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!