been on the Axe, quite the come down from January!  

After the previously blogged-about Water Pipit and Mistle Thrush double tick on 3rd, it took until the 13th for my next year tick - a Blackcap!  Had another today, singing which was nice.  And it isn't like I have missed much, well except for a gripping drake Red-breasted Merganser which I dipped  by about three minutes on 15th! Many thanks to Nick who not only found it, but rapidly u-turned to pick me up!

Sawbill aside it has been really poor on the Axe. However I have always been hoping February would be saved by gulls, as usually the last couple of weeks of this month is when pre-breeding gull passage gets going. Today, it begun...

We had a few days of amazing gull numbers back in mid January, but counts of for example Common and Med Gulls since then have come right down, with Estuary checks revealing a couple of hundred and single figures respectively (at most!).  But today, whether it is the date or the return of south westerlies, my counts of these two species were 900+ and 12+!  Along with at least 15 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, as much a sign of spring as a dapper male Wheatear on Beer Head!

Over 750 Common Gulls in this photo!
A lovely late winter gull scene on the Axe.  Even though Ring-billed is pratically a mega again I will never stop trying!

A closer than usual Med from a couple of days ago

Today's counts already mentioned were from this morning, so I was keen to get back down the Estuary this afternoon.  There were less small gulls present with the tide having risen, but greeting me at Coronation Corner was the Axe's 29th Caspian Gull.  A lovely first-winter, and my 106 Patchwork Challenge species of the year...

Completely messed up the camera settings, but look at that neck!  

Such a big chesty bird!

This bird has a really lovely dark and long-winged look to it.  This is exactly the view I had when I found it, and was struck by such a striking wing pattern.  It is the bird dead centre...

Head down

And here is the same photo with some annotations...

Although just one or two of these features wouldn't make the bird stand out with this view, it is the combination of ALL these features


And some of the the key bits...



Then annoyingly, after it spent a minute bathing on the water I simply lost it.  Am presuming it sneaked off south as no one else saw it by dusk.

Birders looking for it tonight did turn up a brief Little Gull though.  Never twitchable so I couldn't react to the news, but hopefully this one stays around allowing me a third chance at Little Gull this year!  

Hopefully this flurry of action means February has finally woken up...

Friday 3 February 2023

Water Pipit

The Axe, in particular Colyford Marsh, was once one of the best sites in the county/southwest for Water Pipits.  Double-figure flocks were frequent during the winters of the late 90's/early 00's, but we are down to single figures now, often just one and some winters none at all!  The winter of 2017/18 being the only recent exception. 

A single bird has been seen sporadically over the last month or so, but despite numerous visits to Colyford Common during January I haven't seen it, just the usual 6 - 12 Rock Pipits of varying shades.   But this morning, finally, stood on the platform at the top end of Colyford Common this walked out of the tussocky grass on the opposite side of the tramline...

Plainish brown back contrasting with grey head, white wing-bars, nice white super - bingo!


I then enjoyed a few minutes of some nice prolonged views in the damp grass...

I am so fond of this species

A pose any Isabelline Wheatear would be proud of!

Soon after it took off most the Colyford Common Rock Pipits started flying around, and when they landed again on the wires over Colyford Common, the Water Pipit had joined them.  Despite the variability of our wintering Rock Pipits, as always the Water stood out like a sore thumb.  One more photo of it having a preen...

A lot of zoom used to get this!

I counted 18 Rock Pipits too, almost double what I usually see here (plus nine Meadow Pipits).  Some of the Rockits were really striking looking birds, just take a look at these two...

Both birds quite pale underneath

Would love to photograph all these Rockits properly but it isn't easy.  The flock is mobile, often hard to approach when feeding and aren't that photogenic when perched on overhead wires.

It was a double year-tick morning, with Mistle Thrush finally added to the list also at Colyford Common.  Otherwise bird-wise we seem to be in a bit of a lull period. A mild westerly airflow not really doing the business, I like my winters cold so more of that would be good!