Tuesday 27 June 2023

Breeding Avocets on Black Hole Marsh

We have been hiding a little secret!  Well two fairly sizeable black and white ones to be more accurate...

And then there were four!  Hatched yesterday morning and left the nest mid-afternoon...

The first Avocet breeding record for the county I am told!  What a turn up for the books, although have to say it did feel on the cards considering the increase in their UK breeding range and the fact that in recent years late spring Avocet records on Black Hole Marsh, often involving multiple birds, have been getting more frequent.  

Avocet is traditionally a rare winter visitor and scarce passage migrant on the Axe. It is now a rare winter visitor, regular passage migrant and breeder!!!!  I guess we will just have to wait to see if it is a one-off or the start of a new era.  

It is really good to know the habitat here can support a breeding pair though, even if it does turn out to be a one-off. Shout-out to the parent's who have been amazing throughout, sat tight on the eggs at all times and chasing absolutely everything away! They are so vocal, I hear them almost every night from the house (which makes a nice change from the constant cacophony of Oystercatchers!).

Let's hope the young ones make it through to fledging. Good luck Axe-born Avocets

NB Breaking news - a third chick has now been spotted!  A day later than the appearance of the first two.

Saturday 17 June 2023

Norfolk Hawker - A Patch First!

Yesterday was forecasted to be the last day of sun, so I was keen to finally get out and do some proper dragonflying!  I can't tell you how good it felt to immerse myself in the world of Odonata for several hours.

With only two ponds left to check at Lower Bruckland Ponds, despite seeing plenty I hadn't come across anything unusual.  But I was then stopped in my tracks by a beautiful copper-coloured Hawker landing on a close reed fringe, it stayed put just long enough for me to get my bins on it... NORFOLK HAWKER!  Those green-eyes offering a striking contrast to the gorgeous copper body colour (far from being brown!).

Unfortunately within seconds of seeing it, it took flight and gained height.  Over the next half an hour I had four more brief flight views of it over the same pond, but no more perched views and no chance of any photographs, the patrolling Scarce and Four-spotted Chasers would soon see it off.  Always a shame not to get a pic of a rarity but such a thrill to find!  

This was its favoured pond, one of the smallest at Lower Brucklands but also the most vegetated around the edges

This species, formally restricted to East Anglia, suddenly appeared in Weymouth about four or five years ago with numbers growing here every year since.  In Devon, except for a lone insect on Exminster Marshes for a few days in 2018, they appeared at Slapton last year, with several seen including at least one egg-laying female, so it is no surprise they are again there this year.  Also this year they have been found on The Somerset Levels, with singles also at Abbotsbury and Portland.  Although they are clearly spreading well, and certainly a species on my 'hoped-for' list, I honestly thought we were still a few years off them appearing here, and was convinced Vagrant Emperor and/or Hairy Hawker would fall first!  

Am super pleased to say Tim White saw it again this afternoon and managed some photos too!  Let's hope more follow and they secure a foothold here.

Lower Bruckland was as ever teeming with Odonata, although to me Emperor numbers are way down with far fewer patrolling the banks.  Chasers/Skimmers included 60+ Scarce Chaser, 18 Black-tailed Skimmer and 14 Four-spotted Chaser. 20+ Common Darter were all fresh tenerals and a fine male Golden-ringed Dragonfly was patrolling the corner of one of the top ponds.  Amongst the small beasts 10+ Red-eyed Damselfly, these down in numbers from my last visit here.  Both species of Demoiselle were on show, and are now regular here...

Beautiful Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle

Lovely male Scarce Chaser with mating scars

Common Darter teneral - Ruddy ruled out by white on legs

I then dropped down to the River Axe, where there were a further 18+ Scarce Chaser and large numbers of White-legged Damselflies...

Must have seen at least 100 of these

A check of a final site, a large pool near the River Coly, added three Broad-bodied Chaser.  

So all in all a bloody enjoyable three hours out in the sunshine! 

Tuesday 13 June 2023

June So Far

Bird-wise, June hasn't been as quiet as it often can be.  Three year-ticks in the first half of the sixth month certainly isn't to be sniffed at, these being...

Hobby - excellent views of a pair hunting dragonflies (mostly Scarce Chasers!) on 5th. The cold northerly wind was keeping both the dragonflies and falcons low allowing for really superb views!  

Too quick for my camera despite the great views

Common Tern - saw the back end of a pair fly in off the sea and disappear up river on the morning of 6th, they then spent the remainder of the day on Black Hole Marsh.  Shocking that it has taken until now to see this species on patch this year, but it reflects the sad state of terns locally (probably in part to the national picture too) and also the lack of decent sea watching conditions this spring.

Gadwall - June/July in recent years have proved the time to see this species on the Axe, when moulting birds join the equally tatty Mallards. The three on night of 10th actually stayed separate from the Mallards just north of Tower Hide, with the drake still showing some aspects of its former plumage.

Drake and two females

Other than these year ticks, 16 Sanderling on/past Seaton Beach on 2nd, with another the following day, and a handful of Ringed Plover on the Estuary during the same few days show there has been a bit more wader passage.  It has not been anywhere near the volume I am used to seeing here in late spring which is really disappointing, but I think this reflects more the fine weather we've experienced and less to do with populations/overall numbers.  

Tawny Owls have been good value locally.  Plenty of young calling particularly at dusk, with a showy ball of fluff currently on Seaton Wetlands...

A ball of fluff with a face!

Mum is never far away either...


The sad tales all over social media about dire moth numbers this year have not at all encouraged me to put the moth trap out.  I am a fair-weather moth'er as it is, so I certainly don't want to run an MV if all it does is depress me about the state of our environment.  However the calmer and warmer forecast for the night of Friday just gone (9th) was enough to tempt me to get the Robinson out, and am pleased I did as many of my favourite early summer species were waiting for me on Saturday morning...

Eyed, Elephant, Privet and Small Elephant Hawkmoths

One of my favourites - a Mocha

A close up of the Small Elephant Hawk

Green Oak Tortrix - caught nine of these on a night that saw a huge UK influx of this species

Have only really had one proper look locally for Odonata during this fine weather, on 5th, the same time I was watching the Hobbies mentioned above.  To suddenly see good numbers local of Red-eyed Damselflies is quite odd, having not seen one here for so long!  Otherwise plenty of Scarce Chaser as expected, plus my first Common Darter of the year with at least twenty tenerals seen flying up from and perched on the reeds.  Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser, Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Emperor were also on the wing.

Male Scarce Chaser head on

Female Scarce Chaser

Hopefully I will get a bit more time to look at insects before the weather changes. Never know what is around the corner when it comes to UK weather so need to make the most of it whilst it is here!